What can be done to tackle the global food crisis?

Katherine Moss
Dr Rob Barker and Phil Ward at the Eastern Arc conference

On Wednesday 20 September the University played host to the annual Eastern Arc conference.

Eastern Arc is the regional research consortium that brings together the universities of Kent, Essex and East Anglia (UEA). It exists to do three things: to facilitate collaborations; to support a positive research culture; and to advocate on behalf of the universities and the region.

This year its conference was focussed on ‘food in a time of crisis’, building on the University of Kent’s Right to Food initiative and bringing together a range of stakeholders to tackle our increasingly dysfunctional food system.

Events such as the pandemic and the Ukrainian war have demonstrated how fragile it is, with production and supply disrupted and costs spiralling. When food is available, there is a fierce debate about the nutritional benefits of processed products, the long-term impacts on population health, and even the morality and sustainability of dietary choices.

The conference was a chance to debate these issues and look at solutions. Eastern Arc is a natural place for such discussions, as our region is shaped and defined by food. From the breadbasket of England on one side of the Thames to the garden on the other, the East and South East accounts for a third of England’s total income from farming (TIFF), and around two thirds of the country’s food imports come through the region.

Bringing together over 140 academics, researchers, businesses, policy-makers, charities and other organisations, the conference offered delegates eight breakout sessions looking at everything from charitable food systems, social care support for the food and drink needs of old people, and urban agriculture around the world.

Phil Ward, Director of Eastern Arc, said: ‘It’s rare that we have a chance to meet and talk to such a diverse range of academics and external stakeholders and this is a significant part of what Eastern Arc can do. It provides a platform for change, a common forum for discussion and creativity. More than anything the event provides a beacon for hope. Today’s event bought together a range of speakers and delegates and laid the foundations for a set of solutions to the current food crisis that we face.’

The day also included a session on Kent’s Right to Food initiative – a far reaching plan to secure a world where no one goes hungry, where we develop sustainable food sources for all, and where nutrition is accessible to everyone, wherever they are and whatever their means.

Speaking about the initiative, and the role of the conference in help take things forward, Dr Philip Pothen, Director of Engagement at Kent, said: ‘The conference showed us that there is a wealth of expertise, as well as desire, to bring about change and tackle this current food crisis. While we are excited about becoming the first Right to Food university, it’s vital that we share this vision and support other institutions in their own journey to champion this mission. The conference gave us a chance to kick-start a collaborative approach with our Eastern Arc partners, which will pave the way for a number of partnerships to help realise the Right to Food nationally.’

For anyone interested in learning more about the Right to Food, the university will host Kent’s first annual civic lecture, ‘Poverty, Policy and the Right to Food’ on Thursday 19 October. The event will address the recent report by The Canterbury Society on poverty and food bank usage in the region, looking at the wider discussion around food poverty and its relationship with education, health and wellbeing and inequality across society, and looking for solutions through the RTF initiative. The Food Foundation’s Anna Taylor will be speaking at the event and Philip Pothen from the university will be chairing. You can find out more here