Plantwise, a global programme led by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) which provides smallholder farmers across the world with the knowledge they need to lose less of what they grow to pests and diseases, has won this year’s St Andrews Prize for the Environment, worth $100,000 USD.
The Prize is a joint environmental initiative by the University of St Andrews and ConocoPhillips which recognises significant contributions to environmental conservation. Since its launch in 1998, the Prize has attracted 5,200 entries from around the world and donated $1.67 million to environmental initiatives on a wide range of diverse topics including biodiversity, sustainable development, urban re-generation, recycling, health, water and waste issues, renewable energy and community development.
Last year, one of the strongest El Niño events ever recorded caused significant changes to weather patterns around the world. Southern and Eastern Africa were hit particularly hard and suffered some of the worst drought conditions for decades, with as little as a quarter of the expected rainfall in the last few months of the year1. Drought is still having devastating impacts on crop yields in Africa, and humanitarian crises have been declared in the worst hit countries.
One billion farmers all over the world, responsible for growing the food that feeds the planet, are under unprecedented pressure from a changing climate. For eight months in a row now, temperatures have been the highest on record. Food shortages are affecting an estimated 100 million people in the wake of drought prompted by the strongest El Niño we have ever seen.
We urgently require ways of helping farmers preserve food security, and adapt to these harsher realities. We also need to ensure farmers can be part of the solution to climate change, given that food systems account for 19-29% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including the success of the M9 banana variety in Uganda, a study into the timeline of climate change effects on agriculture and a warning on the use of miticides in Almond IPM.
A new strain of low-methane rice has won Popular Science’s “Best of What’s New” award 2015 for engineering. The new kind of rice, known as SUSIBA2, has been developed by splicing a single gene from barley into rice plants to reduce the amount of methane the rice produces and, ultimately, the amount released into the environment. The single inserted gene does this by altering the transport of carbon within the rice plant. Instead of taking its usual path to the roots, where methane-producing bacteria are found, carbon in SUSIBA2 rice is redirected to the grains and leaves. This has the added benefit of increasing the starch levels and yield of the rice. SUSIBA2 rice has performed well in field trials and will now be assessed for commercial viability. Continue reading →
At COP21 last week, the world’s leaders agreed on a way forward to manage climate change. Limiting global warming to less than two percent was undoubtedly a landmark decision and, for the first time, there was unanimous recognition that humans impact the climate and that humans must do something about it.
Talking about these projects, it struck me how agriculture has been caught in the centre of the COP21 debate as both a cause and a victim of climate change, and how – as the foundation of food security – agriculture must be carefully managed. A perfect storm is brewing of increased global warming and growing global population, which places pressure on agriculture to produce more outputs using fewer resources like land and water. How we feed a world of 9 billion people by 2050, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is one of the most important questions we must ask and answer. Continue reading →
Here’s a taste of some of the latest stories about plant health, including a boost for parasitic weed research in Africa from the Gates Foundation, benefits of modern farming come to Peru and a surge in climate change-related disasters posing a growing threat to food security.