Knowledge for better food systems

Fodder: The FCRN food sustainability newsletter

The FCRN’s weekly newsletter on food sustainability, Fodder, rounds up the latest journal papers, reports, books, jobs, events and more. Sign up to receive it here.

Network updates

From the FCRN: 11 December 2019

In Fodder this week

Establishing oil palm plantations on former pasture land, instead of cleared rainforest, could be an almost carbon-neutral way of expanding palm oil production; clarification of the level of fires and deforestation in the Amazon rainforest; and 85% of UK food shoppers think it is fairly or very important for supermarkets to source their products ethically and sustainably.

Featured FCRN publication

This 2016 paper, produced jointly by the FCRN and the Food Foundation, highlights some of the questions that need to be considered when thinking about the role, nature and value of metrics for healthy sustainable diets and who their intended target users should be.

It provides a detailed overview of one particular potential user: the investment community.  One section of the report provides an explanation of how the often poorly-understood investment community operates.

Read the full paper here. See also the FCRN’s metrics project, Plating up Progress? and the Foodsource resource The value and limitations of lifecycle assessment.

Research library

Image: feelphotoz, Olio Di Palma, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence

According to this study of oil palm plantations in Colombia, converting pasture to oil palm plantation is almost carbon neutral, because declines in soil organic carbon are offset by gains in oil palm biomass over a period of several decades. The authors argue that planting oil palm on former pasture land is preferable to converting rainforest to plantations, as regards greenhouse gas emissions.

Image: Ian Ransley, Plantains, bananas, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

This paper studies the impacts of several agricultural development projects (by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative) that aimed to tackle food loss and waste (FLW), finding that the interventions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of food produced.

Image: NASA Earth Observatory, Fires along the Rio Xingu, Brazil, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

This piece examines the data behind forest fires in Brazil, which attracted international attention during the summer of 2019. It concludes that the number of fires in August 2019 was nearly three times higher than in August 2018, and that the extent of deforestation was the highest since 2008, thus refuting the Brazilian government’s claim that August 2019 was “normal” for deforestation. Some contributors to the piece declined to be listed as authors so that they could stay anonymous.

This briefing from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) notes that demand for five cereals in sub-Saharan Africa is set to almost triple by 2050. It argues that it is possible for the region to be self-sufficient in cereals by 2050 using only the current area of cereal farmland, but that this requires significantly higher fertiliser use. To keep greenhouse gas emissions to the minimum possible will require suitable crop varieties, careful nutrient management, optimum planting densities and protection of crops against weeds, pests and diseases.

This report from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University examines how farming in China can move away from a dependence on “industrial agriculture” (defined here as excessive and inefficient use of fertilisers and pesticides) towards agroecological systems (including practices such as lower stocking densities, using manure instead of synthetic fertilisers, growing diverse crops and using soil-building techniques). 

This report by Lloyd’s Register (a UK-based provider of professional services for engineering) surveyed 1000 UK shoppers. It finds that one in three shoppers are concerned about food safety, only 19% are very confident that the vegetarian or vegan food they eat does not contain meat, nearly two thirds of people sometimes check the country of origin of food they buy, and 85% of shoppers think it is fairly or very important for supermarkets to source their products ethically and sustainably.

This report from Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph tracks changes in food prices in Canada. It finds that prices in some food categories were impacted by environmental events, including an unexpected 5% increase in fish prices due to warming oceans. It also predicts that consumers will put strong pressure on food producers to avoid single-use plastic packaging, and that the Canadian food system is likely to be stressed by climate change, such as through  droughts, forest fires and heavy precipitation.

This book describes the experiences of a growing minority of Latino/a immigrant farm owners in the United States. According to the book, many of these people use farming practices from their home countries, such as growing several crops at the same time or using integrated pest management.

This book reframes the debate around water and food security, focusing on the rights of marginalised people instead of only discussing irrigated agriculture.

The US think tank Breakthrough Institute has created an interactive series of graphs to visualise how the environmental impact of farming in the United States has changed over time, covering land use, nitrogen loss, water, herbicides, soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions and spending on research and development.

In this film by research and communications project Agroecology Now! farmers from Lower Dzongu, Sikkim, India discuss the importance of traditional seeds for food, life and culture and their plans to establish a community seed bank to help maintain and revive traditional seeds. Farmers will be able to “borrow” seeds of local varieties from the seed bank, grow them and then return a greater number of seeds to the seed bank.

The Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University has launched a new podcast series, The Changing Room, which will explore how to cope with social, economic and environmental change. The first episode explores how climate change is affecting our everyday lives. The second episode, which will be released in January 2020, will discuss food justice.


