Conceptual framework

The overall objective of SALSA is to develop a better understanding of the current and potential contribution of small farms and small food businesses to food and nutritional security (FNS) in an increasingly globalised and unpredictable world.

The SALSA project is transdisciplinary, involving researchers from different disciplines (sociology, economics, anthropology, geography) together with other type of actors (NGO members, innovation brokers, intergovernmental organizations and policy makers), working together and integrating their knowledge.

SALSA aims to identify effective ways to support the contribution that small farms and small food businesses make to food and nutritional security (FNS).

The project is underpinned by a transdisciplinary conceptual framework that aims to create a common understanding among all those involved in the project. This conceptual framework was collectively constructed and it provides the basis for building the analytical framework and methodology for both the collection and subsequent analysis of data.

The conceptual framework is an ongoing exercise which is continually tested against the issues that emerge during the implementation of the project.

Main concepts

The starting point is the assumption that FNS largely depends on the capacity of the food system to ensure access to sufficient nutritious and culturally acceptable food. Farms and food business are a central part of the food system and their productive capacity critically influences FNS.

Figure 1 – The link between small farms, the food system and food and nutritional security

SALSA’s conceptualisation of the food system builds on models developed by Ericksen (2008) and Ingram (2011), who argue that food systems consist of interacting actors whose activities produce outcomes.

Figure 2 Representation of a food system (Adapted from: Ericksen, 2008 and Ingram, 2011)

The boundaries of the system can be deduced by the tangible outcomes. The actors and activities that are included in SALSA’s representation of the food system are those that influence, or are influenced, by these outcomes. Consumers have a key role, as the satisfaction of their needs and desires is the criterion for measuring to which extent the goal (outcome) of FNS is achieved.

SALSA addresses the contribution of small farms and small food businesses to FNS through a regional perspective. The project is studying thirty reference regions, twenty-five in Europe and five in Africa. These regions are based on NUTS3 areas (for the EU) or their equivalent in Africa.

Definition of a small farm
While it is not easy to identify a common meaning of ‘a small farm’ in the European context (let alone the African one) we identify small farms as those of less than 5 ha in size and 8 ESU (which is equivalent to €9800 of Standard Gross Margin (SGM)).

In an increasingly globalized world, where household self-sufficiency is more the exception than the norm, the availability offood at a regional level, and people’s access to it, depends on the productive capacity of a region’s primary producers and the efficiency and effectiveness of trading activities.

Adapting a model introduced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), shown in figure 3, we conceptualise regional food systems as entities that exchange food with the outside world.

Figure 3- Representation of a regional food system (adapted from: UNEP, 2016)

At the centre of the scheme there is the food that is produced, processed and consumed within the region. According to our hypothesis, this is the area in which, small farming is prevalently located. Small farming is characterized by its interconnection and interdependence with farm households, and this implies that production and consumption coexist within the same organizational unit. The High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) (2013) developed a model that represents the flows between farm and household (figure 4).

Figure 4 – A farm-household model (From: HPLE, 2013)

When a farm household is connected to the food system, the farm both supplies food to the system and receives food from it. Therefore, farm households not only depend upon their own production for their own FNS but also on their access to the food system.

Based on the above-mentioned models SALSA has formulated three hypotheses to address its general objective:
1. Small farms are a significant source of sustainable food production within many regional food systems and hence contribute to the availability of food.
2. Small farms and small food businesses provide both food and income for rural households in regional food systems and contribute to regions’ access to food.
3. Small farms and small food businesses contribute significantly to the diversity of food systems, and hence their resilience and stability.

© Mark Redman (Heading Photo)