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Article

Tomiko Yamaguchi and Shun-Nan Chiang

Food safety has been a critical issue from the beginning of human existence, but more recently the nature of concerns over food safety has changed. Further, in terms of both scale and impact, the modern problems of food safety are very different from the issues that confronted the past. For example, especially since the late 1990s, society has faced food safety crises and scares arising from threats as diverse as bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE), dioxin contamination, melamine-tainted infant milk formula, and so forth. These phenomena show that an ever-increasing variety of contaminants such as chemical and microbial agents can potentially find their way into the food supply, while novel foods such as GM foods and cultured meat add new challenges when it comes to certifying food safety. Food safety has become a particularly complex issue in the context of the global economy because the governance of food safety is entangled with several larger trends at the global scale, including (a) trade liberalization in the 1980s; (b) the adoption of a risk analysis framework by global and national food safety administrations; and (c) the spread of food quality management regimes throughout the entire food industry, from food production to processing and retail. Furthermore, there are vast differences between developed and developing countries with respect to both food safety regulations and prominent food safety issues. These facts, combined with the borderless nature of sociotechnical food systems, contribute to a situation in which it is extremely challenging for any individual country to manage food safety issues within its jurisdiction. This observation underscores the importance of global food safety governance, a goal which is in itself difficult to achieve. Two especially significant dilemmas have emerged within the existing situation vis-à-vis global food safety governance. The first is the challenges arising from the tensions inherent in a “modern” food safety governance approach, a model that combines a science-based strategy of dealing with food safety problems, on one hand, and the ideal of participatory democracy, on the other hand, in trying to deal with food safety issues. Problems arise from the contradictions between the science-based risked management approach, focused narrowly on monitoring and mitigation of hazards, and the wide-ranging complexity of the social, political, and interpersonal factors that shape people’s real-world concerns about food safety. The second is cross-border application of risk management to food imports in the Global North and its implications for exporting countries in the Global South. Problems arise from disparities in approaches and expectations regarding food safety between the Global North and the South. These two dilemmas have one thing in common: Each inherently contains challenges arising from internal contractions, as when the goal of achieving sound and consistent solutions to food safety issues is pursued alongside the goal of building a broad consensus across varying actors whose values, norms, needs, and interests differ and who are situated in differing socioeconomic and political contexts. Drawing insights from the sociology of agriculture and food and from social studies of science, an attempt is made to unpack the societal and policy challenges of food safety governance in a globalized economy.

Article

Adaptation of cropping systems to weather uncertainty and climate change is essential for resilient food production and long-term food security. Changes in climate result in substantial temporal modifications of cropping conditions, and rainfall and temperature patterns vary greatly with location. These challenges come at a time when global human population and demand for food are both increasing, and it appears to be difficult to find ways to satisfy growing needs with conventional systems of production. Agriculture in the future will need to feature greater biodiversity of crop species and appropriate design and management of cropping and integrated crop/animal systems. More diverse and longer-cycle crop rotations will need to combine sequences of annual row crops such as maize and soybean with close-drilled cereals, shallow-rooted with deep-rooted crops, summer crops with winter crops, and annuals with perennials in the same fields. Resilience to unpredictable weather will also depend on intercropping, with the creative arrangement of multiple interacting crop species to diversify the field and the landscape. Other multiple-cropping systems and strategies to integrate animals and crops will make more efficient use of natural resources and applied inputs; these include systems such as permaculture, agroforestry, and alley cropping. Future systems will be spatially diverse and adapted to specific fields, soil conditions, and unique agroecozones. Production resilience will be achieved by planting diverse combinations of species together in the same field, and economic resilience through producing a range of products that can be marketed through different channels. The creation of local food webs will be more appropriate in the future, as contrasted with the dominance of global food chains today. Materials considered “waste” from the food system, including human urine and feces, will become valuable resources to be cycled back into the natural environment and into food production. Due to the increasing scarcity of fertile land, the negative contributions of chemicals to environmental pollution, the costs of fossil fuels, and the potential for the economic and political disruption of supply chains, future systems will increasingly need to be local in character while still achieving adaptation to the most favorable conditions for each system and location. It is essential that biologically and economically resilient systems become productive and profitable, as well as environmentally sound and socially equitable, in order to contribute to stability of food production, security of the food supply, and food sovereignty, to the extent that this is possible. The food system cannot continue along the lines of “business as usual,” and its path will need to radically diverge from the recognized trends toward specialization and globalization of the early 21st century. The goal needs to shift from exploitation and short-term profits to conservation of resources, greater equity in distribution of benefits, and resilience in food supply, even with global climate change.

