Tri-Centric Governance Model for the Food Commons

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By Jose Luis Vivero Pol:

"The Tri-centric model to govern that transition to a commons-based economy


Nowadays, in different parts of the world, numerous examples of local transitions towards sustainable food production and consumption are taking place . Based on Elinor Ostrom’s polycentric governance (Ostrom, 1990, 2009), food is being produced, consumed and distributed by agreements and initiatives formed by state institutions, private producers and companies, and self-organized groups under self-negotiated rules.


The tri-centric governance schemes are usually compounded of

(a) civic collective actions for food undertaken initially at local level and whose aim is mostly preserving and regenerating the commons that are important for the community (food as a common good);

(b) the government whose main goal is to maximize the well-being of their citizens and providing an enabling framework to enjoy the commons (food as a public good); and

(c) the private sector that can trade undersupply, specialised or gourmet foodstuff (food as a private good).


Those initiatives demonstrate that a right combination of self-regulated collective actions, governmental rules and incentives, and private sector entrepreneurship yield good results for food producers, consumers, the environment and society in general, and the challenge now is how to scale up those local initiatives to national level. Civil Society + Ethical Economy + Partner State (enables and empowers social production = commons-oriented peer production)


The re-commonification of food will take several generations so the transition phase should witness greater levels of public sector involvement. The enabling State (similar to that of a partner state ) has a vital role to play through taxing and incentives schemes, public credit and subsidies for collective actions, enabling legal frameworks that are not too stringent for self-regulated initiatives and land reforms to maximize common interest. Public/Commons Partnerships shall be promoted so as to guarantee Health, Education, Water, Food and Energy Coverage. The state must be seen as a funding and operational instrument to achieve the society’s well-being, being food security part of it. However, this leading role of states should gradually be shifted to the self-initiated collective actions by producers and consumers, as the public provision of food does not surpass the net benefits yielded by the self-organized and socially-negotiated food networks. Therefore, there should be enabling spaces for local governments, local entrepreneurs and local self-organized communities to coexist."