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Call for Articles for a Special Issue - 2022

Agricultural and Food Dilemmas in Times of Crisis

Guest Editors:

  • Pierre Janin (geographer, senior researcher at IRD, Unité mixte de recherche Développement et sociétés, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/Institut de recherche pour le développement)
  • Delphine Acloque (geographer, associate researcher at CEDEJ, Cairo)
  • Saker El Nour (sociologist, associate researcher at Unité mixte de recherche Développement et sociétés, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/Institut de recherche pour le développement)

This call for articles addresses the question of “decision-making” in agriculture and food from the perspective of “dilemmas.” This multifaceted (technical, political, and ethical) issue is seldom addressed directly and is often referred to using various terms (alternatives, arbitrations, choices, disputes, etc.) (Bebbington and Bebbington, 2001). Crises are particularly subject to dilemmas due to the pressing need to take action (Burniaux, 1987), but also due to increased societal expectations.

Thinking About Dilemmas

The question of “decision-making” in a situation of uncertainty or imperfect information has been widely discussed in the global South from the angle of multiple recurring instabilities and vulnerabilities, in particular by development economists (Van Zyl and Coetzee, 1990) and agricultural or environmental economists (Janssen et al., 2012). Sociological perspectives that emphasize a critical analysis of actors’ rationality, strategy, and interest can help explain the complexity of decision making (Laflamme, 2012). At the same time, the notion of the “wicked problem” (Rittel and Weber, 1973), put forward in political science and management science, provides an interesting and robust theoretical framework: the solutions are intimately related to the very way in which the problem is set out.

In the domains of agriculture and food related to development studies, certain “problems” – setting a price, applying a standard, or setting a quota – can give rise to controversy. Such controversy can be resolved either through technical advances that settle the issue, through rather discretionary political arbitrations, or, more slowly, after public debates. The notion of the “wicked problem” has however seldom been used in the field of development studies, except for price policies (Amid, 2007; Bajracharya, 1983) or North-South inequalities (Courade and Delpeuch, 2002). “Problems” are considered in terms of challenges that are to be met through “performative” actions, via a set of innovations to be promoted and disseminated, even though these technical options come with their share of environmental amenities, economic and social counter-effects (Finco and Doppler, 2010), and actionist dilemmas (to be, to do,  to relate) (Fowler, 1995). The complex nature of agricultural and food challenges, at the crossroads of “the economy-nature-technology triad” (Espinosa-Cristia et al., 2019), is increasingly taken into account. Many documents illustrate the numerous technical options and diverging prospective scenarios to produce food and feed the planet by 2030 or 2050 (van Dijk et al., 2020). Other publications, which are more explicitly political, insist on the antagonistic nature of models and regulations within agricultural and food systems (Lang and Barling, 2012; Grochowska, 2014; Maye and Kirwan, 2013).

The “strategic dilemma” fits into this framework, but also has an additional dimension. In May 2008, the Harvard Business Review noted that developing a “strategy” is a “wicked problem” in itself. It implies that all the parameters are known, weighted, and mastered before any decision is made. Seldom is this the case for agricultural and food issues, despite the numerous international and national strategic and programmatic frameworks in most countries of the South. Governance reveals gaps (between intentions and reality), distortions (between models), frictions and struggles (between actors). Dilemmas are protean political objects: from the outset, a strong uncertainty-risk-decision nexus; poorly stabilized situations; multiple paths and options; a plurality of actors with different views, objectives, and interests; and unpredictable interactions between all these features. In the era of globalization, the notions of uncertain trajectories, bifurcations, and threshold effects add to the picture (Bessin, Bidart, and Grossetti, 2010). In the agricultural and food sector, crises with their constraints and their particular demands provide emblematic examples of dilemmas. Indeed, in situations of shortage, poverty, or conflict, options to choose from are often harrowing (Bickersteth, 1990; Schloms, 2005). In 2007-2008, governments faced crucial choices to regulate food markets (Lustig, 2012). This situation recurred with COVID-19 supply chain crisis, which has reactivated or reinforced dilemmas. Other examples will certainly emerge, due to the necessary adaptation and transformation of agricultural and food systems in response to climate change (Grin, Rotmans and Schot, 2010; Terragni et al., 2009).

