Sustainable food systems in ROBUST

Fri 20 Oct 2017

An interview with Jurij Kobal and Mojca Hrabar (OIKOS), the leaders of ROBUST's Community of Practice on sustainable food systems.

What is the most pressing current issue or challenge related to sustainable food systems (in the context of rural-urban linkages)?

The key issue in developing sustainable food systems is forming efficient, short food supply chains that are able to compete with large food chains in terms of quality, delivery and in certain ways also in prices. The quality and safety of food is becoming very important to EU citizens and this offers an opportunity for such shorter food chains.

An additional opportunity may also be seen in climate change, which can cause huge disruptions in food production chains. Shorter food chains may be better able to respond to changing circumstances in order to secure food production.

Shorter food supply chains will need to find new production techniques, logistics, selling points and engage in modernisation of our lives in terms of diet and life style.


What is a misconception about rural and/or urban areas regarding this topic?

A key misconception is that rural and urban areas are separate worlds or galaxies, while we all know in reality there is no sharp distinction. This causes different policy approaches, different legal settings and different planning models which basically divides what in nature is one. Urban areas with more interaction with rural areas are better to live and in vice versa. This is not only in terms of food chains, tourism, recreation but in everyday living needs for social networking, cultural engagement and so on.

The other very strange misconception is that urban areas produce more value. When counting purely economic or statistical items this may hold true. But when looking beyond pure financial indicators, rural areas are large producers or better keepers of value in terms of quality of life, health, food, nature conservation, social interaction, natural resources, space and even happiness. It is not a question of how to use those resources for the development of urban areas, which is often discussed, but rather the question of how to keep the value of rural areas and preserve it for the future.


How can rural and urban areas mutually benefit from cooperating on sustainable food systems?

Locally produced, sustainable food can reduce the environmental footprint of urban areas, which will contribute to better and healthier living conditions. This may also contribute to improvement of environmental and climate indicators by reducing the concentrated environmental "hot spots". 

On the other hand, sustainable food systems help in establishing healthy food habits among people, which not only helps them live better but also contributes to wider economic agendas by cutting costs with preventive measures rather than large investments in health systems. This may be achieved with developing healthier dietary practices among the general public and with active policy measures like public procurement for schools and public institutions.

Sustainable food systems can improve the economy of rural areas and increase employment, drive innovation and grow resilience. This will improve the quality of life in rural areas and improve the demographic picture in several parts of Europe. Sustainable food systems can also improve the social cohesion and networks among urban and rural areas, which will further open possibilities for innovation and a collaborative economy.


Which ROBUST living labs will be dealing with this Community of Practice (CoP)?

ROBUST aims to ensure a lasting impact with eleven place-based Living Labs and five Communities of Practice in which practitioners and researchers work collaboratively on real-life issues. ROBUST’s principal target groups for the living labs are clustered into three sub-groups:

  • Regional rural and urban policymakers, interest groups, and practitioners;

  • European and national policymakers, interest groups, and the general public; and

  • The research and scientific community.

The sustainable food systems will be dealing with practices in Tukums Municipality, Generalitat Valenciana, Ede Municipality, Lisbon Regional Authority, Gloucestershire, Province of Lucca and Mid Wales.


Can you name a few current best practices/good examples in this field?

There are many good practices and cases around Europe, and we will not be able to identify all of them. So we rely on partners in the ROBUST project who mention several positive practices they would like to look at.

One interesting project financed by Interreg is REFRAME, which deals with distribution methods for local food at the regional level. We discussed best practices in Finland related to cooperation of farmers and small scale local food producers and policy discussions to promote use of the local food in public kitchens.

The SALSA project is also carrying out interesting activities by improving the role of small farmers in the local/regional food systems.

In the area of Lisbon and Tagus there is the Re-food project dealing with food waste management, while in the area of food valley they are working on organising markets similar to Pisa and developing their food strategy similar to Milan, where they are forming food policy pacts and national food agendas and food education programs. In Tukums there is work being done on their food strategy and developing concepts and practices on sustainable governance and values. In Gloucestershire they are developing knowledge on the links to diet and health.


What are the main ROBUST activities that will take place surrounding sustainable food systems?

Activities in this Community of Practice will be focused on understanding necessary institutional embeddedness of urban food policies and will try to understand how to re-connect the rural and the urban areas in order to achieve strategic sustainable urban food policy goals. This will need to focus also on citizens and their knowledge of sustainable food and diet as well as their awareness of the importance of consuming local food.

We want to understand the opportunities and limitations of sustainable food strategies and understand how to re-localise urban food production and consumption systems to provide space for new business opportunities. But we will also try to develop knowledge on the structural and planning interventions that may be used to develop a multifunctional agriculture in peri-urban areas in order to preserve and value the environment and natural resources while countering urban sprawl.


What are the main outputs you expect from ROBUST in this thematic area?

We believe we will be able to produce a basic understanding of functional practices, which will provide grounds to develop ideas on how to create sustainable food systems and balance urban and rural areas in a functional circle. This should lead to a better understanding of necessary policies and measures that will support local food systems.

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News about Rural-Urban Europe and the ROBUST project is published regularly in the INFORMED CITIES newsletter.

ROBUST is a European research project involving 24 partners from 11 countries. ROBUST receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727988.

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