Sustainable food supply chains: is shortening the answer? Maybe!

Short food supply chains (SFSCs) are increasingly getting attention in food systems research, owing to their rising popularity among consumers, producers, and policy-makers in the last few decades. Written with the aim to identify research gaps for the Horizon Europe research and innovation program, a new literature review provides a state of play of the definition and characterization of SFSCs, and of their sustainability.

Drawing on hypotheses about SFSC sustainability elaborated in an expert network in France, this review summarises a wide range of papers from various disciplines in the SFSC literature, written in English or French, while specifically highlighting the empirical results derived from European projects. Though the literature tends to generally agree on the social benefits of SFSCs, their economic and environmental impacts typically elicit more heterogeneous outcomes, while their health/nutrition and governance dimensions remain under-explored.

Based on this review, recommendations for a future research and innovation program are outlined, addressing the contribution of SFSCs to agrifood system transition and resilience in the current context of the Covid-19 crisis and of the Green New Deal objectives.


First, the role of SFSCs in food systems transition should be addressed, in relation to their up-scaling. Quantitative data for research are not available. Second, the contribution of SFSCs to food systems resilience becomes particularly relevant in the context of the Covid-19 crisis: even if global chains have been resisting this unforeseen shock, their vulnerabilities have been highlighted (e.g., high dependence on logistics and on the hired labor force, among others).

Finally, this review calls attention to three main needs that could be addressed through coordination actions to better include SFSCs in their action program:

  • following the model of the EIP-AGRI Focus Group on short food chains, renewing a network of experts at the European level to make a qualitative and quantitative in-depth meta-analysis of case studies, expert reports, and surveys addressing sustainability dimensions, in order to propose a systemic and contextualized impact assessment of SFSCs, taking into account market and non-market based SFSCs;
  • through a larger mobilization of public training organisms, implementing appropriate and innovative training tools, devices, and methods to build the skills needed for SFSC development and multi-performance;
  • with the help of research organisms, better including SFSCs in European, national, and regional public statistics with relevant indicators.

Source: Chiffoleau, Y.; Dourian, T. Sustainable Food Supply Chains: Is Shortening the Answer? A Literature Review for a Research and Innovation Agenda. Sustainability 202012, 9831.

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