Watch The Global Food Security video
The University of Nottingham understands the diversity of factors that contribute to making food security one of the most important global issues today.
Will you help us to identify environmentally, socially and economically sustainable solutions to supplying the world’s growing population with a safe, nutritious supply of food?
By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 9 billion. Demand for food will have increased by 70% and demand for water for agriculture may have doubled. At the same time, the amount of land suitable for food production is likely to have decreased significantly.
The world faces a potential crisis in terms of future food supply; providing enough safe and nutritious food to meet the needs of a growing global population is arguably the single biggest challenge facing humanity today.
We rely heavily on three crops, rice, wheat and maize. In the developed world, the amount of food thrown away is a major problem, while in developing countries, food spoilage and contamination contribute to the food security challenge. More extreme weather patterns are predicted and changing diets means the demand for meat will increase.
Trade and agricultural politics and policies often conflict with the efficient functioning of food markets. Consumer values and society’s views of food production methods also shape policies and practices.
We need to produce and supply more food, using less fertiliser, water and energy.
The University of Nottingham is proud that our scientists at Sutton Bonnington have been awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for research into Global Food Security.
The University is recognised by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) for its long, distinguished track record in food security research.
We bring together scientists, engineers, social scientists, economists and politics experts. Our campuses in Malaysia and China make us uniquely placed to offer a global perspective. We are ideally positioned – scientifically, geographically and politically – to make a significant contribution to global food security.
Crops for the Future
More than half of today’s food comes from just three crops: rice, wheat and maize. Underutilised species could be of major agricultural significance. As our climate changes, some of these crops may provide solutions to diversifying and stabilising crop yields and improving nutrition.
Crops for the Future (CFF), a joint venture between Bioversity International and The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC), is the first global initiative dedicated to the promotion of neglected and underutilised plant species.
In 2010, the Government of Malaysia approved funding towards a purpose-built Crops for the Future Research Centre (CFFRC) next to UNMC. The CFFRC will grow potential crops of the future in the ‘climates of the future’. We will work with communities who have grown underutilised plants for centuries, so that local knowledge can be linked with quantitative scientific evidence.
CFF will promote greater diversity in the crops world-wide to help millions of farmers cope with changing climates and economic upheaval. Only through sustained research and improvement can underutilised crops become a viable alternative.
Agricultural and Environmental Sustainability
Understanding the impact of food production on the environment is central to understanding agricultural and environmental sustainability.
The University is undertaking a quantitative, evidenced-based approach to improving our understanding of the relationship between agriculture and the environment. Our modelling techniques help us explore issues, the results of which help design and influence policies to boost food production with minimal environmental impacts.
Our research will provide evidence-based information to allow policy-makers, farmers and individuals to make informed decisions about how to use increasingly scarce resources. It will improve understanding of how yields are affected by different agricultural practices and the associated environmental impact of these practices. By informing development of solutions to produce more food at lower environmental cost, we will promote long-term sustainability of food security.
Reducing Food Waste
In the developed world, 37% of food is wasted. In the developing world, many foodstuffs suffer from spoilage before they get to market. Estimates of total global food waste range from 30% to 50%. Minimising waste is one effective way to secure our food resources.
Our multidisciplinary research team is well positioned to investigate waste through the entire food supply chain. Our research is focused on optimising resources in raw material production, improving factory design, minimising water usage and spoilage while enhancing food safety and telling consumers how to reduce waste.
Improving understanding of food waste issues in both the production and consumer context will significantly decrease the amount of food wasted worldwide each year. Modifying the nutritional value of foods, understanding the impact of diet and inherited factors on health, together with knowledge of consumer preferences, will generate solutions to efficient food and nutrient use.
Crop Improvement for a Changing World
Future agricultural practices need to address major challenges such as water shortages and disease. With fewer resources, crops will need to absorb nutrients more efficiently and have increased resistance to disease.
Our multidisciplinary approach focuses on developing higher yielding crops that use resources more efficiently. We are examining the relationship between soil structure, crop fertility and growth. Our crop researchers are working with mathematicians and computer modellers to design ‘perfect plant roots’, with farmers to understand the impact that environmental changes have on their crops and with the food industry to develop commercially viable approaches to crop production.
While developing higher yielding crops that use resources more efficiently, crops with enhanced pest and disease resistance and crops that can jointly support our food and biofuel needs will also be produced.
Modern varieties of wheat that use water more effectively and have increased resistance to pressure from disease are already being developed.
Farm Animal Production, Health and Welfare
The global cattle population will need to increase by 70% by 2050; goat and sheep populations by 60% to meet the growing demand for meat. Pressure on land and animal feed will impact on our ability to meet this increased demand, while environmental changes will bring new disease pressures.
Research is ongoing to understand the relationship between animal nutrition and the mechanism by which lean muscle tissue develops. Additional research focuses on enhancing meat quality by understanding factors that affect meat tenderness and enhancing milk yields per unit of animal feed used.
Maximising animal welfare and investigating disease prevention and cure are key components of our research, as is educating consumers on the impact of their food choices.
Our research to enhance farm animal production will ensure meat supplies can increase in line with increasing demand. Improvements in nutritional quality and food safety will deliver solutions to align with efficiency and welfare developments.
Governance, Policy and Food Economics
The food price spike of 2007/08 placed increased pressure on global food supplies. As governments play a significant role in shaping the global food security environment, we need to understand the nature of the global food security problem from a governance perspective.
Schools within the Faculty of Social Sciences are researching key issues within consumption, distribution and production of food, as characterised by different groups within society. We aim to show how different governmental responses are perceived and what impact they will have.
Our multidisciplinary approach will investigate landownership practices around the globe and policies regarding biofuels, land-use change, environmental issues within the context of food security as well as to explore the economic drivers of food security and food prices.
Attention is also paid to food sovereignty, which links food security to the right of people to produce their own food, to control the resources and means of production, and to operate in an open and transparent democratic system of decision making in the area of agricultural and food policies.
Our work will provide a sound evidence base for informing national and supra-national policies to solving global food security problems without significant rises in food prices.
Our research has been included in the Foresight project The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global Sustainability and helped the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs understand the causes of rising food price inflation in the UK.
Food security solutions must be developed alongside an understanding of social and ethical dimensions. To use our social and material resources effectively to secure a sustainable food future for a growing population, we need to understand the wider context of food research, production and consumption patterns.
Political decisions are heavily influenced by the values and ethics of consumers. Genetic modification may offer food security possibilities, but many consumers find such approaches unacceptable.
Consumers often favour organic or less-intensive production practices, but yields may be compromised. In turn, small producers in developing countries are often excluded from these considerations.
The University is examining how social and ethical factors impact on food consumption, distribution and production systems.
Research is examining the alternatives provided by biotechnology, how alternative production systems are viewed by consumers and the trade-offs and values embedded in different agricultural-food systems.
We are also analysing how small, local producers can be empowered to determine for themselves what and for whom to produce.
Social sciences research will help us understand the values and ethics around the complexity of the food system and the nature of sustainable food production. Our findings will inform technical research and frame public and private policy making with respect to a range of food security research programmes.
The case for urgent action in the global food system is now compelling. We are at a unique moment in history as diverse factors converge to affect the demand, production and distribution of food over the next 20 to 40 years.
Sir John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office for Science.
Food and nutritional security are the foundations of a decent life, a sound education and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary-General.