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RASC/Harper Adams Symposium on “Technology’s role in feeding the Commonwealth”

Posted 16 May

“The challenege is growing enough food to feed a population, which at the moment is still increasing. We have to use less energy, we have to improve animal and crop health, we have to understand what sustainability really means and as we do that we have to improve the standard of living for all.

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Each year the Commonwealth chooses at theme to shape Commonwealth day (March 12) events and to guide activities of its organisations throughout the year. 

The theme for 2018 explores how the Commonwealth can address global challenges and work to create a better future for all citizens through sub-themes of sustainability, safety, prosperity and fairness.

To discuss how these themes were relevant to agriculture across the Commonwealth, a one-day joint symposium between Harper Adams University and the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth entitled “Technology’s role in feeding the Commonwealth” was held on May 2. Expert speakers came from several countries from the Commonwealth, including Kenya, Australia, Canada and the UK to provide informed overviews on a range of relevant topics.

University Chancellor, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal, spoke at the morning session of the symposium, ahead of a University celebration at St Nicholas Church, Newport.

The Chancellor said she was delighted the symposium was taking place as “an opportunity to highlight the University’s extremely fruitful relationship and potential with the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth and its work supporting Commonwealth countries.”

Her Royal Highness welcomed the links the university has been creating, with new staff and its expertise in agricultural systems, in Commonwealth countries, and that those links were represented at the symposium.

“The challenge,” she said, “is growing enough food to feed a population, which at the moment is still increasing. We have to use less energy, we have to improve animal and crop health, we have to understand what sustainability really means and as we do that we have to improve the standard of living for all.

“We have to design safe and efficient farming systems. We will be relying on science and engineering,” The Princess Royal added.

“A number of key issues emerged from the presentations and stimulating discussions,” explained Dr Andy Wilcox, of the Crop and Environment Sciences Department at the University.

“Most importantly, despite differences in geography, culture and climate, all farmers across the Commonwealth produce food to sell, trade or use directly for themselves. At whatever the scale of farming operation, all farmers require an agricultural production system that is safe, efficient, and sustainable and makes use of the best technology available for the local situation. This applies to the largest farmer harvesting corn in the Canadian grain belt to the smallest subsistence farmer in Nigeria growing cassava to feed the family.”

The Symposium considered the key and emerging factors affecting agriculture across the Commonwealth at a range of scales. The keynote speaker, Dr George Njenga of Strathmore University, Kenya, explained how unbalanced commodity trading relationships between nations hindered the development of new associations and how important fair trading relationships were in reducing poverty and improving the lives of Commonwealth citizens.

“I think that if we are to feed the Commonwealth, the theme of our objectives for the Commonwealth nations has to go back to the principle of corporations, partnerships, based upon friendship, based on the common ideal of human family,” said Dr Njenga.

Dr Njenga also explained how technology could improve production and sustainability across the Commonwealth. Dr Mark Moore of AGCO further developed this theme.

Dr Moore explained that technology to improve production needed to be integrated and adequately supported to ensure significant uptake by farmers or the clear benefits were unlikely to be realised.

Dr Yuri Montanholi (Harper Adams University) expanded this theme by recounting some of his experiences training beef farmers in Canada and Brazil and emphasising that the education is only effective if it is pitched at the right level and in context.

Professor Karl Behrendt (Harper Adams University) provided a global perspective of challenges of achieving sustainable and competitive farms and food industries using the situation in Australia as a model. He painted a slightly gloomy economic situation for the UK in terms of costs of production compared to many other countries across the Commonwealth.

Dr Wilcox added: “All the speakers were unanimous in the benefits that technology could offer in terms of increasing agricultural production, but identified that technology alone would be unlikely to solve all the issues faced by farmers across the Commonwealth unless the approximate policy mechanisms are put in place to support agriculture and trade.”

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