Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition (FSN Forum)

Dr. Maria Sharmina

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester
United Kingdom

Dear Dr Lidder and Professor Welch,

Thank you for this opportunity to inform the FAO work on strengthening science-policy interfaces. Please find attached our evidence submission to this consultation. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have on our submission.

Best wishes,

Drs Maria Sharmina and Angela Mae Minas

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester

This submission provides written evidence from several academic research projects conducted by researchers at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the University of Manchester. Evidence is also presented from a policy secondment undertaken by Maria Sharmina with the UK Government for Science and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, working on the Net Zero Foresight project. All views contained within are attributable to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the University or the UK Government.

1 Analysis of the complexities and practical problems associated with science-policy interfaces

  • Do you have an understanding of how agrifood systems policy is enacted in your country or at the regional or international levels?

The Tyndall Centre’s research suggests that high value crops and commodities usually get most policy attention. In the case of Southeast Asia, this is rice. Rice is also a highly political commodity. Programmes, policies and projects related to rice also often reach the wealthier and more connected members of the community (Minas et al 2020).

  • Are you aware of opportunities to contribute science, evidence and knowledge to policy at national, regional or global levels?

Agricultural development, especially in rural areas, appears to always be entangled in issues of power, politics, and representation (Minas, 2018). Effective contribution to policy in Southeast Asia often happens through research partnerships with the government (e.g., IRRI and Philippine Department of Agriculture-funded on rice straw management).

  • What kind of knowledge and evidence is privileged in such processes?

In Southeast Asia, more ‘powerful actors’ (e.g. large rice traders, agricultural machine owners) feel that they can demand policy support from the government; whilst the ‘poor and marginalised’ (e.g. small scale farmers) expect the government to help solve their problems, but without an opportunity to voice their concerns. (Minas, 2018). Here, research plays a role in delivering key messages to policy and decision makers. Tyndall’s work in Southeast Asia has contributed to outputs aimed to help start discussions with government actors in the Philippines and Myanmar.

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the processes you are aware of?

In the current policy making structure in the Philippines, certain powers, including those of the Department of Agriculture are devolved to local government units (i.e. municipal or town level). As such, some local towns could have a direct policy, e.g. against rice straw burning, despite there not being a national policy (Minas, 2018). Local actors are normally able to contribute to this process through representation by a farmers’ association.

  • What opportunities and challenges have you faced for drawing from sustainability science, interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity to inform policy?

From our experience in the UK, policy makers tend to be generalists rather than specialists. They, therefore, welcome the opportunity of communicating across knowledge domains that interdisciplinarity brings. At the same time, much academic research and policy making as a process tends to happen in silos determined by disciplinary boundaries and departments (Sharmina et al., 2016). To address the major societal challenges, such as climate change and the biodiversity crisis, that span multiple sectors, interdisciplinary insights are essential (Sharmina et al., 2019). To encourage such cross-fertilisation of disciplines, effective measures include physically co-locating people who have diverse sets of expertise, promoting long-term thinking, interdisciplinary advocacy at all organisational levels, and investing in dedicated administrative staff (Jenkins et al., 2020).

2 Knowledge production for policy

  • To what extent do you work across disciplines and/or draw on expertise from academic and non-academic actors including Indigenous Peoples and small-scale producers?

As we aim to address complex societal challenges such as climate change, all our research is interdisciplinary and draws on expertise from beyond academia. Our Centre is structured by Research Theme, rather than by discipline, including: ‘Accelerating Social Transitions’, ‘Building Resilience’, ‘Overcoming Poverty with Climate Actions’, and ‘Reaching Zero Emissions’. Each research Theme crosses multiple disciplinary boundaries.

  • To what extent, and in what ways, is your research co-produced with other knowledge holders and non-academic-stakeholders important for informing policy in agrifood systems?

At the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, we have aligned our mission of producing academically rigorous research with making the research relevant to policy makers. Such relevance comes from our ongoing engagement with local, regional and national policy makers through workshops, focus groups, surveys and interviews aimed at informing research questions, co-designing research proposals, collecting data, and disseminating research findings.

The Tyndall Centre’s research advocates for co-development of solutions to societal challenges. Specifically, our work in rice straw bioenergy proposes a strategy on how such co-development can be done purposefully, rather than being an afterthought, to help encourage collaboration between research, policy, and community ensure that farmers are engaged in the process (Minas et al 2020).

3 Knowledge translation for policy-making

  • To what extent does your organization/university support you to produce and disseminate knowledge products to a range of audiences?
  • Please describe any incentives or rewards in place for effective, sustained policy engagement, for example successfully conducting policy-relevant research and for its dissemination.
  • Do you or your organization / university engage in processes to build evidence into agrifood policy processes such as government consultations, government knowledge management systems, digital decision-support systems, web portals, etc.? Please tell us more.

At our University, engagement with policy makers is encouraged and rewarded through promotions criteria, the Research Excellence Framework’s emphasis on research impact, and allocating time to the ‘Knowledge Exchange’ activity category in the University’s workload model.

Our co-production and dissemination of knowledge is supported by the University’s policy engagement institute Policy@Manchester, connecting researchers with policy actors. Among its range of activities, Policy@Manchester provides training, runs policy roundtables, supports researchers with writing policy briefings, and funds policy fellowships.

The Tyndall Centre regularly contributes to expert consultations and calls for evidence issued by government. Some examples include submitting written evidence: to the UK Government Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy on bioenergy’s social sustainability where we discussed aspects related to agriculture (April 2022); to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on food security (September 2022); and, to the UK Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the National Food Strategy (October 2019).

4 Assessing evidence

  • How can assessments of evidence best be communicated to all stakeholders?

Tyndall Centre’s work that reviewed how the public responds to new technologies (Mander and Minas 2019) suggest that when engaging with stakeholders, it is important to involve those that may be affected in a fair and equitable decision-making processes. This ‘procedural justice’ can have a big impact on policy outcomes – especially in ensuring genuine engagement from all actors.

5 Examples

  • Please share any examples of how the science, evidence and knowledge generated through your work or the work of your university has subsequently fed into decision-making.

In addition to the written evidence submissions cited above under Question 3, we are providing here several examples that are either focused on agrifood or have transferrable insights for the agrifood science-policy interface.

We produced a report for the European Parliament on understanding public responses to low carbon technology (Mander and Minas, 2019). This report served as background material to assist them in their parliamentary work. The report includes references to biomass and bioenergy.

Our work on the availability of biomass and energy crops for reducing carbon emissions whilst minimising food systems impacts (Welfle et al., 2014), informed the UK Government Department of Energy & Climate Change own scenarios in this area.

We collaborated with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to develop a decision support tool to help them assess carbon emissions and co-benefits of their policy decisions. Agriculture and land-use is one of the impact areas assessed in the tool.

A combination of our interdisciplinary research on the risks of negative emissions technologies unproven at scale (Larkin et al., 2018), on decarbonising the critical sectors (Sharmina et al., 2021), and on trade-offs between circular economy and climate change (Gallego-Schmid et al., 2020), and between circular economy and resilience (Fletcher et al., 2021), have led to Dr Sharmina’s policy secondment with the UK Government for Science and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, working on the Net Zero Foresight project. This project aims to support the resilience of government net zero policies to potential societal and technological changes.