PASA and Fair Food Philly present the first Philly Farm & Food Fest this Saturday

By Marissa Dwyer

This Sunday, Fair Food Philly and the Pennsylvania Association for Agriculture (PASA) are teaming up to host the first ever Philly Farm & Food Fest. Both non profits work to create a more sustainable local food system, linking farmers and consumers via a “farm to fork” mentality.

Image credit: Philly Farm & Food Fest

The Fest includes a number of workshops, presentations, and activities, all held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center Annex in Philadelphia. It aims to bring together farmers throughout the region, sustainable food businesses, food-focused organizations, and consumers, strengthening ties within the region’s food system. This event marks the start of the growing season, when consumers will now have abundant opportunities to buy local products.

Over 100 exhibitors will be participating. The list includes everyone from suppliers of earth-friendly potting soils and all-natural cleaning products to organic farmers’ co-ops and organic coffee roasters. This celebration of local goods and agricultural products highlights the strength of the area’s local food system, as well as the opportunities for its further growth both in the region and in other areas throughout the country. Exhibitors will be available to answer questions about their work, offer samples of their products, and there will be the opportunity to connect with farmers to sign up for community supported agriculture (CSA) memberships.

Admission to the Fest includes free entrance for all activities. These include an informative workshop by the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild, a class on artisan cheese tasting, and workshops where participants can plant seeds in reused containers. The Fest also includes an educational component. There will be a seminar on land use policy where the report Transforming Open Space to Sustainable Agriculture in Urban and Suburban Regions, commissioned by the Green Space Alliance and the William Penn Foundation, will be presented, followed by a panel discussion consisting of local leaders in food issues. There will also be presentations on saving seeds, tea infusions, and other food topics.

Following the Fest, there will be a Buyer’s Reception from 4:30 to 6:00 pm. This “industry-only” portion of the event provides the opportunity to connect with a large number of local farmers and food producers.

This event addresses the need to strengthen ties between consumers and farmers. Supporting local food systems can provide benefits for all, resulting in less strain on the environment for transport costs, lower prices and fresher products for consumers, and a higher value placed on producers, leading to a more ethical food system.

Marissa Dwyer 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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Going Solo or Going Multigenerational?

There has been a recent growth in living alone in the U.S. In fact, there are now more single Americans than there are nuclear families, with 1 in 7 adults now living alone. This is especially true for large urban areas like Washington, D.C and Manhattan where single people make up 50% of households.

In Eric Klinenberg’s new book, “Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone”  he disputes the idea that people living alone use more resources than people who are living together with family or friends. As he explains to Mother Jones:

“We need better research on this. People who live alone overwhelmingly tend to live in cities. They tend to live in apartments. They’re less likely to own cars. As individuals, on a per capita basis, their carbon footprint is surely lower than people who live in large detached single-family houses.”

The Greenest Spot in Manhattan (image courtesy of Magnus Nordstrom via Flickr)

So, while there might be benefits to living alone – this is probably only the case in really well-designed urban centers like Manhattan. Manhattanites, for example, use less gas and electricity than most US urban centers. But then again, being more affluent on average, its residents are still inclined to consume far beyond the planet’s means.

Let’s consider what Klinenberg doesn’t: multi-generational homes.

The number of multi-generational households rose 10% between 2007 to 2009 – driven largely by the recession. These households turn out to be a good way to cope with economic downturns, with multi-generational households having lower rates of poverty despite them having lower median incomes. As Erik Assadourian notes in “The Path to Degrowth in Overdeveloped Countries” multi-generational housing could also be an innovative answer to the ecological crisis because the more people in a household the more hands there are for green activities like home childcare, elderly care, cooking, and gardening. Many of these both reduce household costs (and bring new informal economic opportunities) while also reducing ecological impacts – no spinach is more sustainable than the spinach grown in place of the grass in one’s front yard.

