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Sustainable food production aim of Coventry University's food program

29 March 2012

A new Masters degree has been launched by Coventry University to tackle the globally critical issues of food security and contribute to the development of food systems that will help countries feed their growing populations

The MSc in Food Security Management, which begins in September, will equip students with a comprehensive insight into sustainable food production and management, agricultural systems, climate change and the environment, and law and governance.

The course is being run by experts in the University's Centre for Agroecology and Food Security, including the world-leading researchers behind the University's Grand Challenge Initiative programme in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security.

"It is generally accepted that we need to develop more sustainable agricultural systems that protect the natural resource base, reduce adverse effects of agriculture on the environment, and are conducive to the maintenance of biodiversity," explained MSc in Food Security Management course leader Dr James Bennett.

"In many industrialised countries, often with surplus agricultural production, public support for agriculture is increasingly linked to environmental objectives. In contrast, in many developing countries there is an urgent need to increase food production, but in a more sustainable and environmentally friendly way."

Given the content of the programme Dr Bennett is expecting strong interest from prospective students in Indian sub-continent and sub-Saharan Africa, as well as UK practitioners. The course is being supported by non-government organisation Garden Organic, providing "high credibility in terms of sustainability".

"The MSc will focus on training specialists in agroecology and food security which conforms to the internationalisation agenda - so it is equally appropriate for both developing and industrialised countries - and, given our focus on management, there is no other course in the UK that reflects this," Dr Bennett said.

"Career opportunities in this field are expanding rapidly, and the programme is suitable for future professionals, managers, researchers and consultants in the fields of environmental management and protection, food production, and supply and agricultural development and sustainability."

An expert in small-scale agricultural production systems, biodiversity and conservation, and rangeland ecology and management, Dr Bennett has recently returned from a research field trip to Ethiopia. He visited the Liben Plain in the Southern Ethiopian lowlands in conjunction with bird conservation specialists from the RSPB and BirdLife International and local research students affiliated with the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society.

The project focuses on conservation of the critically endangered Liben Lark which is known only from the Liben Plain and one other site in Ethiopia. Dr Bennett's role was to characterise some of the changes in the pastoral management system that may have been associated with the decline of the lark.

In another project, Dr Bennett has also just completed his five-month Royal Geographical Society funded fieldwork in South Africa. The South African government has developed policy aimed at strengthening property rights in communal areas and creating common property institutions (CPIs) to facilitate community-based management - however, the effectiveness of this remains unknown in many areas as communal CPIs are potentially subject to many constraints to their emergence and operation, not least the ‘institutional layering’ engendered by the persistence of traditional authorities, which may continue to maintain control over land access and management.

Focusing on the former Transkei region of Eastern Cape Province, an area known to support active traditional authorities, Dr Bennett's research documented the institutions that exist for rangeland access and management. His focus was on the constraints to their effective function in providing defined grazing rights for local users and how this played out between traditional and community-based structures.

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