Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Nov29

White House Report Highlights Importance of Reauthorizing Farm Bill

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Earlier this week, the White House Rural Council released a report highlighting the economic importance of reauthorizing the Farm Bill, the United States’ primary food and agriculture policy tool.

The Farm Bill can impact food prices, environmental conservation programs, and international trade. (Photo Credit: wlfarm.org)

The bill—which impacts food prices, environmental conservation programs, international trade, agricultural research, food and nutrition programs, and the well being of rural communities—has been stalled in congress for over a year, in part due to disagreement over reductions to the food stamp program. House Republicans aim to cut $40 billion in food stamp funds over the next 10 years, while Senate Democrats aim to cut only $4 billion.

According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, failure to pass the bill before the end of the year could double milk prices for Americans, spark retaliatory tariffs from Brazil, and leave livestock producers who have been hit by storms and drought without standard federal assistance.

The Obama Administration’s report, which urges Congress to reauthorize as soon as possible, highlights the potential benefits of a new Farm Bill. According to the Administration, the new bill could:

  1. Build on recent momentum of the U.S. agriculture economy, a key engine of economic growth;
  2. Continue federal conservation efforts, working alongside a record number of farmers and ranchers to conserve soil and water resources; (more…)
Oct06

Working for a Fairer, More Sustainable Food System: An Interview with Shiney Varghese

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Nourishing the Planet’s Catherine Ward  spoke recently with Shiney Varghese, a senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) who leads the organization’s work on global water policy. Ms. Varghese focuses on water availability, its impact on water and food security, and local solutions that emphasize equity, environmental justice, and sustainability.    

Shiney Varghese is a senior policy analyst at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. (Photo Credit: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy)

How do you define “sustainable agriculture”?

Sustainable agriculture has come to mean different things to different people these days. To many, sustainable development or sustainability is simply about ensuring resource sustainability, primarily through improving resource use efficiency. Too often, that answer relies much too heavily on technological solutions. I find such an understanding of sustainability rather reductionist.

True, given that most of the resources we need to sustain ourselves in this world are not renewable, resource recovery and efficient use of resources has a crucial role in achieving sustainability, provided that these processes do not end up having higher environmental footprints. But this in itself cannot address the issue of sustainability. There is another equally important component: equity.

In an understanding that simultaneously emphasizes equity and efficient use of resources, the achievement of ecological sustainability involves limiting our consumption today so that it is not at the expense of consumption of people in other spaces today, nor at the cost of environment or future generations. Sustainability means we have to efficiently use our share of the world’s resources to meet our livelihood needs.

Thus to me sustainable agriculture would go beyond improving resource use efficiency to uphold peasants’ right to land, water, and genetic material—including their right to say ‘no’ to bio-pirates or legitimating bio-prospectors—and will help realize food sovereignty of ordinary people. (more…)

Sep26

Norway Invests $23.7 Million to Ensure Crop Diversity in a Changing Climate

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Earlier this week, the government of Norway pledged US$23.7 million to conserve and sustainably manage some of the world’s most important food crops, citing the critical need for crop diversity at a time when populations are soaring and climate change is threatening staples like rice and maize, according to the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT).

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault harbors nearly three-quarters of a million seed samples from around the world. (Photo Credit: GCDT)

“In just 10 years we will have a billion more people at the global dinner table, but during that same time we could see climate change diminish rice production by 10 percent with a one-degree increase in temperature,” said Marie Haga, executive director of the GCDT. “Our best hedge against disaster is to make sure we have a wide array of food crops at our disposal to keep harvests healthy in the bread baskets of the world.”

Crop diversity, which is conserved in farmers’ fields and genebanks around the world, has dwindled as farmers have steadily cultivated a narrower range of crop varieties and as genebanks have suffered from insufficient funding. Meanwhile, a recent study of the 29 most important food crops revealed severe threats to over half of their wild relatives—species that can hold valuable traits for plant breeders.

