The concluding chapter reflects on the conceptual, empirical, and policy-related contributions that this book has made and identifies remaining unresolved issues. ‘Resilience’, ‘food system’, and even ‘food security’ were seen to be elusive and contested concepts. A food systems’ lens is more holistic than conventional preoccupations with agriculture and food prices, by highlighting for instance the relatively neglected role of food processors in food security analysis. Global and national food systems are increasingly resilient, even against shocks like COVID-19 lockdowns, but climate change raises fundamental challenges. Moreover, paradoxes remain, such as the coexistence of high levels of undernutrition and overnutrition in countries where food systems appear to be performing efficiently. Governments, international agencies, civil society, the private sector, and local communities all have important complementary roles to play. But there are difficult policy trade-offs to negotiate: whether to promote higher crop yields or lower crop volatility, for instance, or whether to intervene in food systems by taxing unhealthy foods (e.g. sugar), which could benefit consumers but would harm affected farmers. Ultimately, at global, national, and local levels, well-functioning, sustainable and equitable food systems need to deliver not only enough food, but affordable access for all to sustainable healthy diets.
- Food security
- Global food system
- Food resilience
- Climate change
The contributions to this book provoke and inspire reflections on a wide range of issues—conceptual, empirical, and policy-related. In this concluding chapter, we reflect on what we have learned, what outstanding issues remain unresolved, and the way forward for the three ‘heroes’ of this journey: resilience, food security, and food systems.
The Elusiveness of Concepts
Perhaps because concepts like ‘resilience’, ‘food system’, and even ‘food security’ (which now has six pillars) are so abstract and elusive, they are prone to generalisation—‘the global food system’ (Caron et al., Chapter 3), ‘a globalized food system’ (Losch & May, Chapter 10), or ‘the African food system’ (Pinstrup-Andersen, 2010), for example. Generally, the less precisely a concept is specified, the more likely it is to be contested and the more challenging it becomes to analyse and apply to real-world issues. But a lack of precision does not necessarily mean a lack of clarity. The contributions to this book have all added to our understanding of these three central concepts, conceptually and empirically. All the co-authors are grappling with how to make these concepts more practically useful, in terms of solving the perennial global challenges of food insecurity and hunger, not least by building the resilience of food systems against stressors like climate change and unforeseen shocks like COVID-19.
One reason why solutions are so elusive is because the questions are not clearly specified. Is there in fact a single unified global (or even African) food system—or are we edging towards this—or are there numerous interconnected food systems operating at different scales in overlapping spaces? Are we aiming to build resilient food systems, or do we look to well-functioning food systems to build resilient households and communities? Is a food system expected to deliver food, or food security? Put another way, is the persistence of food insecurity, malnutrition, and hunger the fault of the food system, or are these negative outcomes the results of failures elsewhere in local societies, national economies, and public and private policies?
While the concepts of food security and resilience both have written histories dating back several centuries, resilience has been applied to food security only very recently, probably since the turn of the century. Constas (Chapter 5) describes food security as the ‘incumbent concept’ and shows how the frequency of occurrence of the word ‘resilience’ has steadily (but erratically) increased in a key food security policy document—the FAO’s annual ‘State of Food Insecurity’ (SOFI) report—and in two relevant peer-reviewed journals—‘Global Food Security’, and ‘Food Policy’. De Pinto et al. (Chapter 7) find similar trends for the co-occurrence of ‘resilience’ and ‘food security’, in a wider search of publications in the Web of Science Core Collection since 1996.
As for food systems, the recent flurry of conceptual work emerged out of dissatisfaction with limited understandings of food systems that paid too much attention to individual components in isolation—notably agricultural production, food markets and food prices—while neglecting other essential components, and the linkages between them. A food system has many actors—producers, processors, distributors, and consumers—who are all located in wider socioeconomic, environmental, and policy contexts that profoundly affect food security outcomes for individuals and households. Hoddinott (Chapter 6) points out that we know much more about producers and consumers than we do about processors and distributors, who have been relatively neglected by researchers and policy-makers. The COVID-19 pandemic drew particular attention to the processing sector, because workers handling food in close proximity were highly susceptible to transmitting the virus to each other, potentially disrupting operations due to absentee workers or temporary shutdowns of entire facilities.
