Smaal, Sara

Smaal, Sara

Research Fellow

Social Sciences Unit at Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research, ILVO, Merelbeke, Belgium 

Research Interest

  • Bottom-up initiatives, community empowerment and place-based governance
  • Local food systems, urban-rural relations and food sovereignty
  • Participatory methods, interdisciplinary research and science communication 


I have obtained an academic background in Human Geography and Planning at Utrecht University (BSc) and the University of Groningen (MSc) in the Netherlands. During my student years, I have always enjoyed discovering the borders of my field by engaging in interdisciplinary education and research. I for example took part in the university-wide Honours Programme ‘Descartes College’ at Utrecht University and attended a summer school of the University of Pisa on food and innovation in rural transition in Tuscany. I am very excited to start with my ESR research project ‘Promoting environmental justice: Enhancing the resilience of local food systems through resourceful engagement of communities’ at the Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) in Belgium and to learn from and exchange knowledge with the researchers and practioners of RECOMS.

Project summary

Rather than viewing urban food strategies (UFSs) as the end product of participatory food governance processes, this study will be actively promoting them as denoting the start of ongoing, reflexive and open conversations regarding their implications and implementation in practice. This doctoral study project seeks to explore how European medium-sized cities that have developed urban food strategy (UFS) documents can 1) recognize and empower disadvantaged communities and less conventional urban food system actors to engage with food and challenge current food governance practices (resourceful), 2) foster and facilitate ongoing, accessible and representative networks of urban food system actors (collaborative), and 3) bring about meaningful urban food system changes (transformative) throughout their UFS dissemination and implementation trajectories. The empirical data-collection will consist of three stages: First, I will perform an exploratory document analysis of the UFSs of European medium-sized cities participating in the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact (MUFPP) and/or EUROCITIES working group food. Subsequently, I will assess to what extent and how the identified socio-environmental justice oriented ambitions of four medium-sized MUFFP and/or EUROCITIES Food cities in Flanders and the Netherlands are realised in the years after the document is published. Besides reflections of urban policy-makers and stakeholders that were closely involved in the UFS development process, the experiences, needs and views of less conventional and excluded urban food system actors will be taken into account in these assessments. Finally, based on the outcomes and gained insights of the preceding research, a participative tool will be developed and workshops will be organized in which both conventional and unconventional urban food system actors from Flemish, Dutch and/or English medium-sized cities that are about to develop or have recently developed a UFS are invited to test the participative tool and jointly explore strategies that set in motion resourceful, collaborative and transformative UFS dissemination and implementation trajectories.


Contact information

Burg. Van Gansberghelaan 115 bus 2, 9820 Merelbeke

Recent publications

Smaal, S.A.L., Dessein, J., Wind, B.J. et al. Social justice-oriented narratives in European urban food strategies: Bringing forward redistribution, recognition and representation. Agric Hum Values (2020).