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Crawford Fund Student Awards: Apply now!

Have you been inspired by our Development Agriculture articles? Would you fancy a trip overseas to experience international agricultural research and development in action, in a developing country?

Well, the good news is you can!

The Crawford Fund are offering Student Awards to allow students interested in research for food security the opportunity to participate in projects overseas.

Emily Lamberton, a previous award recipient, has said: “It created a fantastic opportunity to learn first-hand the struggles and barriers experienced by farmers and the factors that influence on-farm decision making”.

Find out more information about the awards here, and best of luck applying! https://www.crawfordfund.org/awards/the-2018-crawford-fund-student-awards/

Looking back at 2017: top 10 advancements and achievements in agriculture

As many are looking ahead to what 2018 may hold, we thought we’d give a quick rundown of the incredible achievements and technological advancements made in the agricultural space over the past year, and perhaps what the future may hold for the industry and technology. Even if crops around the country were not quite of the 2016-17 volumes. If you have a key achievement that you think is missing get in touch!

So without further ado here are our top 10 for 2017!

10: Launch of the Invisible Farmer

The recognition of the role of women in agriculture through the launch of the Invisible Farmer project was a fantastic way to kick off the year. The three-year project aims to tell the stories of women in agriculture and:

  • create new histories of rural Australia
  • reveal the hidden stories of women on the land
  • learn about the diverse, innovative and vital role of women in agriculture
  • stimulate public discussions about contemporary issues facing rural Australia and its future
  • develop significant public collections that will enable far reaching outcomes in research, industry and public policy.

We’re looking forward to hearing the stories of more and more women and their involvement in agriculture as the project continues on.

9: Record value of wool sold

Over $3.1 billion of wool was sold in 2017, breaking the record for the highest value of wool ever sold on the Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX). As for the volume, the Australian Wool Testing Authority tested more than 160 million kilograms of wool so far this season (6 months in) up almost 8 million kilograms on the same six month period last season. The incredible surge in price and volume sold is said to be primarily driven by strong demand from China. Read more here.

The wool industry has had its ups and downs over the years, and to see it so successful over the past year has been very exciting.

8: Launch of Cultivate Farms

Encouraging youth to study agriculture is one thing, but making farms and farming accessible to young people who often have little in the way of capital is another complex story!

Cultivate Farms launched earlier this year and is helping connect youth with outgoing retired farmers, whilst providing the necessary capital involved in acquiring and managing a farm. The program includes on the farm training in business and management skills as well as ongoing professional development. The enterprise provides an additional succession strategy for farmers too.

7: SproutX’s first accelerator program

SproutX, a Melbourne-based startup incubator for agricultural companies, launched its first accelerator program with 11 teams in the portfolio. These 11 include:

Click on each of the above links to find out more about the individual companies involved in the accelerator.

6: Breakthrough in the management of wheat stem rust

On the genetics side of things, researchers from the University of Sydney and CSIRO led a team including the US Department of Agriculture, Rothamsted Research and Minnesota University in developing a diagnostic test for stem rust that takes hours instead of days. It enables rapid DNA analysis of the stem rust in question, providing an indication if the strain is able to overcome a rust resistance gene.

“It’s like an ongoing arms race – we’ve got to keep one step ahead of this changing pathogen”

Professor Robert Park

The test could save the Australian agricultural industry up to $1 billion annually in lost yields due to the disease. The discovery has worldwide ramifications for food security too, as many areas fall prey to the disease that can cause up to 90 per cent yield loss.

5: Big Data platform for development agriculture

In 2017, CIAT launched the Big Data Platform to provide global leaders with open data, build collaborations, and demonstrate the power of big data analytics to enhance the impact of international agricultural research.

Data without analysis, collaboration and action is useless so the platform is a great move forward in managing and capitalising on the vast quantities of data collected around the world. Collaborative efforts in the space are sure to help improve food security and its potential and significant achievements already has earned it a place in the top five.

The smart and effective use of data will be one of the most important tools for achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Big data represents an unprecedented opportunity to find new ways of reducing hunger and poverty, by applying data-driven solutions to ongoing research for development impact.

4: Agriculture as the largest contributor to Australian GDP growth

Results released by ABARES on 7th September 2017 showed that in the 2016-17 period, agriculture was the largest contributor to GDP growth. Moreover, the industry prevented two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction and as a result a technical recession.

