Towards Food Sustainability: Reshaping the Coexistence of different Food Systems in South America and Africa

At least since Amartya Sen published Poverty and Famines in 1981, we know that food security –viewed globally – is more a question of proper distribution than of a need for ever more productivity. Nevertheless, a “productivist” understanding of food security continues to dominate in science, policy, and practice – gaining steam in the aftermath the 2008 food price crisis – even though more than enough calories for every person on earth are already being produced.

Project workshop on traditional food in the Guaraní viallage of Yatirenda, Bolivia. Photo: Johanna Jacobi, CDE

In order to better understand and address the “wicked problems” of hunger, malnutrition, and food insecurity, this project takes a food system approach in its analysis of actors, activities, and results of food system activities. In case studies in Kenya and Bolivia, we examine different food value chains (e.g. agro-industrial and agroecological, from production to consumption), the livelihoods of those who depend on them, and the consequences of various food-system related activities. Instead of applying a narrow food security concept, we have adopted an understanding of food sustainability that includes realization of the right to food, environmental sustainability, reduction of poverty and inequality, and resilience of food systems going beyond just producing enough. In a transdisciplinary process, our project seeks to develop a tool to assess the sustainability of food systems – a tool that can also be used by non-scientists who are interested in identifying ways to make food systems more sustainable.

Concept of food sustainability

Figure 1: Concept of food sustainability

Case studies

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Switzerland, Kenya, and Bolivia has begun researching various aspects of different food systems in Kenya and Bolivia. Our case studies focus on agro-industrial food systems as well as local, indigenous, and alternative food systems. Five postdoctoral researchers, nine doctoral candidates, and 21 master’s candidates are involved in corresponding “Work Packages” (WPs). WP1 examines the policy context and the right to food from a legal perspective. WP2 looks at institutions and actors from an anthropological perspective. WP3 analyses value chains, livelihoods, and food security. WP4 assesses the environmental sustainability of food systems as well as their social-ecological resilience.

Indicators of food sustainability

Together with our partners and interested organizations in Kenya and Bolivia, we defined indicators for use in assessing each of the five pillars of food sustainability. To assess the environmental performance of food systems, for example, we defined agrobiodiversity and landscape patchiness and connectivity as important indicators, in addition to resource use intensity, generation and handling of waste, emission of greenhouse gases, and more. In a workshop to define ways of assessing the right to food, we identified indicators that describe equality, non-discrimination, and empowerment of vulnerable groups, for example the proportion of land titles held by women, or levels of public investment in agro-pastoral activities.

Project duration: 6 years, starting 1.1.2015

The project is an affiliated project of the 10YFP Sustainable Food Systems Programme of the United Nations Environment Programme. The Programme on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns (10YFP) is a gobal multi-stakeholder partnership to accelerate the shift towards more sustainable food systems.

Publications of the University of Bern

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Master theses and working papers

Catacora Vargas, Georgina (2016): Agrobiodiversidad en Sistemas Alimentarios Agroindustrial, Indígena y Agroecológico en tres Municipios de Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Tesis para optar el título de Magister en "Agroecología, Cultura y Desarrollo Endógeno Sostenibe en Latinomérica", Agruco, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba.

Crespo, Miguel Angel (2016): La situación de la agricultura en Bolivia y crisis de la seguridad y soberanía alimentaria. Documento de trabajo 1 proyecto R4D hacia la sustentabilidad alimentaria en Bolivia y Kenia. Agruco, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba.

Gonzales Soto, Danny (2016): Efectos de la Política Púiblica en la Seguridad y Soberanía Alimentaria a partir de la Legislación existente en los Sistemas Alimentarios Agroindustrial, Indígena-Campesino y Agroecológico. Estudio de Caso de los Municipios San Pedro, Cabezas y La Guardia del Departamento de Santa Cruz. Tesis para optar el título de Magister en "Agroecología, Cultura y Desarrollo Endógeno Sostenibe en Latinomérica", Agruco, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba.

