Knowledge for a sustainable world

Forests are critically important – they encompass vast terrestrial biodiversity, they are culturally, spiritually, and economically significant to millions of communities and producers, and, because of their role as carbon sinks, their protection and restoration is central to any of humanity’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Take a look in your store cupboard, your fridge, your fruit and vegetable rack, your bread bin… How much of that food will be eaten? How much will be wasted? Read on to find out more, including 14 easy actions that we can all do now to reduce our food waste.

Climate extremes – including droughts, floods, or tropical cyclones – are becoming more frequent, intense, and lasting longer, as demonstrated by the IPCC [1]. Many of these extremes, caused by climate change, can lead to devastating impacts on the most vulnerable. In order to plan and to become more resilient to climate change, it is imperative that we improve our climate and impact assessment and monitoring.

The relationship between land use and the climate is complex. Changes in land use are being driven by pressures on land and natural resources from increasing global demand for food, fibre and fuel, with challenges such as biodiversity losses and deforestation – all of which contribute to climate change. At the same time, the changing climate will catalyse further changes in land use and management. All of this has complex causes and will have impacts on human wellbeing.

“Eating is an agricultural act” – Wendell Berry, US farmer, poet and philosopher.

Agriculture is fundamental to human prosperity, but it is also in direct competition for space with other land ecosystems. While agriculture is called upon to satisfy the food demands of a large and growing human population, natural ecosystems are large reservoirs of biodiversity and carbon and are the providers of important cultural and aesthetic benefits [1].

Who ‘holds’ the land? Land tenure refers to “the terms under which land and natural resources are held by individuals, households or social groups”. When we are sure of who holds the land where we live, or farm, and we are sure of the conditions of this tenure – we can feel secure in investing in this land, in such a way as to deal with our changing climate.

Coffee production and prices have always been sensitive to climate change. For over a century now, whenever Brazilian producers are affected by a frost, prices rise, and supply becomes reduced. Even as recently as this year, key coffee-growing regions in Brazil were affected by frost, leading to a much-needed rise in prices for producers across the rest of the world. Also, the occurrence of extreme events is expected to be altered by climate change; some, such as excessive rainfall, may affect coffee flowering and drastically reduce yields [1].

“Earth to COP. For those who have eyes to see, for those who have ears to listen, and for those who have a heart to feel. 1.5 degrees is what we need to survive”. This quote is from an arresting speech from Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados at the COP26 opening. Her address brought a needed sense of urgency to the summit, especially highlighting just how serious climate change is for humanity and particularly for low- and middle-income countries. It also reminds us how important female voices are, and often how few are heard, especially on the global stage.

NRI’s Professor Steve Belmain recently featured in BBC One’s Panorama ‘Wild Weather’. The programme, which went out on BBC1 on Wednesday 3rd November, investigated a year of wild weather and showed how freak events are becoming increasingly commonplace.

The relentless anthropogenic warming of the Earth’s climate poses a real security threat for people and communities in fragile countries. This threat has been expressed by a variety of actors at COP26 in Glasgow [1] and advanced in UN Security Council Debates [2]. Indeed, empirical accounts linking conflict risks directly or indirectly to climate change (known as climate conflict) have spurred a few developing country governments to include climate concerns on their list of threats to human security [3].

2020 was the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH), set up by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations as a significant opportunity to celebrate the benefits of healthy plants. As some key initiatives were postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the awareness-raising year was extended until summer 2021. This was when Ambrozy Boguslawski, Biochemistry undergraduate from Southampton University, undertook a Plant Health Undergraduate Studentship with NRI.

When mosquitoes bite humans to get their favourite meal of blood, they can quickly spread dangerous diseases. Noushin Emami, Associate Professor in Bioinformatics at NRI, wanted to find out if mosquitoes can be tricked into drinking something that looked like blood, but that actually contains a substance that is toxic to them. In an article published in Nature Communications Biology, Assoc Prof Emami explains how, by feeding groups of mosquitoes a cocktail made with supplemented beetroot juice, the team achieved a high ‘kill’ rate with the potential for little or no detrimental ecological side-effects.