1.6.1 Food as a 'nexus' issue.

  • Food is a nexus issue, connecting many different concerns and challenges.
  • This connectedness suggests a need to address issues in an integrated way, rather than only focusing on one issue or one stage in the food system (such as food production).
  • Integrated approaches can potentially create synergistic outcomes, with benefits both for the environment and people.
  • But there are many stakeholders involved, with many different views and interests. Some interest groups will lose out, and there will always be trade-offs that will need to be managed.

1.6.2 Food and the 'planetary boundaries' concept.

The planetary boundaries approach aims to define a safe operating space for human societies, based on an understanding of the functioning and resilience of the Earth as a system. Nine key boundaries have been defined, relating to land-use, biodiversity, water use, GHG emissions and more . The boundaries themselves are not absolute lines that cannot be crossed, but zones with increasing risk of irreversible damage and potential tipping points, beyond which the earth system destabilises, resulting in planetary conditions outside of what human civilisation has developed within, making humans continued existance difficult, if not impossible. 

The planetary boundaries concept


Steffen W. et al. (2015).

Climate change is considered to be one of the boundaries that is at "increasing risk" of being exceeded – and food systems are a major contributing cause. Land-use and biodiversity are “increasing or high risk” (see Chapter 5 for more information on the influence agriculture has on deforestation and biodiversity). Furthermore, boundaries relating to biochemical flows (which includes both nitrogen and phosphorus – both indispensable to current systems of agricultural production) are considered “high risk”.

There is inherent uncertainty within such an approach, not least because it cannot account for unforeseen technological advances that may mitigate human impacts, but there is a general consensus that the planetary boundaries concept provides a useful model for assessing environmental risk.

1.6.3 Food and 'doughnut economics'.

We need to balance environmental and social concerns


Raworth K. (2012).

The doughnut economics concept developed by Oxfam takes the planetary boundaries concept discussed previously and builds on it by adding a minimum level of resource use below which human society will suffer hunger, ill-health and poverty. There is thus a need to stay above this minimum resource use threshold (i.e. the ‘social foundation’) and below the environmental ceiling (as defined by the planetary boundaries concept). The space between these two limits is described as the “safe and just space for humanity”.

As such, both social and environmental factors are combined into a single framework.

In reality, the social foundation is not a fixed threshold, because people have different visions on what constitutes a ‘safe and just’ space, and a 'good' life.