Associate feature: Evolving our approach to food
As we start 2021, one would be forgiven for thinking that we have been here before, with the continuing restrictions and worries of Covid-19 impacting all our lives.
However, the recent vaccine developments provide real hope and optimism that the pandemic will be controlled, enabling economic and social recovery. The medical breakthroughs achieved in less than one year are formidable, enabled by exceptional collaboration across the scientific and pharmaceutical industries.
Emerging from the pandemic, we need to think about what lessons these past 12 months have brought and the learnings we can take to help address fundamental societal needs.
Food security challenges have been a continuous theme of the pandemic. This challenge is unlikely to go away as the repercussions of Brexit emerge with an immediate impact on food imports and exports, including fresh vegetables, salads, fruit, meat and seafood.
As we start to rebuild the economy, we have an exceptional opportunity to implement a recovery focussed on ensuring a sustainable, carbon neutral, circular economy.
With the issue of access to affordable, high-quality food taking an increasingly central position, now is the time to really challenge our food and agriculture policy. There is much to be learned from the success of our scientific communities in the way they collaborated and worked extremely effectively to deliver results hugely beneficial to wider society.
We must now enhance our capacity to feed and support communities, as well as helping industry and agriculture to flourish. This does require more innovative thinking, an openness to change and detailed consideration of new technologies and approaches. We should regard how we grow our food as part of our national infrastructure.
We need to be clearer and much more rigorous in our attention to provenance, sustainable sourcing, minimising waste and food miles, as well as the health and safety of our food. These points are non-negotiable in the eyes of a growing number of consumers and it is hugely important that they are addressed across political and business spheres too.
However, perhaps most crucially, the production, sourcing, consumption and disposal of waste within the food sector cannot be undertaken at the expense of preserving the planet. Renowned environmentalist Sir David Attenborough himself highlights the need to bring agriculture indoors.
The eyes of the world will be on Scotland in November this year as we host COP26 - the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference - and it is vitally important that we are demonstrating a commitment to all of these issues as an absolute priority.
This is the perfect platform to show Scottish leadership in terms of innovation and how we can apply it to revolutionise agriculture for good.
For many decades the global economy has followed a ‘take-make-dispose’ approach. It has delivered rapid economic growth but has simultaneously depleted the planet’s finite resources dramatically and increased pollution, waste and poor health across the globe.
Net carbon emissions targets, ‘local for local’ movements and COVID-19 are driving a global rethink around consumer behaviour, product lifecycles and supply chains, making this the time where we all must take positive action.
This necessitates a commitment to reducing intensive farming practices; reinforcing livestock and plant health standards; reducing food miles dramatically; focusing on soil improvement; and adopting technologies such as indoor farming, precision agriculture and automation to improve crop and livestock quality, variety and yield.
Emerging agricultural technology, such as vertical farming, which has an established pedigree in Scotland and a growing reputation worldwide, could have a significant and sustainable impact on meeting the requirements of a truly circular economy. It would also enable Scotland’s world-class scientific and engineering expertise to create new highly skilled jobs and export opportunities.
We should be hopeful about what the future holds, but we must be responsible in how we deliver it. There are huge opportunities for Scotland to prove itself on a global stage. We are still a nation of innovators, inventors and problem solvers.
We can also be a key player in addressing the biggest challenges our people and our planet face, but that will take serious investment in the new breed of agricultural technologies. The necessity is very real: we must be enlightened enough to embrace it.
This piece was sponsored by Intelligent Growth Solutions