Uniting Equity and Governance: An Urgent Agenda


by Jody Harris | July 20, 2020

Governance is a key driver of agriculture and food systems, framing how they work and for whom, so a focus on equity in governance (and governance for equity) is crucial as we work towards achieving SDG 2 and towards food justice more broadly. We were interested in how these two streams – equity and governance – have come together in research in the ANH space over time, so we reviewed the literature to see what was out there.

Inequality and inequity have been addressed in the field of international agriculture for nutrition and health (ANH), both implicitly and explicitly over time. The ways poverty or gender, for instance, have shaped outcomes in this space has long been acknowledged and researched, and this year the Global Nutrition Report centered around equity, building on ideas from the Social Determinants of Health. At the same time, some academics have concerned themselves with policy and governance for nutrition, more recently looking at issues of power or the ‘enabling environment’ for nutrition and health outcomes.

But what about looking at both of these issues together? We started with an earlier scoping review of equity in ANH research since 2008, then focused in on those papers looking at governance issues. We defined equality as issues - like poverty and gender but also ethnicity, caste and others – that shape people’s life chances; and defined equity as the broader social and political processes that create those issues in the first place. From there, we wanted to further focus on governance, to understand how people have researched its institutional and bureaucratic aspects (capacity, resources, and management); policy aspects (written policies, laws and regulations); and political aspects (relative power, participation, and action within governance processes).

We created a list of words and synonyms that captured these aspects (Figure 1), and searched the 243 papers included within the original ANH equity review. This gave us a list of 28 papers which seemed to include an aspect of governance (Figure 2). We then read and categorized them, finding four were not primary research, another five did not have a clear nutrition or health angle; four more were not clear on their equity angle; and six had no clear governance angle. This left only nine papers published since 2008 that looked at ANH research and equity through some form of governance lens.

Figure 1: Governance words used for this search

Figure 2: Flow diagram for inclusion of papers in the review

These nine papers were very diverse (Table 1), including Ebola’s impact on agriculture through the lens of human capital and assets; agricultural commercialization and diets through a poverty lens; and agriculture and occupational health through a gender lens. The governance topics and approaches were also diverse, ranging from assessments of trade policy and trust in institutions, to analysis based in human rights, land tenure and social organization. Eight were single-country studies (from Liberia; two from Ghana; South Africa; China; India; Bangladesh; and Ecuador), and one was a 22-country study.

Table 1: Papers since 2008 looking at ANH, equity and governance together. For links to papers, please click here.

Overall, we found that very little ANH work on equity since 2008 has looked at governance issues. Some papers looked at the complexities of ANH, equity and governance from qualitative political and social research traditions, using ethnographic or interview-based data collection approaches and analysing through political-ecological or human rights theories. There were also quantitative papers, which used governance issues such as cooperative membership or trade policy as a dependent variable in analysis and looked at differential outcomes by aspects of inequality or inequity.

Our analysis shows that, despite a history of both equity and governance work in ANH research, few studies tie these important issues together. This is therefore a critical research gap that must be filled: We need to know how different agriculture and food system governance issues affect nutrition and health outcomes differently for different groups and through different social and political pathways. The papers in Table 1 provide an important first step in defining methods and approaches that might fill this gap; we now need researchers with expertise in ANH, equity and governance to come together across disciplines to shape future work for the benefit of all disciplines. All of us stand to benefit from more equitable food systems as a result.

Jody Harris is a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies.


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