Government of Canada brings world-leading food security expert to the University of Saskatchewan

Leon Kochian becomes Canada Excellence Research Chair in Food Systems and Security

September 15, 2016—Saskatoon, Saskatchewan—Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat

The Government of Canada understands the central role of science in building a thriving, clean economy and providing the evidence necessary to make sound policy decisions that have an influence on our health, the environment, and public safety. That’s why the government is committed to investing in research that improves the safety and security of Canada’s food supply. This kind of world-leading science will help develop the innovative approaches we need to improve the well-being of Canadians and strengthen the middle class.

As part of this commitment, the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, on behalf of the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, today announced an investment of $10 million over seven years to bring one of the world’s most respected experts in food security to Canada. A recognized leader in crop adaptation to marginal soil environments, Leon Kochian will become the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Food Systems and Security at the University of Saskatchewan.

The United Nations estimates the world’s population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050. Ensuring sufficient nutritious food will therefore be one of the greatest challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. Working out of the university’s Global Institute for Food Security, Kochian will lead a multidisciplinary team to unlock the secrets of a plant’s “hidden half”—the root system—an unexplored aspect of plant breeding.

His research will develop new root-based approaches to crop improvement that will enable breeding for improved root system structure and function, producing new varieties with higher yields and greater capacity to thrive in difficult conditions. Kochian will identify and map the genes linked to root system traits that are specifically responsible for nutrient and water uptake under drought conditions. He anticipates this research will enable increased crop production in less fertile areas.


“The Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program continues to establish Canada’s growing reputation as a global leader in research and innovation. Dr. Leon Kochian is an internationally recognized authority on plant mineral nutrition and crop adaption to marginal soils. I am confident he will provide visionary leadership in Canada’s efforts to improve global food production. His work will benefit from partnerships within the strong agri-food research hub in Saskatchewan and help to establish Canada as a leader in addressing global food security.”

The Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science

“The arrival of Leon Kochian as Canada Excellence Research Chair in Food Systems and Security is a coup for the University of Saskatchewan and for Canadian research. As we examine the social and societal implications of climate change, his work will help strengthen Canadian agriculture – and make our economy more resilient, which will improve our collective well-being and strengthen the middle class.”

The Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

“Canada stands at a watershed moment in agriculture, where we can realize an exciting and prosperous future for this key sector of our economy. Dr. Leon Kochian’s arrival at the University of Saskatchewan’s new Global Institute for Food Security holds great promise for multidisciplinary research to deliver the new food crop knowledge that Canadians can apply to meet the world’s food security challenges.”

B. Mario Pinto, President, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council

“Researchers, such as Leon Kochian, become leaders in their field by pushing the boundaries of knowledge. Combining his expertise in food systems and security with access to state-of-the-art facilities and labs, Dr. Kochian will further bolster the University of Saskatchewan’s rich capacity for agri-food research, and help position Canada as a global leader in food security solutions.”

Gilles Patry, President, Canada Foundation for Innovation

“With Leon Kochian’s research pre-eminence and leadership, supported by the Global Institute for Food Security, our $37.2-million Canada First Excellence Research Fund program in food security, and the world-class facilities and expertise in our renowned agri-food cluster, we are poised to provide transformative and sustainable research solutions to help feed a growing world.”

Peter Stoicheff, President, University of Saskatchewan


  • Dr. Kochian is the University of Saskatchewan’s second CERC after Howard Wheater, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Water Security. He becomes the country’s 27th CERC.
  • The Government of Canada’s Canada Excellence Research Chairs program awards universities up to $10 million over seven years to support world renowned researchers and their teams to establish ambitious research programs at Canadian universities.
  • In total, Dr. Kochian’s research will receive support worth almost $21 million. The Government of Canada is also providing $800,000 through the Canada Foundation for Innovation. The balance will be invested by the Global Institute for Food Security ($7 million) and the University of Saskatchewan ($3 million).
  • In 2015, the University of Saskatchewan received more than $37.2 million from the Canada First Research Excellence Fund for its global food security initiative.

Additional Links

Biography of Leon Kochian    

Backgrounder on the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program

Getting to the roots of global food security: Spotlight on Leon Kochian

More about the Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program

World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050



Véronique Perron
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Science
Tel.: 343-291-2600

Michael Adams
Communications Advisor
Canada Excellence Research Chairs Program
Tel.: 613-944-1758
Cell: 613-219-7523

Kathryn Warden   
Director, Research Profile and Impact
University of Saskatchewan          
Tel.: 306-966-2506