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Master Research Unit Agrofood Systems for the MSc Environment and Natural Resources

Would you like to contribute to sustainable changes in our food system? If so, the Agroecology and Food Systems specialisation might well be for you, allowing you develop new solutions «from field to plate».

The food system is facing enormous challenges. Inequalities, environmental degradation, scarcity and overabundance characterise the conventional system. Therefore, alternative forms of food production and distribution are urgently needed. In the Agroecology and Food Systems specialisation, you will come to know different approaches to sustainable food production and nutrition. The focus is on approaches from agroecology, regional value chains and fair trade relationships. The close interactions between humans and the environment are an integral part of the course. With the research groups of the ZHAW, and thanks to the collaboration with the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), you have a wide range of specialisation options to choose from.

You can find out more about the collaboration with FiBL in the interview with Matthias Stolze and Isabel Jaisli (in German only).

Competencies

As a Master of Science ZFH in Environment and Natural Resources specialising in Agroecology and Food Systems...

Careers

Would you like to know the career paths which might be open to you following your graduation? Go to our careers page for an overview.

«After completing my Bachelor's degree, my career aspiration was to make a contribution to the sustainable development of rural regions in Switzerland. So, I decided to do the MSc in Environment and Natural Resources. By working in a research group, I gained valuable insights into various projects where I was able to contribute my experience and develop myself further in my specialist area. In my current job, I benefit from having in-depth knowledge in the area of sustainable development as well as a valuable network.»

Giulia Balmer, Head of the Neue Regionalpolitik Zürcher Weinland office

Course content of MRU Agroecology and Food Systems

In the Agrofood Systems & Chains module, you deal intensively with the entire food system, as well as with economic, political and social influences. The question of what a sustainable value chain looks like is also of central importance. As part of an interdisciplinary research team, in the Research Methods module you will investigate the potential of the production and marketing of new crops, such as quinoa, in Switzerland. The Agriculture for the Future module gives you a glimpse into the future: what new approaches are there as alternatives to agriculture today and what are the risks? In the elective modules you can delve into other relevant topics, such as agriculture in mountain areas or in cities (urban agriculture) or in development cooperation. You will learn methods for assessing the sustainability of food (life cycle assessments) or strategies for changing the behaviour of consumers. Another highlight is the international summer school on the topic of agrobiodiversity.

You can bring agricultural fundamentals with you from your Bachelor's degree or acquire them using our e-learning course «Fundamentals of Agriculture».

Master’s Studio

The specialisation takes place within the framework of the Master's Studio. As a «Student Researcher», you are part of your chosen research group and directly involved in their projects (Project Work I and II and Master's thesis). This constitutes almost half of your overall degree. The diversity of the research groups at the ZHAW and at the FibL enable specialisation in different areas of agriculture, for example, in rural development, tourism, in sustainable value chains or in consumption. In the projects, you benefit from the research groups' networks in industry and research and, if interested, you also have the opportunity to carry out projects abroad and/or with partners from real-life practice.

As part of the Master's thesis, you develop your own ideas and concepts for solving scientific challenges. This enables you to tackle complex issues independently in your subsequent professional occupation.

Examples from previous Master's theses in the Agrofood Systems specialisation:

Research groups at the Institute of Environment and Natural Resources

The central aspect of your master’s degree is your participation in the research group you have chosen. Around half of your time will be spent in this group, delving into your specialisation according to your interests and gaining in-depth insight into research and development work. Participation the research group's projects enables you to benefit from the network with partners from industry and research, and to establish contacts for your professional future. In the research group you choose, you will complete your Master's Studio (Project Work I and II, as well as your Master's thesis).

"We evaluate programmes and instruments of agricultural policy and development cooperation. Based on this, we formulate recommendations with the objective of increasing productivity and sustainability in agriculture and along the food value chains. In our projects, we use quantitative approaches to socio-economic research to develop application-oriented solutions for decision-makers in politics and business." Raushan Bokusheva, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Productivity and sustainability in the agriculture and food industries
  • Economics of climate change and risk management
  • Innovations in decision making and behavioural components
  • Economic evaluations of ecological goods and services

"We are committed to the sustainable use of soil as a resource and thus to the long-term preservation of soil fertility. In addition to the water balance, we are also interested in the effect(s) of different soil management and fertilisation on soil organisms, soil structure and nutrient availability in agriculture." Beatrice Kulli, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Irrigation in times of climate change
  • Protection of the soil against contamination or compaction
  • Holistic approaches to nutrient cycles in agriculture

