Scientists offer blueprint for sustainable redesign of food systems

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New research results describe food systems that are not designed according to the logic of growth such as efficiency and extraction, but according to principles of sufficiency, regeneration, distribution, commons and care. It argues that food systems can instead be the basis for healthy communities, ecologies, and economies.

“For this agenda-setting article, we reviewed the vast experience of diverse farmers, food co-ops, home gardeners, alternative retailers and other endeavors to reassert what sustainability means for food systems in high- and low-income countries,” they say authors.

growth paradigm

The authors call on policymakers, researchers and community groups worldwide to rethink their approach to developing new solutions beyond the current “growth paradigm”.

“We’ve seen what food systems designed to achieve relentless economic growth and profit maximization are doing to the environment, farming communities, and our health, and it’s not good,” says Dr. Steven McGreevy, Assistant Professor of Institutional Urban Sustainability Studies at the University of Twente.

The current system is exploitative of people and animals, ecologically predatory, addicted to fossil fuels and controlled from food to fork by a small number of multinational corporations. This system produces vast amounts of fake food at incredible social, environmental and economic costs. With renewed food crises looming on the near horizon, any strategy to optimize and sustain the current growth-oriented food system is highly questionable.

Post-growth nutritional system

“Fortunately, there are countless examples of post-growth agrifood system elements in action from around the world. We need to support these models where they exist and, where appropriate, rediscover, transfer or evolve them,” says McGreevy.

The authors identified efforts within degrowth agrifood systems that are already in action around the world.

  • food production: Introducing agroecological farming and horticulture into current food systems can improve biodiversity, preserve fertile soils, and improve the system’s resilience to social and environmental shocks.
  • Grocery store and trade: Not-for-profit business models such as cooperatives and non-profit corporations without profit-maximizing motives can anchor sustainability in companies and prioritize the health and well-being of the environment and the general public.
  • food culture: A closer relationship with food and the processes it passes through to us can create a culture of appreciation where we value food as “commons” and the people who work in the agrifood system.
  • Food system governance: Food is linked to multiple governance silos—agriculture, public health, land planning, education, tourism, etc.—that often operate independently rather than integratively. Food Policy Councils (FPCs) are an example of new governance structures that involve and represent diverse public and private stakeholders and span multiple sectors with food-related policy expertise.

New research agenda

According to the study published in nature sustainabilityThe conventional wisdom of mainstream sustainability science – including its underlying logic of economic growth – is fixed on a narrow solution space: increasing production efficiency, high-tech innovation, and individual behavior change.

To break free from these intellectual constraints, reshaping the global agri-food system should be supported by coordinated education and a new research agenda that challenges conventional wisdom and focuses on understanding and developing diverse solutions outside the growth paradigm.

Research on global food trade is turning assumptions about where biodiversity is going on its head

More information:
Steven R. McGreevy et al, Sustainable agricultural systems for a post-growth world, nature sustainability (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-022-00933-5

Provided by the University of Twente

Citation: Scientists offer blueprint for sustainable redesign of food systems (2022, August 9), retrieved August 9, 2022 from

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