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If food production is to keep pace with the demands of an ever-expanding global population, agricultural systems must be modified to cope with the rising temperatures and increased prevalence of droughts, floods and other extreme weather events that are projected to ensue. A series of opinion pieces in this issue explore some of the ways in which productivity can be improved and food security safeguarded, be it through the direct involvement of those that work on the land, partnerships between remote investors and local land owners, or treatments tailored to the agricultural system in hand.



Farm and bench p321


Climate change could compromise food security over the coming century. Scientists working towards mitigation and adaptation have to win over those who work on the land.



Communication in a divided world p322 - 324

Joseph M. Craine


Livestock production accounts for a significant fraction of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Progress in mitigating the adverse environmental impacts of this industry can be improved by shifting research emphases and fostering communication between researchers and ranchers.

The land and its people p324 - 325

Paolo D'Odorico & Maria Cristina Rulli


Large tracts of agricultural land are being bought up by external investors. Turning the land into a commodity can have detrimental effects, for generations to come, on the local communities that sell or lease the land.

Biochar by design p326 - 327

S. Abiven, M. W. I. Schmidt & J. Lehmann


Biochar has been heralded as a solution to a number of agricultural and environmental ills. To get the most benefit from its application, environmental and social circumstances should both be considered.


From the archive



Nitrous oxide from aquaculture p143

J. Williams & P. J. Crutzen



News & Views

Climate science: Agricultural greenhouse gases pp277-278

Chris Pollock


Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is important and achievable. However, cutting emissions to meet the UK's legal targets for 2050 will bring technical and political challenges, and may affect food production.


Books and Arts

Food fuss p817

Josée Johnston


Josée Johnston reviews Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know by Robert Paarlberg



Tripling crop yields in tropical Africa pp299-300

Pedro A. Sánchez


Between 1960 and 2000, Asian and Latin American food production tripled, thanks to the use of high-yielding varieties of crops. Africa can follow suit, but only if depletion of soil nutrients is addressed.



How a century of ammonia synthesis changed the world pp636-639

Jan Willem Erisman, Mark A. Sutton, James Galloway, Zbigniew Klimont and Wilfried Winiwarter


On 13 October 1908, Fritz Haber filed his patent on the "synthesis of ammonia from its elements" for which he was later awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. A hundred years on we live in a world transformed by and highly dependent upon Haber–Bosch nitrogen.


Progress Article

The impact of agricultural soil erosion on biogeochemical cycling pp311-314

John N. Quinton, Gerard Govers, Kristof Van Oost & Richard D. Bardgett


Soils are the main terrestrial reservoir of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, and of organic carbon. Data synthesis reveals that soil erosion can result in lateral fluxes of these nutrients at comparable magnitudes to those induced by fertilizer application and crop removal.



Deforestation driven by urban population growth and agricultural trade in the twenty-first century pp178-181

Ruth S. DeFries, Thomas Rudel, Maria Uriarte & Matthew Hansen


Reducing tropical deforestation is at present considered a cost-effective option for mitigating climate change. Satellite-based estimates of forest loss suggest that urban population growth and urban and international demand for agricultural products are key drivers of deforestation in the tropics.



The contribution of manure and fertilizer nitrogen to atmospheric nitrous oxide since 1860 pp659-662

Eric A. Davidson


Atmospheric concentrations of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, have increased since 1860. A regression model indicates that conversion of 2% of manure nitrogen and 2.5% of fertilizer nitrogen could explain the pattern of increasing nitrous oxide concentrations between 1860 and 2005, including a rise in the rate of increase around 1960.

Arsenic release from paddy soils during monsoon flooding pp53-59

Linda C. Roberts, Stephan J. Hug, Jessica Dittmar, Andreas Voegelin, Ruben Kretzschmar, Bernhard Wehrli, Olaf A. Cirpka, Ganesh C. Saha, M. Ashraf Ali & A. Borhan M. Badruzzaman


Bangladesh relies heavily on groundwater for the irrigation of dry-season rice. Analysis of soil porewater and floodwater in rice paddy fields during the monsoon season in Bangladesh suggests that flooding removes a significant amount of arsenic from the soils.

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