These data illustrate the economic importance of agriculture to the ongoing prosperity of Australia and the figure is only set to grow. Projections are suggesting the industry will reach a value of $100 billion by 2030. Developments listed here are just some of the fantastic ways this significant target can be achieved, particularly in the face of climate change and more adverse weather events.

3: Development of speed breeding

Plant breeding has historically been a very long and slow process limited by the growth rates of plant populations. Attempting to introduce complex plant traits into a population and then deliver a homogenous final product ready for commercial production take anywhere between 7 and 20 years. So discovering a type of plant breeding technique that can deliver six generations of crop in just a single year is mind boggling, and a discovery that will deliver innumerable benefits for food production and food security.

The paper was published on the 1st of January this year, but the work has predominantly been done in preceding years and 2017 and so luckily makes it into the 2017 list. The full paper is accessible in Nature and is well worth a read.

Here’s Dr Lee Hickey describing the finding.

2: #Youthinag and the Youth Ag Summit

The theme of youth in agriculture was a recurring one in 2017. Many social enterprises, organisations and people have seen the importance of the next generation in this space and have launched their own ways of encouraging youth into an agricultural career. Even the World Food Prize recipient Akinwumi Adesina shared his views on capitalising on the large population of youth in Africa and encouraging them into taking up a career pathway in agriculture by “making agriculture cool again”.

The importance of this movement cannot be understated, as the principles employed in this space will ensure the global industry maintains its sustainability. Cracking the youth in ag problem around the world will deliver incredible improvements in food security, agricultural productivity and food waste, and is the main driver behind what AgriEducate does. It’s why youth in ag has earned itself second place in our list for 2017.

A few organisations we’ve come across are listed below:

The Youth Ag Summit represents these initiatives in the coming-together of 100 like-minded young individuals (under 25) from around the world. They discussed important matters facing the industry globally and how best to achieve a food secure world in the face of rising global challenges.

Check out the site for more information and to read the stories from those that attended.

1: National Agriculture Day

The drive behind National Agriculture Day from everyone in the industry summed up the positive and passionate focus of the Australian agricultural industry. It was a logical culmination of the push for greater interest, acknowledgement and understanding of the importance of agriculture in the life of every single person living in Australia.

While just early beginnings for the day (with a few hiccoughs), it is a significant positive force in spreading the love for agriculture in the broader community, and one we hope continues to grow. Having a focal point for everyone in the industry to get behind, ensures that a clear and unified message can be delivered where it is needed.


There are so many more incredible things that have happened during 2017 that we haven’t listed here. Things such as a new professional development and accreditation scheme by the Ag Institute Australia, access to many new markets, the launch of our very own essay competition (if we may say so ourself) and numerous other advancements in technology and production techniques.

And in 2018 we can look forward to an updated definition of genetic modification by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, improvements in weed detection and mapping technology and release of omega-3 producing canola among many other things!

So happy new year from the team at AgriEducate and all the best for 2018.

The Food Sustainability Index: who came out on top?

There is one common thread which links all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – Food!

The way food is grown affects the environment, the way food is consumed affects peoples’ health, and the distribution and access to food affects access to education.

For this reason, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) was developed to assess a food systems sustainability across three areas: sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges, and food loss and waste.

The top overall performers in the FSI were:

  1. France
  2. Japan
  3. Germany
  4. Spain
  5. Sweden
  6. Portugal
  7. Italy
  8. South Korea
  9. Hungary

Countries which ranked the highest generally support agricultural research and development, have implemented food waste/loss policy, and have nutritional educational programs.

Can you guess which countries came out on top across the three pillars?

Food Loss and waste:

… and the winner is…. FRANCE!

France loses just 1.8% of its total food production to wastage annually! In France, supermarkets cannot throw away food which is approaching sell-by dates, but instead must donate it to charities under new legislation. Countries not far behind include Germany, Spain and Italy.

Sustainable Agriculture: 

…and the winner is… ITALY!

Italy has led global efforts to reduce water loss and environmental impacts of water used in agriculture. Italy also performed well in sustainable fisheries – did you know: Italy is the biggest consumer of seafood in the EU! Closely behind Italy in the Sustainable Agriculture category was South Korea, France and Colombia.

