SALSA is developing and testing a method for food systems mapping

Feb 23, 2017

Food systems are complex and diverse, consisting of a very large number of interrelated activities and actors.  In essence, food systems contain four organisational areas: the production, the processing, the distribution and the consumption of food (Ingram, 2011).

SALSA is adopting a systems perspective in order to explore

  • all these four dimensions of the food system which influence the sustainability of our food, nutritional security – the availability of nutritious and safe food – , access to food (which includes affordability), its utilisation and the stability of supply (World Food Summit, 1996; FAO, 2008);
  • the connections between these; and,
  • the particular role and importance of small farms and small food businesses in food systems (HLPE, 2013; Knickel et al., 2016).

The SALSA coordination team at Instituto de Ciências Agrárias e Ambientais Mediterrânicas (ICAAM) of Évora University, Portugal, has developed a method for food systems mapping with the goal of identifying similarities and differences in food systems, and as an entry point into a more in-depth assessment. The James Hutton Institute team in SALSA has developed this basic approach further into a food systems mapping toolkit.

SALSA’s research team has successfully tested the approach and toolkit in two international-level workshops. The toolkit proves to be very useful in stimulating highly interactive and very goal-oriented discussions in multi-actor stakeholder groups. It allows participants to jointly identify the key players and the connections in a regional food system (the ‘nodes’ and the ‘flows’), as well as the disconnections and underutilised potentials. Over the coming months we plan to use this approach to analyse the food systems in 25 European and 5 African regions in order to gain an entry point for in-depth qualitative and quantitative assessments.

If you are interested in our experiences with the food systems mapping toolkit, please get in contact, preferably by registering for SALSA updates at


FAO, 2008. An introduction to the basic concepts of food security,

HLPE, 2013. Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security, A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, Rome

Ingram, J., 2011. A food systems approach to researching food security and its interactions with global environmental change, Food Security, 3(4). DOI: 10.1007/s12571-011-0149-9

Knickel, K., Correia, T., Almeida, M., 2016. Sustainable food and nutrition security: Is there a need to pay much more attention to smaller farms, smaller food businesses and local food systems? IFSA, Harper Adams University, UK,

World Food Summit, 1996. Rome Declaration of World Food Security. World Food Summit, FAO. 13-17 November 1996, Rome