What technologies could sustainably replace pesticides, without compromising on yield or quality? The Global Food Security (GFS) programme’s David O’Gorman reviews a recent GFS workshop on the topic.
What would happen if we could no longer use pesticides? Well, there would be significant yield losses, food price increases, greater food insecurity and potentially political unrest and instability. There may well be reduced ecological impacts, but with loss of yield would come expansion of agricultural land, with release of GHGs and loss of biodiversity.
We are heavily reliant on pesticides to maximise crop yields and put food on our tables. Even with the use of pesticides, a third of food (PDF) produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – what might the figure be with a dramatic increase in pre-harvest losses following reduced pesticide use?
Continue reading How would we cope with a post-pesticide world?
Insect farms could recover the true value of wasted organic nutrients, improve local food security and assist in environmental protection, says Keiran Olivares Whitaker of Entocycle.
Agriculture is probably the single most damaging human activity for the planet. Natural resources are already stretched, and to feed the future growing population and meet the demographic shifts in diet, extreme environmental damage will occur.
The optimum direction would be for the global population to shift to a more plant-based diet. The trajectory however is for 70% increase (PDF) in fish and meat consumption by 2050. But around 70% of agricultural land and 70% of fresh water use is already designated to produce feed for animals (PDF), and a recent report from The Economist has highlighted nearly 100% of fish stocks are now under pressure, to varying degrees of severity.
Continue reading Advancing insects as animal feed
Many had expected the 1.5°C temperature goal to drop out of the draft text during the fortnight of negotiations. Now, as the dust settles after the landmark agreement, scientists are grappling with the feasibility of meeting this more ambitious target.
But there was one sector that was largely absent from the talks in Paris. It’s something that we rely on everyday, and continuing to ignore it could mean waving goodbye to that 1.5°C goal. It’s food.
Continue reading Where was food in the COP21 Paris Agreement?
What innovations really have the potential to transform the food-producing landscape? Head of the Global Food Security programme Riaz Bhunnoo takes a whistle-stop tour.
In just a 35 year period the Earth is being tasked with producing more food than it has in the last 2000 years combined. We either need to find very clever ways of sustainably producing more on the same area of land, or we need to demand less. In reality we need to do both, and cutting-edge technologies will have a key role to play.
Continue reading Game-changing technologies in agriculture
As a new report is published, BBSRC’s Adam Staines discusses the complex issues surrounding antibiotic use in the food chain.
Despite lots of wider media coverage in the last year on antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance many people are still asking basic questions about what resistance is, what is resistant to what, and why should I really care?
Any societal complacency over the importance of antimicrobial drugs is actually a testament to their success. Many of the diseases that ravaged us and our livestock industries for centuries until Alexander Fleming and penicillin came along have been so successfully controlled we no longer fear them, or even recognise the names. (The leading causes of human death in 1900 were bacterial infections causing pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoea and enteritis.)
Continue reading Antimicrobials in agriculture
A new network helps researchers get their hands dirty. The Soil Association’s Tom MacMillan explains how you can get involved.
What would agricultural R&D look like if farmers were in charge?
I’ve written for this blog before about the Duchy Future Farming Programme, which recognises and supports innovation by farmers. With three years of ‘field labs’ under our belts, involving more than 750 farmers and looking into 35 topics, we’ve just launched its next phase – a network called Innovative Farmers.
Continue reading Meet the Innovative Farmers
Training female farmers to get the best from their land can reap benefits. IFDC’s former president Amit Roy makes the case for fertilisers and other innovations.
By 2030, the agriculture and agribusiness sector in Africa is predicted to become a US $1 trillion industry. Farming has long been hailed as the engine of the African economy, and over the next 15 years it is going to need a jump-start if it is to feed the rocketing population, particularly in urban areas. Many factors will fuel this growth, but fertilizer is going to be critical.
Currently, 65 percent of land in Africa is degraded and lacking in the essential nutrients crops need to grow. Yet much of the world’s remaining arable land is in Africa. Replenishing undernourished soils is a unique opportunity for African agricultural growth.
Continue reading If agriculture is Africa’s engine, let’s add fuel
Peter Gregory from the University of Reading and Richard McDowell, Principal Scientist at AgResearch, introduce the new GFS-coordinated TempAg network.
The International Sustainable Temperate Agriculture (TempAg) Network was launched in April 2015 as an international research network that aims to deliver sustainable agricultural systems in temperate regions of the world. After four years of preparatory work, we are delighted that our international research programme is now underway and linking scientists in the temperate regions of the world.
Continue reading Temperate times: a new research collaboration
Synthetic biology can help us to secure a sustainable food supply. Huw Jones of Rothamsted Research explains all.
In the same way that Alec Issigonis first conceptualised, drew and then built the iconic Mini, I predict it will not be long before crop plants are designed and built, bottom up, using the principles of synthetic biology.
Plant breeding using classical, top-down or forward genetic approaches has served us well in the millennia since people settled in agricultural communities and started crossing plants, selecting individuals with traits that made farming easier and the edible parts more nutritious.
Continue reading Building better crops from the bottom up
It’s time to re-evaluate the impacts of the potential cultivation of GM crops in UK agriculture, says policy researcher at ADAS Carla Turner.
Genetic modification (GM) in crops has been on the political agenda since their emergence in the 1980s and the first commercially available GM crop approved for cultivation in 1994.
Within the European Union (EU) there has been a precautionary approach to the commercial cultivation of GM crops with stringent approvals legislation.
Continue reading What if we grew GM crops in Britain?