The need for science in food security

In this video blog, Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine Simon Coveney makes a case for research from the Oxford Farming Conference.

Simon Coveney

“My name is Simon Coveney, I am the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine and I am here at the Oxford Farming Conference today with a very clear message about the importance of the linkage between science and agriculture and the agri-food industry generally.

The reality is that we have an enormous challenge, but also an enormous opportunity for this sector over the next 10-50 years, because globally we have to find a way of producing significantly more food from the same, in fact less, natural resources as we see the availability of agricultural land shrink by about a percentage a year.

And at the same time we see the consumption demand for food dramatically increasing.

So in a nut shell what we are facing between now and 2030, which is less than two decades away, is we have to find a way to produce about 50% more food in volume terms than is currently being produced while at the same time reducing the emissions coming from the agri-food sector from a climate change perspective, managing water in a way we have never had to manage before because agriculture uses 70% of water usage internationally. And at current trends we will have to find 50% more water to produce 50% more food that is simply not an option. And of course we need to protect biodiversity and the environment more generally.

So the only way that can happen is that we find ways of producing more with less and that means innovation: it means science; it means new breeding programmes; it means new grazing programmes; it means a new approach to feed conversation efficiency in animals; it means more ambitious use of sexed-semen technology where farmers are able to choose whether they want female or male calves in the future; it means more ambitious use of genomics to ensure that we are actually breeding appropriate animals with other appropriate animals to maximise hybrid vigour in terms of performance and so other many areas.

It also means having an open mind towards GM, which I know is very controversial for many consumes and politicians, I think we need to be careful with that but we can’t simply discount it out of principal. So there is a whole series of areas where science will have to provide solutions to how we produce food sustainably in the future.

Anybody who thinks we solve our environmental problems by simply producing less food per hector is totally ignoring the global realities of food security, and the demands of a growing population, and a growing middle class population internationally.

So the only way forward here is for the European Union, for Britain, for Ireland to actually find better and newer ways of producing more food while at the same time protecting the environment and the natural resources that produce that food and that means science.

And without that we are not going to be able to meet the huge challenges and demands of future populations.”

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About Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney is the Ireland Minister for Agriculture, Food and Marine, a position he has held since March 9 2011, and holds a BSc in Agriculture and Land Management from Royal Agriculture College, Gloucestershire. He represents and Cork South Central constituency.

Simon served as a member of the European Parliament between 2004 and 2009, and is also a former member of Cork City Council.

One thought on “The need for science in food security

  1. A very good general stating of the issues and challenges. I would like to pick up on his observation towards the end that “anyone who thinks we can solve our environmental problem by producing less food per Hectare is totally ignoring the global realities of food security and the demands of a growing population”. We are faced with two connected global challenges. Maintaining our environment and our food supply. These are both equally important, like two horses pulling our plough into the future. Feeding one and starving the other will not do the job that needs to be done. Mr Coveney is Minister for Agriculture. Another rival politician is Minister for the Environment. Hence his imbalance. This disjointed view and the disjointed policies that emerge from it are a real problem. Rising sea levels are as much a problem for farmers and food supply as for urban dwellers. A concrete example of such disjointed policy is how Mr Coveneys officials treat woody biomass on Irish farmland. Under pillar 2, selected farmers are paid to establish new hedges, riparian zones, traditional orchards, wildlife habitats and individual or interfield plots of trees. At the same time under Pillar 1 all farmers are being penalised for having any area of established woody vegetation on their farm. This of course leads to the wholesale removal of traditional habitats. The removed woody plants (which the officials define as scrub) are slashed and burned and the Carbon locked up in their woody tissue is released to contribute to glacial melting and rising sea levels. His Department also refuses to acknowledge Agroforestry. A more balanced view is needed. There is little point in having food but no where to live.

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