Sustainable Food Security: An Emerging Research and Policy Agenda



Published Jan 4, 2014
Roberta Sonnino Ana Moragues Faus Albino Maggio


As a response to emerging calls for the adoption of a systemic approach to food security, in this article we identify and discuss inextricably linked barriers to ‘sustainable food security’. Based on an extensive analysis of recent academic and policy literatures on the economic, social and ecological effects of global environmental change at different stages of the food system, we highlight a series of cross-cutting issues and areas of disconnection between food production and consumption that call for a renovated focus on the different nodal points of the food system. As we suggest, a sustainable food security framework should move away from the conventional focus on individual components of the food system (e.g., supply and demand) and address more holistically the complex relationships between its different stages and actors.

How to Cite

Sonnino, R., Faus, A. M. and Maggio, A. (2014) “Sustainable Food Security: An Emerging Research and Policy Agenda”, The International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food. Paris, France, 21(1), pp. 173–188. doi: 10.48416/ijsaf.v21i1.161.
Abstract 3173 | PDF Downloads 1600


Aarnink, W., Bunning, S., Collette, L. and Mulvany, P. (1998) Sustaining Agricultural Biodiversity and Agro-ecosystem Functions: Opportunities, Incentives and Approaches for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Agricultural Biodiversity in Agro-ecosystems and Production Systems. Report of the International Technical Workshop, FAO Headquarters, Rome, 2–4 December.
Ashe, L. and Sonnino, R. (2013) At the crossroads: new paradigms of food security, public health nutrition and school food, Public Health Nutrition, 16(6), pp. 1020–1027.
Badgley, C., Moghtader, J., Quintero, E., Zakem, E., Chapp ell, M.J., Aviles-Vazq uez, K., Sam ulon, A. and Perfecto, I. (2007) Organic agriculture and the global food supply, Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, 22, pp. 86–108.
Beddington, J. and Beddington, J. (2010) Food security: contributions from science to a new and greener revolution, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365, pp. 61–71.
Bradsher, K. and Martin, A. (2008) Hoarding nations drive food costs ever higher, New York Times, 30 June.
Carlss on-Kanyama , A., Ekström, M.P. and Shanahan, H. (2003) Food and life cycle energy inputs: consequences of diet and ways to increase efficiency, Ecological Economics, 44, pp. 293–307.
Carolan, M. (2013) Reclaiming Food Security. London: Earthscan.
ChapaAPAgain, A.K. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2008) The global component of freshwater demand and supply: an assessment of virtual water flows between nations as a result of trade in agricultural and industrial products, Water International, 33, pp. 19–32.
Chapp ell, M.J. and Lavalle, L.A. (2011) Food security and biodiversity: can we have both? An agroecological analysis, Agriculture and Human Values, 28, pp. 3–26.
Collette, L., Hodgkin, T., Kassam , A., Kenmore, P., Lipp er, L., Nolte, C., Stam oulis, K. and Steduto, P. (2011) Save and Grow: A Policy Makers Guide to the Sustainable Intensification of Smallholder Crop Production. Published online .
Cordell, D., Drangert, J.O. and White, S. (2009) The story of phosphorus: global food security and food for thought, Global Environmental Change, 19, pp. 292–305.
Coulomb , D. (2008) Refrigeration and cold chain serving the global food industry and creating a better future: two key IIR challenges for improved health and environment, Trends in Food Science and Technology, 19, pp. 413–417.
Cuéllar, A.D. and Webb er, M.E. (2010) Wasted food, wasted energy: the embedded energy in food waste in the United States, Environmental Science and Technology, 44, pp. 6464–6469.
De Backer, E., Aertsens, J., Vergucht, S. and Steurba ut, W. (2009) Assessing the ecological soundness of organic and conventional agriculture by means of life cycle assessment (LCA): a case study of leek production, British Food Journal, 111, pp. 1028–1061.
De Schutter, O. (2011a) Agroecology and the Right to Food. Report to the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, A/HRC/16/49. Published online: .
