During the 2020 summer school, the participants were tasked with tackling food systems resilience from different perspectives. Francesca Di Franco and Becca McGowan, two of the summer school students, explain how the teams approached the thorny challenge.
Participants were split into four teams, each team taking the perspective of a different food system actor: a government food standards agency; a large manufacturer of food products; a medium sized abattoir and a charity fighting food waste and food poverty.
Each team was asked to identify issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, considering food production and supply dynamics. The teams were then asked to propose potential solutions whilst considering the overall resilience of the UK food system. The challenge was to summarise their findings in a five-minute presentation to a mixed audience. IFSTAL Alumni Becca McGowan and Francesca Di Franco reflect on the presentations.
Team 1: Perspective: A Senior Executive in Policy & Strategy in a governmental food standards agency
This team made it clear from their first slide that their key message was to ‘Create, Improve & Engage.’ Responsibilities under the agency’s remit were organised into five key issues including food hygiene, food waste, food bank usage, food crime and reduced trade. Using a simple message, the agency aimed to ‘create,’ new guidance documents, training and jobs surrounding new food hygiene standards. This in turn would improve food safety. Understanding that food waste, unemployment and reduced trade enhance food insecurity, the team decided that they would promote and ‘engage’ with local food systems
Team 2: Perspective: Managing Director of a large manufacturer of food products
This organisation owns multiple food businesses, ranging from organic vegetable boxes to produce for the catering industry. A major issue was how the crisis would affect each business differently, therefore team two role-played a board meeting to represent the views of various stakeholders. Issues were raised by the Managing Director and Heads of Sourcing, Finance and Communications, while an external representative from IFSTAL presented solutions. A rich picture diagram was used to show the key issues.
Solutions were presented using a three horizons framework. Solutions included cooperation between businesses, prioritising local supply chains and further improvement of employee rights.
Team 3: Perspective: Managing Director of a mid-sized abattoir
As an independent family run business, the abattoir provides animal slaughter and abattoir services to over 300 farmers. The students took a unique approach to incorporate all perspectives in their presentation. Each individual represented a different stakeholder: managing director; environmental regulator; farmer; retail consultant and consumer demand expert. The key issues revolved mainly around demands of certain meat products falling and consequently those who rely on them having their income drop substantially. Solutions presented included diversifying the consumer market, shifting away from international exports and imports to local suppliers, and to collaborate more with environmental agencies.
Team 4: Perspective: Senior Executive in a food waste and food poverty charity
This charity redistributes surplus food from food industries to over 10,000 charities fighting hunger and food waste. The team approached this project as a presentation, and used insightful techniques to convey the different stakeholders and their individual or shared issues. The main problems raised were that donations reduced, charities including community kitchens were no longer operational and volunteer numbers dropped significantly. Additionally, there was an increased demand for the charity’s services. Solutions were portrayed through the use of a three horizons diagram with the end goal of reaching a flexible system that is fully traceable, and not impacted as detrimentally by surplus food of restaurants and supermarkets.
The skills students gained throughout the IFSTAL journey were showcased here creating an exciting, engaging and thought-provoking mix of presentations. Use of soft systems methodology such as the Three Horizons Model effectively displayed solutions in a logical manner. All teams made use of training in communication so clear take home messages were presented to their audiences.
As with all actors in the food system, it was clear there were common issues raised by the pandemic. Predominantly disparities in demand shocked all four businesses and organisations. Solutions including prioritisation of local supply chains and increased dialogue and cooperation between stakeholders were repeated by all teams. The Covid-19 crisis has presented an opportunity for the resilience of local and global food systems to improve!
Francesca Di Franco is a Veterinary Medicine student from the Royal Veterinary College, University of London. She is starting her fourth year in September and is currently looking at career options relating to veterinary epidemiology or One Health. IFSTAL has given her the opportunity to work with interdisciplinary students passionate about food systems and sustainability.
Becca McGowan is a PhD student based at the University of Warwick. She is researching the life cycle of pest insect the Bean Seed Fly with aims to forecast its emergence and find alternative control strategies to chemical pesticides. IFSTAL has been a great opportunity for her to collaborate with people from different disciplines and gain skills for food systems intervention.