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European Week of Regions and Cities

#EURegionsWeekUniversity – Alternative and local food systems (ALFS) in a post-COVID-19 World

The COVID-19 outbreak stands out from previous global crises due to the rapidity of its spread and its all-encompassing disruption of supply chains. The agri-food system, in particular, has been impacted, from production to consumption, both locally and globally. From the sustainability transition perspective, it is important to examine how the innovations and coping strategies adopted by food system actors might facilitate – or hinder – the transition towards more sustainable food chains. Despite its global impact, the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to affect transition pathways in different ways, based on the local and regional economic and cultural context. While most research has analysed the impact of the pandemic on mainstream food systems, we invite participants in this workshop to explore how alternative and local food systems (ALFS) responded during the first year of the COVID-19 crisis and what the long term effects for resilience and sustainability might be.

We will attempt to explore:

  • the innovations and adaptations implemented in ALFS in different countries and the local and regional economic and cultural contexts;
  • how these innovations and adaptations are creating or supporting a transition in food production and consumption systems;
  • how the combination of social and technological innovation, greater citizen involvement and greater interest from policy-makers and large retailers in these systems is enabling ALFS to scale up and is leading new actors to adopt more sustainable practices.

We invite experts, food-chain actors, producers and consumers to join us in this exciting exploration, to share experiences and beliefs and to think together about the future. We plan to organise either a word-café workshop or a workshop based on visual methods, depending on the time and facilities available during the event.

Tue 12, October 2021
09:30 - 11:00 CET
Gusztáv Nemes, Senior research fellow, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Institute of Economics, Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.
Zsófia Benedek, Research fellow, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies, Institute of Economics, Agricultural Economics and Rural Development.
Yuna Chiffoleau, Research director, INRAE.
Steven McGreevy, Associate Professor, Research Institute for Humanity and Nature, Kyoto; in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research.
Simona Zollet, Assistant Professor, Hiroshima University.
Green Transition
Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP), European Regional Science Association (ERSA), Regional Studies Association European Foundation (RSA Europe)
English (EN)
Replay – English

Session summary

The session provided an opportunity to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on alternative and local food systems (ALFS). First, four presentations relating to a specific country or group of countries highlighted different dimensions: the resilience factors of farms engaged in ALFS, such as the diversity of products and outlets, the enthusiasm of consumers, and the innovations that have helped with facing the difficulties, from increased use of digital technology to the development of citizen purchasing groups. The discussions that followed, however, highlighted the fact that the popularity of ALFS is declining as the crisis continues, while the major economic players are tending to appropriate the public's increased expectations concerning 'local' products to consolidate their position. The session therefore led to questions about the role of public action, as wellas that of consumers and citizens, in ensuring that the crisis does not ultimately weaken small producers.

Take away message

The COVID-19 crisis was an opportunity for alternative and local food systems, which showed their capacity to adapt and innovate. However, the crisis is also a threat because it has both weakened some producers, for example those who had difficulty in using digital technology, and opened up a new avenue for innovation around 'local food' for the big players of agro-industrial model. Public and citizen support is needed to ensure that small producers do not lose out in the crisis.


"All countries are dependent on external inputs to feed themselves, but the crisis should lead us to question our dependencies more widely: even alternative and local systems are dependent on other territories, especially for inputs."