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Sustainable Management: Socio-Ecological Transformation of the Food System

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Sustainable Management: Socio-Ecological Transformation of the Food System


Between October 2020 and June 2023, the project "Socio-Ecological Transformation of the Food System" (STErn) is developing a political roadmap for the transformation towards a sustainable food system. The roadmap will identify short-, medium-, and long-term policy options for action in the areas of regionalization, the dietary shift toward plant-based diets, and the future of organic agriculture and food. It also discusses the role of the financial sector in transforming the food system.


Food systems around the world have changed dramatically in recent decades. During the so-called "Green Revolution" of the 1960s, new technologies and practices such as the use of high-yielding varieties, artificial irrigation, mineral fertilizers and pesticides proliferated. As a result, global food production increased significantly.

High intensification, however, also comes with serious social and environmental consequences. In addition, there is increasing pressure on natural resources and ecosystems from a growing world population. This entails a rising demand for agricultural products even outside of the food sector, dietary patterns changing toward more resource-intensive animal foods and highly processed products. In this context, diet-related diseases are also increasing at an alarming rate.

In recent years, political indicators have been set: The need for a socio-ecological transformation of the food system is clearly stated in the European "Farm to Fork Strategy" of 2020. The task now is to create a political framework that does justice to the complexity of the socio-ecological challenges. So far, this has not been the case: Food policy issues (agriculture, environment, health, food security, economic development, etc.) are fragmented in different departments and do not follow a coherent strategy. For example, agricultural policy support does not follow an overarching approach that takes into account the entire chain of agricultural production, trade, consumption, and disposal/recycling. Moreover, important sub-areas of the transformation of food systems - such as the promotion of plant-based diets - are not yet consistently on the political agenda.

Therefore, in the future, the focus must be on aligning our sustainability policy in a consistent manner. This requires a coherent roadmap for policymakers, including suitable instruments, transparent indicators and better participation processes. For such a roadmap, science-based findings are currently still lacking in some central sub-areas. This is where STErn comes in.


The project "Socio-ecological Transformation of the Food System" (STErn) is developing a political roadmap for the transformation to a sustainable food system between October 2020 and June 2023. The roadmap will identify short-, medium- and long-term policy options for action.

The focus is on four topics:

  • Regionalization: STErn examines to which extent environmental policy should attach relevance to the regionalization of nutrition and analyzes the possible effects of a stronger regionalization of nutrition in Germany. Based on this, it develops a concept for regionalizing the food system in Germany that is feasible and compatible with environmental policy.
  • Plant-based nutrition: The project will elaborate how to provide policy support for the shift to more plant-based diets. In doing so, helpful policy interventions will be identified and appropriate indicators to measure success will be developed and brought together in a strategy.
  • Further development of the organic farming and food industry: Scenarios and concepts for the further development of the organic food and agriculture sector are elaborated. These are not only aimed at agricultural production, but encompass the entire value chain and strongly integrate the experience of practitioners. Based on this, recommendations for action for politics, science and practice are developed.
  • The financial sector: As a cross-cutting issue, the role of the financial sector in the transformation of the food system is analyzed. Based on this, proposals are developed for determining sustainable investments in the food sector as well as proposals for improving the financing of sustainable production and processing concepts.

The political roadmap is being developed in close dialogue with relevant stakeholders in Germany, who are involved through interviews and workshops.

The role of Ecologic Institute in the STErn project

Ecologic Institute is responsible for the overall management of the project, which is carried out together with the Öko-Institut, BÖLW and e-fect. In addition, Ecologic Institute is in charge of some central work areas, in particular the development of concrete strategies and political approaches in the area of the dietary shift towards plant-based diets as well as the coordination of the "Roadmap of steps towards a sustainable food system" with concrete federal policy recommendations and impact indicators.


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Irina Herb
Stephanie Wunder
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