Previous Fora / 2011


NERC Food Security Leader, Environmental Change Institute

Oxford University Centre for the Environment

Following a BSc in chemistry from King’s College, University of London (1979) and a MSc in soil chemistry from the University of Reading (1980), John Ingram gained extensive experience in the 1980s working in East and Southern Africa, and South Asia in agriculture, forestry and agroecology research projects. In 1991 he was recruited by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to help organise, coordinate and synthesise research on global change and agroecology as part of International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, launching and running a series of international research networks on crops, soils, and pests and diseases. In 2001 he was appointed Executive Officer for the Earth System Science Partnership’s Joint Project “Global Environmental Change and Food Systems” (GECAFS). On the close of GECAFS in 2011, he assumed a new role as ‘NERC Food Security Leader’.

John has had substantial interaction with a number of international organisations, especially the UN-FAO and the CGIAR and has worked closely with international and national departments, agencies and NGOs helping to establish region-wide research on the links between food security and environmental stress. Focal areas for his work have in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of south Asia, southern Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. He has published on a wide range of topics ranging from soil organic matter dynamics to food security issues. His recent activities have included promoting, coordinating and integrating international research related to the interactions between global environmental change and food security, as researched through analysis of food systems. Much of this work he brought together in his PhD thesis “From Food Production to Food Security: Developing interdisciplinary, regional-level research” (Wageningen University, NL: 2011).

John is based in the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, UK.



17:00-19:00 18 NOVEMBER
THEMATIC SESSION III. Brazil: “Sustainable Food Production”

Food Security and the value of taking a Regional Perspective

Food security is a condition whereby “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (FAO World Food Summit, 1996). Globally, food production has kept ahead of demand for many years, yet about two billion people currently do not have such access. This is due to a combination of biophysical, socioeconomic and political factors. New research concepts, tools and methods are needed to understand, and improve governance of, the complex interactions between these factors if such food insecurity is to be overcome. This is especially the case at the regional (sub-continental) level where many stakeholder groups and actors are involved in setting policies and taking decisions that affect food security outcomes.

The ‘food system’ concept, which integrates an understanding of the activities of producing, distributing, trading and consuming food with the food security outcomes relating to access, availability and utilisation of food, provides a robust framework for food security analyses. An effective food security research agenda needs to not only encompass all these activities and outcomes, but also note the range of biophysical, socioeconomic and political food system drivers across and along spatial, temporal and jurisdictional scales. This is because food insecurity arises from vulnerability of the food system to combinations of stresses induced from changes in these drivers.

The ability to overcome these stresses, and thereby enhance food security, would be increased if policy and technical options were considered more specifically at regional level, in addition to at local and global levels. This is however challenging due to the diversity of stakeholder groups operating at this level (e.g. government and NGOs; researchers and research funders; and business and civil society) all of whom have their own motives and objectives. Further, there are numerous interactions with higher and lower levels on these scales, and insufficient knowledge and awareness of actions taken at these other levels often leads to ‘scale challenges’. Participatory research methods (e.g. surveys, consultations and scenario exercises) have been found in this research to help overcome these ‘scale challenges’.

Improved understanding of how food systems operate will help food security planning by identifying where, when and how vulnerability arises; and hence what sorts of adaptation interventions are needed, and where and when they would be most effective. Understanding can be enhanced by integrating concepts from production ecology, agroecology and human ecology with concepts of food systems and scales, to develop the notion of ‘food system ecology’.