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Equity and Justice in Food System Transformations


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

None, but Social and Gender Analysis for Sustainability and/or Qualitative Research Methods are recommended.


At a global scale, the food sector is one of the biggest contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions. It drives the conversion of swathes of land into farms often resulting in biodiversity loss. Intensive production in terrestrial or aquatic farms are tightly coupled with energy consumption, particularly fossil fuels. They also contribute to land and water pollution, further harming ecosystems. Despite technological improvements and modernisation in the food production sector, a significant fraction of the global population is food insecure or malnourished. In fact, the number of food insecure people has risen in the recent years at a global scale. Paradoxically, many who produce food for a living also struggle with food insecurity, malnutrition, and poverty.

In food systems, social and ecological sustainability challenges converge. Thus, calls for sustainability transformations in food systems have increased in the recent years. However, food system transformation that seeks to address sustainability challenges may risk privileging environmental goals over issues of equity and justice, when the latter goals are not explicitly analysed and included. A genuinely sustainable food system transformation needs to address both environmental and social sustainability goals.

This 300-level course is designed for in-depth engagement with the concept of food system transformation and re-centres the primacy of equity and justice in ongoing and envisioned transformation processes in both the Global North and the Global South. It will provide students a background on the concept of food systems and connects this concept with other knowledge areas that the students may have already studied in the major such as biodiversity, ecosystem services, climate change, and energy. It then introduces students to the concepts of transformation, equity, and social justice.

In this course, we will learn about the key food system transformation processes that have historically unfolded at a global scale. We will explore how these processes relate to the appropriation of various natural resources such as energy, land, and water. We will explore current discourses and future visions around food system transformation as pathways for sustainability. We will then bring in critical perspectives and examine whether and how equity and justice are recognised and pursued in transformation processes. We will operationalise these concepts by exploring how they have been applied in analysing food system transformations in the context of high, middle, and low income countries. Students will then work with cases in high, middle, and low income countries to analyse ongoing or envisioned food transformation processes using the concepts of equity and justice as analytical lens and provide actionable recommendations based on their analyses.

Course Objectives

At the end of the course, students shall have acquired the knowledge and skills identified below.


  • Describe the concept of food system transformation;

  • Explain how food systems have transformed at a global scale and the attendant social and environmental sustainability challenges in such transformation processes; and

  • Discuss how equity and justice relate to past and ongoing food system transformation processes.


  • Critique transformation discourses in relation to how well they integrate an equity and justice lens;

  • Analyse an ongoing or envisioned food system transformation in a specific context either in high, middle, or low income settings; and

  • Propose strategic and practical ways for integrating equity and justice in food system transformation in specific contexts.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course is designed to foster co-learning and co-creation of knowledge between the instructor and the students. Thus, the students will play an active role in the learning process throughout the block. To this end, diverse learning approaches will be used for this course. These will include interactive lectures, after-class reviews, critical essays, coding of papers or reports, group discussions, in-class workshops, and group presentations. Attendance is required for all class sessions.

Assessment Method

The students’ performance in the course is evaluated through the following assessment points: in-class participation (consisting of participation in class discussions and complete submission of after-class reviews), two individual assignments, two group assignments, and a final exam. Every (part of a) day late for handing in assignments will result in a deduction of 2/3 of a letter grade for that assignment (e.g., B+ (on time) to B- (one day late) to C (2 days late) etc.

Students must complete all assignments and exams at a reasonable level (which is determined by the instructor). Unless there are extenuating circumstances, not finishing an assessment component will automatically result in an F for the whole course. Extenuating circumstances must be communicated promptly and documented if possible (e.g. medical certificate).

  • Assessment 1: In-class participation and a complete set of after-class reviews (individual)
    Weight: 15%, deadline: Weeks 1-6

  • Assessment 2: Thematic coding of selected literature (individual)
    Weight: 20%, deadline: Week 3

  • Assessment 3: Critical essay based on coded literature (individual)
    Weight: 25%, deadline: Week 5

  • Assessment 4: Analysis of equity and justice in food system transformation in a specific context (group)
    Weight: 25%, deadline: Week 7

  • Assessment 5: Presentation and facilitated discussion on highlights of findings (group)
    Weight: 15%, Week 8

Reading list

Please get a copy of the following books for the course:

  • Barrett, C. B., Benton, T., Fanzo, J., Herrero, M., Nelson, R. J., Bageant, E., ... & Wood, S. (2022). Socio-technical innovation bundles for agri-food systems transformation (p. 195). Springer Nature.

  • Anderson, C. R., Bruil, J., Chappell, M. J., Kiss, C., & Pimbert, M. P. (2021). Agroecology now!: Transformations towards more just and sustainable food systems (p. 199). Springer Nature.

These books are open access and freely downloadable online. An expanded reading list that includes required and recommended readings will be indicated in the syllabus which will be uploaded to BrightSpace a week before the start of the block.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Aisa O. Manlosa,


You will be required to read book chapters or scientific papers prior to the class sessions. Information about required readings will be indicated in the course syllabus a week before the start of the course. If you register for this course, you will be added into an MS Teams group when the block starts. Class materials and communication will be carried out through MS Teams. BrightSpace will be used mainly for uploading the syllabus and graded assessments.