A transition approach towards a sustainable and healthy food system: the case of the South-Holland Food Family

PMJM Huntjens, PJ Beers, Hans Koot en Eelke Wielinga
Soort object
The transition towards a sustainable and healthy food system is one of the major sustainability challenges of today, next to the energy transition and the transition from a linear to circular economy. This paper provides a timely and evidence-based contribution to better understand the complex processes of institutional change and transformative social-ecological innovation that takes place in the food transition, through a case study of an open innovation and food transition network in The Netherlands, the South-Holland Food Family (Zuid-Hollandse Voedselfamilie). This network is supported by the provincial government and many partners, with the ambition to realize more sustainable agricultural and food chains, offering healthy, sustainable and affordable food for everyone in the Province of South-Holland in five to ten years from now. This ambition cannot be achieved through optimising the current food system. A transition is needed – a fundamental change of the food system’s structure, culture and practice. The Province has adopted a transition approach in its 2016 Innovation Agenda for Sustainable Agriculture. This paper provides an institutional analysis of how the transition approach has been established and developed in practice. Our main research question is what interventions and actions have shaped the transition approach and how does the dynamic interplay between actors and institutional structures influence institutional change, by analysing a series of closely related action situations and their context, looking at 'structure' and 'agency', and at the output-outcomes-impact of these action situations. For this purpose, we use the Transformative Social-Ecological Innovation (TSEI)-framework to study the dynamic interplay between actors and institutional structures influencing institutional change. The example of TSEI-framework application in this paper shows when and how local agents change the institutional context itself, which provides relevant insights on institutional work and the mutually constitutive nature of structure and agency. Above institutional analysis also shows the pivotal role of a number of actors, such as network facilitators and provincial minister, and their capability and skills to combine formal and informal institutional environments and logics and mobilize resources, thereby legitimizing and supporting the change effort. The results are indicative of the importance of institutional structures as both facilitating (i.e., the province’s policies) and limiting (e.g. land ownership) transition dynamics.