University of Oxford: Major report points way to a more resilient UK food system

Summarising five years of research and containing messages focused on specific stakeholders, the report recommends three essential strategies for boosting resilience:

Robustness: resist disruption to existing food system outcomes
Recovery: return to existing food system outcomes after disruption
Reorientation: aim to accept alternative food system outcomes before or after disruption
Dr John Ingram, Coordination Team Lead on the GFS FSR Programme and head of the Food Systems Transformation Group at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute, said, ‘Together, the Projects have produced a rich and diverse set of outputs that help to further our understanding of how to move towards a more resilient food system.’

Among wide-ranging recommendations, the report says:

Government policy should take a whole food system approach across government departments and agencies;
Industry should address the negative relationship between food prices and system sustainability and resilience;
NGOs should play a more substantial, evidence-based role in holding government and business to account;
Finance and investment should include short and long-term financial stress testing of their portfolios, reflecting a wide range of exposures;
Researchers and funders will have an increasingly important role in helping to enhance the resilience of the UK food system.
Dr Ingram added, ‘What’s become clear, since we embarked on the Programme, is that there is no single route towards this goal. Furthermore, due to the complexity of the system, unless a systems approach is taken, actions to enhance resilience in one part of the system may not result in system-wide benefit, and indeed may even undermine another part.

‘Over the past five years, the Programme has successfully engaged with a wide range of food system stakeholders. We hope this distillation of the research into meaningful messages will aid those working in the food system to put many of the Programme’s insights into practice.’

The report outlines key issues, to boost research impact, including:

promoting a circular food economy;
removing barriers to stakeholder inclusion;
minimising ‘stakeholder fatigue’;
enhancing cross-Council, and UKRI-foundation collaboration;
maintaining the newly-found emphasis on food system research.
Dr Riaz Bhunnoo, Director of the Global Food Security programme, which coordinates official research on UK and global food systems, said, ‘The recent pandemic has underlined the importance of a resilient food system. With climate change coming down the line, it is more important than ever that we drive interdisciplinary research on food system resilience into policy and practice. The FSR programme has been instrumental in driving this agenda forward.’

The major research Programme, launched in 2016 by the GFS programme, comprised 13 interdisciplinary research projects research based in UK institutions.

The report argues that any debate around enhancing food system resilience needs to be framed by the answers to four key questions:

Where do we need to increase resilience?
What do we need to build resilience against?
From whose perspective is enhanced resilience needed?
Over what time period is enhanced resilience needed?
The Resilience of the UK Food System in a Global Context is led by the Global Food Security(GFS) programme, the UK’s cross government programme on food security research. GFS brings together UKRI councils, government departments and devolved administrations to improve coordination and collaboration. Further information can be found at www.foodsecurity.ac.uk.

The £14.5 million Programme was launched in 2016 and concludes in December 2021. It has been funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic andSocial Research Council (ESRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Scottish Government

Each of the 13 Projects has focused on one or more aspects of the food system:

Optimising the productivity, resilience and sustainability of agricultural systems and Landscapes;

Optimising the resilience of food supply chains

Influencing food choice at individual and household level to both improve health and enhance food systems resilience.

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