U.S. government social marketing poster (from Library of Congress)

In fact, during World War II 40% of all vegetables consumed by households were grown in personal gardens. As Assadourian notes, “Gardening could reduce both household food costs and the ecological impacts of agriculture if people are taught food cultivation strategies that emphasize organic and integrated pest management methods. As climate change disrupts large-scale agriculture and as food-insecure countries ban the export of grain, backyard and community gardens could play a substantial role in food security and community resiliency.”

Of course there are downsides to suburban living where many multi-generational homes are located including commuting long distances, lack of public transport and larger homes. But that of course assumes that there are formal jobs in the consumer economy to commute too. Yet as Assadourian notes, the consumer economy is a model that can’t last too much longer.

While suburbs right now tend to be unsustainable, perhaps one day in the future they will once again be the self-sustaining, homesteading communities of the future, filled with multi-generational households bartering food, skills, and time. Indeed, it appears to be already happening in Greece, where the unraveling of consumer economy seems to be most pronounced.

Designing a Plan to Reduce Food Waste

Nourishing the Planet is collaborating with a team of graduate students at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Institute of Design (ID) to research the problem of global food waste. In February, the ID research team hosted a workshop in which participants shared photos and talked about their experiences implementing bottom of the pyramid projects in India, Thailand, and Africa.

An ID team member takes notes on a projected photograph of a Botswana farmer as Danielle Nierenberg shares her story. (Photo credit: ID)

This workshop, along with other design research and analysis methods, will be used to identify opportunities for addressing food waste in developing countries. Patrick Whitney, Dean of the Institute of Design, is the faculty adviser to the project. Whitney has published and lectured around the world on ways of making technological innovations more humane, the link between design and business strategy, and design for the bottom of the pyramid.

The result of the students’ work will be included in an upcoming e-book on food waste co-authored by Nourishing the Planet Director Danielle Nierenberg and journalist Jonathan Bloom. The report will highlight agricultural practices that aim to reduce post-harvest losses obtained through NtP’s existing research on food waste and insights from field experts.

Stay tuned for more updates on the report.

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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New Oxfam/AJWS Report Shows U.S. Food Aid Reform Could Save 17M Lives

By Alison Blackmore

Debates regarding the reauthorization of the 2012 United States Farm Bill are well underway in the U.S. House and Senate. This bill is widely known for dictating U.S. national agricultural policy, but it also contains provisions that steer the U.S. government’s global food aid programs. More than 65 million people worldwide received U.S. food aid in 2010, but a recently released report and infographic from OxFam America and American Jewish World Service (AJWS), shows that simple changes in U.S. food aid policy would allow the U.S. to respond to crises up to 14 weeks faster and lifesaving food aid could reach more than 17 million people, at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.

Infographic explaining inefficiencies in U.S. Food Aid programs. (Image credit: American Jewish World Services)

Current provisions in the U.S. Farm Bill impede the government from buying food from the local and regional markets, mandating that, in most circumstances, the government must use U.S. produced commodities in its Food Aid programs. Unfortunately this system tends to highly inefficient and wasteful. Oxfam and AJWS cited a 2012 study conducted by Cornell University which found that if the U.S. sourced its food aid from local and regional markets, there would be a 23 percent reduction in costs because transportation would be great reduced and the aid would reach the people in need significantly faster. It would also mean recipients would receive familiar and culturally appropriate food and the aid would not drive down the food prices in local markets, helping these areas become self-sufficient and less dependent on food aid in the future.

The U.S. administers much of its food aid through a process called monetization, where the U.S. government purchases food from the U.S., sells it in developing countries’ markets, and gives the money to development projects managed by US nongovernment organizations, who may or may not be involved in food aid. Research from OxFam and AJWS showed that not only are tens of millions of dollars lost between the cost of purchasing and shipping U.S. goods abroad, but local farmers are often undermined and hurt by the influx of cheap goods in their markets.  If the losses associated with this practice were eliminated, 2.4 million more hungry people could have benefitted from U.S. food aid in 2010.

