Earlier this week, the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington, launched a new science strategy to help improve the security and sustainability of Britain's food system. It quickly disappeared from the news agenda here as the UK ground to a halt in the snow, but at CABI improving food security is one of the main focuses of what we do both in research and information provision. So it's worth summarising the issue here, and taking a look at what the government is proposing.
While the current position for global food supply is favourable, and production of food per person has increased since the mid-1990's according to an assessment published by DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) in August 2009, the global population is still increasing rapidly. With the global population estimated to increase from 6bn to 9bn by 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global food production will have to increase by 70% compared to 2005-7 levels. There is also an imbalance in food supply around the globe, so that many households around the world are food insecure; 1 billion people remain poorly nourished yet 1.6 billion are overweight and the number is rising fast. Add to this the uncertainties of the effects climate change may have on food production worldwide, and food security is a major issue. While the UK is currently in a strong position food-wise, the population is projected to increase from around 60 million to over 70 million, and global issues may mean that we can rely less on importing food from elsewhere in the future.
Professor Beddington says:
“There are real challenges ahead for policy makers and researchers alike, and for the food industry from producers to retailers, with pressures on our food system set to increase sharply in the decades ahead.”
“The UK must draw on the strengths in its science base and in industry to meet these challenges, and to exploit the opportunities for innovation and new markets that exist.”
Main initiatives in the Food and Innovation Research Strategy include:
• a new multi-partner food security research programme, co-ordinated by BBSRC and delivered jointly with relevant Research Councils and government departments, and including close engagement with industry and the third sector. Key aims include strengthening research coordination and partnerships, building a more integrated community of researchers, funders and users that extends across disciplines, organisations and sectors, to provide multi-disciplinary research to ensure a sustainable and secure food system;
• a new Technology Strategy Board led Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform, co-funded by Defra and BBSRC with up to £90M over five years, to fund innovative technological research and development in areas such as crop productivity, sustainable livestock production, waste reduction and management, and greenhouse gas reduction;
• a doubling of research investment in agriculture by DFID (Department for International Development) to £80m/yr by 2013 to provide farmers in developing countries with access to technologies and to help national governments develop more effective agricultural policies, based on a robust evidence base. Important progress is also being made towards strengthening the institutional arrangements at international level that will help maximise the value of these investments;
• impetus to exploit opportunities in the European Research Area through co-ordination mechanisms such as ERA-NETs and Joint Programmes, and collaboration through the RTD Framework Programme more generally;
• a major Foresight study looking over the long term at the ability of global food systems to feed a future world population of 9 billion healthily and sustainably, set to launch its findings in October 2010;
• a new BBSRC Advanced Training Partnership scheme to provide a range of specialist high level training (masters, professional doctorate and continuous professional development) to meet industry needs in partnership with the higher and further education sectors; and
• the development of new indicators to monitor research collaboration, innovation and skills within the suite of indicators being introduced by Defra for a sustainable and secure food system.
The overall rationale of the strategy is that with food prices and demand set to rise globally, the UK needs to produce more food itself, and do it sustainably. This is a significant shift from previous DEFRA policy documents which stressed the importance of the global market in providing food for the UK. At the Oxford Farming Conference this week, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group was among the bodies welcoming the report.
Andy Ormiston, FWAG’s Managing Director stated: “The launch of the new Food Strategy 2030, which stresses the need to produce more and impact less, is a significant milestone towards securing a viable future for British agriculture.
But theFinancial Times reports that critics complained that the government's strategy was long on aspirations and short on detailed plans for ensuring food security.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat environment, food and rural affairs spokesman, said: "English farmers have been badly hit by rock-bottom farm-gate prices which have slashed incomes. There's no point in having a strategy for 2030 if farming is dead by 2020. It is clear the government's model for sustainable farming isn't working."
Defra said the strategy was intended to mark "the direction of travel", with detailed plans, including any necessary new legislation, to be laid out in the coming months.
For full details of the DEFRA strategy, visit http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/food/strategy. For previous DEFRA documents on food security, see http://www.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/food/security/index.htm.
Food security in a global context was the focus of the CABI Global Summit last October, which received wide coverage in the global press, and also of course on this blog. The presentations can still be accessed at http://www.cabi.org/Default.aspx?site=170&page=2299.
A quick search of the CAB Direct database for "food security" found over 18000 bibliographic records.
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