Knowledge for a sustainable world

Christopher J Turner

Food systems are complex networks of people and activities involved in the production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption of food. There is an urgent need to transform food systems to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and promote sustainable diets that are nutritious, healthy and affordable, whilst also recognising the importance of food systems to economic growth and social wellbeing.

Such change requires transformation leaders. To that end, the UK Food Systems – Centre for Doctoral Training (UKFS-CDT), led by NRI, aims to train the next generation of UK food system transformation leaders for a healthy and sustainable food future.

The UKFS-CDT is a new programme that provides a unique opportunity for transformative and interdisciplinary food systems research. The UKFS-CDT welcomed its first cohort of fifteen doctoral researchers to NRI in October, 2021. From 2021–2027, the UKFS-CDT will train over 60 interdisciplinary doctoral researchers, who will undertake research linked to the programme’s key themes: Healthy People: food environments, consumer behaviour, diets, nutrition and health; Healthy Animals: livestock health and welfare in sustainable food systems; Healthy Environment: environmental sustainability of food systems; Healthy Economy: food production, distribution, manufacturing and waste.

Alongside the programme, UKFS-CDT is building a transformative food systems community in the UK, with the vision of helping to shape a truly resilient, healthy and inclusive food system. This community is being created through the UKFS-CDT Academy – a dynamic learning network which provides a platform for collaboration around transformative food systems research by bringing together doctoral researchers, supervisors and over 130 Associate Partners from across businesses, government, and civil society.

The UKFS-CDT features a unique approach to doctoral training, with students recruited according to their aptitude for interdisciplinary food systems research, rather than on the basis of a PhD proposal. In year one, the students receive bespoke training in food systems at NRI in collaboration with the Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning (IFSTAL) programme led by Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute. This is followed by two four-month rotations with UKFS-CDT partners, where the students will undertake short research projects, or ‘kernels’ (one social science-based, one natural science-based). This unique approach is based on the principle of co-design, with project kernels developed collaboratively between Associate Partners from across businesses, government, and civil society, academics across the UKFS-CDT consortium and the students.

The UKFS-CDT is supported by UKRI’s Strategic Priorities Fund ‘Transforming the UK Food System for Healthy People and a Healthy Environment Programme’ and managed by the Partnership for Sustainable Food Future (PSFF). Led by NRI, the consortium includes: University College London, Royal Veterinary College, Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University, Centre for Food Policy at City University, University of Sussex, Brunel University London, NIAB EMR and Rothamsted Research.