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Navigating the Opportunities and Risks in Global Food and Resource Governance
FRE 531
Instructor: Dr. Matias E Margulis
Office Hours: Tue 4-5pm or by appointment
Class Schedule: Jan 9 to Feb 17

Fri 9-12 pm

Classroom: MCML 154
Important Course Pages
Lecture Notes
Course Discussion

Course Information

Class Time: Fridays 9:00-12:00 pm from January 9 to February 17

Room: MCML 154

Instructors: Dr. Matias E Margulis

Office Hours: Tuesdays 4-5 PM or by appointment. 

Course Description

Students taking this course will develop a better understanding of the role of governments, business, civil society and international institutions in global food and resource policy-making.  The course is organized around the examination of real-world controversies in global food and resource governance – such as, but not limited, to global food crises, large-scale land acquisitions, and the agriculture negotiations at the World Trade Organization.  We will use these cases as the basis to explore how an issue or problem comes to be placed on the international policy agenda, which actors get to participate in the global policy-making process, and why global policy-making efforts succeed or fail.  Students who complete this course will develop substantive knowledge of global policy-making around food and resources and be able to assess the efficacy, fairness and legitimacy of, and possible alternatives to, current global policies and governance arrangements.

Biographical Statement

Matias E. Margulis is Assistant Professor in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs and Faculty of Land and Food Systems. His research and teaching interests are in global food security, international trade and development. In addition to his academic research, Dr. Margulis has extensive professional experience in the field of international policymaking and is a former Canadian representative to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). He has also advised the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and the Scottish Parliament and consulted for international NGOs and the Brookings Institution.

Course Structure

6 interactive discussion-based seminars of 3 hours each, once a week for 6 weeks (see weekly topics for the details).  Weekly seminar discussions will focus on the key concepts and central arguments in the required readings.  

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this course, student will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of the role of global public, private and hybrid institutions active in regulating the food and resources sector;
  • Identify and assess the preferences of different stakeholders and their capabilities to influence the global food and resources policy;
  • Appraise the effectiveness and equity of global policies and regulations designed to respond food and resource problems;
  • Analyse and integrate various forms of evidence and data to assess complex global food and resource problems and policies;
  • Apply knowledge, skills and understanding in planning and executing research on contemporary problem in global food and resource governance.

Learning Activities

This course utilizes a variety of learning activities, including required readings; participation in class and group-based discussion; short lectures; in-class research activities; desk-based research; written analysis.

Course requirements

Your grade shall be determined as follows

Evaluation Percent of Grade Due Date
Research activity #1 20% Week 3
Research activity #2 20% Week 5
Research Paper 45% Week 6
Class participation 15% Evaluated during weeks 2-6

Research activity #1

Students will produce a trade profile of a WTO member states. Students will be randomly assigned a country by the instructor in Week 1. Detailed instructions and a template will be posted on Canvas.

Research activity #2

Student will evaluate the key principles, criteria and decision-making process of a major food or resource certification scheme. Students will choose one scheme from a list provided by the instructor. Detailed instructions and a template will be posted on Canvas.

Research paper

Students will undertake a research paper of approximately 2500 words on a major issue in global food and resource governance. The purpose of the research paper is for students to communicate to others what you have learned and to integrate and apply the knowledge gained throughout the course. A list of research paper topics will be provided in week 3. Students may also propose an alternative research paper topic for approval by the instructor no later than week 4.

Seminar participation

This is your opportunity to demonstrate you have read the material and to participate constructively in seminar discussions. Seminar participation may also include being asked by the instructor to introduce a reading, answering discussion questions, undertaking additional in-class research and writing tasks, and other group work as determined by the instructor.

Tips on preparing for weekly seminars

Each week I will provide several discussion questions in advance to guide your readings and help you focus on the big picture. You should bring your notes on the readings, including preliminary responses to the discussion questions, each week with you to the seminar. This way, you will have comments and reflections already prepared to contribute to the class discussion (rather than having to rely on memory or feel pressure to come with an answer on the spot). I also encourage students to pose their own questions during the seminar discussions. There will be a also discussion board set-up for each week for students to pose questions. Please make sure your questions are framed in a concise way and are intended to clarify or extend the core arguments in the week’s readings. If you have factual questions (such as the explanation of an acronym, a major historical event or about data) you should first search out the answer on your own and raise them with me only if you weren’t able to find an answer. Please pose any questions that you have on Canvas the night before the seminar.