Nutritional Challenges:

…and the winner is… Japan!

Japan has the highest life expectancy outcome, zero vitamin A and Iodine deficiency, and the fourth lowest percentage of overweight people. Japan also has the second lowest amount of people per fast food restaurant globally (at 30,345)!

The index also found that countries with a high human development index tend to have more sustainable food systems. This emphasises the need to invest in sustainable agriculture in less developed countries, in order to achieve a wide range of development outcomes.

For more information, and a detailed breakdown of the results, take a look at the following food sustainability index complete report.

Mekong: a confluence of dams, algorithms and food security for 60 million

The 4,350 km long Mekong River ensures food security to over 60 million people across six countries, namely China, Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Obviously its continued flow is of critical importance in maintaining adequate supplies of food to people in the region.

However, the construction of dams along the Mekong River for hydroelectricity is also an important source of economic development and renewable energy.

“While these dams have the ability to provide clean energy and significantly increase the economic development of the region, they also have the potential to damage food security downstream”.

The area relies on consistent and reliable flooding in the wet season to support the fisheries and flow of nutrients downstream. With dams potentially preventing these floods, the whole food growing livelihood and food source of the millions of people downstream is put at significant risk. Furthermore, the length of the river and the fact it crosses through six countries, adds another level of complexity.

So where do we draw the line between food security, energy security and economic development?

“By analysing data between 1993 and 2012, the scientists developed an algorithm that, if properly applied, can ensure that drought conditions are followed by short floods to allow for optimal conditions and the flow of essential nutrients downstream.”

Well, a team of researchers from Arizona State University have developed an algorithm to determine just that! The algorithm strikes the balance between conserving food and livelihood security, as well as allowing the benefits from hydro-electricity to flow through the region. The algorithm was based on a suite of historical data, used to predict the timings and amplitudes of floods.

Take a read of this fascinating article to find out more.

 

Australian-funded research helping developing nation farmers

What if there was a way to ensure mangoes are available in Australia year round, Australian crops are better prepared for potential threats, and over 490 million people were lifted from food insecurity in the Asia-Pacific region? This week we look at the two-way benefits of international development agricultural research. 

Australia has two main roles in global food security. Firstly, Australia has a role as the farm to many parts of the world, producing quality foods which are exported globally. But, as the saying goes – give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime – Australia has huge offerings in exporting the aforementioned agricultural knowledge harnessed down under.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is an independent government agency that funds partnerships and research programs to assist in food security and poverty reduction.

What we’re trying to do is work with these countries and identify what the barriers are for farmers to become more successful” ACIAR global partnerships general manager Melissa Wood said.

Importantly for Australian farmers and consumers, internationally focused Australian-funded agricultural research helps not only people facing food insecurity, but Australian farmers and consumers too. 

“Australia’s most valuable asset to support food security in our region and the world is our knowledge base in agriculture” (Prasad & Langridge 2013)

In a pure food production and exports sense, Australian farmers feed around 70 million people (accounting for food waste and supply chain losses). When the contributions of Australia’s agricultural research are taken into consideration, Australia contributes to the diets of up to 400 million people worldwide. However, with the population expected to boom to nine billion by 2050, Australia (nor any country) can be the food bowl for Asia or the world. But the knowledge that Australia can supply can improve agricultural systems globally to ensure global food security.

Focusing in on a mango research program run and funded by ACIAR, Melissa Wood said:

 “We work in mangoes in Pakistan and that’s been really successful because it means that mangoes are available out of season in Australia. The other reason why it’s good to work on these crops that also occur in Australia is we learn a lot about the pest and diseases and threats”

The experience in managing the threat in mangoes in Pakistan means that if an incursion or similar issue arises in Australia, farmers have experts at the ready to manage the spread and disruption presented by the disease. One of the many Australian benefits delivered by agricultural research for food security.

Australia’s Role in International Agriculture

With the incredible celebration of Australian agriculture yesterday for National Ag Day, it is also important to look at the role Australian agriculture has globally – particularly in developing countries. 

“The quality and breadth of Australian agricultural science, and its long tradition of scientists working in partnership with farmers and industry, are such that Australia has much to offer countries in our region as they tackle increasingly pressing and complex food security challenges.”

