Archive for the ‘Green Revolution’ Category

Feb26

Agricultural Population Growth Marginal as Nonagricultural Population Soars

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The global agricultural population—defined as individuals dependent on agriculture, hunting, fishing, and forestry for their livelihood—accounted for over 37 percent of the world’s total population in 2011, the most recent year for which data are available. This is a decrease of 12 percent from 1980, when the world’s agricultural and nonagricultural populations were roughly the same size. Although the agricultural population shrunk as a share of total population between 1980 and 2011, it grew numerically from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people during this period.

The world’s agricultural population grew from 2.2 billion to 2.6 billion people between 1980 and 2011. (Photo Credit: UNDP)

Between 1980 and 2011, the nonagricultural population grew by a staggering 94 percent, from 2.2 billion to 4.4 billion people—a rate approximately five times greater than that of agricultural population growth. In both cases growth was driven by the massive increase in the world’s total population, which more than doubled between 1961 and 2011, from 3.1 billion to 7 billion people.

It should be noted that the distinction between these population groups is not the same as the rural-urban divide. Rural populations are not exclusively agricultural, nor are urban populations exclusively nonagricultural. The rural population of Africa in 2011 was 622.8 million, for instance, while the agricultural population was 520.3 million.

Although the agricultural population grew worldwide between 1980 and 2011, growth was restricted to Africa, Asia, and Oceania. During this period, this population group declined in North, Central, and South America, in the Caribbean, and in Europe.

In 2011, Africa and Asia accounted for about 95 percent of the world’s agricultural population. In contrast, the agricultural population in the Americas accounted for a little less than 4 percent. Especially in the United States, this is the result of the development and use of new and innovative technologies as well as the increased use of farm machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems that require less manual labor.

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Jan08

Reforming Energy Subsidies Could Curb India’s Water Stress

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By Alyssa Casey

Water scarcity is a global problem, as demonstrated by the recent droughts across the U.S. Midwest and the Horn of Africa. And it is projected to become increasingly widespread in the coming years: the 2030 Water Resources Group estimates that by 2030, one-third of the world’s population will live in regions where demand for water exceeds supply by more than 50 percent.

Energy subsidies in India perpetuate inefficient water use in agriculture. (Photo Credit: Kolli Nageswara Rao)

The rapidly growing and urbanizing global population will need more natural resources, especially water, to feed and sustain itself in the coming years. The effects of climate change will only exacerbate water scarcity. A rise in sea levels will increase the salinity of already-limited freshwater resources. Changing weather patterns will further polarize rainfall levels around the world: according to climate experts, many wet regions will see more rain and increasing flood risk, while many dry regions will experience less rainfall, increasing the frequency of drought.

India’s water woes

Although water scarcity is a global concern, some countries, such as India, are more affected than others. Home to 1.2 billion people, India struggles to feed 17 percent of the world’s population with just 4 percent of the world’s freshwater resources. More than 85 percent of India’s villages and over half of its cities rely on groundwater for agriculture, domestic use, and industry, but overuse has resulted in sinking water tables. Despite relative scarcity, India is the largest freshwater user in the world.

Water levels of India’s dams are falling to record lows. According to an analysis by NASA hydrologists, India’s water tables are declining at a rate of 0.3 meters per year, and between 2002 and 2008 more than 108.37 cubic kilometers of groundwater disappeared—double the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir. Decreasing levels of dams and rivers could lead to political conflict within the country, as well as conflict with neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan.

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Oct20

New Rice for Africa: Shades of Both a Green Revolution and Food Sovereignty

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Daniel Bornstein is a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in Anthropology and Environmental Studies. A contributor to Nourishing the Planet and PolicyMic.com, he is currently studying in the Gambia with St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Promoting Educational and Cultural Exchange program.

The New Rice for Africa variety has become part of the debate over whether a Green Revolution is the best approach to ensure food security in Africa (Photo Credit: Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research)

JAMBUR, The Gambia—The dissemination of the high-yielding New Rice for Africa (NERICA) seeds has sparked contention that is a microcosm for a central debate in global agricultural development: does Africa need its own Green Revolution, an effort that 50 years ago saw dramatic productivity increases through the use of new crop technologies in Asia and Latin America?

NERICA, developed by 2004 World Food Prize winner Dr. Monty Jones, is being promoted by the Africa Rice Center mainly in West African countries where rice is a staple food. It is a cross between an Asian variety, responsible for the high yield, and an African variety, which ensures its local adaptability.

West African governments have touted NERICA as a hallmark of a new Green Revolution and as a path to boosting rice self-sufficiency, especially after the 2008 food price spike exposed the dangers of import dependence. On the other side, advocates of “food sovereignty”—centered on farmers’ control over food systems—have voiced strong opposition. The advocacy organization GRAIN has labeled NERICA a “trap for small farmers” who will become vulnerable to expensive chemical fertilizers and seeds, a situation widely cited by critics of the 1960s Green Revolution.

