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Concept: Green Revolution

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Numerous reports have emphasized the need for major changes in the global food system: agriculture must meet the twin challenge of feeding a growing population, with rising demand for meat and high-calorie diets, while simultaneously minimizing its global environmental impacts. Organic farming—a system aimed at producing food with minimal harm to ecosystems, animals or humans—is often proposed as a solution. However, critics argue that organic agriculture may have lower yields and would therefore need more land to produce the same amount of food as conventional farms, resulting in more widespread deforestation and biodiversity loss, and thus undermining the environmental benefits of organic practices. Here we use a comprehensive meta-analysis to examine the relative yield performance of organic and conventional farming systems globally. Our analysis of available data shows that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rain-fed legumes and perennials on weak-acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions—that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others it at present cannot. To establish organic agriculture as an important tool in sustainable food production, the factors limiting organic yields need to be more fully understood, alongside assessments of the many social, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming systems.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Agriculture, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Green Revolution, Crop rotation, Agroecology, Industrial agriculture

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Agricultural use of antimicrobials in subtherapeutic concentrations is increasing in response to the rising demand for food animal products worldwide. In India, the use of antimicrobials in food animal production is unregulated. Research suggests that many clinically important antimicrobials are used indiscriminately. This is the largest study to date in India that surveys poultry production to test for antimicrobial resistance and the occurrence of extended-spectrum (ESBLs) modulated by farming and managerial practices.

Concepts: Agriculture, Antibiotic resistance, Escherichia coli, Meat, Food security, Livestock, Green Revolution, Intensive farming

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Feeding a growing world population amidst climate change requires optimizing the reliability, resource use, and environmental impacts of food production. One way to assist in achieving these goals is to integrate beneficial plant microbiomes-i.e., those enhancing plant growth, nutrient use efficiency, abiotic stress tolerance, and disease resistance-into agricultural production. This integration will require a large-scale effort among academic researchers, industry researchers, and farmers to understand and manage plant-microbiome interactions in the context of modern agricultural systems. Here, we identify priorities for research in this area: (1) develop model host-microbiome systems for crop plants and non-crop plants with associated microbial culture collections and reference genomes, (2) define core microbiomes and metagenomes in these model systems, (3) elucidate the rules of synthetic, functionally programmable microbiome assembly, (4) determine functional mechanisms of plant-microbiome interactions, and (5) characterize and refine plant genotype-by-environment-by-microbiome-by-management interactions. Meeting these goals should accelerate our ability to design and implement effective agricultural microbiome manipulations and management strategies, which, in turn, will pay dividends for both the consumers and producers of the world food supply.

Concepts: Agriculture, Food, Sustainability, Food security, Agricultural economics, Sustainable agriculture, World population, Green Revolution

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Demand for animal protein for human consumption is rising globally at an unprecedented rate. Modern animal production practices are associated with regular use of antimicrobials, potentially increasing selection pressure on bacteria to become resistant. Despite the significant potential consequences for antimicrobial resistance, there has been no quantitative measurement of global antimicrobial consumption by livestock. We address this gap by using Bayesian statistical models combining maps of livestock densities, economic projections of demand for meat products, and current estimates of antimicrobial consumption in high-income countries to map antimicrobial use in food animals for 2010 and 2030. We estimate that the global average annual consumption of antimicrobials per kilogram of animal produced was 45 mg⋅kg(-1), 148 mg⋅kg(-1), and 172 mg⋅kg(-1) for cattle, chicken, and pigs, respectively. Starting from this baseline, we estimate that between 2010 and 2030, the global consumption of antimicrobials will increase by 67%, from 63,151 ± 1,560 tons to 105,596 ± 3,605 tons. Up to a third of the increase in consumption in livestock between 2010 and 2030 is imputable to shifting production practices in middle-income countries where extensive farming systems will be replaced by large-scale intensive farming operations that routinely use antimicrobials in subtherapeutic doses. For Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the increase in antimicrobial consumption will be 99%, up to seven times the projected population growth in this group of countries. Better understanding of the consequences of the uninhibited growth in veterinary antimicrobial consumption is needed to assess its potential effects on animal and human health.

Concepts: Natural selection, Bacteria, Agriculture, Antibiotic resistance, Meat, Livestock, World population, Green Revolution

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Achieving global food security is one of the major challenges of the coming decades. In order to tackle future food security challenges we must understand the past. This study presents a historical analysis of global food availability, one of the key elements of food security. By calculating national level dietary energy supply and production for nine time steps during 1965-2005 we classify countries based on their food availability, food self-sufficiency and food trade. We also look at how diets have changed during this period with regard to supply of animal based calories. Our results show that food availability has increased substantially both in absolute and relative terms. The percentage of population living in countries with sufficient food supply (>2500 kcal/cap/d) has almost doubled from 33% in 1965 to 61% in 2005. The population living with critically low food supply (<2000 kcal/cap/d) has dropped from 52% to 3%. Largest improvements are seen in the MENA region, Latin America, China and Southeast Asia. Besides, the composition of diets has changed considerably within the study period: the world population living with high supply of animal source food (>15% of dietary energy supply) increased from 33% to over 50%. While food supply has increased globally, food self-sufficiency (domestic production>2500 kcal/cap/d) has not changed remarkably. In the beginning of the study period insufficient domestic production meant insufficient food supply, but in recent years the deficit has been increasingly compensated by rising food imports. This highlights the growing importance of food trade, either for food supply in importing countries or as a source of income for exporters. Our results provide a basis for understanding past global food system dynamics which, in turn, can benefit research on future food security.

Concepts: Agriculture, Food security, International trade, Globalization, World population, Diets, Famine, Green Revolution

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Recent years have seen substantial growth in openly available satellite and other geospatial data layers, which represent a range of metrics relevant to global human population mapping at fine spatial scales. The specifications of such data differ widely and therefore the harmonisation of data layers is a prerequisite to constructing detailed and contemporary spatial datasets which accurately describe population distributions. Such datasets are vital to measure impacts of population growth, monitor change, and plan interventions. To this end the WorldPop Project has produced an open access archive of 3 and 30 arc-second resolution gridded data. Four tiled raster datasets form the basis of the archive: (i) Viewfinder Panoramas topography clipped to Global ADMinistrative area (GADM) coastlines; (ii) a matching ISO 3166 country identification grid; (iii) country area; (iv) and slope layer. Further layers include transport networks, landcover, nightlights, precipitation, travel time to major cities, and waterways. Datasets and production methodology are here described. The archive can be downloaded both from the WorldPop Dataverse Repository and the WorldPop Project website.

Concepts: Demography, Population, Earth, World population, OSI model, Green Revolution, Population growth, ISO 3166-2

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The narrowing of diversity in crop species contributing to the world’s food supplies has been considered a potential threat to food security. However, changes in this diversity have not been quantified globally. We assess trends over the past 50 y in the richness, abundance, and composition of crop species in national food supplies worldwide. Over this period, national per capita food supplies expanded in total quantities of food calories, protein, fat, and weight, with increased proportions of those quantities sourcing from energy-dense foods. At the same time the number of measured crop commodities contributing to national food supplies increased, the relative contribution of these commodities within these supplies became more even, and the dominance of the most significant commodities decreased. As a consequence, national food supplies worldwide became more similar in composition, correlated particularly with an increased supply of a number of globally important cereal and oil crops, and a decline of other cereal, oil, and starchy root species. The increase in homogeneity worldwide portends the establishment of a global standard food supply, which is relatively species-rich in regard to measured crops at the national level, but species-poor globally. These changes in food supplies heighten interdependence among countries in regard to availability and access to these food sources and the genetic resources supporting their production, and give further urgency to nutrition development priorities aimed at bolstering food security.

Concepts: Agriculture, Nutrition, Food, Food security, Security, Globalization, Famine, Green Revolution

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Given that smallholder farmers are frequently food insecure and rely significantly on rain-fed agriculture, it is critical to examine climate variability and food insecurity. We utilize data from smallholder farmer surveys from 12 countries with 30 years of rainfall data to examine how rainfall variability and household resources are correlated with food security. We find that on average, households that experienced a drier than average year are 3.81 months food insecure, while households within a normal range of rainfall were 3.67 months food insecure, and wetter than average households were 2.86 months food insecure. Reduced odds of food insecurity is associated with agricultural inputs, ownership of livestock, water use efficiency, financial services, and participation in a group. However, in drier than average households, financial services as compared to agricultural inputs and agroecological practices have a greater prevalence of reduced instances of food insecurity, while agricultural inputs are more common for reduced food insecurity in wetter than average households. Only the use of fertilizer consistently results in reduced odds of food insecurity across all households regardless of rainfall, demonstrating that one-size fits all approaches to food security interventions are likely ineffective, and place-specific interventions considering climatic factors are critically important.

Concepts: Agriculture, Poverty, Climate, Weather, Climate change, Food security, Green Revolution, Food and Agriculture Organization

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Sustainable agriculture in response to increasing demands for food depends on development of high-yielding crops with high nutritional value that require minimal intervention during growth. To date, the focus has been on changing plants by introducing genes that impart new properties, which the plants and their ancestors never possessed. By contrast, we suggest another potentially beneficial and perhaps less controversial strategy that modern plant biotechnology may adopt. This approach, which broadens earlier approaches to reverse breeding, aims to furnish crops with lost properties that their ancestors once possessed in order to tolerate adverse environmental conditions. What molecular techniques are available for implementing such rewilding? Are the strategies legally, socially, economically, and ethically feasible? These are the questions addressed in this review.

Concepts: Agriculture, Molecular biology, Fungus, Food security, Breeding, Green Revolution, Plant breeding, Agronomy

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Agricultural production is under increasing pressure by global anthropogenic changes, including rising population, diversion of cereals to biofuels, increased protein demands and climatic extremes. Because of the immediate and dynamic nature of these changes, adaptation measures are urgently needed to ensure both the stability and continued increase of the global food supply. Although potential adaption options often consider regional or sectoral variations of existing risk management (e.g. earlier planting dates, choice of crop), there may be a global-centric strategy for increasing productivity. In spite of the recognition that atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO(2)) is an essential plant resource that has increased globally by approximately 25 per cent since 1959, efforts to increase the biological conversion of atmospheric CO(2) to stimulate seed yield through crop selection is not generally recognized as an effective adaptation measure. In this review, we challenge that viewpoint through an assessment of existing studies on CO(2) and intraspecific variability to illustrate the potential biological basis for differential plant response among crop lines and demonstrate that while technical hurdles remain, active selection and breeding for CO(2) responsiveness among cereal varieties may provide one of the simplest and direct strategies for increasing global yields and maintaining food security with anthropogenic change.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Natural selection, Agriculture, Climate, Climate change, Food security, Global warming, Green Revolution