x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Food industry should look to Scotland for leadership

Country is showing the way forward in sustainable food production.

Gerry Carney, chief husbandry man, and John MacLeod, site manager, check stock at Scottish Sea Farms, Lismore North farm in Oban, Scotland. Jeff Mitchell / Getty Images
Gerry Carney, chief husbandry man, and John MacLeod, site manager, check stock at Scottish Sea Farms, Lismore North farm in Oban, Scotland. Jeff Mitchell / Getty Images

The world is facing unprecedented challenges in feeding its growing population.

According to United Nations figures, the world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050 and agricultural production will need to increase between 70 and 100 per cent to cope with demand. In the GCC, imports account for 80 to 90 per cent of food consumption. Add to this the potential impacts of climate change, increasing food and fuel prices, and it is clear that the need to address food security in a sustainable manner has never been greater.

While the problem is challenging, there is every reason to hope that increases in productivity can be achieved with the judicious use of modern technology. Such technologies can be applied to enhance regional food safety and security, and to address the pressing issue of hunger globally.

As countries look for innovative solutions to keep up with global food demand, Scotland is well placed to play a significant role. The country has demonstrated its excellence in plant and soil research and has a tradition of success in applied crop technologies.

Scotland has exceptional talent and expertise across the full breadth of the food and drink, agriculture and farming industries, and it is continuing to invest in its manufacturers, its farmers and its fishermen. With a turnover of more than £13 billion (Dh79.47bn) a year and 330,000 people employed by the sector, the industry is Scotland’s biggest employer.

To carry out a wide range of strategic research into soil management, animal health and plant biology, the Scottish government also invests about £50m each year into its research institutes – including the James Hutton Institute, the Scottish Rural University College and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health at the University of Aberdeen.

These institutes often conduct international activities to deepen their understanding of rural issues, then translate and communicate that knowledge across the sector globally. It is this commitment that allows Scotland to lead innovation and sustainable development in agriculture and associated industries, and to develop new solutions to the challenges that the land-based sector faces.

Playing a key role in research networks allows Scotland to engage with scientists, politicians, land managers and commercial companies in some of the world’s most rapidly growing economies, and in some of the poorest nations on the planet. Those partnerships contribute to key international targets on greenhouse gas reduction, poverty alleviation and the protection of biodiversity and other ecosystem services.

Scottish salmon farming is an example of one of Scotland’s most successful industries. Despite being an innovation just 40 years ago, Scottish farmed salmon is now Scotland’s No 1 food export and has been voted the best in the world in an independent poll of international seafood buyers.

During the past 40 years, salmon farmers have also learnt how important it is to protect the waters on which they depend, to safeguard and develop their vital workforce and to develop markets to ensure that the rural Scottish industry can continue to enjoy long-term success. By growing healthy, nutritious fish in a responsible way, and by looking after the water and environment that are so important to the fish and Scotland’s heritage, it increases its economic success and safeguards jobs, local economies and communities for future generations.

Improving the level of skills and innovative solutions in the farming, food and drink industry has never been more important. Any hindrance in food supply would most likely lead to severe economic, political and social results, including rising inflation rates, deterred international relations and starvation. The need to increase food production to meet global demands creates both challenge and opportunity – which Scotland is ready to grasp.

Tom Marchbanks is the regional manager for the Middle East at Scottish Development International