We are an open, research cluster exploring ways to feed a growing population sustainably within a changing environment. The University of Nottingham has over 250 researchers working on questions across the food system, spanning five faculties. The Future Food Beacon focuses this breadth and depth of expertise to generate transdisciplinary solutions to questions of future food security.
By 2050 we expect the global population to have increased by another 2 billion people. Simultaneously, global food production is expected to decrease by 34% of current levels due to climate change. As a global population, we currently battle the double burden of malnutrition: from inadequate access to nutritious foods and from foods lacking in micronutrients. Hunger and obesity are both symptoms of the current system. Further, our food system is contributing 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and leading to significant losses in both bio and geodiversity. We need to rethink how we feed ourselves; for our health and the health of the planet.
Established in 2017, the Future Food Beacon brings together researchers from diverse disciplines throughout the University working on challenges across the food system, particularly focused on UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 – zero hunger. The Future Food Beacon is a model for how researchers, producers, consumers and governments can work together to achieve secure, healthy and sustainable food systems by 2050. Our experts work in the fields of genome-enabled plant and animal sciences, cutting-edge nutrition science, food processing and manufacturing, and digital technologies. We explore the economics, legal, social, cultural, historic and ethical issues that underpin and shape food systems.
We are a unique open collective, connecting researchers, food producers, retailers, and consumers. We are committed to innovative, transdisciplinary thinking around food systems.
Our four research themes:
Future proofing agricultural systems
We need to prepare for unprecedented future challenges by creating resilient agricultural systems now. Our projects focus on crops that perform better in adverse conditions, developing solutions to the over-reliance of antibiotics in livestock production, and an understanding of the past to help shape agricultural practices for the future.
Food for health
Challenges for global population health abound. From the burdens of both under and over nutrition, to the problem of ‘hidden hunger’ (a lack of micronutrients in our arable crops) the costs of the food system to healthcare are numerous. Projects seek to better understand micronutrient deficiencies, find alternatives to animal proteins for food and feed, and develop tools to help policymakers manage population health.
Food for sustainable livelihoods
90% of the world’s farmers are small holders. Many live in situations of poverty. Adding value to the products farmers sell can vastly improve their livelihoods. We are working with producers of cocoa, swamp taro, Brassica rapa, and pearl millet to find ways to add value to their raw products so they can achieve better prices at market.
Smart manufacturing for food
Technological advancements are rapidly changing the ways we process and manufacture food. These can transform how food is made, from resource use and food safety to sensory experiences, making our food healthy, sustainable and more enjoyable.
Committment to researcher development
Our research spans individual fellowships, funded research clusters, to multi-million pound externally funded research programmes. We work with partners across the globe, and are committed to knowledge exchange and capacity building.
We prioritise talent development, providing opportunities for researchers to concentrate on building strong research careers through mentorship, grant development, and focused research time. Three of our Nottingham Research Fellows have now been promoted into their Schools as Assistant and Associate Professors. In partnership with Rothamsted Research, we run the International Agricultural Doctoral Training Programme. Five excellent international scholars are chosen in a competitive process each year to undertake PhD projects in international agriculture. These PhDs work on questions of improving crops like pearl millet, rice and wheat; geospatial modelling of soil chemistry to improve crop nutrients; cadmium accumulation in cocoa; and the effect of insecticides on bees. Our third cohort of PhDs will commence their studies in October 2021. We are creating a pipeline of global food systems thinkers and future leaders.
Our work has implications for policy. We need to rethink food on a global scale. We believe this can be achieved by creating a food systems Innovation Hub in the UK to bring together researchers, business and social entrepreneurs. We must accelerate the adoption of sustainable animal feeds so that crops that could be eaten by humans are not fed to animals. We need to develop new technologies and business models that connect people to the food they eat, thus empowering consumers to make informed choices. We should tackle food waste by actively supporting and rewarding social eating and food sharing initiatives, connecting producers, supermarkets, restaurants, charities and local authorities with people who need to eat.
The innovative approaches we develop have the potential to shorten the time it takes to move from fundamental to translational research, enabling real-world impact. This is not just useful but essential in the face of the global challenge of securing a healthy, sustainable food supply for all in the face of climate change.
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