DIGGING DEEPER: Bringing a Systems Approach to Food Systems: High-priority Research Approaches for Transforming U.S. Food Systems
Keywords:Food Systems, Research Methods
The number of agriculture and food research agendas published over the last 25 years would fill multiple shelves — and that's not counting the long lists within each of those agendas. There are so many research needs in every possible area of the food system that the catalog of topics begins to look random. A long-term overall decline in funding, coupled with funders' often narrow preferences and with the academic culture of freedom to choose one's own research interests, have made food and agricultural research feel chaotic. Priorities and strategies may guide research project choices within some categories, but don't seem to in most. In this context I want to highlight four different approaches and several projects that I believe are very high priority and are necessary to pursue if there is to be a chance of building a sustainable and resilient agrifood system for the future.
Most of these suggestions come from the National Research Council (NRC) publication, Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century, published in 2010. (If you haven't read at least some of the report I beseech you to do so.) The report, a follow-up to the NRC report Alternative Agriculture published in 1989, "assesses the scientific evidence for the strengths and weaknesses of different production, marketing, and policy approaches for improving agricultural sustainability and reducing the costs and unintended consequences of agricultural production" (p. vii). The study committee included 15 members with expertise in food production and agribusiness; crop, soil, and horticultural sciences; water -use and water- quality science; farming systems and agroecology; agricultural economics and social science; and federal farm, trade, international development, environmental, and regulatory policies. Two of the committee members were farmers (p. vii).
First, the committee urges the research community to find a way to structure inquiries and approaches so that while incremental research continues, the strongest emphasis is placed on transformative research. These are projects that show the way to systemic changes that are quite different from the present and dominant system. Examples include organic and managed intensive grazing production systems; values-based whole supply chain development; and sustainable retail structures and supply chains that lower the vulnerability toward food insecurity in low-income areas....
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