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NIAB Hosts Debate on Feeding the World’s Future Population

05 July 2008

The National Institute of Agricultural Botany and the Soil Association found they shared much common ground during a lively debate on feeding the world’s expanding population.

The debate was held for pupils from two Cambridgeshire schools as part of NIAB’s School Open Day based on the theme of Understanding Plant Genetics, from Breeder to Consumer. The day also included a programme of hands-on learning activities led by scientists on the NIAB farm for 80 pupils aged 13 - 15 from Impington Village College and Parkside Community College.

The debate was entitled “Feeding the World Today and Tomorrow, the Challenges Faced Globally,” with speakers Prof Wayne Powell, Chief Executive of NIAB, who presented a plant scientists view, and Robin Maynard, Campaigns Director at the Soil Association, which supports organic food and farming. It was chaired by Prof John MacLeod, Professor of Plant Science for the Royal Horticultural Society.

Robin Maynard said: “I think it is fantastic to be able to air these issues in front of a group of young people for whom the issues and challenges we face in terms of feeding the world as the population increases as oil rises in cost and becomes scarcer and harder to extract and so much of our food system is based on oil. I think it is really essential that this kind of debate is held with people of this age rather than just stereotype black and white arguments that you see in the newspapers.

Whilst there are some issues that we disagree over – there is a good deal of shared thinking. For example, we agree on the urgent need to farm and produce our food in ways that could meet the challenges and constraints of climate change.’

Prof Powell said: “It’s been an opportunity to reconnect our young people with agriculture and farming and to really start connecting with them about the big issues that they are going to be facing in their lifetime. We held the debate because agriculture is absolutely critical for the future and the decisions we take now with respect to investments in agricultural research are critical.

Secondly, I think it is very important to inspire the young people here to become interested in science and in the application of science to agriculture, so that they really do engage with society on these big issues that we face. I think it was absolutely brilliant. We had a really good turn out and there were some really enthusiastic young people here. There was a good conversation, and I think we were able to start the process of engaging with them about the significance of the challenges which lie ahead.”

Feedback from Parkside pupils about the Open Day:

“I really enjoyed the debate. I thought both sides had a good argument and I learnt a lot." Alice Smith, 14

"I really enjoyed the visit. I liked looking around the farm. I learnt a lot of stuff that I didn't know before" Myah Morris-Drake, 14

"I have enjoyed the visit and found the debate and the walk round very interesting and learnt about different types of wheat" Olivia Caouki, 13

"I really enjoyed the trip. I found it innovative and exciting. I think the trip has been a success story. I think it was inspiring and despite what I thought before the trip it was fun." Jack Hughes, 13

"It was good because it was practical work. I learnt a lot". Conor Primett, 14

And finally, teacher Hilary Tunnicliffe: "A very entertaining afternoon. NIAB staff put on an excellent display in the field and hosted a lively debate. The students enjoyed it very much. Thank you."

The Open Day was held in support of the National Year of Food and Farming campaign which was launched last September by HRH Prince Charles at his Highgrove home and will run until August. The aim of the campaign was to help children find out more about the countryside and where their food comes from through memorable, first-hand learning experiences.

Further information is available from Dr Tina Barsby or press consultant Ellee Seymour on 01353 648564, or 07939 811961.