University centre will focus on finding sustainable ways to feed the world

World-leading researchers at a pioneering new University of Sheffield centre will work to tackle the problem of feeding the world’s growing population in a sustainable way through 12 ambitious research projects.

The Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures – which was set up thanks to a £2.6 million philanthropic donation from Sheffield alumnus Jeremy Grantham through the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment – has revealed its first key areas of study to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield, speaking at the Grantham Centre’s inaugural symposium.

The Centre, which will focus on advancing the science of sustainability and connecting it with the policy debate about how humans can live in a more sustainable way, will build on the University’s global reputation for research, particularly in areas such as food and energy and security.

As part of this mission, the centre will develop a team of young researchers across science, engineering, medicine and social science with the skills to become policy advocates.

The Grantham Scholars will be equipped to lead the changes in behaviour and understanding that are required to ensure a sustainable future.

Their projects will build on the work of the University’s established Project Sunshine. They range from studying plant and soil structures, encouraging sustainable shopping habits and examining political processes to building a small unmanned aircraft to locate weeds on farmers’ fields.

The Grantham Centre’s first projects are:

  • Assessing the impact of climate change on crop yields in Europe
  • Automating agriculture: using UASs to monitor for environmental and management benefits
  • Computational simulation of plant-soil-water processes for design of agricultural production
  • Delivering food security through small-scale farmers – lessons from Brazil
  • Global food security – identifying and isolating genes for engineering improved drought-tolerance of crops in a CO2-rich world
  • Improving food security by reducing loss to plant pathogens
  • Integrating quantitative and qualitative data for improved food supply chain analysis
  • New avenues to improve crops with C4 photosynthesis: How did nature build efficient C4 enzymes?
  • Reducing environmental impacts through sustainable food choice
  • Sustainable agricultural soil management by recycling algal biomass to land
  • The Big Seed Sunshine Project
  • The global governance of food security

The world-class academics who are supervising these projects last week discussed the scale of the global food security challenge and potential solutions during the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures’ inaugural symposium.

Dr Colin Osborne, Associate Director of the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, said: “It’s really exciting to have the Grantham Scholars beginning these ambitious and innovative projects to develop solutions to the problems of global food security.

“They are a new generation of researchers who will be trained as advocates for sustainability, as well as producing world-class research across science, engineering, medicine and social science. This first symposium was a chance for them to learn from current leaders in sustainability research, while thinking about the challenges our planet faces and how we can help to solve them.”

Professor Tony Ryan, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Science and the Director of Project Sunshine and the Grantham Centre, added: “The Grantham Scholars, supported by the Grantham Foundation, will become the leaders of tomorrow who make sustainability a reality.

“This is an extremely exciting opportunity for all of us who have been involved in creating Project Sunshine.”

Project Sunshine is a flagship programme within the University of Sheffield that aims to harness the power of the sun to tackle the biggest challenge facing the world today: meeting the increasing food and energy needs of the world’s population in the context of an uncertain climate and global environment change.

It unites world-leading researchers from across the University to develop new ways to use the sun’s energy more efficiently to increase food production and provide more renewable energy.

Jeremy Grantham, a world-renowned investment manager and co-founder, with his wife Hanne, of the Grantham Foundation, was brought up in Doncaster and graduated from the University of Sheffield with a degree in Economics in 1961. He received an Honorary Doctorate from the University in 2012.

The Grantham Foundation is based in Boston in the United States of America and is dedicated to raising awareness of urgent environmental issues and supports individuals and organisations working to find solutions.