What I’ve found in Jambur, which in 2002 became the first Gambian village to access the new crop, is a much more nuanced picture, one that in fact incorporates elements of each side of the debate. This suggests what a tactical misstep it would be for food sovereignty loyalists to completely remove themselves from engaging with a new variety just because it has become embedded in the discourse of a new Green Revolution.

I have observed, in one respect, an outcome that reveals the dangers of making small-scale farmers dependent on high-input seeds: the expensive price of chemical fertilizer. Farmers here say that in most years they have applied fertilizer at the rate of 4 bags of NPK and 2 of urea per hectare, the amount recommended to them by the National Agricultural Research Institute. But this year fertilizer’s price has jumped and they are cutting back usage by more than half, and seeing yields shrink as a result.

Here lies the problem with the notion that higher yields alone will end hunger in developing countries. A standard mantra talks about addressing the “yield gap” whereby resource-poor farmers are achieving lower yields than farmers of the same crop in the world’s most productive regions. But the yield difference is due in large part to the inability of African farmers to access the very inputs that enable such high production in wealthy countries. So boosting yields simply to close a “yield gap” may involve jeopardizing farmers’ own livelihoods, which is not the right path for agricultural development, especially since it is small farmers themselves who are the most vulnerable population.

Despite that downside, alternative food movements can find in NERICA a characteristic that is a pillar of their agenda: ‘seed sovereignty,’ or farmers’ right to save their own seeds, as opposed to having to purchase seeds. Unlike the hybrid seeds of the Green Revolution, farmers can harvest and re-plant NERICA every season. In Jambur, they are trained on how to harvest the highest quality seeds by the village’s resident farmer expert on NERICA, Omar Bojang, who claims that “nobody in The Gambia knows more about NERICA” than himself—a sign of the farmer-to-farmer knowledge dissemination that, it turns out, is also a top priority of food sovereignty folks. So as outspoken critical voices invoke Vandana Shiva’s notions of “biopiracy” to warn about the African Green Revolution’s erosion of farmers’ control over seeds, we would do well to remember that this simply doesn’t apply to NERICA.

If the movement for a new model for global agriculture becomes intent on attacking anything that has ever been praised by proponents of an African Green Revolution, then it risks missing opportunities to influence the implementation of new varieties in ways that benefit small-scale farmers. Nowhere is this idea better encapsulated than in anthropologist Glenn Stone’s concept of a “science of the gray.”

“This is an odd corner for researchers ethically committed to the welfare of Third World farmers to have painted themselves into—opposing potentially beneficial agricultural strategies or technologies because they might impede a complete transformation of the agricultural system,” Stone writes in a 2005 article. “If the complete transformation never comes, one has relinquished the ability to mitigate the excesses of the extant system.”

Applying this wisdom to NERICA, we must realize that the thrust toward another Green Revolution, associated as it is with some of the most powerful institutions in the world, isn’t going away any time soon. But there are ways to “mitigate the excesses”—pushing for more research on agro-ecological production, and training farmers in seed production and in farmer-to-farmer dissemination.

I’ve heard the argument from activists that playing by the rules of the pro-Green Revolution institution risks co-optation and ultimately dissolution of reform movements. But I’d say that contributing to the prevailing system—no matter how strongly you disagree with its underlying ideals—can actually raise the profile of alternative models, if only because you’re given the space to demonstrate their success.

So as the debate over an African Green Revolution continues to rage, it’s important to keep in mind that the reality will almost certainly lay in the “gray” area, rather than exactly matching one side’s ideological perspective.

In your own work, where have you encountered examples of the “gray” area that may characterize new agricultural technologies? Share them with us in the comment section below.

 

Sep01

We Need a New Paradigm for Investments in Agriculture

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By Renatto Barbieri and Daniel Bornstein

Renatto Barbieri is the Portfolio Manager of the Galtere Global Agribusiness Fund (Galtere is a financial investment advisory firm based in New York). An agronomist by training, Mr. Barbieri has 20 years’ experience in commodity trading, structuring, financing, investment, and business development.

Daniel Bornstein is a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in anthropology and environmental studies. He has written articles on global food security for Nourishing the Planet, PolicyMic.com, and College News Magazine.

A growing social movement, led by a large number of sustainable farmers all over the world, is fighting daily in order to bring nutritious, clean produce to our tables (Photo Credit: Kyle Woollet)

The most recent price report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned of climbing food prices, a worrying reminder of the precarious state of the global food situation. Whenever corn and soybean prices climb in the various exchanges, investors—in the form of finance companies, pension funds, university endowments, trading companies, seed processors, fertilizer and chemical manufacturers—rush to take advantage of perceived bottlenecks in agricultural production in order to extract a monetary gain. Unfortunately, most of them will have contributed to accelerating the destruction of some of our most precious natural resources and the livelihood stability of rural communities all over the world.

