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The Future of Agriculture: A Brief Resource Guide
Sarah Rich, 12 Jul 07
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Earlier this year, we were asked to come up with an idea for a design conference that presented a solution around the theme of food. The problem we chose to address was climate change -- specifically the impact of climate change on agriculture. Our solution was an imagined organization that would offer online resources, network-building tools and seeds to farmers who needed to adapt their practices as their land changed due to warming. It was a fictional concept, envisioned as something that might exist a decade from now, but the predictions and speculations it was based on are real and already exist, developed in response to current environmental trends. And there are real organizations out there already establishing resource banks, collecting citizen observations, and setting in place the tools we need as we head into a climate changed future where food production and security will be challenged.

Two noteworthy examples both come from the UK, where the limitations of available space and a northern climate may be part of what's driving people towards active solutions more quickly than elsewhere. The first is the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) -- "an interdisciplinary, intersectoral initiative to research and promote ways of achieving absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the whole UK food chain." FCRN's website has a tremendous collection of research material, project overviews and carefully categorized link lists. Their research library includes information and publications on life cycle, policy, industry activity, technology, transport and waste. For example, Ecological Budget UK, published last year, presents a 3-point system for figuring out how to get to a "One Planet Economy" in the UK. Their 3 measures -- material flow, ecological footprint and CO2 emissions -- could easily be used to determine the ecological budget of any other place in the world. The UK team arrived at their calculations through a modeling software tool called Resource and Energy Analysis Program (REAP), which was developed as a scenario-building program that would enable forecasting and projections around consumption, resource management, emissions and industrial operations. FCRN is a neverending "one thing leads to another" experience, where you can bounce from one informative resource to the next, gaining a real understanding of the challenges facing agriculture and the solutions currently in development. It's for the UK only right now, but it's a model for many other industrialized countries with massive footprints and the need to curb emissions fast.

The other excellent resource, Farming Futures, comes out of the Forum for the Future , whose work has informed numerous studies of the potential for new tools to mitigate our impact. Farming Futures focuses not only on the harmful effects of climate change and the methods of dealing with it, but also on the opportunities farmers can see in the warming trend in the UK in terms of productivity, costs and markets -- the opportunity to introduce new crops (as we suggested in our design proposal), the possibility of increased growth rates and longer growing seasons, and even the possibility that higher CO2 levels could encourage photosynthesis, thereby increasing yields (though numerous factors could nullify that result). Their series of fact sheets starts with basic explanations and moves into specific information and guidance for farmers.

Inevitably as the actual effects of climate change on agriculture become more and more apparent and demonstrable, the resource pool will grow and address a greater geographic area. Meanwhile, these UK-based organizations provide plenty of fodder for forecasting what fate may await the world's farms and what we might do to steer things in a positive direction.

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FCRN seem interesting, but I wonder about Farming Futures. My father runs a farm in the low-lying fens of Lincolnshire. Obviously rising sea levels is the prime concern there; but I found only one mention of sea levels on the whole FF site - a bullet point indicating sea levels will rise. But there's no information of what this might entail.

Still, thanks for the links!

Posted by: Gyrus on 12 Jul 07



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