26 March 2015 09:30

The N8 Research Partnership – which includes Lancaster University – has secured multi-million pound funding for a programme which is set to transform food security research in the UK.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has awarded The N8 Research Partnership – a partnership of the eight research-intensive universities in the North of England – a grant of £7,999,254 through its Catalyst Fund to develop its Agri-Food Resilience programme. This will be matched equally by the N8 universities.

A multi-disciplinary initiative, the Agri-Food Resilience Programme will build on the N8’s research strengths in science, engineering and the social sciences to address key global challenges in food security, including sustainable food production, resilient food supply chains, improved nutrition and consumer behaviours.

Through the programme, the N8 aims to combine world-leading crop and livestock research plus the facilities offered by six experimental farms across the N8 universities with the partnership institutions’ vast expertise in social sciences, including business and management, to create a single research initiative focused on ensuring the stability of national and global agri-food supply chains.

The N8, which harnesses the strengths of the greatest concentration of bioscientists engaged in agri-food research in the UK, will also work with farmers and other businesses to increase resilience and economic competitiveness, and develop new models and organisational capabilities for large scale, strategic research programmes.

Together, the N8 universities have an impressive track record in agri-food science, with more than 370 researchers working on projects in this area and a portfolio of £269 million of research funding over the last six years.

The University of York will host the N8 Agri-Food Resilience Programme on behalf of the N8 Research Partnership.

The Lancaster University group includes: Professor Bill Davies, Professor John Quinton, Dr Ian Dodd, Dr Mike Roberts, Dr Bronislaw Szerszynski, Dr Katerina Psarikidou and Dr Claire Waterton.

Professor Bill Davies of Lancaster University said: “This is an exciting time for those seeking to address what is a truly global challenge for society.

“Lancaster University is already working on a range of interdisciplinary food and farming issues. We seek to make our food system more sustainable, working locally and around the world on issues as diverse as increasing the productivity of novel crops and the efficiency of water and nutrient use in agriculture, reducing the environmental impact of the UK food supply chain and working to deliver healthy soils and a range of valuable environmentalist services from land use. UK researchers coming together through the N8 will certainly be able to make greater progress more quickly.”

Sir Alan Langlands, Chair of the N8 Board of Directors and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Leeds, said: “Food security is one of the great challenges in our increasingly urbanised and globalised world; the need to ensure food production and distribution is resilient and sustainable is an urgent task faced by governments, industry and society. This is a task beyond any single research group or institution.

“This Catalyst funding from HEFCE means that the N8 can now implement an integrated, large scale multi-disciplinary research programme which will make a major, long-term impact in addressing the challenge of food security.

“The N8 Research Partnership has great strength, expertise and resources to make progress in this area and our work will play a key part in the Agri-Food Resilience Programme.”

Professor Deborah Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at the University of York, said: “This exciting research programme addresses one of the major global challenges of our time – how to feed 9-10 billion people sustainably and equitably by the end of the century. 

“Expertise within the N8 universities, working in partnership with others across the region, will drive this agenda forwards and work towards novel solutions with international impact.  This award could not be more timely or more important.”

David Sweeney, Director of Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE, said: “This is an important collaborative project involving a strong partnership of universities with relevant and complementary expertise in research and knowledge exchange.

“Food security is a strategic priority for the nation. This investment will support higher education to deliver new translational research activity with business, and complements other agri-tech developments HEFCE is supporting.”

Since 2007, The N8 Research Partnership has delivered ground breaking collaborative programmes in research, equipment sharing and industry engagement.

It brings companies together across supply chains to combine capability to produce innovative products and services and through initiatives such as the N8 Industry Innovation Programme, businesses can connect with ‘unlikely partners’ to create new, step-changing innovations.

The N8 includes the Universities of Durham, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield and York.