Food for thought: food security in changing times 


By 2050, the world must feed two billion more people. Achieving food security means that all people, at all times, have reliable physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

After a period of progress in the number of people living in food insecurity globally, the situation has worsened again over the last few years – due to growing climate and other environmental shocks, conflicts, and rises in food prices in many parts of the world. In response to this urgent need and worrying regression, the annual Peter Wilson event, organised in collaboration between the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Consortium of Rural Research, aims to delve into the pivotal questions, obstacles, and potential solutions surrounding this complex issue. Distinguished experts will explore innovative strategies and foster dialogue towards achieving lasting solutions towards global food security.


Please note these captions have been automatically generated so may feature errors.

Sarah Skerratt 00:00
Good evening, everyone. Good evening. Hello and welcome everyone to the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Scottish Consortium for Rural Research. So that’s RSE and SCRR’s Peter Wilson lecture 2024. I’m delighted to welcome both our in person audience and those watching the livestream on YouTube for the first time in its 21 year history. We are hybrid tonight, room. So 110 in person and 73 online, so I never know where to look for those online, but welcome those online, wherever you are. I’m Professor Sarah Skerritt. I’m the Chief Exec here at the Royal Society of Edinburgh or RSE, and I’m also the scientific director of SCRR. In my briefing notes, I’m the Chief Scientific Director. I thought I’d take that, that uplift but anyway, scientific director at SCRR. I’m delighted to be welcoming you to this evening’s event on tonight’s topic, food for thought: food security in changing times. And I’ll talk a little bit about that in a moment. But before we get started tonight, a couple of housekeeping items. We’re not expecting a fire drill. So if you do hear the fire alarm, please follow the evacuation route shown on this slide. And the RSE staff who will wave at the back will guide you on where to go. It’s straight out to the right and outside the dome not inside because we won’t be able to check your names but outside Thank you. There will be time for audience questions later on in the event. When you have a question, please raise your hand and a member of my team will bring you a microphone. For the online audience. Please type any questions in the chat and we’ll read them out for you. Now on to the evening. Here at the RSE our mission always has been and still is making knowledge useful. This event is an annual collaboration between the RSE here and a SCRR. Now in its 21st year. I’ve been told I should have brought a cake for that. Sorry about that. The SCRR formally Edinburgh Consortium for Rural Research is a consortium of organisations active in research into land, freshwater, coastal and marine resources and their uses including farming, forestry, aquaculture, and recreation. Now the scirp Peter Wilson RSE Peter Wilson lecture was created in memory of the distinguished agriculturalists and former RSE general secretary, which is one dime from the President. Just so you know, Professor Peter Wilson CBE, Peter Wilson was a professor of agriculture and rural economy at the University of Edinburgh. He was elected RSE Fellow in 1987, and by 1992, was serving on the council which is the RSE’s governing body. With almost a decade of unstinting service, it was entirely fitting that the society’s bicentenary medal was awarded to him in 2002. This is an award reserved only for those who have given outstanding service to the Society. Following a short illness Peter died on 29th of January 2004. We are honoured therefore, to welcome Peters grandson, Mike Lewis, who is joining us for this evening’s lecture. Welcome, Mike. Moving on to tonight’s event. By 2050, the world must feed 2 billion more people. Achieving food security means that all people at all times have reliable physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food. After a period of progress in the number of people living in food insecurity globally, the situation has worsened again over the last few years due to growing climate and other environmental shocks, conflicts and rises in food prices in many parts of the world. During tonight’s event, food for thought food security and changing times our three distinguished speakers will explore innovative strategies towards achieving lasting solutions towards global food security. I’m going to introduce all three contributors. And then the evening will flow with me keeping an eye on the time and then we’ll have q&a. So our keynote main speaker tonight is Professor Rachel Norman, who’s also a fellow here at the RSE See, Rachel is professor of food security and sustainability at the University of Stirling. Rachel’s research focuses on mathematical models of infectious disease dynamics and control. In 2013, she was promoted to the position of Professor of food security and sustainability. Rachel’s more recent focus has been interdisciplinary approaches to food security, including community growing systems. Rachel was made a Fellow of the RSE in 2023. Our first respondent is Dr. Peter Alexander. Peter is senior lecturer of global food security at the University of Edinburgh. Peter is a Senior Lecturer I’ve just said that. Just in case you weren’t listening, Peter is a senior lecturer at the University of Edinburgh. His work focuses on modelling food and land use systems to better understand the social, economic, and environmental interactions of supply, demand and trade, as well as the competition for land between agriculture, forests and conservation. Our second respondent is Dr. Wu Huang, a postdoctoral researcher at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, and Dr. Huang will be joining online. Keep your fingers crossed for the tech please. Dr. Wu Huang specialised in plant and insect genomics, her doctoral research at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh focused on developing cutting edge methods for analysing multi locus nuclear sequence data in plants for species identification. Previously, she assembled reference genomes for important food crops like potato and cucumber, which enunciated the genomic basis of important agronomic traits in these crops. You can see we have a panel of a keynote speaker and two respondents who complement each other extremely well given those disciplinary backgrounds. So it is with great pleasure that I welcome tonight, first of all, our keynote main speaker, Professor Rachel Norman, and Rachel after your stellar speech, if you could then hand over to your first respondent, Peter, and Peter, if you could then hand over in similar style to Wu, that will be great. And I’ll keep an eye on the clock. So you don’t have to thank you very much. Thank you.

