The University of Sheffield will have a key role to play in the newly established N8 Agri-Food Resilience Programme, which recently received an £8m match-funded investment by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). The collaborative research programme brings together eight research-intensive universities in the North of England – Sheffield, Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and York – to develop both technical and societal solutions to the global challenge of food security.
The aim of the programme is to ensure the stability and integrity of food supplies in the face of climate change, declining natural resources and rapid socio-political transformations. It will establish the N8 Research Partnership as a centre of activity in agri-food research in the North, connecting world-leading academics in the field with local, national and global businesses, policy developers, farmers and conservationists. The programme comprises three interconnected work themes:
Sustainable Food Production: Precision agriculture, soil regeneration, resilient and productive crops and livestock, novel diagnostics, predictive modelling and ‘omics’ to promote resilient, sustainable food production.
Academic lead: Professor Les Firbank (University of Leeds).
Resilient Food Supply Chains: Adapting food supply systems to deliver increased resilience and nutrition while improving public health, reducing environmental impacts and sustaining economies.
Academic lead: Professor Steve Banwart (University of Sheffield).
Improved Nutrition and Consumer Behaviours: Lowering the burden of food production and distribution on the natural environment through changes in behaviour, diet and other socio-economic factors.
Academic lead: Professor Jason Halford (University of Liverpool).
This multi-disciplinary initiative will build on the N8’s research strengths in science, engineering and the social sciences to address complex and urgent global challenges in food security, including sustainable food production, resilient food supply chains, and improved nutrition and consumer behaviours. The investment will be used to support joint academic and researcher positions across institutions and to build new strategic partnerships with businesses and policymakers.
At Sheffield, the P3 Centre of Excellence for Translational Plant and Soil Science and the Sustainable Food Futures group (SheFF), both part of the University’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures, will contribute to all three themes. P3 will address Theme 1, drawing on world class biology expertise to translate fundamental knowledge on plants and soil into new farming practices that link improved farm production with environmental improvement. SheFF will tackle Themes 2 and 3, bringing together wide-ranging expertise from across the University to analyse and improve food supply systems, exploring the impact both of human activity and of the environment on all levels of these systems, from farm to consumer.
Professor Steve Banwart, Chair of SheFF and academic lead for the programme’s ‘Resilient Food Supply Chains’ theme, said:
“This investment by HEFCE and the University transforms our ability to tackle the enormous challenge of food security. The necessary breadth of expertise from environment, social sciences, agri-technology and health sciences is enormous. The University of Sheffield has world-class strengths across these areas and it is inspiring and extremely exciting to have this research power harnessed within a single, concerted effort to develop new solutions to the food security challenge”.
Read more about the N8 Agri-Food Resilience Programme at www.sheffield.ac.uk/news