De Schutter, O. (2011b) The right of everyone to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and the right to food: from conflict to complementarity, Human Rights Quarterly, 33, pp. 304–350.
DEFRA (DepaPArtment for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (2002) Developing a Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food. London: DEFRA.
DEFRA (DepaPArtment for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) (2008) Ensuring the UK’s Food Security in a Changing World. London: DEFRA.
Dibden, J., Gibbs , D. and Cocklin, C. (2013) Framing GM crops as a food security solution, Journal of Rural Studies, 29, pp. 59–70.
Dixon, J., Omw ega, A., Friel, S., Burns, C., Donati, K. and Carlisle, R. (2007) The health equity dimensions of urban food systems, Journal of Urban Health, 84, pp. 118–129.
Ericksen, P.J. (2008) Conceptualizing food systems for global environmental change research, Global Environmental Change, 18, pp. 234–245.
Ericksen, P.J., Ingram , J.S.I. and Liverma n, D.M. (2009) Food security and global environmental change: emerging challenges, Environmental Science and Policy, 12, pp. 373–377.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organiza tion of the United Nations) (2004) The Ethics of Sustainable Agricultural Intensification, FAO Ethics Series 3. Rome: FAO.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organiza tion of the United Nations) (2010a) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010. Rome: FAO.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organiza tion of the United Nations) (2010b) Sustainable Crop Production Intensification through an Acosystem Approach and an Enabling Environment: Capturing Efficiency through Ecosystem Services and Management, COAG/2010/3. Rome: FAO.
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organiza tion of the United Nations) (2011) Aquastat. Published online .
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organiza tion of the United Nations) and Biodiversity International (2010) Biodiversity and Sustainable Diets: United against Hunger. Final document of the International Scientific Symposium, Rome, 3–5 November.
Feldma n, S. and Biggs, S. (2012) The politics of international assessments: the IAASTD process, reception and significance, Journal of Agrarian Change, 12, pp. 144–169.
Foresight, 2011. The Future of Food and Farming, Final Project Report. London: .
Freiba uer, A., Mathijs , E., Brunori, G., Dam ianova, Z., Faroult, E., Girona-Gomis, J., O´Brien, L. and Treyer, S. (2011) Sustainable Food Consumption and Production in a Resource-Contrained World. Brussels: European Commission.
Friedma nn, H. (1993) The political economy of food: a global crisis, New Left Review, 197, pp. 29–57.
Garnett, T. (2007) Food Refrigeration: What Is the Contribution to Greenhouse Gas Emissions and How Might Emissions Be Reduced, Food Climate Research Network Working Paper, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey, Guildford.
Garnett, T. (2011) Where are the best opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the food system (including the food chain)?, Food Policy, 36(Supp. 1), pp. S23–S32.
Garnett, T. (2013) Food sustainability: problems, perspectives and solutions, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 72, pp. 29–39.
Garnett, T. and Godfray, C. (2012) Sustainable Intensification in Agriculture: Navigating a Course through Competing Food System Priorities. Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, University of Oxford.
Gebbers, R. and Adamc huk, V.I. (2010) Precision agriculture and food security, Science, 327(5967), pp. 828–831.
Gibson, R.H., Pearce, S., Morris, R.J., Symondson, W.O.C. and Memm ott, J. (2007) Plant diversity and land use under organic and conventional agriculture: a whole-farm approach, Journal of Applied Ecology, 44, pp. 792–803.
Godfray, H.C.J., Beddington, J.R., Crute, I.R., Haddad, L., LawAWrence, D., Muir, J.F., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Thomas , S.M. and Toulmin, C. (2010a) Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people, Science, 327(5967), pp. 812–818.
Godfray, H.C.J., Crute, I.R., Haddad, L., LawAWrence, D., Muir, J.F., Nisb ett, N., Pretty, J., Robinson, S., Toulmin, C. and Whiteley, R. (2010b) The future of the global food system, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365, pp. 2769–2777.
Gustavsson, J., Cederberg, C., Soness on, U., Otterdijk, R. van and Meybeck, A. (2011) Global Food Losses and Food Waste. Rome: FAO.
