Achieving Food System Resilience Requires Challenging Dominant Land Property Regimes

Adam Calo (Radbout U, Nijmegen), Annie McKee (James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen), Coline Perrin (U Montpellier), Pierre Gasselin (U Montpellier), Steven McGreevy (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto), Sarah Ruth Sippel (SFB 1199 & Leipzig U), Annette Aurélie Desmarais (U of Manitoba), Kirsteen Shields (U of Edinburgh), Adrien Baysse-Lainé (U Grenoble Alpes, CNRS), André Magnan (U of Regina), Naomi Beingessner (U of Manitoba) & Mai Kobayashi (Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto)

Publication Date

September 2021








Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems

Additional Information


Although evidence continues to indicate an urgent need to transition food systems away from industrialized monocultures and toward agroecological production, there is little sign of significant policy commitment toward food system transformation in global North geographies. The authors, a consortium of researchers studying the land-food nexus in global North geographies, argue that a key lock-in explaining the lack of reform arises from how most food system interventions work through dominant logics of property to achieve their goals of agroecological production. Doing so fails to recognize how land tenure systems, codified by law and performed by society, construct agricultural land use outcomes. In this perspective, the authors argue that achieving food system “resilience” requires urgent attention to the underlying property norms that drive land access regimes, especially where norms of property appear hegemonic. This paper first reviews research from political ecology, critical property law, and human geography to show how entrenched property relations in the global North frustrate the advancement of alternative models like food sovereignty and agroecology, and work to mediate acceptable forms of “sustainable agriculture.” Drawing on emerging cases of land tenure reform from the authors’ collective experience working in Scotland, France, Australia, Canada, and Japan, we next observe how contesting dominant logics of property creates space to forge deep and equitable food system transformation. Equally, these cases demonstrate how powerful actors in the food system attempt to leverage legal and cultural norms of property to legitimize their control over the resources that drive agricultural production. Our formulation suggests that visions for food system “resilience” must embrace the reform of property relations as much as it does diversified farming practices. This work calls for a joint cultural and legal reimagination of our relation to land in places where property functions as an epistemic and apex entitlement.

Biographical Note

Adam Calo (Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University)

Adam Calo is an assistant professor studying the barriers that prevent transition to a more just, sustainable, and ecologically resilient food system. Namely, he focuses on the way systems of land tenure, norms of property, and complexities of land access tend to water down and frustrate efforts to reform food systems. This dynamic, land governance shaping food and farming outcomes, is the Land Food Nexus. Adam Calo is interested in the ways that innovations and policy reforms to property, land tenure and land transfers may facilitate food system transitions.

Adam Calo received a PhD from the department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied how problems of land access in California frustrated beginning farmer aspirations.

Dr. Sarah Ruth Sippel (SFB 1199 & Leipzig University)

Sarah Ruth Sippel is a lecturer at the Institute of Cultural Anthropology and a Principal Investigator at the Collaborative Research Centre SFB 1199. Her research interests concern the complex nature of the global agri-food system, particularly questions in relation to food security, the financialization of agriculture and food, and the alternatives that are being developed to the current agri-food system. All these issues raise important questions in relation to politics, ethics, and social justice, which motivate her research. As a human geographer with a background in Middle Eastern Studies and Philosophy, Sarah investigates social phenomena from an interdisciplinary and transregional perspective. She intensively worked on the interlinkages between export agriculture, rural livelihood security, and labour migration in North Africa and the Western Mediterranean. Her current research addresses the diverse (re)imaginations of land in Australia.