The call for abstracts is open for the LCA Food 2020 conference on topics relating to life cycle assessment of food and this year’s conference theme, “Towards sustainable agri-food systems”. Specifically, abstracts are invited in the areas of:

  • Novel trends and developments
  • Sustainability evaluation models
  • Food logistics and retailing
  • Challenges in modelling & data
  • Methodological challenges
  • Case studies

Read more here. The deadline is 19 January 2020.

People, Plastics and our Planet is a workshop taking place on 2 to 6 March 2020 at the British Antarctic Survey’s Aurora Innovation Centre. It offers the opportunity for early career researchers and individuals from the business community to develop and test ideas around solving the challenges posed by plastics in our environment. 

Interdisciplinary teams will work together to propose and develop solutions to plastic challenges. Each team will work towards defining a business model that is suitable to take their idea forward, supported by mentors.

During the programme, participants will:

  1. Define a complex problem
  2. Explore possible solutions and choose the most appropriate one(s)
  3. Articulate a value proposition
  4. Identify key partners
  5. Evaluate routes to market
  6. Propose a business model
  7. Design and deliver a winning pitch to secure resources

The early bird contribution to the course costs for successful applicants is £130 per person. After 17 December 2019 this will increase to £200. 

Apply online here. The deadline for early bird applications is 17 December 2019. For more information, contact

The Nutrition Group in the Department of Population Health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine wishes to appoint a Research Fellow in Environment & Health based in London to model and quantify the effects on population health (including cancer, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease) of strategies to reduce nitrogen pollution in South Asia. 

This new post will be part of the South Asia Nitrogen Hub (SANH) - a very large, collaborative and multi-disciplinary research hub led by Professor Mark Sutton at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Edinburgh. The overall goal of the SANH is to develop an approach that links the many human impacts of alteration of the nitrogen cycle on the environment, health, food security and climate resilience. The LSHTM team led by Professor Alan Dangour and Dr Rosie Green will contribute analysis of the health impacts of various nitrogen-related exposures, including air pollution, water pollution and diets, as well as providing expertise to help develop future nitrogen scenarios for South Asia.

Applications are invited from those with a doctoral degree in epidemiology, public health or environmental science, who have significant experience of creating, managing and analysing large datasets with a human health component. 

Read more here. The deadline is 2 January 2020.

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) has launched its third annual IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge - an innovation pitch competition to help emerging food and drink start-ups, entrepreneurs, and innovators gain visibility and make strategic connections to help advance the science of food and its positive impact on the sustainability of the global food supply. The competition winner will receive $25,000. 

The application period runs from 3 December 2019 until 9 January 2020.

More details on the competition can be found here.

The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh is offering a PhD studentship for a multi-disciplinary project on how dietary shifts relate to land use change in Brazil. The project will compare baseline diets and their economic, environmental and social impacts of less meat-heavy diets. 

Read more here. The deadline is 10 January 2020.

Thought For Food and the Food Lab Accelerator at Google (FLAG) have launched the Circular Economy of Food Challenge. It invites participants from around the world to incorporate Circular Economy principles into the technological innovations and social enterprises that they develop to address prevailing food and agricultural challenges across the value chain. Specifically, solutions should focus on reducing and reusing waste, using products and materials for as long as possible, and recycling end-of-life products back into the economy.

Read more here. The deadline for submissions is 24 January 2020.

The Department of Food Science at the University of Copenhagen is hiring a Professor in Sustainable Food Processing and Production. The proposed position should contribute with a holistic view of sustainability in post-harvest food processing and production systems in particular, for assessment of the next generation of foods, which will be more plant-based and utilise novel ingredients from new production systems, but also include dairy and meat as well as combinations. 

Candidates should have a track record of sustainability analysis including assessments of environmental impact across the food production systems, combining processing and nutrition value in Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), database management, etc. 

Read more here. The deadline is 23 February 2020.

This online course, developed by EIT Food, will explore food and agriculture in the modern world, including the complexity of the global food supply chain, the vulnerability of the food industry to emerging threats and the solutions to stopping these threats early, and issues surrounding the production of food of animal origin.

Read more here. The course will be available for 16 weeks from 30 December 2019.

This online course, developed by EIT Food, will examine where our food comes from, how it is produced, and the associated environmental, social and sustainability challenges for farmers in the European Union. The course covers horticulture, arable farming, meat, dairy and egg production.

Read more here. The course will be available for 16 weeks from 20 January 2019.


Oxford University’s IFSTAL (Interdisciplinary Food Systems Teaching and Learning) programme will hold its annual public lecture on 13 December 2019. The lecture will feature Sue Pritchard, director of the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, and will be chaired by Dr Lizzie Hull, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology and Deputy Chair of the SOAS Food Studies Centre

Book tickets here

This seminar on 19 December 2019, run by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience at Coventry University, will discuss research on innovative business models and arts-based learning approaches that will increase sustainable agro-biodiversity management and reconnect food chain players and civil society with agro-biodiversity values.

Read more here. The event will be livestreamed on Facebook.