We should not fear failure when looking for novel food security solutions, argues Christina Owen.
In the business world, the motto “fail early, fail often” is frequently hailed as the formula for success. It is also the key tenet behind one of the most effective learning methods in the history of humanity – trial and error.
One can imagine how many errors were made as humans learned how to make and control fire, sow and harvest plants, build sturdy shelters. And it is the systemic process of trial and error that has allowed science and invention to produce history-altering discoveries and innovations like antibiotics, incandescent light bulbs, and the cellular telephone.
Continue reading Freedom to innovate
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
Plants don’t necessarily operate at their full potential. Let’s make them, says Peter Horton.
To provide more crop yield on less land with fewer inputs undoubtedly requires alteration to the fundamental physiological attributes of plants. Included in these is the increase in efficiency of photosynthesis, recently identified by BBRSC as a focus of special interest and subject of a previous post on this blog.
The relationship between photosynthesis and crop yield is controversial.
Continue reading Enhancing photosynthesis
We are too reliant on too few crop species. Using more underutilised plants will improve global food security, says Sean Mayes.
The world depends for its basic diet of carbohydrates, fats and proteins on a very limited number of crop species.
For carbohydrates, three related species, wheat, rice and maize, dominate human consumption. Any short term improvement in food security will need to include modification (either transgenic or through conventional breeding) of these and other staple crops.
Continue reading Breaking the dependency
Simple production changes could benefit farmers and the environment, says Philip Thornton.
Livestock enterprises contribute substantially to the world’s greenhouse gases, largely through deforestation to make room for livestock grazing and feed crops, the methane ruminant animals give off, and the nitrous oxide emitted by manure. Estimates of this contribution vary widely (10-18% (PDF), or more, of global greenhouse-gas emissions) and are still being researched – it’s a complex question and hotly debated.
Continue reading Reducing carbon hoofprints and increasing tropical farming incomes
A committed effort in every agricultural sector and discipline will reap real benefits for the continent, says Lindiwe Majele Sibanda.
Next week, over 200 farmers, policymakers, agricultural researchers, agrodealers and non-governmental organisations from across Africa and around the world will be gathering in Namibia for the annual FANRPAN Policy Dialogue to discuss the state of food security in sub-Saharan Africa and future priorities for continuing progress.
Continue reading Achieving food security in Africa
World markets are better placed than before to brace poor harvests, say Steve Wiggins and Sharada Keats.
It’s more than two years since the peak of the last spike in world grain prices, back in mid-2008. Since then prices have been drifting back to the levels last seen in 2005, or earlier.
The cause? Reports from Canada that harvests will be low on account of too much rain early in the season; while in Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine drought has cut the forecasts for the harvest. These countries feature amongst the top eight wheat exporting countries, shifting around one third of wheat traded globally in the mid-2000s. Failing harvests in these countries hits world markets hard.
Continue reading Will wheat prices spike in 2010?
When it comes to food and farming, Mother Nature does not always know best, says Ottoline Leyser.
© The University of York
No one says to their children, “Go into the woods and eat anything you can find. It is all natural, so it must be good for you.” But for some reason when we walk into the supermarket ‘natural’ is a key selling point for all kinds of foods.
My favourite example is a sweetcorn you can buy that claims to be ‘naturally sweet’. This is an absurd idea.
Continue reading What is ‘natural’ food?
Tracking plant pathogens is a vital part of agro-economic development, says Maurizio Vurro.
As with human and animal diseases, the emergence or re-emergence of plant diseases is often due to man’s activities – a consequence of mass tourism, global trade, or changes to farming practises or the environment.
Continue reading Monitoring emerging crop diseases in developing countries
Through our understanding of how plants secure their own nutritional requirements, we can provide new solutions for sustainable food production for the world’s growing population.
Plants must secure high levels of nitrogen, and in conventional agriculture nitrogen is added at high concentrations in the form of inorganic fertilisers. Artificial nitrogenous fertilisers can increase yield by as much as 50% and the global farming system, and hence our own food supply, is now dependent on them. We would face very severe food shortages if nitrogen fertilisers were to become unavailable.
Continue reading Getting to the root of food security