Tim Benton on the challenges ahead and why he’s taken on the role.
Meeting the growing demands for both food and sustainability is a huge interdisciplinary challenge; the answer will not be found in a single discipline. As an interdisciplinary problem, global food security solutions must combine agricultural science (including crop improvement), farming management, understanding trade-offs in land uses (between ecosystem services and agricultural production for example) and a wide range of social issues concerning behaviour, consumption, economics and global trade.
Continue reading A Champion for the Global Food Security programme
Fine tuning policies and collaborations can strengthen animal and plant pathogen research, says Wyn Grant.
In the 21st century, one of the potential consequences of climate change and free global trade is that animal and plant disease may pose increasing threats to our food supplies.
It’s important to understand the biology of the pathogens and pests involved, but it’s equally important to fully consider the human dimension, and the part that people and their behaviour play.
Continue reading The devils and the details of disease
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.
Continue reading Research strategy launched to help meet food security challenge
Gambling on food prices was a driver of the 2007-08 crisis and it’s time to take action against this practice, says Julian Oram.
I don’t consider myself to be an especially intuitive person and I’m pretty sure I’d make a lousy detective. But a few years ago something happened on an international scale which roused my suspicions: the price of food was rising fast.
Between January 2007 and June 2008, maize prices shot up by 74%, wheat prices by 124%, and rice by 224%. In Britain, this led to grumblings about the rising cost of a loaf of bread. But across Asia, Africa and Latin America, riots erupted as the price of basic foodstuffs became unaffordable to poor households and millions went hungry. It was, without doubt, a major world crisis.
Continue reading The case of the great food bubble
We need to move toward more sustainable agriculture practices that use the best of all approaches – including organic, GM and non-GM biotechnology, says David Howlett.
In achieving global food security, agriculture is part of the problem and part of the solution to climate change.
While we need to better understand greenhouse-gas emissions from agriculture we do know they are significant. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that direct emissions are about 14% of global emissions (similar to those from transport) and emissions from deforestation are 17% of global emissions – but because farming is a major driver of deforestation the majority of these are due to agriculture.
Continue reading Combining tactics for triple wins in agriculture
Improving the conversion of light into biomass will require thinking outside the box, says Riaz Bhunnoo.
It’s said that you can’t force people to have fun, but can you help a group of people to be creative?
The answer is yes. But it depends largely on the people present and the environment they are in.
The Ideas Lab on enhancing photosynthesis, jointly organised by BBSRC and the National Science Foundation in the US, and held at the Asilomar Conference Center, California, Sept 13-17 aimed to create an environment conducive to creative, ‘out of the box’ thinking. The idea was to bring together a diverse group of people from different disciplinary backgrounds and to use their unique perspectives and expertise to generate novel and potentially ground-breaking ideas in a similar format to a ‘sandpit’.
Continue reading The Ideas Lab on enhancing photosynthesis
There has never been a more urgent need to train scientists in the food security disciplines, says Christopher Thornton.
Publication of the Royal Society report Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture in October 2009 provided the clearest evidence yet of the immense challenge of ensuring global food security over the next 50 years.
Crop yields need to rise significantly, but in a manner that requires much lower energy inputs and less dependency on chemical intervention and fertilisers.
Continue reading Generation X and agricultural education
The second decade of the last century was an important decade for food research with the setting up of six research institutes focusing on specific sectors such as dairying (National Institute for Research in Dairying) plant breeding (Welsh Plant Breeding Institute) and human nutrition (Rowett Research Institute).
The second decade of this century is witnessing a resurgence of interest in food research, but this time with a difference. Today, the research objectives are not so much about maximising production of food, but producing nutritious food while minimising negative impacts on the environment, including limiting greenhouse-gas emissions.
Continue reading The past, the future, and partnerships