Hannah Wittman

 
Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

This faculty member is currently not looking for graduate students or Postdoctoral Fellows. Please do not contact the faculty member with any such requests.

Professor

Research Interests

food sovereignty
Sustainable agriculture
socio-ecological systems
Agroecology

Relevant Degree Programs

Research Options

I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
 
 

Research Methodology

Ethnography
Qualitative research methods
policy analysis
household surveys and farm mapping

Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.

 

I'm one lucky #phd student to have TWO amazing supervisors who are equally kind, fiercely intelligent AND fun. @NRamankutty @HWittmanUBC my only complaint is how much you debate when we meet (just kidding, it’s great) #DoubleTrouble #greatsupervisor @IRES_UBC @ubcfarm @LiuInstituteUBC

 

Giving a shout out to @HWittmanUBC at @IRES_UBC @ubcfarm for being a #GreatSupervisor throughout my time at @ubc -- equally formidable behind a computer, in front of a crowd, or even sampling soil (who knew!?).

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Food sovereignty and the city: urban agrarianism and agroecology in Canada and Brazil (2021)

Given the confluence of accelerating urbanization and social and ecological crises that pose profound global sustainability challenges, the “urban” has attracted attention from food systems scholars and social movement actors, including those engaged with the global food sovereignty movement. This dissertation examines the role of urban agriculture and urban agroecology in the food sovereignty movement through fieldwork in Canada and Brazil. Drawing on interdisciplinary literature on food systems sustainability, relational sociology, and urban political ecology, and using community-based and visual ethnography methodologies, the dissertation contributes three substantive chapters to food sovereignty studies. First, I develop a “sites, stakes, and scales” framework for analyzing urban food sovereignty social movement politics. Using a radical relational approach, this framing moves beyond locating the urban as a geographic “site” where food sovereignty struggles happen by also asking: What is “at stake” for both urban and rural people? And, how does connecting stakes and sites expand or constrain the possibilities for rescaling social mobilization, networks and collective action frames to pursue change at other socio-spatial “scales”? Next, I introduce the concept of urban agrarianism, defined as an urban ethic of care for foodlands and, by extension, a relational responsibility to exercise solidarity with those who cultivate and harvest food. Urban agrarians in Metro Vancouver mobilize at different scales: Within the city, on the periphery of the city, beyond the city, and against the very concept of property upon which the city is founded. Finally, through a community-based visual ethnography in southern Brazil, I explore how mobilization strategies and collective action frames in the urban agroecology movement span the urban/rural divide. The overall dissertation findings suggest that urban people involved in urban agriculture and urban agroecology can contribute to realizing goals advanced by the food sovereignty movement, such as defending food lands and provider livelihoods through social movement relations across different scales. The findings challenge common understandings of urban people as passive food consumers, depicting them instead as potential agrarian citizens, and present a path forward for research that situates urban agriculture and urban agroecology in the context of wider social and political relations.

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Resilient global food security and the World Trade Organziation: an assessment of adaptive governance (2021)

In 2007, a prolonged period of high and volatile prices in international agricultural commodity markets began what came to be known as the global food price crisis. The effects of the crisis were material and immediate; they included widespread riots and a sharp rise in hunger. The multilateral system responded swiftly, provoking a transformation of the global food security agenda and its institutions. Yet one organization whose rules were central to the crisis—the World Trade Organization (WTO)—hardly responded at all. The WTO was widely seen as an effective institution, enjoying strong support from its membership, who were the same governments initiating transformative change in other governance institutions. Why, then, did the WTO fail to respond? Could it have done better? This thesis looks for answers in the strained history of international trade and global food security and the role of the WTO in governing their relationship in the period 1995-2015. The WTO’s role has been controversial since the organization was founded. This thesis argues that both sides of the controversy make important points: although global food security depends on trade, trade is poorly served by the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. Using evidence drawn from documentary analysis, history, ethnographic observations and 59 in-depth expert interviews, the thesis is an interdisciplinary study that introduces and applies a novel analytical framework called resilient global food security. The framework builds on existing definitions of food security with the addition of three new dimensions: consonance of policy across scales; democratic accountability beyond borders; and capacity for adaptive governance and reflexive learning. The thesis finds that the WTO has failed to support resilient global food security, but argues the failure is neither inevitable nor definitive. To change, WTO members will need to redefine the role of trade agreements in the global governance of food security.

