Types of Research
Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, such as provisioning of fresh water, food, feed, fiber, biodiversity, energy, and nutrient cycling. Agricultural production can substantially affect the functioning of ecosystems, both positively and negatively. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the impacts of agricultural technologies and practices on ecosystem services such as soil fertility, water, biodiversity, air, and climate. The report describes the environmental impacts of different aspects of intensive cropping practices and of inputs associated with intensification. We further explore these impacts by examining intensive rice systems and industrial crop processing. Although this report focuses on the impacts of agricultural practices on the environment, many of the practices also have implications for plant, animal, and human health. Farmers and others who come in contact with air, water, and soils polluted by chemical fertilizers and pesticides may face negative health consequences, for instance. By impacting components of the ecosystem, these practices affect the health of plants and animals living within the ecosystem. We find that the unintended environmental consequences of intensive agricultural practices and inputs are varied and potentially severe. In some cases, sustaining or increasing agricultural productivity depends upon reducing impacts to the environment, such as maintaining productive soils by avoiding salinization from irrigation water. However, in other cases, eliminating negative environmental impacts may involve unacceptable trade-offs with food provision or other development goals. Determining the appropriate balance of costs and benefits from intensive agricultural practices is a location-specific exercise requiring knowledge of natural, economic, and social conditions.
Agriculture and Climate Change: Part I
With estimated global emissions of 5,969-6,615 metric tons (Mt) of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, agriculture accounts for about 13.5% of total global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). Deforestation contributes about 11.8% of total GHG emissions, releasing about 5,800 Mt CO2 per year. Developing countries are largely responsible for emissions from agriculture and deforestation, with the developing countries of South Asia and East Asia accounting for 17% and 25% of global agricultural emissions respectively. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) accounts for about 13% of global emissions from agriculture and 15% of emissions from land use change and forestry. This report examines the biophysical and economic potential of mitigating agriculture and land use GHG emissions, and provides a summary on the current and projected impact of global carbon market mechanisms on emission reductions.
Agriculture and Climate Change: Part II
This report covers two topics related to agriculture and climate change in developing countries. The first section discusses the role of agricultural offsets in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Recent negotiations around a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement have included debate about whether agricultural carbon sequestration projects should be eligible under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). We examine the reasons for supporting or opposing this type of CDM reform and how these reasons relate to impacts on development goals and smallholder farmers, scientific uncertainty about carbon sequestration, and philosophical disagreement about the use of emission offsets. The second section covers proposed agricultural adaptation activities in Africa and other developing countries. While the majority of developing countries have outlined immediate adaptation needs in National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs), few have made progress in implementing adaptation activities. We find that issues related to financial resources, scientific and technical information, and capacity building continue to challenge developing countries in preparing for the impacts of climate change.
On July 10, 2009 at the Italy G8 summit, attendees issued a joint statement pledging to contribute $20 billion towards agricultural development and food security in the developing world over the next three years. This research brief notes the status of the contributions made to the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative and whether any of the $20 billion will be allocated to agricultural research. We conclude that no declarations have been made as of September 2009 on how much of the $20 billion will be allocated to agricultural research, and which types of research will be funded by the initiative.
This brief presents an in depth analysis of the FAO’s methodology behind their calculations for hunger. The analysis includes a review of the key assumptions made by the FAO in their calculations, critiques of their methodology, and recommendations for future research. The critiques include opinions from the literature on the subject as well as from the authors of the request.
This brief presents an initial examination of the possibility of using Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) as a way to evaluate agricultural interventions. We review DALYs, their formulation, and the data necessary to compute values. A review of relevant literature suggests that to use DALYs as an evaluative tool, an agricultural intervention must be tied to a specific disease, and from there, impacts on DALYs can be assessed.
As our understanding of the impacts of hidden hunger on human nutrition grows, understanding the link between fertilizer use and human nutrition becomes increasingly important. This report presents an analysis of both grey and peer-reviewed literature on the effects of fertilizer use on nutritional quality of food, particularly the staples of maize, rice, wheat, cassava and legumes. We find that some nutrient deficiencies, such as zinc, can be effectively addressed through fertilizer use while others, such as iron deficiency, are more difficult to address. Promising breakthroughs with fortified and complete fertilizers present the opportunity to correct multiple deficiencies. Current fertilizer products exist that, when applied with the proper agronomic methods, can have a significant effect on nutrition in the developing world. However, it is important to recognize that there are many factors in the developing world that have the potential to inhibit the benefits of fertilizer for human nutrition. Two significant factors are poor farmers’ difficulty in procuring the correct product and the relative sophistication required to apply fertilizers at the correct amounts and time to achieve desired results. In addition, researchers have not focused on fertilizer and nutrition studies until recently, particularly micronutrient fertilizer studies, and few studies specifically study the impacts of fertilizer on human nutrition. More research needs to be done to understand the most effective combinations and techniques, and to understand whether these methods truly increase the amount of nutrients bioavailable to humans.
This brief reviews the literature on the links between agriculture and human nutrition in rural South Asia, exploring why South Asia has experienced enormous growth in agricultural productivity without subsequent reductions in hunger. An annotated review of relevant articles is included in addition to the analysis. The articles are presented by sub-topic, including sustained economic growth versus lack of progress in nutrition rates and hunger in South Asia, primary determinants of improved nutrition at the household level, agricultural productivity/reform and interventions in nutritional status.
We conducted a literature review of strategic grain reserves (SGRs) are used to mitigate food crises. Our brief includes a short overview of the literature and a bibliography of top-cited articles relevant to specific sub-topics related to SGRs.