SSAC Report - Scotland's food systems - the contribution of local production

1. Introduction and scope 

The main aim of this SSAC report is to summarise the scientific evidence which could inform the opportunities and risks of increasing local production and its contribution to Scottish food systems and to highlight barriers to scaling up that contribution. The scope of the work[1] was agreed with policy officials from the Scottish Government’s (SG) Food and Drink Division and should therefore be closely aligned to SG policy on food, including the GFNA. The plans prescribed by the GFNA will be wide ranging and crosscutting, taking into account a wide range of food-related issues that contribute to social and economic wellbeing, the environment, people’s health and physical and mental wellbeing, economic development, animal welfare, education, and child poverty. The Act also lays out a set of high-level principles that should be used when preparing the Good Food Nation Plans. 

SSAC adopted a systematic approach to explore the opportunities and challenges of developing local food production systems along with an appreciation of unintended consequences this might bring. We have used definitions of food systems and local production from United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and SG as follows: 

“the food system can be defined as the complete set of people, institutions, activities, processes, and infrastructure involved in producing and consuming food for a given population. This covers all stages of the value chain – from growing and harvesting agricultural products through to processing, packaging, transporting, selling, cooking, consuming, and the disposal of waste food and packaging.” (UNEP[2] 2016) 

Local food production is defined as food that has some or all of the following features: 

• ‘it is produced locally (this includes your, town, region or elsewhere in the rest of Scotland); 

• it has short supply chains (there are fewer steps than global and imported food between the primary producer of the food and the person who eats the food, this could include a farm supplying a local shop or supermarket).’ 

During the course of the SSAC study, it became increasingly clear that, since local production is only one part of a food system and the relative benefits (and beneficiaries) of investing in that part of a system vary between different locations, investing in other local food-related activities may be equally important. The language around ‘local food’ thus needs to be clear as to whether the intended beneficiaries of incentivising the growth of its contribution to Scottish food systems are local producers, local consumers, the local economy or a broader range of beneficiaries. 

1.1 Methods 

Experts from a range of academic disciplines were invited to join SSAC colleagues in forming a Working Group to conduct this study. The Working Group agreed the structure of a questionnaire, which was circulated to stakeholders (Annex A). The responses informed the format for a roundtable, which comprised of key stakeholders from across the third sector, academia, and public sector agencies. This sought to develop deeper insights to the challenges and opportunities ahead (Annex B). Finally, to establish an overview of existing activities and plans towards local food production and innovations, an in-depth study of good practice and evidence from the scientific literature was conducted (Annex E). The contents of this main report were agreed by the SSAC as a whole. 

[1] SSAC Food Systems Scoping Agreement 

[2] UNEP 2016 Food Systems and Natural Resources | Resource Panel

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