Tag Archives: economics

Food security research at Exeter, by Professor Michael Winter

michaelwinterblogFood security, the availability of food and how accessible it is to populations, is one of the biggest global issues facing research today. Once again the world’s eyes are being turned to Africa as the worst drought there in 60 years threatens 10 million people with famine, whilst at the same time England and Wales together throw away 3.6 million tonnes of “waste” food every year. At Exeter we’re in the early stages of strategising how we research food security. We already have real strength in four important areas: crop health, ecosystem services, food behaviours, and food animals.

Regarding crop health we are strong in Biosciences, particularly around pathogens with world leading research on diseases affecting bananas and rice diseases which affect productivity and yield. We’re also doing work on a soil fungus, trichoderma, which is shown to activate immunity to plant pathogens.

Ecosystem services is coming to the fore with the Environment and Sustainability Institute in Tremough. Professor Kevin Gaston, the inaugural director, is very much focused on the ecosystems services approach and the role of biodiversity, and we have some excellent work going on in Geography around soils and soil erosion. In the social sciences we’re looking at how we can best apply the ecosystems approach to decisions about how to use the land. In the South West, for example, I am looking at how best to adapt land-based systems to deliver economic benefits and sustainability targets.

In the area of food behaviours, Exeter has a long tradition of researching producers of food, agricultural producers in particular. But we also have a history of looking at the food chain and we have some very interesting research in Geography and in Psychology on issues of consumption and consumers. We also have work in Economics, led by Steve McCorriston, on price volatility, one of the big issues facing those concerned about food security.

The final area, food animals, attracts interest from geographers and biologists and wihtin the humanities. And in Psychology we have some fascinating work on dairy cows behaviour and the best way to manage behaviour for maximum welfare and productivity.

Food security research is inherently interdisciplinary, cutting across biosciences, economics, psychology, politics and other social sciences, and beyond. This is why I’m so excited by it – I’m a bit of an interdisciplinary junkie, you might say! As a social scientist I love working with natural scientists, and I think that’s really where the future is for the University, allying our tremendous strength in humanities and the social sciences with the natural science developments we’re making.

Posted by Professor Michael Winter (Co-Director, Centre for Rural Policy Research)

A University of Exeter Academic in Her Majesty’s Treasury

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I’m writing this sitting at a desk in my study in London. About an hour ago I arrived home from a day spent at the Treasury and as I gaze out of the window, I can see the lights twinkling on the Gherkin and other iconic buildings in the City. ‘How lovely’, I’m sure you’re all thinking, ‘but why isn’t she working hard in Exeter?’

The answer is that I am in the very fortunate position of being on sabbatical this year and I’m spending some of my time based with the Government Economic Service as their Senior Academic Adviser on Education. This entails a number of projects, all interesting and all contributing to better use of economics across government. One project is involved with raising economic literacy across the civil service, while another is looking at how the GES and universities can work together on furnishing analysts with postgraduate level qualifications and skills.

I’ve also been able to sit on the Social Impact Task Force, which is drawing up a framework to ensure that the wider implications of policies and projects are fully understood, and accounted for, when decisions are made. This includes issues such as sustainability, social mobility and the broader wellbeing agenda; it’s a fantastic opportunity to develop a real understanding of how policy is made and assessed.

I’m based at the Treasury, but I’m making the most of my time here- so far I’ve visited or given seminars to the Law Commission, the Department of Work & Pensions and the Foreign Office. Those of you back at Exeter will be pleased to know that there is a real appetite from all Departments for working closely with academics, and what better way to demonstrate impact?

As for the rest of my time, it’s mostly being spent writing. The manuscript for the next edition of my textbook is due with the publishers at the end of March and after that I have been asked to present at a number of conferences and events. Some of these are related to the National Teaching Fellowship that I was awarded in 2009; the prize money from that and from my Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Award in 2007 is funding my time in London. Those of you who know me, will be glad to hear that I’m also finding time to watch Arsenal on a regular basis; as a consequence there’s going to be at least one section, in the next edition of the book, on the economics of football.

Posted by Professor Alison Wride, Associate Professor in Economics (The Business School)