Food Futures Gwent

A pilot project on transforming the food system.

What is the Food Futures Gwent pilot?

The food system in Gwent faces great change and uncertainty. We might see more rural small-holdings, more intensive at-scale production, more rewilded forest… and while climate change is starting to kick in, food prices are simultaneously of the rise.

Can food systems in Gwent adapt? Can local nature-friendly food projects work at a larger scale? Ultimately, how can we work together to transform the food system, to deliver sustainably for current and future generations?

In addressing the nature and climate emergencies, it is essential that partners across Gwent work together to understand and undertake a systems approach.

The Food Futures Gwent pilot is about transformation in action, turning visions into practical reality with all key players involved.

There are political, ecological and technical challenges across the food system in Gwent. All these call for radical policy changes and collaborative, integrated planning between the public sector, private sector and civil society. At the same time, there are emergent and creative opportunities for public services to build renewed relationships with communities and ecosystems, and tackle the barriers in the system. These challenges and opportunities are not only applicable to individual facets of the food system, but to the system as a whole.

The University of Manchester is working closely with Natural Resources Wales and its public sector partners on the Food Futures Gwent pilot. The pilot will take a ‘synergistic’ approach to transforming the food system, focusing on the findings and recommendations of the State of Natural Resources Report (SoNaRR2020) and the evidence identified in the Gwent Well-being Assessment.

What will the project achieve?

The project will give those involved the opportunity to work differently, taking a systems approach in a collaborative way. The lessons learned through this project can then be meaningfully applied and built upon; in other geographical areas, in relation to other planning functions, and in other ‘systems’ (e.g. transport, energy).

A suite of outputs from the project will be used to inform well-being planning and future delivery. These include:

  • Challenge mapping of food systems in flux, with sense checking from different points of view, building on the evidence base of the Gwent Well-being Assessment;
  • Synergy mapping, identifying visions and opportunities; and where different parts of the food system can be joined up and integrated;
  • Pathways mapping, identifying strategic actions for transformation in both the production and consumption aspects of the food system. This will provide models for planning, delivery and governance, and policy recommendations for long-term transformation.

The outputs from the Gwent Food Futures pilot will feed into the Gwent Well-being Plan.

How can you get involved?

Transforming the food system involves all stakeholders in creative strategic thinking, and we need your help to do that. You are invited to join this unique and creative project over the coming months in two ways:

  • individual or group interviews to help in challenge mapping and sense checking the current evidence base1
  • two half-day workshops, to undertake collaborative synergy mapping and pathways mapping, using interactive methods for creative thinking.

The Gwent Food Futures pilot marks the start of ways of working together to address cross cutting well-being challenges, using a stakeholder-led systems approach. We are looking forward to working with you.

Check back reguarly for details and updates.

For more information, please contact (The University of Manchester) or  (Natural Resources Wales).

Project aims

Generally, the project aims to demonstrate practical pathways towards more sustainable food systems in the pilot area of Gwent.

These will aim to connect each of the four domains – resources, ecosystems, social and economic.  

  • ‘Production side’ pathways for transformation: farming, landuse, food industry, exports;
  • Consumption side pathways for transformation: retail, catering, households, health, education;
  • Pathways for transformation on the overlap:  where Welsh produce goes directly to Welsh consumers, with social economic and environmental benefits.

Project starting point

Generally we start with the most topical questions for Gwent, its food systems and its natural resources. We look at the forces of change, disruption, risk and opportunity.  Then we look at the possible synergies between key players, and map out likely pathways.

This works at two main levels.

First, we work with farmers, food industry, retailers, health and education, consumers etc. Working through the Public Service Board, and initiatives such as the Food Safe Wales, this mainly involves on-site interviews and workshops.   We explore the potential transformation needed for the sustainability goals, and the net-zero and environmental land management agendas. In particular, we focus on the following key questions:

  • Who are the key players and stakeholders?
  • What are the main issues and challenges?
  • Where are the key problems and priorities?
  • When are the horizons for action – now, soon, later?
  • Which are the visions and options to be followed up?
  • How can action best be taken, or at least enabled?
  • How much resources might be needed and found?

Secondly, we take this to the national level of dialogue, with government, public agencies, businesses, civil society and community bodies, working with Natural Resources Wales, with a focus on the carbon budget and the forthcoming Food Bill.

Project scope

We are working on four main domains of activity, based on the NRW Sustainable Management of Natural Resource program -

  • Safeguarded Natural Resources
  • Resilient Ecosystems
  • Healthy Places
  • Regenerative Economy

In this short project, we focus not so much on technical detail, more on the bigger picture of transformation:

  • from short term opportunties to longer term systems change;
  • from local examples, to national policy, to global impacts;
  • from jobs and incomes - to communities and livelihoods;
  • from sectoral risks/opportunities, to what value-chain step-change.