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Socioecological analysis of smallholder farming systems in the Philippines: identifying multi-scalar pathways and barriers to resilience (2019)

Climate change poses serious threats to agriculture. The Philippines is one of the foremost countries impacted by climate change, with extensive coastlines, high population density and heavy dependence on agriculture. Many smallholders are struggling to cope with intensified typhoons, changing rain patterns, floods, droughts, as well as temperature and sea-level rise. As a primary staple crop embedded in the socioecological fabric of the Philippines, rice systems are of particular significance to resilience building efforts. This dissertation engages in a socioecological analysis of smallholder farming systems within the Philippine rice sector, with the broader aim to identify multi-scalar pathways and barriers to building climate resilience. Drawing on fieldwork conducted between August-December 2016, this dissertation shares the results of a comparative assessment of organic and conventional rice systems located in Negros Occidental Province, an institutional analysis of the organic transition currently underway in the Philippines, and an exploration of a grassroots farmer-led network and their polycentric food sovereignty development approach. Primary data was collected via surveys, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, farmer interviews, and participant observation. My findings suggest that participating organic rice systems are more climate resilient than their conventional counterparts. Despite increased institutional support for organic agriculture, institutional arrangements remain largely oriented toward promoting Green Revolution technologies; obstructing the speed and scale of organic transition and limiting smallholder capacities for building resilience. To overcome adverse socioecological conditions, smallholders have organized into a polycentric network to implement food sovereignty initiatives that increase farmer control over agricultural resources. This bottom-up and multi-scalar development approach has helped smallholders across the Philippines transition to diversified organic systems, as well as enhanced local capacities for resilience building.The evidence presented here suggests that enhancing smallholder resilience in the Philippines requires improving the socioecological conditions for farmers to engage in adaptation and mitigation strategies, as well as community development efforts to reduce their vulnerabilities. To this end, agricultural policy, development agencies, and researchers must work towards capacity building alongside farmers to regenerate agrobiodiversity and locally available resources, facilitate social learning and collective action, as well as address the root causes of their political economic marginalization.

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A realist implementation evaluation of British Columbia's school food and beverage sales policy (2018)

This dissertation explores social processes related to implementation of British Columbia’s (BC) school food and beverage sales policy as a food environment intervention. Using a realist approach to evaluation, the first phase of the research focused on development of a retrospective program theory. This was used to create the framework for an implementation evaluation conducted in the second phase. I used a multiple case study approach with three urban and two rural BC school districts to explore what about this intervention is working, in what contexts, and for whom. Data collection included semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with relevant heath, education, and private industry stakeholders, observations, document analysis and website scans. Data analysis focused on identifying (i) mechanisms influencing if and how stakeholders engage in implementation activities and (ii) specific dimensions of context influencing these mechanisms. I identified four mechanisms. The mandatory mechanism refers to the ways that the mandatory nature of the policy is effective for triggering implementation efforts, influenced by a normative acceptance of the education system hierarchy. The scofflaw mechanism refers to an opposite response to the mandate whereby expected implementers may ignore and/or ‘skirt’ around the policy, influenced by beliefs about the role of government, school food, and food in general. The money mechanism refers to the way in which vendors respond to school and district demand for compliant options, influenced by beliefs about food preferences of children, health and food, and the existence of competition. The resource constraint mechanism refers to how a lack of capacity triggers otherwise motivated stakeholders to not implement. These findings helped refine the initial program theory to include an articulation of specific dimensions of context influencing implementation, an emphasis on the mandatory nature of school food environment policy, and the role of private industry. Interventions to support implementation could include: monitoring systems and incentive schemes, targeted resources to motivated school communities, initiatives to increase availability of compliant options, and to improve the private food vending environment in the vicinity of schools. There is a need to reconsider the implications of using nutrient-based standards that enable reformulation and/or finding loopholes.

