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.

Disturbing Report Highlights the State of the World’s Oceans, Green Africa Directory

Africa Week Recognizes Development, Governance Progress, IISD

Regional Economic Outlook: Sub-Saharan Africa, IMF

From Plates that Grow Food to Certified Cocoa: UN Awards Innovative Green Enterprises at Green Economy Symposium, SEED Initiative

UN highlights role of farming in closing emissions gap, BBC

Farmers dig into soil quality, Nature

An exclusive interview with Bill Gates, The Financial Times

FAO expects more balanced food markets, less price volatility, FAO

Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies, The New York Times

New Effort Launched to Measure and Monitor Global Food Loss and Waste, UNEP

Nitrogen fixation helps double some African farm yields, SciDev.Net

Crop pests spreading polewards under global warming, European Commission

Food waste: ‘Six meals a week’ thrown away by Britons, BBC

We’ll rise or fall on the quality of our soil, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

How complexity thinking cut malnutrition in Vietnam by two thirds, From Poverty to Power, Duncan Green

Soil biodiversity and ecosystem function

SoilIt has long been recognised that organisms living in the soil are important for making nitrogen available to plants and for storing carbon in the soil but a new paper in PNAS by de Vries et al, Soil food web properties explain ecosystem services across European land use systems, investigated the impact of communities of soil organisms on the overall functioning of ecosystems.

The study is the largest of its kind, involving researchers from across Europe, and is the first time whole communities of soil organisms have been investigated. Spanning 60 sites across 4 countries and three types of land uses (intensive wheat rotations, extensive rotation and permanent grassland), the study marks a significant piece of evidence for the importance of soil biodiversity.

Researchers found a strong link between soil biodiversity and the performance of ecosystems, in particular on carbon and nitrogen cycling. Indeed soil biodiversity was a greater predictor of C and N cycling than land use. Intensive wheat rotation was found to reduce soil biodiversity across the food web in all countries. The authors hope that this and other research will lead to the development of sound land management practices that support soil biodiversity, in turn increasing the productivity of land while mitigating climate change.

The study concludes that we require more research into soil food webs and in particularly how they might alter in response to changes in land use and climate change. Soil biodiversity is understudied, perhaps because of its scope, but it is under increasing threat from, for example, urbanisation, climate change, pollution and agriculture. Mapping and conserving soil biodiversity is urgently needed if we are to include their roles in C and N cycling models, which will in turn help us to better understand the likely impacts of climate change.

What we’ve been reading this week

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

How food scares galloped across Europe’s borders, Financial Times

Africa leaders urged to harness benefits of biotechnology to address food insecurity, Vibe Ghana

Torrential rain, lack of preparedness batter Tanzania, AlertNet

What you need to know about Genetically Engineered food, The Atlantic

How can the EU take forward the resilience agenda: a ten point plan, Simon Maxwell

Horsemeat scandal spreads across Europe, Financial Times

Bt Cotton is failing; Blame the farmers, Field Questions

Justine Greening: DfID to push for UK private investment in Africa, The Guardian

Africa: New Era of Food Scarcity Echoes Collapsed Civilisations, Africa Agriculture News

EU moves to reassure consumers on safety, Financial Times

EU sets ambitious US trade pact deadline, Financial Times

EU aid cuts: A short-term approach to a long-term budget, E! Sharp

Tanzania: Tissue Culture May Save Banana Farmers, All Africa

Gene breakthrough boosts hopes for sorghum, Phys.org

Deputy Prime Minister launches engagement with Africa ahead of G8, Cabinet Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Food and nutrition security should be the top development goal, FAO Media Centre

Bringing the field to the farmers: how video is transforming agriculture, The Guardian

Less nitrogen could lift your potato yields, Farmers weekly

Evergreen Agriculture

Faidherbia albida is a tree of some consequence. As an important source of nitrogen in tropical agriculture, it is beginning to gain popularity in Africa. Not only able to access and make available to crops deeper sources of nitrogen, it sheds its leaves in the wet season and retains them in the dry season, acting as shade for crops without competing with them for light. Adoption in Niger and Zambia have been significant (4.8 million hectares and 300,000 hectares, respectively) and yield increases promising. At the Zambia Conservation Farming Unit unfertilised maize yields have increased to 4.1 tons per hectare from 1.3 t/ha when grown near F. albida trees. While in Malawi maize yields increased by 280% when grown in the zone of F. albida. There is another benefit too, carbon storage and accumulation. Tropical trees such as F. albida can sequester a minimum of 22.6 kg of carbon from the atmosphere each year.

But these trees are only one element of a wider movement, that of Evergreen Agriculture. Championed by the World Agroforestry Centre, Evergreen Agriculture combines the principles of Conservation Farming with agroforestry (both discussed in Chapter 13). The former, currently practiced globally on 100 million hectares of cropland, has direct benefits for soil and water conservation while the latter provides sources of green fertiliser, a diversity of products farmers can cultivate and other environmental benefits, such as shelter, erosion control and watershed protection. All of these combine to provide increased crop yields and a more stable, resilient farming system.