A combine harvester gathering grain

Food Challenges

Food Challenges for the 21st Century - PG Certificate
Food Security - MSc and PG Diploma

One of the most significant challenges currently facing humankind is to make enough food, for an active healthy lifestyle, available to a population which will probably rise beyond 9 billion within the next 30 to 40 years.

Extra food must be produced against a changing climate and with reduced use of a range of resources required for crop production, nearly all of which are already in short supply (land, water, fertilisers, energy, labour). As economies in many countries grow, people want to eat more and they want to eat differently, often aspiring to a more meat-rich and resource-demanding diet. More and more people now live in cities and these social changes constitute significant challenges for those committed to supplying more good quality food to more people.

There are many factors that combine to impact food availability and the access that people have to food. Food production is prominent among these factors but we can also feed more people if we distribute food more effectively and waste less food. In addition, there is much concern over the deleterious effects of the food production system on the environment and we must work to make more food available in an environmentally responsible fashion.

In recognition of the importance of the challenges faced in providing food in a sustainable way, Lancaster University, in partnership with Waitrose, has developed this flexible postgraduate training programme at PG Certificate, PG Diploma and MSc levels.

Applications for Graduate School for the Environment courses must go through the Lancaster University Postgraduate Applications portal.

Tina Todorova

Tina Todorova

When did you know that Lancaster was the university for you?
The idea of the programme won me immediately but as soon as I met the team, I’ve realised how fortunate I am to take this incredible journey with Lancaster University.

How did the distance-learning help you in your daily life?
I wouldn’t be able to participate if this wasn’t a distance-learning programme as I have a full-time job and a fairly young child to take care of.

How did the staff at Lancaster help you in your studies?
The staff at Lancaster was brilliant from the beginning to the end. Extremely supportive, professional and inspirational. Words cannot explain how grateful I am to all of the staff involved.

What are you doing - or going to do - now that you have graduated?
I already have a well-established professional career but my recently gained confidence is urging me to pursue higher professional horizons.

Course Details

Our programme will equip you with the specialist skills and knowledge to engage with the challenges of making and supplying enough food to sustain an active healthy lifestyle for a growing population.

Taught at Certificate, Diploma and Masters level, our Postgraduate Programme is designed for people with an interested in the global food system and for professionals in the food supply industry. This exciting course explores important issues related to food security, including production, distribution, and waste.

Our programme is highly flexible so that you can fit study around your day job, as a distance learner.  Teaching is done largely online, all materials are supplied and you can work around them at your own pace.  You will also have the opportunity to meet us and your fellow students at short workshops during the year. 

You can select the level of Postgraduate qualification you wish to study from the following:

  1. Postgraduate Certificate: Food Challenges for the 21st Century
    This is made up of 60 credits of assessment (4 x 15 credit modules), which equates to 600 learning hours, studied part-time over a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 3 years.
  2. Postgraduate Diploma: Food Security
    This is made up of 120 credits of assessment (8 x 15 credit modules), which equates to 1200 learning hours, studied part-time over a maximum of 4 years.
  3. Masters: Food Security
    This is made up of 180 credits of assessment i.e. 1800 learning hours, studied part-time over a maximum of 5 years.  It includes a 60 credit dissertation project and 8 x 15 credit modules. 

If you initially enrol at PGCert level you may apply to upgrade to our PG Diploma in Food Security on completion of four modules at an average equivalent of a Pass grade, or our MSc in Food Security on completion of four modules at an average equivalent of a Merit grade. Alternatively, you may apply for direct entry onto the PgDip or MSc in Food Security and may exit early with an interim award.


A rolling programme of modules is offered across three teaching terms during the year. Each 15 credit module will normally be of 12 weeks duration. Our programme starts with a compulsory introductory module for new students.  This module covers a broad range of issues related to food security.  After that, you can select from a number of more specialist modules, taking between 1 and 3 per year. Some modules are only available at MSc or PGDip level and are compulsory if you are studying to MSc level (see table below). 

  • LEC.450 Food Challenges for the 21st Century - the Impending Storm

    The student will be introduced to key aspects of the food security challenge. They will explore the many factors that combine to impact food availability and the access that people have to food. In particular, they will study themes of food production, distribution and waste. Additionally, consideration is given to the environmental effects on food production and students will explore how we can work to make more food available in an environmentally responsible fashion.

    Throughout the module, students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the global food system and its component parts, understand the potentially conflicting impacts of making changes. On completion of the module, students will be able to participate in an informed manner in discussions/debates on food system issues; be able to raise the profile of issues within food chain companies, and increase the chances of changing food practices for the better.

  • LEC.451 Crop Production Science I

    This module will introduce students to the key factors impacting the growth and yield of a range of key crops. Studying this module will help students to appreciate the science behind vegetative growth, photosynthesis and production, to inform best practice across the different components of a supply chain. Students will also benefit from insight and knowledge from leading producers of these crops and scientists from a range of research institutions.

    The module focuses on the plant biology that is crucial in the regulation of plant growth, development and yielding. Students will learn the basic principles to enable them to intervene in the production process, to address the challenge of providing more good-quality, safe and nutritious food.

  • LEC.452 Environmental Stress and Crop Production

    This module examines a range of environmental stresses that crops are likely to encounter and explores the ‘yield gap’ between predictions for agricultural systems and farmers’ actual yield. Students will consider the mechanisms by which these stresses impact plant growth, development and yield.