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Practical mergers: export-oriented value chains and food sovereignty pathways in Haiti and Ecuador (2017)

This dissertation explores the possibilities and limitations of food sovereign agricultural value chains and the role that alternative trading arrangements, including export-oriented fair trade, can play in their development. The dissertation first develops value chain evaluation criteria from the conceptual congruence between the principles of food sovereignty and fair trade. This framework identifies six criteria that contribute to a ‘practical merger’, which is defined as an export-oriented value chain that aligns closely with food sovereignty principles. Utilizing a comparative case study methodology with a small-scale fair trade mango grower association in Haiti and a small-scale fair trade banana producer association in Ecuador, this dissertation analyzes the diverse processes and mechanisms that smallholders and their associations use to take advantage of the benefits, and mitigate the risks, of participation in fair trade export markets. It examines the following questions: What core principles of food sovereignty can be practically merged with market-based development agendas to create more equitable export-oriented value chains for small-scale producers? How can the practical merger framework contribute to understanding the relationships between participation in fair trade supply chains and food sovereignty principles?My case studies show that small-scale producers desire and rely on participation in international markets, but experience challenges related to farm size and economies of scale, the lack of participation in value chain governance, and value distribution asymmetries throughout the supply chains. Results also highlight additional limitations to small-scale producers’ abilities to shape export-oriented value chains in their favor. In Haiti, technical and structural challenges (such as access to transportation infrastructure, credit, and processing facilities) and relational challenges (reliance on a single buyer/exporter, and market competition from international value chain interventions) present obstacles to the realization of a practical merger. In Ecuador, barriers to this realization include producer/associations’ inability to influence the locus of value creation, as well as challenges around influencing policy and value chain governance beyond the local/regional level. This dissertation concludes by elaborating on the conditions necessary for export-oriented value chains to achieve a practical merger and the types of food system transformations that practical mergers in export oriented value chains can stimulate.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Improving well-being through food sovereignty: a meta-narrative literature review (2021)

Industrialized agriculture and food security interventions have failed to eliminate global hunger, while creating complex environmental, health, and well-being challenges. The food sovereignty movement, which recognizes the power imbalances and social inequities in the global food system, presents a new lens through which to design interventions to improve how agricultural practices impact individual and community well-being. This thesis project answered the following research question: how can food sovereignty frameworks incorporate assessments of health and well-being? This research contributes to the gap in our understanding of the importance of food sovereignty practices to health and well-being through a meta-narrative literature review. Four well-being narratives (environmental, physical, cultural-spiritual, and social-political-economic) were identified from the literature and used to develop a novel framework demonstrating the relationship between food sovereignty practices and multi-dimensional well-being outcomes. A set of n=37 indicators were developed and organized into four themes of environmental, physical, cultural-spiritual, and social-political-economic wellbeing, to assess the relationship between food sovereignty practices and multiple forms of well-being. This study demonstrates how the application of food sovereignty practices can influence the well-being of individuals, their environments, and communities. As well, the results of this work emphasize the importance of defining well-being holistically, rather than viewing well-being outcomes from a purely biomedical health perspective. This framework presents a way for future researchers, farmers, and agricultural organizations to begin measuring well-being outcomes that result from their food production practices.

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Planning for whom? The practice of cultural inclusion in alternative food initiatives in Metro Vancouver (2018)

As part of a social movement to challenge and transform the dominant agrifood system, alternative food initiatives (AFIs) strive to create more socially and environmentally just food systems through policy change and programming. In a culturally plural context, processes need to be in place to ensure change efforts consider the perspectives and priorities of individuals from diverse backgrounds, including from diverse racial, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. This thesis calls attention to the approaches and outcomes of AFIs towards cultural inclusion and racial justice through two case studies. The first is an analysis of the approaches to cultural inclusion by four food policy councils in Metro Vancouver. The second takes a closer look at one AFI, the Richmond community garden program, to better understand how garden participants navigate and benefit from the convergence of difference in public gardens. Through interviews, participant observation, and document analysis this thesis exposes the complexity of shifting towards culturally inclusive practice and provides key learnings for AFI practitioners as they strive towards more culturally inclusive outcomes in their own context.