Article

Wun Jern Ng, Keke Xiao, Vinay Kumar Tyagi, Chaozhi Pan, and Leong Soon Poh

Agriculture waste can be a significant issue in waste management as its impact can be felt far from its place of origin. Post-harvest crop residues require clearance prior to the next planting and a common practice is burning on the field. The uncontrolled burning results in air pollution and can adversely impact the environment far from the burn site. Agriculture waste can also include animal husbandry waste such as from cattle, swine, and poultry. Animal manure not only causes odors but also pollutes water if discharged untreated. However, agricultural activities, particularly on a large scale, are typically at some distance from urban centers. The environmental impacts associated with production may not be well recognized by the consumers. As the consumption terminal of agricultural produce, urban areas in turn generate food waste, which can contribute significantly to municipal solid wastes. There is a correlation between the quantity of food waste generated and a community’s economic progress. Managing waste carries a cost, which may illustrate cost transfer from waste generators to the public. However, waste need not be seen only as an unwanted material that requires costly treatment before disposal. The waste may instead be perceived as a raw material for resource recovery. For example, the material may have substantial quantities of organic carbon, which can be recovered for energy generation. This offers opportunity for producing and using renewable and environment-friendly fuels. The “waste” may also include quantities of recoverable nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Article

David Roland-Holst

This overview article examines the historical and technical relationship between agrifood supply chains and energy services. Because agriculture is the original environmental science, all technological change in food production has environmental implications, but these are especially serious in the context of conventional energy use. Agrifood sustainability is of paramount importance to us all, and this will require lower carbon pathways for agriculture.

Article

The emergence of environment as a security imperative is something that could have been avoided. Early indications showed that if governments did not pay attention to critical environmental issues, these would move up the security agenda. As far back as the Club of Rome 1972 report, Limits to Growth, variables highlighted for policy makers included world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion, all of which impact how we live on this planet. The term environmental security didn’t come into general use until the 2000s. It had its first substantive framing in 1977, with the Lester Brown Worldwatch Paper 14, “Redefining Security.” Brown argued that the traditional view of national security was based on the “assumption that the principal threat to security comes from other nations.” He went on to argue that future security “may now arise less from the relationship of nation to nation and more from the relationship between man to nature.” Of the major documents to come out of the Earth Summit in 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development is probably the first time governments have tried to frame environmental security. Principle 2 says: “States have, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies, and the responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other States or of areas beyond the limits of national.” In 1994, the UN Development Program defined Human Security into distinct categories, including: • Economic security (assured and adequate basic incomes). • Food security (physical and affordable access to food). • Health security. • Environmental security (access to safe water, clean air and non-degraded land). By the time of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in 2002, water had begun to be identified as a security issue, first at the Rio+5 conference, and as a food security issue at the 1996 FAO Summit. In 2003, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan set up a High-Level Panel on “Threats, Challenges, and Change,” to help the UN prevent and remove threats to peace. It started to lay down new concepts on collective security, identifying six clusters for member states to consider. These included economic and social threats, such as poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation. By 2007, health was being recognized as a part of the environmental security discourse, with World Health Day celebrating “International Health Security (IHS).” In particular, it looked at emerging diseases, economic stability, international crises, humanitarian emergencies, and chemical, radioactive, and biological terror threats. Environmental and climate changes have a growing impact on health. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified climate security as a key challenge for the 21st century. This was followed up in 2009 by the UCL-Lancet Commission on Managing the Health Effects of Climate Change—linking health and climate change. In the run-up to Rio+20 and the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, the issue of the climate-food-water-energy nexus, or rather, inter-linkages, between these issues was highlighted. The dialogue on environmental security has moved from a fringe discussion to being central to our political discourse—this is because of the lack of implementation of previous international agreements.

