Global Food Security blog

Contributors to this blog include academics, policy makers, farmers and end-users. To join the community of authors please email web@foodsecurity.ac.uk including details of your expertise, experience and a short synopsis of your proposed article.

Pesticides: with or without?

They get a bad press, but certain compounds are key to a future with safe, sufficient and affordable food, says the ECPA’s Graeme Taylor.

Graeme Taylor

Food is my passion. My dream was to become a MasterChef, but, despite my one-time appearance on the UK television programme of the same name, I am not.

My passion for food (combined with a politics degree) led me down an unexpected career path. I have spent 15 years working in public sector, primarily in animal health and welfare in various positions at national, international and multilateral level. About a year ago, I accepted a Brussels-based position in the world of pesticides and plant protection at the European Crop Protection Association.
Continue reading Pesticides: with or without?

Locking up a killer virus

The world has celebrated rinderpest virus eradication. But an FAO video shows there’s cleaning up to do after the party. Virologist Michael Baron explains.

Michael Baron

Rinderpest, aka ’cattle plague’, was with us for a long time, at least 2000 years. Over the centuries, the virus killed uncounted millions of animals in Asia and Europe. When it was accidentally introduced into Africa for the first time, in the late 19th century, it went on to kill ~90% of the cattle and buffalo on that continent. It was, let’s be honest, a Very Bad Thing.

Note the past tense. After several decades of hard work across all of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, rinderpest was declared eradicated in 2011 (PDF), and there have been no cases of the disease, anywhere, for more than 15 years. Rinderpest was a Very Bad Thing, but it is now no longer a thing at all (read this GFS blog post for a review of how it was done).
Continue reading Locking up a killer virus

Research strategy in a changing world

Head of Global Food Security (GFS) Riaz Bhunnoo outlines the programme’s plans and policies for the future.

Riaz Bhunnoo

The world is a changing place. The political, scientific, and funding landscapes in which we operate are all evolving, as is the food security challenge.

This shifting context makes developing a new Global Food Security (GFS) programme strategy (PDF 2.7MB) quite complicated.

On the one hand many food security issues remain the same and irrespective of the context still need to be addressed. On the other hand, the way in which research could best be used to address a particular challenge will depend largely on the context. Whilst the latter is probably true in general, the rapidly changing nature of the world we live in gives pause for thought.
Continue reading Research strategy in a changing world

As armyworms return to devastate crops in Africa, Lancaster University’s Professor Ken Wilson reports on renewed efforts to bring a sustainable solution.

Ken Wilson

As we roll into 2017, my thoughts cast back to a whirlwind visit I made to Zambia at about the same time of year four years ago.

I witnessed a major outbreak of African armyworm caterpillars destroying the vital maize crops of local smallholder farmers and causing a country-wide food security crisis. As you can see in the video below, I met with the then Vice President of Zambia, Dr Guy Scott, and told him of our ongoing research, funded (PDF) by Global Food Security programme partners BBSRC and the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) aimed at developing a locally-produced biological pesticide against this devastating plant pest.
Continue reading Natural killers: developing better biopesticides

The Global Food Security programme’s Sian Williams decided to cut all meat and animal products from her diet to see how difficult it would be to eat more sustainably.

Sian Williams

Never one to shy away from an experiment, I took on the challenge of changing my previously omnivorous diet to become vegan for a month, hoping to better understand what challenges this might bring.

With the global food system as a whole currently responsible for around 30% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions, it is clear that the agri-food sector must adapt in order to meet the Paris Agreement. Especially given estimates that food-related emissions could account for the entire carbon budget for a 1.5°C temperature rise by 2050.
Continue reading My vegan challenge: how hard is it to change your diet?

Temperate matters in agriculture

Most of the world’s food is produced in temperate zones. The Global Food Security programme’s Evangelia Kougioumoutzi reports on the TempAg Network.

Evangelia Kougioumoutzi

Agricultural production in temperate regions is highly productive with a significant proportion of global output originating from temperate (i.e. non-tropical) countries – 21% of global meat production and 20% of global cereal production originates from Europe alone. This proportion is very likely to increase (PDF) in light of climate change.

TempAg is an international research collaboration network established to increase the impact of agricultural research and inform policy making in the world’s temperate regions.
Continue reading Temperate matters in agriculture

The Global Food Security programme’s Champion, Professor Tim Benton, reflects on leaving the role after five years in the post.

Tim Benton

After five years, my term as the Champion for the UK’s Global Food Security programme has come to an end. It has been a fascinating and rewarding experience, even if at times exhausting and frustrating. So what have I learned?

The issue of food security is not (just) about food, it is about how we choose to live on a planet with limited resources. Food requires land and water and affects climate, biodiversity and our health. The amount of land and water available are finite, as is the climate impact we can tolerate, and the healthcare costs of the malnourished (underweight and overweight).
Continue reading “We are the champions, my friends”

For food security we need soil security

Chris Collins from the Soil Research Centre reviews the actions and intentions of an ongoing research programme.

Chris Collins

The world will struggle to meet environmental targets around climate change, biodiversity and food production unless we understand our soil.

The contribution of soil to human well-being is often ignored. While we are all aware of the benefits clean air and water provide, this is more opaque with soil. For example, we cannot have clean water without soil. It is also vital for providing food, and the storage of water and carbon.
Continue reading For food security we need soil security

The lost world: DNA and wheat’s 12,000 year past

Retracing our genetic path of plant domestication can help us produce newer, better varieties to enhance food security, says the Earlham Institute’s Dr Peter Bickerton.

Peter Bickerton

It wasn’t long ago that we first traded hunting for a more sedentary life – harnessing the grasses of the Fertile Crescent. Yet, over the last 12,000 years, though we have mastered the art of producing abundant yields, the time has come to rejuvenate our most staple of crops.

Since humans first discovered that some wheat plants, rather than shedding their seed upon ripening, instead kept their grains attached, we’ve developed a food system that has contributed to a population explosion of over seven billion people worldwide.


Continue reading The lost world: DNA and wheat’s 12,000 year past

Blackouts and water shortages can severely harm a nation’s food security. Resource allocation tools can help policy makers improve energy access while minimising hunger, says the Stockholm Environment Institute’s Louise Karlberg.

Louise Karlberg

Last July, Zambia found itself in the midst of a crippling energy crisis caused by low water levels in the reservoirs for hydropower generation. Load shedding (cutting off supply to parts of the power grid) became the norm, sending politicians into a frenzy because electricity is the lifeblood of the economy.

The blackouts had many negative knock-on effects for food producers. For example, while some large-scale poultry farmers were able to switch to alternative energy sources, such as generators to power vital equipment such as refrigerators, many of their smaller-scale fellows were unable to make this investment and lost income. And dairy farmers were faced with a range of other challenges related to the load shedding, as their plants can take several hours to regenerate after each power cut.
Continue reading Energy and food production: powering the balancing act