Creating a Toolbox for Food and Nutrition Security

Creating a Toolbox for Food and Nutrition Security

The aim of SUSFANS is to show how nutritional health and food production can be better aligned and to strengthen the existing computational models for key specifics of the EU food system. A core output of SUSFANS will thus be a Toolbox, integrating different agricultural, economic and biophysical models. It is developed within the Work package 9.

The toolbox

The toolbox will be capable of

  • Tracing nutrients in agriculture, fish, food and feed through the EU system;
  • Supporting foresight on EU diets and food production systems;
  • Capturing dimensions of sustainability by stage of the food supply chain (primary food production,food processing and consuming);
  • Providing entry points for policy and innovation by government, private sector, NGOs and the science community.

This ambitious aim will be achieved through input and output data linkages between the various models. The models in the toolbox cover all scale levels, including the global level, EU28, the sub-regional levels of EU4, national level and province level, household types (e.g. rural, urban) and the individual level and capture different time horizons (long-term, medium-term and short-term).
The SUSFANS Toolbox will interlink and enhance long-term models such as MAGNET, CAPRI and GLOBIOM and SHARP and short-term models of consumer behavior and diets. The newly AgriPrice4Cast-model by SUSFANS will help to understand short-term dynamics on EU agricultural markets, in order to support market surveillance and crises management. Other models used are the EPIC and DIET model.


The general approach to link assessment models within the SUSFANS toolbox is a “soft” one, i.e. onewhich does not aim at a (software-)technical integration but rather at linkages between the various components of the toolbox. This decision is based on the experience gathered by SUSFANS partners from previous EU research projects with a strong modelling focus (e.g. FoodSecure, AGRICISTRADE, SEAMLESS), out of the following reasons:

  1. The long-term models are already very complex modelling systems by themselves. They have been and are currently applied to a multitude of different policy issues related to the future of the global and European agri-food sector. Each system has its own proprietary software infrastructure and is contiuously developed. “Hard-linking” these models in a new, overarching software framework would involve efforts far beyond the budget and time horizon of SUSFANS;
  2. The long-term models in the SUSFANS toolbox are complex and continuously adapted; Other models are to be developed. The uncertainty and dynamics of models developments prohibits the development of a joint technical infrastructure in parallel without stifling conceptual progress;
  3. Beyond scientific soundness and relevance, the sustainability of the toolbox developed in research projects depends on the institutional setting in which the toolbox will be maintained and further developed afterwards. A hard-linked system comprising all the involved disciplines and “sub-model-systems” would not find such an institutional home.

Soft-linking models within a common conceptual framework allows researchers and decision-makers to fully exploit the complementarities and flexibilities in a modelling system while minimizing risks in terms of conceptual disalignment, a large software and ICT burden, and compromised transparency. We distinguish three types of model soft linkages:

  • Harmonization of scenario definitions. This will most often refer to relative changes of drivers between scenarios as definitions and data sources of model inputs differ.
  • Transfer of output data from one model to be used as input data in another model. This is likely the most important type of model-linkage as it allows exploiting the model complementarities.
  • Alignment of model behavior in overlapping model domains. Here, one either harmonizes structural model parameters that are comparable across models orsequentially calibrates one model based on the response behavior of another model.

How to solve linkage problems

The model outputs in the toolbox are mapped to metrics by taking into consideration each model’s comparative advantage compared with the other models. The models may nonetheless provide outcomes for variables and indicators which may partially overlap. Where this is the case, the outcomes of the model being strongest in the area under scrutiny are used.
Nevertheless there will be deviations of important outcomes. To clean them out, they will be traced back to the underlying structural or data reasons in discussions across modelling teams, leading to adjustments.

Testing - Is the Toolbox working?

The possibilities of the Toolbox will be shown in Case studies and scenarios. It will be tested by means of the case studies of innovation pathways in the livestock-fish supply chain and in the fruit-vegetable chain and will subsequently be documented in deliverable D9.5. During this phase of the project, the scenario work will start.

The Importance of the toolbox

The Toolbox will improve the evidence-base on SFNS, to the benefit of policy making. Environmental change, diet-related diseases, and globalizing food supply cause major challenges for SFNS of EU citizens. Policies to face these challenges need to build on past and current evidence and need to account for uncertainties and unforeseen developments in the future. Data and models can deliver such a scientific evidence-base. But if we accept SFNS as a policy ambition, it introduces a multi-dimensional concept into the policy cycle.
Possible innovations that are currently considered as case studies include:

  • Encourage human health and reduce the environmental impact by replacing animal-source food products with plant-based products or fish in human diets;
  • Avoid feed-food competition by feeding biomass to livestock that does not compete with human food production e.g. food waste, co-products or biomass from marginal land;
  • Reduce the environmental impact by increasing consumption of locally produced plant- sourced food;
  • Adjust diets to improve human health by reducing consumption of processed food (high level of salt and sugar), increase proportion of digestible fibre, and increase fruit and vegetable intake.

Generally, innovations can be taken up by the toolbox via a supply side / food chain side or a demand side route. In the former, a change in the use of inputs through for example a change in technology, affects supply of, trade and consumption of agri-food products. In the latter, the innovation is sparked by changes in taste of the wider public, which alters dietary choices and so production and trade of agri-food products. The innovations come about because of changing behaviour by producers (for example because of Corporate Social Responsibility considerations) or consumers (for example by being better informed on issues of health and environmental sustainability), and/or may originate  from  government  intervention  including  changes  in  regulation  or  financial  policy instruments (taxes, subsidies).


Read the paper:

Modelling Sustainability and Nutrition in Long Run Analyses
of the EU Agri-Food system: Work plan for the SUSFANS Toolbox