Cambridge Festival of Ideas: how do we secure our food supply in a changing world?

According to the landmark report released on Monday by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which called for immediate action, we are facing a rapidly approaching future of extreme heat, drought and floods – and with these weather extremes potential agricultural crises.

During the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, which launches on Monday, a panel event, Food supply in an uncertain future on 23rd October, examines historical and present-day examples of how societies deal with these agricultural crises and answers questions about the future.

The panel of experts from Cambridge Global Food Security, an Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, include: Professor Martin Jones, Head of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology; Dr David Nally, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Geography; Dr Helen Anne Curry, Lecturer in the History of Modern Science and Technology; and Dr Inanna Hamati-Ataya, Principal Research Associate at Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH).  

Dr Hamati-Ataya will discuss the fact that food insecurity has been a challenge for human beings throughout history and, as we face present and future challenges, we have the opportunity to learn from our ancestors’ experiences by looking at past crises and what innovations, solutions, or failures they faced. This relates to Dr Hamati-Ataya’s ongoing research project on the emergence and diffusion of agricultural revolutions since the Neolithic era.

Dr Curry will be discussing her new research into the history of seed banking, which looks at how and why scientists have tried to conserve the genetic diversity of agricultural crops.

In a recent interview, Dr Curry said: “Plant breeders depend on the genetic diversity of crop plants in order to develop new varieties, for example varieties that are resistant to emerging insect pests, that can tolerate drought, or that do well under changing climatic conditions. Fundamentally the work of saving crop genetic diversity is a future-oriented activity; we understand it to be essential for creating the crop plants of tomorrow, to provide food for the world.”

Professor Martin Jones, who was recently elected as a Fellow of the British Academy in recognition of his work on bio-archaeology and early agriculture, will discuss the spread of crops across the ancient world and how we can learn from this.

Dr Nally will draw on lessons from historical analyses of famine, the role of political structures in production and distribution of food, and the archaeological and anthropological evidence for innovation.

In another related event, From simple to high-tech: technologies that improve lives on 16th October, a panel of experts examine the use of some interesting technological extremes of the food world, and the role they have to play in improving lives and safeguarding our future. From primitive stoves to smart-fridges, technological innovations are changing the way we interact with our food across the globe. Speakers include Professor Jaideep Prabhu, Judge Business School; Professor Steve Evans, Institute for Manufacturing; and Chaired by Dr Lara Allen, Cambridge Global Challenges.

Both events are hosted by Cambridge Global Food Security (, one of the University’s virtual interdisciplinary research centres. Cambridge Global Food Security focus on how to ensure everyone in the world has access to enough food for an active and healthy life, on an ongoing basis. With the global population estimated to reach nine billion people by 2050 and the effects of climate change, food security is one of this century’s greatest challenges.

The Cambridge Global Food Security Initiative recognises that expertise from many disciplines is required to understand such a complex issue, and to develop effective solutions. The Initiative promotes interaction and knowledge sharing, and supports collaborative research to address the issues surrounding food security at local, national and international scales.

Bookings can be made by telephone 01223 766766 or online:  



Twitter:  #cfi2018

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