Scottish research helps tackle global and local agricultural challenges


26th September 2014

Researchers at the James Hutton Institute in Scotland have endorsed and repeated the view of today’s high-profile Development Dialogues conference in New York that work to ‘climate-proof’ agriculture lies at the core of sustainable development around the globe. The Institute is at the forefront of research to find ways to protect and increase agricultural output in the UK, Europe and in some developing countries.  
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) launched its Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture at the UN Climate Summit on Tuesday and has promised to invest some $600million a year in “helping 500 million farmers adapt to more stressful growing conditions.” This, says Professor Robbie Waugh of the James Hutton Institute, is an indication of the fundamental importance of agricultural and crop research to humanity, and to the future health, prosperity and stability of the world.

“Essentially, as climatic factors make it more difficult to grow food, the pressure is on to find ways to deal with that, and rapidly, as we head towards 9 billion people by 2050. Researchers at the James Hutton Institute have already shown how climatic variation can affect the productivity of cultivated barley in Europe, and predict this will be mirrored by other crops. They are exploring how climate change affects pests and pathogens and influences their migration into new geographical areas.  Most importantly, they are investigating strategies for mitigating these risks,” Professor Waugh explained. 

“Internationally, we are also leading projects on soil restoration in Africa aimed at increasing soil carbon levels to improve its productivity, as a means to alleviate poverty. We cannot allow the pace to drop in this work. More research and development in agricultural research at Scottish, UK and international level would yield more solutions, more quickly,” said Dr Robin Matthews, a Theme Leader at the Institute.
Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture has set a goal to reach at least half a billion farmers with climate-smart agricultural practices to help avoid climate shocks to world food systems. It is more sustainable to invest in solutions to some of these problems than to continue paying for compensation and disaster relief aid, and James Hutton Institute researchers have identified the creation of a specialised Climate Change Facility to better understand what lies ahead and to help develop innovative solutions to climate-related challenges. “Such a facility would allow us to predict the outcomes, good and bad, of climate change scenarios on agricultural productivity and develop strategies to ameliorate any likely negative effects,” said Dr. Tim Daniell, a Research Theme Leader. 

The development would have capability to test crops and varieties for domestic climates and conditions as well as contributing to work to boost fragile agriculture and food production systems in other countries with very different climates. It is foreseen as part of a major modernisation and internationalisation development across both the James Hutton Institute sites, in Dundee and Aberdeen.

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