Since Australia is a world leader in agricultural expertise – we can also be a world leader in using our expertise to target poverty reduction.

One such example of this is ACIARs “Seeds for Life” program, which “showed farmers how to incorporate new varieties of plants and crops into their farming systems, and how to manage them to substantially increase food production and minimise the need for imported seeds from Indonesia and elsewhere”. Through new varieties of maize, sweet potato, rice, cassava and peanuts – the program increased yields by up to 138%! 

Find out more about the role of Australian agricultural research for international development, and hear first hand of the huge success in the field in Timor-Leste from Professor Andrew Campbell, CEO Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). 

The seed for life program is explained in more detail on the ACIAR/DFAT blog here.

AgriEducate Instagram Competition. Enter Now!

As they say, a picture paints a thousand words and can give so much life to the story of agriculture! That’s why we want YOU to tell the story of farming and Australian agriculture through submissions to your instagram page. Plus you can win some awesome prizes for your hard work.

Just follow the steps below and we’ll draw the winner on the Australian Agriculture Day – November 21!

It’s Stock & Land month!

Want to win a 3 month digital subscription to Stock & Land? AgriEducate have teamed up with the amazing team at S&L to give away three 3 months digital subscription packages that are valued at $26 inc. GST each.

To enter:

1.  Follow @agrieducate and @stockandland on Insta

2.  Post your best ag photo to your own Insta account and tell us in a 25 words or less how your photo best tells the story of agriculture

3.  Tag 3 of your mates in the photo

4.  Hashtag #AgriEducator and tag @agrieducate in the photo to make sure we don’t miss it!

You’re all done! Wait for our winner announcement on AgriEducate’s insta page on National Agriculture Day, Nov 21, 2017 at 9am AEST. The top 3 photos with the most likes will be contacted by a member of our team via Insta message to activate their Stock & Land digital subscription! Rally up your friends and family, and let’s share what agriculture is all about!

World Food Day: Migration, Agriculture and Youth

With the celebrations for World Food Day on Monday, we thought we’d take a close look at this year’s theme!

World Food Day is celebrated on the 16th of October each year – the birthday of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (UNFAO). This year, the UNFAO turns 72!

The theme for 2017 is “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development”.

Whilst there are many incredible and impactful ways to invest in food security and rural development, one important investment that cannot be overlooked, is the investment in shaping the agricultural sector as an attractive, highly valued and professional sector for young people.

But before we delve into that – what does migration have to do with Development Agriculture?

Well, migration is both a cause and consequence of agricultural development.

Migration has both challenges and opportunities for countries of origin, transit countries and destination countries. In fact, migrants can be agents of development and are a vital part of the development process.  But migration is also a symbol of underdevelopment and a result of undesirable conditions.

Agricultural development can improve rural underdevelopment – one of the prime causes of migration – by enhancing food security, providing employment and incomes, supporting economic growth, managing natural resources and addressing inequalities.

Simply, agricultural underdevelopment can be a push factor for migration – driving people away from rural areas due to food insecurity, low-incomes and poor livelihoods. Luckily, agricultural development can be a pull factor – driving people towards opportunities in agricultural related employment, improved food accessibility and improved livelihoods.

Development agriculture and migration are thus clearly linked. Here are some facts which may surprise you:

  • More than 75% of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas, mostly depending on subsistence agricultural production.
  • It is estimated by the UNFAO that by 2050, over half the population in the least developed countries will still live in rural areas.
  • Three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture or other rural activities.
  • There was a 40% increase in international migrants between 2000 and 2015, with the total number being approximately 244 million in 2015.
  • According to 2013 estimates, there were 763 million internal migrants.
  • The UNFAO reports that in many African countries, more than 50% of rural households report having at least one internal migrant.

So with a clear link between development agriculture and migration, what can be done?

Efforts geared towards a more productive agricultural sector and improved food systems in general, would promote rural development, enable diversification into manufacturing and services, and promote greater employment opportunities particularly in agribusiness. These efforts include:

  • Promoting the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices
  • Public policies targeting smallholder family farms
  • Diversification to off-farm agricultural employment, including investment along the supply chain, and promotion of value-added goods.
  • Improved rural education and vocational training for the agricultural workforce in developing regions
  • Strategies to make a career in agriculture attractive for the youth of developing regions, and to change perceptions of agriculture work to highly skilled and professional employment.