    This will serve as a basis for understanding how to overcome these negative impacts by intervening genetically, or by changing the environment by modifying crop management. As a result, students will learn about crop management solutions, and the techniques by which crop genotype can be altered through plant breeding, genetic modification and/or grafting.

    Students will also look at current information on the magnitude of the challenges faced and adaptations that minimise the impacts of environmental stress, provided by leading scientists from a range of research institutions, along with growers of selected crops.

  • LEC.453 Plant Defence and Crop Protection

    This module examines how plants deal with biotic stress inflicted by pests and pathogens, how such pests affect crop yield and current and future possible control mechanisms. Students will examine a range of ideas and develop a wide knowledge of the subject, within three key topics: pests and pathogens, plant resistance, and pest detection and control.

    They will discuss different strategies used by pests and pathogens to attack plants, and the use of constitutive and induced defence by plants. In addition, students will become familiar with the regulatory environment. The research and analytical skills gained throughout this module are used to examine a range of approaches to control pests and disease. Students will also gain detailed, specialist knowledge, such as how to differentiate between crop protection strategies that directly target the pest and those that enhance natural biological mechanisms for pest control.

  • LEC.454 Ethical Food Systems

    This module encourages students to think critically about food systems and introduces them to the challenges of ethical food. They will learn to identify the actors and will explore key trends and tools. As well as exploring the future of food control, students will also examine food poverty, and transforming food systems.

    Ethical Food Systems allows students to research case studies and consider the wider issues impacting upon food systems. They will gain experience of explaining to those who work in the food chain what ethical issues are relevant when sourcing and selling food. Students will also develop their knowledge of concerns expressed about the conditions in which farm animals are kept, and major concerns about diet and human health. Finally, they will apply their skills and knowledge to consider the issues that may impact the future control of food.

  • LEC.455 Soil Science

    Soils are fundamental to our very existence, as a vital medium for food growth and a regulator of water quality and climate. Exploring concepts within three core topics – principles of soil science, soil biology, and soil management and global change – students learn about the importance and functions of a healthy soil system.

    They will develop knowledge of soil nutrient cycling, biodiversity, and water and carbon cycling processes. In addition, students will explore the issues and mitigation options related to soil compaction, erosion and water quality, and the challenges and threats faced by soils in the light of global change.

  • LEC.456 Literature Review

    PGDip and MSc only. Compulsory for MSc.

  • LEC.458 Crop Biotechnology

    This module will consider all aspects of agricultural biotechnology, from a basic understanding of gene function and methods for gene isolation, through to the production of commercial GM crops. Students will cover a range of examples of the use of genetic modification for pure research and for the production of improved crop varieties and will investigate the regulatory and ethical issues surrounding the use of transgenic plants in agriculture.

    The syllabus will be presented as a series of topics, each comprising several 'issues'. Each issue will include a short video lecture and supplementary learning resources. The material will be presented in a way that makes the material accessible to non-specialists.

    Students will learn to explain how genetic variation for a trait can be exploited for crop improvement. To this end, they will be taught to summarise the different approaches for introducing DNA into plant cells to make transgenic plants, and summarise the diverse applications of plant genetic modification in fundamental and applied research. They will also come to appreciate the different attitudes towards the adoption of GM crops and provide examples of commercial applications of GM crop technology.

  • LEC.505b Dissertation Project

    MSc only. Compulsory for MSc. 60 credits.

  • LEC.457 Data Collection and Analysis

    PGDip and MSc only. Compulsory for MSc.

    This module provides a grounding in statistics and data analysis for non-mathematicians, by starting with the basics then developing the skills required to successfully analyse data generated in future through dissertation projects.

    The module uses the open-source statistical package 'R' for analysis. The materials covered include describing data, producing figures, comparing differences between groups, correlation and associations, regression analysis and experimental design.

    The module also provides a brief overview of methods beyond the module to provide awareness and a direction for further progress.

  • LEC.459 Postharvest Physiology

    This module examines events that affect the quality and quantity of produce, both immediately prior to harvest and then postharvest. These include ripening, abscission and senescence.

    Consideration will be given to molecular, biochemical and physiological changes in fruits, vegetables and flowers. We look at how the mechanisms of storage and packaging can directly affect such processes, and the resulting quality and shelf life of the products that are available to consumers.

    The module also discusses modern-day concerns about food safety, food packaging, and food waste.

Module information is correct at the time of publication, but changes may be necessary, for example as a result of student feedback, Professional Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRB) requirements, staff changes and new research.

A timetable of modules for the coming year is available on request by emailing foodchallenges@lancaster.ac.uk

Time commitment and assessment

In line with standard University Postgraduate courses, each 15 credit module comprises 150 learning hours. This includes time for study, taking part in discussion forums, completing module assessments and attending short face-to-face workshops.

Assessments are submitted online and for each 15 credit taught module is typically comprised of two short answer questions, discussion forum contributions and a final 2500 word essay.

How to Apply

This programme starts in October each year.

Details of entry requirements and fees can be found on the University Postgraduate Courses webpage:

The Directors of Studies for this Programme is Professor Ian Dodd.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss the course in more detail, please contact the Programme team on foodchallenges@lancaster.ac.uk.

This course is supported by Waitrose.