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Exploring the contribution of alternative food networks to food security. A comparative analysis

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Food (in)security has become a challenge not only for developing economies but also for High Income Countries. In parallel, food scholars have actively investigated the contribution of alternative food networks (AFNs) to the development of more sustainable and just food systems, paying attention to drivers, initiatives and policies supporting the development of alternatives to the dominant industrialised food system and its detrimental environmental and socio-economic impacts. However, few studies have directly addressed the contribution of AFNs to food security in the Global North. This paper aims to establish new linkages between food security debates and critical AFNs literature. For that purpose, we conduct a place-based approach to food security in a comparative analysis of initiatives of three different European contexts: Cardiff city-region (UK), the Flemish Region (Belgium) and the peri-urban area of the city of Valencia (Spain). The results unfold: i) how AFNs weave a more localised socio-economic fabric that creates new relationships between food security outcomes and specific territories, ii) hybridization processes within alternative but also conventional systems and iii) the role of advocacy and collective action at different levels. The analysis allows identification of key elements on which food security debates hinge and provides new insights to ground conceptual discussions on territorial and place-based food security approaches.

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  1. Communities First is a regeneration programme funded by the Welsh Government operated in the most deprived communities in Wales, according to the Welsh Multiple Deprivation Index.

  2. In the eighth century the Moors created a complex network of irrigation ditches (Guinot 2008). Although the Huerta is an agricultural space with high cultural, landscape and environmental values, this landscape is now shrinking fast, and has been reduced to about 12,200 ha, of which only 5200 ha would correspond to horticulture surface (Soriano i Piqueras 2015).

  3. Participatory Guarantee Systems (PGS) represent an alternative to third party certification, especially adapted to local markets and short food supply chains. As defined by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM - Organics International), “PGS are locally focused quality assurance systems. They certify producers based on active participation of stakeholders and are built on a foundation of trust, social networks and knowledge exchange”. (last accessed September 2017).

  4. Resilience is the “ability of a system and its component parts to anticipate, absorb, accommodate or recover from the effects of a hazardous event in a timely and efficient manner, including through ensuring the preservation, restoration or improvement of its essential basic structures and functions” (IPCC 2012)

  5. A rough non-exhaustive price comparison was made for a common list of fresh vegetables. Web sites of large distribution groups operating in Valencia were examined and prices were compared with those on the web sites of local producers and with those in the recommended price list of a farmers’ market.

  6. Small-scale farmers’ networks in the Huerta area originally were created to give mutual support to their members and coordinate common objectives, such as the defence of agricultural territory, the promotion of agro-ecological farming and local consumption, and fostering producer-consumer relations based on social justice. In 2012 it became SPGEcollaures, a Participatory Guarantee System, whose main purpose is social transformation.

  7. The Boerenforum has been organized annually since 2014 by Voedselteams together with Wervel, a Belgian organization that focuses on the right to healthy and fair agriculture and food. The forum provides a voice to those alternative farmers who are not members of any of the mainstream farmers’ unions.

  8. There are however, substantial differences between teams and regions in the importance placed on each of these aspects. In East-Flanders, for example, Voedselteams members are quite strict about their values compared to the other regions. The stronger engagement in this region is explained by a significant development of SFSC and sustainability initiatives which provided Voedselteams with a network to build on.

  9. The Milan Pact is an international protocol concerning food at municipal level. Signatory cities undertake to “work to develop sustainable food systems that are inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, that provide healthy and affordable food to all people in a human rights-based framework, that minimise waste and conserve biodiversity while adapting to and mitigating impacts of climate change” (last accessed January 2018).


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This research is part of the project “Assessment of the impact of global drivers of change on Europe’s food security” (TRANSMANGO), granted by the EU under 7th Framework Programme; theme KBBE.2013.2.5-01; Grant agreement no: 613532. Dr. Ana Moragues-Faus also acknowledges the funding of the European Commission and the Welsh Government that currently supports her Sêr Cymru fellowship. These results reflect only the authors’ view; the funders are not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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Correspondence to Pedro Cerrada-Serra.

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Cerrada-Serra, P., Moragues-Faus, A., Zwart, T.A. et al. Exploring the contribution of alternative food networks to food security. A comparative analysis. Food Sec. 10, 1371–1388 (2018).

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