The transformative potential of the food system concept: Sustainability conflicts or sustainability transitions?

Introduction - global food systems and food security

Today, providing urban populations with food is dependent on the global food systems both in the Global North and Global South (Misselhom et al., 2012). The instability of the global food system became evident during the 2007—2008 global food crisis with its spiking food prices and direct repercussions on global food security (Rosin et al., 2012). This process demonstrated the illusion of the idea of‘cheap food’ as the solid pillar of global food security (ibid). The global food system is part of the liberalised global trade market and thus under the spell of the volatility of financial markets closely linked to the agro-industrial complex (Killeen et al., 2008; Feintrenie, 2014).

The effective functioning of the global food system demands the fulfilment of a number of preconditions, such as continuous access to land, energy, water and other resources, the absence of environmental disturbances and disasters such as droughts, floods, soil erosion or the contamination of air, water and soils and lack of disturbances resulting from political and military conflicts, or terror attacks (Sage, 2013; Porter et al., 2014; Dyball, 2015; Morgan, 2015; Olsson, 2018a). In a world of increasing uncertainty (Steffen et al., 2015), the above preconditions are not guaranteed. Therefore, dependence on the global food system is jeopardising human food security irrespective of the scale, be it international, national or local.

With growing insight into the consequences of the global food system for the environment, many cities in the Global North have implemented local/regional food strategies, food charters and other food system-related policies in an attempt to improve urban food security and encourage sustainable food system activities (Mor- agues-Faus et al., 2013; Ferguson, 2017; Olsson 2018b). Such activities include, for example, climate and ecosystem-friendly production methods, minimising the transportation of commodities in favour of food production located closer to consumers, and food systems driven by local participation and community actions (Blay- Palmer et al., 2018). There seems to be connection between several of the proposed food system activities and Transition Movement actions (1PBES, 2018). Could the development of a sustainable food system catalyse change/transitions towards sustainability? In order to explore this question, the aim of this chapter is to examine the link between sustainable food systems and pathways towards sustainability transitions.

The scope of food system issues and their connection to the Sustainable Development Goals

The food system encompasses the activities and processes of producing food, processing and packaging food, distributing and retailing food, and consuming food (Misselhorn et ah, 2012) with the aim of securing food security at the scale in question. Globalisation has changed food security dynamics by involving food products and agricultural input commodities in the global trade market and global food system. At locations for large-scale export of agricultural commodities, local food production has been jeopardised by making land to produce local food unavailable. In parallel, food security is threatened in regions that depend on the long-distance transportation of food products from the global food system. This heavy dependence on distant landscapes and the global food system is illustrated by the case of pork production in Denmark, which is reliant on the import of soy cake from Brazil (Dyball,

2015). Apart from distant land use, the globalised food production results in increased transportation in order to transport products from the country of their production to the country of consumption (Kastner et al., 2014), which has a significant impact on the environment due to the resulting greenhouse gas emissions (McMichael et al., 2007).

The food system is a genuinely transdisciplinary topic as it has consequences for all social-economic, environmental and governance sectors, indeed, food issues cross all the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (UN,

  • 2015) . This was recently demonstrated by Ilieva (2017) by finding connections to all SDGs in food strategy documents for five North American metropolitan regions. A larger study of food system policies in 15 urban regions (Sonnino,
  • 2016) was used by Olsson (2018b) to identify connections between policy documents and the SDGs. An attempt to use food as an integrative approach for grouping the 17 SDGs into seven clusters was made by Blay-Palmer et al., (2018). These seven SDG-clusters are used in this chapter as a basis for further elaboration in order to encompass sustainable food systems (Fig. 14.1). The relevance of each cluster for the food system is outlined below. The SDGs 2, 10 and 16 are recurring in several clusters.

Cluster I: SDG2: No hunger, Food and nutrition security, Sustainable agriculture, Crop diversity. SDG 17: Multi-stakeholder partnership

Here are the core issues regarding food production methods whereby agro- ecological methods appear suitable as they have the potential to facilitate adaptation to local ecosystem conditions, embrace diversity in crops and land use, combine livestock raising with arable cultivation, thereby ensuring nutrient circulation and water conservation (Altieri, 2004; Auerbach et al., 2013; Mendez et al., 2013; Martin and Isaac, 2018) and promote climate-smart food production (Altieri et al., 2015). Food production that combines livestock raising with arable cultivation has the potential to

The clustering of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Figure 14.1 The clustering of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015), which illustrates how food system issues cross the different sustainability dimensions. The relevant SDGs are given in each cluster. The figure is modified from Blay-Palmer et al., (2018) and Olsson, (2018b).

use whole agricultural landscapes including using natural pastures for livestock grazing. This gives a potential for increased biodiversity and ecosystem services and the integration of food security with regional biodiversity (Fischer et al., 2017).

Against the background of the debate on how to produce sufficient food to feed the expanding human population, it is important to note that agro-ecological methods are focused on diversification and multifunctionality. The use of multiple crops with different life cycles and harvest seasons is central and in this way agro- biodiversity can be used as a possibility for agricultural intensification (Caron et al., 2014). Along these lines, agro-ecological methods comply with a majority of the SDGs, which is in contrast to ‘conventional’ intensive methods that are based on specialised technologies with the overall goal of obtaining high yields from monocultures (Kuyper and Struik, 2014).