Professor Rachel Norman 07:24
I will time myself because I get easily distracted, because it’s so interesting. Okay, so I will start the timer, though, that’s really helpful. So you’ve read out my first slide already. So we discussed how to approach this. And what I’m going to do is try and set up the problem a little bit and give you a couple of examples of some of the research we’re doing to try and solve some of these problems in stirling. And then putting the pressure on the others to tell you the innovative solutions later. But the take home message from all of this is it’s complicated. And even this statement, if you look at it, it’s about people being close to food, being able to afford it, it has to be food that’s not going to make them ill, it’s good for them suits their preferences, there’s already lots of things to take into account there. A brief sort of, again, repeat of what we said in the beginning, but the population is growing. And that’s not uniformly distributed. So this graphs a bit old, but on the bottom, there’s a more developed countries are the sort of blue line, they’re staying pretty steady. And it’s places like Africa, China and India, where the population growths really gonna happen. So they’re the countries that are going to have to deal with that. So when we’re thinking about food security, the kinds of things that we have to think about, and we will talk about this a bit later, but sustainability, so making sure that we’re not that we can keep producing the food that we need to where it’s distributed. So at the moment, we have enough food. So even if the population grows, we produce enough food, but it’s not distributed well enough to reach everywhere. We’ll talk briefly about climate, but more about extreme events, climatic events and the impact they have diseases and pests in the animals. Or if we could control those that will be a way to increase the yields from the food that we grow. soil degradation that sort of relate to the sustainability but we keep growing and growing using the soil we use up all the nutrients and there’s lots of issues about erosion of soil that we need to solve. Same with water so we pollute the water there isn’t enough of it. Very sad about how much water it takes to produce a kilogramme of chocolate but there’s a lot of inputs to lots of the things that we want and eat and use. and food waste is the last example here. So we waste lots of the food. So actually, the answer is not to grow more food or to produce more food, it’s to use what we’ve got more efficiently somehow. And therein lies the challenge. But the talk today is focused on the ever changing world aspect of this. And again, in the introduction, climate change is one example of that, I put a picture of a volcano because I like volcanoes, I’m not sure they’re such a big deal. But other environmental shocks are destruction itself. Again, other environmental shocks are problem, I will talk specifically about conflict and political instability and the sort of impact they can have. And then disease outbreaks in humans. So we want to grow more food, we want to, we want to have a higher yield. So then controlling disease in animals is important. But you’ll have seen the empty shelves, I did have a picture here of people taking lots of toilet rolls, or in COVID, and never understood the toilet roll thing during COVID COVID had nothing to do with toilet roll. But anyway, the the the issues with supply chains, we’ve seen that here, even round, bad snowmen and that kind of thing. So there’s all sorts of complicated things that can happen. And so I’ve got three examples, I’m going to go through quite quickly, just to give you a very overarching view. But for me, when I started to think about food security, from this point of view, there are lots of things here that I hadn’t thought about being an issue. So I’m going to look at examples on climate change, and the conflict, political instability. So we’ll start off with Syria. So this is an old report. And both of my examples are kind of old. But their reports that got a lot of detail in them, which is why I’m using them. But everything that’s in here would be true for any of the more current issues, and Peter’s gonna talk briefly about one of those later on. But so this is a report that the FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, wrote in 2015, having centre admission to Syria, so they were in their fifth year of civil crisis at the time, I got to let me get the phrase, right, non state armed groups were in control of half the land area. So the government couldn’t wasn’t controlling half of the land. And so there was a huge implication of people who were food insecure, or close to being food insecure. So more than half the population with food insecure, at this time. Lots of people internally displaced because of the conflict, and then lots of those seeking refuge in neighbouring countries, and lots of people with poor and insufficient diets. So that’s the sort of background. And so how does that affect the food insecurity? So apologies, quite a few words on the next few slides. But if we think about crops to start off with, there’s infrastructure issues. So because of the conflict, there was the fertiliser seed fuel were all scarce, and therefore had high prices. So it costs a lot to grow the food in the first place, those inputs weren’t necessarily reliable. So you get poor quality seed, for example, then there was infrastructure damage, like damage to irrigation systems. If you’ve not got fuel, then you can’t run your tractors and you combine harvesters and things. But also there’s not much labour around people can’t travel to get those jobs, or they are busy in the conflict somewhere. And then there’s a sort of deliberate destruction of standing crops. So there’s quite a lot of complicated factors going on there are complicated, but quite a variety of factors that all feed together to reduce the crops that you can grow. In 2015, the crop production was 40%, lower than it had been pre conflict. So that sort of conflict level, cause, but at the same time, the weather was terrible. So they had climate issues to deal with. So 2015 was actually a good year, and a couple of years after that it was really dry, and so the crop production was even worse. So you’ve not only got a conflict, you’ve got additional things to deal with as well. If we think about animals and livestock, lots of people rely on livestock for their own food