On the first day of the EPSO/FESPB plant biology Europe conference it’s worth considering why botany is important.
Like many others whilst studying GCSE and A Level biology I found the botanical themed part of the syllabus dull and uninteresting. I arrived at university to find myself surrounded by those with similar experiences in their schools. Not one person I met during my first year of Biological Sciences at Leicester said they wanted to be a professional botanist. Luckily I turned up to all of my lectures and found myself interested and maybe even enjoying some of the botany and ecology modules that I was initially less than thrilled about taking. But there are serious emerging issues in plant science and ecology that need more talent.
- A burgeoning world population needs ever greater crop yields as people become increasingly affluent and demand a higher quality and quantity of food produce.
- Climate change is increasing the incidence of severe weather conditions such as droughts and heavy rains. Some climate models show that with a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius by 2050 will lower wheat yields by an average of 50%.
- Despite large scale agricultural enterprises, an estimated 50% of world food production is from small small farmers. Many of these are subsistence farmers. The average Vietnamese farm is approximately 340 times smaller than the average US farm. New innovative strategies need to help these farmers use this space effectively.
- Disease can still strike harvests dead in their tracks destroying livelihoods and causing skyrocketing food prices.
- With more individuals demanding a western style lifestyle, the need for fresh water is also climbing. A potato has a water footprint of 25 litres. A hamburger has a water footprint of an estimated 2400 litres. But we live on a planet where only 2.5% of all water is fresh water and much of this is trapped at the polar ice caps. Developing plants capable of reducing their water footprint is vital in some chronically dry regions.
- Nutritional deficits and diseases account for millions of deaths and over 2 billion are malnourished. Not only does the total number of calories produced need to increase, but there also needs to be an increase in global dietary variance and quality.
Have I missed anything else blindingly obviously that screams a need for plant science in the 21st century?
If so please let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you!