Posts Tagged ‘Agriculture’

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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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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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…)
Nov25

Innovation of the Week: PodPonics—Thinking Globally, Growing Locally

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By Jameson Spivack

PodPonics, an indoor urban agriculture project that grows lettuce in PVC pipes inside used shipping containers, is just one of a new crop of up-and-coming urban agricultural innovators. The U.S. company, created by Dan Backhaus and Mark Liotta, currently operates a collection of six “pods,” or containers, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia, and is in the process of developing a plot of land next to Atlanta International Airport.

PodPonics minimizes harmful outputs and enables urban residents to grow fresh, nutritious foods locally. (Photo Credit: talk.greentowns.com)

According to Backhaus and Liotta, growing the produce in shipping containers has many advantages. The size and scale of the containers makes it easy to standardize the light, temperature, and watering of the plants. For this reason, the PodPonics model is applicable to many different locales and situations. Backhaus and Liotta call this the “local everywhere” approach—emphasizing local production and consumption while maintaining a global focus.

Part of this global focus includes a strong dedication to environmental responsibility. Standardizing inputs allows PodPonics to conserve resources that typically are wasted in large-scale production. The closed environment of the pods prevents fertilizer runoff and allows for the recycling of water and nutrients. The pods also use energy during off-peak hours, which utilizes leftover energy in the system, helping to stabilize the city’s energy grid.

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Nov10

UN Says Sustainable Farming Can Help Close Global Emissions Gap

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Agriculture offers opportunities to mitigate and adapt to climate change, according to a report released on November 5 by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Reductions in emissions from agriculture could help to close the greenhouse gas emissions gap. (Photo Credit: ucanr.edu)

The Emissions Gap Report 2013—which involved 44 scientific groups in 17 countries and was coordinated by UNEP—measures the difference between the pledges that countries have made to cut emissions and the targets required to keep global temperature change below 2 degrees Celsius (°C).

The report finds that if the global community does not embark immediately on wide-ranging actions to narrow the greenhouse emissions gap, the chance of remaining on the least-cost path to keeping global temperature rise below 2°C this century will diminish quickly and lead to a host of challenges.

Based on the current trajectory, greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 are likely to reach 8–12 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (GtCO2e)—roughly comparable to 80 percent of current emissions from the world’s power plants. This is above the level that would provide a likely chance of remaining on the least-cost pathway; to be on track to stay within the 2°C target, emissions should reach a maximum of 44 GtCO2e by 2020, the report says.

Reductions in emissions from agriculture, an often-overlooked source of emissions, could help to close the emissions gap, the authors say. They estimate that emission-reduction potentials for the sector range from 1.1 GtCO2e to 4.3 GtCO2e.

Worldwide, agriculture contributes between 14 and 30 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions because of its heavy requirements for land, water, and energy. The agriculture sector releases more emissions than every car, train, and plane in the global transportation sector.

Activities such as operating fuel-powered farm equipment, pumping water for irrigation, raising dense populations of livestock in indoor facilities, managing soils, and applying nitrogen-rich fertilizers all contribute to agriculture’s high greenhouse gas footprint.

UNEP attributes an estimated 38 percent of agricultural emissions to nitrous oxide from soils, 32 percent to methane from enteric fermentation in ruminant livestock, 12 percent to biomass burning, 11 percent to rice production, and 7 percent to manure management. Direct agricultural emissions account for 60 percent of global nitrous oxide emissions and 50 percent of global methane emissions, according to the report. (more…)

Oct13

Five Global Seed Banks That Are Protecting Biodiversity

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By Victoria Russo

Almost all food begins with a seed. Even when people eat meat or other animal products, those animals were most likely fed on grasses or grains that began as seeds. Seeds are the basis of plant life and growth, and without them, the world would go hungry.

The world is home to hundreds of thousands of species of plants, and it requires a diverse variety of seeds to satisfy nutritional and environmental needs. Today, Nourishing the Planet takes a closer look at five seed banks that aim to protect biodiversity and help feed the world.

The world requires a diverse variety of seeds to satisfy nutritional and environmental needs. (Photo Credit: jamesandeverett.com)

1. Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Project, Wakehurst, England

How many plant species can you think of? Of the roughly 400,000 known species, the Millennium Seed Bank aims to conserve 25 percent in the form of seeds by 2020. The seed bank is located on the grounds of Britain’s Royal Botanical Gardens, which were constructed by King Henry VII and are now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Focused on conserving seeds from plants that can be used for food production, the Millennium Seed Bank currently holds seeds from over 10 percent of all plant species.

Millennium in Action

The Royal Botanical Gardens has been collecting research on seed saving since 1898 and has had a formal seed bank for 40 years. In recent years, it has concentrated on collecting seeds from environments that are most vulnerable to climate change. In addition to developing new crop varieties that are more adaptable to changing environments, the Millennium Seed Bank Project has implemented an international education program in an attempt to preserve ecosystems worldwide. A large part of its educational outreach program has taken place in rural regions of Africa, in countries including Kenya, Botswana, Burkina Faso, and Namibia. Promoting projects from nutrition to forestry to sustainable agriculture, the Millenium Seed Bank Project is working to feed the world and sustain the environment.

