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Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition • FSN Forum

Re: Towards a common understanding of Sustainable Food Systems

Michelle Miller
Michelle MillerUW-CIASUnited States of America

The report is an excellent first draft. and frames many of the issues very well. My specific comments are:

  • It would be helpful to take a step back and discuss the food systems as a cyclic system ideally -- for instance, including refridgeration, and packaging as part of the system, as well as ownership and labor structures.
  • Adding reference to FAO-ILO work on decent work in agriculture and food systems would be welcome.
  • Instead of the original concept of sustainable agriculture as a three-legged stool of environmental, social and economic sustainability, I've been using a systemic emergence model. The environmental sphere is the base of all social systems. And well-being (of which economic success is but one measure) emerges from social systems. Profitability and economic systems are culturally derived so language around economic sustainability is difficult to translate. In work with traditional communities I hear it expressed as the difference between community food systems and enterprise.
  • Market access for all scales of production is a critical piece to address, especially as buyer power increases in concentrated segments of food supply chains.
  • Sustainable food systems work must identify leverage points that can be used to improve food systems so that they serve our well-being.
  • There is mention of regional, national or subnational -- this terminology may be misconstrued in a North American context (and maybe on other continents?) where regional can mean subnational. Maybe use state, multistate or intrastate?
  • A holistic food systems assessment needs to include study of food flow (production and its associated supply chains) and labor.
  • Part of sustainable diet includes access to food and also farmer access to markets.
  • It is critical not to fall into the trap that the goal is to sustain the current system. Instead sustainability is aspirational - we want to sustain resources to improve well-being for all living things.
  • The term "value chain" has a distinct meaning for businesses, where the values (ie profit or market access or reduced business risk) accrue to the business, not to the public. Our USDA working group on Agriculture of the Middle instead uses the term "values-based supply chains" to distinquish the situation where business people share values about the public good and agree to share risk across the independent businesses in the supply chain. See the article: Values based food supply chains: strategies for agri-food enterprises of the middle (Stevenson and Pirog, June 2013).

Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts on this report.

Michelle Miller

Associate Director, UW-CIAS