001 - Systems Approach

Geographic Knowledge and Understanding

The merits of a systems approach (inputs, stores, transfers, outputs) to compare energy efficiency and water footprints in food production, and relative sustainability in different places.


Having the power over the system of food production can create greater sustainability.


  • To have knowledge of how a systems approach can be applied to energy efficiency and water footprints in food production.

  • To have an understanding of the advantages of using a systems approach when discussing food production.

Key Terminology

            • Systems approach

            • Water footprint

            • Energy efficiency ratio

Define the key terms above by using the 'Useful Links' below:

Useful Links

Activity One - Comprehension

Just like we have seen in Freshwater a farm can also be organised as a system with clear inputs, process and outputs. Systems diagrams help us to see if one area is impacted by something it could have a dramatic impact on another area of the system. Unlike we saw for a drainage basin a farm can have physical and human inputs into its system. A farmer ultimately needs to become the ecological dominant in the ecosystem of a farm to make sure it is not wholly dependent on the natural landscape or the weather to be profitable. Before we even look at the idea of a farm of as a system we need to have knowledge of the outcomes that a farm needs to function and what forms they take.

      1. What three outcomes does a farm need to be successful?

      2. Describe the three factors that impact the type of farm it becomes.

      3. Describe the factors which impact the inputs into a farming system. Make sure you give examples.

      4. What outputs occur in a farming system?

      5. Why are some of the outputs considered unintended? Describe the impact of the unintended outputs.

      6. Describe the way to measure the sustainability (energy efficiency ration) of a farm. Give examples of this.

      7. Why is farming a monoculture not sustainable?

                • Low species diversity

                • Chemical herbicides and pesticides - genetic resistance, death of desirable species, non-biodegradable materials in the food chain.

Useful Resource

'Our Planet's Food and Health' textbook by Codrington - Pages 33-37

Activity Two - Draw - Systems Diagram

Now you know what the inputs and outputs are in a farm we are now going to draw this as a systems diagram. Systems diagrams are useful to geographers as they help us to compare places.

      • Using the key words below create a systems diagram for a farm.

      • Add on arrows to show the flow of the inputs and outputs.

Key Words

Precipitation Planting Material Payment to Suppliers Capital Equipment

Farming Practices Farm Household Waste Products Solar Energy

Product Market Farming Produce Soil and natural vegetation Cash

Transpired Moisture Labour Moisture by evaporation and drainage

Social values and technology Moisture from streams and groundwater

Activity Three - Mind Mapping

We are now going to focus on the environmental problems caused by framing, how this is linked to a growing population and indicators that we can use compare the sustainability of food production.

      1. Collect a piece of A4 plain paper and a set of coloured pens.

      2. Write in the middle of the page 'Sustainability and Farming'.

      3. Use a different colour for each focus area below and write a description of how it impacts sustainability or is a measure of sustainability.

                  • Growing population - China

                  • Food Miles

                  • Water footprint

                  • Locally grown food

                  • Vegetarian Diet

Useful Resources

'Our Planet's Food and Health' textbook by Codrington - Pages 38-40

Jimmy's Supermarket Secrets - From Crop to Shop - Google Drive (Extreme Environments)

Water Calculator

How the myth of food miles hurts the planet - The Guardian or Shrink that Footprint - Food Miles

The Independent - Veganism - Is it really environmentally friendly?

Exam Style Question

"The further your food travels the greater the impact on the environment." Discuss this statement. [10 marks]

This lesson was development in collaboration with Richard Allaway from geographyalltheway. For more resources please visit www.geographyalltheway.com