DIGGING DEEPER: Bringing a Systems Approach to Food Systems: Feedback Loops


  • Kate Clancy Johns Hopkins University; Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture




Food Systems, Systems Approach


First paragraphs:

Continuing from my first column in JAFSCD’s volume 3, issue 1, feedback loops are another systems concept with a great deal to offer to food systems projects and activities at any level — local to global. Feedback can be thought of as “an influence or message that conveys information about the outcome of a process or activity back to its source” (Capra, 1996, as cited in Sundkvist, Milestad, & Jansson, 2005, p. 225). Feedback loops act as communication and control devices in both natural and socioeconomic systems.

Most people who have worked on sustainable agriculture are accustomed to thinking about ecosystem feedbacks such as those from eroded land, polluted water, declining biodiversity, and many other resource problems. People who study the phenomenon point out that feedback can be masked (when information can not be detected) or disregarded (when a problem is not addressed even though it is perceived). In the latter situation, often no effective measures are taken to change manage­ment practices — which allows disturbances to accumulate and create conditions for large-scale crises later on (Berkes & Folke, 1998, cited by Sundkvist et al., 2005), for example dead zones.

With regard to masked feedback, we can examine the problem of long distances that impede the flow of information in the food system and block ecological feedback along the whole chain (Princen, 1999). We see this as the problem of not knowing how food is produced or where it comes from. Without information, the likelihood of farmers making good decisions on management and consumers good decisions on purchases is reduced. Also, as feedback loops become looser and less effective, the motivation for environmental action is reduced (Levin, 1999)....


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Author Biography

Kate Clancy, Johns Hopkins University; Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture

Kate Clancy is a food systems consultant, visiting scholar at the Center for a Livable Future, Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, and senior fellow at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture.
Kate Clancy



How to Cite

Clancy, K. (2013). DIGGING DEEPER: Bringing a Systems Approach to Food Systems: Feedback Loops. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 3(3), 5–7. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2013.033.007