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Global Institute for Food Security at USask sets new strategy to collaboratively advance food security

L-R: PhD candidate Maryam Honari and GIFS Research Associate Joanne Ernest studying plant specimens in the GIFS lab. (Credit: David Stobbe).

Increased collaboration with partners to advance sustainable global access to safe and nutritious food is the focus of a new strategy by the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask). 

The new strategy sets the direction for the next phase of operations for GIFS, which was established in 2012 by Nutrien, the Government of Saskatchewan and USask. Central to GIFS’ new strategy is its mission to work with partners to discover, develop and deliver innovative solutions for the production of globally sustainable food.

“There is no one single means to achieving sustainable food security; it will take the different contributions of many players—governments, industry, producers, researchers and more,” GIFS Chief Executive Officer Steven Webb said.

“Our new strategy recognizes the significance of partnerships at home and abroad to accelerate important agriculture solutions. GIFS’ public-private partnership model is a strength that enables us to bring together diverse stakeholders to tackle the challenges of global food security—from here in Saskatchewan and beyond.”

As part of the new strategy, a Grower Advisory Panel will be created to provide expert advice on food producers’ science and technology needs, industry market trends and recommendations on how best to translate science into impactful solutions for producers.

Key areas of focus for GIFS’ strategic plan include:

  • Collaboratively advancing food security through the discovery, development and delivery of innovative solutions: Working together with diverse stakeholders, GIFS will develop and deliver technologies and tools that enhance the food production system and that are environmentally, socially and economically sustainable. 
  • Expanding research capabilities and capacity: GIFS will grow and develop its research productivity and scope.

To achieve expanded capacity, GIFS is establishing technology platforms that will not only benefit its own programs but also effectively meet the needs of stakeholders in the agriculture, food production and biotechnology sectors. The platforms are scientific systems designed to support research and development that will enhance digital agriculture, accelerate plant breeding, increase quality crop yield and build plant resilience to climate change.

One example of GIFS’ platforms is the Omics and Precision Agriculture Laboratory (OPAL). Managed by GIFS and currently in a soft launch, OPAL is Canada’s first laboratory that combines the digital data analysis of plant genes and traits with the latest precision agriculture technologies—such as remote aerial imaging of plants using drones—to improve crop yield, profitability and sustainability in the agri-food sector.

Another new technology platform GIFS is establishing is a cell biology platform for plant biology research that will serve as a practical tool to support the improvement of plant varieties.

“By helping to enhance plant resiliency and crop outcomes, these new transferrable technologies will help increase crop yield in regions – particularly important in a world where food production and supply systems have been disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Webb.

“A responsive strategy is necessary to help build a food production system that can thrive in different economic and environmental conditions. We must continue to invest in this system, and by working together with diverse partners and pooling our strengths, we can collectively impact food security and contribute to enhancing production agriculture and food processing systems for Saskatchewan, Canada and the rest of the world.”