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A Vision for Transdisciplinarity in Future Earth: Perspectives from Young Researchers

by Marta G. Rivera-Ferre,a * Laura Pereira,b Timothy Karpouzoglou,c Kimberly A. Nicholas,d Sheila Onzere,e Wilma Waterlander,f Fawzi Mahomoodally,g Anton Vrieling,h Fola D. Babalola,i Caroline C. Ummenhofer,j Atul Dogra,k Aline de Conti,l Susanne Baldermann,m Chijioke Evoh,n Silke Bollmohr o

http://dx.doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2013.034.031, pp. 249–260

Published online October 1, 2013

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Meeting the demand for food, energy, and water as world population increases is a major goal for the food systems of the future. These future challenges, which are complex, multiscalar, and cross-sectoral in nature, require a food systems approach that recognizes the socio-ecological and socio-technical dimensions of food (Ericksen, 2008; Ingram, 2011; Rivera-Ferre, 2012). The United Nations' Future Earth Program aims to provide a new platform for consolidating the knowledge required for societies to transition to global sustainability (Future Earth Transition Team, 2012). In this paper, we explore how Future Earth could become a vehicle for inspiring the production of new research ideas and collaborations for sustainably transforming the future food system. We do this on the basis of a synthesis of views from 28 young (below 40 years old) food system scientists, representing five continents. Their expertise comes from disciplines including food engineering, agronomy, ecology, geography, psychology, public health, food politics, nutritional science, political science, sociology and sustainability science. This paper begins with an outline of the institutional framework of Future Earth and how it might support innovative transdisciplinary research on food systems, and the position of young scientists within this framework. Secondly, we outline the key insights expressed by the young scientists during the Food Futures Conference in Villa Vigoni, Italy, in April 2013, including the core research questions raised during the meeting as well as some of the challenges involved in realizing their research ambitions within their professional spheres.


Keywordsagri-food systems research, Future Earth, sustainability, trandisciplinarity


a * Corresponding author: Marta G. Rivera-Ferre, Department of Food and Environment. University of Vic. 08550-Vic (Barcelona), Spain; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

b Sustainability Science Program, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, USA

c Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden

d Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies, Lund, Sweden

e University of Minnesota, Community Food Systems Program, USA

f National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland, New Zealand

g Department of Health Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Mauritius, Mauritius

h University of Twente, Faculty of Geo-information Science and Earth Observation, The Netherlands

i Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa (CEEPA), University of Pretoria, South Africa

j Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts USA

k International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), India

l Department of Food and Experimental Nutrition, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Sao Paulo, SP, Brazil, and Division of Biochemical Toxicology, National Center for Toxicological Research, Food and Drug Administration, USA

m Leibniz-Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops Großbeeren/Erfurt e.V.; Institute of Nutritional Science, University of Potsdam, Germany

n Economic and Urban Policy Analysts (ECONUPA), USA

o Centre for Aquatic Research, University of Johannesburg, South Africa



Banner photos include a Cape Cod cranberry bog; a cranberry “screen house” used to grade fresh cranberries; farmland near Lake Placid, NY, in the Adirondack Mountains; Montmorency cherry trees on the Mission Peninsula of northern Michigan; the historic Round Barn in the South Mountain Apple Belt of Adams County, Pennsylvania; the “Sea of Grapes” district of the Lake Erie Concord Grape Belt, near Erie, Penn; a field of cabbages near Shortsville, NY, home to one of the world’s largest sauerkraut factories. All photos copyright by Duncan Hilchey.


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