Year of Engineering: global food security

Year of Engineering: global food security

From plants grown from mattresses in refugee camps, to breeding greener cows, engineering plays a key role in global food security.

UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) new infographic shows these innovative and often surprising ways engineering continues to work towards global food security. Released today (16 October) as part of the Year of Engineering, the infographic reveals projects funded across UKRI.

Researchers from the University of Sheffield worked with the Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, where Syrian refugees are learning to apply polymer chemistry to help grow crops. The project was funded by UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

“The majority of refugees in Za’atari come from the Dara’a region in Syria which is known for its fertile soil and the camp is full of farmers. We wanted a way to tap into those skills, but we can’t plant anything in the ground due to Jordanian law. Water is very limited here too, and the soil is very salty. I have a couple of horticulture projects on the go that use specialised high-tech polyurethane foam as synthetic soils with lower water requirements, so I repurposed this science to use the foam mattresses from the camp. We were successful in growing tomatoes in Sheffield in mattresses that I brought back from my first visit to Za'atari and have tested the crop to make sure it is safe to eat,” Professor Tony Ryan explains.

Livestock farming is often regarded as inefficient and polluting. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, total emissions from global livestock contributes 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. 

Successful results from Rothamsted Research – part funded by UKRI’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council – in November 2017 showed that not all cows produce the same levels of greenhouse gasses. This new method of identifying and selecting the ‘green’ cattle amongst a herd cattle for breeding could in turn help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Read more: The advent of 'green' cattle.

To find out more about engineering and global food security, click on the images in our infographic below.


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Find out more about the Year of Engineering here