Resilient food systems: co-producing knowledge and environmental solutions


The Mae Chaem district, Chiang Mai province, is a major source of food for the urban areas of Chiang Mai. Agriculture has dominated the local economy, particularly for the minority ethnic upland people, identified as among the poorest in Thailand. The district and Thailand are in the process of a dramatic and poorly understood transition from dependence on agriculture, with rapid urbanisation, expansion of industry and rural-urban migration. Agricultural production is increasingly dominated by cash crops, high levels of pesticide use, and land use practices that contribute to regional haze. For many households, small scale agriculture is not viable. However, other strategies are being taken up – including those that focus on low-input, self-sufficiency models, fair trade and social enterprise.

The concept of ‘food system’ faces disciplinary division amongst researchers and government agencies which is suggestive of the deep-rooted obstacles and the need for a shared conceptual and analytical framework. This project examines the rapidly changing food systems in Northern Thailand from production and farm management, processing, distribution, marketing and trade, to environmental management and consumption. It looks at the interlinkages and feedback loops between different components across scales, to identify pathways to transformations that are socially and environmentally resilient and just.

Aims and objectives

  1. Co-develop and refine concepts and methods for systems-scale analysis of the dynamics, vulnerabilities, risks and opportunities for transformation of food systems in Northern Thailand
  2. Analyse and assess rapidly changing patterns of agriculture, trade and consumption and their social and environmental viability
  3. Map food systems of Chiang Mai and develop Resilience Index and Self-Assessment Resilience Scorecard: Identify system thresholds and resilience - points of vulnerability and risk, and assess the implications of failure in food systems, and distribution of impacts. This tool will be transferable to other locations, providing a long-term practical planning and assessment tool to deliver improved social and economic welfare in the area and beyond
  4. Strengthen the capacity of local actors: i) Early Career Researchers in Thailand, to apply food systems approaches in their research, ii) poorer farmer groups, community and industry, to identify viable pathways for transformation of food systems iii) Consumers, to empower them to make better consumption choices
  5. Co-design recommendations for policy and practice for industry partners and government, farmer and community groups, NGOs and civil society to support their ability to meet Sustainable Development Goal Commitments around poverty, food, cities and environmental sustainability

Related links

To view a poster for this project please click on the link Chiang Mai pdf (PDF , 22,506kb)

Project activities and publications

A series of policy briefs have been developed which outline the key research findings and provide a number of policy recommendations. Click on the links below to read the briefs:

Policy brief 1 (PDF , 1,531kb)

Policy brief 2 (PDF , 1,086kb)

Policy brief 3 (PDF , 1,204kb)

Policy brief 4 (PDF , 1,072kb)

Policy brief 5 (PDF , 1,123kb)

Principal Investigators


  • Prof Bob Doherty (The York Management School, University of York)
  • Dr Samarthia Thankappan (Department of Environment and Geography, University of York)
  • Prof Rob Marchant (Department of Environment and Geography, University of York)
  • Pongtip Thiengburanathum (Chiang Mai University, Thailand)
  • Dr Chaya Vaddhanaphuti (Chiang Mai University, Thailand)

Newton Fund- British Council

  • Chiang Mai University
  • Thailand Environment Institute
  • The Regional Centre for Social Science and Sustainable Development
  • Chiang Mai University School of Public Policy

Related links

To view a poster for this project please click on the link Chiang Mai pdf (PDF , 22,506kb)