Integrating Social Vulnerability into Research on Food Systems and Global Change

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1 RES Integrating Social Vulnerability into Research on Food Systems and Global Change Summary of Research Results The research aimed to enhance understanding of how concepts of vulnerability of social aspects of food systems to GEC can be integrated with concepts from natural science to provide a more holistic approach to vulnerability studies. The specific objective was to review methods for investigating the vulnerability of human food systems to global change. The main result from the research has been an improved understanding and clearer definitions of some of the concepts underpinning vulnerability of food systems to global change. This has been elaborated in the monograph which argues for a theoretical reassessment of climate change vulnerability. This is because established analyses of vulnerability have tended to be descriptive, in the sense that they have sought to describe either human or environmental proneness to harm or the capacity to resist, adapt or cope with climate change or natural hazards. There is a need for a narrative theory of climate change vulnerability where connections both material and conceptual pathways can be traced between the facts of proneness to harm and the processes that are implied in their replication. The project described climate change vulnerability as both a general and particular phenomenon: general in the sense that we are all vulnerable to climate change, particular in the sense that some people, regions or ecosystems are more vulnerable than others. This is exemplified by an analysis of how people and the food systems they depend upon might be or might become differentially vulnerable to climate change. The conceptual review was matched by a review of methodologies for assessing vulnerable food systems in the realms of indicators, resilience, and multi-agent modelling. The theoretical insights and methodological reviews have been summarised in a range of briefing notes: Choosing methods in assessments of vulnerable food systems Methodologies for the GECAFS project Vulnerability, global environmental change and food systems Vulnerability indicators and mapping Resilience and vulnerability Agent-based modelling of vulnerability Political ecology and vulnerability Together with an extensive bibliography of literature on vulnerability (partially annoted), the briefing notes have have been posted to the document hotel on the Vulnerability Network web site (www.vulnerabilitynet.org).

2 RES Integrating Social Vulnerability into Research on Food Systems and Global Change Full Report of Research Activities and Results 1. Background Strategies for adapting food systems to global environmental change (GEC) need to be developed so as to reduce social vulnerability to the added problems GEC will bring. Adaptation includes modifications in practices such as land management and diversification, and in structures such as institutions regulating access to credit and land tenure. However, not all individuals and sections of society are equally vulnerable to global change. Their capacity to cope with existing variability in biophysical and socioeconomic systems, and their ability to perceive global change and adapt food systems accordingly vary considerably. This is because these factors are controlled by the flexibility with which food provision (i.e. the supply, availability and access to food and related, essential resources) is mediated by institutions (e.g. land tenure, access to credit, exploitation rights of renewable resources, etc.). Research needs to be based on a better understanding of vulnerability to the added stresses GEC will bring to food systems. GEC research from the late 1980s and 90s can be characterised as relying on long-term scenarios of environmental change, for instance climate futures derived from global climate models or equilibrium models of natural ecosystems. A contrasting stream of research begins with current vulnerability of socio-economic systems such as agri-food, with roots in sustainable development, poverty assessment and early warning systems for hazards. The two orientations simplistically, one rooted in the natural sciences and the other in social analyses need to be integrated if environmentally sound development is to proceed. In some respects, the poor progress of the World Summit on Sustainable Development is partly a reflection on the inadequate scientific basis for demonstrating the linkages between a present-day, integrated concept of vulnerability and near- and longer-term global environmental threats. Research on GEC brings new challenges to the integration of nature and society. Three types of challenges are salient: First, scales vary from the local to global and linkages across scales are essential to understanding environment-human interactions. Most global change assessments recognise the importance of scale. However, existing approaches tend to adopt a single scale (e.g., mapping at a 5 km square grid box or national social and economic indicators). Embedding local scales in higher order processes is more complex methodologically. Increasingly, international programmes recognise the challenge for instance the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and GECAFS are developing local-regional studies (at their own resolution) in the context of global models. The scale linkages are also temporal for instance from the daily-level activities associated with crop management to long-term trends in climatic resources. Second, environment-human systems are complex in the nature of interactions and their evolution over time. Small changes in one relationship could amplify effects in other interactions or regions. Conversely, widespread degradation may not have significant effects for many regions and places. Third, our ability to predict the future is patently limited, raising issues regarding scientific foresight and stakeholder participation. The common approach is to rely on scenarios (such as

