Agriculture and food security
The overall BBSRC food security priority aims to encourage research that will enhance UK and global food security by providing knowledge and evidence that will enable food producers and processors, retailers, consumers and governments to respond to and manage the challenges facing the UK food system, and related global issues including those confronting the developing world.
In this context food security covers the sustainable production of sufficient, safe, nutritious and affordable food to supply the world's growing population.
Global demand for food is rising because of population growth, increasing affluence and changing diets. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forecasts that global food production will need to increase by over 40% by 2030, and 70% by 2050, to meet the growing demand.
Yet water is expected to become scarcer, and there is increasing competition for land. In addition, climate change will reduce the reliability of food supply through altered weather patterns and increased pressure from pests and diseases.
To meet the Millennium Development Goal on ending 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.
The UK has an excellent plant and animal science base, which will be crucial for addressing many of the challenges in sustainable food production such as enhancing yield and quality, preventing or combating pests, diseases and weeds, and generating crops adapted to future environments.
BBSRC leads on the cross-research council and cross-government Global Food Security programme. The partners have developed a single shared high-level strategy and are currently taking forward their initial priorities.
Food security-related research aims to:
- Increase the efficiency and sustainability of crop and animal production
- Reduce waste in the food chain
- Minimise negative environmental impacts
- Preserve biodiversity and other ecosystem services
Integration of the latest bioscience and modelling techniques is encouraged at all scales from molecules and cells to agricultural systems and landscapes. A number of projects are underway to meet these aims:
- The recent £20M SCPRID initiative, funded by BBSRC, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Indian Government supports high quality research to improve sustainable production of major food crops in developing countries
- A new £7M collaborative funding activity jointly funded by BBSRC, the Scottish Government and NERC was launched in 2012 with the aim of supporting industrially relevant research projects on potato and edible horticulture crops
- A £9.5M Animal Health Club has also been launched by BBSRC to bring together industry and the research community to improve our understanding of resistance to pests and diseases in farmed animals
Further important targets include food safety and enhancing quality for improved nutrition, and in this context, there is a strong link to bioscience for health. The leading cause of food poisoning in the UK is the bacteria Campylobacter, and a recent £4M initiative between BBSRC, Defra and the Food Standards Agency led to 12 cross-disciplinary projects in this area.
A number of research areas are currently being explored by partners within the Global Food Security programme; these include agri-ecosystems, agri-engineering, sustainable healthy diets, and the role of consumer behaviour in food choices.