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Connecting local and global food systems and reducing footprint

Posted on | February 8, 2015 | Comments Off

WG1 – Connecting local and global food systems and reducing footprint in food provisioning and use

The growing influence of global food value chains has raised concerns about the sustainability of food systems. Food production and consumption have large impacts on various sustainability issues such as climate change, water use, soil quality, biodiversity, etc. To take just one example, in an urbanizing society more and more food needs to be transported to urban centres. At the same time, urban areas are producing larger amounts of organic and sewage waste that need to be processed and transported away from cities. Until now the cycle of organic material and its constituent compounds like phosphorus and nitrogen is far from closed. The current urban food cycle is causing accumulation, environmental pollution, and depletion of resources such as phosphorus.

Growing out of such concerns, vibrant food movements have developed a radical critique of global food operations. These have influenced both consumers and policy makers, who then exert pressure on actors in the food chain to address this issue. One of the strategies to challenge Global Valu Chains has been the relocalisation of food systems, opposing ‘short’ with ‘long’, ‘local’ to ‘global’, and ‘different’ to ‘standard’. It is claimed, in fact, that local food systems reduce food miles, foster direct communication channels between consumers and producers, increase biological and cultural diversity, enlarge consumers freedom of choice, and re-balance the power of big players.

In response, many larger food businesses have started to address the sustainability issue seriously, investing in technologies, measurement tools, certification schemes, social reporting, and so forth, to improve their sustainability performance, and to conquer ‘minds and hearts’ of consumers.

At the same time, research has addressed the conceptual limits of relocalisation, raising the concern that localizing food markets may not yield greater efficiency in economic or energy terms. For example, is it more defensible to produce tomatoes in a nearby greenhouse heated with fossil fuels, or to import them from open fields in a warm climate? Is preserving and storing local products for off-season use more desirable than importing fresh products? Should “local” be defined in kilometers, or in terms of the social and commercial networks that are inherent to community-based food trade?

The working group will accept papers addressing these questions:

• How is the sustainability performance of food systems evolving? What theories, measurements, and assessment tools are being developed to quantify their performance? Case studies quantifying the effects of sustainability performance are welcomed.
• To what extent are local or global food networks able to keep a high social innovation profile and contribute to sustainable consumption and production? What are the more promising experiences? What are the limits of their action? Are hybrid structures feasible that combine elements of local and global?
• Are there avenues for collaboration between food movements and global players in the pursuit of sustainable production and consumption? What are the barriers? What are the risks of collaboration?
• What role might community food networks play in the building of new food-system organizational patterns? Will the agriculture of the future be defined by corporate and institutional structures, or can it remain rooted in communities?
• What kind of instruments or information could help decision makers to make the best choices?
How can policies accompany the efforts of actors in the food chains to improve their sustainability performance?


Ir.W.Sukkel, PPO, Wageningen-UR, The Netherlands
Dr. G. Brunori, DISAAA, University of Pisa, Italy
D. Barjolle, FIBL, Switzerland
E. Matjis, University of Leuven, Belgium
K. Meter, Crossroads Resource Center, Minneapolis, USA


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