security, let alone for selling and for economic value. And so there’s been a huge reduction in the flocks and herds. So 30% reduction in cattle 40%, sheep and goats and chicken, which is one of the or poultry which is one of the things that lots of people might have on in their own garden or in their own house might be something they produce for themselves in lots of parts of the world. People rely on poultry as a source of income are a source of food that’s hard served. And one of the reasons for that is feed feed again, so access to pastures limited by both climates and by the security concerns. The feed was expensive again. And that’s partly because they weren’t growing enough crops. And yeah, that’s because of the poor rainfall. So again, you’ve got all these interacting factors. And then the thing I hadn’t ever really thought about, and definitely people in the room who will look at me going, surely that’s the most obvious thing. But the veterinary service couldn’t get access to drugs, and vaccines. And so that in itself is a problem as well. So all that sort of supply line that you rely on, wasn’t there. And then, kind of embedded in all that on or on top of that, if you’ve got transport problems that the government had lost control of the roads, and so people couldn’t transport food where it was. So that was bottlenecks in movement. We’ve already said high fuel prices, so you can’t afford to move the stuff. And so ended up with food being produced in one bit of a country through deficit and another bit, and they just couldn’t do the transportation between those two. So the markets you were relying on aren’t there anymore, and they’re all become fragmented and broken up. So that’s just a few sort of a very brief overview of an example. But all of those things come together to cause a real problem in terms of food security. And, as of last month, two months ago, March, we’re in May, or we, we may, there were 45. countries who were in external need of external assistance for food, according to the FAO, and the reasons for that varied, but they were conflict, weather extremes, low food production. So all these things coming together in lots of different countries, many of them in Africa. similar set of problems. Sorry, all doom and gloom, we’ll come to solutions in a minute. Probably. So again, this is a an Oxfam sponsored paper that looked in a lot of detail at some extreme weather events, in sort of 2010, or the early 2000, and 10s. And I’m gonna look at, again, very briefly, one slide each have a heatwave in Russia, and a typhoon in the Philippines, just again, to show the kind of complexities of what can happen. So Russia had this heatwave in 2010, they would normally be at about 23 degrees at a maximum 38. This is in 2010. It’s got worse since then, as I’m sure we’re all aware, these sort of extreme weather events. But that temperature was hot over a really large area that caused droughts and fires, and they lost a third of their overall wheat harvest as a country. And so the government response was, Well, let’s protect our own citizens were what will ban the export of weeks, which make that’s what I do. If I ruled the world, which you know, I could, but I’m not sure I should, but I’m so sorry, distracted again. So Russia is the fourth largest wheat exporter. And so that’s fine. And they protect their own citizens, which they didn’t really either. Actually all the prices still went up. But it had huge implications for other countries around about who relied on that import. And so there was a huge increase in global wheat prices that year, as a partly at least as a consequence of that. And that led to civil unrest and all sorts of issues. So there’s not it’s not straightforward, you know, one country has a problem and solves it, there’s knock on effects all over the place. The typhoon is a slightly different story. But again, this really made me think, because the typhoon lasts a few hours. But it came in and destroyed lots of agricultural land 28,000 fishing boats destroyed. So that’s livelihoods all over the place. The thing that I had never thought about, and you know, I presume you haven’t either 33 I mean, 33 million coconut trees, who knew the worth 33 million coconut trees, but they’re all destroyed. And the impact of that is really long term. So that’s a sort of six to nine year cycle before they can grow them again. So the Russian thing was a kind of longer lasting problem. But it was one year’s worth of crop, whereas things like replacing your fishing boat or replacing your coconut trees is a much longer term problem. And that’s just for a very short, extreme weather event, relatively speaking, which is more or less what this summary slide says. So different types of natural disaster have different impacts is what I’m trying to get across to you. And they can be geographically far reaching and long term. I’d haven’t said why but often women and children in the worst affected. So, two minutes I’ve got to slides have got just to tell you very briefly about the kind of thing that we’re doing Sterling. So I’m morally obliged, because we have an Institute of Agriculture to say Fish, fish are very important. And that is because they’re very important for livelihoods and rural economies, they are more efficient in terms of a protein source, compared to beef or sheep. So I won’t go into the detail of a graph. But that’s data’s convincing, let me tell you. So it’s possible. And it’s somewhere where it’s possible to grow. So we can’t keep using more and more land for growing crops, we can’t keep fishing the sea. But aquaculture is often seen to be a room for growth, and it’s certainly a growing thing. So if we ate more fish, and less beef, that would be a good thing. And finally, one of the projects I’m working on at the moment is about local food growing, and particularly in these vertical growth towers. So they’ve got controlled light controlled heat, so it means you can grow all year round. And we’re working on a community growing project that’s meant to be sort of climate resilient, we’re using renewable energy, which is one of the big problems with these controlled environment, things that take a lot of energy, and trying to reuse nutrients and things. So this is the kind of, for me the kinds of innovative solutions that we need to be looking at to try and change our food system and protect everyone’s food security. So I shall hand over to Senior Lecturer was it Don’t say I never listen.

