The United Nations strive for ‘zero hunger’ in 2030. Meanwhile, the number of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition has increased on a global scale over the last years. Furthermore, food systems are vulnerable to climate change and are required to feed an ever-increasing population. These facts are felt primarily by the lower and middle social strata in Africa and Asia. Providing every world citizen with sufficient and healthy nutrition demands a transition to sustainable food systems.
Through the research programme Food security and Valuing water, Wageningen University & Research aims to develop new routes toward a sustainable food system. The main challenges achieving this goal are the depletion of freshwater resources, climate change, land management, soil degradation, declining biodiversity, migration and the increase in agricultural production. Not just the amount of food, but its availability and affordability are crucial.
In this programme, develop and asses new insights for shaping transitions towards sustainable food security.
Food System Approach as a framework
Central to our research is the Food System Approach, an interdisciplinary framework to analyse the cohesion between the different parts of the food system and its outcomes in socio-economic and environmental terms, as well as creating a better understanding of the feedback loops between the different elements of food systems. For example, we look at the efficiency of production and processing and its impact on environmental aspects (e.g. water, soil) as well as the income of the local farmers.
Furthermore, we analyse the consequences for labour, income, and the influence and dependence of food production on biodiversity and climate.
Food systems are highly complex systems which encompass all the stages to feed the population: agricultural production, harvesting, packing, processing, transforming, marketing, consuming and disposing of food (UNEP, 2016; van Berkum et al., 2018).
The Food security and Valuing water programme focusses on research, development and assessment of new insights that shape transitions towards to sustainable food security that can be applied in multiple middle- and low-income regions across the globe. A characteristic of this programme is that we combine knowledge and experience from several disciplines in each project. In every project, researchers with backgrounds in social, technological and natural sciences work together. Most of the research is developed and tested in areas where issues in food security, as well as water, come together; such as deltas, cities, aquatic systems and a region like East Africa.
Other research is focused on generic aspects of sustainable food systems.
- Deltas under pressure focusses on delta areas. In deltas, population growth, climate change, food production and water quality and availability, come together in a continuously changing context. The Mekong Delta (Vietnam) and the Brahmaputra delta (Bangladesh) serve as case studies. The research team aims to contribute to improved collaboration between farmers and a robust, diverse and future-proof food system.
- Rural Areas in East Africa is a research area with a focus on the transition of food systems to the poorer areas in East Africa. Population growth and the settling of refugees from neighbouring regions require a transition in food systems in this area. Areas in Uganda and Ethiopia serve as case studies to develop approaches and scenarios.
- Feeding Cities is the line of research that focusses on the change in food systems as a result of urbanisation. Changing diets in the urban population, the altered composition of the rural population, storage, distribution and pressure on the environment all influence food security, food safety and food quality. The cities of Dhaka (Bangladesh), Kampala (Uganda) and Nairobi (Kenia) serve to record and compare changes scientifically.
- Aquatic systems centres on the development of potentially successful forms of aquaculture. This research focusses on Indonesia, a country with ample experience in aquaculture and a large amount of readily available research data.
- Nature Based Solutions develops solutions to fortify food systems through solutions based on nature, making them more resilient to climate change or even capable of contributing to preventing climate change (mitigation). Small-scale farming in combination with agroforestry for example, or natural protection of crops from plagues.
- Food and Biodiversity studies the close link between food systems and biodiversity. Researchers aim for win-win solutions: investments in biodiversity that also contribute to a more resilient food system. This ties in with the demand of companies for scientifically substantiated solutions that benefit both biodiversity and the food system.
- The line of research Transition pathways maps what challenges are faced in the transition to sustainable food systems. Researchers develop models, knowledge and tools to support stakeholders in this transition. The generated knowledge can be applied locally to improve food systems. Asia and Africa are the focus areas.
- Extreme events and multiple scales is the name of the research area where, among other things, a stress test is developed for food systems. This test allows us to reveal any vulnerabilities in food systems that result from extreme events. The research focusses on South-East Asia and Ethiopia. Additionally, we study how to improve existing economic, water, climate, food production, social and food safety models.