Stories tagged: principle6

New report backs biotechnology as solution to food insecurity

Feeding the Next GenerationA new report has been published by the Belfar Center for Science and International Affairs, entitled “Feeding The Next Generation: Science, Business and Public Policy.” Inspired by a global panel event held in February 2010 in association with CropLife InternationalBiotechnology Industry Organisation (BIO) and Council of Agricultural Science and Technology (CAST), the paper supports the legacy of Dr. Norman Borlaug and his commitment to eradicating hunger through scientific innovation in agriculture. It assesses both the risks and benefits of utilising biotechnology to enhance crop yield, and urges the beginning of a ‘Second Green Revolution’ in order to meet the increasingly urgent demand for food, feed, fuel and fibre.

As global demand for food is expected to double by 2050, agricultural productivity will need to increase significantly. Climate change presents a further challenge as more frequent and extreme weather events affect our food supply, our infrastructure and our livelihoods. The report explains how scientific innovation offers the best solution to increase agricultural productivity:

Modern, science‐driven farming including genetically modified crops represents our best chance of generating the increases in agricultural productivity necessary to feed our future.

The paper explores agricultural productivity strategies in the past, present and future as well as detailing the wealth of technological advancements available to combat world hunger, which are deemed “critical” by editor Calestous Juma, Director of the Science, Technology and Globalization Project at Harvard Kennedy School.

It also outlines the challenges science-based approaches to global agriculture face, most notably the lack of universal acceptance of genetically modified crops and the precautionary regulatory regimes in both Europe and low-income, developing countries that are inhibiting the research, development, and use of genetically modified crops.

The report argues that the challenge to food security can be met by enhanced agricultural productivity, provided there is greater investment in agricultural research, more innovation and investment friendly regulatory regimes, and enhanced global and regional networks for knowledge and technology transfer.

Read the full report

Read more about Farming First’s views on the responsible use of science and technology for improved productivity

New UK Government Report on Food Security for 2030

defraA new report issued by the UK’s Department for Enviroment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) outlines how the UK government intends to address future food security. According to the Guardian, the ‘Food 2030’ report takes the most comprehensive approach to agriculture policy since the Second World War.

The UK food industry is worth £80 billion and employs 3.6 million people. Driven by the triple threat of a growing population, the threat of climate change and a vulnerable supply of natural resources, the new policy by Defra outlines what the UK government perceives to be priority actions for the future, including:

  • increasing the amount of food grown in Britain
  • reducing the impact of agriculture upon the environment
  • reducing agricultural emissions by the equivalent of 3 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020
  • reviewing the impacts of UK consumption on agricultural economies in the rest of the world
  • addressing the issue of waste through reuse, recycling or energy generation
  • informing consumers about healthy, sustainable food choices.

The policy also spells out plans to double its investment in agricultural research to £80 million by 2013, with a focus on helping farmers in developing nations.  Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State of Defra, said:

By turning research into practical ideas, and by learning from what the best are doing, we can achieve a lot more. Science will also tell us when nature is under strain.

‘Food 2030’ seeks to improve the UK food industry from production to distribution, providing better resources to farmers, whilst using natural resources sustainably to help the global food industry.  Benn said:

We need to increase food production to feed a growing world population – there’ll be another 2-3 billion people in 40 years.

The Financial Times reports that plans detailing how these changes will be effectuated, including any necessary new legislation, will be released in the coming months.

New World Bank Research on Carbon Capture in the Soil

y186885761472171 (1)The World Bank recently released some interesting research into carbon capture in soil. The report looked at exactly how much carbon is in soil, and the repercussions that happen as a result.

Cesar Izaurralde, a soil scientist at the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, is quoted in a Reuters news piece as saying that farm management and carbon capture go hand-in-hand:

We know farm management has a very significant influence on how much carbon is in the soil … I think in the next two to three years the research community will have the tools ready.

Measuring how to count carbon, both in terms of how much is already there and what the capacity for storage is, is a challenge, as the Reuters article highlights:

Uncertain accounting is a critical obstacle in harnessing the potential of the agricultural sector and especially soils, which in theory could cut annual global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 10 percent from present levels by 2030.

Currently, there are two World Bank-funded trial projects happening in Kenya which are looking to understand how to lock carbon into the soil. Johannes Woelcke, the World Bank’s team leader in Kenya, talked about the projected carbon savings from the trials.

The Kenya trials … will cut carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 130,000 tonnes annually, involving 90,000 small-scale farmers.

Soil’s contribution to carbon capture and storage (CCS) could be a discussion point at the Copenhagen climate meeting in December. Reuters reported that the Copenhagen meeting may result in further incentives for farmers to apply low-carbon techniques on farms, possibly targeting the 2 billion poor living on small farms.

Dearth of Agriculture Research Funding Hits Farm Productivity

y5579e0iLast week The Associated Press shined a light on the global fall in agricultural research funding. In the article, the impacts of this fall are outlined.

Philip Pardey, professor of science and technology policy at the University of Minnesota, talks about the decline:

The ultimate consequences of the productivity slowdown are that we’re going to move away from a 50-year trend of declining real prices of food to moving back into a trend for increasing food prices.

Making agriculture R&D a top priority is key to ensuring, as Professor Pardey says, that food prices don’t increase.

However rising food prices have been a recent trend, according to the United Nations:

The U.N. World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran said in Canberra on Monday that most of the developing world is paying more for food despite drops in commodity market prices during the global economic slowdown, with 200 million people joining the ranks of the hungry in the past two years.

By pushing on with greater agriculture investment funding, more can be done to battle against global food shortages and ensure more efficient food production.

New Research Maps Critical Drought-tolerant Molecular Structure

New research coming out of the Scripps Research Institute and the University of California, San Diego, has determined the molecular structure for a drought-tolerant plant hormone called abscisic acid.

In drought conditions, plants begin to produce more of this hormone, which creates a number of changes to their physical structure. Their seeds lie dormant in the ground in order to wait out the dry period.  They slow their growth in order to conserve energy.  Tiny pores in their leaves are closed in order to prevent water from being lost.

Understanding how abscisic acid works in plants can help scientists replicate this phenomenon for farmers whose crops are suffering from drought conditions.  R&D such as this can help agricultural producers adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Researchers Develop Genetic Map of Cowpea, Enable New Varieties

2154770647_9b78c82f46_mA team of scientists at the University of California, Riverside have successfully developed a genetic map of the cowpea. This development will enable further research into new and more resilient varieties of this staple crop, which is grown throughout many regions of the developing world.

Mapping the cowpea is notoriously time-consuming and difficult. But now production plans of new and improved cowpea varieties can begin to take shape. Continued development and research is a key part of the Farming First plan (read more about our sixth principle, which is to prioritise research initiatives).

Here’s how the researchers did it:

To build the map, the scientists first modified and then applied advanced genetic tools developed from human genome investigations that only recently have been applied to a few major crop plants.

But what exactly is a cowpea genetic map? Here’s an explanation:

The consensus genetic map of cowpea is a dense and detailed roadmap of its genome (a genome is a complete genetic blueprint). The map has approximately 1000 molecular markers throughout the genome. The markers, which are like signposts directing a motorist to a destination, are associated with traits desired for breeding and used to more deliberately design and assemble new superior varieties.

Cowpea is a staple for maize- and rice-based diets in Latin America and drought-prone areas such as Africa and Asia.