How can we ensure that health, food systems, and sustainable agricultural systems mutually reinforce one another?

Challenges for the transformative “new science of sustainable food systems”

Workshop Area A 301 September 8, 2017 11:00 am - 12:30 pm

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Stephan Rist, Johanna Jacobi
Centre for Development and Environment, University of Bern, Switzerland

According to the former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, “the food systems we have inherited from the twentieth century have failed”. Consequently, there is growing consensus that food policies must move beyond the classical focus on maximization of global food productivity. Instead, the aim must be to optimize the complex interactions between food production and other food system activities, such as provision of inputs, processing, retailing, consumption, and waste management, taking into consideration related environmental impacts and social justice outcomes.

For research, this means that successful contributions must be based on inter- and transdisciplinary co-production of knowledge in view of making food systems more sustainable, including unleashing collective action between actors situated at different positions at the interface of science, policy, and practice. The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems claims that such a new science of sustainable food systems must take account of the political economy of food systems and the broad constellations of social, economic, trade, investment, and environmental policies affecting these systems, to ensure that these are not simply dismissed as mitigating factors in a narrative still organized around markets and price signals.

There is growing consensus that this “new science” has its normative orientation in the emerging principles of food sustainability, meaning that food systems must achieve high levels of environmental performance; must ensure social justice – i.e. reduce hunger, food insecurity, poverty, and inequalities; must respect, protect, and fulfill human rights, including the right to food; and must enable social-ecological resilience.

In this session, we wish to discuss the epistemological, methodological, and practical-operational features that a new transformative science for sustainable food systems must have in order to push the science–policy interface towards research and action considering the emerging principles of food sustainability.

More specifically, we seek contributions addressing epistemological, methodological, and operational implications for research and action in the following domains:

1. Systems knowledge: What are most suitable approaches, methods, and indicators to assess concrete food systems on the basis of multiple principles relating to food sustainability, accounting for trade-offs and synergies between food systems characterized by actors with different interests, operating through multi-level interactions?

2. Target knowledge: What are the most suitable approaches and methods to ensure that the normative orientation of inter- and transdisciplinary research reflects the principles of food sustainability in such a way that all actors have equal possibilities to shape food systems, going beyond existing power asymmetries?

3. Transformation knowledge: What are the most promising approaches, methods, and social practices through which the “new science of sustainable food systems” can achieve maximum levels of transformative impacts at science–policy interfaces related to food sustainability?

Tentative contributions and presenters: We invite postdoctoral and PhD researchers from the r4d food sustainability project to submit contributions. We would like to include two external contributions. Additionally, we wish to host one of the members of the advisory committee of the R4D project as a special commentator on the whole series of presentations and discussions (either Renato Maluf from Rio De Janeiro University, Olivier de Schutter from UC Louvain, Miguel Altieri from UC Berkeley, or Nicholas Orago from University of Nairobi).

Input of the session into the conference theme: Our contribution is situated in the first of the four conference themes: How can we ensure that health, food systems, and sustainable agricultural systems mutually reinforce one another to better support people’s livelihoods and well-being? By focusing on food systems, not fragments, and pursuing principles of sustainability and justice as in our r4d food sustainability project, we aim not only to open up new pathways in sustainability research on food and agriculture, but also to advance the operationalization of such approaches. Taking food systems as an entry point refers to Sustainable Development Goal No. 12, Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns, with the aim of achieving goal No. 2, End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. An overall goal of this exercise is to shape the development of the transnational “food security” discourse in favour of a “food system sustainability” discourse in science, policy, and practice, taking into account the principles of sustainability and justice mentioned above.