Cranfield University is leading one of five new research projects helping to ensure the UK’s future food security.

The near £1.3 million three-year project is aiming to increase resilience to water-related risks in the UK fresh fruit and vegetable system. Starting in October, the research is being led by Dr Tim Hess from the Cranfield Water Science Institute, in collaboration with the University of East Anglia, NIAB EMR (formerly East Malling Research) and University of Oxford.

Fresh fruit and vegetables are an important part of our diet. They are mainly grown in the driest parts of the UK, such as East Anglia or the South East, where water resources are also under most pressure due to factors like an increasing population. Countries which are major exporters of fruit and vegetables to the UK – like Spain, South Africa, Kenya and Morocco – also suffer similar pressures as water resources are even more scarce there.

Dr Hess said: “Water-related risks include its physical availability which means that we might not be able to produce so much and prices go up as a result, reputational risks when environmental issues are highlighted in the media, and also regulatory risks like irrigation being restricted if there is a drought or introducing legislation for environmental reasons.

“We will examine the dilemma that the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables is encouraged, versus the fact that water resources are under real pressure both in the UK and overseas in the places where fruit and vegetables are grown. We will be exploring ways of increasing resilience to water-related risks in the system at all levels from farmers, to suppliers and retailers, through to consumers, and seeing if their needs are compatible or in conflict with each other.

“We don’t want to be importing food to the UK while ‘exporting’ drought; the fact that fresh fruit may always be available in this country might actually be detrimental to farmers or the environment in other countries, for instance.”

Five interdisciplinary projects to optimise UK food supply and tackle global food security have been awarded £9 million in total. Under the banner of the UK’s Global Food Security Programme, they are being funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), with the Scottish Government also co-funding one of the projects.

Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “From disease protection to improving management of global food shocks, these research projects will help tackle the serious threat of food shortages. Supporting these exciting and innovative solutions will help the UK food industry be better prepared for external factors and help provide food security to millions around the world.”

Crop irrigation
Crop irrigation

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.