Roberta's research interests focus on the relationship between theory and practice of sustainable development, with particular reference to food. Her research on local food systems, rural development, public procurement and urban food planning has received media coverage in Italy, the UK, the USA, Finland and Denmark.
In recent years, Roberta has sat on the advisory panel for the Scottish National Food and Drink Strategy and the Welsh Government’s National Food Strategy. She is the Director of CPLAN's Research Centre for Urban and Regional Food Systems (SURF) and a member of the Soil Association’s Catering Mark Standards Committee, Sociologia Ruralis' Editorial Board and the International Urban Food Network's Strategic Advisory Board.
- PhD in Anthropology (with honours), University of Kansas (2003).
- Laurea in Humanities (Summa Cum Laude), University of Rome, Italy (1994).
- Reader, School of Planning and Geography, Cardiff University (2012 -).
- Senior Lecturer, School of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University (2010 - 2012).
- Lecturer, School of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University (2006 - 2010).
- Research Associate, School of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff University (2003 - 2006).
- European Society of Rural Sociology.
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)’s Outstanding Impact Prize (2013).
- Cardiff University’s President’s Research Scholarships Award on food and sustainable city-regions (2009-2012).
- Fulbright Scholarship to do a PhD in Anthropology (1996-2003).
- Member of the ESRC’s Research Grant Board (2013-).
- Member of the Scientific Committee of UNESCO’s Sustainable Urban Food Systems’ Research Programme (2013-).
- Member of the International Urban Food Network's Strategic Advisory Board (2013-).
- Member of the Italian Research Quality Assessment Panel (2012).
- External Examiner, International Cooperation and Sustainable Development Policies, University of Bologna, Italy (2009) and Copenhagen University’s Business School (2012).
- Member of the Editorial Board of Sociologia Ruralis (2011-).
- Member of the Editorial Board of the Encyclopaedia of Environmental Management (Taylor and Francis, USA) (2010-12).
Roberta is a member of the Environment Research Group, Director of the Research Centre for Urban and Regional Food (SURF) and an affiliate member of Cardiff University’s Sustainable Places Research Institute (PLACE).
Interests / Areas of Expertise
- Sustainable food systems
- Food security
- Rural-urban linkages
- Urban food planning
- Local food systems
- Public food procurement
2011-13: Knowledge Brokerage to Promote Sustainable Food Consumption and Production: Linking Scientists, Policymakers and Civil Society Organizations (FOODLINKS). Funded by the EU (Collaborative Project) – Principal Investigator.
2010-14: Urban, Peri-Urban and Regional Food Dynamics: Towards an Integrated and Territorial Approach to Food (PUREFOOD). Funded by the EU (Marie Curie Initial Training Network) – Principal Investigator.
2010-12: Forecast for the Future: Scaling Up the Community Food Sector. Funded by the Plunkett Foundation (Making Local Food Work Programme) – Co-investigator.
2007-09: Enhancing the Theoretical Understanding of Rural Development (ETUDE). Funded by the EU (Specific Targeted Research Project) – Co-Investigator.
2005-08: Delivering Sustainability. Towards the Creative Procurement of School Meals. Funded by the ESRC – Co-Investigator.
- President’s Research Scholarships Coordinator (2009-12).
- Post-Graduate Researchers Admission Tutor (2009-12).
Roberta has supervised a dissertation on Fair Trade and public procurement in Scotland (by A. Smith, 2008-2011; first supervisor) and one on hospital food in Wales (by C. Bloomfield, 2010-2013; second supervisor). She is currently first supervisor to I. Beynon (working on urban food security), R. Madan (working on agritourism and rural-urban linkages in India), and J. Spayde (working on the role of the private sector in public food procurement). She is also co-supervisor of S. McWilliam (working on hospital food procurement in Wales) and second supervisor of K. Mulready (working on the Wales for Africa initiative). Outside of CPLAN, Roberta is supervising C. Lozano Torres (working on school feeding policies in Brazil at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil) and T. Bassinello (working on Home-Grown School Feeding initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa at Makerere University, Uganda).
Roberta is currently responsible for the MSc-level module Local Food and Sustainable Development. In the past she has also been responsible for the MSc-level module Environmental Policy and the BSc module Environmental Policies and Planning, and has contributed to the teaching of the 'Live' Project, Theories and Principles of Sustainable Development and Climate Change.
- Course Director, MSc Food, Space and Society (2013).
- Chair of Learning and Teaching (2012-13).
- Year 2 Tutor, City and Regional Planning (2006-09).
Invited as an expert to a workshop on “Sustainable Development of Rural Areas: Defining the Research Priorities” (DG Agriculture and Rural Development), Brussels, April 2013.
Invited participant in a researchers-practitioners workshop on urban agriculture, climate change and food security, organized by the University of Alberta (Canada) and the University of Leeds (Geography Department), Leeds, UK (2013).
Invited to a hearing/workshop on sustainable food by the European Commission (DG Agriculture and Rural Development), Bruxelles (2012).
Member of the Soil Association’s Catering Mark Standards Committee (2011).
Member of the Steering Committee in charge of drafting the Cardiff Food Charter (2011-12).
Advisor to the Scottish Cabinet for the development of a national food policy (2008-09).
Assessing Sustainability in the Context of Food Security. Brussels, Joint Research Centre, European Commission (2012-13).
Developing a National Food and Drink Strategy for Wales. Funded by the Welsh Government (2009-10).
Developing a food and regeneration strategy for the City of Newport. Funded by the Welsh Government, Newport City Council and Newport Unlimited (2009).
School Meals for Development: Creating a Virtuous Cycle. Funded by the Gates Foundation and the World Food Programme (2007).
In 2013, Roberta was awarded an Outstanding Impact Prize (with K. Morgan) by the ESRC for their research project on school meals (2005-2008).
In 2013, Roberta has published 4 journal articles:
Sonnino, R. (2013) Local Foodscapes: Place and Power in the Agri-Food System. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section B – Soil and Plant Science, 63 (1): 2-7.
Sonnino, R. and Griggs-Trevarthen, C. (2013) A Resilient Social Economy? Insights from the Community Food Sector in the UK. Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, 25 (3-4): 272-292.
Ashe, L. and R. Sonnino (2013) Convergence in Diversity: New York City School Food and the Future of the Food Movement. International Planning Studies, 18 (1): 61-77.
Ashe, L. and R. Sonnino (2013) At the Crossroads: New Paradigms of Food Security, Public Health Nutrition and School Food. Public Health Nutrition, 16 (6): 1020-1027.
Research Grant Award
This year, Roberta has been awarded an expert contract (€11,250) by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission to do a review of “the barriers to sustainability in the context of food security”. Findings from this project (which also involved dr. Ana Moragues Faus) were presented at a workshop in Seville in April.
Roberta has also been awarded (as a PI) a new Collaborative Project grant (of over €600,000) by the European Commission to do an Assessment of the Impact of Drivers of Change on Europe’s Food and Nutrition Security. The project (which will start in February 2014) also involves Dr Ana Moragues Faus and Professor Terry Marsden.
She was also engaged in two PhD training events –as module leader for “Urban Governance for Food Security", taught during the Sustainability Science Week organized by Cardiff University Graduate College and the Institute for Sustainable Places; and as panel member for the discussion on “Do Climate Researchers Have a Responsibility to Lead Sustainable Lives?” organized by the Tyndall Centre during the Climate Transitions 2013 PhD Conference in Cardiff.