A Plurality of Food and Agricultural Dilemmas in the Global South

Models and their trajectories

Dilemmas can be analyzed through the paradigms and global orientations of food systems. Some models (still) favor socio-technical, productionist, and intensive systems (Boehlje & Bröring, 2011), while others resolutely promote an agriculture that engages in global transitions (agroecology and agroforestry) (Tonneau et al., 2005). The adoption and dissemination of technical (genetically modified plants, agrofuels, etc.) or organizational innovations are key or decisive moments (Pingali et al., 2008). Some models are organized around the food security paradigm, while others promote agricultural and food sovereignty. Some subscribe to public or citizen regulatory actions; others much less. Some value the connection to the market, while others put forward a local approach (foodshed) (Verstegen, 2020) or reemphasize food self-sufficiency (Janin, 2021).

Dilemmas can also emerge due to contradictions between the imperatives of profitability, sustainability, and equity (Wertheim-Heck et al., 2019), between agricultural specialization and diversification, or even due to tensions between “commons” and “private resources” (Vivero Pol, 2013). The relationship between environmental conservation and agricultural development can also create tensions. At a time of recurrent systematic risks, is it better to make eaters feel secure or to give them satisfaction? In a globalized world, who is in control (Lang, 1999)?

Lastly, some food governance regimes are more favorable to achieving the standardized objectives of sustainable development (Veldhuizen et al., 2020), while others think they must be anthropo-localized.

Political options and their effects

Dilemmas can also be approached through the lens of “options,” that is to say through all the instruments and tools that are in the service of public action or have been reappropriated by other groups of actors. These options differ according to objectives – injunctive and prescriptive, andn sometimes contradictory (Mooij, 1999). They also vary according to standards or technical and legal regulations. These options come in turn with a set of short-term or long-term effects on societies and territories, whether expected or not, which can create other dilemmas. The latter are rarely addressed in a democratic way and they are more often tackled in a discretionary manner by the institutions involved, at the risk of their legitimacy being questioned and challenged.

Each “option” in agriculture and food comes with its share of questions and doubts (Janin, 2018): is it better to import at a lower cost or to promote national production (Mendez and Frias, 2018); to reconstitute national food reserves or seek to secure supply flows (Haug and Hella, 2013); to promote the emergence of entrepreneurs or to support small producers; to be effective or accountable to the target populations (Fowler, 1995); to satisfy consumer demands or to reassess the economic situation of producers; and to provide aid or to create the conditions for real empowerment (Poppendieck, 1994). Several “paths” seem to appear to find a way out of global agricultural and food crises, whether they are technical, redistributive, localist, or regulationist (Fraser et al., 2016).

Objectives of the Special Issue and Expected Contributions

Based on empirical studies of different geographical areas (the MENA region, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, South-East Asia, India, Oceania), this special issue will show that the notion of dilemmas allow a renewed and transdisciplinary approach to agricultural and food challenges in the global South.

More specifically, it will address the diversity of strategic dilemmas. These dilemmas concern a wide range of actors in positions of responsibility, working in the agricultural and food sector: public, private, or community institutions in charge of projects, programs, or policies, but also individuals in charge of decision-making.

These actors are most notably public institutions in charge of agricultural development, and food and nutritional security, from the international to the local levels: United Nations agencies, banks, technical ministries, public or parastatal companies and agencies. Projects or programs set up within the framework of a consortium of humanitarian and development NGOs are also concerned with dilemmas. Situations experienced by intermediate social actors (peasant groups, agricultural unions, cooperatives, associations, etc.) may also be considered. Likewise, submissions may concern foundations, companies, and individuals (craftsmen, traders, etc.), as long as the notion of dilemma is highlighted. However, submissions dedicated to dilemmas in the domestic sphere (household head or family head) or those encountered by eaters/consumers will be considered to be on the margin of the concerns of the Special Issue.

Each article in the Speical Issue will share certain key characteristics :

  • The articles will attempt to provide conceptual and contextual bases for the dilemma selected for the study.
  • They will seek to highlight its origins and the factors leading to its construction (as well as to its possible reproduction).
  • They will analyze its evolution and discuss its multifaceted effects.
  • Finally, they will take into account the actors’ discourses and positioning: is the dilemma dismissed and denied; addressed directly or bypassed; in the process of being reduced or overcome; and is it leading to claims or not?

