Food Systems Workshop

Pre-Conference Workshop on Capacity Building and Quantitative Food System Analysis


Food systems are interlocking networks of relationships that encompass the entire range of functions and activities involved in the production, processing, marketing, consumption and disposal of goods that originate from agriculture, forestry or fisheries (FAO, 2013). This includes inputs required and outputs generated at each step. The scope of food systems thus extends beyond physical food commodities, to cover the goods and services required for food production, transformation, and consumption – i.e., agronomy, farm input provision, product harvesting, transport, storage and handling, processing, finance, wholesaling, retailing. Security, political, policy, and climatic factors affect the cost and efficacy of these functions and activities.

Food systems lie at the core of economic growth and poverty reduction. In the long run, the food system is a key element of structural transformation, which historically has been the only sustainable pathway out of poverty. In the short run, the food system is the arena in which many of the poor make their living, and where they face risks to their livelihoods.

Food systems everywhere are changing rapidly and deeply because of urbanization, income growth, and shifting consumer diets brought on by broader structural transformation of economies. Supply chain integration, capital-intensive technology change, expanded use of digital devices, internet access, and emergence and enforcement of private standards of quality and safety are spurring and accentuating the upheavals. Many of these fast-transforming food systems are disrupted by covariate shocks, including those linked to climate change and economic globalization, while a significant number are broken due to strife and conflict, sometimes for long periods. In extreme cases, food systems are arenas of oppression, subjugation, and abuse of power.

However, even in relatively stable contexts, food systems can be deeply flawed by systemic problems. Communication, transportation, and storage facilities are often poor. Commercial markets – which are the primary channels through which most food is accessed – can be sharply segmented, with access restricted for large numbers of people lacking purchasing power. Highly unequal social capital and financial bargaining power is often brought to exchanges between buyers and sellers. The spectre of over 800 million chronically hungry people across the globe suggests that food systems do not always function in ways that meet the needs of a broad cross section of society.

A number of fundamental questions remain unaddressed. These include:

1.      How is food system performance most effectively measured – i.e., what are the most relevant and powerful indicators?

2.      What are most effective methodologies and tools to capture, track, and assess system performance?

3.      What are the key determinants and drivers of food system performance in different contexts?

4.      How can systemic problems in food systems be most effectively identified and quantified?

5.      How is systemic change – both positive and negative – most effectively analyzed?

6.      What is the role of modelling, and which modelling approaches are most effective?

Against this background, the workshop will have two aims: (1) to provide early career professionals seeking a career in Food Systems Analysis the opportunity to interact and exchange views and advice on strategies for professional growth and enrichment with more senior academics and practitioners, and (2) to build understanding of issues, challenges, and opportunities for quantitative analysis of food systems. The workshop methodology will support both objectives simultaneously, aiming to sow the seeds of a theme-based professional development initiative under the IAAE.


There is an urgent need for greater clarity on facts, concepts, and options for improvement of food system performance through investment, institutional innovation, and policy reform for performance-enhancing systemic change (in different contexts).

The workshop seeks to address this need by:

1.      Raising awareness of major policy and programming issues facing food systems in different contexts;

2.      Sharing the latest approaches and methods for food system analysis;

3.      Identifying the major factual and conceptual gaps limiting progress in food system analysis;

4.      Identifying the core building blocks (or thrusts) of a rigorous quantitative research and capacity development agenda.


Workshop Methodology

Participation will be open to all registered attendees, up to a maximum of 50 people. The workshop will be built around inputs from two categories of specially invited participants:

1.      15 young professionals (below 30 years of age on the date of the workshop) presenting their work and benefiting from discussions and advice from senior professionals. These young professionals will be offered competitive travel grants awarded on the basis of a concept note that addresses one of the three sub-themes: (1) five addressing key facts about food systems; (2) five addressing core concepts about food systems; and (3) five addressing tools and models for analyzing food systems; and

2.      Senior professionals offering expert feedback and advice and mentoring the three groups of young professionals, and helping to identify the elements of the research and capacity development agenda.

We are therefore calling for submissions from young professionals on any of the sub-themes mentioned above. The submission should be in the form of a conference paper (i.e. a maximum of 8000 words, in the style and format followed by our Journal, Agricultural Economics, and should be submitted electronically to by no later than midnight GMT on 26 January  2018, indicating “Food Systems Pre-Conference Workshop Submission” as the subject of the message.

Please note that submissions to the Workshop cannot be submitted as a Contributed Paper to the Conference itself.

Conference Host: Secretariat: