Study Future Food Sustainability at Cranfield

Food security and the sustainability of our existing food supply chains are major challenges of our time that mankind will be facing in the coming decades. These problems are being currently exacerbated by climate changes occurring globally. Thus, studying this course will inspire you to make an important mitigating contribution and reduce the impact that Climate Change is and will be having on food chains in the future.

Developed through intensive collaboration and consultation with industry, NGOs and governmental agencies, our graduates are highly valued, both nationally and internationally, in the area of sustainable food production and thus we have a very high employment rate of 94.5%* for our School. Therefore, joining Future Food Sustainability could contribute to enhancing your career in the food sustainability arena.

This course has been designed with the multidisciplinary nature of these grand societal challenges in mind. Therefore, it is the first of its kind in the UK in that it will provide you with a balanced mix of technology, science, logistics, economics and management skills (teaching shared with our internationally recognised School of Management and industry experts). With this mixture of subjects, we aim to develop your forward and lateral thinking. Hence, complementary skills such as horizon scanning and strategic foresight techniques are included so that you can build and analyse future possible scenarios that could inform policy and decision-making globally.

We have a great commitment with student excellence, from both UK and from around the world, and every year we will offer bursaries to several outstanding candidates.

*(based on those for whom we hold data. Source: DLHE 2017 Collections).  


  • Start dateFull-time: October. Part-time: October
  • DurationOne year full-time, two-three years part-time
  • DeliveryTaught modules 40%, group project 20% (dissertation for part-time students), individual project 40%.
  • QualificationMSc, PgDip, PgCert
  • Study typeFull-time / Part-time
  • CampusCranfield campus

Who is it for?

This course is applicable for graduates from around the world wishing to pursue a career in food sustainability at a technical or strategic level. 

This course is concerned with a fundamental challenge of enormous importance that we all face today; in essence, the many problems of feeding a rapidly growing global population in the future given finite resources, added uncertainties such as the effects of climate change, and a general acknowledgement that our current methods for producing food are not fit for purpose. But it does more than simply describing the challenge - it sets about bringing together the diverse threads that could present pragmatic and practical answers. As such, it is designed to respond to urgent industry, institutional and government needs for individuals who can meet the complex, multi-factorial issues of global future food supply.

Your career

Successful, motivated graduates from this course are expected to move swiftly into positions within food businesses, government, NGOs and research companies/institutes to engage in roles involving research, management, governance, communication and social responsibility.

Specific relevant job roles may include: technical managers, sustainability managers, technical development managers, product technologists, resilience officers, supply chain/logistics analysts, commodity analysts, regulatory affairs advisers, and policy officers.

Cranfield Careers Service
Our Careers Service can help you find the job you want after leaving Cranfield. We will work with you to identify suitable opportunities and support you in the job application process for up to three years after graduation.We have been providing Masters level training for over 20 years. Our strong reputation and links with potential employers provide you with outstanding opportunities to secure interesting jobs and develop successful careers. The increasing interest in sustainability and corporate and social responsibility has also enhanced the career prospects of our graduates.

Why this course?

Hear from Ida Berg about her experience of studying Agrifood at Cranfield.

Many food companies have identified the need for a focus in their own business areas on future food sustainability, and have acknowledged a need for trained individuals, both in the form of new graduates and also in re-training professionals already established in the food industry. However, it is not just food companies that are concerned with the sustainability of future food supply;

  • government departments are concerned with food sustainability in terms of policy making and governance
  • research institutes are actively involved in the development of improved animal and plant production systems
  • various NGOs are involved  in influencing policy, attitudes and communication to the public.

All of these diverse groups have an urgent need to recruit individuals with the skills set to address these challenges. This course is taught using the expertise and facilities of two Cranfield University Schools; the School of Water, Energy and Environment and the School of Management.

Maria Moya Garcia

This experience has been enriching and I am sure it will help me in my future career.

