Food security

Recent climate-caused food shortages in the UK and beyond, highlight the need for policymakers to accelerate improvements in key legislative and governance frameworks, to address existing food supply issues and prepare for future climate impacts on global food security. 

A growing global population means significantly more mouths to feed. Given a projected increase in the world population of 2.4 billion people to 9.8 billion people by 2050 and rising incomes continuing to change diets, we will need to produce more food than ever before. With little new land available for agriculture and rising sea levels reducing land availability - farmers will need to produce more without expanding the agricultural area. 

Climate change will also significantly reduce production and alter what farmers can grow in terms of both crops and crop varieties, as heatwaves, cold snaps, droughts, and floods (such as those we’ve seen recently) significantly reduce crop yields. 

The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that all crop production will be reduced by 20% by 2050 and carry on falling. Equally, maintaining agrobiodiversity poses a major challenge, as modern crop varieties are almost all homozygous – each seed an identical clone, developed to maximise efficiency and predictability in specific regions with constant climate patterns, but climate patterns are shifting to extremes. 

In the run-up to COP28, national and international policymakers have a unique opportunity to advocate for impactful interventions which are vital to sustainable food development. This paper recommends a series of national and international interventions which if adopted, would build on existing expertise, and go some way to addressing the challenges we face.

National Policy Recommendations

  • The Government should invest in systematic in situ and ex situ conservation of UK agrobiodiversity (traditional crop varieties and crop wild relatives) to ensure genetic erosion and species extinction are halted.
  • The Government should ensure the full breadth of UK agrobiodiversity is available to all user stakeholders to maintain their role as the foundation all crop improvement and to facilitate adaptation to a rapidly changing and extreme climate.
  • The Government should encourage diversification, both in crop and crop varieties, to spread the risks of climate induced crop failure and to sustain food production and security.
  • The Government should provide education and outreach programs to consumers to reduce food waste and promote sustainable food choices. Education programs can increase food security by redirecting food to those in need.
  • The Government should invest in infrastructure and technology to support food waste valorisation, such as anaerobic digestion and composting. Investing in infrastructure and technology can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the amount of waste sent to landfill, while also creating new jobs and industries.
  • The Government must support research and development of new technologies and practices to promote sustainable food systems. The development and utilisation of biotechnology can help to increase the efficiency of food production, reduce food waste, and improve the nutritional content of food. New process developments can also be developed to convert food waste into value-added products, such as food supplements, biofuels and bioplastics.
  • The Government should develop a regulatory framework that facilitates access, use, and equitable benefit-sharing of in situ conserved agricultural plant diversity. This will help to ensure that the UK is prepared for the major problems facing agriculture due to climate change. 

Global Policy Recommendations

  • International agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN should promote the systematic in situ and ex situ conservation of global agrobiodiversity to ensure is available to stakeholders to maintain crop improvement and facilitate adaptation to a rapidly changing and extreme climate.
  • International agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN should encourage crop diversification to spread the risks of climate induced crop failure and to sustain sufficient production.
  • Cold chain is essential in reducing food loss and food waste, we need government investment in the cold chain infrastructure globally, and servitisation-based cooling-as-a-service business model to enable small and marginal farmers to access the cooling services, especially in low-income areas.
  • Sustainable cooling and cold chain for food delivered with renewable sources and energy storage technologies could provide nutritious food, reduce hunger, and reduce carbon emissions from using fossil fuels and direct emissions from refrigeration leakage.
  • An information technology support framework (platform development, user interface) for in situ plant conservation equal to that of the IT network for managing agricultural plant diversity in gene banks (EURISCO). This will help safeguard our agricultural plant diversity as the foundation for the future of the agricultural economy and food and nutrition security in Europe.

Policy brief contributors

Professor Nigel Maxted

Professor Nigel Maxted

Chair in Plant Genetic Conservation

School of Biosciences

Nigel Maxted is Professor of Plant Genetic Conservation, with specific expertise in in situ and ex situ conservation related to crops, their wild relative and other socio-economically important plants.

Nigel has led National, European and International crop, their wild relative and other socio-economically important plant conservation projects with funding from international (FAO, GEF, Bioversity ...

Telephone
+44 (0)121 41 45571
Email
n.maxted@bham.ac.uk

Dr Helen Onyeaka

Dr Helen Onyeaka

Associate Professor

School of Chemical Engineering

Dr Helen Onyeaka is an industrial microbiologist with over 25 years of experience. Her career in microbiology to date has been varied with experience gained in industry as well as academia (both teaching and research).

Dr Onyeaka lectures and leads modules on various postgraduate and undergraduate courses in Food Microbiology, Food Safety and Chemical Engineering. She supervises PhD and MSc ...

Telephone
+44 (0) 121 414 5292
Email
h.onyeaka@bham.ac.uk

Dr Xinfang Wang

Dr Xinfang Wang

Assistant Professor in Cold Economy

School of Chemical Engineering

Dr Xinfang Wang is the Group Leader of Resilient Systems for Energy and Cooling (ReSet Cool) at the School of Chemical Engineering, Centre for Sustainable Cooling, and the Birmingham Energy Institute. She also sits on UKERC Research Committee and advises on the research strategy and priorities. She is the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Champion for the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC).

Email
x.wang.10@bham.ac.uk