Current Institutional Affiliation
Professor, Sociology, University of Hawaii

Award Information

Abe Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Professor, Sociology, University of Hawaii
Agrobiodiversity protection and landraces: policies, alternative agrofood networks, and commodity chains in Japan and the US

There is a global consensus that agrobiodiversity is the foundation for food and nutritional security as well as for environmental sustainability and that it is in critical decline. The loss of landraces (non-hybrid, non-genetically engineered, traditional local crop varieties) and the homogenization of agriculture has important environmental, social and economic consequences. It means heightened vulnerability to disease and pests, less germplasm to breed with for more resilient crops, less adaptability of agriculture to changing conditions, and less ability to maintain ecosystems services. These ecological issues have profound social and economic implications for farming communities as well. How to encourage preservation, planting, processing, and consumption of landrace crops is a difficult question that many countries are grappling with. This project comparatively analyzes different initiatives and institutions in Japan and the US with the objective of producing recommendations on agrobiodiversity policies. Specifically, four policy areas will be analyzed comparatively between Japan and the US: 1. Seed saving, production, and intellectual property rights (IPR) 2. Rural revitalization and Geographic Indications (GIs) 3. Citizen participation and the alternative agrofood networks (AANs) 4. Globalized commodity chains and private standards Methodologically, the project has two parts. First part examines the policy history and contexts, stakeholders and their motivations, and social contestations and participation relating to the issues 1-3 above. Part II will utilize the commodity chain analysis and analyzes the issue 4. The two countries' experiences will be compared with specific attention to sustainability, knowledge, and justice, drawing on the literature in feminist, Science Technology Studies and agrofood studies. In other words, the project will ask what are the contributions of different policies to sustainability (agrobiodiversity conservation), whose knowledge gets protected and how. It also asks about justice, in terms of citizen participation and uneven benefits and costs of different policy mixes. The present project is innovative as it departs from the farming-centered approach by situating agrobiodiversity in the broader policy and political economic milieu. It pays attention not only to seed laws and seed production institutions but also to policies around rural revitalization and agrofood industries and their market dynamics. Agrobiodiversity projects are often designed only as farmers and extension services as stakeholders. The present project, as it takes a commodity chain approach, will create a framework of assessing agrobiodiversity conservation project that are more realistic by taking into account commodity chain approach that considers non-farming sectors, local and global markets, and civil society actors. The project also takes agrobiodiversity as an issue that can affect the distribution of power and resources to different actors. The framework for socially just agrobiodiversity projects will be useful for various policy makers and non-profit organizations to address this gap in assessment and facilitate a more comprehensive debate about the varying social benefits and drawbacks of different projects.