Sophia Murphy

Study program:
PhD Resource Management and Environmental Sciences
Current affiliation:
University of British Columbia

How do nations achieve food sovereignty? Sophia Murphy is exploring international and local mechanisms to improve food security. 

Sophia Murphy is a 2013 Trudeau scholar pursuing a doctoral degree at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia.  Murphy has over twenty years of professional experience as a widely published policy analyst working on food, agriculture, and international development. Her recent work includes definitions of food security, analysis of price volatility in international food commodity markets, and competition and market power in globalized food systems. She is one of the 15 members of the United Nations High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, a senior advisor to the Trade and Global Governance Programme of the Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and a board member of ActionAid USA.

Doctoral research

Resilient Food Security: Strengthening the International Governance of Agricultural Trade in Support of the Human Right to Food

Sophia’s doctoral research will examine a paradox at the heart of trade and food security policies: although international trade is considered essential for food security, international agricultural trade policies have contributed significantly to food insecurity. Policymakers too often reduce food security to a technical matter: they reason that if they can ensure sufficient supply and deliver food through markets (including international trade), consumers will buy it with their incomes, possibly supplemented with public assistance. This understanding of food security has underpinned support for liberalized trade. Empirical observation, however, confirms that markets are efficient but insufficient to the realization of the human right to food. To achieve good policy, it is essential that policymakers understand the politics, the environmental limits, and the complexity of food systems. Sophia’s doctoral work will research the contradictions in the debates on markets and trade to assess alternative approaches to food trade governance that would help eradicate extreme hunger and realize the human right to food.

Sophia Murphy has twenty-five years of professional experience in international development cooperation. She works on multilateral trade and investment agreements and their relationship to food security and rural development. Her research and advocacy has ranged across diverse dimensions of food systems, including international trade law, domestic support programmes in a dozen countries, rural development, food aid, the right to food, international commodity agreements, and concentrated economic power in food and agriculture markets. She has worked for non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, and consulted with government agencies and think tanks. She has taught university level courses. In 2013, Sophia enrolled in a full-time PhD programme at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. She is a PhD Candidate and expects to complete her degree in December 2017. Sophia is serving her second concurrent term as one of 15 members of the international High Level Panel of Experts to the UN Committee on World Food Security. She is the Chair of the Board of Directors of ActionAid USA. She writes for both academic and non-academic audiences, and has given interviews for national television, radio and print media in several countries. She is bilingual (English/French) and a dual national of Canada and the UK.

Experience as a Trudeau scholar

The Pierre Elliott Trudeau scholarship is a remarkable opportunity to learn, explore, and interrogate issues of importance to Canada. In my last two years, for example, I worked with 2015 scholar, Anelyse Weiler, on a small project to learn and write about food security issues in Canada’s North, building from the Summer Institute in Whitehorse in 2016. Neither Anelyse nor I is investigating those specific issues in our PhDs. Yet both of us are compelled by the urgency of the problems and their complexity, and by the importance of putting an indigenous Canadian context onto the questions of food security and food sovereignty that inform our research. The Trudeau Foundation creates the space for this kind of synergy to occur. By providing funding, intellectual content and an amazing network of Canadians to work with, the support for new endeavours that build on academic research yet open into the realms of public policy and government action is tremendous.

My thesis is about the regulation of international trade and the realization of food security and nutrition for all. The Trudeau Scholarship gave my work a Canadian anchor point, introducing me to a dozen scholars and researchers doing quite different kinds of work but all of them focused on food systems. Foundation events are not a place to work on and refine a thesis—that is something that we find in our university departments and in exchanges with others in our field. Rather, the Trudeau Foundation provides a way for scholars to apply what we know, and to challenge how we know what we know, and to encourage us to think about the relevance of the PhD beyond our next journal article or job talk.