What is a food system

“The food system is not just characterised by separate activities producing collective outcomes; it is the dynamic interaction between these subsystems that defines the systemic properties of the food system. In other words, the presence or absence of resilience cannot be attributed to or measured by changes in one unit without considering how those changes influence behaviour in the other units of the system. The food system is thus defined by its dynamic properties, which involve information flows between the system and its components and between the system and the external environment beyond the system boundary.”

Prof Bob Doherty, et al. Food Systems Policy Hub Director

The global challenge

Much is expected from our global food system to meet the challenges of a growing population. However, if we simply produce more food using the current agri-food system we will require 120 percent more water, 42 percent more land and this production alone will lead to a 2°C rise in global temperature. We cannot meet our food needs through a business- as-usual approach, but require strategies for adaptation and transformation.

Our needs must be set within a growing consensus that our food system is increasingly vulnerable, with rising environmental risks from climate change, soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and antimicrobial resistance, among others. Environmental risks are coupled with rising socioeconomic risks of increasing hunger, a mounting health crisis from poor diets, and poor working conditions for many working in agri-food supply chains. These problems provide an immense challenge for policy makers – which is why taking a food systems approach can be so effective tackling these diverse issues.

Our solution and expertise

Our Food Systems Policy Hub builds on the work of the N8 AgriFood programme. Established in 2015, this collaboration brings together the universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York, to deliver an integrated, large-scale, multi-disciplinary research effort to find solutions to the long term global challenge of providing sufficient, safe and nutritious food for a growing, increasingly affluent population. By uniting these multiple disciplines under one collaborative project, N8 AgriFood is perfectly placed to draw upon expertise to offer a full view of the food system.

Setting policy in the food system is complex. Our food systems thinking enables a more coherent interdisciplinary approach, allowing identification of the key interactions, stakeholders and points of intervention, as well as any trade-offs, synergies and unintended consequences of interventions. It provides a platform for a joined-up approach to food research and policy making across industry, government, third sector and civil society.