Increasing the production of food in an environmentally sustainable way is a major global issue. A report produced by the UK Cabinet Office in 2008 predicted that the global population will rise to 9 billion by 2050 from a current 6.8 billion. This increase in population will substantially increase demand for food, with food production needing to increase by 70% in the next 40 years whilst using the same agricultural footprint and without depleting natural resources. This challenge will require collaboration between universities, research institutes and industry in order to make the considerable advances in technology required to feed a growing population. There is now increasing concern that there are too few specialist graduates in the UK with the expert knowledge and skills required to tackle the issues surrounding global food security.
Farmers and vets across Africa are increasingly using mobile phones to issue alerts about potential pest and disease outbreaks. The recent introduction of mobile phones that use the open source Android operating system or the iPhone iOS operating system and include GPS and Google Maps have provided new opportunities for developing mobile phone applications, allowing communication between field workers and their project databases. ‘Smartphones’ offer computer like functionality and internet connectivity with built in Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers that give a detailed location reference.
Mobile phone applications can be installed on the phone to issue early warnings of pest and disease outbreaks. In Kenya, where three out of four people are reported to have a mobile phone, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has partnered with the Royal Veterinary College and local NGO VetAid to support pilot testing of a mobile phone application called EpiCollect, developed by a research team led by David Aanensen at Imperial College London. EpiCollect is a generic software developed for Android and iPhone which allows multiple data records to be entered and stored on a mobile phone and linked to a central web application that allows mapping, visualisation and analysis of data from a central database. The latitude, longitude and altitude of the current position of the user is returned from the GPS unit of the phone.