Special Issue "Sustainable Agri-Food Systems: Environment, Economy, Society and Policy"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Social Ecology and Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Hamid El Bilali
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari, International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM-Bari), 70010 Valenzano, Italy
Interests: sustainability; sustainable agriculture; sustainable food systems; sustainable diets; food losses and waste; food security; food policy.
Prof. Dr. Carola Strassner
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of Food, Nutrition & Facilities, FH Münster—University of Applied Sciences, 48149 Münster, Germany
Interests: systems thinking applied to sustainable food systems; organic food systems; out of home food systems
Dr. Tarek Ben Hassen
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Department of International Affairs, College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University, Doha 2713, Qatar
Interests: geography of innovation; agricultural system of innovation; sustainability and innovation; food security

Special Issue Information

Dear colleagues,

Food systems encompass all the elements (environment, people, inputs, infrastructures, institutions, etc.) and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, and consumption of food as well as the outputs of these activities. A food system is sustainable when its socioeconomic and environmental outcomes do not compromise the economic, social, and environmental bases for future generations. Over the last few decades, food systems have been central in the debate on sustainable development, such as in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Indeed, food systems are under an unprecedented confluence of pressures and lie at the center of a global nexus of environmental, social, and economic problems, as humanity faces the challenge of achieving sustainable food security in the face of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss, resource scarcity, human population growth, and climate change. On the one hand, food systems are among the main contributors to sustainability challenges, such as land degradation, climate change, biodiversity loss, etc. On the other hand, they are dramatically affected by these challenges facing humanity. Moreover, the dysfunction of modern food systems is a major cause of several societal issues such as food insecurity and malnutrition, rural poverty and livelihood vulnerability, and social inequality. These challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic that has highlighted the unsustainability and vulnerability of modern food systems and caused an impending global food emergency (e.g., increase in food losses and waste, food export restrictions, panic buying and stock-outs, surge in food insecurity, deterioration of nutritional and health status). This has all culminated in different calls for the transformation of food systems and their transition toward sustainability at different levels (global, regional, national, local). While some initiatives focus on single stages of the food chain (e.g., sustainable agriculture, sustainable diets), others are more systemic and holistic (e.g., short food supply chains, alternative food networks, reduction of food losses and waste). The diversity of the proposed transition strategies and approaches stems, among others, from differences in the definition, conceptualization, and assessment of sustainability in agri-food systems. What is clear is that transition toward sustainable food systems also implies transforming food policy and governance.

This Special Issue addresses but is not limited to the following topics:

  • Conceptualization, design, and operationalization of sustainable food systems at different levels (global, regional, national, city-region, local);
  • Methods, approaches, and models for the assessment of agri-food sustainability in food systems (production/agriculture, processing, distribution, consumption, waste management);
  • Sustainability transitions in agri-food systems (theories, frameworks, models, good practices, and promising initiatives);
  • New generation of food policies (integrated, multisectoral) and governance models (inclusive, multi-stakeholder, reflexive) for sustainable food systems;
  • Food systems in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the functioning, performance and resilience of agri-food systems.

Dr. Hamid El Bilali
Prof. Dr. Carola Strassner
Dr. Tarek Ben Hassen
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1900 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • sustainability
  • sustainability transitions
  • sustainable consumption and production
  • sustainable food systems
  • sustainable agriculture
  • sustainable diets
  • sustainable processing
  • food waste
  • sustainability assessment
  • food policy
  • food governance
  • food security
  • food system resilience
  • climate change
  • COVID-19
  • SDGs

Published Papers (6 papers)

