Feeding Hope: Living Democracy

This Thursday, join two of the planet’s most tireless advocates for food as a human right, Frances Moore Lappé and Vandana Shiva, as they come together on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Small Planet Fund and 40th anniversary of Diet for a Hot Planet by Frances Moore Lappé.

Image credit: Small Planet Fund

Also in attendance are Small Planet Fund co-founder and State of the World 2011 contributing author, Anna Lappé, Amazon Watch’s Atossa Soltani, and Real Food Challenge’s Anim Steel.

The event is free but pre-registration is strongly recommended. Click here to RSVP.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Building a Sustainable School and Teaching the World’s Future

By Christina Wright

In this interview, Dan Schnitzer, Director of Sustainability and Operations atAcademy for Global Leadership (AGC), a Chicago Public Charter School, discusses what it means to empower all students to impact their community and the world.

Can you tell us about the history and mission of the Academy for Global Citizenship?

Photo credit: Academy for Global Leadership

AGC’s Founder and Executive Director, Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, started conceptualizing the school in her early twenties and then came to Chicago with Mayor Daley’s 2010 Renaissance Project to open up a school that was environmentally, locally, and internationally focused. One of the reasons AGC was started was to get back to why charter schools were originally created—to be laboratories for innovation for the public school system as a whole. We use as many Chicago Public Schools (CPS) vendors as we can. We try to collect data on everything we do: the process, the cost, the time we spend doing it so it can be replicable in the 600 schools that already exist and for the 410,000 students that are enrolled in CPS. We don’t need to open up our own set to do that. The buildings, the teachers, and the students are already there. We just need to look at things a little differently instead of creating something entirely new.

In August 2008, AGC welcomed its first kindergarten and first grade students. Each year, one grade level will be added until eighth grade is reached in the 2015-2016 academic year. Every child is held accountable for achieving rigorous academic expectations. Each day the students receive environmental education, wellness instruction, and lessons in organic gardening, and ecologically sustainable school-wide practices. Their meals are made entirely on-site and they’re organic and nutritionally balanced. We don’t serve red meat and we have a vegetarian option at each meal. The students really learn how to interact with their environment and learn about the entire process of growing food through our organic garden that’s incorporated into the playground. The students get to pick which vegetables and herbs they want to grow—they are responsible for watering the crops, assessing their growth, and harvesting the produce. When a particular vegetable or fruit grows really well we talk about why they think that happened. In addition to the garden, we also have three schoolyard chickens that we’ve adopted.

Why was Chicago’s Southside chosen as the location for the school?

There are a lot of parents and families in the neighborhood who care about their children’s future and education. This area is an underserved community, and they don’t necessarily have the best access to the best schools. AGC allows families throughout the community to invest in their children’s future.

What types of academic experiences or opportunities do children have at the Academy for Global Citizenship that they might not have at another public schools in our country? What distinguishes the Academy for Global Citizenship from other public schools?

As a charter school we have a heightened level of accountability, but we also have a higher level of autonomy that allows us to make decisions on our own. There are things that distinguish us, but I think that’s an appropriate answer for any school. Each school has its own culture and community. We try to learn from every school, regardless of whether or not they are a public, private, or public charter school. We try to learn from colleges and universities. Throughout each school there are great achievements, and it’s incredibly important to share these successes.

From your perspective, and as the Director of Sustainability and Operations, what are the AGC’s greatest achievements?

Our greatest achievements are what we hear from our parents and students. When we hear the way our students ask questions or interact with guests, it’s amazing to see how engaged the students are, how inquisitive they are, and to see the people they’re becoming. I wouldn’t say it’s an achievement of AGC; it’s an achievement of our students and parents. AGC created an environment to foster this growth. Another great achievement is our students’ parents, who are incredibly involved and show up every day to volunteer with a variety of projects at the school. We are never short of volunteers. For instance, we had one father come to his child’s class to help out with math just because he wanted to come in and help. We had a number of parents who came and worked in the hot weather to help us build the organic garden because they care about their children’s education, and the garden is part of it. Other achievements are more operational. We’re extremely proud of our food program. We’re truly proud to create a zero-waste food program, to be able to compost. We’re updating our sustainability handbook which is really exciting, too.

