The world is fast approaching the limit of its ability to feed itself. This is one of the most significant threats facing humanity. However, it is also a problem we can solve. The Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield is committed to overcoming this challenge.
The agri-food system is under unprecedented pressure. A rising population, global demographic and dietary shifts are changing what food we consume and how we consume it. As a result this places greater demands on the systems that supply our food.
These major shifts are occurring in the face of depleting natural resources and a changing climate, placing limits on the amount of food we can grow and where we can grow it. Understanding how production and consumption of food contributes to and is influenced by global grand challenges such as climate change and how this can be mitigated is essential for an agri-food system that does not lead to irreparable harm to the living world upon which we depend for our existence.
Despite this urgent need, we currently lack the truly integrated understanding that would allow us to meet the challenges faced by the agri-food system. It is commonplace to hear of the food production system described in terms of "from farm to fork", and while this has become a useful phrase to communicate the need for holistic view of the agri-food system, it belies its inherent complexity.
Diagrammatic representation of the agri-food ecosystem. Modified from Horton et al. (2017) Food Security 9: 195-210
At the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield, we are seeking new ways to understand this complexity, addressing the agri-food system as a whole and not just in terms of its separate parts, integrating across the domains of production and consumption and embedding the needs of individual stakeholders from consumers and farmers to the wider business community, NGOs and government.
Our unique approach recognises that achieving a sustainable food future is as much a socio-cultural problem as it is technological, understanding the global nature of the food system while appreciating its impacts can be both local and global in scale. By placing the health of our environment, the healthiness of our food and the health of the global population at the core of our mission to help make agri-food systems more sustainable, we are developing the innovations that will allow us to live within the limits imposed by the resources available in the natural world.
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