Page last updated at 23:48 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 00:48 UK

Science cash 'to beat food riots'

By Pallab Ghosh
Science correspondent, BBC News

Kell
Douglas Kell: Effort required to meet global food demand

Food riots are a real threat in some developing and emerging countries unless funds for agricultural research are increased, says a UK scientist.

Prof Douglas Kell says investment in the UK alone needs to be increased by £100m if farmers are to produce sufficient food to meet global demand.

"This is happening now," he told BBC News. "Last year, in Indonesia and Mexico, there were food riots."

Prof Kell leads the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

He envisages further unrest if there is not a major effort to develop agricultural science.

"This makes it sound rather dramatic but if I have to choose between 'yes' and 'no' - the answer is 'yes'".

There is a significant likelihood that without investing in the science to deliver higher crop yields, we will not have the kinds of food levels we need to ensure food security
Professor Douglas Kell

Professor Kell's warning follows a statement made by the UK government's chief scientific adviser, Professor John Beddington, in which he said that demand for food and energy would jump 50% by 2030 as the population topped 8.3 billion.

Changing temperatures and rainfall patterns resulting from climate change would mean that farmers had to grow different, possibly completely new, varieties of crops, he argued.

He also warned that a changing climate could lead many crop-eating insects to migrate. At present, 30-40% of all crops are lost due to pest and disease before they are harvested.

Key genes

New methods of sequencing the genomes of plants mean that scientists now have the ability to identify key genes that might improve food production.

Modifications could make them more resistant to pests or increases in temperature, scientists say.

"There is a significant likelihood that without investing in the science to deliver higher crop yields, we will not have the kinds of food levels we need to ensure food security," Prof Kell said.

The chief executive of the BBSRC believes that there should be a £100m increase in agricultural research funding.

He says the new investment should be made as soon as possible because it can take 10 years for a scientific breakthrough to move from the laboratory bench to full-scale commercial production.

The onus was on the UK because it led the world in this field, he told BBC News.

"The UK has a particularly strong science base in plant and microbial science and that puts us in a particularly good place to help us feed the world."



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