TUKFS Early Career Researcher Conference takes place in York 22-23 October 2023

Dr Beth Mead, ECR Coordinator

Early Career Researchers (ECR’s) from across the Transforming UK Food Systems Programme (TUKFS) came together in York for their annual conference in October 2023. The conference aimed to bring together ECR’s to share their work, learn from each other, and take part in development opportunities provided as part of the conference. Over 40 ECR’s from all TUKFS projects attended the two-day event.

On Day 1 Dr John Ingram delivered an insightful and engaging session about food system transformation and introduced the ECR’s to the concept of back-casting to envision system transformation. This was followed by an interactive session with Dr Tracey Duncombe about impact and the ECR, introducing ECRs to Impact Case Studies and generating impact from their work.

Day 2 included a keynote talk from Professor Bob Doherty about working at the interface of science and policy. Day 2 also saw ECRs begin to develop ideas for Synergy and Flexibility fund applications.

Ten ECR’s delivered scientific talks throughout the conference and received feedback from the wider ECR community. Dr Trystan Sanders from the Sustainable King Prawn project was awarded “best talk” for his presentation titled “The king prawn: soon to be ruler of the sustainable seafood sector?”.

Take a read of the submitted abstracts below!

The wheel of consent: a tool to reflect on everyday power exchanges in participatory research

Hannah Gardiner1,2 , Dr Clare Pettinger1,2, Dr Louise Hunt1,2, Professor Mary Hickson1,3                                 
1School of Health Professions, Faculty of Health, University of Plymouth, 2FoodSEqual, one of four consortia projects focused on Food Systems’ Transformation, funded by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund 2021-2015 , 3JBI Centre of Excellence, Faculty of Health, University of Plymouth

Participatory research is quite different from forms of research where you have a fixed protocol and specific procedure to follow. It involves engaging with people and facilitating them to have input into and some control over how the process unfolds, and the outputs created. This means there will be a certain level of creative ‘mess’ (Cook, 2009), and that unexpected things could happen in the everyday of research delivery. In response to this it has been proposed that tick box approaches to ethics, carried out in advance, are insufficient to guide participatory research delivery. We must additionally attend to the ‘micro ethics’ situated in the everyday interactions of research delivery (Guillemin and Gillam, 2004; Banks et al., 2013). Participatory research also challenges many assumptions in academic research, such as the separate distinct roles of researchers and participants (Lenette et al., 2019). Indeed participatory research specifically aims to disrupt current power dynamics around knowledge production. Disrupting long-standing ways of working and thinking is challenging and requires critical reflection, including self reflection, group reflection, and reflection on wider societal forces (Chiu, 2006; Nicholls, 2009). This talk presents a new framework to support such reflection. The framework is an adaptation of the wheel of consent (Martin and Dalzen, 2021), and involves examining who makes requests, who does the action (the labour), and who gets the benefits.

Banks, S., Armstrong, A., Carter, K., Graham, H., Hayward, P., Henry, A., Holland, T., Holmes, C., Lee, A., McNulty, A., Moore, N., Nayling, N., Stokoe, A. and Strachan, A., (2013) Everyday ethics in community-based participatory research. Contemporary Social Science, 83, pp.263–277.
Chiu, L.F., (2006) Critical reflection: More than nuts and bolts. Action Research, 42, pp.183–203. 
Cook, T., (2009) The purpose of mess in action research: building rigour though a messy turn. Educational Action Research, 172, pp.277–291. 
Guillemin, M. and Gillam, L., (2004) Ethics, Reflexivity, and “Ethically Important Moments” in Research. Qualitative Inquiry, 102, pp.261–280. 
Lenette, C., Stavropoulou, N., Nunn, C., Kong, S.T., Cook, T., Coddington, K. and Banks, S., (2019) Brushed under the carpet: Examining the complexities of participatory research. Research for All, 32, pp.161–179. 
Martin, B. and Dalzen, R., (2021) The Art of Receiving and Giving: The Wheel of Consent. Luminare Press. 
Nicholls, R., (2009) Research and Indigenous participation: critical reflexive methods. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 122, pp.117–126.
Participatory Frameworks for enhancing sustainability and resilience in community-based agroecology

