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EASTBIO: Modelling scenarios for sustainable future livestock systems

   College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine

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  Dr Rafael De Oliveira Silva, Dr P Alexander, Prof D Moran  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Production and consumption of livestock products feature largely in current debates about food system sustainability. There has been considerable work around the nature of both production and consumption externalities (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss through expansion of agricultural land and antimicrobial resistance) and the need for a transformation to a more sustainable system [1]. However, there is much less clarity about what that transformation entails, what future systems will look like and how production technologies will combine with evolving consumer preferences for livestock products and their substitutes. Transformation will require technical and institutional innovation, implying penetration of disruptive technologies and systems innovations (animal and system level resource use efficiency; breeding and selection; alternate feed sources; changes in farming practices). This project seeks to develop change models that can depict system transformation combining models representing different scales. Optimization (including, farm-level modelling) will be used to explore “optimal” configurations, in terms of technology adoption of food systems under different criteria, e.g., maximum profit vs minimum GHGs. Complementary to the optimization, behavioural modelling (ABM) will be used to explore barriers related to technology diffusion, e.g., risk aversion, cultural factors and social networks.

The objectives are:

1.    To establish livestock sector trajectories based on existing stakeholders narratives on sustainable transformations

2.    To develop models representing the UK livestock system capable of exploring the social and environmental trade-offs associated with livestock transformation. This will require extension of an existing model [2] and development of new tools, e.g., that use of system dynamic, optimization and agent-based modelling (ABM).

3.    To define plausible horizons for a sustainable UK livestock sector in 2050, and the consequences from them, through the application of models for scenario quantification.

4.    To suggest policy interventions that can help to deliver systems transformation with least socioeconomic negative impacts

The project will negotiate the spaces between competing narratives on livestock sustainability, elucidating trade-offs, exploring technical opportunities and challenges and reconciling arguments for the development of public policy.  The student will be equipped with interdisciplinary modelling skills relevant to a variety of public policy challenges.

This opportunity is open to UK and international students and provides funding covering stipend and UK level tuition fees. The University of Edinburgh covers the difference between home and international fees meaning that the EASTBIO DTP offers fully-funded studentships to all appointees. There is a cap on the number of international students the DTP recruits.  It is therefore important for us to know from the outset which fees status category applicants will fall under when applying to our university.

Please refer to UKRI website and Annex B of the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions for full eligibility criteria.

Funding Notes

This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) .
EASTBIO Application and Reference Forms can be downloaded via
Please send your completed EASTBIO Application Form along with a copy of your academic transcripts to [Email Address Removed]
You should also ensure that two references have been send to [Email Address Removed] by the deadline using the EASTBIO Reference Form.


1.Poore & Nemecek (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360(6392), 987-992; 2. Silva et al. "Sustainable intensification of Brazilian livestock production through optimized pasture restoration." Agricultural systems 153 (2017): 201-211. https://10.1016/j.agsy.2017.02.001

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