How can other members of the community become involved with the Academy for Global Citizenship?

We always have volunteer opportunities available to parents and members of the community. They definitely provide the school with an enormous amount of assistance. We also offer a variety of workshops throughout the year, from computer literacy to organic gardening to cooking. We have a bunch of different internship programs. Right now I’m working with two sustainability interns on different projects. We really try to mold the internships so it’s mutually beneficial. They’re interested in what they’re doing and learning, and in turn, they’re helping AGC. We also have afterschool programs where volunteers or parents can lead activities and projects. AGC is really trying to be a positive presence in the community. It gives people an opportunity to come out and take ownership of their community.

Do you have any new and exciting projects for the 2011-2012 school year?

We do have a couple big projects we’re working on. One of them that’s really exciting is updating our sustainability handbook, which is on the front page of our website, which is all focused on achieving sustainability at school. It’s written for a variety of audiences, including administrators, parents, teachers, and custodial staff. A lot of time and energy was spent writing this handbook so it was appealing to such a wide variety of audiences. For instance, the energy section talks about different art projects that teachers can do with their students, but also provides information for where you can buy energy efficient light bulbs.

The second big project we’re working on is with our food service provider, Chicago Botanic Gardens, and CPS to create a food safety manual that will provide standards and procedures in order to officially allow produce from the school garden to go directly into the cafeteria and be served to students. We’re also working on a culinary internship program. CPS has a lot of culinary programs, so we would bring in a few culinary students over the course of three to four months at a time to work with our food program to learn the ins and outs of a commercial and school kitchen to gain hands on skills.

Where do you see the Academy in the next five years? Are there plans to expand operations?

We’ll continue to grow at a grade level each year. We’ll continue to do things that are student and education centric. We actually are in the early stages of planning an overnight trip for our fourth-grade students. Some of them have been camping before, but others have never been out of an urban center, so that will be really exciting. We’re also working to build our permanent facility, which will be net-positive produced energy, which means we produce more energy over the course of the year than we consume. The new facility will also have an on-site waste water treatment, two to three acres of organic farm production on-site, a small orchard, an energy-producing playground, among other great features.

What do you think of the Academy for Global Leadership? Tell us in the comments!

Christina Wright was a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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Solar Energy is Paving the Way for Better Healthcare in Haiti

A photovoltaic solar power system at a Partners in Health clinic in Haiti (Source: Solar World)

With Worldwatch’s Energy Roadmaps for the Caribbean work in Haiti, the Institute plans to create a comprehensive report that will become resourceful to the Haitian government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Haiti, and other domestic stakeholders in transitioning the present energy system to one less dependent on fossil fuels in the future. Another goal of Worldwatch’s work is to complement the existing work of other NGOs in Haiti to advance economic and infrastructural growth for a country in much need of development. Highlighted below are some of the projects other NGOs are working on to ensure sustained public health services in Haiti.

In modern medicine, electricity provides the backbone for any functional medical center. In a country where the infection rates of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) are extraordinarily high, electricity is essential for medical technologies such as lab analysis, medical equipment, and diagnostic testing at hospitals and clinics. An estimated 1.9 percent of Haitian adults live with HIV, while out of every 100,000 Haitians, 306 are infected with TB. Moreover, vaccines that help to prevent other communicable diseases, such as pertussis, diphtheria, and tetanus, require refrigeration as they need to be kept below room temperature.

Haiti’s immensely unreliable electricity grid and its high dependence on diesel generators have been impediments to the improvement of its fractured healthcare system. In 2007, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program in Haiti requested the expertise of a team of engineers and energy specialists from the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) energy program to assess the impact of Haiti’s poor energy infrastructure on the nation’s ability to treat HIV/AIDS patients. According to the report released in 2008 by USAID’s energy team, “Many health facilities receive only a few hours of power per day with prolonged outages of up to a month not uncommon in some locations.” Upon soliciting USAID’s help, PEPFAR cited that,  Haiti’s unreliable energy services lower the nation’s ability to store “cold chain dependent blood, laboratory reagents and HIV rapid test kits” and can lead to “damage to laboratory equipment and jeopardize the accuracy of sensitive laboratory tests.”

