Master of Science in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security


Program Description

The principal aim of the course is to enable you to gain the specialised knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes necessary to contribute effectively and ethically to strategic decision making, opinion forming and operational management for the sustainable development of agricultural and food supply systems.

Who is the course for? Anyone who is concerned that our food production systems will not be fit for purpose by the middle of this century! This is the ideal course for those looking for a career in production, policy, and sustainable development focusing on food or resource consumption in agriculture. You should have a degree in a related subject or an interest in a career in one of the key themes. This course attracts students from a wide age group and a wide range of backgrounds and is particularly appropriate for more mature students who are re-directing their careers. The following themes will be developed: Human exploitation of the Earth's resources for food production and the global and local implications of human development.

Exploring a wide variety of food production systems from small, local scale to intensive modern large-scale, allied to wider environmental and landscape considerations.

The role and function of institutional structures and policies in relation to development, resource exploitation and food production.

The application of development paradigms, models and tools to build capacity within communities, institutions and individuals.

How is the course organised? The course may be studied full-time over one academic year, or part-time over two years. The taught modules run in 10-week blocks, there are two entry points to the programme, either in late September or in early January. You will study 4 modules in each term. The research project is introduced in January but mainly carried out over the summer period and submitted at the end of September regardless of start date. (see the term dates on our website).

Those starting in September will study four modules in the autumn term, four modules in the spring term then complete their research project by the end of September.

Those starting in January will study four modules in the spring term then complete their research project by the end of September and then study four modules in the autumn term to finish in December.

Course structure: You will study five core modules outlined below:

Integrated Agricultural Systems - Evaluates the sustainability of major types of tropical and temperate farming systems that have evolved globally, in relation to the prevailing agro-climatic zones. This module considers the influences of economic factors and changing global markets on such systems, from subsistence farming, through integrated and low input systems, to industrialised agriculture in relation to economic, environmental, social, cultural, food safety, and ethical considerations. Principles and practices of sustainable farming, of particular consequence to small, resource-poor farmers, are also explored.

Agriculture and Rural Policy - Evaluates the role of policy formulation, implementation, and review in providing a framework for sustainable development using examples from around the world. CPD workshops explore the integration of sustainability criteria into planning and policy, including Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), Environmental Due Diligence (EDD) and Agricultural and Rural Extension strategies.

Poverty and Food Security - Examines the main drivers behind issues of poverty and food insecurity, such as population growth, aspirations for better diets, trends in production systems, and food chain management. The module utilises various case studies to explore how different systems can solve problems of both food supply and food quality.

Sustainable Management of Soil and Water - This module evaluates the traditional management strategies for soil and water as factors in food production and applies sustainable principles to their use and management in various agro-climatic zones and production systems. The soil is considered in terms of physical, chemical, and biological properties in relation to nutrient cycling processes, structural quality, the risk of erosion, and contamination. Water in agriculture links climate and hydrology to water collection and use, crop requirements, potential evapotranspiration and water balances, water quality and salinisation, drainage and leaching, and water conservation techniques.

Development Project Management - Sets the scene for studies on sustainable development through the introduction of the key principles and concepts and their application to rural development issues, which are then used to evaluate a series of case studies from around the world. The module develops project management skills through a series of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) style workshops and exercises, that will explore the key skills required for being an effective project manager. Three team projects are developed: a competitive tendering project, production of a magazine and organisation of a national conference. You will then choose three additional modules, choosing at least two of those listed below:

Sustainable Agricultural Intensification - Against a challenging background of population growth and demographics, changing economic development, global food demand, and future food security in a prevailing production environment of diminishing resource, this module evaluates the need to secure ‘more from less’ in an increasingly sustainable manner. It uses examples from major farming enterprises in different parts of the world of broad acre intensification in the tropics and temperate regions, and intensive production systems in protected agriculture. The importance of innovation is highlighted through new science and technology development, including breeding and biotechnology adoption, protected agricultural systems, and advancing post-harvest biology and storage opportunities.

Small Scale Farming and Local Food Supply - Around half of the world’s population depends on subsistence farming. Approximately 40% of cultivatable land is worked by small farmers, and some 60% of all farms are small-scale. This demonstrates the significance of small-scale farmers to agricultural production and food security. In contrast, agricultural and food policies often focus on the globalisation of food supply and international trade, favouring larger commercial producers and those who dominate regional, national, and international food supply. This means that small-scale farming not only suffers from capacity constraints, but also the failure of domestic policies, structural adjustments, international trends and spikes in market prices for raw materials, energy, and finance. This module explores the dimensions of small-scale farming and local food supply in the context of public policies, market structures, consumers, society and the sustainability of food supply at local, regional, national, and international levels. In doing this, three countries (UK, South Africa and Cuba) will be used as examples.

Organic Production and Marketing - Initially focusing on regulatory, market and consumer attitudes to organic food, it goes on to examine developed and emerging economies. This module explores organic philosophies in relation to ecological, social, and economic dimensions of sustainable development. Practical examples of farming systems and enterprise integration are then evaluated in relation to soil management and plant-soil relationships, animal health and nutrition, and enterprise performance, considering the actual and potential contribution of organic systems to food supply.

Research Project - You will complete an independent research project on a topic related to one of the key themes of the course, presented as two journal papers, one a review of the topic, the other a research paper.

What is the learning style? You will gain a broader understanding of relevant issues through knowledge acquisition, intellectual enquiry, debate, and team/individual research. The course will also provide a learning environment that encourages you to explore factors influencing sustainability while at the same time reflecting on your own actions and attitudes, and those of others. In addition to lectures, you will participate in case studies, seminars and management projects dependent on module selections. This approach fosters teamwork and complements individual study and student learning.

Entry Requirements: The normal minimum entry requirement will be an Honours degree at upper second level.

Mature candidates with significant relevant work experience and lower academic qualifications may also be considered for entry, following personal interview with the Course Manager.

If your first language is not English, we will accept International English Language Test (IELTS) with a minimum score of 6.5 average with no element below 5.5.

If you have other qualifications, including overseas awards and alternative English language qualifications, you are advised to contact Admissions to discuss the suitability of your award for entry onto the course.

Career Prospects This course is closely related to the MSc International Rural Development where graduates have entered careers in research, consultancy, policy formulation and project management for international organisations, government departments and national agencies, NGOs, research institutes and commercial companies across the world.

Last updated Jan 2019

About the School

Established in 1845, we are recognised nationally and internationally as a leader in the delivery of education, research and consultancy, in and relating to, agriculture and the rural environment. Our ... Read More

Established in 1845, we are recognised nationally and internationally as a leader in the delivery of education, research and consultancy, in and relating to, agriculture and the rural environment. Our Heritage The Royal Agricultural College (RAC), now the Royal Agricultural University (RAU), is the oldest agricultural college in the English speaking world and has been at the forefront of agricultural education since 1845. Our historic campus in the Cotswold countryside provides a stimulating and unique learning environment. Read less