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Newsletter: Focus on

In each monthly edition of our newsletters, we will be asking one of our researchers to shed some light on their research.

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Jonathan Eden

What’s your research passion?

Responding to climate change is the 21st century’s most important global challenge. I’m passionate about generating and disseminating reliable climate information that is of the greatest possible value to its potential users.

What are you working on right now?

My research places me at the interface of state-of-the-art climate modelling and advanced statistical analysis. Most recently I have been working in the emerging field of event attribution, which seeks to understand how global warming is changing the likelihood of extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, droughts and heatwaves.

How does your research relate to current world affairs?

Society may feel disconnected from century-long climate projections but extreme events offer a tangible link to global warming that we experience in the here and now. Understanding how human activity has contributed to such events is potentially a very important tool for communicating risk and guiding adaptation.

What has been your greatest achievement?

Event attribution is a relatively new field in climate science and I am proud to have contributed to the flagship EU project EUCLEIA and several accompanying papers that have collectively identified key challenges and outlined best practice for others to follow.

What’s in the pipeline for you?

I have clear ideas about how we can improve the robustness of attribution studies and better communicate our results, some of which have already contributed to project proposals and my involvement in external collaborations. I’m also hoping to learn more from CAWR colleagues about the value of climate information in their respective fields.


You can find out more about Jonathan's work on his PURE profile.

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Donna Udall

What’s your research passion?

 Anything to do with farming.  Preserving soils, water and the wider environment is vital if we are going to grow food, feed, fuel or fibre. Everything to do with farmers.  I come from a farming family and know well the challenges – and the pleasures.   However, it’s hard work and, although using chemical inputs made it easier to grow more food in the short term, we compromised our ability to grow food in the long term.  So what’s the fix?  Essentially, agroecological thinking and methods – if it’s come out of the ground it’s got to go back.

What are you working on right now?

   Ooo – I’m working on loads of stuff right now! 

 a.       I’m undertaking laboratory work for my PhD which concerns the use of digestate and biochar (charcoal) as soil fertilisers.  Renewable energy technologies like anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis use waste food and biofuel to produce energy, but they also produce by-products that we can use to improve soils for improved crop growth.  However, these waste products come with problems.  Digestate releases its nitrogen too easily so it’s lost from the soil and unavailable for plant growth.  Critically, this lost nitrogen can end up in streams as nitrates, causing eutrophication or in the air as ammonia, causing air pollution.  Biochar however does not contain many nutrients, but would it act like a sponge to keep nitrogen in the soil – where we need it?  

b.      I am also working on a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone report for Wales where we looked at the impact of expanding these regulatory zones on farmers, our team put a list of alternative technologies together that famers can use to better manage nitrates.  

c.       Another project is the impact of Brexit on Protected Food Names (PFNs) in Wales.  If leaving the EU means loosing this protection for traditional Welsh products – where does it leave those producers?It’s a really interesting subject!  

d.      However, my absolute favourite project is our BioRich Project.  Supported by the Soil Association this wonderful project involves my working with farmers to discover the benefits of using biochar in beef and dairy production.  We are hoping to find lots of benefits – but you need to watch this space to find out if we do!!

How does your research relate to current world affairs?

 My research relates at every level.  Through using biochar we can store carbon in soils – away from the atmosphere where it contributes to climate change.  This additional carbon in soils also helps to improve soil structure, reducing soil erosion.  Using food waste to generate energy has obvious benefits, but the waste products of that energy generation can help us grow more food in a sustainable manner.

What’s in the pipeline for you?

More of the same! But I am hoping particularly to expand the BioRich work with biochar and cattle but for that I need funding.  So, I will soon be requesting crowdfunding to expand this project, include more farmers – conventional and organic – and more treatments and more analysis.  One of the main aims is to establish whether biochar can improve the health of cattle but also to see if it will stop ammonia (that’s the smell stuff) drifting off manure and causing air pollution.


You can find out more about Donna's work by visiting her PURE profile.

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Stefanie Lemke

What is your research passion?

I see many commonalities among smallholder farmers in different parts of the world, struggling to make a living from farming. Another commonality is the lack of rights of women, their multiple work burdens and roles. Women are food producers, income earners, carers of their family. In addition to that they are mainly responsible for household chores and engage in other tasks at community level. If women had equal rights with regard to access to resources and services, and if work burdens were shared, we would be able to achieve better food and nutrition security for everyone – there is not only ample scientific evidence for this, but it is common sense. Looking at the vast structural inequalities and discrimination it is challenging – my aim is to contribute in helping overcome these inequalities, and the barriers that hamper participation for people. I am working with concepts such as the right to food, food sovereignty and gender transformative approaches, in collaboration with civil society actors, aiming to leveraging the necessary societal change. What inspires me is engaging with local actors – I am impressed by the creative strategies people develop in sustaining their livelihoods. I also feel inspired by my colleagues. All of this is what makes me passionate about research - to work collaboratively towards rights of access to natural resources for food sovereignty, sustainable food systems, healthy and sustainable diets, and decent livelihoods.

What are you working on right now?

