Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food
Our vision is to encourage a whole food-systems approach for Sustainable Agriculture and Food (SAF) research, to deliver productive, resilient and sustainable food and farming.
Our remit covers arable, horticultural, forage and non-food crops, farmed animals (livestock, poultry and aquaculture), agricultural systems including soil, and the related food chains.
We have further articulated our vision and focus for agriculture in the Research in Agriculture and Food Security Strategic Framework:
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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.
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 4.1 million people and contributes £121 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 2018 the total value of food and drink exports from the UK was £22 billion.
BBSRC has a central role in supporting the research, capability and skills that are needed to ensure sustainable agriculture and food. We are the UK’s largest public sector funder of SAF research and have invested over £1 billion over the last ten years. In 2018/19 alone the research spend totalled £143.4 million, representing 43% of our overall research investment. 50% of our SAF 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 SAF area.
BBSRC investments in SAF research also link closely to our other strategic priorities. For example, non-food crops are an important component of the Bioscience for Renewable Resources and Clean Growth strategic challenge and human nutrition, livestock and zoonotic disease are all important components of the Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health strategic challenge. Furthermore, advances in agriculture and food related frontier bioscience have potential to produce a step change in sustainable agriculture and food production. These range from developments in our understanding of fundamental biology, such as the soil microbiome, through to new techniques and technologies such as the recent explosion in on farm sensor technologies. 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.