Special Issue "Sustainable Agricultural Governance"


A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Sustainable Agriculture, Food and Wildlife".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 August 2014

Special Issue Editors

Guest Editor
Prof. Dr. Douglas H. Constance
Department of Sociology, Sam Houston State University, 1806 Avenue J, Huntsville, TX 77340, USA
Website: http://www.shsu.edu/~soc_dhc/
E-Mail: soc_dhc@shsu.edu
Phone: +936 294 1514
Interests: community impacts of industrial agriculture; sustainable agriculture

Guest Editor
Dr. Maki Hatanaka
Department of Sociology, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX 77341-2446, USA
Website: http://makihatanaka.weebly.com/
E-Mail: maki.hatanaka@shsu.edu
Phone: +936 294 4432
Fax: +936 294 3573
Interests: standards; certification; governance; food and agriculture

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

This special issue examines the capacity of non-state forms of governance to foster sustainable and just alternatives to the current neoliberalization of food and agriculture. In recent years, the use of non-state governance in food and agriculture has proliferated. On the one hand, non-state governance is purported to be a more democratic alternative to neoliberal governance, which is capable of advancing social, environmental, and cultural causes. On the other hand, critics contend that non-state governance is just another form of neoliberal governance and it is limited in its capability to produce transformative changes. Building on these debates, this special issue proposes to analyze the potential and limitations of non-state governance to increase the sustainability of food and agriculture. Potential areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to: standard and metric development processes and their implementation; questions of participation, democracy, accountability, and expertise; the ways that market structures and processes affect non-state governance; and the forms of sustainability advanced by non-state governance. We invite interested scholars to contribute to this issue.

Prof. Dr. Douglas H. Constance
Dr. Maki Hatanaka
Guest Editors


Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. Papers will be published continuously (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are refereed through a peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed Open Access monthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1000 CHF (Swiss Francs).


  • sustainability
  • Governance
  • food and agriculture
  • neoliberalization

Published Papers

No papers have been published in this special issue yet, see below for planned papers.

Planned Papers

The below list represents only planned manuscripts. Some of these manuscripts have not been received by the Editorial Office yet. Papers submitted to MDPI journals are subject to peer-review.

Title: Applying Resilience Thinking to Non-state Governance
Authors: Rebekah Green and Gigi Berardi
United States agriculture emphasizes labor efficiency and price stability. In so doing, it minimizes resilience through the reduction of diversity in size, type, and style of producer, as well as through the decreased ability to change due to the loss of historic feedback mechanisms (prices). Further, it privileges entrenched interests and bureaucracy, as well as concentrating political and economic power. Neoliberal governance, in the form of U.S. agricultural policy (and resultant programs) that claim to promote social and even environmental concerns, fall short of advancing equity and diversity agendas. This paper describes a case study in northwestern Washington of one form of non-state governance: agricultural water districts. It is the authors' contention that farmer-organized water districts can promote policies and programs based on onsite farm study, experience, and practical wisdom. Farmer-generated notions of sustainability, with a nod to resilience, also are discussed.

Title: Vertically Differentiating Environmental Standards: The Case of the Marine Stewardship Council
Simon R. Bush and Peter Oosterveer
Environmental Policy Group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
This paper explores the externally-led vertical differentiation of third-party certification standards using the case of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). We analyse this process in two dimensions. First, “MSC-plus” fisheries employ strategies to capture further market value from fishing practices that go beyond their initial conditions for certification and seeking additional recognition for these activities from international NGOs. Second, “MSC-minus” fisheries, not yet able to meet the requirements of MSC standards, are being enrolled in NGO and private sector sponsored Fisheries Improvement Projects (FIPs), providing an alternative route to global markets. In both cases the credibility and authority of the MSC is challenged by new coalitions of market actors opening up new options for capturing market value and/or improving the conditions of international market access. Using a global value chain (GVC) framework, the results offer new insights on how such standards not only influence trade and markets, but are also starting to change their internal structure and governance in response to threats to their credibility by actors and modes of coordination in global value chains.

Title: Hybrid Governance in Public/Private Partnerships: Mediating Corporate Connections and Rural Development Goals in Wal-Mart’s Honduran Supply Chains
Dara Bloom
This paper challenges the notion that the incorporation of actors from civil society into public/private partnerships improves the outcomes and legitimacy of hybrid governance arrangements. Specifically, NGOs’ responsibility for providing “market linkages” for small-scale producers in development projects is often treated unproblematically in the literature surrounding public/private partnerships, without recognizing that in many cases NGOs take on the role of market intermediary in these arrangements. Drawing on qualitative data collected in the Central American country of Honduras, this paper focuses on the public/private partnerships that have formed between NGOs and the Wal-Mart Corporation in order to integrate small-scale producers into local fruit and vegetable supply chains. Findings suggest that, as supply chain intermediaries, NGOs struggle to maintain committed relationships with both producers and supermarkets in situations of fluctuating yields and prices. In this context, the challenges of negotiating competing commercial and aid-oriented goals can lead NGOs to exclude certain producers. Combined with a lack of transparency along the supply chain, this can negatively affect these organizations’ legitimacy in the eyes of producers, other development NGOs and even their partner supermarkets. These findings illustrate the difficulties of embedding philanthropic activities in market-based systems, and demonstrate how public/private partnerships may be influenced more by commercial priorities than the elements of a partnership. Ultimately, the role of civil society actors in public/private partnerships illustrates how development NGOs are products of neoliberal, hybrid governance, even as their activities are expected to ease the transition of small-scale producers into this system.

Title: Governing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the United States: The Food Industry Response to Demands for Non-GM Foods
Tamera Dandachi and Carmen Bain
The battle over GM foods in the US has recently intensified with anti-GM social movements arguing that consumers have a “right to know” what is in their food and demanding the labeling of GM foods. As this movement has picked up momentum and media attention, consumer awareness has also increased rapidly. Numerous surveys and polls show that consumers are interested in a non-GMO label that discloses if the ingredients have been genetically modified. This rapidly changing social and political landscape is potentially extremely problematic for the food industry since the overwhelming majority of corn and soybeans—key inputs into most processed food products—are genetically modified. At the same time, some food producers, retailers and certifiers are responding to this new market opportunity by implementing labels and third party certification for non-GMO foods.

Within this context, this paper explores the response by food processors and retailers in the US to demands for non-GM foods. We argue that the food industry is developing new forms of private governance for GM foods, including self-labeling and third party certification. These initiatives are not just the result of consumer demand, but also a growing social movement that is demanding non-GMO labels and pressuring the food industry to demonstrate “social responsibility” by providing labels to consumers. We draw on the governance literature to critically assess market-based approaches, such as labeling, to address contentious social issues related to GM foods. Our analysis is based on data from in-depth interviews and a content analysis of news media websites. The interviews were conducted with approximately 25 key informants from consumer and environmental advocacy organizations, retailers, certifiers, food processors, agriculture and biotech companies, and government regulatory agencies.

Last update: 24 July 2014

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