Dr Tim Foster

Senior Lecturer in Water-food Security & Theme lead: Resilient Futures


What are your research interests and areas of expertise?

I lead the Agriculture, Water and Climate research group (www.ag-water.weebly.com) which focuses on assessing the connections between water and food security, and how these will evolve under climate and socio-ecomomic change. I’m particularly interested in understanding how agricultural production and rural economies are impacted by water scarcity, and what technologies, policies, and management strategies can help to balance agricultural needs for water with those of the environment, people, and industry. 

What is the focus of your current research?

Currently, a key focus of my work is on developing tools and partnerships to improve our ability to monitor where and how much water is being used by farmers, and predict how water needs of crops will evolve in the years to come. Something that surprises a lot of people is that we know very little about how much water is used in agricultural production, despite agriculture accounting for over 70% of freshwater withdrawals globally. My research is seeking to address this critical data gap by using satellite imagery, crop models, and other big data sources to better understand and track water use practices in agricultural landscapes, and use this knowledge to support farmers to use water more sustainably and address water scarcity challenges around the world. 

What are some projects or breakthroughs you wish to highlight?

One of the exciting projects we have been working on recently is called AquaPlan a web application built on open-source models developed by group that can be used to predict crop yields and water demands for any location around the world. We are excited by the opportunity this tool presents to put scientific advances in crop modelling in the hands of end users, including farmers, businesses, and governments who want to make informed decisions about water management, irrigation investments, and climate risks. 

In January 2023, we will also be starting a new 4-year Horizon Europe project called (TRANSCEND) which brings together institutions and partners from Europe, Asia, North and Latin America to adapt how we manage competing demands for water resources to support economic development and climate adaptation. My group will be leading a core aspect of the project focused on developing an actionable toolkit for water use monitoring and accounting, which we hope will underpin efforts to improve how water allocation policies are implemented and enforced on the ground. Stay tuned for more insights from this work in the next four years.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge in sustainability right now?/ What real world challenges do you see sustainability-focussed research having an impact on in the next 10 years?

Most of my work is focused on water and agriculture. A big challenge for water sustainability in the agricultural sector is how we can increase food production and develop rural economies, while at the same time reducing the pressure that agriculture places on freshwater resources and the wider environment. Research has a big role that play in developing solutions to help improve the water stewardship in agriculture, for example by improving knowledge about best water management practices, development of new irrigation technologies or crop varieties, and influencing the design of policies that balance multiple competing demands on our scare water resources. 

Find out more about Tim’s research here.

Find out more about the Resilient Futures theme lead here.