Wilfrid Laurier University Professor Alison Blay-Palmer has been named United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Chair on Food, Biodiversity and Sustainability Studies. Led in Canada by the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, the prestigious UNESCO Chairs program promotes international inter-university cooperation in key priority areas for the agency. The chair program involves more than 781 institutions in 116 countries. It includes relatively few Canadian English-language universities, making Blay-Palmer only the fourth Ontario scholar to participate in the program.
Blay-Palmer is founding director of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems (LCSFS) and the Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged (FLEdGE) partnership as well as a member of Laurier’s Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and School of International Policy and Governance, based at the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA).
As a UNESCO chairholder, Blay-Palmer plans to continue to work with the LCSFS and FLEdGE to examine food sustainability from biophysical, cultural and economic points of view. With nearly 90 partner organizations around the world, the work is already international – but the UNESCO chair will help it expand its reach, with more partners in the global south and in Indigenous communities in Canada and internationally. The work will also be connected to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
In addition to working with partners around the world, as chairholder, Blay-Palmer will lead a number of Laurier faculty, staff and students working on food sustainability issues. Among these are Professor Edward Shizha, who research values traditional knowledge in Zimbabwe as scientific; Associate Professor Jennifer Baltzer, Canada Research Chair in Forests and Global Change; Adjunct Professor Andrew Spring, who is undertaking food security research in the context of biodiversity and climate change in the Northwest Territories in partnership with a number of communities; Laine Young, a PhD candidate who is producing a sustainable food systems podcast series with Amanda Di Battista, the LCSFS project coordinator; Jennifer Marshman, a PhD candidate who is researching pollinator habitat; and Elena Christy, acting project coordinator with support from Heather Reid.
The launch will include remarks from Sébastien Goupil, Secretary-General of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, Deborah MacLatchy, President and Vice-Chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University, Jonathan Newman, Vice-President Research, Wilfrid Laurier University, Ann Fitz-Gerald, Director Balsillie School of International Affairs and Chairholder Blay-Palmer. Remarks will be followed by a reception.