Memorandum submitted by the
To the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee
1. We are pleased to accept
the invitation to contribute in writing to the above inquiry as a University
that has a wide range of activities that potentially contribute to the security
of food supplies up to 2050. We were recently ranked 8th in terms of
world agricultural research institutions (Appendix 1)
and have a breadth of expertise including agricultural science, horticulture,
food science and technology, soil science, consumer behaviour and marketing,
and agrarian development worldwide. Similarly, in the recent Research
Assessment Exercise, the
2. Our response covers two
of the requested areas, the science base and the provision of education and
training, as these constitute part of our core business. Despite the
3. The University's Faculty of Life Sciences is particularly concerned about the future availability of both UK research scientists and in relation to leadership in the land-based sector that will ensure our competiveness and ability to explore new options to ensure the sustainability of food supplies in the medium to long-term, within the UK and beyond .This issue may become more serious comparatively rapidly, because the greatly-diminished supply of young agricultural scientists over the last decade or more has not yet been especially visible to society at large because traditionally agricultural scientists have a commitment to their subject throughout their working lives. Accordingly, the availability of researchers in the agricultural sciences has remained comparatively high. This has been a function of the demography of agricultural scientists, whereby large numbers were trained in the several decades after the Second World War. Many of that post-war generation of agricultural scientists have retired (or were compulsorily early retired) but have continued to contribute to agricultural science and its dissemination by working as (often self-employed) consultants. I suggest that that generation's substantial contributions will now diminish rapidly and quickly as they seek to retire fully.
4. In relation to new
recruits into areas that will ensure food security, the
5. Another supply of agricultural
scientists and leaders comes from those who study pure science first degrees,
such as biology, and who then study applied Masters level programmes relevant
to food supply and sustainability. Again, the
6. In the several decades after the Second World War, government (e.g. the MAFF postgraduate scheme) and industry (e.g. the MMB research studentships) funding supported three-year agricultural and food postgraduate research studentships substantially. These two particular schemes, and many similar ones, ended some time ago. Limited funding does remain available, but is a fraction of that available previously. If there were a single, positive, outcome possible from your inquiry then we would suggest that you examine closely the erstwhile MAFF postgraduate scheme for the agricultural sciences (which in my opinion was very successful) with a view to DEFRA resuming this activity. Your analysis might well indicate that it would be justified solely from the point of view of both DEFRA's and the FSA's future agri-food science staffing needs from 2015, or earlier, onwards.
7. Finally, may we also suggest that you treat any data on numbers in education or training in the agricultural sciences with a degree of caution, simply because it is often not sufficiently detailed. For example, a student studying equine management is less likely to contribute to food security that one studying agriculture. However, the national data available (e.g. "land-based studies") tend not to discriminate at this level of detail.
I trust this communication will be of assistance to you.
Professor Richard Ellis
Dean, Faculty of Life Sciences
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