1 Comment Our Changing View of Food: From Commodity to Commons – An interview with @JoseLViveroPol

  1. AvatarTibi

    Treating food as commons is a bit of a stretch, in my opinion, unless we want to go back to communism.

    Food is different from water and even more different from air, in terms of its availability. We can get air just by breathing. Water has some costs, especially in large cities, because bringing it to the point of consumption requires infrastructure. It makes economic sense to build public utilities and share the costs of water in large cities. Privatizing water doesn’t really make sense, since it’s infrastructure is expensive and therefore it would be exclusive, which creates a monopoly, which usually brings prices up and lowers the quality of the service. Yes evil people have evil dreams to control other people by controlling the essentials to their survival, but history shows that there is strong popular opposition to keep these dreams unrealized. In the modern world, food doesn’t just grow on our tables. For that reason, I believe that we cannot treat food (tomatoes and corn) as commons. Unlike in the Amazonian forest, where food literally grows on trees, in the modern world growing food requires capacity of production and distribution, and a lot of effort. Food is not abundant by itself. We produce an abundance of food, we waste a lot of it, and we miss allocate it. Treating food as commons requires treating the means of production and distribution as commons, which brings us back to communism.

    In my opinion, the global food system is screwed up not because we treat food (tomatoes and corn) as a commodity, but because the means of production and distribution of food have been monopolized. These monopolies have influence and have raised the barrier to entry by putting in place policies and regulations, which is a very well-understood dynamic, it’s what monopolies do. My feeling is that treating food as commons as proposed in this paper means transferring these private monopolies in the hands of national and transnational public institutions, which again, I cannot distinguish from communism.

    So what can we do??

    We need to democratize food production and distribution.

    There is a growing commons of knowledge around food production, created and diffused by open communities like Open Source Ecology, FarmHack, Apropedia, etc. This helps local producers, which in turn can aggregate into local food networks and coordinate themselves for transformation and distribution.

    The truly p2p web-of-things (not Google’s version!) is a distributed sensing network that gathers information about agricultural activities, which can be aggregated into open databases, analysed and rendered to food producers to help them make better decisions. Layers of economic models can be created on top of the raw data. Leveling the information field can help brake these monopolies.

    Open innovation helps individual farmers. Access to information gives everyone the big picture. New network resource planning systems (like the one proposed by SENSORICA with the OVN model) allows producers to share resources and processes and to implement more complex revenue sharing schemes. All this and more makes possible the aggregation of individual production into massive quantities with a great diversity, by networking a large number of individual producers, which can now formulate a value proposition to the consumer that can displace big agro.

    It is also true that capitalist markets don’t capture all the costs of food. But some recently created markets do take into consideration quality, carbon footprint, environmental chemical pollution and even ethics. Examples are the local, organic and fair trade. We need to recognize that these are new markets, operating on a different logic, and we need to improve and to expand them. Their problem is that they only operate with one currency, the same one used in classical markets. What about introducing environmental points, which can buy land and water exploitation rights for example? What about reputation points?

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