PhD position OT-14764

PhD proposition - Framework for assessing the metabolic vulnerabilities of agri-food systems and the role of livestock sectors

38402 St Martin d'Hères

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INRAE presentation

The French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food, and the Environment (INRAE) is a public research establishment. It is a community of 12,000 people with more than 200 research units and 42 experimental units located throughout France. The institute is among the world leaders in agricultural and food sciences, in plant and animal sciences, and is 11th in the world in ecology and environment. INRAE’s main goal is to be a key player in the transitions necessary to address major global challenges. In the face of the increase in population, climate change, scarcity of resources and decline in biodiversity, the institute develops solutions for multiperformance agriculture, high quality food and sustainable management of resources and ecosystems.

Work environment, missions and activities



  •  Context of the PhD research

Agri-food systems are subject to disruptions of increasing frequency and intensity, for example due to climate change, financial (e.g. 2007/08) or health crises (e.g. covid-19). These disruptions are likely to increase in frequency, intensity, and duration over the 21st century (Marsden et al., 2019). In order to provide agri-food system stakeholders with short- and long-term adaptation capacities, a key challenge is to better characterize the vulnerability of agri-food systems to future disruptions and shocks. In particular, the vulnerabilities of agri-food systems may result from the specialization and internationalization of supply and value chains (Clapp and Moseley, 2020). More specifically, agri-food systems may exhibit “metabolic vulnerabilities” related to the material and energy flows involved in the agricultural production, supply and food processing, use of products and by-products (for food or other use), and waste management (Bahers et al., 2022). Understanding how agri-food systems may be affected by metabolic disruption of material and energy flow is of primary importance to assess agri-food vulnerabilities. Identifying the levers to reduce those metabolic vulnerabilities in the context of climate change, rise in input prices or supply disruptions is also of key importance.

In agri-food systems, livestock sectors play a specific role in the organization of material flows. They require large amounts of land, biomass and energy but they also contribute to valuing plant biomass non-edible by humans and to the provision of the organic matter essential for soil fertility. Therefore, livestock sectors are particularly questioned in their contribution to the vulnerabilities of agri-food systems due to their land footprint, their increasing specialization, and their dependence on external resources or operators (e.g., importing soybeans for animal feed).


  • The aim of the PhD is to characterize the metabolic vulnerabilities of agri-food systems, and to specify how the livestock sectors contribute to them. The hypothesis is that these vulnerabilities depend on the type of livestock sectors, the integration between crops and livestock, and the connections between local production and consumption.
  •   Activities

The thesis will be articulated around 4 steps : 1) Development of an analytical framework to link vulnerabilities of agri-food systems and metabolic approaches at the territorial scale, based on a synthesis of the literature on the metabolism of agri-food systems, livestock sectors, and the vulnerability frameworks. 2) Operationalization of the analytical framework: choice of assessment dimensions (e.g. efficiency, autonomy, circularity, footprints, sobriety, embeddedness, competition of use) and types of trade-off between dimensions, indicators and data (from databases or surveys). 3) Characterization of the metabolism of the agri-food system and the place of the livestock sectors in three areas with contrasting densities and types of livestock, test the vulnerability assessment framework. 4) Scenario exploration (based on hypotheses of supply disruption or resource production reduction) with stakeholders in each of the three areas, to: i) test the contributions of the livestock sectors the increase or reduction of vulnerabilities; highlight levers and strategies to reduce vulnerabilities.




  • Supervision: Thomas Nesme (Bordeaux Sciences Agro, UMR ISPA) and Sophie Madelrieux (INRAE, ACT, UR Lessem).

Provisional advisory committee: Souhil Harchaoui (INRAE, Phase, UMR SAS), Marie-Angélina Magne (ENSFEA, UMR Agir), Sonia Ramonteu (ACTA, co-animatrice du RMT Spicee), Barbara Redlingshöfer (INRAE, ACT, UMR Sadapt), Jonathan Vayssières (Cirad, UMR Selmet).


  • You will be hosted by the Mountain Ecosystems and Societies Laboratory (Lessem:, located in Grenoble (France), within the multidisciplinary research team ASTRRE (economics, planning, ecology, agronomy, geography), that works on interactions between ecological and social systems in a context of global change.
  •   Special conditions of activity: travel by car to lead interviews/workshops (French or international car driving licence required)


Training and skills

Master's degree/Engineering degree
  •  Recommended training: master's degree/engineering degree in agricultural sciences, industrial ecology, ecological economics, or environmental sciences
  •  Knowledge required on agri-food systems, agricultural assessment, modelling
  •  Skills sought: organizational skills, interest in working in interaction with field actors, excellent writing skills, very good written and spoken English and French, autonomy, and creativity


INRAE's life quality

By joining our teams, you benefit from (depending on the type of contract and its duration):

- up to 30 days of annual leave + 15 days "Reduction of Working Time" (for a full time);
parenting support: CESU childcare, leisure services;
- skills development systems: trainingcareer advise;
social support: advice and listening, social assistance and loans;
holiday and leisure services: holiday vouchers, accommodation at preferential rates;
sports and cultural activities;
- collective catering.

How to apply

Send a motivation letter, a CV, a study report of which you are the author, a letter of recommendation

Audition date (if selected): June 8, 2022

PhD proposition.pdf - B

Offer reference

  • Contract: PhD position
  • Duration: 36 month
  • Beginning: 01/12/2022
  • Remuneration: 1975€ gross monthly
  • Reference: OT-14764
  • Deadline: 22/05/2022
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