Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Primary production: Agriculture

Agricultural production sits at the heart of major societal concerns, spanning food security, nutrition and health; livelihoods and development; the environment;and animal ethics. In early history, the farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that allowed for the development of sedentary civilisation. Later, the Green Revolution of the twentieth century allowed for large groups of people, especially in developed countries, to “move off the land” and improved food supplies across much of the world. Yet while innovations in modern agronomy, plant and animal breeding, pesticides and fertilizer use have greatly increased food output, much environmental harm arising from these practices has occurred while concerns are also growing around excess calories and poor nutrition, leading to obesity and associated non communicable diseases as well as micronutrient deficiencies. Many of the 1.3 billion people worldwide who rely directly or indirectly on agriculture for their living face problems arising from imbalanced power structures, including poor working conditions, uncertain land use and tenure, and lack of access to inputs, infrastructure, capital and knowledge; these imbalances play out along the whole of the food value chain, between the genders, within country populations and across countries and regions. As to the environment, agriculture is responsible for some 20% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions of which about half arise directly from crop and livestock production and the other half from agriculturally induced land use change. It is also the main cause of deforestation and biodiversity loss, a major user and polluter of scarce water resources and responsible for the disruption of global nitrogen and phosphorus cycles.

Image: Pierre-Selim Huard, Brandenburg gate in Berlin, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
2 December 2019

Over 10,000 farmers blocked roads in Berlin on 26 November 2019 with a convoy of tractors in protest at regulations that will limit the use of fertiliser (to reduce groundwater pollution) and the weedkiller glyphosate (to protect insect populations). Farmers say that the measures will threaten their livelihoods and are also protesting against the perception that farmers are to blame for the climate crisis.

2 December 2019

In this blog post, Samuel Smith of international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future sets out research he intends to conduct on how regenerative agriculture is understood, the strategies that could be used to scale it up, and how the food system would be affected by widespread conversion to regenerative agriculture.

2 December 2019

The FCRN’s Tara Garnett appeared on The Food Programme by BBC Radio 4 in the episode “Eating Animals Part 2: A Meat Q&A”. The programme also featured Patrick Holden of The Sustainable Food Trust and writer and environmental campaigner George Monbiot.

2 December 2019

This book offers case studies and discussions of how urban food systems are governed. It discusses both the Global North and South. Topics include cultural heritage preservation, food sovereignty, entrepreneurship and land-use conflicts.

2 December 2019

This book gives a holistic overview of both the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the contribution of agriculture to climate change, describes how to predict these interactions, and offers strategies for “climate-smart agriculture”.

25 November 2019

This book takes an interdisciplinary look at the pressures facing food systems in Southern Africa, covering topics such as economic drivers, population, climate change, water and soil fertility.

25 November 2019

In this report, the Nature Friendly Farming Network argues that, if given enough financial support, UK farmers can produce food in a way that both protects wildlife and reduces the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions. The report also suggests that having a diet of “less meat and dairy but of better quality” could be environmentally beneficial.

25 November 2019

This report, commissioned by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the National Trust and The Wildlife Trusts, examines how the profitability of upland farming systems can be increased at the same time as protecting the natural environment.

25 November 2019

FCRN member Anna Birgitte Milford has co-authored this report, which offers a case study of a proposed rooftop greenhouse project in Bergen, Norway. The report considers the opportunities and challenges associated with building rooftop greenhouses.

Image: Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience
19 November 2019

The UK’s Countryfile TV programme has featured research by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, which is using farm-based trials to study whether feeding biochar (a form of charcoal) to cattle can reduce their emissions of methane and ammonia.

19 November 2019

This report, commissioned by the Wildlife Trusts (a group of UK charities), summarises existing evidence on declines in insects, many types of which have substantially decreased in abundance since 1970 (see for example Worldwide decline of the entomofauna: A review of its drivers). It also explores the drivers of these declines and calls for an urgent halt to “all routine and unnecessary use of pesticides”.

Image: Meena Kadri, Harvesting wheat #2, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
19 November 2019

This paper presents a study of wheat farmers in India. Low-cost data from small satellites helped to map the results of spreading fertiliser either by hand or with a new spreader device that allowed more even application of fertiliser. 

Image: Rebecca Kahn, Broad Bean Seedlings, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
19 November 2019

This commentary argues that there is scientific consensus on the need to build soil organic carbon because of benefits such as resistance to soil erosion, higher fertility and resilience to drought. The authors note that these benefits of building soil carbon are being obscured by high-profile disagreements on the separate question of whether or not building soil carbon may help to mitigate climate change.

11 November 2019

According to this article from Civil Eats, several large food companies, including General Mills, Danone, Kellogg’s and Nestlé, plan to help farmers apply regenerative agricultural techniques to build organic matter in soils. The article questions whether the initiative will help to tackle climate change or only help the companies to sell more products.

11 November 2019

This report from environmental campaign group Greenpeace International finds that abandoned fishing gear (whether discarded intentionally or accidentally) can be a hazard to marine wildlife for many years, partially due to the durability of the plastic used to make ropes, nets and lines.

Image: glennhurowitz, Recently planted palm oil plantation on rainforest peatland, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
11 November 2019

The initial results of an experiment on palm oil plantations in Sumatra, Indonesia, suggests that using less fertiliser on palm oil plantations and controlling weeds through mechanical weeding instead of herbicide use could be beneficial both ecologically and economically.

Image: Fly, Flooded fields at Churn, Geograph, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
11 November 2019

This paper uses data from 1961 to 2010 to assess the effects that extreme weather events had on nutrient supplies (micronutrients, macronutrients and fibre) in different countries. Extreme weather generally had a small but negative impact on nutrient availability. The effects were more pronounced in both land-locked developing countries and in low-income food deficit countries, with nutrient supply decreasing by between 1% and 8%.

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