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.

2 May 2012

The Soil Association has published 'Just say N2O: From manufactured fertiliser to biologically-fixed nitrogen.' This report reviews the extent to which organic systems can meet the double challenge of reducing nitrogen losses and building stores of soil organic nitrogen so as to reduce dependency on manufactured nitrogen.

25 April 2012

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Commission have announced a €5.3 million three-year project to promote “climate-smart” approaches to agriculture. 

25 April 2012

This meta-analysis finds that yields in organic systems are on average 80% that of conventional yields.  This is an analysis at crop level but the researchers suggest that the yield gap could be higher at farm, regional or global level due to the dependence of organic farming on manure and on legumes for soil fertilisation, which in turn reduces yields at the overall system level.

13 April 2012

McDonald's has launched a long term programme to support British and Irish farmers, with efforts to boost the number of young people in the industry and improve environmental and animal welfare standards.

13 April 2012

The goals of this study were to: (a) develop a robust, model-based life-cycle GHG emissions comparison of organic and conventional farming methods for a relatively large selection of crop products;

9 March 2012

This article in Science Daily is based on materials prepared by the French Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD)  It argues that Brazil’s reliance on agricultural exports to drive economic growth is environmentally unsustainable and highlights the link between deforestation for cattle grazing, soy production on cleared land which pushes cattle further into the forest, and the sale of high-value timber.  The article states that government controls introduced from the year 2000 have scaled down deforestation from around 20,000 to 6,000 km² per year, but the threat of an increase in world demand is always just over the horizon, with implications for further deforestation.

29 February 2012

The UK dairy sector has published its first report which looks at the carbon footprints of a selection of British dairy farms with a view to establishing a baseline against which progress can be measured.   The study reveals very substantial differences in the GHG footprints expressed as CO2 eq/kg fat corrected milk, of different farms, and also finds that there is more variation between farms, than between production systems.  It also concludes that there is no one variable (eg milk yield, fertiliser use or energy consumption) that accounts for most of the variation between farms.

29 February 2012

Through its commitments in the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP), the UK government has made a commitment to identify how the UK can increase food production in ways that improve the environment. Defra is doing this through the Green Food Project, an initiative that involves stakeholders from the farming and food sectors, the service industry and the environmental sector.

24 January 2012

This article analyses why progress on agriculture at Durban was slow, and summarises the recommendations of the  Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change (see FCRN summary) as to what is needed for agriculture now.

16 January 2012

This report was commissioned by the Oxford Farming Conference and undertaken by the Scottish Agricultural College’s Rural Policy Centre. The study examines where the economic, political and natural resource power currently lies in world agriculture, how that might change in future and what it means to British farmers.

10 January 2012

Edited by Eva Wollenberg, Maja-Liisa Tapio-Bistrom, Maryanne Grieg-Gran and Alison Nihart, this book reviews the state of agricultural climate change mitigation globally, with a focus on identifying the feasibility, opportunities and challenges for achieving mitigation among smallholder farmers. 

15 December 2011

In February/March 2011 the Royal Society held a conference on how GHG emissions from agriculture might be reduced through measures that focus on nitrogen efficiency, methane, and soil carbon sequestration.  A short report has now been produced and can be downloaded here.  You can also download audio recordings of the presentation.

15 December 2011

An interesting paper that looks at adaptation and mitigation options for farmers, with a particular focus on smallholders. It emphasises the need to address not just the science/technological aspect of mitigation/adaptation but also the social and institutional/knowledge infrastructure.

6 December 2011

This report on biomass production is well worth reading.  It aims to support informed debate about the amount of biomass that might be available globally for energy, taking account of sustainability concerns. 

28 November 2011

Timed to coincide with the UN climate convention negotiations in South Africa, this study by UNEP argues that the world has the technological and economic solutions to avert climate change.