Sustainability with Professor Ian Dodd

Professor Ian Dodd

In the lead-up to COP27 in November, and with the imperative climate emergency, we thought we would speak to some of the talented minds at Lancaster about their areas of research within sustainability, and what they would like to see focused on in this wide-reaching topic.

This week, we have spoken to Professor Ian Dodd, a Professor of Sustainable Agriculture.

Can you give me a brief overview of your role at the University?

Apart from my research, I teach a 3rd-year module Sustainable Agriculture, direct the distance learning Food Security M Sc and also manage the Plant & Crop Sciences group in the Lancaster Environment Centre.

What areas of sustainability are you currently focused on in your work?

I am focused on trying to deliver “more crop per drop” within cropping systems. Globally, agriculture uses > 70% of the world’s fresh water, with unsustainable water use threatening vulnerable ecosystems and compromising food security.

What has been your biggest achievement this year?

It’s difficult to rank various achievements, so I’ll give a selection here:

· Successfully completing a major study on using different irrigation techniques in Ghana, which can sustain crop yields while reducing water use in important crops such as rice (the most water-demanding crop), which has led to follow-on funding this year

· Starting a new project with long-standing industry collaborators into more sustainable fertiliser sources, which is especially topical as synthetic chemical fertilisers have more than doubled in price over the last year due to the war in Ukraine

· Professional recognition of the impact of the research that I’ve done over the last 10-15 years via the Research Excellence Framework Impact Case Study on “More Crop per Drop” that I co-authored

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the work that you do?

Attracting funding for my work, and attracting and retaining talented researchers, is always a challenge, especially as agricultural research is not always prioritised as much as other research areas. Thus it is not always attractive to students.

Did you always want to work in the area of sustainability?

As a plant scientist, I am most interested in how plant root systems sense their environment and transmit long-distance signals to the shoot to regulate growth and water use. This sounds quite academic and removed from paradigms of sustainability, but fortunately, my interests in exploiting this basic science has allowed me to develop research that can be applied by farmers.

COP27 is in November 2022 in Egypt, what area(s) would you like to see being talked about more in order to help the climate emergency?

Water security for agriculture in the face of climate change. As part of an EU project on managing water scarcity, my colleagues in Belgium recently published a paper projecting that net irrigation requirements for European crops will increase by approximately 30% in the near future. Where is this water going to come from? Already many catchments are water-stressed and crops are suffering.

This challenge is particularly acute for countries like Egypt, where agriculture is almost completely reliant on irrigation from the Nile River, which has multiple water users along its length. My most recent PhD graduate was from Egypt, and she identified crop genotypes that could better regulate their water use when the air is dry.

What do you think is the role of Universities in sustainability and addressing the climate emergency?

Universities need to embed sustainability paradigms across the curriculum in all disciplines – it’s all very well to have a well-educated student cohort with an Environment Centre (where I work) but many decisions that impact upon sustainability are taken by business leaders or governments. These groups need to understand “sustainability science” to make well-informed decisions.

Explore our sustainability pages to learn more about Lancaster University's work in this area.

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