One large challenge of migration is the ‘brain drain’ from rural areas – particularly of young skilled workers. With perceptions of working in agriculture as being poorly paid and poorly skilled, many highly talented young people are driven from rural areas in search of more prestigious and seemingly well paid careers. This only perpetuates a cycle of rural underdevelopment and food insecurity. Instead, if young people saw careers in agriculture (right along the supply chain) as being highly skilled, highly valued, well-paid and well perceived, then cycles of food insecurity and rural underdevelopment caused by migration may also be broken for the better.

In the spirit of this year’s World Food Prize recipient, Akinwumi Adesina, we must make Agriculture cool again. This means investing in promoting agriculture as a good choice for young people.

According to Adesina , “this requires new agricultural innovations and transforming agriculture into a sector for creating wealth. We must make agriculture a really cool choice for young people. The future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will come initially from agriculture”.

“The key is to make agriculture a business. Agriculture is not a way of life, is not a development activity, it’s a business.”

“The future of African young people lies in a more prosperous and inclusive Africa, and there is no other sector that has greater power to create growth than the agricultural sector.”

Need some inspiration? Take a read of our earlier post to hear Lindiwe Sibanda tell her story of choosing a career in agriculture over dentistry, and the amazing achievements she has had personally, and the incredible impacts she has had for food security and rural development globally.

So this World Food Day, as we focus in on agricultural development and migration, let’s get down to one of the root causes and key opportunities: investing in improving the perceptions of agriculture!

Pest and disease management for food security – there’s an app for that! (and it uses AI)

Pest and disease management for food security – there’s an app for that! (and it uses artificial intelligence)

It’s fair to say that pest management has come a long way since the days of scarecrows! 

The most recent green revolution wave focuses on how artificial intelligence can be used to boost food security, particularly through pest and weed management. The latest technologies use ‘deep learning’ – a process part of the broader terminology of machine learning whereby programmers go beyond just telling the computer what to do with task-specific algorithms and code, but instead develop multi-level, non-linear processing units that recognise patterns in large sets of data. The learning can be supervised (a programmer trains the computer), partially supervised or unsupervised (learns independently). Deep learning processes are already in use in many industries around the world, including agriculture. Application of AI to the agricultural sector can have enormous benefits for farmers and food production globally, in both developed and developing countries.

A key challenge to farmers in many developing regions of the world is accurately identify crop diseases, and a key challenge for researchers and extension agents is having the tools to assist. Diseases such as the cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease, could impact over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa, impacting both security of income, food and nutrition. Other common diseases in this region include fungal diseases in banana crops such as Banana bunchy top virus, and late blight devastates potato farmers. New technologies using AI, big-data and mobile phones can take on the role of an extension worker in regions where it may not otherwise be possible for advanced scientific knowledge to reach the ground.

This week, we’ll take a look at 3 apps which are leading the way in using artificial intelligence to improve food systems and food security globally.

CROPTIX

A research team from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has developed a mobile phone app to enable cassava farmers to instantly diagnose crop diseases by taking a photo. The app will allow plant diseases to be diagnosed, alerts to be sent to surrounding farmers, and will connect farmers to a network of extension officers. Through the app, farmers can take a photo of a diseased plant and be given an instant diagnosis.

James Legg from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has said “Smallholders or extension officers with a basic smartphone with a camera will be able to download the app for free, fire it up, point it at a leaf with disease symptoms and get an instant diagnosis. That is truly revolutionary!”

To develop the app, the research team generated over 200,000 images of diseased crops in coastal Tanzania and Western Kenya, using cameras, spectrophotometers and drones. The images are used to develop AI algorithms which enable the diseases to be automatically recognised by the app.

David Hughes, associate professor of entomology and biology at Penn State University has said “The app employs AI in real time so the farmer can be an active participant in disease diagnosis and crop health management, leading to more yields for smallholder farmers”.

At the moment, the app is only programmed for cassava, but the team are now looking at expanding to other root, tuber and banana crops. The app aims to reach 35,000 farmers by July 2018.

