MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture

Duration Full time 1 year
Part time 2 years
  • Biosciences
LocationExeter (Streatham)
Start date September


MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture video

Find out more from staff and students about the MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Exeter.
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Food security: a global concern

There has never been a more urgent need to train scientists in the area of food security, equipped with skills in agronomy; plant pathology, plant disease and plant genetics; and knowledge of modern agricultural systems and agricultural policy. The Royal Society report Reaping the Benefits: science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture published in October 2009, provided the clearest evidence of the challenge of ensuring global food security during the next 50 years. Crop yields need to rise significantly, but in a manner that requires much lower dependency on chemical intervention and fertilizers.

Meeting the challenge of sustainable agriculture

This programme was developed in collaboration with the agricultural industry, government agencies including Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (defra) and The Food and Environment Research Agency (fera), and farmers and food manufacturers, to provide a multi-disciplinary training in sustainable agriculture and global food security. Research-led teaching in molecular plant pathology, plant sciences and microbiology is strongly supplemented by Rothamsted Research, North Wyke expertise in grassland management, soil science and sustainable farming systems. Leading social scientists also provide valuable input in rural land use and the rural economy. The combination of expertise in both arable and pastureland systems ensures a truly rounded learning experience.

The curriculum takes account of the key skills shortages to train highly skilled individuals who can enter government agencies, agriculture and food industries and fulfil very valuable roles in scientific research, advice, evaluation, policy development and implementation tackling the challenges of food security. The programme provides opportunities to gain industrial and practical experiences including field trips.

Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture

The Royal Society has published the report of a landmark study examining the contribution of the biological sciences to food crop production. Read the report.

Programme structure

I chose to study at the University of Exeter as the MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture course looked fascinating and offered both a political and scientific study of the agricultural food system. In addition I liked the South West and Exeter seemed like a good place to live with access to the coast and Dartmoor. I studied my undergraduate degree at the University of Exeter Penryn Campus and really enjoyed my time there, which also made me want to continue to study with the institution.

The easy access to outdoor activities on the coast or Dartmoor makes Exeter a lovely place to study, and the Streatham Campus itself is very green. The University is very welcoming and there are good facilities for sports and independent study. Biosciences at the University of Exeter has many great research groups and offers multiple opportunities for your final Masters research project.

I enjoyed the fact that the course was taught by Biosciences and Politics academics as well as a module by Rothamsted Research (North Wyke). This gave a broad approach to the Masters and enabled us to view many aspects of food security and sustainable agriculture. The trips to a local farm and a nearby research institute made the programme very interactive and informative.

I am currently studying a PhD at the University of Exeter focusing on Trichoderma hamatum a growth promoting and biocontrol fungus.

Odette Wills, MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture graduate PhD Biological Sciences, University of Exeter.

The modules we outline here provide examples of what you can expect to learn on this degree course based on recent academic teaching. The precise modules available to you in future years may vary depending on staff availability and research interests, new topics of study, timetabling and student demand.

Learning and teaching

Expert teaching

Teaching is enriched by expert contributions from a broad cross-section of the industry. Scientific staff from the Food and Environmental Research Agency (Fera) provide specialist lectures as part of the Crop Security module, members of the Plant Health Inspectorate cover field aspects of plant pathology, and a LEAF1 farmer addresses agricultural systems and the realities of food production using integrated farm management. In addition, teaching staff from the University and BBSRC Rothamsted-North Wyke will draw on material and experiences from their academic research and scientific links with industry.

Industrial and practical experience

All students will have opportunities to gain industrial and practical experiences. Teaching visits will be made to the Plant Health Inspectorate in Cornwall to see quarantine management of Phytophthora, and to a local LEAF farm to review the challenges and approaches to food production in integrated farm management systems. You will gain specialised experience in practical science or policy making through a dissertation or project placement with external agencies. Defra and Fera, for example, are offering five dissertation and/or project placements annually.

Structure and learning style

The programme consists of four core modules that provide you with a theoretical and applied learning framework for directed student-centred learning in which you will develop skills of synthesis, critical analysis and interpretation. In addition, you will receive professional skills training designed to tailor the areas most relevant to your academic and professional development. One further module is selected from a group of four optional modules to enable you to augment skills or explore relevant scientific topics.

You will be taught through lectures, workshops, seminars and some group work and discussion forums. Within modules there is scope for you to direct your learning towards areas of particular interest and especially through your choice of research project or placement.


Taught modules are assessed through essay examinations, individual and group-based coursework assignments, oral presentations, in-module tests and reports or essays. A significant proportion of the marks are based on your substantial research project and the associated paper submitted in September. You will be made aware of the marking criteria for all major pieces of work.

Advice and support

You will be allocated a personal tutor who is available for advice and support throughout your studies. There is also a postgraduate tutor available to help with further guidance and advice. In addition, the programme director will offer every student a meeting each term to review academic progress.

