As the world faces rising challenges in ensuring food security and agricultural sustainability, the United Kingdom is taking a pioneering role in addressing these critical issues. The recent Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports, preventing essential food exports like wheat from reaching global markets, highlights the urgency of strengthening global food security and the need for innovative solutions.
The UK government has stepped up to support Ukrainian efforts to identify and develop alternative routes for food exports, particularly grains. Moreover, it has initiated measures to detect Ukrainian grain that has been illegally seized by Russia. Reports from Ukraine, along with satellite imagery and vessel tracking data, have exposed Russia’s forceful appropriation of the Ukrainian harvest or acquisition at artificially low prices in the eastern and southern regions.
This illicit activity by Russia poses a grave threat to tens of millions of people who now face the risk of hunger. Collaborating with international partners, the UK has committed £1.5 million to establish a grain sampling program, mirroring an approach used to identify illegally harvested timber. Once implemented, this program will enable the sharing of intelligence worldwide to deter such illegal actions.
While addressing global food security challenges is essential, it is also crucial to examine domestic agricultural policies and practices. Agriculture remains a devolved policy area in the UK, and sharing scientific ideas and solutions across regions is paramount. To foster this collaboration, the UK Agriculture Partnership was established, bringing together farmers, businesses, scientists, and policymakers.
This collaborative forum will convene at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland to discuss food security and explore innovative solutions. The global increase in fuel prices has led to higher input costs for farmers, particularly in the areas of fertilizers, livestock feed, energy, and fuel. To address these challenges, the UK must leverage the expertise of its world-leading agricultural research institutes.
Prominent institutions like the John Innes Centre in Norwich, known for its focus on agricultural technology, and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany, renowned for its work on climate-resilient crops, play critical roles in shaping the future of agriculture. Similarly, the James Hutton Institute’s innovative work on vertical farming, Aberystwyth’s contributions to grassland management, and Rothamsted Research’s expertise in genetic systems hold the key to transformative advancements in agriculture.
Through these research programs, it is possible to develop crops that are more resistant to pests and diseases, reducing farmers’ reliance on fertilizers and pesticides, ultimately cutting costs and enhancing resilience to climate change. As the world grapples with water scarcity, the ability to cultivate crops that withstand water stress becomes crucial for global food security.
The recently introduced Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill offers the UK a unique opportunity to become a global leader in agritech innovation. This legislation will remove unnecessary barriers inherited from the EU, facilitating the development and marketing of precision-bred crops and animals. The UK can now breed disease-resistant crops and reduce the need for pesticides, thus revolutionizing agriculture.
For instance, precision breeding can target virus yellows, a group of viruses responsible for significant sugar beet yield losses. By enhancing resistance to these viruses through precision breeding, we can achieve transformative gains in crop yields. Moreover, developing wheat resilient to climate change is essential for global food production, given that 2.5 billion people rely on wheat as a staple crop.