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Research

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Article
Toward Resilient Water-Energy-Food Systems under Shocks: Understanding the Impact of Migration, Pandemics, and Natural Disasters
Sustainability 2021, 13(16), 9402; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13169402 - 21 Aug 2021
Viewed by 454
Abstract
The historic pandemic faced by the international community today boldly demonstrates the complexity and interconnectedness of the resource challenges we must better understand and address in the future. Further complexity is observed when accounting for the impact of compounded shocks related to natural [...] Read more.
The historic pandemic faced by the international community today boldly demonstrates the complexity and interconnectedness of the resource challenges we must better understand and address in the future. Further complexity is observed when accounting for the impact of compounded shocks related to natural disasters and forced migration around the world. Effectively addressing these challenges requires the development of research that cuts across disciplines and innovates at their interfaces, in order to develop multifaceted solutions that respond to the social, economic, technological, and policy dimensions of these challenges. Water, energy, and food systems are tightly interconnected. They are faced with pressures of varying natures and levels of urgency which need to be better understood, especially as nations work toward achieving the UN 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. This paper will review existing models and knowledge gaps related to water-energy-food (WEF) nexus models, as well as models for quantifying the impact of migration, pandemics, and natural disasters on this resource nexus. Specifically, this paper will: (1) explore the WEF nexus literature and identify gaps in current assessment tools and models; (2) explore the literature on tools and models for predicting the shocks of migration, natural disasters, and pandemics; (3) identify interconnections between water, energy, and food systems and the identified shocks; (4) develop a common framework that provides a road map for integrating those shocks in WEF nexus analysis; (5) provide recommendations for future research and policies moving forward. Full article
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Article
Measuring Egyptian Farmers’ Attitude towards Staying Organic
Sustainability 2021, 13(14), 7978; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13147978 - 16 Jul 2021
Viewed by 462
Abstract
Organic agriculture (OA) in Egypt is well-developed and still fast growing. Improving the relation between organic farmers and the other agents in the chain can provide a positive contribution to the whole organic chain competitiveness. One possible approach to investigate the farmers’ perceived [...] Read more.
Organic agriculture (OA) in Egypt is well-developed and still fast growing. Improving the relation between organic farmers and the other agents in the chain can provide a positive contribution to the whole organic chain competitiveness. One possible approach to investigate the farmers’ perceived role and satisfaction within the organic system is to explore the factors influencing their decision to stay organic. In particular, the aim of the present study was to measure the farmers’ attitude towards staying organic. Organic agricultural experts and institutional stakeholders were interviewed to complete a literature review and to obtain information about the Egyptian context. The survey questionnaire was pre-tested (n = 13) and then administered to a different sample (n = 232). A split-half validation procedure was used to evaluate and then confirm the factor structure. Explorative and confirmatory factor analysis yielded a final 29-item measure consisting of 8 distinct factors showing how organic agriculture influences a broad range of farmers’ life dimensions (environmental, economic, social, psychological). The significant role played by psychological and social factors in defining the farmers’ decision to stay organic emerged as a relatively unexpected outcome. The study supports the sustainable development of small family farmers, providing a useful tool to support the growth of organic production and consumption, mostly in developing countries. By monitoring farmers’ attitudes and perception towards OA, the instrument proposed in the present study can support policy makers, farmers’ organizations, civil society organizations (NGOs) and organic chains focal companies when defining policies, advocating campaigns, and chain coordination strategies for farmers involved in the organic food system development. Full article
Article
Public Consultation on Proposed Revisions to Norway’s Gene Technology Act: An Analysis of the Consultation Framing, Stakeholder Concerns, and the Integration of Non-Safety Considerations
Sustainability 2021, 13(14), 7643; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13147643 - 08 Jul 2021
Viewed by 461
Abstract
In Norway, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are regulated through the Gene Technology Act of 1993, which has received international attention for its inclusion of non-safety considerations. In 2017, the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board triggered a process to revise the Act that included a [...] Read more.
In Norway, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are regulated through the Gene Technology Act of 1993, which has received international attention for its inclusion of non-safety considerations. In 2017, the Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board triggered a process to revise the Act that included a public consultation and resulted in the “Proposal for relaxation.” Using poststructuralist discourse analysis, we critically analyze the premises and processes through which the proposal for relaxation was developed—including the public consultation—to understand the range of stakeholder concerns and how these concerns shaped the final proposal. We find that the proposal does not include all concerns equally. The Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board’s privileging of technological matters and its preference for tier-based regulation skewed the proposal in a way that reduced broader societal concerns to technological definitions and marginalized discussion of the social, cultural, and ethical issues raised by new gene technologies. To prevent such narrowing of stakeholder concerns in the future, we propose Latour’s model for political economy as a tool to gauge the openness of consultations for biotechnology regulation. Full article
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Article
Sustainability Transitions in University Food Service—A Living Lab Approach of Locavore Meal Planning and Procurement
Sustainability 2021, 13(13), 7305; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137305 - 29 Jun 2021
Viewed by 512
Abstract
Due to its purchasing power, the public food service sector is viewed as a potential transformative driver towards sustainable food systems. Organic meal planning and regional procurement may be a vital implementation strategy towards Planetary Health Diets in the communal catering arena. Capable [...] Read more.
Due to its purchasing power, the public food service sector is viewed as a potential transformative driver towards sustainable food systems. Organic meal planning and regional procurement may be a vital implementation strategy towards Planetary Health Diets in the communal catering arena. Capable of unleashing desirable synergies within local foodsheds, this transition pathway can potentially benefit all stages of the value chain, while also positively influencing consumer dietary behavior. Transformation, however, poses complex challenges to caterers, as it demands a shift in mindset regarding the philosophy, organization, and management of cafeteria systems as well as the need for affordable and aggregated supplies of source-identified local organic foods. This action research case study engaged the public caterer of a German University, undergraduate students, and additional stakeholders in a Living Lab to develop a weekly farm-to-table cafeteria menu, including its actual preparation, based on a conceptual sustainability standard. Hence, through an iterative process, involving two feedback cycles, an ambitious set of nutritional and procurement criteria were devised, inspired by the external input from exemplary practitioners in the field of green cuisine and procurement. The resulting meal plan was then subjected to an evaluation vis-á-vis its compliance with (1) dietary recommendations, (2) seasonality, (3) organic certification, (4) a defined foodshed boundary, (5) budget neutrality, and (6) life cycle assessment. Full article
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Article
The Organic Mindset: Insights from a Mixed Methods Grounded Theory (MM-GT) Study into Organic Food Systems
Sustainability 2021, 13(9), 4724; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13094724 - 23 Apr 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 587
Abstract
A broad understanding of food systems includes a complex web of activities, outcomes and drivers, encompassing not only the food and agriculture sectors, but also the social norms and cultures in which those activities are embedded. The organic food and farming movement has [...] Read more.
A broad understanding of food systems includes a complex web of activities, outcomes and drivers, encompassing not only the food and agriculture sectors, but also the social norms and cultures in which those activities are embedded. The organic food and farming movement has lately been portrayed as a food system of its own right, since it contains all necessary sub-systems, consisting of food environments, distribution networks, processing, as well as production and supply, all of which are bounded by an organic guarantee system. The underlying hypothesis of this investigation is that drivers in the organic food system operate on a paradigm level that is associated with the codified principles of ecology, health, fairness and care. Personality science suggests that the choice to act in pro-environmental ways is driven by an internalized sense of obligation or personal norms, which justifies our pursuit of seeking key drivers of food systems in the mindset of the actor. Through integrated findings from actor-centered mixed methods grounded theory research involving eleven case territories, this study identified a pattern of global mindset attributes that intuitively drive organic food system actors toward holistic human and sustainable development. Full article
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Review

