Empowering Women to Take Back the Land

By Elena Davert

In celebration of International Day of Rural Women last week, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) partnered with the World Bank and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to host a seminar on gender and land acquisition in rural agricultural communities. The seminar featured a study led by Cheryl Doss at Yale University that investigated property rights for women in Eastern and Central Uganda.

Overall, the results of suggest that additional research needs to look beyond declared “household ownership” of land and investigate the different rights that men and women actually exercise. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

During the seminar, Allan Bomuhangi, a visiting research assistant with Yale, and Ruth Meinzen-Dick, an IFPRI Senior Research fellow, discussed the importance of research on poverty, productivity and equity in rural communities. They emphasized the importance of agricultural empowerment of women, which is often dependent on secure access to land.

The researchers used the study to achieve three main goals:

  • Identify the mechanisms – both formal and informal – through which women can obtain land;
  • Assess the various models of ownership and their associated rights;
  • and identify how property rights vary from district to district.

Through a combination of surveys, household interviews, and focus groups, the researchers connected with households from 7 villages in the districts of Luwero and Kapchorwa. Interviews with people from these two very distinct districts shed light on the many different types of land ownership that have developed over the years. In addition to inheritance, individual ownership, and joint ownership, other land-use trends include renting agreements, land leases, and a variety of informal methods of land access, such as community land use and squatting. It took a series of cross-checking questions to determine which of these agreements were used in each household because many individuals were unclear about the type of land-use agreement they actually had. Continue reading

It’s Time to Focus on the Forgotten Fisheries

By Janeen Madan

“While marine fisheries are under increasing scrutiny, those based on river and lake systems rarely engage the international community- an oversight of potentially profound implications,” warned Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at the launch of a new report entitled Blue Harvest, compiled by UNEP and The WorldFish Centre.

An estimated 100 million people in Africa depend on fish, from inland sources, for their daily intake of protein, as well as important micronutrients, especially vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

This report highlights the vital importance of often-neglected inland fisheries, by focusing on their role in supporting nutrition, generating jobs, and sustaining healthy ecosystems.

In Africa, an estimated 100 million people depend on fish from inland sources, such as lakes and rivers, not only for protein, but also for much-needed micronutrients, especially vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc. Inland fisheries also generate as many as 60 million jobs, of which 33 million are carried out by women. In India alone, 5.5 million people are engaged in fishing and fishing-related occupations. Furthermore, by consuming plankton, insects and plants, fish play an important role in maintaining ecosystem balance. And, nutrients from fish eggs, carcasses and excretion help support the production of algae and other freshwater organisms. Continue reading

Changing the World, One Bite at a Time

The endless aisles of Slow Food‘s biennial Salone del Gusto, held at the massive Lingotto Fiere building in Turin, are laid out like a map of the world, albeit skewed a bit towards the land of Caesar. Imagine your favorite farmers market and then multiple that by 100. It’s hard to know where to start and it’s even harder to know where to end.

Salone is a rare coming together, an opportunity for the stewards of the world's food biodiversity, to share and market their wares. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Cheese maker next to apricot grower next to caper forager next to oyster farmer. After a few days, directed grazing becomes sort of like a game of memory. Was that table offering up incredibly sweet almonds in the Spain section or somewhere in Africa? And did you see those ingenious butcher-case containers, developed by cattlemen from Italy, with a shoulder of rare breed cow along with a leek, carrot, celery and peeled garlic all ready for a busy family to become a stew or roast? And wasn’t it great that the Mexico section included mezcal distillers and cocoa growers, offering up both sips and chocolate nibs, a very fortunate pairing of food biodiversity?

American craft brewers like Dogfish Head and Rogue were pouring samples a short walk from small-batch beers from the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as an impressive display of micro-brews and micro-spirits from every corner of Italy–apparently the new wave of brewers and distillers ain’t just limited to Brooklyn and Boulder.

