Research student profile: Rob Burdock

Project Title

Modelling system interdependency for sustainable food: The relationship between the environment, agriculture and nutritional food.

Project overview

My research aims to scope and model a systems approach to sustainable food. This ambitious task brings together the relationship between environmental stewardship, agricultural practice and the availability and consumption of nutritional food in society. To achieve this, I am collaborating with experts in agriculture, physics and medicine.

In the interests of human health, a growing world population will need to be fed nutritional food from an agricultural sector facing its own constraints of soil fertility and water shortages. In many places, the natural environment is severely stressed and is struggling to provide the services we enjoy for free and which remain largely ignored in simple economic models. So is there a way to regenerate the natural environment and feed the world with healthy food?

Some modelling of various elements of this system has already been published and this provides some input and support. My approach is to capture as much complexity as possible, network the relationships, write a model of an existing system, then test that model against historic reality and future scenarios.

By examining the interaction of food nutrition, agricultural practice and environmental health as an integrated system, we set ourselves up to explore the issues holistically rather than piecemeal. My research will strengthen the case supporting a policy of coordinated multiple interventions, thus improving our chances of achieving success in moving the whole system to a sustainable state.


I was born in country NSW, living the first half of my childhood in two country towns and the second half in the city.

In the mid 1980s I graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon and while serving as an Army Officer, earned a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) degree, which I studied part-time from Charles Sturt University.

Following my time in the military I worked for more than a decade in a variety of corporate roles covering operations, event management, business development, procurement and consulting in the FMCG, supply chain, manufacturing and investment industries in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore. Early in my commercial career I completed my Master of Business Administration from Macquarie University. For several months in both 2005 and 2007, I studied Mandarin intensively at Beijing Language and Culture University.

With a desire to change direction and career, I returned to Australia in mid 2008 to earn a Master of Applied Science (Environmental Science) and a Diploma of Arts (Philosophy) concurrently, both from the University of Sydney. This self-funded academic life continued when I commenced my PhD in mid 2010.

I have written and presented a paper at the Environmental Research Event 2011, held on Morton Island, Queensland; presented a poster at the Faculty’s 2011 Symposium, “Resilience: Can our environment keep bouncing back?”; and participated in a conference on complex systems, which was held on Heron Island, Queensland in early 2012.


  • Burdock, R.P., Crawford, J.W., (2012), The challenge to modelling system interdependency across the natural environment and agriculture, Management of Environmental Quality: An International Journal, Vol 23, Iss 5, pp527-535



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