Table 2. Characteristics of food systems that may indicate vulnerability.

Food system characteristic Potential links to vulnerability in the food system
Heavy reliance on external or distant resources Hard for consumers to react to production problems; more potential for weak links in the commodity chain
Low diversity in assets or entitlements Consumers have few options if regular food security entitlements fail; agricultural production is more susceptible to degradation or disturbance; the diversity of assets upon which to draw is critical to social adaptive capacity and ecological resilience
Inequity in either access to resources and/or the ability to take action to use or increase them Inequity is a sign of social vulnerability
Institutional weaknesses and low institutional capacity Institutional capacity is critical to management for both social and environmental outcomes; weak institutions result in poor management
Inflexible policy Adaptation in complex systems requires flexible management
Lack of functioning markets and low levels of economic activity Markets play a key role in food systems and ensure that demand meets supply; low levels of economic activity constrain access to food
Highly specialized production, supply, and marketing chains Highly specialized chains have low diversity, which is a key component for buffering against shocks such as production failures
Ignoring slow variables and only responding to fast triggers Ecological resilience depends on slow variables
Cross-scale interactions, including subsidies, that are poorly understood and lead to uncertainty and surprise Surprises usually lead to crises; uncertainty can paralyze decisions
Insufficient recovery from previous shocks that have reduced the adaptive capacity When the adaptive capacity is eroded, vulnerability is increased and resilience is lost when a shock or surprise overwhelms the system