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Using landscape-thinking to close loops regionally

The potential for healthy people and a healthy planet

Theme Urban-Rural Circularity / Call i4CS Urban-Rural Circularity March 2023

This project envisions the transformation of food systems into regionally embedded, landscape-based, circular systems. This transformation holds the potential to strengthen connections between rural and urban environments, contributing to a vital circular economy, healthier lifestyles, and a biodiverse and climate-resilient landscape.  

Current food systems place a strain on the planet, and unhealthy dietary patterns have become a global burden of disease and mortality. To address these issues, the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems introduced the Planetary Health Diet (PHD), aligned with safe environmental boundaries for food systems.  

To create truly circular and sustainable food systems, the project aims to harness the potential of local landscape characteristics and prioritize nature-based solutions (NBS) to achieve the desired benefits for society, the environment, and the economy. 

Project Aim

The project employs a mixed-methods case study approach to explore the concept of a circular, nature-based region that supports a PHD. Focusing on a rural-urban region in the Netherlands, such as the metropolitan region of Utrecht or Arnhem-Nijmegen, the investigation unfolds in three key steps: 

Participatory Regional Design: Through collaboration with key stakeholders from both urban and rural areas, the initiative shapes diverse visions of a circular functioning region by 2050. This process delves into the landscape’s potential to provide the necessary nutrition for a PHD, establish regional loops in food systems, and identify promising nature-based solutions (NBS) for closing water and nutrient cycles.

Quantitative Analysis: Using the developed visions, the project conducts a quantitative analysis to determine the potential self-sufficiency and the required regional land-use changes. This step involves spatial analysis to calculate the potential contribution to optimizing water and nutrient cycles and providing locally produced food for the PHD (circularity index). 

Reflection and Identifying Barriers/Opportunities: Reflecting on the quantitative assessments of the visions within the participatory regional process, the team aims to identify barriers and opportunities to bring these visions to life, including the PHD. Considerations extend to the implications and opportunities from resource, landscape, and stakeholder perspectives. 

Based on these research steps, the project outlines pathways towards the desired 2050 vision, including crucial moments and interventions for various stakeholders.  

Research Team

Dr Martijn Kuller: Assistant Professor, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University 

Dr Ilse Voskamp: Researcher-Lecturer Landscape Architecture, Wageningen University, Researcher Nature Based Adaptation, Wageningen Environmental Research 

Prof. Yvonne T. van der Schouw: Professor Chronic Disease Epidemiology, nutritional epidemiologist, Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht 

Annemieke Kok MSc: Dietician, nutrition researcher, Department of Dietetics, University Medical Center Utrecht 


Martijn Kuller

Dr. Martijn Kuller | Universitair Docent | Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development | Faculteit Geowetenschappen | Universiteit Utrecht | m.kuller@uu.nl