There is a positive correlation between human nutrition and crop diversity. However, since the 1960s, there has been a decline in biodiversity as well as in food product diversity, which is linked to the dominant global food system with negative implications for food security (Khoury et al., 2014). The privatisation and patenting of seeds, GMO technologies and the ties to agro-chemicals including pesticides along with the increasing dominance of multinational corporations within the agro-biochemical sector is counteracting local agro-biodiversity and resilient ecosystem functions and thereby threatening global food security. Developing multi-stakeholder partnerships, including public—private cooperation, to share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial support is suggested in SDG 17 as it would be beneficial for the application of agro-ecological methodologies at different levels and scales (Altieri et al., 2015) in order to promote food security.

Cluster II: SDG 2, 3: Health and well-being, Food and nutrition security. SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

Human health is significantly linked to nutrition security and diets (Gwatkin et al, 2007; Smith and Haddad, 2015; Otero et al., 2018). A food production system that is based on local resources in terms of crop diversity and crop cultivars is more likely to deliver both food and nutrition security compared to homogenised systems based on monocultures. Such diverse agro-ecosystems are referred to by Barthel et al. (2013) as ‘biocultural refugia’, and they are considered to have immense value in that they maintain food and nutrition security in a context of increasing uncertainty, of which climate change is just one factor. Of equal value is their reservoir of biodiversity, species, genetic varieties and landscapes and the local and traditional knowledge linked to the agricultural practices for maintaining such systems (Barthel et al., 2013). Further, such systems are rich sources of different innovatory methods and practices based on a combination of traditional and modern scientific knowledge (ibid.).

SDG3: Human health effects implying illness and deaths from hazardous chemicals, as well as soil, air and water contamination, have to be avoided in food production systems and practices. Agro-ecological methods striving to reduce such external inputs in the fanning systems correspond to this urging (Mendez et al., 2013).

SDG 16: The development of effective and transparent institutions at all levels, that can maintain peace and justice and counteract corruption and ensure participatory decision making, are prerequisites for the functioning of the food system based in a local/regional context.

Cluster III: SDG 4, 5, 10: Equitable and lifelong learning, Intersectional equality, Improved economic equality. SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions

A sustainable and resilient food system would have the potential of adaptation to changing conditions and unexpected disturbances. This implies capacity and agency for alterations along the food chain in terms of production methods,

Agro-ecological food systems, annual and perennial crop species. Bohol, The Philippines, October 2016. (Photo

Figure 14.2 Agro-ecological food systems, annual and perennial crop species. Bohol, The Philippines, October 2016. (Photo: E.G.A. Olsson)

crop diversity, etc. Here it is essential that traditional and local knowledge is maintained and applied in combination with modern scientific knowledge with transdisciplinary methodologies that can facilitate and stimulate innovations (Mendez et al., 2013; Altieri et ah, 2015; Tengo et ah, 2017). In this way, the food system issues will motivate lifelong learning and innovation efforts and could lead the way towards sustainability transitions (Barthel et al., 2013; Altieri et al., 2015; Auerbach et al., 2013).

The concept offood justice refers to ‘... the right to have access to these [foods, resources ...J .... and to have the capacity to make one’s voice heard so as to have access to food and resources ...’ (Hochedez and Le Gall, 2016). Food justice relates directly to social and intersectional inequalities and various forms of social, cultural, economic and spatial exclusion (Hope and Agyeman, 2011; Kolb, 2015; Hoche- dez and Le Gall, 2016). The dependence on distant landscapes in the global food system has an inevitable food justice dimension.

Related to this cluster are questions about food based on animal products, such as meat, dairy and eggs. In a sustainable food system, equity, justice, ethics and animal welfare issues related to the raising of animals for human food consumption are imperative and cannot be overlooked (Boscardin,

2017). This discussion is still in its infancy and considerable changes and regulations can be foreseen during the coming years. For this issue as well as for the food justice complex the link to SDG 16 - The development of effective and transparent institutions at all levels that can maintain peace and justice and counteract corruption and ensure participatory decision making - is crucial.

Cluster IV: SDG 1: No poverty. SDG 8, 9: Good work opportunities and sustainable economic growth, Innovations and infrastructure

The correlation between hunger and poverty (SDG 1) is manifest as is the link to poverty and unequal distribution of resources and equity (SDG 4, 5 — Cluster III). A sustainable food system with a high share of food produced locally implies shorter food chains and closer links between producers and consumers, which improves opportunities for providing consumers with the food products they demand. It also facilitates communication between producers and consumers about the food products and how they are marketed and delivered. This arrangement provides new job opportunities and improved preconditions for securing a decent income from food production due to a reduction in the number of intermediaries. An arrangement for local food production that is increasing in recognition in metropolitan regions, where agricultural land is very expensive, is Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) (Sharp et al., 2002). In general, this means an economic agreement between producers and consumers regarding the production and deliver)' of food products, which involves the sharing of risk between both groups. According to Bloemmen et al., (2015), the CSA model reflects a convergence of goals for the producer and the consumer and promotes a transition towards alternatives to GDP-growth1 such as de-growth (D’Alisa et al., 2014). For the processing of local food products as well as the distribution systems, there is a demand for climate- and resource-smart innovations, which would also provide new job opportunities and develop small-scale process industries (Olsson et al., 2016).

