Posts Tagged ‘Food production’

Nearly two billion people are shown to be dependent on imported food

Researchers at Aalto University have shown a broad connection between resource scarcity, population pressure and food imports in a study published in Earth’s Future.

The earth’s capacity to feed its growing population has long been a topic of global discussion but previous research has not previously clearly demonstrated this connection.

The researchers performed a global analysis focusing on regions where water availability restricts production and examined the period from 1961 to  2009, evaluating the extent to which the growing population pressure was met by increasing food imports.

The researchers’ work combined modelled data with FAO statistics and took into consideration increases in production efficiency resulting from technological development. The analysis showed that in 75% of resource scarce regions, food imports began to rise as the region’s own production became insufficient.

Even less wealthy regions relied on the import strategy — but not always successfully.

According to the research, the food security of about 1.4 billion people has become dependent on imports and an additional 460 million people live in areas where increased imports are not enough to compensate for the lack of local production.

The big issue, says co-author Dr Joseph Guillaume, is that people may not even be aware that they have chosen dependency on imports over further investment in local production or curbing demand.

“It seems obvious to look elsewhere when local production is not sufficient, and our analysis clearly shows that is what happens. Perhaps that is the right choice, but it should not be taken for granted.”

The international food system is sensitive and price and production shocks can spread widely and undermine food security — especially in poorer countries that are dependent on imports. As a result, further investments in raising production capacity could be a viable alternative. Especially in sub-Saharan Africa and India, there are opportunities to sustainably improve food production by, for example, more efficient use of nutrients and better irrigation systems.

Postdoctoral researcher Miina Porkka emphasises that the solutions will ultimately require more than just increasing food production.

“Keeping food demand in check is the key issue. Controlling population growth plays an essential role in this work, but it would also be important to enhance production chains by reducing food waste and meat consumption. Since one quarter of all the food produced in the world is wasted, reducing this would be really significant on a global level.”

This post is based on information provided by Aalto University.

Chance discovery about food crops and carbon capture holds lesson for NZ science funders

University of Guelph researchers believe an almost entirely accidental discovery could transform food and biofuel production and increase carbon capture on farmland.

By tweaking a plant’s genetic profile, the researchers doubled the plant’s growth and increased seed production by more than 400 per cent.

The findings were published in the March 2016 issue of Plant Biotechnology Journal.

The team studied Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant often used in lab studies because of its ease of use and its similarity to some common farm crops. They found that inserting a particular corn enzyme caused the plant’s growth rate to skyrocket.

“Even if the effects in a field-grown crop were less, such as only a tenth of what we’ve seen in the lab, that would still represent an increase in yield of 40 to 50 per cent, compared with the average one to two per cent a year that most breeding programs deliver,” said Prof. Michael Emes, Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB).

He said the team’s finding could boost yields of important oilseed crops such as canola and soybean, as well as crops such as camelina, increasingly grown for biofuels.

Larger plants would capture more atmospheric carbon dioxide without increasing the amount of farmland, said Emes.

“Farmers and consumers would benefit significantly in terms of food production, green energy and the environment. The ramifications are enormous.”

The finding came almost by chance.

Studying the enzyme’s effect on starch, the researchers noticed that their genetically engineered plants looked different and much larger in photos taken by lead author Fushan Liu, a former post-doctoral MCB researcher.

“That’s when we realized that we were looking at something potentially much more important,” said Ian Tetlow, an MCB professor and study co-author.

Although genetic engineering led to more flowers and pods containing seeds, it left the seed composition unchanged.

“The seeds are where we would get the oil from, and consistent composition is important so that the function and use of the oil isn’t changed,” said Tetlow.

The researchers plan to test canola and other crops. Field tests and analysis with industry and government will likely take several years.

Emes said the discovery could have enormous implications for agriculture, carbon capture, food production, animal feedstocks and biodiesel.

The work was started to test some ideas in basic science,  he said, which “just goes to show that you never know where that science will take you.”

This quote should be framed and mounted on the wall of the office inhabited by New Zealand’s Minister for Science and Innovation, for him to reflect on when making funding decisions.