Glossary of terms

Here you will find definitions of terms used in resources on the Foodsource website. You will also find these definitions on the right-hand side within chapters. If you have any suggestions for new glossary items, let us know here.

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24-hour recalls

A 24-hour recall is a dietary assessment tool, commonly used in nutrition research, that consists of a structured interview or standardised questionnaire in which participants are asked to recall all the food and drink they have consumed during the previous 24 hours. In comparison to other common methods such as food frequency questionnaires, 24-hour recalls provide relatively detailed information about participants’ food intakes. Important limitations include the inability to account for day-to-day variations and reliance on participants’ ability to accurately remember the food and drink they have consumed.


Acidification refers to changes to the chemistry of a body of water that make it more acidic over time (i.e. increased hydrogen ion availability). This change in acidity can then affect many other reactions that take place in water, including those important for ecosystem functioning.


Aeration is the process by which air is circulated through, mixed with, or disolved in a liquid or substance.

Agricultural intensification

Agricultural intensification is the process of increasing the inputs of agricultural resources (e.g. seeds, labour, fertilisers, pesticides, technologies, knowledge) to increase the level of yield per unit of farmland or pasture. Agricultural intensification is not always clearly or consistently defined and is often confused with the term intensive agriculture. Unlike intensive agriculture, which could be seen as a specific system of agronomy, agricultural intensification is a general process that can apply, in principle, to any type of agricultural production. Examples of agricultural intensification may range from using new pesticides in intensive agriculture to intensifying the use of indigenous and context-specific knowledge in local farming practices. Although agricultural intensification can take many forms, it always involves the intensification of some types of agricultural input with a view to increase levels of yields.

Agricultural production

Agricultural production is the range of practices and approaches that are employed to transform agricultural inputs (e.g. labour, knowledge, land, water, seeds, fertilisers, pesticides) into agricultural outputs (e.g. yields and environmental impacts). Different types of agricultural production include precision farming, agroecology, organic farming, and intensive livestock farming.

Agricultural productivity

Agricultural productivity is the ratio of yields relative to agricultural inputs (e.g. labour, knowledge, land, water, seeds, fertilisers, pesticides).

Agricultural yield

Agricultural yield is the average net output of agricultural product (e.g. in kCal, grams protein, or net profit) per unit of farmland per year. The total amount of farmland includes all land that is required to generate the output (e.g. also land that is used to grow feeds or to produce manure).


Agrochemicals are chemicals, such as a pesticide or fertiliser that are used in agriculture.


Agroecology can be defined as a range of agricultural practices that are based on applying ecological concepts and principles to optimize interactions between plants, animals, humans, and the environment. Agroecology also places strong emphasis on the social and ethical aspects of food production. Its advocates tend to have a preference for organic practices (e.g. the avoidance of mineral fertilisers and chemical inputs, and instead prefer the use of biofertilisers, natural pesticides and crop rotation), it also emphasises the need for a ‘multifunctional’ farm system to produce both food and non-food outputs, and for smallholder and indigenous, as opposed to large scale farming. Agroecology has been interpreted in different ways: it also refers to a social movement and field of science.

Alternative food movement

Alternative food movements generally exist to challenge the current negative consequences of food systems. Fair trade, organic, food justice, food sovereignty, vegan and vegetarian movements can all be seen as offering alternatives to the status quo and as such form part of the "alternative food movement;" it can be said that there are several movements, rather than just one.


Anaerobic processes occur in the absence of oxygen. For example anaerobic respiration occurs when oxygen is not present.


Aquaculture refers to the breeding, rearing and harvesting of animals and plants in aquatic environments.


An aquifer is an underground layer of rock, sand, gravel or earth that contains water or allows water to pass through it. Aquifers normally contain fresh water and are in many regions an important source of water for drinking, agriculture and other human activities.

Arable crops and arable land

Arable crops are those such as wheat and barley, which require good soil quality and a favourable climate to grow, and land amenable to the use of ploughing and harvesting machinery. Arable land is by definition land used to grow arable crops, in contrast to land used for fruit and vegetable crops and for pasture used to feed grazing animals.

Big food

Big food is generally used as a term of criticism, to refer to the most powerful global food industry players. Most commonly it denotes large companies from the food manufacturing, processing and retailing sectors, but can also be used to refer to large agricultural producers as well as companies that provide agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and pesticides.