How is my class participation evaluated?

Your performance will be indicated along the ‘strong-weak’ scale provided below. Your participation mark will be comprised of an average of these different components.

Aspects of performance Performance
Strong Weak
Attendance and preparation Student is always

present and prepared;

shows clear evidence of reading

Student is rarely

absent or late

and is usually prepared

Student is often

late/absent or


Student is


most week

Level of engagement in class

(including group activities)

Student regularly contributes;

listens to and constructively engages

w/ others, including in group work;

is well informed, coherent, clear and engaging

Student contributes/

engages sometimes

Student rarely

engages/ contributes.

Student never

contributes or

constructively engages

Course policy on late submissions

Late papers will have 5% of total marks for the assignment deducted for each day/partial day (including weekend days) beyond the due time.

Course Schedule & Readings

Week Topic
Week 1 Introduction & impacts of COVID-19 on the global food system
Week 2  Responding to global food price crises
Week 3 Negotiating agricultural trade at the WTO
Week 4 Governing large-scale farmland investments
Week 5 Certifying agro-food supply chains
Week 6 Sustainable food consumption

Each week there are required and suggested further readings. Students are expected to cover all of the required materials each week as these will be the basis for seminar discussions. The suggested further readings are optional and intended for students who wish to explore the weekly topics in greater depth and/or master the material. The readings materials for each week are a mix of traditional academic journal articles, reports by international organizations and think tanks, and podcasts. All learning materials will be available online. You will find hyperlinks below to all readings. Please note your web browsers will need to be logged into the UBC academic library in order to access the academic journal articles.

A key professional (and life) skill to pick-up during your studies is how to read critically. Critical reading is different from criticism or reading only for facts and information. It is method to improve your understanding of how arguments are constructed and the use of evidence. Critical readings will enhance your comprehension of the materials and improve the quality of your won writing and analysis. If the terms “critical reading” or “active reading” are unfamiliar to you, I highly recommend you check out the following practical guide prepared by the Harvard University Library: You’ll find excellent tips on how preview, annotate and summarize readings.

Week 1

Suggested readings

FAO (2020). FAO: 1945, a Hungry World Rolls Up Its Sleeves. Available at:

WFP-USA (2020). Hacking Hunger: Episode 47 – Poverty, Policy and Pandemic with Johan Swinnen. Available at:

von Braun, Joachim. 2018. Global institutions: Governance reform for food, nutrition, and agriculture. In 2018 Global food policy report. Chapter 8. Pp. 62-71. Washington, DC: IFPRI. Available at:

Group activity for week 1: Exploring the impacts of COVD-19 using the World Food Programme (WFP) Dataviz tool. This will be done during seminar time and instructions will be provided in-class.

Week 2

Required readings

Mittal, A. (2009). The 2008 Food Price Crisis: Rethinking food security policies (G-24 Discussion Paper Series). New York and Geneva: UN. Available at:

Planet Money podcast (2011). How Fear Turned A Surplus into Scarcity. Available at:

Wise, T. A., & Murphy, S. (2012). Resolving the food crisis: assessing global policy reforms since 2007. *Read Part 1 & 2 Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAI). Available at:

Group activity for week 2: Comparing responses to the global food crisis – where are they now? *Students to complete individual work in in advance the seminar (instructions posted on Canvas).

Suggested further readings

Cuesta, J., Htenas, A., & Tiwari, S. (2014). Monitoring global and national food price crises. Food Policy, 49, 84-94,

Compton, J., Wiggins, S., & Keats, S. (2010). Impact of the global food crisis on the poor: what is the evidence? London: ODI. Available at:

Horton, S. (2009). The 1974 and 2008 Food Price Crises. The global food crisis. LCERPA Economics Research Paper 2009-06. Available at:

Clapp, J. (2009). The Global Food Crisis and International Agricultural Policy: Which Way Forward? Global Governance: A Review of Multilateralism and International Organizations, 15(2), 299-312,