Ana Maria Moya Garcia, Current student

Informed by Industry

Our MSc in Future Food Sustainability benefits from input from an industry advisory panel (with representatives from commercial organisations and non-commercial organisations) who help to ensure the course maintains its real-world relevance to the marketplace and industry focus, making successful students highly sought after in the employment market.

Course details

The course comprises eight compulsory assessed modules, a group project and an individual research project. The modules include lectures, practical sessions and tutorials.

Course delivery

Taught modules 40%, group project 20% (dissertation for part-time students), individual project 40%.

Group project

The group project experience is highly valued by both students and prospective employers. It provides you with the opportunity to take responsibility for a consultancy-type project, working within agreed objectives, deadlines and budgets. For part-time students a dissertation usually replaces the group project.

Individual project

The individual thesis project, usually in collaboration with an external organisation, gives you the opportunity to develop your research capability, depth of understanding and ability to provide solutions to real industry and institutional challenges in the wider area of future food supply.


Keeping our courses up-to-date and current requires constant innovation and change. The modules we offer reflect the needs of business and industry and the research interests of our staff and, as a result, may change or be withdrawn due to research developments, legislation changes or for a variety of other reasons. Changes may also be designed to improve the student learning experience or to respond to feedback from students, external examiners, accreditation bodies and industrial advisory panels.

To give you a taster, we have listed the compulsory and elective (where applicable) modules which are currently affiliated with this course. All modules are indicative only, and may be subject to change for your year of entry.

Course modules

Compulsory modules
All the modules in the following list need to be taken as part of this course

Principles of Sustainability

Module Leader
  • Dr Paul Burgess
    Human population growth and increased resource use per capita is placing unsustainable demands on the global ecosystem. This module explores sustainability using three approaches.  The “Ecosystem Service” approach provides a framework for society to address key environmental issues such as food production, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, and water use.  The “Circular Economy” approach refers to the development of “restorative” industrial systems that are grounded on the lessons of non-linear, feedback-rich ecosystems.  The third approach is to explore the nexus between renewable energy, food, and other ecosystem services using per capita energy and food consumption. This module introduces and critiques the three approaches and examines their application to resolve real-world problems and create commercial opportunities.
    • Moving from an “Empty World” to a “Full World”
    • The Ecosystem Service Approach (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and UK National Ecosystem Assessment)
    • Ecosystem processes and succession; the role of energy; feedback systems; biodiversity and system restoration
    • Using an ecosystem approach: quantifying trade-offs and synergies; improving water and nutrient management, reducing greenhouse gases emissions, enhancing stability, resistance and resilience
    • Introduction to the circular economy: opportunities for businesses; opportunities for consumers.
    • How design, manufacturing practice and management can contribute to a circular economy
    • Case study: trade-offs, synergies, and opportunities to enhance well-being and ecosystem service provision in terms of energy, food, feed and wood for a case study area.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Critique the “ecosystem services”, “circular economy”, and “per capita energy use” approaches
  • Critique associated terms such as “human well-being”, “sustainability”, and “biodiversity”.
  • Explain the role of energy and feed-back systems in natural systems
  • Explain how an ecosystem service approach can help society to identify and make decisions regarding the use of ecological resources, with a focus on biodiversity, greenhouse gases, nutrient loss, and water use.
  • Explain how we can enhance the stability, resistance and resilience of natural systems.
  • Explain how the “circular economy” provides commercial opportunities
  • Explain how industrial activities such as design and manufacturing can promote a circular economy
  • Use a per capita approach to explore the synergies between food, feed, wood, and renewable energy production to guide decision making and identify opportunities in the context of a case-study.

