Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

Oct01

Ireland Takes Strides to Walk Its “Green” Talk

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By Robert Engelman

True to its iconic national color—green—Ireland may be the first country whose government is taking steps to measure sustainability and to integrate the concept into its economy.

Poster and “sustainability extension agent” on government-funded research farm in Count Meath, Ireland. (Photo Credit: Robert Engelman)

They’re small steps, not remotely on a scale or schedule that can stop the world’s climate from heating up to well past 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial times. But Ireland is a small country, and (as Worldwatch has discovered working with small-island states in the Caribbean) small nations can act as beacons pointing the way to sustainable behavior—particularly when large nations refuse to lead.

Ireland’s “scheme” (the term, while pejorative in American English, means program or plan here) is called Origin Green. It’s an apt name that calls to mind both the deep history of the country’s people and the lush verdure of its land. Origin Green is the brainchild of Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, an independent agency funded largely by the government to promote Irish food exports to a globalized world. The board held a one-day conference last week on sustainable food production, and used the opportunity to educate some 800 attendees on the Origin Green program. (Full disclosure: the board covered my expenses to attend.)

Having written a chapter in Worldwatch’s State of the World 2013 called “Beyond Sustainababble,” I tend to apply a skeptical ear to the use of the words sustainable and sustainability, especially by corporations. As I note in the chapter, the S-words are often used without meaning or verification to pitch brands and products to consumers who want to help the planet through their purchasing power. And indeed, some of the corporate executives presenting at the meeting on their companies’ efforts did skirt past the tough question of what sustainability really means, particularly for their own operations.

Got sustainability? (Photo Credit: Robert Engelman)

There were plenty of PowerPoint slides showing reductions in the use of energy, water, and other resources. And there were some mentions of long-term targets and even a few goals of achieving zero waste or net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the future. These are healthy signs that these companies—ranging in this meeting from Irish firms like Errigal Seafood to multinationals like PepsiCo—are at least showing some leadership and are ahead of the many others that can’t be bothered to worry about their impact on the future of humanity.

But what was more interesting than the individual corporate efforts is the role that the Food Board—and thus indirectly the Irish government—is playing in trying to introduce real metrics of sustainability into the food industry, all the way to the farm itself.

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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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Aug03

Soybeans in Paraguay: A Boom for the Economy, Bust for Environmental and Public Health

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By Carly Chaapel

Soybean fields extend for miles on what was often thickly forested land in Paraguay. (Photo credit: MercoPress)

They are in bread, peanut butter, cookies, coffee creamer, crayons, candles, cows, and even cars. Soybeans, hailed as a “miracle crop” by many, have been harvested, pulverized, and processed to such an extent that it is nearly impossible to go a day without using them in some way.

In 2011, the United States and Brazil were the top two soybean producers in the world. Though Paraguay only contributes 3 percent of the global soybean supply, the rising demand for this cheap oil and protein has dramatically altered the Paraguayan agricultural landscape. Oxfam International executive director Jeremy Hobbs recently highlighted in the New York Times the destructive power that soybeans may have on the country’s entire political and economic stability.

This past June, President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was impeached because of strong opposition to his agrarian reform and deaths during an attempt to remove squatters at a large farm belonging to a political opponent. He was a strong advocate for agricultural reform that would redistribute land and pull many of his people out of poverty. Just 2 percent of the Paraguayan population owns over three-quarters of the arable land.

Since 1996, over 1.2 million hectares of Paraguayan forest have been cleared and replaced with large swaths of treeless soy fields. Paraguay is currently the fourth largest exporter of soy, and much of the harvest is shipped to Europe and China as cattle feed and biofuels. According to the World Bank, however, undernourishment affects 10 percent of the population in Paraguay. Regardless of Paraguay’s booming US$1.6 billion soy export economy, 40 percent of the population still lives in poverty.

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Apr26

UN Report Highlights Marine Sector’s Potential for Sustainable Economic Growth

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By Eleanor Fausold

What if we could take better care of the world’s marine ecosystems and boost the global economy in the process? A recent report, Green Economy in a Blue World, released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Maritime Organization (IMO), United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), WorldFish Center, and GRID-Arendal suggests that by promoting practices such as renewable energy generation, ecotourism, and sustainable fishing, we can improve the health of the world’s marine ecosystems while also boosting their potential to contribute to economic growth. 

Small-scale producers must also benefit from industry improvements. (Photo credit: USAID Bangladesh)

For each of six marine-related economic sectors, Green Economy in a Blue World lays out a series of recommendations based on the current state of the resource including:

1. Fisheries and Aquaculture

With 50 percent of the world’s fish stocks fully exploited and another 32 percent overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion, aquaculture is growing in popularity as a way to meet the rising global demand for fish. But aquaculture can also be harmful when it is poorly planned, and in such cases it can actually increase stress on suffering marine and coastal ecosystems. Technologies that encourage low-impact and fuel-efficient fishing methods, as well as aquaculture production systems that use environmentally-friendly feeds and reduce fossil fuel use, could reduce the sector’s carbon footprint and strengthen its role in reducing poverty and improving economic growth and food and nutrition security. The report also recommends strengthening regional and national fisheries agencies and community and trade fishing associations to encourage sustainable and equitable use of marine resources. It also suggests that there is a need for policies that ensure that the benefits of these industry improvements also impact small-scale producers and traders, particularly in developing nations.    

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Mar09

Farmworkers Fast for Fair Food in Florida

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By Alison Blackmore

On March 5th, more than 50 members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) began a 6-day fast in Lakeland, Florida, hoping to urge Publix Super Markets to implement the Fair Food Program.

