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Towards metrics of sustainable food systems: a review of the resilience and vulnerability literature

Abstract

Food and nutrition security is a persisting global issue and, in addition, food systems are now facing a new set of intersecting economic, social and environmental challenges. Recurrent socio-economic and biophysical changes put the sustainability of food systems at risk. There is an urgent need to develop knowledge-based tools to assess and monitor food sustainability and to identify pathways for food security and resource conservation. The systemic nature of these interactions calls for multidimensional approaches and integrated assessments for decision-making to guide change. This paper reviews social–ecological system frameworks with the view to conceptualize the sustainability issues that affect the food systems. It is argued that the understanding of the food systems as social–ecological systems, and inputs from the theories of vulnerability and resilience in particular, can provide the concepts necessary to understand and model the complex system dynamics involved in the multiple interactions between human and natural components.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The current definition of food security, used by FAO, IFAD and WFP, considers food security as “A situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Based on this definition, four food security dimensions can be identified: food availability, economic and physical access to food, food utilization and stability over time” (FAO, IFAD and WFP 2015).

  2. 2.

    “The Double Burden of Malnutrition is the coexistence of undernutrition and overnutrition in the same population across the life course” (Shrimpton and Rokx 2012; p. ix).

  3. 3.

    Namely climate change, economic concentration and market structure, financial power, resource competition, marginalization, property rules, geo-political shifts, consumer preferences, consumption patterns and nutritional transition.

  4. 4.

    According to Redman (2014), “Sustainability science seeks to address the major challenges facing society while ensuring that human well-being is undiminished and the basic Earth systems continue to operate”.

  5. 5.

    Sustainability problems can be identified as climate change, natural resources depletion, peak oil, market and political instability, etc.

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Acknowledgments

Bruce Cogill, Thomas Allen and Paolo Prosperi's work was supported by the Daniel & Nina Carasso Foundation (Grant No. 00030240) and the Agriculture for Nutrition and Health Programme of the CGIAR.

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Correspondence to Paolo Prosperi.

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P. Prosperi and T. Allen are first co-authors.

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Prosperi, P., Allen, T., Cogill, B. et al. Towards metrics of sustainable food systems: a review of the resilience and vulnerability literature. Environ Syst Decis 36, 3–19 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10669-016-9584-7

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Keywords

  • Food and nutrition security
  • Sustainable development
  • Resilience
  • Social–ecological systems
  • Systems of information