Find out more about support for students in Biosciences.

1 LEAF: Linking Environment and Farming

I like the way the programme is delivered; it covers all aspects and factors, from the soil up to the sky, that may affect agricultural sustainability.

The weekly seminars are very helpful to link between food security and other fields of science. The field trips were also helpful and opened my mind to certain things that can be applied in my home country, man, to improve the way of farming.

When I first looked at this Masters I thought the modules were not pointing directly to food security, but now I understand the link between all these aspects and the importance of studying such modules.

Iman Alabri, MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture.


The titles of projects undertaken by graduates of the MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture, or being undertaken by current students, are shown below.

  • Utilising bacteriophage as a conservative tracer to determine the movement of animal slurries through clay soils
  • The influence of different farming practices on the temporal and spatial variability of faecal indicator species within a sub-catchment of the river Tamar
  • Antibiotic resistance cycling on a farm scale system  
  • Fresh water sediments as a source of microbial watercourse pollution
  • Relationship between water extractable phosphorus and bicarbonate extractable (Olsen) phosphorus concentrations in soils and plant uptake
  • Modelling the greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions for different livestock production scenarios on the North Wyke Farm Platform
  • The effects of changing patterns of soil drying and rewetting on phosphorus losses in leachate
  • Investigating organic matter turnover in different cropping systems using 13C-stable isotopes
  • Characterisation of monoclonal antibodies raised against the plant and human pathogenic fungi Fusarium oxysporum and Fusarium solani
  • Optomising soilless agricultural systems utilising Trichoderma hamatum GD12
  • Biological control of plant pathogens by two strains of the plant growth promoting fungus Trichoderma hamatum
  • Investigation of the infection cycle (infection, sporulation and dispersal) of P. ramorum and P. kernoviae on rhododendron using field based detection methods
  • Development of protocols and validation for use of the Smartcycler for detection of infections of P. ramorum/P. kernoviae on Vaccinium and P. ramorum on larch
  • Investigating the role of exopolysaccharide production in the virulence of Burkholderia glumae, a major bacterial pathogen of rice
  • Phylogenetic analysis of Nosema ceranae isolated from European honeybees in the United Kingdom
  • Developing a genetic marker for Nosema ceranae, an emerging pathogen of the European honey bee Apis mellifera
  • Validation of a semi-field realistic experimental paradigm for the study of the effects of pesticides and effects of dietary exposure to imidacloprid on Bombus terrestris behaviour and performance
  • Can more crops be grown and sold in the locality of Totnes? An analysis of past farming practices and farmer perceptions
  • Can primary school agriculture help achieve successful agricultural extension?
  • Tradeoffs between viticulture and conservation in South West England
  • Microclimate and the phenology and productivity of grapevines in South West England
  • Biosynthetic pathway of Vitamin C in Porphyra
  • Measuring metabolic flux by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS): application to biofuel production
  • Heterologous expression of waste degrading enzymes from mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) in yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae)
  • Using the Broad-spectrum ABC Transporter Resistance Protein Lr34 to Probe the Wheat Basal Immune System
  • Next generation plant molecular biology. Using synthetic biology techniques to generate stress response reporter plants
  • Evaluation of fungal diversity in the rumen and faeces of cattle fed different levels of dried distillers grains plus solubles using FLX amplicon pyrosequencing
  • Assessment of bioaccumulation of oestrogenic endocrine disruption chemicals via food chain using GFP biosensor transgenic zebrafish
  • Will future ocean conditions comprise immune responses in commercially important shellfish?
  • Analysis of phytopathogen genome sequence data
  • A bioinformatics approach for detecting conserved genes responding to pathogens in rice
  • Improving the environmental resilience of seed quality
  • Understanding the physiology of homeostasis during feeding in farmed fish


Addressing a skills shortage to tackle global food security

The MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture curriculum has been designed in collaboration with the agricultural industry to tackle the skills shortage that exists in this vital interdisciplinary area. This programme will provide the highly skilled individuals required in government agencies, agriculture and food industries for critical roles in scientific research, advice, evaluation, policy development and implementation tackling the challenges of food security.

Global horizons

With food security and sustainable agriculture a global concern, opportunities for specialists in the areas of agronomy, plant pathology, plant disease and plant improvement will be worldwide. By combining expertise across the natural, social and political sciences, this programme provides valuable interdisciplinary knowledge and skills in both arable and pastureland systems. Graduates will be prepared to take on the global challenges of food security and sustainable agriculture, being able to adapt to farming systems across the world and identify cross-disciplinary solutions to local agricultural problems.

Learning enhanced by industry

The programme is enriched by expert contributions from a broad cross-section of the industry, with specialist lectures, teaching visits to observe the practical application of techniques, and industrial placement opportunities for project work or dissertations in practical science or policy making.