USAID published a report, Powering Health: Electrification Options for Rural Health Centers, in 2010 as a resource for public health professionals, particularly for those in developing countries whose intent is to provide more reliable energy services to their health facilities. In this document, USAID discussed the use of photovoltaic (PV) systems as an option for providing electricity.  Subsequently, USAID provided workshops and training sessions to equip Haitian hospital technicians with this knowledge. The table linked below is an excerpt from the USAID publication; it categorizes health clinics by their energy demand and describes the cost estimates for the adoption of particular energy technologies. Health Clinic Energy Needs

Since 2006, Partners in Health (PIH) – a non-profit health care organization working in Haiti – has collaborated with an international development aid organization, Solar Energy Light Fund (SELF), to bring solar PV power to the country’s hospitals and clinics. Harnessing solar energy has played a key role in providing electricity to rural areas and their health clinics, often located in mountainous regions of Haiti. Solar installations in the rural communities of Boucan Carre, Thomonde, and La Colline, as well as one at a women’s health clinic in Lascahobas (combined capacity of 85 kW of solar power in all four clinics), have all benefited from the work of these organizations. SELF reported about the PV installation at the Boucan Carré clinic, “Not only did this system secure critical loads and improve health care at the clinic, but it also significantly reduced PIH’s need to run a diesel generator for power.” PIH was able to reduce its diesel imports by 7 barrels per month, a reduction of 64 percent. The successes of PIH, SELF, and USAID illustrate how solar energy, in addition to other forms of renewable energy, can greatly benefit Haitian health development by decreasing clinics’ dependence on fossil fuels and shielding clinics from an unreliable electricity grid.

Last year’s cholera outbreak left 6,000 dead and another 300,000 cases of the illness further crippled the Haitian economy and its workforce. As Worldwatch has previously written, the impact of the outbreak could have been curtailed with better sanitation achieved through greater and a more reliable supply of electricity, providing yet another example of how vital electricity is to Haiti’s health care system.

Utilizing renewable energy resources like solar, wind, hydro, and biomass can help sustain a healthy population that is contingent on the availability of public health services, as these services ultimately depend on access to reliable electricity. Paul Farmer, PIH’s co-founder and a noted doctor and public health pioneer in Haiti, put it simply, “Solar energy saves lives.”

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In one of Uganda’s poorest villages, new farming techniques help villagers raise incomes and spirits

By Graham Salinger              

Katine is one of the poorest villages in the district of Soroti, in north eastern Uganda. For the 25,000 people living in Katine, their livelihood depends on cultivating cassava, ground nuts, millet, and sweet potatoes. Many farmers are not growing enough crops to sell and can’t afford to spend money on education or medication.

AMREF is providing farmers in Uganda with the right tools to improve their livelihoods. (Photo credit: AMREF)

In 2007, The African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) partnered with the Guardian newspaper  and Barclays Bank to establish a four year long project aimed at improving the overall livelihood of villagers in Katine. When the project began, malaria was responsible for nearly a quarter of deaths in the village, and 57.7 percent of children under five had malaria. And most villagers did not have enough money to get health services or buy malaria medication. Malnutrition and stunted growth were also common—most villagers ate only one meal a day and their diets lacked protein. Food insecurity also impacted education—because many students had to leave school to help their family farm or take care of siblings while their parents farmed, the dropout rate was 19 percent for boys and 22 percent for girls.