2. Navdanya, Uttrakhand, India

Since 1987, Vandana Shiva, who created Navdanya, has dedicated her life to protecting seed diversity. Navdanya is an agricultural research center that seeks to protect seed biodiversity and the livelihoods of small farmers. The organization believes that people should have a right to save and share seeds, and has created a seed bank that conserves only unpatented seeds.

Navdanya in Action

Since its creation, the Navdanya seed bank has conserved around 5,000 crop varieties, focusing largely on the preservation of grain species. The 54 community seed banks that Navdanya has piloted have preserved nearly 3,000 species of rice alone. In addition to protecting seed biodiversity, Navdanya aims to spread agricultural information through educational campaigns.

3. Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Svalbard, Norway

Preserving seeds for long periods of time requires extremely cold temperatures and low humidity. That’s why Svalbard Global Seed Vault, located deep in the permafrost-covered mountains of Svalbard, was deemed the ideal site for a global seed bank. Funding for the seed bank, built from the remains of an abandoned mine, was provided largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with the aim of permanently protecting agricultural and plant biodiversity. The vault has the capacity for 4.5 million seed samples and currently houses over 430,000 specimens, including samples from Armenia, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Tajikstan. Genetically modified organisms are allowed in the seed bank only after evaluation and approval and must be specially sealed to prevent the spread of genetic modification to other samples.

Svalbard in Action

Despite being nicknamed the “Doomsday Vault,” Svalbard is a forerunner in global environmental problem-solving and innovation, and frequently hosts events on topics related to food security and climate change. In 2009, the seed vault held an international conference on climate change and the challenges of feeding the world’s growing population. The vault also has hosted influential policymakers including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

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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…)

Sep29

Sowing the Seeds of a Food-Secure Future

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By Dana Drugmand

Worldwide, 195 million children suffer from malnutrition, which adversely affects their development and overall well-being. Approximately 26 percent of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. And according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the number of malnourished children in the region will rise 18 percent between 2001 and 2020. Fortunately, innovations such as school feeding programs and kitchen vegetable gardens are working to combat malnutrition and hunger in African children.

Schoolchildren in Uganda are learning how to grow fruits and vegetables in kitchen gardens funded by Seeds for Africa. (Photo Credit: Kellogg)

One organization, Seeds for Africa, has been instrumental in helping children gain access to local, nutritious fruits and vegetables. A central part of this organization’s work is teaching children the value of growing their own food by helping them to establish kitchen gardens and fruit tree orchards. Seeds for Africa funds kitchen vegetable garden development at primary schools in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.

In Kenya, Seeds for Africa coordinator Thomas Ndivo Muema has helped primary schools in the Nairobi region establish vegetable gardens and orchards of 200 fruit trees and has also supplied water tanks. In Uganda, fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been established at 77 schools around Kampala, the capital city. And in Sierra Leone, Seeds for Africa coordinator Abdul Hassan King has helped oversee tree planting projects in 50 primary schools and advised kitchen vegetable gardens operating at 15 other schools.

In 2011, Kellogg UK donated £6434 (US$9,946) to Seeds for Africa to fund “breakfast clubs” in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia—clubs in which schoolchildren are fed breakfast if they attend class. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, some 60 percent of children come to school without having eaten breakfast, if they attend school at all. By providing a nutritious breakfast, the initiative helps to improve attendance as well as academic performance and student well-being. Results from breakfast club trials indicate that students who participated scored better on school tests and were happier overall than students who did not participate. School attendance also increased to 95 percent.

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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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May13

Camu Camu: A Little Fruit that Packs a Big Punch

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By Eleanor Fausold

Sometimes the best things come in small packages. Camu camu (Myrciaria dubia) is a tiny fruit native to the Amazon region of South America that is rising in popularity, as both an element in local treats and a main component in dietary supplements. Although its high level of acidity once made it unpopular for consumption, the fruit is now valued for its exceptionally high vitamin C content and is, consequently, growing in demand in health-food stores around the world.

Camu-camu, a tiny, vitamin C-rich fruit native to the Amazon region of South America, is rising in popularity (Photo Credit: Youshi Guo)

Also known as camocamo in Peru and cacari in Brazil, among other names, the camu camu tree can grow up to 40 feet high. The species thrives in swamps along rivers and lakes such as the Rio Mazán near Iquitos, Peru, and in Amazonian Brazil and Venezuela. The base of the camu camu’s trunk is frequently underwater, and the tree’s lower branches are often submerged for long periods during the rainy season.

Despite its frequent submersion, the camu camu tree produces fragrant flowers with tiny white petals and tiny fruits that turn from yellow to a maroon or purple-black color as they ripen. In the right growing conditions, a single tree can produce as many as 1,000 fruits per year, which are harvested by boat.

Known for its extremely high vitamin C content (half-ripe fruits have been found to contain 1,950 to 2,700 milligrams per 100 grams of edible fruit, an amount greater than that found in 50 oranges), the camu camu fruit has a very acidic taste. In fact, until fairly recently, the fruit was used almost exclusively as fish bait and the tree, when dead, was used as a source of firewood.

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