Food Security

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 417–431 | Cite as

A food systems approach to researching food security and its interactions with global environmental change

  • John IngramEmail author
Original Paper


There is growing concern that satisfying societal demand for food over coming decades will be increasingly challenging. Much of the debate centres on increasing food production which has always been–and remains–an important strategy to alleviate food insecurity. However, despite the fact that more than enough food is currently produced per capita to adequately feed the global population, about 925 million people remained food insecure in 2010. Meeting future demand will be further complicated by deleterious changes in climate and other environmental factors (collectively termed ‘global environmental change’, GEC). This paper lays out a case for a food systems approach to research the complex food security/GEC arena and provides a number of examples of how this can help. These include (i) providing a framework for structuring dialogues aimed at enhancing food security and identifying the range of actors and other interested parties who should be involved; (ii) integrating analyses of the full set of food system activities (i.e. producing, storing, processing, packaging, trading and consuming food) with those of the food security outcomes i.e. stability of food access, utilisation and availability, and all their nine elements (rather than only food production); (iii) helping to both assess the impacts of GEC on food systems and identify feedbacks to the earth system from food system activities; (iv) helping to identify intervention points for enhancing food security and analysing synergies and trade-offs between food security, ecosystem services and social welfare outcomes of different adaptation pathways; and (v) highlighting where new research is needed.


Food security Food systems Global environmental change Vulnerability Adaptation 



This paper is a contribution to the ESSP Joint Project “Global Environmental Change and Food Systems” (GECAFS). The author is very grateful to Dr Polly Ericksen for valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper; to Anita Ghosh for help in sourcing references; to the Balaton Group for inspiring the discussion on food system interactions with planetary boundaries; to the many scientists and others who have contributed to GECAFS; to two anonymous reviewers; and to the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council for funding the GECAFS International Project Office.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. & International Society for Plant Pathology 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Global Environmental Change and Food Systems (GECAFS), Environmental Change InstituteOxford UniversityOxfordUK

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