Cluster V: SDG 7: Renewable and sustainable energy. SDG 13: Climate change mitigation and adaptation

Agriculture and food production along the ‘productivist paradigm’ with agricultural practices that are fuelled by access to cheap energy sources, mainly fossil fuel, is making a huge contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, not only as a result of the intensive use of vehicles and machinery and other inputs such as fertilisers (Pradhan et al., 2013), but also the continuous increase in agricultural area with expansion into grasslands and forests (Foley et ah, 2011). Changing diets with an increase in meat and dairy consumption in wealthy countries and also by the middle-class in developing countries makes a significant contribution to global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (Pradhan et ah, 2013; Schader et ah, 2015). Reducing the consumption of animal products and applying climate-smart methods and practices based on agro-ecology would reduce the impact of food production on the climate (Altieri et ah, 2015; Graham and Abrahamse, 2017) and would also have a beneficial effect on human health (Tilman and Clark, 2015).

Cluster VI: SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation. SDG 14, 15: Life on land and below water (marine and fresh water) - biodiversity

Sustainable food production for the future must be able to handle the challenges of resource circulation and conservative use of land, water, nutrients and biodiversity in parallel with achieving the goal of food security at the global level. The current environmental impacts of agriculture on land, soils, climate, water and biodiversity are unprecedented and are completely unsustainable regarding future food security and seriously threaten human survival (Steffen et ah, 2011; Foley et ah, 2011). In order to reduce the impacts on terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, the current agricultural paradigm based on maximising yields from monocultures (conventional intensification) has to be substituted by ecological, agro-ecological intensification methods (Kuyper and Struik, 2014). Such systems offer high yields in polyculture systems, which include perennial plants (trees and shrubs), that allow prolonged harvesting and promote diverse agricultural landscapes at the species and ecosystem levels (Altieri, et ah, 2015; Martin and Isaac, 2018). Such systems, which are adapted to local conditions, e.g., choice of crop, and which are managed with traditional ecological knowledge, are in place in many smallholder farms at various locations in the Global South (Auerbach et ah 2013; Barthel et ah, 2013). There is untapped potential in the Global North to introduce adaptations of such systems in combination with current biotechnological knowledge to achieve sustainable yields of food crops and simultaneously provide varied landscapes and viable livelihoods for people. There is a wealth of knowledge on the management of preindustrial agricultural landscapes in Europe, which could be used to develop innovations in food production and food systems for the future (Agnoletti and Emanueli, 2016; Olsson, 2018c).

Cluster VII: SDG 9, 10, 11: Improved urban-rural linkages with reduced urban-rural inequalities and improved infrastructure. SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production

There is potential for increasing both urban and rural viability via a sustainable food system based on local (urban and peri-urban) and regional (peri-urban and rural - regional) food production. This could be secured through, for example, new employment opportunities in food production, new food enterprises, and by reclaiming the value of produce from the region ‘terroir’ (Feagan, 2007; Sonnino, 2016). The establishment of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) will contribute to stabilising the urban—rural links as a result of their direct connection between (urban) consumers and peri-urban and rural producers and the creation of jobs. The territorial approach to food production has been put forward by several United Nations organisations based on the assertion that it is needed in order to achieve food security and improved nutrition policy (OECD, 2016). The regional and context-specific food systems have been overlooked in favour of global food systems. In order to implement ‘multi-sectoral, bottom-up and place-based interventions’ (OECD, 2016) there is a need for improved joint planning of urban and peri-urban regions (Olsson et ah, 2016). How can this happen? Both locally and regionally, it is a requirement to identify pathways on how to organise the provision of food relying more on local food systems. Internationally, several activities on local food systems are going on, particularly in urban regions. The most important initiatives are summarised in a report on City Region Food Systems, which focuses on territorial approaches to food systems in order to support rural—urban linkages both in the Global North and Global South (Dubbeling et al., 2016; Blay-Palmer et al., 2018). The report emphasises that although very promising results have been achieved by local and regional food systems, there is still a lack of coherence in policies and planning initiatives for urban-rural regions (Blay-Palmer et al., 2018).

This survey of food system issues linked to the 17 SDGs reveals four recurring themes:

  • 1 Shift in agricultural production methods from conventional intensive agriculture based on high inputs and favouring high yields from monocultures to agro-ecological intensification based on preconditions in the local ecosystem, polycultures and high agro-biodiversity
  • 2 Shift from dependence on the global food system towards more reliance on local and regional food systems
  • 3 Combination of scientific, agronomic and ecological knowledge with local and indigenous knowledge
  • 4 Different approach to governance, from top-down governed agricultural systems to bottom-up organisation with the active involvement of local fanners and other stakeholders in the food system
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