This is an automated or computerized livestock feeding system which uses the Lely Vector feed robot. Obviously, this would offer much more freedom to the livestock farmer since feeding is an around the clock job.
Readers, today’s post is republished by permission from ILRI, and the writing summarizes a Science Policy Forum article by Tara Garnett, of the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), in the UK, and her team et al.
Banalata Das, a dairy and shrimp farmer, feeds her cow in Khulna, Bangladesh . (photo credit: WorldFish/Mike Lusmore).
Ramadjita Tabo, a member of The Montpellier Panel and deputy executive director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), recently described the recent rather divisive nature of academic discussions on the viability of the ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture as follows.
Sustainable intensification, an agricultural development pathway that aims to reconcile food production and environmental protection, is a highly politicised term that divides academics and practitioners alike. Although, when first coined by Jules Pretty, the term was a way of bringing often divergent priorities such as addressing declines in land and agricultural productivity, pollution and food insecurity together under a new paradigm, it has been since accused of being a ruse for big, industrial agriculture. — Ramadjita Tabo, Sustainable intensification: A practical approach to meet Africa’s food and natural resource needs, Global Food Security blog, 18 Apr 2013
Now a team of diverse scientists and other experts, having broadened the concept, make a case in a new report published in the journal Science that sustainable intensification is absolutely central to our ability to meet increasing demands for food from our growing populations and finite farmlands.
Tara Garnett and Charles Godfray, the article’s lead authors, say that we can increase food production from existing farmland if we employ sustainable intensification practices and policies. These, they say, can help minimize already severe pressures on the environment, especially for more land, water, and energy, natural resources now commonly overexploited and used unsustainably.
The authors of this Science ’Policy Forum’ piece are researchers from leading universities and international organizations as well as policymakers from non-governmental organizations and the United Nations. One of the co-authors is Mario Herrero, an agricultural systems scientist who recently led a ‘livestock futures’ team at theInternational Livestock Research Institute (ILRI, a member of CGIAR), in Nairobi, Kenya, and who earlier this year moved to Brisbane, Australia, to take up the position of chief research scientist for food systems and the environment at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Another co-author is Philip Thornton, another ILRI systems scientist and a leader of a multi-institutional team and project in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
The authors of this Science paper outline a new, more sophisticated account of how ‘sustainable intensification’ should work. They recognize that this policy has attracted criticism in some quarters as being either too narrowly focused on food production or as representing a contradiction in terms.
Why does articulating this new, more refined, account of sustainable intensification matter so much? ‘We often confuse sustainable intensification as synonymous with increases in productivity and resource use efficiency, but the picture is far more complex’, explains Herrero. ‘We attempted a balanced definition, one that encompasses all major perspectives.’ Such a new definition, Herrero says, can be telling. Take the pig and poultry sub-sectors, he says, which are commonly lauded for being more efficient than raising cattle, goats, sheep, water buffalo and other ruminant animals. ‘Well, that can be true. But not in large parts of Europe, for example, which import grain to feed their pigs and poultry, with one result being that Brazilian farmers are chopping down the rain forest to provide that feed to Europe’s livestock farmers. From this perspective, those “efficient” pig and poultry business are just not sustainable. In our endeavour to intensify’, Herrero continues, ‘we can overlook important aspects of agricultural intensification like ecosystems services, biodiversity and human health. Take the livestock sector, for example. With this sector so intimately connected to land management issues and with so many livestock-based livelihoods of poor people at stake, it’s essential that we don’t pay lip service to the ‘sustainability aspects’ of livestock intensification.
We need to come up with suitable practical indicators of just what is sustainable, and the fact is that we’ll sometimes need to reduce intensification, as in places where additional increases in yields or efficiencies could place too much pressure on other facets of food systems. — Mario Herrero, agricultural systems scientist, CSIRO (formerly of ILRI)
Herrero’s colleague, Philip Thornton, agrees. And he reminds us of the ‘multi-functionality’ of agricultural production systems in developing countries, particularly livestock systems in sub-Saharan Africa. ‘These ‘multifunctions’ (such as keeping cows for household milk, and/or to generate a daily household dairy income, and/or to produce manure to fertilize croplands, and/or to transport produce to markets, and/or or to build household assets) differ by place and context, and our interventions aiming to enhance them need to differ accordingly, Thornton says. No ‘silver bullets’ or ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, he says, is going to work in these varied smallholder production system contexts.
‘As usual, it’s a matter of scale, with landscape or regional approaches expected to become critical to success. To achieve our desired development outcomes, we’re going to have to “intensify” small-scale livestock, mixed crop-livestock and other agricultural production systems where intensification can be done viably, and we’re going to have to ‘extensify’ these smallholder systems elsewhere in the landscape, where intensification is just not viable.
The main reason for producing this Science paper was to try to wrest the concept of ‘sustainable agricultural intensification’ back from those driving specific agendas. (We may well have to try to do the same for ‘climate-smart agriculture’, but that’s another story.) — Philip Thornton, ILRI and CCAFS
Similar arguments were published in a previous article in Science by Herrero, Thornton and their colleagues (Smart investments in sustainable food production: Revisiting mixed crop-livestock systems, Science, 12 Feb 2010, DOI: 10.1126/science.1183725). This new investigation, Herrero says, is something of a follow-up to that earlier paper. The new Science article stresses that while farmers in many regions of the world need to produce more food, it is equally urgent that policymakers act on diets, waste and how the food system is governed. The authors say we must produce more food on existing rather than new farmland; converting uncultivated land, they say, will lead to greater emissions of greenhouse gases, which are causing global warming, and greater losses of biodiversity.
The authors make a strong case for sustainable intensification being the only policy on the table that could generate ways of producing enough food for all without destroying our environment.
But, warns Charles Godfray, of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, sustainable intensification should be only one part of an agricultural and development policy portfolio. ’Sustainable intensification is necessary’, he says, ‘but not sufficient’.
Achieving a sustainable food system will require changes in agricultural production, changes in diet so people eat less meat and waste less food, and regulatory changes to improve the efficiency and resilience of the food system. Producing more food is important but it is only one of a number of policies that we must pursue together. — Charles Godfray, Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food
Increasing productivity does not always mean using more fertilizers and agrochemicals, which frequently carry unacceptable environmental costs, argue the authors. They say that a range of techniques, both old and new, should be employed to develop ways of farming that keep environmental damage to a minimum.
The authors of the paper accept that the intensification of agriculture will directly as well as indirectly impact other important policy goals, such as preserving biodiversity, improving human nutrition and animal welfare, protecting rural economies and sustaining development generally in poor countries and communities. Policymakers will need to find ways to navigate conflicting priorities, they say, which is where research can help.
Lead author Tara Garnett, from the Food Climate Research Network at the Oxford Martin School, says that food security is about more than just more calories. Better nutrition also matters, she says.
Some two billion people worldwide are thought to be deficient in micronutrients. We need to intensify the quality of the food we produce in ways that improve the nutritional value of people’s diets, preferably through diversifying the range of foods produced and available to people but also, in the short term, by improving the nutrient content of crops now commonly produced. — Tara Garnett, Food Climate Research Network
Michael Appleby, of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, says that ‘Attention to livestock welfare is both necessary and beneficial for sustainability. Policies to achieve the right balance between animal and crop production will benefit animals, people and the planet.’
Agriculture is a potent sector for economic growth and rural development in many countries across Africa, Asia and South America, says co-author Sonja Vermeulen, of CCAFS.
Sustainable intensification can provide the best rewards for small-scale farmers and their heritage of natural resources. What policymakers can provide are the strategic finance as well as institutions needed to support sustainable and equitable pathways rather than quick profits gained through depletion. — Sonja Vermeulen, CCAFS
Get the paper: Sustainable intensification in agriculture: Premises and policies, by T Garnett, MC Appleby, A Balmford, IJ Bateman, TG Benton, P Bloomer, B Burlingame, M Dawkins, L Dolan, D Fraser, M Herrero, I Hoffmann, P Smith, PK Thornton, C Toulmin, SJ Vermeulen, HCJ Godfray, Science, vol. 341, 5 Jul 2013.
Malaysian poultry slaughter house. Leong Wan Ching. May 2011.
Photo credit: Flickr CC by sooncm.
Today’s post is a follow-up to last week’s post on the changing trade trends in global poultry consumption. Today, we will look at the changing production of meat according to type over the years, both in the U.S. and globally.
How many times have the investors said that they are bullish on all things agriculture because the rising level of affluence in the populous developing nations translates to a future with more people eating more meat?
Case in point is China. In 1978, China’s meat consumption was one-third that of the U.S. Now, it is double that of the U.S.
If you look at this chart, so far the most recent growth in global meat consumption is coming from pork, poultry, eggs, and farm raised fish (aquaculture). These are the meat types which convert feed to protein (pound per pound) the most efficiently.
Counter to what is happening in the developing nations, some very interesting changes in trends in the U.S.’s meat consumption have taken place in recent years. For one, overall U.S. meat consumption has recently headed downwards for the first time in a century. The other interesting notable trend is that per person, poultry consumption has surpassed beef and pork shares in recent decades. So we, too, are increasingly eating the smaller meat animals which convert feed to meat most efficiently.
