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
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?
Principles of agroecology can get us out of the food crisis in simple steps. Tree biologist Roger Leakey explains.
We hear doom and gloom about the now ever-present Global Food Crisis, exacerbated by worsening climate change, and it’s possible to conclude that there isn’t a viable solution. This is exacerbated by the dichotomy of views on ways to address the future of food. The menu seems to be either a genetically-modified silver bullet from biotechnology or, at the other extreme, pure organic farming.
Continue reading Trees of life for food security
Did we really run over our fields at random in 30 ton farming vehicles? Agri-consultant Tim Chamen wants to stop it happening now.
Speak to any experienced garden vegetable grower about the acceptability of running a car over their vegetable plot and I guess they would look at you in horror!
And yet this is what farmers worldwide have done with their machines for many years because of the difficulty of doing otherwise. As the drive for improved production efficiency has risen together with labour costs (PDF, 41pp), farm machines have increased dramatically in size and crucially in weight.
Continue reading Saving soil with intelligent machine use
We need to be better prepared for shocks, says Rajul Pandya-Lorch of the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Poor countries and vulnerable people are being hit hard by a barrage of shocks: economic shocks such as volatile food prices and financial crises; environmental and natural disasters like droughts, floods, and earthquakes; and social and political upheavals including conflicts and violence. Climate change, competition for resources, and growing inequality and social exclusion are likely to intensify the risks for food and nutrition security.
Continue reading Bouncing back: building resilience for food and nutrition security
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