OOS 42-4
The new "three-legged stool": Agroecology, food sovereignty, and food justice

Wednesday, August 12, 2015: 9:00 AM
328, Baltimore Convention Center
M. Jahi Chappell, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
Mindi Schneider, Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, Netherlands

Triple Bottom Line or “three-legged stool” concepts of sustainability delineate economic, environmental, and social dimensions of food and agricultural systems. While laudable as frameworks that highlight the complexity of agrifood systems, they have typically left the ‘social’ leg undertheorized. In light of this, we propose a “new three-legged stool” for research and action in food and agriculture, based on agroecology, food sovereignty, and food justice.


The “new three-legged stool”approach builds on previous sustainability indicator studies, but further emphasizes the undeniably social nature of agrifood systems and sustainability. Specifically, the three legs we propose embody the following:

(1)    Agroecology includes agricultural practices grounded in academic science and/or cultural experience and development. It is animated by reflection and action within the scientific discipline that is able to continuously evaluate environmental and socioeconomic impacts of agrifood systems; and a growing social movement advocating the potential of agroecology to improve linked human and environmental health and well-being.

(2)    Food sovereignty, a concept developed by civil society actors, is about the rights of communities to decide what they eat, what they grow, and how they grow it. It is a social movement that requires (re)consideration of the political economic systems governing food and agriculture, and demands democratic control and participation in building sustainable agrifood systems. If agroecology defines part of the desired outcomes, food sovereignty describes the necessary process.

(3)    Food Justice provides a final prism to review the outcomes of any food and agricultural system endeavor. It presents the requirement that any intervention not only support sustainable practices and democratic processes, but must also provide dignified and equitable access to safe, sufficient, and healthy food for all parts of society—from food producers, to laborers, to urban consumers.

This new “three-legged stool” provides a framework that serves as an analytical and evaluative tool for scholars, policy makers, and civil society organizations involved in agrifood systems and politics. The key strength of the approach is that it places socially just and ecologically embedded practices at the heart of the analysis, while explicitly recognizing the necessity of social action for envisioning and creating renewable and sustainable food and farming systems.