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
Terrestrial and aquatic food production systems share a range of common problems that need solutions. Rachel Norman from the University of Stirling reports.
A mathematical biologist by training, I was very keen to tease out whether we could treat fish and crops as being the same when we come to think about problems in food security.
After some consternation amongst my biological colleagues, there was consensus that aquaculture systems share some common features with both crops and chickens – they both have relatively high stocking densities, for example. They also share common risks, for example disease outbreaks can be devastating in all cases.
Continue reading Surf and turf: bringing crop and fish people together
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?
Can we tap into ecological defences to better protect crops? The University of Sheffield’s Will Buswell reports.
Crop pathogens are a substantial drain on world food production. Annually, an estimated 20% of global yields are lost to disease, but this figure belies far greater losses for specific food systems and the people whose stable existence is dependent upon them, particularly in developing countries.
For instance, rice is the staple crop for over half of the world’s population, yet almost 40% of yield is lost to disease each year.
Continue reading Priming plants for natural disease control
Global Food Security programme Champion Tim Benton reviews the year and looks ahead to 2016.
Food insecurity remained at the front of mind in 2015 for three reasons.
Firstly, in Europe, we have had the refugee crisis and the horrific events in Paris in November. Part of the reason for the destabilisation of the Middle East was the interaction between food and climate. The 2007-10 Syrian drought undermined rural livelihoods and helped create disaffected urban populations and the 2010 East European heat wave drove up food prices and helped spark the Arab Spring. Food insecurity is more than people simply being hungry.
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