The world has celebrated rinderpest virus eradication. But an FAO video shows there’s cleaning up to do after the party. Virologist Michael Baron explains.
Rinderpest, aka ’cattle plague’, was with us for a long time, at least 2000 years. Over the centuries, the virus killed uncounted millions of animals in Asia and Europe. When it was accidentally introduced into Africa for the first time, in the late 19th century, it went on to kill ~90% of the cattle and buffalo on that continent. It was, let’s be honest, a Very Bad Thing.
Note the past tense. After several decades of hard work across all of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, rinderpest was declared eradicated in 2011 (PDF), and there have been no cases of the disease, anywhere, for more than 15 years. Rinderpest was a Very Bad Thing, but it is now no longer a thing at all (read this GFS blog post for a review of how it was done).
Continue reading Locking up a killer virus
As armyworms return to devastate crops in Africa, Lancaster University’s Professor Ken Wilson reports on renewed efforts to bring a sustainable solution.
As we roll into 2017, my thoughts cast back to a whirlwind visit I made to Zambia at about the same time of year four years ago.
I witnessed a major outbreak of African armyworm caterpillars destroying the vital maize crops of local smallholder farmers and causing a country-wide food security crisis. As you can see in the video below, I met with the then Vice President of Zambia, Dr Guy Scott, and told him of our ongoing research, funded (PDF) by Global Food Security programme partners BBSRC and the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) aimed at developing a locally-produced biological pesticide against this devastating plant pest.
Continue reading Natural killers: developing better biopesticides
The Global Food Security programme’s Sian Williams decided to cut all meat and animal products from her diet to see how difficult it would be to eat more sustainably.
Never one to shy away from an experiment, I took on the challenge of changing my previously omnivorous diet to become vegan for a month, hoping to better understand what challenges this might bring.
With the global food system as a whole currently responsible for around 30% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions, it is clear that the agri-food sector must adapt in order to meet the Paris Agreement. Especially given estimates that food-related emissions could account for the entire carbon budget for a 1.5°C temperature rise by 2050.
Continue reading My vegan challenge: how hard is it to change your diet?
Most of the world’s food is produced in temperate zones. The Global Food Security programme’s Evangelia Kougioumoutzi reports on the TempAg Network.
Agricultural production in temperate regions is highly productive with a significant proportion of global output originating from temperate (i.e. non-tropical) countries – 21% of global meat production and 20% of global cereal production originates from Europe alone. This proportion is very likely to increase (PDF) in light of climate change.
TempAg is an international research collaboration network established to increase the impact of agricultural research and inform policy making in the world’s temperate regions.
Continue reading Temperate matters in agriculture
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