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Cristina Violante Blog

09 June 2022

Cristina Argudin Violante

PhD Placement in Defra: Food and Innovation

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The food and drink industry is the major manufacturing industry in the UK, therefore highly important for the country’s economy and society. The agri-food and seafood sectors generate more than £120 billion for the UK economy yearly and employ around four million people. The agri-food sector is regionally dispersed, creating wealth and employment, as well as contributing to build local identities in every part of the UK. However, this industry is subject to different environmental, political, and socioeconomic challenges influenced by a global and dynamic context.

As a response to the global and local challenges, the Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) is currently working on the government’s Food Strategy. The strategy aims to build a prosperous agri-food and seafood sector that ensures a secure food supply and trade, while building a low-carbon, nature-positive food system that considers both consumers and animal welfare. In line with Defra’s Net Zero Strategy and Agricultural Transition Plan, the strategy seizes the opportunities of a new post-Brexit economy and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Innovation, as well as research and development are key to adapt and thrive in a changing world. Therefore, these are also key elements of the Food Strategy and particularly to the agri-food sector.

I had the opportunity to do a placement in Defra with both the Food Strategy and the Innovation teams from December 2021to March 2022.My job was to map to current UK’s agri-tech innovation landscape, identifying and mapping all the stakeholders involved in the UK’s agri-tech sector. These ranged from government bodies, funding agencies, accelerators, universities, independent research centres, industries, and already-existing innovation hubs. Once the stakeholders were identified, I analysed their involvement in the agri-tech sector and how much funding they provide or have, depending on their competencies. I also assessed the different programmes and funding available for agri-tech innovation and cross-checked their relationship with the previously identified priority themes for agri-tech innovation in the UK, such as precision agriculture, alternative proteins, genetic technologies, among others. Lastly, I researched about the impact that the different funding schemes and programmes have had in the agri-tech sector, through different projects and case studies.

Doing this placement was a challenging yet very rewarding experience, professionally and personally. I got the chance to immerse myself into different very interesting topics that were outside my area of expertise. I learned from the experience of diverse professional and highly committed civil servants. I also had the chance to engage with food industry and business entrepreneurs and to understand the role they play and how they influence policy. I realized the important role that research plays in some policy areas and themes, such as innovation and food systems.

Most of all, I feel fortunate for having the opportunity to contribute to the UK’s future by supporting the people that are currently setting the policies that will shape part of the UK economy, labour, research, culture, health, among other areas, up to 2050.

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