Dr Peter Alexander 21:43
Great, thanks very much, and lovely to be here. So I am going to try and go to the next slide. All right, getting model the slides. Great. So I’m going to start by just mentioning that shocks the food system can happen anywhere across that system. Rachel’s already covered this through a number of our examples. But you know, we we, I guess we immediately think of climate events and weather events. And obviously, that has an impact on agricultural production. But the food system is much broader than that we have to think about the food industry, how that those products are transported, and traded internationally, how they’re processed, how they’re read, the retail, the supermarkets, etc, those economic systems, but also how consumer demand is affected how consumers incomes, their preferences, the social systems around those that making those choices. And, and the political system is also really important, both in terms of geopolitics, but also the regulatory system, and the subsidies, and so on, that govern the sort of the behaviour of the system overall, as well as those environmental outcomes. So we could think of shocks happening anywhere within that system, not just climate, weather shocks, they could be geopolitical. They could be tempt technological shocks, they could be economic shocks. And in particular, I wanted to talk about one example, that Rachel’s not so far touched on, which would be related to the war in Ukraine, the Russian Ukrainian war. And that created, as we all know, a number of substantial shocks related to the food system, I think the one that’s talked about most in sort of the media or in public, and also a policy discourse is the sort of the direct impact on the loss of exports from from Russia and Ukraine, because it’s the kind of the most visceral and most obvious one, if you like, and certainly as as Rachel was just talking about, Russia’s a major and Ukraine are both major exporters of of commodities, particularly wheat 30%, roughly, of wheat was exported from those two countries globally, prior to the war, and actually more or less today as well. And obviously the with blockades and the back seat and other things, there was concerns about those exports. However, there’s sort of maybe slightly less obvious indirect impacts in that we had this big shock to energy prices, which was felt through agricultural input costs. So fertiliser and nitrogen, fertiliser, fertiliser prices tripled. And obviously, that has an impact on food prices directly, but also it through higher input costs, but also indirectly, again, through farmers choosing to use less inputs, less fertilisers, potentially not plant some fields. And that reduces supply which again, feeds through into into higher prices. So the question we were trying to ask through some sort of modelling studies is is this kind of representation in the debate about the direct impacts this loss of exports from Russia and Ukraine, is that is that right? And what the findings suggested that it’s actually not correct is that the the impact was much, much greater on prices of food from those indirect from the energy cost implications rather than the loss of loss. of exports, because it had a much more systemic effect, where we were seeing here and that the graphs at the bottom, you know, like 5% increase for the loss of those exports, but sort of like more like an 80% increase in the price due to a combination of the two. So that in this case, and in many shocks, the impact felt through higher prices, rather than sort of lower availability, it’s more that lower affordability. And those higher prices also change, consumption of food, so that people choose to be less, but they also choose to eat different foods, they move away from discretionary consumption of say, fresh fruit and veg and meat, and the more staple products, more cereals, for example. And so both of those things change the the nutritional outcomes from from that. So and again, in this in this study, we were suggesting that roughly 100 million additional people will become undernourished, under those kind of combined scenario relating to the Russian nuclear war. And that would have kind of the consequences of something like an additional 400,000 people per year dying as a consequence of that. So the point I’m trying to make here, you know, is that direct and indirect effects can have can be quite disproportionate impacts and it can sometimes it’s not the not the first thing that thing you think intuitively might have the biggest impact may actually be most important. And we have to think about these cascading risks. So yeah, the question on this slide is, you know, is the system fragile or, or resilient the food system, and some people kind of almost axiomatically say, Well, we have this very globalised, complex long Supply Chain system that must be fragile and must be brittle, must kind of fall over easily. And obviously, it’s somewhat depends on what your on your definition, but you know, as a system as a systemic system, I would argue that actually that complexity in that sort of large scale interlinkages actually breed breeds creates a form of resilience, that the system can accommodate changes more easily, because it’s, it’s so large, and it can dissipate a change across a bigger area. But that doesn’t mean so the system itself is resilient. But that doesn’t mean the outcomes from the system are positive or beneficial. It still has the, you know, the environmental degradation, the poor nutritional outcomes, etc. And incentive produces those in a resilient fashion, which is kind of not what we want. And indeed, it also tends to concentrate the harms on the poorest because because those shocks are experienced as an increase in price. And obviously, the people who have the lowest incomes are the least able to accommodate that increase. Now I’m most damaged by that. So in a sense, the system is systemically resilient. But but the outcomes are not what we want. Which brings me on to war, how do we how do we spring ourselves out of this? How do we transform the system? And, you know, in four minutes? So I think it’s widely agreed and has been discussed and written about quite a lot. And we’ve already started talking about it today, you know, we know the system is broken in various different ways. And also, it’s relatively clear what the solutions are. And I’ll come back to that in a second. But there’s less that’s less contested, but what’s much less clear and much less work and effort I think has been put into, because it’s so hard. Is the how how do we achieve? How do we put that that change system into into place? And that’s, that’s very much more difficult. So yeah, so this is a bit of a complex slide. Actually, this is a simplification of an even more complex slide that rather unkindly people would be calling the spaghetti slide. So it’s related to work I’m involved with with the UN Environment Programme, where we’re trying to look at this food system transformation question, and we’re trying to here is trying to sort of enumerate three, three different things. So going from left to right, the goals, which as I say, are well understood. And I’ll go through in a second, and then what systemic changes are required to achieve those goals, and then trying to move more to what actions are required in order to put those those those in place. So just to go very quickly through the goals, you know, that it’s the things you might expect, you know, healthy, healthy consumption, healthy outcomes in terms of human health, environmental sustainable, climate change mitigation, equitable and resilient system. Yeah, fine. So what what sort of changes do we need to do to achieve that? Well, the first one here is we need to change our consumption we need to move away from overconsumption in many countries, like like ours, of animal products. But we also need to change the the agricultural production process and to be more sustainable, which is a sort of the second squares at where, and then we need to reduce losses and waste, increased circularity in the system, novel foods and production processes, like vertical farming would be one example, as well. And, and also, you know, restructure the food system thinking about market power and other things of that nature. So how do we do that? Well, you know, there’s five sort of domains of sort of levers actions that you can have identified here, you know, different, different actors. But the, the issue is that for any of those solutions, we need to have all of those actors pretty much in place. So if we take, we think of changing food consumption, yes, it’s about our individual choices about what we eat. But we also have to think about, you know, the, the rest of the system. So the food industry is marketing food to us, it’s being choice editing about what the foods are provided that we have access to, you know, and so forth. So the food industry needs to change. There’s also potential technology changes involved. But, but which is the third box, but you know, policy is also going to be an absolutely key driver for this, you know, we’ve got agricultural subsidies that are sort of misaligned, and perversely, providing perverse incentives for various different ways. We’ve got, you know, not paying the true cost of foods that we buy. So we have all these environmental externalities that are not embedded in the cost. So we need to we need to think about how policy can can change that. But that’s not necessarily considered acceptable, you know, we’re talking about meat taxes and things like that, then politically unacceptable, how so? How do we do that, but we need to, we need to move in those directions. So even these actions are not really enough. Enough, you know, we need to go out and understand how do we, you know, how do we stop the French farmers? etc? Or how is it? How do we make it politically acceptable for our politicians in this country to implement their meat tax? I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. But I wanted to highlight just to finish, and I am a little bit over on time, just to finish to to to highlight two areas of contested, to contested area. So one relates to track record changes in agriculture agricultural system. So there’s two sort of contradictory dialogues, one is, you know, the sort of organic regenerative agriculture, etc, etc, sort of multifunctional land use, where we can produce food and we can produce less damaging to the environment, more biodiversity friendly, etc. But on so that’s land sharing. On the flip side, we’ve got kind of more intensive agriculture production to try and limit the area in which we’re producing our food so that we can spare other land for biodiversity conservation. And if we try and do the first we try and have, you know, your organic approach, that with tends to have lower yields because of this monthly functionality, if we don’t couple that with dietary shift, then all we’re probably doing is exporting the production somewhere else, and deforesting the Amazon or whatever it may be, and actually achieving worse outcomes. So that that’s it’s a big, it’s a big debate about what land sparing versus land sharing, how do you how do you do that? And certainly, you know, and it relates to this systemic questions, if you like about consumption, and very quickly Another one was all local food is you know, people think well local foods the answer, you know, particularly organic local food, right. But food food miles and the emissions associated with transport, particularly international transport of food is a relatively small, if not very small percentage of the total environmental emissions so local food isn’t really dealing with the bulk of the problem. It’s sort of It’s a sort of a minor aspect to organic local food might sound good but really it’s really we need to think be thinking about what the food is not so much those type of labels Yes, that’s it. So now I’m passing over to Wu online.

