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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Using a transdisciplinary approach to assess food security issues in the North American Great Plains Rolfe, J. Terry

Abstract

Addressed within ethical, economic, nutritional and political arenas, food security is commonly associated with inadequate and inequitable food distribution in areas with chronic poverty and food shortages. Given increasing climatic volatility, the ability to provide food on a local basis necessitates the prudent management of agri-food systems worldwide. To pursue this precautionary course, it is necessary to better understand the socio-economic dimensions of agricultural sustainability and the synergistic role of regions with respect to resilience, adaptation, and innovation. Progress made towards the goal of community sustainability cannot be adequately assessed without comprehensive benchmarks of production areas; these benchmarks are needed such that production methods, strategies, policies and technological options can be properly evaluated. This thesis provides the first known attempt to reconcile North American agricultural and socio-economic census detail within a transborder, tiered ecological framework. A standard statistical approach proves compatible for exploring the complex linkages between land use, production activity, socio-conomic relationships and motivations. This thesis asks: what insights can a transdisciplinary approach provide for viewing food security within this broader scope of agricultural sustainability? As demonstrated here, this framework can be used not only to link interdependent social and ecological systems, but to overcome terminological, conceptual and ideological barriers associated with polarized disciplinary positions. It also proves useful for drawing upon interpretive information typically viewed as "outside" of scientific inquiry, demonstrating the merits of the mixed qualitative and quantitative method. As illustrated by a case study of Great Plains temperate agricultural production, this approach helps put the "culture" back in agriculture, while investigating how constraints on adaptation are linked to broader, dynamically discordant socio-economic processes played out in settlement patterns, environmental activism, and material production and exchange.

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