Accepted Paper:

The role of niche innovations in transition pathways in the agro-food system  


Joyce Zwartkruis (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency)
Henk Westhoek

Paper short abstract:

Studying innovations at the intersection of consumption and production can help to gain insight in the transition pathways towards sustainable development of the agro-food system. Although niche innovations have difficulties to gain enough momentum, there are changes visible in the agro-food system.

Paper long abstract:

A large share of the pressure on the environment is related to food consumption and production. Technical and social innovations are necessary to reduce this pressure. After decades of increasing efficiency of food production (with often negative side-effects, such as high use of pesticides and animal welfare issues), there seems to be more interest for changes at the consumption side as well as at the intersection of consumption and production (e.g. food boxes and 'local food'). It is important to take into account innovations on both the production and consumption side and view these in the context of the agro-food system. This is however not easy as the agro-food system consists of many actors and activities that are closely connected.

In affluent regions, a change in diet (e.g. lower meat consumption) will probably have a larger effect on the environment than incremental changes in production methods. Consumption is however hard to change, as it is determined by many cultural and personal preferences. The question is in what way pathways towards a sustainable agro-food system are developing in the context of the agro-food system. By studying niche innovations both at the production and consumption side we gain insight in these pathways. Results show that niche innovations hardly gain enough 'momentum' to break through, and strong lock ins and limited cracks and tensions prevent breakthroughs. Moreover, many niches (such as urban farming) are not aiming to contribute to global environmental issues, but these are more related to public health and social issues.

Panel T092
Transition to Sustainable Food Systems: Integrative Perspectives on Production and Consumption