What is a food system?

A ‘food system’ covers all aspects. In material terms it spans from land/energy /water, to production, processing, distribution, consumption, pollution and waste/recycling. In social/economic terms it covers health and education, industry and services, livelihoods, lifestyles, cultures and communities.

In practical terms, there are two distinct systems, with an important area of overlap:

  • Food production: farming, with land, energy, water, for domestic and export.
  • Food consumption: via retail and catering, to feed households, visitors, and other organisations.
  • The overlap, i.e local production for direct local consumption is, at present, a minority part, could well increase. 

Who is involved?

We aim at dialogue and engagement with stakeholders across the board:

  • Public sector: government, agencies, public services in health, education, housing; 
  • Private sector: farmers and landowners, food industry, visitor economy;
  • Civic sector: professions, food interests, academics, social & cultural organizations;
  • Citizen sector: consumers, social enterprise, community initiatives.

Our synergistic toolkit

In the Food Futures Gwent project, we connect environmental management with social, technology, ecology, economic, political and cultural issues.  Meanwhile, ‘grand challenges’ such as climate change or social inequality, are ever more inter-connected and controversial. What can be done?   

‘Synergistics’ – the science and art of working with synergies – has been developed for such challenges. It provides practical methods and tools, to help explore and enable the ‘collective intelligence’.  This can work in organisations, institutions, supply chains or value-chains, business / enterprise models, networks or communities. 

To mobilize such a collective intelligence calls for creative and visionary thinking. For this we use the synergistic approach and the Climate-Wise Toolkit, a flexible box of techniques, with four main stages:

  1. System mapping: the baseline syndrome and issues on the table;
  2. Scenario mapping: the drivers of change & alternative futures;
  3. Synergy mapping: design of opportunities, synergies, innovations;
  4. Strategy mapping: design of practical pathways, road-maps, policies & projects.

The scheme is very flexible: it can take hours, days, weeks or months, depending on time, people and resources.

The cycle can be more interactive, or more about desk-study, data-mining, expert debate, or stakeholder interviews. Overall, these tools help to explore ‘grand societal challenges’, to identify ‘what kind of problems’ we are talking about, and then explore ‘what kind of solutions’ are most useful.    

Visual thinking is at the centre of the synergistic methods and tools. The various practical guides here provide a series of templates and questions to be explored. 

Forces of change and opportunity

There are many forces of change and disruption for food systems in Gwent, and in Wales / the UK – along with new opportunities for a renewed relationship of communities, ecosystems and landscapes. These all call for ‘systems change’, i.e. transformations of social, technical, economic, ecological, policy and cultural systems.  These are some of the agendas on our table -

  • Food and farming: the agricultural landscape post-Brexit is highly uncertain, and much depends not only on local designations, but also international trade policies and markets. One likely effect is further polarization between intensive production, and extensive farming with ecosystems management, however the policy regime to support this has yet to emerge. 
  • Climate change impacts and adaptation: the Welsh landscape is set to change in the coming decades. There will be greater extremes of temperature, precipitation, storm and sea level rise: together with indirect effects such as pestilence, invasive species, ecosystems dieback and disruption, both on land and in water. 
  • Climate change emissions mitigation:  the current UK policy goals of net-zero are replicated in Wales with its unique situation.  There are far-reaching implications for transport, housing, commercial buildings, industry, waste management, and energy systems. 
  • Landscape as matrix: a growing realization of the unique resource of the Welsh landscape, with challenges and opportunities coming from many sides. In particular there is an agenda not only for the protected landscapes and ecological areas, but also for everyday landscapes in the urban and peri-urban areas.
  • Urbanization / gentrification / globalization: the current debate on housing and planning is indicative of a wider challenge, with new pressures for peri-urban or peri-rural housing, decentralized lifestyles, and the typical conflicts between local and global lifestyles and infrastructures.
  • Economics and livelihoods:  as the national geography continues to restructure around urban and global economies, the policy agenda for levelling up increases.  The effect of inequalities in housing markets, local jobs and livelihoods, rural communities, demographic changes, and public services and infrastructure, will bring added pressures. 
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted and perhaps accelerated some of these trends and pressures, whether or not it can be contained in the near future. As more work from home or remotely, or taking more ‘stay-cations’, rural housing has jumped in value, and many landscapes and natural resources are under new levels of pressure.