Transformation in governance towards resilient food systems


The dynamics of systemic societal transformations are not well understood, and the extent to
which such transformations can be governed is contested. This research paper is the result of
a joint effort among a small group of researchers to identify pathways for transformation
towards sustainable food systems, which are resilient towards shocks and towards climate
change in particular. Using empirical studies, both transformations in governance systems and
governance of transformations were investigated. These cases served as a preliminary analysis
to identify some of the trends and patterns that warrant further investigation. Not surprisingly,
transformational change in food systems is often triggered by a shock to the system, or by
increasing pressure to that system. But that alone is not enough to bring about a
transformation. A number of preconditions and conditions need to be present including
sufficient ‘wealth’ or economic and social capital in the system with resources that can be
mobilized, and sufficient flexibility in the institutional context to allow innovation to emerge
and gain strength. A particular area of interest that appears to stimulate transformations is
collective action, which often involves collaboration across geographical scales and interest
groups. The outcomes of transformations are complex and typically multifaceted, and can
take years to emerge. However, broadly speaking, the cases explored demonstrate that
governance is central to food system transformation both in terms of pre-conditions and
provoking processes as well as in the outcomes of the transformation itself. Food system
transformations in general appear to entail fundamental shifts in social relations and
institutions – in other words, the governance of the food system.


van Bers C, Pahl-Wostl C, Eakin H, Ericksen P, Lenaerts L, Förch W, Korhonen-Kurki K, Methner N, Jones L, Vasileiou I, Eriksen S. 2016. Transformations in governance towards resilient food systems. CCAFS Working Paper no. 190. Copenhagen, Denmark: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).


  • Bers, Caroline van
  • Pahl-Wostl, Claudia
  • Eakin, Hallie
  • Ericksen, Polly J.
  • Lenaerts, Lutgart
  • Förch, Wiebke
  • Korhonen-Kurki, Kaisa
  • Methner, Nadine
  • Jones, Lindsey
  • Vasileiou, Ioannis
  • Eriksen, Siri