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Funding to Help Understand Soil's Key Role in Global Food Security

Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Last Updated: Wednesday, June 12, 2013
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BBSRC and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) have joined forces to offer £4.5M for research into soil ecosystems.

'Soil and Rhizosphere Interactions for Sustainable Agri-ecosystems' is the first call for proposals developed through the Global Food Security (GFS) programme.

The funding will help to answer important questions related to sustainable food production. By focusing on the many interactions within soil (including plants, microbes, fauna, soil, nutrients and water), the research will help to predict how agricultural ecosystems respond to changes in management and the environment.

Professor Tim Benton, GFS Champion, said: "Understanding our soils is vital if we are to provide enough food to feed the world's growing demand but we are still learning about its many secrets. Just last month it was revealed how plants can communicate underground to ward off attack from aphids."

"Understanding the many underground interactions that occur in the soils of our agricultural land could offer big benefits for producing food in a more sustainable way. A better understanding of our agricultural ecosystems could help to reduce fertilisers, find alternatives to pesticides or boost yields and protect soils, perhaps the most important and neglected part of our farmland."

"GFS has had a strong role in influencing, shaping and aligning activities across partners and stakeholders. Building on this we have led on the development of this exciting research call in the strategically important area of soils."

The GFS call provides an integrated approach that will bring together all of the relevant science disciplines and ensure that the knowledge gained ultimately informs policy and practice.

The research outputs from this funding will establish the potential for agricultural innovations (such as crop varieties with altered root characteristics, or new management practices) to contribute to future strategies to improve the sustainability and productivity of agriculture, and improve resilience to environmental change.

This call forms part of a wider collaborative soil security initiative, developed under the umbrella of GFS and funded by BBSRC, NERC and Defra. This BBSRC-led programme will focus on the laboratory to field/landscape scale; while a NERC-led programme will focus on the landscape to earth-system scale. Defra will aim to build on the BBSRC and NERC programmes through linked activities to translate emerging findings for policy and practical soil management applications.

The Global Food Security (GFS) programme is a multi-agency programme bringing together the interests in this area of the Research Councils, Executive Agencies and Government Departments.

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