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: Eva Decker, Moss bioreactor, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic
11 June 2019

This opinion article suggests that microbial biomass from bacteria, yeasts, or fungi could be used as human food and animal feed, with the advantage of using less land compared to conventional crop production, particularly if feedstocks were derived directly from atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Image: Ton Rulkens, Dried cassava roots, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
11 June 2019

This paper finds that production of the top ten global crops has already been affected by climate change, with mixed impacts across both crop type and geographical area. Oil palm has seen a 13% decrease in yields relative to those that would have been seen under historical climate conditions, while soybean has seen a 4% increase.

3 June 2019

FCRN member Mark Measures has produced this report on the use of different soil analysis and management techniques for organic and agro-ecological farming. The report is the outcome of a Churchill Fellowship.

29 May 2019

Wageningen University and Research has formed a consortium together with several private companies to research the use of co-products and residues from the food sector and industry as animal feed. A particular research focus will be on increasing Europe’s self-sufficiency in feed materials.

Image: Naïo Technologies press kit, Robot DINO
29 May 2019

This feature in the New Food Economy explores how autonomous weed-picking robots could replace herbicides and tackle weeds that have become resistant to some herbicides. The robots use both GPS tracking and cameras to navigate fields and remove weeds.

29 May 2019

This publication from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations explains what blockchain technology is and explores how it could be used in agriculture, for example in insurance, land registration or tracking supply chains.

Image: CSIRO, Microalgae – Nannochloropsis sp., WIkimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
29 May 2019

This paper, produced by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, outlines a system that could produce animal feed with lower environmental impacts than conventional soybean production. The system combines LED lighting, indoor photobioreactors, atmospheric carbon capture and geothermal energy to produce an algae-based feed product.

13 May 2019

The Fate of Food: What We'll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World, by Amanda Little, examines the innovations that are changing food production.

13 May 2019

This book gives an overview of new developments in organic agriculture, with a focus on how organic farming can adapt to a changing climate.

Image: Atmospheric Research, CSIRO, Parched earth, typical of a drought., Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
13 May 2019

Extreme climate events such as droughts and heat waves are better predictors of yield anomalies than indicators of climate averages in maize, rice and soybeans, according to this paper. Irrigation can mitigate the negative yield impacts of frequent warm days.

Image: Andy Farrington, Rotary Parlour at Broadwigg Farm, Geograph, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
13 May 2019

This paper, written by researchers on the University of Oxford’s LEAP project and co-authored by the FCRN’s Tara Garnett, explores what drives the intensification of dairy farming, and the consequences for the environment, animal welfare, socio-economic wellbeing and human health. The paper also considers three potential approaches to addressing these consequences: sustainable intensification, multifunctionality, and agroecology.

29 April 2019

This podcast, “Shrinking agriculture's footprint”, is part of the Breakthrough Dialogues series from California-based environmental research centre The Breakthrough Institute. The episode explores which farming practices are most sustainable and discusses land sharing versus land sparing.

Image: Lorrie Graham/AusAID, The site of secondary mining of Phosphate rock in Nauru, 2007, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
29 April 2019

This paper maps the potential for different subnational, national, or regional areas to reduce their agricultural dependence on imported phosphorus fertiliser by recycling manure or urban waste (including both human excreta and household and industrial wastes).

Image: Daniel Schwen, Tobacco Hornworm, found in Urbana, Illinois, USA, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
29 April 2019

This paper explores the possibility of producing food by growing insect cells in the laboratory using cell culture techniques. It suggests that it may be easier to overcome certain technical challenges to cell culture by using insect cells rather than (say) beef, pork or chicken cells.

24 April 2019

This book gives an overview of aquaponics systems, i.e. combined production of fish and crops, and their social, economic and environmental implications.

Image: Max Pixel, Produce Grocery Farm, CC0 Public Domain
24 April 2019

FCRN members Verena Seufert and Adrian Müller have contributed to this commentary, which outlines a set of policy measures for changing agricultural practices to be in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The proposed policy measures include supporting organic agriculture.

Image: Charles Knowles, Eastern Washington wheat harvest, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
16 April 2019

This paper reviews studies where changes in both productivity and species richness have been tracked at the same location, following changes in the intensity of land use. On average, intensifying land use leads to a 20% gain in output and a 9% decrease in species richness, but there is considerable variation between different contexts.

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