Sophia Murphy

PhD Candidate

Research Interests


I am a PhD candidate in the Resource Management and Environmental Studies programme at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. I was awarded a Vanier scholarship and was also a 2013 Trudeau scholar with the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation. I served two terms as a member of the UN Committee on World Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts (2013—2017).  I came to the PhD programme with 20 years of experience as a public policy analyst focused primarily on food systems, food security, and international trade. Most of my work was at the multilateral level, working with civil society organizations in the context of UN and the World Trade Organization negotiations.

I have published extensively on food systems, including book chapters, journal articles, as well as policy briefs and opinion pieces. I am bilingual (English/French) and a Canadian and British national. I live in Squamish.

Thesis Title & Description

“Resilient Food Security and the WTO: An assessment of adaptive governance”

My thesis focuses on the rules that govern international food trade, in particular the WTO Agreement on Agriculture. My question is, as an institution with an important if weakly defined role in the international governance of food security, to what extent is the WTO able to contribute to strengthening the resilience of global food systems? I start with two observations: first, that international trade plays a central role in most of the world’s national food systems, including in national food security strategies. Second, that the desirability of this role is the subject of fierce debate. The debate consists of advocates, who insist international trade provides an important strategy to reduce the risk that people will go hungry, and detractors, who insist international trade creates risk in food systems, and increases food insecurity. In fact, trade has a complicated relationship with food security. Trade is an important source of food. But it can also divert land from food production into other, saleable, crops with the effect of reducing the supply of food on local markets. Trade affects the returns to farmers from their production, and the wages and amount of work available for farm labourers. Trade is important for nutrition, changing the composition of available foods and introducing foods that may have more or less nutritional value. Trade also changes the geography of food production and consumption, and the ecological footprint of food systems. I take an ethnographical approach to understanding international trade diplomacy, looking at 20 years of WTO agriculture negotiations to better understand how trade rules are negotiated and how those negotiations relate to evolving priorities for the global food security agenda. I introduce and define the concept of resilient global food security and use it to assess the WTO’s capacity to adapt and learn in the face of the evolving challenges facing food security.