Feeding 2050: UK universities partner to secure the future of food
What will the future of food look like? Will climate change completely destroy food value chains? Is sustainable food production nothing but a pipe dream?
These questions and more will continue to arise in the wake of concerns that current food production methods would fail to meet the needs of a global population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050.
The world today produces way more food than the current population of 7.6 billion requires for consumption. This changes drastically in 2050, however, when the planet suddenly has three billion more mouths to feed and climate-related environmental changes continue to weigh on food production and distribution channels.
The World Economic Forum has predicted food demand to be 60 percent higher than it is today then but a planet exhausted of resources may be unable to cope. Add issues like water shortages, pollution and socioeconomic inequities into the mix and the implications are stark.
To identify sustainable solutions and secure the future of food, the UK government via the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is pouring £170 million into a five-year Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) involving 1,700 PhD researchers at academic institutions across the country.
The FoodBioSystems DTP led by the University of Reading brings together experts from six university partners and industry leaders from across agriculture, food manufacturing, food retail, government and non-government organisations in a 12-member consortium.
Doctoral researchers will receive rigorous training in applying multidisciplinary approaches to challenges within modern food systems, and conduct industry-leading research in the agrifood sector, from pre-farm to post-fork. They will address challenges of sustainability, efficacy, authenticity and safety in food production systems whilst delivering better nutrition and concomitant health benefits for society.
“The world faces unprecedented challenges in relation to our food supply… With more than seven billion mouths to feed coupled with the threat of climate change and the rise in diet-related diseases,” said University of Reading’s Professor Lisa Methven.
This new DTP, she added, will enable academic progress to flourish and develop tomorrow’s generation of bioscientists capable of transforming the food value chain to meet future needs.
“They will move UK research beyond farm to fork to enrich our understanding of the roots of a healthy and sustainable food supply for everyone.”
Cranfield University Professor Leon Terry, who is also the DTP’s co-director, said the partnership would also help address current skill shortages facing the UK agrifood sector.
“This new and much needed FoodBioSystems DTP will provide the next generation of scientists and ideas for the future.”
The consortium’s other university partners include Cranfield University, the University of Surrey, Queen’s University Belfast, Aberystwyth University, and Brunel University London. Joining as Associate Partners are EIT Food, the British Nutrition Foundation, the Science and Technology Facilities Council Food Network+, and Diamond Light Source.
The UKRI and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) DTPs provide PhD training in areas of bioscience relevant to the remit and strategic research priority areas of BBSRC. They also provide professional development training opportunities to enhance the capabilities of doctoral candidates and deliver skills for impact across the UK economy.
The UKRI as a whole supports around 15,000 doctoral students in UK universities, research institutes and businesses.
The UKRI-BBSRC DTP is now in its third phase.