Decision to cut food research makes no sense

Most of us will agree that food – and the farming the brings us that food – are pretty essential to our quality of life. In fact, it’s one of the basic underpinnings of an orderly society. As we can see in other places around the globe not as fortunate as we are, hunger and high food prices lead to violence and protests.

We also know that our global population is rising – although the numbers vary slightly, most experts can agree that we’ll be in the range of nine billion inhabitants by the mid point of this century. All of those people will need food.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations last week raised concerns about a food crisis after reporting that its food price index had hit a historic high. According to their estimates, food production will have to increase 70 per cent by 2050 to keep up with demand.

So in the context of that background, the announcement by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) last week that they are dropping agriculture as a research priority is totally baffling. NSERC, an arm of the Canadian government, funds university research to the tune of $1.1 billion annually and has decided to concentrate its efforts on the environment, natural resources, information technologies and manufacturing.

Sure, those are important areas too and some, like natural resources or environment, have the potential to include agriculture. But to outright eliminate any food-related research from its priority list seems to me to be both short-sighted and evident of a lack of understanding of what is going in the world.

I don’t get it – and if someone has some insight here on why this should make sense, I would love to hear it.

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