To address the root causes of health and education problems, AMREF worked with farmers to increase their incomes so that they could afford to send their kids to school and protect their families from disease. The project identified a number of challenges that farmers in Katine face, including sporadic rainfall resulting from the effects of climate change, poor soil fertility, the lack of crop diversity, and the need to increase farmer’s access to markets. These challenges lead to both economic insecurities and problems with villagers’ diets. To increase farm productivity, AMREF worked with CARE and Farm-Africa  to provide technical support to farmers. They set up farming schools to train villagers to improve soil fertility, conserve water, and control pests. Techniques that farmers learned included integrated pest management and digging water channels to capture water for agricultural use. Farmers also learned how to grow different crops together in order to increase crop yield. Through this technique, known as intercropping, farmers learned to plant legumes with rice, helping increasesoil fertility by enriching the soil with nitrogen. It is estimated that the training program will directly help 2,000 households.

Farmers also set up a farming cooperative that combined 66 rural innovation groups into the Katine Joint Framers Association (KAJOFA).  The cooperation worked with government agencies, including the National Agriculture Advisory Service, to help farmers grow new varieties of crops, including drought resistant cassava, which helped villagers survive when the region experienced a famine in 2009.

AMREF also helped farmers sell their products. They established a produce store located on a road that connects Uganda to Sudan.  Farmers also gained support from village saving and loans groups that were established to help villagers save their money. Through these groups, farmers received money to help them purchase agricultural inputs including machines and fertilizers.  Lastly, in order to ensure the safety of livestock, a drug store was set up to supply cattle herders with medication for their cattle.

By helping farmers increase productivity, AMREF has helped villagers in Katine start working towards a better future. Villagers have already experienced changes in their quality of health and education as a result of greater income stability. Finishing its final year, the project has helped to immunize more than 15,500 children against diseases and the percentage of children under five who have contracted malaria has dropped to 54.9 percent. Additionally, school enrollment has gone up. Agriculture has also been integrated into the curriculum—6,000 trees and citrus seedlings were provided to schools for them to teach students about growing fruit. The fruit from the trees also provides students with nutrition during the school day. Students believe that the fruit tree program is helping, “”when I am hungry, I feel like I want to go to sleep”, explains Patricia Asio,a  primary school student in Katine. It is a big difference to have food,” Patricia concludes.

Graham Salinger is a research interns for the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Canadian Parks to Integrate Farming

By Kamaria Greenfield

Forestry and agriculture were once seen as two mutually exclusive functions of land, with the presence of one meaning the total absence of the other. Ecologists saw the development and cultivation of farmland as a force working against their attempts to preserve valuable tracts of untouched land.

For a century, Canada's national and provincial parks have had untapped potential for small-scale agriculture. (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

But now, in many of Canada’s national and provincial parks, specialists are realizing that small-scale agriculture and forestry can exist side by side—and that they may even benefit from one another. Forests help protect crops from pest infestations and the spread of airborne plant diseases. In turn, agriculture helps contribute to forests’ sustainability by providing food for nearby populations. This is especially true for forests located on the outskirts of urban areas, where locally grown food can be brought to market with very low transportation costs.

Parks Canada, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, has decided to convert Rouge Park into an urban national park. It will cover 4,700 hectares of land, stretching from Lake Ontario in the south to two towns nearly 35 kilometers north. One thousand  hectares of this has been set aside for agriculture, according to Alan Wells, chair of the Rouge Park Alliance. Of particular importance, this area is just northeast of the Greater Toronto region, making it an ideal choice for farmers who want to help feed the city.

Better yet, some of this designated farmland will be available to community garden projects and small farming operations. There are also collaborations underway with FarmStart, a non-profit Canadian organization whose mission is to support a new generation of small farmers. Already, FarmStart has a 20-hectare incubator farm on lease in Rouge Park, where, for up to five years, farmers can stay, work, and learn holistic methods of raising crops. According to the website, “The goal of the New Farmers Incubator Program is to foster the development of fully independent and sustainable agricultural enterprises that supply local markets.”

Canada currently has 42 national parks and hundreds of provincial parks, many of which have enormous potential for the development of sustainable agriculture.

