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crops and crop growth under climate change

Climate change may affect the production of crops like maize (corn) and wheat by 2030 if current trends continue, according to a new international study that included researchers from IIASA, NASA, and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). Maize crop yields are projected to decline by 24%, while wheat could potentially see growth of about 17%.

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urban greenhouse challenge

The Urban Greenhouse Challenge will kick off on 3 November. This is the third time Wageningen University & Research organizes their international student competition in search of ideas for local, urban food production that can feed cities in a sustainable way. This ‘Social Impact Edition’ challenges competitors to think beyond food to look at urban farming as a catalyst for social change.

This year’s Urban Greenhouse Challenge will look at all the ways in which an urban farming site can tackle problems like poverty, unemployment, and the lack of access to affordable and nutritious food. In short, this edition is all about social impact.

The competitor’s final entry will focus on the East Capitol Urban Farm in Washington, D.C., a food hub in one of the most diverse lower-income neighborhoods of the capital of the United States. This year’s challengers are asked to create a comprehensive plan that develops the site to not just produce food year-round, robustly, and resiliently, but also that fosters social equity through a new food economy.

Introducing local food systems

To kick off this Social Impact Edition of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge, on 3 November Dr Sabine O’Hara from the University of the District of Columbia will present a keynote focusing on igniting community empowerment through local food systems. This year’s challenge is actually, in a way, a continuation of O’Hara’s collaboration with Wageningen University & Research’s own Dr Marian Stuiver, head of the Green Cities program. They worked together on developing an outlook for circular and nature-based food hubs.

O’Hara’s presentation will be followed by a round table discussion with Tiffany Tsui of the Vertical Farm Institute and Dr Sigrid Wertheim-Heck, a researcher at the Wageningen University & Research. Discussion topics will include food as part of culture and heritage and urban farming as part of greening the city. These subjects are intended to inspire the students, who will develop food hub concepts that celebrate local history and integrate all the health benefits of a green living environment (for instance, cooling down extreme heat).

Students from all over the world

The registration for the Challenge is open until 14 November. Students who want to participate have to form an interdisciplinary team that together will create a complete development plan, which will not just take knowledge of agri- and horticulture, but also architecture and business. Together they will start out on a journey that will take the best of them to a digital site viewing, expert consultations and eventually a Grand Finale in which the best ten development plans will potentially serve as prototypes for a real, affordable, and sustainable urban farm.

Would you like to watch the opening event of the Urban Greenhouse Challenge? Learn more and register here.

starch from co2

Creating starch from co2 is not a new process. Plants do it all the time. But Chinese researches now discovered a way to do it much more efficiently in a lab. That would potentially save up to 90% of farm land, water, fertiliser and pesticides, they claim.

Chinese scientists recently reported a new technology for artificial starch synthesis from carbon dioxide (CO2). The results were published in Science on September 24.

The new route makes it possible to shift the mode of starch production from traditional agricultural planting to industrial manufacturing, and opens up a new technical route for synthesizing complex molecules from CO2, reports Eurekalert.

Starch is the major component of grain as well as an important industrial raw material. At present, it is mainly produced by crops such as maize by fixing CO2 through photosynthesis. This process involves about 60 biochemical reactions as well as complex physiological regulation. The theoretical energy conversion efficiency of this process is only about 2%.

A sustainable production of starch and use of CO2 are urgently needed to solve the food crisis and climate change. Designing new ways to replace plant photosynthesis for converting CO2 to starch can contribute to achieve that.

To address this issue, scientists at the Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (TIB) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) designed a chemoenzymatic system as well as an artificial starch anabolic route consisting of only 11 core reactions to convert CO2 into starch.

The abstract of the research says: “Starches, a storage form of carbohydrates, are a major source of calories in the human diet and a primary feedstock for bioindustry. We report a chemical-biochemical hybrid pathway for starch synthesis from carbon dioxide (CO2) and hydrogen in a cell-free system. The artificial starch anabolic pathway (ASAP), consisting of 11 core reactions, was drafted by computational pathway design, established through modular assembly and substitution, and optimized by protein engineering of three bottleneck-associated enzymes. In a chemoenzymatic system with spatial and temporal segregation, ASAP, driven by hydrogen, converts CO2 to starch at a rate of 22 nanomoles of CO2 per minute per milligram of total catalyst, an ~8.5-fold higher rate than starch synthesis in maize. This approach opens the way toward future chemo-biohybrid starch synthesis from CO2.”

Starch from co2 can be 8.5 times more efficient

The artificial route can produce starch from CO2 with an efficiency 8.5-fold higher than starch biosynthesis in maize, suggesting a big step towards going beyond nature. It provides a new scientific basis for creating biological systems with unprecedented functions.

The research is a first step towards industrial manufacturing of starch from CO2. From the moment the total cost of the process will become comparable with agricultural planting, this technology is expected to save more than 90% of cultivated land and freshwater resources.

In addition, it would help to prevent the negative environmental impact of pesticides and fertilizers, improve human food security and facilitate a carbon-neutral bioeconomy.

 

fair tomato

Our awareness of problems with human rights arise mainly from the textile chains. But working conditions in other chains, such as the tomato chain, are also under pressure. The Dutch Central Bureau for Food Trade (CBL) and the Dutch trade union FNV are planning to conduct research into the production chain of the canned tomato trade. The research focuses on Italy, a major supplier of tomatoes. The aim is to identify by the end of July the specific risks of human rights violations in the tomato chain and which improvements are needed. Recommendations have been drawn up on how the Dutch participants in the chain can initiate positive change.

Various studies and risk analyses show that the tomato chain is a so-called high-risk chain. Jos Hendriks, director FNV Food Industry: “We are investigating the supply chain of canned tomatoes to determine the risks we face when it comes to violations of human rights, trade union rights and the environment and to identify who is involved. But the most important part comes after the research: how do we ensure that the guidelines of the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) and United Nations with regard to people and the environment are applied in the cultivation, harvesting, transport and processing of the tomatoes?”

Guarding human rights

The CBL agrees with the importance of tackling the risks. Jennifer Muller, Sustainability Manager at CBL: “Dutch supermarkets find it essential that human rights are safeguarded throughout the chains. It is therefore important to investigate possible social abuses in the Italian tomato chain and to gain insight into the operational perspective of the parties involved. Collaboration is crucial for thorough research. We are therefore happy to join forces with the FNV to bring about positive change.”

Research into the share of Dutch producers and buyers

An important part of the research is mapping the share of Dutch producers and buyers in the Italian tomato chain. In this way, it is possible to better see in which component steps can be taken to improve the position of employees. This includes investigating the role played by supermarkets, manufacturers and organizations that issue quality certificates.