"Unravelling heterogeneity: strengthening resilience" with Professor Jan Douwe van der Ploeg

When and Where

Monday, March 15, 2021 4:00 pm to 5:00 pm


Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Professor of Transition Processes, Wageningen University


In this contribution I will argue that hidden within the large heterogeneity of both primary agricultural production and food supply chains, one encounters elements that prove valuable in that they have operated far better than other, seemingly comparable, elements during the current pandemic (just as they proved to be far better equipped to face to financial crisis of 2007-2008). These notably include peasant-like agriculture and short, localized, supply chains. Using empirical material from China, Brazil and the Netherlands, I will also try to indicate that such short supply chains are, firstly, well able to provide all the food needed, even in very large cities and metropoles and, secondly, that their radius is not limited to the local (understood as a geographical notion) but may very well include agro-eco systems operating at a considerable distance from where the produce is sold. I will introduce some theoretical notions that allow for a better understanding of the performance of these forms of production and circulation that at first sight seem to be only of secondary importance or which appear to be just remnants of the past. I argue that these aspects are actually intrinsic to these systems’ success. Finally I will offer keys for policy interventions that aim to strengthen the overall resilience of food systems.

Speaker Bio

Jan Douwe van der Ploeg is emeritus professor of Wageningen University in the Netherlands where he first was professor and chair, of rural sociology and, later, professor of transition studies. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in the sociology of farming at China Agricultural University in Beijing. Jan Douwe van der Ploeg has been actively involved in peasant movements (in Latin America and Europe) and has also been an advisor to the European Commission and the Dutch and Italian Ministries of Agriculture.

This is a School of Cities Seminar Series "Building Resilience in Food and Health Supply Chains"

Supply chains are the primary societal infrastructure for the production, delivery, and recycling of goods and services. Though sometimes invisible, supply chains are the systems that ensure that flour is available in your grocery store, that hospitals have sufficient personal protective equipment, and that there are enough trained staff to administer medical tests, deliver babies, and check-out your groceries. While much of the effort in supply chains over the past 50 years has been to make them agile, fast, and cheap, there is a growing realization that supply chains must be able to adapt to disruptions from local events such as the inability for a plane to land due to weather to global changes such as the closing of the US-Canada border due to COVID-19.

This seminar series seeks to develop a multi-disciplinary understanding of resilient supply chains by examining two which are of critical importance to everyday life: food and health supply chains. The talks in this series look at these supply chains, both independently and together, through the inclusion of diverse speakers representing at least the following perspectives:

  • Supply Chain Optimization 
  • Northern and Remote Food and Health Security
  • Urban Food Systems
  • Systems of Food Production
  • Healthcare Systems

Register here