A Conversation with...
Dr Réka Haraszi is a Sector Lead with CHAP’s Innovation team. Here she outlines her career to date, and reflects on CHAP’s role in transforming crop production in the UK.
I am a bioengineer specialising in food science, with a focus on food proteins. My PhD is in chemistry.
I would describe my almost 25 years professional life as working in food science and technology expanding my expertise to protein biochemistry, food allergens and cereal quality research driven by a genuine intention to contribute and do something useful.
Before I joined CHAP, I worked for Campden BRI, where I gained a good insight into the UK food supply chain.
Working in research or industry is very different. First of all, the timelines are much shorter within industry, which is not surprising. In industry R&D, you do applied research with an immediate effect, which can be very rewarding, when seeing your work reshaped in a new product or more efficient processing.
In academia, you may do more of a fundamental type of work that impacts applied research but over a longer time scale. This is also very exciting, especially if you discover the unknown.
Both are needed, one drives the other and the other shows what is possible.
Having both scientific and commercial experience is key to my current role as a Sector Lead. I always wanted to try myself in both worlds and here at CHAP I can benefit from this experience.
Even I don’t use my deep technical knowledge in my daily job, but it undoubtedly contributes to my understanding and problem-solving skills, even in topic areas completely new to me.
I am lucky as I have had a few mentors during my career. All of them taught me to look at things from different perspectives, the thinking process to ask the right questions and how to be confident in decision making.
I would name one of them: Dr Bob Anderssen (CSIRO Mathematics Informatics and Statistics, Australia). He is an exceptional mathematician, a mentor, and a friend, with whom I have had the privilege working for more than 15 years. We have published a few papers on the science of cereal grain hardness.
I am a very pragmatic person and I like to discuss specifics, work-plans and actions to achieve a tangible outcome. Highly competitive grant calls – which take a lot of work with no guarantee of success – can be difficult and disappointing, especially when both CHAP and our partners put a huge amount of effort into proposals that could be truly transformative for the sector but which are ultimately unsuccessful.
On top of that, many farmers and small businesses with low incomes are disadvantaged when match-funding is needed for grants.
However, I refuse to be disheartened and will keep developing grant proposals, as working with various stakeholders across the sector on innovative ideas is an invaluable experience.
It would be helpful to have more funding opportunities for agri-tech innovations that require fundamental research but focus on industrial need (like the soil microbiome) besides BBSRC/NERC calls, which require academic partners to lead. This is often an obstacle for organisations such as CHAP to actively apply and involve their members.
CHAP’s activities include very important topics such as climate change, sustainability, regenerative agriculture, soil health, crop disease reduction, alternative proteins, and biodiversity. These subjects speak for themselves, and I am grateful that I can contribute to them.
Working at CHAP, enables me to feel that I can contribute to the healing of Planet Earth, can be part of the agri-tech sector growth and progression of agri-tech companies.
I am a member of a great team of professionals with a variety of backgrounds, which makes it unique and special. This job is always interesting and rewarding.
Many and none: achievements are relative and change their value over time. I have a PhD and two MSc degrees and speak several languages. I have worked in academia, industry and in policy support research in Hungary, Australia, Belgium, and the UK and have published 19 peer reviewed journal papers and five book chapters.
I have two children, the highest rock I climbed is 350 metres and I did my black belt grading in karate a year ago.
I also consider minor things like cooking a delicious dinner for the family or giving a compliment that makes another person happy equally important.
The implementation of regenerative practices on individual farm level and the transformation of crop production to achieve net zero and food security goals.
The question remains to what extent? Whether the UK agriculture sector can do this with current policy support or more would be needed, time will tell…
The ‘Crop and Protein Diversification’ pillar sets a key commitment for CHAP in this area. We are working on projects and scoping ideas to engage businesses in the development of sustainable practices to produce crops that provide nutritious food resources including alternative proteins.
This activity can be very varied and include several aspects of what we do. We connect pre-farm gate and post-farm gate, which is a big step in boosting collaboration between adjacent sectors: our projects are great opportunities for all players in the food supply chain to contribute.
Regarding CHAP’s relevant capabilities, we offer access to our Natural Light Growing Centre, Vertical Farming Development Centre, Innovation Hub for Controlled Environment Agriculture, Advanced Glasshouse Facility, and Molecular Diagnostics Lab. Our experts and delivery partners are also at hand to work out the best solutions for the challenges the sector is facing to achieve these goals.
To find out more about Réka’s work on alternative proteins, read Are we ready for plant-based diets?, Future plant proteins: it’s not just about growing more peas and Top of the Protein Crops: let’s talk legumes.