Hattersley, L. and Dixon, J. (2012) Supermarkets, food systems and public health: facing the challenges, in: G. LawAWrence, K. Lyons and T. Wallington (eds) Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainability. Abingdon: Earthscan, pp. 188–203.
Hendrickson, M.K. and Heffernan, W.D. (2002) Opening spaces through relocalization: locating potential resistance in the weaknesses of the global food system, Sociologia Ruralis, 42, pp. 347–369.
Herman, P., Kuper, R. and Bove, J. (2003) Food for Thought: Towards a Future for Farming. London: Pluto Press.
Hinrichs, C.C. (2000) Embeddedness and local food systems: notes on two types of direct agricultural market, Journal of Rural Studies, 16, pp. 295–303.
Hinrichs, C.C. (2013) Regionalizing food security? Imperatives, intersections and contestations in a post-9/11 world, Journal of Rural Studies, 29, pp. 7–18.
Hoekstra, A.Y. and Mekonnen, M.M. (2012) The water footprint of humanity, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109, pp. 3232–3237.
Holt Giménez, E. and Shattuck, A. (2011) Food crises, food regimes and food movements: rumblings of reform or tides of transformation?, Journal of Peasant Studies, 38, pp. 109–144.
IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Developm ent) (2011) Rural Poverty Report 2011: New Realities, New Challenges: New Opportunities for Tomorrow’s Generation. Rome: IFAD.
James, S. and Jam es, C. (2010) The food cold-chain and climate change, Food Research International, 43, pp. 1944–1956.
Jarosz , L. (2011) Defining world hunger: scale and neoliberal ideology in international food security policy discourse, Food, Culture and Society, 14, pp. 117–139.
Kanemasu, Y. and Sonnino, R. (2009) Dynamics of power and cooperation in rural development: the case of Chianina beef production in Italy, International Journal of the Sociology of Agriculture and Food, 16(2), pp. 36–53.
Kearney, J. (2010) Food consumption trends and drivers, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365, pp. 2793–2807.
Kneafsey, M., Dowler, E., Lamb ie-Mumford, H., Inma n, A. and Collier, R. (2013) Consumers and food security: uncertain or empowered?, Journal of Rural Studies, 29, pp. 101–112.
Lang, T. (2010) Crisis? What crisis? The normality of the current food crisis, Journal of Agrarian Change, 10, pp. 87–97.
Lang, T. and Barling, D. (2012) Food security and food sustainability: reformulating the debate, Geographical Journal, 178, pp. 313–326.
Lawrence, G. and Burch, D. (2007) Understanding Supermarkets and Agri-food Supply Chains. Northampton, MA.: Edward Elgar.
Lenzen, M., Moran, D., Kanemoto, K., Foran, B., Lobefaro, L. and Gesc hke, A. (2012) International trade drives biodiversity threats in developing nations, Nature, 486, pp. 109–112.
Lerner, A.M.Y.M. and Eakin, H. (2011) An obsolete dichotomy? Rethinking the rural–urban interface in terms of food security and production in the global south, Geographical Journal, 177, pp. 311–320.
Macmillan, T. and Dowler, E. (2012) Just and sustainable? Examining the rhetoric and potential realities of UK food security, Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 25(2), pp. 181-204.
Mahalik, N.P. and Namb iar, A.N. (2010) Trends in food packaging and manufacturing systems and technology, Trends in Food Science and Technology, 21, pp. 117–128.
Mariola, M.J. (2008) The local industrial complex? Questioning the link between local foods and energy use, Agriculture and Human Values, 25, pp. 193–196.
Marsden, T. (2012) Third Natures? Reconstituting Space through Place-making Strategies for Sustainability. Presented at the XXIV Congress of the European Society for Rural Sociology, Chania, August 2011.
McIntyre, B.D., Herren, H.R., Wakhungu, J. and Watson, R.T. (eds) (2009) International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development: Synthesis Report. Washington, DC: IAASTD.
