UK and Argentinian scientists take on food production challenges

N8 AgriFood’s chair at Lancaster University, Professor Mariana Rufino with the Argentinian Ambassador Renato Carlos Sersale di Cerisano (both front, centre) at the Embassy.
N8 AgriFood’s chair at Lancaster University, Professor Mariana Rufino with the Argentinian Ambassador Renato Carlos Sersale di Cerisano (both front, centre) at the Embassy.

Research designed to help British farmers tackle flooding could equally benefit Argentinian farmers battling arid soil conditions, according to Lancaster University scientists at the heart of a project combining research excellence in the two countries.

At an Agri-tech event at the Argentinian Embassy in London, the UK and Argentina took a step closer to further joint-working to tackle global security by improving crop yield and quality for one of the world’s biggest grain growers.

Bringing together leading researchers, businesses and partners from both the UK and Argentina, the event – hosted by Argentinian Ambassador Renato Carlos Sersale di Cerisano – set out to encourage further links between academia and enterprise in both countries.

N8 AgriFood’s chair at Lancaster University, Professor Mariana Rufino, spelled out the benefits of closer collaboration between Argentina, a major food producer that uses about 80 per cent of its land to produce export produce; and the UK, which imports around 50 percent of its food. The benefits are particularly prevalent in light of the booming global population, as there is a pressing need to find science-driven solutions to increase yield without compromising food quality.

Professor Rufino said the UK and Argentina were already working on areas of strong, shared research interests and were keen to work on areas of mutual benefit.

Speaking at the Embassy, she said: “Many of us know that one of the results of globalisation is an increase in trade. There is an opportunity for mutual benefit for a country that is a typical importer and a successful exporter to find out how we can benefit from combining knowledge in agrifood and agritech.

“We want to see science and industry collaboration. We want the academics and industry to have more fluid dialogue and learn about the opportunities for knowledge exchange and networking.”

Also speaking at the event, Professor Carole Mindell, Chief Scientific Advisor to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said science was always a global endeavour and that the relationship between the UK and Argentina on scientific research had strengthened, particularly in the last two years. She welcomed further steps to build partnerships founded on research excellence which have the potential to lead to drive commercial growth and contribute to national prosperity.

 With £45,000 in N8 AgriFood funding, three Lancaster-led projects have evolved and were showcased at the Embassy:

  • Professor Ian Dodd talked about a new project to develop a high protein soya bean crop for Argentinian farmers, who currently produce 50 per cent of the world’s total soya exports. The industry has recently had to increase yield to meet demand, but it has been at the expense of protein quality, and in turn has resulted in a £400 million loss globally.

  • Dr Nick Chappell showcased how ground water monitoring sensors, used as part of flood mitigation measures in Cumbria, are being rolled out to enable farmers in Argentina to make use of more detailed data to improve irrigation for water sensitive crops.

  • Finally, Professor Martin Parry talked about plans for a project to increase wheat yield and quality in Argentina, which is accountable for 75 per cent of the production of wheat in South America, but has seen flat yield with increased land use instead contributing to increased production. Working with industry, the project seeks to develop new molecular markers that seed breeders can use to create a high quality grain.

BBSRC’s Dr Roderick Westrop said there was an ever-greater drive to move research through to innovation on a global scale and by working with partners in Argentina, along with China, the USA and Europe, he said the opportunities were enormous. 

Ambassador Renato Carlos Sersale di Cerisano said: “Two years ago we signed with the UK Government a Memorandum of Understanding to ensure six areas of work, and the Agri-industry was one of them. Thanks to Mariana Rufino, she has been delivering work with the N8 AgriFood group.

“There are two elements to these collaborations. The first is institutional. We want to improve the quality of our institutions to do research and apply research. The second is economical. There is a lot of potential in what Argentina can offer to the global market.

“It makes sense to work together with partnerships to improve these two areas.”

Other speakers at the event included Dr Maria Ines Dorrego, from CONICET; Arnaud Petit, from the International Grain Council; and N8 AgriFood’s academic lead for international engagement, Professor Steve Banwart.

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