Kamaria Greenfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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UN Expert Asks World Leaders to Crack Down on Non-Communicable Diseases

By Sheldon Yoder

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food is calling on world leaders not to miss the chance to crack down on bad diets. “Our food systems create sick people,” Olivier De Schutter said. “Failure to act decisively on this issue kills almost 3 million adults each year.”

Approximately 80 percent of non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease, occur in the developing world (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

De Schutter, who is a contributing author to State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, calls for the adoption of a host of initiatives, such as taxing unhealthy products, regulating harmful food marketing practices, and standing up to the food industry.

“It is unacceptable that when lives are at stake, we go no further than soft, promotional measures that ultimately rely on consumer choice, without addressing the supply side of the food chain,” De Schutter said.

Low- and middle-income countries often face a double burden of undernutrition and overnutrition, but while these nations receive a great deal of attention for high malnutrition rates, researchers and policy makers have paid less attention to the prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart, cardio-vascular, and respiratory disease, as well as type II diabetes.

Nourishing the Planet reported on last week’s seminar by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that addressed the alarming rates of NCDs in developing nations. Once perceived as threats only to developed countries, these conditions actually afflict a higher proportion of people in poorer areas of the world, with as many as 80 percent of NCD deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

De Schutter warns against a failure to act decisively at next week’s General Assembly meeting that will attempt to map out a global response to non-communicable diseases. This is only the second time that the U.N. General Assembly will discuss a health issue in one of its high-level meetings. The first meeting addressed HIV/AIDS and produced the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS: Intensifying Our Efforts to Eliminate HIV/AIDS,” which was subsequently adopted by the U.N. It is hoped that the upcoming summit will also bring about agreement on a strategy document to address the prevention and control of NCDs worldwide.

Globally there are approximately 1 billion overweight individuals, with 300 million of those classified as obese. Approximately 36 million people die each year from NCDs. On the other hand, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that there are 1 billion undernourished people worldwide.

Sheldon Yoder is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Get Pumped (Hydro) for Wind Energy in Haiti

Worldwatch researchers recently returned from Haiti as a part of the Energy Roadmaps for the Caribbean Project. One exciting idea that grew out of our meetings with government, utility, and private sector officials is the potential for wind and pumped-storage hydro systems on the island of Hispaniola.

A wind and pumped-storage hydro system is an old technology with a new twist, and it is a technology that is being explored on several small islands around the world.

A model of the wind and pumped-storage hydro system on El Hierro (Source: ThomasNet News and Gorona del Viento El Hierro)

For the past half century, countries including the United States have used excess electricity from fossil fuel and nuclear power plants during periods of low power demand to pump water uphill to be stored in reservoirs as potential energy. Then, when demand peaks the reservoirs are opened, allowing water to pass through hydroelectric facilities to generate the needed electricity to meet power demand.

Today, El Hierro, a Spanish island off the coast of northwestern Africa, is developing a wind and pumped-storage hydro system to help it become the first independently 100 percent renewable-powered island in the world. The system will work by connecting five wind turbines with a total rated capacity of 11.5 megawatts (MW) to a pumped-storage hydro plant with a rated capacity of 11.3 MW. When wind generation exceeds power demand on the island, the excess electricity will be used to pump water from a low reservoir to a high reservoir situated in a 556,000 cubic meter (m3) volcanic crater. Then, when wind generation falls short of meeting the island’s power demand, water will be released from the high reservoir to a hydroelectric facility, helping to generate electricity and meet the island’s power demand. The water used in this system comes from three desalination plants connected to the wind turbines. The pumped-storage hydro system is also a closed-loop system, meaning that the same water is recycled through the system over time.

This sounds like a great fit for El Hierro, but could a wind and pumped-storage hydro system be applicable to Haiti?