Millennium Ecosystem Ass essm ent (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.
Millstone, E. and Lang, T. (2008) The Atlas of Food: Who Eats What, Where and Why, 2nd edn. London: Earthscan Publications.
Misselhorn, A., AggarwaWAl, P., Ericksen, P., Gregory, P., Horn-Phathanothai, L., Ingram , J. and Wiebe, K. (2012) A vision for attaining food security, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 4, pp. 7–17.
Mol, A.P.J. (2007) Boundless biofuels? Between environmental sustainability and vulnerability, Sociologia Ruralis, 47, pp. 297–315.
Monsivais, P. and Drewnows ki, A. (2009) Lower-energy-density diets are associated with higher monetary costs per kilocalorie and are consumed by women of higher socioeconomic status, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109, pp. 814–822..
Mooney, P.H. and Hunt, S.A. (2009) Food security: The elaboration of contested claims to a consensus frame, Rural Sociology, 74, pp. 469–497.
Moragues-Faus, A.M. and Sonnino, R. (2012) Embedding quality in the agro-food system: the dynamics and implications of place-making strategies in the olive oil sector of Alto Palancia, Spain, Sociologia Ruralis, 52, pp. 215–234.
Morgan, K. (2009) Feeding the city: the challenge of urban food planning, International Planning Studies, 14, pp. 341–348.
Morgan, K. and Sonnino, R. (2008) The School Food Revolution: Public Food and the Challenge of Sustainable Development. London: Earthscan.
Morgan, K. and Sonnino, R. (2010) The urban foodscape: world cities and the new food equation, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 3, pp. 209–224.
Mulder, I. and Vlements-Hunt, P. (2010) Demystifying Materiality: Hardwiring Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services into Finance, CEO Briefing. Geneva: UNEP FI.
Mullie, P., Clarys, P., Hulens, M. and Vansa nt, G. (2010) Dietary patterns and socioeconomic position, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 64, pp. 231–238.
Mundler, P. and Rump us, L. (2012) The energy efficiency of local food systems: a comparison between different modes of distribution, Food Policy, 37, pp. 609–615.
Myers, N. (2002) Environmental refugees: a growing phenomenon of the 21st century, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 357, pp. 609–613.
Oosterveer, P. and Sonnenfeld, D. (2012) Food, Globalization and Sustainability. London: Earthscan.
Parfitt, J., Barthel, M. and Mac naughton, S. (2010) Food waste within food supply chains: quantification and potential for change to 2050, Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365, pp. 3065–3081.
Pechlaner, G. and Otero, G. (2010) The neoliberal food regime: neoregulation and the new division of labor in North America, Rural Sociology, 75, pp. 179–208.
Pelletier, N., Audsley, E., Brodt, S., Garnett, T., Henrikss on, P., Kendall, A., Kram er, K.J., Murphy, D., Nemecek, T. and Troell, M. (2011) Energy intensity of agriculture and food systems, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 36, pp. 223–246.
Pretty, J.N. (1997) The sustainable intensification of agriculture, Natural Resources Forum, 21, pp. 247–256.
Pretty, J. and Hine, R. (2001) Reducing Food Poverty with Sustainable Agriculture: A Summary of New Evidence. Published online .
Pretty, J., Toulmin, C. and Williams , S. (2011) Sustainable intensification in African agriculture, International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 9, pp. 5–24.
Reardon, T. and Timm er, C.P. (2007) Transformation of markets for agricultural output in developing countries since 1950: how has thinking changed?, in: R.E. Evenson and P. Pingali (eds) Handbook of Agricultural Economics 3: Agricultural Development: Farmers, Farm Production and Farm Markets. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 2808–2855.
Reardon, T., CrawAWford, E.W., Kelly, V.A. and Diagana, B.N. (1995) Promoting Farm Investment for Sustainable Intensification of African Agriculture, Policy Synthesis for USAID Bureau for Africa Office of Sustainable Development 3. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.
Redwood, M. (2009) Agriculture in Urban Planning: Generating Livelihoods and Food Security. London: Earthscan.