This points to one advantage of broadening the lens of food security analysis—from availability to access, then adding utilisation and stability, and more recently agency and sustainability—and to analysing food security outcomes for people in terms of the food systems that deliver (or don’t deliver) food to them. The complex flowcharts that capture the causal linkages between the components of and agents operating in food systems provide more ‘hooks’ with which to analyse food security and resilience. For instance, food resilience requires resilient producers, resilient processors, resilient distributors, and resilient consumers. Analytical tools are needed for each of these actors, and policy levers must be found and applied to strengthen resilience at each of these nodes and links in the food system.
One challenge with linking or overlaying different concepts or paradigms is that each comes with its own framings, terminologies, and unresolved debates. Constas (Chapter 5) illustrates this with his ‘Integrated food security and resilience model’ which has three dimensions: food security (World Food Summit, food sovereignty, and food systems approaches—each with their own models and pillars); shocks and stressors (at macro, meso, and micro scales); and resilience capacities (absorptive, adaptive, and transformative). While this is useful as an overarching framework and as a heuristic tool, the three-dimensional diagram (see p. 154) looks as puzzling as a Rubik’s cube to ‘solve’, in terms of how to reshape food systems to achieve desirable outcomes such as food security and resilience.
The Food System is Broken…
Food security, resilience, and food systems are not only academic constructs that have generated decades of peer-reviewed literature; they are all instrumentally concerned with human well-being and are central components of contemporary policy discourse (see Lindgren & Lang, Chapter 4), at global level and in countries around the world. As Fanzo shows (Chapter 2), eradicating hunger has been an explicit goal of global public policy since the Hot Springs Conference in 1943. This commitment has been repeatedly reaffirmed—by the World Food Congress (1963), World Food Conference (1974), World Food Summit (1996), Millennium Development Goals (2000), Sustainable Development Goals (2015), and, most recently, the UN Food Systems Summit (2021). However, actual achievements have lagged behind these good intentions, with ‘only mixed success’ (Fanzo, p. 31)—a euphemism for partial failure—to date.
One reason for this, Fanzo argues, has been a narrow framing of the problem, leading to interventions that follow either a vertically sectoral approach (e.g. Green Revolution), a technological treatment approach (e.g. GMOs), or a short-view approach (e.g. food aid). By contrast, a food systems lens offers a comprehensive framing of food insecurity problems, leading to more holistic interventions. Only by understanding better the relationships and linkages between a food system’s drivers (population growth, urbanisation, climate change, etc.), components (food supply chains, food environments, consumer behaviour), and context (sociocultural, political), can adverse outcomes (in nutrition, livelihoods, the environment, and social equity) be more effectively addressed (HLPE, 2017).
…Or Is It?
Even if hunger has not yet been eradicated from the world, it could be argued that the key indicators are moving in the right direction, and that this is largely due to scientific advances and strengthening institutions (Pinker, 2018). As evidence of the increasing resilience of ‘the global food system’, Caron et al. (Chapter 3) draw attention to the fact that it withstood a historically unprecedented shock—the doubling of the world’s population from three to six billion in just four decades—while continuing to produce and distribute more than enough food to feed these rapidly rising numbers. In terms of food availability, by the early 2000s the proportion of the world’s population living in countries with critically low food supplies had fallen from 50+% to close to zero in just 40 years, partly driven by adoption of Green Revolution innovations in South Asia. In terms of economic access to food, international grain prices fell by 30+% over the same period (Baldos & Hertel, 2016). With hindsight, this under-appreciated achievement refuted neo-Malthusian pessimists who, even before the 1970s world food crisis, were predicting mass starvation due to unchecked population growth (Brown, 1974; Hardin, 1974; Paddock & Paddock, 1967).
