Scenarios for a sustainable food system in Switzerland

Developing concrete proposals for a sustainable food system in Switzerland: based, for example, on the Ecuador–Switzerland cocoa supply chain. Photo: shutterstock / Rostislav Ageev

The current food system in Switzerland has considerable environmental, social, and economic impacts – especially beyond the country’s borders: high CO2 emissions, harm to the environment and to health as a result of high pesticide use, extinction of species, exploitative working conditions, and increasing social inequality are among the direct and indirect effects. Making our food system more sustainable is therefore imperative.

But the way there is riddled with ethical and political conflicts. Research has shown that producers and consumers need to collaborate more to improve the sustainability of our food system. But there is a lack of concrete knowledge on how to link and successfully apply existing tools and approaches.

Building a bridge between producers and consumers

This lack of knowledge – transformation knowledge – is where the project “Deliberative diets: Connecting producers and consumers to value the sustainability of Swiss food system scenarios” comes in. Through a comprehensive co-creation process with all agricultural supply chain actors, the project aims to develop scenarios for a sustainable food system and political strategies that explore the potential for improvement and change in the current system – and can be implemented in practice. For this to succeed, visions for the future will be co-developed with the help of different groups of consumers in Switzerland.

almond plantation in Andalusia, Spain
An almond plantation in Andalusia, Spain. Photo: shutterstock / javi4x4

Particularly affected supply chains as a starting point

The foundations for these visions and ways of implementing them will be provided by a new assessment model which, once completed, can reveal the sustainability of every component of the food system in Switzerland. In addition, concrete options for action are expected to emerge from the detailed study of two agricultural supply chains that have a high impact both in the producing regions and in Switzerland: cocoa from Ecuador and oil/nut crops from Spain.

Recommendations for the governance of Swiss agricultural and food systems

The main goal of the project is to provide policy recommendations for the future governance of the Swiss agricultural and food system, based on robust research. Thanks to the participatory and democratic approach chosen, the researchers hope to present relevant and broadly supported resources (ranging from decision-support tools to guidelines and policy briefs) to help advance Switzerland’s progress towards the 2030 Agenda.

Food systems have a key role to play in this respect: they either reinforce or hinder numerous other sustainability goals, such as achieving climate targets, managing global supply chains, greening agriculture, or combating food waste.

Learning together and creating transformation knowledge

The project is inter- and transdisciplinary and includes five closely linked modules:

  1. Agroecosystem valuation
  2. Multi-criteria sustainability assessment
  3. Integrated food system modelling
  4. Supply chain scenario development
  5. Research synthesis and project coordination
Project structure: interacting modules for joint learning and creation of transformation knowledge. The arrows indicate knowledge flows.

Pathways to sustainable supply chains

CDE leads Module 4 and is analysing the cocoa and oil/nut crop supply chains from a holistic food system perspective. This approach facilitates a comprehensive understanding of the functioning of the two supply chains, making it possible to tackle behavioural lock-ins and develop viable alternatives. Some of the module’s expected outcomes are:

  • An understanding of the dynamics within supply chains and their significance for the different actors
  • Conditions and obstacles for the sustainable management of cocoa and nut/oil supply chains
  • Identification of key factors for improving supply chains in sustainable food systems
  • Identification of shared sustainability criteria for each of the two value chains
  • Feasible and relevant proposals on how to make the two supply chains more sustainable from a stakeholder perspective
  • An overview of controversial or sensitive criteria