Eight TED talks about the environment

In 2013 we brought you our six favourite TEDx talks about food security, which we followed with 9 more in 2014. This time, to celebrate World Environment Day on June 5th we bring you some of our favourite TED talks about climate change, biodiversity and the environment. We’d love for you to share your favourites and to hear your thoughts about our list on twitter using #TEDenvironment and our handle, @Ag4Impact

 

  1. Jonathan Drori: Why we’re storing billions of seeds highlights the importance of biodiversity for supporting life, and looks into the Millennium Seed bank where billions of seeds, including non-food plants, are being stored for posterity.

 

 

2. Cary Fowler: One seed at a time, protecting the future of food takes this idea further, by looking at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault that stores millions of specifically food-crop seeds. Cary describes biodiversity is the ‘raw material’ of agriculture and highlights the importance of storing these seeds for “whatever tomorrow may bring”

 

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Agricultural biotechnology and development: unintended consequences and unheard voices

 

Date palm tissue culture laboratory – Picture from FAO

GM crops have once again come under the spotlight with the recent news that Burkina Faso will no longer be growing Bt cotton (a genetically modified cotton variety, which produces a pesticide to counter the insect pest bollworm). Originally an early adopter of the technology, Burkina Faso became one of the first African countries to develop and release, with Monsanto, crosses of local and Bt cotton crops in 2008. As one of Africa’s largest cotton producers, their adoption of GM technology was ground-breaking. And, at least for some time, successful, increasing cotton production, yields and profits while reducing the number of pesticide sprays needed. With some 140,000 smallholders cultivating Bt cotton, it was also seen to de driving rural development, the average Bt cotton farming family reaping 50% more profits than families growing conventional cotton.

So why the reversal? The lint quality of Bt cotton varieties is poor and, as such, results in economic losses for the Burkinabè cotton companies that market it. Since they provide all seeds and inputs to cotton farmers, they have the power to phase out Bt cotton growing in the industry, which will take place over the next two years. In this case while the technology was boosting production and reducing pesticide use, an unintended impact on lint quality has become too big a hurdle for cotton companies to overcome. Now questions are being asked as to whether the same is likely to happen in other locations and situations, perhaps as a side effect of a “narrow, trait specific approach to addressing agricultural development”.

Despite this news from Burkina Faso, the argument in support of GM crops has somewhat intensified, with a recent article from Tim Benton, Professor of Population Ecology, University of Leeds reasserting that GM crops are one of a myriad of technologies and practices that we will need to feed the world. Since growth in yields are no longer increasing fast enough to meet projected food demand, we will need to expand crop land by an estimated 42% by 2050. This has broader consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as for greenhouse gas emissions, of which those associated with farming and food are currently set to push us past the 1.5℃ temperature-rise target set in Paris in 2015.

As Professor Benton explains, to avoid food shortages or the broader impacts of agricultural expansion we must either reduce demand for food or increase supply. The latter is about employing more efficient forms of agriculture, better land management but also technology to raise yields. How much of this technology will be comprised of biotechnology or genetic modification is unknown.

Some would like to see this be zero – for genetic modification to have no role in shaping future food supply. But could this opinion and the campaigning of anti-GM groups be harmful to food security? The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), in their new report, estimates that “the current restrictive climate for agricultural biotech innovations could cost low- and lower- middle-income nations up to $1.5 trillion in foregone economic benefits through 2050”. They also calculate that due to regulations and export limits that prevent widespread adoption of biotechnology, the lack of access to biotech innovations in farming has cost African agricultural economies at least $2.5 billion between 2008 and 2013. [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles

Growing Pains, The Economist

Global Food Security by the Numbers, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

New studies deepen concerns about a climate-change ‘wild card’, The Washington Post

EU to Release $558 Million to Help Struggling Farmers, The Wall Street Journal

Land degradation costs the world up to $10.6tn a year, report says, The Guardian

Farming flicks help teach ag skills where they’re really needed, Grist

Africa’s new institution to promote food security, SciDev.Net

Who Will Suffer Most From Climate Change? (Hint: Not You), Gates Notes

Kale or steak? Change in diet key to U.N. plan to end hunger by 2030, Reuters

Climate-smart cities could save the world $22tn, say economists, The Guardian

Two roads diverged in the food crisis: Global policy takes the one more travelled, Wise, 2015, Canadian Food Studies [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

UN official stresses link between healthy soils, sustainable development as Global Soil Week starts, UN

US Announces Plans to Reduce Agricultural Carbon Emissions, The New York Times

Guest Commentary – Agriculture: The Common Thread Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals, Global Food for Thought

Lifting the lid on the household: A new way to measure individual deprivation, From Poverty to Power

New crop insurance math, new challenges for farmers, Politico

UN urged to demand free access to crop data, SciDev.Net

Fostering Economic Resilience, Greenpeace

Meeting the Global Food Demand of the Future by Engineering Crop Photosynthesis and Yield Potential, Long et al, 2015, Cell

Universities join efforts to combat climate change in East Africa, Daily Monitor

This Earth Day, think agriculture, Plantwise

The genome of cultivated sweet potato contains Agrobacterium T-DNAs with expressed genes: An example of a naturally transgenic food crop, Kyndt et al, 2015, PNAS [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Do Aid and Development need their own TripAdvisor feedback system?, From Poverty to Power

Rebranding bran: teaching nutrient-rich cooking in Mali, The Guardian

African hub set up to boost research autonomy, Nature

Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution, The Huffington Post

Managing for Resilience: Framing an integrated landscape approach for overcoming chronic and acute food insecurity, Buck and Bailey

Agri-tech for Africa’s food security, development, SciDev.Net

Water-Smart Agriculture in East Africa, PAEPARD

New interactive tool brings malnutrition data to life, Devex

Fateful Harvest: Why Brazil has a big appetite for risky pesticides, Reuters

Denmark’s Drug-Free Pigs, The New York Times [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Chicago Council’s Grow Markets, Fight Hunger Report Featured, Global Food for Thought

FAO food price index drops again in March driven by sugar’s sharp slide, FAO

Deforestation is messing with our weather — and our food, EurekAlert

Agriculture and Agrometeorological Services, PAEPARD

Yesterday’s bread against food waste, Plantwise

“Why Wait Until the Next Food Crisis?” Improving Food Reserves Strategies in East Africa, ACORD

Why we should be worried by the World Bank shoveling $36bn to ‘financial intermediaries’, From Poverty to Power

Feeding the World – Without GMOs, EWG

We’re treating soil like dirt. It’s a fatal mistake, as our lives depend on it, The Guardian [Read more…]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Report: Photosynthesis hack needed to feed the world by 2050, EurekAlert

For Monsanto, a Season of Woes, The Wall Street Journal

GM crops: Vital for food security? Or overestimated potential?, The Independent

How genetic engineering can fight disease, reduce insecticide use and enhance food security: Pamela Ronald speaks at TED2015, TED

Is Monsanto on the side of science?, New Internationalist

China Seeks to Develop Global Seed Power, The Wall Street Journal

Discovery of heat-tolerant beans could save ‘meat of the poor’ from global warming, EurekAlert

Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance, Civil Eats

Genetically Modified Crop Industry Continues to Expand, Worldwatch Institute

World Health Organization: GM-Crop Herbicide a Probable Carcinogen, Food Tank

Achieve Global Food Security by Investing in Universities, Global Food for Thought

The GM crops debate moves to Africa – and it’s just as noisy, The Independent

Can ‘down to earth’ innovations keep hunger at bay in the Sahel?, Thomson Reuters Foundation [Read more…]