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: 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%.

4 November 2019

This book gives examples of practices and tools that can help agriculture adapt to climate change, focusing on Japan and other nearby Asian countries.

4 November 2019

This book addresses sustainability problems in modern animal agriculture and proposes solutions on topics such as biotechnology, feed production techniques and disease management.

4 November 2019

This brief from Trase (a partnership between the Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy) examines soy grown on unregistered farms in Brazil. Legally, farms in Brazil should be registered with the Rural Environmental Registry as the first step of complying with the Forest Code, which stipulates how much native vegetation should be left intact on private properties.

Image: Bob Jones, Harvested wheat field, Geograph, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
4 November 2019

This paper models the changes in vegetation and agricultural land use that might be expected if action is not taken to mitigate climate change. Temperatures in the UK would increase by around 5.4°C in the growing season and 4.7°C out of the growing season by the end of the century. The growing season would become drier by around 37% and the non-growing season would become 7% wetter, with drying being less pronounced in the north of the UK than the rest of the country.

29 October 2019

This book discusses how networks of wireless sensors could be used in African agriculture, e.g. to minimise conflicts between wildlife, people and livestock, or to monitor livestock health.

29 October 2019

The book Food for All in Africa: Sustainable Intensification for African Farmers argues that the way forward for African agriculture is to produce greater yields with fewer inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides.

29 October 2019

The 2019 edition of the Global Agricultural Productivity Report from Virginia Tech University emphasises the systemic nature of the many challenges facing food, health and environment and calls for increased agricultural productivity as a way of meeting future food demand sustainably.

29 October 2019

According to this report from UK charity the Pesticide Action Network and the Soil Association, mixtures of pesticides can be more harmful to human health than the sum of the toxicity of the individual pesticides would suggest. 

Image: Local Food Initiative, Topping broad bean plants, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
29 October 2019

FCRN members Laurence Smith and Adrian Williams co-authored this paper, which finds that converting all food production in England and Wales to organic farming would reduce direct agricultural emissions in the UK, but would cause higher emissions from overseas farming due to lower yields in England and Wales.

22 October 2019

This book summarises current best practice in using life cycle assessment to quantify and improve the environmental impacts of different agricultural systems. 

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