Sunday, September 1, 2013


R & D is such a broad area that many scientists and technologists engaged in this endeavor often fail to understand the real purpose of their effort viz to come out with workable and viable technologies with mass production potential. While research on basic science generates ideas developing the finding further through integrated efforts of scientists and engineers lead to development of feasible technologies. Majority of technological developments do not go beyond the four walls of the laboratory, getting no opportunity for productionization. Technology can stall if its transfer to the field is not properly managed after establishing its viability at the lab level. Here is where most universities and R & D institutions fail. Against this background the recent strategy being put in place in the UK to integrate the efforts of various stake holders in agriculture and food processing deserves applause. Here is a take on the intent and objectives of the action plan enunciated by the UK government in a recent document. 

"The UK will become a world leader in agricultural science and technology following the launch of a new strategy to deliver sustainable, healthy and affordable food for future generations. Breakthroughs in nutrition, informatics, satellite imaging, remote sensing, meteorology and precision farming mean the agriculture sector is one of the world's fastest growing sectors. Developed in partnership with industry, the Agricultural Technologies Strategy will ensure everyone from farmers and retailers, to cooks and shoppers share the benefits these exciting opportunities bring. It includes a £160 million government investment in developing cutting edge technologies, and taking innovative products such as cancer-fighting broccoli from the field to the shopping aisle. Industry is also expected to invest heavily in the strategy which will transform farming in the UK, using the latest technologies to ensure the process is as productive as possible whilst reducing environmental impact and resource use. With the demand for food rising rapidly worldwide, the strategy also aims to make the UK a world leader in addressing global food security issues. Agri-tech is a well-established and important UK sector. The entire agri-food supply chain, from agriculture to final retailing and catering, is estimated to contribute £96 billion to the economy and employ 3.8 million people. Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: Some of the biggest brands in farming and food are based in the UK. We have a world class science and research community and our institutes and universities are at the forefront of agricultural research. To get ahead in the global race, this strategy sets out how we can ensure that we turn our world-beating agricultural science and research into world-beating products and services. This Agricultural Technologies Strategy follows the recent plans for automotive, construction, aerospace and other key sectors to secure sustainable future growth in the economy. Defra Minister for Science Lord De Mauley said: We face a global challenge to feed the rapidly increasing population in a way which is affordable and sustainable. We are investing in technologies that will enable British farmers to meet these challenges and take advantage of the growing demand in export markets for British food. To take advantage of agriculture's opportunities and drive growth the Agricultural Technologies Strategy sets out a range of key actions, including: a £90 million government investment in world class Centres for Agricultural Innovation with additional investment from industry. The centres will support the wide-scale adoption of innovation and technology across key sectors, technologies and skills in the food and farming supply chain. This includes up to £10 million for a Centre for Agricultural Informatics and Metrics of Sustainability which will use data from farms, laboratories and retailers to drive innovation creating a £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst to help new agricultural technologies bridge the so called 'valley of death' between the lab and the marketplace. Co-funded with industry, the catalyst will specifically support small and medium sized enterprises. The investment includes £10 million to support the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries, the creation of an industry Leadership Council to unify the agriculture technology sector and make the UK more internationally competitive the recruitment of a new UKTI agri-tech team to boost exports and overseas investment in the UK's agricultural technologies".

Of course declaration of intent is one thing and implementing the same is another thing. How far the government will be able to weave together the different but related players for a cohesive and integrated team is a million dollar question begging for answer. The most important part of the strategy is to set up the Agri-Tech Catalyst for facilitating the growth of the small and medium enterprises which are generally starved of technical support because of their limited resources unlike the Big Fish with deep pockets and high risk taking capacity. The intention to facilitate transfer of technologies to developing countries is to be applauded though export of products from the UK to these countries may not be feasible to any great extent. All said the strategy looks excellent on paper but there is a nagging suspicion whether the budget is a little too short to achieve all that is aimed at. If this will raise the stature of the UK as a technology giant it is good for the country.  


No comments: