Professor Leon Terry, Director of Agrifood at Cranfield University, suggests there are many more reasons for being positive about food security than the news headlines might suggest.

The most recent headlines include Lloyd's of London 'food shock' report, pointing to a world food system breaking under the combined pressures of population growth, new consumer demands and climate change. The report sets out future scenarios based on the impact of severe weather events, 'acute but plausible' disruption to the global system, and the resulting shortages of staple crops, stock market disruption, food riots and agroterrorism.

Raising awareness of the critical role of food security for governments and populations internationally is obviously important (particularly when it comes to the complacency of much of the developed world). And for the developing world, of course, the consequences are far more serious than rising prices.

But key points from this kind of report can go missing in the media reporting. Lloyd's have been clear that the findings don't constitute a prediction - and that the disastrous scenarios are all based on one major precondition: a lack of any change from current behaviour and technologies.

We can be more optimistic about our ability to both move forward with the Millennium Goals around nutrition and build greater levels of food security in the international system.

For example, there's the rise of agri-informatics. The increased sophistication of big data analysis, and falling costs of sensors and data collection approaches - such as the use of drones - means we will have better information on agricultural practices and soil management. In turn this will feed into more widespread 'precision farming'. Cranfield University is developing tools that realise the potential of big data, including large datasets that are created throughout the food supply chain. Models and analysis developed from this information result in better informed decisions on what, where and how agricultural production can be improved - in a sustainable way - to improve crop health and yields for farmers.

Quicker, cheaper technologies for surveying soil health will make it possible to intervene more effectively to prevent soil erosion and other forms of soil degradation. There will be more opportunities for sharing data and insights among farmers by national governments as well as across food supply chains in order to be able to pre-empt and react to problems.

New technologies are being developed to prevent food waste - one of the most straightforward 'wins' to achieve global food supply. One-third of the food that we produce globally is lost between the time it is harvested and consumed. In developing countries, as much as half of harvested crops are lost between the field and consumer. Where there has been much emphasis on the magnitude of food waste, less discussion has focused on the technological solutions to make food production leaner. Pilot scale studies are being carried out here in collaboration with industry to develop a set of rapid sensor-based systems that are able to detect very early stages of fungal bacterial infection in fruits like cherries, plums and strawberries by using volatile biomarkers. This way the producers and retailers can identify which produce needs to be sold first, saving on what is estimated to be a loss of around 15% from total crop production.

Sustainable intensification of farming promotes the use of lesser input without compromising yield. This does mean that the soil system has to be stretched and one option can be the use of agricultural residues and valorising it in order to minimise chemical inputs and restore soil health.

More controversially, there is the role of genetically-modified crops. Scientific research has yet to find any examples of 'harm' to the environment or individuals resulting from GM. There are currently, for example, tested varieties of crops that rely on far lower quantities of water for growth, but which are being left in the labs because of the GM label. Public opinion may only be won over when there are specific food supply problems to be overcome.

Sample Text for Caption

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Agrifood at Cranfield

Agrifood has been a key strategic theme at Cranfield University for over 40 years. We have internationally recognised expertise across both domestic and international food supply chains from primary food production, inputs - soil, plants and water, through to point of sale, waste reduction and applied informatics.

Students work closely with our partners in industry, Government or the NGO sector. We understand our clients’ challenges because more than 80% of the University’s business comes from sources other than Government. Most of our academic staff have spent considerable portions of their career in industry or Government, and are especially solution-oriented. We delight in assembling pan-University teams of experts from across our skill sets, often in collaboration with other Universities, and consultants, to meet challenges that fall outside the conventional academic disciplines.