Legume-supported food- and feed-chains: Scotland as a case-study

author: Pietro (Pete) Iannetta, James Hutton Institute
published: April 17, 2018,   recorded: March 2018,   views: 1130


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We face an impending ‘perfect storm’ of global challenges, and at the centre of these is climate change and issues of food-security and -sovereignty. Such challenges are not set to diminish, since global populations are set to reach 20 billion by 2050. Added to this, the means to feeding a population of his magnitude must be achieved more efficiently via the adoption of agroecological-principles and -practices throughout the food system - not simply at the point of production. A concerted sustainable systems approach may be capable of helping address such issues, and this might be envisaged as occurring via the wide-spread adoption of legume-supported food systems. Since, legume crops require no mineral nitrogen (N) fertiliser and deliver their entire N needs from air via a process termed, biological nitrogen fixation. Properly managed, the system level benefits of legumes include encouragement of natural chemical cycling in campo without loss of yield - which is delivered as high protein and carbohydrate containing grains or forages, the latter may also be used as a green fertiliser. However, the currently reality is that legume cropping accounts on average for around 3% of the EU arable farmed area, and that production systems are in fact not ‘food systems ‘in the agroecological or holistic sense of the word, but rather are economic systems driven to produce commodities which primarily satisfy market demands. High absolute levels of production for only a narrow range of crops are delivered via agrochemical dependencies and at the expense of resource use efficiency - with serious well documented negative environmental and societal consequences. Consider that in Europe cropping systems predominantly generate feed for production of meat and other high value products such as alcohol based drinks and increasingly, bioenergy. Even where coproducts from these industries are utilised as animal feed (or fertiliser) the EU must still import 70% of its protein requirement. This arrives mainly in the form of soybeans in-bulk by shipping containers delivered portside, and again mainly for meat production. The EU is about to launch a European Protein Strategy, and some member countries already have similar national and regional plans. In this way, the transition to greater level of protein self-sufficiency, and nitrogen use efficiency, can be managed with respect to current socio-economic situations and future agroecological paradigms. In this presentation aspects of the current Scottish (and UK) economic situation are considered with respect to the adoption of legume-based innovations - within the cropping-system, and upstream supply-chains.

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