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PhD position, sustainability of coffee value chains in Zürich

Studierende finden an der ETH Zürich ein Umfeld, das eigenständiges Denken fördert, Forschende ein Klima, das zu Spitzenleistungen inspiriert.


100%, Zurich, fixed-term

The Department of Environmental Systems Science (D-​USYS) at ETH Zurich conducts research and offers studies into the condition and functions of environmental systems. It develops solutions and methods for managing them on a sustainable basis. The Agroecological Transitions group applies concepts of sustainability and justice to the design and management of sustainable food systems.

Project background

The SNSF-funded project Does food democracy matter? Linking the deliberative quality of soy and coffee value chains to ecological “foodprints” (DELIBERATE) focuses on the question to what extent varying degrees of deliberation in the governance of agri-food value chains result in reduced ecological impacts. DELIBERATE investigates two globally relevant commodities with high social-ecological impacts: soybeans – linked to animal-based (e.g. meat, dairy) and non-animal-based food products (e.g. edible oil) – and coffee. The general aim is to understand whether and how the deliberative quality in agri-food value chains affects their ecological foodprints and power asymmetries among their key actors. Fieldwork takes place in Brazil and the Democratic Republic of Congo (although a stronger focus on one of these countries is possible). Research collaborations, field research, as well as workshops in these two countries are an essential component of the project and the PhD study.

Job description

This PhD study focuses on the ecological “foodprint” of coffee from production to consumption conducting life cycle assessments (LCAs) along differently organized coffee value chains. Examples are value chains organized by international traders working with individual farmers, direct trade between farmers and roasters, or cooperatives. Parameters to investigate are land and resource use, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste disposal/nutrient recycling from production to consumption and beyond. The research will involve participatory research methods such as interviews and participant observation. The PhD candidate will work with databases such as Ecoinvent (), and LCA programmes such as SimaPro (), and conduct fieldwork in Brazil and Congo both independently and through teamwork. The research will be part of the group “Agroecological Transitions” and located at the Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

Start: January 2022

Duration: 4 years (100%)

Your profile

An excellent background in environmental sciences, agronomy, agricultural geography or a related field, working experience in Africa and/or South America, interest in sustainability and fairness in food and agricultural systems, and the willingness to travel are indispensable. Excellent oral and written English is necessary. Speaking Portuguese and/or French are a plus, as well as experiences in international research and/or sustainable development projects, with life cycle assessments or aspects thereof.

ETH Zurich
ETH Zurich is one of the world’s leading universities specialising in science and technology. We are renowned for our excellent education, cutting-edge fundamental research and direct transfer of new knowledge into society. Over 30,000 people from more than 120 countries find our university to be a place that promotes independent thinking and an environment that inspires excellence. Located in the heart of Europe, yet forging connections all over the world, we work together to develop solutions for the global challenges of today and tomorrow.

We look forward to receiving your online application until 31 July 2021 with the following documents:

  • CV, including the names and contacts of at least two reference persons
  • Motivation letter
  • Publications, e.g. articles or Master's thesis

Please note that we exclusively accept applications submitted through our online application portal. Applications via email or postal services will not be considered.

Shortlisted applicants will be invited for an interview.

Further information about D-USYS can be found on our website . Questions regarding the position should be directed to Prof. Dr. Johanna Jacobi, email johanna.jacobi@usys.ethz.ch (no applications).

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