Food Security

, Volume 10, Issue 6, pp 1353–1370 | Cite as

Addressing food poverty in systems: governance of food assistance in three European countries

  • Francesca GalliEmail author
  • Aniek Hebinck
  • Brídín Carroll
Original Paper


Emergency food poverty relief is one of the possible entry points to understanding food poverty in affluent societies, whereas the visibility of food poverty relief initiatives has evolved, together with large-scale food recovery organizations and networks aiming at reducing and valorising surplus in food systems. There is a substantial diversity of actors and resources involved, resulting in differently shaped initiatives and programs. It can be described as a continuum encompassing third sector initiatives, large and small businesses, and institutional intervention programs: by bringing together institutions, companies, organisations and civil society, public-private food assistance addresses food poverty in a way that is not viable by any of these actors alone and by adopting context specific governance arrangements. This paper contributes to this debate with the analysis of governance relations in food assistance initiatives across different European countries (Italy, The Netherlands and Ireland). By approaching food assistance from a systems perspective, we further the understanding of these initiatives and their modes of governance. The case studies offer a mapping of food assistance by identifying functions and outcomes, actors and resources involved, and the links the initiatives have to those elements, thus highlighting where collaborative food poverty reduction takes place that goes beyond traditional boundaries. Food assistance initiatives are a civil initiated response shaped by and complementing the social welfare and food systems in which they are embedded. The interpretation of food assistance functions leads to challenging the boundaries of food assistance and potentially triggering innovative approaches to improving food and nutrition security. Discussions show that while they have managed to find innovative and collaborative governance solutions to address the very immediate issues rather effectively, they do not negate the need for food system transformation to address the ultimate reasons for food poverty.


Food poverty Food assistance Food systems Governance arrangements 



This research is part of the project “Assessment of the impact of global drivers of change on Europe’s food security” (TRANSMANGO), granted by the EU under 7th Framework Programme, theme KBBE.2013.2.5-01, Grant agreement no: 613532.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Agriculture, Food and EnvironmentUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  2. 2.Stockholm Resilience CentreStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Food Systems Group, Environmental Change InstituteUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK
  4. 4.Rural Sociology GroupWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands
  5. 5.Healthy and Positive Ageing Initiative, Department of HealthGovernment of IrelandDublinIreland

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