Institute of Development Studies (2018). Between the Lines Podcast Podcast: Food Riots Food Rights and the Politics of Provisions – Naomi Hossain & Patta Scott-Villiers. Available at:

Week 3

Required readings

WTO (2020) “WTO in brief,” available at: ; “Agriculture: fairer markets for farmers,” available at:

Ungphakorn, P. (2020). The 20-year saga of the WTO agriculture negotiations. Available at:

Hopewell, K. (2019). US-China conflict in global trade governance: the new politics of agricultural subsidies at the WTO. Review of International Political Economy, 26(2), 207-231,

Group activity for week 3: You will apply the research you completed for Research Activity #1 in a partial simulation of a WTO negotiation session. Instructions will be provided during the seminar.

Suggested further reading

Murphy, S., & Hansen-Kuhn, K. (2020). The true costs of US agricultural dumping. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 35(4), 376-390,

Brink, L. (2009). WTO Constraints on Domestic Support in Agriculture: Past and Future. Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics/Revue canadienne d'agroeconomie, 57(1), 1-21,

Clapp, J. (2006). WTO Agriculture negotiations: implications for the Global South. Third World Quarterly, 27(4), 563-577,

Week 4

Required readings

Cotula, L (2020) "The future of land: commercial pressures and the case for systemic law reform to secure rural land rights", in Milton Obote Ochieng, C (ed.), Rethinking land reform in Africa: new ideas, opportunities and challenges, African Natural Resources Center, African Development Bank, Abidjan. Available at:

FAO (2020). Extraterritorial investments in agriculture in Africa: the perspectives of China and South Africa.*Read Part I and II. Available at:

FAO eLearning Academy. “Introduction to the Responsible Governance of Tenure” *At minimum cover lessons 1 & 2. Available at: and “Investing Responsibly in Agricultural Land” *cover what interests you. Available at:

*Please note you will have to register a free account with the FAO eLearning Academy to access these online lessons

Group activity for week 4: Identifying trends in large-scale farmland investments using the Land Matrix. Instructions will be provided during the seminar.

Suggested further reading

Cotula, L., Vermeulen, S., Leonard, R., & Keeley, J. (2009). Land grab or development opportunity?: agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa. London: IIED/FAO/IFAD. Available at:

Kapstein, E (2018). Governing the global land grab. Global Policy 9(2), 173-183.,

International Land Coalition (2020). Uneven Ground. Available at:

Week 5

Required readings

E Cordoba, S. F., Onguglo, B., Hoekman, B., Schleifer, P., Fiorini, M., Fransen, L., et al. (2018). Voluntary Sustainability Standards, Trade and Sustainable Development: 3rd Flagship Report of the United Nations Forum on Sustainability Standards (UNFSS). *Read Part I and II Available at:

Subramanian, Samanth. 2019. Is fair trade finished? The Guardian. July 23. Available at:

World Resources Institute Podcasts (2020). Certifying Sustainable Palm Oil with Andika Putraditama. Available at:

Group activity for week 5: Comparing design and challenges of certification schemes. Instructions will be provided during the seminar.

Suggested further reading

IISD and SSI (2019). Major trends and challenges in the production and consumption of agricultural commodities compliant with voluntary sustainability standards. Dec. 19. Available at:

Auld, G. (2010). Assessing Certification as Governance Effects and Broader Consequences for Coffee. The Journal of Environment & Development, 19(2), 215-241,

Brandi, C. A. (2017). Sustainability Standards and Sustainable Development – Synergies and Trade-Offs of Transnational Governance. Sustainable Development, 25(1), 25-34,

Week 6

Required readings

Reisch, L., Eberle, U., & Lorek, S. (2013). Sustainable food consumption: an overview of contemporary issues and policies. Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, 9(2),

FAO. 2020. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020: Transforming food systems for affordable healthy diets. *Foreword, Executive Summary, and your choice of one of sections 2.1, 2.2, 2.3 or 2.4 (recommend you try to read at least two of these sections). Available at:

Financial Times (2020). Audio feature: how to eat sustainably. Available at:

Weekly group activity for week 6: Stakeholder-mapping exercise of UN 2021 Food Systems Summit. Instructions will be provided during the seminar.

