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Transition to a sustainable food system: HAS University of Applied Sciences coordinator of first Dutch transdisciplinary consortium

The three-year programme 'Transition to a sustainable food system' is being launched under the banner of the National Science Agenda, a broad consortium of 30 scientists from universities and universities of applied sciences, together with a large number of companies, NGOs and innovative networks. This will be the first transdisciplinary consortium in the Netherlands to work on the transition of the complete food system.

The Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality took the initiative to call for the submission of this project, which is funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO).

Sustainability challenges

Academic institutions and the professional field are joining forces in this programme because they believe in a fundamental transition of the entire food system and not just in modifying parts of it or treating symptoms.

“Food is a crucial part of our culture and well-being,” argues Frederike Praasterink, Professor at the Future Food Systems Lectorate at HAS University of Applied Sciences. “At the same time, current food consumption and production patterns are significant contributors to a number of urgent sustainability challenges for the health and well-being of humans, animals and the planet.”

“These sustainability challenges are not isolated problems: they are interrelated symptoms of an unsustainable food system that has changed significantly in recent decades due to a strong focus on productivity, market forces and maximising profit. They involve major costs for society in terms of health, welfare and the environment. It is therefore clear that making the current food system more sustainable is not enough: a fundamental transition of the food system as a whole is needed. Within this project we are focussing on the Dutch food system with attention to its international dimensions.”

What is a sustainable food system?

What a sustainable food system entails, however, is not immediately clear: sustainability is a multidimensional concept. In practice, public policy, the business world or private citizens approach it from different points of view. Within our programme, the consortium therefore focusses on the questions:

  • What is a sustainable food system?
  • What steering mechanisms can speed up a transition to a sustainable food system in the Netherlands?

Efforts are being made to clarify how the challenges of food transition can take shape by developing an area-specific approach, a system model for quantitative system analyses and building blocks for developing educational programmes on the topic of transition to a sustainable food system. In addition, the consortium is also focussing on building a transdisciplinary community related to food systems. After this project has finished, they intend to continue developing joint projects, making a contribution to the implementation of the results. Transdisciplinary here means that researchers from different scientific disciplines work closely together with social players in the professional field.

Frederike Praasterink

HAS University of Applied Sciences’ role

HAS University of Applied Sciences is actively participating in 3 of the 5 working packages being worked on by their partners from academic institutions and the professional field. These involve long-range forecasts into future sustainable food systems, research into regional food systems and area-specific approaches, as well as into the governance of a sustainable food system. This is being done by the team members of the Future Food Systems lectorate, building on our previous knowledge development of long-range forecasting and sustainable food systems. Furthermore, HAS University of Applied Sciences is also the programme coordinator. Frederike Praasterink is collaborating in this with Professor Herman Peppelenbos of the Green Health lectorate.

“It's an incredibly exciting challenge to be able to lead this large and diverse consortium which has such an urgent task,” says Frederike. “Students will also be involved in working on transitions or partial transitions during their internships and thesis. Today’s 'generation Z' is already much more aware of the major challenges to society; they want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Partners from academic institutions and the professional field

Academic partners are HAS University of Applied Sciences, University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University, Wageningen University & Research, TU Eindhoven, Leiden University, Radboud University, VU Amsterdam, Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Aeres University of Applied Sciences and RIVM (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment). Partners from the professional field include Blonk Consultants, SMK, the Eemlandhoeve conference venue, Food Transition Coalition, Greendish, Nutriënten Management Instituut, Circular Landscapes, BoerenNatuur (agricultural collective organisation), Jong Leren Eten (educational activities for children), Federatie Agro-ecologische boeren (Federation of Agro-Ecological Farmers), Netwerk Platteland (Countryside network), Greenport West-Holland, Duurzaam Door (Sustainability knowledge platform), DSM (nutrition, health, sustainable living), Kalavasta (climate neutral strategy consultancy), Stichting Natuur & Milieu (Nature & Environment charity) and Herenboeren (Farming communities platform).