Two universities and a major research provider are joining forces to position Scotland at the forefront of the global challenge to sustainably feed a growing world population. The ideas is to build an alliance which brings together researchers from different disciplines to tackle the challenges of sustainable food production, the depletion of natural resources including productive land, water and nutrients and the impacts of climate change on society.

The Scottish Food Security Alliance-Crops draws together three research organizations  the University of Aberdeen, the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute  to create a center of internationally-recognized excellence in crop science, soil science, environmental modeling and human nutrition. 

The alliance was formally launched June 20 at the Royal Highland Show in Ingliston by the chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, James Withers. Withers said, "Food and drink is a national success story just now. The industry has serious growth ambitions, looking to boost sales within the United Kingdom and double our exports over a ten-year period. 

"However, there are challenges in a fast-changing world. How do we grow sustainably in a world of increasingly finite resource? As Scotland looks to produce more with less resources it has never been more important for our leading universities and research institutes to collaborate. The Food Security Alliance is timely and exciting. The food and drink industry needs armed with emerging science and understanding. With that, we'll play our part in rising to the food security challenge and, in so doing, secure economic success for Scotland too."

Members of the alliance will collaborate on research projects to enhance crop yield and optimize resources by integrating crop and soil science, improve nutritional quality and safety in the food chain, assess the impacts of farming on the environment and harness the productive potential of diverse kinds of landscape.

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The aim will be to provide practical solutions for the agricultural industry, and the knowledge which will inform decisions by policy-makers and funding bodies. The research will be initially around three broad areas of joint activity, in which the partners have international strength and funded collaborations already in place. These are:

  • Plant crop science: translating basic research on crops into products and production systems
  • Plant-soil interface: looking at the activity of soil microbes with the aim of improving the efficiency of fertilizers
  • Food systems: environmental and social factors necessary for a sustainable and secure supply of safe, nutritious, affordable and high-quality food.

The alliance hopes to deliver this by providing a vibrant hub attracting excellent collaborations that focus on relevant and practical outcomes, providing access to collective facilities, funding joint research studentships and resourcing to enable the exploration of new opportunities and the shaping of funding and policy agendas.

 "The world's population is growing and as the wealth of people in development increases, the demands for food will place unprecedented pressure on the plant's resources. Given the relationship between lack of access to affordable food and political instability, food security is being given a high priority on global and national political agendas. This exciting new alliance will enable us to build on and strengthen existing collaborations to develop new areas of research as we work together to tackle one of the biggest challenges of our time. Sustainable intensification of agriculture and producing more food from the same resources is key to achieving this and will provide the focus for much of our work," said Professor Iain Gordon, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, said.

Professor Jon Connell, Vice Principal for Research at the University of Dundee welcomed the development of this new collaboration. He said, "Food security is a vital issue for society internationally, and is an area where Scotland can provide important leadership. The partnership within the Alliance builds on the strengths of the institutions concerned, and will lead to increased collaboration among us, and with external agencies. The alliance offers substantial opportunities to make a real difference in understanding the risks to food supply worldwide and how the academic sector can develop novel solutions. The University of Dundee is wholly committed to this venture and will work with its partners to ensure that the collaboration is successful."

 "One of today's global challenges is the need to increase world food production to feed the burgeoning world population. Increasing crop production and yield is at the centre of meeting this need but it also requires a robust understanding of soil fertility and chemistry as well as the feed through to human nutrition. Addressing this challenge in a sustainable way against a background of climate change, and big changes in society, behaviors and expectations requires new thinking, scientific rigor and, above all, collaborative working. This new alliance brings together three organizations to enhance critical mass and research strength in the key areas needed to address the Food Security challenge. This is a real alliance of excellence to be built on for the benefit not only of Scotland but for our global population today and tomorrow," said Professor Peter Morgan, Vice-Principal and Director of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen.