Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Dec20

Putting a Dollar Value on Food Waste Estimates

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By Carol Dreibelbis

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that about one-third—or 1.3 billion metric tons—of all food produced for human consumption goes to waste each year. While it is easy to recognize the enormity of this number, it is much more difficult to make sense of it in a useful way. An October 2012 study by Jean Buzby and Jeffrey Hyman of the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeks to make food waste estimates more meaningful by attaching a dollar value.

Research from the USDA finds that Americans waste an average of US$544 worth of food per person per year. (Photo Credit: biocycle.net)

The study measures the value of food loss in the United States at the retail (“supermarkets, megastores like Walmart, and other retail outlets”) and consumer (“food consumed at home and away from home”) levels. Findings indicate that US$165.6 billion worth of food was lost at these levels in 2008. This translates to the loss of an average of US$1.49 worth of food per person per day—totaling about US$544 per person per year—at the retail and consumer levels. At the consumer level, alone, the average American wasted almost 10 percent of the amount spent on his or her food in 2008.

Food losses on this scale are concerning, especially when viewed in the context of a growing global population. As the study explains, “The United Nations predicts that the world population will reach 9.3 billion by 2050 and this growth will require at least a 70 percent increase in food production, net of crops used for biofuels.” Considering that a reduction of food loss at the consumer and retail levels by just one percent would keep US$1.66 billion worth of food in the food supply, limiting food waste could play a major role in feeding future populations.

Food waste also places an unnecessarily heavy burden on the environment. The production, processing, storage, and transportation of food that ultimately goes to waste still consumes natural resources and other inputs, while also releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants that stem from the food system. For example, the study points out that the production of wasted food consumes over 25 percent of all freshwater used in the U.S. and around 300 million barrels of oil.

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Oct24

GM Crops Causing a Stir in Washington State, Mexico, and Hawaii

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Courts, councils, and voters across North America are weighing in on genetically modified (GM) crops this month.

Research on the health effects of GM crops is woefully inadequate. (Photo Credit: The Daily Mail)

In Washington state, voters are beginning to cast ballots in favor of or opposing Initiative 522, which would mandate that all GM food products, seeds, and seed stocks carry labels in the state. According to the initiative, polls consistently show that the vast majority of the public, typically more than 90 percent, would like to know whether or not the food they buy has been produced using genetic modification.

Initiative 522 is making big headlines. On October 16, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the initiative’s top opponent—the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—for allegedly violating campaign disclosure laws by concealing the identities of its donors. The lawsuit accuses the GMA, a D.C.-based food industry group, of infringing the law by soliciting and receiving contributions and making expenditures to oppose Initiative 522 without properly registering and reporting as a political committee, and of concealing the true source of the contributions received.

Days after Ferguson sued the group, the GMA agreed to name the companies that contributed to the $17.1 million campaign to defeat the initiative. High on the list are Pepsico, Coca-Cola, and NestleUSA, each having contributed more than $1 million. A more extensive list of donors, published by the Seattle Times, names General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Campbell Soup, The Hershey Co., and J.M. Smucker Co. as additional donors.

The fight to require labels on GM foods in Washington state is reminiscent of last year’s fight over Proposition 37—which also proposed mandatory GM labels—in California. According to California Watch, food and agribusiness companies, including The Hershey Co., Nestlé USA, Mars Inc., and Monsanto, contributed $44 million in opposition of Prop 37, while those in favor contributed $7.3 million. Although 47 percent of Californians voted in favor of Prop 37, it ultimately failed to pass.

Opponents of GM labeling have argued that the labels would imply a warning about the health effects of eating those foods, although no significant differences between GM and non-GM foods have been officially established. They also argue that consumers who do not want to buy GM foods already have the option of purchasing certified organic foods, which by definition cannot be produced using GM ingredients.

The initiative’s proponents, on the other hand, argue that GM labeling is about people’s right to know what is in the food they eat and feed their families. These groups argue that U.S. companies, which are already required to label GM foods in 64 countries around the world, should be required to provide the same information to shoppers back home.