Economic Valuation and Appraisal

Module Leader
  • Dr Anil Graves
    Financial (or investment) appraisal is a decision making process used by institutions and individuals to compare the efficiency of competing projects.  Economic appraisal (or social cost-benefit analysis) is the process of identifying, measuring, and comparing the societal costs of an investment project or programme.  Projects can be judged in terms of their relative monetised net benefits (total benefits minus total costs), including environmental impacts or enhancement; the project with the largest benefit: cost ratio is considered to deliver the most social benefits from the options under consideration.  This module explains the principles of financial and economic appraisal and students will acquire the knowledge and skills in the application of such appraisals.
    • Welfare economics and pareto-efficiency; compensation principle and the role of equity.
    • Market failures and the role of cost benefit analysis
    • Principles and practice of financial and economic appraisal
    • Case study application for an afforestation project in a spreadsheet environment
    • Efficient provision of environmental goods and services.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Explain how economic efficiency and equity can be assessed and used in financial and economic appraisal
  • Critically evaluate different financial and economic appraisal metrics such as benefit: cost ratio, net present value, equivalent annual value, and internal rate of return.
  • Critically evaluate the choice of an appropriate discount rate
  • Undertake a financial and an economic appraisal in a spreadsheet environment
  • Use techniques such as sensitivity analysis and Monte Carlo simulation.

Leading Corporate Sustainability

Module Leader
  • Dr Rosina Watson

    Global sustainability challenges are shaping the way business operates in the 21st century. Businesses are under increasing pressure from multiple stakeholders (for e.g. shareholders, customers, employees, society) to manage their positive and negative impacts with clear responsibility and strategic intent.  Leading firms are choosing to respond to these challenges by generating sustainable value propositions to ultimately drive competitive advantage. For many this has meant re-engaging at the level of purpose and re-addressing their role in wider society and for human well-being.

    This module outlines the major sustainability challenges and explores the capabilities organisations require need to respond positively to them. It will engage students in gaining a better understanding of how corporate action can be best configured to promote responsible and sustainable business strategies. In doing so, it will demand management students (as future business managers and leaders) to reflect on the long-standing debate about whether or not ‘the business of business, is still business?

    Watch video: An introduction to the Leading Corporate Sustainability module

    Leading Corporate Sustainability

    The content is organised around the sustainability management ‘compass’ below:

    Leading Corporate Sustainability

    The course content is structured as follows:

    Part 1: Setting the context

    Context setting

    • What is managing corporate sustainability?
    • Social and environmental trends

    The role of business

    • What is the role of business?
    • Challenges and opportunities for business

    Exploring possible futures

    • Playing ‘The Game of Life 2050;’ an interactive future sustainable scenario board game

    Part 2: Developing the capabilities

    • Creating a vision
    • Formulating and implementing strategy
    • Innovating
    • Working with stakeholders
    • Collaborating
    • Valuing
    • Leading

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  1. Identify global environmental and social trends and relate how these present both challenges and opportunities to business
  2. Explain why businesses need to respond to these challenges and opportunities and assess the capabilities they require to do so
  3. Classify the potential stakeholder groups businesses can work with to develop and implement their sustainability strategies and compare collaboration approaches
  4. Consider the role of personal leadership in an organization’s values, strategic direction and ability to execute its sustainability strategy
  5. Critically assess the content and reporting of businesses’ sustainability strategies
  6. Design and recommend a sustainability-oriented innovation for a selected business.

Soil Systems

Module Leader
  • Dr Jacqueline Hannam
    Food security, environmental protection and landscape restoration depend upon effective management of soil, plant and water interactions in the environment.  This module will focus on a fundamental understanding of the science of soil systems and how decisions in land management affect the soil functions related to food production and land restoration.
    • Soil functions, ecosystem goods and services
    • Plant responses to solar radiation, temperature, drought and aeration stress
    • Soil texture, , bulk density, soil moisture t, porosity and structure
    • Soil chemistry: Nutrients, pH, CEC, salinity and the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles
    • Soil organisms: diversity and functional importance
    • Soil sampling and soil diversity in the field and landscape (LRR)
    • Soil-based concepts of ecological restoration and principles of Agricultural Land Classification (LRR)
    • Land capability for agricultural production, inputs and yields (FFS)
    • Innovations for agricultural production (FFS).
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Describe the role of soil systems in the context of soil functions and ecosystem services
  • Explain the principal responses of plants to the climatic environment.
  • Quantify key soil physical properties
  • Assess the role and contribution of soils in nutrient availability and cycling
  • Describe the functional role of soil biology in soil systems.
  • Evaluate the impact of soil management and agricultural innovation in agricultural production (FFS)
  • Create a soil assessment in the context of land restoration (LRR).

