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Tracing sustainability narratives in complex agri-food production systems: The case of maize-poultry trade between Thailand and the EU

Carlsberg Foundation Reintegration Fellowships

What

Recently, efforts to govern the sustainability challenges related to the increasing demand for land-resources has focused on public and private sustainability commitments that target transnational agri-food value-chains to ensure transparency and traceability of products.

Yet, implementing such commitments can lead to unintended, negative impacts, including displacement of deforestation and exclusion of smallholders, and raise complex normative questions around the role and power of diverse ‘sustainability’ narratives.

This project aims to create a better understanding of how diverse sustainability narratives shape value-chain commitments, and how such commitments are translated and implemented through transnational value-chains to result in (un)sustainable outcomes in producing regions.

Why

The continuously growing need for and pressure on land globally is causing massive sustainability problems, and challenging sustainability science, policy and practice to identify leverage points and improving mechanisms for interventions in unsustainable land systems.

Building a better understanding of how global interconnected pressures on land shape sustainability outcomes in various locations is crucial for creating “sustainable consumption and production patterns” and securing “life on land” as stated in the 12th and 15th Sustainable Development Goal.

The results from this project will contribute to this agenda by providing important new knowledge on the ‘inner workings’ of how sustainability commitments influence desired or undesired outcomes in transnational agri-food systems.

How

The project will draw on multi-sited qualitative research on the case of maize-poultry agri-food production system between the EU and Thailand, and follow three analytical strategies:

  1. Identifying, tracing and mapping the maize-poultry supply-chain between EU and Thailand and relevant sustainability commitments;
  2. On-site interviews and participant observations with stakeholders along the supply chain to examine the information flows and practices of knowledge transfer on sustainability commitments in the production system;
  3. Tracing the narratives of sustainability through content analysis of the policies, regulations and standards for sustainable sourcing strategies for feedstock in the EU, as well as interpretations and practices for implementation in the Thai maize-poultry system.

SSR

The project contributes to the ongoing research-policy-practice efforts for achieving more sustainable transnational agri-food systems that lead to less unintended negative direct and indirect social-ecological impacts. The project’s thorough examination of the practices that create, translate or transform sustainability narratives will provide crucial insights towards improving governance efforts across transnational supply-chains.

Through the multi-sited approach, I hope to identify means and measures to adjust and improve the guiding frameworks for sustainability commitments in the Thai-EU case in accordance with the multiple concerns of key stakeholders, for understanding their implications and for addressing the powerful actors in charge of them in a more targeted manner.