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Canadian Supply Management: A Food Sovereignty Policy? British Columbia and New Zealand Industry Stakeholder Perspectives on Dairy Policy in a Neoliberal Era (2016)

As the concept of food sovereignty enters its third decade, greater analytical attention is needed to understand potentially enabling policy mechanisms in specific contexts. The Canadian supply management system for dairy, egg and poultry production is a national policy framework that controls production levels, sets prices, and limits imports. In theory, it is congruent with certain economic and political food sovereignty principles; however, the concept and value of supply management is increasingly challenged and critiqued from various socio-political perspectives. The research presented in this thesis examined supply management as a policy framework for dairy production, and its implications for food sovereignty in British Columbia (BC). In order to provide greater understanding of producer perceptions of a supply managed policy framework in relation to economic, political and socio-cultural aspects of milk production, I conducted 27 in-depth interviews with stakeholders from the BC dairy sector as well as textual analyses of industry reports. I also conducted interviews with 10 stakeholders from the New Zealand (NZ) dairy sector as a comparative case study of producer perspectives on dairy production in a liberalized policy environment. Results suggest that supply management in the BC dairy industry is more conducive to food sovereignty than the neoliberal and neo-cooperative organization of the NZ dairy industry. Yet while supply management supports economic viability for producers and demonstrates capacity for democratic governance and the development of social goals, it also has the potential to propagate economic, political and social inequities within the industry. In particular, producer identification with neoliberal economic objectives renders both supply managed and liberalized dairy systems subject to cultural forces that challenge food sovereignty principles. To function as a food sovereignty framework, supply management will require political adjustments and socio-cultural shifts both within and outside of the industry.

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Growing the Seeds of Transition: The Role of School Food Networks in Scaling School Food Initiatives Towards Systems Change in the Vancouver School Board (2016)

School food systems are significant contributors to the overall impact of humans on the planet, influencing both what students learn about food and their cumulative effects on the food systems in which they are nested. Students are influenced both by what is formally taught and by how food is experienced throughout the school day. The food procurement practices of schools and the diets that are promoted can have a large impact on the shape of food systems. Increasingly actors involved in school food systems are raising questions about the sustainability and quality of health promotion in school food systems. School food gardens and farm to school programs are two initiatives that have been undertaken with the aim to get more healthy, local and sustainable food into the minds and onto the plates of students. This qualitative case study explores the impact school food networks had on the policies and practices of the school food systems within the Vancouver School Board. The three overlapping school food networks examined in the case were Think&EatGreen@School, Farm to School Greater Vancouver and the Vancouver School Food Network, which were involved seeding and growing school food garden and farm to school initiatives in the Vancouver School Board between 2010 and 2014. These school food networks in Vancouver played an important role in supporting the development of innovative school food initiatives at the school level between 2010 and 2014, effectively supporting ‘niche’ development. School food networks facilitated niche development at school level by supporting the creation of innovative models, building the capacity of teachers and school communities through professional development and providing logistical support. When looking at broader institutional rules and practices at the school district and higher levels, impacts at the regime level were much more limited.

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Principles and Processes for Food Sovereignty: An Evaluation of the Blueberry Sector in British Columbia (2016)

As a concept that has increasingly been invoked in discussions of social and political food systems dynamics, food sovereignty calls for the holistic consideration of human and ecological aspects of agricultural systems with a focus on power and political dynamics. We investigated an export-oriented agricultural production system as a case study to understand how and to what extent food sovereignty principles can be enacted in the context of agriculture in the Global North. The blueberry industry in British Columbia, Canada, is socially and economically significant within a regional food system, and is globally integrated through export and trade. This study employs the framework of food sovereignty by drawing on principles of equity, empowerment and ecology as a methodological tool for assessing food systems, and examines how local producers in the BC blueberry industry are responding to pressures, constraints and opportunities in the global food system. I identified and operationalized key principles and processes for food sovereignty in the form of indicators. I conducted 33 structured interviews with blueberry growers representing a range of scales and modes of production. Significant themes and dynamics related to food sovereignty discussed by growers were: high demands for seasonal labour leading to mechanization; blueberry production as a means to attain a farming lifestyle while supplementing with significant off-farm income; and a perceived lack of power among growers relative to other actors in the food system. Participants expressed reduced decision autonomy through resource constraints and economic pressures. The combination of economic forces and social dynamics that have most growers locked into an industrial production cycle represent a barrier to achieving food sovereignty principles. On the other hand, there were several important institutions in the industry that support and empower growers through democratic participation opportunities, knowledge translation, and field expertise. A significant re-orientation of food systems governance and policy combined with economic re-structuring and social empowerment mechanisms would be needed to approach the realization of food sovereignty principles in the BC food system.