Worldwide, agriculture depends on a relatively small number of crops; only about 150 are used on a significant scale. Individual crops, such as the 20,000 varieties of wheat, have different traits for drought or heat tolerance, nutritional quality, disease resistance, and other characteristics. Today, much of the world’s crop diversity is neither safely conserved nor readily available to scientists and farmers who rely on it to safeguard agricultural productivity, according to the GCDT. Limited crop diversity could prove dangerous in the context of climate change, as extreme and unpredictable weather events place unprecedented pressures on our ability to grow the food we need. Diversity is being lost, according to the GCDT, and with it the biological basis of our food supply.

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Sep15

Winona LaDuke: Protecting Wild Harvests Through the White Earth Land Recovery Project

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By Devon Ericksen

“The recovery of the people is tied to the recovery of food, since food itself is medicine; not only for the body, but for the soul, is the spiritual connection to history, ancestors and the land.”

Winona LaDuke in Recovering the Sacred

Winona LaDuke and the White Earth Land Recovery Project are working to protect wild rice, a sacred part of Anishinaabeg culture (Photo Credit: Star Tribune)

A graduate of both Harvard and Antioch universities, Winona LaDuke is the author of six books, winner of numerous prestigious awards, and two-time Green Party candidate for U.S. vice-president. But what she is most proud of is her Native American heritage.

LaDuke is a member of the Anishinaabeg tribe and Founding Director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project (WELRP), which works to recover the land base of the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota and to restore land stewardship practices, such as the protection of traditional crops and sacred seeds, within the community. This return to healthy, indigenous foods is sorely needed in the U.S. Native American community: 39.6 percent of Native adults are obese, compared to 27 percent of whites, and 25 percent of Native adults in Minnesota have been diagnosed with diabetes, compared to about 7 percent of white adults.

One of the indigenous foods that LaDuke and the WELRP are working to protect is wild rice, a sacred part of Anishinaabeg culture. Wild rice is the only grain native to North America, found mainly in the Great Lakes region. It is higher in protein than other grains and contains numerous vitamins. The Anishinaabeg people have used sustainable harvesting methods for generations, relying on canoes and beater sticks to collect the ripe seeds.

(more…)

Sep04

Innovation of the Month: Aeroponic Technology

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By Carolyn Smalkowski

As the world’s urban population continues to grow, the demand for food in urban areas continues to expand. To meet this demand, urban agricultural innovations are sprouting up in countries and communities around the world. Aeroponic farming—the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil—is one such innovation.

Aeroponic farming—the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil—can help to meet rising demand for food in urban areas. (Photo Credit: The Young Agropreneur)

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), aeroponic systems allow for clean, efficient, and rapid food production. In aeroponic systems, crops, which are isolated from seasonal change, can be planted and harvested year round without interruption and without contamination from soil, pesticides, and residue. And because aeroponic growing environments are clean and sterile, the chances of spreading plant disease and infection are less common than in soil-based systems. As a result, aeroponic farming systems can yield high-value crops—such as leafy greens, herbs, and micro-greens—quickly and reliably.

According to AeroFarms, a producer of aeroponic systems in Ithaca, New York, aeroponic production is superior to conventional and greenhouse production for a variety of reasons: the produce does not require washing after harvest; can be delivered fresh to stores and restaurants on a daily basis; has a shelf life of 3 to 4 weeks; offers year round seasonality; has a faster growth cycle; and does not need to be treated with pesticides.

When asked about the benefits of aeroponics, AeroFarms’ Founder and CEO Ed Harwood said, “What I plant is what I harvest, so I can predict what I’m going to have two or three weeks from now, which is much more difficult when the circumstances aren’t controlled.” For farmers whose livelihoods depend on successful harvests, the control and predictability associated with aeroponic production can be a major boon.  (more…)

Aug29

Cities Can Work with Farmers to Meet Growing Need for Water

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By Sophie Wenzlau 

As world population grows, meeting the demand for clean freshwater can be a serious challenge, especially for arid and semi-arid cities such as Los Angeles and Dubai. According to a report published in Water Policy earlier this year, cities around the world are struggling to access the water they need to support continued growth.

