Mapping disruption and resilience mechanisms in food systems

Savary, Serge; Akter, Sonia; Almekinders, Conny; Harris, Jody; Korsten, Lise; Rötter, Reimund; Waddington, Stephen; Watson, Derrill


This opinion article results from a collective analysis by the Editorial Board of Food Security. It is motivated by the ongoing covid-19 global epidemic, but expands to a broader view on the crises that disrupt food systems and threaten food security, locally to globally. Beyond the public health crisis it is causing, the current global pandemic is impacting food systems, locally and globally. Crises such as the present one can, and do, affect the stability of food production. One of the worst fears is the impacts that crises could have on the potential to produce food, that is, on the primary production of food itself, for example, if material and non-material infrastructure on which agriculture depends were to be damaged, weakened, or fall in disarray. Looking beyond the present, and not minimising its importance, the covid-19 crisis may turn out to be the trigger for overdue fundamental transformations of agriculture and the global food system. This is because the global food system does not work well today: the number of hungry people in the world has increased substantially, with the World Food Programme warning of the possibility of a “hunger pandemic”. Food also must be nutritious, yet unhealthy diets are a leading cause of death. Deepening crises impoverish the poorest, disrupt food systems, and expand “food deserts”. A focus on healthy diets for all is all the more relevant when everyone’s immune system must react to infection during a global pandemic. There is also accumulating and compelling evidence that the global food system is pushing the Earth system beyond the boundaries of sustainability. In the past twenty years, the growing demand for food has increasingly been met through the destruction of Earth’s natural environment, and much less through progress in agricultural productivity generated by scientific research, as was the case during the two previous decades. There is an urgent need to reduce the environmental footprint of the global food system: if its performances are not improved rapidly, the food system could itself be one main cause for food crises in the near future. The article concludes with a series of recommendations intended for policy makers and science leaders to improve the resilience of the food system, global to local, and in the short, medium and long term.