The COP26 Summit in Glasgow was not the only gathering on climate change that took place last month: the SFN hosted its very own virtual COP26 festival, with events held throughout 2 – 5 November
"The aim of this was to celebrate and showcase how STFC capabilities have made a meaningful contribution to global food systems” says Alison Fletcher, Project Manager & Network Coordinator for the SFN. “But we also hope the festival will have a longer-lasting impact, by creating an online resource that helps food systems researchers to identify how STFC technologies could help their projects.”
The festival programme included a panel discussion and webinar, which both attracted diverse audiences that included representatives from academia, major food companies, governing bodies, food businesses and agricultural consultancies. For those that missed them, the full-length recordings of both events are available on the dedicated festival webpage, alongside a virtual exhibition and interactive map of SFN projects.
Expert panel discussion: Innovations for Carbon Neutral Food Systems
The webinar Innovations for Carbon Neutral Food Systems explored how the agricultural sector’s sheer complexity makes it imperative that efforts to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions use a holistic, multi-level approach. This will require action from all stakeholders, and policy makers will naturally have to lead the way said Dr Erica Pufall from the UK’s Food Standards Agency. She outlined a number of options for initiating positive change using policies, from taxing GHG-heavy food products and addressing food waste, to incentivising sustainable production practices and helping farmers to access innovative precision technologies. The financial sector – often portrayed as ‘the bad guys’ – will also have a crucial role, explained Dr Chris Cormack (Quant Foundry), a global leader in modelling the financial impacts from climate change-related risks. Considerable investment and capital will need to be mobilised to facilitate the transition to a net-zero world, but this can only happen if the financial sector and policy makers work together to build new, global carbon markets driven by accurate, well-audited data. But individual actions and choices also count, and Dr Christian Reynolds (Centre for Food Policy, City University, London) was optimistic that we can build on the increased consumer awareness of ‘planet-friendly’ diets to empower people to adopt more sustainable habits.
Webinar: STFC Instrumentation for Sustainable Food Systems
The STFC is host to some of the UK (and the world’s) most advanced scientific instruments, including the UK’s national synchrotron, the Diamond Light Source; state of the art, high-energy lasers; and facilities that can simulate outer space conditions. But since these are typically used for astronomy, physics, and space-related research, the food sector is generally unaware of these capabilities. A core purpose of the SFN, therefore, is linking up STFC technologies with food-systems researchers and businesses to spark truly novel approaches that haven’t been tried before. These collaborations allow food-sector researchers to perform experiments and analyses that would otherwise be beyond their means, such as big data and machine-learning methods; hyperspectral imaging; and neutral and gamma material assays. In return, STFC technicians and researchers have an opportunity to apply their expertise to a completely different area.
The webinar STFC Instrumentation for Sustainable Food Systems showcased a series of impactful SFN projects that perfectly illustrated this in action. For instance, Dr Hugh Mortimer (STFC RAL Space) described how his involvement in SFN projects had allowed him to apply his expertise in hyperspectral and thermal imaging (developed for Earth Observation analysis) in new ways, from diagnosing diseases in trees, to soil analysis and tools to optimise apple harvests . The event also featured Dr Anthony Brown (Durham University), who described the potential for unmanned aerial vehicles in the food sector, including to monitor soil moisture content and track the spread of deadly crop diseases. Meanwhile, Dr Maria Anastasiadi (Cranfield University, UK) spoke about how spectroscopy-based techniques could help tackle food fraud, using the example of monofloral honeys
Interactive map of SFN projects
This new feature illustrates at a glance the reach of SFN projects, both on a UK-wide and global level. Even those who have long been involved with the network will likely be surprised at the truly international nature of the projects supported so far. “As a tool, it will particularly help people new to the SFN to see the kinds of projects we have been involved in so far’ says Alison. ‘The filters make it easy to search projects based on either different STFC capabilities (for instance, data science) or food intersections (such as consumer behaviour and nutrition).”
SFN COP26 Hackathon
This four-day competition was inspired by the urgent need to help smallholder farmers adapt to climate change by providing up-to-date, location-specific data to advise them on the crop types and varieties they should grow. Teams of designers, coders, scientists and data analysts were challenged to create an open access platform that could integrate highly varied datasets – from soil maps to market price data – to recommend crop type, planting date and management regimes, specifically for smallholder farmers in India. You can learn more about the event and the winning entries on our blog post.
Agrifoods Innovations Exhibition
With visual communications becoming increasingly dominant in our digital world, the SFN team decided to curate a virtual gallery of arresting images to readily illustrate the individual and collective impact of SFN projects so far. The exhibition represents approximately half of the projects funded to date, and will be added to over time. Throughout the COP26 festival, the images were used in a social media campaign to encourage viewers to click through to read more information about the illustrated project. “Ultimately, we’d also like to use the images to create collages for pop-up banners and posters at future events. This will draw in people who are curious to learn more about the projects behind the images, and present an opportunity to introduce them to what the SFN does” says Alison.
All the resources from the SFN Virtual Festival for COP26 can be found on its dedicated webpage.
January 2022 - Caroline Wood, Freelance Science Writer