The global capacity to feed a constantly growing population has been facilitated by simultaneous advances across a range of human endeavours, from yield-enhancing agricultural innovations to transport systems and the globalisation of trade, to information and communications technologies. This technical progress has been complemented by global humanitarianism: an increasingly sophisticated and responsive emergency relief system, effectively filling supply gaps that appear when food systems are disrupted by natural disasters or human conflicts—a success story for which the World Food Programme was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020.
Of course, resilience is not only about aggregate improvements over time; it is (by definition) about dealing effectively with shocks and stressors. Food systems recovered quickly after the global food crisis of 2008 (Golay, 2010), and do not appear to have been severely affected by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic (Béné et al., 2021). The risk of famine, which killed tens of millions of people in Africa, Asia and Europe during the twentieth century, has receded and is now confined to a handful of mainly conflict-affected countries, almost all in and around the Horn of Africa (Devereux, 2020). On the other hand, there are justified concerns that climate change could threaten local, regional, and even global food security in the coming decades, through reduced or more volatile yields of staple crops and the displacement or mass migration of affected populations, many of them being farmers.
Climate Changes Everything
‘Food resilience’ and ‘climate resilience’ are of course intricately interconnected, since the impacts of climate change—labelled as the ‘world’s worst wicked problem’ (Craig, 2020, p. 26)—are being felt centrally by food systems, especially by the agriculture sector, which is facing escalating shocks and stressors across the world (De Pinto et al., Chapter 7). One lesson from work on climate change for those concerned with food security is to accept that building stable food systems is an unrealistic goal in the context of a changing climate. Food systems must constantly adapt and reconfigure themselves, because the environment itself is unstable. ‘Resilience theory teaches us that social-ecological systems are always changing and can act or respond in unpredictable ways, normalizing wicked problems’ (Craig, 2020, p. 29). Achieving food security for all remains the ultimate goal, but the pathways to achieving that goal are shifting over time. Resilience in an era of rapid climate change is not about preserving the status quo ante at all costs, it is about making the necessary adjustments to continue delivering food—for instance, by adopting ‘climate-smart agriculture’ approaches (Lipper et al., 2018).
One shift in emphasis induced by climate change is to deprioritise perpetual increases in crop yields and prioritise instead reductions in yield volatility, with innovations that achieve both, of course, being the first prize. Beyond food production, an array of ‘climate-proofing’ interventions is needed in the areas of food storage, packaging, distribution, processing, marketing, and preparation—in short, at every stage of the food system. Some of these interventions require technological innovations, but others require stronger institutions and more committed governance (De Pinto et al., Chapter 7).
In other words, achieving food security and resilient food systems needs scientists and politicians, as well as activists and the private sector, to work together cooperatively towards these shared objectives (see Fanzo, Chapter 2; Caron et al., Chapter 3). Investment in research on its own is not enough. Political speeches and resolutions made at climate conferences are not enough. Defeating the unprecedented threat to global food security posed by climate change requires an alignment of scientific innovation and political commitment.
Food System Paradoxes
A food system (or systems) that appear(s) increasingly efficient and resilient over time at the global level can conceal pockets of fragility and inability to meet food needs for vulnerable groups of people in specific places (‘food deserts’) at specific points in time (seasonal hunger). Even worse, efficient food systems can co-exist with high levels of persistent or chronic food insecurity over time, as reflected in indicators such as child stunting that appear to contradict the confident claims by some that the global food system is working, is fit for purpose, and ‘is not broken’ (Caron et al., Chapter 3).