Little notice is paid to the fact that over 90% of soybeans are dedicated to animal production and industrial uses, a figure acknowledged by the United Soybean Board, which is charged with maximizing profit opportunities for U.S. farmers. A large amount of corn finds its way into ethanol production, industrial foods and animal feeds.

In response to rising demand for meat in developing countries, Brazil has converted the Cerrado region into massive soybean plantations.  The notion that the land is simply being “transformed” is a convenient euphemism for this disaster: continued tree felling, local communities’ displacement, the depletion of water resources, and soil degradation—all for the purpose of export production, not local food consumption. Brazil has become one of the world’s largest users of chemical fertilizer, standing as the world’s second-largest importer of phosphate and potash fertilizers, according to Corn and Soybean Digest. This leaves farmers susceptible to international price volatility and exacts a heavy toll on the environment.

The Brazilian government’s initiative to boost domestic fertilizer production, in response to the price volatility issue, only continues down this unsustainable path and distracts attention from alternative approaches. At the same time, vast sugarcane plantations for ethanol production—touted as an alternative to fossil fuel energy—are not only extending chemical-intensive agriculture, but displacing local food production.

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Jun21

Whoever Controls the Food System Controls Democracy: Vandana Shiva’s Take on the Profit-Driven Food System

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By Ronica Lu

On Thursday, June 28, the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project and the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition will release Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet in New York City. Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights a contributing author of Eating Planet, and shares his views on how to fix the broken food system. Tune in on the 28th via livestream: we will be taking questions in real time from the audience, from the livestream, and from Twitter and Facebook.

Vandana Shiva is also the founder and director of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource Policy. (Photo credit: BarillaCFN)

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition’s recent publication, Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet, features an interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva, an Indian activist and the founder of Navdanya—a movement for the conservation of biodiversity and rights of farmers.

According to Shiva, the rising number of hungry people, water scarcity, loss of biodiversity, climate change, and the loss of soil fertility are being caused by a profit-motivated model of farming. This model, which is practiced all over the world, tends to forget, she says, “the nutrition of the soil and nourishment of the people, and essentially produces non-food,” such as maize and soybeans. This non-food, according to Shiva, becomes junk food which perpetuates obesity and chronic disease and contributes to environmental problems.

Developing countries should act now to prevent climate change and disease from getting worse by treating small farmers as valuable social capital, according to Shiva. Small farms produce a large share of healthy food, she says, including indigenous vegetables and grains. If small-scale farmers imitate the large scale industrial farming of the West, says Shiva, livelihoods of farmers will be destroyed along with food security.

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Jun12

Irrigation Innovator Honored at World Food Prize Ceremony

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By Laura Reynolds

The World Food Prize Foundation announced this morning that Dr. Daniel Hillel of Israel will receive the 2012 prize, for his work in improving irrigation techniques in arid regions. The announcement was made at the World Food Prize Laureate announcement ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Daniel Hillel will receive the 2012 World Food Prize. (Photo credit: USDA)

Dr. Hillel was honored for his work in microirrigation, an innovative irrigation method that applies water in small, continuous amounts directly to plants. Many traditional methods of irrigation, including soaking fields during a region’s wet season and allowing them to dry out during the arid season, are relatively inefficient in both crop productivity and water conservation.

The food prize council also recognized Dr. Hillel’s commitment to intercultural understanding and collaboration; he has worked to spread his irrigation technique to farmers in 30 countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, Sudan, and Palestinian communities.

“Dr. Hillel has emulated Dr. Norman Borlaug’s approach to building understanding through confronting hunger and poverty,” said Ambassador Kenneth Quinn, President of the World Food Prize Foundation.

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May16

John Foley’s TED Talk Calls Agriculture “The Other Inconvenient Truth”

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By Cameron Scherer

When asked to identify the greatest threats to our 21st century lifestyle, most of us would likely choose war or economic crisis over farming. But according to Jonathan Foley, Director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, agriculture is in fact the “single most powerful force unleashed on this planet since the end of the Ice Age.”

The Aral Sea used to be a source of irrigation and fish. Today, as a result of intensive agriculture, only a fraction of its original volume remains. (Photo credit: http://www.mirutadelaseda.com/)

In an online video of his recent TED Talk “The Other Inconvenient Truth,” Foley speaks in depth about the havoc modern agriculture is wreaking on our global environment. He says the Earth is running out of available land for farming. Today, we devote 16 million square kilometers – an area the size of South America – to croplands, and 30 million square kilometers – an area the size of Africa – to pasture for livestock. Together, this acreage comprises 40 percent of Earth’s land surface, an area 60 times greater than urban and suburban land combined.

