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.

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. 

3 February 2020

This paper argues that international measures to protect marine biodiversity should include protected areas that can move over space and time to adapt to the changing ranges of certain species, whether because the species in question are migratory, or because their ranges are changing because of climate change.

3 February 2020

This paper used satellites to observe the effect on yield of conservation tillage practices, such as reducing soil disturbance and leaving crop residues in the field, in the United States Corn Belt. The researchers found that long-term conservation tillage (i.e. from 2008 to 2017) was associated with a 3.3% increase in maize yields and a 0.74% yield increase for soybeans.

28 January 2020

This Guardian article discusses farms that are growing crops organically without using animal manure or blood and bone meal, in contrast to most organic farms. This approach is not yet widespread, with only around 50 such farms in the United States. Relevant organisations include the Biocyclic Vegan Standard and the Vegan Organic Network.

28 January 2020

This book reviews research on the development of biopesticides, including those based on microbes, natural substances and pheromones.

28 January 2020

This report from the Food Systems Group of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute argues that small-scale (less than 20 ha) family farms are and will continue to be important suppliers of food in middle- and low-income countries, and that oversimplified narratives get in the way of effective policymaking.

20 January 2020

This book reviews different feed strategies for improving ruminant digestion and their effects on methane emissions, animal health and meat and milk quality.

20 January 2020

This book gives details of methods for detecting and dealing with various agrochemicals, including herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and soil fumigants.

20 January 2020

This progress report to the Scottish Parliament from the UK’s Committee on Climate Change shows that, while Scotland’s overall greenhouse gas emissions fell by 3% in 2017, the Scottish Parliament's 2030 target to reduce emissions by 75% will be extremely challenging to meet. 

7 January 2020

In this piece for The Conversation, Dan Evans, PhD researcher in soil science at Lancaster University, explains his research on rates of soil formation and erosion. His measurements on a farm in Nottinghamshire, UK suggest that the top 30 cm of soil there could disappear within 138 years because the rate of erosion exceeds the rate of soil formation. 

7 January 2020

FCRN member Ken Giller, professor of Plant Production Systems at Wageningen University & Research, has contributed to the online magazine “The Story of N2Africa”, which tells stories from the last ten years of the project N2Africa: Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers in Africa.

7 January 2020

This report from UK food waste charity Feedback examines the impacts of UK sugar production. It finds that the area of farmland used to produce sugar beet in the UK - 110,000 hectares - is similar to the area devoted to UK vegetable production. The report argues that sugar beet harvesting is damaging to the soil.

7 January 2020

This paper from the UK’s Institute of Development Studies analyses how the project N2Africa: Putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers in Africa has contributed to development outcomes in Ghana and Ethiopia. 

9 December 2019

In this film by research and communications project Agroecology Now! farmers from Lower Dzongu, Sikkim, India discuss the importance of traditional seeds for food, life and culture and their plans to establish a community seed bank to help maintain and revive traditional seeds. Farmers will be able to “borrow” seeds of local varieties from the seed bank, grow them and then return a greater number of seeds to the seed bank.

9 December 2019

This book describes the experiences of a growing minority of Latino/a immigrant farm owners in the United States. According to the book, many of these people use farming practices from their home countries, such as growing several crops at the same time or using integrated pest management.

9 December 2019

This report from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University examines how farming in China can move away from a dependence on “industrial agriculture” (defined here as excessive and inefficient use of fertilisers and pesticides) towards agroecological systems (including practices such as lower stocking densities, using manure instead of synthetic fertilisers, growing diverse crops and using soil-building techniques). 

9 December 2019

This paper studies the impacts of several agricultural development projects (by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative) that aimed to tackle food loss and waste (FLW), finding that the interventions could reduce greenhouse gas emissions per unit of food produced.

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