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Research will bring farming communities together in drive to reach net zero

University of Gloucestershire research aiming to bring farming communities together to share their visions about how to build a sustainable future, has been awarded funding by the British Academy the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social science.

The project – Co-designing sustainable food futures: using climate assemblies to build shared agri-food visions for net zero – is headed up by Professor Damian Maye from the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) based at the University.

Professor Maye will be working on the project with four colleagues from the University – Professor Julie Ingram, Professor Abigail Gardner, PhD student Philippa Simmonds, a winner at the prestigious UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) storytelling event last year, and CCRI placement student Sofia Raseta.

The British Academy has announced the research will receive £19,972 as part of its new six-month scheme, Shared Understandings of a Sustainable Future, funded by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Professor Damian Maye

Professor Maye aims to stage climate assemblies, which will bring together rural farmers, rural businesses, NGOs and citizens in two livestock farming communities at opposite ends of the country, in Cumbria and Cornwall.

Professor Maye said: “There is increasing awareness of the impact our food and farming systems have on climate change. However, there is also a great deal of conflicting information and controversy, as farming practices have the potential to both emit and store large volumes of carbon. One-size-fits-all solutions are unlikely to deliver the changes necessary, so it is essential to address these challenges on a local level. 

“As researchers, we have limited understanding of how livestock farmers think about these challenges, what ambitions they have for change, or what the changes could mean for rural communities.

“This project develops a participatory methodology, through climate assemblies, to bring farmers, rural businesses, NGOs and citizens together in two livestock-farming communities to debate their agri-food futures, identify net-zero ambitions and vision solutions in ways that are fair, just and democratic.

“The team is guided by two core principles: that the project should complement the important climate work that’s already going on in the two counties, and that our role as researchers is to listen, rather than imposing any of our own ideas.

“Part of our approach, guided by Professor Gardner, is to produce “digital stories” that will help foreground local people’s voices in the events. We will also produce infographics, research briefs, and wiki resources, and aim to feed our results into existing local net zero transition plans.”

The British Academy scheme aims to draw on new humanities and social sciences research to establish a people-centred transition to Net Zero and sustainability.

It supports nine research teams based across the country, in diverse geographical locations, which aim to produce insights that will help policymakers understand how to engage different communities in the transition to net zero.

The University announced in October 2021 its plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030.

A pioneer and leader of sustainability in higher education and the region, the University’s previous carbon strategy (2010-2020) achieved a 47% drop in emissions by 2019 that rose to 63% by 2020 – surpassing its target of 40% by 2020.