Right now the European Commission (EC) is working on a new policy framework for assisting developing countries address agriculture and food security challenges.
Why is such a policy important?
Because for developing countries, the consequences of insecure food supplies are severe and undermine development and progress. 3 out of 4 people in developing countries live in rural areas, and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation says developing countries may experience a decline of between 9-21% in overall potential agricultural productivity as a result of global warming.
When crops or livestock are affected by climate change impacts or other factors, such as disease, the effect on local families, communities and the wider country is devastating.
Lack of available produce means less food and less income for small-holder farmers and their families. Consequently, cases of malnutrition rise – particularly in children – resulting in potentially long-term health problems which inhibit people’s capacity to attend school or earn a living.
The food crisis of 2008 caused an additional 110M people to suffer from hunger and permanent damage to 40M malnourished children.
We have only 5 years left until the 2015 deadline to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and the first of these, to reduce the proportion people who suffer from hunger, is veering further off target thanks to the food crisis, global economic crisis and climate change impacts.
But UK science can help.
The UK has historically been seen as a world leader in both research and knowledge exchange in development agriculture. As detailed in the UK Agri-Food Science Directory, we have at least 280 agricultural and food-related research organisations and 5 research councils committed to research that is either directly relevant or applicable to developing countries.
Take the near elimination of rinderpest as an example. A major outbreak of this infectious viral disease in 1982-1984 had a devastating impact on Africa’s livestock, causing losses valued at over £300M. UK scientists have been behind the development of a vaccine that will soon result in an announcement of the eradication of the disease.
Links between development funders and UK researchers are strengthening. The Department for International Development (DFID) has made agricultural research a priority and will now double its support over the next 5 years from £40M in 2009 to £80M per year by 2014.
New research programmes between DFID and BBSRC like Sustainable Agriculture Research for International Development (SARID) and its follower CIDLID (Combating Infectious Diseases in Livestock for International Development), supported by the Scottish Government, are opening the door for more development-focused agricultural science.
And international funders like the Gates Foundation are backing more UK research projects on development agriculture, such as the Africa and Europe: Partnerships in Food and Farming project at Imperial College, London.
The launch of the UK Cross-Government Food Research and Innovation Strategy this month is another demonstration of the UK’s commitment to food-related research.
It’s through this type of coordinated, collaborative approach to food and agricultural research, combined with the proposed new plans for an EU policy on food security and developing countries, which can help steer the Millennium Development Goals back on track.
About Dr Andrée Carter, Director of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS)
Dr Andrée Carter is the Director of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS), a collaboration of research councils, government departments and charitable foundations working to maximise the impact of UK research on international development.
Originally trained as a soil scientist, Dr Carter has worked closely with UK and EU governments, research and corporate organisations to protect and improve the quality of the environment and those dependent on it for their livelihoods.
She was previously the Director of Science and Environment in ADAS UK Ltd., an agricultural and environmental research consultancy and prior to that worked at Cranfield University.
Dr Andrée Carter, Director
UK Collaborative on Development Sciences
215 Euston Road
Tel: 0207 611 7330