"Bridging the gap between food science disciplines and supporting different stakeholders to deliver more sustainable food systems"

The UNESCO Chair in World Food Systems was founded in 2011 by Professor Jean-Louis Rastoin (Montpellier SupAgro) with a multidisciplinary group of teachers and researchers from various institutions of the Agropolis campus (Montpellier, France). It was accredited by UNESCO for a first 4-year cycle, and again in 2015 and 2019.

The Chair has consolidated a number of core commitments through its activities over the years:

Food is a major issue for societies and represents a vital link between humans and the environment. It is an essential component of human health and that of the planet, of their wellbeing and that of other living organisms, of social bonds and cultural identity building. Food is concurrently an economic, social, political and artistic activity.
Embedding societal issues in training and research is necessary to boost the relevance of these activities.
Scientific disciplines should interact and converse with other forms of knowledge (professional, artistic, etc.) and with citizens—thereby overcoming barriers to knowledge.

Enhancing the science-society dialogue

The Chair currently organizes science-society interactions on sustainable food through three types of activities :
Training: the Innovations and Policies for Sustainable Food (IPAD) Advanced Master’s Programme and various training modules, MOOCs, etc.
Action research: sustainable urban food systems; solidarity to overcome food insecurity.
Opening doors to and disseminating knowledge: publications, conferences.

Creating opportunities for a holistic approach to food

Food is studied through ever more specialized scientific disciplines: nutrition, food science, process engineering, economics, social sciences, etc. As these disciplines continue to fine-tune their lenses, the risk is that each of them will lose track of the diverse range of issues surrounding food.

Similarly, these issues, although rooted in the sustainable food theme, are often dealt with in a relatively siloed manner, while prioritizing environmental, nutritional, social, economic or governance views.

The Chair is thus a space where a holistic vision of food prevails, in contrast to a meta-disciplinary approach where all viewpoints and issues are streamlined. A holistic stance is a way of stepping back from overly specialized approaches, thereby giving new meaning to knowledge while reconciling science and society.

Linking solidarity and environmental issues within food systems

The COVID-19 crisis is likely to herald the emergence of serious environmental and health crises linked to climate change, chemical pollution, biodiversity meltdown and resource depletion. Averting the social exclusion of disadvantaged people seems ever more crucial in this setting, especially as this issue is often overlooked or underestimated in sustainability initiatives.

The Chair is consequently focusing on these issues of food solidarity with regard to social insecurity, both in terms of providing universal access to sustainable food and improving food system working conditions. It seeks to bridge the divide between these socioeconomic aspects and the environmental, health and governance dimensions. To this end, the Chair is testing multidisciplinary research procedures jointly developed and piloted with food system stakeholders.

Dovetailing innovation and policy

Novel and more sustainable food systems are being built, driven by social, community and business innovators. It is vital to identify, support and assess them, but more is needed to accelerate the transition. The Chair contends that ambitious public policies are also needed. It is hence necessary to reconfigure the power relations that influence them in favour of actors with genuine social and environmental commitments. The Chair supports these catalysts of change (professionals, politicians, civil society platforms, local authorities, etc.) by producing reference resources and providing training.

- January 2021 -
Nicolas Bricas, food socioeconomics researcher at CIRAD (MOISA), Director of the UNESCO Chair in World Food Systems and co-Director of the IPAD Specialized Masters Programme
Damien Conaré, Secretary General of the UNESCO Chair in World Food Systems, Montpellier SupAgro