New PhD students welcomed to Food Transitions 2050 programme

24 May 2023 | News

The latest cohort of PhD students to enrol in the postgraduate school, Food Transitions 2050, received a warm welcome on the Lincoln University campus recently.

The programme, delivered jointly by Lincoln University and the University of Canterbury in partnership with Plant & Food Research, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research and AgResearch, aims to explore ways of making food production and consumption more sustainable in the face of global challenges.

Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) representatives also attended to welcome the new cohort.

The Food Transitions 2050 programme offers students the chance to work on cross-disciplinary research projects that combine areas such as economics, nutrition, agricultural science, and environmental policy.

With the goal of developing solutions for a more sustainable and equitable food system, the programme aims to produce world-class research that can contribute to policy-making at national and international levels.

Pip Howell, Senior Workforce Advisor at MPI, said this is the second year MPI has supported Food Transitions 2050 by providing scholarships to 5 PhD students to help them complete their studies.

"Our multi-billion-dollar food sector powers Aotearoa’s economy, and it’s vital to our prosperity," she said.

The Government and sector 10-year roadmap for the sector, Fit for a Better World, aims to boost productivity, sustainability, and jobs, and the new cohort’s studies definitely align to these goals. Food Transitions 2050 will help to ensure the ongoing success of the sector.

"It was amazing to join the new cohort to hear about all of the great work that has taken place through the programme so far."

The latest PhD students are a diverse group of individuals, all of whom share a passion for addressing the challenges facing the food system. The students will be supervised by a team of leading academics from both universities, as well as professionals from the participating CRIs who have expertise in various fields related to food systems.

Julie Gillespie, who was part of the first cohort for the programme and will complete her PhD through Lincoln University, spoke at the event about the transdisciplinary approach she is developing to understand the connections between people and soil through food production.

"At the moment there is a disconnect between soil, food, and people, with urbanisation meaning that people are more removed from where their food comes from and there is increasing pressure on fertile soils, creating challenges for food security," she said.

"I am developing a framework that takes food and landscape networks into account, quantifying connections between soil, food, and people in different production systems and identifying the strengths and weaknesses of various systems of food production.

"My research also focuses on including matauraka Māori in a way that ensures science can adapt to these practices rather than the other way around."

Dharmik Hitesh Patel, another PhD student within the FT2050 programme, discussed his research into how probiotic bacterial and plant bioactive compounds affect the human gut to improve our health, while Max Nightingale-McMahon spoke about his project on reusing winery wastewater for land use purposes to reduce the high volume waste from the wine industry.  

Lincoln University Postgraduate Research Director Andrew Holyoake said it was exciting to welcome the new group of students to Food Transitions 2050.

"An interdisciplinary approach is crucial to address the complex challenges facing our food system, and the work of these students will play an important role in contributing to a more sustainable system in the future."

Through the PhD programme, the universities and CRIs aim to build on this research, and create a pipeline of innovative and skilled individuals who will support the transition to more future-focused systems by 2050.

Learn more about Food Transitions 2050 here.

PHOTO: Food Transitions 2050 PhD students, Haley Jones (left) and Julie Gillespie. Haley's PhD, to be completed through the University of Canterbury, focuses on sustainable diet initiatives. Julie's research involves developing a transdisciplinary approach to understanding the connections between people and soil through food production and she will complete her PhD via Lincoln University.