PLANTIX

Plantix is a similar app for automated disease diagnosis, developed in India by the Progressive Environmental & Agricultural Technologies (PEAT) in collaboration with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University. The app enables farmers to take photos of their crops to receive critical information on symptoms, triggers, chemicals as well as treatments, through artificial intelligence algorithms and image recognition technology. The images are geo-tagged to enable real-time monitoring, inclusion of weather information, and to develop a meta-data base on the spatial distribution of crops and pests in the form of high resolution maps.

The Plantix database currently has over half a million images! This includes over 30 crops, and 120 crop diseases. This includes Fusarium wilt, Sterility mosaic disease and Phytophthora blight.

Dr David Bergvinson (Director General, ICRISAT), has said “The app could prove to be a game changer in the field, providing farmers free, reliable and quick diagnosis of crop damage. The simplified dashboard with easy-to-use features helps the app take on the role of an extension worker as well. The app is a novel experiment in using digital technologies for agriculture”.

The program has been tested in the Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, and uses Indian regional languages of Telugu and Hindi, and will soon be extended to include other regional languages.

WeedID

WeedID is a new app, developed by Masters student Yehezkiel Henson and a team of researchers at the University of Sydney, to assist in identifying weeds in rice fields in Cambodia. The app contains a photo dictionary, so when farmers observe a weed they can identify both the weed and the most appropriate method to manage it. The app aims to prevent the spread of weeds, and improve yields, incomes and knowledge in the region.  

The developer, Yehezkiel Henson , has said: “WeedID contains a photo dictionary of the most common weeds in northwest Cambodian rice fields at different stages of growth. The app has images of seeds, seedlings, mature plants and flowers that will all help to identify the weeds which are devastating Cambodian farmers’ rice crops”.

The apps database now covers 45 weeds  – which is 95% of the most frequent weeds identified in Cambodian rice fields. Weeds are a problem for rice production at various stages of the production process: weeds during cultivation significantly impact on yields (more than 50%), whilst contamination at harvest reduces the quality and consequently the price the rice can be sold for.

The WeedID app contains links to specific management information and details the most appropriate way to manage the weed”, said Yehezkiel Henson. “Different weeds require different management techniques. Depending on the life cycle, nutrient requirements or mode of reproduction, we will employ a different method of management… Some weeds, such as awnless barnyard grass (Echinochloa colona) can be managed simply by flooding the fields to drown them. Sometimes we may need to apply specific selective herbicides to manage them, as in the case of the smallflower umbrella plant (Cyperus difformis), also known as ‘dirty Dora’ in Australia” said Yehezkiel.

The app has been commissioned as part of an ACIAR project examining sustainable intensification and diversification in the lowland rice system in northwest Cambodia, and developed from funding from International Environmental Weeds Foundation (IEWF) and the Crawford Fund.

Daniel Tan, from the University of Sydney, has said: “The Cambodian smallholder farmers we work with are also hungry for information and use the technology available to solve problems. Farmers have shown us photos of pest animals, weeds and diseased plants taken on their phones, which our team have been able to identify. This prompted the idea to develop a free, user-friendly mobile tool to identify weeds in rice paddies so farmers can manage the problem and improve the crops that support their families”.

Seems like a very apt solution!

We have already seen the huge success stories coming from using mobile phones to assist farmers in developing countries to access big data. The use of artificial intelligence in these apps and technologies is the next step to overcoming the challenges faced by farmers in developing regions to access knowledge and information. The impacts of using AI in agriculture span both developed and developing regions of the world, and have huge potential for improving food security, farmers incomes and their livelihoods globally.

In the wave of technological revolutions coming into the agricultural sector, we now have machines which target and spray weeds using near-infrared imagery, drones to gather huge volumes of data, satellites to predict drought patterns, and now AI mobile apps to diagnose crop diseases. Mobile phones are not just a communication tool, but a key agricultural tool of the future. Coupled with AI, this new technology can take on the role of an extension worker in regions where it may not otherwise be possible for advanced scientific knowledge and big-data to be just heard on the grapevine.

Sources:

http://www.rtb.cgiar.org/blog/2017/09/28/new-app-diagnoses-crop-diseases-field-alerts-rural-farmers/

http://www.icrisat.org/mobile-app-to-help-farmers-overcome-crop-damage-launched-in-india/

http://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/07/18/what_s-that-weed-in-my-rice-field-.html

The World’s top food secure nations. How does Australia sit?

Can you guess the world’s top food secure nations? Number 14 may surprise you!

