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
 
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.
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