University of Reading Research Blog

The fourth agricultural revolution is coming – but who will really benefit?

Depending on who you listen to, artificial intelligence may either free us from monotonous labour and unleash huge productivity gains, or create a dystopia of mass unemployment and automated oppression. In the case of farming, some researchers, business people and politicians think the effects of AI and other advanced technologies are so great they are spurring a “fourth agricultural revolution”.

Given the potentially transformative effects of upcoming technology on farming – positive and negative – it’s vital that we pause and reflect before the revolution takes hold. It must work for everyone, whether it be farmers (regardless of their size or enterprise), landowners, farm workers, rural communities or the wider public. Yet, in a recently published study led by the researcher Hannah Barrett, we found that policymakers and the media and policymakers are framing the fourth agricultural revolution as overwhelmingly positive, without giving much focus to the potential negative consequences.

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Bolivia reverses years of progress with new draconian cocaine policy, supported by the EU

Bolivia has seen widespread public protests in recent months against the interim government, led by Jeanine Añez, which has twice postponed elections due to coronavirus. Her government has repeatedly violated its mandate by passing new laws and persecuting its political opponents, including coca growers in the Chapare region east of Cochabamba, who we collaborate with on research projects.

Bolivia is the world’s third largest producer of cocaine, a drug manufactured from coca leaves, which is central to Andean culture. Under the previous government of Evo Morales, coca growers benefited from a programme that allowed them to cultivate a plot of coca up to 2,500 square metres, and actively engaged farmers to self-police to respect these limits.

This policy, which emphasised community participation and respect for human rights, was lauded and funded by the European Union. Internationally recognised in the mainstream press as best practice in this area, Bolivia’s community coca control programme has long served as an example for cooperation in other parts of the world.

But this approach was recently reversed. One former EU official in the country confidentially told us that this represents a “significant setback”. Yet the EU has been helping to make this happen.

Programa de Apoyo de Control Social, Author provided

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Heatwaves are an invisible killer – and the UK is woefully unprepared

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause suffering around the world, but another killer has silently struck in summer 2020. With relatively little by way of official warning or advice on how people can stay safe, recent heatwaves may have cost thousands of lives across the UK and western Europe. And these extreme weather events are arriving more often and in longer, deadlier bouts.

Most deaths during heatwaves occur out of sight and among those who are most vulnerable, such as the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. Because heatwaves aren’t something we can see or touch – and are often greeted with joy – it’s often difficult for people to understand the risk they pose.

123RF Alelsander Papichev

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Taking Publishers’ Archives Online: The Modernist Archives Publishing Project

The publishing industry decides what gets published and determines whose voices get heard. The books we read are shaped by the people who produce them, and a publisher’s archive is full of stories behind the making of books. Here Nicola Wilson and Helena Clarkson reflect on some of the hidden tasks and detective trails involved in setting up the Modernist Archives Publishing Project.

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Happy Days – creating art from archives

It is well-known that the University’s Special Collections are home to the world’s largest archive for the Nobel-Prize winning writer, Samuel Beckett with over 600 items of original material, including manuscript drafts, notebooks and letters, plus ‘stage files’, book, articles and dissertations. A recent award from the University’s Research Endowment Trust Fund allowed the Samuel Beckett Research Centre team to develop a programme of work by post-doctoral researchers to build a more detailed picture some of the less-used areas of the archive,. This in turn spurred the research team to think about innovative ways to link the archive resources and their ongoing research to new and creative projects with external partners.

Researcher Lucy Jeffery working in the archive

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How to reset your relationship with your body if lockdown worsened an eating problem

As the coronavirus pandemic has spread, a growing number of people have been negatively affected not so much by the virus itself as by the response to it. One such group is those with eating disorders. Here Paul Jenkins, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, focuses on how to support people who are struggling with their eating and mental health.

Weighing scales. Image-by-Tumisu-from-Pixabay

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Weathering the storm – masterclasses in Meteorology

European winter weather is dominated by the action of synoptic-scale systems, such as cyclonic “storms” and the anticyclonic “blocks” that can stop their progress. From cold-snaps such as 2018’s Beast from the East to wind storms and flooding like that caused by last winter’s storms Lorenzo, Ciara and Dennis, the impacts can be profound, with loss of life, severe infrastructure damage and billions of pounds of insurance losses each year. Anticipating the behaviour of these weather systems – collectively referred to as the North Atlantic storm track – is vital for weather and climate risk management for across many different industrial sectors in Europe.

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Leading entrepreneurship ecosystems research in East Europe and Central Asia

Research into the social and economic environment affecting local or regional entrepreneurship is relatively new but has started to attract attention across a range of disciplines including international business and international entrepreneurship. A recent award from the University’s Research Endowment Trust Fund allowed researchers from Henley Business School to work with partner institutes in eleven countries, interviewing more than 1600 experts across 16 cities to build a picture of how local and national policymakers can support the development of vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Warsaw skyline. Image-by-Rudy-and-Peter-Skitterians-from-Pixabay.

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Are women leaders really doing better on coronavirus? The data backs it up

Over the last few months, there has been much discussion of leadership during the pandemic. What constitutes good leadership? Who has performed better and which countries have been worse? One pattern that emerged early on was that female leaders were seen to have handled the crisis remarkably well. Whether it has been New Zealand under Jacinda Ardern or Taiwan under the presidency of Tsai Ing-Wen or Germany under Angela Merkel, female-led countries have been held up as examples of how to manage a pandemic.

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Cold war nuclear tests changed rainfall thousands of miles away

It’s difficult to imagine quite how alarming it would have been for the world’s meteorologists monitoring the atmosphere during the nuclear tests in the 1950s and early 60s. The radioactivity released in the Arctic and South Pacific test sites caused patterns of electrical disturbance that were apparent thousands of miles away, from Japan to the UK.

Diligent observers would have seen their regular measurements, which had been reliably similar every day, suddenly show catastrophic change or even become impossible to record. They couldn’t have known what any potential impact on the world’s weather might be.

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