Imogen Hockenhull1 , Julian Park1 , Gavin Shelton2, Paul Burgess3, Sofia Kourmpetli3, Alice Mauchline1
1 School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6EU, UK.
2 CoFarm Foundation, Future Business Centre, Kings Hedges Road, Cambridge, CB4 2HY, UK
3 Cranfield University, College Road, Cranfield, MK43 0AL, UK

Sustainability monitoring frameworks utilising indicator-based measurements have been widely adopted across diverse farming systems. However, the simultaneous consideration of economic, environmental, and social sustainability within such frameworks, especially in  non-conventional farming systems, remains limited. In response to this gap, the present study employs stakeholder engagement and participatory research techniques to collaboratively develop a sustainability monitoring tool with the stakeholders of a community-based farming case study.
The initial phase of this project involved a systematic literature review identifying and extracting approximately 40 relevant publications assessing the sustainability of a variety of European farming systems. From these publications, a broad spectrum of sustainability indicators was catalogued, forming the foundation for the tools’ upcoming structural development process. Simultaneously, an online stakeholder mapping exercise was conducted, involving individuals actively engaged or involved with the community-based farming case study, providing valuable insights into the structure and individual influence of individuals within the stakeholder community.
Balancing the need for generality and applicability with the bespoke nature of these farming systems, this research seeks to create a framework that can flexibly adapt to varying contexts. The project will bridge the gap between existing monitoring frameworks and the specific goals of community-based agroecology. By co-designing a comprehensive tool, this project aims to provide the case study with an invaluable resource for self-assessment, improvement, and scalability, empowering communities to enhance their sustainability efforts and promoting the dissemination of best practices in community supported agriculture.

Keywords: Community-Based Agriculture, Agricultural sustainability, Participatory research, Stakeholder engagement, Agroecology
Hi-Fi Bread – The case for the Great White British Loaf: sensory and physical properties
insights from year one

Victoria Norton1, Stella Lignou1, Peter Shewry2, Alison Lovegrove2, Mark Charlton3, Nicola
Gillett3, Marcus Tindall4,5, Julia Rodriguez Garcia1
1Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences, Harry Nursten Building, University of Reading, Whiteknights,
Reading, RG6 6DZ, United Kingdom; 2Sustainable Soils and Crops, Rothamsted Research, Harpenden
Hertfordshire, AL5 2JQ, United Kingdom; 3Allied Technical Centre, 1 Vanwall Place, Vanwall Business Park,
Maidenhead, Berkshire, SL6 4UF, United Kingdom; 4Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of
Reading, PO Box 220, Reading, RG6 6AX, United Kingdom; 5Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research
University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, RG6 6AA, United Kingdom.

Dietary fibre is an essential component of the diet with well-proven health benefits; yet intake is typically below UK dietary recommendations of 30 g/d. There is increasing emphasis from the food industry to identify viable strategies to promote dietary fibre intake without impacting the cost and quality of products. One such approach is to increase the dietary fibre content of the nation’s staple food namely white sliced bread using wheat lines with increased dietary fibre content. However, relevant sensory and consumer insights coupled with physical properties analyses are needed. Accordingly, this first-year study focused on developing five white bread prototypes varying in dietary fibre content to enable comparison with an on-the-market white bread control. In addition, the sensory profile via descriptive methods (trained sensory panel; n = 12) as well as physical properties (e.g., slice size, cell crumb, water activity, moisture content, colour, texture analysis) were evaluated. Overall, sensory profiling identified twenty-seven attributes to describe the breads; key differences between breads related to the appearance (e.g., colour and density) and this could be explained by physical properties. The breads higher in dietary fibre tended to have smaller slice height, larger cell area, higher water activity and moisture content as well as instrumental texture and colour differences. In summary, results were promising in terms of initial bread prototypes and provide key insights for further development in year two. Future work will focus on gaining additional sensory insights as well as consumer evaluation via focus groups, acceptability/preference studies and in-store supermarket trials.

Keywords: white bread, dietary fibre, sensory, physical properties
The king prawn: soon to be ruler of the sustainable seafood sector?