Salone is a rare coming together, an opportunity for the stewards of the world’s food biodiversity, to share and market their wares. Most stalls give out small free samples, but they are also selling bags of beans, sausages, hunks of cheese, oils, loaves of bread, and every manner of comestible. It’s a chance to garner international exposure with chefs and food buyers. And it’s a thank you to Slow Food International, whose chapters around the world have helped many of these producers find customers and thrive. Continue reading

Power Politics in the 21st Century: The Battle for Rare Earths

The quarrel between China, the United States, Europe, and Japan about China’s rare earth export policy has heated up again over the past week. Rare earth minerals are indispensable in the transition to a low-carbon world, as they are used in clean energy technologies such as wind turbines, solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, and batteries. At the moment, the most troubling aspect of rare earths is the power that China—which mines 95 percent of the world’s supply—currently enjoys. China stopped delivering the minerals to Japan on September 21 and to the United States and Europe on October 18.

The race for rare earths is well underway – Flickr Creative Commons / Juanedc

The latest sparring began in Europe on October 22, when Werner Schnappauf, Director General of the Federation of German Industries, announced that German companies are facing shortages in the supply of lanthanum, a rare earth used in PV cells. Simultaneously, industrial giants Bosch and Siemens disclosed that they might face bottlenecks in their production if China continues its protectionist path.

On October 24, Japan’s trade minister urged China to resume exports of rare earth materials that are crucial for manufacturing. The next day, the United States banded with the EU and Japan to consider filing a World Trade Organization lawsuit to protest China’s illicit export restrictions. Simultaneously, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce wrote a letter to the G20 heads of government highlighting the “acute threat” of lack of open access to rare earths. On October 26, Germany asked France, which will assume the presidency of the G20 next month, to put raw materials at the top of the agenda for the group’s November meeting in Seoul, Korea—with the goal of drafting a strategy paper on combating China’s restrictive rare earth policy.

The conflict reached its climax on October 28, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pressed China to clarify its position, mentioning fears that Beijing could use its export policy as a “political weapon.” In a joint press conference, Clinton and Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara stated that both countries recognize that they will have to look for additional sources of supply. China then abruptly ended its rare earths embargo against Japan, the United States, and Europe. Clinton’s decision to visit China unexpectedly this Saturday (October 30) during her Asia trip may be not an unimportant detail in this modern drama.

Why all the posturing? Rare earths are not, in a purely physical sense, rare, but they are not often found in minable concentrations. Global rare earths production is estimated at 124,000 tons annually, and world reserves are estimated at 99 million tons, with 36 percent of them in China. China’s 2010 export quota was set at 30,350 tons, down 40 percent from 2009 and far less than the 50,000–55,000 tons of demand forecasted outside of China.  Production capacity outside of China is estimated to be no higher than 10,000–12,000 tons, suggesting a significant supply shortfall.

Although rare earths mines are currently under development in the United States, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere, all but two—Mountain Pass mine in California and Mount Weld mine in Australia (which together can supply only a small fraction of world demand)—are a long way from starting production. Fortunately, the overall volume of rare earths outside of China is large enough that demand can be met in the long run. In the short term, however, industries that rely on rare earths may suffer as supply tightens and prices continue to rise.

China is the world’s largest consumer of rare earths, and domestic demand is rising faster than supply. Many industry experts foresee a day in the not-too-distant future when China will be a net importer of rare earths because of its manufacturing sector’s endless appetite for raw materials. Thus, bickering with China over its export policy may not pay long-term dividends. And while the U.S. and European countries are busy crying foul, Japan (and Japanese companies) are wasting no time in ensuring access to the rare earths they will need. Japan’s Prime Minister has already reached agreements with Vietnam and Mongolia to jointly develop resources in those countries, and companies such as Toyota have signed contracts for exclusive rights to mines in Vietnam and elsewhere.

Simply getting enough rare earth oxides out of the ground is only part of the problem. The oxides must then be converted to alloys or powders, and then made into magnets in order to be usable in wind turbines or hybrid automobile motors. Almost all of the companies that are capable of performing these processes are located in China or Japan. Rare earths mining in the United States ended in the late 1990s due to an inability to compete with cheap Chinese export, and the entire supply chain went with it. Meanwhile, China and Japan continue to dominate rare earths-related knowledge and human capital. Four research laboratories in China focus on rare earths, each of which is well-established with dozens of professors, research fellows, and graduate students. The U.S. Colorado School of Mines only recently began offering a class on rare earths and is the only university providing such education in the country.