How do we explain, for instance, the puzzling fact that 25% of children in South Africa display stunted growth, despite living in a country that not only produces enough food to meet domestic consumption needs but also exports surpluses to neighbouring countries? This paradox is easily explained by invoking the laws of supply and demand. In market-dominated economies, producers and traders respond to demand signals from consumers. In South Africa and in other countries across the world, farmers and markets deliver adequate supplies of food to local or foreign consumers who can afford to pay for it. Hunger follows not from insufficient food supplies, but from inadequate purchasing power of poor consumers— i.e. demand failure or ‘entitlement failure’, to use Amartya Sen’s terminology (Sen, 1981).
Even a resilient food system with falling rates of undernutrition can generate other forms of food insecurity such as obesity and micronutrient deficiencies. These forms of food insecurity are increasing globally, not necessarily because food systems are not resilient but because they are producing unhealthy diets (Haddad et al., 2016). The persistent preoccupation with aggregate food availability (as quantified by the FAO’s food balance sheets) has diverted policy attention away from the urgent need to shift the focus towards affordable access for all to quality diets.
It follows that well-functioning food systems are necessary but not sufficient to eradicate food insecurity (see Fanzo, Chapter 2), because food systems are themselves embedded within larger systems. Food security also depends on, inter alia, well-functioning health and education systems, water and sanitation facilities, as well as sound governance, economic growth, political stability, and social inclusion. Moreover, food systems resilience, defined as ‘the capacity over time of a food system to sustainably provide sufficient, appropriate, and accessible food to all, in the face of shocks and stressors’ (Hoddinott, Chapter 6), might not guarantee the same outcome indefinitely. Another paradox is that the trajectories taken by evolving food systems, despite generating adequate food supplies in the recent past and the present, could contain the ‘seeds of their own destruction’, potentially undermining their performance and resilience in the future. Examples include the harmful effects of agricultural intensification on soil quality, biodiversity, environmental sustainability, and certain rural livelihoods (on this point see Fanzo, also Caron et al., in this volume).
Action for Resilience
Contributors to this book draw attention to the roles of various actors in constructing food resilience—governments, development agencies, the private sector, and local communities—operating at different scales, from global to local, and requiring coordination at all these levels.
Resilient households require resilient food systems. As we noted earlier (in Chapter 1), a wealthy household that is food secure and apparently resilient might nonetheless be “plunged into hunger” (Lindgren & Lang, Chapter 4) or even “plunged into starvation” (Sen, 1981, p. 47) if its access to food is severely disrupted by the closure of local markets and restrictions on mobility, due to a pandemic or military conflict. It follows that strengthening resilience has two discrete but complementary aspects: building the capacities and resources of individuals, households, groups, and communities, on the one hand, and ‘shock-proofing’ each component of the food system(s) with which they interact, on the other.
Hoddinott (Chapter 6) considers the role of governments in building resilient food systems, following the United Nations (2020) guidance on public action to support improved anticipation, prevention, absorption, adaptation, and transformation. Examples drawn from related areas include famine early warning systems (improved anticipation and prevention of food crises), social protection (improved ability to absorb shocks such as COVID-19 lockdowns), or conservation agriculture practices (better adaptation to climate shocks) as supported by the Adaptation Fund (see De Pinto et al., Chapter 7). Progress can best be described as uneven, probably because these efforts to build resilience are occurring in some of the world’s most challenging contexts, in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) and in areas that are ecologically marginal, with infrastructure deficits and weak governance.
In parallel, bilateral and multilateral donors play important roles in conceptualising food security and food system resilience, and in designing, financing, and implementing projects in low- and middle-income countries to strengthen food security and resilience. Lindgren and Lang (Chapter 4) describe a ‘fractured consensus’ in terms of what development agencies mean by these concepts, and how to achieve globally endorsed objectives for ending hunger. One reason for divergence across agencies is weak global governance and institutional architecture on food, while another explanation is ideological. Some agencies favour right-of-centre neoliberal approaches driven by economic analysis and focusing on food production plus economic growth; while others are left-of-centre, advocate for a rights-based approach, and focus on sustainable and equitable access to food for all.
