Knowledge for better food systems

Assessing sustainable food security in the EU

Image: Isiwal, Ostuni olive grove, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

This paper, co-authored by FCRN member Monika Zurek, provides a process for assessing food system sustainability in the European Union across different dimensions and scales. The approach was developed as part of the Horizon2020 SUSFANS project.

The process is divided into five steps, which cover creating a space for a variety of stakeholders to communicate, developing a conceptual framework of the EU food system (shown in the image below), developing a set of metrics to assess the food system, and integrating metrics into a visualisation tool.

Image: Figure 1, Zurek et al.

The authors call for further development of social equity metrics.

 

Abstract

Steering the EU food system towards a sustainability transformation requires a vast and actionable knowledge base available to a range of public and private actors. Few have captured this complexity by assessing food systems from a multi-dimensional and multi-level perspective, which would include (1) nutrition and diet, environmental and economic outcomes together with social equity dimensions and (2) system interactions across country, EU and global scales. This paper addresses this gap in food systems research and science communication by providing an integrated analytical approach and new ways to communicate this complexity outside science. Based on a transdisciplinary science approach with continuous stakeholder input, the EU Horizon2020 project ‘Metrics, Models and Foresight for European SUStainable Food And Nutrition Security’ (SUSFANS) developed a five-step process: Creating a participatory space; designing a conceptual framework of the EU food system; developing food system performance metrics; designing a modelling toolbox and developing a visualization tool. The Sustainable Food and Nutrition-Visualizer, designed to communicate complex policy change-impacts and trade-off questions, enables an informed debate about trade-offs associated with options for change among food system actors as well as in the policy making arena. The discussion highlights points for further research related to indicator development, reach of assessment models, participatory processes and obstacles in science communication.

 

Reference

Zurek, M., Hebinck, A., Leip, A., Vervoort, J., Kuiper, M., Garrone, M., Havlík, P., Heckelei, T., Hornborg, S., Ingram, J. and Kuijsten, A., 2018. Assessing Sustainable Food and Nutrition Security of the EU Food System—An Integrated Approach. Sustainability, 10(11), p.4271.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource chapter What can be done to shift eating patterns in healthier, more sustainable directions?, the building block What are food systems? and the FCRN’s metrics project Plating up Progress?

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Europe is the world's second-smallest continent by surface area, covering just over 10 million square kilometres or 6.8% of the global land area, but it is the third-most populous continent after Asia and Africa, with a population of around 740 million people or about 11% of the world's population. Its climate is heavily affected by warm Atlantic currents that temper winters and summers on much of the continent. In the European Union, farmers represent only 4.7% of the working population, yet manage nearly half of its land area.

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