A natural virus could control devastating pest outbreaks and improve food security for thousands of farmers. In a special video diary, Ken Wilson reports on a long weekend in Zambia.
“We have arranged for you to meet the Vice President at 10am on Sunday. Is this OK?”. That was it, my trip to Zambia was definitely on and I had just a few hours to prepare for my field visit and meet one of the country’s top politicians who was leading their efforts to manage a food security crisis.
But as you can see in the video below (which you can also watch on YouTube, or in a shorter 03:50 video feature), this visit turned out to be rather different from the rest.
Continue reading Video blog: The hunt for African armyworm
We need to stop pests eating our food. Richard Pywell and Ben Woodcock argue that supporting native wildlife on farms is part of the answer.
Farmers have always been in a running battle with pests. We estimate using Defra statistics that in 2010, UK crops worth £715M were lost to insect pests. Chemical pesticides are crucial to controlling them, but the development of pest resistance, and key products being withdrawn amid fears about human and environmental health mean that alternative methods are increasingly important.
One solution is to promote native biodiversity that will kill pests within crops. Many native species have the potential to increase crop yields, so supporting biodiversity on farmland has more to offer than simply beautifying the countryside. For example, bees pollinate crops and predatory beetles eat pest aphids. In any case, the UK has signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, which requires that “by 2020 areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity”.
Continue reading Protecting nature’s harvest
Agroforestry can lead to the sustainable intensification of tropical agriculture. Roger Leakey reports.
Numerous international reports (PDF) have concluded that ‘business as usual is not an option for agriculture’, but there seems to be no clear path forwards. Indeed there is a highly polarized debate in which biotechnology (GM) and organic agriculture are the two opposing candidates for most people’s affections and attention.
Continue reading Three steps to bridging the yield gap
A new programme could mitigate climate change and adapt food production for the future. Tracy Gerstle reports.
Climate change is at the top of the United Nations agenda from 26 Nov to 7 Dec in negotiations at the Eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP18) in Doha, Qatar. Since 1995, the annual climate talks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have served as an important platform to focus global attention on identifying and starting to address the causes and impacts of climate change.
Continue reading Putting agriculture on the map at COP18
Utilising satellites as insurance loss adjusters could help to some of the poorest farmers in Africa. Michael Baron is watching.
Things happen, and sometimes bad things happen, like my house catching fire.
About 4000 years ago, people invented the concept of insurance, to share risks so no one lost everything when a bad thing happened. But my house catching fire is preventable – the things that are most important to insure against are the unpreventable bad things, such as extreme weather.
Continue reading From insecurity to food security
Fresh from the Rio+20 conference, Tim Benton ponders the paradox of producing more with less.
In the last weeks, I have attended an unsustainable flurry of meetings and discussions about sustainable intensification, sustainable agriculture or sustainable development (or all three together).
So what does “sustainable” mean, in the context of environment?
Agriculture, the world’s biggest industry, is rightly seen as the engine of development. It also generates the fuel, literally, that we all require.
Continue reading Sense and sustainability
Improving post-harvest technologies will enhance food security and health, says Asgar Ali.
In the midst of a perpetual population boom and conscious awareness of the limited and diminishing resources such as land, fertilizers and water availability, how will governments, organizations and people respond? And how should they respond?
Significant effort has been dedicated at increasing agricultural productivity. But is it time to focus more on protetcing these gains from post-harvest losses?
Continue reading Grow not waste not
Has environmental protection taken the edge off UK farming’s competitiveness? Mark Tinsley makes the case.
Who should run the countryside? This was the banner of an event was hosted by Relu (the Rural Economy and Land Use programme) on Nov 16 this year in Gateshead, UK. It was a day-long opportunity for people from all walks of life to take part in activities coordinated by Relu researchers and debate major questions about the future of the UK countryside.
Continue reading Debating rural affairs
Harvesting plants from the sea is an essential part of successful marine agronomy, says John Forster.
Aquaculture has been the subject of two recent high profile reports. The first, entitled Blue Frontiers, begins by asserting ‘There is a pressing need to elevate the debate on the future of aquaculture and to place this in the context of other animal food production systems, including wild capture fisheries’. The second report made the front cover of Time Magazine and poses the question ‘Can farming save the last wild food?’
Both reports make important points. Between 1970 and 2008, global aquaculture production grew (PDF) at an average rate of 8.4% per year, and aquaculture remains one of the fastest growing food producing sectors measured in terms of year-on-year percentage gain. Furthermore, because the world’s fisheries are yielding all they can, there is simply no option but to farm seafood if growing human demand for animal protein is to be met.
Continue reading Elevating the aquaculture debate
UK agriculture needs to be more competitive, says Jim Godfrey.
As farmers we want a competitive farming industry because that is what will be sustainable in the longer term. A competitive industry is profitable, more resilient, better able to withstand financial, disease and other shocks; it is more likely to reinvest, better able to provide good working conditions, environmental benefits, and give greater choice, innovation and value to consumers as well as being less likely to require subsidy.
Over the last 20 years we have seen the output of UK agriculture decline, mainly as a result of less land in production and less livestock. The UK’s self sufficiency has decreased too, and the average yields of our major crops have at best only marginally increased over this time, the notable exception being sugar beet. The pig sector has decreased substantially as a result of UK welfare legislation and subsequent under re-investment, whilst the poultry sector has increased substantially due to well targeted research and investment in buildings.
Continue reading Better British farming