Jennifer ClappJennifer Clapp, a Canada Research Chair in Global Food Security and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, has been awarded the 2018 Innis-Gérin Medal from the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). The biennial award, presented by the RSC, honours a Canadian scholar for their distinguished and sustained contribution to the literature of the social sciences.  

Clapp is being recognized for her contributions to the fields of international food security and global environmental politics. Her work has focused on the ways in which transnational corporate and financial factors influence hunger and environmental degradation, especially in developing countries. 

“I’m motivated to study problems that I see originating from inequities in the global economy that contribute to food insecurity and environmental degradation,” said Clapp. “My research is problem-focused and interdisciplinary in nature. I combine ideas from economics, political science, and environmental studies to deepen our understanding of broader trends in the global-political-economy that influence sustainability outcomes to inform policy debates about the best pathways forward.”  

Clapp’s most recent research warns that the global food industry is becoming increasingly financialized through opaque and complicated investment products that carry risks for the food system. In her recent book, Speculative Harvests: Financialization, Food, and Agriculture (co-authored with S. Ryan Isakson), Clapp notes that the influence of financial institutions such as banks, pension funds and hedge funds in the agrifood industry has exploded in recent decades.   

Jennifer Clapp at the market

The finance industry has turned food — a commodity people need to live — into complex financial products. Like sub-prime mortgages, they’ve bundled various combinations of agricultural commodity futures contracts, farmland investments together to maximize short term profit. But this volatile situation also hurts small farmers in developing countries whose land and livelihood hangs in the balance of an investment spreadsheet and not on their ability to feed people.  

The RSC established the Innis-Gérin Medal in 1966 to honour economic historian Harold A. Innis (1894-1952) and sociologist Léon Gérin (1863-1951). 

“It is such an honour to be selected for this award. I am teaching some of Innis’ important ideas in my environmental policy course this term, so it is extra special to have my contributions recognized with an award that is partly named in honour of his work,” said Clapp.  

Clapp will receive her medal in Halifax on Saturday, November 17.