IKnowFood: Integrating Knowledge for Food Systems Resilience

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Abstract

In this project we will support individuals and organisations across the food system to develop their knowledge of resilience. Producers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, policy makers and consumers will all have to change their practices and behaviours if we are to achieve a more resilient food system. Yet both trade-offs and tensions between these actors can easily arise. For example, forms of farming that can better withstand extreme weather events do not necessarily support the health and wellbeing of consumers, and may struggle to supply the volumes or quality standards demanded by robust global supply chains. To start to unpick this complexity, we will investigate the nature of resilience and how it can be promoted in three components of the food system: on farm; in the supply chain; and among consumers.

We will employ information technology to secure access to data that enables actors across the food system to gain the knowledge required to respond and adapt to emerging socio-economic and environmental change. Importantly, we will also go further, and look to develop a unifying understanding of 'food system resilience', complemented by tools and methods that can integrate the knowledge and perspectives of hitherto disparate food system actors. Through integrating knowledge, our aim is to remove some of the significant disconnects between various actors in the food system.

In three areas of focus, we will:

1) Work with farmers, scientists and engineers, to reform processes of technology development so that farmers' existing knowledge of farm resilience, embedded in their understanding of their soils, seeds and breeds, can be supported and expanded through the application of novel, low cost sensor and imaging technologies
2) Work with food processors, distributors and retailers, to undertake an integrated analysis of food commodity supply data and the political economy of production, consumption and trade, to identify contexts in which resilience can be supported within the distribution and supply system
3) Work with consumers through engagement with individuals and with population data, to better understand the drivers of consumer choice within and between socioeconomic groups, and the consequences for public health resilience.

By better understanding resilience in these three areas, we will develop decision support tools that draw on data from across the food system to identify and encourage complementarities - and minimise conflicts - between the choices and actions taken by different actors in the food system. To achieve this, we will translate existing agricultural sensors and engineering technology platforms to address the specific needs for the 'right data at the right time, in the right location and at the right cost', to reduce vulnerability increase resilience across the food system. In particular, we will:

1) Deepen understanding of the food system and how stakeholders differ in their ability to respond to crises and stresses within international food supply chains
2) Investigate how structures, institutions and information can support individuals, communities and organisations to think and act in response to different types of change that emerge within the complexity of the global food system
3) Explore how new forms of data, mobile technologies, institutional models and incentive frameworks can shape information flows and behaviour, enabling researchers, technologists and food system stakeholder resolve and respond in a timely fashion to pressures facing food consumption, production and trade
4) Provide a new model of food system resilience that sets an agenda for future interdisciplinary research and defines policy objectives for a resilient UK food system.

Technical Summary

Systems of food production, trade and consumption are increasingly vulnerable to interconnected political, economic and ecological shocks associated with climate, environmental and ecosystem changes, shifts in farming practices and consumer lifestyles, and globalisation. In this project, we use the concept of resilience to investigate the sources of these vulnerabilities and to produce datasets, information resources, engagement approaches and business tools that will assist stakeholders in developing mitigation and adaptation strategies. Although the concept of resilience is used widely in current academic and policy fields, these usages have generally failed to shine light on food system complexity and the borderless, multi-stakeholder and cross-scale challenges that arise within it. We understand this complexity in terms of the structures, institutions and information that connect or divide food system stakeholders, and define the opportunities and constraints that they experience. Specifically, in the project we explore resilience on farm; in the supply chain; and among consumers, in order to: (1) deepen understanding of the food system and how stakeholders differ in their ability to respond to crises and stresses within global food supply chains; (2) investigate how structures, institutions and information can support individuals, communities and organisations to think and act in response to different types of change that emerge within the complexity of the global food system; (3) explore how new forms of data, mobile technologies, institutional models and incentive frameworks can shape information flows and behaviour, enabling researchers, technologists and food system stakeholders to resolve and respond in a timely fashion to pressures facing food consumption, production and trade; and (4) Provide a new model of food system resilience that sets an agenda for future interdisciplinary research and defines policy objectives for a resilient UK food system.

Planned Impact

Our impact objectives will ensure that a new concept of food system resilience, associated barriers to resilience and policy objectives are effectively disseminated to all relevant external groups. We will deliver new and/or improved technology sensor and application technologies, ensure they can be taken up by end users successfully, and ensure learning on co-design in innovation systems for sustainable intensification is disseminated across the agri-technology industry. We will disseminate a decision support toolkit across a range of supply chain actors and ensure information on consumer resilience and food-related health literacy reaches community and public health policy makers. Furthermore the work will demonstrate effective mobile and ubiquitous platform technologies to support consumer decision making, and create user-centred designs that can support consumers. The outputs from this research will have direct relevance to different actors within the food system including; consumers and customers; farmers; retailers, manufacturers, processors, agricultural technologists, national, European and international food policy personnel; public health professionals; environmental agencies and NGOs.

