Developing an integrated framework to assess agri-food systems and its application in the Ecuadorian Andes
Agri-food systems assessment can be performed following official and alternative framings, each linked to different objects of study, methods of analysis, and policy responses. Alternative frames conceptualize agri-food systems as the integration and interaction of humans and the agro-environment (i.e., as socio-ecological systems). This conceptualization allows studying the cross-level, cross-scale, and nonlinear interactions within and between the components of the system and help assess policy proposals, such as food sovereignty, in a more systemic way. To facilitate this, we link reflections and methodologies from complex system thinking and vulnerability studies applied to agri-food systems to propose an integrated framework of assessment, which links the agroecological context and the social function of agriculture, considering actor’s agency and institutional processes. This framework is suitable to analyze agri-food systems in fragile and marginal environments such as the Andean region. We apply the framework to assess vulnerability of local agri-food systems to global change in the southern Ecuadorian Andes, taking into account the role of peasant institutions (agroecological associations, comunas) and indigenous culture. The framework also allows understanding how agri-food policies change the configuration of agri-food systems and determines whether these changes are consistent with communities’ livelihoods reproduction.