These current regulations on U.S. Food Aid programs cost taxpayers up to $491 million per year, making reform of the Farm Bill both about helping millions of hungry people and spending American tax-payer dollars more wisely. But Congress can remove these unnecessary regulations in the Farm Bill, helping ensure food aid programs are cost effective, efficient, and help feed as many hungry people as possible.

To sign a petition urging Congress to reform U.S. Food Aid in the 2012 Farm Bill click here or here.

Alison Blackmore is a research assistant 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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Turn Off Your Lights for Earth Hour

On Saturday, March 31, hundreds of millions of people, businesses, and governments around the world will be turning off their lights in support of Earth Hour.

Join millions around the world as they turn off their lights this Saturday for Earth Hour. (Image credit: Earth Hour)

Started by WWF-Australia in 2007, Earth Hour encourages everyone to show their support for stopping climate change by turning off their lights for one hour on the last Saturday of every March. Since its inception, Earth Hour has helped raise awareness about climate change and overconsumption, and has inspired people around the world to work together for a better future.

Click here for more information on how you can participate.

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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Innovation of the Week: Fertilizer Tree Systems enrich soils naturally

By Isaac Hopkins

Among the most challenging long-term barriers to agricultural production and sustainability in Africa is poor and degrading soil quality. According to “Agricultural success from Africa: the case of fertilizer tree systems in southern Africa (Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe),” a report from the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, simple “Fertilizer Tree Systems” (FTS) can double maize production in soil that is low in nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient. A type of agroforestry, FTS incorporate nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs into agricultural fields, usually inter-planted with food crops. These trees take in atmospheric nitrogen and return it to the soil, where it serves as a nutrient for plants.

Nitrogen-fixing agroforestry is emerging in southern Africa as a major tool for renewing soil fertility and boosting yields. (Photo credit: Trees4Children)

Soil analyses by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and others in the 1980s revealed nitrogen to be a limiting factor in many African soils. In response, on-farm studies in the 1990s showed that FTS with the right species could increase crop yields with or without mineral fertilizers. FTS are much cheaper for farmers to implement than buying fertilizer inputs, and represent a more holistic approach to soil management. FTS scaling-up programs were broadly implemented about ten years ago, and in that time the number of small-holder farmers using these techniques has ballooned from a few hundred to more than 250,000 in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

FTS have proven most effective for small farmers who are able to devote the necessary labor and land more easily than the money needed for commercial fertilizer. By relying on naturally occurring systems rather than imports, agroforestry improves food security, bolsters biodiversity, and reinforces local economies. The introduction of a wider variety of plants to fields, for example, has been shown to increase diversity of the local ecosystem, which further augments the soil.

According to the report, FTS have generally been successful, but they are subject to regional variation. Some areas have found more suitable native nitrogen-fixers than others, and many regions have had little or no research to identify the best plants to use. The report also stresses that FTS do not provide all nutrients required by crops, so external inputs are frequently necessary to boost phosphorus and potassium. However, as nitrogen has been shown to be a limiting nutrient in much of southern Africa, sustainable production can be improved through the use of FTS, even without other fertilizers.

Farmers in southern Africa have shown themselves keen to embrace new innovations, like the FTS programs. As research and training continue, more small farmers will be able to produce more food in sustainable ways.

This is an innovation that requires no new technology, just new techniques and insight. What are some other examples that you’ve seen? Tell us in the comments!

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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Pump Up that Seawater! A Remix to Pumped-Storage Hydro

In a previous blog, I discussed the value of pumped-storage hydro systems, especially when it comes to integrating intermittent renewable energies like wind and solar into a power system. However, traditional pumped-storage hydro systems require two reservoirs of fresh water (one upper and one lower), which are not always available at locations that might otherwise benefit from an energy storage system. An exciting technology that tackles this problem – requiring only one on-land reservoir – and that has gained recent momentum is seawater pumped-storage hydro.

