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 Food Regimes as a Regional Comparative Lens

Roland Riachi


Mainstream commentators depict food problems in the Arab region to be due to a combination of natural resources scarcity of arable lands and water, insecurity and wars, demographic growth, technological needs, value-chain mismanagement, or bad governance. This narrative is not new, the region has long been represented as doomed in a Malthusian crisis, one leading to the region’s overall insecurity. This reductionist vision, for explaining food shortages and dependency of the region, is misleading.  If there is an import dependency on cereals from one side, there is also from the other, an export dependency of water-intensive crops to namely satisfy European and Arab Gulf demands. Agriculture and food in the Arab region are anchored in the history of power relations that is ruled by flows of capital and the shaping of ecological transformations during the longue durĂ©e of capitalism and its corresponding modes of control and regulation. Therefore, there is a long historical agricultural past to seize to understand the challenges of contemporary Arab food systems.

The concept of food regimes, developed by Friedmann and McMichael, refers to a mode of food production, circulation, and consumption on a global scale. It identifies three periods that ruled global food systems: a first food regime (1870-1930s) called the “imperial food regime” with British hegemony on the world economy, and a second food regime (1950s-1970s) under US hegemony in the postwar world economy, also called the “industrial-development food regime” or “Green Revolution food regime”, and finally, the emergence of a third stage in the 1970-80s, which is the “corporate food regime”, market-driven, and characterized by neoliberal policies. Applying such a comparative-historical lens to the Arab region offers an analysis of spatio-temporal similarities and differences, endurance and change, continuities, and discontinuities highlighting the region’s core-periphery dynamics and transformations. Three major dimensions of power relations to food will be discussed during those periods: land property, technology, and market dependence.


Roland Riachi is an Associate Researcher at the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration of the American University of Beirut. He previously worked as a Visiting Assistant Professor at AUB and also as an economist with many UN agencies, such as ILO and ESCWA. He is currently based in France. Roland’s research topics include political economy and political ecology, with emphasis on environmental, water, and food critical studies in the Middle East and North Africa.