Archive for the ‘Subsidies’ Category

Jan07

An Update on the 2012 U.S. Farm Bill

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The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), an organization that advocates for federal agricultural policy reform, published an article on January 3 explaining the implications of the Farm Bill extension for agriculture, food, and rural development programs in the United States over the next nine months. The Farm Bill is passed every five years and determines national policy and funding for all agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry programs.

The U.S. Congress recently passed a temporary “Farm Bill” to determine funding for agricultural programs throughout the country. (Photo credit: Dickinson Organic Farm)

The temporary bill, passed as part of the year-end “fiscal cliff” negotiations, cut many programs established to promote sustainable agriculture, including programs for minority and beginning farmers, farmers markets, organic agricultural research, rural development, and renewable energy. The bill also retained direct subsidies for producers of commodities like corn and soybeans—regardless of producer income or commodity price—which currently cost the U.S. Department of Agriculture $5 billion each year.

To read NSAC’s full analysis of the Farm Bill extension and its predictions for the permanent version of the bill, click here. And to hear NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner speak more about the Farm Bill negotiations on National Public Radio, click here.

Aug30

Innovation of the Week: Policy Analysis at Your Fingertips

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By Ronica Lu

The Farm Bill Budget Visualizer, recently released by the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is an innovative, web-based application that provides a visually pleasing, interactive breakdown of Farm Bill legislation spending.

A screenshot of the Farm Bill Budget Visualizer’s homepage (Photo Credit: Food and Tech Connect)

The Farm Bill is a comprehensive omnibus bill, first passed in 1973 and updated every four or five years, that deals with food and agricultural affairs under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Farm Bill is the primary food and agricultural policy tool of the U.S. federal government and addresses issues from numerous perspectives—including everything from food assistance and nutrition education, to efforts to improve access to fruits and vegetables.

With the upcoming release of the updated 2012 Farm Bill from Congress later this year, the Budget Visualizer helps the general public, advocacy groups, and policymakers make connections between the provisions of the bill and the amount of federal spending allotted to each program.

The visualizer displays Farm Bill programs in collapsible and expandable boxes. The sizes of the boxes are proportional to the amount of funding the programs receive. The use of the app does not require a software download, but does use the latest versions of Java and Adobe Flash.

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Aug22

Citywatch: Drought 2012

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. Click here to read more from Wayne.

2012 has been one of the worst drought years on record (Photo Credit: Earl Nottingham, Texas Parks and Wildlife)

I can’t figure out why Mark Twain is considered such a smarty pants for noticing that people always talk about the weather but never do anything about it.

If people talk about the weather – this summer’s drought, and its likely impact on runaway food prices and forest fires – that’s deep folk wisdom recognizing how completely nature determines our life prospects, no matter what level of air conditioning is available.

If people don’t do anything about the weather, it may be because they’re wise enough to know the most decisive things in our lives are beyond our personal control.

But if people don’t do anything because they think government has the problem in hand, then Mark Twain’s weather joke needs some extra helpings of ridicule.

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Aug13

15 Innovations Making School Lunches Healthier and More Sustainable

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By Seyyada A. Burney

As summer draws to a close, it’s time for kids to go back to school. Sadly, this often means a return to terribly unhealthy school lunches filled with fried chicken, pizza pockets, sugary drinks, and high-calorie snacks. School food can  jeopardize the health and well-being of America’s next generation, but fortunately, it’s also the best place to start addressing the obesity epidemic—one in three children is obese or overweight, increasing the risks of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and liver problems later in life. This needs to change.

Fostering healthy eating habits at a young age is critical to life-long health. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) feeds 32 million kids every year and is expanding rapidly as more families qualify for free or reduced-price meals. These lunches represent the primary source of nourishment for many children, but few schools have the facilities or the know-how to prepare fresh food—only the ability to reheat froze, processed foods high in sodium and fat. Even cafeterias that serve more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are often forced to subsidize programs using vending machines and snack bars loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup due to fiscal deficits and a lack of student interest.

As kids head back to school, Nourishing the Planet outlines 15 innovative ideas and programs that are making school lunches healthier and more sustainable.

