Food Policy as a Wicked Problem: Contending with Multiple Demands and Actors

Date01 March 2014
Published date01 March 2014
World Food Policy
B. Guy Peters1 and Jon Pierre2
1 Maurice Falk Professor of American Government, the Department of Political Science, University of Pitts-
burgh, USA.
2 Department of Political Science, Gothenburg University, Sweden.
Food Policy as a Wicked Problem:
Contending with Multiple Demands and Actors
Solving any policy problem is diicult but some are more diicult than are others.
As food becomes a more central political issue the underlying conlicts between ac-
tors–producers and consumers, GMO producers and opponents, etc.–become more
apparent and more intensely politicized. Further, food policy becomes more diicult
to discuss independently and becomes embedded in other policy debates such as those
over water, population and climate change. his paper conceptualizes food policy as a
“wicked problem” and discusses how this concept originally derived from the planning
literature illuminates the diiculties involved in making contemporary food policy.
Keywords: wicked problem, food security, unanticipated consequences, social com-
Providing adequate, safe, and nutri-
tious food has always been a crucial
demand on society, and on govern-
ment, but that demand continues to be-
come more dicult. e capacity to pro-
vide food for the people of the world is
threatened by a number of factors. Perhaps
the most obvious of those factors is simply
that there are more of those people to feed.
With current rates of population growth
approximately 40,000 more people each
day must be fed. And those people are not
distributed evenly, but population tends to
be increasing in countries that already face
severe challenges in feeding their popula-
e eects of population increases
are to some extent being compounded by
the signicant successes in economic and
social policies in reducing extreme pover-
ty (Ravallion 2013). Obviously increasing
the consumption of millions of people who
lived in abject poverty is a triumph for hu-
manitarian policies, but it also means that
these people will place greater demand
on the system for food production. And
the increased demand may be greatest for
products like meat that require t he great-
est inputs, and hence will create additional
strains on production.
At the same ti me that t he popu la-
tion is increasing many of the factors need-
ed for food production are being even more
strained. Many areas that are important
for food production are now in persistent
drought, and groundwater resources are
being exhausted (Wines 2013). In addition
to the strain on water resources that results
in part from climate change, that change
also inuences the viability of many tradi-
tional agricultural regions. Crops that once
may have grown well, e.g., wheat in the
southern plains in the United States, may
no longer be viable because of increasing
temperatures. While other crops may be-
come viable in those regions, the produc-

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