Scientists launch drive to boost food production

Government scientists have launched a new drive to boost food production using less land and fewer resources.

The Global Food Security programme seeks to ensure the world’s growing population has access to a sustainable and secure food supply.

The main UK public funders of food-related research and training will formally unveil the programme on Thursday (11 March).

Researchers will be encouraged to coordinate and align their interests to identify shared goals that will deliver healthy and good-quality food.

The programme will bring together the research interests of Research Councils UK with those of government departments and executive agencies.

“Food security will present a growing challenge in the decades ahead,” said John Beddington, the government’s chief scientific adviser.

“Recent food price volatility highlights the impacts we will face if we do not respond effectively now to prepare our response.

“There is the potential for a full food-security crisis in the future.”

More than one billion people globally had inadequate access to safe and nutritious food, said Professor Beddington.

A global population expected to rise beyond 9bn meant the world faced a potentially even greater crisis in food security.

Global food production must increase by 40% within 20 years and 70% by 2050, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Office forecasts.

Changing consumption patterns, increased urbanisation and climate change meant the situation must be addressed, said Prof Beddington.

“We cannot continue with business as usual,” he said.

“Research is crucial to find ways to sustainably meet the increase in demand for food, and to support healthier diets.”

Production must increase sustainably to ensure a secure affordable food from less land, less water and fewer inputs.

At the same time, increased output must produce less waste and fewer emissions.

The programme will be chaired by Janet Allen, director of research at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

It will be made up of four themes: Economic resilience, resource efficiency, sustainable production, and sustainable, healthy, safe diets.

Professor Allen said: “We will be able to address issues across the entire food supply chain, fostering multidisciplinary research and avoiding overlaps or gaps.”

The programme would deliver a range of impacts for the UK and beyond.

These included increased agricultural productivity and new crops able to withstand drought and disease

NFU president Peter Kendall said UK farmers were well-placed to provide solutions to food security, globally as well as closer to home.

But farming could only deliver if the right research was funded and sustained long-term, and then translated into practice.

The government had finally shown high-level acceptance of the strategic importance of agriculture, Mr Kendall added.

“The launch of Global Food Security shows a commitment by public research funders to work together on this critical issue.”