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Agricultural Initiatives at the University of Cambridge

With the U.K.'s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge embarking on an 10-week course in Agricultural Management at the University of Cambridge, we take a look at a few programmes the university offers students interested in agricultural sustainability.
BY Achala Upendran |   17-01-2014
Agriculture is a lot more than planting seeds and farming. It is a science that involves aspects of geography, plant and animal biology and increasingly incorporates conservation and environmental sciences.
University of Cambridge; Photo courtesy www.cam.ac.uk

Organic farming has been a concept that only evolved after the negative effects of genetic modification and pesticides used in the farming of plant and animals, have increasingly been discovered to be quite toxic. Before the relatively recent invention of such chemical alteration mechanisms, most farming was organic. However even at the time that toxins were being introduced to farming, there was an awareness to maintain organic practices for agricultural sustainability.

Sir Albert Howard (1873-1947), often referred to  as the ‘father of modern organic agriculture’, graduated from the University of Cambridge with a degree in Natural Sciences. He  promoted composting practices that emphasized returning nutrients to the soil. The University continues his legacy towards sustainable agriculture even in their programs today.

Cambridge Conservation Initiative

The Cambridge Conservation Initiative is a collaborative effort between the University of Cambridge and various international conservation forums based in and around the area, such as BirdLife International, the Tropical Biology Association and TRAFFIC- the global wildlife trade monitoring network. The Initiative offers an 11-month MPhil course in Conservation Leadership. The course, primarily rooted in the Department of Geography, also offers students classes in collaboration with several other departments, including those of Zoology and Plant Sciences.  Additionally, it provides them the opportunity to work with local conservation organisations. The Conservation Leadership program aims to create a network of highly trained individuals who, together, can spearhead conservation efforts across the globe. For this reason, the course prides itself on its multinational student intake.

The Initiative handles a number of interdisciplinary projects, among which those of an agricultural bent feature prominently. For instance, the Initiative is investigating whether land sparing, the practice of maximizing yields on existing farmland rather than clearing more, mitigates climate change. The Departments of Zoology and Plant Science are both involved in this project.

The Cambridge University Farm

Researchers at the Department of Plant Science are involved in a number of projects that might prove beneficial to sustainable agricultural practice, including the development of disease-resistant crops. The Department of Veterinary Medicine also undertakes sustainability research projects, recently putting out a piece that advocated the use of pastures with shrubs and trees. According to the research team’s findings, such pastures are more ecologically sustainable, improve animal welfare and conserve biodiversity.

The Cambridge University Farm,  was established in 1900, as part of the Department of Agriculture – when that shut down, it was absorbed by the Department of  Applied Biology. Today the farm is a commercial business, wholly owned by the University. Veterinary students are required to complete some of their practical course-work at the farm; it is also open to students from the Department of Plant Sciences, as well as to students from various incoming agricultural department collaborations with Cambridge.

A Royal Agricultural Course

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge; photo courtesy of www.royal.gov.uk

In preparation for his inheritance of the Duchy of Cornwall  estate, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge – who holds a degree in Geography - recently began a 10-week course in agricultural management through the University of Cambridge. Custom-designed for him by the Cambridge Programme for Sustainable Leadership (CPSL), the course will see him taking classes with professors from the departments of Land Economy, Geography and Plant Sciences. He is expected to have up to 20 hours of class time a week.


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