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.

A (12) | B (4) | C (13) | D (3) | E (8) | F (7) | G (4) | H (2) | I (6) | L (5) | M (11) | N (3) | O (4) | P (5) | R (6) | S (9) | T (1) | U (1) | W (4) | Y (1) | Z (1)


Desertification refers to a process by which fertile land becomes desert; this can be due to deforestation, drought or inappropriate agriculture methods.

Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs)

Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) are a way of measuring the burden of ill health. One DALY can be thought of as one lost year of healthy life. Across a population, DALYs are calculated by adding together years of life during which illness is experienced, weighted according to the severity of the illness, and years of life lost to premature mortality.

Ecological intensification

is the principle of using the natural functionalities of an ecosystem to produce greater amounts of food, fibre, and fuel in sustainable ways. Underpinning EI is the idea that ecological functions (e.g. pollination and predator/prey relationships) can be integrated into agricultural practices, ideally leading to ‘agroecosystems’ that are sustained by natural processes and avoid many negative environmental impacts. Ecological intensification is closely related to the concepts of sustainable intensification and climate smart agriculture, but differs in its strong focus on the potential of enhancing ecological processes in food production.

Ecosystem services

The tangible and intangible benefits that are provided by ecosystems to humans, which both enable human life and that contribute to its quality. Ecosystem services include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services such as nutrient cycling that maintain the conditions for life on Earth.


Ecotoxicity refers to the toxicology of pollutants in the environment. The study of ecotoxicology includes consideration of the interaction of pollutants both with abiotic aspects of the environment - soil, air and water; and how they interact with living systems, at the level of cell, organ, and organism to communities and ecosystems.

Eddy covariance

A meteorological monitoring technique that can be used to measure the movement of different gases in situ. Applications include, for example, to measure the concentration of methane in the air near agricultural sources.

Endemic species

is a plant or animal species that is unique to a specific geographic location, such as a country or an island. Usually the area where an endemic species live is isolated, making it difficult for the species to move to other areas. Endemic species are often uniquely adapted to the specific environment in which they live. Almost all endemic species are specialist species.

Enteric fermentation

Enteric fermentation is a natural part of the digestive process of ruminant animals (e.g. cattle and sheep) where microbes decompose and ferment the food present in large rumen portion of the stomach. As a byproduct of this fermentation process, some bacteria species in the stomach produce methane.


Epidemiology is a scientific dicipline that uses data mathematical tools to understand the patterns of disease found in human populations and changes therin. It seeks to explain exactly how these patterns are caused in order to identify ways to control and treat health problems.


Eutrophication refers to the buildup of nutrients in a body of water (e.g. nitrogen and phosphorus) to a level in excess of what would occur naturally and to which aquatic ecosystems are adapted. This can result in detrimental impacts on many aquatic plants and animals, as well as the rapid overgrowth of some plants and algae.


The Food and Agriculture Organisation is a specialised agency of the United Nations. It is dedicated to leading international efforts to defeat hunger worldwide.

Feed conversion efficiency

Feed conversion efficiency is a measure of how much feed is required to produce a certain amount of a desired output. Such outputs may be animal weight, the amount of milk or meat produced, or even nutritional value measured in calories or grams of protein. It is a metric used to compare animal breeds and species in terms of their ability to convert feed into food available for human consumption.

Food chain

is the hierarchical network constituted by the succession of organisms that eat other organisms and may, in turn, be eaten themselves. The position an organism occupies in a food chain is indicated by its trophic level. Plants, algae and phytoplankton constitute the lowest trophic level, whereas predators and carnivores constitute the highest trophic levels. Many humans consume food from different trophic levels, while those following vegetarian and vegan diets consume all or most of their food from the primary trophic level.

Food security

Food security is an idealised state or goal where all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food sovereignty

Food sovereignty is a political movement that emphasises the rights of food producers, distributors and consumers to have control over the food system, as opposed to coorporations and market institutions. It has been defined as the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.