Posts Tagged ‘Farm’

Sep28

Bridging the Gap: The Need to Unite Global and Grassroots Approaches to Sustainable Development

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By Sophie Wenzlau

“Human actions are rapidly approaching or have already transgressed key global thresholds, increasing the likelihood of unprecedented ecological turbulence,” according to a report co-authored by scientists from the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Resilience Centre, and Tellus Institute. The report cites an urgent need to promote Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) uniting global and grassroots approaches to sustainable development.

The international community has neglected to emphasize community-led responses to sustainable development (Photo Credit: Antonio Lacerda/EPA)

At the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, officials endorsed a document, Agenda 21, emphasizing the need for community-led responses to sustainable development challenges. However, in the 20 years that have since passed, local responses to sustainable development challenges have seldom been acknowledged at the international level.

In general, high-level international panels on sustainability have promoted development from the top-down, focusing on, “particular forms of technological fix, whereby advanced science and engineering are harnessed towards solutions that can be rolled out at a large scale—whether in biotechnology (to produce high yielding crops to feed 9 billion people), or geo-engineering and low carbon energy technologies (to mitigate climate change).” The international approach has tended to ignore small-scale, grassroots innovations. It has, “related only sporadically, if at all, to the array of innovative grassroots initiatives springing up in farms and forests, villages and municipalities, factories and homes,” around the world.

According to a press release from the STEPS Centre, “the targets, indicators and approaches being used to pursue progress towards sustainable development at Rio+20 are counterproductive,” because they rely on large scale technological solutions. Scientists at the STEPS Centre, Stockholm Institute, and Tellus Institute, are actively promoting the idea that the principles of sustainable development should emphasize a diversity of solutions, embracing both small-scale grassroots and large-scale technological innovations in a multidimensional way.

To effectively address food insecurity, for instance, these scientists suggest the dual promotion of large-scale innovations, like plant breeding and biotechnology, and small-scale innovations, like soil and water conservation education for indigenous farmers. They recommend dialogue that brings farmers, scientists, businesses, and policymakers together, for they believe it can help, “to clarify the roles of these different innovation pathways in addressing diverse national and local sustainability priorities.”

According to Professor Melissa Leach, director of the STEPS Centre, “science, technology and innovation can help avert catastrophic developmental and environmental damage. But only if we move beyond outdated notions of whose innovation counts, to empower the vital contributions of poorer people’s own creativity in building green and fair economies and contributing to resilient socio-techno-ecological systems.”

Sophie Wenzlau is a research associate with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.

Aug21

First Peoples Worldwide Awards Over US$1 Million in Grants to Indigenous Communities

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By Sophie Wenzlau

This past July, First Peoples Worldwide (FPW) reached a milestone of US$1.2 million in grants awarded “directly to Indigenous projects, programs, and communities” around the world. First Peoples, an international, Indigenous-led advocacy organization, seeks to promote economic determination and strengthen Indigenous communities by awarding grants directly to Indigenous Peoples. To fulfill these objectives, the organization provides “Indigenous Peoples with the tools, information and relationships they need to build community capacity to leverage assets for sustainable economic development.”

First Peoples Worldwide has surpassed $1 million in grants to Indigenous organizations. (Image credit: FPW)

According to the United Nations’ State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, “Indigenous Peoples all over the world continue to suffer from disproportionally high rates of poverty, health problems, crime, and human rights abuses.” In the United States, for example, Indigenous Peoples are 600 times more likely to contract tuberculosis and 62 percent more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Worldwide, Indigenous Peoples’ life expectancy is 20 years lower than the non-Indigenous average.

Despite these sobering statistics, Indigenous Peoples are responsible for some of the most vibrant and diverse cultures on earth. Of the world’s 7,000 languages, the UN estimates that over 4,000 are spoken by Indigenous Peoples. Indigenous communities are also strongholds of traditional knowledge, preserving ancient technologies, skills, and beliefs.

