Food Production, Systems and Sustainability
- Enquiry Question
- Starter Activity_Processes and Spatial Interactions_ Planet, Population, Production and Price
- Student Activity_Processes_Farming Systems
- Different types of cycles
- Student Activity - Processes and Possibilities -Discussion on Sustainability
- Student Activity_Processes_Understanding Energy Efficiency
- Student Activity - Processes -Water Footprint Infographic
- Student Activity_Processes_WWF Canada Water Footprint
- Student Activity _Synthesis, Processes and Spatial Interactions_The Food Production Nexus
- Discussion - Possibilities
This page provides resources for two lessons based on the merits of a systems approach in comparing energy efficiency, water footprint and overall sustainability of food production. It uses a number of exciting resources to introduce the concepts of energy efficiency, water footprint and sustainable agriculture. Including PDF resources, informative well chosen clips, a critical thinking activity on an infographic and a lesson based on nexus thinking and hexagon cut-outs. It is encouraged that you supplement this latter activity with issues relating to your school's local geographical context.
How important is a systems approach in comparing energy efficiency, water footprint and relative sustainability in food production?
Lesson Time: 2 Hours
- To describe a systems approach to different farming systems
- To assess the importance of a systems approach in comparing energy efficiency, water footprint and relative sustainability in food production
- To discuss the linkages within these measurements in relation to nexus thinking
1. Watch the first couple of minutes from 1:25 to 3:27 of the BBC documentary Future of Food from 2012, make a note of the issue highlighted, in terms of planet, population,production and price
Sustainable Development was defined by the Brundtland Commission in 1987 as:
"Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Use the following PDF resource to investigate how farms in different geographical contexts may operate through different systems
Source: Integrated farm, upland China, nzdl.org
Source: Science Lover
To what extent do you think the model of sustainable agriculture presented by SAIP is achievable? Consider both types of agricultural system as well as types of farm and levels of commercial activity.
Measuring Sustainable Agriculture
Energy Efficiency Ratios (EER) is a measure of the amount of energy input into a farming system compared with the output. Inputs can be direct and indirect. Direct inputs refer to the labour and capital, e.g. machinery. Indirect inputs refer to pesticides, irrigation, electricity and transport etc. A subsistence farmer relying on mainly intensive labour inputs is likely to have low energy input. However, the energy efficiency of the system will depend on the quantity of food produced. If only a small amount of food is produced the energy efficiency is likely to be poor. Likewise a large intensive farm in Canada with a huge variety of direct and indirect energy inputs might achieve an efficient energy ratio provided it produces an abundance of food. EER is calculated by the following calculation:
EER = Energy Outputs A ratio equal or above 1 is considered an efficient ratio
If the energy efficiency is positive (i.e. energy efficiency is above 1), one may consider roughly that more CO2 has been captured than spent in the farming process: in that case, agriculture is effectively a sink of carbon dioxide, even though it is a short term sink.
Energy efficiency on its own as indicator is useful for looking at the overall efficiency of energy use within a farming system and it's particularly relevant in the context of climate change and the vital importance of achieving energy efficiency.
An obvious critique of energy efficiency as an indicator of environmental impact is with its narrow focus. It neglects to examine the wider environmental impacts of the farming system such as soil quality, water resources and long term conditions of the natural environment. In addition it doesn't take into account the broader use of croplands as carbon sinks albeit temporary. Finally, it doesn't take into account the social measurements relating to society and farmer well being which are important to the broader interpretation of sustainable agriculture definitions. It therefore doesn't address the wider sustainability issues of agriculture.
Study the table below showing the energy efficiency of four different farms in Burgundy, France
1. Which farm in Burgundy is most energy efficient and which farm is least energy efficient?
2. What factors do you think explain this?
Source: Paper by Bernadette RISOUD (UMR INRA-ENESAD)
Using the following waterfootprint infographic answer the following questions. Use this either on the site or as an A3 printed sheet
- Write down the definition of water footprint
- Describe the global pattern of water footprint per capita as a tweet
- Comment on the use of proportional shapes in presenting the top water consumers and importers
- Discuss the audience you think the infographic is aimed at
Watch the following video which introduces some of the issues relating to water footprint
1. Draw a systems diagram of how water footprint is presented in this clip. Choose from linear or cyclical.
2. Watch the second video clip from National geographic and draw a systems diagram that you think best fits the information being provided. Choose from linear or cyclical
With thanks to Matt Podbury for the IB nexus video. The idea for this activity and the resources have been based and adapted from those found on geographypods.
Step 1 - A systems approach - Introduce the activity with the following hexagon activity. Students should sort the hexagons in the best way that they feel connects the hexagons. Note there is no one correct way to do this. The initial aim is to present the hexagons to reflect a systems approach
Step 2 - Focus on sustainability and issues - Once the students have agreed on where they see the connections between the hexagons introduce the next step of cards (blue). These include the wider local and global impacts. Student should place the hexagons into the sequence as best they fit.
The local corresponds to Belgium but there are empty hexagons which can be substituted for your school context.
Step 3 - Focus on sustainability - Students should introduce empty cards themselves to the sequence. These cards can explain the steps that are needed to develop a more sustainable agricultural system. They can take cards out if they wish. It might be good idea to photo and tweet the final outcomes.
With thank to Russel Tarr and Class Tools
Remembering that there is no exact right answer here, it is important to draw the lesson to some form of conclusion in terms of the merits of as system approach to assessing energy efficiency, water footprints in food production as well as overall sustainability.
Get students to look at the following image to stimulate discussion
Source: McGill University - Coventional vs. Deep preventative biological solution