DES Seminar by Rob Burdock (PhD candidate)

2 May 2014

Food production system relationships and resilience across the interacting themes of the environment, agricultural practice and produce nutrition.


The effect of climate change on food production and the impact of peak oil on the conventional industrial agricultural system will impact food security and nutrition. Much of the way food is produced is not environmentally sustainable and does not meet nutritional requirements. It is timely to explore whether or not it is possible to produce food sustainably which is resilient to the forces of nature and the limitations of the earths resources, while at the same time, achieving food security and nutrition.

This thesis builds an understanding of a systems perspective on food production. Farming systems are analysed for their health and environmental impact; food security is examined through the lens of food sovereignty; the challenges to modelling the system are explored; and a systems map of the interacting influences that support sustainable food production has been developed. To take this further, micro-nutritional flows within this system were traced to demonstrate system complexity. The systems map formed a theoretical framework to guide real-world modelling to test the sensitivity of outcomes and highlight the importance of system resilience to shocks.

Two case studies were developed for systems that have collapsed; the first for the ancient Mayan civilisation and the second for contemporary Cuba. The case studies used the system map developed for micro-nutrition and introduced the geometric framework for macro-nutrition. In the Mayan case, it was concluded that poor nutrition would have been one of several contributing factors leading to the collapse of the civilisation. In the Cuban case, the industrial agricultural system collapsed in 1990, causing a widespread food crisis. The country reinvented its rural sector, becoming the world's first nationwide experiment in agro-ecological agriculture. The Cuban system is modelled both before and after the changes of practice and then tested for climate and energy shocks with results validated using historical data. The simulations were able to show that a climate induced and/or energy crisis is significantly less severe when a community led agro-ecological farming system is practiced.

If humanity is to enjoy food security during a period of changing climate in an energy-constrained world, then we can look to the system resilience of community participation in agro-ecological food production with a focus on soil health and the recycling of biomass as an opportunity to be pursued to provide both food security and nutrition.

All welcome to attend

Time: 4-5PM

Location: Room 422, Biomedical Building C81, ATP

Contact: Dr Uta Stockmann

Phone: 02 8627 1147

Email: 0c45274c2b0207161e224e3f2839321a0d385d0e6253304d603f13