Dr. Wu Huang 34:41
Thank you. Thank you so much. It was excellent talks. Both Rachel and Peter. I wish I could be in Edinburgh I would love to be there always. and to get started, I’m going to talk about a little bit different approach. Global security globalisation about how we have this globalised food chain. And suddenly supply chain. While Rachel just said it’s not only about growing more food but, but also using what we have at hand. But the case is when the globalisation there is big food waste along this supply chain. I’m a very early career scientist. So I’m still at the state of observing and seeing what others what was the problem? Is a one time to start with. I can’t give an example of a tree

Sarah Skerratt 36:00
that I excuse me, Wu, can I interrupt for a moment? Not everyone can hear you. We think you need to move closer to your microphone. If that’s possible, please. Or turn up volume made better? Yeah, a lot better. Thank you. So if you could hold that up. I know that’s annoying for you. But if you could, for the next five or so minutes, we would appreciate it. Thank you.

No worries, I’ll just go with it. It looks weird. But as long as the helps. Yeah, I yeah, I was, I was still at undergrad student. And I visited with a class with a class trip to the border control in Beijing. And we witnessed a case they were dealing with that day, it was 10s of 1000s of tonnes of pomellato. And at the site, where they were detected a type of pests and potential pests in just several pests in the sample, so that they weren’t destroyed the whole ship of it. I was astonished. And probably everyone else would have the same question with me that can we just ship this back? Or can we use it on site in some way? But the question was not it has to be destroyed due to the regulations or simply because the shipping fee is too expensive. In this case, we can see how big the discount is for the good waste. During this globalisation, food, this market imports and exports. In the UK, there were 2.3 billion worth of agricultural and fishery products and simply in the UK every year. And there were over 100,000 cargo ships arrival, arrivals to the UK ports and harbours in 2022, for one year, the scale is enormous and the waste is enormous too. And this is one of the cases where what I have observed how food security could be could be improved by some simple by some simple regulations. And the another aspect I have observed is the food fraud and authentication. On the board control everything while we while we were doing is to authenticate them, if they were if there were the the food, the goods that they were dealing with, as they were declared us and in large scale as everyone here probably have heard about the horsemeat scandal in 2013. And that scandal led to a surge of food authentication innovations. And this in this innovation is mostly based on D&A, which I will talk about I can elaborate elaborate on a lot because that’s what I have. I have researched on during my PhD events he has an idea, a barcode, to identify issues, and also the 2008 Chinese milk scandal that’s a type of, of toxic toxins which are which can be used to thicken the milk used for babies which cause which leads to 1000s of babies. Baby babies deaths during during that scandal, this, this was a big thing in China back then. And then then let’s, let’s do loads of positive reinforcements or strict regulations, and the identification with all this, which is usually chemical. But now we have the solution for many of the type of food fraud. What I wanted to learn about on the other side of the globalisation of the, of the food markets, is that now, we are paying more attention to the biodiversity of how the agriculture is causing damage to the biodiversity. So that we’re proposing the new methods to conserve to bring harmony into the two areas. What I have observed focused on in the UK, we have a bounded of projects that have, for example, the agro biodiversity conservation projects in Ethiopia lead by Kew, they grow mostly bananas, and coffee. And also here, we have the oil, palm, maize, and good diversity conservation projects here happening here and a period where they’re using this techniques to intercrop using intercropping techniques to mitigate the biodiversity loss. And another thing which comes nearer to my hometown as the Aqua diverse crustacean, the Southeast Asia, rain forest, where the rubber industry were flop flowing. There are so this is happening, and rbge, the room where I did my doctoral research. So those are all the things I will talk about about the problems we’re facing. Just to add to what what Rachel and Peter were talking about, also about the solutions, or the effort, where we’re happening, from the scientific on the community side, and everything we are doing now is trying to ensure that food security and biodiversity conservation are in good harmony, during the globalisation. And that will be my my point of view. Thank you.

Sarah Skerratt 42:38
Thank you very much. And for the technical support, including from one of our audience members, thank you very much. So Dr. Huang, if you could stay on the line. And then if Peter and Rachel could come and sit at the table, that would be great. Thank you. So we now have 30 minutes for q&a. We tried this the last two years to give a good half hour for question and answer and we got a good debate going. So I would like to ask you all now when you ask your questions, if you’re comfortable giving your name and institution because that helps to contextualise where your questions might be coming from. So thank you again to our main speaker into respondents for provoking us. So it’s over to you now to respond with your thoughts. There’s a question in the middle there Thalia. Blue Shirt. Thanks.

My name is Yousef from Global Academy of Food and Agriculture systems University of Edinburgh. Yeah, thank you. It was very well structured and complementing presentations in a very dynamic mode. Two keywords, global food security and carbon farming. And also carbon offsetting and carbon crediting. So maybe Peter, but overall to the panel. So what’s your opinion on that? Do you see it rather as a threat? For global security thinking it might push the prices up or the leakage effect, or you see it as an opportunity, increasing farmer’s income to implement some more generative and sustainable practices that might, for instance, increase resilience to the negative impact of climate change. Thank you.

Dr Peter Alexander 44:46
Thank you. First, yeah, okay. It’s a tough question. So I think we need to this, I want to make a distinction between two things between the sort of what we need to achieve, and the sort of the policies and the systems and the markets that are appear to be developing or have developed, I sort of distinct, so we definitely need to move towards practices that sequester more carbon in the soil and vegetation. And you know, so we land use plays a huge role in the functioning of the of the planetary system. So we need to, you know, for our male, etc, is all great. So that’s all the positive side, if you like, we can talk more about that. And then we have kind of the schemes, particularly the voluntary schemes that are often in existence, which are not sufficiently regulated, where the additionality between the projects that are given the credits under those schemes are, is questionable. I think there was a paper that was out maybe 18 months ago, which looked at Forest credits, and I think it was something like 20%, or was it 17%? Anyway, it was, it was a small number. Were kind of able to be validated some period of time after the credits have been provided. So that if you’ve gone on your EasyJet flight, and you’ve offset your carbon with those credits, then perhaps, let’s say, a quarter of those of that those emissions have indeed been offset. And I think that’s probably on the optimistic side. So you know, we have we have to see, yeah, I think maybe that’s a start off, I can probably keep going. But until they reach homes,

Professor Rachel Norman 46:52
I don’t know what to add. So, yes, okay. You did then explain what carbon credits were, it did occur to me that I needed some help perhaps with that, did you say something else as well as carbon credits? Did I miss? Sorry. So amazingly,

that the inclusion of agriculture sector, either in the compliance matters or the voluntary market? Do we have to be as careful as we are now? Like taking it easy? Because we don’t know the longer term effects? Or can we use this as a as an opportunity for farmers to adopt more sustainable and more regenerative practices? So what’s your take on this? Either? More unfortunate, it’s an unfortunate

