Five Indigenous Livestock Breeds You Have Never Heard of

By Sheldon Yoder

Approximately 21 percent of indigenous animal breeds around the world are in danger of extinction, according to the FAO. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Indigenous breeds of livestock have fed and clothed humans for thousands of years. Many of them have unique adaptations for survival in harsh environments and for tolerating specific diseases.

Regrettably, while it took millennia to create the rich genetic wealth of indigenous livestock breeds, that diversity is in danger of being lost forever as farmers are encouraged to switch to commercial livestock or cross-breed indigenous livestock with exotic breeds.

The following are five breeds of livestock in Africa whose genetic diversity deserves to be protected.

1. Ankole Cattle: The Ankole is a breed of cattle native to Eastern Africa that is not only beautiful but valuable because of its ability to survive in extremely harsh, dry conditions—a trait that is increasingly useful as sub-Saharan Africa becomes drier and hotter. These animals have striking, long, large-diameter horns, which help circulate blood and keep them cool in hot climes. The animals are renowned for their hardiness, allowing them to forage on poor quality vegetation and live off limited amounts of water.

The Ankole in action: The Ankole Watusi International Registry is working to establish the Ankole as a distinct breed. In partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Uganda’s National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank works with farmers to breed, select, and maintain distinctive herds of Ankole cattle. The Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA) is also working with pastoralists to ensure species like the Ankole remain part of their culture.

2. N’Dama Cattle: N’Dama is a breed of cattle that was domesticated around 8,000 years ago in what is now Guinea and has spread throughout West and Central Africa. The cattle are small and usually red- or brown-colored. N’Dama cows produce two to three liters of milk per day, a small amount relative to other breeds, but their meat is renowned for its flavor and low fat content. They are docile, heat and humidity tolerant, and can survive on poor quality feeds. The N’Dama’s resistance to trypanosomiasis—a widespread African cattle disease spread by the fly—allows it to survive where other animals perish without expensive antibiotics.

N’Dama in action: The International Trypanotolerance Centre (ITC) has launched an N’Dama improvement program in The Gambia. The program uses 400 breeding cows to select for higher milk-producing animals that retain disease-resistant qualities. Jules VAN LANCKER—a consulting firm operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo—in collaboration with ILRI, has used its herd of over 40,000 purebred N’Dama to breed desirable qualities without losing hardiness, such as average weight. According to ILRI, the company has increased average weight by 30 to 50 kilograms per animal.

3. Molo Mushunu Chicken: The Mushunu is a breed of chicken native to the Molo district of Kenya that has traditionally been raised by the Kikuyu people. The breed is prized for its size, its flavor, and brooding characteristics, such as the hen’s ability to lay a large quantity of eggs every month. The Mushunu has a unique appearance—with its large and elongated body and featherless neck and head, it won’t win any beauty competitions. Its meat, however, is tasty and its eggs, small with a bright brown shell and brilliant yellow yolk, are used to make pancakes and porridge. Perhaps most importantly, it packs a lot of meat onto one bird, with each chicken weighing between 6 to 9 pounds. The bird grows slowly and only reaches maturity between six and eight months. The chickens forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains and it is usually cooked to celebrate important festivals or the arrival of guests.

Molo Mushunu in action: The Molo Mushunu Presidium was created in 2009 to support local communities that raise the Mushunu chicken. The presidium is one of Slow Food International’s many Presidia around the world that work with producers of endangered foods, offering technical assistance to improve quality and provide access to new markets. The project has purchased equipment, such as incubators, and organized training on farming and selection methods for the 37 Presidium producers.

4. Red Maasai Sheep: One of the forgotten flocks of Africa, Red Maasai have been raised traditionally by the Maasai people. The sheep are found in northern Tanzania, south central Kenya, and Uganda. They are usually red-brown and, because their coat is formed of hair, not wool, they are raised primarily for meat production. The sheep are one of the only known breeds that are resistant to the US$1 billion problem of intestinal worms, which suck blood from the gut and leave sheep sick and anemic.

Red Maasai in action: Because geneticists believe their resistance to intestinal worms lies in a handful of genes that could be transferred to other breeds, the sheep are an example of African stock that could bolster other animals in the tropics and cooler climates. As a result, researchers at ILRI are helping Maasai livestock herders in East Africa to protect and catalogue the sheep’s genetic strengths, with the help of researchers from BritainAustralia, and other sheep-rearing countries. 

