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.

23 June 2020

This book examines the social and cultural aspects of the concept of a “good farmer”. It discusses the origins of the concept, symbolism, morality, gender issues and future challenges.

23 June 2020

This three-volume set offers an interdisciplinary review of agriculture and the environment, covering the history of agriculture, soils, irrigation, nutrient management, crop production, livestock and agricultural innovation.

23 June 2020

The journal Agriculture and Human Values has put together a topical collection of 70 articles relating to agriculture, food and the COVID-19 pandemic.

23 June 2020

FCRN member Susannah Fleiss is the lead author of this paper, which finds that setting aside areas of forest (conservation set-asides) within oil palm plantations plays a vital role in storing carbon and boosting rainforest biodiversity within plantations.

17 June 2020

NGO Greenpeace Brazil reports that some meat companies that have exported beef from Brazil to the UK, among other countries, have received cattle that have, for part of their life, been grazed on illegally deforested areas within the protected Ricardo Franco State Park. Greenpeace describes the process as “cattle laundering” because the cattle are sent to other farms (not linked to illegal deforestation) later in their life, to hide the links to deforestation.

17 June 2020

This paper models how integrating crop production - specifically maize, wheat and rice - into global land restoration efforts could impact food security, carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions. The paper’s scenarios look at how to achieve the Bonn Challenge, which is a global agreement to restore 350 million hectares of deforested or degraded land by 2030. 

9 June 2020

This report, commissioned by UK wildlife charities WWF-UK and RSPB, finds that an area of overseas land equivalent to 88% of the UK’s land area is needed to supply the UK’s demand for beef and leather, cocoa, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber, soy and timber. This area is increasing over time.

9 June 2020

This paper by FCRN member Roger Leakey proposes a three-stage process to improve smallholder incomes, yields, nutrition and environmental performance in tropical agriculture, focusing on Africa. Leakey argues that food policies developed in industrialised nations do not always recognise that farming systems are very different across the world.

27 May 2020

This paper finds that global cropland use could be almost halved while maintaining current output levels by optimising fertiliser inputs and re-allocating the production location of 16 major crops. Co-benefits would include reduced emissions from fertilisers and rice paddies, lower irrigation water requirements, and land being freed up for sequestering carbon through restoring natural vegetation.

26 May 2020

This policy briefing from US think tank The Breakthrough Institute lays out options for post-COVID-19 stimulus spending in the United States. It suggests funding farm conservation programmes that could improve farmer profitability, generate jobs, and improve environmental performance. It also proposes nationally scaling up farm machinery rebate systems, which exist in a few states, to encourage the purchase of efficient agricultural equipment.

26 May 2020

This paper reviews the environmental, economic and social consequences of the oil palm boom. It finds that palm oil has increased incomes, generated employment and reduced poverty at the same time as causing deforestation and biodiversity loss. It discusses policy options to reduce the tradeoffs between environmental protection and economic benefits.

20 May 2020

According to this article by Civil Eats, some farmers in the Great Plains of the United States are sowing “chaos gardens” - fields of mixed fruit and vegetable plants such as peas, squash, radish, okra, melons and sweet corn - as cover crops between the soy and corn that are the dominant crops in the area. The produce is harvested by volunteers and donated to food banks or other community groups. 

12 May 2020

This book discusses long-term experiments in agriculture, including their history, the insights they have produced, and the relationship of the experiments to agriculture’s environmental and social implications.

12 May 2020

This report from the UK’s Nature Friendly Farming Network (NFFN) documents how NFFN farmers are changing how they supply and market food to the public in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

12 May 2020

The average number of days that US farm workers spend working in dangerously hot conditions could double by mid-century and triple by the end of the century, according to this paper. Workplace adaptations such as longer rest breaks, working more slowly, switching to single-layer clothing and having cooled rest areas could tackle this problem, but would negatively affect farm productivity, worker earnings and labour costs.

29 April 2020

This blog post from University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment argues that the spread of zoonotic diseases cannot be halted simply by closing wet markets (often portrayed in the Western media as the source of viruses). Rather, it argues, deeper changes in the food system are required, since zoonotic diseases have also been linked to deforestation and industrial meat production.

29 April 2020

According to this article in Quartz Africa, a new wave of desert locust swarms is forming in East Africa (including Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia). Wet conditions mean that the locusts are likely to continue to breed. It is feared that many farmers could lose their newly planted crops. Efforts to control the swarms through aerial spraying have been slowed by the coronavirus crisis.

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