Increasing resilience to water-related risk in the UK fresh fruit & vegetable system.

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment


The supply of fresh fruit and vegetables to the UK consumer is dependent on a secure supply of freshwater, both in the UK and in countries from which we import fresh produce. However, we grow these crops in the most water-scarce parts of the UK and import large volumes from water-scarce countries (such as Israel, Spain, South Africa and Egypt). This means that the fresh fruit and vegetable system is exposed to a range of "water-related risks", including drought and water scarcity, but also poor water quality, changing water regulations and risk to the reputation of retailers if seen to be "contributing to drought". Meanwhile, climate is changing; other demands for water (including the need to leave water in the environment to support the ecosystem) are increasing; and we are all being encouraged to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables as part of a healthy diet.

By using case-studies in south and eastern England and South Africa, this project will explore how and where the system is exposed to water-related risk (both now and in the future). It will seek to develop ways in which people and organisations (including growers, retailers, consumers and policy makers) can change their methods of working to reduce the impact of these risks on the security of supply, without causing unwanted impacts on others in the system or the environment. That is, making the fresh fruit and vegetable system more "resilient" to water related risk. The project team involves experts in plant science, agriculture, environmental science, irrigation technologies, applied mathematics, sociology and water politics to ensure a broad view of the issue.

Technical Summary

This project aims to increase the resilience of the UK fresh fruit and vegetables (FF&V) system (from grower to consumer) to current, and future, water-related risks. It is based around two case-study regions - S&E England (domestic production) and S Africa (imported production) as these are both important producing areas; are exposed to significant water-related risks; but have very different socio-political contexts. There are 4 key research questions:

1. How, and where, is the FF&V system exposed to water-related risks and how may these change in the future? The integration of sourcing data with vulnerability will allow the development of a set of scenarios of the water-related risks to the system describing how interacting, uncertain stressors and drivers of change might develop, and the consequent vulnerability hotspots, now and in the future.

2. What does a water-resilient FF&V system look like at a societal level? We will conduct workshops in S & E England and S Africa to build system models that allow for the exploration of resilience from diverse perspectives, and that help identify trade-offs and opportunities.

3. Are measures to increase water efficiency complementary with increased resilience? We will critically review the relevant options for a) water saving b) increasing marketable yield and c) increasing water reliability through grower surveys to evaluate the impacts on system vulnerability and resilience.

4. How can the FF&V system work together to become more resilient to water-related risks in the future? Using the system models (2) and responses (3) we will explore how the UK FF&V system may respond to water-related disruptions? How do different interventions affect the resilience of different stakeholders, and what are the trade-offs? What "off-farm" (e.g. governance) strategies can be applied to cope with, or adapt to, increasing vulnerability?

Planned Impact

There are five groups of non-academic beneficiaries of this project:

1. Regional water resource managers and regulators in the UK (especially the EA, SEPA, NR Wales and water utilities) and overseas (e.g. SA Dept. for Water and Sanitation) will benefit from an improved understanding of the importance of FF&V production in their region; a rational framework for incorporating resilience into long-term water resource plans for agricultural water management. We have established relationships with those organisations, e.g., CU are presently working with the Water Resources East Anglia project to provide agricultural water demand forecasting capability for strategic water resource planning in E England. EMR is working with Southeast Water to deliver water efficient technologies into commercial soft and tree fruit production. CU is also a member of the UK Water Partnership. Else is a member of Kent County Council's Water Task Group.

2. Growers: The grower-base for the UK FF&V supply includes those businesses growing in the UK; (increasingly) UK businesses growing overseas, often in partnership with local businesses, to supply the UK market out-of-season; and overseas growers. These growers will benefit from increased awareness of the resilience and financial benefits and relevance of "improved" on-farm water management approaches to allow them to make informed strategies for water management in a changing environment. We have existing projects with many of the larger UK-based FF&V companies including those who also grow abroad. Since its inception CU have been leading members of the UK Irrigation Association and we will use its newsletters and events to widen our reach in the UK irrigated FF&V sector. Our relationship with AHDB will widen access the entire GB horticulture and potato grower-base.

3. UK retailers of FF&V and their suppliers (including small retailers as well as the large supermarkets) are increasingly concerned over water-related risks in their supply chains and threats to continuity of supply. They will benefit from a sector-wide view of resilience to reduce risk to supply and maintain their sustainability credentials in the face of increasing exposure to water-related risk. We have worked with the retail sector on water related activities as well as water-risk studies with leading supermarkets.

4. UK consumers of FF&V will benefit from a more secure supply of healthy, nutritious FF&V with reduced impact on global water resources. We envisage that via an enhanced quality assurance and stewardship programme, consumers will be better equipped with knowledge regarding sustainable food and nutrition choices.

5. Food / Water governance and policy makers. Government organisations with responsibility for shaping policy on food and natural resources will have a better understanding of the potential impact of policy decisions on food security and environmental impacts, both at home and overseas. We have a track-record of working with EA, WWF, Defra and DFID.

Academic impact: Our project will develop resilience theory using water-related risks in the fresh fruit and vegetable (FF&V) systems in both UK and South Africa as a case study. "Resilience" is an evolving concept in the context of food systems. It is useful in guiding practical response to environmental challenges but requires clarity of definition. Within such a system, different actors hold different values, aspirations, knowledge, expertise and beliefs about the actions required to achieve 'positive' outcomes. We believe that resilience emerges in unexpected ways when 'home production' in the northern hemisphere is complemented by international production from the southern hemisphere. There are trade-offs between actors, and coping and adaptation responses may produce unexpected, or counter-intuitive, impacts on system wide resilience.


10 25 50
Description FAO-IPCC Expert Meeting on Climate Change, Land Use and Food Security 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact One hundred scientists, economists, and policy experts participated at this Expert Meeting to engage in a high level, globally oriented, forward-looking and multi-disciplinary scoping and discussion of the most critical issues facing land use and food security under climate change. The 3-day Expert Meeting was structured around a comprehensive review of the current knowledge and related issues that link climate change and land use and food systems. The Expert Meeting started with the review of the current scientific understanding of the impacts of climate on land and food systems, distinguishing clearly between climate-induced and human-directed drivers. The Expert Meeting then addresses the issues around mitigation and adaptation options for agriculture and other land use systems and the implications for food security both regarding synergies and trade-offs. Food security was addressed in broadest terms, going beyond food production, and covering the other dimensions as defined by FAO. The Expert Meeting also has a strong policy focus and discussed the role of socio-economic drivers and the inevitable trade-offs inherent among possible technical solutions required to meet the climate mitigation goals and safeguard food security.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017