Professor Rachel Norman 47:42
Hard question. Okay, I’m gonna go back slightly. And so I’m not going to answer your question. As an undergraduate, what I’m going to do is tell you the question I know the answer to and then hope you give me some marks for it. Is that Is that good enough? I will try and work into this. So I think Peters already said this, we’ve got to change practices and use less carbon, but there are some things we will not be able to completely decarbonize, I think, and I think that’s where the offsetting comes in. But I think there are some hard decisions to be made before that works. So maybe not EasyJet flights. You don’t want that to be used as a guilt, to leave, alleviate people’s guilt for doing a thing that they know they shouldn’t do. Trying to think, cuz obviously, we all want to go on nice flights and do nice stuff. But the end of the day, the bottom line of all that we just talked about, and I know this isn’t quite food, but the we’ve all got to change our behaviour and and change our demand and our consumption and how we do things. And we’ve got to do that a lot. And significantly. So if there are positive and effective ways for farmers to buy into that, and there are some I’m sure, then that’s great. But as Peter says, there’s lots of less convincing programmes or systems out there. And even let’s all plant lots of trees. It’s not that complicated just to be to kind of reiterate, it’s all complicated. But but even where you plant trees and isn’t necessarily just planting more trees is not the answer, for example. So I’ve edged closer to your question.

Sarah Skerratt 49:39
Okay, who else? Jeff on the front row, and then we have somebody right at the back there with black cardigan on. Thank you. Thanks,

Jeff sim, also global Academy, University of Edinburgh. Inspired partly by Peters spaghetti diagram where I think it featured nearly three of the 15 boxes. Do we He placed too much of a burden on natural science research to help in solving these problems. And if so, where else? Should we put in some of our public investment?

Dr Peter Alexander 50:13
As an interesting question, I mean, maybe. So, you know, I was kind of saying that the problems are well understood the solutions are relatively well understood. And what we’re not so good at is almost the political science, the social science, beyond, you know, economics perhaps. And so yeah, I mean, that’s not that’s not my that’s not my area, as you will know. But I do wonder, I do wonder whether we do focus too much on on that. Certainly, historically, I think the focus in this area has been on, on production on how do we how do we have a better cow. And that’s great. And that gets you so far, and will continue to get us farther, but it isn’t enough. So we definitely need we need to continue doing those things. But we need to have a broader, a broader base. And that’s broader brace discipline are really, and also in terms of the sort of the actions and the leverage points that we we target.

Sarah Skerratt 51:20
I wonder if no pressure on you, Dr. Wu, if you don’t have any view on that, but just to say, Do you have a view on this? If you don’t make sure you interrupt when you do want to give an answer to any of the? Yeah, actually, I

Dr. Wu Huang 51:36
wanted to add something to the to the first question if

Sarah Skerratt 51:41
you’re allowed, sorry, of course.

Dr. Wu Huang 51:43
Because I was thinking about when, when we were mentioned about the the carbon offset the carbon credit, was coming into being rebound. I think the thing where we’re using this app is mainly to limit the large organisations. Of course, I’m not saying that everyone’s small, daily effort is not important. It’s important, but I think those changes can largely impact the behaviour of large organisations, something coming at it is it has a big impact on the airline behaviour and the the battery has a big impact on the bigger farming the bigger organisations while taking efforts and fighting fear, the loss of auditors if they were face a fine because of the the bad episodes in the cops. So I think those regulations even if the concern, if we take into consideration the culture.

Sarah Skerratt 53:22
Okay, so we’re able to hear probably 80% of that, I think you need to keep your microphone right at your lips. I’m terribly sorry. I’m very sorry. It’s okay. We also have the captions, the live captions going on, which sometimes make for interesting reading. But we did get your point about the fines on larger organisations, perhaps having proportionately larger impact. So thank you for that contribution. So did you want to come back at all, Rachel, on

Professor Rachel Norman 53:56
the opinion about Jeff’s question? Okay, so

Sarah Skerratt 53:58
Rachel’s going to respond in a very strong way, it seems to Jeff’s question, who knew?

Professor Rachel Norman 54:04
We said that, yeah. interdisciplinarity. That’s what it’s all about. We cannot solve any of these problems. So I hadn’t thought about the pressure being on the natural sciences is interesting. But if we don’t bring all the disciplines together to solve all these big problems, so not just food, security, climate change all the other stuff, then I think we’re lost because we can come up with technical solutions for things and if people don’t want to use them. And so lots of examples of us going well, maths is the perfect, we can always do a model that tells you stop growing. Stop eating beef that will the maths definitely shows you wish we all stopped eating beef, that would be the answer. But that’s how do we make people do it is the social sciences, how we communicate and use Creative Arts and Humanities stuff to talk to people. It’s the s or as the bit I love to talk to all the disciplines, please. It’s very important. Thanks Thanks, Jeff.

Sarah Skerratt 55:02
That wasn’t a plan once it.

Dr Peter Alexander 55:05
Yeah, but it’s amazing how hard it is right? Yes,

Professor Rachel Norman 55:08
we all speak different languages coming from different viewpoints. It’s very difficult. Yeah.

Sarah Skerratt 55:13
So we have the question at the back, and then another one at the front here in the second row. Thank you. At the back. Hi.

I’m also from the University of Edinburgh. And Peter said in quote, marks policy is going to be a key driver for this. So building on that, which you definitely said,

Dr Peter Alexander 55:37
statement of the obvious perhaps, taking

your food systems approach. Have you got all of the panellists one particular policy ask which could be a new policy or potentially maybe developing on Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation act, maybe there’s something that you would want to add isn’t already recognised in legislation? To tackle some of these issues? Obviously, we’re in the realms of the devolved constraints of devolved government. And the definitely ask Scottish government people in the room. So what would you say to them?

Sarah Skerratt 56:13
Nope, pointing anything good.

