Knowledge for better food systems

Showing results for: Issues

Food is a nodal point for multiple interconnected issues and concerns. The categories below highlight a few of the most critical, including food security and nutrition, water, governance and policy, and health issues.

Image: ales_kartal, Harvest harvester tractor, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
31 July 2018

Farmers in Britain and other European countries have been affected by the ongoing heatwave and dry weather. Oxfordshire farmer Lesley Chandler told the Guardian, “It’s like a tinderbox out here… Just a spark could set it all alight” (read more here). Combine harvesters can create sparks if their blades hit a stone.

31 July 2018

This book, by Ramesh Ray and S Ramachandran, presents technological interventions in ethanol production from food crops, addresses food security issues arising from bioethanol production and identifies development bottlenecks.

31 July 2018

This book, edited by John Stafford, reviews many of the technologies used in precision agriculture, such as drones, spray technologies and modelling systems, and examines how they can be used, for example to manage fertiliser applications, for irrigation and for protecting crops.

31 July 2018

Environmental campaigning organisation Feedback have released a new report in which, having examined environmental, economic and safety factors, it lays out the case for lifting the ban on feeding surplus food to pigs in the UK. The report finds that up to 2.5 million tonnes of food waste from the UK manufacturing, retail and catering sectors could be fed safely to pigs, if legalised. The report draws on the work of an expert panel convened by EU REFRESH, who concluded that food waste can be safely fed to pigs if it is heat-treated and processed properly, and conducted in a limited number of well-regulated off-farm processing facilities. The report was featured on BBC1’s Countryfile and in the Times.

31 July 2018

The FAO has released a report on the current state of knowledge on how climate change will affect fisheries and aquaculture, including mitigation and adaptation options. The report finds that “climate change will lead to significant changes in the availability and trade of fish products”. Marine catches could decrease by 2050 in the tropics and rise in some high latitude regions, with a global decrease in Exclusive Economic Zones of 3% to 12%. Inland fisheries in Pakistan, Iraq, Morocco and Spain may come under greater stress, while those in Myanmar, Cambodia, the Congo, the Central African Republic and Colombia may remain under low stress in the future.

31 July 2018

A report by the Food Research Collaboration argues that the sustainability and security of Britain’s food supply would be put at risk by a hard Brexit or a no-deal Brexit, where the UK reverts to trading according to World Trade Organisation rules. The report points out that the UK imports 30% of its food from the EU, plus another 11% via trade deals negotiated between the EU and other countries. The report claims that the government may suspend food regulations if a no-deal Brexit happens, to minimise barriers to importing food. Furthermore, it criticises the UK government for neglecting the importance of retail and food service in the UK food system.

Image: Arkansas Highways, I-530 mirage, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic
31 July 2018

Researchers from the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute (of which the FCRN is part) have created a new tool - the “temperature of equivalence” - to map the impacts of varying degrees of climate change in different areas. They find that people living in low-income countries will, on average, experience heat extremes at 1.5°C of (global average) warming that people living high-income countries will not encounter until 3°C. This result is based on combining a map of predicted heat extremes with information on where people actually live within these areas. The paper also finds that, on average, people in high-income countries would experience the same increase in extreme rainfall after 1.0°C of warming that people in low-income countries would experience at 1.5°C of warming.

Image: CIAT, NP Nicaragua75_lo, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
31 July 2018

A group of researchers from the University of Michigan’s Sustainable Food Systems Initiative has called for a new approach to solving food system problems, based on the intersection of four key areas: the ecology of agroecosystems, equity on a global and local scale, cultural dimensions of food and agriculture, and human health.

Image: sarahemcc, 2 piglets at JEEP, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic
31 July 2018

A new paper in Science reviews trends in meat consumption and the associated health and environmental implications. The paper also discusses potential means of influencing meat consumption levels.

Image: Max Pixel, Forage Flight Zucchini, CC0 Public Domain
24 July 2018

An Israeli startup has raised $3 million to create a mechanical system for pollinating plants, as an alternative to relying on bees. Wild bee numbers are declining, while bees used by farmers can suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder. Edete Precision Technologies for Agriculture hopes to build two separate systems: one to collect and store pollen, and another to autonomously apply the pollen to plants.

Image: axelmellin, Tomato plant food, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
24 July 2018

An article in Wired explains the implications for agriculture of the gene-editing tool Crispr, which can be used to edit the DNA of living cells at specific points in the genome. Potential applications include removing swollen joints from tomato stems, which can puncture the fruit.

24 July 2018

This book, by Ray A. Goldberg, provides the perspectives of people involved in shaping the global food system, including leaders in academia, nonprofits, public health, and the private and public sectors.

24 July 2018

This book, by Jules Pretty and Zareen Pervez Bharucha, explores the current state of knowledge of sustainable agricultural intensification in a variety of settings, including smallholder farms and industrialised countries.

Image: danielsfotowelt, Lawn irrigation sprinkler, Pixabay, CC0 Creative Commons
24 July 2018

This paper surveys 195 cities in the United States and finds that the number of water conservation measures adopted in a city depend on both the climate (drier cities tend to have more water conservation measures than wetter cities) and political leanings (cities that lean towards the Democrats have more water conservation measures than Republican-leaning cities).

Image: Pxhere, Toucan bird nature, CC0 Public Domain
24 July 2018

Managing tropical forest conservation on the basis of maximising carbon storage might not protect the most biodiverse regions of forest, according to a recent paper. Using datasets from Brazil, the authors found that the correlation between biodiversity and levels of carbon stored in forests depended on whether and how the forest had been disturbed by human activity.

Image: Balaram Mahalder, Maize, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
24 July 2018

As global mean temperature rises due to climate change, the chance of multiple shocks in maize production occurring at the same time rises, due to greater variability in yields. The top four maize-producing countries are United States, China, Brazil, and Argentina. The chance of all four suffering a yield loss of more than 10% in the same year is presently almost zero, but rises to 6% for 2°C of warming and 87% for 4°C of warming. The study does not account for changing variability in temperature (only the increase in mean temperature), nor any gains from breeding heat-tolerant maize varieties.

Image: Bicanski, Organic apple fruits on tree, Pixnio, CC0 Public domain
24 July 2018

This review paper reports that organic agriculture has lower yields than conventional agriculture, by 19-25% on average across all crops, according to three meta-analyses. Lower yields may be due to the lack of use of synthetic fertilisers - organic systems are often limited by low levels of nitrogen or phosphorus - and higher susceptibility to pest outbreaks. Widespread uptake of organic farming (to produce the same amounts of output as today) would probably require some conversion of natural habitats to farmland, because of this lower land-use efficiency compared to conventional agriculture - an important consideration, as the area of certified organic production has increased from 15 million ha in 2000 to 51 million ha in 2015 (although this is only 1% of agricultural land).

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