1.         Higher nutrition standards: Under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) can finally set nutritional requirements for school lunches—a measure they implemented earlier this year. First Lady Michelle Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently unveiled new national standards for school meals—the first in fifteen years. They require daily fruit and vegetable offerings; more whole grains; only fat-free or low-fat milk; and reduced saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium in school lunches.

2.         Cooking from scratch: Contrary to past privatization and outsourcing trends, a University of Michigan study reported that privately managed cafeterias have few economic advantages. Their food options are also more likely to be processed, with higher sugar, fat, and sodium contents and relatively few fresh vegetables. In recent years, entire school districts such as Minneapolis have introduced locally sourced salad bars and have shifted to more on-site preparation in order to serve kids fresher, more nutritious food.

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Jun07

Innovation of the Week: Multifunction Platforms

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By Sheldon Yoder

In rural villages in East and West Africa, electrical connections are humming and light bulbs are shining for the first time in homes that only knew candlelight before. Although no power lines yet reach these villages, multifunction platforms (MFPs) are filling the energy void, powering not just lights but machines that lessen the drudgery of farmer’s work.

Multifunction platforms can be used to run food processing equipment in remote villages. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

What is the multifunction platform? Though the name sounds a bit daunting, the MFP is basically a stationary diesel engine that can be attached to about anything that rotates: grain milling and husking machines, water pumps, and power tools. The MFPs are quiet, 6 to 8 horse power, 750-lb Listeroid engines and their basic construction and features have not changed significantly since their debut in the 1930s. The engine has more than proven its durability, efficiency, and hassle-free maintenance over the years. Their efficiency and raw power make them perfectly suited for continuous electrical generation and work.

With MFPs farmers can mill their own corn and wheat for food and sale, while earning income by processing the crops of neighboring farmers. Members of cooperatives can run mechanical tools, power rural electrical grids, and soon it is hoped, irrigate crops with the machines.  Organizations working with the platform have paid special attention to women users, hoping to free up several hours per day that can be devoted to other priority tasks.

The first MFPs were installed in Mali and Burkina Faso in 1994 by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) began to install MFPs in 1996 and the project is still ongoing, having expanded to include other countries in West Africa. To acquire the platform, a group of men and women from a village usually create a formal organization to request and purchase a generator. The cost is usually subsidized between 40 to 50 percent  by the UNDP. Residents are given training and then placed in charge of installation, maintenance, and repair of the platforms.

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May31

New UCS Report: Improve Crop Insurance and Credit Availability

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 By Jameson Spivack

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the biggest obstacles in the way of achieving healthier eating in the United States are the current farming laws. In its latest report, “Ensuring the Harvest: Crop Insurance and Credit for a Healthy Farm and Food Future,” UCS recommends reforming policies that make it more difficult for farmers to grow healthy crops like fruits and vegetables.

A new UCS report urges more financial incentives for farmers to grow healthy fruits and vegetables. (Image credit: UCS)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s new dietary guideline, “MyPlate,” states that 50 percent of our diets should be comprised of fruits and vegetables. But Americans don’t consume enough of either—instead, American consumers eat large amounts of refined grains, sugars, meat, and fat. In fact, according to the UCS report, only two percent of U.S. farmland is used to grow fruits and vegetables.

The major reason for this, says the UCS, is because of farm policy. Currently, farmers are financially discouraged from planting healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and instead opt for subsidized commodity crops like corn and soybeans. These crops mostly end up as inputs for meat production, processed foods, and non-food products. In addition, laws prevent subsidized commodity crop farmers from planting fruits and vegetables, and these laws are supported by large fruit and vegetable producers who wish to keep prices high.

The USDA typically only offers crop insurance to farmers who grow commodity crops. Since there is limited data on “healthy food” crops, it is harder to develop an insurance policy. While there is a pilot program—“whole-farm-revenue insurance,” which offers insurance to farmers growing fruits and vegetables—it is expensive and limited to certain geographical areas.

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May21

2007-2008 Food Crisis: Causes, Responses, and Lessons Learned

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By Jameson Spivack

The world food crisis of 2007-2008 caused a substantial rise in the cost of food, especially staple foods such as rice, wheat, and corn. This rise in price had a devastating effect on hungry people in the developing world.