Agricultural Informatics

Module Leader
  • Dr Daniel Simms
    The purpose of this module is to provide students a set of practical applications and tools for developing, managing and analysing ‘Big Data’, to better deliver food security. A secure, reliable and sustainable food production system will increasingly rely on advanced technologies, such as real-time field sensing, model data fusion and advanced forecasting. It will need to operate effectively within new and changing environmental constraints and so will need to consider and be represented within (eco)systems goods and services models to ensure food security that is both economic and environmentally sustainable. The proposed course will introduce and develop core skills in data acquisition, data and information management, using numerical and statistical modelling approaches that form the basis of information driven sustainable agriculture. It will incorporate ground, aerial and space borne sensing and sensor techniques for predictive mapping within the context of modelling agricultural ecosystems goods and services.
    • Introduction to Information Rich Agricultural Systems
    • Sensing and sensors in Agricultural Systems
    • Spatial interactions of food production
    • Data and Information Management
    • Big data: what can the past tell us about the future?
    • Ecological Agriculture in the Digital Age
    • Informatics- based decision making
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Formulate a comprehensive understanding of Agricultural Informatics
  • Critically evaluate the potential of sensor systems (remote/near etc.) to measure and monitor the agri-environment
  • Manage, manipulate and interrogate large agri-environmental datasets
  • Formulate a conceptual understanding of the inter-relationship between the ecology and agriculture and the ecosystem goods and services that agriculture within its landscape provides
  • Develop systematic and creative problem solving skills, and demonstrate the ability to interpret and obtain meaningful outcomes
  • Communicate conclusions effectively, including assumptions and methodologies, to both specialist and non-specialist audiences.

Plant-Based Technologies

Module Leader
  • Professor Andrew Thompson
    To provide a critical appraisal of the role of the main plant-based technologies which can be used to advance sustainable crop production and food security. This includes a consideration of the importance of crop breeding, seed technology and crop protection with particular emphasis on future needs.

    Seed industry:

    • Basic principles of genetics as applied to representative crop species
    • Plant breeding strategies including conventional selection and marker assisted selection.
    • Genetic modification of crop plants.
    • Seed production and seed treatment technologies.


    • Discovery and design of novel agrochemicals: screening, computer aided molecular design, formulation.
    • Insecticides, fungicides and herbicides: importance in food security - past and future, modes of action, regulation.
    • Biocontrol agents – principles and case studies.
    • Phytohormones and crop enhancers: agrochemicals to control plant growth and development.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Explain the main strategies and technologies in producing new, improved varieties of crop plants
  • Critically appraise the role of plant breeding and seed technology in delivering global food security
  • Explain the process of developing a new agrochemical, and the main classes of agrochemicals currently and previously in use.
  • Critically appraise the main methods of biocontrol as an alternative to fungicides and insecticides
  • Evaluate the contribution of research in developing plant-based technologies. 