Our methods to engage end-users for maximum impact will leverage an existing collaboration funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) hosted at York, which focuses on interdisciplinary approach to address key global challenges in food production, resilient food supply chains and improved consumer nutrition and behaviour change. This will provide the IKnowFood with access to 8 Knowledge Exchange Fellows working with businesses; databases to identify actors to participate in, disseminate and benefit from this research; and the opportunity to present research outputs at a series of industry engagement events. In addition, our Science Advisory Group will meet annually to advise on the direction of the project, and will enhance the project profile within policy, business and public discourse. One platform for user engagement will be the custom built website created for a general audience but with sections designed to guide different types of visitors to the information and outputs most relevant to them. The website will also provide a platform to link users with related projects and institutions including farmer practitioner networks and the newly funded What Works and Agri-innovation Centres.

We will look to influence the following stakeholders:
Farmers: All 3 Universities have strong links with various farmer networks and the N8 AgriFood Programme has provided a way of synthesising those links for impact on a wider scale. The NFU, CABI, ADAS, LEAF, the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) and Innovative Farmers all have strong links with the University of York around food production.
Suppliers and Retailers: York already has links with a number of networks including BURNS (Building Up Resilience in Supply Chains). This network involves producers, processors, logistics experts, manufacturers, retailers, think tanks (Food & Drink Federation), policy makers and NGOs. Plus we will work with the Institute of Grocery Distribution and The British Retail Consortium.
Technology Producers: The University of York's Digital Creativity Hub will ensure learning from information technology co-production will reach large scale technology companies like IBM and Google which have long-term strategic memorandums of understanding with York.
Agricultural technologists: The University of Manchester has strong links with agricultural technologists who will play a key role in the sensor and application technology developments.
Consumers: both York and Liverpool have direct links to designated consumer cohorts which will be used to disseminate key tools and findings. Furthermore they have strong links to policy groups such as Public Health England, Regional Health and Well-being boards plus Global Health Policy Groups

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Computer Generated Graphic of the Sentinel IoT Sensor Technology 
Description In order to share the concepts behind the Sentinel sensor-network research and vision, the research team have commissioned a CGI video of the technology for sharing with a wider audience and published this on You Tube. The aim being to elicit wider interest from both the agri-food community across the globe as well as the broader applications into disease management in medical and livestock duties. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2019 
Impact The CGI animation has subsequently been used in a BBC National news piece as broadcast on the Evening and Late Night TV bulletins on 23rd August 2019. 
URL https://youtu.be/RFkb5asvKmY
 
Description Linkages established across the project activities in the Global Food Security programme notably with respect to broader technology introduction into the 'PIG Sustain' project. Famer Innovation groups established and programme underway for integrating technologies from academia towards the defined needs of the farming groups. Associated GCRF Collective Fund bid, for SE Asia, now progressed into second round, for full submission May 2018.

Two of the systems developed within the project (i.e. lone farm worker app and veterinary database) are now being validated with farmers.
Exploitation Route Through existing collaborations with AB-Agri Ltd, SRCUC and Bristol Robotics Laboratory, via the BBSRC / NERC SARIC project.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics

URL https://iknowfood.org/
 
Description Initial discussions on the potential impacts of the project for technology introduction alongside AB-Agri, Syngenta, G's Fresh-Produce and Barways Ltd. A number of farmer application meetings have taken place in Yorkshire and the Scottish borders, with the result that the key potential technology areas have been identified for taking forward for trails with the farmer groups and developing the commercial impact, these include Active Multispectral Imaging sensors for crop stress (biotic ad abiotic) as well as early detection of wheat rust spores using Internet-of-Things technologies.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics
Impact Types Economic

 
Description Input to UKRI Agri-Food Strategy Panel on future research policy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
Impact The finding of the integrated biology, electronics engineering and machine learning technologies exemplified within the projects identified, and their impacts on the Agri-Food sector, have been provided as evidence for the future UK-RI strategy, for UK Global Food Security and supporting international development in the GCRF programme.
 
