Thursday, 30 June 2016

The science of organic farming (book)

Science and Technology of Organic Farming

Organic farming is not only a philosophy, but also a well-researched science that combines soil fertility, plant pathology, entomology, and other biological and environmental sciences. Science and Technology of Organic Farming is a concise, readily applicable resource for understanding the scientific basis for organic farming and the technology required to achieve adequate yields through plant nutrition and protection. It provides the tools necessary to dispel hampering myths about organic farming so farmers – regardless of their experience – can strengthen their own growing practices.

Permaculture as ecological management tool (#journal)

Incorporating permaculture and strategic management for sustainable ecological resource management

 Conventional sustainable resource management systems are based on neoclassical economics that ignore nature's pattern and therefore are not capable of sustainable management of resources. Environmentalists are lately advocating incorporation of Permaculture as holistic approach based on ethics, equitable interaction with eco-systems to obtain sustainability. The paper uses Permaculture to develop a pragmatic tool for policy development. This tool augments management tasks by integrating recording of natural assets, monitoring of key performance indicators and integration of sectorial policies in real time, bringing out policy as a truly live document. The tool enhances the edifice process, balancing short term viewpoints and long term development to secure renewability of natural resources.

How sustainable is solar PV? (online)

How viable (and sustainable) are solar PV systems? A debate

Post the Paris climate agreement, the world looks to solar energy more than ever to reduce carbon emissions and counter climate change, with multi-billion dollar solar programmes announced by just about every major country. But just how efficient,  and environmentally sustainable is the celebrated solar photovoltaic technology? Here’s what eight leading voices have to say.

Ernst Gotsch's carbon farm (video)

Life in Syntropy: The story of a transformation

“Life in Syntropy” is a short film that was screened at the Paris climate talks. It tells the story of Brazilian farmer Ernst Gotsch, who bought 1,200 acres of completely deforested land on the edge of the rainforest in 1984 and transformed it into a remarkably biodiverse farm that reverses climate change by sequestering carbon.

The public health benefits of gardening (report)

Gardens and health. Implications for policy and practice

This independent report by The King's Fund has three aims:
    1) to collate and summarise the evidence on the impact of gardens on wellbeing
    2) to demonstrate the important place gardening interventions have in the wider health and care system
    3) to make the case for the further integration of gardens and health into mainstream health policy and practice.
The report includes a ‘menu’ of recommendations that aims to encourage the NHS, government departments, national bodies, local government, health and wellbeing boards and clinical commissioning groups to make more of the diverse health benefits of gardening.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

UK Parliament report on soil health (report)

The Environmental Audit Committee Report into Soil Health published on 2nd June 2016

The Government’s ambition to manage the UK’s soil sustainably by 2030 will not be met unless further action is taken, the Environmental Audit Committee has warned in a report published today on the health of UK soil. Failing to prevent soil degradation could lead to increased flood risk, lower food security, and greater carbon emissions. Key recommendations: 1) The Government must set out specific, measurable and time-limited plans to increase the amount of carbon retained in soil. 2) Rules with greater scope, force and ambition are required in order to meet the Government’s stated goal to manage soils sustainably by 2030. 3) The Government should introduce a rolling national-scale monitoring scheme for soil health to ensure that adequate information about the state of the nation’s soil.

African technique transforms soil fertility

700-year-old West African soil technique could help mitigate climate change

 A 700-year-old fertile soil technique could mitigate climate change and revolutionize farming across Africa, say researchers. They discovered that the ancient West African method of adding charcoal and kitchen waste to highly weathered, nutrient poor tropical soils can transform the land into enduringly fertile, carbon-rich black soils which the researchers dub 'African Dark Earths'.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

New eco-village research website

Global Ecovillage Network Research Website

The Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is a network of sustainable communities that bridge different cultures, countries, and continents. GEN serves as umbrella organization for ecovillages, transition town initiatives, intentional communities, and ecologically-minded individuals worldwide. Their research group has a new website, which will be a contact point for and coordination of researchers that approach ecovillages or GEN. It aims at networking, integration & dissemination, and setting values in the area of ecovillage research.

Multicausality makes ecology hard and fun (online)

Why Ecology is hard and fun: Multi-causality

In this essay discussing the role of multi-causality in ecology, Brian MacGill argues that it is what makes ecology so hard, but also so much fun. He argues that the relatively simple scientific approaches and answers of physics or maths can never work in ecology, which needs its own particular methods to deal with complexity and multi-causality. He discusses 8 different methods that ecologists can use to help them understand and explain multi-causality in the systems they study.

Introducing Naomi, new Digest contributor

Introducing Naomi van der Velden

You may have noticed a change of tone and depth in recent blog posts. This is because I have a new collaborator on The Digest, Dr. Naomi van der Velden. I am delighted to have her help and support in putting The Digest together. Naomi works half time for the Permaculture Association Britain and half time at Cumbria University as a Plant Ecologist. Judging by the number of readers her posts have received so far, Digest users like her more in-depth descriptions of research papers. Hopefully we can supply a good balance between her longer, academic-focused posts and my shorter, lighter ones. As ever, your feedback is most welcome.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Africa needs climate-proof agriculture (report)


Montpelier Panel, June 2016

Title page of report with images of African farmers and landscape
By the year 2050 the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events, such as the current El NiƱo, could increase hunger and child malnutrition by as much as 20%, reversing the gains achieved through the Millennium Development Goal process and jeopardising the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Agriculture is the backbone of African economies, accounting for as much as 40% of total export earnings and employing 60 – 90% of Africa’s labour force. More than half of households’ income originates in the agriculture sector. Agriculture will continue to be a priority for Africa, alongside efforts towards industrialisation. Using the targets set out in the Malabo Declaration African governments now need to unlock the continent’s agriculture sector in a way that captures the synergies between climate adaptation and mitigation and identifies and reduces the inevitable trade-offs. A sustainable agriculture sector has the potential to contribute to food and nutrition security, poverty reduction and sustained economic growth, in a way that preserves the natural resource base on which it depends.