Water and Sustainable Agrifood Systems

Module Leader
  • Professor Tim Hess
    Water is an essential factor of production in agrifood systems; whether for growing crops, supporting livestock or food manufacture. Globally, 70% of freshwater withdrawals are used for agriculture, but increasing demand for food means that this figure is likely to increase dramatically in the future. At the same time climate change is affecting supply and other demands on water are increasing. Mismanagement of water for food production has led to social and environmental problems in many places. Water is therefore a significant global risk to sustainable food production. This module will consider the water requirements of crop and livestock systems; the evaluation of the water related impacts and risks in producing locations; and management and technological solutions to minimise water related impacts and risks in food supply chains.
    • Introduction: Water for food; Water and risk in Agrifood systems
    • Water requirements for Agrifood systems: Irrigation systems (Surface, overhead and localised irrigation); Calculating irrigation water requirements*; Water requirements for livestock; Water requirements for food industry
    • Water governance and stewardship: Abstraction licencing and regulation; Water storage & reservoirs; Working together and abstractor groups; Water trading.
    • Water footprinting: Water inventory; Weighting for impact; Hotspot identification
    • Managing water consumption: Irrigation system performance evaluation*; Irrigation scheduling; Precision irrigation.
    • Future challenges: Impacts of drought and water scarcity; Climate change, water risk and adaptation.
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Evaluate the role of water in crop and livestock systems
  • Design and evaluate management and technological solutions to minimise the water-related impacts and risks to crop and livestock production systems in food supply chains.
  • Critically appraise the role of water in future challenges to food sustainability.

Strategic Foresight

Module Leader
  • Dr Kenisha Garnett

    Strategic foresight research refers to a range of methods that can be used to identify, analyse and communicate insights about the future. Standard methods include horizon scanning, trend research, and scenario planning. Outputs include emerging issues, trends, visions, scenarios, and wild cards. The methods employed and insights produced are used by both private and public sector organisations to inform a wide range of policy, risk, strategy and innovation processes. Foresight research is a truly inter-disciplinary ‘science’, covering and combining developments in society, technology, economy, ecology, politics, legislation and values.

    Crucially, foresight research is as much about analysing the past and present, as it is about looking to the future. Once we understand how a system developed and works today, we can explore how it may evolve and look in the future. Strategic foresight techniques consider ranges of possible, plausible futures so that planning can be put in place to adapt to and mitigate against various conditions. It is designed to add resilience, adaptability and flexibility to organisations in an increasingly complex and fast changing world.

    This module will explore how:

    • Horizon scanning can act as a method of gathering new insights that may point us towards affirming or discrediting existing trends and developments, as well as identifying new and emerging trends and developments that are on the margins of our current thinking, but which will impact on the future.
    • Other foresight methodologies (e.g. scenario planning, visioning, back-casting) can be used to help us to use the trends identified from horizon scanning to identify how the future might develop.


    In exploring strategic foresight research in relation to its utility by environmental organisations, this module will combine formal lectures with interactive practical exercises that will cover:

    • An overview of the reasons why organisations engage in foresight research.
    • An overview of the aims and objectives of foresight research
    • An overview of the different types of foresight research methods including, but not confined to horizon scanning, trend research, scenario building, visioning and back-casting
    • An overview of where different types of foresight research methods are best applied depending on the issue to be explored, the time available for research and the output required.
    • A practical training exercise in horizon scanning (what is does; why it’s used and how it’s done)
    • A practical training exercise in scenario building (what are scenarios, what they can be used for and how they are developed)
    • A group project on developing a vision, back-casting and windtunnelling to achieve the desired outputs of the vision (describing a preferred future (the vision) and setting out the steps to make it happen).
Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module a student should be able to:

  • Explain why organisations engage in foresight research;
  • Describe what foresight research aims to achieve - and what it cannot do;
  • Evaluate the utility and application of different foresight research methodologies;
  • Examine the role of foresight research evidence in the environmental context;
  • Identify and apply the tools of foresight research in the environmental context; and
  • Apply foresight research methods to support a convincing case and use foresight research evidence effectively.


The MSc of this course is accredited by the Institution of Agricultural Engineers.

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How to apply

Online application form. UK students are normally expected to attend an interview and financial support is best discussed at this time. Overseas and EU students may be interviewed by telephone.