We should not fear failure when looking for novel food security solutions, argues Christina Owen.
In the business world, the motto “fail early, fail often” is frequently hailed as the formula for success. It is also the key tenet behind one of the most effective learning methods in the history of humanity – trial and error.
One can imagine how many errors were made as humans learned how to make and control fire, sow and harvest plants, build sturdy shelters. And it is the systemic process of trial and error that has allowed science and invention to produce history-altering discoveries and innovations like antibiotics, incandescent light bulbs, and the cellular telephone.
Continue reading Freedom to innovate
Two new schemes from the Soil Association aim to put farmers at the forefront of research. Tom MacMillan reports.
There is hardly a year that starts without at least somebody at the Oxford Farming Conference lamenting the gulf between agricultural research and practice, and calling for it to be bridged. The difference this year is that these calls may now be getting some answers.
The past few months have seen an upsurge in efforts to address this gap including Feeding the Future, a review of research priorities for farmers and growers up to the year 2030 which was commissioned by four organisations at the heart of UK food production:
Continue reading Food producers: experts in their fields
Innovation is a critical part of solving global food security challenges, and presents business opportunities too, says Calum Murray.
But, if the UK economy is to maintain its own food security and benefit from the potential global commercial opportunities that will prevail, we need to ensure that the business base both exists and is adequately supported.
As the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board understands that breaking down the barriers to innovation can be hard; these might include a traditional mind set, policy and regulatory hurdles, available expertise or adequate funding.
Continue reading Linking and clever thinking
Top researchers gather to tuck into global food matters. Tim Benton relishes the chance.
I have recently returned from a Meeting of the Agricultural Chief Scientists (the ‘MACS’) of the G20, held in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Each time we left the hotel for a venue, I couldn’t get over the security involved in our bus escort which at one stage included 11 or 12 vehicles: motorbikes, police cars, machine-gun mounted jeeps, an army vehicle and an ambulance! And it wasn’t all work, one day’s meeting was held in the grounds of the Jose Cuervo distillery in the town of Tequila, including a fascinating tour involving vision, audio and (of course) taste(s).
Continue reading A meeting of the big ‘MACS’
New insights are needed for an age-old problem, says Sara Kirk.
A recent survey (PDF) undertaken for the Global Food Security programme has revealed that more than half the UK population felt that ‘food security is not an issue that affects me, rather it’s more a problem for people in developing countries’.
This finding is notable when considered in the light of comments by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, who condemned Canada over what he saw as unacceptable rates of food insecurity in that country, where one in ten families with a child under six is unable to meet their daily food (PDF) needs.
Continue reading Food insecurity and nutrition
Engineering innovation is a must for modern life – and the same goes for sustainable intensification, says Bill Day.
For agriculture, biological innovation will be of fundamental importance, but does not deliver in isolation. In the gap between Gregor Mendel and the frozen pea, many engineering advances have contributed to the realisation of a staple, high quality food.
So, escaping from damp and dismal England to the sunny climes of Valencia for the Agricultural Engineering International Conference gave every opportunity to feel warm about the future.
Continue reading Food production: what about engineering?
Is science the only answer to climate change and food security challenges? Andrée Carter reports from the Planet under Pressure conference.
A major international conference held at the end of March, Planet under Pressure, focused on solutions to the global sustainability challenge.
First, we need to recognise a shared vision of what a truly sustainable world will look like, and to do that, we need to cooperate across disciplines and with a wide variety of stakeholders.
Continue reading Visions for a sustainable world
A view from the Brazilian agricultural frontier. John Lucas reports.
I’ve just got back from a five month stay in Brazil as a UK scientist working as part of the Embrapa Labex programme. Labex entails two main activities: a research project in collaboration with colleagues in the host organisation, and networking with potential research partners to identify joint research opportunities of strategic importance to both countries.
So, contrary to suggestions that I spent most of my time playing beach volleyball, cavorting with revellers at the Rio Carnaval, or communing with indigenous tribes in remote reaches of the Amazon
Continue reading Keeping science connected
Feeding the world is an enormous challenge. But research is commonly funded in small pots. Adam Staines wrestles this paradox.
In the UK there has been an intellectual battle to make the case for more food-related research. Though the increasing global population (9Bn by 2050) will need more food, the third of global food wasted, problems of western obesity and overeating, and well-stocked supermarkets – combined with stark imagery of European wine lakes and butter mountains from the 1980s – have made it an uphill task to persuade a sceptical western society we need more food, let alone more food research.
Continue reading Following the money: supporting food security science
Plants don’t necessarily operate at their full potential. Let’s make them, says Peter Horton.
To provide more crop yield on less land with fewer inputs undoubtedly requires alteration to the fundamental physiological attributes of plants. Included in these is the increase in efficiency of photosynthesis, recently identified by BBRSC as a focus of special interest and subject of a previous post on this blog.
The relationship between photosynthesis and crop yield is controversial.
Continue reading Enhancing photosynthesis