Trystan Sanders1, Katherine Clayton1, Jorge Campos Gonzalez2, Yiorgos Gadanakis2, Ian Bateman3, Mattia Mancini3, Robert Ellis1 and Rod Wilson1
1Biosciences, University of Exeter. 2School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading. 3Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP) Department of Economics, University of Exeter.

Aquaculture has overtaken wild capture fisheries as the primary source of seafood worldwide. However, this expansion in farming rather than fishing seafood has been accompanied by a suite of environmental impacts including habitat degradation, biodiversity loss and high carbon emissions, particularly for traditional outdoor pond-based production systems. There is an urgent need to transform the way seafood is produced to minimise the sectors environmental footprint and maximise its economic and societal benefits. The UK Sustainable King Prawn Project aims to explore the viability of developing a sustainable UK seafood aquaculture sector with the king prawn, the largest species by tonnage produced in aquaculture globally, using land-based indoor recirculating aquaculture production systems. We are investigating methods of optimising prawn growth efficiency, welfare and nutritional value by manipulation of water chemistry and dietary feed composition. Early findings indicate that boosting calcium and bicarbonate content in low salt water can promote maximum growth rates, while keeping environmental damage and farmers operational costs to a minimum. These benefits can be further enhanced through ongoing trials utilising waste heat and renewable electricity generated from farm-based biogas (anaerobic digester) facilities and testing the circularity of production by the recycling of solid wastes for developing crop fertilisers and high-value pharmaceutical compounds. Finally, the primary data generated from laboratory and field experiments are being used to generate spatial economic models of land use and natural capital to assess the potential of a sustainable UK aquaculture sector in boosting biodiversity, CO2 removal and a renewable energy sector.

Keywords: Aquaculture, physiology, land use, carbon footprint, sustainability
Systems analysis of increasing faba bean production and consumption in the UK – Raising the Pulse Work Package 5

Simone Pfuderer, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading
Jake Bishop, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading

The Raising the Pulse (RtP) Project is a three-year multidisciplinary investigation aiming to  assess the environmental and nutritional impacts of increasing faba bean consumption. The hypothesis is that system interactions between land use, environment, profitability, nutrition and human health mean that using faba bean flour in foods will lead to benefits for the environment and human nutrition and health. Due to the widespread consumption of white bread, particularly by disadvantaged groups, inclusion faba beans into bread will be central to RtP. Work package 5 takes a systems perspective to understand barriers and opportunities. One barrier to increasing the production of faba beans in the UK is their perceived higher variability in yield and in profit compared to other crops. We use the Farm Business Survey to understand any association between faba bean cultivation and farm productivity and/or profitability and the temporal stability of these, in comparison to other alternative crops (e.g. oilseed rape). The Farm Business Survey (FBS) is an annual survey that provides information on the financial, physical and environmental performance of more than 2000 farm businesses in England and Wales, of which around 120 grow faba beans. A Bayesian Network (BN) meta-model will be developed to synthesise findings from across the project, mapping key causal interactions leading to environmental, economic, nutrition and health outcomes. Initial mapping of causal relationships for three of the work packages has been carried out and will be updated as information becomes available in the course of the project. 

Keywords: Faba beans, yield variability, profitability, systems model
Fork to farm:  mapping the missing middle behind bean provision in primary school meals.

Rosanne Maguire, Warwick Crop Centre, University of Warwick
Jing Zhang, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford 
on behalf of the BeanMeals project.

British style baked beans are the ultimate processed convenience food for healthy, affordable, and accessible eating.  For this reason, baked beans are essential and irreplaceable in schools, but this limits the potential public health, environmental and economic benefits of growing and consuming local beans.  To address this challenge, the BeanMeals project has introduced Godiva and Capulet, two quick-cooking varieties of dry common beans selected for UK growing conditions, into six primary schools in Leicester City and Leicestershire County in conjunction with Food for Life Soil Association.  
School caterers and cooks have been given training for cooking with dry beans and autonomy to create recipes with Godiva and Capulet for their school menus.  Children have been involved in co-designing and collaborating to unravel the journey of beans from growers to their plates, culminating in the evolution of a game called Beantopia.  We have applied a ‘fork-to-farm’ approach to map how pulses currently get into schools and onto children’s plates.  This has revealed the complex ‘missing middle’ food system actors of the value chain that extends beyond beans and beyond local boundaries.  Our findings highlight the multifaceted nature of the food system and indicate the need for involving stakeholders into agenda setting and policy deliberations regarding dietary transformation.
Our work helps promote more local and healthier school meal options, diversifying the culinary landscape.  Crucially, it explores the potential barriers, opportunities and trade-offs associated with mainstreaming UK-grown dry beans via stakeholder engagement and systemic innovations. 

