Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

BBSRC aims to encourage a whole food-systems approach for sustainable agriculture and food (SAF) research, to deliver productive, resilient and sustainable farming. Our remit covers arable, horticultural, forage and non-food crops, farmed animals, agricultural systems and related food chains.

Partners involved:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Our vision is to encourage a whole food-systems approach for sustainable agriculture and food (SAF) research, to deliver productive, resilient and sustainable food and farming. Our remit covers arable, horticultural, forage and non-food crops, farmed animals (livestock, poultry and aquaculture), agricultural systems including soil, and the related food chains.

We have articulated our vision and focus for agriculture in the Research in Agriculture and Food Security Strategic Framework.

The Strategic Framework is divided into six focus areas:

  • sustainable agricultural systems
  • crop and farmed animal health
  • food safety and nutrition
  • reducing waste
  • understanding and exploiting genomics
  • precision agriculture and smart technologies.

BBSRC investments in SAF research also link closely to our other strategic priorities. For example, non-food crops are an important component of the Bioscience for Renewable Resources and Clean Growth strategic challenges. Human nutrition, livestock and zoonotic disease are all important components of the Bioscience for an Integrated Understanding of Health strategic challenge.

Advances in agriculture and food related frontier bioscience have potential to produce a step change in sustainable agriculture and food production. These range from developments in our understanding of fundamental biology, such as the soil microbiome, through to new techniques and technologies such as the recent explosion in on-farm sensor technologies.

We are encouraging a whole food-systems approach to explore these opportunities, building on the UK’s excellent plant, animal, human and microbial sciences research base.

Why we're doing it

Global demand for food is rising, driven by factors such as population growth, increasing affluence and changing diets. At the same time, there is increasing competition for land and fresh water, putting added pressure on production and the wider environments within which food is produced.

Climate change is also increasing the uncertainty of ensuring food supply, for example, through more extreme weather and increased pressure from pests and diseases.

The global population is projected to grow from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.5 billion in 2050. At least 60% more food production is needed by 2050 to feed the world’s population and this must be in the context of minimising the impacts of agriculture on the environment. There is a need for more sustainable production of a sufficient, safe and nutritious food supply to deliver future food security.

Agriculture and food make a vital contribution to the UK’s prosperity. The agri-food sector employs 4.1 million people and contributes £121 billion gross value added to the UK economy. There are clear opportunities for research to deliver significant improvements to the agri-food system and provide further economic benefit to the UK through increased productivity, improved quality and safety, and increased trade and exports. Food is a global commodity, and in 2018 the total value of food and drink exports from the UK was £22 billion.

BBSRC has a central role in supporting the research, capability and skills that are needed to ensure sustainable agriculture and food. We are the UK’s largest public sector funder of sustainable agriculture and food (SAF) research and have invested over £1 billion between 2012 and 2021. In 2020 to 2021 alone the research spend totalled £140 million, representing 44% of our overall research investment.

Opportunities, support and resources available

50% of BBSRC’s sustainable agriculture and food (SAF) research is delivered by strategically-funded institutes through a variety of competitive funding routes. These include:

Please contact these institutes directly for further information. Do not use the contact address below for PhD enquiries, as BBSRC does not fund studentships directly.

Who to contact

Bioscience for Sustainable Agriculture and Food Sector


Last updated: 26 October 2022

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