Research bodies form new alliance to address global challenge on food

Two universities and a major research provider are joining forces to position Scotland at the forefront of the global challenge to feed, sustainably, a growing world population.

The vision is to build an alliance of excellence 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 expertise from three leading research organisations - the Universities of Aberdeen and Dundee and the James Hutton Institute – to create a critical mass of internationally-recognised excellence in crop science, soil science, environmental modelling, and human nutrition.

The Alliance has been formally launched today, Thursday 20 June, at The Royal Highland Show in Ingliston by the Chief Executive of Scotland Food & Drink, James Withers. Welcoming the initiative James said: "Food and drink is a national success story just now.  The industry has serious growth ambitions, looking to boost sales within the UK 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 optimise 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.

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 fertilisers
  • Food systems: environmental and social factors necessary for a sustainable and secure supply of safe, nutritious, affordable and high-quality food.

The Alliance aims 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.

Welcoming the launch of the Alliance, Professor Peter Morgan, Vice-Principal and Director of the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen said: “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, behaviours and expectations requires new thinking, scientific rigour, and above all collaborative working. This new alliance brings together three organisations 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.”

Professor Iain Gordon, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, said: “The world’s population is growing, and as the wealth of people in developing countries increases the demands for food will place unprecedented pressure on the planet’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, producing more food from the same resources, is key to achieving this and will provide the focus for much of our work.”

Professor John Connell, Vice Principal for Research at the University of Dundee 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."

More information is available at