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.

4 March 2019

This book discusses resilience in agriculture, using economic, ecological and sociological perspectives. Topics covered include biodiversity, ecosystem services, land sparing versus land sharing, and sustainable intensification.

4 March 2019

This report from the FAO reviews the state of ‘biodiversity for food and agriculture’, i.e. any biodiversity that contributes in some way to food production. It finds that 26% of livestock breeds are at risk of extinction. Crop diversity is declining, with only 9 crop species accounting for 66% of crop production. One third of fish stocks are overfished, and a further 60% are being fished at their maximum sustainable capacity.

Image: Max Pixel, Genus Bananas Musaceae Musa, CC0 Public Domain
26 February 2019

This commentary from the US-based Breakthrough Institute argues that agroecology is not the best way of reforming agriculture in Africa, because most African agriculture already follows agroecological principles such as avoiding monocropping and not using much fertiliser or pesticide.

26 February 2019

This booklet, by FCRN member Imke de Boer, sets out the scientific basis for the 2018 Mansholt lecture by Louise Fresco, President of the Wageningen University & Research Executive Board. The lecture discussed how the concept of circularity can be applied to agricultural production.

26 February 2019

This report, originally published in French by policy research institute IDDRI and translated to English by the UK organic charity Soil Association, models the impacts of the European farming system transitioning to agroecological principles.

Image: PublicDomainImages, Soil tilling farmer, Pixabay, Pixabay Licence
26 February 2019

This paper uses long-term studies from Europe and China to examine the effects on soil quality of organic matter addition, no-till practices, crop rotation and organic farming. It finds that yields are lower under no-till and organic practices, but that these practices are associated with higher soil organic matter.

Image: Max Pixel, Cows on pasture, CC0 Public Domain
26 February 2019

This paper, by researchers from the University of Oxford’s LEAP project, models the climate impacts of beef cattle and cultured meat over the next 1000 years using a climate model that treats carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide separately, instead of using the widespread Global Warming Potential, which assigns a CO2-equivalent value to each greenhouse gas according to warming caused over a specified timeframe.​

Image: Two Helmets Cooking, Fava beans, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
18 February 2019

This article on the environmental impacts of different types of animal feed (including fishmeal, soy, fava beans, algae and various forage crops) features commentary from FCRN member Sam Smith, who has contributed to the Feed Compass work by Forum for the Future.

18 February 2019

This book discusses options for sustainable weed control for a variety of crops. Topics covered include the impacts of herbicides on people, soils and ecosystems, integrated weed management, and herbicide resistance.

18 February 2019

71% of European Union farmland is used to feed livestock and 18% to 20% of the EU’s total budget goes to livestock farms, according to this report by NGO Greenpeace.

Image: chipmuk_1, 20120208_1648 Chicago O'Hare Airport Vertical Farm, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
11 February 2019

Bayer Crop Science writes about several case studies in vertical farming, including agrilution (hydroponics farming in Germany), Comcrop (Singapore’s first rooftop commercial farm) and Sky Greens (a vertical farm in Singapore).

11 February 2019

This book, by Mark Gibson, gives a broad overview of the development of the food industry and drivers of food supply, including information on food waste, genetic modification, food safety, politics and social trends.

Image: herbert2512, Sheep flock of, Pixabay, Pixabay license
11 February 2019

This paper uses economic models to calculate the extent to which both supply-side and demand-side measures could reduce non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector, depending on carbon price.

Image: Max Pixel, Plant field summer, Creative Commons CC0
4 February 2019

These three audio reports from the Wall Street Journal explore the impact of climate change on commercial fisheries, cattle genetically engineered to tolerate higher temperatures, and how advances in artificial intelligence and genetics could help farmers to withstand crop disease and droughts.

Image: USDA, A person's hands in soil with a worm, Flickr, Public domain
4 February 2019

This paper models the relationship between soil organic matter and yields of maize and wheat, finding that while higher soil organic carbon (a proxy for soil organic matter) levels do generally correspond to higher yields, the yields taper off at around 2% soil organic matter.

Image: Narek75, Tomato harvesting in Armenia, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
4 February 2019

This paper maps interruptions to food production across the world between 1961 and 2013 and highlights the links and tradeoffs between events in different food sectors, including crops, livestock, fisheries and aquaculture.

29 January 2019

In this podcast by social impact careers organisation 80,000 Hours, engineer David Denkenberger argues that it would be possible to feed everyone even in the event of a disaster that disrupts agriculture, such as a nuclear winter or asteroid strike.

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