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Discussion Papers (series)

Adopting a sustainable food system approach: Implications for Ireland’s development programming and policy influencing


Koen Dekeyser and Francesco Rampa, ECDPM paper, 11 January 2021

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In today’s increasingly complex and interlinked world, we need approaches for navigating complexity, to help us analyse, understand and decide. This is especially true for food-related development and sustainability challenges, which span multiple domains, actors and connections. The many demands placed upon food systems requires systemic approaches that achieve multiple goals at the same time, while being attentive to trade-offs.

This paper discusses the design options and considerations for a sustainable food system approach for Ireland’s development cooperation. While Ireland’s new international development policy, A Better World (2019), underscores the need for systemic responses to the challenges posed by food systems, this has not been integrated into strategy or operations. As such, this paper discusses the advantages and disadvantages of food system approaches and provides an overview of two recent case studies of food system approaches in practice. This paper also describes the process through which Ireland’s development cooperation could integrate a sustainable food system approach in strategy or operations, or both. At the strategic level, food-related development cooperation would use a food system narrative and support partners to place their own priorities within it. At the operational level, programming would be determined by an overarching food system strategy that guides the selection of development activities.

There are several opportunities, either currently in place or upcoming, for discussing and adopting a sustainable food system approach by Irish development cooperation, both domestically and internationally. By adopting a food system approach in strategy and programming, Irish food-related development cooperation can tackle multiple priorities more effectively.

This paper is part of our thematic series that focuses on developing and using a ‘food system approach’ to look at food-related challenges. Read the first publication of the series: ‘The food systems approach in practice: Our guide for sustainable transformation‘.

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Photo courtesy of Naseem Buras via Unsplash.

Read the other papers of the series

Understanding and managing trade-offs in food systems interventions: The case of Nakuru county, Kenya
Cecilia D’Alessandro, Paulina Bizzotto Molina, Koen Dekeyser and Francesco Rampa, ECDPM paper, February 2021

The food systems approach in practice: Our guide for sustainable transformation
Koen Dekeyser, Francesco Rampa, Cecilia D’Alessandro and Paulina Bizzotto Molina, ECDPM paper, July 2020

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Sustainable food systemsDiscussion Papers (series)Sustainable food systemsIreland