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Agriculture research strategy expected ‘in six months’

BIS to issue call for submissions “within days”

The UK government’s agricultural research strategy will be published in about six months, the government’s life sciences adviser, Conservative MP George Freeman, has said.

At a Conservative Party annual conference fringe event hosted by the Science Council, Freeman said that the agricultural research strategy project represents the second stage of his life sciences strategy for the UK, following a 2011 strategy paper that focused on medical science.

Maurice Moloney, director of Rothamsted Research, told Research Fortnight Today in a separate interview he believes the focus on agriculture is because the topic was missed out in Freeman’s 2011 life sciences paper.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, says that the department will issue a call for submissions for the agricultural strategy “within the next few days”.

The agricultural research strategy will focus on bringing “very significant inward investment to the UK”, Freeman said in his talk at the party conference fringe in Birmingham. He stressed that the science base must diversify its funding sources and rely less on the state.

Core funding through the science budget is essential, he said, but growth may depend on looking further afield for backing.

“I think the challenge is for us to unlock new sources of funding for science. If we are going to unlock the full potential of the British science base, the government is not going to have the money to do it properly over the next decade,” he said.

“We’ll do all that we can, but I think we should be more ambitious than that as a community. I think the science base needs to diversify from over-reliance on government. Most sectors that get too reliant on government struggle in the end,” he added. He pointed to large philanthropic organisations and the governments of emerging countries that are willing to spend vast sums on science in order to address food security issues.

Freeman also said that the UK needs an immigration system that “supports the inward and outward flow of talent” and hinted that “significant steps” are being taken “behind the scenes” on this issue.

In a related development, the ecologist Gordon Conway, former president of The Rockefeller Foundation, has published an update to his influential book an agriculture research. The new book, launched in London on 8 October, is called One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World? It is the sequel to The Doubly Green Revolution, which first appeared in 1999.