An aerial view of the seawater pumped-storage hydro system on Okinawa Island (Source: wastedenergy.net)

Seawater pumped-storage hydro works similarly to traditional systems. Excess electricity from fossil fuel, nuclear, or renewable energy power plants is used 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 turbines to generate the electricity needed to meet power demand. The main difference for seawater pumped-storage is that instead of having a lake, river, or some other source of fresh water serve as the lower reservoir, these systems pump salt water uphill from the ocean to a land reservoir above. This lowers the system’s fresh water footprint and greatly expands the potential for pumped-storage hydro worldwide because seawater pumped-storage is much less site-specific than traditional systems.

There is currently one seawater pumped-storage hydro system operating in the world, on the northern coast of Okinawa Island, Japan. The system began operation in 1999 and has the potential to generate up to 30 megawatts (MW) of power. The hydropower plant has a total head – the vertical distance, or drop, between the intake of the plant and the turbine – of 136 meters and the upper reservoir is located just 600 meters from the coast.

When engineers in Japan first began designing the system, they were faced with many challenges due to the system’s reliance on salt water and its unique interaction with the ocean. Special technologies were innovated and employed to deal with these barriers.

First, to prevent leakage of salt water into the surrounding environment, engineers included a rubber lining on the upper reservoir made from ethylene propylene diene monomer. In case the rubber lining fails, drainage pipes are equipped with seawater detectors and pressure gauges to alert system operators to salt water infiltration. If salt water leakage is detected, the pump system can be used to pump the salt water up through the drainage pipes back into the upper reservoir.

Corrosion of the equipment caused by salt water is also a concern. In response, fiberglass reinforced plastic (FRP) was used for the penstock – the pipe that carries water from the intake to the turbine – which prevents corrosion from seawater as well as the adhesion of marine organisms. These factors would otherwise decrease the system’s longevity and lower its efficiency. The generating turbine is made from austenite stainless steel, found to be the most anticorrosive of the stainless steel options tested.

Lastly, because this pumped-storage hydro plant interacts directly with the ocean, engineers needed to find a way to limit its impact on marine life. First, they built the discharge outlet in the immediate area with the least coral development. Then, to reduce the velocity of water reentering the ocean, and therefore the impact on the local ecosystem, engineers built a breakwater of concrete blocks around the outlet. This limits the discharge velocity to approximately 10 centimeters per second.

Although the plant on Okinawa Island is the only operating seawater pumped-storage hydro plant in the world, many similar systems have been proposed recently. In Glinsk, Ireland there is a proposal for a 480 MW seawater pumped-storage hydro plant. This plant would be able to accept approximately one-third of the excess electricity generated by the 5,000 MW of wind turbines expected to be in operation by 2020 according to Ireland’s energy plan.

In Lanai, Hawaii there is a proposal for a 300 MW seawater pumped-storage hydro plant. This project would be largely used to facilitate greater renewable penetration in Hawaii, as it would be able to store the excess electricity from 400 MW of wind that is proposed to come online in the future.

The benefits of pumped-storage hydro, in general, are great. Most importantly, it serves as a relatively cheap way to store excess electricity. This is especially important for renewable energies like wind, as often the wind blows late at night when power demand is low. Because these systems store energy, they also lower the need for peaking plants which are deployed to meet power needs during periods of high demand and often generate expensive electricity from fossil fuels.

Seawater pumped-storage hydro offers many additional exciting benefits. To begin, it requires little fresh water compared to a typical pumped-storage hydro plant, which is very important for many parts of the world where fresh water resources are scarce. Moreover, because only one reservoir needs to be created or exploited on land, seawater systems lead to less land-use change. This has climate implications as creating artificial reservoirs often leads to the destruction of carbon sinks through deforestation. It also permits greater flexibility in siting these plants, as only one suitable site for a reservoir needs to be found. This means that storage plants can be built closer to power generation plants, including renewables like solar and wind.