Articles can be in French or in English.

Submission Guidelines

  • Launching the call for articles:  30 November 2020
  • Deadline for submission of abstracts: 30 January 2021 > postponed to 30 March 2021
  • Response to authors: 29 February 2021 > postponed to 15 April 2021
  • Deadline for submission of full articles: 30 June 2021 > postponed to 31 August 2021
  • Internal review: July - October 2021 > postponed to September - 15 November 2021
  • Online submission process (Scholar One Manuscripts website) : 15 November 2021
  • Journal peer review process: January - April 2022
  • Publication: 2022

Abstract: 500 – 700 words (abstract style guide attached)

Articles: Between 7,000 and 9,000 words, including abstract, references, notes, tables, and appendixes. Book reviews should not exceed 1,000 words; review essays should not exceed 3,000 words.

Submissions should be directed to:

Pierre Janin (, Delphine Acloque (, and Saker El Nour (

Article Style guide: You will find it here.



Amid J., 2007. « The dilemma of cheap food and self-sufficiency: The case of wheat in Iran », Food Policy, vol. 32, p. 537-552.

Bajracharya D., 1983. « Fuel, food or forest? Dilemmas in a Nepali village », World Development, vol. 11, n° 12, p. 1057-1074.

Bebbington A. J. and Bebbington D. H., 2001. « Development alternatives: practice, dilemmas and theory », Area, vol. 33, n° 1, p. 7-17.

Bessin M., Bidart C. et Grossetti M. (dir.), Bifurcations. Les sciences sociales face aux ruptures et à l’événement, La Découverte, Paris, 2010, 397 p.

Bickersteth J. S., 1990. « Donor dilemmas in food aid: the case of wheat in Sudan », Food Policy, vol. 15, n° 3, p. 218-226.

Boehlje M. and Bröring S., 2011. « The Increasing multifunctionality of agricultural raw materials: Three dilemmas for innovation and adoption », International Food and Agribusiness Management Review, Vol. 14, n° 2.

Burniaux J.-M. 1987. Le radeau de la Méduse: analyse des dilemmes alimentaires, Economica, col. Economie agricole & agro-alimentaire, 212 p.

Courade G. et Delpeuch F., 2002. « Cordon sanitaire pour le Nord et insécurité nutritionnelle pour le Sud. Le dilemme alimentaire aujourd’hui », Economie et sociétés, série F, n° 40, p. 619-633.

Espinosa-Cristia J., Feregrino J., Isla P., 2019. « Emerging, and old, dilemmas for food security in Latin America », Journal of Public Affairs, 19:e1999.

Finco M. V. A., Doppler W., 2010. « Bioenergy and sustainable development: The dilemma of food security and climate change in the Brazilian savannah », Energy for Sustainable Development, 14, p. 194–199.

Fowler A. 1995. « Assessing NGO performance. Difficulties, dilemmas and a way ahead », p. 143-155, in: Michael Edwards, David Hulme eds., 1995. Non-Governmental Organisations - Performance and Accountability. Beyond the Magic Bullet, Routledge, 272 p.

Fraser E., Legwegoh A., Krishna KC, CoDyre M., Dias G., Hazen S., Johnson R., Martin R., Ohberg L., Sethuratnam S., Sneyd L., Smithers J. Van Acker R., Vansteenkiste J., Wittman H., Yada R., 2016. « Biotechnology or organic? Extensive or intensive? Global or local? A critical review of potential pathways to resolve the global food crisis », Trends in Food Science & Technology, vol. 48, p. 78-87.

Grin J., Rotmans J. and Schot J. (In collaboration with Frank Geels and Derk Loorbach), 2010. Transitions to sustainable development. New directions in the study of long term transformative change, Routledge, 418 p.

Grochowska R., 2014. « Specificity of food security concept as a wicked problem », Journal of Agricultural Science and Technology B 4, p. 823-831.

Haug R. and Hella J., 2013. « The art of balancing food security: securing availability and affordability of food in Tanzania », Food security, vol. 5, n° 3, p. 415-426.

