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Cambridge Global Food Security

A Strategic Research Initiative of the University of Cambridge

Studying at Cambridge


Zukerman Junior Research Fellowship in Global Food Security

Zukerman Junior Research Fellowship in Global Food Security

by Dr Ben Phalan

My research is focused on how to reconcile human demands for food and other agricultural products with our responsibility to conserve other species. As pressure on land to provide food, fibre and fuel increases, working out how to produce these things with least impact on biodiversity is of increasing concern to conservationists, agricultural scientists and policy-makers. My work is framed around understanding the trade-offs and synergies between different landscape-level objectives in different places, or put more simply, the question of what can be combined on the same land and what can’t.

I approach this question using a range of methods. As an ecologist by training, I spend time in the field surveying the biodiversity of different types of farmland, and of the forests that once covered large parts of humid West Africa. I collaborate with others who are collecting data on biodiversity, farming and food production in other parts of the world, from Argentina to Kazakhstan. I use Geographic Information Systems to explore global patterns of yield gaps and cropland expansion in relation to biodiversity conservation priorities. I am developing a new project – together with the RSPB, BirdLife International and Rainforest Alliance, and funded by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative – to look at practical ways in which eco-certification schemes for tropical crops might be targeted more effectively to where they can have most beneficial ecological and social impact.

A Zukerman junior research fellowship in Global Food Security at King’s College gives me the freedom to explore these issues without having to tell a grant body what the answers are before I’ve even begun. It also provides the opportunity to engage with other fellows working in related fields, from crop disease to anthropology. One reason Cambridge is such an attractive place for this sort of research is that it is a hub for multi-disciplinary thinking about both food security and conservation.

July, 2013