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The AMSER Science Reader Monthly aims to provide educators with a useful package of information about a particular topic related to applied math and science by combining freely available articles from popular journals with curriculum, learning objects, and web sites from the AMSER portal. The AMSER Science Reader Monthly is free to use in the classroom and educators are encouraged to contact AMSER with suggestions for upcoming issues or comments and concerns at

This month's AMSER Science Reader Monthly topic is Sustainable Agriculture.

How to feed a hungry world
Article by Nature Editorial Board
Synopsis and resource annotations by Max Grinnell

article photos

The question of how to feed the world's population is one that has troubled scientists and scholars all the way back to the ancients. Recently, many have asked how to continue feeding the world's people without wreaking havoc on the planet. This editorial from the July 28, 2010 edition of Nature takes a close look at how to produce enough food for the world's population over the coming decades and how to do it at an acceptable cost to the planet.

The piece starts by providing a bit of background on world population growth trends, and then asks the pressing question: "How to expand agricultural output massively without increasing by much the amount of land used." The editorial discusses the importance of a "second green revolution", which would effectively lead to a sustainable intensification of global agriculture.

Moving along, the piece examines some of the potential barriers to reaching the goal of increased sustainable production. One barrier is that private agribusiness companies seem reticent to invest in agricultural infrastructure, due to relatively small or nonexistent profit margins. Another potential problem is that the growth in public agricultural-research spending peaked in the 1970s, and it has decreased since then in countries across sub-Saharan Africa, where food needs are rather intense.

Finally, the piece concludes by noting that poverty is the real root cause of world hunger, and that market volatility was one of the main causes of the 2008 food crisis. Readers will also want to make use of the many resources offered at the end of the piece, and they include news features (such as "The Global Farm"), opinion articles, and a podcast titled "Future Food".

Found below is a list of useful resources that will illuminate and enhance understanding of the topics found within this article. The first link will take visitors to the Future Agricultures website, which contains reports, a blog, and publications related to the global food system and agricultural improvements. The second link will lead visitors to the Biodiversity Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) section of the United Nations website. Here interested parties can learn about their work on encouraging biodiversity in order to alleviate world hunger. The third link leads to a fascinating report from the International Development Resource Centre (IDRC) about urban agriculture, and how it might be an integral part of sustainable development. Moving on, the fourth link leads to the USDA's Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education site. Educators will appreciate the resources contained within the "For Educators" area here. The fifth link leads to the Union of Concerned Scientists: Food and Agriculture site, which includes information on Genetic Engineering, Pharma Crops, and the impacts of Industrial Agriculture. The final link leads to an excellent site provided by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The site provides educators with lesson plans and interactive modules designed to help them discuss the principles of sustainable development in the classroom.

Future Agricultures
The Future Agricultures group is a UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded consortium comprised of the Institute of Development Studies, Imperial College London, and Overseas Development Institute. The group is committed to examining the issues that surround agriculture and rural development across the world, with a particular focus on the developing world. Their work includes reports on water management in Ethiopia, a potential second "Green Revolution", and food security. The materials on their site are found in sections that include "News", "Events", "E-Debates", and "Publications". The "E-Debates" area is a good one, as it includes thoughtful conversations on timely topics like pastoralism, the "Green Revolution" in Africa, and soil fertility. Scholars in the field will appreciate the "Publications" area, which includes policy briefs on poverty reduction in Kenya, coffee commercialization in Malawi, and rising food prices. Finally, visitors can also sign up to receive their RSS feed and provide feedback on their work.
Biological Diversity in Food and Agricultural Organizations of the United Nations
Across the world, debates about the potential dangers of genetically modified food and the importance of biological diversity continue to dominate a good deal of public discourse, particularly with regard to developing nations. This website, designed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, explores some of the many issues surrounding biodiversity in food and agriculture. After reading the brief introduction, visitors may want to peruse the "Components" section where they can find information on animals, soils, pollinators, and more. Each component contains a number of related documents and resources. The site also provides ample information on "Cross-Sectoral Issues" including biosecurity, nutrition, and protected areas - to name only a few.
Throughout the history of cities, many folks grew some of their own food in local garden plots, and in some cases, they were able to supplement their household income with the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. As the United Nations has recently predicted that 60% of the world's total population will live in cities by the year 2030, more and more concerned parties have become interested in encouraging urban agriculture, particularly in the developing world. In this work, Luc J.A. Mougeot of the International Development Centre (based in Canada), reviews the work of his own institution in this area of human endeavor, and also offers some concrete recommendations for policymakers hoping to maximize the potential of urban agriculture. The report is divided into five chapters, and contains some helpful sections which include, Managing municipal wastewater, Easing ecological problems, and Growing gardens with greywater.
USDA: Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
Since its inception in 1988, the USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has helped advance farming systems that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities through a nationwide research and education grants program. This nicely organized website presents a wide array of information and resources for farmers, ranchers, educators, researchers, and consumers interested in sustainable agriculture. Agriculturalists and others will be interested to learn more about SARE grant guidelines, and to peruse reports for approximately 2,500 previously funded projects. SARE posts upcoming events; and maintains an online collection of books, bulletins, and other resources through the Sustainable Agriculture Network. There is also a nice section for Educators that includes publications, video clips, and curriculum guides.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) began as a collaboration between students and faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969, and is now an alliance of more than 250,000 citizens and scientists. The "Food and Agriculture" section of their website provides a trove of valuable information on sustainable food production and research. This section is divided into two main parts "Food & Agriculture Science and Impacts" and "Food & Agriculture Solutions". The Impacts section includes "Science in Agriculture", "Impacts of Industrial Agriculture", "Impacts of Genetic Engineering". Site visitors can also link to information about other UCS programs including Clean Vehicles, Global Warming, Clean Energy, and Scientific Integrity.
Teaching and Learning for a Sustainable Future
This excellent site is a multimedia program for all educators on educating for a sustainable future. It is an excellent resource for teachers, with learning activities for teaching sustainability in specific courses and throughout the curricula. Themes and Modules provided here include: Sustainable Development Across the Curriculum, Interdisciplinary Curriculum Themes, and Teaching & Learning Strategies. "Interdisciplinary Curriculum Themes" includes sections on "Culture and Religion", "Women", and "Sustainable Tourism". Each of these sections includes a short introduction, objectives, activities, and references. Overall this is a invaluable resource for educators looking to include lessons on sustainability into their classrooms.

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