- Robertson, Margaret 2014, chapter 13 in Sustainability: Principles and Practice, Abingdon: Earthscan/Routldege
A good concise overview of key global issues related to food production.
- Whitehead, Mark 2014, chapter 4 in Environmental Transformations, Abingdon: Earthscan/Routledge
This chapter in a well-crafted textbook focus on ‘the political ecology of soil degradation’ related to human food production. It takes a long and lively look at the history of human exploitation of soil as a resource.
- Evenson, Robert and Douglas Gollin, 2003, ‘Assessing the Impact of the Green Revolution, 1960 to 2000’. Science, 300(5620), pp 758-762.
The authors focus on the impact of green revolution, or ‘modern variety’, crops on productivity between 1960 and 2000. Their study suggests that there have been considerable gains in productivity, although these have not been evenly distributed across regions and vary depending upon crop type. Increased productivity resulted in reduced food prices for consumers.
- Fargione, Joseph, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Srephen Polasky and Peter Hawthorne, 2008, ‘Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt’, Science, 319(5867), pp 1235-1238.
Although there is clearly a need to address increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, the conversion of certain landscape types ‒ such as rainforests, peatlands, savannahs and natural grasslands ‒ to grow crop-based biofuels is not achieving this aim. The carbon released by removing vegetation types to make way for farming outweighs any saving that might be made in using biofuels rather than fossil fuels for energy. Thus, while biofuels offer a feasible alternative to fossil fuels, they must be sourced from degraded and abandoned agricultural lands or made from waste biomass to avoid increasing the carbon debt, the authors argue.
- Franks, Jeremy and Ben Hadingham, 2012, ‘Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture: Avoiding trivial solutions to a global problem,’ Land Use Policy, 29(4), pp 727-736.
This paper notes that agriculture leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, which reinforce the system of climate change and have ongoing detrimental impacts on agricultural productivity and efficiency. However, current methods to reduce the agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are not likely to reduce global emissions because they do not address the global dimension of the problem, the authors suggest.
- Gilbert, Natasha, 2011, ‘Summit urged to clean up farming,’ Nature, 479(7373), p. 279.
The author argues that agriculture is a major contributor to global warming, and yet this problem has not received the attention it deserves. It is estimated that agriculture contributes approximately 13.5 per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, the paper notes, although this number would be higher if the loss of forested land that is converted to agriculture is considered. Agriculture is also significant in that it contributes a variety of important greenhouse gases that do not attract as much attention as carbon dioxide, including methane and nitrous oxide.
- Godfray, H.C., J.R. Beddington , I.R. Crute, L. Haddad, D. Lawrence, J..F. Muir, J. Pretty, S. Robinson, S.M. Thomas, and C. Toulmin, 2010, ‘Food security: the challenge of feeding 9 billion people,’ Science, 327(5967), pp 812–818.
Global population growth over the next 40 years will ensure that food demand continues to rise. The authors note that the demand for increased agricultural production will place increasing pressure on existing natural systems whilst also contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions. The paper focuses on some ways in which multifaceted agricultural techniques might be able to increase food production in efficient and equitable ways.
- Koh, Lian Pin and David Wilcove, 2008, ‘Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity?’ Conservation Letters, 1(2), pp 60-64.
Analyses of land-cover data compiled by the FAO reveal that the expansion of palm oil production between 1990 and 2005 occurred largely at the expense of tropical forests. This paper notes that the transformation of both primary and secondary forests to palm oil plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia has resulted in significant biodiversity losses. The paper argues that non-forest landscapes ‒ such as existing croplands ‒ should be the focus for palm oil production.
- Pretty, Jules et al., 2010, ‘The top 100 questions of importance to the future of global agriculture,’ International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, 8(4), pp 219-236.
The growing global population is putting pressure on agricultural systems to produce more food. Within current sustainability frameworks, the authors note, this increased productivity must be achieved without damaging environmental and social systems. This paper presents the results of a survey of international experts on the top 100 critical issues that are likely to face agriculture in the coming years. The survey focused on natural resource inputs; agronomic practice; agricultural development; and markets and consumption trends.
- Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å. Persson, F.S. Chapin, E.F. Lambi, T.M. Lenton, M. Scheffer, and C. Folke, 2009, ‘A safe operating space for humanity,’ Nature, 461, pp 472-475.
This paper begins by noting that for roughly 11,000 years the planet has been in the Holocene epoch, in which global environmental conditions have remained relatively stable. However, human activities may be triggering a shift into an era which will be less conducive for human existence, the paper argues.
Annotated Links to Further Web Resources
- Global Policy Forum
Global Policy Forum is an independent body that critiques global policy and monitors the activities of the UN. This group investigates a number of issues around agriculture, including its role in environmental degradation and the causes and consequences of food crises. The website provides information on likely impacts of climate change on food production systems.
- About.com Geography
This introduction to geography website includes a focus on ‘green revolution’ agriculture. The evolution of the ‘green revolution’ is described and some of the impacts resulting from its use are briefly discussed.
- International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA)
The ICARDA website provides access to research showing that the impact of the ‘green revolution’ on agricultural productivity in India has peaked, with some indications of a decline. This poses the question as to whether or not India needs a second green revolution.
- FAO Food Price Index
The FAO Food Price Index tracks the change in price of a bundle of food commodities. This Index has been used to assess the potential impacts of global food prices on hunger and civil unrest.
- World Trade Organization (WTO)
The WTO determines the rules for global trade, including agriculture. The website provides access to information about the impact of global trade on food production and distribution.
- Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
This link provides access to information about the impacts of world trade on Australian agriculture. It also provides information on global food security.
- Worldwatch Institute
The website provides access to Worldwatch Institute reports on the relationship between global population, malnutrition and agricultural production. It also provides access to information on environmental degradation and social inequality that is related to the global production and distribution of food.
Annotated Links to Video Clips
- Big Question: Feast or famine?
This is a short video produced by the University of Minnesota Institute of Environment, which introduces some of the big issues facing global food production in the 21st century.
- Tue Food of the Future
A well-made 2014 documentary on growing global food production challenges; considering human health problems and impacts of food production systems non-human species.
- Food wastage footprint
Produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2013, this short video focuses on the fact that around 30% of global food produced is wasted while ecosystems are degraded and many people go hungry. It introduces some ways to reduce food waste.
- Jonathan Foley: The other inconvenient truth http://www.ted.com/talks/jonathan_foley_the_other_inconvenient_truth
- The other inconvenient truth,Jonathan Foley
This is a popular 2010 TED talk by Professor Jonathon Foley on the negative environmental impacts of prevailing food production systems. Professor Foley argues that current food production systems are reinforcing climate change and environmental degradation, thus increasing the difficulty of feeding a growing global population.
- Future of Food: why Sustainable Food Systems Matter
A panel of international experts in food production systrems organised by National Geographic in 2014.
This beautiful documentary by Yarn Arthus-Bertrand uses aerial imagery to show the extent to which humans have impacted on the planet. A variety of resource uses and environmental impacts are considered, revealing the scale of impacts that human activities are currently having on the globe.
- Agricultural Cooperatives ‒ Key to Feeding the World
This short video presents the argument that agricultural cooperatives provide opportunities for agricultural producers to improve productivity and increase incomes.
- Green revolution in deserts of Israel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDQ5W0gV5sA
The deserts of Israel are producing high value agricultural products ‒ such as fruits, vegetables and flowers ‒ for export to Europe. This is being achieved by using precision irrigation technologies and by maximising the use of recycled water.
- TED talk on Permaculture
International permaculture designer and teacher Geoff Lawton outlines what is being achieved by this international movement, which promotes an integrated ecological approach to food production. While permaculture focuses on possibilities for producing food in small spaces, it also promotes a different approach to resource management more widely, with the emphasis on the interconnectedness of environmental systems.
- UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQKu5x2KDsE
This is a US television report on the findings of a 2014 IPCC report on the likely impacts of global climate change on global food production. It features an interview with a climate specialist on the predicted impacts on agricultural productivity, especially in the tropical zone where much of the world's population is located.
- How to feed the world in 2050: actions in a changing climate
This is a well-produced video on the emerging and predicted impacts of climate change on global food production.