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.

18 February 2020

This blog post by Shefali Sharma of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy says that agriculture and the people whose livelihoods depend on it must be core considerations in international climate negotiations. Sharma argues that proposed solutions such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and carbon credits simply allow existing industries to continue increasing their emissions.

Image: PommeGrenade, Cow Grazing, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence
18 February 2020

FCRN member ffinlo Costain has published a response to the paper Climate change: ‘no get out of jail free card’ (summarised on the FCRN website here). Costain argues that biological methane emissions - such as those from grazing livestock - can be “warming neutral” as long as they fall by 10% by 2050. Citing Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen, Costain argues that sharply cutting ruminant numbers would only deliver a warming reduction of 0.1ºC at most, which would be outweighed within a few years by continuing carbon dioxide emissions.

10 February 2020

This blog post, by Caroline Grunewald and Dan Blaustein-Rejto of the Breakthrough Institute (a US think tank), argues that the large scale of much American farming does not mean it is necessarily unsustainable - rather, when looking at the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use per unit of output, dramatic improvements have been seen since 1961.

10 February 2020

Dairy company Arla has commissioned this report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, which sets out a vision for how the European dairy sector can become more sustainable in the future, balancing environmental, economic and social considerations.

Image: Ron Blake, Windbreaks reduce soil erosion from wind and protect plants from wind-related damage, Public Domain Files, Public Domain
10 February 2020

This paper assesses the rate of soil erosion in different countries, aiming to separate the effect of varying landscapes from the effect of different national territories, e.g. through different agricultural policies or management patterns. As an example of a sharp discontinuity in soil erosion between neighbouring countries, visible on satellite images, the paper shows the difference between Haiti (with a high soil erosion rate) and the Dominican Republic (with greater forest cover and a lower soil erosion rate) - two countries that would have similar natural soil erosion rates in the absence of human activity. 

3 February 2020

The European Commission has set out a European Green Deal, a plan to transform the European economy to net-zero emissions by 2050, and to decouple economic growth from resource use. The Green Deal will include a new “Farm to Fork” strategy (to be set out in full in the spring of 2020) to reward food producers for services such as storing carbon in the soil, improving water quality and reducing the use of pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics.

3 February 2020

This report by the European Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics assesses the antibiotics policies of ten leading British supermarkets. It finds that six out of the ten supermarkets ban their suppliers from routinely using antibiotics, with Waitrose having the most comprehensive antibiotic policies. 

Image: Oliver Macdonald Maccheek, Alopecurus myosuroides (Black-grass) in a barley crop, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
3 February 2020

This paper quantifies the economic impact of herbicide resistance developed by the weed Alopecurus myosuroides (black-grass). It finds that the annual cost of this resistance is £0.4 billion each year in England, based on lost profit from lower crop yields. The global cost of herbicide resistance could be much higher, as there are 253 known herbicide-resistant weeds. 

Image: http://fshoq.com, Sea turtle in the ocean, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
3 February 2020

This paper argues that international measures to protect marine biodiversity should include protected areas that can move over space and time to adapt to the changing ranges of certain species, whether because the species in question are migratory, or because their ranges are changing because of climate change.

Image: Ruben Holthuijsen, CornField, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
3 February 2020

This paper used satellites to observe the effect on yield of conservation tillage practices, such as reducing soil disturbance and leaving crop residues in the field, in the United States Corn Belt. The researchers found that long-term conservation tillage (i.e. from 2008 to 2017) was associated with a 3.3% increase in maize yields and a 0.74% yield increase for soybeans.

Image: gailhampshire, Symphytum officinale blue-flowered Common Comfrey, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
28 January 2020

This Guardian article discusses farms that are growing crops organically without using animal manure or blood and bone meal, in contrast to most organic farms. This approach is not yet widespread, with only around 50 such farms in the United States. Relevant organisations include the Biocyclic Vegan Standard and the Vegan Organic Network.

28 January 2020

This book reviews research on the development of biopesticides, including those based on microbes, natural substances and pheromones.

28 January 2020

This report from the Food Systems Group of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute argues that small-scale (less than 20 ha) family farms are and will continue to be important suppliers of food in middle- and low-income countries, and that oversimplified narratives get in the way of effective policymaking.

20 January 2020

This book reviews different feed strategies for improving ruminant digestion and their effects on methane emissions, animal health and meat and milk quality.

20 January 2020

This book gives details of methods for detecting and dealing with various agrochemicals, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and soil fumigants.

20 January 2020

This progress report to the Scottish Parliament from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change shows that, while Scotland’s overall greenhouse gas emissions fell by 3% in 2017, the Scottish Parliament's 2030 target to reduce emissions by 75% will be extremely challenging to meet. 

7 January 2020

In this piece for The Conversation, Dan Evans, PhD researcher in soil science at Lancaster University, explains his research on rates of soil formation and erosion. His measurements on a farm in Nottinghamshire, UK suggest that the top 30 cm of soil there could disappear within 138 years because the rate of erosion exceeds the rate of soil formation. 

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