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Academic Institutions Unite To Transform The UK’s Food Systems

A consortium of nine UK universities and research institutes, including Rothamsted, are to create a joint PhD training centre focused on developing the next generation of interdisciplinary food systems experts.

Part of £47.5 million of UK Government funding earmarked to transform the UK’s food chains, the £5 million Centre for Doctoral Training will be led from the National Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich.

Dr Mark Wilkinson, one of the team of Rothamsted Research scientists involved, said World Food Day was a fitting time to announce the ‘exciting’ partnership.

“Food systems are complex networks of people and activities that are responsible for ensuring that we all have safe, healthy and affordable food every day. For a sustainable food future, however, we will need cross disciplinary research that can approach the multiple challenges our production systems face from all angles.

“We are delighted, therefore, to have this opportunity to collaborate with such a variety of partners in the development of new talent to help deliver greater impact from our agricultural science.”

Called the ‘Partnership for Sustainable Food Future – Centre for Doctoral Training’, alongside the National Resources Institute and Rothamsted, the consortium will also call on the skills and experience of experts from University College London, Royal Veterinary College, Aberystwyth University, City University, University of Sussex, and Brunel University London.

Also involved is horticultural research institute NIAB EMR, and over 50 other partners from across business, government, and civil society.

Supported through the Strategic Priorities Fund of UKRI, the programme will focus 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.

Several aspects of Rothamsted’s research portfolio are involved, including livestock systems, bioinformatics, crop improvement, crop protection and soil science.

The Centre will train over 60 researchers to become future food systems leaders and innovators and house a ‘Food Systems Academy’, a dynamic learning network which will bring together doctoral researchers and their supervisors, with government, business and civil society organisations to co-design projects and help share knowledge.

“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,” said Professor Andrew Westby, Director of National Resources Institute and leader of the consortium.

“As a partnership, we are also excited to look beyond this Centre, 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 first cohort of doctoral studentships will begin in October 2021; with the call for applications announced soon.

The funding programme is administered by BBSRC, in partnership with ESRC, MRC, NERC, Defra, DHSC, PHE, Innovate UK and FSA. It is part of a wider £47.5 million interdisciplinary research programme seeking to transform the UK food system and is led by the Global Food Security Programme and supported by UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

The grant from UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund is a contribution of £5million and the Centre also benefits from significant additional contributions from the project partners, business, government departments and the charitable sector.

Source: Rothamsted