5. Zulu Sheep: Native to southern Africa, the Zulu sheep looks similar to a goat and has meat that is savory, flavorful, and lean. Agile and of medium-small size, the sheep is characterized by its small ears and a multi-colored coat made of hair, not wool. The sheep carries large fat stores in its tail and body, which are essential to its survival in an area that is a hot, drought-prone region. Thanks to its hardiness, this breed can resist many tick-borne diseases, allowing them to survive without the expensive medications that many other sheep breeds need. Unfortunately, the animals are on the verge of extinction due to replacement by imported breeds.

Zulu in action: Richard Haigh at Enaleni Farms of South Africa, in partnership with Slow Food International’s Zulu Sheep Presidium, has managed to source a small breeding flock of sheep with 8 bloodlines.  He has been sending blood samples to the South African National Research Foundation to help them build a DNA “hoof print” of what makes up a Zulu sheep. Ultimately, Haigh and the Presidium hope to safeguard the breed’s genetic diversity and resilience, establish a viable market for its uniquely flavored meat, and unify the remaining herders with the shared goal of preserving the Zulu sheep.

To read more about indigenous breeds of livestock covered previously by Nourishing the Planet, see Ankole: Regal, Hardy, and Declining Cattle BreedInnovation of the Week: Using Livestock to Rebuild and Preserve CommunitiesN’Dama: Ancient West African Cattle, and Bridging the Gap between Pastoralists and Policy Makers.

Sheldon Yoder is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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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Carissa: An African Fruit Could Become as Popular as a Cranberry

By Julia Eder

Carissa is a shrub, climber, or small tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall and it is cultivated for its plum-like fruits. The berries are used mainly for processed products such as jellies, preserves, or syrup, but they are also eaten fresh. They contain a little more vitamin C than oranges, and are also a source for other vitamins, including Vitamin A and B.

Carissa plants are easy to grow and packed with vitamins. (Photo credit: Josie’s Focus on Flickr)

The species that is mainly produced is Carissa Macrocarpa, or Natal plum, named after a region in Northern South Africa where it grows. There, it is locally called num-num. The Natal plum is a significant commercial resource in South Africa where farmers sell them along the roadsides every January and February.

Carissa can be difficult to grow because the plant exudes a milky sap when cut or broken, which aggravates harvest and transportation of the fruits because they can easily be damaged. And the berries have a short shelf life because the sap congeals.

Carissa is also a popular and cultivated hedge plant because of its thick, dark glossy green leaves, its thorns, and the fragrant white to pink star-like blossoms. It has even become a valued ornamental plant in California and Florida. There, some plants have been selected and reared to have fruits as big as oranges and are grown on a height above the thorny foliage to facilitate the harvest. With further horticultural advancement, carissa can be useful in at least a dozen nations within Africa and in other parts of the world for economic profit.

Carissa can be grown in multiple regions—there are about 30 species of carissa in the tropics and subtropics of Africa, Asia and Australia. Although most species of carissa occur in well-watered zones, some of them like Carissa haematocarpa, hold promise as a dry land crop. Carissa is also tolerant to extreme sunlight, shade, and salty soil. It is easy to grow and the productivity is high at about three tons per hectare, which is considered a minimal yield under commercial production in South Africa.

Not only is the crop a valuable source for nutrition, it can became a huge source of income for African farmers and has the potential to do well in a global market. As carissa tastes a little bit like cranberry, it could also be as commercially successful as the billion-dollar fruit, according to the National Research Council.

Do you think carissa could become as popular as a cranberry? Let us know in the comments!

Julia Eder is a media and communications 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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Elinor Ostrom’s legacy

In 2009, Indiana University professor Elinor Ostrom became the first and only woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, for her “analysis of economic governance, especially the commons.” Ostrom’s work focused on the institutional arrangements that govern common resources, such as water, land, fisheries, forests, and grazing lands. While many economists and political scientists favor top-down regulation as a way to prevent the “tragedy of the commons,” Ostrom’s research revealed the diverse frameworks that communities have developed to protect shared resources. Her findings emphasized that there is no single best practice to protect the commons.

American ecologist Garrett Hardin popularized “the tragedy of the commons” in his seminal 1968 paper of the same name, in which he demonstrated that it is in the individual’s best interest to exploit common-pool resources (CPR), but in society’s interest to use the resources sustainably. In recent decades, modern society has borne out many of Hardin’s dire predictions, as the world’s common resources continue to be exploited at unsustainable rates.

Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom (Photo via Flickr, by US Embassy Sweden)

The tragedy of the commons springs from the so-called “prisoner’s dilemma” in game theory econometrics. In this classic dilemma, two individuals fail to cooperate, even if it is in their overall best interest to do so. The game forces people to recognize the self-interest of some individuals, which may cause them to cheat the other players or the terms of agreement. When this betrayal occurs, the cheating individual actually diminishes benefits to all players.

While the traditional management methods of top-down legislation and privatization of CPRs are still widely used today, Ostrom’s work supports societies in managing their commons through innovative and efficient means, such as collective action and collaborative management. Ostrom and her colleagues showed through experimentation that increased communication among players in the prisoner’s dilemma game vastly improves outcomes for society, as cheating becomes less common. In CPR simulations, communication and sanctions have proven successful in sustainable resource use.

Although Ostrom stresses that there is no single panacea for management of the commons, she argues that an approach that uses varying layers of governance and inclusion is often the best method. In her book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Ostrom uses case studies to explore the success and failure of commons management. Through in-depth analysis of four case studies, including grazing land, forests, and irrigation, Ostrom develops eight design principles for commons management. She emphasizes defined boundaries, monitoring, graduated sanctions, mechanisms for conflict resolution, local knowledge and conditions, a polycentric approach, and collective choice arrangements that ensure flexibility.

In her Nobel Prize lecture in 2009, Ostrom cited numerous examples of successful CPR management around the world, much of it relying on community-based ownership, monitoring, and punishment, and challenging the traditional methods of top-down government legislation and privatization. In Nepal, farmer-governed irrigation systems were better managed than government systems, with farmer-governed systems better allocating water to farmers and increasing the agricultural productivity of the systems. Similarly, forest governance systems in various countries have demonstrated that community-based management yields more sustainable forests than government-protected forests do.

The Howth Fishing Fleet (Photo via Flickr, by infomatique)

Although local and regional CPR management has been largely successful, and collaborative management with a focus on community ownership and monitoring is becoming more widespread, governance of the international commons remains a great challenge. Local resources, such as a forest, are far easier to monitor than vast resources where boundaries are less clear and stakeholders are less likely to be held accountable for acts of cheating.

Examples of resources that transcend local boundaries are ocean fisheries, groundwater basins, and the atmosphere. Ostrom and her colleagues argue that each CPR must be examined individually to determine the measurability of the resource, the carrying capacity of the system, the spatial and temporal characteristics of the resource, regeneration speed, and technology used in production and consumption. Importantly, the relationship between the resource and its users must be understood in order to effectively establish regulations and governance systems.

Elinor Ostrom passed away on June 12, 2012, after battling pancreatic cancer. Her final article, published on the day of her passing, discusses the importance of the Rio+20 environmental conference that took place from June 20 to 22, 2012, and warns against a single international agreement on sustainability. She writes, “sustainability at local and national levels must add up to global sustainability. This idea must form the bedrock of national economies and constitute the fabric of our societies.” Ostrom argues for universal sustainable development goals with an emphasis on diversity in institutional design and implementation.

While Rio+20 may have failed to produce any major agreements, Ostrom’s rich body of work provides hope through the innovation and collaboration of stakeholders. Let us honor her legacy by working collectively to manage our greatest common resource, Planet Earth.

(Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns). 

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Crowd Sourcing Financial Solutions to Hunger: What Will the Policy Outcome Be?

By Ioulia Fenton

A recent FAO online forum invited suggestions and ideas on improving agricultural development. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Over the last few weeks, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) held the 81st online Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition. Drawing on 4,000 members from 170 countries and territories, the platform claims to allow “stakeholders such as academics, researchers, development practitioners, governments, and the civil society to actively participate in [key debates].”

The latest discussion, “Innovative financing for agriculture, food security and nutrition,” invited participants to comment on different Innovative Financing Mechanisms (IFMs) that have been suggested to complement Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) efforts in developing nations and come up with novel ideas of their own.

IFMs are mechanisms that lie outside traditional channels of funding (like ODA and private sector investment) that aim to reach under-serviced rural and poor populations. According to the FAO, they are needed now more than ever because, due to population growth and lifestyle change, the world’s food requirements are expanding at a time when ODA destined for agriculture is declining and private investment is found to be wildly lacking or even, at times, non-existent.

