Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 418–431 | Cite as

Resilience in a concentrated and consolidated food system

  • Mary K. Hendrickson


The focus of this article is to articulate the risks of a consolidated, industrialized agrifood system for our planet’s ecology and our ability to guarantee a future food supply, while also considering how the food system might become more resilient. A relatively small number of agribusiness firms, operating globally, have powerfully shaped who produces food, what is produced, how and where it is produced, and by whom it is eaten. To examine food system resilience, one must see that ecological risks of agriculture (e.g., monoculture, overuse of fertilizer and chemicals, and lack of genetic diversity) are intertwined with its social and economic organization, that relationships between people and between people and their particular places are critical to situate food decisions within ecology, and that issues of scale in a global food system are keenly important and challenging to resolve. Our highly concentrated global food system has resulted from horizontal and vertical integration in food system sectors and globalization of agricultural and food markets. This system constrains farmers (and others) in making choices that can fend off likely ecological and social disruptions while limiting their ability to accommodate change. It has eliminated smaller farms and businesses that provided a redundancy of role and function, resulting in few fail-safe mechanisms for the food system. A focus on efficiency, standardization, and specialization has decreased the diversity of scale, form, and organization across the food system. Finally, the dominant food system’s inability to solve food insecurity and hunger within both rich and poor countries, coupled with an industrial diet that uses up a great many natural resources, makes the system precarious. While there is no single approach at any given scale that will accomplish food system resilience, a combination of actions, strategies, and policies at multiple levels that are rooted in ecology, democracy, and economic and social equality is necessary to move forward.


Agriculture Food systems Agroecology Agribusiness Resilience 



I would like to thank Evan Fraser, Rebecca Dunning, Lucie Knor, and Geoffrey Lawrence for their significant help in improving this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Rural SociologyUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA

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