Reduce waste in agriculture before increasing intensity says Defra Chief Scientist

Happy New Year everyone. Sorry it’s taken me a little while to get blogging this year – my new years’ resolution is to write shorter blogs!

Recently knighted Defra chief scientist Professor Sir Bob Watson speaks a lot of sense about a lot of things.

At the Oxford Farming Conference he has sensibly pointed out to the industry that reducing waste in agriculture (and food consumption) is as important as increasing productivity. Here’s how it was written up in Farmers Weekly:

Tackle food waste to ease production pressures

Caroline Stocks
Wednesday 04 January 2012 16:49

Cauliflowers being loaded for distribution

The pressure on the world’s farmers to produce more food could be slashed dramatically if the issue of food waste was properly tackled.

Professor Sir Bob Watson, the government’s chief scientific advisor, said while population increases meant food demand would double in the next 50 years, production did not have to double.

Speaking to delegates at the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday (4 January), Sir Bob said production would only need to be increased by 30-60% if waste was reduced.

“Around 80% of food in developing countries is wasted before it gets to market,” he said.

“In the UK, most is wasted in food retail and in the home. If we can address this issue we could go a long way in securing food supplies.”

In addition to food waste, research and development also needed to be addressed if the world was to be properly fed.

“We can currently feed the world without any further advancement in science and technology, but climate change is a major threat on all major crops,” he said.

“Science will be critical in meeting the challenge of climate change, biodiversity loss and increased air pollution.”

Professor Watson said science had to produce crops which could cope with increased temperatures, salinization and increased food safety.

“I keep hearing there will be drought resistant crops – we need to see potential of these things realised,” he said.

“Business as usual wouldn’t work in terms of research and development. We need to make sure that we get rural development right in developing countries and that science and technology penetrates the market.”

With a limited amount of land available to farmers, the government had to think carefully about land use and how farmers were supported for taking care of it, Professor Watson added.

“The natural world is important to use but we undervalue the importance of ecosystem services – we don’t have a market mechanism for things like water quality.

“We need to take into account monetary and non-monetary value of ecosystem services. CAP has to ensure we have that payment.”


About grasslandstrust

The Grasslands Trust is the only national UK charity that focuses entirely on saving grasslands that are valuable because they are rich in wildlife, history, or for other reasons.
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2 Responses to Reduce waste in agriculture before increasing intensity says Defra Chief Scientist

  1. Paul Beevers says:

    How does the last sentence square I wonder with Mark Avery and his thoughts yesterday about DEFRA and Mrs Spelman over the decision NOT to include biodiversity objectives for the CAP in the EU Biodiversity Strategy? Have we missed something? Perhaps the coalition is moving away from automatic subsidies for farmers to free up money for conservation groups! I for one would be tempted to think that the country would get a better bang for its buck that way. That said I wonder what other ideas the Chief Scientist has in mind that means that CAP will actually “pay” towards ecosystem services. Any idea what he was suggesting?


  2. milesking says:

    Thanks Paul. No I don’t know exactly what Chief Scientist Bob Watson had in mind when he made that statement but hopefully we will find out before too long.

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