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  Community-informed diversification of local food systems

   School of Biosciences

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  Prof C P Osborne, Dr J Edmondson, Dr M Blake  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Background: Our recent research shows that the distributions of crops worldwide tend to be limited more by historical processes of dispersal and establishment, than by climatic tolerance. One implication of this work is that a wider diversity of crops could potentially be grown in a UK climate, but these are either absent or not widely produced.

Introducing novel, underutilized crops into the UK food system could be especially important for immigrant communities who are unable to access culturally important foods, but it could also be a way in which diets become diversified for a wider population. However, any intervention intending to diversify the food available for a group of marginalised consumers will only be successful if it builds on existing knowledges and foodways.

Aims: This project will develop the technical knowledge, experience and stakeholder relationships needed to diversify local foodscapes in culturally appropriate ways. Through data analysis and modelling, and work with Sheffield immigrant groups and UK growers, the student will address three questions:

1. Which underutilized crops could potentially be grown in UK climates and soils, and which of these are already produced on small scales by UK growers?

2. Which of these crops are culturally important for particular immigrant groups, and what would be acceptable ways to introduce them into local foodscapes?

3. What are the environmental requirements of each crop, and what cultivation and management practices are needed to meet these in a UK context?

Objectives: The project will address these questions by: 1) combining climate envelope modelling and survey data to show which novel crop products have the potential to be grown across the UK and in Sheffield; 2) running focus groups with selected immigrant communities to understand which under-produced foods are wanted by these groups, their preferred methods of access, and what barriers might limit this access; 3) building on the relationships formed with growers during previous research to co-develop and trial appropriate methods for producing each crop.

Training: The student will gain knowledge and experience of cross-disciplinary working in the biological and social sciences. In biological sciences, they will carry out computer modelling, the analysis of large datasets, and manipulation experiments to understand the requirements for each crop. In social sciences, they will carry out focus groups with selected communities to identify plants from the crop suitability list that are culturally important to them, capture group knowledge about the foods and identify preferences for and the acceptability of different forms of access (e.g. shops, own-growing, restaurants).

Suitability: The project will particularly suit candidates with a BSc or MSc in agriculture or horticulture, and specific interests in sustainable food systems from scientific and social perspectives. Quantitative skills and experience (e.g. in statistics) would be advantageous. The student will join a welcoming, supportive international group doing research on crop production and plant-climate interactions. You’ll find more about us on the group website.

Science Graduate School

As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you’ll be part of the Science Graduate School. You’ll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You’ll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

First class or upper second 2(i) in a relevant subject. To formally apply for a PhD, you must complete the University's application form using the following link:

All applicants should ensure that both references are uploaded onto their application as a decision will be unable to be made without this information.

Agriculture (1) Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

The project is currently unfunded. As such, it would particularly suit a candidate who has obtained (or is seeking) their own funding to study at a UK university in a relevant area (e.g. a government scholarship), and is looking for a suitable project that meets their own interests and career goals.


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