Case study

Integrating Knowledge for Food Systems Resilience

Systems of food production, trade and consumption are increasingly vulnerable. Political, economic and ecological shocks, climate change, new farming practices and shifts in consumer behaviour can all affect our ability to put food on the table.

The issue

The UN expects global demand for food to increase by 60 per cent by 2050. As demand grows, our food supply systems will need to be better-equipped to respond to unexpected pressures.

The IKnowFood project aims to develop practical tools to enable farmers, processors, manufacturers, retailers and consumers to withstand shocks to the UK food system. We want to create positive social and environmental change to help meet our growing demands.

The research

The IKnowFood team is led by Professor Bob Doherty at the University of York's School for Business and Society and includes co-investigators from five academic departments at York, two research institutes and colleagues from the universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds.

We we aim to deepen our understanding of the UK food system and the global context in which it operates. We're working in four areas to unearth problems and develop interventions to improve resilience:

1. On-farm

We're working on low-cost sensor and automation technologies that enable farmers to manage the risks associated with production and natural resource management. Our collaborative approach identifies specific technologies and the drivers and barriers to their take-up and use.

2. Supply chain

Bringing together supply chain researchers and practitioners with political scientists allows us to develop new information and business decision-support tools for retailers and manufacturers. Data from a wide range of trade, industry and political sources is informing new practical interventions and knowledge that will enhance the governance of the food system.

3. Consumer

Health scientists, psychologists and computer scientists are investigating consumer beliefs, values and inequalities - particularly why population groups make different food choices. New knowledge on the lived realities of food poverty are informing policy interventions at a local and national level. In addition, we are designing practical applications and interventions using persuasive technologies to improve the health and wellbeing of consumers. 

4. Network

Working with existing industry, consumer, policy and research bodies, we will develop a multi-stakeholder food system resilience network. Comprising farmers, processors, retailers and consumers, we will use this network to share and test our results and practical tools.

The outcome

Bob Doherty speaks at the Coop's Future of Food launch

IKnowFood has already had impact in the UK and internationally, working with industry, NGOs and the policy community.

We've partnered with the Coop Food Policy team to develop and launch a new ‘Future of Food’ strategy.

IKnowFood is a collaborative research project to understand the obstacles to food system resilience. It will develop practical tools for farmers, retailers, manufacturers and consumers to enable them to respond better to the stresses and shocks on the UK food system.

Professor Bob Doherty
principal investigator

We're working with soy industry stakeholders to address the governance of sustainability in this high risk global value chain.

In 2019, an interdisciplinary workshop, sponsored by IKnowFood and N8 Agrifood, brought together some of the world's leading scholars, alongside soy food systems stakeholders, to share state-of-the-art research, civil society and industry perspectives.

We're involved in work for government, developing policy and informing debate on areas such as household food insecurity and international trade. We've given evidence on the impacts of Brexit to the Trade and the Commonwealth inquiry. Principal investigator Bob Doherty has been seconded to DEFRA as part of new science research programme to inform policy making on food systems.

We've collaborated with third-sector organisations, contributing to the Living Planet Report on Soy for WWF. Furthermore, working in partnership with Oxfam has led to the launch a new diagnostic tool for reducing inequality in global supply chains.

Featured researcher

Bob Doherty

Professor Doherty is the principal investigator on IKnowFood, a four-year, £3.4m, interdisciplinary research programme.

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