"We address local and global issues relating to sustainability in the food system. As an interdisciplinary team, we develop solutions and approaches at every level of the value chain, from the field to the plate." Isabel Jaisli, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Diversification potential in agriculture
  • Impact of food imports in producer countries
  • Innovations for a resource-efficient food culture

"Our research is located at the interface of production, ecology, quality, and multiple use options in crop systems. We are guided by agro-ecological concepts that contribute to making agricultural production as a whole sustainable and future-proof." Mareike Jäger, Lecturer

 

Research areas:

 

  • Regenerative production systems for agriculture
  • Further development of cultivation methods for fruit, vegetables, vine, ornamental plants and fiber plants
  • New concepts at the interface of land use and energy production

"We want to win people over to more sustainable behaviour. With this goal in mind, we combine techniques from behavioural psychology, education, communication and art. We analyse which drivers and obstacles influence people's actions so that we are able to implement effective measures." Urs Müller, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development
  • Methods and techniques of behavioural change
  • Storytelling, visual and scenographic communication in the form of narrative environments

"We assess the ecologically sustainability of food, agricultural production systems and nutritional styles. For this purpose, we specifically use ecobalance methods, i.e. Life Cycle Assessment, which considers the entire life cycle. Our commitment to research and education contributes to the further development of methods of ecobalance and to integrating life cycle thinking as the basis for ecological decisions in science, business, politics and society." Matthias Stucki, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Ecological hotspots in value chains of the agricultural and food industry
  • Ecological footprint of new technologies, food trends and nutritional styles
  • Strategies for environmental optimisation and increasing resource efficiency

"We develop new strategies and methods for biological crop protection and seek application-oriented solutions for practical use. We work with beneficial and harmful organisms in the micro- and macrocosm, and focus on agricultural crops and horticulture." Jürg Grunder, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Development of new biological pesticides and control strategies against diseases and pests
  • Optimised use of pesticides through monitoring and new consulting concepts 
  • Monitoring and regulation of harmful organisms using traps and fragrances

"We deal with current issues of regional development on a national and international level. Together with local stakeholders, we seek practical solutions for the sustainable development of rural and mountain areas. In concrete projects, we develop new approaches in nature parks and communities for improving landscape quality, adapting to climate change and for sustainable value chains." Peter Marty, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Enabling and accompanying innovation processes in nature parks and regions by establishing networks between active parties
  • Impact assessment of climate change and corresponding adaptations with respect to topics pertaining to rural and mountain areas
  • Innovation networks for municipalities in the areas of value creation systems, regional agricultural products, biodiversity and landscape quality

"Our emphasis is on the interface of landscape, tourism, agriculture and population in peripheral alpine regions. Based on regional economic, political and socio-cultural approaches, we investigate and initiate development processes. Practical work and close cooperation with the population, e.g. in the establishment of national and regional nature parks, is our main focus. In this way we revitalise rural areas, build regional value chains, create exchange platforms and opportunities for cooperation, and stimulate innovative and sustainable regional development." Rebecca Göpfert, Head of Research Group

 

Research areas:

 

  • Sustainable tourism, cultural tourism, agrotourism, product  development
  • Regional development projects, development and completion of value chains
  • International and national nature parks - together with the population, bringing nature and cultural values to life
  • Mountain regions and (mountain) agriculture

"We focus on deciphering the life processes of plant pathogenic bacteria and fungi using genomic methods and we develop molecular biological tools for the diagnosis of agriculturally important organisms in the field." Joël Pothier, Research Fellow

 

Research areas:

 

  • Genomics and bioinformatics of phytopathogenic bacteria
  • Molecular biological detection of various organisms or pathogens (pests)
  • Molecular ecology using population genetic methods, including metagenomics
     

"Our goal is sustainable food production in Switzerland and internationally. This requires production systems that simultaneously promote animal welfare, make sustainable use of cultivated land and contribute to food justice. We develop appropriate solutions." Matthias Stolze, Research Fellow and MSc ENR Coordinator

 

Research areas:

 

  • Potential of organic farming systems to reduce climate change
  • Grassland-based milk and beef production: animal health and sustainability
  • Sustainability and productivity of organic farming systems in Africa