Description UKRI Agri-Food Horizon Scanning Exercise. Research associated with the project programme was selected as one of 5 topics for review at the November 2019 Agri-Food Strategy panel in order to determine future impact and influence on funding programmes in the area.
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Company Name FOTENIX LIMITED 
Description The Fotenix company was co-founded by the PI (Prof Bruce Grieve) and one of his ex-PhD students (Dr Charles Veys). The business has subsequently attracted ~£225K of Innovate-UK innovation grants (titles listed below) to develop and deploy 3D multispectral imaging instrumentation for tractor and robotic mounting, notably for ripening characteristics in soft fruits and biotic stress detection and identification directly on crop leaves. Innovate-UK Grants: (1) Co-ordinated technology development to provide an optimised and integrated system of leading vertical farming technologies, Project number: 25959, Competition: Productive and sustainable crop and ruminant agricultural systems (2) The First Fleet. The world's first fleet of multi modal soft fruit robots, Project number: 26836, Competition: Productive and sustainable crop and ruminant agricultural systems (3) Co-ordinated technology development to provide an optimised and integrated system of leading vertical farming technologies, Project number: 105141, Competition: Productive and sustainable crop and ruminant agricultural systems 
Year Established 2018 
Impact The business has just completed early stage sales of the instrumentation for laboratory use in plant phenotyping laboratories in IBERS (Aberystwyth) and P3 (Sheffield). It is now in the process of attracting Series-A venture funding, to grow the business beyond the current 1 full time and 3 part time employees. First field trials of the robotic mount technology will be undertaken in Spring 2020 with production-ready systems available by end of the same year.
Website http://www.fotenix.texh
 
Description BBC National News Bulletins (6pm Evening News and 10pm Late Night News) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Sentinel Networked crop disease sensor concepts were broadcast on BBC National news and relayed to the various BBC International web services, on the 23rd August 2019
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.dropbox.com/s/smmg64hlox3duph/vlc-record-2019-09-19-22h42m34s-Farming%20Technology%20BBC...
 
Description Phenom-UK Launch Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The 3D multispectral system research forms part of the original BBSRC Phenom-UK project proposal, of which the PI (Prof Bruce Grieve) was a co-author. The multispectral research and technology, as well as the subsequent commercial variant of the technology, in the form of products from the Fotenix Ltd spin-out, have secured a slot to be presented at the launch event on 11th February 2020.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.phenomuk.net/event/phenomuk-annual-meeting-at-national-physical-laboratory-teddington-fe...
 
Description Visit to potential collaborator, Ohio State University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Following some chance discussions at the poster event in the US-Aid & Grand Challenges Seattle Convening back in May, associated with the Sentinel project, Prof Enrico Bonello and Dr Anna Conrad (Ohio State University), and Prof Bruce Grieve (University of Manchester, UK) made good on their promises at the event and met for more detailed meetings on Sept. 12-13, 2019 in Ohio State in Columbus, OH. This was catalyzed by Enrico and Anna's work, alongside Chris Wiegman and Scott Shearer in the Dept. of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering at OSU, on drone suspended single point near-infrared sensors that can be lowered into the plant canopy. These are being developed as part of the GC 'Aerial Plant Disease Surveillance by Spectral Signatures' project at OSU. Where the overlap with the sensor engineering team at Manchester came was the unique ability offered by the drone suspended gripper at OSU to make high-resolution handheld leaf-level and / or active sensors into drone-compatible devices. This offers a very different crop surveillance opportunities to those typical provided by passive medium or low-resolution sensor systems that are typically mounted directly on agricultural drones. Of particular interest, was the potential to incorporate the next generation of close-proximity active multispectral imagers that are being developed at Manchester, which will also be equipped with combined fluorescence imaging and oscillatory modulation of the actinic light. Though computationally complex, the latter can be engineered from low-cost optical components, which then result in plants rapidly revealing their innermost metabolic processes. These techniques are particularly powerful for early identification of viral, fungal and bacterial crop stresses, but MUST be applied close to the leaf. They also provide complementary information on the spatial spread of diseases, which makes them particularly useful for viruses, like those causing Cassava Mosaic and Brown Streak diseases, that are expressed in different ways throughout the plant. However, as low-cost imaging systems, they only work in the 380-1100 nm wavelength range, which again made a nice complement to the 1300-2500 nm spot measurements being delivered by the commercial spectrometer module being used at OSU. The conversation led to idea of integrating of the next generation Manchester multispectral imaging modules into the drone-supported gripper / sensor module from OSU to create a very new range of crop disease sensing capabilities, especially in difficult to reach farming areas. We may be able to do that initially over the coming year, even if in just a crude way using undergraduate student resources in the first place.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019