Seven Transformation Approaches to Sustainable Food Security

Seun Festus Oladipo.


This blog has been written in the context of the course Engaging Society in Spatial Transformation, part of the Master Society, Sustainability and Planning at the University of Groningen. It describes seven approaches to how societal transformation towards sustainability can be achieved in the context of food security, and adresses the question what the role of citizens could be in supporting this transformation

Food security
The Food and Agriculture Organization described food security as a ‘‘situation that exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.’’ In addition, severe food insecurity increased from 9.3% in 2019 to 11.7& in 2021, an increase of 207 million people in two years. An online publication by (Food Crisis Prevention Network-RPCA, 2020) also revealed that food insecurity has risen in the Sahel and West Africa, as shown in the figure below (Source food-security-net).

The problem of food insecurity is increasing due to the immediate effect of climate change. There is a need for a societal transformation towards sustainability to this effect. Transformations are large-scale shifts in the direction of sustainability (Westley et al., 2011). Transformation addresses the underlying causes of climate risks and sustainability issues, shifting systems away from unsustainable, inequitable, and unequal dynamics to achieve more sustainable futures (Ziervogel et al., 2022).

Transformation to Sustainable Food Security
As the world’s population grows, ensuring food security for all has become a top priority. At the same time, how we produce and consume food has significant environmental and social consequences, which must be considered as we strive for sustainability. Seven societal transformations strategies toward sustainability can be distinguished in the context of food security, described below.

1. Prioritizing plant-based-diets
A plant-based diet includes all minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, herbs, and spices while excluding all animal products such as red meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. A plant-based diet can be more environmentally friendly and sustainable than one based primarily on animal products. Animal farming has a significant environmental impact, including greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption, and land degradation. We can reduce the demand for these resources and improve food security by eating fewer animal-based foods.

2. Improved sustainable agriculture practices
Farmers can produce food in various ways, including agroforestry, permaculture, and regenerative agriculture. These practices can improve soil health, water retention, and biodiversity while making the soil more resilient to climate change. Improved soil quality yields more improved food products. Supporting these practices can help to ensure a more secure and sustainable food supply.

3. Investment in research and development of sustainable food systems
There are still more options to be explored in sustainable food production, and investing in research and development can unlock more possibilities. These development strategies include initiatives to develop more resilient crops, improve food storage and distribution systems, and reduce food waste. Research and development can play a significant role in creating new crops and farming techniques that are more adaptable to the effect of climate change. This might involve looking at crops that can endure harsh weather conditions like drought or flooding and sustainable farming methods that can enhance soil health and water retention.

4. Supporting small-scale and local food producers
Subsistence farms and cooperatives, for example, can be more sustainable and resilient than large-scale industrial enterprises. They can also assist in support of local communities, which is especially vital during times of crisis. Buying locally-made food is one of the ways consumers can support small-scale food producers. Private organizations can also support this by investing in infrastructure that could help small-scale food producers efficiently. Small-scale producers may need access to infrastructure such as storage facilities, processing plants, and transportation networks to market their products.

5. Educate consumers on food choices
Many individuals are unaware of their food choices environmental and social impact. Teaching them about these implications is important to encourage them to make more sustainable and ethical choices. This might contain information about certain food environmental effects and the social and economic benefits of assisting small-scale farmers.

6. Building stronger connections between producers and consumers
Building closer links between farmers and customers is one method to develop a more sustainable food system. This may be accomplished through programs like community-supported agriculture and farmers’ markets, which can contribute to the development of a more direct and sustainable food system. Increasing transparency, supporting small-scale and local producers, and educating consumers about the impact of their food choices can all contribute to more sustainable food security.

7. Adoption of sustainable food security policies
Adopting laws and policies that promote sustainable agriculture and food production and the provision of financial incentives for sustainable practices are all important contributions that governments can make to promoting sustainable food security. Subsidies for environmentally friendly agricultural methods, restrictions on pesticides and fertilizers, and labeling programs that assist customers in making better decisions are a few examples of such policies.

Roles of citizens
Citizens can play a role in supporting sustainable food and food secirity in various ways. They can organize local place-based initiatives that promote sustainability and food security and by setting up non -governmental organizations. Non-governmental organizations can develop education and awareness campaigns, advocacy efforts, and initiatives that support small-scale and local food producers. They can also strengthen connections between producers and consumers and advocate for policies and regulations that promote food system sustainability. Individual consumers can make more sustainable and responsible food choices by choosing plant-based foods, supporting small-scale and local producers, and reducing food waste. Finally, private organizations can help to transform food security by adopting sustainable practices and assisting small-scale and local food producers. This can include initiatives such as sourcing ingredients from local and sustainable producers, investing in sustainable agriculture practices, and reducing food waste.

Food Crisis Prevention Network-RPCA, 2020. Food insecurity trends over time [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 1.7.23).
Smith, C., McDonald, G., 1998. Assessing the sustainability of agriculture at the planning stage. Journal of Environmental Management 52, 15–37.
Westley, F., Olsson, P., Folke, C., Homer-Dixon, T., Vredenburg, H., Loorbach, D., Thompson, J., Nilsson, M., Lambin, E., Sendzimir, J., Banerjee, B., Galaz, V., Van der Leeuw, S., 2011. Tipping Toward Sustainability: Emerging Pathways of Transformation. Ambio 40, 762–80.
Ziervogel, G., Enqvist, J., Metelerkamp, L., van Breda, J., 2022. Supporting transformative climate adaptation: community-level capacity building and knowledge co-creation in South Africa. Climate Policy 22, 607–622.

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