Dr Peter Alexander 56:18
I’m going first, am I? Well, I mean, first of all, this statement is a statement of the obvious clearly. Yeah. The trend in trying to framers response, I guess the question is, how deliverable? Should they be? You know, so I’ve already started talking about meat tax, which is an obvious place to start in many ways. But if that’s off the table, because it’s not achievable, then you know, what, where on that spectrum of acceptable to, to, you know, not acceptable, effective to not so effective? Do we go? Yeah, so it’s a tough question. So I don’t want to talk about that again. So I’m going to talk about something else, which I suppose would be related more to regulating the industry in terms of what they how they market food to us. How, you know, how the industry operates, which is obviously in the purview of of policy about how that that’s done, you know, in terms of policy choice editing, you know, if the like, is there a vegetarian or vegan option being provided to me when I go to the canteen is that is that cheaper or more expensive than than the meat option? I actually took a photo in the Edinburgh University canteen about five, six months ago, where there were two there were three wraps to wraps. Anyway, two wraps, let’s say there was the car empty details now. But the ham wrap and there was an identical the package identically sized, a chick pea wrap, and the meat option was was 50 P cheaper than the chickpea one in the university canteen, and I took I don’t know and habit taking canteen photos, but I mean, I can’t I not only do I think that’s silly, but I can’t think of a I can’t think of a justification an economic justification for that either. Well, the only one I can even plausibly think of is that less people buy the chickpea wrap. But it’s pretty weak. So, you know, I do we do we want to have regulation that controls that, that there’s an equivalent not to I’m not sure. But you know, these are really, I don’t know how you would. I’m not a policy person. But you know, I think regulating regulating the food industry more, we could talk about market power as well. But I probably waited on enough. So I’ll stop.

Sarah Skerratt 58:55
Dr. Wu, if you want to respond. Can you put the microphone in your mouth, please? Maybe not literally, but close enough. Thanks.

Dr. Wu Huang 59:05
I think I’ll spare you.

Sarah Skerratt 59:10
Okay, yeah, no worries. Thanks. Rachel, do you want to comment on that or move to the next question?

Professor Rachel Norman 59:18
Oh, no. Let’s move to the next question. All

Sarah Skerratt 59:22

Professor Rachel Norman 59:23
Let’s start talking about smoking, which is an entirely different. So

Sarah Skerratt 59:26
we have a question right at the front row two, and then I see a hand right at the back. So we’re keeping our microphone. Colleagues getting your cursor up. So

thanks, enjoyed all the talks. Thank you. I’m all from a three C. And I suppose I want to ask a question. Rachel, you picked up on the role of innovation and things that we haven’t even thought about. But can I ask what is the what are your thoughts on the role of innovative solutions for our rural communities and addressing where agriculture is a core part of maintaining not only those can communities, but those ecosystems versus solutions that might feel, sir more urban industrial demands of agriculture going forward, and particularly about what the role of that rural communities versus urban communities coming together to really understand what solutions will work for our food systems?

Professor Rachel Norman 1:00:24
Yes, that’s a big question as well. So the vertical growing towers, which I’m in some ways very excited about, in other words, seem to mostly grow lettuce, or, or marijuana seems to be the two options. And I’m not tried that on my university yet. Building a growing tower. So for me the benefits of that other kind of climate, protectiveness, and they could, they could have their benefits. And anyway, so what what the facility we’ve got is not a multimillion pound robotics, something rather it’s a shipping container with some shelves in. And so okay, it’s not going to have a massive capacity. But let us do some interesting stuff. And that’s a community based system. And what we’re trying to look at there is, what are the benefits to the community? So there’s health and well being of getting in there and growing stuff, but it’s, do we grow the stuff to feed people? So we put it in food bags and things? Or do we grow basil and sell it to pesto makers or marijuana? So So there’s all sorts of trade offs there. So I think that but that technology transfers, I mean, no real set on doom and gloom, real concerns that like the rural areas won’t be able to grow stuff reliably and consistently in the future. So they’ll need this. These facilities and one of the big exciting things about what we’re doing is sort of like Manisha where we’ve got this project is, is a deprived area, and it’s about the green skills, the green growth, the jobs that will come with this, looking after the solar panels work in the the, the vertical grown tower, so I don’t want robots I want people to go and do interesting things with it. So I think it’s almost so that they will provide an advantage in urban areas where you can’t grow normally. But I think they will also they could also have benefits for rural areas. So I don’t see that as a tension. As the rural areas get less resilient to food growth. So it’s another it’s another string to a farmer’s bow potentially to have lots, I think, what for me, diversity is the key in farming, probably as an individual farmer, if you’ve got all your eggs in one basket, that’s a problem. So yes, but that’s a very simplified non farm review. So

Dr Peter Alexander 1:02:59
yeah, I think I might say something controversial. I, you know, so I think the rural the farming community may well need to adapt, maybe fairly radically, you know, away from say, livestock, and maybe even away from food production in some places. And that might be might have losers, most transformations have winners and losers, potentially. But, you know, it should be the case, or it must be the case that, you know, if this is transformation is needed, and has the, you know, the consequences of a healthier and more sustainable, etc, etc. system, then, you know, society overall should be better off and we should be able to kind of either compensate the losers, or, you know, it’s not, and it’s absolutely not that the rural land use is unimportant, it’s actually becoming more and more and more and more important, we’ve got, you know, we looking to, for it, to conserve biodiversity, to capture carbon to produce food, you know, to provide recreation, etc. So, you know, public money for public goods is one one way of thinking of it. But you know, we should have ways mechanisms that should be within our ability to think of how we can transition the people who are currently managing the land to be managing the land in a different way. And yes, the may not be it may not look the same. It may not even be the same people, which is a guest slightly controversial part, but you know, that it still can be beneficial to all.

Sarah Skerratt 1:04:40
Dr. Wu, do you want to come in here?

Dr. Wu Huang 1:04:42
Yes, magically, I actually have a similar idea with Peter. I think the innovation is a risky thing. Everyone knows that. Every innovators knows that. I’m the one person If 1% out of this innovations work, then we are gonna society will gain much benefits from it. I think that the urban area is quite homogenised is not as diverse as, as the rural area. And people in the rural area they have land. They’re facing everyday decision based on what what they see immediately, so that they can come up with solutions by themselves and try outside. I think this is a perfect scenario for the Innovation Hub. Because they have the instant feedback. I genuinely believe that to diversify the innovation efforts that would bring loads of benefits to the to the final solution that we can find, because we have the big base of people who like to try new things. And they have the ability to try new things. And they’re

Sarah Skerratt 1:06:11
very much yeah, thank you. Did we have one question before? Yeah, we have one at the back then 123? Here. Thank you. Mine

is actually just a quick comment, maybe even more than a question about the previous response to Jeff and Tilly. About policy options. I think it’s interesting, because the first thing that I would have said is tax the rich, because poverty is the biggest, as you said, it’s affordability. It’s not accessibility. And so I wonder, like, when we’re talking about interdisciplinarity, I think we just really need radically different disciplinary approaches, and also just, you know, systems approaches to things like I don’t think that the number one policy option for food security is food related. I think it is very much just around finance and taxation and, you know, redistribution of resources and income,

Professor Rachel Norman 1:07:15
redistribute the wealth. I’m

Sarah Skerratt 1:07:17
sure I think that was more of a comment than a question. And there’s a round of applause for that. So we’re getting to that point in the evening where we need the questions and answers to be shorter to give people more time. So one question here, one in the front row and other one in the front row. And then we’ll see if we have time for any more. So short, please.

