Innovation essential for food supply

Investment in research and development is critical to producing more food efficiently and sustainably, keeping pace with the rise of new pests and diseases, developing new crop varieties and meeting the needs of the world’s poorest people. So says the newly-published Foresight report on ‘Global Food and Farming Futures’, by the UK’s Government Office for Science, which draws on the work of about 400 scientists from 35 countries around the world.

“There is a strong case for reversal of the low priority accorded to research on agriculture, fisheries and the food system in most countries,” stresses the report. Countries such as China have already demonstrated the effectiveness of agricultural research in raising productivity.

Investment needs to focus on raising yields in conjunction with improving sustainability and maintaining ecosystem services, says the report. “This shift must recognise that special measures will often be needed to incentivise research that produces public goods. A pluralistic research portfolio is essential: the magnitude of the challenges is so large that no single research avenue will address all the new knowledge required.”

Where incentives do not currently exist for investment in research that provides public goods, new models of delivery are needed to mobilise the strengths of the private sector and encourage scientific entrepreneurship.

The report notes that investment in research and development is not enough in itself. “Communication is critical – not just to spread new knowledge to policy-makers and potential users, but also to the public, specifically to engender trust in new science and its application.”


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