Identifying main vulnerabilities and policy priorities to deliver FNS: Results from a Delphi survey with experts

What are vulnerabilities and transitions in the European food system at EU level according to international experts? This is one of the things we aim to explore in WP5 of TRANSMANGO. As part of this WP, we conducted a Delphi method, where 45 international experts participated to identify global drivers of the food system affecting EU food and nutrition security.
This method consisted of three rounds. The first round contained open-ended questions to gather as much diversity as possible. The analysis of the answers to these questions led to identify a set of drivers, vulnerabilities and policy priorities that participants ranked throughout the second round. The results of the second round were shared in the third and final round asking for reactions, comments or suggestions if any. You can read the full report here. To help us gather more information on how to prioritise drivers, vulnerabilities & policy priorities for FNS, fill in the form found at the bottom of this post.

The main global drivers of change at present and by 2050 are very similar according to the results of the first Delphi round where stakeholders responded to open-ended questions identifying as key climate change, changes in consumption patterns, population growth and technological innovation. However, when respondents were asked to prioritise, results changed considerably. At present the most important driver is changes in consumption patterns and practices, followed by population growth according to representatives of the private sector, the financial crisis according to the public sector or the financial crisis and the influence of the corporate/private sector according to civil society organisations. By 2050 the picture is very different, with access to resources and climate change being the main drivers of global change. While different types of stakeholders have distinct second or third choices, they all agree that by 2050 GM technology and technological innovation will be the least important drivers of the 10 options we offered them. Finally, there was less consensus around the main drivers of change for FNS in Europe by 2050. While consumer preferences and concerns ranks high, there are a mixture of elements including increase of obesity and overweight, high prices of quality foods, food safety, consumer and producer associations and effects of agricultural subsidies are almost equally important.

startup-593343_1920We also asked participants to identify threats and weaknesses affecting FNS in Europe. By and large the most recurrent issues were environmental threats such as climate change and loss of biodiversity, trade (including increased liberalisation and dependency rates) and EU’s political and regulatory system. However, respondents listed many specific elements in the first round that were grouped into three main categories: environment and agriculture, policy and governance and socio-economic trends. Under these categories we also identified a set of policy priorities that emerged when we asked stakeholders for the origin and changes needed to address threats and weaknesses affecting FNS in Europe. We summarise the main results by topic around weaknesses and policy priorities below:

  • Environment and agriculture: The main vulnerability is associated to loss of biodiversity (including agro-diversity). According to CSOs and the private sector, loss of soil fertility and water availability are also key, while the public sector emphasizes the industrialisation of the food and farming system as a priority. This vulnerability is one of the least important according to private sector representatives. The main policy priorities are implementing measures to support small food producers, reducing food waste and increase investment in sustainable agriculture. However, different groups of stakeholders emphasize different measures. Most interventions are envisioned at the national and European level, such as investment in sustainable agriculture, although the regional level is important to develop instruments to support small food producers. The time frame of policy priorities to address these environmental vulnerabilities is mostly short term (2015).
  • Policy and governance: Respondents ranked policy and governance vulnerabilities that mostly affect Food and Nutrition Security, highlighting unequal power relations across the food chain as the main vulnerability, followed by the influence of multinationals on policy, the lack of a long-term perspective and subsidies that incentivize mass production. The standard deviation in this exercise is particularly high, showing a high level of controversy. The main priorities are measures to support small producers, the adoption of a more comprehensive approach to FNS at the EU level and an increased democratization and participation in the decision making process. Notwithstanding, the private sector highlights the regionalization of food policies as the main policy priority. Most interventions are envisioned at the European level, although the national level also plays a key role in integrating food sovereignty/right to food into policy, green public procurement and increase democratization and participation in the decision making process. The time frame of policy priorities to address these policy and governance vulnerabilities is mostly short and mid-term, by 2015 and 2025 respectively.
  • Socio-economic trends: Respondents highlighted poverty and social exclusion as the main vulnerability followed by dominance of corporate interests, recession and austerity measures and changing consumption patterns. However, the standard deviation is high, indicating more dispersion and disagreement between participants. For example the private sector stakeholders highlight consumption patterns but also the EU dependence on imports; CSOs instead stress the high consumption of unhealthy foods alongside with the dominance of corporate interests as the main vulnerability, while public sector respondents point out poverty and social exclusion as key. The main policies priorities revolve around increasing transparency and ethics in the food chain, adoption of public procurement strategies that incentivize healthy diets and the adoption of market-based policy instruments to incentivize healthier diets. In this case there is also different emphasis depending on the group of stakeholders, for example the private sector stresses education and consumer engagement while CSOs also include the need to reduce meat consumption. Most interventions are envisioned at the European level, particularly in terms of revising the regulation on food labelling, advertisement campaigns and increase transparency and ethics. Public procurement and stronger social safety nets are generally devolved to the national governments, alongside with education and consumer engagement, where regional and municipal levels have also a key role to play. The time frame of policy priorities to address these socio-economic vulnerabilities is mostly short term; for more than 50% of the stakeholders, all policy priorities need to be implemented by 2015.

In the first round of the Delphi we also asked stakeholders about the origins of the threats and weaknesses affecting FNS in Europe. The current EU regulatory and political framework is considered the main origin of Europe’s FNS vulnerabilities, jointly with political interests, geopolitics and governance issues. Respondents also point out an absence of coordination and insufficient European integration as well as describe the political system as outdated, unable to address internal diversity, non-democratic, segmented, incoherent and lacking leadership. There is also a general criticism towards ineffective or inconsistent policies, lacking a holistic and common vision on food related issues that ensure the right to food for all. But respondents also raise issues about specific policies, including the Common Agricultural Policy incentivising mass production through subsidies, hindering gender equality or just treating symptoms; or economic and social policies such as austerity measures that also threaten FNS.

Finally, in the first round we asked participants to point out neglected factors in FNS debates. Respondents mostly acknowledge that specific perspectives are neglected in FNS debates in Europe, such as the lack of integrated and long term perspectives on the food system but also the linkages between sectors and environmental, socio-economic and political dimensions of FNS. Respondents also acknowledge the lack of consideration of multi-level perspectives and interdependencies among countries. According to respondents, the reasons associated to neglect these factors respond mainly to unbalanced geometries of power inside the food chain and political spheres (including geopolitical relations) that impose a dominant discourse around consumerism, free trade and neoliberal development. Furthermore, stakeholders point out other key motives such as the absence of shared holistic visions and political leadership, the inadequacy of data, the lack of solidarity between social classes and countries, the erosion of trust (including lack of independence of science and institutions), historical path-dependencies and lack of financial resources or incentives to promote sustainability and social justice.

We are interested in gathering more responses to prioritise drivers, vulnerabilities and policy priorities to deliver FNS in Europe. If you want to participate fill in the form below.
If you have questions or comments regarding WP5 or the Delphi method, please contact Ana Moragues Faus.


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