Transforming UK Food Systems: NIAB EMR joins consortium to create innovative Centre for Doctoral Training

16th October is World Food Day – and this year’s theme is ‘Grow, Nourish, Sustain. Together.’ It seems a fitting day to announce that a consortium of nine UK universities and research institutes, led by the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, has been awarded a prestigious grant from UKRI to create a Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) focused on developing the next generation of interdisciplinary food systems thinkers.

Food systems are complex networks of people and activities that are responsible for ensuring that we all have safe, healthy, sustainable and affordable food every day. Supported through the Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the £5 million programme focuses on the urgent need to transform the UK food system for health and sustainability, recognising the importance of food systems to economic growth and social wellbeing.

Called the ‘Partnership for Sustainable Food Future – Centre for Doctoral Training (PSFF)’, the consortium combines the world-leading interdisciplinary research skills and experience of: the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Greenwich, University College LondonRoyal Veterinary CollegeInstitute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth UniversityCentre for Food Policy at City UniversityUniversity of Sussex, and Brunel University London; and two leading agricultural research institutes, NIAB EMR and Rothamsted Research, plus over 50 partners from business, government and civil society.

“We are very happy to be working with influential partners in research and training, together with food systems stakeholders from all sectors, to develop the next generation of food systems leaders in the UK,” says Professor Andrew Westby, Director of NRI and leader of the PSFF consortium.

“As a partnership, we are also excited to look beyond this CDT, to have the opportunity to help shape a truly resilient, healthy and inclusive food system in the UK, working closely with government and the private and charitable sectors to make this a reality.”

The PSFF will train over 60 researchers to become future food systems leaders and innovators. At the heart of PSFF’s challenge-led approach is an open Food Systems Academy, a dynamic learning network which brings together doctoral researchers, their supervisors, and government, business and civil society organisations to co-design doctoral projects and to co-create and disseminate new knowledge with lasting impact. PSFF prioritises the student journey and adopts best practice in doctoral training, collaborating with the flagship BBSRC LIDo DTP.

Professor Melanie Welham, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)’s Executive Chair and Executive Sponsor for the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) Transforming UK Food Systems Programme said: “Our food systems are complex and interrelated, with inevitable trade-offs between costs and benefits, and competing priorities.

“As the UK changes demographically, technologically and socially, and in the context of grave threats from climate change and pollution, we must train a new generation of leaders and innovators who can bring new ideas, provide evidence, and safeguard values to bring about healthy people, a healthy environment, a healthy economy, healthy animals and a healthy society.”

Professor Guy Poppy, Director of the Transforming UK Food Systems Programme, said: “The need to transform the UK’s food system is essential as we build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic and try to ensure the health of humans and the environment. It is really exciting that more than 60 future leaders will graduate from the Partnership for Sustainable Food Future – Centre for Doctoral Training (PSFF-CDT). The level of engagement with key partners from across the food system fills me with confidence that those graduating will have a wonderful career ahead of them in which they can contribute to a healthier, sustainable and more prosperous UK food system.”

Professor Mario Caccamo, Managing Director of NIAB EMR: “The challenges in front of the global food security agenda are great: we must ensure that the opportunities that lay before us must be even greater! NIAB EMR is delighted to be playing an important role in helping train the next generation of professionals who will go on to address those challenges and deliver on those opportunities – this is a truly exciting programme which complements the CTP-FCR PhD training programme we are strongly involved with for the fruit sector.”

The first cohort of PSFF doctoral studentships will begin in October 2021; the call for applications will be announced soon.

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