Opportunities and Challenges for Research on Food and Nutrition Security and Agriculture in Europe

  • 08th February 2018
  • by secretary

Report for European audiences as a contribution to a worldwide project initiated by IAP, the InterAcademy Partnership, the global network of science academies.

EASAC IAP Report on Food Security

December 2017. EASAC policy report 34, 80 pages

National academies of science have a long tradition of engaging widely to strengthen the evidence base to underpin the delivery of enhanced food and nutrition security at regional and national levels. EASAC, the European Academies Science Advisory Council, has produced this report for European audiences as a contribution to a project worldwide initiated by IAP, the InterAcademy Partnership, the global network of science academies. The IAP work brings together regional perspectives in parallel from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe on the opportunities for the science-policy interface, identifying how research can contribute to resolving challenges for agriculture, food systems and nutrition.

This EASAC report combines analysis of the current status in Europe with exploration of ways forward. Overconsumption of calorie-dense foods leading to overweight and obesity creates a major public health problem in Europe but Europeans are not immune from other concerns about food and nutrition security and must also recognise the impact of their activities on the rest of the world. We define the goal of food and nutrition security as providing access for all to a healthy and affordable diet that is environmentally sustainable. It recognises the necessity to take account of diversity: in food systems and dietary intakes within and between countries, and in the variability of nutrient requirements in vulnerable groups within populations and across the individual’s lifecycle.


EU development assistance should be viewed broadly, to include international collaborative research; research in the EU on priorities for global food systems, their resilience and perturbations; sharing of science and technology especially related to food and nutrition security; and resolution of international governance issues of food and agriculture. page 2

The linkages between basic science and problem-solving applied science seem likely to become more closely related in the future. This is so in the fields of biosciences, digitisation, mathematics and farm precision technologies, health and behaviour, as well as in complex environmental and food system modelling. This has consequences for the redesign of the science landscape and for science teaching and the training of next-generation scientists to address food, nutrition and agriculture issues. page 3

Tackling the food systems’ challenges requires new knowledge from the natural and social sciences as a resource for innovation and for informing policy options across a very broad front. Scientific knowledge is a global public good, provided by a wide range of research institutions, supported by a wide range of funders. There is need to give increased prominence to all the elements necessary in a global research agenda to improve food and nutrition security. page 6. An agenda for addressing gaps in agriculture climate adaptation research must also include the social sciences, for example to understand farmer behaviour (Davidson, 2016), because climate-smart agriculture requires coordinated actions by farmers, researchers, the private sector, civil society and policymakers to identify and introduce climate-resilient pathways page 17

Capitalising on scientific opportunity is something that should pervade EU policy widely and not just a matter for those involved in funding and prioritising  the research agenda.page 10

Up to 70% of the EU’s food imports come from developing world areas, (…) analysis of global changes demonstrates that increasing temperatures are associated with migration flows from countries that base a large part of their economies on agriculture and can be attributed to crop yield losses. In particular, climate-induced migration enlarges the flow in already established migration routes— suggesting that this will be a continuing challenge for the EU. page 17

The current research landscape is fragmented and there are gaps in the translation of research outputs to innovation and in the policy take-up. There is urgent need to take account of the disparate outputs from the various initiatives to synthesise the evidence base and to deploy that new knowledge for innovation and to advise policy development. page 19

There is also a critical need to develop new options for public– private partnership to shape and implement research priorities. page 19 
Haddad L et al. (2016). A new global research agenda for food. Nature 540, 30–32.

 We need better mechanisms for public private dialogue to shape and then implement research priorities that will enable the food system to deliver higher-quality diets. Pre-competitive collaborations across sectors, perhaps facilitated by public actors, could be important to shift sectors collectively and overcome disincentives for single firms to conduct research in isolation. The Business Partnerships for Nutrition Research hosed by GAIN is one such example. To strengthen accountability in the public-private domain, research is needed on which partnerships tend to be more diet-improving than others. Such research exists in the health field, but not in the nutrition field. 
(…) Funders who support agriculture and nutrition research need to focus much more of their resources on food intake and on diets. The era of commodity research aimed at feeding a starving world is over; a new era has begun that requires us to nourish all consumers globally in ways that can be sustained environmentally, economically and culturally. Highincome countries do not have a monopoly on poor-quality diets — nor do they yet have the solutions. Scientists and the academic journals in which they publish need to become more pluralistic in the methods and approaches that they support. Narrow disciplinary lenses cannot help us in addressing today’s challenges

The interfaces between research on the nutrition sensitivity of food and agriculture systems and on environmental sustainability must be addressed to connect scientific knowledge on natural resources to the food value chain. One major priority is to generate and use better knowledge about climatesmart adaptation and mitigation in food systems. Another priority is to ensure that progress in food and nutrition security capitalises on other actions for the bioeconomy. page 49

to be continued