A majority of population centers are located on the coast, which makes seawater pumped-storage hydro systems a practical solution to the energy storage problem for many areas. Likewise, some of the world’s greatest renewable energy potentials – especially wind – are located on or just off the coast, which means that seawater pumped-storage hydro systems could be a great tool to integrate these resources into a reliable electricity system.

Overall, seawater pumped-storage hydro appears to be an exciting technology that increases the reach of an already successful technology. Especially for a region like the Caribbean, where Worldwatch is currently working with three governments to produce Sustainable Energy Roadmaps, it could be a practical solution to consider. With limited supplies of fresh water, tremendous renewable energy potential on and just off its coasts, and limited energy storage capability, seawater pumped-storage hydro could provide the Caribbean with tremendous benefits.

Matt Lucky is a Sustainable Energy Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

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World Scientists Tackle Food Insecurity

By Dr. Christine Negra

Dr. Christine Negra is the Secretariat of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.

Nearly one billion people in the world are undernourished, while millions suffer from chronic diseases due to excess food consumption. Global demand for agricultural products is growing and food prices are rising, yet roughly a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Climate change threatens more frequent drought, flooding, and pest outbreaks, and the world loses 12 million hectares of agricultural land each year to land degradation. Land clearing and inefficient practices make agriculture the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution on the planet.

Investments in sustainable agriculture, such as financial and technical assistance to improve smallholder food production, are needed to address food insecurity in the face of climate change. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Clearly, humanity must transform the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed in response to changes in climate, global population, eating patterns, and the environment. “To operate within a ‘safe space’ for people and the planet, we need to balance how much food we produce, how much we consume and waste and how much agriculture contributes to further climate change,” explains South African Commission Professor Bob Scholes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

To address these alarming patterns, an independent commission of scientific leaders from 13 countries released today a detailed set of recommendations to policymakers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change. In their report, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change proposes specific policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes, and degraded ecosystems. The report highlights specific opportunities under the mandates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Group of 20 (G20) nations.

Chaired by Sir John Beddington, the Commission draws upon the diverse expertise of its members which include senior natural and social scientists working in agriculture, climate, food and nutrition, economics, and natural resources in governmental, academic, and civil society institutions in Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

To understand the path forward, the Commission reviewed the major components and drivers of the global food system including the role of changing diet patterns; the link between poverty, natural resource degradation, and low crop yields; the need to address inefficiencies in food supply chains; gaps in agricultural investment; and the patterns of globalized food trade, food production subsidies, and food price volatility. The Commissioners concluded that humanity’s collective choices related to agriculture and food systems must be revisited if we are to meet our food needs and stabilize the global climate.

For each of their 7 major recommendations, the Commission’s final report characterizes the current policy landscape, the major opportunities for positive change and the roles that specific communities can play. These include treaty negotiators, global donors, agribusinesses, farmers’ associations, multilateral agencies, researchers, national governments, and others.

The report weaves together issues that have commonly been ‘stovepiped’ into different scientific disciplines, economic sectors, policy processes, and geographic regions. And it outlines a more integrated approach for dealing with the urgent, globally interconnected challenges. These multiple emergent challenges—food insecurity, climate change, increased competition for energy, water, degradation of land, and biodiversity—are connected in complex ways and demand an integrated management approach. Efforts to alleviate the worst effects of climate change cannot succeed without simultaneously addressing the crises in global agriculture and the food system and empowering the world’s most vulnerable populations.

“We must create an enabling environment for all stakeholders, from small farmers to national governments, to invest in the economic and environmental resiliency of their land resources,” reports Commissioner Professor Tekalign Mamo, state minister and advisor to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture.

