UQ social scientist takes fair food fight to UN

30 November 2018

An early career sociologist from The University of Queensland is joining the United Nations in the quest for zero hunger and fair food systems in Australia.

Dr Kiah Smith from UQ’s School of Social Science will present her research on hunger, food and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) at a UN Conference in South Korea next year. 

Working in the fields of environment and development, Dr Smith focuses on SDG’s goal (#2) - ‘zero hunger’, which calls for a fundamental transformation of the way we grow and eat food.

Dr Smith said that in Australia, inequitable access to food is a significant problem.

“3.6 million Australians are food insecure; with Indigenous people, migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, the aged, unemployed, young and rural people most vulnerable,” she said.

“And the issue is only worsening, with a 10 per cent rise in people seeking food relief in the past 12 months.”

Dr Smith’s interest lies in how community food networks such as urban gardens, farmers’ markets, charities, closed loop enterprises and cooperatives can provide lessons in confronting hunger locally.

“As part of a growing ‘fair food’ movement in Australia, these local and regionally embedded networks emphasise that food systems must be ‘fair’ to also be sustainable.

“They emphasise equitable access to food that is ecologically sustainable, healthy and fairly produced, exchanged and consumed,” she said.

This new food justice approach provides a progressive framework for thinking about alternative food futures.

In 2016, the United Nations introduced SDG’s 17 goals to guide global development to reduce poverty, hunger, inequality; address climate change, biodiversity decline, and land and water degradation; improve education, gender equality, production, consumption and urban development; and restructure institutions, financing and partnerships.

Dr Smith’s research examines whether civic food networks in southeast Queensland improved access to sustainable, healthy, local food for those who are most hungry–by mapping the scope of ‘fair food’ organisations and their sustainability values and activities, and bringing together stakeholders from policy, research and civil society.

“In countries (such as Canada), direct engagement of civil society in food system governance has resulted in major transformations in people’s ability to define healthy, sustainable and just food systems and improve food access.

“In Australia however, civil society has largely been excluded from food system governance despite evidence that it is instrumental in addressing hunger and social and ecological justice.”

Dr Smith’s work has been supported by two research grants awarded by the School of Social Science and UQ.

This United Nations Research Institute for Social Development Conference will inform a UN Task Force on Social Solidarity Economy in 2019. This event follows Dr Smith’s recent attendance at the UN’s High Level Political Forum in New York, where she accompanied the International Council for Science delegation as part of her role as a Future Earth Fellow.