“As things stand, you can find out whether your salmon is wild or farm-raised, and where it’s from, but under existing legislation you won’t be able to find out whether it contains the gene of an eel. That has to change,” wrote Mark Bittman, a food columnist for the New York Times. “We have a right to know what’s in the food we eat and a right to know how it’s produced. This is true even if food containing or produced using GMOs were the greatest thing since crusty bread.”

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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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Jan17

OP-ED: Organic Farming Movement Marginal but Growing Worldwide

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Check out this op-ed published in the Inter Press Service news agency, about Worldwatch’s recent Vital Signs report on organic agriculture.

The article discusses the benefits and opportunities of organic farming worldwide. Irganic farmland has grown more than threefold since 1999; in this time, certified organic products have created a niche market, allowing farmers to earn premium prices over conventional products, particularly when selling to supermarkets or restaurants.

To read the full article, click here.

Dec20

New Book Discusses Causes, Effects, and Extent of Land Grabbing

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By Andrew Alesbury

On December 4, the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. held a book launch and panel discussion for the recently released book, The Global Farms Race: Land Grabs, Agricultural Investment, and the Scramble for Food Security. The book is among the first to examine the burgeoning and complex trend of land grabbing and its implications for investors, host countries, and the world as a whole.

The Wilson Center recently held a book launch and discussion on the prevalence, causes, and effects of land grabbing. (Photo credit: Wilson Center)

The panel discussion, which was webcast live, was led by four experts in the global food security and agriculture community: Michael Kugelman, the book’s co-author and Senior Program Associate at the Wilson Center; Derek Byerlee, an independent scholar and advisor; Gary Blumenthal, President and CEO of World Perspectives, Inc.; and Janet Larsen, Director of Research at Earth Policy Institute.

The speakers noted that land grabbing, or the acquisition of large plots of land by foreign actors such as national governments or large corporations, has become particularly notable since 2007. A growing number of countries, fearful of unrest caused by volatile food prices or driven by the need for more energy security through biofuels, have begun investing in farmland abroad, cultivating the land and then exporting the products back home.

The countries purchasing the land typically have insufficient farmland at home (or they have exhausted it) but have ample capital to invest abroad. Among the biggest investors are China, India, Japan, South Korea, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, which have been buying up substantial parcels in regions like sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America. The International Land Coalition estimates that more than 200 million hectares of foreign agricultural land (nearly the area of Western Europe) were approved or under negotiation between 2000 and 2010.

In The Global Farms Race, the authors note that these land transactions occur most frequently in less-developed countries where governments lack transparency or accountability. These countries attract investors with financial incentives such as low taxes or inexpensive labor, but provide little support for local populations that are displaced or otherwise negatively affected by the land sales. As such, land grabs often become a “race to the bottom” among agriculturally fertile countries to attract wealthy investors, said author and panelist Kugelman.

Kugelman adds, however, that the pace of land grabbing has slowed in recent years. And although the driving factors behind land grabs—food and energy insecurity—are likely to persist, he suggests possible actions to avoid the potential downsides of these investments. Effective government oversight and regulation could help sellers avoid compromising their food security too much. Meanwhile, investing in drought-resistant farming techniques and crops could alleviate some of the demand created by nations too arid to farm their own land.

What is your opinion on land grabbing? Is it inherently bad or can the practice be modified to benefit all affected parties? Watch the webcast discussion here and let us know your thoughts in the comments section!

Andrew Alesbury is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Dec04

Supporting Climate-Friendly Food Production

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By Laura Reynolds

This summer, record temperatures and limited rainfall parched vast areas of U.S. cropland, and with Earth’s surface air temperature projected to rise 0.69 degrees Celsius by 2030, global food production will be even more unpredictable. Although agriculture is a major driver of human-caused climate change, contributing an estimated 25 to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, when done sustainably it can be an important key to mitigating climate change.

Agroforestry is one practice that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions while adapting to the effects of climate change. (Photo credit: Christensen Fund)

Because of its reliance on healthy soil, adequate water, and a delicate balance of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, farming is the human endeavor most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. But agriculture’s strong interrelationships with both climatic and environmental variables also make it a significant player in reducing climate-altering emissions as well as helping the world adapt to the realities of a warming planet.

The good news is that agriculture can hold an important key to mitigating climate change.