Farming and food production have perhaps never been under greater pressure than they are now as they struggle to deal with an increasingly unpredictable climate, price volatility and a demand to increase production.
There is to be a UK Inside Government conference hosted by Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Agriculture) in late June, called Meeting the Global Food Security Challenges of the Future Through Science and Innovation.
In advance of the conference Sir John Beddington, the Government Scientific Adviser who is also a leading expert on food security and agriculture in the future has said that agriculture will have to become more adaptable as growing conditions become more unpredictable.
This will alter the patterns in the occurrence of weeds, pests, and diseases. He adds that agriculture itself will have to play its part in mitigating climate change by reducing emissions. This will require farmers and other food producers to learn new skills, from traditional agronomy and husbandry to understanding the environmental impact of agricultural and fisheries production on the wider market economy.
Sir John sees the development of what he calls climate smart agriculture as potentially a triple win in achieving adaptation, mitigation and food security.
Certainly a lot of work has been done by biopesticides developers to find alternatives to chemical pesticides and fertilizers for example and the trend has been towards using more natural low-chemical alternatives derived from compounds discovered in nature. Many of them deliver the same benefits as conventional pesticides - insect and disease control - with reduced impact on the environment. In part this development is also driven by consumers who are seeking more natural, healthy foods free of chemical residues. But is there more that the consumer can do to help farming and food production become more sustainable?
According to the organisation sustain web.org our current food system is a very significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. It quotes UN statistics that show that globally, agriculture generates 30% of total man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, including half of methane emissions and more than half of the emissions of nitrous oxide and in the EU, more than 30% of the greenhouse gases from consumer purchases come from the food and drink sector.
It advocates seven steps consumers can take to contribute to sustainability including using local, seasonably available ingredients and buying from farms whose methods minimize environmental damage.
Limiting meat consumption and not buying fish species that are identified as at risk are diet changes that could also be made. Meat production is one of the most significant contributors to climate change.
Avoiding buying bottled water and promoting their own health and well being by using generous portions of fruit and vegetables, while cutting down on salt, fats and oils as well as artificial additives are also on the list.
It is not only farmers and the food processing chain that will need to change in order to become more sustainable; consumers can play their part too.
Tools like low-chem agricultural products from biopesticides developers can help farmers become both sustainable and adaptable to the demands of an increasingly unpredictable climate, price volatility and a demand to increase production. By Ali Withers.