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Publication | 14 April 2021

Understanding and managing trade-offs in food systems interventions: The case of Nakuru county, Kenya

Food systems around the world are facing unprecedented, interlinked sustainability challenges. As such, actions aimed at making them more sustainable inevitably encounter hard choices between multiple – and sometimes competing – goals. For example, efforts to boost agricultural production may damage the soil in the long-term. Yet, researchers and policymakers often downplay these trade-offs, which risks making the unintended consequences of interventions harder to mitigate. Therefore, as an increasing number of policymakers in Africa and Europe acknowledge the need for more sustainable food systems, the necessity to understand trade-offs – and how to manage them – is now greater than ever. In this paper, we draw on our research in Nakuru county in Kenya to understand the potential trade-offs and synergies between different policies and investments to improve people’s access to nutritious food. For instance, if not coupled with targeted accompanying measures, the enforcement of standards to enhance food quality and safety may end up marginalising small-scale producers and informal traders, and increase poverty instead of improving people’s diet. To avoid such unintended negative outcomes, we help policymakers understand and minimise the trade-offs of their interventions, while building on potential synergistic actions. This paper is part of a series on how the ECDPM’s food systems approach can support policymakers and practitioners in navigating complex choices, and making food-related policies and interventions more coherent and effective. This approach puts the spotlight on the analysis of power dynamics to understand what hinders or supports the transformation towards more sustainable food systems.

Understanding and managing trade-offs in food systems interventions: The case of Nakuru county, Kenya
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