As agriculture expands into deserts and other arid climates, our global demand for crops is putting a huge strain on our fresh-water resources as well. Seventy percent of the water we consume goes towards agriculture. Looking at it a different way, we use enough water to fill 7,305 Empire State Buildings every day.

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Mar15

UN Calls for More Greenbacks to Grow Green Agriculture Globally

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By Philip Newell

Recently, the United Nations Development Policy and Analysis Division (UN DPAD) released their annual World Economic and Social Survey. This report calls for an increase in government support to aid small-scale farmers and reduce environmental damage from conventional agriculture.

Drip-irrigation systems, like this one in Niger, use significantly less water than conventional sprinklers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The report finds that the Green Revolution practices of the last century have had harmful effects on the environment, leading directly to land degradation, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. But supporting small-scale farmers, according to the report, can encourage the use of local innovations and experience, and mitigate the consequences of conventional agriculture. “Evidence has shown that, for most crops, the optimal farm is small in scale and it is at this level that most gains in terms of both sustainable productivity increases and rural poverty reduction can be achieved.”

According to the report “global food production needs to increase by 70 to 100 percent from current levels by 2050,” but this increase does not need to come from a doubling of the acres of farmland currently under production. Instead, investments in transportation and storage could reduce the amount of food that is wasted. A reduction in post-harvest losses—the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates a 50 percent loss of crops globally—could ease pressure on farmland already under production by maximizing the utility of their current yield.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of worldwide water use. Any significant increase in conventional agriculture could exacerbate looming water shortages because conventional irrigation systems are usually inefficient —up to 40 percent of water pumped never reaches crops. By employing drip irrigation and other watering techniques, such as a buried clay pot system that stores water and treadle pumps, farmers can improve agricultural yields while decreasing water consumption.

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Oct14

Agricultural Development Key to Ending Hunger in Africa

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In this interview with Roger Thurow, senior fellow at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, he discusses the need for effective agricultural development for smallholder farmers in Africa as an important step in eradicating hunger in the region.

Name: Roger Thurow

Affiliation: Senior Fellow for global agriculture and food policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Location: Chicago, IL

Bio: Roger Thurow joined The Chicago Council on Global Affairs as senior fellow for global agriculture and food policy in January 2010 after three decades at The Wall Street Journal.  He is the editor and principal contributor to the Council’s Global Food for Thought blog, part of the Global Agricultural Development Initiative. For 20 years, he served as a foreign correspondent, based in Europe and Africa.  His coverage of global affairs spanned the Cold War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela, the end of apartheid, the wars in the former Yugoslavia and the humanitarian crises of the first decade of this century – along with 10 Olympic Games.  In 2003, he and Journal colleague Scott Kilman wrote a series of stories on famine in Africa that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting.  Their reporting on humanitarian and development issues was also honored by the United Nations.  Thurow and Kilman are authors of the recent book ENOUGH: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.  In 2009, they were awarded Action Against Hunger’s Humanitarian Award.

Photo credit: Luther College

The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing a devastating famine. What factors contributed to this famine, and what needs to be done both in the short term and long term to help those that are suffering? 

Conflict and drought have precipitated this famine.  The long-running conflict and turmoil in Somalia has crippled agriculture activity, disrupted markets and displaced many, many people.  This has spread hunger across a wide area of the country, forcing refugees to flee into neighboring countries.  Add to this a devastating drought throughout the Horn and famine was sure to follow.

Emergency food aid has been pouring into the region, which is necessary to feed the swelling ranks of the hungry and save countless lives.  But we also need to display similar urgency in addressing the desperate need for agricultural development.  This isn’t an either/or proposition.  We must do both emergency food aid AND agriculture development.  Emergency food aid won’t prevent the next crisis; only agricultural development can.

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Sep29

De Schutter calls for local agroecology and accountability in food systems

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By Isaac Hopkins

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future hosted the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Professor Olivier de Schutter.

Olivier de Schutter has been the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food since 2008 (Photo Credit: Penn State University)

De Schutter linked our current food system problems to the “green revolution” of the 1960’s, during which the focus of agriculture in countries like Mexico, China, and India was on sheer production and providing inexpensive food for urban areas. This had a catastrophic impact on the viability of small-holder farmers, dietary diversity, and the environmental conditions of the land. During the 1980s, governments began to pull away from agriculture, investing in industry, and leaving small-scale farmers to cope with market problems on their own.

Developing countries in particular are now suffering under a “triple burden,” says De Schutter, of under-fed people—malnourished people who get enough, but empty, calories; and over-fed individuals who suffer from weight-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardio-vascular disease. In Mexico, for example, 18 percent of people are food insecure and 70 percent of adults are overweight. De Schutter says that “we have no food crisis. We have a poverty crisis, we have an environmental crisis, and we have a nutrition crisis.”

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