Agriculture needs to produce more food from less. Are ‘mega’ farms the answer, asks Becky Hothersall.
I research the health and welfare of chickens reared for meat, but last year I spent six weeks working with BBC Countryfile as part of the British Science Association’s Media Fellowship scheme for research scientists. At the BBC I had the chance to act as researcher and scientific adviser for a feature looking at the rise of huge indoor ‘mega’ dairies and pig farms in the United States.
The mega farm debate is highly polarised. I heard equally passionate arguments that mega farms pollute the environment and destroy rural communities, and from others who believe that they’re the only viable way to keep meat and dairy products affordable back here in Britain.
Continue reading Mega farms: yay or nay?
Individuals, governments and farmers are all responsible for the changes we need, says Oliver Dowding.
My first 13 years of farming saw endless lorry-loads of fertilisers and chemicals coming on to the farm. The controls on their usage, and the consequential problems, were evidently increasing. I re-examined what I was doing and who the gainers and losers were.
Conclusion: I needed to cut down the inputs, improve sustainability, stay friends with the consumer and re-enliven my soils.
Continue reading Business as usual is not an option
Scientists and international organisations are well placed to eliminate another deadly animal disease, says Michael Baron.
The eradication of the long-feared cattle disease rinderpest, announced by OIE and FAO in June 2011, is a momentous achievement. John Anderson has already written on this blog about the lessons learned during the rinderpest eradication programme, which I’ve also described on video.
If we can do it once, we can do it again; the only question is: what should be the next target?
Continue reading The cattle plague virus is gone: what’s next?
We should bury the dodgy statistics but face up to the reality of our over indulgence in meat, says Simon Fairlie.
I recently spent several years investigating the environmental impact of livestock production for a book called Meat: A Benign Extravagance, which stimulated the debate on the real carbon foot print of rearing animals for food, particularly when the Guardian’s George Monbiot wrote his ‘Let them eat meat – but farm it properly’ critique.
Continue reading Meat: a benign extravagance
It’s time to engage the public with the difficult choices that lie ahead, says Les Firbank.
Food and farming have rarely been away from the headlines in recent years. One of the ongoing themes has been the alleged departure of modern food production and distribution from so-called ‘natural’ practices. We have seen it in the controversies over genetically modified (GM) crops, the rapid spread of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, and the risks to human health from BSE in cows and salmonella in chicken eggs.
Continue reading Farming in the future: nature versus necessity
Simple production changes could benefit farmers and the environment, says Philip Thornton.
Livestock enterprises contribute substantially to the world’s greenhouse gases, largely through deforestation to make room for livestock grazing and feed crops, the methane ruminant animals give off, and the nitrous oxide emitted by manure. Estimates of this contribution vary widely (10-18% (PDF), or more, of global greenhouse-gas emissions) and are still being researched – it’s a complex question and hotly debated.
Continue reading Reducing carbon hoofprints and increasing tropical farming incomes
Why is the Sahel food security crisis still below the radar? Kirsty Hughes reports from the region.
I have just visited the semi-arid Sahel region of West Africa where over ten million people are facing hunger with many, including hundreds of thousands of young children, badly malnourished.
This food crisis is not a new story.
Continue reading Food crisis looming in West Africa
Let’s understand, utilise and conserve the indigenous cattle breeds, says Oliver Hanotte.
Livestock is and has been intertwined with African societies for centuries. They provide nutrition, labour, transport and fulfil major socio-cultural roles. It is estimated that 70% of Africa’s rural poor keep livestock and some 200M people rely on these animals for their livelihoods. Indigenous livestock are not only adapted to diverse African agro-ecological production systems – they are also unique and responsive genotypes shaped by the needs of African farmers.
Continue reading African livestock for Africa
Right now the European Commission (EC) is working on a new policy framework for assisting developing countries address agriculture and food security challenges.
Why is such a policy important?
Because for developing countries, the consequences of insecure food supplies are severe and undermine development and progress. 3 out of 4 people in developing countries live in rural areas, and most depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Continue reading Developing countries face a greater threat
Livestock species are an important part of the human food chain but their health and our agricultural productivity is challenged constantly by infectious diseases. The livestock sector in the UK is worth around £8Bn per annum and the overall costs of animal diseases during the past 15 years are an estimated £15Bn. These costs come from production losses, the eradication of pathogens whose arrival leads to restrictions in livestock trade, and the implementation of strategies to prevent potentially high rates of mortality.
Continue reading Infectious diseases: old enemies and new threats