Just noticed this in the IET events listings...A good lecture to start a year long argument over what is going wrong with agricultural engineering, governence and economics at the moment.
"Prestige Lecture: Food For Thought - the challenge of food security and why engineering is part of the solution"
The Speaker will outline the challenges around increasing demand for food, increasing constraints on supply growth (such as climate change, nutrient, fuel, land and water competition, and the need to be more sustainable), and then raise some of the areas where we need engineering to find solutions (beyond tractors and irrigation systems!) e.g. remote sensing, modelling, chemical engineering and ICT."
Professor Tim Benton
'Champion' for the UK's Global Food Security programme."
"Tim Benton is Global Food Security Champion and an interdisciplinary researcher working on issues around agriculture-environment interactions. Formerly, he was Research Dean in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds, and Chair of the Africa College Partnership, an interdisciplinary virtual research institute concerned with sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. He has worked on the links between farming and biodiversity (and ecosystem services) for many years."
(The "Prestige Lecture" label which unfortunately has tended to become a euphemism for don't ask hard questions at this one please, should really mean now in a time in dire need of more productive argument and change; this person knows his stuff and can therefore take a really good and sustained intellectual grilling from engineers and budding engineers, through the appropriate application of difficult and searching questions that help explore the issues at hand.)
I still wonder whether or not we would benefit from an expicit "agriculture sector" within the IET, or some virtual arrangement where we collaborate with the Institution of Agricultural Engineers, Chemical Engineers and Biologists etc. or something different again.
Given the complexities involved, in terms of environmental conditions(both actual and predicted), maintaining controlled microclimates, soils, water usage and storage (from year to year), and energy usage and storage, herbicide/pesticide use and interactions and protection of natural ecosystems, economic cost-benefit analyses, encouraging bottom-up innovations and funding models, etc, there must still be huge scope for engineering advances in this area in the years ahead. How do we direct talented people worldwide to the challenges at hand?
I take the view that, if our current system of politics and economics in the UK do not start directing more of our top engineering talent towards the solution of our agricultural, water and energy problems, rather than towards all the various forms of gambling in the City of London, then we will have to change our current systems of establishment politics and economics so that it does.
Minor tinkering with banking service provision and city reform is unlikely to be enough I am afraid. Given what has happened in this financial crisis, how moribund the banking sector has now become, and what is likely to happen given the UK's current debt overhang, I cannot believe that the current political classes are naive enough to think that a few crumbs of change in regards to banking reform will be all that is needed to rebalance the economy in a sustainable way.
Our current leaders need the right level and balance of vision, openness, incorruptibility, unselfishness, knowledge and calibre to lead this nation right now. At the same time we need much more rational and transparent systems of governance than we previously have had.
As well as developing new engineering products and systems, studying new forms of governance and new fairer economic and agricultural models, whereby power, control and money, are more fairly and transparently redistributed away from the centre, are all valid topics for student projects.
There you see, lots to talk and think about for the next year, just by widening out the context a little.