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has organized a fast to protest unfair wages and working conditions in Florida. (Photo credit: www.ciw-online.org)

The program focuses on implementing strategies to improve wages and working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. It challenges major tomato buyers to pay a premium of one penny more per pound for their tomatoes and works directly with farm laborers to establish a just code of conduct. The fast will culminate on May 10th in a three-mile procession to Publix headquarters.

These CIW members join faith leaders, students, and community leaders from across the country with hopes of bringing attention to Publix’s refusal to support measures ensuring the fundamental rights of farmworkers who labor in America’s fields. By entering into a partnership with the CIW, Publix will take a big step toward providing Florida farm workers more fair wages.

The CIW is a community-based organization of farmworkers working in low-wage jobs throughout the state of Florida. Since 1993 they have organized hunger strikes, boycotts, interfaith prayer vigils, rallies, and marches calling for fairer wages and better working conditions that have led major food companies such as Taco Bell, McDonalds, Burger King, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s to sign Fair Food Agreements.

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Mar01

What You Need to Know About Hunger

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Check out this latest video brought to you by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s Ending Hunger campaign.

The video highlights that to eliminate global hunger, we need to address the core underlying cause—poverty. Increasing global food production and food aid are not enough if basic rural infrastructure and employment opportunities are insufficient. Efforts to boost the rural economy by improving roads, building irrigation canals, supporting rural banking, improving rural communication, training farmers, and empowering women can improve agricultural production and increase incomes.

Click here to view the video and here to sign the campaign’s petition to end hunger.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Jan20

Resolving the Food Crisis

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The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute have released a new report that highlights important policy reforms to resolve the food crisis that has been affecting people since 2007.

According to a new report, although there has been an upsurge in attention towards agricultural development, there is still room for more growth in investments. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The report, Resolving the Food Crisis: Assessing Global Policy Reforms Since 2007, is based on a comprehensive assessment of the policies and actions taken since 2007 by four international groups of actors: the UN, the G-20, the World Bank, and international donors. Although there has been an upsurge in attention towards agricultural development, there is still room for more growth in investments. The report authors, Timothy A. Wise and Sophia Murphy, urge policymakers to pay attention to three key issues: reducing financial speculation on commodities markets, halting “land grabs,” and limiting the expansion of crops and land dedicated to biofuels.

Click here to read the full report.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Jan14

NAFTA Doing More Harm than Good

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By Bryan Dorval

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by the governments of the United States, Mexico and Canada in 1994, millions of Mexicans have joined the ranks of the hungry. About one-fifth of Mexican children currently suffer from malnutrition. The Mexican government reports that the number of people living in food poverty, the inability to purchase a basic food basket of staple foods, has risen over the last few years from 18 million in 2008 to 20 million in 2010.

Farmers in Mexico protesting against the unfair regulations enforced on them by NAFTA. ( Photo credit: Denis Poroy)

To see the affect NAFTA has had on the local economy you need only look at their rising import costs. Forty two percent of the food consumed in Mexico comes from abroad. Before NAFTA, the country spent USD $1.8 billion on food imports—today it spends $24 billion.

The rise of imported corn has caused the price of locally grown corn to fall by half, which has forced nearly two million farmers off their land. With their livelihoods gone, the farmers are forced to look for work elsewhere in order to support their families. Many of these farmers seek refuge in the United States as migrant workers.

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Jan12

Food Price Instability hurting millions

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By Bryan Dorval

Rising food prices represent a major threat to food security in developing countries. Hardest-hit are the poor, who often have to spend up to 70 percent of their income on food. According to the World Bank , in 2010-2011 rising food costs pushed nearly 44 million people into extreme poverty and recent price hikes could lead to an additional 30 million more.

The smallest rise in food prices can be a huge burden to bear for many farmers in developing countries. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

There are many causes to the latest spike in the cost of food, according to the World Bank’s Food Price Watch including changing weather patterns, the increase in the demand from emerging economies, and the growing production of agrofuels.

The food crisis is also intimately linked to the current economic crisis—food and agriculture have become heavily dependent on oil. With the markets in flux and ongoing conflicts in regions where petroleum is widely produced, oil has steadily increased in price. The rise in the price of oil has had a direct impact on the rise in the cost of basic foods.  According to The World Bank, when the price of oil is over fifty dollars a barrel, a 1 percent price increase in oil causes a 0.9 percent increase in the price of corn.

With poor families in developing countries spending large percentage of their incomes on food, the smallest rise in food prices can be a huge burden to bear. The food price index, the measure of the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities, showed a small dip of 1 percent in September, but it is still 19 percent above its September 2010 levels.

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Dec20

One Billion Holiday Wishes

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The holidays are a time for putting others before yourself. And with the recent announcement that the world’s population has surpassed seven billion, there are a lot more ‘others’ to consider this year. Nearly one billion people in the world are hungry, for example, while almost the same number are illiterate, making it hard for them to earn a living or move out of poverty. One billion people—many of them children—have micronutrient deficiencies, decreasing their ability to learn and live productive lives.

Let's not forget about the 1 billion people who lack basic goods this holiday season. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

But there are hundreds and hundreds of organizations working tirelessly in communities at home and abroad to fix these problems.

One Billion Hungry

Although the number of undernourished people worldwide has decreased since 2009, nearly one billion people go to bed hungry each night. This number is unacceptably high. Malnutrition contributes to the death of half a billion children under the age of five every year, and in Africa alone, one child dies every six seconds from hunger.

But organizations, such as the World Food Programme, are using home-grown school feeding (HGSF) initiatives to alleviate hunger and poverty. HGSF programs in Brazil, India, Thailand, Kenya and other countries work to connect local producers with schools, helping to provide children with nutritious and fresh food, while providing farmers with a stable source of income.

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