The challenge

Food stands at the intersection of the most complex and intractable development challenges of the 21st century. 

The Greater Mekong Subregion, made up of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the southern Chinese provinces of Yunnan and Guangxi, is known as the kitchen of the world. But this area is undergoing rapid social and economic transformation which is putting pressure on regional food system​s.

Rapid development is degrading natural resources and undermining the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Vulnerable communities in rural and urban areas are pressurised by major agribusiness, and by changes in the way food is produced, bought and consumed. How can the region meet the intractable challenge of creating a sustainable food systems that meets different economic, social, nutritional and environmental development priorities?

Our approach

Our long term aim is to tackle this challenge by establishing an integrated interdisciplinary research programme capable of capturing the structural and institutional complexities of the food system. Through close international collaboration, we are working to strengthen the capacity of local partners to identify, assess and implement viable pathways for food system transformation.

Our approach addresses the entire food system - including food production, food supply chains, food-related health issues - together with the people who have the most influence on it, and are most affected by it.

This approach relates to several of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which are global goals that cover social and economic development issues. We are working to develop tools and methods to help national and regional policy makers and practitioners assess interventions to the food system.

Find out how we are working with partners to support food systems in the Greater Mekong Subregion:

York academics are currently involved in a number of externally funded projects in this research area, including:

"We're bringing together a world class research team from the United Kingdom and the Greater Mekong Subregion, working across different disciplines. We aim for our research to create a more sustainable food system, which will be good for the region, smallholder farmers, rich and poor urban consumers, and the rest of the world."

Professor Bob Doherty, Professor and academic lead


We are working in collaboration with a range of partnersOur group combines the interdisciplinary strengths of UK-based food systems research networks including N8 AgriFood, IKnowFood, Oxford University Food Systems Group, the IFSTAL Food Industry Training Network and the Hull International Fisheries Institute.

Our collaborators are from leading universities in the Greater Mekong Subregion, including:

  • Chiang Mai University, Kasetsart University, Khon Kaen University, Mahasrakham University, Thammasat University, Thailand
  • University of Mandalay, Yezin Agricultural University, Myanmar
  • National University of Laos
  • Meanchey University, Royal University of Agriculture, Royal University of Phnom Penh, University of Battambang, Cambodia
  • Yunnan Normal University, China

Supporting events

Ongoing workshops and events are informing and facilitating collaboration.

July 2018 - Thailand-UK Social Enterprises: Delivering Social Innovations workshop

In collaboration with our School for Business and Society, Thammasat Business School delivered this workshop which presented work looking at the success factors and challenges in managing social enterprises in both the UK and Thailand and strategies for achieving both commercial and social objectives.

The workshop was attended by leaders of social enterprises including Dairy Home and Local Alike and representatives of CP Foods and Central World group.

June 2018 - N8 AgriFood Conference 2018

Many of our collaborators spoke at this conference, which had the theme People, Health and Food Systems. Professor Jonathan Rigg, Director of the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, gave a keynote talk on “The future of smallholder farmers in Asia’s Mekong Region".

April 2018 - York workshop

Our partners from across the Greater Mekong Subregion and the UK met in York for detailed discussions on research questions, case studies and pathways to impact.

March 2018 - field visits and workshop

In March 2018, Professor Bob Doherty and Dr Richard Friend from the University of York visited Thailand, Myanmar and Laos to meet with stakeholders from local businesses, universities and other organisations.

December 2017 – field visits and workshops

Professor Bob Doherty, Dr Richard Friend, Professor Katherine Denby, Dr Samarthia Thankappan and Dr James Stockdale from the University of York, together with Professor Bruce Grieve (Manchester) and Dr Robert Newbery (Newcastle) visited Thailand to meet with Greater Mekong Subregion partners and stakeholders from local businesses, universities and rural communities.

Two workshops were held: the first focused on transformations in small-scale agriculture in the Mekong region and included attendees from Universities in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. The second workshop compared and contrasted the resilience of smallholder coffee farmers from Central America, East Africa and Northern Thailand, Myanmar. Both workshops were funded by N8 AgriFood programme strategic pump priming awards.