News: Students challenged to ask the right questions

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At the latest IFSTAL workshop, Dr John Ingram and Dr Monika Zurek from the GFS FSR programme’s co-ordination team took a deep dive into the notion of food system resilience to demonstrate the challenges of creating resilience approaches.

When aiming to enhance resilience in the food system, ask the right questions, urged Dr John Ingram. He presented the IFSTAL participants with four key resilience questions: [resilience] of what?; to what?; from whose perspective?; and over what time period? to help distil their approaches.

These questions came into play almost immediately, as the students were asked to undertake a collaborative task in small groups around resilience building in one of two different parts of the food system: upland farming and the fresh fruit and vegetable supply.

The challenges in Scotland

Even within the UK, the answers to four resilience questions can change dramatically. This was demonstrated perfectly by guest speaker Dr Graham Beale, Head of RESAS Strategic Research Programme, Scottish Government who provided an enlightening overview of food system issues in Scotland. He explained how factors such as geography, a widely dispersed population, and unevenly distributed climate challenges all add complexity. He also talked about the Scottish Government’s vision for a more positive food system that benefits the whole population, the Good Food Nation bill.

In a session on resilience strategies, different approaches were examined: should we reorganise the food system activities (such as producing, processing and consuming)?; or focus on changing food system environments (e.g. healthcare, global trade markets, farm policies)?; or change our views on the outcomes the food system should provide?

Negotiation is important

What is clear is that, regardless of the approach, negotiation between an inclusive group stakeholders is required. Coming full circle, John Ingram underlined how the answers to the four resilience questions will provide the boundaries for negotiation and determine which stakeholders should be included.

After lunch, Dr Monika Zurek noted how the collaborative group task highlighted how a strategy to enhance the resilience of one actor or sector could have unintended impacts on other food system actors or sectors, not necessarily to their advantage. This, she emphasised, is why a food systems perspective is so important.

For the students, the workshop highlighted hidden complexities around resilience discussions, the need for setting boundaries and the importance of taking a systems view. Monika Zurek ended the session on an optimistic note: “Enhancing food systems resilience is complex but that doesn’t mean we can’t deal with it.”

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Banner photo credit: Adil Wahid | Unsplash