Drivers of sustainable food networks

Today the Limburg Chamber of Commerce hosted the first day of the provincial tour of the Foundation Urgenda, a foundation aimed at innovation and sustainability. Members of Urgenda are spending 3 days in the province of Limburg to visit a range of iniatives about sustainable regional development. I was asked by the Limburg Chamber of Commerce to give a lecture about the role of food in sustainable regional development. In my lecture I first explained the unsustainability of the prevailing food regime as it has resulted in a wide variety of problems, such as the obesity epidemic, malnutrition among the elderly and poor, and environmental impact due to food waste and food transport. I then presented and discussed several examples of sustainable food networks (in different stages of development) that are (potentially) capable of addressing one or more of the problems just mentioned. Examples discussed were for instance the Rhöngut products of Tegut supermarket (Germany), Fuchsia Brands (Ireland), the Rome School Food Programme (Italy), the London Hospital Food Project (UK), the Toronto Food Policy Council (Canada) and the Amsterdam Food Strategy (Netherlands). Characteristic for many of these initiatives is an integrated and territorial approach to food, i.e. they focus on the relation between food and policy domains such as public health, environmental quality, sustainable urban development and quality of life and they develop and implement local solutions for local problems. One of the key questions we focused on in the discussion is who are the drivers of these initiatives: policy makers, food producers/providers, NGOs, consumers, or …? Based on research I have carried out during the last couple of years it becomes clear that each of these actors can be an initiator of a sustainable food network. In some cases a new network is initiated by farmers, while in other cases NGOs or policy makers have played a leading role. More important is to realise that success depends on the extent to which the aims of other stakeholders involved align with that of the initiators. Another critical success factor is a stepwise development approach as the development of a new food network requires the development of new knowledge and skills, new product characteristics, new production and processing techniques, new distribution channels, new trust relations, et cetera. This is a learning-by-doing process and success cannot be realised over night. Interested to read more about sustainable, integrated and territorial food networks, its drivers and critical success factors? Please have a look at the book entitled “Nourishing Networks: Fourteen Lessons about Creating Sustainable Food Supply Chains” that we published in 2006.