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Sustainable food systems from production to public health and beyond

The launch of two new cross-jurisdictional research centres is enormously valuable to the Irish research ecosystem and will help change the way we produce and consume food

Two new cross-jurisdictional research centres are aiming to make a positive contribution to climate action and the transition to more sustainable food systems. The new research centres were launched earlier this year by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) in conjunction with Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The Co-Centre for Climate, Biodiversity and Water will address the interlinked challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and water degradation. At the same time, the Co-Centre for Sustainable Food Systems aims to develop innovative and transformative solutions to support the transition of the food system to climate neutrality by 2050.

“These are areas of critical national importance for both islands,” says Dr Kevin Walsh, who leads SFI’s Research Centres Programme. “It has been the flagship programme for the organisation since 2012. It supports world-class research and collaboration across multiple institutions, industry and internationally. The model has evolved and has been extremely successful. Two years ago, an international panel of experts looked at it and were effusive in their praise for its research excellence and the huge contribution it has made to Ireland. It has become an enormously valuable element of the Irish research ecosystem.”

The co-centres programme aims to build on the success of that programme. Established as a result of a commitment in the programme for government to develop research and innovation hubs, working with partners in Northern Ireland and the UK, the overall ambition of the programme is to create a dynamic research network across Ireland, Great Britain, and Northern Ireland.


This will be led by a cross-jurisdictional collaboration of academic partners working together with industry and other key stakeholders to bring scale, standing and cohesion to the research and innovation ecosystem. The co-centre programme encourages high-quality research and innovation while also delivering economic, societal, health and environmental impacts.

“We already had a really good model in the Research Centres Programme, and we worked with our colleagues in UKRI and DAERA to develop the new co-centres programme,” says Walsh. “The cross-jurisdictional centres aim to bring together excellent research in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Great Britain to work cooperatively among themselves and collaborate with industry and other stakeholders. There is significant expertise and research excellence in Northern Ireland and Great Britain and being able to plug our expertise into that can only be a good thing.”

The Climate Plus Co-Centre comprises 14 research partners from the three jurisdictions, supports 64 funded researchers and is focused on the need to be sustainable across a range of areas, he adds. “It will carry out research to make positive contributions to fair transformations to net zero, reversing biodiversity loss, restoring water quality and ensuring resilience for communities and a sustainable economy.”

The Sustainable Food Systems Co-Centre involves 16 research partners, supports 68 funded researchers and will address specific challenges centred around food system integrity and resilience, food safety and healthy diets from sustainable sources. It will undertake a research programme across four distinct platforms — sustainable food, food safety and integrity, nutrition and health, and food systems data modelling.

“End-to-end solutions from soil to society will be developed and showcased,” says Walsh. “In order to feed the world need to change the way we produce and consume food. The co-centre will look at it from production all the way through to public health and beyond.”

The co-centres programme is funded over six years, with up to €40 million from SFI, supported by the Irish Government’s Shared Island Fund, up to £17 million from DAERA, and a further £12 million through UKRI. It is also co-funded by industry.

“The two co-centres are already up and running and engaging with industry partners at present,” says Walsh. “One of the strengths of the programme is the flexibility built into the model and the co-centres will be able to bring in new partners and researchers over time.”

The aim is to expand the programme in future years. “We have built up very good relationships with UKRI and DAERA over the years and we are hopeful that additional co-centres will be established in future to build on the success of these two,” Walsh concludes.