Sustainable Food Systems: Agriculture By Another Name?

Photo: N.Palmer/CIAT

This piece is excerpted from a post by Steven D. Prager, Mark Lundy, and Chris Bene of A4NH Managing Partner CIAT. The full post was originally published on Challenge Prize Centre.

We live in a world that is rapidly urbanising and increasingly globalised.

These trends are set amidst a backdrop of a fast growing population, climate change, and increasing climate variability.

We’re more connected than ever, yet many still lack access to adequate, affordable and nutritious food.

The complex and interconnected set of issues requires a systems approach as the problems are multi-sectoral, transdisciplinary and the ideal solution to address one particular challenge frequently has trade offs elsewhere in the system that must be simultaneously considered.

The “Green Revolution” was the first nearly global initiative to expand food production and bring more food to more people. It illustrated that with concerted effort and focused “packages” of agricultural interventions, yields could be dramatically increased. Over time, awareness grew regarding the challenges faced by smallholder farmers and with that awareness came a new understanding that the advances of the Green Revolution were only part of the solution set required to feed the world’s growing population.

With deeper understanding regarding the complexity, heterogeneity and needs of smallholder agriculture producers throughout the developing world, the CGIAR stood up to begin addressing these needs. It was a consortium of many of the centres that contributed to the research required to advance the Green Revolution. These centers not only had intimate knowledge of the Green Revolution itself, but also of the small-scale producer communities in which they worked.

With this understanding they quickly realised that no single solution or approach would ever be a “one size fits all” answer to the range of challenges faced with feeding the global population.

One of the key realizations in CGIAR research was that agricultural production did not occur in an isolated manner; even small scale producers were participating in – or influenced by – the global marketplace for both agricultural inputs and agricultural commodities. That smallholder farmers were key actors in the “agricultural value chain” led to the development of the LINK Methodology at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).

While value chain approaches resulted in more inclusive engagement of smallholders in the business of agriculture, the focus was principally on linking farmer to market to reduce rural poverty. Many other factors affect the long term viability and efficacy of the food system and, as such, CIAT along with much of the agriculture research community began to take a more holistic approach that has come to be known as “Sustainable Food Systems” (SFS).

CIAT is one of many contributors to the new and emerging research agenda in SFS. The CGIAR Research Program known as Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) is helping to pioneer research in sustainable food systems with its flagship research program on Food Systems for Healthier Diets.

Visit Challenge Prize Centre to read the full post.