• Food securityDARPA enlists insects to protect agricultural food supply, commodity crops

    It may not be obvious to humans, but the life of a plant is full of peril. Viruses, pests, fungi, herbicides, drought, pollution, salinity, flooding, and frost — the plants that we depend on for food, clean air, and materials are challenged by myriad threats, natural and man-made. A new DARPA program is poised to provide an alternative to traditional agricultural threat response, using targeted gene therapy to protect mature plants within a single growing season.

  • Food & water securityEven if the Paris Agreement is implemented, food and water supplies remain at risk

    By Mark Dwortzan

    If all pledges made in last December’s Paris climate agreement (COP21) to curb greenhouse gases are carried out to the end of the century, then risks still remain for staple crops in major “breadbasket” regions and water supplies upon which most of the world’s population depend. Recognizing that national commitments made in Paris to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fall far short of COP21’s overarching climate target — to limit the rise, since preindustrial times, in the Earth’s mean surface temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by 2100 — a new report advances a set of emissions scenarios that are consistent with achieving that goal.

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  • MegadroughtsMegadrought lasting three decades likely for Southwest U.S., Midwest

    The consequences of climate change paint a bleak picture for the Southwest and much of America’s breadbasket, the Great Plains. The role of climate change in causing extreme heat waves, drastic rainfall, negative impacts on human health, and threatened food security have received more attention recently than megadrought, but scientists view prolonged drought risk as yet another natural hazard that becomes more likely from human activity.

  • Food securityClimate change means land use will need to change to keep up with global food demand

    Researchers warn that without significant improvements in technology, global crop yields are likely to fall in the areas currently used for production of the world’s three major cereal crops — wheat, maize, and rice — forcing production to move to new areas. This could lead to a major drop in productivity of these areas by 2050, along with a corresponding increase in potential productivity of many previously unused areas, pointing to a major shift in the map of global food production.

  • Food securityUN’s Sustainable Development Goals: Wicked trade-offs between environmental, food security goals

    As world leaders gather in New York for the UN General Assembly, one year after the formal adoption of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new study finds that policies focused solely on the environment tend to increase food prices. However, the study goes on to identify sustainable consumption and production practices as key to achieving both environmental and food security targets simultaneously.

  • Water securitySolar-powered Ring Garden combines desalination, agriculture for drought-stricken California

    With roughly 80 percent of California’s already-scarce water supply going to agriculture, it is crucial for the state to embrace new technologies that shrink the amount of water required to grow food. Alexandru Predonu has designed an elegant solution which uses solar energy to power a rotating desalination plant and farm that not only produces clean drinking water for the city of Santa Monica, but also food crops — including algae.

  • Food securityRobot, drones to help collect crop testing data to bolster agricultural production

    A rumbling robot and several high-flying drones recently made an on-site appearance at Clemson University to burrow through and buzz above fifteen acres of experimental sorghum plots containing more than 2,800 replicated entries. The space-age devices are part of a collaborative project with Clemson University and other partners designed to significantly enhance the ease and frequency of data collection for crop testing in ways that will eventually benefit all agricultural production in South Carolina and around the world.

  • SyriaSyria faces food crisis as wheat shortage deepens

    Syria’s ongoing wheat harvest is not large enough to feed people living in areas controlled by the government, researchers have warned. Syrian farmers sold 450,000 tons of wheat last year — less than half the quantity needed to supply government-controlled areas of the country with enough bread. In total, the country will need around one millions tons of wheat to avoid a hunger crisis. Before the war, Syria used to produce five million tons of wheat pear year. Out of these, two million tons were consumed in the country while the rest was either sold as exports or stored in a stockpile. This stock was aimed at meeting Syria’s food needs for five years but is now nearly depleted.

  • Food securityAssessing crop damage after extreme weather

    By Mark Dwortzan

    The Philippines is host to six to nine tropical cyclones per year since 1970, and a citizenry that consumes more rice than it produces. The Philippines has for many years augmented its homegrown supply of rice with imports based on seasonal climate forecasts and agricultural production surveys. But import orders must be modified on the fly when extreme weather events exact a heavier toll on production than expected. New method to track the impact of typhoons and other natural disasters could enable more precise, timely delivery of food aid.

  • African securityFood crisis in northeast Nigeria drives youth to radicalize, join Boko Haram: UN

    Urgent action is needed to provide farming and livelihood support to 385,000 people in parts of Nigeria’s northeast where food insecurity is rampant, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said. The UN agency noted that more than three million people are affected by acute food insecurity in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa States. Failure to rebuild the rural economy will translate into lack of employment opportunities with possible harmful consequences including youth radicalization and enrolment into armed groups, resulting in continued civil unrest.

  • Food securityNew Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences announced

    The National Academy of Sciences announced the creation of a new prize, the NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences, to be presented annually beginning in 2017 with an award of $100,000. The NAS Prize in Food and Agriculture Sciences will recognize research by a mid-career scientist at a U.S. institution who has made an extraordinary contribution to agriculture or to the understanding of the biology of a species fundamentally important to agriculture or food production.

  • Food securityGauging the impact of climate change on U.S. agriculture

    By Mark Dwortzan

    To assess the likely impact of climate change on U.S. agriculture, researchers typically run a combination of climate and crop models that project how yields of maize, wheat, and other key crops will change over time. But the suite of models commonly used in these simulations, which account for a wide range of uncertainty, produces outcomes that can range from substantial crop losses to bountiful harvests. These mixed results often leave farmers and other agricultural stakeholders perplexed as to how best to adapt to climate change. Researchers have now devised a way to provide these stakeholders with the additional information they need to make more informed decisions. The new approach tracks key factors affecting crop yields, enabling early adaptation.

  • Food securityBetter soil data is key for future food security

    To project how much food can be produced in the future, researchers use agricultural models that estimate crop yield, or how much of a crop can be produced in a certain amount of space. These models take into account factors like climate and weather variability, irrigation, fertilizer, and soil type. A new study shows that the type of soil used in such a model can often outweigh the effects of weather variability — such as year-to-year changes in rainfall and temperature.

  • Water cycleCalifornia droughts caused mostly by changes in wind, not moisture

    Droughts in California are mainly controlled by wind, not by the amount of evaporated moisture in the air, new research has found. Their analysis showed that although moisture evaporated from the Pacific Ocean is the major source for California precipitation, the amount of water evaporated did not strongly influence precipitation in California, except in the cases of very heavy flooding. The research increases the understanding of how the water cycle is related to extreme events and could eventually help in predicting droughts and floods.

  • Food securityCrop breeding is not keeping pace with climate change

    Crop yields will fall within the next decade due to climate change unless immediate action is taken to speed up the introduction of new and improved varieties, experts have warned. The researchers focused on maize in Africa but the underlying processes affect crops across the tropics.