Keywords: pulses; food systems; school meals
Seeing the bigger picture: Measuring the ecological, social and environmental benefits of regenerative farming

1University of Cambridge, Department of Zoology, Cambridge CB2 1TN, UK
2Universite Cote d’Azur, Av. Valrose, 06000 Nice, France
3Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge, SP6 1EF, UK
4University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, UK

Regenerative agriculture entails a series of farming practices that aim to improve soil health but are expected to have wider ecological benefits. Limited scientific evidence for the impact of different combinations of farming practices, and variation in the outcomes for different soil types, has prevented a unified definition of what practices contribute to, should be promoted as, part of the movement. This context specificity makes it difficult to predict how successful a transition to regenerative agriculture will be for improving soil health and wider benefits including crop nutrition, and biodiversity conservation, and how these benefits might play out at a landscape scale.
Here, we present the initial findings of the H3 project, which aims to assess the impact of a transition from conventional practices to more regenerative farming techniques using a landscape scale experiment, co-designed with farmers across two farming regions of the UK. We have developed a list of nine practices which farmers consider representative of regenerative farming within their farming contexts. H3 farmers will have either: i) been practicing some combination of these practices for up to three years prior to the experiment starting (Regenerative Group), ii) adopted regenerative practices for the duration of the project (Change Group) or iii) limited their adoption of practices (Control Group). Since the combinations of practices will be different per farm, we have developed a scoring system to evaluate the impact of regenerative farming on soil health (structure, chemistry, biodiversity), above-ground biodiversity (birds and beneficial insects), yield and grain nutritional content.

Keywords: Regenerative Agriculture, Biodiversity, Co-design, BACI
Understanding & Evaluating On-farm loss and waste in the UK

Emmanuel Sawyerr1, Gabriel Yesuf2, Ruth Wade3 and Alp Yildirim1
1 Cranfield University. 2 University of Reading. 3 University of Leeds

Over 3.3 million tonnes of food are estimated to be lost and/or wasted in UK primary production (on-farm) annually. Notwithstanding, focus on food loss and waste (FLW) have largely focused on post-farmgate. We, therefore, conduct a systematic review of the relevant literature to explore the causes, management and solutions to pre-farmgate FLW in the UK. Forty-four peer-reviewed journal articles and 5 government reports were examined. Six primary causes were identified: diseases, pests & animals, extreme weather events, quality & aesthetic requirements, harvest & storage issues, and demand mismatch & overproduction. Management strategies for diseases and pests & animals were found to be largely crop-specific, but some crop-agnostic solutions with broader applicability have also been proposed. There are very few studies that sought farmers’ insights. Therefore, our current understanding of the quantities of on-farm FLW in the UK are speculative. Our understanding of the factors that have the biggest impacts on FLW and the opportunities towards waste prevention/reduction are lacking. Operational issues such as overproduction and demand mismatch, transportation challenges and farm accessibility are underexplored areas. Crops with high FLW levels, like lettuce, require more attention, especially since traditional storage methods are not feasible. Our study underscores the need for increased research and collaboration between agronomists and management researchers to address less-studied FLW causes like quality & aesthetic requirements and demand mismatch & overproduction. It also emphasises heightening research efforts on crops with more urgent intervention needs.

Participating Programmes: FoodSEqual, FixOurFood
This project was funded under the Transforming UK Food Systems Programme’s Annual Project Synergy Fund 2022 Call.
Keywords: Food loss and waste; Primary production; Pre-farmgate loss; Agri-food supply chains
Biofortified foods in the Global North: a scoping review

Authors: Gulyas, B. Z. and Caton, S. J.
Sheffield Centre for Health And Related Research, Division of Population Health, School of Medicine and Population Health, University of Sheffield, UK.