Hertkorn, Marie-Luise (2016): Implizites und explizites Wissen im Kontext globaler Entwicklung am Beispiel der Interaktionen wissenschaftlicher und bäuerlicher Perspektiven auf "gute Ernährung". Masterarbeit zur Erlangung des akademischen Grades Master of Arts in Geschichte und Philosophie des Wissens am Department für Geistes- Sozial- und Staatswissenschaften der Eidgenössischen Technischen Hochschule Zürich.

Hirsig, Sophie, and Märki, Sarah (2016): 'We have the land but not the food': A food system analysis in two communities in the soy production area of Bolivia. Masterarbeit der Philosophisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Universität Bern.

Kopp Valdivia, Ciro (2016): Reconocimiento e implementación del Derecho Hmano a la Alimentación adecuada y temas relacionados: Estudio jurídico-político en Bolivia. Documento de trabajo 2 proyecto R4D hacia la sustentabilidad alimentaria en Bolivia y Kenia. Agruco, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba.

Pomacosi Andrade, Daniela (2016): Percepciones de los actores sociales sobre: La situación de seguridad alimentaria nutricional, soberanía alimentaria para saber alimentarse en los sistemas alimentarios indígena agroecológico. Tesis de grado para obtener el titulo de Licenciatura en sociología, Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Cochabamba.

Food Security

As defined at the World Food Summit 1996, food security exists "when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life".

Human Right to Food

The right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman and child, alone and in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1999: para. 6.)

Food System

According to Rastoin and Ghersi (2010:19), food systems can be regarded as “interdependent networks of stakeholders (companies, financial institutions, public and private organizations, and individuals) in a geographical area (region, state, multinational region) that participate directly or indirectly in the creation of flows of goods and services geared towards satisfying the food needs of one or more groups of consumers in the same geographical area or elsewhere”. We extend the definition of stakeholders to explicitly include farmers and consumers.

Food Sovereignty

The right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems (Nyéléni Declaration 2007).

Food Sustainability

We suggest a definition of food sustainability that is based on five principles: (1) food security; (2) the right to food and other related human rights; (3) the reduction of poverty and inequality; (4) environmental performance; and (5) social-ecological resilience (Figure 1). We further believe that these basic variables for assessing food sustainability must remain consistent with more general principles of sustainable development, such as democratic participation in food system governance, economic viability, and intergenerational equity in both the short- and the long-term.


Fair Food, trade and states - a contribution from the R4D Food Sustainability to an emerging debate (in German an English):

Toxic pesticides in soybean production in Bolivia

Roberto Bascopé, PhD candidate in the Swiss R4D project “Towards Food Sustainability” led by the University of Bern studied environmental impacts of soybean production in the tropical lowlands of Bolivia.
Date: August 2018 | Source: 10 YFP Programme Sustainable Food Systems Programme Newsletter


Eine Banane ist eine Banane - Details unerwünscht

Mit dem Ja an der Urne zum «Bundesbeschluss über die Ernährungssicherheit» vom September 2017 wurden nachhaltige Handelsbeziehungen in die Verfassung geschrieben. Was sind die Konsequenzen dieses Artikels, wenn man ihn ernst nimmt? Mehr dazu mit Kommentaren von Elisabeth Bürgi, CDE.
Datum: 28.09.2017 | Quelle: WOZ


Fair Food initiative (in German):

Für arme Agrarländer sind die Hürden nach wie vor zu hoch

Die Fair-Food-Initiative sei kaum umsetzbar. Sie würde inter­nationale Abkommen verletzen, warnt der Bundesrat. Völkerrechtsexpertin Elisabeth Bürgi vom CDE widerspricht. "Mehr Fairness bei Lebensmittelimporten ist vertragskonform möglich."
Datum: 27.09.2017 | Quelle: Berner Zeitung