Article

There are continuing developments in the analysis of hunger and famines, and the results of theoretical and empirical studies of hunger and food insecurity highlight cases where hunger intensifies sufficiently to be identified as famine. The varying ability of those affected to cope with the shocks and stresses imposed on them are central to the development of food insecurity and the emergence of famine conditions and to explaining the complex interrelationships between agriculture, famine, and economics. There are a number of approaches to understanding how famines develop. The Malthusian approach, which sees population growth as the primary source of hunger and famine, can be contrasted with the free market or Smithian approach, which regards freely operating markets as an essential prerequisite for ensuring that famine can be overcome. A major debate has centered on whether famines primarily emerge from a decline in the availability of food or are a result of failure by households to access sufficient food for consumption, seeking to distinguish between famine as a problem related to food production and availability and famine as a problem of declining income and food consumption among certain groups in the population. These declines arise from the interaction between food markets, labor markets and markets for livestock and other productive farm resources when poor people try to cope with reduced food consumption. Further revisions to famine analysis were introduced from the mid-1990s by authors who interpreted the emergence of famines not as a failure in markets and the economic system, but more as a failure in political accountability and humanitarian response. These approaches have the common characteristic that they seek to narrow the focus of investigation to one or a few key characteristics. Yet most of those involved in famine analysis or famine relief would stress the multi-faceted and broad-based nature of the perceived causes of famine and the mechanisms through which they emerge. In contrast to these approaches, the famine systems approach takes a broader view, exploring insights from systems theory to understand how famines develop and especially how this development might be halted, reversed, or prevented. Economists have contributed to and informed different perspectives on famine analysis while acknowledging key contributions from moral philosophy as well as from biological and physical sciences and from political and social sciences. Malthus, Smith, and John Stuart Mill contributed substantially to early thinking on famine causation and appropriate famine interventions. Increased emphasis on famine prevention and a focus on food production and productivity led to the unarguable success of the Green Revolution. An important shift in thinking in the 1980s was motivated by Amartya Sen’s work on food entitlements and on markets for food and agricultural resources. On the other hand, the famine systems approach considers famine as a process governed by complex relationships and seeks to integrate contributions from economists and other scientists while promoting a systems approach to famine analysis.

Article

Glenn H. Shepard Jr., Eduardo Neves, Charles R. Clement, Helena Lima, Claide Moraes, and Gilton Mendes dos Santos

The tropical lowlands of South America were long thought of as a “counterfeit paradise,” a vast expanse of mostly pristine rainforests with poor soils for farming, limited protein resources, and environmental conditions inimical to the endogenous development of hierarchical human societies. These misconceptions derived largely from a fundamental misunderstanding of the unique characteristics of ancient and indigenous farming and environmental management in lowland South America, which are in turn closely related to the cultural baggage surrounding the term “agriculture.” Archaeological and archaeobotanical discoveries made in the early 21st century have overturned these misconceptions and revealed the true nature of the ancient and traditional food production systems of lowland South America, which involve a complex combination of horticulture, agroforestry, and the management of non-domesticated or incipiently domesticated species in cultural forest landscapes. In this sense, lowland South America breaks the mould of the Old World “farming hypothesis” by revealing cultivation without domestication and domestication without agriculture, a syndrome that has been referred to as “anti-domestication”. These discoveries have contributed to a better understanding of the cultural history of South America, while also suggesting new paradigms of environmental management and food production for the future of this critical and threatened biome.

Article

Elisabet Lindgren and Thomas Elmqvist

Ecosystem services refer to benefits for human societies and well-being obtained from ecosystems. Research on health effects of ecosystem services have until recently mostly focused on beneficial effects on physical and mental health from spending time in nature or having access to urban green space. However, nearly all of the different ecosystem services may have impacts on health, either directly or indirectly. Ecosystem services can be divided into provisioning services that provide food and water; regulating services that provide, for example, clean air, moderate extreme events, and regulate the local climate; supporting services that help maintain biodiversity and infectious disease control; and cultural services. With a rapidly growing global population, the demand for food and water will increase. Knowledge about ecosystems will provide opportunities for sustainable agriculture production in both terrestrial and marine environments. Diarrheal diseases and associated childhood deaths are strongly linked to poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene. Even though improvements are being made, nearly 750 million people still lack access to reliable water sources. Ecosystems such as forests, wetlands, and lakes capture, filter, and store water used for drinking, irrigation, and other human purposes. Wetlands also store and treat solid waste and wastewater, and such ecosystem services could become of increasing use for sustainable development. Ecosystems contribute to local climate regulation and are of importance for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Coastal ecosystems, such as mangrove and coral reefs, act as natural barriers against storm surges and flooding. Flooding is associated with increased risk of deaths, epidemic outbreaks, and negative health impacts from destroyed infrastructure. Vegetation reduces the risk of flooding, also in cities, by increasing permeability and reducing surface runoff following precipitation events. The urban heat island effect will increase city-center temperatures during heatwaves. The elderly, people with chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and outdoor workers in cities where temperatures soar during heatwaves are in particular vulnerable to heat. Vegetation and especially trees help in different ways to reduce temperatures by shading and evapotranspiration. Air pollution increases the mortality and morbidity risks during heatwaves. Vegetation has been shown also to contribute to improved air quality by, depending on plant species, filtering out gases and airborne particulates. Greenery also has a noise-reducing effect, thereby decreasing noise-related illnesses and annoyances. Biological control uses the knowledge of ecosystems and biodiversity to help control human and animal diseases. Natural surroundings and urban parks and gardens have direct beneficial effects on people’s physical and mental health and well-being. Increased physical activities have well-known health benefits. Spending time in natural environments has also been linked to aesthetic benefits, life enrichments, social cohesion, and spiritual experience. Even living close to or with a view of nature has been shown to reduce stress and increase a sense of well-being.