Part of my work builds on a larger research project that started back in 2009, on the link between gender, nutrition and the human right to adequate food, which is a collaboration of academia and civil society. I continue to work on this project at various levels: through research applying rights-based approaches, publications and advocacy work, and in teaching - for example within CAWR’s new MSc Course. At international level I work with academic and human rights and other organisations furthering curriculum development on the right to food.

 An exciting upcoming project is in Yakutsk, Russia, on the impact of climate change and socio-economic transition on human health. For example, people living in rural areas use the permafrost to preserve meat and other food – what will happen if temperatures rise? I will join a research scoping mission in August, organised by the University of Hohenheim – as part of an interdisciplinary team, including veterinary and medical sciences, public health, agricultural sciences, biology, zoology, and indigenous studies. My focus is on food consumption and related social and health practices, designing participatory research approaches. I look forward to learning about the local context and how people cope with the challenges experienced due to climate change.

 A project of one of my PhD students is to explore the potential of urban agriculture to contribute towards sustainable food systems in food-insecure neighbourhoods in Cape Town and Maputo. In February I participated in a stakeholder workshop in Cape Town, where the acute drought led to a strict rationing of water – with severe consequences for food production of urban famers. The acute crisis is over (for now), due to some good rain – however, this showed how vulnerable people are without water, and the social tensions this can lead to, especially in highly unequal societies such as South Africa.

CAWR colleague Priscilla Claeys and I currently engage in a one-year exploratory participatory project with civil society organisations in Mali, West Africa, on governing natural resources for food sovereignty. We undertook a first research scoping mission to Mali in March this year, meeting local actors and discussing rights of access to natural resources – such as land, seeds, forests, fisheries - for various groups, among them pastoralists, fisherfolk, peasants, and Indigenous Peoples. We participated in a meeting of 400 smallholder farmers who had lost their land. We place a specific focus on rights of women, and on the legal frameworks and the often conflicting statutory and customary laws.

How does your research relate to current world affairs?

The projects I am involved in are about people aiming to make a living and securing their livelihoods, in regions where the impact of climate change and natural hazards such as drought are felt severely, further compromising food and nutrition security that are already at stake. Most of these regions are also characterised by stark structural and gender inequalities. Challenging and overcoming these inequalities and analysing the role policies and governance play in this – both at local and national levels – is of high relevance worldwide.


This is not easy to answer - maybe receiving two larger research grants of three years each (German Research Foundation; Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden Wuerttemberg and European Social Fund). I felt that my work is recognized and seen as relevant, and the grants enabled me to do the research I am passionate about – otherwise I would probably not be at CAWR! And, building relationships and trust with colleagues, research partners, and students – this is the foundation to be able to do research.


Several funding bids in collaboration with researchers from CAWR and with international colleagues – awaiting the outcome. Priscilla Claeys and I undertook a second trip to Mali at the end of June, within the above-mentioned project on governance of natural resources, where we co-organised a workshop with local partners from the region. Later this year we plan a research scoping mission to East Africa. Based on these insights and experiences we will develop a larger research project, and hopefully continue with this work.

You can find out more about Stefanie's work by visiting her PURE profile.

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My research is broadly about the sociology of 'alternative' agri-food systems, and I am passionate about contributing to this interdisciplinary field. As a researcher with a background in human geography and qualitative enquiry, and having worked both locally and internationally, I view my role as fundamentally about working with - and for - people at a range of scales. I believe that research is not about 'extracting' information and formulating abstract concepts within academic circles, but about understanding the reality within communities, and leveraging change that can bring about more sustainable and resilient futures. This is why I incorporate participatory and collaborative practices into my work.


I am currently leading an exciting year-long project that is exploring the impacts of Brexit for Protected Food Names in the UK. We are currently analysing data following fieldwork with producers of 'Protected' Food (which includes familiar products such as Cornish pasties and Stilton Cheese), and will present our findings at the Annual Royal Geographical Society International Conference in Cardiff. I am also in the process of writing up previous research project work in to journal papers.


The Protected Food Names project is particularly relevant as this is connected to debates about post-Brexit UK agriculture and food policy. For instance, Protected Foods in the UK (and Protected food across Europe) currently receive this status through the European Union's 'Quality logo'. Our research is important as it is engaging directly with stakeholders and producers of these foods across the UK to understand some of the key opportunities and challenges 'on the ground' associated with Brexit. The research also aims to explore how Protected Food Names can contribute to broader sustainable territorial development processes. 


I am an 'early career researcher' and so my greatest achievement to date was the completion of my PhD in 2015. I am also proud to have published in two esteemed academic journals and to have successfully been awarded grant funding on multiple occasions from both internal and external sources. I think it is also important to take pride in the more 'day-to-day' workings within research, which I see as being about building collaborative relationships and working as part of a team. 


I am looking forward to writing up and disseminating the research about Protected Food Names as this will give a platform to influence policy, and to develop new proposals in this area with international partners. As mentioned, I am also in the process of writing up previous work connected to my projects about Short Food Supply Chains and community food initiatives that I have been involved with recently.

You can find out more about Luke's work by visiting his PURE Profile