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Treating food as a purely private good is denying millions of people access to this basic resource. Food should therefore be seen as a commons or public good. It could then be produced and distributed more effectively by a governance system combining market rules, public regulations and collective actions. Food, air and water are the three essentials our human body requires to function. They are limited but renewable resources produced by nature but their public-private status varies.

Air is still considered a global public good GPGand yet it is already becoming commodified, through creative accounting based on the economic valuation of environmental processes carbon trade schemes and pollution quotas are private entitlements to pollute.

Nowadays, the value of food is no longer based on its many dimensions that bring us security and health — food as part of our cultural foundations, access to food as a human right, food as a sustainable natural resource or as essential fuel for the human body. These multiple dimensions have been superseded by its tradable features, confusing its value and price. In the search for fairer and more sustainable and inclusive food systems, the solutions are connected to the existing system, in which food remains a tradable good.

The private sector has been involved more than ever before, for example through a wide variety of partnerships with the public sector and civil society, in fighting the shortcomings of the current food system. However, there is an alternative that is rarely mentioned: In a fairer and more sustainable food system, the non-monetary dimensions of food would be revalued, and global and local food production and distribution systems would not be exclusively governed by the rules of supply and demand.

Institutional arrangements based on collective actions would also be given consideration, appropriate legal entitlements, adequate funding and political support. Self-regulated collective actions for food — whether market-based, share-based, organic, local or fair trade-based — represent the third pillar of governance of the evolving food system.

Food can be shared, given for free, guaranteed by the state, cultivated by many and traded on the market. But purchasing power should not exclusively determine our access to such an essential resource.

Reliance on market forces. The industrial technology-dominated food system achieved remarkable outputs during the second half of the twentieth century by increasing food production and giving millions of urban and rural consumers access to food. Tripling global crop production, increasing yields, lowering food prices and moving away from customs and skills to more systematically organized and controlled ways of producing food are all commendable achievements for humankind.

The dominant economic doctrines of recent decades have propagated the notion that market forces by themselves can regulate national and international food systems to lift hungry people out of starvation and destitution.

However, reality has proven otherwise, as unregulated markets do not necessarily guarantee sufficient food for low-income groups even if they are assured of enough income. Moreover, despite the widespread reliance on self-regulation of industry and public—private partnerships to improve public health and nutrition, there is no evidence to show that they are effective against hunger and obesity and in ensuring food safety.

A food system based on the notion of food as a commodity to be distributed according to the rules of the market cannot achieve food security for all. Moreover, markets, which are governed by self-interest, will not provide sufficient public goods, such as public health, good nutrition or the eradication of hunger, with large-scale non-monetary benefits for human beings.

Such public goods have to be sought and maintained by the public sector and through the collective actions of citizens. Transnational corporations, for example, are major drivers of obesity epidemics, maximizing profits by increasing consumption of ultra-processed food and drinks. The industrial system reduces the nutritious properties of some foodstuffs by storing them in cold rooms, or through peeling, boiling and transformation processes.

At current levels of food production and consumption, if we were all standard US citizens, we would need 5. Globally speaking, we have a troublesome relationship with food, as more than half the world eats in ways that damage their health. For billions of people, eating is not a source of pleasure but a compulsory habit and certainly a cause of concern. Obesity and undernutrition affect an estimated 2.

Hunger is the largest single contributor to maternal and child mortality worldwide, with 3. Despite many years of international anti-hunger efforts, and rising gross national incomes and per capita food availability, the number of hungry people has been reduced at a very slow pace since and there are million undernourished people in the world.

Furthermore, the industrial food system is not more efficient or cost-beneficial than more sustainable food systems whether modern organic or customary as it is heavily subsidized and excessively favoured by tax exemptions.

The productivity gains mentioned above have been uneven across crops and regions, 28 and global increases in production have been confined to a limited range of cereal crops rice, maize and wheat with smaller increases in crops like potatoes and soybeans. We produce 4, kcal per person of edible food harvest, enough to feed a global population of billion, 30 but after waste, animal feed and biofuels have been deducted, we end up with no more than 2, kcal per person.

The mechanization and commodification of the industrial food system did not come without a price and many undesirable external effects and consequences are evident nowadays. Moreover, in the last decade, seeing food as a pure commodity that can be speculated with, diverted from human consumption, and used to justify unethical land grabbing in the poorest but land-rich countries by the richest but land-poor ones, seems to have gone too far see for example Untangling the myth of the global land rush.

The enclosure of food production by the industrial model. Food has not, however, always been regarded in this way. For many centuries it was cultivated in common and considered mythological or sacred. It has, however, ended up as the dominant industrial system, fully controlling the international food trade, feeding a great proportion of the global population, and giving rise to corporate control of life-supporting industries, from land and water-grabbing to agricultural fuel-based inputs.

These enclosure mechanisms — through privatization, legislation, excessive pricing or patents — have played a role in limiting access to food as a commons, transferring its common properties from the many to the few. This commodification process is a human-induced social construct that deprives food of its non-economic attributes, retaining only its tradable features, namely durability, external appearance and the standardization of naturally-diverse food products.

This is how we reached the current situation, where the value of food is no longer based on its many dimensions that benefit humans. Its value in use a biological necessity has been almost completely dissociated from its value in exchange its price on the market. These means are mostly private goods land, agro-chemicals, patented seeds although not always local landraces, rainfall, agricultural knowledge.

