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.

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. 

10 March 2020

According to this meta-analysis of 60 studies, cover crops on agricultural land can increase soil microbial abundance, activity, and diversity relative to land left bare between crops, with the effect varying with climate and how the farm is managed (e.g. tilling). The paper does not discuss the extent to which this change in soil microbiome affects crop yields.

10 March 2020

This paper sets out how far different sources of methane (both agricultural and non-agricultural) can be reduced by 2050, via technical changes. It argues that since methane accounts for about 40% of the warming effect of all greenhouse gases in the short term (because of its high Global Warming Potential but short atmospheric lifetime), reducing methane emissions is therefore useful for mitigating climate change between now and 2050.

10 March 2020

This paper reviews initiatives for conserving insects and argues that they must be expanded globally to protect insect populations. It also argues that the value of insects to society must be better communicated to people, e.g. through focusing on the benefits of iconic insect species or particular landscapes. 

3 March 2020

This book examines a variety of regenerative farming systems, including agroecology, indigenous food systems, small-scale fisheries, food sharing, coffee micro-mills, foraging and reuse of food waste.

3 March 2020

This policy update from the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs sets out a timeline for planned agricultural policy changes for England over the next few years. Policies are likely to be shaped by the recommendations of the National Food Strategy review, to be released in winter 2020. This policy update discusses measures for protecting food security as the UK adjusts to leaving the European Union, and sets out the proposed Environmental Land Management scheme to replace the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

3 March 2020

This report from the UK’s RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission examines four key areas of Devon’s food system: grassland and livestock production, environment and biodiversity, health and thriving communities, and new entrants to farming.

3 March 2020

This report from the UK’s Eating Better alliance argues that replacing red meat with chicken is not a sustainable solution, and that growing consumption of poultry meat comes with costs to health, the environment, animal welfare and rural livelihoods. The report calls for reduced chicken consumption in the UK (to be replaced with plant proteins such as beans and nuts), and shifting away from intensive chicken farming towards “mixed and regenerative farming systems”.

24 February 2020

This book addresses food waste from a variety of perspectives, including agriculture, food science, industrial ecology, history, economics, consumer behaviour, geography, theology, planning, sociology, and environmental policy.

24 February 2020

This paper finds that, as climate change causes the geographical shift of areas suitable for growing certain crops, the potential changes in land use could have impacts on biodiversity, water resources and soil carbon storage. So-called “agriculture frontiers” - areas of land not currently suitable for producing crops but that might become suitable in future due to shifts in temperature or rainfall - cover an area nearly one-third as big as current agricultural land area.

18 February 2020

This blog post by Shefali Sharma of the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy says that agriculture and the people whose livelihoods depend on it must be core considerations in international climate negotiations. Sharma argues that proposed solutions such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) and carbon credits simply allow existing industries to continue increasing their emissions.

18 February 2020

FCRN member ffinlo Costain has published a response to the paper Climate change: ‘no get out of jail free card’ (summarised on the FCRN website here). Costain argues that biological methane emissions - such as those from grazing livestock - can be “warming neutral” as long as they fall by 10% by 2050. Citing Oxford climate scientist Myles Allen, Costain argues that sharply cutting ruminant numbers would only deliver a warming reduction of 0.1ºC at most, which would be outweighed within a few years by continuing carbon dioxide emissions.

10 February 2020

This blog post, by Caroline Grunewald and Dan Blaustein-Rejto of the Breakthrough Institute (a US think tank), argues that the large scale of much American farming does not mean it is necessarily unsustainable - rather, when looking at the intensity of greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use per unit of output, dramatic improvements have been seen since 1961.

10 February 2020

Dairy company Arla has commissioned this report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy, which sets out a vision for how the European dairy sector can become more sustainable in the future, balancing environmental, economic and social considerations.

10 February 2020

This paper assesses the rate of soil erosion in different countries, aiming to separate the effect of varying landscapes from the effect of different national territories, e.g. through different agricultural policies or management patterns. As an example of a sharp discontinuity in soil erosion between neighbouring countries, visible on satellite images, the paper shows the difference between Haiti (with a high soil erosion rate) and the Dominican Republic (with greater forest cover and a lower soil erosion rate) - two countries that would have similar natural soil erosion rates in the absence of human activity. 

3 February 2020

The European Commission has set out a European Green Deal, a plan to transform the European economy to net-zero emissions by 2050, and to decouple economic growth from resource use. The Green Deal will include a new “Farm to Fork” strategy (to be set out in full in the spring of 2020) to reward food producers for services such as storing carbon in the soil, improving water quality and reducing the use of pesticides, fertilisers and antibiotics.

3 February 2020

This report by the European Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics assesses the antibiotics policies of ten leading British supermarkets. It finds that six out of the ten supermarkets ban their suppliers from routinely using antibiotics, with Waitrose having the most comprehensive antibiotic policies. 

3 February 2020

This paper quantifies the economic impact of herbicide resistance developed by the weed Alopecurus myosuroides (black-grass). It finds that the annual cost of this resistance is £0.4 billion each year in England, based on lost profit from lower crop yields. The global cost of herbicide resistance could be much higher, as there are 253 known herbicide-resistant weeds. 

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