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Land and Sustainable Food Transformations

Adam Calo, Assistant Professor of Environmental Governance and Politics, Radboud University
Coline Perrin, Senior Researcher in Geography, INRAE
Kirsteen Shields, Senior Lecturer in International Law and Food Systems, University of Edinburgh
Sylvia Kay, Researcher, The Transnational Institute
Sarah Ruth Sippel, Professor of Economic Geography and Globalization Studies, University of Münster

This Elementa special feature invites articles exploring the role of land in sustainable food transformations. The forthcoming collection provides new understandings on how governance of land (property relations, land access, land tenure, landscape policy) mediates the potential for food system transformations. The special issue goes beyond understanding dynamics of the land food nexus to ask how land relations can be reformed to create favorable conditions for more just and sustainable food systems to emerge. A complete call for proposals can be found here.

Land relations—property, access, tenure, landscape—are a central underlying driver of the material form of food systems, from farm to distribution. Despite their fluidity and historical and geographical diversity, land relations have a tendency to become “normalized” through law, custom, and practice. In particular, the exclusionary private ownership model of property has come to be deeply entrenched in legal systems worldwide, particularly in the Global North. The power of this normalization is evidenced, for example, in how research and practice aimed at reshaping food systems from grassroots movement, policy-level, or biophysical perspectives often omit the role of land relations in bringing about agricultural sustainability and agrarian change. Understanding land relations as “static” thus  potentially constrains or directs the kinds of sustainable agriculture and food transformations that can take place.

We thus invite contributions on characterizing the role of land relations in sustainable food production, critiques of existing sustainability interventions in the food system from a perspective of land relations, and socio-legal analysis of pathways to reforming or reimagining synergized land and food system transformations. We aim to highlight the role of land relations and property regimes in a ‘Global North Context’. We call for insights on the power relations embedded in land in both the dominant land regimes that underly the industrial food system but also in the alternative counter movements bubbling up to contest the status quo of the land food nexus.

Articles in this special symposium might examine the following topics or other related issues:

  • The role of power relations in assembling land for food production of differing forms;
  • Discourses that shape the legitimacy of strong property regimes and the resulting material influence in institutions, actors, social movements, resources, and technologies;
  • Cross disciplinary learning from other domains such as housing justice, intellectual property debates, and antitrust applied to understand food system transformations;
  • Global South—North food system co-learning on alternative land governance for food systems change;
  • Empirical evidence of the relationship between alternative property regimes and  alternative food system practices such as agroecology, diversified or organic farming, local food processing, and/or food sovereignty;
  • Dominant food system technocratic “solutions” or interventions (such as vertical farming, regenerative agriculture, agricultural easements, payments for ecosystem services, crop biotechnology, alt-proteins and sustainable intensification) and the way they either entrench, challenge, rely upon, or overlook the role of property regimes;
  • Dominant food system social “solutions” or interventions (such as farmer training programs, capacity building, empowerment campaigns, dietary nudging, microfinance) and the way they either entrench, challenge, rely upon, or overlook the role of property regimes;
  • Politics of land reform in (seemingly) stable statutory institutions (such as liberal sovereign states in industrialized economies); 
  • Creative imagined or practiced legal or social pathways to reform the norms of property on farmland or other nodes of the food system;
  • Advancements on access theory with regards to food system transformations;

The above themes relate to questions of how land politics influence food system transformation pathways.

If you wish to submit a paper to the special issue, please submit a 500-word abstract detailing your article’s title, type, purpose, methodology, key findings, and significance to the guest editors at [email protected] by 14th January. Elementa accepts original research articles, reviews, policy bridges, commentary, and other creative multi-media formats such as interviews and podcasts. and discussion papers. All paper formats will be considered although original research articles are preferred. More information about submission criteria can be found here:


Abstracts: 14th January 2023 
Authors notified of invitation to submit a paper:  1st February 2023
Complete first drafts due to editors: April 28th 2023 (Spring 2023)
Reviews sent to authors: Summer 2023

View All Articles in this Special Feature Collection

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