Making policies work

Sustainable Agrifood Systems Strategies

The world population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050. With consumption already at 1.5 times the planet’s replenishing capacity, our current food systems are unsustainable. In addition, climate change will further increase risks in global food production. The challenge ahead of us is to develop sustainable ways to feed a growing population with an increasing demand for food. This is easier said than done, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where adequately but sustainably feeding a growing population is extremely pressing. The SASS project aims to contribute to the ongoing debates and initiatives on increasing the sustainability of food systems, by examining the role of ‚Neglected and Underutilised Species‘ (NUS) or “indigenous vegetables”.

A food system gathers all the elements and activities that relate to the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food and the outputs of these activities, including socio-economic and environmental outcomes. A Sustainable Food System (SFS) is a food system that meets the needs of society (people), economy (profit) and environment (planet) over time:

Environmental sustainability

  • Enhancement of local agro-biodiversity
  • Improved management of natural resources
  • Reduced negative environmental externalities
  • Less use of chemical inputs
  • Reduced waste
  • Enhanced resilience to climate shocks

Economic sustainability

  • Diversified enterprise opportunities and sources of income for small-holder farmers
  • Better access to markets for farmers
  • Better incentives for local actors involved in more sustainable value chains

Social sustainability

  • Increased availability, access and consumption of local, diverse and nutritious food
  • Inclusiveness in global and local food value chains
  • Empowerment of women, consumers and small-holder farmers

ECDPM, together with four Italian universities, is implementing a two-year research and dialogue project focusing on what makes food systems more sustainable. Bringing together researchers from different disciplines, SASS will map and analyse the local food systems in the Arusha and SAGCOT areas in Tanzania, and the Lake Naivasha area in Kenya. Together with local stakeholders, strategies on how to change current practices, policies and partnerships will be explored so that these local food systems will become more sustainable.

Our goal is to facilitate multi-disciplinary research that aims to create knowledge, policy dialogue and partnerships contributing to more Sustainable Food Systems, with a focus on feeding policy processes in Africa, Europe and at the global level. Research in different disciplines is conducted in synergy, while maintaining a common conceptual framework that will allow to give comprehensive recommendations on Sustainable Food Systems.

The SASS research will focus on identifying the opportunities and challenges to integrate high-value traditional crops also called ‘Neglected and Underutilised Species’ (NUS) with staple crops, which are generally more supported, to increase the sustainability of the food system. The project will address the social, environmental, economic and institutional/political sustainability aspects in each region, with a special focus on different policy outcomes and specific recommendations in the three different locations.

Key research steps and expected outcomes:

  • Food systems analysis: mapping exercise of the local food systems in the selected areas
  • Sustainability scoping exercise: understanding the dynamics and issues of these local food systems and identifying pathways for change
  • Viability exercise: Understanding the viability of the suggested pathways formulates in step 2
  • Policy & investment identification exercise: action-oriented guidelines/steps to scale up sustainable practices, required policies and investments to improve the sustainability of food systems


ECDPM publications:

Towards a #ZeroHunger future with Africa’s forgotten treasures (Video)
Philipp Sanderhoff, Video documentary, October 2018.

Making markets work for indigenous vegetables in the Lake Naivasha Basin, Kenya (Discussion Paper 230)
Hanne Knaepen, Discussion Paper 230, September 2018.

Multidisciplinary approach and dialogue to foster sustainable agrifood systems (Blog)
Francesco Rampa, Blog for the Barilla Center for food and nutrition, June 2018.

Interview with Margaret Komen about indigenous vegetables (Video)
Francesco Rampa, June 2018.

GREAT Insights Magazine: Sustainable food systems 
Volume 6, Issue 4, September 2017.


External publications:

Food insecurity in the rural lake Naivasha basin: Evidence and policy implications
Maria Sassi and Emanuele Zucchini, Department of Economics and Management at the University of Pavia, 2018.

DNA barcoding to promote social awareness and identity of neglected, underutilized plant species having valuable nutritional properties
Ausilia Campanaro et al., ZooPlantLab, Department of Biotechnology and Biosciences at the University of Milano-Bicocca, 2018.

Family farming and market access in Nakuru County, Kenya
Michele F. Fontefrancesco, 2018.

Sotto il cielo della Rift Valley: Sviluppo rurale e cibo tradizionale nella contea di Nakuru, Kenya
Paolo Corvo and Michele F. Fontefrancesco, Vicolo del Pavone, 2018.

The ark of taste in Kenya: Food, knowledge, and stories of gastronomic heritage
University of Gastronomic Sciences of Pollenzo and The Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity, 2018.


For more information, please visit our website at or contact the coordinators Francesco Rampa ( or Massimo Labra (