Food Law’s Agrarian Question: Capital, Global Farmland, and Food Security in an Age of Climate Disruption

Forthcoming, Research Handbook on International Food Law (Michael Roberts ed., 2023)

UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 22-16

41 Pages Posted: 3 May 2022 Last revised: 19 Jan 2023

Date Written: May 20, 2022

Abstract

The global food system has suffered three major crises over the last fifteen years. Most recently, food prices rose to all-time highs by the middle of 2022, pushing hundreds of millions of people deeper into food insecurity and threatening political stability in regions around the world. Although food prices were already high (and rising) coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and climate disruption have exacerbated the situation, creating the conditions for the worst food crisis in half a century. While it is relatively easy to identify the immediate triggers of the current crisis, there are deeper structural features of these recurring global food crises that need to be investigated. This Chapter argues that the emerging field of international food law has an important role to play in uncovering the deep structures of the global agro-food system, paying specific attention to the role of law and legal arrangements in creating a global political economy in which close to one billion people do not get enough to eat. Drawing on agrarian political economy, critical approaches to international law, and the emerging field of law and political economy, the Chapter takes the recent global land rush as a point of departure for investigating how capital (public and private) is taking hold of agriculture and land-based production, what this means for the organization of farming and food systems, for hunger and food insecurity, and for a world facing an accelerating climate crisis. In particular, the Chapter highlights the role of law in enabling capital to take hold of agriculture and land-based production at two levels: the macro-level structuring mechanisms that have created the conditions for extensive land transactions and the commercialization of farming around the world (namely, international trade law, foreign investment law, and debt and structural adjustment) and the micro-level legal techniques that have enabled such transactions in particular places (namely, property, contract, and corporate law). By focusing on how law and legal arrangements constitute distributional struggles around land and food at multiple levels and across multiple geographies, the Chapter provides a framework for investigating the contemporary dynamics of the global agro-food system, including the rise of global farmland as a new asset class, the recent global land rush, and the compounding global crises of food, land, and climate change.

Keywords: Food, hunger, agriculture, farmland, climate change, land use, land grabs, dispossession, food law, international law, trade and investment law, financialization, climate policy, agrarian political economy, law and political economy

Suggested Citation

Boyd, William, Food Law’s Agrarian Question: Capital, Global Farmland, and Food Security in an Age of Climate Disruption (May 20, 2022). Forthcoming, Research Handbook on International Food Law (Michael Roberts ed., 2023), UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 22-16, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4099767

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