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Towards Food Sustainability: Reshaping the Coexistence of different Food Systems in South America and Africa

  • Published on October 23, 2017
This transdisciplinary action research project investigates the two questions of 1) how a concept of food system sustainability with the pillars right to food, food security, reduction of poverty and inequality, environmental performance, and social-ecological resilience can be used for assessing food systems; and 2) what policy options are suitable for making food systems more sustainable in the specific contexts of Bolivia and Kenya
The main objective of the project is to provide evidence-based scientific knowledge for the formulation and promotion of innovation strategies and policy options that improve individual and aggregate levels of food systems’ sustainability. The emphasis is on finding ways to enhance collaboration within and between coexisting food systems. The project adopts a transdisciplinary research approach, as this is one of the most effective ways of dealing with the complexities and uncertainties that have to be considered when investigating factors that shape the sustainability of food systems. A transdisciplinary approach means organizing a process of knowledge co-production between researchers and food system stakeholders; this includes production of target or normative knowledge (expressed in five principles of food sustainability), systems knowledge (i.e. understanding of food systems in terms of the proposed research questions), and transformation knowledge (i.e. identification of innovations and policy options for improving food systems’ sustainability). Production of transformation knowledge is related to the project’s strategy of communication and implementation of research results. It is organized around the development of a “Food Sustainability Assessment Framework (FoodSAF)” that can be used by non-scientific actors to find innovations and policy options for making food systems more sustainable. The FoodSAF will be refined based on application and testing (through “Transformative Pilot Actions” (TPA), carried out by part of the project staff) in Bolivia and Kenya, and in four additional countries in the second project phase (2018-2020). In the past 2.5 years, emphasis was placed on coordinated disciplinary and interdisciplinary re-search organized in work packages (WPs) and addressing the five dimensions of food sustainability. After some delay due to the withdrawal of a Swiss PhD candidate in WP1 (analysis of policy coherence, international trade, and policy options), the planned research was reorganized by contracting consultants in Bolivia and Kenya. Two Swiss PhD candidates addressing institutions (WP2) and environmental performance (WP4) have concluded their fieldwork. Six Southern PhD candidates (assigned to WP2, 3, and 4), three from Bolivia and three Kenya, have done about 70% of their fieldwork. Three postdoc researchers completed their fieldwork and have started writing up their results. Four out of 16 Master thesis have been defended. We have published first research results in nine scientific publications, i.e. eight working papers (sixpublished by CDE and two by Agruco), two book chapters, and one peer-reviewed article. One book draft on the right to food in Kenya and four papers are under peer revision. Based on the research results of these WPs, we conducted a first comparative assessment of food sustainability of six food systems investigated in Bolivia and Kenya by systematizing empirical information resulting from research in individual WPs. A first version of the Food Sustainabiltiy Assessment Framework (FoodSAF) is under elaboration. The main changes that our research seeks to generate is 1) to contribute to a shift from a general food security to a food sustainability discourse in research, policy, and practice, and 2) to provide a tool to interested stakeholders that allows them to assess the sustainability of concrete food systems, and derive from this assessment measures to improve their sustainability. Contact us via our website:
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