How can vulnerable communities build local and regional governance of food systems in the context of the climate crisis? That’s the question behind a new interdisciplinary film project co-directed by Department of Writing chair Maureen Bradley and Department of History professor Elizabeth Vibert.

Four Stories About Food Sovereignty is a research network and documentary-in-the-making. The four-year, SSHRC-funded project launched in 2019 with a workshop at the T’Sou-ke First Nation featuring participants from Jordan, South Africa, Indigenous Colombia and Indigenous Canada. Four Stories About Food Sovereignty.

Elizabeth Vibert (right) welcomes participants to the T’Sou-ke Nation in 2019 (Photo: Chen Wang)

“Our community participants live with food insecurity every day,” says Bradley. “When they came together last year, we all learned that their struggles were similar despite living on four different continents. All are impacted by myriad forces like the climate crisis, loss of native plants and predatory industrial agricultural practices.”

In the next three years, the project will create an enduring community-engaged research network encompassing interdisciplinary researchers, grassroots food producers and local producer organizations from four continents. Together, they will investigate one pressing question: How are communities to feed themselves?

Global participants, common concerns

Despite the geographic distances between participants, shared concerns quickly became evident: water scarcity, climate crisis, extractive industrial development and the challenges facing women.

“Bringing their experiences to a broad audience through film puts these global stories into a local, relatable context,” says Bradley. “Up until the pandemic, the average Victoria resident never thought about food security. When the Canada/US border closed, a lot of people panicked—but now we’ve gone back to our typical consumption patterns.”

When the UN announced in 2019 that climate shocks, conflict and economic crises have reversed the gains of the past decade in reducing global hunger, it underscored the urgency of this work.

For small-scale food producers across the Global South, conventional approaches to “food security” have contributed to a series of livelihood and food crises, as control over food systems has come to be increasingly concentrated in the hands of profit-focused transnational corporations. In response, peasant and farmer groups have allied within and across national borders to form movements that articulate a vision of sustainable, equitable, and culturally appropriate agro-food systems.

A network of support

Four Stories About Food is about creating a research network for small-scale producers to learn from each other, for researchers to learn from small-scale producers, and for the public to access information about food security issues around the world. This network will consist in the short-term of several components: an international food security workshop, a documentary film, ongoing community-engaged scholarly research and public education activities.

As part of their research, Bradley and the team will produce a documentary, filmed by Writing MFA candidate Guochen Wang filming; professors Astrid Perez Pinan (public administration) and Matt Murphy (business) round out the interdisciplinary UVic team.

One of the intital meetings at UVic

The international team include Claudia Puerta Silva, professor of anthropology at the University of Antioquia, and Bikrum Gill, assistant professor in political science at Virginia Tech. The country teams will be led by the likes of Chief Gordon Planes, Christine George, Miguel Iván Ramírez Boscan, Jakeline Romero Epiayu, Esteban Torres Muriel, Aysha Yousif Matar Azzam, Fatima Obeidat, Josephine Mathebula, Mphephu Mtsenga, Basani Ngobeni and Natalia Giraldo Osorio.

Check out @fourstoriesuvic on Instagram and Twitter to follow the development of this project