Many leading environmental voices such as Jon Foley worry that cattle are the number one threat to sustainable global agricultural production. The current trends would suggest otherwise. We are globally headed towards using aquaculture and smaller meat animals for our protein, rich and poor alike. Plus, I’m with Bill Gates and similar minded Silicon Valley investors who believe that the future hot growth spot will be in the innovation of meat substitutes. While this is nothing new in the Asian nations, it is an emerging area of innovation here in the U.S.
Recently, the LA Times featured a story about the company, Beyond Meat, which has created a vegetarian product that is practically indistinguishable from meat. Will it cost less than highly efficient aquaculture and poultry produced meat? So far, that appears doubtful.
Personally, here in the U.S. I’d like to see government subsidies get behind the well-managed production of grass-fed beef or bison, and pasture-raised chickens due to all of the health benefits those meats and eggs provide over factory-produced livestock. Such a policy could help with land use conversion from the over-produced monoculture commodity crops farmers rely upon today, which would be a win-win for the consumer, the land, and the producer.
Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.
1) Boulder Flood Does Millions of Dollars Damage to Agricultural Irrigation Systems: By John Fryar. “Cronin said the preliminary estimate of the floods’ damages to the area’s irrigation infrastructure is $8 to $10 million. Terry Plummer, superintendent of the Left Hand Ditch Company, told Udall that structural repairs to his company ditch system are expected to cost between $2 million and $2.5 million. … The ditch companies are looking for ways ‘to get the irrigation infrastructure back on line’ before next April, when the spring runoff begins flowing…”
2) 10 Sustainable Innovations: By Adam Popescu. Ten innovators converged at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories for a three-day forum, exchanging ideas and collaborating with a council of experts that included NASA astronaut Ron Garan. Here’s the list of 10 innovations which they discussed, many of which are Ag-related, and, the potential for change that each one represents. For example, the first innovation turns spoiled milk into a bio-textile fabric that could compete with cotton.
3) More Wyoming ranchers to use sun to provide water for livestock: By Tessa Schweigert. “With the cost of solar panels dropping in recent years, more livestock producers may consider solar-powered watering systems. ‘It’s a brilliant ag application,’ Geiger said, saying the pumps are one of the best uses for solar panels. … The pump Geiger demonstrated at the UW Extension field day went down to 200 feet. Some solar-powered pumps go down to more than 1,200 feet.” Also see: Univ. of Wyoming Extension’s PDF publication, “Solar-Powered Livestock Water Pumping: Technical and Economic Feasibility.”
This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.
Photo by Free Photo Fun @Flickr CC
Below, are today’s three chosen agricultural-related news picks.
1) Mob Grazing as a Tool: By Fae Holin. This is the cover story for the current (online) edition of Hay and Forage Grower magazine. It is an update to the North Dakota farmer’s successful use of multiple cover crops, no-till, and mob grazing which produces healthy soil microbes, soil which retains moisture, and reduces the need for fertilizer while increasing productivity…. “The producers I’ve talked to who I feel are doing it well are the ones saying, ‘I use it as a tool.’” A mob strategy “needs to be very elastic, very responsive to what you are seeing.” (See previous N.D. farmers post on b.p.a.) I was also happy to see this report out of Nebraska about similar studies being done there, funded with state lottery money.
2) How Wild Bees Will Save Our Agricultural System: By Hillary Rosner. This SciAm article will bring you up to speed on the whole bee situation, including the fact that the U.S. Army has become involved because bee health is a national food security issue. We need to focus on habitat for the health of ALL bees, not just one bee, the honeybee…. “M’Gonigle thinks the honeybee crisis could be “a kind of blessing in disguise” because “it forces us to think, ‘What are we going to do to keep our food production going?’ In the long term, it might be that we look back and say, ‘Wow, this was a good thing, a good way of getting us to reprioritize and start thinking about conservation of native species.’” As I watch a mix of honeybees and their wild cousins dart among purple flowers in one of Kremen’s hedgerows, it is easy to see what he means. Our entire modern-day agricultural system has grown up with honeybees, so we have never had to really consider the fact that relying on a single pollinator is probably not sustainable.”
3) Wave goodbye to global warming, GM and pesticides: This article out of Ireland was sent to me by a valued reader. One should never fall for magical solutions … or, first sentences like this one. I’m including this for entertainment purposes only…. “A GROUNDBREAKING new Irish technology which could be the greatest breakthrough in agriculture since the plough is set to change the face of modern farming forever. The technology – radio wave energised water – massively increases the output of vegetables and fruits by up to 30 per cent…”
This news post was written and compiled by K. McDonald.