sustainable agri-food research

Our people set out food security agenda in ambitious paper

In an agenda-setting paper in the journal Food Security Grantham Centre experts and University of Sheffield researchers present their vision for sustainable agri-food research. 

Their aim is to encourage the sustainable production of sufficient healthy and nutritious food to meet the needs of all of the world’s people, now and in the future.

Members of our Management Board Peter Horton, Peter Jackson, Duncan Cameron and Richard Bruce are all co-authors. As are Grantham Scholar supervisors Lenny Koh, Dan Brockington, Jurriaan Ton, Michelle Holdsworth, Steve Banwart, and Garrett Brown.

An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research

An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary thinking. It came about through the work of 7 departments in 3 faculties via the Sheffield Sustainable Food Futures group.

At the Grantham Centre we believe that interdisciplinary work is essential to a sustainable future. As such, most of our Grantham Scholars have supervisors from different disciplines. And our special research projects, like Many Happy Returns, also bring together people from across faculties.

Sustainable agri-food research

Described by the journal’s editor as a tour de force, the paper advocates a system-wide approach that integrates our thinking about all aspects of food production and consumption.

After providing a holistic model of the agri-food system and showing how it necessitates research in many areas, the authors propose 2 specific ways forward.

Firstly, a method for analysing and modelling agri-food systems in their totality. This would enable the complexity to be reduced to its essential components. In turn this allows its investigation by Life Cycle Assessment and related methods.

Secondly, a method for analysing the ethical, legal and political tensions that characterise such systems using deliberative fora.

The paper concludes by proposing an agenda for research that combines these two approaches.

Environment and health

Past research has focused on different parts of the system in isolation. For example, considering agricultural production only in terms of genetic improvement of crops, whilst ignoring environmental impacts of unsustainable practices or the effect on human health. Making connections between these domains suggests that what is good for the environment is also good for our health.

Reform of the way we produce and consume food is vital if we are to achieve just and sustainable outcomes. And Sheffield is leading the way in demonstrating how to carry out the interdisciplinary research needed to achieve this objective.

SheFF Director Peter Jackson is delighted with how the paper’s been received, it has already been downloaded 2,900 times. He said: “Food research can no longer be confined to disciplinary silos. Moving forward, we need to face the challenges of interdisciplinary working. Our paper makes an important step in that direction.”

Read ‘An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research’

Main image by Matheus Cenali from Pexels.

Edited by Claire Moran.