Janin P., 2018. « Les politiques alimentaires en Afrique de l’Ouest : réponse au risque ou facteur d’insécurité ? », p. 165-188, in : Grégoire E., Kobiané J.-F. et Lange M.-F (éd.), 2018. L’État réhabilité en Afrique. Réinventer les politiques publiques à l’ère néolibérale, Coll. Hommes et sociétés, Karthala, Paris.

Janin P., 2021. « Une autonomisation alimentaire de l’Afrique est-elle possible? », 10 p. in: Sébastien Abis et Mathieu Brun (ed.), Le Déméter 2021, IRIS Editions (forthcoming).

Janssen M. A., Bousquet F., Cardenas J.-C., Castillo D., Worrapimphong K., 2012. « Field experiments on irrigation dilemmas », Agricultural Systems, vol. 109, p. 65-75.

Laflamme, S. (2012). Les acteurs sociaux et la modélisation phénoménologique. Canadian Review of Sociology/Revue canadienne de sociologie, 49(2), 138-150.

Lang T., and Barling D., 2012. « Food Security and Food Sustainability: Reformulating the Debate », Geographical Journal, vol. 178, n° 4, p. 313-26.

Lustig N., 2012. « Coping with rising food prices: policy dilemmas in the developing world », p. 111-135, in: Munier B. R., (ed.), 2012. Global uncertainty and the volatility of agricultural commodities prices, IOS Press, 256 p.

Maye D., and Kirwan J. 2013. « Food Security: A Fractured Consensus », Journal of Rural Studies, vol. 29, p. 1-6.

Mendez G. R., Frias G. A. M., 2018. « Agricultural policies in Colombia : The dilemma between food security and commodity-export agriculture (Case study of Tolima, Colombia), Paper prepared for presentation at the “2018 World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty”, The World Bank - Washington DC, March 19-23, 2018.

Mooij J., 1999. « Dilemmas in food policy: About institutional contradictions and vested interests », Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 34, n°52, p. A114-A117+A119-A120.

Pingali P., Raney T. and Wiebe K. 2008. « Biofuels and food Security: Missing the point », Review of Agricultural Economics, vol. 30, n° 3, p. 506 - 516.

Poppendieck J., 1994. « Dilemmas of emergency food: A guide for the perplexed », Agriculture and Human Values, vol. 11, n° 4, p. 69–76.

Rittel H. W. H. and Webber M. M., 1973. « Dilemmas in a general theory of planning », Policy Science, vol. 4, p. 155-169.

Schloms M., 2005. « Le dilemme inévitable de l’action humanitaire », dossier L’action humanitaire : normes et pratiques, Cultures & Conflits [En ligne], n° 60.

Terragni L., Boström M., Halkier B. et Mäkelä J., 2009. « Can consumers save the world? Everyday food consumption and dilemmas of sustainability », Anthropology of food, S5.

Tonneau J.-P., De Aquino J. R., Teixeira O. A., 2005. « Modernisation de l'agriculture familiale et exclusion: le dilemme des politiques agricoles », Cahiers Agricultures, vol. 14, n° 1, p. 30-34.

van Dijk M., Gramberger M., Laborde D., Mandryk M., Shutes L., Stehfest E., Valin H., Faradsch K., 2020. « Stakeholder-designed scenarios for global food security assessments », Global food security, vol. 24, 10 p.

Van Zyl J. and Coetzee G. K., 1990. « Food security and structural adjustment: Empirical evidence on the food price dilemma in Southern Africa », Development Southern Africa, vol. 7, n° 1, p. 105-116.

Veldhuizen L. J. L., Giller K. E., Oosterveer P., Brouwer I. D., Janssen S., van Zanten H. HE., Slingerland M. A., 2020. “The Missing Middle: Connected action on agriculture and nutrition across global, national and local levels to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2, Global Food Security, vol. 24, 6 p.

Verstegen J. A. 2020. « The local versus global food debate », Nature Food, vol. 1, 198–199.

Vivero Pol J. L., 2013. « Food as a commons: Reframing the narrative of the food system », 32 p.

Wertheim-Heck S., Raneri J. E. and Oosterveer P., 2019. « Food safety and nutrition for low-income urbanites: exploring a social justice dilemma in consumption policy », Environment & Urbanization, vol. 31, n° 2, p. 397-420.