Western nations have a lot of catching up to do to make up for the rare earths supply shortfall and must prepare for the day when China can no longer be the world’s dominant supplier. Japan, as the leading importer of the minerals, is rumored to have been stockpiling rare earths for years, and is now gobbling up supplies around the world. Elsewhere, meanwhile, preoccupation with a Chinese bogeyman appears to be getting in the way of constructive action.

The Worldwatch Institute is examining the role of rare earths and other strategic material inputs as part of our “Energy Security 2.0” initiative exploring the transition to low-carbon energy. (Our first policy paper, on the implications of this transition for U.S. national security, is available here). The Institute is researching the changes in material resource needs and trade relationships that accompany an economy-wide transition to low-carbon energy and transport systems. We base our analysis on the International Energy Agency’s 450 Scenario, aimed at keeping the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius.

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Nourishing the Planet at Slow Food Internationals Terra Madre 2010

Worldwatch Senior Researcher and Nourishing the Planet co-Project Director, Danielle Nierenberg, explains the similarities between Terra Madre and Nourishing the Planet. By bringing together food producers from around the world, Terra Madre helps to remind people that food does not just come from packages at the grocery store and that preserving local foods, food traditions and cultures can help to improve biodiversity as well as diets and livelihoods.

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Drought, Pest, Disease and Taste: A Sweet Potato for Every Occasion

“Finding the right taste is very important,” said Dr. Maria Isabel Andrade, Sweet Potato Specialist at the International Potato Center’s office—a Peruvian-based organization working to improve global food security through improved root and tuber varieties and cultivation techniques— in Maputo, Mozambique. “In Ghana, for example, they don’t like their sweet potatoes to be too sweet because they use them to bake. Farmers won’t grow what they don’t like to eat. So the taste of the potato is very important.”

The International Potato Center is a Peruvian-based organization working to improve global food security through improved root and tuber varieties and cultivation techniques. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Dr. Andrade works closely with farmers in Mozambique to breed different varieties of sweet potatoes that not only taste good, but that are also able to withstand some of the harsh growing conditions presented by various regions throughout Mozambique and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa. Sweet potatoes must be drought tolerant, as well as pest and disease resistant and while many indigenous varieties have one or two of these characteristics, Dr. Andrade is breeding to develop varieties that consistently contain them all.

Dr. Andrade focuses on sweet potatoes because they can be an important source of beta carotene, an organic compound that helps to prevent vitamin A deficiency. In Mozambique, 69 percent of women and children under five are vitamin A deficient and this year, with the support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Potato Center has launched the Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project in eight sub-Saharan African countries, specifically to ensure that farmers are growing sweet potatoes—especially women farmers.

“When women farmers, who are caring for and feeding the children, are growing the orange sweet potatoes—the ones that contain beta carotene—then we know the right vitamins are making it onto the plates of women and children,” says Dr. Andrade. Continue reading

As Oil Producers Strive to Meet Rising Global Demand, What About Renewables?

At an October 7 Congressional Staff Briefing, panelists discussed a popular question among energy analysts: can oil production meet rising global demand? Participants stressed that the price of oil will necessarily increase as the supply decreases, and that oil security has become an increasing problem for many countries, including the United States. But for many within the energy community, the real question is not about the future of oil, but about how renewable energy can play into our shared energy future.

Robert Hirsch, Senior Advisor at Management Information Services Inc., noted that “world oil production hit a plateau in mid-2004 and stayed in a narrow fluctuation range in spite of the ‘Great Recession.” As of 2010, that plateau will become a decline of 4 percent annually over the next 2–5 years, leading to ‘worldwide crash mitigation,’ or the implementation of large projects at the maximum possible rate to mitigate the peaking oil. However, sufficient research and development will take time, limiting the degree to which this will resolve the coming oil shortage.

U.S. Military use of Solar Panels

Simultaneously, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that world liquid fuel demand will surpass 100 million barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2035, up from 84 million barrels a day in 2009. So oil production will go down, oil demand will go up, and there’s not much we can do about it. Or is there?  Instead of focusing on oil depletion, why not work to change U.S. and world oil consumption patterns?

