The TRANSMANGO Vulnerability Matrix: a conceptual & communicative tool

Food security is a complex domain; in Europe, it may appear less relevant and evident, while it’s more insidious nature reveals several symptoms. How to translate this opaque intricacy into an intelligible and logical synthesis? The Vulnerability Matrix which is part of WP2 is a conceptual and communicative tool to condense these complex phenomena into a visual summary that flags possible areas for policy action. The TRANSMANGO Matrix is inspired by the outcomes of the media content analyses carried out at national level in WP2 (found here).

The aim of the matrix is to give a synthetic representation of the main areas of food and nutrition vulnerability in the EU, in relation to the factors those areas are vulnerable to. The goal is to give policy-makers, experts and stakeholders a map for food and nutrition vulnerability mitigation where the main sensitive issues (priority mitigation areas) can be visualised. The Matrix is intended to support prompt identification of critical and emerging vulnerability elements. The use of icons is aimed at giving the reader an easy and immediate visual appreciation of the contents of each cell and of the Matrix general contents.

TRANSMANGO D2.5 Vulnerability Matrix - food and nutrition vulnerabilities
D2.5 Vulnerability Matrix (Click to enlarge)

The “factors” are listed in the first column, which can be divided in Environmental, Technological, Socio-Economic and Policy factors. These factors are coloured according to their most pertinent dimension. Two factors are referred to as ‘others’ and are listed apart as they represent specific factors, hardly referable to the previous groups.
On the other axis, 5 vulnerability areas are listed; vulnerable social groups, food needs and preferences, territories, sectors/supply chains, and food systems. Each area gathers a number of hotspots vulnerable to one or more factors. Moving progressively from the left to the right, there is a gradual transition from food vulnerable social groups to more system-related vulnerabilities.

The Matrix and its contents are described in detail in the Vulnerability Matrix Report, D2.5. Here we provide some overall considerations in order to grasp some of the key Matrix implications.

  • Virtually all factors are likely to have a significant and far-reaching impact, which means that there are relevant vulnerability areas exposed to each of them. In particular, those of socio-economic nature affect all areas of vulnerabilities. Similarly, the technological and environmental factors have comprehensive implications, with the exclusion of food preferences and needs.
  • With regard to the vulnerability areas, if we look at the two poles of vulnerability – social groups and the food system activities – the latter is systematically and directly exposed to all factors. Stated differently, the food vulnerable social groups have a straight causal relation with most, but not all the factors.
  • Ecological factors do not seem to threaten food security for specific social groups, with the notable exception of farmers. In contrast, they have a clearer impact on those living in sensitive geographical areas.
  • Economic and policy factors (impoverishment, price levels and volatility, social welfare cuts) are a source of insecurity for most of the vulnerable groups, and the potential impacts are even stronger as those factors tend to reinforce each other, in an era of economic crisis, unemployment and welfare reduction.
  • Vulnerability to the weakening of political action is less evident than vulnerability to unfair or reduced agricultural support, which is a crucial factor in a traditionally highly regulated field. These kinds of factors, anyway tend to have impacts on the food system, and then to the general food and nutrition security situation, rather than on specific groups.
  • Due to their non-systemic nature, accidental food contaminations and food frauds, which often receive media attention, can be sources of vulnerability at the systemic level and for people with specific needs, more than for generally vulnerable groups or territories.

Some counter-intuitive elements also emerge.

  • An expected difference in terms of vulnerabilities between national and global food systems proved to be inexistent on the basis of the given factors: the two levels appear similarly vulnerable to the same factors.
  • (Family) farmers represent a noticeable food vulnerable constituency. This mostly refers to their insecure livelihoods, directly threatened by environmental and technological factors further to those of a socio-political nature that typically affect other vulnerable social groups.
  • Religious habits and restrictions play a much more marginal role than expected. The analysed factors do not seem to play any crucial role in hampering food choices and dietary obligations in an increasingly multi-ethnic and multi-religious Europe.

Authors: Luca Colombo, Stefano Grando & Maryam Rahmanian,
researchers at FIRAB (Fondazione Italiana per la Ricerca in Agricoltura Biologica e biodinamica)


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