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Covered market at Brive la Gaillarde. © INRA, Bertrand NICOLAS

Towards more sustainable food supplies

How to pursue this research?

DuALIne evidenced certain research needs that will be integrated in work at a national level (INRA, CIRAD) and internationally, because several international programmes are being set up on the issue of sustainable food supplies. Appropriate discussion bodies will open the debate with countries currently undergoing industrialisation.

Updated on 02/22/2013
Published on 12/17/2012

The question of food sustainability is posed regarding agri-industrial systems in developed countries. © BEGUEY Alain
The question of food sustainability is posed regarding agri-industrial systems in developed countries. © BEGUEY Alain
A different problem in emerging countries

The question of food sustainability is posed regarding agri-industrial systems in developed countries relative to its impacts on our planet. There is a strong temptation to broaden this debate to the emerging countries that are rapidly becoming industrialised, although their problem is different: even if these countries are starting to be faced with the same issues of sustainability as more historically industrialised countries – and notably the rapid development of obesity – they still need to deal with problems pertaining to recent or persistent situations of malnutrition. Questions concerning dietary deficiencies, post-harvest losses, the health quality of foods, labour productivity and energy performance are far from being solved. For these reasons, such questions should not be set aside in research strategies to the benefit of the sustainability issues addressed in more industrialised countries. 

Improving dialogue

We must be able to initiate dialogue with actors in southern countries on the prospects for a trend change to the agri-industrial system, which implies addressing current questions regarding long-term evolutions. It is necessary to improve analytical capacities where they are limited in these countries, so that they can evaluate and orient their policies in full knowledge of the facts.  Their food systems are transforming themselves at a very rapid rate, and there is a risk that this may generate irreversible situations. However, these countries are not the only actors in these changes. The export by agri-food actors in northern countries of the negative externalities of their systems towards countries that are less demanding than more industrialised countries, also needs to be considered.

A context of increasing uncertainty

DuALIne thus proposed a panorama of questions for research.  In this situation, the choice of priorities becomes a political process (in the primary sense of the term); in other words, it concerns the community and not just politicians. In a context of increasing uncertainty, decisions on governance will have to be taken without full knowledge of their consequences. It will no doubt be necessary to arbitrate between the different challenges of sustainable development, because it will probably not be possible to satisfy them all. Research can supply information that will enable this arbitration.  In particular, a foresight study complementary to Agrimonde could be initiated in order to inform these uncertainties. It would be focused on downstream systems, and particularly on changes to dietary behaviours.

Extensions to duALIne in terms of research

At INRA, the issues addressed by duALIne will be integrated in its new strategy for the creation of meta-programmes; programmes on dietary behaviours, or those concerning the challenges of sustainable food systems or world food security and global change.

At CIRAD, the results of this exercise will contribute to its scientific strategy, particularly concerning its research areas on "Accessible, diversified and safe food" and "Public policies, poverty and inequalities".

The research questions and infrastructure requirements highlighted by duALIne will be transmitted to and debated at the international level, notably within the FACCE Joint Programming Initiative (Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change), the SUSFOOD (Sustainable Food) ERA-net, the network for European research on the theme of sustainable food supplies, and the CAFS (Commission on Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security) headed by Sir John Beddington, which focuses on sustainable agriculture and climate change.  They will also be the subject of debate with southern countries in the framework of governance bodies focused on global food security.