Consider the U.S. military’s transition away from oil. The military, which must be highly mobile on the ground and in the sea and air, is highly reliant on oil. In 2005, the Department of Defense (DOD) consumed approximately 125 million barrels of oil, 74 percent of which was used to power transport vehicles. A military Humvee, for example, has a fuel capacity of 25 gallons and runs at 12 miles per gallon, giving it a range of 300 miles. Just one tank of fuel costs US$939. With 50,000+ humvees in use today, the total cost for fueling these vehicles can be upward of US$46 million annually. In addition, operations in the field, and often entire military camps, are powered by diesel generators that require a continuous and secure supply of fuel.

As oil prices and security risks increase, the U.S. military has become more interested in exploring alternatives. Just recently, 20 U.S. and NATO oil tankers were set afire in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, while attempting to cross the Khyber Pass into Afghanistan. The DOD’s total fuel expenditure in 2007 was $13.2 billion, a 41 percent increase from 2005. All of this highlights the need to diversify the energy supply and adopt alternative means, not only for monetary reasons, but also to not waste—and endanger—soldiers during oil transport and protection. Alternative energy would allow the United States to use resources that do not require transport and to use surrounding assets freely without any possible danger. Ray Mabus, the Navy Secretary and former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, stated that he hopes to generate half of all power needed for the U.S. Navy and Marines from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The U.S. military is often at the forefront of technological innovation and is the latest influential group to help usher in the future of renewables. Military inventions, once successfully deployed, are often later converted for civilian use. In the late 1970s, the DOD invested in Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to enable the armed forces to have access to 3-D positioning and velocity information in locations all around the world. Today, GPS devices can be obtained in any electronics store.

As the military continues to innovate, it will continue to generate products that have wider application in the civilian economy. Last week, a Marine company arrived in Afghanistan with transportable solar panels that fold up into boxes, solar tent shields that offer shade and electricity, and solar chargers for communication equipment. In the same vein, the Air Force, in late August of this year, flew the first aircraft with a 50-50 combination of biomass fuel and jet fuel.

To assist with the transition to cleaner jet fuel, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has begun extracting oil from algal ponds at a cost of $2 per gallon, with the end goal being large-scale production of jet fuel from this refined algae oil. DARPA has a set target to create a “surrogate JP-8” that would cost less than $3 per gallon at a production rate of 50 million gallons a year to enable the algal biofuel to be competitive with petroleum-based fuels. The military has the capability and funds to pursue these types of alternative energy projects, which are a more affordable investment in the long term than oil production, according to many experts.

As the alternatives to fossil fuels become more reliable, durable, and affordable, expanding use of alternative energy should be the real focus of discussion, rather than how to continue producing 84 million barrels of oil per day, as the world did in 2009, at outrageous environmental, health, social, economic, and security costs.

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Le Soleil Features NtP

Le Soleil, one of Senegal’s most widely circulated newspapers, just published one of Nourishing the Planet’s weekly innovations on “land grabs”, the increasing prevalence of large-scale land acquisition in sub-Saharan Africa.

To read more about “land grabs” and both sides of the argument on how this will affect local communities you can also see: Innovations in Access to Land: Land Grab or Agricultural Investment?, Is There a “Win-Win” Solution to Land Acquisitions?, Large Scale Land Investments Do Not Benefit Local Communities

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Nourishing the Planet Speaks on Nourishing People

Next week Nourishing the Planet co-project Director Danielle Nierenberg will head to Boston, MA to participate in the Tufts 5th annual Friedman School Symposium: Challenges and Advances in Nutrition Security.

photo credit: Bernard Pollack

The two day event brings together experts from all over the world to discuss the challenges–and opportunities–for meeting the nutritional needs of the world.

Danielle will give an in-depth discussion on the innovations in agriculture she has seen while traveling across sub-Saharan Africa that are working to improve local food security while also caring for ecosystems and preserving local biodiversity. While challenges do exist, farmers, NGOs, government agencies and policymakers are working together across the continent to implement solutions they’ve discovered and they are succeeding in alleviating hunger in their communities.

The diverse set of experts featured at the Symposium will include Deputy Secretary of the USDA, Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Tracey Fox, President of Society for Nutrition Education, Richard Black, Vice President of Kraft Foods Global, and Meera Shekar, health and nutrition specialist with the Human Development Network in the World Bank.

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