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.

9 September 2020

This report by UK sustainability consultancy 3Keel assesses the quantity, origin and certification status of soy in the supply chains of animal products sold by 11 European retailers (including UK supermarkets such as ALDI, Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s). It finds that 25% of this soy footprint was claimed to be free of deforestation - an increase over the previous year’s figure. The remaining 75% of the soy footprint is not claimed to meet any deforestation-free standard.

27 August 2020

UK cultured meat startup Higher Steaks has created one of the world’s first lab-grown pork products (Mission Barns claims to have created, but not publicised, a lab-grown bacon prototype in May 2020). The Higher Steaks pork belly is made of 50% cultivated cells, and the bacon product contains 70% cultivated cells, with the remaining material being plant-based.

27 August 2020

On July 16, 2020, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Foresight4Food co-hosted the first of a series of eDialogues on the future of small-scale farming. The first session gave an overview of the challenges smallholders face and opportunities for improvement in yields and standards of living. A video recording and written summary (PDF link) of the event are now available online.

27 August 2020

This report, published by a group of African and German nonprofits, critically assesses the work of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA was founded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, and has received nearly $1 billion in funding. 

27 August 2020

Part One of the UK’s National Food Strategy has now been published. The National Food Strategy is a major review of the food system, leading to new policy recommendations (read about its launch here). Part One contains recommendations for supporting the UK’s food system (focusing on England) through the COVID-19 pandemic as well as advice on preparing for the end of the EU Exit transition period (31 December 2020).

26 August 2020

This paper analyses thousands of nitrogen policies from 186 countries. It finds that environmental nitrogen policies are not well integrated across various domains (such as water and air pollution) and that many agricultural policies encourage the use of nitrogen fertilisers, prioritising food production over environmental protection.

21 July 2020

This book looks at how fungi can be used in sustainable agriculture, for example as a fertiliser, for management of drought and as a growth promoter.

21 July 2020

This report from the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations reviews trends in food production and consumption, with a focus on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It finds that meat production is likely to contract in 2020 because of COVID-19, animal diseases and droughts, while seafood production has been affected by restaurant closures and restrictions on the operations of fishing fleets.

21 July 2020

This paper by FCRN member Eric Toensmeier argues that perennial vegetables (those grown on plants that live for more than two years) are underappreciated as a source of nutrients, as a means of sequestering carbon and as beneficial to biodiversity.

14 July 2020

This article by FoodPrint discusses the tension between the purported environmental benefits of kelp farming and consumers’ lack of familiarity with kelp as a food, and describes “regenerative” kelp farming systems that also produce oysters, clams and mussels. It sets out several ways in which kelp can be used, including in foods such as pesto or lasagne, as well as other uses such as bioplastics, fertiliser, biofuel and animal feed.

14 July 2020

This book uses case studies from Africa, Asia and Latin America to argue that, in the right circumstances, home gardens can help to supply people with food and income. It explores how home gardening relates to gender, food security, resilience and poverty alleviation.

8 July 2020

This BBC story looks at a new initiative to heat greenhouses in East Anglia using waste heat from nearby water treatment plants. According to the story, the technology could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from heating greenhouses as well as reduce reliance on imported produce.

8 July 2020

This piece, part of the Oxford Livestock, Environment and People (LEAP) programme’s Controversies series, explores the arguments and evidence around the environmental impacts of intensive feedlot systems versus extensive grazing systems.

8 July 2020

US think tank The Breakthrough Institute has published a policy brief on how new federal funding for agricultural research and development in the United States could protect and generate tens of thousands of jobs while also helping roughly halve US agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

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.

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