Half of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 are located in water-scarce basins. (Photo Credit: Business Insider)

According to UN Water, world population is projected to grow from 6.9 billion in 2010 to 8.3 billion in 2030 and to 9.1 billion in 2050. At the same time, urban population will increase by 2.9 billion, to a total of 6.3 billion in 2050, as a result of urban population growth and movement into urban centers. Growth in cities has led to a dramatic increase in urban water use; since 1950, global water use in cities has increased five-fold as a result of increasing domestic and industrial demand.

To meet the growing demand for water, many cities—such as San Antonio, Adelaide, Phoenix, and San Diego—have had to supplement the use of local water resources with significant water imports from major rivers or aquifers. As a result, urban water use has contributed to the depletion of many important freshwater sources, such as the Colorado, Yellow, and Amu Darya rivers, and resulted in significant ecological damage.

In response to increasing water scarcity, some cities are promoting innovation, efficiency, and conservation in water use. For example, the city of San Diego—which is largely dependent on the depleted Colorado River—has taken steps to promote conservative use of local water resources and decrease reliance on imported water by diversifying local water supplies. In San Diego, these measures have included the development of a water recycling system, a desalinization system, urban conservation policy, and, most notably, an urban-rural water conservation partnership in which the city compensates farmers in surrounding areas for implementing agricultural water conservation measures.

According to Water Policy, San Diego’s agricultural conservation partnership is an innovative model worthy of consideration by other cities, for “half of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 are located in water-scarce basins, and in these basins agricultural water consumption accounts for more than 90 percent of all freshwater depletions.” San Diego’s model is innovative in that it frees up water for metropolitan consumption by addressing inefficiencies in the region’s most water-intensive sector. According to the San Diego County Water Authority, agricultural conservation measures are expected to provide 37 percent of city water supply by 2020.

(more…)

Mar14

Readers’ Responses: Curbing Food Waste to Improve Human and Environmental Health

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In our February newsletter, we wrote about the environmental and humanitarian consequences of food waste. Worldwide, 30 to 40 percent of all food produced is either lost or wasted between the stages of production and consumption. We asked readers to send us their ideas on how to curb food waste, and we got many thoughtful and innovative responses.

Many readers responded to our February newsletter about how to reduce food waste. (Photo credit: Zero Waste Europe)

Some of our readers who own or work on farms wrote about their methods of recycling excess organic matter. Jan Steinman of Vancouver, Canada, wrote: “I live on a co-op farm, and nothing is wasted. We have a ‘three bucket’ system in the house. What people don’t want goes in the goat bucket, as appropriate (vegetable trimmings, etc.). If it isn’t suitable for the goats, it goes in the chicken bucket (moldy bread or cheese, cooked grains or legumes, etc.). Finally, if neither humans nor goats nor chickens will eat it, it goes into compost.”

Noting that many readers do not raise their own goats or chickens, Jan added, “If they go to a farmers market, they can surely find someone who will put their ‘waste’ to a higher use.”

For farmers who have more produce than they can sell or eat, organizations are cropping up to help get this food to hungry consumers. Peter Burkard wrote, “Here in Sarasota, Florida we have a food gleaning project run by Transition Sarasota which saves food from the fields that would otherwise go to waste and donates it to the local food bank.”

(more…)

Mar11

Argan Oil: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most people have heard of the health benefits of using olive oil instead of butter or other saturated animal fats. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and as a result nutrition experts have touted it and other aspects of the Mediterranean Diet as heart healthy.

Photo Credit: Jane Alexander

But olive oil isn’t the only celebrated oil from that region of the world. In Morocco, argan oil has been consumed by the Berber people for centuries. Berbers add the deep yellow, toasty-flavored oil to couscous, serve it alongside bread, or eat it on its own. Argan oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and recent research by France’s Institut Pasteur, Morocco’s Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory, and others suggests that it might contribute to the prevention of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Beyond the health benefits of consuming argan oil, there are also important environmental benefits associated with its production. The same deep root systems that make argan trees well adapted to heat and frequent drought in southwestern Morocco also protect the land against soil erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, argan trees provide shade and protection for crops or pastureland, presenting opportunities for agroforestry.