Gee, we’ve talked about the things that we can do personally, to change our ways, but to benefit the poorest in society, it’s a policy thing. And our food input policies would be to import the best quality and condition foods, and we have the sort of market powers to be able to buy the best quality and condition produce out competing local markets. So as we improve food security for the poorest people here, we are sort of going to make it worse for the people who are providing and growing that food in their own countries. Have you got any thoughts about how we redress that balance?

Dr Peter Alexander 1:08:23
I mean, yeah, you’re you’re right, in the sense that if we are importing food, then it’s obviously not in those other countries that they’re exporting it. It’s not necessarily kind of a zero sum game, however, that, you know, countries are, you know, getting revenue from those exports. And it could well be that they were taking advantage of climatic suitability for growing, you know, growing those crops, where they’re where it’s easiest to grow them. So international trade can be beneficial to all to both sides, it doesn’t have to be this kind of, you know, I only win by you losing, which is sort of the premise of the question. That said, you know, that there are there are opportunities for negative outcomes. And, you know, we have to be to be kind of mindful of that. I think, you know, one of the, one of the obvious examples in this sector from, you know, historically would be kind of cap and previous payments, where there was guaranteed guaranteed market prices, and that cause big distortions to international international trade and countries not being able to, to export into into our markets and various other negative outcomes. So, you know, I think we just something we need to be mindful of, but it’s not a zero sum game.

Sarah Skerratt 1:09:56
Either review very quickly want to come in to this. We’ve got five minutes for two more questions. So, either you want to chip in? Nope. Okay. Quick question. Quick answer. It’s,

it’s a really quick question. Hello, Dr. Kate Smith, I’m actually a post academic. And then I run an ad tech business. But my PhD was in food security, as you know, because we spoke at the start. Amartya Sen said that all hunger is political. And your opening point was that we produce enough food to feed everybody 3600 calories each is produced every day enough to feed everybody. Can the innovations we’ve talked about today, do something to fix things like the derivative trading on food and the financialization of the food system? is good? Because it’d be a note for hope if the answer was yes.

Dr Peter Alexander 1:10:46
Well, I agree with everything you said until the last sentence. There’s enough food and it’s about how we choose to what we choose to do with that food. And it’s political. Yes, I agree. I’m not sure to focus on derivative trading isn’t necessarily the right emphasis. However, you know, it, it’s, it’s about equality, like Lindsey was saying, to some extent, and, and it’s also about what what we do with that food, you know, if we feed it to livestock, then that’s going to result in losses if we convert it to bioethanol, that’s also not necessarily feeding people. So yeah, so it’s systemic and about choices, ultimately.

Sarah Skerratt 1:11:34
Any other very quick comments? No. Last question, potentially, we’ll keep an eye on the clock Russia. Thanks. Can you hear me? Yes, we

can. My name is Natalia Contreras. I’m, I’m a PhD in molecular sciences from the Botanic Garden at the University of Edinburgh. And my question is, specifically directly to you, Rachel sits with you mentioned that the models and the numbers are saying that beef is not the best. I wonder if you have if have you found find or no effective ways to communicate what this model says to the public outside academia? Or do you know? Yeah.

Professor Rachel Norman 1:12:16
Sorry, if I try to persuade the public not to eat beef?

Yes. Yeah. They take this information outside the academic hand,

Sarah Skerratt 1:12:24
how do you persuade? Yes.

Professor Rachel Norman 1:12:29
What but Marco, this is a perfect example of the interdisciplinarity. Because it’s such a kind of cultural people feel entitled, I think, and I come from a family of dairy stroke, beef farmers, so they’d be furious with me. And, and it’s not as straightforward, you know, that there are some forms of farming that are more environmentally friendly for cattle than than others. So it’s not taught but but there is a sort of obvious that because you, you put a lot of feed in to get the feed out. And I think even if you showed people the, the figures, they still go, but I want to eat a burger. And so it’s really, really hard because it’s cultural, rather than, and I can show you as much mass as I like until the world start sending some of the really, really bad stuff happen. So we go that’s because of the beef, I can’t see. It’s, you have to keep changing a small number of people making small changes. It’s my view. So you know, the pitstop the sort of people that become vegan is a terrible phrase, but but are often educated, rich, can, you know, it’s easier, it’s an easy choice, easier choice. If you’re in that world of being confident in your cooking and all those things, then, then if you’re poor, and you buy in the cheapest thing, and the thing that’s easiest, and your kids will eat, you’re not having to worry about whether smiley faces is bad for them or for the planet, because they’ll eat smiley faces. So it’s very complicated. And not just it’s not just facts. If it was just facts, we’d have solved it. A long time ago, I think,

Sarah Skerratt 1:14:16
I think on that provocative note was best Peter Wilson lecture and the event is always about, I’d like to to encourage, I’d like to encourage you to continue chatting with the speakers. I’m sure Dr. Wuhan, you’re you’re one you’ll be available to chat to people as well. So in order to keep to time, I’ll close the formal part of the event. But please do continue to talk to one another and to our speakers. So thank you very much to Rachel, Peter, and Wu and all of you for such an interesting discussion tonight. It takes all of us to do that. If you want to catch up on tonight’s event again and rerun it. There’s many others as well on the RSEs youtube channel so please do Google that and have a mooch around. I’d like to thank the RSE team for organising and particularly Thalia at the back who is the lead Project Manager for this event. And I think it’s your fourth one you’ve done. Now, Thalia and the rest of the team who are behind the scenes, and also Mike again to embarrass him as Peter Wilson’s grandson for coming along this evening. And tell you for finding him, I think. Yes. So finally, thank you again. And one last round of applause to Rachel Peter and woo, thank you. Thank you

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