Helping #China’s smallholder #farmers: Science and Technology Backyards – a short video

Over the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to visit China a number of times – you can see my blogs from these trips here. On a couple of occasions I’ve visited some of China Agricultural University’s Science and Technology Backyards, which aim to help China’s small holder farmers make better use of their resources. I wrote up my most recent visit here.

A few weeks ago I was asked if I could put together a short video to go alongside a paper about their work in Nature. Here’s the video:

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Enlightened #Agriculture for a better future – an interview with Colin Tudge

For over 40 years, biologist and writer Colin Tudge has worked on agriculture and biodiversity. In this interview, he discussed what this has taught him about the kind of farming systems we need for a fair and sustainable future. He covers topics ranging from agro-ecology to genetic engineering, the role of science, the kind and numbers of farmers we need. He explains why we need an agrarian renaissance, how he co-founded the Oxford Real Farming Conference, the Campaign for Real Farming and the College For Real Farming and Food Culture.

He has published a wide range of books over the years many of which are shown below.



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#endhungeruk campaign launches big conversation – step up to the plate


Today saw the launch of a long-term campaign to end the scandal of hunger and food insecurity in the UK. Over a dozen organisations have come together to encourage a big conversation around ‘How can we end hunger in the UK – and what does the government need to do to help make that a reality’ for the first six months of the campaign. You can hear the launch event below:

As well as engaging with those facing hunger and food insecurity, there is also a wide range of reports and resources people can draw on to inform this conversation, from reports from local food banks to reports such as Feeding Britain and Hungry for Change, the report of the Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which I chaired. You can download resources, sign up for news and follow the campaign from their website:

When you organise a local conversation, one action called for is for each person to write their answer to the big question on a paper plate and post a picture of them holding it – or just the plate if they prefer – on social media using the hashtag #EndHungerUK. You could also send all your plates to your local MP and invite them to step up to the plate as well.

End Hunger UK is supported by many national organisations, including: Child Poverty Action Group; Church Action on Poverty; Fareshare; First Steps Nutrition; Food Ethics Council; Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty; The Food Foundation; Food Matters; Nourish Scotland; Sustain: the alliance for better food and farming; Trussell Trust; Independent Food Aid Network and Magic Breakfast.

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How the #commodities casino creates #hunger and unrest – an interview with Alan Bjerga

Earlier this summer a group of northern universities – the n8 – launched their agrifood strategy in Manchester. One of the speakers was Alan Bjerga, who writes about food and commodities for Bloomberg News. He is also author of the book Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest. I took the chance to have a short chat with him about how and why this happens, and what might be done about it.

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#Gender, the right to #food and future priorities – a interview with Hilal Elver, the UN’s 3rd Rapporteur on the Right to Food

I met up with Hilal Elver, the UN’s 3rd Rapporteur on the Right to Food just before she took part in the fifth of a series of seminars on Ecofeminism, Food and Social Justice of the Food Research Collaboration at City University in London in June.

In this interview, she talks about how she is approaching her work as Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and the big issues she sees. She discusses her first piece of work on women’s rights and gender issues in relation to the right to food. She also discusses the challenge of realising the right to food, the need for stronger enforcement mechanisms, urbanisation, nutrition and the sustainable development goals.

You can hear her contribution and see the presentation to the City University Seminar on their website here. You can download her report gender (A/HRC/31/51) to the Human Rights Council in 2015 here and her report on climate change (A/70/287) to the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in August 2015 here.

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From #diet for a small planet, to myths about world #hunger to living democracy and hope – a conversation with Frances Moore Lappé

It was quite fitting that Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) invited Frances Moore Lappé to give a keynote speech at its 2nd birthday party in mid-July.

Frances has had a huge impact with her work spanning the past 5 decades, which was launched with the publication of Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. A pioneering work on high protein meatless cooking aimed at a US audience, it also sold worldwide. We’ve still got a copy on our shelves, bought when we lived in America in the 1970s.

In 1975, she went on with Joe Collins to found the Institute for Food and Development Policy, usually known as Food First, in San Francisco. Its first publication was Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity. More recently, in 2001, she founded the Small Planet Institute, with her daughter Anna “to create an ongoing tool to explore and share our understanding of the root causes and—most important—the root solutions to environmental devastation and injustices throughout the global food system as well as the democracy deficit that this needless suffering reflects”.

In October 2015, she and Joe Collins published World Hunger: 10 Myths, which is a complete rewrite of their World Hunger: 12 Myths first published in 1977. In this conversation, made at CAWR, she talks about how it all began and why she is hopeful about the possibility of creating a well-fed world.

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Reducing #farmers’ #fertiliser use in N E #China: students live in villages, do experiments on the farm and support farmers.

I found myself in China again at the end of June taking part in an international workshop and a symposium on Agricultural Development Pathways for Smallholder Farmers in China. It was organised by Professor Fusou Zhang, Director of the Centre for Resources, Environment and Food Security at China Agricultural University in Beijing.

After a couple of days workshop discussion in Beijing, we went to Lishu, Jilin Province in N. E China for the symposium and to visit the work being done their with what, in China, are relative large farmers – farming 15-30 mu (1-2 ha). The focus of Prof Zhang’s work is to improve the resource use efficiency in agriculture. In this first interview he talks about the overuse of fertiliser in China, the need to reduce chemical inputs and produce more with less without harming the environment, and the importance of the soil root interactions.

One of the key approaches he and his colleagues have been pioneering in China is the development of ‘Science and Technology Backyards’. Here sometimes staff and certainly doctoral students spend around 3 years living in the villages, doing experiments in the farmers fields and acting as a resource for farmers to draw on – like a resident extension worker. A few years ago I visited some of these in Quzhou county near Handan city, south of Beijing. There the farmers have very small plots, of 5-10 mu (see blog).

The project has developed considerably since then as I saw in Lishu. In this second interview, Prof Zhang explains the background and rationale for this approach and why students are willing to live in the villages, do their research and help farmers with their problems as well as learn about the farmers real situation.

While it is clear that there is a great need to reduce input use and make farming more efficient in its use of resources, the outstanding question for me, as I left, was while it is all well and good to improve the productivity of the farming in the area it is still a maize monoculture – the big challenge is to look at more diverse, ecologically sound farming systems that build on the long standing Chinese experience of sustainable farming with the growing understanding of the biosphere, agroecology and soils emerging in the 21st century.

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