Food Production, Systems and Sustainability

Introduction

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.

Enquiry Question

How important is a systems approach in comparing energy efficiency, water footprint and relative sustainability in food production?

Lesson Time: 2 Hours

Lesson Objectives:

  • 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

Teacher Notes:

Lesson 1

1. Listening Comprehension_Processes and Spatial Interactions_ Watch the first couple of minutes of the future of food and students should make notes in terms of planet, population,production and price

2. Defining Key terms -Processes - Students can then attempt to write their own definition of sustainable agriculture. You could show them the Brundtland definition of sustainable development first.

3. Knowledge and Vocabulary_Processes_Then introduce farming systems through the PDF and starter image of an integrated farm in upland China. Students should answer the questions based on a systems approach. An optional extra would to look at different types of farm and level of commercial activity. The worksheet explains how farms are heavily influenced by the broader geographical context.

4. Interpreting data_Processes_There is reading material for students on energy efficiency. This can be used briefly at the beginning or quickly referred to explain the concept. Then project the table showing the energy efficiency of four different farms in Burgundy, France. Can they pick out the most and least efficient farms and what factors may explain this?

Note: You may want to explain natural comparative advantage

5. Infographic_Processes_Data interpretation and critical thinking Introduce water footprint through the infographic. This can be done either by projecting the infographic or providing laminated A3 copies of the PDF version provided. Students should answer the questions on the PDF provided based on the infographic. The questions are a combination of data extraction, interpretation and questioning the validity and purpose of the message.

6. Synthesis_ Processes_Students can then watch the two videos on water footprint and for each one they should attempt to draw a systems model based on the information provided.

Note: They should choose from linear or cyclical in each case. Depending on the group you can tell them which one. Ideally the first one that focus more on the negitives would be linear. The second which offers viable solution would be cyclical.

Lesson 2

1. Nexus Thinking - Step 1 - A systems approach_Synthesis, Processes and Spatial Interactions_ 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 should 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.

In addition there is blank editable template from Class Tools for you to tailor make your own sets or add additional hexagons.

Note: It's very advisable that you watch the IB video from the IB OCC page on nexus thinking before you teach this lesson. The video features Matt Podbury from the International School of Tolouse. The key element of nexus thinking is that it attempts to capture the complexity of multidimensional issues. In this activity we are really looking at the water, energy, food nexus and how they are interrelated. This is very important in understanding the issues relating to sutainable agriculture.

2. Discussion_Possibilities_Conclude the lesson with a summarising discussion on the merits of the systems approach to energy efficiency, water footprint for food production and overall sustainability. There are two diagrams to help start the discussion as well as statements, all of which could aid the discussion for students to find agreement or controversy with.

Starter Activity_Processes and Spatial Interactions_ Planet, Population, Production and Price

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."

Consider and attempt to write a definition of sustainable agriculture
Compare your definition to that of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform

Sustainable agriculture is the efficient production of safe, high quality agricultural products, in a way that protects and improves the natural environment, the social and economic conditions of farmers, their employees and local communities, and safeguards the health and welfare of all farmed species.

Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform


Source: SAIP

Student Activity_Processes_Farming Systems

Use the following PDF resource to investigate how farms in different geographical contexts may operate through different systems

Farming Systems


Source: Integrated farm, upland China, nzdl.org

Different types of cycles


Source: Wikipedia

Source: Science Lover

Student Activity - Processes and Possibilities -Discussion on Sustainability

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
            Energy Inputs
 

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.

Student Activity_Processes_Understanding Energy Efficiency

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)
 

Student Activity - Processes -Water Footprint Infographic

Using the following waterfootprint infographic answer the following questions. Use this either on the site or as an A3 printed sheet

  1. Write down the definition of water footprint
  2. Describe the global pattern of water footprint per capita as a tweet
  3. Comment on the use of proportional shapes in presenting the top water consumers and importers
  4. Discuss the audience you think the infographic is aimed at

Water Infographic

Student Activity_Processes_WWF Canada Water Footprint

Watch the following video which introduces some of the issues relating to water footprint

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

Student Activity _Synthesis, Processes and Spatial Interactions_The Food Production Nexus

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

Nexus 1

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.

Nexus 2

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.

Nexus 3

With thank to Russel Tarr and Class Tools

Editable blank hexagon template

Discussion - Possibilities

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

Source: sustainabilityaction.ne

Key thoughts

  • In the context of food production, linear models can achieve energy efficiency in relation to the size of their yield. The scale of production also means that carbon sinks can be sizable.
  • Linear systems in terms of both energy and water mean substantial losses and environmental impact.
  • Cyclical systems with clear points of storage and recycling create feedbacks and efficiencies in both energy and water use. These systems provide greater opportunities for sustainability, but require a rethinking of the current agricultural model.
  • Less intensive farming models linked to more organic, permaculture based systems offer closer links to a cyclical system and conserve environmental assets.
  • In assessing the merits of energy efficiency and water footprints should we question the linear model in preference of the cyclical system?
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