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SALSA is developing and testing a method for food systems mapping

Food systems are complex and diverse, consisting of a very large number of interrelated activities and actors.  In essence, food systems contain four organisational areas: the production, the processing, the distribution and the consumption of food (Ingram, 2011).

SALSA is adopting a systems perspective in order to explore all these four dimensions of the food system which influence the sustainability of our food, nutritional security – the availability of nutritious and safe food – , access to food (which includes affordability), its utilisation and the stability of supply (World Food Summit, 1996; FAO, 2008); the connections between these; and the particular role and importance of small farms and small food businesses in food systems (HLPE, 2013; Knickel et al., 2016).

The SALSA coordination team at Instituto de Ciências Agrárias e Ambientais Mediterrânicas (ICAAM) of Évora University, Portugal, has developed a method for food systems mapping with the goal of identifying similarities and differences in food systems, and as an entry point into a more in-depth assessment. The James Hutton Institute team in SALSA has developed this basic approach further into a food systems mapping toolkit.

SALSA’s research team has successfully tested the approach and toolkit in two international-level workshops. The toolkit proves to be very useful in stimulating highly interactive and very goal-oriented discussions in multi-actor stakeholder groups. It allows participants to jointly identify the key players and the connections in a regional food system (the ‘nodes’ and the ‘flows’), as well as the disconnections and underutilised potentials. Over the coming months, we plan to use this approach to analyse the food systems in 25 European and 5 African regions in order to gain an entry point for in-depth qualitative and quantitative assessments.