Improving food security is difficult. There are many reasons why hunger and malnutrition persist, not least because deep social inequities and conflicts often dominate. Equally many approaches are needed to deal with this global problem. In the case of global food security, improvements can depend on actions taken in farmers¿ fields, at local markets, on global markets, in company boardrooms, national parliaments, conference rooms, laboratories and kitchens. The many strategies pursued to improve food security are coloured by a diversity of worldviews and it is not surprising that food security is an emotive and political issue. The First International Conference on Global Food Security (September 29–October 2, 2013 in Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands) was a unique scientific event aiming to build stronger bridges between different disciplines working on improving food security. The conference brought together a critical mass of scientists (600 participants from over 65 countries) from a wide variety of disciplines; scientists with shared goals but different research strategies. Here we report the outcomes of various interactive sessions of the conference, as presented and discussed during the concluding, synthesis session of the conference. The chairpersons of the 10 parallel sessions and 14 “Workshop Cafes” of the conference were asked to summarise their main conclusions and questions. This introductory paper of the special issue highlights the main issues that emerged and culminates in a number of messages for the broad scientific community on how to continue moving the global food security research agenda forward. We cite papers from this special issue, but also mention contributions which to our knowledge are as yet unpublished, by referring to “this conference”.