One reason why this technology is so exciting for Haiti is because of the similarities between Haiti and El Hierro. Historically, each island’s (or a third of an island in Haiti’s case) lack of traditional energy resources has led it to become dependent on imported diesel fuel for electricity generation. This has made both islands vulnerable to fluctuating oil prices and supply. One goal of El Hierro’s project was to free itself from such a heavy dependency on outside sources for fuel. El Hierro – with a population of only 11,000 – estimates that implementing this system will allow it to avoid importing 40,000 barrels of oil per year and emitting 18,700 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. If Haiti – a country with more than 10 million people – could implement this system on a larger scale, it could go a long way in helping it to lower its dependency on imported fossil fuels and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Another benefit of this system is the services provided by the desalination plants. For El Hierro, desalinated water is used for the pumped-storage hydro system as well as for irrigation and residential use. In a country like Haiti, where half of its citizens lack access to clean water, such a system could increase access to fresh water in addition to energy. Additionally, as more than half of the country’s land is dedicated to agriculture, these desalination plants could provide a much needed consistent supply of irrigation water. Irregular rainfall and high levels of soil erosion have impeded large-scale irrigation projects as there is a lack of reliable and un-polluted water for irrigation.

The geology of Haiti is also well-suited for pumped-storage hydro systems. Haiti comprises the very mountainous western third of the island of Hispaniola. Therefore, it consists of several locations of steep elevation change, ideal for high head and effective pumped-storage hydro systems.

Wind and pumped-storage hydro systems also address some of Haiti’s greatest energy issues. In general, due to low capacity factors and a weak grid infrastructure, Haiti’s energy demand often eclipses its energy supply. Moreover, during Haiti’s dry season, it is often less capable of meeting its energy demand due to lower hydropower production. In Port-au-Prince – Haiti’s capital and largest city – available generating capacity falls from 90 MW in the wet season to 45 MW in the dry season due to a lack of available rain water for hydro production. A wind and pumped-storage hydro system could offset hydro capacity losses during the dry season and help to mitigate Haiti’s difficulties with meeting energy supply.

Despite the potential for wind and pumped-storage hydro systems in Haiti, there are barriers the nation will need to overcome. The logistics of such systems in Haiti will be more difficult than they have been in El Hierro. Besides having to power a population more than 900 times the size of El Hierro’s, Haiti will also need to invest considerable time into seeking ideal system locations, as finding extinct volcano craters conveniently located next to good wind resources is not as simple as one may think.

Nevertheless, wind and pumped-storage hydro systems present an exciting opportunity for Haiti. If Haiti can find suitable locations and generate the necessary funding for these projects, it will mark a significant step toward securing a more consistent energy supply while lowering its greenhouse gas emissions.

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“Transforming Jane Doe’s Diet:” Critical Issue Report offers solutions

By Isaac Hopkins

A recent Critical Issue Report from The Organic Center (TOC) focuses on the benefits of eating a healthier diet. The report’s author, Dr. Charles Benbrook, follows “Jane Doe” as she eats her way through two days, first her “before” diet of pizza and apple pie, and then her “after” diet centered on fresh, organic produce.

A new Organic Center report focuses on the diet of Jane Doe. (Image Credit: The Organic Center)

The report emphasizes that “even relatively modest changes in diet can dramatically alter long-term health outcomes.” By decreasing her daily calorie intake by just ten calories, Jane Doe is able to prevent the 0.8 pounds that the average American adult gains each year. She also more than tripled her intake of fruits and vegetables, while decreasing her consumption of pesticide residues by choosing organic produce.

The report points to the importance of awareness and access to quality information as keys to making healthy choices. Pesticide residues are of particular concern for women who are planning on having children, and the benefits gained by sound decisions now, the report notes, tend to be passed from one generation to the next.  To facilitate those decisions, TOC presents two new tools, the Dietary Risk Index (DRI) and the Nutritional Quality Index (TOC-NQI). Both can be used to evaluate individual foods, as well as an entire diet.

“Awareness is growing that more disciplined and data-driven food choices can tip the odds toward sustained, good health,” according to the report. The Organic Center’s “hopeful message” is that Americans now have the tools that they need to make simple adjustments in their diet that will help them, and their children, live healthy, fruitful lives.