Thus far, around US$6 billion in additional funding has been raised through existing IFMs. These have included a mixture of public and public-private initiatives, including global taxes on everything from sugary drinks to deforestation; public-private investments in farming credit and produce marketing systems to support smallholder agriculture; and incentives for research and development such as public prizes to drive private sector innovation in agriculture. However, according to the Forum, the IFMs currently in use are not going far enough and improvement is needed if the world is to meet today’s global agriculture and food challenges.

The situation has been deemed so serious that, during its 9th Planetary Session in July 2011, the Leading Group on Innovative financing for Development, a group of 63 member countries of different levels of development that work alongside international and non-governmental organizations to promote the implementation of IFMs around the world, established an international task force to figure out how IFMs can help provide a much-needed boost to flagging agriculture and food security funding.

During the discussion, many participants provided possible financing mechanisms that they envision being useful to stimulate agricultural development and/or reduce global hunger. Building on his work in Latin America, José Luis Vivero Pol of the Belgian Université Catholique de Louvain, for example, suggested a debt-for-food scheme to “redirect debt swap schemes towards food security programmes.” Meanwhile, to incentivize financial institutions to provide banking and other services to groups that are usually considered too high-risk and low-reward, Muhammad Irfan Kasana of Agriculture Corner in Pakistan suggested a “collateral management model” to build trust between stakeholders.

Falana Adetunji Olajide from the Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria made the point that no one-size-fits-all solution will do, but a tailored country approach focusing on making the livelihoods of its citizens sustainable must take priority.

Since many of the proposed market-based remedies aiming to reach the lowest socioeconomic groups have not succeeded in the past, some participants pointed to the usually neglected aspects behind these failures. Referring to his previously published op-ed on the subject, Christian Chileshe from Three C Management, a development consultancy in Zambia, suggested that instead of doing the same thing whilst expecting a different outcome, what we really need is a “serious inquiry into the social and psychological dimensions of smallholder agriculture finance.”

Bhubaneswor Dhakal, a Nepalese Resource Economist, argued that communities have many ideas for their own alternatives, but these are ignored by such top-down approaches as the IFMs, which are not new at all, but are just “old wine in new bottles.”

Other participants questioned whether IFMs are even the right tool to be dealing with the problems at hand in the first place. “Maybe thinking of hunger as a global economic problem takes us down the wrong track. Suppose we look at the hunger issue at the level of families and small communities. With decent opportunities, and freed of exploitation by others, every family and every community would find ways to provide for itself,” said Professor (Emeritus) George Kent from the University of Hawaii.

These perspectives are very varied, illustrating the breadth of ideas that complicate the issue. Including them all in the task force’s final policy recommendation report will be difficult. The biggest issue will be balancing opinions that see IFMs as a valid solution. Building on the Forum and its crowd sourcing of financial solutions to hunger, the question is can the task force maintain a truly participatory model or will the end result be more business as usual.

Ioulia Fenton 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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Saturday Series: An Interview with Shirley the Baglady

By Carly Chaapel

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people that our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone? E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Shirley Lewis as Baglady. (Photo credit: Baglady Productions)

Name: Shirley “Baglady” Lewis

Location/Affiliation: Baglady Productions

Bio: Shirley Lewis is the founder of Baglady Productions, an organization that works with schools, individuals, and the government to put sustainable behavior into action. She is most well-known for her original campaign to say “no” to plastic bags.

You have become an icon for sustainability in Northern Ireland, Britain, Canada, and Australia. What inspired your campaign for sustainability, and why did you choose to literally become a “bag lady?”

We’re not living sustainably; it’s stirringly obvious. Our future is in danger, and we need to wake up to this quickly. I became the Baglady in 2001 in my first national campaign in Australia, called the National Plastic Bag Awareness Week. I had to go to a lot of meetings, and I invented the Baglady character out of boredom. It’s a very good image because our plastic bag usage is a world problem that we must solve without waiting for governments to pass laws. It’s an easily changed habit that is also really disgusting. And it fits in very well with my work now, which is living “ASAP,” or As Sustainably As Possible.

As part of the “As Sustainable As Possible” (ASAP) challenge, you are calling for everyone to take personal responsibility and action. Why is it so important to make individual pledges for more sustainable lifestyles?

It’s mainly because we don’t think enough about how we are wasting stuff in our lives. We’re not just living on the basics of survival with just enough air to breathe or food to eat. Most of us living in the Western world are high above the basics, and we’re used to our lifestyles. So what I’m doing is making a vow to do without some of that stuff. I am living without a refrigerator for a year, and I’ve given up a car, a television, a printer, and a cell phone. I use public transport and grow my own food where possible. I try to shop as sustainably as possible by avoiding packaging, and I’m very conscious of food miles. These are all really simple things that are gradually growing in public awareness.