The Commission’s Action points (full details elaborated in Final Report document)

1. Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies

2. Significantly raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade

3. Sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture

4. Target populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate change and food insecurity

5. Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating habits worldwide

6. Reduce loss and waste in food systems, particularly from infrastructure, farming practices, processing, distribution and household habits

7. Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions

For more information on climate change and food security, see: Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change, Community Livelihood Strengthens Food Security at Grass Root LevelFour Billions New Reasons Why Food Will Become a Local Government IssueBridging the Gap in Climate Change StrategiesAgricultural Development Key to Ending Hunger in Africa.

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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Update: Just Label It campaign reaches one million comments

In what could amount to a victory for consumer protection and corporate transparency, the Just Label It campaign has successfully reached its goal of one million comments in support of its petition to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),  which called on the agency to label all genetically engineered (GE) foods, including the controversial GE salmon.

Image credit: Just Label It

Americans do not currently have the right to know if their food is genetically engineered. But polls show that over 90 percent of them believe all GE foods should be labeled. Their reasons vary—including concerns over health and the environment, religious beliefs, and attitudes toward personal freedom—but the majority of Americans are united in their desire to be able to make informed choices regarding their food. Since its launch last October, the Just Label It campaign has provided resources and information on GE foods, including this infographic and this video by Food, Inc. director, Robert Kenner. Combined with the petition to the FDA, these efforts may help give Americans the right to know what’s in their food.

For more information on the Just Label It campaign and to learn more about GE foods, go to justlabelit.org.

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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Five Sustainable Innovations in Aquaculture

By Laura Reynolds

Aquaculture, or the rearing of fish in captivity, is the world’s fastest-growing protein-producing activity, with nearly 50 percent of all seafood being farmed rather than caught in wild fisheries. This rapid growth has provoked questions of sustainability in the global aquaculture industry, including how to handle the massive amounts of salt water being imported inland for fish farms. While researchers warn of dangerous overfishing and decline in the world’s wild fish population, aquaculture stands as a potentially sustainable alternative, and recent innovations promise to enhance the efficiency, safety, and sustainability of aquaculture while improving the lives of its fish farmers.

Fish farms like this one in Cote D’Ivoire can offer sustainable alternatives to fishing in the wild. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Today, Nourishing the Planet examines five innovations that are improving the sustainability of aquaculture around the world.

1. Integrating rice-and-fish farming: In many parts of Asia, rice farming provides a major source of income. Rice paddies and fish have long coexisted incidentally, since many fish species find their way into flooded rice fields and actually prefer the fields for reproduction and habitation. But, recently farmers have intentionally imported fish into their rice fields. The advantages of integrated rice-fish farming include a more productive and nutrient-rich rice crop, because fish increase the availability of phosphorous and nitrogen in soils; a reduction in disease-carrying aquatic weeds and algae, which compete with rice for nutrients but are a favored food among fish; and an extra source of income for farmers who can find markets for their fish.

Rice-fish farming in action: In Bangladesh, where approximately 80 percent of its total cultivable land is devoted to rice farming, two researchers from Charles Darwin University in Australia studied the benefits of integrating fish into rice cultivation in 2010. They found that for aman, the most popularly raised rice variety in Bangladesh, the yield was 12 percent higher in integrated systems than in rice monocultures, and fertilizer and pesticide inputs were reduced. In addition, another researcher from Shimane University in Japan found that rice-fish farmers had 5–11 percent higher revenue than farmers of rice monocultures.

2. Combating salmon lice with wrasse fish: The spread of disease in aquaculture poses a serious threat not only to farmed fish, but also to wild fisheries. Although one such disease, salmon lice, occurs naturally in the wild, salmon lice has been intensified by aquaculture because of its high concentrations and varieties of species—in some areas of Norway, for example, wild salmon and sea trout had 3-5 times more lice than what is considered to be a “fatal dose.” Furthermore, the lice can be transmitted from fish to fish or across large distances via currents, making the disease very difficult to contain. If aquaculture contributes to the incidence of a potentially fatal disease in wild habitats, then it may contribute to the collapse of global wild fisheries. For these reasons, scientists from Stirling University in Scotland are studying the effect of wrasse, a family of fish that cleans other fish of parasites and has been shown to help control lice in farmed salmon. If wrasse can effectively control the incidence of salmon lice, fish farms can reduce their use of medicines and other inputs, and limit their environmental impact.

