Why we do what we do, & what we do in agriculture

Why we do what we do, & what we do in agriculture
4 September, 2014

Alex Gwyther

UKCDS is a member of the Tropical Agriculture Association, & for the summer edition of their journal, Agriculture for Development, Alex Gwyther explained UKCDS’ work on climate change and agriculture.

UKCDS is a member of the Tropical Agriculture Association, and for the summer edition of their journal, Agriculture for DevelopmentAlex Gwyther explained UKCDS’ work on climate change and agriculture.

The UK spends approximately £400 million a year on research directly relevant to international development. This includes exploring how to reduce the risks of natural disasters, tackle global health issues and increase food security. Money is also spent on improving the enabling environment for science, making sure this science has an impact on the lives of the poor and strengthening the capacity of low and middle income countries (LICs and MICs) to conduct their own high-quality research.

The goal of UKCDS is to make the most of all these investments.

In 2004, a Parliamentary inquiry concluded that science and research was not being used effectively enough in the UK’s approach to international development. A Development Sciences Working Group was formed to respond to the review’s recommendations of a better coordinated approach to UK research for development. It decided to create the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) – a group of (now) 14 UK government departments and major research funders, supported by a Secretariat – to provide a strategic overview of the development science research base and help to coordinate its work so as to maximise the impact of UK science.

It is this collaboration between development and science ministries, funding agencies and an independent research funder, which makes UKCDS so unique.

Since 2006, UKCDS has been facilitating research for international development by bringing people together, sharing knowledge and promoting opportunities. UKCDS works to stimulate collaboration and ensure the best science is funded and used to benefit international development, as well as the UK.

The Secretariat is based at the Wellcome Trust in London and has become well known for hosting in-depth workshops and fruitful, high-level discussions – in part thanks to its direct links to major UK research funders and policy-makers. As well as utilising its considerable convening power, UKCDS acts as an information sharing network; disseminating important development news and providing a gateway to funding and job opportunities via its network of contacts and public facing channels.

Given the multi-disciplinary nature of science for development, the remit of UKCDS is broad and varied, covering all sciences and involving stakeholders in government, research organisations, higher education institutions and NGOs. The Secretariat tries to focus its work on key areas in which it feels it can add value, one of which is food security and agriculture.

From the very beginning, UKCDS has recognised the importance of agricultural research for development, and in 2008 worked with the International Agri-Technology Centre to produce The UK Agri-Food Science Directory – a comprehensive profiling of the UK’s national and international agri-food science expertise. The directory was created as a resource for individuals and organisations outside of the UK, aiming to provide a who’s who guide to enable new international partnerships.

Lately, the UKCDS Secretariat has been discussing agriculture on a panel focussing on the science and technology aspect of an Africa-EU partnership. UKCDS represents the UK Department of Business Innovation and Skills on the Bureau of the EU-Africa High Level Policy Dialogue on Science, Technology and Innovation. UKCDS was part of the discussion in 2013 when the Bureau decided to focus on food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture, and which led to the appointment of an expert working group to map out how the Africa-EU partnership will fund research to tackle these challenges.

Agriculture is, of course, intrinsically linked to the environment. This makes global climate change a major issue, and nowhere more so than in LICs and MICs where the effects of environmental change will be felt the most and where ensuring sustainable food security remains a crucial challenge. Climate change is therefore a significant area of interest for UKCDS members, reflected by the fact that 10 of our members are partners of Living with Environmental Change, a programme connecting world-leading environmental research.

Another example of UKCDS involvement in climate change research is the Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) programme. The FCFA programme was launched in April 2014 and aims to support research to better understand climate variability and change across sub-Saharan Africa that can lead to better adaptation measures. It is jointly funded by two UKCDS members – the Department for International Development (DFID) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) – and the UKCDS Secretariat helped in the planning process. In 2013, UKCDS co-hosted a two-day workshop to bring together scientists, research users and intermediaries to help identify research priorities for the FCFA directly matched to the capabilities of the science needs of the users.

We live in a world where one billion people are hungry, and on a planet whose climate is undergoing drastic change. As a result, issues of food security and climate change are interconnected, at many different levels and over different time scales. Research can help us understand how to respond to these cross-cutting development challenges with multidisciplinary approaches, and, especially in the context of agriculture, find in-country solutions by exploring the systems at work.

The UKCDS Secretariat is working with its members and other key organisations through a number of UK and international initiatives to coordinate agricultural research and address the challenges of climate change. We will continue to make science work for development by bringing people together, sharing knowledge and promoting opportunities.

Image credit: Marek Piwnicki via Unsplash

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