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Agri-Food Hub will weather 'Perfect Storm'

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SCI Technical Interest Groups which cover the science and business of food production 'from plough to plate,' are now linked closer than ever before with the launch of the Agri-Food Hub. The aim is to release the huge potential for collaboration between the Groups involved – initially BioResources, Environment, Horticulture and the two Food Groups. Issues around food and the way in which it is produced, processed and sold are never far away, so forging stronger links between these groups and networks makes good sense.

Food security
In the developed world the food supply chain represents a powerful business sector and food is not only for basic nutrition, but has become a key lifestyle element. However, the UK Government's chief scientist Professor Sir John Beddington has said that we are facing major threats to global food security caused by a 'perfect storm'. Population growth and moves to more meat-based diets, amidst fast depleting availability of fresh water and fossil energy reserves, all exacerbated by the possible effects of climate change, threaten us all.

During the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s agricultural productivity increased by 4% each year, but this rate has now fallen to only 1% a year. In the next decade, according to forecasters at Humboldt University in Berlin, the price of crop commodities such as cereals and oilseeds are set to almost double. By 2030 the world will need to produce 50% more food to feed a global population of nearly 9 billion. Technologies need to be developed and implemented to meet this demand from the same amount of farm land, while minimising the environmental impact of intensive production.

A collaborative approach
The Agri-Food Hub is a portal and forum for sharing knowledge, networking and collaboration between the groups involved in the sector. The way in which the Agri-Food Hub works may well evolve, but initially three basic pillars are planned:

  • Online, the focal point is a webpage connecting the on-line information resources of the five member Groups. This means that regardless of SCI members' individual Group selections from this sector, they will be connected to all others by the Hub.
  • Active members of each Group will be encouraged to get to know each other and share areas of knowledge and expertise. For example, when feasible, the opportunity will be taken to hold committee meetings on the same day so topics of common interest can be discussed together. Some Groups such as BioResources include seminars in their committee meetings and this would give the chance to reach a wider audience too.
  • Group committees will work together to ensure all events are organised with the full cooperation of one another, so all aspects of the sector are considered. In particular, the Group Chairs plan to establish a regular SCI Agri-Food conference to address topical issues and ideas.

SCI Agri-Food 2011
Discussions on the first Agri-Food conference have already started, with the Groups involved planning a joint event for spring 2011.This will give a whole supply chain perspective on the production of food for health and nutrition. In particular, the focus will be on biofortification of crops by plant breeding and manipulating fertiliser regimes, eg to improve mineral and vitamin content, protein or oil quality, as well as taste and flavour. Post-harvest storage and processing, including feeding to animals, are important in preserving benefits obtained in crops and delivering them to consumers. The attitudes of policy makers, food retailers and consumers will also be explored.

Are you interested?
Food security, quality and safety are high profile areas. The Agri-Food Hub will provide access to a valuable network of SCI members involved in all aspects of the food chain stretching from inputs to crop production to food retailing. We welcome anyone from all parts of the sector, with all levels of experience, prepared to contribute ideas, opinions and contacts or organise activities. Groups will especially welcome younger members who want to diversify their networking, develop connections and organisational and leadership skills, as well as gain new knowledge, which they can take back to their organisations or apply to their research.

For more information contact the Member Communications team: communications@soci.org.

Alan Baylis, Chairman SCI BioResources Group

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