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: Free-Photos, Pig animal snout, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
3 December 2018

Facial recognition could be used on pig farms in China to provide individualised feeding plans. The artificial intelligence system, created by a subsidiary of Chinese e-commerce company JD, can also track a pig’s growth, physical condition and vaccinations over its lifespan.

28 November 2018

The upcoming book In Defence of Farmers: The Future of Agriculture in the Shadow of Corporate Power, edited by Jane W. Gibson and Sara E. Alexander, uses case studies of farmers to explore the tensions between conflicting views of the role of industrial agriculture.

Image: MaxPixel, Lamb eating, CC0 Public Domain
26 November 2018

A new method for monitoring nutrient concentrations in pasture in real time - using a small near-infrared spectroscopy device - could allow farmers to improve productivity by adjusting livestock grazing patterns, according to this paper.

19 November 2018

This book, edited by John Dixon et al., sets out different farming systems used across Africa and their relationships to food security.

Image: Stefan Walkowski, Antibiogram of Pseudomonas aeruginosa on Mueller-Hinton agar, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
19 November 2018

This paper describes the susceptibility of organisms such as bacteria to biocides such as antibiotics, insecticides and herbicide as a beneficial ecosystem service, since susceptible organisms can prevent the spread of biocide resistance by outcompeting resistant organisms (that is, in biocide-free environments). This framing is distinct from many other viewpoints, which focus on the negative costs of biocide resistance.

Image: Gabelglesia, Solar array in the Antioch College South Campus, near the farm. Sheep included, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
19 November 2018

This paper compared soil moisture and biomass growth between pasture both with and without photovoltaic solar panel arrays. While average soil moisture was similar across the fields with and without solar panels, the field with the solar panels had more variable soil moisture: directly underneath the solar panels, persistent stores of soil water were available throughout the growing season. Without solar panels, the pasture experienced water stress in the middle of summer.

Image: Solar Foods Pic 1, Solar Foods produces an entirely new kind of nutrient-rich protein using only air and electricity, https://solarfoods.fi/about/
12 November 2018

In a column for the Guardian, George Monbiot writes about the potential to create food without plants, animals or soil, using instead bacteria that feed on hydrogen (generated by solar-powered electrolysis of water) and carbon dioxide from the air. Monbiot argues that this form of food production could eventually drastically reduce the amount of land needed for the global food supply chain, and suggests that the new foodstuff could be used as an ingredient in processed foods.

Image: Marco Schmidt, Guiera senegalensis, inflorescence and leaves, SW Burkina Faso, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
12 November 2018

Growing millet next to a woody shrub native to West Africa could increase biomass by over 900% compared to growing millet alone, according to this paper. The shrub, Guiera senegalensis J.F. Gmel, has tap roots that can reach water deep in the soil. The study traced the movement of water from the shrub’s deep roots to the millet stems in a simulated drought.

Image: Pxhere, Organic beef, CC0 Public Domain
12 November 2018

In a paper by FCRN member Johan Karlsson of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, researchers worked together with NGOs to iteratively develop a vision for the future of food production in the Nordic countries. The final vision is based on organic farming and lower meat consumption with livestock fed only on pasture and by-products from food production.

6 November 2018

In this piece for The Conversation, researcher Elise Wach discusses the consolidation of farmland in the UK and rising farmland prices. According to Wach, there were nine times more small farms in England 15 years ago than there are today, and the number of high-intensity large farms is rising swiftly.

6 November 2018

This book, by David Lindenmayer, Damian Michael, Mason Crane, Daniel Florance and Emma Burns, describes best practice approaches for restoring Australian farm woodlands for birds, mammals and reptiles.

Image: Akarsh Simha, Spraying pesticide, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
6 November 2018

Researchers have called for governments to phase out organophosphate pesticides in agriculture, ban their non-agricultural uses, and take steps to reduce human exposure to organophosphates. The researchers’ argument is based on systematic reviews that link foetal organophosphate exposure to adverse effects on the development of children’s brain and nervous system.

Image: Pxhere, Cow milk cow, CC0 Public Domain
29 October 2018

A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease”, has been confirmed on a farm in Aberdeenshire. The case was discovered before entering the human food chain, and Rural Affairs Minister Mairi Gougeon has said that all necessary measures have been taken to protect consumers.

Image: Elmastudio, jippi, our kale is growing beautifully in the garden, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
29 October 2018

Two commentary pieces question the findings of the study “Association of Frequency of Organic Food Consumption With Cancer Risk”, which claims that higher organic food consumption is associated with a lower risk of cancer. The pieces point out that only two cancer types showed a statistically significant reduction in risk, and that the reduction in cancer risk only appeared to hold true for older women, not men, younger adults or people with a high overall quality of diet.

29 October 2018

The book “Organic Food and Farming in China: Top-down and Bottom-up Ecological Initiatives”, by Steffanie Scott, Zhenzhong Si, Theresa Schumilas and Aijuan Chen, examines the development of the organic food sector in China and its influences from both the state and grassroots actors.

29 October 2018

This report from the UK’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board reviews how the behaviour of farmers might be influenced so that the recommendations of researchers and policymakers can be implemented on farms.

Image: Garry Knight, Fruit and veg, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
29 October 2018

The global agricultural system doesn’t produce enough fruit, vegetables and protein to meet the nutritional needs of the world’s population, according to this paper. Meanwhile, grains, fats and sugars are overproduced, relative to what is needed for a healthy diet (defined in this paper as a diet in accordance with the Harvard Healthy Eating Plate (HHEP)).

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