Creating and connecting a community of food systems thinkers

Participants of IFSTAL

A novel approach to addressing the challenges of the food system has marked its third successful year.

IFSTAL (Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning) is a collaboration between five leading higher education institutions, co-ordinated at the University of Oxford. To date more than 1,100 postgraduate students from over 45 disciplines have engaged in the programme. The model has also been adopted outside the UK, with the first overseas IFSTAL course held in Ghana in July 2018.

Participants of IFSTAL at the Centre for Climate Change and Sustainability Studies, University of Ghana. FSR programme

To celebrate the end of its first phase, IFSTAL is holding a showcase on 27 September 2018 at Oxford Town Hall. As a day of sharing, reflection, debate and learning, it’s an opportunity to understand more about the IFSTAL model and consider its application in other fields and the future of education.

IFSTAL Programme Leader Dr John Ingram is based at the Environmental Change Institute in Oxford, where he oversees the Food Systems Research Programme. He believes IFSTAL’s multidisciplinary approach is long overdue.

“There is a consensus that the food system is not functioning in the way it should”, said Dr Ingram. “Look at the challenges for diet-related diseases, under-nutrition across the world and the environmental impact of food production, IFSTAL is designed to bring about the systemic change that the food system requires in order to limit the negative outcomes its currently delivering and prepare for the future.”

All five collaborating institutions are internationally recognised leaders in different aspects of the food security agenda: University of Oxford; City University, London; University of Reading; University of Warwick and The Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH) – an interdisciplinary collaboration between the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).

“Any innovation has to be fit for enterprise because if the business world – from small to large – is not involved, change won’t come about,” says Dr Ingram. “In the discussion about food we often talk about health and the environment while overlooking the machinery of the food system, so we’ve also got to look at what is viable for businesses.”

IFSTAL workshop underway at the University of Ghana FSR programme

To date, more than 100 alumni have secured jobs either partly or directly due to engagement in the programme, bringing IFSTAL’s approach to food systems thinking into the workplace

Participation in IFSTAL is free-of-charge for postgraduate students registered at any of the partner institutions. They can attend regular workshops, away days, webinars, and an annual summer school run for 30 students. After three years, the IFSTAL team is now seeking to build on the programme’s successes to create even greater impact.

“We’re looking to partner with organisations who believe in this new approach to addressing challenges,” says Dr Ingram. “It’s an opportunity to be part of something truly innovative.”

Phase Two of the IFSTAL journey launches in October 2018. The aim is to collaborate with a wide range of public and private organisations including businesses, foundations and trusts to build a community of food system thinkers able to bring about food system change within their own arenas. It will be a critically-important core component of a broader collaboration spanning the host universities and government agencies as well as the workplace, which is being asked to support individual activities.

IFSTAL summer school at University of Reading FSR programme

“This core activity will allow us to develop IFSTAL programmes both elsewhere in the UK, and in other countries including in the Global South. In particular, it will allow us to extend our recently delivered – and very successful – IFSTAL course in Ghana and other countries.” says Dr Ingram.

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