Tackling food security, climate change, and biodiversity – the role of land-based education

1 March 2024

A new Land-Based Education Manifesto, launched today by GuildHE and Landex, has been welcomed by the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) which also contributed to the report.

Food security, climate change, and the biodiversity crisis are major challenges and the two bodies which represent universities and colleges in the UK that deliver education and training related to agriculture and food believe that these educational institutions hold a central role in providing solutions.

To tackle these challenges, GuildHE and Landex have worked in collaboration with colleges and universities across the UK, including the RAU, to launch the Land Based Education Manifesto: A Foundation For Prosperity with eight key recommendations to Government, policymakers, and wider stakeholders. 

Professor Tom MacMillan, Elizabeth Creak Chair in Rural Policy and Strategy at the RAU, who contributed to the report, said: “The demands on land and on the people manage it have never been greater – to restore nature, produce healthier food, trap carbon, generate energy, and make space for homes.

“Meeting these needs calls for a surge of new skills, helping the farmers and other professionals who are leading this change, and equipping new entrants. So much – from wildlife and clean water to the nations’ health, prosperity, and security – depends on us getting this right.”

Professor Peter McCaffery, Vice-Chancellor of the RAU, added: “Universities and colleges are doing our utmost, together, to meet the vital strategic need for land-based skills, research, and innovation. We’re teaming up, and learning from each other where we can, and working with a panoply of farmer networks, charities, and businesses to rise to the challenge. This manifesto sets out ways that Government can help.”

Agriculture in the UK provides half the food that we eat and employs 4.2 million people across the agri-food sector. The gross value added to the economy in 2021 was £13 billion from agriculture and fishing alone, rising to £128 billion as a whole sector1.

GuildHE and Landex believe that universities and colleges are essential to deliver a knowledgeable and technically skilled agricultural, horticulture and land-based workforce able to embed scientifically proven sustainable practices and adopt emerging technologies in support of a thriving economy. Universities and colleges are also core to developing new approaches to food and farming through research and innovation. 

The new manifesto proposes that Government, policymakers, and wider stakeholders should:

  1. Recognise food and environmental security as a national priority
  2. Develop a national strategy to grow and upskill the workforce
  3. Launch an ambitious national land-based careers awareness campaign
  4. Develop better ways of recognising the skilled nature of land-based careers
  5. Increase research funding for agri-food discovery research
  6. Provide national support for demonstration farms throughout the UK
  7. Continue support for the high costs of agriculture and land-based subjects and specialist colleges and universities
  8. Target the apprenticeship levy funding at small businesses in strategically important areas

Gordon McKenzie, Chief Executive of GuildHE, said: “Land-based education is vital to underpinning a thriving UK economy and to deliver on a range of national targets including green skills priorities and net zero.

“It is crucial that government, universities and colleges work together strategically to achieve these and the eight key recommendations to government, policy makers and wider stakeholders listed in the joint manifesto with Landex.”

Alex Payne, Chief Executive of Landex, commented: “Food security, climate change, and the biodiversity crisis are some of the biggest issues facing society today. Sustainable farming, agri-tech, and land-based education are essential to tackling these challenges by developing a workforce of problem solvers, critical thinkers, and entrepreneurs.

“New systems, business models, and practices for managing land will be fundamental to future national and global prosperity. Working in collaboration with GuildHE, we are pleased to launch a series of practical proposals that we believe will make a real impact.”  

1 Food statistics in your pocket - GOV.UK