Workshop on the Sustainability of the World's Food and Farming Systems

This seminar is by invitation only but several events will be open to the public and listed in our Event Calendar.

The Workshop on the Sustainability of the World's Food and Farming Systems convenes in 2015–2016 to consider the phenomena of food and farming in their global context. Workshop participants are investigating several broad food-system questions:

  • The international grain price spikes of both 2007–2008 and 2010–2011 have now been replaced by a return to lower prices. How can we avoid a return to complacency, and sustain investments in lagging regions (such as Africa)?
  • Is the world's increasingly specialized and industrialized food production system fundamentally incompatible with environmental sustainability? Would it be better to revert to less specialized traditional systems, or innovate greener industrial systems? Have we reached “peak land”?
  • To what extent has obesity and overnutrition (particularly in industrial countries) replaced hunger and undernutrition as the world's most pressing “food problem”? Is it accurate to speak now of “double burdens” within transitional countries?
  • Does food sustainability depend more on the evolution of farming systems, or instead on dietary trends and transitions?
  • To what extent can the problems of today's food and farming systems be adequately addressed by national governments, as opposed to intergovernmental institutions, private business firms, or civil-society organizations?

Because responsible treatment of these topics requires a multidisciplinary perspective, more than one dozen invited participants are drawn from the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities, as well as from medicine, law, business administration, and engineering. In 2014–2015, the workshop benefited from presentations by a number of guest experts, including a former senior economist at the World Bank, the chief scientist for food security at USAID, and a professor of ecology, evolution, and environmental biology at Columbia University. In February 2015, the seminar hosted a Food+ Research Symposium, featuring twenty Harvard faculty across eight different schools speaking about their current research in this area. The symposium attracted attention from local colleagues at both MIT and Tufts University, and in 2015–2016 we will invite these colleagues to share more of their research with the workshop.

The workshop meets up to eight times during the academic year over dinner. At the conclusion of the series, the group assesses its progress and considers plans for future work.

Workshop chairs are Robert Paarlberg, Adjunct Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School and associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, and William Clark, the Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy and Human Development, at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, Harvard Kennedy School. The workshop is co-sponsored by the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs and the Sustainability Science Program of Harvard Kennedy School’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government.

Those seeking an invitation to the seminar should contact Heather Conrad.


Robert L. Paarlberg

Associate. Betty Freyhof Johnson ’44 Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Wellesley College; Adjunct Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School.

William C. Clark

Faculty Associate. Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development, Harvard Kennedy School.

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