An expert group gathers to discuss this elemental problem. The John Innes Centre’s Allan Downie reports on problems and progress.
What is the nitrogen crisis? It is clear that we have introduced major global shifts in production and use of reactive nitrogen without really knowing what happens to the ammonia and nitrogen oxides released to the environment.
The production of nitrogen fertiliser and combustion of fossil fuels doubles the amount of reactive N entering the nitrogen cycle annually.
Continue reading The nitrogen crisis: what are the solutions?
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
Global Food Security programme Champion Tim Benton summarises specially commissioned GFS reports on the topic.
Rarely a week goes by without there being news of weather records being broken.
We have recently had the hottest June recorded across four continents. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) trumpeted that in a single week in February 2185 local weather records were broken as an unmoving ridge of high pressure kept the US west coast unseasonably hot, and the east coast unseasonably cold.
Continue reading Future shocks: how resilient is the UK food system to extreme global weather events?
What can seasonal forecasts bring to agriculture and food security? Pete Falloon of the Met Office predicts progress.
They say it often pays to look ahead. Farmers have been doing just that for thousands of years, searching for the signals or patterns that might tell them the best time to sow seeds, or seek shelter for their animals.
Here in the 21st century, our desire to predict the weather is no less diminished. Now we are developing the tools, technology and models to make better predictions, not just a few days ahead, but to cover whole growing seasons and climactic events.
Continue reading Don’t blame it on the weatherman
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
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
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
Top researchers gather to tuck into global food matters. Tim Benton relishes the chance.
I have recently returned from a Meeting of the Agricultural Chief Scientists (the ‘MACS’) of the G20, held in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Each time we left the hotel for a venue, I couldn’t get over the security involved in our bus escort which at one stage included 11 or 12 vehicles: motorbikes, police cars, machine-gun mounted jeeps, an army vehicle and an ambulance! And it wasn’t all work, one day’s meeting was held in the grounds of the Jose Cuervo distillery in the town of Tequila, including a fascinating tour involving vision, audio and (of course) taste(s).
Continue reading A meeting of the big ‘MACS’
Is science the only answer to climate change and food security challenges? Andrée Carter reports from the Planet under Pressure conference.
A major international conference held at the end of March, Planet under Pressure, focused on solutions to the global sustainability challenge.
First, we need to recognise a shared vision of what a truly sustainable world will look like, and to do that, we need to cooperate across disciplines and with a wide variety of stakeholders.
Continue reading Visions for a sustainable world
Muhammad Akbar reviews the problems and potential of a populous food producing nation.
Agriculture plays a major role in Pakistan’s economy; it accounts for 21% of GDP and 45% of the workforce is employed in agriculture. But agriculture in Pakistan faces numerous difficulties and despite its importance to the country, food security is not guaranteed for significant portions of the country.
Pakistan’s population in 2011 was 177 million – the sixth largest in the world – and is predicted to reach 191.7 million by 2015. Yet the agriculture sector has been suffering from decline for the past three decades. Productivity remains low; yields per unit area are low, and critical investments in developing new plant varieties, farming technology and water infrastructure are not being made.
Continue reading Food security in Pakistan: past and present