Isaac Hopkins is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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IFPRI’s seminar on “Leveraging Agriculture to Tackle Non-communicable Diseases” anticipates UN high level meeting

By Isaac Hopkins

On September 7th, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) hosted a seminar and panel discussion about the role that food and agriculture research can, and should, play in the high level meeting of the United Nations General Assembly on September 19-20. It was a continuation of their large “Leveraging Agriculture for Improving Nutrition and Health 2020 Conference,” held in New Delhi, India, this past February.

IFPRI's seminar last week is a continuation of their conference in New Delhi this past February, focusing on leveraging agriculture to improve global health. (Image Credit: IFPRI)

Last week’s seminar addressed the alarming escalation of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in developing nations. Once perceived as threats only to developed countries, conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and cancer actually afflict a higher proportion of people in poorer areas of the world. As many as 80 percent of deaths in developing countries are caused by NCDs.

“We’ve got a gap between evidence and policy,” explained Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University in London during his presentation. He discussed how the seeds of today’s problems were sown 70 years ago, when policy makers established the concept that the best way to fight malnutrition and increase health would be to produce more grain. The developed world certainly did increase raw production, but “this doesn’t fit the 21st century,” said Dr. Lang. We now know that a focus on overproducing a select few grains has many drawbacks for the health of consumers, especially those in poverty.

Dr. Lang suggested a complete system overhaul, in which our agricultural and health policies are solidified into a comprehensive global food system solution, rather than the current detached “bits of what is needed.” He stressed that “health as a lobby is very weak,” and must get better organized. Any response to our broken food system should focus on the entire structure rather than just the farm or store. And, he says, we should emphasize healthy and sustainable vegetables more than meat or dairy, or as he put it, “plants in the middle of the farm, plants in the middle of the plate.”

Rachel Nugent, from University of Washington’s Department of Global Health also spoke. She advocated a shift in focus from individual nutrients or simple calories toward dietary quality as a whole. This would ease the “double-burden” on those trying to combat NCDs, where half of the risks to developing countries’ health come from over-eating, and the other half come from under-eating. According to Nugent, solutions that address only one or the other will ultimately not curtail the $30 trillion estimated loss from the global economy caused by NCDs.

Derek Yach, Senior Vice President of Global Health and Agriculture Policy at PepsiCo, provided a perspective from the private sector. He emphasized that large corporations like PepsiCo still account for only a small percentage of food in developing nations –the top ten corporations combined provide only 12 percent of packaged food, for example. This decentralized food distribution system necessitates cooperation between private companies of all sizes, not just internationals. He stressed the importance of linking individual farmers to markets and technology as a means of meeting nutritional demands, not just calorie demands, of those countries, as well as establishing food supply reserves.

Dr. Yach analyzed some of the ways in which the private sector may be able to help solve the problem of NCD prevalence in developing countries, including decreasing reliance on sodium and palm oil in products. PepsiCo, for example, has substantially decreased sodium in most of its products. He pointed, however, to several unsuccessful lines of goods that were intended to provide health benefits as an illustration that consumer demands ultimately drive markets, and “without profits we can’t make [necessary] changes.”

The upcoming United Nations’ high level meeting is only the second ever to focus on a health issue (the first focused on communicable diseases – HIV/AIDS – in 2001). Many view this as an opportunity to shift focus and funding toward NCDs.  To see videos of all three presentations, follow this link. Click here for more information on the UN high level meeting. Check out our blog from this past February’s New Delhi conference here.

Isaac Hopkins is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Tune in to 24 Hours of Reality

The Climate Reality Project is hosting 24 Hours of Reality, an event that is taking place all over the globe from September 14 to 15.

Photo credit: Climate Reality Project

A multimedia presentation created by former Vice-President Al Gore will be delivered by local environmental activists once per hour for 24 hours, representing every time zone around the globe. Each hour people living with the reality of climate change will connect the dots between recent extreme weather events — including floods, droughts, and storms — and the human-caused pollution that is changing our climate. The organizers hope that this will inspire global action to solve the climate crisis.

Click here for times and locations for viewings closest to you.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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