3 the Foresight exercise in the UK), although these tend to be static, generalised and difficult to translate to different situations (e.g., Raskin et al. 2002). Participatory integrated assessment has been proposed as an alternative but difficult to apply to global issues. Our search for a social science contribution to GEC research is premised on the need to integrate human behaviour into environmental paradigms. Of course, many environmental insights and concerns are relevant to social science methodologies, such as discourse analysis and citizen juries. We explored four families of methodologies: 1. Political ecology take an integrated view of the qualitative narratives of processes supported by established facts observed in environmental, socio-economic and institutional systems. An actor-network approach underlies our view of global change vulnerability. 2. Ecosystems dynamics underlies the concept of ecosystem resilience the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. Resilience is seen at an essential attribute of linked social-ecological systems (see the Resilience Alliance (www.resalliance.org); Gunderson and Pritchard, 2002; and Holling, 2001). 3. Vulnerability assessment and mapping, well developed in famine early warning systems, uses indicators to overlay relative risks to regions and populations (see Downing et al. 2001). Related approaches focus on sustainable livelihoods (for instance based on five capitals ), human security (as in the GECHS project) or broad indicators of sustainable development (e.g., the Environmental Sustainability Index). 4. Multi-agent modelling seeks to characterise the behaviour of representative stakeholders, in particular the relationships between each other (as in thematic networks or institutions) and with the environment (see Downing et al., 2000 for a review of issues related to integrated assessment). The main purpose of this project has been to contribute to an international review of the experience the concept of vulnerability and methodological contributions from diverse approaches, as applied to integrating natural and social processes of GEC, with the specific emphasis on linking present vulnerability and sustainability concerns with longer-term and global processes of environmental change. 2. Objectives The research aimed to enhance understanding of how concepts of vulnerability of social aspects of food systems to GEC can be integrated with concepts from natural science to provide a more holistic approach to vulnerability studies. The specific objective was to review methods for investigating the vulnerability of human food systems to global change. Building on a preliminary framework for conducting the research (established at an international workshop in the US in early 2003 with funding provided by the US National Academy of Sciences International Contribution for Scientific, Educational, and Cultural Activities (ICSECA) programme), the research entailed four objectives: 1. Evaluate and refine a research framework (developed at the NAS ICSECA workshop) in terms of suitability for this project. This was achieved by a number of discussions with GECAFS and detailed planning with the SEI-Oxford researchers involved in the project.

4 2. Use this revised framework to review methodologies for determining present vulnerability of socio-economic systems to GEC. A concerted literature research phase conducted by SEI-Oxford researchers culminated in a major paper detailing an innovative narrative theory of the vulnerability of food systems to climate change, and a 1500-entry annotated EndNote bibliography as an important interim product. 3. Evaluate the prospects for using existing methods for assessing current vulnerability (from Objective 2) for assessing future vulnerabilities based on integrated scenarios of GEC. Research developed a set of methodological briefs on key topics, which collectively provide a strong foundation for developing prototype assessments of vulnerability. 4. Based on the framework, review and an expert workshop, develop a research agenda for further developing and applying methodologies aimed at integrating socioeconomic and biophysical approaches to vulnerability. The research agenda will be further developed at a follow-up meeting in Southern Africa (for which US-NAS ICSECA funds have now been secured). A number of options for methodological development have been developed, including briefs on the choice of methodology in general and specific recommendations for a core methodology for the GECAFS regional projects. These have been presented to the GECAFS Scientific Advisory Committee and will make a significant contribution to the further development of the GECAFS research theme on the vulnerability of food systems to GEC. They will also be presented at a follow-up meeting in late 2004 in Southern Africa. The work therefore achieved this goal of helping to set an agenda for an integrated global change science in particular that related to GECAFS and also to Global Environmental Change and Human Security (GECHS; hosted by Carleton University, Canada). 3. Methods The principal research method was one of literature review. Research developed initially on all the issues surrounding vulnerability and environmental change. This moved into further theoretical research on resilience theory, on adaptation theory, on development theory, on Actor Network Theory, on entitlement theory, on the theory of human need, on theories of distributive justice and social perspective, and on theories of spatial scale. Research into food systems vulnerability began with an assessment of the work of Amartya Sen and the politics of hunger. The practice of famine early warning systems, food storage and consumption smoothing were analysed through several case studies, in both an urban and rural context, many of them conducted by FAO and IFPRI. This led to research into theories of political ecology and thus into theories of food and development outlined by Piers Blaikie and Michael Watts. 4. Results