What do you tell people who argue that it’s too late to save the world, especially through small changes?

I very rarely meet anyone who argues that it’s too late to save the world. I think with most people you need to talk a lot about the state of the world. People who say it’s too late don’t think about enough, and they are in denial. A small change makes you aware of one thing, and what’s more, it makes you feel good.

We don’t have the right to think it’s too late. We can’t look at our children and apologize for their future. First of all we don’t know, and second, we are being appalling parents if we do that. Everyone holds responsibility for the children of the community. Animals have always taught their young how to survive in the world and live sustainably. It’s a question of passing on knowledge, and that was severely broken in the twentieth century when labor-saving technology became overwhelmingly popular. Today, people are in a state of shock, or stupor.

Your work tends to focus on direct interaction with people, especially children. Why are children and young people essential to the ASAP movement?

Children have to go to school every day, and teachers have to fill the day with something that relates to the curriculum. That means children are getting guidance from wise and responsible teachers who are willing to learn and acknowledge that we are all human and can all make mistakes. Children are brilliant because they’ll do what the teacher wants, and they’ll also pester the teacher to do the same.

The spirit that we’ve engendered together in Northern Ireland has been absolutely brilliant. From September onwards, we will advocate Positive Pester Power (PPP) worldwide, and it’s already catching on. We will work with 760 schools in Northern Ireland that are part of the Eco-Schools program (which operates in 52 countries) and FEE, or Foundation for Environmental Education. Children are vital to this campaign because they are flexible, willing, imaginative, and caring enough to actually participate. Children have a wonderful way of making things simple, whereas adults spend more time explaining why they can’t do it. I think we’ll move through this problem with help from our children, and I’m immensely looking forward to working with Eco-Schools and FEE.

If someone wants to take the ASAP pledge to specifically eat more sustainably, what would you recommend as the most effective personal choices?

It’s about growing your own food wherever possible. Whatever you can’t grow yourself or get from your neighbors will have to come from the shops. The supermarket is the greatest evil of all time because it’s so impersonal and involves so many shortcuts that cost the planet. The most sustainable thing after producing your own is shopping ASAP. Ideally, this means buying locally grown or produced foods with minimum packaging and minimum food miles. It also means supporting smaller shops where you can take your own bags and containers. Be conscious of how much energy you’re using to cook and how much you waste. Try to compost and feed kitchen scraps to the chickens where possible. Ask yourself if you really need a freezer and try to buy less. Just think all the time and share what you learn with other people. I hope everyone will take the ASAP pledge.

What are your next steps as the leader of Baglady Productions?

Baglady appreciates all the wonderful praise and friendly responses, but she is always walking off stage because she believes that most of our problem is due to the fact that we experience pyramid consciousness. Because the sun is up in the sky, we all fight for our place at the top of the pyramid. The Baglady is about gently dismantling those pyramids and settling into waves where we all share the ups and downs in life and experience the natural joy when we are at our peak.

Our work with Eco-Schools and FEE is coming up in the near future. There’s an inspiring film called The Pledge on the Hill about children who have taken ASAP pledges to politicians, who now work to put those pledges into action. I’m very proud of the work by politicians in Northern Ireland, but I am appalled by those in Australia. All they are concerned about is moving up the ladder and winning the next election, and I’m sure it’s the same in America. We got the Northern Ireland politicians to take the pledge and choose their own local school to meet Baglady and connect with the children. It’s all about good news, good publicity for the politicians, and children knowing that they are really important.

I took a vow in 1995 to work for 20 years inspiring people to look after this beautiful planet, and so for the next 3 years I will continue my role as a leader. What this project has taught me is the depth of need to heal the human spirit. My only true hope is that we will be able to find this deep healing in time to stop the otherwise fairly inevitable collapse of the world. 

Carly Chaapel is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Read our other Saturday Series interviews: Kari HamerschlagMary McLaughlin, Bruce Melton, and Sarah Alexander.

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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The Raw Milk Debate

By Keshia Pendigrast

According to a study released in the February edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, published by the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention (CDC), raw milk and its products are a 150 times more likely than its pasteurized milk counter products, to sicken its consumers. Yet according to Food Safety News, over 10 million Americans demand access and the choice to consume unpasteurized, raw milk.