Global trends in food security aren’t all that favourable at the moment. Global food security has now declined for the first time in four years. Some recent estimates by the UN say that this increase has been by about 38 million people in 2016.  Recent weather disasters, increasing numbers of refugees, greater household expenditure on food, and declining political stability around the globe are said to be the cause.  

But there is still some good news to go around!

With much focus on food security at the lower ends of the spectrum, it’s important to cast some light on food security trends in all countries across the globe.  On Tuesday, the Economist Intelligence Unit released the sixth annual Global Food Security Index, with some interesting results!

Ireland is now the world’s most food-secure nation. Ireland came in at first place, with an overall food security score of 85.6.  In the 1840s, the Irish famine caused the migration of half a million people to the United States, but it looks the times have changed.

The top 15 scoring nations were: 

  1. Ireland (79.9)
  2. Austria (77.6)
  3. France (77.5)
  4. United States (77.4)
  5. Germany (77.3)
  6. Switzerland (77.3)
  7. United Kingdom (77.3)
  8. Canada (76.9)
  9. Denmark (76.7)
  10. Sweden (76.6)
  11. Netherlands (76.3)
  12. New Zealand (75.4)
  13. Finland (75.2)
  14. Australia (75.0)
  15. Norway (74.6)

At the other end, the poorest scoring nations were the Democratic Republic of the Congo (22.1), Burundi (25.1), Madagascar (27.2), Yemen (28.8) and Chad (28.3).

So how can we explain these results? 

First,  let’s take a look at how food security is measured. The Global Food Security Index is comprised of five categories: Affordability, availability, quality and safety, as well as the new category to be added this year of natural resources and resilience.

The index places a high value on public investment in agricultural research, as this is a large determining factor on the availability and expense of food. Globally, there are decreases in the amount of investment in agricultural research and development. In Ireland, however, investment in agriculture is a government priority. In the past 5 years, Ireland has spent more than the US on public research in agricultural development, and the agricultural sector has grown significantly in proportion to the national economy.  

Climatic conditions are also incredibly important to the index. Austria – a country with a relatively stable climate and low soil erosion – performed strongly in the newly added fourth component of Natural Resources and Resilience. Singapore, on the other hand, performed far less favourably – with concerns about rising sea levels, vulnerability to extreme weather, and small land size creating a reliance on imports for food. As a result, Singapore fell the most in the rankings compared to previous years (by 15 positions), due to the addition of this new category. The US also fell in the rankings – despite a highly productive food system, there are concerns that water inefficiency and risk of drought threaten previous estimates of food security. Australia fell by nine places, owing to high sensitivity to freshwater shocks and soil erosion. 

Water security is also incredibly important in these figures. Given agriculture accounts for 70% of water withdrawals worldwide, the ability for nations to meet food requirements in an efficient and sustainable way is vital for food security. Sub-Saharan Africa performed the best in this category. Uganda, with 84% of people relying on subsistence farming, topped the ladder for water efficient production. This outcome is partly due to poorer investments and utilisation of technologies (including irrigation) to intensify production. Denmark came in at second place in the water category. Smart technologies and strict regulations have resulted in only 7.8% of water being lost before it reaches the consumer, compared to average figures of 30-60%.  At the other end, North America performed poorly. In Canada, 80% of water withdrawals are for agriculture. Predictions show that climate change is likely to shift crop production northerly, and increase reliance on irrigation, pesticides and herbicides. Further, the world’s two largest food producing countries (China and India) ranked 99th and 108th (out of 113 countries) respectively for water related risks.

Another interesting finding from the report was that Brexit will pose an extreme risk to the United Kingdom’s food security progress. About one quarter of food in the UK is imported from the European Union. Further, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy also accounted for over half of British farmers incomes in 2015. These subsidies will no longer exist following Brexit.

When we think of food security, it’s easy to quickly think of poor developing regions around the world. But, in a highly integrated global economy, it is important that food security is thought of as a global issue which affects both developed and developing nations. Investments in research and development in agriculture, improved technologies to foster more efficient resource use, adaptive strategies to mitigate risks to climate change, and smart policy development are vital for food security progress in countries all across the world.  

For more information, read the full report here: http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/

Sources:

http://foodsecurityindex.eiu.com/

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2017-food-security/?cmpId=flipboard