Alternative discourses around the governance of food security: A case study from Ethiopia

Tolera Senbeto Jiren*, Ine Dorresteijn, Jan Hanspach, Jannik Schultner, Arvid Bergsten, Aisa Manlosa, Nicolas Jager, Feyera Senbeta, Joern Fischer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


Global discourses on the governance of food security span competing approaches. For example, a neoliberal approach advocates commercialized, industrial agriculture, while food sovereignty and resilience are part of an alternative discourse to food security that prioritizes locally-based agroecological food production. Understanding how global discourses play out locally and how they impact the environment and biodiversity is important to identify appropriate pathways towards sustainability. In addition to their effects on food security, different approaches could reinforce or impede the success of biodiversity conservation because of the strong interdependence of food security and ecosystems. We applied the Q-methodology to examine alternative approaches to food security and biodiversity conservation pursued by 50 stakeholders from local to national levels in southwestern Ethiopia. We identified four distinct approaches, focusing on (1) smallholder commercialization, (2) agroecology and resilience, (3) local economy and equity, and (4) market liberalization. All approaches prioritized smallholders, but perspectives on how to achieve food security varied. Agricultural intensification, commercialization, and profit were widely considered important, while support for agroecology and resilience was largely restricted to non-government organizations. With the exception of supporters of the agroecology and resilience approach, biodiversity conservation was considered as a secondary goal. We conclude it is important to acknowledge plurality of food security approaches because local conditions are characterized by a multiplicity of stakeholder interests, and because food security is a complex problem that requires a multidimensional approach. However, major contradictions among existing approaches need to be reconciled, and the agroecology and resilience approach should be strengthened to ensure the sustainable achievement of food security and biodiversity conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100338
JournalGlobal Food Security
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Food security
  • Food sovereignty
  • Green revolution
  • Market liberalization
  • Resilience
  • Smallholder commercialization


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