When food prices rise, poor people in developing countries are hurt the most. (Image source: IFPRI)

Between 2005 and 2011, world prices for rice, wheat, and maize rose 102 percent, 115 percent, and 204 percent, respectively, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With price increases, people with less disposable income must spend a larger percentage of their earnings on essential staple grains, and less on other food and non-food items. This can have a significant impact on nutrition.

In seven Latin American countries, this increase in price led to an average 8 percent decrease in the amount of calories consumed. Before the crisis, 35 percent of households in Ecuador received an adequate amount of calories; afterwards, only 22 percent were receiving healthy levels of calories. In developing countries, if prices rise 50 percent across the board, and there is no rise in income, iron intake will decrease by 30 percent, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In the Philippines, this 30 percent decrease in iron consumption would mean that only 5 percent of women have adequate levels of iron.

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May18

Chicago Council: Business and Innovation in Agriculture

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, was underway today. Follow the discussion on Twitter with @globalagdev #globalag 

The Chicago Council Symposium outlined important next steps for global agricultural development. (Photo credit: FAO)

The symposium’s afternoon sessions more specifically addressed the roles that business and innovation will be required to play in agricultural development. “[It is] the end of the era of the handout,” said Josette Sheeran, former head of the UN WFP and current Vice-Chairman of the World Economic Forum. “But the era of hand up is also dated and we’re in the era of the handshake.” According to the World Bank, 78 percent of African countries made regulatory reforms that make it easier to conduct business in their country in the past year. Connecting African farmers with partners on all levels of the value chain is key for the future of agricultural growth.

Attracting more youth to the field of agriculture was also heavily discussed. When asked what is the most important thing he’d like to see changed, Berry Marttin, Executive Board member, Rabobank, said, “That farming becomes attractive to young people.” This is an important idea given, that 65 percent of Africans are under the age of 25. Jeff Simmons, President Elanco Animal Health, agreed, saying, “We can’t have people moving away from rural areas with all of the opportunity in the next 50 years, we need to unlock the heart of the next generation—especially those who feel convicted to work in the fight against hunger.”

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May18

Chicago Council Symposium: The New Way of Aid

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, is underway this morning. Tune in to the livestream here and follow the discussion on Twitter with @globalagdev  #globalag

Musician Bono, governmental leaders, and corporate CEOs discussed the new era of agricultural development. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The development landscape is changing, and private and public leaders each have a vision for how the development landscape should change. Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (DFID), said that Africa’s major challenges will be a rapidly growing population, an increasing demand for food products, and climate change. He said that business as usual will not be enough and that the recently announced New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition will not business as usual.

Ellen Kullman, CEO of DuPont, and Strive Masiyiwa, acting Chairman of the Board Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), both stressed the importance of connecting with the smallholder farmer and finding out what their needs are. Masiyiwa said, “If we are going to help the smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, we must listen to them.” Kullman said that everyone describes food security differently, but that there are a few fundamentals: it must be local, the know-how must be local, and it has to be sustainable—in how it gets to market and how it gets to people’s plates.

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May18

Chicago Council Symposium: Advancing Food and Nutrition Security. Notes on the “Improving Nutrition” Panel

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The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ annual symposium, Advancing Food and Nutrition Security at the 2012 G8 Summit, is underway this morning. Tune in to the livestream here and follow the discussion on Twitter with @globalagdev #globalag

President Obama speaking at the Chicago Council's annual Symposium.

Opening remarks were given by Mike Froman, Deputy Assistant to President Barack Obama and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs. Food security will be the sole focus of the G8′s session on development this weekend, as leaders review progress made since the 2009 launch of the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative. Froman emphasized President Obama’s commitment to development—not just assistance—saying that agricultural development is up 8 times the global average where the L’Aquila Initiative has been working. He closed by saying that government assistance alone is not sufficient, and it will require commitment from the private sector, NGOs, and private citizens.

The first panel, Healthy Agriculture: Improving nutrition works for economies and communities, explored the challenge of how nutrition will be incorporated into the agenda of food security. Beverly Oda, of the Canadian International Development Agency, declared that we are in a critical moment and incorporation of nutrition and food security. We need to make sure that all programs integrate nutrition and no longer just focus on food and calories.

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