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New research area in Cologne: Food Security

Will we finally find a way to feed all people by 2030? A long-standing and yet urgent question in the face of a world population that is expected to meet the 8 billion mark by 2030. The security of food is a vital topic that not only politicians and the food industry need to get their heads around. Researchers from various interdisciplinary fields such as plant science, nutritional science, ethics, geology, geography, economics, medicine, and philosophy also need to pool their strengths to tackle a challenge that concerns all of us.

By Svenja Rausch

Tackling hunger with interdisciplinarity

One of the competence areas at the University of Cologne is Food Security. The recently established research hub in Cologne brings together top scientists from various fields of research who will address, e.g., plant productivity and nutrient content,  resistance to drought, pests and disease, land distribution, resilience to threats and crisis or peace keeping and justice in vulnerable countries in order to tackle the immanent challenge.

Dr. Dorit Grunewald

We provide a platform for international and interdisciplinary research activities and promote the creation of scientific networks. Additionally, we contribute to training and teaching to raise awareness of the great challenges of food and nutrition security.

Dr. Dorit Grunewald, Coordinator Competence Area
CEPLAS – Cluster of Excellence at the core

The strength of Cologne’s research is its interwoven research areas. At the center of this new competence area stands CEPLAS, the university‘s collaborative Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences jointly organised by Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research Cologne, and Forschungszentrum Jülich. The Cluster’s core mission is to examine and decode complex plant traits that have an important impact on growth, yield and use of resources. By understanding the latter, CEPLAS researchers aim to create the knowledge base to underpin sustainable cultivation of food, feed and energy crops in the future. „The competence area Food Security is built around the key profile area Plant Sciences. Plant Science plays a fundamental role to ensure global food and nutrition security. However, food and nutrition security has many dimensions. Our main mission is to embed our efforts to  improve plant productivity and nutritional content within a broader societal context and to promote efficient knowledge transfer between disciplines“, explains Dr. Dorit Grunewald. 

International Faculty Program brings top scientists to Cologne

Research conducted at the Global South Studies Center (GSSC) also addresses important questions when it comes to feeding the world’s population. It is home to over forty experts on questions regarding socio-economic, cultural, and political changes in countries of the Global South. It also carries out research on resilience and collapse as well as future food production in the Global South, a topic that is at the heart of the center’s research.  
Thanks to the International Faculty Program (Link) of the University, the GSSC was able to invite Bill Pritchard, Professor of Human Geography at the University of Sydney  to work in Cologne on questions regarding livelihoods and food security in the Global South. Pritchard specializes in agriculture, food, and rural places. In his research, he is interested in the ways that global and local processes are transforming places, industries, and people's lives. In his recent master class he discussed new methods and research approaches on food and nutrition security with graduate students in Cologne. During his two-year agreement with the University of Cologne, he has collaborated with colleagues at the Institute of Geography in projects on smallholder farmers in India and building adaptive capacity for sea-level rise in Indonesia, funded by the German Research Founcation (DFG). He has given presentations at the GSSC, the Cologne Geosciences Colloquium, and was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Association of Australian Studies Conference hosted by the University of Cologne.

Bill Pritchard

The University of Cologne sets high standards, and I’ve gained a lot of personal and professional benefits from my association as an International Faculty member.

Bill Pritchard, Professor and International Faculty Member

And the students? Pritchard is a member of the Advisory Panels for two doctoral candidates at the Institute of Geography and has taught a short course for Masters and doctoral students in the Department of Economic Geography and at the Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences.

A matter of philosophy
Will genetically modified plants help feed the world? Photo: Creative Commons Zero

Threats to food security can be drought, pests, or natural disasters like earthquakes. At the Institute of Geography, Karl Schneider, professor and head of the research group Hydrogeography and Climatology, contributes to the topic Food Security by working on the availability of water in countries with droughts, as this is highly important to ensuring yield.

The University also collaborates with regional and international stakeholders like Welthungerhilfe, a German private aid organization, to learn more about on-site work and the implementation of different measures with regards to securing food. Another important question that is permanently discussed among philosophers, politicians, and industry is the question of genetically modified crops and whether there are alternatives if we want to feed the ever-growing demand of food supply in the future. It is therefore interesting/typo3/ to exchange findings and innovative ideas with industrial biotech companies in Germany and abroad to understand how e.g. enzymes are used in food processing and preservation in order to improve food security in the future.