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Strategic plan: Strategic research priority 1 - Food security
Bioscience for a sustainable supply of sufficient, affordable, nutritious and safe food, adapting to a rapidly changing world
Global demand for food is rising because of population growth, increasing affluence and changing diets.
The UN FAO forecasts that global food production will need to increase by over 40% by 2030, and 70% by 2050 (footnote 1). Yet water is expected to become scarcer, and there is increasing competition for land, putting added pressure on production. In addition, climate change will reduce the reliability of food supply through altered weather patterns and increased pressure from pests and diseases.
To meet Millennium Development Goals on world hunger, agriculture will need to produce more food from the same or less land, using less water, energy and other inputs, and reducing waste and adverse environmental impacts including greenhouse gas emissions.
Tackling the looming food security challenge will require multifaceted and cross-disciplinary approaches. BBSRC will focus on applying the latest bioscience and modelling at a range of scales, up to agricultural landscapes. We will support research to increase the efficiency and sustainability of crop and animal production and reduce waste in the food chain. This includes minimising negative environmental impacts and preserving biodiversity and other ecosystem services. Further important targets include food safety and enhancing quality for improved nutrition.
Case study: Combating disease
Research at The Pirbright Institute, formerly the Institute for Animal Health, on the livestock disease bluetongue prevented an outbreak in 2008, saving the UK an estimated £485M and 10,000 jobs.
BBSRC will boost national capability in research underpinning food security through major infrastructure and facilities, and by ensuring that the UK skills base has appropriate critical mass and specialist research expertise. BBSRC institutes will be central in delivering our food security goals.
There is a need to accelerate the translation of research into practice. We will tackle this through establishing public sector programmes, such as precompetitive crop germplasm improvement to underpin commercial plant breeding, aligning academic research more effectively with industry needs, and increasing translational skills.
We will also seek opportunities to translate knowledge generated through UK bioscience to increase sustainable food production in developing countries.
UK strength in animal science is crucial to sustainable food production. BBSRC will support research in areas which have profound implications for food security and safety such as animal health and welfare, genetics and genomics for improved breeding, and endemic and exotic diseases including zoonoses.
As well as livestock and poultry, we will promote research underpinning food production from aquaculture and fisheries, where there is a need to increase the diversity of species that are used, and to develop sustainable sources of feed for farmed fish.
BBSRC will focus the UK's excellent plant science on challenges in food production such as enhancing yield and quality, preventing or combating pests, diseases and weeds, and generating crops adapted to future environments.
Multidisciplinary research to maintain the essential functions of soils, and minimise inputs including energy, fertilisers and water will be important to improve the efficiency and sustainability of crop production, as will research to maintain the health of beneficial invertebrates for pollination and pest control.
Food Security is a complex issue encompassing international trade, aid, transport, economics and social science. BBSRC will lead a new multi-funder, multi-disciplinary food security research programme drawing together partners across RCUK, the Technology Strategy Board and government departments for greater coordination around shared strategic objectives. The programme will provide leadership, enhance synergy, and act as a focus for attracting greater private and third sector investment.
Since 2003 we have:
- Invested over £800M in plant and animal sciences, much of which underpins food security
- Enhanced national capability by reorganising the BBSRC institute family around sustainable and strategically focused programmes
- Led a £10M joint funding programme with Defra, NERC, Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government to understand the threats to insect pollinators, and inform appropriate mitigation strategies
- Established joint funding programmes with DfID and the Scottish Government, with a total investment of £20M, in research underpinning sustainable food production in the developing world
Some key priorities 2010-2015
Case study: Wheat breeding
Research at the John Innes Centre into chromosome pairing has opened up the possibility of crossing bread wheat with wild relatives with desirable traits such as salt and drought tolerance, and disease resistance.
- Lead a major new food security research programme drawing together the main public funders for greater coordination, leadership and impact
- Generate and transfer knowledge and skills to underpin economically, socially and environmentally sustainable agriculture and aquaculture
- Build international partnerships and joint funding for research of relevance to food security
- Enhance national capability through investment in major facilities such as The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), and establish The Pirbright Institute, formerly the Institute for Animal Health, as a state-of-the art national research facility for infectious viral diseases of livestock
- Address skills shortages in areas of specialist research expertise and translational skills, working with industry and other stakeholders
- Accelerate the translation of research into practice and align academic research more effectively with user needs, including science relevant to policy and regulation
- Begin to tackle long-term research challenges with the potential to offer a step-change in crop production, such as nitrogen fixation, water and other resource use efficiency, or improving the efficiency of photosynthesis
- Improve understanding of how foods interact with the body. This will drive innovation in crop and animal science and food manufacture to enhance food safety and nutritional quality
Corporate Policy and Strategy