Introducing N8 AgriFood’s Policy Fellow at POST

Last year N8 AgriFood opened the doors to its first ever Policy Fellowship Scheme, through which one doctoral student was to be given the chance to be sent to Westminster to produce a briefing on Resilient Food System Supply Chains.

N8 AgriFood teamed up with the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), which runs a Policy Fellowship process, offering a three-month placement to doctoral students with the chance to gain valuable policy experience. Together they funded a new placement under the topic of – Promoting Resilient Supply Chains in our Food System.

The opportunity was put out to all doctoral students, registered at one of the N8 Universities, who were working in an area of agri-food research, with a competitive application process.

After interviews towards the end of 2019, N8 AgriFood awarded the internship to Joe Llanos, a fourth year student at the University of Sheffield. Joe, who began the internship last month, is now spending three months at the Houses of Parliament, working in POST, to produce a POSTnote that better informs parliamentarians, consumers, businesses and policy-makers about the environmental impacts of food supply chains, as well as providing more accurate information on the global impacts of our food choices on people and the planet.

We met up with Joe to find out more about him, and his plans for his time with POST:

What do your current studies at the University of Sheffield involve?

I’m funded by the University’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures and based in Animal & Plant Sciences, where my research looks at the impact of biodiversity on agricultural soil health, including how soil animals like earthworms can help us to boost crop yields. This inter-disciplinary project involves lots of practical field and lab-based work, as well as computer modelling and data analysis. Last year, I was awarded an additional grant to develop a new method to assess earthworm biodiversity on farms using environmental DNA (DNA that’s left behind in the soil as animals move through it). I’m now in the process of writing up the scientific papers that will make up my thesis.

As well as my research activities, I have benefited from a specialist PhD training course from the Grantham Centre, designed to help us bridge the gaps between science, policy and the private sector. I was also privileged to be able to attend the COP14 UN Biodiversity summit in 2018, where I saw first-hand how evidence-based policy can drive positive change across multiple sectors.

What is the purpose of your work at POST and how do you plan to achieve it?

POST is an office of both Houses of Parliament, which provides independent and balanced analysis of the research evidence related to public policy issues. At POST I am tasked with gathering evidence from experts (academics, NGOs, industry, regulators and government) through interviews and literature searches. I will then produce a briefing note (POSTnote) which will be distributed to MPs, Peers and Parliamentarians. It is planned that the briefing will be ready for publication in April 2020.

The briefing I am working on looks at promoting resilient supply chains in our food system. Food supply chains are complex systems that are intricately linked to the natural and social environment. They are threatened by growing pressures, but they can also be key drivers that intensify or mitigate these issues. The briefing will look at how supply chains are impacted by and impact on the natural and social environment, outline current and emerging practises aimed at improving the resilience and sustainability of food supply chains and discuss the potential consequences for consumers.

The aims of this POSTnote are to provide MPs and Peers with an overview setting out what food supply chain resilience means; how food supply chains interact with key environmental and social pressures; what information can be harnessed from food supply chains to promote resilience and reduce negative impacts; what current and incoming technologies could help to improve supply chain transparency and resilience; and how new information could be conveyed to consumers, businesses and policy makers to aid the transition to a more sustainable food system. 

How important do you feel it is to promote a food systems approach in the policy environment?

I think a food systems approach is becoming more and more important, especially given the complexity of the modern food system. In the UK there is increasing pressure to maintain continuous and stable food supplies in order to provide for a rising population with shifting dietary patterns. At the same time, food supply chains are threatened by growing environmental pressures including climate change and soil degradation, as well as a multitude of other social and political factors. These pressures can impact on multiple parts of the supply chains, right through from the initial production of food ingredients to the final consumption and disposal of products.

Because of this complexity, there has been growing recognition of the need to promote the concept of ‘resilience’ in food supply chains. This can be defined as the ability of food supply chains to maintain normal functioning in the face of the shocks and stresses that may be acting upon them. Reducing the negative impacts that food supply chains have on the environment is also important for the long-term resilience and integrity of the food system. Taking a joined-up systems approach could help to produce more effective policy to deal with these issues, without leading to unforeseen consequences elsewhere.

How will your work tie in with the current political environment in the UK?

Leaving the European Union presents the UK with several opportunities and challenges with regards to increasing resilience in food supply chains. For example, a significant proportion of the food we import comes from the EU, so disruption to trade could affect the prices and availability of some food products in the UK. Alternatively, leaving the Common Agricultural Policy presents opportunities, and could help to stimulate the production of UK-grown food that is produced in more sustainable ways. In the unveiling of the new Agriculture Bill, the Government has also expressed a desire to open food supply chains to greater scrutiny and to harness the information available to aid in resilience planning. Alongside other measures to improve resilience, doing so could advance the transition to a lower impact, more sustainable food system and help consumers make informed choices about the food they eat.

What do you hope to gain from your time working with POST?

I am interested in a career at the interface between research and policy, so undertaking this POST N8 AgriFood fellowship will provide me with invaluable experience of working with people leading the way in this area. Learning how to translate complex scientific ideas into clear guidance for policymakers with the expert POST team will help me to more effectively communicate my own agri-food research and learn how to use research to create workable policy goals. I am also keen for the work I do to have a positive impact and help us progress to a more sustainable future. I feel that this placement is a brilliant way for me to make a significant contribution towards this, by giving policymakers clear, accurate and timely information on the problems and possible solutions that face our food system.

If you would like to contact Joe or contribute to his work at POST please email