27 March 2024

Strengthening the resilience of short food supply chains

Foundational infrastructure

The NICRE team has been investigating the role, and importance, of infrastructure for the successful operation of short food supply chains (SFSCs), shedding light on existing challenges and opportunities to build, and better support, localised food economies, writes Barbara Tocco, Senior Research Associate and Centre Manager at NICRE.

As part of our research project, involving colleagues from the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) at the University of Gloucestershire and Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy and Business School, we collected a significant data pool, including semi-structured interviews with agri-food practitioners and SFSC experts across England, to better understand how they recognise, and experience, different types of infrastructure for establishing and maintaining SFSCs. We shared the key findings from our research at a policy co-design workshop to encourage collaborative approaches and inform local and national policy agendas.

Co-designing priorities for future investments

Our participatory workshop, funded by Newcastle University's Policy Support Fund, brought together 30 experts from business and food sector networks, community and voluntary organisations, government bodies and academia, had the following two-fold objective:

  • Mobilise evidence and knowledge on infrastructure needs and unlock opportunities to build, and better support, localised food systems;
  • Influence regional/national food sustainability thinking, enabling networking and fostering collaborative partnerships.

The morning session focussed on evidence and knowledge exchange, comprising  talks featuring the latest empirical evidence and projects around SFSCs and infrastructure:

  • Infrastructure needs for SFSCs: evidence from agri-food practitioner interviews - Damian Maye & Barbara Tocco, NICRE (see slides)
  • SFSCs and marketing channels: evidence from NICRE's State of Rural Enterprise Farm Business Survey 2023 - Damian Maye, NICRE (see slides above)
  • Socio-technical infrastructures for public food procurement through SFSCs - Moya Kneafsey, Coventry University (see slides)
  • Developing a local food growth plan: emerging themes - Peter Samsom, Landworkers’ Alliance (see slides)

The afternoon session, dedicated to priorities and solutions, engaged experts in co-design activities.

In break-out groups, delegates worked together on different dimensions of infrastructure (physical, human, digital, social, and legal), building towards the identification of key challenges and opportunities for change. They then had to vote, and agree, on the best pathways and pragmatic strategies to establish successful SFSCs.

Outcomes and next steps

The event, which culminated with a final discussion on infrastructure priorities for UK regional/national policy, had a great turnout and proved to be well received by our delegates. We hoped this event would enable networking and foster collaborative partnerships between different actors working on regional/ national food sustainability agendas, and we received some enthusiastic feedback, suggesting it provided a relaxed yet stimulating environment for discussing new ideas, facilitating new connections, and build enthusiasm to ‘step up and make change happen’!

In terms of next steps, we are working on two main outputs:

In addition to knowledge exchange and partnership building between science, policy, industry, and society, we hope this research project will contribute to supporting policy actions to address existing infrastructure gaps and respond to some major regional/ national challenges, contributing to improve business resilience and wider community well-being, while accelerating the transition to more sustainable and inclusive food systems.

Stay tuned for our future outputs and if you’d like to find out more, contact the team via Damian Maye at dmaye@glos.ac.uk