The grants awarded by FPW have funded innovative projects in countries like Botswana, Bolivia, Ghana, and Sri Lanka, and have focused on topics as diverse as land reclamation, water development, and traditional medicine.

In Ghana, FPW funded a project designed to prevent wild elephants from destroying farms located along the boundaries of Kakum National Park. The Association of Beekeepers in Ghana, the organization that received the grant, developed the novel idea of constructing a beehive barrier along the community’s perimeter. According to FPW, “the presence of the hives has naturally prevented elephants from crossing the grounds, and the honey production has increased income for farmers through sales, which has improved local commerce.”

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Mar29

Innovation of the Week: Fertilizer Tree Systems enrich soils naturally

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By Isaac Hopkins

Among the most challenging long-term barriers to agricultural production and sustainability in Africa is poor and degrading soil quality. According to “Agricultural success from Africa: the case of fertilizer tree systems in southern Africa (Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe),” a report from the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, simple “Fertilizer Tree Systems” (FTS) can double maize production in soil that is low in nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient. A type of agroforestry, FTS incorporate nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs into agricultural fields, usually inter-planted with food crops. These trees take in atmospheric nitrogen and return it to the soil, where it serves as a nutrient for plants.

Nitrogen-fixing agroforestry is emerging in southern Africa as a major tool for renewing soil fertility and boosting yields. (Photo credit: Trees4Children)

Soil analyses by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and others in the 1980s revealed nitrogen to be a limiting factor in many African soils. In response, on-farm studies in the 1990s showed that FTS with the right species could increase crop yields with or without mineral fertilizers. FTS are much cheaper for farmers to implement than buying fertilizer inputs, and represent a more holistic approach to soil management. FTS scaling-up programs were broadly implemented about ten years ago, and in that time the number of small-holder farmers using these techniques has ballooned from a few hundred to more than 250,000 in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

FTS have proven most effective for small farmers who are able to devote the necessary labor and land more easily than the money needed for commercial fertilizer. By relying on naturally occurring systems rather than imports, agroforestry improves food security, bolsters biodiversity, and reinforces local economies. The introduction of a wider variety of plants to fields, for example, has been shown to increase diversity of the local ecosystem, which further augments the soil.

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Sep29

Earth Sangha announces “Rising Forests Coffee”

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By Isaac Hopkins

After nearly three years of planning, the Virginia-based Earth Sangha has launched a new line of shade-grown coffee, called “Rising Forests Coffee,” from the Dominican Republic, on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The coffee comes from the Dominican province of Dajabón, which lies along the border with Haiti. According to Chris Bright, the Sangha’s President, the coffee project is part of the Earth Sangha’s Tree Bank / Hispaniola program, which is devoted to improving the incomes of small-holder farmers along the border, and restoring native forest on portions of their lands. “We want to put more money in our farmers’ pockets,” said Bright. “We also want to give them a stronger economic rationale for conserving and restoring forest. Coffee can help do both of those things.”

Endangered mahogany seedlings at the Earth Sangha's Tree Bank reforestation nursery, along the Dominican Republic - Haiti border. (Photo credit: Earth Sangha)

The Earth Sangha is a non-profit charity committed to a Buddhist ethic of caring for the environment and helping people. Founded in 1997, the organization has built a large native-plant nursery in the Washington, D.C. area, where more than 200 species of native plants are grown for ecological restoration projects. All of the nursery’s stock is “local ecotype”—grown from locally-collected, wild seed.

The Earth Sangha founded the Tree Bank in 2006. The project is a partnership with a local agroforestry association, and includes a community tree nursery, a farm micro-credit program, and the beginnings of a conservation easement system. “We offer our farmers very low-cost credit,” explained Bright. “In exchange, they have to set up forest easements on their lands. The credit is tied to the forest, and farmers can get more credit if they restore forest. It’s another way of making the forest valuable.” About 25 farms are currently participating but Bright expects membership to grow.