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Relational Nations: Trading and Sharing Ethos for Indigenous Food Sovereignty on Vancouver Island (2016)

This thesis explores how Indigenous conceptualizations of being and place influence the food trading and sharing behavior of Indigenous people on Vancouver Island. Chapter 1 utilizes critical theory to explore how historically and contemporarily Indigenous nations and people practiced a relational politics where political activity and subjectivity is nested within the tenets of relationality, respect, beneficial reciprocity, and responsibility. Chapter 1 demonstrates that Canada utilized science and rationalism to assert sovereignty and jurisdiction over Indigenous lands, nations, and people. This process altered Indigenous conceptualizations of political subjectivity. Chapter 1 conducts a theoretical exegesis of state conceptualizations of sovereignty, which reveals how food-based politics can be alternately conceptualized and enacted. That is, I argue for a relational politics oriented explicitly towards recognizing, learning from, and incorporating the concerns of the most vulnerable members of Indigenous communities – human and nonhuman – as a mechanism for relational self-determination. In Chapter 2 I analyze the trading and sharing practices of 14 Indigenous people in rural and urban Vancouver Island using an Indigenous research paradigm, qualitative research methods, and critical theory as a mode of analysis. Chapter 2 demonstrates that Indigenous trading and sharing behavior is influenced by ancestral conceptualizations of place and that enactment of these place-based worldviews changes to fit the social context in which Indigenous people find themselves. Indigenous trading and sharing behavior enables Indigenous people to fulfill relational obligations to community, each other, and their non-human kin. Hence, food trading and sharing is a mechanism for relational politics and is used by Indigenous traders and sharers to engage with, cope, and overcome dominant conceptualizations of political subjectivity. In Chapter 3, I reflect on what I have learned from Indigenous traders and sharers, and situate their stories and propositions within a broader dialogue with Indigenous and non-Indigenous social theorists on the meaning of relationships, value, and political subjectivity.

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Emerging Farmer Movements and Alternative Land Access Initiatives in British Columbia, Canada (2015)

In British Columbia (BC), Canada, the number of young farm operators is declining while the average age of farm operators is at a historic high. A rising population, urbanization and natural resource and industrial development in BC continue to place pressure on the province’s limited agricultural land base. BC also has the most expensive farmland in Canada, driven by the valuation of farmland for non-agricultural uses. It is predicted that there will be a significant transfer of farmland in the coming decades; how the land will be transferred and to whom is of fundamental concern to the trajectory of agriculture in this province. In response to farmland access challenges, young and beginning farmer networks and alternative land access initiatives have emerged in BC. In this thesis I explore these emerging young and beginning farmer and land access initiatives through the lens of the agrarian question and food sovereignty. This research was part of a collaborative community-based project and employed a survey and ethnographic methods. I argue that there is an emerging movement of young and beginning farmers in BC entering agriculture from non-farming backgrounds seeking to redress the impacts of the corporate food regime through the practice of locally oriented, ecological farming. Narratives employed by new farmer movements share discursive commonalities with the theory of repeasantization and food sovereignty movements. I provide a characterization of the diversity of alternative land access models practiced by farmers in BC and the motivations for their establishment. My analysis of these models suggests that the potential for furthering community-led land reform efforts in BC is inhibited by the high cost of land, tenure insecurity, societal attitudes favouring individual ownership, and high transaction costs. There is a need for an attitudinal and policy shift towards the management of farmland as a public good rather than a market commodity in order to support new farmer establishment, community-based land management, and the continuity of locally oriented agriculture. I conclude with policy recommendations to support new farm entrants and farmland access in British Columbia.

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News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

Publications

 
 

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