Tag: food security

Eating the future

Breaking down the impact of global agriculture on climate change.

The recent climate change conference in Marrakech saw the Canadian government release its Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse-Gas Development Strategy, and with it a requirement for “very deep emissions cuts from every sector by mid-century.”

The magnitude of the contribution that the agricultural sector (and indeed the entire food system) makes to global emissions continues to be widely under-appreciated, eclipsed by discussions of transportation and electricity-related emissions reductions.

HOW “OPEN SOURCE” SEED PRODUCERS FROM THE U.S. TO INDIA ARE CHANGING GLOBAL FOOD PRODUCTION

Around the world, plant breeders are resisting what they see as corporate control of the food supply by making seeds available for other breeders to use.

Frank Morton has been breeding lettuce since the 1980s. His company offers 114 varieties, among them Outredgeous, which last year became the first plant that NASA astronauts grew and ate in space. For nearly 20 years, Morton’s work was limited only by his imagination and by how many different kinds of lettuce he could get his hands on. But in the early 2000s, he started noticing more and more lettuces were patented, meaning he would not be able to use them for breeding. The patents weren’t just for different types of lettuce, but specific traits such as resistance to a disease, a particular shade of red or green, or curliness of the leaf. Such patents have increased in the years since, and are encroaching on a growing range of crops, from corn to carrots — a trend that has plant breeders, environmentalists and food security experts concerned about the future of the food production.

A determined fellow dedicated to the millennia-old tradition of plant breeding, Morton still breeds lettuce — it just takes longer, because more restrictions make it harder for him to do his work.

What is it About This Soil That Protects Plants From Devastating Disease?

Plants around the world are constantly under attack — often with big implications for humans. In the 1960s, millions of elm trees in Britain, France and the U.S. fell victim to Dutch elm disease, which clogs the vessels that carry life-giving water to the trees’ leaves. Starting in the late 1980s, Brazil’s thriving chocolate industry crumbled when witches’ broom disease devastated its cacao trees. Lately, banana growers have become increasingly concerned about Panama disease, which is spreading rapidly and threatening to wipe out their crops. The attackers, like many of the infectious agents that harm humans, are tiny but devastating fungi, bacteria and other microbial parasites.

How three U.S. mini-farms are sowing the seeds of global food security

Tiny, biointensive operations show smallholder farmers from around the world how they can grow far more food than conventional approaches.

Her face shaded by a wide-brimmed straw hat, Olawumi Benedict is cheerfully tending to her “little babies” — kale seedlings growing in shallow wooden flats until they’re hardy enough for transplantation into soil beds. Three miles over the hills on another small farm, Jonnes Mlegwah is double-digging the soil with a spading fork, preparing to plant potatoes. Both are Africans, but these mini-farms are 140 miles north of San Francisco in Mendocino County, better known for the harvesting of redwood trees and marijuana plants than kale and potatoes.

Benedict and Mlegwah are a long way from home, and the biointensive farming system they’re mastering is a long way from becoming the norm — in the U.S. or Africa. Still, millions of small-scale farmers, especially in Latin America and Africa, are turning to it because it’s low-cost and low-tech, and it produces far greater yields than conventional agriculture while using far less land and water.

The Developing World is Awash in Pesticides. Does it Have to be?

Herbicides, insecticides and fungicides threaten the environment and human health in many parts of the world. But research is pointing to a better approach.

In today’s globalized world, it is not inconceivable that one might drink coffee from Colombia in the morning, munch cashews from Vietnam for lunch and gobble grains from Ethiopia for dinner. That we can enjoy these products is thanks, in large part, to expanded pesticide use across the developing world.

Every year, some 3.5 billion kilograms (7.7 billion pounds) of pesticides — a catch-all term for the herbicides, insecticides and fungicides applied to crops from seed to harvest — are used to preserve the quality and quantity of fruits, vegetables and grains. Herbicides, such as Monsanto’s weed killer glyphosate, make up the bulk of the pesticides applied worldwide.