From food production to food security: developing interdisciplinary, regional-level research

J.S.I. Ingram

Research output: Thesisexternal PhD, WU


Food security is a condition whereby “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO World Food Summit, 1996). Globally, food production has kept ahead of demand for many years, yet about one billion people currently do not have such access. This is due to a combination of biophysical, socioeconomic and political factors. New research concepts, tools and methods are needed to understand, and improve governance of, the complex interactions between these factors if such food insecurity is to be overcome. This is especially the case at the regional (sub-continental) level where many stakeholder groups and actors are involved in setting policies and taking decisions that affect food security outcomes. Based on six publications, this thesis therefore addresses three questions:


What are the essential characteristics of a research agenda to address food security?

Why is research at the regional level important?

Who needs to be involved in research design and delivery, and how are they best engaged?


The food system concept, which integrates an understanding of the activities of producing, distributing, trading and consuming food with the food security outcomes relating to access, availability and utilisation of food, provides a robust framework for analysis of these questions. A synthesis of the publications reveals an effective food security research agenda needs to not only encompass all these activities and outcomes, but also note the range of biophysical, socioeconomic and political food system drivers across and along spatial, temporal and jurisdictional scales. This is because food insecurity arises from vulnerability of the food system to combinations of stresses induced from changes in these drivers. Analysis in this thesis has shown that the ability to overcome these stresses, and thereby enhance food security, would be increased if policy and technical options were considered more specifically at regional level, in addition to at local and global levels. This is however challenging, due to the diversity of stakeholder groups operating at this level (e.g. government and NGOs; researchers and research funders; and business and civil society) all of whom have their own objectives. Further, there are numerous interactions with higher and lower levels on these scales, and insufficient knowledge and awareness of actions taken at these other levels often leads to ‘scale challenges’. Participatory research methods (e.g. surveys, consultations and scenario exercises) have been found in this research to help overcome these ‘scale challenges’.

 Improved understanding of how food systems operate will help food security planning by identifying where, when and how vulnerability arises; and hence what sorts of adaptation interventions are needed, and where and when they would be most effective. Understanding can be enhanced by integrating concepts from production ecology, agroecology and human ecology with concepts of food systems and scales, to develop the notion of ‘food system ecology’. This not only helps identify the many biophysical and socioeconomic interactions across the range of activities and drivers that determine food security, but also provides a framework for two key research avenues: increasing the efficiency with which inputs to the food system are used, and enhancing food system governance. 

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Rabbinge, Rudy, Promotor
Award date3 Oct 2011
Place of Publication[S.l.]
Print ISBNs9789461730022
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • food production
  • food security
  • systems analysis
  • interdisciplinary research
  • climatic change
  • agricultural research
  • regional development
  • multi-stakeholder processes


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