The legal status of raw milk around the country. (Photo credit: Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund)

In 1948 Michigan was the first state in the United States to mandate that milk be pasteurized and raw milk consumption was restricted to farm owners only. John Partridge, a Dairy Food Extension Specialist at Michigan State University, explains that “Pasteurized milk is when we cool milk down and then run it through a heat treatment system…. to destroy the most heat-resistant pathogen.” These include pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, which can cause extreme sickness and, in some cases, death.

But processes such as pasteurization and sterilization of milk also reduce milk’s nutritional value. For instance, sterilization significantly impairs the bioactivity of vitamin B6, while pasteurization reduces milk’s Vitamin C content and also destroys Beta-lacto globulin, a heat-sensitive protein that increases intestinal absorption of vitamin A. “Raw Milk didn’t make people sick, campylobacter did,” said co-owner of ‘Your Family Cow Farms,’ Edwin Shank, in a recent interview for Bloomberg. “That’s an important distinction. Whenever it’s raw milk, people want to vilify raw milk and say don’t drink it. They don’t say the same thing about cantaloupe of spinach or peanut butter.”

However, many state health officials maintain that relaxed regulations around raw milk would cause a lot more cases of E. coli, salmonella and other diseases. Twenty states in the US still ban raw milk in some form. According to a study conducted between 1993 and 2006 by the CDC, dairy caused 4,413 illnesses, 239 hospitalizations, and three deaths. State health officials determined that 60 percent of these incidents were linked to raw milk products. “Restricting the sale of raw milk products is likely to reduce the number of outbreaks and can help keep people healthier,” said Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, in a recent statement.

So what convinced over 10 million Americans to actively seek out raw milk?

Tolerance: In an informal survey of over 700 American families, the Weston A. Price Foundation determined that over 80 percent of those diagnosed with lactose intolerance no longer suffer from symptoms after switching to raw milk. Stanford University is also currently conducting more extensive research to determine if lactose intolerant adults can enjoy raw milk with minimal or no symptoms.

Health: The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology investigated the effects of continued raw milk consumption from a young age. Their study suggested that children who are exposed to raw milk at early stages in their life were less likely to suffer from asthma or hay fever.  Raw milk drinkers like retired University of Michigan pathologist, Ted Beals, said, “I absolutely, fundamentally believe that one reason why my wife and I drink fresh unprocessed milk is it’s nutritionally better for us.”

Flavor: Mark Bittman, chef and contributor for the New York Times, noted, “The milk—oh man, the milk!—was creamy and full of flavors, not white like supermarket milk, but yellow-tinged. It was milk with a taste that wasn’t just defined by its texture — it was distinct, satisfying, and delicious. All food should be like this, I thought, so natural it seems to redefine the word.”

Community and Environment: Raw Milk is almost exclusively produced and sold by small local farmers. The growing trend of supporting small local producers in favor of large food conglomerates is a phenomenon that reconnects consumers with their supply of food. Farmers are also held directly accountable for their food products. Products that are supported by grass fed cows are also far less likely to spread zoonotic diseases; such farms also protect biodiversity and produce fewer green house gases.

“Our personal feeling is that it’s a choice thing,” Beals says. “If people believe the food is better or tastes better, or want to get it from the farmer, they should be allowed to do that. The government shouldn’t restrict their access.”

Keshia Pendigrast is a Research Intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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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Meatless Mess: Politics and ‘Business as Usual’ Push USDA to Withdraw Endorsement of Meatless Mondays

By Seyyada A Burney

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) came under fire this week after an interoffice “Greening Headquarters Update” encouraged staff and cafeteria visitors “to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative,” reports a recent New York Times article.

Pressure from livestock groups and Republicans forced the USDA to withdraw support for Meatless Mondays earlier this week. (Photo Credit:

Meatless Mondays are part of a joint initiative by the nonprofit Monday Campaign Inc and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health that encourages switching to healthier, vegetarian meals once a week. The USDA newsletter also championed the environmental benefits of reduced meat consumption. According to the United Nations, the livestock industry is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. It also wastes resources, requiring 7,000 kg of grain to produce every 1,000 kg of meat.

Although endorsing Meatless Mondays would appear consistent with USDA objectives to promote sustainable agriculture, and better nutrition and health, responses by livestock producers and at least one member of Congress prompted the agency to withdraw support within hours of posting the newsletter. Iowa Republican, Representative Steve King, angrily tweeted: “USDA HQ meatless Mondays!! At the Dept. of Agriculture? Heresy! I’m not grazing there. I will have the double rib-eye Mondays instead.” A National Cattlemen’s Beef Associationspokesman added that it was “ a slap in the face of people who every day are working to make sure we have food on the table to say, ‘Don’t eat their product once a week’.” They also adamantly disputed the environmental benefits of vegetarian meals, claiming that the meat industry has become more environmentally efficient in recent decades.

