A Systems Analysis and Conceptual System Dynamics Model of the Livestock-derived Food System in South Africa
A Tool for Policy Guidance
Global food production systems are currently under scrutiny, in particular the health, nutrition, and environmental impacts of livestock-derived food (LDF). Despite South Africa’s recent socioeconomic transformation and increased per-capita LDF consumption, the triple burden of malnutrition persists. Policy responses to such complex problems often fail because of linear thinking with short-term goals. However, a systems approach helps identify root causes, feedback mechanisms, potential unintended consequences, and opportunities for integrated, durable solutions. Participation in the systems-thinking process improves stakeholder understanding and buy-in. Our participatory workshop facilitated the development of a systems map for South African LDF, identifying key system elements, linkages, and nexus points. The latter included climate change, land access and management, livestock management and productivity, farming systems, food safety, policy articulation, agricultural knowledge, and income. Based on these findings, and an overview of related literature, we produced a conceptual system dynamics model of the LDF system. We identified key variables and causal relationships, vicious and virtuous loops, system archetypes, conceptual stock and flows, and links to Sustainable Development Goals. The LDF system is complex and dynamic, with a dominance of commercial enterprises across agriculture and food retail, presenting barriers for small and medium-scale individuals. Other key elements relate to population growth and urbanization, land access, deregulation of international trade, climate change vulnerability, feed production limitations, and food safety. Our work provides a unique reference for policymakers, identifying the need for deep structural change, highlighting the possible unintended consequences, and thereby mitigating the risk of system destabilization.
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