Tackling the Complexity of Food Systems to Create Resilience

Sunday, February 14, 2016: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Coolidge (Marriott Wardman Park)
Johan Six, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
Food systems are increasingly challenged, ranging from multiple drivers of change, unexpected shocks (e.g. natural disasters, financial and political crisis, etc.) to complex food system behaviour. In an attempt to narrow down disciplinary and general concepts of resilience, we have defined and conceptualised food system resilience from a holistic perspective, embracing the complexity of whole food systems (including social, economic and biophysical dimensions across multiple scales). In a world of growing complexity, uncertainty and changing risk patterns, the primary goal of this food system resilience approach is to ensure that healthy, sufficient, and culturally-appropriate food is provided at all times to the global population. In practice, enhancing resilience in the food system requires the involvement of key stakeholders across interacting food value chains (i.e. the food value web) to assess current resilience, identify weaknesses within the food value web, consider trade-offs and co-design interventions and innovations. We have developed food system resilience guidelines to facilitate this stakeholder process. The guidelines propose a framework that is based on a review of literature on food systems, intervention design, value chain development, and resilience in social-ecological systems. Concretely, the guidelines propose the analytic and organizational steps required to eradicate weaknesses by building capacities upon the strengths of the food system's various sub-systems through readily available methods, including preliminary indicators of food system resilience. The framework was tested in educational, outreach, and case study (teff and cocoa value chain) contexts, and was found to provide a simple yet broad framework to assess the resilience of food systems, identify weaknesses and strengths, and develop potential interventions for improvement. By applying the framework to several case studies, the participatory processes and preliminary indicators have been iteratively validated and refined, leading toward a robust practical guide for building food system resilience.