Under increasing pressure, the agency retracted its controversial recommendations in an official statement, saying, “USDA does not endorse Meatless Monday.”  To this Peggy Neu, President of the Monday Campaigns, responded, “the USDA is right in the middle of dietary recommendations, so from our perspective it would be a terrific thing if they signed on. Or, I guess I should say, ‘would have been.’”

What do you think about the USDA’s lack of support for Meatless Mondays? Tell us by commenting below!

Seyyada Burney is a Research Intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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

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Widespread Effects on Food Prices Due to Severe U.S. Drought

By Katie Spoden

On Tuesday, the New York Times published an article describing the far-reaching consequences of the severe drought on food prices in the United States. The article summarizes the economic consequences of the drought due to the largely damaged corn and soybean crop in the Midwest.

A desperately dry corn field completely damaged in Nebraska. (Photo credit: Nati Hamik, Associated Press)

The U.S. Drought Monitor recently declared that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop is affected by the severe drought. Classified as the worst U.S. drought in fifty years, damaged corn and soybean crops will affect the prices of many more foods at your local grocery store. Corn, used in an enormous amount of products – as syrups, starches, and sweeteners – also constitutes the majority of feed for livestock. Nearly half of all corn production is used as livestock feed. Soybeans are also used in some animal feed and as dairy alternatives.

Because of lowered supply, corn is selling at $8 a bushel, a 50 percent increase from June prices. Soybeans are now selling at a record high of $17 a bushel, up four dollars from May. The increased prices may benefit farmers in the short run, but consumers will experience the aftermath of price increases in the form of more money spent on poultry, beef, pork and dairy products – the recipients of corn and soybean feed. Most immediate, poultry prices are expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent due to their faster growth and therefore more sudden response to higher feed prices. It is estimated that by November, dairy products will increase 3.5. to 4.5 percent, with eggs increasing 3 to 4 percent. Cost of beef is expected to increase 4 to 5 percent and pork 2.5 to 3.5 percent.

Prior to the drought, the United States Agriculture Department had estimated the 2012 growing season would produce a record high corn harvest. Currently, 45 percent of the corn crop and 35 percent of the soybean crop is rated poor or very poor. Despite major reductions in production, agricultural economists do not anticipate a major economic crisis for farmers due to the large crop insurance programs funded under the Farm Bill.

Read the New York Times article, “Severe Drought Seen as Driving Cost of Food Up,” here.

Katie Spoden is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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Climate Refugees: A Human Cost of Climate Change

Rezaul Karim Chowdhury is from Kutubdia, a Bangladeshi island in the Bay of Bengal. When Chowdhury was younger, the palm-dotted tropical island spanned 65 square kilometers, but rising sea levels and erosion have since shrunk it by more than half, to only 25 square kilometers. With their land and homes submerged, more than 40,000 residents of Kutubdia have fled to sandbars near the mainland town of Coxsbazar, where they endure slum conditions and the constant threat of eviction. Chowdhury manages a development organization on Kutubdia, and although he wishes he could help the island’s displaced people, he is forced to ignore their pleas, as he can offer no solution.

Villagers return to their homes after a flood in Bihar, India (Photo via Flickr, by balazsgardi)

As climate change intensifies, it will continue to displace vulnerable peoples, like those in Kutubdia, as sea levels rise and as extreme weather brings devastating floods, droughts, and other disasters. The London-based Environmental Justice Foundation reports that around 26 million people worldwide have already had to move due to the effects of climate change, a figure that could grow to 150 million by 2050. The group estimates that as many as 500 to 600 million people—nearly 10 percent of the world’s population—are at risk from displacement.

Villages in the Arctic are facing the effects of thawing permafrost, among other challenges. In Newtok, on Alaska’s western coast, the melting permafrost and rising sea expose the village to sanitation problems as local sewage facilities are damaged and the previously frozen earth becomes unstable, causing houses to collapse. Additionally, the village’s water supply is in danger of being contaminated by seawater. In the face of these dramatic challenges, the village is preparing for the future and has identified a relocation site nine miles south. But a lack of funding and coordination has made relocation and adaptation efforts difficult.