5 The main result from the research has been an improved understanding and clearer definitions of some of the concepts underpinning vulnerability of food systems to global change. This has been elaborated in the monograph which argues for a theoretical reassessment of climate change vulnerability. This is because established analyses of vulnerability have tended to be descriptive, in the sense that they have sought to describe either human or environmental proneness to harm or the capacity to resist, adapt or cope with climate change or natural hazards. There is a need for a narrative theory of climate change vulnerability where connections both material and conceptual pathways can be traced between the facts of proneness to harm and the processes that are implied in their replication. The project developed an analysis of consider climate change vulnerability as both a general and particular phenomenon: general in the sense that we are all vulnerable to climate change, particular in the sense that some people, regions or ecosystems are more vulnerable than others. This is exemplified by an analysis of how people and the food systems they depend upon might be or might become differentially vulnerable to climate change. Methodological developments have been described for a range of topics: Choosing methods in assessments of vulnerable food systems Political ecology and Actor Network Theory inform the choice of methods of vulnerability assessment and evaluation of adaptation options and processes. A minimum toolkit includes a mental map of the problem space, inventory of stakeholders, actor/livelihood sensitivity matrices, and profiles of vulnerability. Further analyses explore the dynamic nature of food systems through agent based models (from simple rulebased expert systems to more cognitive treatments). Global change scenarios and detailed impact models can be readily linked to this analysis of socio-ecological vulnerability. Vulnerability, global environmental change and food systems Vulnerability entails two simultaneous processes: a general mode in which we are all vulnerable and a particular mode of differential vulnerable among peoples, places and stresses. Vulnerability is a dynamic process among actors in socio-ecological networks. Vulnerability operates at multiple scales, often simultaneously. Both qualitative narratives and quantitative methods are required. Vulnerability indicators and mapping Vulnerability indicators are the most common methodology in vulnerability assessment. The standard practice is to compile a list of indicators using criteria such as: suitability, following a conceptual framework or definitions; availability of data; and sensitivity to stresses and shocks. There are known pitfalls in an indicator-based methodology, but indicators are essential in any toolkit of vulnerability or sustainable development. A wider range of vulnerability methods should be considered. Resilience and vulnerability Resilience emerged in the 1970s in ecology as an integrating concept, later extended to social science and coupled socio-ecological systems. In the resilience community (Resilience Alliance) vulnerability arises from the loss of resilience. Determining levels of resilience is less a specific methodology, although cyclical behaviour of a system and the positive and negative feedbacks are common elements. While resilience emphasizes the system, vulnerability often looks at individual actors and vulnerable populations. Agent-based modelling of vulnerability Agent based modelling ideas and techniques are relevant to understanding the particular vulnerabilities of food systems to global environmental change. Representation of actors and

6 their interactions with each other and the environment allow the analyst to explore alternative futures and resilience. Political ecology and vulnerability Political ecology fuses the understanding of culture common in anthropology with the analysis of the political economy, and environment as a third dimension. Political ecology focuses on the social relations that shape resource management and poverty. Methods emphasize cross-scale analysis and narratives the rich stories of relationships between people and with their environments. 5. Activities The principal activity was a concerted period spent by a PDRA (Dr Stuart Franklin) on reviewing and synthesizing appropriate literature and preparing the monograph, methodology briefs and EndNote archive. Two formal workshops were held: Oxford (September 2003), which reviewed progress and established an actor-based conceptual framework. Philadelphia (March 2004, in conjunction with the AAG meetings), which reviewed and compared progress between the ESRC and ICSECA funded projects, and designed an paper to integrate both projects. Presentations were made at the AAG meeting in March 2004, and at the EHB Workshop in May 2004, as well as the Scientific Advisory Committee in January The Briefs (see under Outputs below) served as the background to the report given to the GECAFS Scientific Advisory Committee in May Outputs There are three main outputs: 1. A Monograph Towards a narrative theory of climate change vulnerability (ca words) has been submitted to Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 2. A set of Methodology Briefs have been prepared: (i) (ii) (iii) (iv) (v) (vi) Choosing methods in assessments of vulnerable food systems Vulnerability, global environmental change and food systems Vulnerability indicators and mapping Resilience and vulnerability Agent-based modelling of vulnerability Political ecology and vulnerability 3. A comprehensive Endnote library of some 1500 references relating to vulnerability, food systems and political ecology. Most of the more important references have been annotated. The bibliography is posted in the reference section of the Vulnerability Network web site (www.vulnerabilitynet.org).

7 7. Impacts The UN-FAO have expressed interest in the Methodology Briefs, and this will be pursued as part of the ongoing collaboration between FAO and GECAFS. The material collected in the project helped inform a critical chapter of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment chapter on vulnerability coordinated by the SEI. Training courses on vulnerability assessment were developed for the National Adaptation Programmes of Action teams and related climate change projects, drawing in part upon the review of theory and its links to practice. 8. Future Research Priorities The next phase of research should test prototype, place-based methods for vulnerability assessment. The GECAFS activities in the Caribbean and southern Africa offer good opportunities to develop this, and will form part of the workshop scheduled for late 2004 in southern Africa. Further proposals are underway, especially with the European Commission.

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