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An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research


  • Peter Horton

    () (University of Sheffield
    University of Sheffield)

  • Steve A. Banwart

    (University of Sheffield
    University of Leeds)

  • Dan Brockington

    (University of Sheffield)

  • Garrett W. Brown

    (University of Sheffield)

  • Richard Bruce

    (University of Sheffield
    University of Sheffield)

  • Duncan Cameron

    (University of Sheffield)

  • Michelle Holdsworth

    (University of Sheffield)

  • S. C. Lenny Koh

    (University of Sheffield
    University of Sheffield)

  • Jurriaan Ton

    (University of Sheffield)

  • Peter Jackson

    (University of Sheffield)


Abstract This paper outlines the development of an integrated interdisciplinary approach to agri-food research, designed to address the ‘grand challenge’ of global food security. Rather than meeting this challenge by working in separate domains or via single-disciplinary perspectives, we chart the development of a system-wide approach to the food supply chain. In this approach, social and environmental questions are simultaneously addressed. Firstly, we provide a holistic model of the agri-food system, which depicts the processes involved, the principal inputs and outputs, the actors and the external influences, emphasising the system’s interactions, feedbacks and complexities. Secondly, we show how this model necessitates a research programme that includes the study of land-use, crop production and protection, food processing, storage and distribution, retailing and consumption, nutrition and public health. Acknowledging the methodological and epistemological challenges involved in developing this approach, we propose two specific ways forward. Firstly, we propose a method for analysing and modelling agri-food systems in their totality, which enables the complexity to be reduced to essential components of the whole system to allow tractable quantitative analysis using LCA and related methods. This initial analysis allows for more detailed quantification of total system resource efficiency, environmental impact and waste. Secondly, we propose a method to analyse the ethical, legal and political tensions that characterise such systems via the use of deliberative fora. We conclude by proposing an agenda for agri-food research which combines these two approaches into a rational programme for identifying, testing and implementing the new agri-technologies and agri-food policies, advocating the critical application of nexus thinking to meet the global food security challenge.

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Horton & Steve A. Banwart & Dan Brockington & Garrett W. Brown & Richard Bruce & Duncan Cameron & Michelle Holdsworth & S. C. Lenny Koh & Jurriaan Ton & Peter Jackson, 2017. "An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 9(2), pages 195-210, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:ssefpa:v:9:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s12571-017-0648-4
    DOI: 10.1007/s12571-017-0648-4

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Dawson, C.J. & Hilton, J., 2011. "Fertiliser availability in a resource-limited world: Production and recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(Supplemen), pages 14-22, January.
    2. Patricia Allen, 2008. "Mining for justice in the food system: perceptions, practices, and possibilities," Agriculture and Human Values, Springer;The Agriculture, Food, & Human Values Society (AFHVS), vol. 25(2), pages 157-161, June.
    3. Lenzen, Manfred & Murray, Joy & Sack, Fabian & Wiedmann, Thomas, 2007. "Shared producer and consumer responsibility -- Theory and practice," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(1), pages 27-42, February.
    4. Arndt, Channing & McKay, Andy & Tarp, Finn (ed.), 2016. "Growth and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780198744795.
    5. Conway, Gordon R., 1987. "The properties of agroecosystems," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 95-117.
    6. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: Climate Change Policy and Theories of Social Change," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    7. John Dryzek, 2015. "Deliberative engagement: the forum in the system," Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Springer;Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences, vol. 5(4), pages 750-754, December.
    8. repec:eee:enscpo:v:64:y:2016:i:c:p:164-170 is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Free, Clinton, 2008. "Walking the talk? Supply chain accounting and trust among UK supermarkets and suppliers," Accounting, Organizations and Society, Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 629-662, August.
    10. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    11. Dawson, C.J. & Hilton, J., 2011. "Fertiliser availability in a resource-limited world: Production and recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(S1), pages 14-22.
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    1. repec:pal:palcom:v:4:y:2018:i:1:d:10.1057_s41599-018-0099-3 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. repec:spr:ssefpa:v:10:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s12571-018-0770-y is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:spr:ssefpa:v:9:y:2017:i:6:d:10.1007_s12571-017-0740-9 is not listed on IDEAS


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