Extreme weather, encroaching seas, and desertification are the leading drivers behind the surge in “climate refugees” worldwide, commonly defined as those who flee their homes and ways of life due to factors related to climate change.

In Mongolia, an estimated quarter of the population has fled to shanty towns near the urban center of Ulan Bator to find work, as residents’ traditional nomadic existence is threatened by long, cold winters and desertification caused by climate change and overgrazing. Throughout Asia and Africa, millions of livestock have died in extremely harsh winters and dry summers. In the planet’s far northerly regions, reindeer herders are encumbered by swampy land and changing migration patterns due to altered freezing and thawing cycles.

Climate Risk and Resilience: Securing the Region’s Future (Photo via Flickr, by Asian Development Bank)

As climate change takes its toll around the world, global society is faced with the question of how to adapt to changing conditions, and how to assist climate refugees. Societies must also address issues of managing and allocating limited land and other resources as the human population increases, driving demand ever upward.

The border between India and Bangladesh, for example, is already an area of conflict, and the Indian government recently erected a 3,000 kilometer fence to keep climate refugees from migrating to India. While India argues that it does not have the capacity to accept these immigrants, Bangladeshis view India as one of their only refuges to escape the rising seas. Negotiations will be necessary to ensure that plans are in place for this large-scale movement of displaced people.

As more people become climate refugees, the world must provide humanitarian aid and legal protection to these people, who had little role in contributing to the problem in the first place. One of the tragedies of climate change is that impoverished and disenfranchised people will bear the consequences of actions executed by wealthy nations. Therefore, it is the responsibility of developed nations to mitigate the effects of climate change as much as possible.

(Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns)

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Innovation of the Week: Helping Individuals Make Sustainable Choices with Global Effects

By Jenna Banning

“The best way to keep forests standing,” according to the Rainforest Alliance, “is by ensuring that it is profitable for businesses and communities to do so.”

This ad encourages farmers to implement environmentally friendly and socially just practices. (Photo credit: Rainforest Alliance)

Rainforest Alliance is a non-profit organization established in 1986 that works with businesses and communities across the world, helping to promote environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The group focuses on rainforests, which support more than two-thirds of the world’s plants and animals as well as many farmers, but which are under threat from unsustainable forestry, deforestation, agriculture, and tourism practices. Approximately 50,000 square miles of the earth – roughly the size of Mississippi – is deforested annually in order to produce paper, lumber and foods for the global market. To combat this, Rainforest Alliance is working with farmers, forest managers, and tourism operators to encourage production practices for their goods and services which also protect the resources on which they depend.

Rainforest Alliance provides tools for environmentally friendly land, water, and labor management. For farmers, this means that they must meet standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network, the oldest and largest coalition of NGOs working to improve production in the tropics. Rainforest Alliance also strives to ensure that workers on these farms, and at all other Rainforest Alliance Certified ™ operations, are treated justly, receive decent wages, respectable housing and healthcare, and have access to education for their children. In addition, the organization works with local groups and communities to build tourism as an alternative to destructive activities such as slash-and-burn agriculture or illegal deforestation.

The adoption of these practices may not always be easy for farmers to implement, but the rewards are visible. According to Rainforest Alliance, “farmers tell us that meeting the criteria is a challenge, but doing so helps them farm intelligently, gain confidence, get ahead and plan for their futures.” After verifying that farms, forestry activities, tourist groups, or other operations are following their standards, Rainforest Alliance allows them to use seals—the Rainforest Alliance Certified ™, for farms and forestry businesses, or Verified ™, for tourism companies—which gives them better access to specialty buyers, contract stability, and premium markets. Improvements are also evident within the operations: according to Rainforest Alliance’s website, 98.9 percent of full-time employees on Rainforest Alliance Certified ™ farms earn wages above poverty level, over 28,000 children have received educational assistance, and in a study conducted in 2008, farmers in El Salvador working towards certification saw productivity rise by 78 percent.

Bringing these products to the market also helps consumers who want to support environmentally and socially just businesses. The Rainforest Alliance seal clearly marks agricultural or forest-derived products coming from Rainforest Alliance certified operations, informing consumers of where their money is going as well as raising awareness of the issues.

The next time that you pick up bananas, coffee, a piece of chocolate, or any other agricultural or forest-derived product with the little green frog seal, you can feel good that your purchase is helping to support businesses and individuals who are helping make the world more environmentally and socially just.

Jenna Banning is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.

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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