Knowledge for Development

Related developments

Climate-smart agriculture global research agenda: scientific basis for action

Researchers have identified gaps in knowledge within ‘climate-smart agriculture’ (CSA) at the 2013 Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (Davis, USA) and elaborated agendas for interdisciplinary research and identified science-based actions. CSA addresses the challenges of meeting the growing demand for food, fibre and fuel, despite the changing climate and fewer opportunities for agricultural expansion on additional lands. Kerri Steenwerth of the Crops Pathology and Genetics Research Unit, USDA and colleagues, focussed on three themes: (i) farm and food systems, (ii) landscape and regional issues and (iii) institutional and policy aspects. The first comprises crop physiology and genetics, mitigation and adaptation for livestock and agriculture, barriers to the adoption of CSA practices, climate risk management, and energy and biofuels. The second includes modelling adaptation and uncertainty, achieving multi-functionality, food and fishery systems, forest biodiversity and ecosystem services, rural migration from climate change and metrics. The third covers designing research that bridges disciplines, integrating stakeholder inputs to link science, action and governance.    (Agriculture & Food Security, 26/08/2014)


Farming aquatic animals for global food system resilience

How the current interconnections between the aquaculture, crop, livestock, and fisheries sectors act as an impediment to, or an opportunity for, enhanced resilience in the global food system given increased resource scarcity and climate change are explored in this paper. The researchers, Max Troell of the Beijer Institute of Ecological Economics, Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm and colleagues, use an innovative framework called Portfolio theory to analyse how growth in aquaculture and diversifying food production may enhance the ability of the global food system to meet future demands under changing conditions. They found that aquaculture can potentially enhance resilience through improved resource use efficiencies and increased diversification of farmed species, locales of production, and feeding strategies. However, the reliance of aquaculture on terrestrial crops and wild fish for feeds, its dependence on freshwater and land for culture sites, and its broad array of environmental impacts diminish its ability to increase resilience. As demand for high-value fed aquaculture products grows, competition for these crops will also rise, as will the demand for wild fish as feed inputs. Although the diversification of global food production systems that includes aquaculture offers promise for enhanced resilience, such promise will not be realised if government policies fail to provide adequate incentives for resource efficiency, equity, and environmental protection.   (Stockholm Resilience Centre, 21/08/2014)


Fertilizer nutrient imbalance to limit food production in Africa

A new study of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA, Austria), published in the journal Global Change Biology, demonstrates that a growing imbalance between phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer use in Africa would lead to crop yield reductions of nearly 30% by 2050. Underuse of phosphorus-based fertilizers in Africa currently contributes to a growing yield gap – the difference between how much crops could produce in ideal circumstances compared to actual yields. This phosphorus-specific yield gap currently lies at around 10% for subsistence farmers, but will grow to 27% by 2050 if current trends continue. While nitrogen-based fertilizer usage has begun to increase in Africa in the last 10 years, the application of phosphorus to cropland has not kept pace, leading to a growing imbalance between nitrogen and phosphorus levels in soil. The new study shows that increases in nitrogen and phosphorus inputs must happen in a way that provides crops with the balanced nutrient input they need.   (IIASA, 28/01/2014)   


A UK strategy for agricultural technologies

The UK Government recently released its UK Strategy for Agricultural Technologies, which sets out how it plans to put Britain at the forefront of these technologies. It  involves building on the nation's strengths and investing £160m in new technologies, £70m through a new agri-tech Catalyst Centre and £90m through government  funding for Centres for Agricultural Innovation to explore and innovate in domains such as precision farming and no-till cultivation, GM crops, new anti-pest strategies  and even the use of drones and nanotechnology.     (NERC, 30/07/2013)   


Research needs in root system architecture

Xin Tian, molecular plant scientist at the University of Edinburgh and Peter Doerner, plant cellular physiologist at INRA, France, review the literature on resource  foraging, the process by which root system architecture changes over time to acquire resources. The study brings to light the high diversity of root behaviour,  including foraging, observed in different species, even in different accessions of the same species, revealing its adaptive nature. The scientists see the need for more  fundamental research into root growth mechanisms to inform transgenic approaches and breeding programmes based on existing germplasm. Research into root  foraging should not be restricted to crop plants and their interactions, they conclude, saying there is much to learn from wild plants how inter-species competition  and different niches have shaped root foraging strategies in evolution in the quest for more resilient performance for crops experiencing environmental stresses.    (Front. Plant Sci., 12/08/2013)   


The challenge of measuring performance of agricultural conservation and environmental programmes

This report commissioned by AGree summarises conceptual and methodological challenges of measuring the environmental performance of agriculture. The authors acknowledge that there is no comprehensive, widely accepted index or assessment tool which considers all the related factors concerning the impact of agricultural operations, practices and systems on defined environmental goals for water, wetlands restoration, and native species among others. Different types of performance measures and approaches are reviewed to identify best practices and enhance understanding of the ways in which agricultural and environmental policy might be assessed and strengthened. One main recommendation is that it may be beneficial to engage farmers and ranchers early in the collection and interpretation of data. While it is emphasised that agricultural and environmental policies have distinct purposes, the authors conclude that neither should be pursued in isolation. They conclude that aligning agricultural production with improved environmental outcomes at the landscape scale is a long-term goal achieved through collaboration among various agencies and levels of government, producers, researchers, private companies and civil society.    (AGree, 01/04/2013)


Population boom poses interconnected challenges of energy, food, water

Speakers at an international symposium called for innovations in plant biotechnology, synthetic biology and information technology to address the challenges of a growing world population.‘The Interconnected World of Energy, Food and Water’ presentations at EurekAlert, 8/04/2013)


Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness markets set to top a trillion-dollar in 2030

A new World Bank report says that Africa’s food and beverage markets are projected to reach US$1 trillion by 2030. By way of comparison, the current size of the market is $313 billion, offering the prospect of a three-fold increase. That is, if farmers and agribusinesses can expand their access to more capital, electricity, better technology and irrigated land to grow high-value nutritious foods.  The report took an in-depth look at entire value chains for five commodities, rice, maize, cocoa, dairy and green beans. It calls on governments to work side-by-side with agribusinesses, to link farmers with consumers in an increasingly urbanized Africa. Bank, 4/03/2013)


New project and call for evidence at EASAC: ‘Planting the future: opportunities and challenges for sustainable crop development’

EASAC – the European Academies Science Advisory Council – announced late July 2012 the new project to address genetics and the sustainable intensification of agriculture, covering science and technology in the context of EU food security and EU-global relationship. It is meant to explore the implications of alternative policy decisions on bioscience strategies in agriculture. One of the work streams is to collect evidence on the applications of molecular biosciences in agriculture in African countries.EASAC invites contributions of written evidence to this project, to be submitted by 30 September 2012.(EASAC, 24/7/2012)


UNEP report warns ecological foundations that support food security are being undermined

A June 2012 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food Systems, finds that food security must embrace the environmental services nature provides if the world is to feed its growing population. Inefficiencies along the food delivery chain further complicate the challenge, and the report highlights that an estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion tons per year. The debate on food security so far has largely revolved around availability, access, utilization and stability as the four pillars of food security, barely touching on the resource base and ecosystem services that prop up the whole food system. The report aims to increase the focus on these crucial environmental aspects, which are being undermined by overfishing, unsustainable water use and other human activities. It also frames the debate in the context of the Green Economy, calling for food production and consumption practices that ensure productivity without undermining ecosystem services.(UNEP News Centre, 20/6/2012)


Improving agricultural inputs to fix our global food system

Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author, Paul Roberts, of Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. Paul Roberts, author of The End of Oil (2004) and The End of Food (2008), discusses the main reasons why global food system is not working properly: increasing risks to agricultural inputs like energy, fertilizers, and water. (NtP, 13/6/2012)


FAO on energy-smart food systems: Issue Paper and Policy brief

The Issue paper is aimed at discussing how the entire food sector, from the farmer’s field to the consumer’s plate, can become more ‘energy-smart’. Implying the requirement of transformation along the food chain involves: (i) relying more on low-carbon energy systems and using energy more efficiently; (ii) strengthening the role of renewable energy within food systems; (iii) providing greater access to modern energy services for development, and at the same time supporting the achievement of national food security and sustainable development goals. The paper provides examples of energy-smart practices for both small-and large-scale enterprises and covers the entire food sector. The approach used to develop this system is based on three pillars (i) providing energy access for all; (ii) improving energy efficiency at all stages of the food supply chain; and (iii) substituting fossil fuels with renewable energy systems in the food sector. The issue paper presents data analysis results for reducing the dependence on fossil fuel in agriculture and serves as support document for designing energy-smart agricultural policies. Get the related policy brief.


Protecting wild species may require growing more food on less land

In the study 'Reconciling food production and biodiversity conservation: land sharing and land sparing compared', Dr Ben Phalan and research colleagues from the University of Cambridge and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds discovered that, under current and future scenarios of food demand, most species would have larger total populations if farming was restricted to the smallest area feasible, while protecting as much natural forest as possible. This was true not just for rare species but for common species as well. This strategy, called ‘land sparing’, uses higher yields on existing farmland to spare land for nature (in contrast with ‘land sharing’, which aims to conserve wild species and grow crops on the same land). Because high-yield farming produced more food from less land, it could be used as part of a strategy to protect larger tracts of natural habitats such as forest. (Univ. of Cambridge via Mongabay, 1/9/2011)


Working across borders - Harnessing the potential of cross-border activities to improve livelihood security in the Horn of Africa drylands

The Humanitarian Policy Group of the Overseas Development Institute, London, UK, argues in their study of September 2010 ‘Working across borders’ that there remains limited understanding of the nature, magnitude and value of cross-border livelihood activities in the Horn of Africa. The key messages are Mobile pastoralist systems often cross international borders. There is a need for more research, policy and practice efforts to better understand and exploit the potential of cross-border activities to enhance drought management, contribute to national economies, and improve local livelihoods and food security in the Horn of Africa. Governments in the region should cooperate in granting legal and economic legitimacy to informal cross-border trade exchanges and step up collective efforts to control trans-boundary animal diseases. Regional bodies can play a pivotal coordination role and provide the enabling policy environment and legal framework to regulate cross-border dynamics. Donors should support these processes. There is also a need to recognize that a timely, adequate and comprehensive response to drought must also focus on border areas and support cross-border activities. (Source: Reliefweb, September 2010)


Predicting 'tipping points' in humans and ecosystems

An international group of scientists looking at studies of critical thresholds in different complex systems such as humans, ecosystems and financial markets has concluded that regardless of the details, the dynamics of each system near its 'tipping point' share generic properties. Their review of early-warning signal modelling, published in the journal Nature, opens up new opportunities for connecting work on tipping-point phenomena across several disciplines. Predicting when a system will make a critical shift, triggering an asthma attack or a market crash for example, is tricky. Accurate models to predict thresholds in most complex systems are incipient, as in most cases scientists do not have a full understanding of all the relevant mechanisms and feedbacks. The work was funded in part by a European Young Investigator Award, a scheme run through the Sixth Framework Programme to attract outstanding young scientists in all research domains from any country in the world to create their own research teams at European research centres. (Source: CORDIS news, 3 September 2009)