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.
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This definition emphasizes short-term food supply during an isolated crisis. Other understandings emphasize not only the initial capacity to cope or respond to stress or change, but highlight that resilience also involves a transformative component, whereby building resilience also means being able to move forward, change or renew (hopefully towards a more ‘sustainable’ state) (see Brown 2014; Smith and Lawrence 2014).
This emphasis on social resilience is driven, in part, by a growing critique of the dominance of the social–ecological approach (see review by Brown 2014).
Social learning and transformation are addressed in our ongoing research, as yet unpublished.
How these characteristics combine/overlap is described as part of our findings and discussion. See also Smith and Lawrence (2014).
This theme is taken up in our continuing work on this project, as yet unpublished.
Australian Defence Force
Community Supported Agriculture
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry
Independent Grocers’ Association
State Emergency Services
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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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Smith, K., Lawrence, G., MacMahon, A. et al. The resilience of long and short food chains: a case study of flooding in Queensland, Australia. Agric Hum Values 33, 45–60 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-015-9603-1