2020 is the International Year of Plant Health and Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, bringing public attention to two huge global challenges and for good reason, say scientists at the James Hutton Institute.
Plants make up 80 per cent of the food we eat and produce 98 per cent of the oxygen we breathe, yet they are under constant and increasing threat from pests and diseases. FAO estimates that up to 40 per cent of global food crops are lost to plant pests and diseases every year, leading to annual agricultural trade losses of over £167bn, leaving millions of people facing hunger and severely damaging agriculture – the primary income source for poor rural communities.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched the United Nations’ International Year of Plant Health in December 2019 to raise global awareness on how protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect the environment and boost economic development.
2020 has also been designated Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters, featuring a year-long programme of events and activities which will shine a spotlight on these vital elements of our landscape.
Seas, islands, coasts, lochs, rivers and canals are a huge part of Scotland’s natural capital, and the many nature reserves across the country are home to tremendous biodiversity. Waters have shaped life on these islands and beyond: from tourism, transport and fishing to textiles, whisky and energy. Moreover, Scotland has embarked on a quest to become the world’s first Hydro Nation: one that manages its water environment to the best advantage and uses its expertise at home and internationally.
Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, said: “The UK’s knowledge economy is the driver of massive economic and social benefits, and the Institute is at the forefront of making positive, direct contributions to inform policies and actions in many areas, including plant health and water research, which are fundamental to reach the Sustainable Development Goals.
“A recent FAO report raised the fact that we only have 60 harvests left before the planet is too degraded to feed us. This means both IYPH and YCW are especially crucial to galvanise everything that is a factor in plant health and water security, including soil, climate, plant science and water use, so all of these areas of research need to be intensified, redoubled and well-funded to protect people from the negative effects we are seeing already.”
The Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences group comprises more than 100 plant scientists with research specialisms in cell and molecular biology, genomics, genetics, pathology and physiology, with a major research focus is on the genetic improvement of crops with respect to yield and quality, resource use efficiency and pest and disease resistance.
Likewise, the Institute’s Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group features over 80 scientists spanning a range of disciplines encompassing entirely laboratory-based work to ecosystem-scale research across landscapes and rivers, with an emphasis on the management of river catchments and biogeochemistry of watercourses.
The Plant Health Centre brings the plant sectors for forestry, horticulture, environment and agriculture together to co-ordinate plant health knowledge, skills, needs and activities across Scotland. It works with the Scottish Government, public bodies and stakeholders to provide scientific evidence to help them make important decisions about pests and pathogens that threaten Scotland the most.
CREW is a partnership between the James Hutton Institute and Scottish higher education institutes which supports the development and implementation of water policy and runs the Hydro Nation Scholarship Programme and Graduate School.
The Hydro Nation International Centre brings together a critical mass of the Scottish water research community to focus on developing talent, promoting innovation and maximising impact both at home and abroad. It links water research initiatives such as CREW, the Hydro Nation Scholars and Fellows Programme, the Water Test Network, and activities supported through the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme and international activities, among others.
Finally, the Institute’s commercial subsidiary, James Hutton Limited, is one of eight European partners of the Water Test Network, a project which provides small and medium enterprises in North-West Europe with both funding and the correct resources to test, develop and validate new products for the water sector, supporting innovation, accelerating time to market and increasing the proportion of new innovations that reach the market.
Source: James Hutton Institute