Progress towards affordable, sustainable food production will be made with successful partnerships, says Janet Allen.

On 10 February the UK’s major public funders of food-related research published their coordinated research plan to help the world avoid a food security crisis.

The UK Research Councils, Government departments and other public bodies are co-ordinating their research activities related to food and agriculture through the Global Food Security (GFS) programme, the blog of which you are reading.

The GFS programme aims to provide the world’s growing population with a sustainable and secure supply of safe, nutritious and affordable high quality food from less land and with lower inputs. A short video that encapsulates the problem can be seen on the front page of this website. 

The programme has now published its strategic plan (PDF 1MB). This outlines how the programme partners intend to work together across four cross-disciplinary research themes for food security: economic resilience, resource efficiency, sustainable food production and supply, and sustainable, healthy and safe diets.

Running through each of the four themes is a commitment to take into account the sustainability of ecosystems that relate to food production, both for the future of food security, and to consider how to reduce the negative environmental impacts of all aspects of the food system. Key priorities are reducing waste and greenhouse-gas emissions from the food chain.

The strategic plan puts flesh on the bones of the GFS programme launched last year. It builds on the existing activities and strategies of all the partners, adding value through coordination and provides a focus for collaboration. The strength of the programme is the breadth of its scope and the commitment of the partners to work together on multidisciplinary, whole food systems approaches to meet the food security challenge sustainably. Through the strategy we are also committing to increase the effectiveness of translation of research findings in practical applications and policy advice.

A flavour of the future

The GFS strategy publication follows the recent release of the Foresight report, The Future of Food and Farming. This highlighted the complex and multifaceted causes of food insecurity and the need for holistic approaches in meeting the challenges of feeding a growing world population and reducing hunger and malnutrition in developing countries over the next 20 to 40 years.

I am also delighted to announce the appointment of Lord Cameron of Dillington as the first Chair of the GFS Strategy Advisory Board. Lord Cameron has an established interest in agriculture and food.  He is a farmer in Somerset, a Lawes trustee at Rothamsted Research and chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture, Food and Development.

The programme will shortly be strengthened though the addition of the Welsh Assembly Government as a new partner. It brings significant expertise, resources and research challenges to the programme, many unique to the food and farming landscape in Wales, and the GFS programme is in discussion with other funding bodies to further widen the areas it includes.

About Professor Janet Allen

Professor Janet Allen is Director of Research (since October 2008) at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and is provisional Chair of the Programme Coordination Group for the Global Food Security programme.

Professor Allen trained initially in biochemistry and medicine. In addition to her highly successful career in senior appointments in medicine and academic research, she has held research directorships in the global pharmaceutical sector (with Parke Davis/Pfizer) and with an innovative biotech SME (Inpharmatica). She has also established a spin-out company (Ligand Xpress Ltd).

Professor Allen’s own research was primarily in cell and molecular biology. In 2000 she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and in 2002 was appointed Visiting Professor at the University of Glasgow and at Imperial College School of Medicine, London.

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