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Review
Sustainable Agri-Food Systems: Environment, Economy, Society, and Policy
Sustainability 2021, 13(11), 6260; https://doi.org/10.3390/su13116260 - 01 Jun 2021
Viewed by 1371
Abstract
Agri-food systems (AFS) have been central in the debate on sustainable development. Despite this growing interest in AFS, comprehensive analyses of the scholarly literature are hard to find. Therefore, the present systematic review delineated the contours of this growing research strand and analyzed [...] Read more.
Agri-food systems (AFS) have been central in the debate on sustainable development. Despite this growing interest in AFS, comprehensive analyses of the scholarly literature are hard to find. Therefore, the present systematic review delineated the contours of this growing research strand and analyzed how it relates to sustainability. A search performed on the Web of Science in January 2020 yielded 1389 documents, and 1289 were selected and underwent bibliometric and topical analyses. The topical analysis was informed by the SAFA (Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems) approach of FAO and structured along four dimensions viz. environment, economy, society and culture, and policy and governance. The review shows an increasing interest in AFS with an exponential increase in publications number. However, the study field is north-biased and dominated by researchers and organizations from developed countries. Moreover, the analysis suggests that while environmental aspects are sufficiently addressed, social, economic, and political ones are generally overlooked. The paper ends by providing directions for future research and listing some topics to be integrated into a comprehensive, multidisciplinary agenda addressing the multifaceted (un)sustainability of AFS. It makes the case for adopting a holistic, 4-P (planet, people, profit, policy) approach in agri-food system studies. Full article
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