The United Nations has dedicated this year to a well-known substance that has incredible properties. The Soil Association’s Louise Payton digs deep.
It can support buildings, filter and store billions of tonnes of water, provides a home for a quarter (PDF) of all species on earth, and is used to produce around 95% of our food. It’s soil, and this is the International Year of Soils.
The reason for this grand title is the need for food security debates to better recognise soil. Soil isn’t usually the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks about food security, but incredibly, 25% of agricultural soils (PDF) are severely degraded.
Continue reading The challenge of soil
Jodie Clarke explores innovative projects that use unusual spaces and intriguing technologies to farm fresh produce for urban populations.
Urban centres are expanding across the globe. Today, half of the world’s population live in urban environments, and by 2050 this figure will rise to 70%.
In countries such as China and India, this process is unfolding at an exceptional rate, with skyscrapers and highways appearing where farms and fields existed only a decade ago.
Continue reading Vertical farming and friends
Tara Garnett tackles the thorny and complex issue of growing more with less.
‘Sustainable intensification’ is one of those phrases regularly bandied about in discussions about agriculture. What does it actually mean?
The shorthand definition: ‘producing more food with less negative impact’ – seems hard to dislike. But considering what it might mean in practice, all sorts of questions arise.
Does sustainable intensification imply a particular system or philosophy of agriculture? What about the ‘more food’ issue – how much more, what kind of food, produced where and for whom? How much weight does one attach to the ‘sustainable’ as opposed to the ‘intensification’ part? And what happens when ethical concerns such as animal welfare are added to the mix?
Continue reading The semantics of sustainability and food security
Fresh from the Rio+20 conference, Tim Benton ponders the paradox of producing more with less.
In the last weeks, I have attended an unsustainable flurry of meetings and discussions about sustainable intensification, sustainable agriculture or sustainable development (or all three together).
So what does “sustainable” mean, in the context of environment?
Agriculture, the world’s biggest industry, is rightly seen as the engine of development. It also generates the fuel, literally, that we all require.
Continue reading Sense and sustainability
Effective policies need to consider interactions at multiple levels, say John Ingram and Tim Benton.
The way individuals and institutions react to environmental and other stresses affects food security at local, national and international levels. This was seen in the food price-spikes in 2007/08 where a combination of droughts affecting food production in some countries, food export restrictions in others, and speculation on world markets exacerbated hunger in many counties for extended periods around the world.
Continue reading Embracing the complexity of food security
Has environmental protection taken the edge off UK farming’s competitiveness? Mark Tinsley makes the case.
Who should run the countryside? This was the banner of an event was hosted by Relu (the Rural Economy and Land Use programme) on Nov 16 this year in Gateshead, UK. It was a day-long opportunity for people from all walks of life to take part in activities coordinated by Relu researchers and debate major questions about the future of the UK countryside.
Continue reading Debating rural affairs
Iain Gordon reflects on a unique opportunity for Scottish science and enterprise as well as the challenges that lie ahead.
On 1 April 2011 Scotland became home to a brand new scientific research centre. The James Hutton Institute aims to be one of the world’s leading research institutes on land, crops, water and the environment and is the biggest, multi-disciplinary centre of its type in the UK.
Fittingly, its name has been taken from one of the leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, James Hutton (1726-97).
Continue reading A new institute to tackle food security challenges
Organic and conventional agriculture can both contribute to a sustainably farmed landscape, says Tim Benton.
The world’s population is predicted to increase by 35% (PDF) by 2050. Simultaneously, per capita food demand is rising because as individual wealth increases, consumption (especially of meat and dairy) also increases. Although there are uncertainties, the most widely cited prediction for future demand is that 70% more food (PDF) will be required by 2050.
Continue reading Land sharing vs land sparing: why the fight?