Pieter van de Graaf on how Scottish science links to food security issues worldwide.

Pieter van de Graaf.

Scotland’s main food-related policies, the national Food & Drink policy Recipe for Success and the Prevention of Obesity Route Map, both recognise the important role that scientific research plays in achieving the Scottish Government’s policy goals.

They are supported by evidence produced by the Scottish science base for rural and environment research, the main pillars of which are two, five-year Strategic Research Programmes (SRPs) commissioned by the Scottish Government, which started in April 2011. The two SRPs are almost entirely carried out by the group of research organisations known as the Main Research Providers (MRPs), the activities of which are discussed in more detail below.

Making connections

The objectives of the Scottish Government’s two SRPs are primarily focused on outputs and outcomes relevant to local policy makers and stakeholders in Scotland, such as evidence on food supply and demand in Scotland and improvements in the diet of the Scottish population.

However, there are many ways in which they link to national food security issues and then add to the wider, globally relevant evidence base.

The Food, Land & People programme forms an important part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to the UK’s Global Food Security (GFS) Programme and is relevant to all four of the GFS themes. It includes work on food production and supply, animal and plant health, diet and human health, and rural communities.

The second SRP, Environmental Change, is roughly aligned with the UK’s Living with Environmental Change, and covers important food security related areas such as ecosystem services, water and energy security, climate change, land use, and the rural economy.

Global relevance

The wider contribution of research in Scotland to global food security will become clearer as both the Scottish Government’s SRPs and the UK’s GFS Programme progress. However, there are already examples of how Scotland’s researchers will make a difference.

Analyses carried out by socio-economists at the Scottish Agricultural College as part of the Food, Land & People programme, for instance, aim to assess food supply chain resilience, efficiency and sustainability and will yield advice on measurement of these attributes which should be of interest to anyone around the world involved in food supply, from farmers, processors, retailers to consumers.

Meanwhile, the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen is investigating aspects of the relationship between human behaviour, such as food choice or exercise, and nutritional health, the impact of which will also go well beyond Scotland.

Long-term strategic funding from the Scottish Government also provides its MRPs with a platform for additional activities that are more directly related to food security in developing countries, such as work on diseases and parasites of livestock in India by the Moredun Research Institute, and on potato production in Kenya and Malawi by The James Hutton Institute (JHI).

Iain Gordon, JHI Director, described some of the challenges facing the relatively new institute in his blog post.

A wide embrace

The research centres described are all also very active in training students and scientists from around the world at their state-of-the-art facilities in Scotland.

Effective knowledge exchange, I believe, greatly defines the ultimate success of any research programme. Two-way communication with a wide range of end-user groups forms an integral part of the Scottish Government’s SRPs.

From my regular discussions with Scotland’s researchers, it is clear that they are keen for their outputs to have a wide impact and are working hard to make a useful contribution towards evidence-based solutions to the global food security challenge.

About Pieter van de Graaf

Dr Pieter van de Graaf is the Scientific Adviser for Food & Crops at the Scottish Government and his main role is to advise Scottish ministers and policy makers on relevant science matters and to coordinate food, nutrition and crop related research funded by the SG. He previously worked as plant pathologist at SCRI (now The James Hutton Institute) and SASA.

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