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Sustainable agri-food system proposed by RIHN

2022.11.21

A research group led by Associate Professor Steven McGreevy of the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) and Associate Professor Christoph Rupprecht of the Faculty of Collaborative Regional Innovation, Ehime University, released a proposal titled "Sustainable agrifood systems for a post-growth world." The proposal was based on their five-year interdisciplinary research, which was ongoing until 2021, and aimed to explore realizing sustainable societies through solving the numerous environmental, economic, and social problems caused by human activities. The proposal argues that because current food and agriculture systems prioritize economic growth, promote inequality through exploitation, and harm both people and ecosystems, they are unsustainable. In their place, it proposes a shift to a new food and agriculture system. The results were published in the international scientific journal Nature Sustainability.

The research was conducted across five years, from 2016 to 2020, in collaboration with 34 researchers from various fields inside and outside the Institute as part of the FEAST project, which has the theme of "Lifeworlds of Sustainable Food Production and Consumption: Agrifood Systems in Transition". The project is run in Japan (Kyoto, Akita, and Nagano prefectures) and in major cities in Thailand, Bhutan, and China. Its disseminated nature provides a proper understanding of the structure of food production and distribution and enables it to research ideal food and agriculture systems that will lead to better living standards and health. The group reported the results at the RIHN's international symposium in 2021, which featured presentations on the need for local production for local consumption and policies to encourage it, aiming to reduce the burden on the global environment. Some of the project's activities will be continued by the FEAST Foundation.

The research is based on specific examples of small-scale farming for local production for local consumption, home gardens, urban and sub-urban agriculture, organic farming, and food co-ops that are being practiced around the world without regard for economic growth. It also uses examples from research papers that have produced results regardless of the size of the country. The proposal summarizes the state of food and agriculture systems in a post-growth period from the perspective of whether appropriate food and agriculture systems contribute to healthy local communities and ecosystems and stabilize economic foundations.

Specifically, in building a new food and agriculture system, the proposal organizes and explains the differences between growth and post-growth metabolism by breaking them down into five categories (economic, social/ecological, allocative efficiency, ownership systems, and relationships). The proposal proposes a shift from efficiency to sufficiency for the economy, from exploitation to regeneration for society and ecology, from aggregation to distribution for allocative efficiency, from private ownership to commons (common ownership) for the ownership system, and from management or superior-subordinate relationships to mutual help and care for relationships.

The paper also provides specific proposals from the perspectives of food production, food business and finance, food culture, and the food system governance. For example, with regard to food system governance, it points out that the current vertically-divided system of multiple departments creates an obstacle to building an appropriate food and agriculture system and points out the need for organizations and activities to bridge this gap. It mentioned the Food Policy Council (FPC) in the U.S. and Europe as an example of this kind of organization. The FPC is a council of various stakeholders that aims to reflect policies on local issues with food as a starting point. The FEAST Project also supported establishing a Japanese version of the FPC in Kyoto.

Drastic changes are needed before it's too late

Professor Rupprecht said, "The need for a food and agriculture system for a post-growth world should be clear to anyone. Current systems have too many problems to deal with, creating a barrier to a sustainable future. Therefore, our paper proposes a new food and agriculture system based on new principles. As we have found in this study, many previous studies just slightly modify existing systems. We believe that a fundamental overhaul is needed, not incremental improvements. Without this, humanity will be too late in implementing change, as it was with climate change."

This article has been translated by JST with permission from The Science News Ltd.(https://sci-news.co.jp/). Unauthorized reproduction of the article and photographs is prohibited.

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