Moving to the private sector, a concentration of actors in any component of a food system generally increases risk and undermines resilience. There is a long history of literature on the risks of oligopolies or cartels in the global grain trade (Morgan, 1979) and, more recently, at national and subnational levels, of ‘supermarketisation’ in food wholesale and retail sectors (Crush & Frayne, 2017; Reardon et al., 2003). Too few firms in any sector raises the risk of market distortions such as price-fixing, to the detriment of poor consumers. Conversely, having many actors in the food sector, or access to many markets (including integration into global food markets), increases competition and spreads the risk of depending on a single actor or market. An open food system is likely to be more resilient than a closed system (Hoddinott, Chapter 6). On the other hand, some adaptations trade off maximising output or revenue (e.g. through specialisation) versus stabilising output or revenue (e.g. through diversification, or by purchasing insurance), so resilience can come at a cost.
An important implication of the recent addition of ‘agency’ as a pillar of food security (HLPE, 2020) is that it empowers people to strengthen their own resilience—as individuals, households, communities, or identity-based groups—rather than reducing them to passive recipients of government policies or donor assistance. As Haysom and Battersby argue (Chapter 11): ‘Central to ensuring food access is individual and community agency’, but the agency of the poor in their interactions with food systems is often constrained by social and economic inequalities, and the domination of political structures and decision-making processes by local elites. We conclude from this that food resilience can be enhanced if the agency of all food system actors and users is enhanced. However, agency has not yet been fully incorporated into mainstream analysis of food security and food systems.
Food Security and COVID-19
COVID-19 provided an unprecedented test for the resilience of food systems across the world. In one of the most empirical contributions to this volume, Upton et al. (Chapter 9) analyse COVID-19 as a shock that compounded many other shocks and stressors faced by vulnerable people in low-income countries. As a pandemic, COVID-19 differed from shocks that are more usually studied—such as natural disasters (droughts), economic shocks (food price spikes), and sociopolitical shocks (conflicts)—but its secondary impacts, especially on livelihoods through restrictions on economic activity imposed by lockdown regulations, seem to be remarkably similar.
In general, food systems were relatively protected, as food was declared a priority sector by most governments, allowing food supply chains to continue performing their essential functions, mainly to protect consumers during lockdowns. Nonetheless, drawing on panel survey data from rural communities in three African countries—Kenya, Madagascar, and Malawi—Upton et al. find that COVID-19 impacted adversely on all pillars of food security. Barrett and Constas (2014) define resilience as the capacity for ‘attaining and maintaining’ food security, implying that chronically hungry households are neither food secure nor resilient. Using this definition, Upton et al. find that many households they surveyed were food insecure and therefore not resilient pre-pandemic, and that COVID-19 exacerbated both their food insecurity and their lack of resilience. In effect, COVID-19 was absorbed by these households as one more shock on top of others they were forced to deal with at the same time, notably a severe drought in Madagascar and flooding in parts of Kenya.
On the other hand, the situation did not deteriorate for all people everywhere. In Malawi, the negative shock of COVID-19 was more than compensated in many households by the positive shock of a bumper maize harvest. Upton et al. conclude that resilience must be understood and addressed not in relation to any one specific shock or stressor, but in terms of the full range of context-specific risks and vulnerabilities that households and communities face at each point in time. This brings us onto the contentious and seemingly insoluble challenge of how to measure resilience, which is discussed next.
Whatever their ideological differences, one commonality among almost all development agencies is a preoccupation with measurement, which is understandable given their need to demonstrate positive impacts from their investments in initiatives to improve food security and resilience in low- and middle-income countries. While a range of tools for quantifying household food security has been devised—e.g. dietary diversity score (DDS), food insecurity experience scale (FIES), and coping strategies index (CSI)—resilience is less tangible and more challenging to measure, although the Resilience Index Measurement and Analysis (RIMA-II) tool (FAO, 2016) has gained some traction, especially among United Nations agencies (Lindgren & Lang, Chapter 4).
Of course, resilience must often be measured in volatile contexts that embody a significant risk or actual occurrence of shocks to livelihoods and food systems. Recognising this reality, Haysom and Battersby (Chapter 11) suggest that ‘different measures of resilience are required, measures that take into account the constant state of crisis’. Again, this is not merely of academic interest. Once the context of vulnerability and resilience is accurately understood, appropriate interventions can be designed that strengthen absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacities of relevant populations.
However, an empirical challenge remains. Resilience implies the capacity to withstand shocks without resorting to ‘distress’ behaviours, such as selling productive assets to buy food, that will compromise the integrity of the affected household’s livelihood. Measuring this capacity requires assessing each household’s food security status and asset-holdings before and after a shock occurs, but shocks are, by their nature, unpredictable. Development programmes are much simpler to evaluate, because ‘treatment’ and ‘control’ households can be surveyed and compared before (baseline) and after (endline) an intervention is delivered. Perhaps resilience—like ‘vulnerability’ and ‘sustainability’—is destined to remain an elusive and contested concept that is challenging to define and even more challenging to measure, for this reason.
Risks, shocks, and stressors affect different people differently, so a disaggregated analysis is needed. Bryan et al. (Chapter 8) examine the different ways that different groups of men and women are exposed and respond to shocks and stressors, by applying a framework that integrates a food systems lens to the relationships between gender, nutrition, and resilience. This framework recognises that every man and woman has a unique resilience capacity and set of response options, leading to unique outcome pathways. Importantly, Bryan et al. avoid generalisations that homogenise men and women, noting for instance that men are often more exposed to natural disasters, but women are likely to be more vulnerable because they have fewer resources and therefore lower adaptive capacity.
Another gendered determinant of exposure and sensitivity to risks is each person’s positioning in the food environment, notably their respective livelihood activities in food value chains. Where women are confined to low-paid, marginal activities such as seasonal farm work or informal work in food processing or retailing, household resilience and children’s nutrition status could be enhanced simply by supporting women’s livelihoods.
Beyond gender, Bryan et al. note that resilience capacities are influenced by many other intersectional identities, some of which, such as marital status determining women’s access to productive resources in patriarchal societies, are also gendered. Building resilience could therefore be achieved by interventions that empower women and socially marginalised groups. It follows that resilience is a matter of social justice—as is food security, given that the right to adequate food is a fundamental human right (United Nations, 1948).
Losch and May (Chapter 10) make the important point that food systems are grounded in places, and they argue for a territorial approach that recognises spatial dynamics. A supply chain that delivers food from farm to fork can be very short or very long—the journey can be from a farmers’ cooperative to a school in the same rural community, or from a fruit farm in South Africa to a restaurant in Norway. This makes planning for food security complex, because any national food security policy must be cognisant of the local, national, and international dimensions of the country’s food system.
Losch and May advocate for subnational planning for food security, and they draw on the process of producing a provincial food and nutrition security strategy in South Africa as a case study (Western Cape Government, 2016). A localised approach is well aligned with movements such as ‘slow food’ and food sovereignty, which promote the rights and agency of food producers, local mid-stream actors, and consumers to control their food systems, in contrast to food regimes where corporations and institutions such as supermarkets dominate (McMichael, 2005). It also ensures that all actors are fully engaged, from local government and the private sector (farmers, processors, and formal and informal retailers) to civil society and consumers.
But is there a risk that shortening food supply chains will undermine resilience? Hoddinott (Chapter 6) highlights the benefits of globalised food systems in terms of diversifying diets and spreading risk against localised shocks such as adverse weather events. Similarly, Haysom and Battersby (Chapter 11) argue that ‘resilience is based in food system diversity’. Moreover, some variants of a territorial approach, such as investment in ‘development corridors’, could increase inequality and exclusion by privileging certain areas and communities while marginalising others (Losch and May, Chapter 10).