Climate-smart agriculture needs to:

  •  Provide adaptation and resilience to shocks
  •  Generate adaptation and mitigation as co-benefits
  •  Take a location-specific and knowledge-intensive approach
  •  Provide integrated options that create synergies and reduce trade-offs.

Recommendation #6 Better training for farmers on sustainable farming techniques, through improved extension services, farmer field schools and utilisation of digital technologies.

...could this mean more permaculture training?!

News coverage of this report here.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Innovation and research in food and health (Journal, open access until 16th July)

The framing of innovation among European research funding actors: Assessing the potential for ‘responsible research and innovation’ in the food and health domain.

Free access, courtesy of Shumaisa Khan, until 16th July 2016.  

• Examines framing of innovation among research funding decision makers.
• Innovation perceived to be focused on biosciences and marketable applications.
• Inadequate consideration of normative issue of who defines the problems.
• Shift in framing is necessary to implement responsible research and innovation.

This paper explores how the concept of innovation is understood and used in policy implementation, with a particular focus upon ‘food and health’ science and research policy and funding. Our analysis is based on 55 interviews of various actors engaged in research funding decision-making across eight European countries. Three themes emerged from the analysis: concept of innovation; conditions for innovation; and drivers of innovation; through these themes, the cognitive framing was drawn out.

The cognitive framing suggests that innovation in the food and health domain is perceived to be focused on biosciences and marketable applications to the neglect of social sciences and broader public interest; that the “innovation network” is primarily viewed as centred around scientific/technical and industrial actors; and that the demand-pull dynamic is relevant to innovation in the area of food and health, despite having been relegated in contemporary thinking and policies around innovation. These findings point to the inadequate consideration of the normative issues—how problems are to be defined and addressed—among national research funders in the food and health domain, and indicate a gap between the ideas of innovation under the terms of RRI and innovation as conceptualised by those involved in its governance.

Khan et al.,  2016. The framing of innovation among European research funding actors: Assessing the potential for ‘responsible research and innovation’ in the food and health domain. Food Policy62, 78-87

Medusa-scientists solve carbon dioxide problems. Maybe. (Journal, open access)

Rapid carbon mineralization for permanent disposal of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions 

Matter et al., 2016  Science 352 (6291), 1312-1314.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) provides a solution toward decarbonisation of the global economy. The success of this solution depends on the ability to safely and permanently store CO2. This study demonstrates for the first time the permanent disposal of CO2 as environmentally benign carbonate minerals in basaltic rocks. We find that over 95% of the CO2 injected into the CarbFix site in Iceland was mineralised to carbonate minerals in less than 2 years. This result contrasts with the common view that the immobilisation of CO2 as carbonate minerals within geologic reservoirs takes several hundreds to thousands of years. Our results, therefore, demonstrate that the safe long-term storage of anthropogenic CO2 emissions through mineralization can be far faster than previously postulated.

The scaling up of this basaltic carbon storage method requires substantial quantities of water and porous basaltic rocks.

Key questions (to my mind) - How much does it cost?  - What, if any, are the side-effects? - Is it more effective than tackling the causes of the problem?

Want a summary?  'Experiment 'turns waste CO2 to stone' news report  Or you might be able to listen to a BBC world service story about it here, including interview with the lead scientist, Juerg Matter (0.27 - to 5.55 mins).

Global origins of local food (journal, open access)

Origins of food crops connect countries worldwide 

Khoury et al., 2016

Countries are highly interconnected with regard to primary regions of diversity of the crops they cultivate and/or consume. Foreign crops are extensively used in food supplies (68.7% of national food supplies as a global mean are derived from foreign crops) and production systems (69.3% of crops grown are foreign). Foreign crop usage has increased significantly over the past 50 years, including in countries with high indigenous crop diversity. The results provide a novel perspective on the ongoing globalisation of food systems worldwide, and bolster evidence for the importance of international collaboration on genetic resource conservation and exchange.

Circular plots linking the primary regions of diversity of food crops with their current importance in the context of calories (kcal capita−1 d−1) in regional food supplies. Each region has a colour representing its own native crops and those colours are connected to other regions due the importance of those crops in the food supply in other regions.  (a) only the most significant linkages (i.e. 95th percentile) between regions are shown, for visibility, whereas (b) displays the full matrix of linkages. 

On a tea break? Here's some news coverage.

More support for diverse agroecological systems (report)

From uniformity to diversity:A paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems  

A report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

Industrial agriculture and the ‘industrial food systems’ that have developed around it are locked in place by a series of vicious cycles. For example, the way food systems are currently structured allows value to accrue to a limited number of actors, reinforcing their economic and political power, and thus their ability to influence the governance of food systems.

Tweaking practices can improve some of the specific outcomes of industrial agriculture, but will not provide long-term solutions to the multiple problems it generates. What is required is a fundamentally different model of agriculture based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs, optimising biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agro-ecosystems and secure livelihoods, i.e. ‘diversified agroecological systems’.

Change is already happening. Industrial food systems are being challenged on multiple fronts, from new forms of cooperation and knowledge-creation to the development of new market relationships that bypass conventional retail circuits. Political incentives must be shifted in order for these alternatives to emerge beyond the margins. A series of modest steps can collectively shift the centre of gravity in food systems.

Pages 62-74 gives a number of recommendations including research priorities and valuing grassroots movements.

Prefer something shorter?  Here is a News article about the report.