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Conceptual frameworks linking agriculture and food security


Many conceptual frameworks have been developed to facilitate understanding and analysis of the linkages between agriculture and food security. Despite having usefully guided analysis and investment, these frameworks exhibit wide diversity in perspectives, assumptions and application. This Review Article examines this diversity, providing an approach to assess frameworks and suggesting improvements in the way they are specified and applied. Using criteria-based systems modelling conventions, we evaluate 36 frameworks. We find that many frameworks are developed for the purpose of illustration rather than analysis and do not clearly indicate causal relationships, tending to ignore the dynamic (stability) dimensions of agriculture and food security and lacking clear intervention points for improving food security through agriculture. By applying system modelling conventions to a widely used framework, we illustrate how such conventions can enhance the usefulness of a framework for overall illustration purposes, delineate hypotheses on agriculture–food security links and examine potential impacts of interventions.

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Fig. 1: Framework from Kadiyala et al. linking agriculture with nutritional outcomes.
Fig. 2: Potential reference mode behaviours based on Table 1 from Kadiyala et al.
Fig. 3: Diagram modified from Kadiyala et al. using systems diagramming conventions.


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We gratefully acknowledge financial support from CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). We appreciate previous input from P. Thornton and J. Bogard.

Author information




All authors contributed to the development of the structure of the article and the criteria for assessment. C.F.N., B.K. and E.C.S. wrote the first draft, with subsequent input from the other authors. B.K. and E.C.S. developed the summary in Table 3, and C.F.N. developed the application of systems modelling tools to the Kadiyala et al. framework.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Emma C. Stephens.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Table 1 and Supplementary Fig. 1

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Nicholson, C.F., Kopainsky, B., Stephens, E.C. et al. Conceptual frameworks linking agriculture and food security. Nat Food 1, 541–551 (2020).

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