A decentralised view of food systems brings a sharper focus on rural areas versus urban areas, and the linkages between them. In parts of the world such as sub-Saharan Africa, food insecurity historically manifested as primarily a rural phenomenon, and urban food insecurity remains relatively under-analysed. In their contribution to this volume, Haysom and Battersby synthesise the growing body of thought on urban food systems in Africa, demonstrating that despite being intrinsically linked to rural hinterlands—most crudely as the mass consumption end of food value chains—they require a completely different framing. COVID-19, because it affected urban workers disproportionately through the restrictions imposed on economic activity, has sparked a flurry of interest globally in understanding urban food systems better. Urban agriculture has limited potential, so a more holistic approach is needed. One innovative concept is the city region food system (CRFS), which aspires to enhance the sustainability and resilience of food systems in urban centres (Blay-Palmer et al., 2018).
Haysom and Battersby present empirical evidence from several African cities, revealing how different urban residents engage very differently with their food systems, acquiring food from different sources in different quantities and frequencies, even consuming very different diets, depending on their relative affluence. Analysis of food systems must therefore be disaggregated even between categories of people within the same territory.
Particular attention must be paid to the role of urban governance. Infrastructure and services such as water, electricity, transport, sanitation, and waste disposal emerge centrally as contextual factors affecting urban food systems and urban food security. For the urban poor, household food choices are constrained not just by poverty, but also by infrastructure deficits. For this reason, Haysom and Battersby argue for infrastructure justice as one lever for levelling up inequalities and ensuring that no one is left behind. Public investment in pro-poor infrastructure might seem like a secondary consideration in relation to the central themes of this book, but it can contribute not only to social justice but also to more resilient and equitable food systems.
Food security, food resilience, and food systems each have unique intellectual histories and policy trajectories, and all three remain as contested concepts, with no consensus even on their definitions. Yet, this book has tried to bring the three together, conceptually and analytically, not to complexify or theorise a terrain that is already overloaded with frameworks and flowcharts, but to highlight how the understanding and meaning of each one can illuminate and be illuminated by applying insights from the others.
Fundamentally, anyone concerned with food security and resilience is concerned with human well-being and how to protect or even to enhance it. Karl Marx’s prescient observation, that the point is not only to interpret the world but to change it, must never be forgotten. Disagreements over definitions and measurement tools are never merely ‘academic’ and are sometimes passionate, because they have implications that lead to policy decisions affecting millions—or billions—of lives. To take one example that is rehearsed in the early chapters of this book: whether one believes that the food system is ‘broken’ or, to the contrary, increasingly efficient and resilient, has major implications for the public and private actions that are proposed and adopted against hunger and malnutrition.
This book has highlighted the persistence of several paradoxes, such as the coexistence of high levels of multiple forms of malnutrition even when food systems are functioning efficiently, and the rise of overweight and obesity even in countries (like South Africa) that simultaneously display high rates of chronic undernutrition. These paradoxes extend also to the choice of policy interventions. Should governments concerned with food security in low-income countries aim to keep food prices high to incentivise farmers, or low to keep food affordable for all consumers? How far should governments interfere with other food system actors’ abilities and willingness to promote healthy diets, for instance by imposing a sugar tax? In a context of inexorable population growth and climate change, should research investments in agriculture focus on maximising yield growth or minimising yield volatility? Does strengthening food resilience require starting with households and communities, or with food systems and governance?
There are no easy answers to these and many related questions. Food (in)security, like climate change, has rightly been classified as a ‘wicked problem’ (Hamann et al., 2011), and in an increasingly complex and unpredictable world, achieving food resilience seems more elusive and challenging than ever. There is no doubt, however, that viewing these problems through a food systems lens can help.
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Devereux, S., Béné, C. (2023). Reflections and Conclusions. In: Béné, C., Devereux, S. (eds) Resilience and Food Security in a Food Systems Context. Palgrave Studies in Agricultural Economics and Food Policy. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-23535-1_12
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-031-23534-4
Online ISBN: 978-3-031-23535-1