Article

Juha Helenius, Alexander Wezel, and Charles A. Francis

Agroecology can be defined as scientific research on ecological sustainability of food systems. In addressing food production and consumption systems in their entirety, the focus of agroecology is on interactions and processes that are relevant for transitioning and maintaining ecological, economic, political, and social-cultural sustainability. As a field of sustainability science, agroecology explores agriculture and food with explicit linkages to two other widespread interpretations of the concept of agroecology: environmentally sound farming practices and social movements for food security and food sovereignty. In the study of agroecology as science, both farming practices and social movements emerge as integrated components of agroecological research and development. In the context of agroecology, the concept of ecology refers not only to the science of ecology as biological research but also to environmental and social sciences with research on social systems as integrated social and ecological systems. In agroecological theory, all these three are merged so that agroecology can broadly be defined as “human food ecology” or “the ecology of food systems.” Since the last decades of the 20th century many developments have led to an increased emphasis on agroecology in universities, nonprofit organizations, movements, government programs, and the United Nations. All of these have raised a growing attention to ecological, environmental, and social dimensions of farming and food, and to the question of how to make the transition to sustainable farming and food systems. One part of the foundation of agroecology was built during the 1960s when ecologically oriented environmental research on agriculture emerged as the era of optimism about component research began to erode. Largely, this took place as a reaction to unexpected and unwanted ecological and social consequences of the Green Revolution, a post–World War II scaling-up, chemicalization, and mechanization of agriculture. Another part of the foundation was a nongovernmental movement among thoughtful farmers wanting to develop sustainable and more ecological/organic ways of production and the demand by consumers for such food products. Finally, a greater societal acceptance, demand for research and education, and public funding for not only environmental ecology but also for wider sustainability in food and agriculture was ignited by an almost sudden high-level political awakening to the need for sustainable development by the end of 1980s. Agroecology as science evolved from early studies on agricultural ecosystems, from research agendas for environmentally sound farming practices, and from concerns about addressing wider sustainability; all these shared several forms of systems thinking. In universities and research institutions, agroecologists most often work in faculties of food and agriculture. They share resources and projects among scientists having disciplinary backgrounds in genetics (breeding of plants and animals), physiology (crop science, animal husbandry, human nutrition), microbiology or entomology (crop protection), chemistry and physics (soil science, agricultural and food chemistry, agricultural and food technology), economics (of agriculture and food systems), marketing, behavioral sciences (consumer studies), and policy research (agricultural and food policy). While agroecologists clearly have a mandate to address ecology of farmland, its biodiversity, and ecosystem services, one of the greatest added values from agroecology in research communities comes from its wider systems approach. Agroecologists complement reductionist research programs where scientists seek more detailed understanding of detail and mechanisms and put these into context by developing a broader appreciation of the whole. Those in agroecology integrate results from disciplinary research and increase relevance and adoption by introducing transdisciplinarity, co-creation of information and practices, together with other actors in the system. Agroecology is the field in sustainability science that is devoted to food system transformation and resilience. Agroecology uses the concept of “agroecosystem” in broad ecological and social terms and uses these at multiple scales, from fields to farms to farming landscapes and regions. Food systems depend on functioning agroecosystems as one of their subsystems, and all the subsystems of a food system interact through positive and negative feedbacks, in their complex biophysical, sociocultural, and economic dimensions. In embracing wholeness and connectivity, proponents of agroecology focus on the uniqueness of each place and food system, as well as solutions appropriate to their resources and constraints.