Commons are resources owned and managed in common, shared and beneficial for all or most members of a community. In the strict sense, food is rival because if I eat a cherry it is no longer available for others to eat, and excludable although if someone is excluded from food they will starve to death in less than 10 days.

However, cherries are continuously produced by nature and cultivated by humans, so they are not restricted in numbers. As long as replenishment outpaces consumption, food is considered a renewable resource with a never-ending stock, like air. Food produced by nature and harvested in a sustainable way is unlimited and available worldwide.

It is, however, not enough to feed us all and we therefore have to produce it ourselves. Excludability and rivalry are not absolute but were created by human beings, which means we can modify them. Goods often become private or public as a result of deliberate policy choices. Many societies have considered, and still consider, food as a commons, together with forests, fisheries, land and water, while different civilizations have assigned varying values to natural resources and this certainly continues to evolve.

The degree of excludability and rivalry depends on the nature of the good, technological developments and how property rights are defined by entitlements, regulations and sanctions that allow certain activities and proscribe others for specific groups or people. Food excludability and rivalry can therefore be contested and revisited. Both properties are attributes assigned to food, largely based on the dominant ideology, particular economic thinking and historical considerations.

The commodification of natural resources essential for human beings can thus be reversed and the re-commonification of food is considered essential for the transition to a fairer and sustainable food system. We need to bring unconventional and radical perspectives into the debate on this transition. All previous transitions shared the common denominator that food was always viewed as a private good produced by private means and traded in the market. None of the most relevant analyses produced in recent decades on the fault lines of the global food system and the existence of hunger have questioned the nature of food as a private good.

But, as Einstein wrote, problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them. There is a need to reclaim a rationale of the commons in the discourse on food at global, national and local level. Fortunately, several dimensions of food are already considered as commons see box 2as are healthy food and adequate nutrition. It seems clear that any government has a deep concern about food issues at national and international level, as subsidized food production and consumption policies are the norm all over the world see above on subsidies to industrial agriculture.

Furthermore, food safety regulations are considered a global common good to be dealt with by states, 42 and food-related civil unrest is as much a subject of political concern nowadays as it has been throughout history. However, the political discourse of the OECD 43 and WTO calls for national trade barriers and subsidized agriculture to be dismantled in developing countries while billions are spent on subsidizing food systems in rich countries.

For every government, food is unlike any other commodity as it is highly regulated and heavily subsidized, a sign of its special nature as the mainstay of societies. Nowadays, in different parts of the world, there are numerous examples of local transitions towards sustainable food production and consumption. These tri-centric governance schemes are usually comprised firstly of civic collective actions for food also called Alternative Food Networksundertaken initially at local level.

Such networks primarily aim to preserve and regenerate the commons that are important for the community food as a common good. Secondly, there are governments, whose main goal is to maximize the well-being of their citizens by providing an enabling framework for them to enjoy the commons food as a public good. And lastly, the private sector can trade undersupplied, specialized or gourmet foodstuffs food as a private good.

The private sector role in this tri-centric system is similar to the roles of private schools and private hospitals in countries with public health and education systems. These systems demonstrate that the right combination of self-regulated collective actions, governmental rules and incentives, and private entrepreneurship yield good results for food producers, consumers, the environment and society in general.

The challenge now is how to scale up these local initiatives to national level. As the re-commonification of food will take several generations, the transition phase requires greater public sector involvement. States have a vital role to play through taxation and incentives schemes, public credit and subsidies for collective actions, enabling legal frameworks that are not too stringent for self-regulated initiatives and land reforms to maximize common interest.

The state must be seen as a funding and operational instrument to achieve well-being for its citizens, of which food security is a part. However, this leading state role should gradually be shifted to self-initiated collective actions by producers and consumers, as the public provision of food does not exceed the net benefits yielded by self-organized and socially-negotiated food networks.

Therefore, there should be enabling spaces for local governments, local entrepreneurs and local self-organized communities to coexist. Food-related elements that are already considered as commons. Many food-related aspects are already considered, to a certain extent, as common goods, while others are contested wild foods and water or generally regarded as private goods cultivated food. Modern science-based agricultural knowledge produced by national institutions: More research funds should be invested in sustainable practices and agro-ecology knowledge developed by universities and research centres, instead of further subsidizing industrial agriculture.

Cuisine, recipes and national gastronomy: Food, cooking and eating habits are inherently part of our culture, just as much as language and birthplace, while gastronomy is regarded as a creative accomplishment of humankind, equal to literature, music or architecture.

Recipes are a superb example of commons in action, and creativity and innovation are still dominant in this copyright-free domain of human activity. Edible plants and animals produced by nature fish stocks, and wild fruits and animals: Nature is largely a global public good e.

Antarctica or the oceans so natural resources should also be public goods, although it varies depending on the proprietary rights in force in each country. Genetic resources for food and agriculture: Seed-exchange schemes are considered networked-knowledge goods with non-exclusive access and use conditions, produced and consumed by communities.

As zoonotic pandemics are public bads with no borders, epidemic disease knowledge and control mechanisms are widely considered as global public goods and are already governed through a tri-centric system of self-regulating private sector efforts, governmental legal frameworks and international institutional innovations, like the Codex Alimentarius. Nutrition, including hunger and obesity imbalances: There is a growing consensus that health and good nutrition should be seen as global public goods.

Extreme food price fluctuations in global and national markets are public bads that benefit none but a few traders and brokers.

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