Graduate destinations

Below are a few examples of initial jobs undertaken by graduates of the MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture. Please note that, due to data protection, the job titles and organisations are listed independently and do not necessarily correspond.

Job titleOrganisation

Environmental Monitor Officer
Nutritionist and Food Service Advisor
Premiere Account Executive
Project Coordinator
Research Assistant
Support Adviser

Natural England
Nutrition Works
Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
Rothampsted Research
North East Somerset Council

Find out more about our career support schemes for postgraduate students.

Over the last decade, there has been a significant decline in the availability of scientists trained in areas critical to our business. Fera is a major employer in the areas of food security, sustainable agriculture and other related fields and this MSc will be a highly appropriate qualification for candidates applying for a range of posts here.

Professor Nicola Spence, Chief Scientist, Fera

Research areas

Professor Sarah Gurr and Dr Dan Bedder as part of a new study have discovered that there is strong relationship between increased global temperatures over the past 50 years and expansion in the range of crop pests which could pose a serious threat to global food security.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Professor Nick Talbot is leading a research team attempting to conquer the rice blast fungus, an organism that each year kills enough rice to feed 60 million people.

Dr Chris Thornton and a team of researchers has been looking at ways to make plants more tolerant of dry spells through adding a harmless fungus to compost to boost growth and root growth.

Across the University we have a wide range of expertise in Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture. Through our participation in the Food Security and Land Research Alliance, our researchers are working to help secure global food security and ensure resilient land management.

Key areas of research include:

Crops: Molecular pathology, genetics, breeding and protection

Soils: Protection and management

Land and water: Ecosystem services and management

Animals: Health, welfare and veterinary public health

Society: Consumption, production, culture and policy

Fish: Aquaculture, fisheries and marine science

Entry requirements 2016

Normally at least a 2:1 Honours degree or equivalent in biological science or relevant subject. Consideration will be given to appropriate professional background on a case-by-case basis involving an interview.

I chose the course because it was more varied (political, social and scientific) than others and I wanted to keep my future options open. The University has a growing reputation, good funding opportunities and a large Biology department. Plus, Exeter is amazing for being close to both the sea and Dartmoor, perfect for relaxing or adventuring.

I enjoyed the varied nature of the course content; it allowed us to express our individual backgrounds and learn from each other. The diversity of students and lecturers that you meet means you can talk to the right people to not just help make a decision about your future, but also help you realise your ambitions. Part of this is done when choosing your final project (of which there was a lot of choice). The lecturers were all very supportive and always had time to feedback on work.

I am now studying for a PhD with Professor Sarah Gurr, so most of my time is in the lab or the greenhouse. The MSc project allowed me to develop my skills in planning and carrying out scientific research. The socio-economic areas of the Masters have given me a solid base for understanding the bigger picture of my research – an important thing to know when discussing research with the general public and, later, applying for funding.

William Kay, graduate MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture.

Requirements for international students

If you are an international student, please visit our international equivalency pages to enable you to see if your existing academic qualifications meet our entry requirements.

English language requirements

IELTS (Academic)

Overall score 6.5. No less than 6.0 in any section.


Overall score 90 with minimum scores of 21 for writing, 21 for listening, 22 for reading and 23 for speaking.

Pearson Test of English (Academic)

58 with no less than 55 in all communicative skills.

Other accepted tests

Information about other acceptable tests of linguistic ability can be found on our English language requirements page.

Pre-sessional English

Applicants with lower English language test scores may be able to take pre-sessional English at INTO University of Exeter prior to commencing their programme. See our English language requirements page for more information.

Fees and funding

Tuition fees per year 2016/17

  • UK/EU: £9,300 full-time; £4,650 part-time (where available)
  • International: £18,600 full-time

Fee information

Fees can normally be paid by two termly instalments and may be paid online. You will also be required to pay a tuition fee deposit to secure your offer of a place, unless you qualify for exemption. For further information about paying fees see our Student Fees pages.

UK government postgraduate loan scheme

Postgraduate loans of up to £10,000 are now available for Masters degrees. Find out more about eligibility and how to apply.


Find out about funding opportunities available to students on our taught Masters programmes in Biosciences.

University funding

The Funding website has information on all available options for funding open to prospective students of taught Masters programmes. You can also use the searchable database of all Scholarships and Bursaries to find funding for which you are eligible.

NFU Mutual Centenary Award

Applicants to the MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture are eligible to apply for the Centenary Award offered by NFU Mutual.

Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP)

Applicants to the MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture are eligible to apply for the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) offered by The Association of Commonwealth Universities.

Contact us

We welcome enquiries about the programme. For further information contact:

Taught programmes

Phone: +44 (0)1392 723788

The Programme Director is Dr Mark Van Der Giezen.