Reilly, M. and Willenbockel, D. (2010) Managing uncertainty: a review of food system scenario analysis and modelling, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365, pp. 3049–3063.
Renting, H., Marsden, T.K. and Banks, J. (2003) Understanding alternative food networks: exploring the role of short food supply chains in rural development, Environment and Planning A, 35, pp. 393–411.
Rocha, C., Burlandy, L. and Maluf, R. (2012) Small farms and sustainable rural development for food security: the Brazilian experience, Development Southern Africa, 29, pp. 519–529.
Rosin, C. (2013) Food security and the justification of productivism in New Zealand, Journal of Rural Studies, 29, pp. 50–58.
Royal Society (2009) Reaping the Benefits: Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Global Agriculture. London: Royal Society.
Sage, C. (2013) The interconnected challenges for food security from a food regimes perspective: energy, climate and malconsumption, Journal of Rural Studies, 29, pp. 71–80.
SCN (United Nations Standing Comm ittee on Nutrition) (2004) Nutrition for Improved Development Outcomes: Fifth Report on the World Nutrition Situation. Geneva: UNSCN.
Scrinis, G. and Lyons, K. (2010) Nanotechnology and the techno-corporate agri-food paradigm, in: G. LawAWrence, K. Lyons and T. Wallington (eds) Food Security, Nutrition and Sustainability. London: Earthscan, pp. 252–270.
ShawAW, J.D. (2007) World Food Security: A History since 1945. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Smith, P., Martino, D., Cai, Z., GwaWAry, D., Janzen, H., Kuma r, P., Mcca rl, B., Ogle, S., O’ma ra, F., Rice, C., Scholes, B. and Sirotenko, O. (2007) Agriculture in climate change mitigation, in: B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosc h, R. Dave and L.A. Meyer (eds) Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Sonnino, R. (2009) Feeding the city: towards a new research and planning agenda, International Planning Studies, 14, pp. 425–435.
Sonnino, R. (2010) Escaping the local trap: insights on re-localization from school food reform, Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 12, pp. 23–40.
Sonnino, R. and Griggs-Trevarthen, C. (2013) A resilient social economy? Insights from the community food sector in the UK, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 25(3–4), pp. 272–292.
Sonnino, R. and McWilliam , S. (2011) Food waste, catering practices and public procurement: a case study of hospital food systems in Wales, Food Policy, 36, pp. 823–829.
Stocking, M. and Murnaghan, N. (2001) Handbook for the Field Assessment of Land Degradation. London: Earthscan Publications.
SwaWArt, R.J., Ras kin, P. and Robinson, J. (2004) The problem of the future: sustainability science and scenario analysis, Global Environmental Change, 14, pp. 137–146.
Thow, A.M. and HawAWkes, C. (2009) The implications of trade liberalization for diet and health: a case study from Central America, Globalization and Health, 5, art. 5.
Tscharntke, T., Clough, Y., Wanger, T.C., Jac kson, L., Motzke, I., Perfecto, I., Vandermeer, J. and Whitbread, A. (2012) Global food security, biodiversity conservation and the future of agricultural intensification, Biological Conservation, 151, pp. 53–59.
UNEP (United Nations Environment Programm e) (2012) Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Foundation of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems. Nairobi: UNEP.
Vermeulen, S.J., Campb ell, B.M. and Ingram , J.S.I. (2012) Climate change and food systems, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 37, pp. 195–222.
Wang, Y., Beydoun, M.A., Liang, L., Caba llero, B. and Kuma nyika, S.K. (2008) Will all Americans become overweight or obese? Estimating the progression and cost of the US obesity epidemic, Obesity, 16, pp. 2323–2330.
WWAP (World Water Ass essm ent Programm e) (2012) Managing Water under Uncertainty and Risk, United Nations World Water Development Report 4. Paris, UNESCO.
Yngve, A., Margettes, B., Hughes, R. and Tseng, M. (2009) Food insecurity: not just about rural communities in Africa and Asia, Public Health Nutrition, 12, pp. 1971–1972.