Dr. Afton Halloran
How it all got started: My upbringing in a rural part of Vancouver Island, Canada has had a deep and lasting impact on my interest in sustainable food systems. When I moved to the big city (aka Vancouver) to start my BSc, I remember being shocked that I would actually have to buy zucchini, apples and rhubarb – after all, I was used to growing it myself!
At 15 years old, I attended high school in Japan and lived with a host family in a rural farming village on the Bōsō Peninsula. This was the first of a multitude of significant and transformative experiences working, living and researching in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
As a naturally curious person my interests are many, but you can basically boil my main interest down to system change. System change is the process of addressing the root causes of social, environmental and economic issues, which are often intractable and embedded in networks of cause and effect. The system that I have dedicated my life to understanding and improving is the food system.
You see, the food system is really the mother of all global challenges. Our current global food system has, in many ways, delivered on providing enough calories to the majority of people on this planet. But, like many citizens and experts alike, I think we need to rethink what exactly we want the food system to deliver on today and in the future.
How can a systems perspective help? Well, unless we attempt to deal with the root causes of the major global challenges that we are experiencing today like malnutrition or climate change, we will only be mitigating the consequences of malfunctioning systems, or, inadvertently, providing cover for their failure. In doing so, we will cease to create the change we want to see. System change is not the only way of addressing social problems, but it does provide us with useful tools to understanding these problems and evaluating them, and sets out principles for achieving change.
Over the past 13 years, I have built up a robust background in the field of sustainable food systems. After all, in order to understand how a system works, you need to understand it from multiple points of view.
Consulting for impact: As an independent consultant, I have been advising intergovernmental and international organizations, companies, research institutions and civil society on issues related to sustainable food systems such as the future of food, the social impacts of food production, food culture/gastronomy and dietary shifts. I also moderate events and facilitate high-level workshops. My past and previous clients and collaborators include Stockholm Resilience Centre, Planethon, EIT Food, Centre for Food Policy at City University London, AirClim, DIIS, Nordic Council of Ministers Latvia Office and the Food Planet Prize.
I currently work as a core member of the healthy and sustainable diets team at the World Health Organization European Office for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases. I also consult for the World Bank, where I work with a team looking at land-saving, nutritious, climate-friendly and job-creating frontier agricultural technologies that can thrive in fragile, conflict-prone and volitile states in Africa.
For nearly four years, I have consulted on projects at the Nordic Council of Ministers, an intergovernmental organization promoting regional cooperation. My current work for the Nordic Council of Ministers focuses mainly on The Nordics programme and the Sustainable Lifestyles project. I am the host of the exciting Nordic Talks podcast.
I formally worked as an External Consultant to a project called the Nordic Food Policy Lab. One of my biggest accomplishments has been editing and co-authoring the Solutions Menu: A Nordic Guide to Sustainable Food Policy and the Cookbook for Systems Change: Nordic Innovation Strategies for Sustainable Food Systems. The Nordic Food Policy Lab Project came to a close in January 2021.
In 2017, I received my PhD in International and Paediatric Nutrition with a specialization in Sustainable Food Systems. My thesis explored the impact of cricket farming on rural livelihoods, nutrition, and the environment in Kenya and Thailand. I completed my MSc in Agricultural Development at the University of Copenhagen in 2012, specializing in urban agriculture as an urban land use in Tanzania and Copenhagen. I hold a BSc (honours) in Global Resource Systems from the University of British Columbia.
In addition to my academic credentials, I have worked for a number of impactful and prestigious organizations and institutions. From 2010 to 2012, I worked as an urban agriculture project officer and affiliated researcher for the Canadian NGO, Sustainable Cities International in Tanzania. Together with many other dedicated people, I was responsible for successfully incorporating urban agriculture as a land use into the Dar es Salaam Master Plan. Since 2012, I have been working on the topic of edible insects in sustainable food systems. I am a co-author of the most downloaded publication in the history of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. I am also the lead editor of Edible insects in sustainable food systems. From 2015 to 2016, I worked as a researcher for the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.