Katharine Jones

Cranfield University


An early warning system for food supply chain resilience to environmental shocks


  • Dr Kenisha Garnett, Cranfield University
  • Professor Paul Burgess, Cranfield University
  • Dr Abdou Khouakh, Cranfield University
  • Dr Greg Wasinski, Food Standards Agency
  • Dr Kasia Kazimierczak, Food Standards Scotland

PhD Summary

Environmental shock events – from climate change to pests and diseases – can impact food supply chains, and we need to understand their impact better to help us reduce the risks associated with them. Early warning systems (EWS) have the power to deliver a more informed and integrated view of food supply chains and of systemic environmental risks and issues over the short to long-term.

EWS combine forward-looking assessment tools and processes (e.g. horizon scanning) with traditional decision making tools (e.g. risk assessments) and can be used to engage experts, policy makers, and increasingly citizens, in analysing and interpreting environmental change and its potential impacts. EWS have been developed but there is general consensus that they are not meeting their current potential to provide decision-makers with timely information in a way that enables action.

This PhD looks to develop better early warning competencies for integrated monitoring of disruptive events, including developing an evidence base of effective methods in anticipating the development of, and impacts of, environmental disruptions, and developing a toolkit for embedding EWS process.

Previous activity

After starting out my career as a modern foreign languages teacher, I completed an MSc in Development Studies, and went on to work in education for sustainability, including at the Fairtrade Foundation and Marine Stewardship Council, with whom I still work. I have nearly 20 years’ experience managing major projects to create educational and awareness raising campaigns for adults and young people, including at Comic Relief, with Greenpeace and at Childnet, where I was Deputy CEO focused on fundraising, team leadership, communications and policy. I also co-ordinated Safer Internet Day, a major awareness raising campaign which in 2021 reached 51% of UK young people aged 8-17 and nearly 4 in 10 of their parents.

Why did you choose doctoral research?

In 2021 I decided to take a leap outside of charity management, and decided to study for an MSc in Future Food Sustainability at Cranfield University. The course was a real challenge for someone without a background in science, but nonetheless I found myself loving the academic challenge and being able to pursue learning in sustainable food systems. I’d been passionate about this area since my time at Comic Relief, working in partnership with a chocolate company to create learning resources about where our food comes from. Having enjoyed the policy and advocacy work I had done at Childnet, I had an inkling that food policy might be a future career path and that the MSc would help me get the academic knowledge I needed to complement my existing skill set. However, I still felt I needed a way in to this field. Then a PhD came up that would enable me to continue my studies in food systems, with Cranfield tutors I already knew and wanted to work with, and that would enable me to work in this area. So I leapt at the chance!

Why did you choose CENTA?

Being part of the CENTA network gives students a high degree of autonomy: the research support grant enables us to manage our own research budgets, and to take advantage of courses offered outside the University that hosts us. This is particularly valuable for me. The PhD I’m undertaking is supported by, and includes an extended placement with, the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland. This practical experience in a regulatory environment will give me a valuable opportunity to transition into a new sector in my future career. Being part of a network of CENTA students across many different disciplines also gives me the chance to make unexpected links and learn from my peers.

Future plans

I feel very privileged indeed to be in the position I am – being able to take time to become and expert in a field I hope to work in, with the chance to gain experience in a policy-related setting to evaluate whether it is the right route for me. I hope to make a practical impact through my PhD and right now I am focused on that. Meanwhile, the right route will become apparent as I develop my skills, knowledge, networks and experience, just as it did when I took the leap away from charity management.