Food security and planetary boundaries: keeping our food systems in a safe operating space

Date & time

1–2pm 7 February 2012


Fenner Seminar Room Building 141 Daley Road


John Ingram (Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford)

This seminar discusses the two-way interactions between human activities related to food security (in the context of the ‘food system’), and environmental conditions (in the context of ‘planetary boundaries’).

Food system activities include: (i) producing food; (ii) processing food; (iii) packaging and distributing food; and (iv) retailing and consuming food. ‘Planetary boundaries’ define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planet’s biophysical subsystems or processes. If these thresholds are crossed, then important subsystems, such as a monsoon system, could shift into a new state. Such shifts have consequences for humans, including undermining the environmental conditions and natural resource base upon which our food security is founded.

The seminar will highlight the range of ways our food system activities contribute to crossing the planetary boundaries and introduce some of the impacts of crossing these boundaries for food security. It will also examine options to adapt our food systems to changes in environmental parameters, and to mitigate further deleterious changes.

About the speaker

John Ingram gained extensive experience working in East and Southern Africa, and South Asia in agriculture, forestry and agroecology research projects. In 1991 he was recruited by the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) to help organise and coordinate research on global change and agroecology as part of International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. In 2001 he was appointed Executive Officer for the Earth System Science Partnership’s Joint Project “Global Environmental Change and Food Systems” (GECAFS). On the close of GECAFS in 2011, he assumed a new role as ‘NERC Food Security Leader’. He is currently chairing the Local Organising Committee for the Planet Under Pressure conference in London in March 2012.

John is based in the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, UK.

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