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Agriculture and food security

Copyright: Rothamsted Research

Overview

Our vision is to encourage a whole food-systems approach for agriculture and food security research, to deliver productive, resilient and sustainable food and farming.

We will continue to encourage research that will enhance UK and global food security by providing knowledge and evidence to farmers, food producers, processors, retailers, consumers and governments. This knowledge will enable them to respond and manage the challenges facing the UK food system and related global issues, including those confronting the Global South.

Focus areas

We have further articulated our vision and focus for agriculture in the Research in Agriculture and Food Security Strategic Framework:

The Strategic Framework is divided into six focus areas:

  • Sustainable agricultural systems
  • Crop and farmed animal health
  • Food safety and nutrition
  • Reducing waste
  • Understanding and exploiting genomics
  • Precision agriculture and smart technologies.

Drivers

Global demand for food is rising, driven by factors such as population growth, increasing affluence and changing diets. At the same time, there is increasing competition for land and fresh water, putting added pressure on production and the wider environments within which food is produced. Climate change is also increasing the uncertainty of ensuring food supply, for example, through more extreme weather and increased pressure from pests and diseases. The global population is projected to grow from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.5 billion in 2050. At least 60% more food production is needed by 2050 to feed the world’s population and this must be in the context of minimising the impacts of agriculture on the environment. There is a need for more sustainable production of a sufficient, safe and nutritious food supply to deliver future food security.

Agriculture and food make a vital contribution to the UK’s prosperity. The agri-food sector employs 3.9 million people and contributes £110 billion Gross Value Added to the UK economy. There are clear opportunities for research to deliver significant improvements to the agri-food system and provide further economic benefit to the UK, through increased productivity, improved quality and safety, and increased trade and exports. Food is a global commodity, and in 2016 the total value of food and drink exports from the UK was over £20 billion.

Delivery

BBSRC has a central role in supporting the research, capability and skills that are needed to address the challenges facing agriculture and food security. We are the UK’s largest public sector funder of AFS research and have invested over £1 billion over the last ten years. In 2015/16 alone the research spend totalled £124.9 million, representing 38% of our overall research investment. Just over half of our AFS research is delivered by strategically-funded institutes through a variety of competitive funding routes. The institutes provide globally-acclaimed critical national capability and expertise, and enable us to invest in long-term, mission-driven strategic research in the AFS area.

BBSRC investments in AFS research also link closely to our other strategic priorities. For example, non-food crops are an important component of Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy. Understanding human nutrition, and livestock and zoonotic disease are important components of Bioscience for Health, highlighted in our Bioscience for Health Strategic Research Framework and the BBSRC Research in Food, Nutrition and Health Strategic Framework. Data handling and novel technologies are key components of the cross-cutting Exploiting New Ways of Working enabling theme.

The latest frontier bioscience provides an opportunity to tackle some of the long-term research challenges that have potential to produce a step change in agriculture and food security. we are encouraging a whole food-systems approach to explore these opportunities, building on the UK’s excellent plant, animal, human and microbial sciences research base.

Additional activities: