Your choice of degree subject might be influenced by any number of things. Your favourite subject; the career path you want to follow; even your personal interests. Or you may be intrigued by the idea of tackling a very specific issue – like, how are we going to keep feeding ourselves in the future? In which case, sustainable agriculture and food security might be an area to look into.
Food security isn't about how safe your lunch is from envious fellow diners. It's about making sure there's enough being produced for everyone, and that we're producing it in a way that won't use up too many of the planet's natural resources.
According to experts from the University of Hertfordshire, how we produce our food is a significant issue. In 1950, 70% of the population lived in rural areas and 30% in urban ones. In 2010 it was closer to 50/50, with a larger population. Given that we produce most of our food in those rural areas, how do we run businesses and manage the land to feed that growing urban population, while keeping rural ecosystems and economies intact?
What can be done?
It's a big topic and there isn't an easy answer, which is why in the future we'll need graduate minds tackling it. Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security degrees, like the new BSc recently launched by the University of Hertfordshire (in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College, Rothamstead Research and Oaklands College), will play a big part in providing those graduates.
These programmes aren't designed to teach farming – other courses do a fine job of that. Instead, they'll be giving students the skills they need to work in a huge range of roles all the way along the food chain, from field to fork. You might be looking at anything from how and why plants grow at one end of the chain, to the nutritional properties of the produce we buy in supermarkets at the other. (If you happen to find out exactly what Marmite is along the way, do let us know.)
How to help feed the world
If you're interested in getting onto a sustainable agriculture course, you'll need at least one science A Level along with two others. You can give yourself an edge with some work experience or volunteering in a related field (in this case, an actual field might be helpful), dealing with plants, animals or any aspect of the food chain.
Once you arrive at your chosen uni courses will be looking to develop your science skills (covering everything from cell biology to animal physiology), but also to make sure you're ready for the workplace so that you can start putting them to good use. On the Herts Uni programme, for example, students are given compulsory work experience placements in the first and second years; there's even the option to have a sandwich year working in industry, either in the UK or overseas.
A career that can make a difference
You'll graduate with knowledge of how climate change affects the way we grow and produce food; about the different demands we place on our land; even about the ethics of food production. Which is just as well, because those are a few of the headaches we've got to look forward to when it comes to feeding humanity in coming generations. In short: we need you. No pressure.
The good news is that these challenges mean grads in this area will be popular with employers. Your job prospects will be good and you'll go to work each day aiming to make a difference to the world. Courses like Herts uni's Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security BSc can really help you be ready for the road ahead - so when you're weighing up your uni options, don't forget that the subject that interests you or the course that appeals could do a lot more than get you a degree.
Want to help feed the world? Find out more here.