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.

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

How can we help people make better dietary choices for their health and the planet? The Global Food Security programme’s Sian Williams introduces a new report.

Sian Williams

Switching on the news on 1 April can be a minefield – this year the global news headlines were dominated by just one story – there are now more adults in the world classified as obese than underweight.

Unfortunately, this was no April fool.

This shocking statistic came from a study led by scientists from Imperial College London. They found that between 1975 and 2014 the incidence of obesity more than doubled in women and tripled in men.
Continue reading Eyeing up intake: an Insight on overconsumption and diet

How would we cope with a post-pesticide world?

What technologies could sustainably replace pesticides, without compromising on yield or quality? The Global Food Security (GFS) programme’s David O’Gorman reviews a recent GFS workshop on the topic.

David O’Gorman

What would happen if we could no longer use pesticides? Well, there would be significant yield losses, food price increases, greater food insecurity and potentially political unrest and instability. There may well be reduced ecological impacts, but with loss of yield would come expansion of agricultural land, with release of GHGs and loss of biodiversity.

We are heavily reliant on pesticides to maximise crop yields and put food on our tables. Even with the use of pesticides, a third of food (PDF) produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – what might the figure be with a dramatic increase in pre-harvest losses following reduced pesticide use?
Continue reading How would we cope with a post-pesticide world?

Terrestrial and aquatic food production systems share a range of common problems that need solutions. Rachel Norman from the University of Stirling reports.

Rachel Norman

A mathematical biologist by training, I was very keen to tease out whether we could treat fish and crops as being the same when we come to think about problems in food security.

After some consternation amongst my biological colleagues, there was consensus that aquaculture systems share some common features with both crops and chickens – they both have relatively high stocking densities, for example. They also share common risks, for example disease outbreaks can be devastating in all cases.
Continue reading Surf and turf: bringing crop and fish people together

Food crime matters

Criminal activity is costing global food and drink industries billions, but what is being done about it? Andy Morling of the FSA’s National Food Crime Unit reports.

Andy Morling

What does food have to do with the world of crime?

Consumers and food businesses can be disconnected by thousands of miles across the globe. From picking to packing, flavouring to refrigeration, there are multiple different processes that separate you from the hands of the farmer or farm worker that made your meal.

A lot can go wrong on that journey, from innocent mistakes to fraud and even high-level organised crime.
Continue reading Food crime matters

Engaging with agriculture on Open Farm Sunday

Delivering more sustainable food and farming has to start with reconnecting people with where their food comes from and how it is produced, says LEAF’s Annabel Shackleton.

Annabel Shackleton

With 81.5% of the UK population (PDF) living in urban areas, our connection with the natural world, farming and the value of our food is increasingly being lost.

With this in mind, how do we make long lasting and meaningful changes to the way people think about and engage with their food? How do we embed health as a value when we make food choices? And how can we link consumer knowledge and demands to deliver more sustainable food and farming?
Continue reading Engaging with agriculture on Open Farm Sunday

Food, business and the Sustainable Development Goals

How can industry and academia collaborate to meet defined 21st century challenges? The Global Food Security programme’s Evangelia Kougioumoutzi reports from a GFS workshop on the topic.

Evangelia Kugioumoutzi

At the UN Summit in September 2015, nations announced and adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that would drive the implementation of sustainable development globally, after 2015.  

The SDGs build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and seek to complete what they did not achieve, towards a new universal Sustainable Development Agenda.

Food security plays an important role within this agenda, such as SDG 2 ‘zero hunger’. But it is not the only one – other goals like SDG12 ‘sustainable consumption and production’ or SDG13 ‘climate action’ are also very pertinent to the challenge.
Continue reading Food, business and the Sustainable Development Goals

A common voice is needed to make the most of the evidence, says Global Food Security programme Champion Tim Benton.

Tim Benton

Across the world there are a very large number of food experts and commentators, each a vocal advocate of their own analyses, disciplinary backgrounds and framing assumptions. 

But whilst they are all well-meaning, there is very little agreement about either what should be done or how it should be done. Different communities of academics – developed vs developing world, agriculture vs nutrition, ‘sustainable’ vs industrial – major on different analyses and different sets of actions.
Continue reading Do we need an IPCC-like international body for food?

Advancing insects as animal feed

Insect farms could recover the true value of wasted organic nutrients, improve local food security and assist in environmental protection, says Keiran Olivares Whitaker of Entocycle.

Keiran Olivares Whitaker

Agriculture is probably the single most damaging human activity for the planet. Natural resources are already stretched, and to feed the future growing population and meet the demographic shifts in diet, extreme environmental damage will occur.

The optimum direction would be for the global population to shift to a more plant-based diet. The trajectory however is for 70% increase (PDF) in fish and meat consumption by 2050. But around 70% of agricultural land and 70% of fresh water use is already designated to produce feed for animals (PDF), and a recent report from The Economist has highlighted nearly 100% of fish stocks are now under pressure, to varying degrees of severity.
Continue reading Advancing insects as animal feed