Introduction: Biofortification (i.e. nutrient enhancement of food before harvest) has been successfully used to address micronutrient deficiencies in low- and middle-income countries. This approach has the potential to provide a successful strategy for correcting micronutrient shortfalls prevalent in at-risk populations in high-income countries. However, the impacts of biofortification interventions in this context are not well understood. The aim of this scoping review is to explore the nature and extent of the available evidence from research carried out in high-income countries, focusing on biofortified foods in relation to human consumption. Methods: A literature search was conducted in MEDLINE, WoS, ProQuest, CINAHL, AGRIS and Epistemonikos. 46 peer-reviewed articles were identified to be included in the review. Results: Most research was conducted in the USA (n = 15) and Italy (n = 11), predominantly focusing on cereal crops (n = 14) and vegetables (n = 11), and on the nutrients selenium (n = 12) and provitamin A (n = 11). Seven research domains were identified in the literature: nutrient bioavailability (n = 17); nutrient stability (n = 11); consumer opinions and attitudes (n = 9); physiological functionality (n = 9); sensory properties (n = 2); consumption safety (n = 1); and dietary modelling (n = 1). Conclusion: The majority of the identified evidence focuses on the bioavailability and stability of the micronutrients enhanced within target foods. Evidence focusing on consumer acceptability is lacking, highlighting a need for further research in this domain. A more comprehensive understanding of consumer acceptance of biofortified foods in high-income contexts will contribute to the development of successful strategies to integrate biofortified foods into food systems in a way that their benefits are accessible to those most vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies.

Keywords: public health, nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, food-based solutions 
Participating Programmes: H3
Challenges and Opportunities: Evaluating Outputs of Ecosystem Service Models.

Gabriel Yesuf1, Tom Breeze2, Deepa Senapathi2, Tom Sizmur1 and Andrew Wade1
1 School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, Reading UK
2 Centre for Agri-Environmental Research, University of Reading, Reading, Reading, UK

Environmental impact assessment is important for the formulation of proactive environmental policies. Impact assessments may involve system analysis that integrates biophysical and economic models. However, there are challenges relating to the design of explicit food system models and the evaluation of the impact of food system activities (e.g., food processing) on ecosystem services. The Food System Equality project is currently investigating strategies to transform the UK food system to simultaneously benefit the citizen health and the natural environment. To address the implications of any transformation on the natural environment, we designed a modelling framework that includes statistical and process-based models. Furthermore, the modelling framework attempts to explicitly assess the environmental impact of food production on water and soil quality. We systematically applied national long-term monitoring data (such as The Environment Agency Water Quality Data Archive) to validate the predictive performance of these models. We discover that there is a lack of comprehensive landscape scale data for validating the outcomes of quantitative environmental models. This challenge exists at watershed scales and for different land use. We argue that these multi-scale challenges represent a limiting factor for the determination of ecosystem services trade-offs. Possible solutions include the creation of a framework that facilitates the combination of independent validation data with defined time-series dimensions. More collaboration between model developers and policies makers could potentially increase the understanding, application, and reliability of predictive models.

Keywords: Ecosystem services, Land use, Model evaluation
Designing Interventions in the Food Industry: Leveraging Information Systems for Public Health Outcomes

Dr Soujanya Mantravadi, University of Cambridge

This study aims to identify interventions addressing public health challenges in the food industry, including healthy food access, food shortages and waste, affordability and food safety by enhancing supply chain performance. For this, we analyze academic literature and industry reports and highlight the role of IoT-based digital platforms to promote supply chain coordination and transparency. Field data from the industry also informs our understanding of supply chain requirements and efficiency to identify potential digital interventions for optimizing food supply chains. Building upon the findings from the content analysis, we develop a causal loop diagram focused on healthy food access and food waste reduction, refining the identified interventions in collaboration with stakeholders. This approach helps in justifying and aligning the interventions with industry needs. Our interdisciplinary research contributes to effective digital intervention design in industrial food systems for public health outcomes. Our future work aims to establish collaborations with food companies and IT solution providers to implement and evaluate the interventions. 

Keywords: Supply chains, Digital platforms, Commercial food systems, Urban food security

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