Arguably, however, the most noteworthy impact of argan oil production is social. This rare oil has captivated a global audience, primarily because of its use in cosmetics. As a result, market prices have been on the rise (making it the most expensive edible oil in the world), and argan oil producers—largely local Moroccan women—have been reaping the benefits.

Because the process of extracting argan oil is extremely labor intensive (it can take 50 kilograms of seeds to produce just half a liter of oil), the women who produce it by hand are frequently part of production co-operatives, such as the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie). Founded in 1999, this innovative co-operative produces and markets argan oil and is supported by the Moroccan government as both a conservation and development strategy. Today, the UCFA unites 22 smaller women’s co-operatives. The women who make up these groups gain status, a steady income, and, in some cases, an education through their work.

Yet the argan oil boom has been a double-edged sword. Argan trees and the area in which they grow are threatened by overuse and deforestation. A study by the University of California, Davis finds that “the boom has predictably made households vigilant guardians of fruit on the tree, but it has not incited investments in longer term tree and forest health.” While the development of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Morocco is a step in the right direction, it will be both economically and environmentally critical for the same non-governmental groups, development agencies, and government offices that supported argan oil production in the first place to keep sustainability in mind.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project.

 

Feb22

New Reports Reveal the Human and Financial Costs of Large-Scale Land Acquisitions

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By Laura Reynolds

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of groups working for the rights of rural people to access and use their local natural resources, recently released two reports on the state of large-scale land acquisitions and investments, also known as land grabs.

Activists protest against ‘land grabbing’ in 2011. (Photo credit: Andreas Solaro, AFP/Getty Images)

The reports looked at the financial risk associated with international land investments and gave an overview of the setbacks and progress made in land tenure during 2012.

Investors, often from foreign countries, have turned to land development in recent years because of the high profits that can be made from activities such as mining, industrial food production, logging, and production of rubber or biofuels. But these investments often come with high costs as well, according to a December report from RRI. In addition to the human rights abuses and environmental destruction that can coincide with large-scale land acquisitions, investors can face an increase in their operational costs of as much as 2,800 percent.

The report, “The Financial Risks of Insecure Land Tenure: An Investment View,” profiles five foreign land investments that failed because of a lack of transparency or legality, resulting in financial hardship for the investors. In 2005, the Swedish ethanol producer SEKAB attempted to purchase 400,000 hectares in Zanzibar, Tanzania, to cultivate biofuel crops, but public outcry and the company’s failure to follow policy and environmental protocols led creditors to adandon the project and forced SEKAB to sell its assets at a loss of over $20 million.

In Grand Cape Mount, Liberia, the Malaysia-based multinational Sime Darby, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, had planned to develop 220,000 hectares for oil palm and rubber plantations after signing a 63-year concession with the national government. But land tenure disputes and large-scale rioting have repeatedly disrupted operations, putting the project’s long-term feasibility at risk.

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Feb19

An Interview with Tilahun Amede: Improving Water Resource Management in the Nile Basin

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In October 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke with Tilahun Amede of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). ICRISAT aims to empower people living in drylands around the world to overcome poverty, hunger, and a degraded environment through better agriculture.

Tilahun Amede, systems agronomist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. (Photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

For the past several years, Dr. Amede has been involved in research-for-development projects on rainwater management strategies in the Nile River Basin. He has worked for the International Water Management Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute to lead the CGIAR Challenge Programme on Water & Food’s Basin Development Challenge for the Nile.

Dr. Amede has also worked as a senior research fellow at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and as an assistant professor at Hawassa University in Ethiopia. He has been making a valuable contribution to the fields of agronomy and water management in Africa for over 20 years, and has published more than 40 papers in peer reviewed journals.

What is a “Basin Development Challenge,” and what makes these research programs effective?

Each Basin Development Challenge (BDC) works at the river-basin level to identify one big agricultural challenge. Research then focuses on developing interventions that can improve livelihoods and ecosystem services in ways that benefit all countries in the river basin. BDCs emphasize collective action and cooperation to achieve these goals. In the drought-prone Nile basin, rainwater management has the potential to increase agricultural productivity and improve water access for all member countries.

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