The Lex Agraria sub-project researches the transnationalization of legal rules concerning land ownership, the agrarian production and distribution of foods and the globalization of food systems. Historically, the term lex agraria referred to the land reform law of the Roman Republic that was passed in 133 B.C. under Tiberius. The central aim of the lex agraria was to reverse processes of concentration of land ownership of former public land, so called ager publicus. The Transnational Force of Law sub-project on the lex agraria dissociates the term from the roman law and uses it to denote those transnational legal rules that constitute and govern the transnational agricultural economy. What the project retains from the historical lex agraria, though, is a concern for the problematic to which the latter sought to respond, namely the concentration of land, and the expulsion of peasantry.
At present, TNCs control large sections of the food value chain and dominate seeds and input markets as well as international trade in foods and the retail markets. At the same time, they create their own legal infrastructure, organize their internal group structure, create standardized purchase agreements for agricultural businesses and enter into investment agreements with so-called developing countries. They further profit from international agreements, such as the WTO Agreement on Agriculture, that facilitate the global trade in agricultural products by reducing tariffs and subsidies, and protect investments. However, several social movements, organizations, and initiatives have challenged the dominance of TNCs in this field. The call for a UN declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas is one recent example. Several soft law instruments, such as the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of Food Security of 9 March 2012, demand the protection of the rights of affected groups. Additionally, global fair trade initiatives have issued proposals to alter the price-building mechanisms in the food markets, in response to the social and environmental side effects of industrial food production.
Furthermore, the persisting food crisis and mass starvation reveal what is at stake in this area and the lex agraria sub-project will identify the underlying normative conflicts. A preliminary assessment highlights the issue of international trade in agriculture and the right to food, but also the problems of large-scale land acquisitions by private and public investors (labeled as land grabs), as well as acreage competition between primary food production on the one hand and the production of animal feed for meat and dairy production or of agro-fuels on the other hand. The right to food and the concept of food security are the most discussed normative proposals to tackle these conflicts.
While they provide important input, the research project will draw, inter alia, on the concept of food sovereignty taking into account the plural legal settings and polycentric lines of conflict. Food sovereignty combines democratic and participatory elements and instead of focusing on the needs of large scale agribusiness, looks at the needs of small scale producers and local customers. In doing so, it goes beyond purely rights-based and economic approaches.
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