Nav: Home

Study: Global farming trends threaten food security

July 11, 2019

Citrus fruits, coffee and avocados: The food on our tables has become more diverse in recent decades. However, global agriculture does not reflect this trend. Monocultures are increasing worldwide, taking up more land than ever. At the same time, many of the crops being grown rely on pollination by insects and other animals. This puts food security at increased risk, as a team of researchers with help from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) writes in the journal Global Change Biology. For the study, the scientists examined global developments in agriculture over the past 50 years.

The researchers analysed data from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016. Their evaluation has shown that not only is more and more land being used for agriculture worldwide, the diversity of the crops being grown has declined. Meanwhile, 16 of the 20 fastest growing crops require pollination by insects or other animals. "Just a few months ago, the World Biodiversity Council IPBES revealed to the world that up to one million animal and plant species are being threatened with extinction, including many pollinators," says Professor Robert Paxton, a biologist at MLU and one of the authors of the new study. This particularly affects bees: honeybees are increasingly under threat by pathogens and pesticides, and populations of wild bees have been on the decline around the world for decades.

Fewer pollinators could mean that yields are much lower or even that harvests fail completely. However, risks are not spread equally across the world. The researchers used the FAO data to create a map showing the geographical risk of crop failure. "Emerging and developing countries in South America, Africa and Asia are most affected," says Professor Marcelo Aizen of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Research CONICET in Argentina, who led the study. This is not surprising, he says, since it is precisely in these regions where vast monocultures are grown for the global market. Soy is produced in many South American countries and then exported to Europe as cattle feed. "Soy production has risen by around 30 percent per decade globally. This is problematic because numerous natural and semi-natural habitats, including tropical and subtropical forests and meadows, have been destroyed for soy fields," explains Aizen.

According to the authors, current developments have little to do with sustainable agriculture, which focuses on the food security of a growing world population. And, although poorer regions of the world are at the greatest risk, the consequences of crop failure would be felt worldwide: "The affected regions primarily produce crops for the rich industrial nations. If, for example, the avocado harvest in South America fails, people in Germany and other industrial nations may no longer be able to buy them," concludes Robert Paxton, who is also a member of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig.

The researchers advocate for a trend reversal: Care should be taken to diversify agriculture worldwide and make it more ecological. This means, for example, that farms in particularly susceptible countries should grow a diversity of crops. In addition, farmers all over the world would need to make the areas under cultivation more natural, for example by planting strips of flowers or hedgerows next to their fields and by providing nesting habitats on field margins. This would ensure that there are adequate habitats for insects, which are essential for sustainable and productive farming.
-end-


Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

Related Agriculture Articles:

Urban agriculture only provides small environmental benefits in northeastern US
'Buy local' sounds like a great environmental slogan, epitomized for city dwellers by urban agriculture.
Scientists say agriculture is good for honey bees
Scientists with the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture evaluated the impacts of row-crop agriculture, including the traditional use of pesticides, on honey bee health.
Widely accepted vision for agriculture may be inaccurate, misleading
'Food production must double by 2050 to feed the world's growing population.' This truism has been repeated so often in recent years that it has become widely accepted among academics, policymakers and farmers, but now researchers are challenging this assertion and suggesting a new vision for the future of agriculture.
New effort to promote careers in agriculture, natural resources
A new round of grants from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture is designed to promote careers in agriculture and natural resource management, and educators with the University of Tennessee Departments of Plant Sciences and Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications (ALEC) are among the grant recipients.
Corn yield modeling towards sustainable agriculture
Researchers use a 16 year field-experiment dataset to show the ability of a model to fine-tune optimal nitrogen fertilizer rates, and identify five ways it can inform nitrogen management guidelines.
Small-scale agriculture threatens the rainforest
An extensive study led by a researcher at Lund University in Sweden has mapped the effects of small farmers on the rain forests of Southeast Asia for the first time.
Space agriculture topic of symposium
New frontiers of soil and plant sciences may grow crops in space.
Measure of age in soil nitrogen could help precision agriculture
What's good for crops is not always good for the environment.
Invasive species could cause billions in damages to agriculture
Invasive insects and pathogens could be a multi-billion- dollar threat to global agriculture and developing countries may be the biggest target, according to a team of international researchers.
Males were saved by agriculture
The emergence of agriculture is suggested to have driven extensive human population growth.

Related Agriculture Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Digital Manipulation
Technology has reshaped our lives in amazing ways. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers reveal how what we see, read, believe — even how we vote — can be manipulated by the technology we use. Guests include journalist Carole Cadwalladr, consumer advocate Finn Myrstad, writer and marketing professor Scott Galloway, behavioral designer Nir Eyal, and computer graphics researcher Doug Roble.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#530 Why Aren't We Dead Yet?
We only notice our immune systems when they aren't working properly, or when they're under attack. How does our immune system understand what bits of us are us, and what bits are invading germs and viruses? How different are human immune systems from the immune systems of other creatures? And is the immune system so often the target of sketchy medical advice? Those questions and more, this week in our conversation with author Idan Ben-Barak about his book "Why Aren't We Dead Yet?: The Survivor’s Guide to the Immune System".