Context, context, context

Today, I attended a Sustainability Lecture hosted by the Sustainability Science Centre at the University of Copenhagen. The topic was What is needed to transform agriculture and food systems in the face of climate change? With this hefty topic in mind, Bruce Campbell of CCAFS managed to cover a lot of ground. But, there was one thing in particular that stuck out to me. It was context.

“Context, context, context” – Bruce Campbell of CCAFS

When we present different solutions to improving the sustainability of food systems, putting things into context is extremely important. It is by putting things into context that we learn to be critical when someone says, for example, that everyone should consume fewer foods of animal origin in order to reduce the environmental footprint of our diets. While this is very true in certain parts of the world (e.g. Denmark), Bruce was also quick to remind us that in many regions of the world (e.g. Sub-Saharan Africa) a lot of people are not consuming enough animal-source foods to live a healthy life.

When a member of the audience asked Bruce to define sustainable food systems, he remarked that it was more of a vision rather than a definition and “if you put a bunch of scientists in a room it would take them five years to come close to agreeing on such a definition.” Sustainable food systems mean a lot of different things in different contexts.

So, to the disappointment of many, there are no uniform global solutions to generating more sustainable food systems. This is where I think there is value in creating databases of tried and tested solutions not only to demonstrate the possibility of moving towards more environmentally, socially and economically sustainable food systems but inspire other stakeholders in other parts of the world to either adapt or generate their own solutions.

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