Scottish science can help feed the world

Food security prevents agricultural diseases transferring to humans, like the Bird flu outbreak. Picture: PA
Food security prevents agricultural diseases transferring to humans, like the Bird flu outbreak. Picture: PA
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WHILE the 71 nations and territories of the Commonwealth were here for Glasgow 2014, they were taking part in more than sport, says Malcolm Bateman

The ‘fringe’ programme covered a host of political and social topics – including food security. This is about having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

For the two billion citizens of the Commonwealth, the relevance of this issue depends on where you live. It is most acute in developing regions like India and Africa, where one in four people lacks adequate food. Commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada, on the other hand, have a highly developed agriculture industry. But they too need to tackle food security issues – like how climate change will affect food supplies.

In practice, food security means fighting disease, improving crop yields and making farming more efficient. It’s also about tackling the transfer of diseases from animals to humans. This can have devastating effects, as we’ve seen in the past with bird flu and swine flu.

You may not know it, but Scottish science and technology is at the forefront of the global battle in this field. In Edinburgh we have one of the world’s top clusters of animal health experts at the Easter Bush Research Consortium, where 600 scientists are carrying out groundbreaking research into animal diseases and the implications for human health. This “agritech” expertise is a key component of Edinburgh Science Triangle, a collaboration of seven science parks, four universities and two agritech institutes that forms one of the top ten research and development locations in Europe.

Scotland is also internationally recognised for its pre-eminence in aquaculture – through Stirling University’s top-rated aquaculture department and the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban; and the James Hutton Institute in Aberdeen and Dundee also leads the way in specialisms such as plant science.

With such vast knowledge resources at our disposal, the possibilities are tremendous. It may sound rather precocious to say that Scotland can help feed the world – but the potential really is huge.

l Malcolm Bateman is chair of Edinburgh Science Triangle


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