By Professor Derek Stewart

WITH the recent publication of responses to the Scottish Government’s Local Food for Everyone consultation, the recognition and momentum for action on increased food production in Scotland is growing. More importantly, there appears to be consensus that the time has definitely come for taking more control at a local level to bolster our ability to produce, provide and protect our food supplies. In Scotland we have ample opportunities to meet this challenge, and we are already making remarkable strides in the right direction; we just need to better harness our resources.

These resources are wide and far-ranging and sit right on our doorstep. Scotland has been leading the way with certain types of food production for decades, but a gear change is needed to bring systemic and lasting change. We need to think more carefully about what consumers want, as well very much about what they need. This means developing local solutions which can also enhance nutritive value and retain the wonderfully sensory experience of food to make sure it remains enjoyable as well as healthy. There is real and demonstrable work underway to develop this localised, health-focused and sustainable growing approach which can feed and sustain our populations, bolstered by developing international science.

As a sector we are already showing what is possible through these new agri approaches, but the holistic approach needs collaboration from government, industry, agriculture and science. A central part of this is the innovation and development of contained agriculture concepts like controlled environment agriculture (CEA), which allow for local, high-quality production across a range of indoor environments and remove seasonality – fundamental to a secure, successful, and nutritionally diverse, local food system. Operations with indoor environments unavoidably have requirements of energy use, and in some cases, significant use. There is no denying that local food production can have some implications for sustainability, but it does not mean that we can’t find the right solutions if we approach it in the right way. Absolutely central to this success is a positive transformation in the use of resources: the production and distribution of renewable energy is paramount, the reduction of water usage essential and the need to grow and supply in a more localised, smaller area inevitable.

We have the opportunity through the integration of our world-leading life science, plant science and agritech sectors through greater interaction with communities and the renewables industries to do this. We must not lose sight of the need to work together to enhance and transform our supply chains and to develop action-based research to actively help reduce the pressures on our planet and continue to sustain and nourish our populations.

Professor Derek Stewart is Director of the Advanced Plant Growth Centre at The James Hutton Institute