Starting up a Common Food Strategy in Europe

by : Natalia Brzezina, KU Leuven

On the 9th of February, the TRANSMANGO Consortium organized a European policy workshop entitled “Towards a Sustainable and Resilient Food and Nutrition Security in Europe (FNS)”. A number of high level experts from across different areas of the European food system gathered in Brussels to formulate building blocks of a Common Food Strategy for a more coherent landscape of EU policies allowing innovative food practices to thrive and lead to sustainable and resilient FNS. In addition with this workshop our ambition was to start up a long-term platform fostering the Common Food Strategy and offering a unique space for different EU actors to interact with social innovators throughout Europe and to work together on concrete solutions for European food system challenges.

The workshop itself was a highly interactive participatory meeting that consisted of four consecutive sessions, namely: (1) formulation of recommendations to tackle food system challenges in a coherent way, (2) examination of the recommendations in terms of impact on local practices and confirmation with their design principles and (3) check of the robustness of the recommendations the eight TRANSMANGO scenarios at the European level.

The starting point for the workshop were the following five most pertaining challenges of the European food system: (1) persisting food insecurity among vulnerable groups, (2) rising prevalence of obesity and other food-related diseases, (3) substantial food losses and waste, (4) deteriorating natural resources and (5) mounting pressure on human resources. These challenges are influenced by a wide variety of policy frameworks including agriculture and rural development, health and food safety, environment, employment and social affairs, international trade and many more. The interconnectedness of the different policy frameworks increases the risks of inconsistencies, i.e., interventions in one area that undermine efforts in another. Thus before the workshop we identified the inconsistencies through interviews in which we asked the experts to identify the current policies that aim to address and/or that unintendedly aggravate the five systemic challenges. Based on the results, during the first session the experts formulated key recommendations for effectively tackling the systemic challenges and at the same time overcoming the existing inconsistencies.

The second session started with a presentation of the extensive and diverse TRANSMANGO research on local food practices. The local practices ranged from new approaches to regional food governance, initiatives that create new links between consumers and producers, to city-level strategies for urban agriculture in the context of circular economy and many more. This research has led to formulation of the following five key design principles:

  • Re-enforcing food entitlements of traditional and newly emerging vulnerable groups

Example: the case of FNS in remote areas in Spain identifies that private entrepreneurship (food vendors) and not just food assistance can address the problem of access to food

  • Re-connecting sustainability and health

Example: Provisioning or procurement of balanced, fresh and nutritional food to school children does not only serve to nourish children better and healthier, but also to provide small farmers a market; an outlet for their food.

  • Re-linking food systems that foster urban-rural synergies

Example: The Voedselteams and Community Supported Agriculture cases in Flanders specifically aim to re-connect production and consumption through active involvement of consumers in the design of the food provisioning system. This can take the shape of among others sharing risks and through self-harvesting in the case of CSA.

  • Re-balancing social-technological engineering

Example: Strongly ICT-based logistical improvements of short food chain initiatives in Belgium and the UK or introduction of personalized electronic food assistance cards in Tuscany.

  • Re-thinking resilience building

Example: Italian and Dutch food entitlement initiatives initially focused primarily on establishing close relations with food waste reduction, but in time also started to interlink with urban food movements and/or urban-rural synergy development and as such increasingly also actively engage

Following the presentation experts discussed their recommendations in terms of the design principles for local practices. Specifically, they considered whether any changes or additional recommendations are needed to support the local practices better.

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In the third session, eight diverse TRANSMANGO scenarios were used by the experts to test recommendations formulated so far against challenging alternative futures. The analysis allowed the experts to assess and increase robustness and feasibility of the proposed recommendations.

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In the closing session as well as along the whole workshop, the experts discusses also the need and form of a Common Food Strategy Platform.

The insights provided by experts in the workshop in combination with the design principles are a basis for European transition pathways that will be quantified using the GLOBIOM model in the context of the eight contextual scenarios.

Outcomes of the workshop and GLOBIOM modelling will feed into a TRANSMANGO Policy Brief outlining the Common Food Strategy. The Policy Brief will be developed between March and October 2017 by TRANSMANGO researchers in a collaborative process with experts assembled within the platform and policymakers at the European level and presented at the final TRANSMANGO Conference taking place on the 1st of December 2017.

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