Alternative food networks & food security

by Pedro Cerrada Serra

Our food system has become increasingly global. The industrialised mainstream model dominates in in the Global North and its high productivity often comes with a well-known heavy burden in terms of environmental and socio-economic negative externalities (biodiversity loss, resource depletion, large-scale exodus of farmers, price volatility…). This “corporate food regime” (in McMichael (2004) terms), has led to a privatization of food security, a “shift in the ‘site’ of food security from the nation-state to the world market” that has proved unable to ensure food and nutrition security (FNS) for all (undernurished people accounts for 11% of total population while overweight and obesity are on the rise everywhere, according to the last State of Food Security and Nutrition report).

Food insecurity is not a distant issue. It also affects fully developed economies as we have witnessed in Europe, particularly associated with the rising unemployment and falling wages hitting hard during the recent economic crisis (some TRANSMANGO case studies go deeper with the issue: food assistance in Tuscany, Dutch food banks, BIA food initiative in Ireland or new-agricultural initiatives in peri-urban Valencia).Pedrofoto

In parallel and as a counter-tendency to the agro-industrial paradigm, a range of changes has occurred in the last decades reshaping the existing socio-economic relations between the food system actors and pushing change towards a more sustainable model, which, see for example the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact, should be inclusive, resilient, safe and diverse, and provide healthy and affordable food for all, while minimizing waste and conserve biodiversity. Not having a formal definition, these alternative food networks (AFNs) “agents of change” are usually characterized by short food supply chains where consumers buy directly from small-scale local producers using sustainable farming methods; and include mechanisms such as farmers’ markets, food cooperatives and buying groups, community supported agriculture or box schemes. A commitment to fair and sustainable food relationships is present.

While AFNs have been extensively analysed during the last decades, few studies have actually assessed their contribution to food security. TRANSMANGO has delved deeper into the AFNs knowledge. From three different European case studies we have aimed to identify and characterise the ways in which AFNs contribute to deliver FNS. Particularly we have explored food cooperatives (co-ops) in Wales (UK), Food Teams (Voedselteams) in the Flemish region of Belgium and a diversity of AFNs linking food production operating in the peri-urban area of the city of Valencia (Spain) to urban consumers. We focused on the several connections between the AFNs’ modalities and the four main categorical dimensions that need to be fulfilled simultaneously to reach food security, i.e. (i) Availability; (ii) Access; (iii) Utilisation and (iv) Stability.

These initiatives are territorially embedded and their local context influence in their specific goals and organization models. Similarly, they can have a significant role shaping their food environment i.e., the physical, economic, political and socio-cultural context in which each consumer engages with the food system (as defined by the HLPE 2017 report) facilitating healthy and sustainable consumer food choices.

It is precisely the recognition of the context-specific nature of FNS that has prompted the OECD, FAO and UNCDF (2016) to lunch a common document stressing the need to adopt a Territorial Approach to Food Security and Nutrition Policy, which is considered critical to deliver appropriate long-term responses to food insecurity.

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