Placed in a large-scale perspective, recent progress in health and well-being has been nothing short of astounding. However, in light of modern research, health is being viewed not just through the
Biodiversity, agriculture and food
The challenge of “Biodiversity, agriculture and food” articulates the environment and essential human needs and practices. This challenge requires a nuanced understanding that encompasses not only the quantity but also the quality of food, with a special focus on the interplay between nutrition and public health. The environmental risks associated with food production, such as soil degradation, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss, are critical considerations. Livestock farming also presents unique challenges, situated at the intersection of food security, health, climate change, and ethical considerations.
The global and systemic dimension of this challenge, which requires the capacity to articulate contextual and local considerations, with a sensitivity for world-wide interconnections, makes the extensive international network of Université Paris-Saclay particularly relevant: as an example, we are leveraging existing membership in the European Bioeconomy University network. Because it requires the capacity to analyse large amounts of data in a multi-scale perspective, this challenge is also strongly dependent on the development of new analytical tools and digital capabilities.
At stake is not merely the question of producing enough food of the desired quality but also of distributing it where it is needed most, as poor infrastructure, conflict, and climate change contribute among others to the imbalances in food availability. This imbalance frequently leads to dependency on food imports and compromises a nation’s sovereignty, leaving it vulnerable to external political and economic pressures. This challenge is particularly pressing for regions where rapid urbanisation, lack of resources, and natural adversities have often made local agricultural efforts insufficient.
To transition to sustainable methods that can bolster biodiversity and maintain a richer and more resilient ecological tapestry for future generations, we are also deeply committed to preserving biodiversity and minimising environmental impact. Teams of researchers at Université Paris-Saclay not only focus on the science behind these elements but also emphasises the social, economic, policy and scientific aspects. This includes a dedicated effort in merging agroscience with ecology, understanding the complexities of food systems and ensuring public engagement in biodiversity policies. We, at Université Paris-Saclay, strive to illuminate the importance of each research area in preserving our future.
Université Paris-Saclay’s unique stature in the field of agriculture science stands out for several defining reasons:
- Our emphasis on agricultural sciences is evident through the depth and density of our capabilities in this domain, which is built upon partnership collaborations.
- Université Paris-Saclay also benefits from a network of original technological platforms as well as observational and experimental installations.
- An important asset in this respect is the long experience of Université Paris-Saclay’s teams in approaching this challenge with a multidisciplinary lens, which is visible in the image on the right, representing the many different disciplinary fields contributing to the research output related to that challenge. Many research teams in Université Paris-Saclay from a range of academic disciplines frequently collaborate with each other. These collaborations can be regular or on an ad hoc basis, especially within specific interdisciplinary projects within the university.
ACTIVE FOCUS AREAS RELATED TO THIS CHALLENGE AT UNIVERSITÉ PARIS-SACLAY
Investigating resource pressures and ecosystem balance. Teams at Université Paris-Saclay are dedicated to the study of natural resources, and their focus is on understanding the essential services provided by ecosystems, from research on water and water systems to international biodiversity policy. This research is vital to maintaining biodiversity and human well-being, and requires a holistic approach, involving environmental assessment, willingness-to-pay evaluation, and participatory and collective management of the commons. Our scientists also contribute to this category with its focus on understanding the complex dynamics of terrestrial and marine hydrosystems, characterising biogeochemical cycles, and studying soil and subsurface heterogeneity to improve management, exploitation, and environmental impact assessment.
Championing biodiversity in sustainable agriculture research. Université Paris-Saclay is working on major issues to understand and analyse the future of the biosphere and our societies, taking into account their environmental, social, economic and political dimensions. These issues contribute to food security and sovereignty and to global or ecosystemic health: the agro-ecological transition to promote sustainable agri-food systems from production (livestock, crops) to consumption; global changes and their impact on communities and ecosystems; the management and use of resources (soil and water); the preservation of biodiversity and ecosystem services and, more generally, of the environment; regional development strategies incorporating the environmental dimension; food, nutrition, human nutrition and food transitions; the processing of bio-resources and the recovery of bio-waste.
Research activities at Université Paris-Saclay focus on the relationship between food design and engineering, nutrition and human health. We aim to bring together disciplines such as food science, food process engineering, consumer science, microbiology, physiology, toxicology, nutrition and epidemiology. This programme develops research on humans and animal models to meet the major economic and societal challenges linked to food and health: sustainability of food production processes; innovative ways to act on the nutritional, sanitary and organoleptic qualities of food; better control of environmental impacts; development of short-distance circuits adapted to local areas; impact of food and the exposome on development and health; food safety of populations and prevention of risks of emergence of new health risks; support for food transitions; development of personalised food.
