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Food security and food systems

This interesting paper by FCRN mailing list member John Ingram, makes the important (but often neglected) point that food security is not just an issue of production, but rather an outcome of multiple social, economic and environmental factors, operating at different scales.

It makes the case for a food systems approach to investigating, assessing and addressing food security and suggests a framework for so doing.  Such a framework could help policy makers assess the potential implications of different courses of actions, identify synergies and trade offs among social, economic and other concerns, and ascertain where critical interventions in the system may be needed.


There is growing concern that satisfying societal demand for food over coming decades will be increasingly challenging. Much of the debate centres on increasing food production which has always been – and remains – an important strategy to alleviate food insecurity. However, despite the fact that more than enough food is currently produced per capita to adequately feed the global population, about 925 million people remained food insecure in 2010. Meeting future demand will be further complicated by deleterious changes in climate and other environmental factors (collectively termed ‘global environmental change’, GEC). This paper lays out a case for a food systems approach to research the complex food security/GEC arena and provides a number of examples of how this can help. These include (i) providing a framework for structuring dialogues aimed at enhancing food security and identifying the range of actors and other interested parties who should be involved; (ii) integrating analyses of the full set of food system activities (i.e. producing, storing, processing, packaging, trading and consuming food) with those of the food security outcomes i.e. stability of food access, utilisation and availability, and all their nine elements (rather than only food production); (iii) helping to both assess the impacts of GEC on food systems and identify feedbacks to the earth system from food system activities; (iv) helping to identify intervention points for enhancing food security and analysing synergies and trade-offs between food security, ecosystem services and social welfare outcomes of different adaptation pathways; and (v) highlighting where new research is needed.


Ingram J (2011). A food systems approach to researching food security and its interactions with global environmental change Food Sec.DOI 10.1007/s12571-011-0149-9

In addition to the outbound link on this page, you can download the paper here together with other papers and reports that adopt a food systems perspective. This includes a full length book on food security and global environmental change: Liverman. Ingram J, Ericksen P and Liverman P (eds). (2010). Food Security and Global Environmental Change Earthscan, which was highlighted in a past FCRN mailing and has been well reviewed here.

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