The United Nations has dedicated this year to a well-known substance that has incredible properties. The Soil Association’s Louise Payton digs deep.
It can support buildings, filter and store billions of tonnes of water, provides a home for a quarter (PDF) of all species on earth, and is used to produce around 95% of our food. It’s soil, and this is the International Year of Soils.
The reason for this grand title is the need for food security debates to better recognise soil. Soil isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about food security, but incredibly, 25% of agricultural soils (PDF) are severely degraded.
Continue reading The challenge of soil
Following World Water day, three new reports on water use are launched by the Global Food Security programme. GFS Science Writer Theresa Meacham pours over the results.
After land, water is the most important resource for farmers. Agriculture accounts for 75% of global fresh water extraction, yet it is often taken for granted. Irrigating land, mixing liquid fertilisers and sprays, providing drinking water for livestock, and washing down and cleaning equipment all require water.
Increasingly water is being recognised as a critical resource under threat.
Continue reading Facing the future: water and agriculture
In an audio slideshow special, food writer and consultant Geoff Tansey wonders what will happen to the ancient rice terraces of the Far East.
Will China build on its long-term sustainable farming systems, such as these famous rice terraces in Yunnan, or abandon them?
That’s the question I’ve found myself pondering about since my most recent visit to China.
As you can see in these pictures, for many visitors to China it’s the gleaming new city centres, glitzy shopping malls and swathes of high-rise apartments that seem to grow faster than their crops that impress.
Continue reading Photo diary: A story of sustainability in China
Scientists – and economists – should avoid being prisoners of present knowledge, says former FAO agricultural economist Andrew MacMillan.
It is strange how many good ideas, when they are first advanced, are ridiculed and dismissed by the establishment but somehow eventually gain respectability and enter mainstream thinking.
Continue reading Going against the grain
The word ‘nexus’ seems to be cropping up everywhere, but what does it mean for food security? Global Food Security Champion Tim Benton explains.
Following Christmas, often an annual festival of demand and excess, maybe January is the time to think about demand-management. At the end of last year, I was involved in a flurry of meetings with the term ’nexus ‘ in the title. Nexus essentially means interconnectedness, or binding together.
Continue reading Nexology for the New Year
Now is the time to build food security capacity, and there are funds to do it. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Christina Owen reports.
On the Agricultural Development team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we’re working hard to put ourselves out of a job.
The primary way to ensure this happens is for individual countries to develop and own their own sustainable agricultural systems, and to make them work for their farmers.
But what does this sustainability look like?
Continue reading Pay dirt: Growing sustainable agricultural development systems
Did we really run over our fields at random in 30 ton farming vehicles? Agri-consultant Tim Chamen wants to stop it happening now.
Speak to any experienced garden vegetable grower about the acceptability of running a car over their vegetable plot and I guess they would look at you in horror!
And yet this is what farmers worldwide have done with their machines for many years because of the difficulty of doing otherwise. As the drive for improved production efficiency has risen together with labour costs (PDF, 41pp), farm machines have increased dramatically in size and crucially in weight.
Continue reading Saving soil with intelligent machine use
Indicators for the Sustainable Development Goals must be chosen with care, says Jørgen Ole Haslestad of the International Fertilizer Industry Association.
When considering the sustainable development of our planet, one sector sits squarely at the cross section of protecting natural resources, feeding the world and reducing carbon emissions: agriculture.
Within that sector, it is often the role of natural and especially mineral fertilizers that could yield the greatest benefit, but also attracts the most criticism.
Continue reading Fertilizers: quality over quantity
At the launch of a new report on food security and climate change, the British Consulate in Chicago’s Jack Westwood is optimistic.
Having previously worked in a laboratory trying to find solutions to prevent and control the spread of crop disease, food security issues are often on my mind. However, being a scientist often means focusing on a very specific problem, so when the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA), an independent think-tank committed to educating the public and influencing policy debate, launched its latest report ‘Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of Changing Climate’ on May 22 in Washington DC, it put my previous work into sharp relief.
Continue reading More than food for thought
2014 is the International Year of Family Farming. Andrew MacMillan reflects on home-grown food.
A couple of months ago, the United Nations launched the International Year of Family Farming. Hopefully, by the end of the year many more people around the world will come to appreciate the enormously important role that family-run farms play in producing our food in sustainable ways.
When I was turning my compost heaps a few days ago to speed up the processes of decay and have lots of organic fertilizer available for the spring-time planting of vegetables, it struck me how often we risk creating confusion with the difficult words scientists and economists use to describe the kinds of things that small-scale farmers do, let us say naturally, every day.
Continue reading Investing sweat equity to harness ecosystem services