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Food security: Building resilience into the world's food system

February 14, 2016
ETH Zurich
The world's food system faces increased exposure to risk from natural disasters to economic and political crises, from climate change to resource degradation. Feeding growing urban populations across the globe presents unprecedented challenges for an already volatile system. Can a holistic approach involving optimization models and big data increase resilience and strengthen food across the entire food value chain?

Mass migration into urban areas profoundly effects food security -- even staple foods, like rice are subject to the volatility of the market.
Credit: Copyright all photos: ETH Zurich / Christof Sautter

Three academic experts from Asia, Europe, and the United States address the complexity of food systems during the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. Applying resilience thinking to food systems is a novel concept pioneered at ETH Zurich, The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. They demonstrate how to build resilience into existing food systems creating a higher level of food security using decision making models, big data, and information technology. Collaboration between industry, food innovators, and all those along the food value chain fosters resilience into the world's food systems vital for dealing with the consequences of mass migration into urban areas that is taking place in many parts of the world.

Creating Resilience in Complex Food Systems

Johan Six, Professor of Sustainable Agroecosystems, ETH Zurich, The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland tackles the complexity of the world's food systems. Intrinsically complex, food systems are difficult to predict and manage. Comprising of different processes, value chains, actors and interactions, their outcomes affect multiple stakeholders and sectors in diverse and conflicting ways. Rather than trying to optimize individual components for specific risks, Six demonstrates how to improve the general resilience of food systems, with an approach that supports decision-making in practice and extends the resilience mind-set of stakeholders.

Food Security in Rapidly Growing Asian Cities

Many Asian countries are now experiencing rapid growth and development as people migrate from rural to urban areas. In the past 45 years the urban population in Asia grew from around 600 million to 2 billion. This demographic revolution profoundly affects all aspects of food systems, from production to dietary choices. Communities that were self-sufficient in terms of food resources for centuries, now rely on volatile international markets, even for basic products such as rice. Peter Edwards, Director of the Singapore-ETH Center for Global Environmental Sustainability, a research outpost of ETH Zurich discusses the implications of rapid urbanization for food security. Edwards proposes ways of strengthening the resilience of food systems to create a higher level of food security.

Food System Informatics

About half of the fruit and vegetables consumed in the United States are produced in California in an agricultural region that, as the recent 4-year drought has shown, is highly vulnerable to the disruption of irrigation water supply. Thomas P. Tomich, WK Kellogg Endowed Chair in Sustainable Food Systems at University of California, Davis, the top-ranked agricultural research university in the world, explores how new information technology and a data-flooded business environment will impact food and agriculture. He demonstrates how information technology supports the formation of an ecosystem between industry, investors, start-ups, and food innovators.

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Materials provided by ETH Zurich. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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ETH Zurich. "Food security: Building resilience into the world's food system." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 February 2016. <>.
ETH Zurich. (2016, February 14). Food security: Building resilience into the world's food system. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from
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