Fostering sustainable agriculture through biodiversity research. Biodiversity forms the backbone of sustainable agriculture, providing a wide range of ecosystem services and fostering the development of bio-based industries. Research in this domain supports genetic variety and ecosystem resilience critical for crop and livestock health and adaptability. Teams at Université Paris-Saclay articulate such concerns with expertise in the field of bioeconomy, which leverages these biological resources to drive sustainable agriculture practices. Established infrastructure at Université Paris-Saclay allows us to focus specifically on biodiversity research for agriculture and food production. This research is conducted in the context of global change and the growing urban influence on agricultural land, and focuses on the functioning of agro-ecosystems in interaction with their environment. It uses the levers of agroecology to mitigate and adapt to climate change, to show that agriculture plays a part in the bioeconomy of territories and to move towards a global approach to health.
Transforming food systems through research insights. The concept of a food system offers an integrated vision of the different processes required to feed a population: agricultural production, food transformation & processing, food quality, marketing, and consumption. It raises a number of issues that are key to the ecological transition: sustainable resource management, the design of a metropolitan metabolism that enables cycles to be looped, the re-territorialisation of agriculture and food supply, and spatial justice. At Université Paris-Saclay, our teams explore themes like the territorial governance of public action (revitalisation of the urban/rural link, intersectionality of public policies for local supply and access to food), transformations in land tenure systems (access to land, coexistence of agricultural models, the fight against artificialisation), the dynamics of ecological transition contributing to healthy and sustainable food, the recomposition of food landscapes with a view to reducing socio-spatial inequalities (access to local and quality products for vulnerable populations). Our teams connect specialists of agriculture, ecosystems, economics and political science to stimulate research on these issues from the point of view of the analysis of social systems and public policies. This sociology and political science research agenda will be able to build on the momentum created by the VIVAGRILAB living laboratory on the Plateau de Saclay, into which the work being carried out could be integrated. Another relevant expertise of Université Paris-Saclay focuses on sustainable and circular bioeconomy, which investigates the production of resources (biomass), their transformation and uses, to promote circularity. We are thus fully equipped to investigate the multifaceted relations between design and conception of food, nutrition and human health, by combining disciplines such as: food science, food processing engineering, consumer sciences, microbiology, physiology, toxicology, nutrition, epidemiology, etc.
Driving legal, public engagement and policy initiatives for biodiversity conservation. One of the characteristics of biodiversity is that it deals with long-term issues that require profound changes in lifestyles and related technologies and innovations. The question of the transformation of systems and their transition towards greater sustainability is therefore central to the work of Université Paris-Saclay, as well as the issue of socio-ecosystems and the management of agricultural landsand their rural and urban environments, in a context of transitions. The study of organisations and their evolution through the evaluation and design of public policies is therefore a core area of attention at Université Paris-Saclay. Université Paris-Saclay also has recognised expertise in legal research devoted to natural common goods such as air, water, protected environmental areas, plant and mineral resources by promoting the comparison of their legal regimes with other legal definitions of “heritage” (cultural heritage, personal heritage, genetic heritage).
Another highlight is the strong support to participatory science approaches: indeed, the study of biodiversity is one of the fields which pioneered participatory science, and continues to drive their deployment with approaches such as data collection, co-design of knowledge and the implication of citizens, decision makers and scientists in research projects. This also means that the role of expertise for decision makers and public policy is particularly emphasised in this domain, with a strong participation of Université Paris-Saclay’s scientists in public expertise commissions (e.g. biotechnologies, phytosanitary risks, etc.), interprofessional technical commission on zoo-genetic resources, etc.
C-BASC: A CENTRE FOR INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES ON BIODIVERSITY, AGROECOLOGY, SOCIETY AND CLIMATE
This interdisciplinary programme ambitions to contribute to the study and implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the European “Green Deal”. It fosters research on the continuum of agricultural production, food processing, distribution and consumption to address key scientific and societal challenges.
Its foci include the transition to sustainable socio- ecological systems, ecosystem management and the ecological transition, the dynamics and management of biodiversity, and the promotion of sustainability in peri-urban territories.
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