Achieving global food security is one of the most pressing issues of our times. Scientists took the opportunity to discuss possibilities to tackle this challenge at the ‘1st Cologne Conference on Food for Future’, which the Competence Area ‘Food Security’ at the University of Cologne hosted from 5 to 7 September in Cologne. The focus of the programme was on ‘Orphan Crops’, ‘Functional Food’ and ‘Innovative Food Sources and Production Systems’.
In addition to promoting interdisciplinary discussion, the organizers sought international exchange, especially with scientists from emerging countries. That is why the Competence Area ‘Food Security’ awarded six travel grants of up to 1.500 euros to early-career researchers from developing countries.
Orphan Crops, as the name suggests, do not receive much global attention and are therefore less well known. This class includes finger millet, dwarf millet Tef, yam root and cassava. They are considered nutritious and resilient to environmental influences. A further advantage is that many local smallholders cultivate so-called Orphan Crops. Therefore, they are widely accepted by farmers. Orphan Crops are not traded internationally, and in terms of the applied cultivation methods, they lag far behind the modern technologies used for maize, wheat or rice. As a result, Orphan Crops offer the opportunity to feed many people, because there is still enormous potential in terms of crop yield, disease resistance or resilience to drought or heat. The conference discussed the many possibilities of exploiting this potential. The speakers from African countries in particular were able to report impressively of their local research.
‘Functional food’ refers to foods which, in addition to their function as food, also have health-promoting effects. For example, a lecture in the Functional Food Session highlighted the ‘purple tomato’, which has a positive effect on health due to its increased anthocyanin level.
On the third day of the conference, food of the future was discussed in the session ‘Innovative Food Sources and Production Systems’. The increasing demand for food such as cereals and meat requires alternatives. Insects such as crickets, grasshoppers or mealworms are eaten in many countries. They are regarded as an alternative to meat and are a good source of protein. Algae as a nutrient-rich food of the future was also discussed.
Two public events met with great interest not only among scientists, but also among the interested public. Dr Simone Dohle from the University of Cologne gave a lecture on ‘Why we eat what we eat. The psychology of eating’, offering an overview of the various factors that play a role in food selection. In this context, Dr Dohle particularly emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary research. In the public panel discussion ‘Food security and the future of plant breeding – Can we ensure global food security on the basis of the current state of plant sciences?’, the importance of new technologies was discussed. In addition to plant scientists, ethicists like Professor Dieter Birnbacher and a representative of the non-governmental organization Misereor, Dr. Sabine Dorlöchter-Sulser, contributed to the discussion. In order to guarantee food security, new technologies are needed that have to be adapted to local conditions. It is fundamental to involve local smallholders in the process.
The next ‘Cologne Conference on Food for Future’ will be organized as a ‘Travelling Conference’ in cooperation with the UoC’s international Liaison Offices.