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Food security: vertical farming sounds fantastic until you consider its energy use

by Andrew Jenkins, Queen’s University Belfast

A company in Scotland has unveiled what it claims is arguably the world’s most technically advanced indoor farm. Intelligent Growth Solutions’ vertical farm uses artificial intelligence and specially designed power and communication technologies. The firm says this reduces energy costs by 50% and labour costs by 80% when compared to other indoor growing environments, and can produce yields of up to 200% more than that of a traditional greenhouse.

Vertical farms like this aim to minimise water use and maximise productivity by growing crops “hydroponically” in small amounts of nutrient-rich water stacked in a climate-controlled building. But it’s important to recognise that the increased productivity of indoor vertical farming comes at the cost of much higher energy usage due to the need for artificial lighting and climate control systems.

By 2050, global food production will need to increase by an estimated 70% in developed countries and 100% in developing countries to match current trends in population growth (based on production information from 2005-2007). But in countries that already use the majority of their land for farming, this is easier said than done. Read the rest of this entry »

The State of Food and Agriculture: 2018

The State of Food and Agriculture: 2018
Migration, agriculture and rural development

Can investments influence people’s decisions about whether to migrate? Can policies maximize the positive impacts of migration while minimizing the negative ones?

SOFA 2018 looks at how internal and international migratory flows link to economic development, demographic change, and natural-resource pressure. The report provides a thorough analysis of the factors in rural areas which contribute to migration decisions and recommends tailored policy and investment responses to make migration work for all.

Digital Report | Full Report In Brief | Flyer | E-Book MOBI | EPUB Read the rest of this entry »

Why developing countries should boost the ways of small-scale farming

A diversity of seeds on sale in Nanyuki market, Kenya. K Dekeyser

Rachel Wynberg, University of Cape Town and Laura Pereira, Stellenbosch University

Industrial agriculture – farming that involves the intensive production of livestock, poultry, fish and crops – is one of the most environmentally destructive forms of land use. It depends on mechanisation and on inputs like synthetic fertiliser and harmful pesticides and herbicides and has led to widespread contamination of soil and water. It also relies on just a few major crops like wheat, maize, soybean and rice, the seeds of which are owned by a mere handful of companies.

A different approach to agriculture is sorely needed. This should, ideally, deliver household food security, ensure sustainable livelihoods and produce quality nutrition in a rapidly changing climate.

Developing countries that are industrialising at a pace are uniquely placed to avoid developing a dependency on one type of technological innovation at the expense of others. This is what is known as technological lock-in, with industrial agriculture being one form of lock-in. Such countries are also well placed to establish alternative ways to grow food that maximise livelihoods and sustainable food production. Read the rest of this entry »

Healthy soil is the real key to feeding the world

 Planting a diverse blend of crops and cover crops, and not tilling, helps promote soil health.
Catherine Ulitsky, USDA/Flickr, CC BY

David R. Montgomery, University of Washington

One of the biggest modern myths about agriculture is that organic farming is inherently sustainable. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. After all, soil erosion from chemical-free tilled fields undermined the Roman Empire and other ancient societies around the world. Other agricultural myths hinder recognizing the potential to restore degraded soils to feed the world using fewer agrochemicals.

When I embarked on a six-month trip to visit farms around the world to research my forthcoming book, “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life,” the innovative farmers I met showed me that regenerative farming practices can restore the world’s agricultural soils. In both the developed and developing worlds, these farmers rapidly rebuilt the fertility of their degraded soil, which then allowed them to maintain high yields using far less fertilizer and fewer pesticides. Read the rest of this entry »

With a Precious Crop Under Threat, Scientists Scramble for Solutions

Wheat provides about one-fifth of all calories consumed by human populations worldwide.
A virulent crop fungus could impact billions of people.

January 11, 2018 by Kerstin Hoppenhaus & Sibylle Grunze

The video below is the second part in a six-part series examining the scourge of Ug99, a type of fungus that causes disease in wheat crops — one that scientists worry could threaten global food supplies. Visit series archive for all published episodes.


Along with rice, wheat is the most important staple food globally. It provides about one-fifth of all calories consumed, and about 4.5 billion people rely on it in their daily diet — as pap (a type of porridge), bread (including flatbread like chapati), or spaghetti.

Wheat production also increases globally year by year. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recorded gains from 626 billion tons produced between 2005 and 2006, to 730 billion tons in 2014-15. But as the global population continues to swell, the FAO estimates that demand for wheat in the developing world will grow by as much as 60 percent over the next three decades. Read the rest of this entry »