Meeting the challenge
Meeting the many challenges of food security will require multidisciplinary research, which brings together researchers from all relevant disciplines and encourages them to work with the agriculture and food industries, policymakers, and international partners.
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the largest single funder of agri-food related research in the UK, investing around £185M each year. BBSRC is already promoting further research and training relevant to food security and is leading on the development of a multi-funder UK research programme, which includes all relevant Research Councils and government departments.
This multi-agency action will develop a coordinated programme of research that can be translated rapidly into sustainable practice for food security. The programme will involve:
- Researchers from many disciplines
- Industrial stakeholders at all stages of the food supply chain
- Social scientists
Research and training
Research relevant to food security is funded across the UK Research Councils. BBSRC research funding includes curiosity driven responsive mode funding - where scientists propose ideas to the Council - and BBSRC-led initiatives.
Initiatives that have research currently underway include:
- Sustainable Agriculture for International Development initiative (SARID) funded with DFID
- Crop Science initiative
- Combating Endemic Diseases of Farmed Animals for Sustainability initiative (CEDFAS) (funded with Defra and the Scottish Government)
These initiatives are funding a total of £31.5M of research relevant to food security.
There is a need to ensure that current and future researchers have the necessary skills for research relevant to food security. BBSRC is consulting with academic, industry and other relevant stakeholders to identify mechanisms to deliver these skills.
Through its Innovation Strategy BBSRC supports and encourages researchers to work with industry on research projects. This helps to ensure research is relevant to industry and consumer needs and that links are in place to assist rapid translation of findings into application.
BBSRC is a partner in a Technology Strategy Board innovation platform in Sustainable Agriculture and Food, alongside Defra. This initiative brings together government, business and researchers to stimulate the development of new technologies that will increase food productivity, while decreasing the adverse environmental impacts of the food and farming industries, and will invest £90M over the next 5 years.
BBSRC is currently working with agri-food companies and other funders on the development of a new Research and Technology Club in crop improvement. BBSRC Research and Technology Clubs establish joint funds from industry and the Research Councils. They support innovative research projects within academia that address generic, pre-competitive research challenges faced by company club members.
Meeting the food security challenge requires international collaboration. UK science is world leading but can achieve more by collaborating with others overseas. BBSRC has put in place funding mechanisms and international agreements to assist UK researchers in building international collaborations.
For example, BBSRC has developed a joint initiative with INRA (France) to fund joint UK-France research projects in crop science. BBSRC is also part of ERA-NET Plant Genomics to increase opportunities for UK plant scientists to participate in pan-European research collaborations.