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Food Systems Research

Why has GECAFS taken a “food systems” approach?

GECAFS is concerned about the consequences of GEC for food security. Research on this topic requires a dynamic and holistic approach, so GECAFS has integrated different concepts to develop a broad understanding of food systems. In one, food systems are conceived as a set of activities ranging from producing food through to consuming food. Another approach considers the outcomes of these activities, and especially those which underpin food security. Combining these two approaches offers a more holistic framework in which to analyse the impacts of GEC on food security and helps to explain why food systems do not necessarily lead to food security. It also helps identify potential adaptation options.

GECAFS is also interested in the feedbacks from food systems to the environment.  The GECAFS framework recognises that food system activities lead to a number of outcomes, some of which contribute to food security, and others that relate to environmental and other societal concerns. The GECAFS food system approach allows a structured analysis of these outcomes, which enables an evaluation of the tradeoffs between food security and ecosystem services.

Both the activities and outcomes are influenced by a number of factors (“drivers”). See figure 1 for a diagram depicting these drivers, activities and outcomes, and the interactions among them.  Click here to read more about this.  By being broad and far-reaching, this concept of food systems permits a wide range of researchers, practitioners and decision makers to engage in research on food systems, food security and global environmental change.


Food System Drivers and Feedback


Major research questions GECAFS aims to answer using this framework

  1. How do different aspects of food systems contribute to, or constrain, food security? 
  2. For a given food system, what are the key GEC drivers of change?  How does GEC interact with other drivers to affect food system outcomes?  How do these interactions vary across and among different scales of analysis?
  3. How can regional food systems best be understood and described?  Which are the primary actors and institutions governing food systems at the regional scale?
  4. What are the feedbacks from food system activities and outcomes on the environment?  How will they change given different adaptation options?
  5. How do the results from food system analyses help decision makers choose viable adaptation options?


How does this research contribute to regional and other projects?

GECAFS conceptual and methodological research on food systems is designed to facilitate place-based research on food security and GEC.  Research outputs are tested and improved through field research, especially in the context of GECAFS Regional Projects.  The ideas are further developed through workshops and meetings.  The conceptual work also feeds directly into research on vulnerability and adaptation of food systems to GEC, and research on decision support.


Key outputs


The GECAFS food system concept has been increasingly adopted by a range of major international and national agencies e.g.

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