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.

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.

29 April 2020

This paper by FCRN member Dominic Moran evaluates Farming for a Better Climate, a participatory extension programme (PEP) in Scotland that assists farmers in adopting climate friendly farming practices. PEPs are a type of advisory service where farmers, researchers and rural experts can swap information. The authors aimed to fill a research gap, since no other evaluations of PEPs for climate friendly farming existed at the time the paper was written. 

31 March 2020

This report, commissioned by the UK charity Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, assesses a selection of measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. It looks at their potential impacts on biodiversity, climate and resource protection to identify which solutions offer synergy between climate and nature, and where there is a risk of conflict.

31 March 2020

This paper uses a case study of Sheffield, UK, to explore the area of land potentially available to grow fruit and vegetables within urban areas, including both soil-based horticulture as well as soil-free controlled-environment horticulture on flat roofs. 

24 March 2020

FCRN member Hayo van der Werf has co-authored this perspective paper, which argues that current Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodologies tend to favour intensive farming systems and misrepresent organic and agroecological systems.

16 March 2020

In this podcast from the UK’s Sustainable Food Trust, Patrick Holden interviews ffinlo Costain of Farmwel and Roland Bonney of FAI Farms and Benchmark Holdings on developing more transparent, welfare-friendly and sustainable livestock farming systems.

16 March 2020

This report outlines the 2019 activities of the Centre for Food Policy at City, University of London. 

10 March 2020

This article from Civil Eats examines how the rise of both plant-based diets and regenerative agriculture practices have encouraged more farmers in the United States to grow pulses such as lentils, peas and chickpeas. As pulses become more popular with US consumers, a smaller fraction of the US pulse harvest is exported to other countries.

10 March 2020

This book describes Lume, a method for analysing the economic and ecological impacts of agroecological farming systems. It includes a case study of family farms in a region of Brazil affected by droughts.

10 March 2020

French non-profit Solagro has released an English version of this report, which presents the Afterres2050 scenario: a bottom-up assessment of the future of the French food system. The scenario was developed in consultation with farmers, foresters, nutritionists, community representatives, etc. as well as a multidisciplinary scientific council. 

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