Characterizing diversity of food systems in view of sustainability transitions: Review
This paper (PDF) in Agronomy for Sustainable Development presents a framework to characterize the diversity of existing food systems and classify the food systems in terms of their support by mainstream practices. Dominant food systems focus on producing large amounts of inexpensive and standardized foods. These food systems have been proven unsustainable in environmental and social terms. Therefore, a transition from the dominant food systems to alternative ones built around sustainable production and rural development is needed. Promoting such a sustainability transition would benefit from a diagnosis of food system types to identify those systems that may harbor promising characteristics for a transition to sustainable food systems. This paper proposed a framework developed to serve characterization and analysis of the diversity of food systems in a defined geographical area and to structure thinking about possible changes to the status quo from within or outside mainstream food systems. The framework enables bringing together information from disparate knowledge domains to support reflection, decision making, and informed discussion towards more sustainable ways of food production, marketing, and consumption. Moreover, the framework allows to structure thinking about how to assess food system performance as a basis for informed decision making. By distinguishing major structural elements of food systems, it may help to bring out developments and alternative food systems to dominant ones that remain invisible in statistical data. The framework uses a seven-step procedure to characterize food systems and classify them as dominant food systems, niche food systems, or hybrid forms: 1) Food system boundaries; 2) Agricultural production systems types; 3) Value chain types; 4) Support structures innovation and functioning agricultural production systems and value chains; 5) Food systems typology; 6) Food system outcomes; 7) Classification of food systems. Results of the framework can be used to focus attention on functioning of the food system components and reveal main barriers and promising elements, and can be used in the exploration of potential transition pathways of food systems.