The AFN Network+ is excited to introduce our six new Champions for 2024. The Champions bring a wealth of expertise spanning the agri-food system, from hands-on farming to wider industry, academia and the public sector. Each Champion will lead one of six research themes, identified by our members during The Big Tent 2023, our annual general meeting.
Leaders in their respective fields, the Champions bring a diverse range of experience. From hospitality to innovative agri-businesses, communications, third sector organisations and food systems research, their backgrounds encompass the food system from farm to fork.
Our Champions play a key role in supporting our mission of identifying key research gaps that may be holding the UK food system back from transitioning towards a net zero UK by 2050.
Drawing on their expertise and knowledge, the Champions will build their own networks, centred around their respective theme. They will run engagement activities with the aim of seeking and synthesising ideas and thinking around the drive towards achieving net zero by 2050. Crucially, they will map the research and innovation landscape, within their theme as well as across others, identifying critical knowledge and activity gaps that need addressing.
Stefan Kepinski, Champions Coordinator said: “We’re thrilled to welcome our exceptional new Champions. They bring with them unique insight into the agri-food sector, which is crucial if we want to advance real change in the food system as the UK transitions to net zero. We eagerly anticipate the valuable contribution they’ll make to the Network.”
Healthy and sustainable diets: Saher Hasnain
Saher is a Researcher at the Food Systems Transformation Programme with the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute and an Environmental Change Research Fellow with Reuben College. Trained as an environmental scientist and geographer, she specialises in food systems transformation and resilience, food geography, and urban environmental health. At the Environmental Change Institute, she works on an interdisciplinary portfolio of projects focused on food systems and foresight analysis. x
Land productivity: Caeli Richardson
Caeli discovered her passion for agriculture while working on a dairy farm in Canada. She broadened her practical experience on a local swine and cash- crop operation before gaining a global perspective of on-farm challenges. Incorporating practical experience into her theoretical training allows Caeli to create innovative solutions to multifaceted problems. Before joining AbacusBio, Caeli completed a Ph.D. in Computational Biology at La Trobe University in Australia, focusing on the development and implementation of genetic strategies to reduce methane emissions in Australian dairy cattle. Caeli is a proud participant of the 2023 ICAR Brian Wickham Young Persons Exchange Program where she investigated the implementation and validation of sustainability in cattle.
Food security and trade: Jude Irons
Jude was brought up on a smallholding in Derbyshire and read Animal Science at the University of Leeds. She started her career at Tesco, and subsequently worked for Marks and Spencer, Booker, as a consultant, and for the 2 Sisters Food Group. She currently works for Nandos as a Product Director for menu development, purchasing of food and non food, logistics and all ethical sourcing and technical environmental standards and targets. She sits on the Red Tractor Poultry board, the FDTP (Food Data Transparency Partnership) for DEFRA and the Soil Association Exchange Advisory Board.
Land use and land management: Georgie Barber
Georgie is the Land Use and Countryside lead at the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, focusing on how a Land Use Framework can support better food systems and the transition to net zero. Focusing on governance of climate transitions, her previous advocacy and research has included international advocacy on the Convention on Biological Diversity and China’s overseas food footprint, as well as working on climate issues at the European Parliament.
Circular food systems: Charlotte Wheeler
Charlotte has worked in the agricultural sector for the past decade, as a farmer, in academia, and currently for Pasture for Life, where she established their regional farmer knowledge exchange groups. Recently she has moved into a new role as Research Officer at Pasture for Life, synthesising relevant research for a farming audience, as well as working on an inter-organisational project on the development of local and alternative supply chains. Charlotte is interested in exploring the role that agroecology can play in contributing to the UK food system's resilience to climate change, and the synergies between low-input farming, biodiversity restoration, and equitable, just food systems.
Behaviour change: Amy Jackson
Amy has spent most of her life working in and around farming: on farms, as a trainee auctioneer and cattle breeder, and in agricultural public relations – including four years as head of communications at the dairy levy board. After time out working with international clients such as Toyota and Gillette, she returned to specialise in agricultural issues and crises management, with involvement in high profile stories such as the rise of ‘megafarms’ and antibiotic use in livestock. Amy has a PhD in public perceptions of farming from the University of Nottingham’s Vet School, and is looking forward to applying social science and behaviour change practice to the challenge of achieving net zero.
More on this year's themes
Healthy and sustainable diets
How to develop a resilient UK food system that contributes to net zero while promoting healthy diets? This theme focuses on the need for dietary and food system change to contribute to a net zero UK, while promoting access to healthy and affordable diets.
What should we grow in the UK? This theme focuses on the productive utilisation of our finite land resource. It covers questions of how crop and animal breeding and husbandry can help ensure sufficient food is produced from less land, and how space can be created for ambitious targets for planting trees to sequester carbon.
Food security and trade
Where should our food come from? This theme focuses on the geographical scales at which our agri-food system operates and the balance between food produced and traded locally, nationally and across national borders. It covers questions of food security, reliance and sustainability of markets and supply changes at different spatial scales.
Land use change and land management
How should we change land use and land management in the UK? This theme focuses on the mechanisms and incentive systems to drive required changes in land use and land management in the UK. It covers questions of agricultural support policies, new markets for carbon sequestration (trees and soils), land use frameworks and reconciling demands of net zero, biodiversity and other environmental services).
Circular food systems
How can we develop a more circular UK food system, including the agricultural economy and ecology, other components of the system, and the infrastructure that underpins it? This theme focuses on the question of more sustainable agricultural production systems with a particular emphasis on the concepts of circularity. It covers questions of the need for smaller-scale, mixed farming systems and the relative merits of systems such as agroecology, agroforestry and regenerative agriculture, and the re-use of nutrients from along the supply chain.
Individual and institutional behaviour change in the UK agri-food system. This theme focuses on the role of institutions and policies to encourage behaviour change in the agri-food system. It includes questions of politics, economics and psychology, and the individual and institutional dynamics of changes in food production practices and diet.
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UK Research has funded this Network+ with the support of these 4 councils:
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)