Using wrasse to reduce salmon lice in action:  In September 2011 Scotland’s two largest salmon-farming operations announced a joint study with Stirling University in Scotland to determine the best species of wrasse to combat salmon lice. The companies are each investing nearly USD$700,000 to develop and grow enough wrasse to deploy in Atlantic salmon farms throughout Scotland.

3. Recirculating aquaculture systems: A form of aquaculture that has gained popularity in the last few years is called recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS. These systems recirculate the water used in the fish tank after flowing through a treatment tank, so they use up to 99 percent less water than other aquaculture systems. Because they are maintained in controlled environments, RAS can reduce the discharge of waste and the need for antibiotics or chemicals used to combat disease, as well as prevent fish and parasite escapes. RAS can also incorporate hydroponics, or the water-based cultivation of plants, because the plants thrive in the nutrient-rich water and actually help purify it for reuse. In addition, RAS are less damaging to the environment than many other aquaculture systems, such as open-ocean farms, because of their limited pollution and low demands for space.

RAS in action: Clifford Fedler, a professor of civil engineering at Texas Tech University, has taken the idea of RAS and created a system that can also treat wastewater and create biomass to be used as renewable fuel, potentially helping rural and underserved communities become largely self-sufficient. The systems use the wastewater to grow plants such as water hyacinth, which produces one of the highest biomass yields and is the fastest-growing plant in a hydroponic system. In 2004, the system was implemented in a Peruvian village, and it now turns human and animal wastewater into reusable fuel, providing electricity for cooking and lighting.

4. Using locally caught fish as feed: The question of how to feed fish raised in aquaculture operations is controversial. Many researchers, such as Rosamund Naylor and Marshall Burke from Stanford University, now estimate large-scale, industrial aquaculture to be a “net drain” on the world’s fish supply, meaning that farms raising larger fish such as tuna actually consume more fish in the form of ground-up feed than they produce for human consumption. In addition, farmers are increasingly cutting costs by feeding fishmeal to traditionally herbivorous fish. Aquaculture that relies on local supplies of fish to feed their fish stock could reduce the inputs of industrial operations.

Locally caught fish feed in action: Many tuna farms and “ranches” in Baja California rely predominantly on seasonal, locally caught Pacific sardine as feed. This alternative feeding method reduces many of the dangers of industrial aquaculture because the feed comes from natural populations, reducing the risk of introducing exotic species that could cause negative interactions with wild fish. In addition, the feed does not have to be processed and pelletized for transport, which greatly reduces the carbon emissions of these operations, according to Peter Tyedmers of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia.

5. Involving women in aquaculture: Women in developing countries can have a large role in small-scale, sustainable aquaculture systems because they are often charged with managing their family’s land while the men seek work in cities. Commercial aquaculture often replaces paddy fields or other agricultural activities in which women are traditionally involved. Because there is often bias against employing women in these larger aquaculture operations, the involvement of women in home-based aquaculture systems, such as backyard ponds, would provide them with a reliable source of income. These operations would also provide nutritional, monetary, and social benefits for the family and community.

Women in aquaculture in action: In a southern state of India, researchers from the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation are training 30 women to run home-based aquaculture operations, raising ornamental fish for sale. Ornamental fish were chosen as the crop because they require limited space, technical skill, and time, and can be sold at markets for around USD$9-14 per household, per month. The program linked women with credit, technology, infrastructure, training, job security, and trade, providing a powerful tool to improve the lives of women in poor, rural areas.

Do you know of any other sustainable innovations in the aquaculture industry? Tell us in the comments!

Laura Reynolds 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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