Further suggested readings

Willett, W., Rockström, J., Loken, B., Springmann, M., Lang, T., Vermeulen, S., et al. (2019). Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. The Lancet, 393(10170), 447-492,

Fanzo, J. (2019). Healthy and Sustainable Diets and Food Systems: the Key to Achieving Sustainable Development Goal 2? Food Ethics, 4(2), 159-174,

Vermeir, I., Weijters, B., De Houwer, J., Geuens, M., Slabbinck, H., Spruyt, A., et al. (2020). Environmentally Sustainable Food Consumption: A Review and Research Agenda from a Goal-Directed Perspective. Frontiers in psychology, 11, 1603-1603,

Baker, P., Hawkes, C., Wingrove, K., Demaio, A. R., Parkhurst, J., Thow, A. M., et al. (2018). What drives political commitment for nutrition? A review and framework synthesis to inform the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition. BMJ Global Health, 3(1), e000485, http://doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2017-000485

University Policies

UBC provides resources to support student learning and to maintain healthy lifestyles but recognizes that sometimes crises arise and so there are additional resources to access including those for survivors of sexual violence. UBC values respect for the person and ideas of all members of the academic community. Harassment and discrimination are not tolerated nor is suppression of academic freedom. UBC provides appropriate accommodation for students with disabilities and for religious and cultural observances. UBC values academic honesty and students are expected to acknowledge the ideas generated by others and to uphold the highest academic standards in all of their actions. Details of the policies and how to access support are available here (

Academic Misconduct

Academic honesty is essential to the continued functioning of The University of British Columbia as an institution of higher learning and research. All UBC students are expected to behave as honest and responsible members of an academic community. Breach of those expectations or failure to follow the appropriate policies, principles, rules, and guidelines of the University with respect to academic honesty may result in disciplinary action. 

Academic misconduct that is subject to disciplinary measures includes, but is not limited, to the following: 

  • Plagiarism, which is intellectual theft, occurs where an individual submits or presents the oral or written work of another person as his or her own. In many UBC courses, you will be required to submit material in electronic form. The electronic material will be submitted to a service which UBC subscribes, called TurnItIn. This service checks textual material for originality. It is increasingly used in North American universities. For more information, review TurnItIn website online. 
  • Cheating, which may include, but is not limited to falsification of any material subject to academic evaluation, unauthorized collaborative work; or use of unauthorized means to complete an examination. 
  • Submitting others work as your own, may include but not limited to i. using, or attempting to use, another student’s answers; ii. providing answers to other students; iii.  failing to take reasonable measures to protect answers from use by other students; or iv. in the case of students who study together, submitting identical or virtually identical assignments for evaluation unless permitted by the course instructor. 
  • Resubmission of Material, submitting the same, or substantially the same, essay, presentation, or assignment more than once (whether the earlier submission was at this or another institution) unless prior approval has been obtained from the instructor(s) to whom the assignment is to be submitted.
  • Use of academic ghostwriting services, including hiring of writing or research services and submitting papers or assignments as his or her own.

Student Responsibility: Students are responsible for informing themselves of the guidelines of acceptable and non-acceptable conduct for examinations and graded assignments as presented via FRE code of conduct guidelines; course syllabus and instructors; and UBC academic misconduct policies, Review the following web sites for details: 

Penalties for Academic Dishonesty: The integrity of academic work depends on the honesty of all those who work in this environment and the observance of accepted conventions. Academic misconduct is treated as a serious offence at UBC and within the MFRE program. Penalties for academic dishonesty are applied at the discretion of the course instructor. Incidences of academic misconduct may result in a reduction of grade or a mark of zero on the assignment or examination with more serious consequences being applied if the matter is referred to the Dean’s office and/or President’s Advisory Committee on Student Discipline. Note: If a student needs to extend his/her program due to a failed course or unsatisfactory progress, they will have to pay the full MFRE tuition fees for that term/s.


All materials of this course (course handouts, lecture slides, assessments, course readings, etc.) are the intellectual property of the Course Instructor or licensed to be used in this course by the copyright owner. Redistribution of these materials by any means without permission of the copyright holder(s) constitutes a breach of copyright and may lead to academic discipline.

Students are not permitted to record seminars.