Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 33, Issue 1, pp 45–60 | Cite as

The resilience of long and short food chains: a case study of flooding in Queensland, Australia

  • Kiah SmithEmail author
  • Geoffrey Lawrence
  • Amy MacMahon
  • Jane Muller
  • Michelle Brady


This paper provides new insights into the food security performance of long and short food chains, through an analysis of the resilience of such chains during the severe weather events that occurred in the Australian State of Queensland in early 2011. Widespread flooding cut roads and highways, isolated towns, and resulted in the deaths of people and animals. Farmlands were inundated and there were food shortages in many towns. We found clear evidence that the supermarket-based (long) food chain delivery system experienced significant difficulties in supplying food to flood-affected towns. In contrast, more localized (short) food supply chains—which relied upon supply from growers in peri-urban areas and community-based food initiatives—remained largely intact, and provided food at a time when the supermarkets were limited in their ability to respond to consumer demand. However, on closer examination of food distribution during flooding in the regional city of Rockhampton and in the State capital, Brisbane, the demarcation of success between “long” and “short” food chains became blurred. Both types of food supply chains shared some key resilience characteristics in responding to crisis but diverged in other important ways. We argue that conceptualizing food chains in terms of key elements of resilience—scale, diversity, flexibility and cohesion—may be more fruitful than the short-long dichotomy alone. This approach is particularly useful when prioritizing food security as the basis for evaluating food system sustainability in a context of predicted increases in extreme weather events and future climate change.


Resilience Food security Flooding Long food chains Short food chains 



Australian Defence Force


Community Supported Agriculture


Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation


Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry


Independent Grocers’ Association


State Emergency Services



This study was funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery Project DP120101949)—Governing Food Security in Australia in an Era of Climate Change: A Sociological Analysis. Professor Lawrence was also part-funded by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2010-330-00159) and the Norwegian Research Council (FORFOOD No. 220691).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kiah Smith
    • 1
    Email author
  • Geoffrey Lawrence
    • 1
  • Amy MacMahon
    • 1
  • Jane Muller
    • 1
  • Michelle Brady
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of Social ScienceThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.School of Public AdministrationUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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