From farming to funding

9th Sep 2011

On the surface, the UK consumer should only be marginally affected. Even if our current food self-sufficiency of 59% continues its recent downward trend, we have a satisfactory trade in food with over 130 countries. So the chances of Britain starving are low. Furthermore, while climate change might mean we lose some of our lowest lying farmland, it should also lead to increased agricultural production in North West Europe. However, that does not mean to say that we don't have a part to play in helping solve the world's problem.

Sticking with the consumer, an embarrassing amount of the food wasted in the developed world is thrown away by households. So we need more research into how to avoid this waste, either through influencing shopping, storing or eating habits, or by devising new ways of making food last longer without affecting its quality. Perhaps we also need to find new ways to reuse the unavoidable waste.

Meanwhile, even if our agricultural research capability has been dramatically reduced over the last few decades, we still have considerable expertise and knowledge to contribute to agricultural solutions all over the world. Under the government's new Global Food Security Programme, all public sector funding bodies (eg. the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; the Department for Business, Industry and Skills; the Department for International Development; GOS; the Scottish Government, etc.) are working together to provide cohesion and leadership in finding domestic and international solutions. Everything from increased yields to finding ways of using less energy and water or emitting fewer greenhouse gasses is on the cards – including the safe use of modern biotechnology.

Of course, the primary target for scientists working in partnership across all of Europe will be to find ways of improving both livestock and arable outputs grown on our continent. However, some of the most fruitful work will be in assisting to improve yields, storage and systems in the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa. The population there is going to double over the next 40 years, but there is potential to triple their production. But none of the improvements that are needed will take place unless the whole food chain, in every country, combines to make them work. Both in Europe and overseas, the importance of agricultural extension gets forgotten.

Scientists' work is completely pointless unless it makes a difference on the ground. Every project being submitted for funding must include comprehensive details of how it is going to be translated into improvements on farms. Only in this way can we solve a potential global crisis.


Lord Ewen Cameron of Dillington


Global Food Security Strategy Advisory Board

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