An expert in food security at Lancaster University is helping food growers and researchers to exchange information through a new website launched by retailing giant Waitrose.
Waitrose asked Professor Bill Davies CBE, a Distinguished Professor of Environmental Plant Biology, at the Lancaster Environment Centre, to work with them and with their leading suppliers to develop a knowledge exchange portal.
The portal will put the Waitrose fresh produce suppliers in touch with researchers worldwide who are undertaking the most relevant work on sustainable agriculture.
“We know that in many ways, our food supply chain is unsustainable and not necessarily fit for purpose” said Professor Davies.
“So we are delighted to have the opportunity to work with a major food provider to discuss issues like food production and supply, countryside stewardship and sustainability.
“There are 14,000 growers all over the world who supply fruit and veg to Waitrose. What we are saying to them, whether they farm in the UK, Senegal or Chile, is that the latest knowledge in areas of concern to consumers, retailers and producers will be on the website for them to use.”
Suppliers and researchers are working together to produce accessible information in a variety of formats. Professor Davies believes that while growers will learn about useful tools and techniques, researchers will also gain understanding from this approach.
“We want to avoid a situation where a researcher does a great piece of science and shows it to a grower who says ‘that’s not an issue for us’. The more we can focus in on what the issues really are for the grower, the bigger opportunity we have to really make a difference.”
Technical Manager for Agronomy at Waitrose Alan Wilson said they wanted everyone to engage - customers, scientists, growers and the public. The aim was to publicise best practice.
“Bill’s role is to make sure that everything on the site is reliable and produced by the best people in the relevant disciplines,” he explained.
“We’ve been working with him for nearly ten years and the things we have achieved through Lancaster University have been groundbreaking. Academics and supermarkets have not always been natural bedfellows. Bill has made it natural and we are now using this relationship to open up relationships with other universities as well.”