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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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Sep12

Industrial poultry production and reemerging avian flu

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By Emily Gilbert

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), there are alarming signs that a new mutant strain of the avian flu, or H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, is spreading in Asia and beyond. H5N1 Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) is a potentially devastating virus, associated with a high mortality rate and high economic losses.   HPAI viruses can jump species barriers and infect humans, becoming a potential source of a future pandemic.

A chicken being vaccinated against the H5N1 virus (Photo credit: CRDF)

Although wild birds and small-scale poultry production have been blamed for the spread of avian flu, recent research conducted by Tour du Valat, a Mediterranean wetland conservation research center, has found that when the avian flu virus infects poultry, not wild bird species, it mutates into the highly pathogenic strains of the flu .  These findings are supported by separate research on outbreaks in Nigeria and Thailand, which found that human agricultural activity and industrial poultry production, or factory farming, are major sources of the global spread of the avian flu.

After a 2002 bird flu outbreak in Chile, a study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases  identified poultry as the primary species in which the more highly pathogenic strains evolved.  A separate study produced in part by the Joint Influenza Research Centre at Hong Kong University found that, “transmission within poultry is the major mechanism for sustaining H5N1 virus endemicity in this region.”  Interestingly, in the Southeast Asian countries where most of the bird flu outbreaks are concentrated, including Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, poultry production grew eightfold over the last three decades, from around 300,000 metric tonnes of meat produced in 1971 to 2,440,000 metric tonnes in 2001. In China where the H5N1 virus has also spread, poultry production tripled during the 1990s, with 15 billion ducks, geese and chickens raised in 2004.

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Sep05

Documentary to introduce consumers to the people who make their meals possible

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By Graham Salinger

Most of us don’t know much about the people who pick the fruits and vegetables we eat every day, but film maker Sanjay Rawal, founder of the Illumine Group, is making a documentary that will introduce people to those workers. This month, Rawal, along with Smriti Keshari , Jonny Cogut, and Jennifer Hickman, began a road trip to document the stories of the workers who make it possible for Americans to put food on their plates. The film, Slaves to food, will introduce American consumers to the people who are picking the food they eat and the working conditions that these people face.

Through his documentary, Sanjay Rawal is hoping to connect consumers with the farmers who grow their food. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The documentary, which will begin by telling the story of laborers in California and continue documenting labor conditions as the filmmakers head South , will focus on the economics of labor .The films co-producer, Jonny Cogut, says that the film is an attempt to get people to understand the sources of the food that they eat. “It’s just amazing how easy it is to get whatever you want without actually knowing anything about how it got there,” he explains. Most of the food we eat we get with the help of migrant workers, many of whom are undocumented.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there were at least 10.8 million undocumented workers in the United States last year and between 2000 and 2010, the population of undocumented migrants grew by 27 percent. 62 percent of these workers are from Mexico. California, the nation’s top agricultural exporter, accounts for 24 percent of the nation’s undocumented workforce.  While immigration laws are a contentious issue in the United States, Sanjay Rawal hopes the film will help people gain a greater appreciation for the role that  immigrants play  in feeding America, “we are going to sit down and talk with them on farms and really get to know them and really get it to help inspire us to feel a deeper sense of gratitude for the food that we eat,” he says.

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Aug25

Bone Broth and a Movie: Chicago Premiere of Farmageddon

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This Friday, Kristin Canty’s film, Farmageddon, will open in Chicago.

Image Credit: Kristin Marie Productions

Kristin Canty’s son was healed of multiple allergies by farm fresh foods, among them raw milk. When she heard of the armed raids and seizures taking place on family farms she was horrified. And knew she had to do something about it. In this film, Canty lets these small farmers tell their stories.

On Monday, August 29th, there will be a special screening of this New York Times Critic’s Pick film, with Guy Meikle, the Executive Chef of Nana, Bridgeport’s first organic restaurant. In addition to drawing awareness to the healing power of food, the event will also highlight the ShowYourHearts.org campaign that is helping two boys who were orphaned and seriously injured by a car accident.

Click here for more event details.

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.

Oct21

Generation Organic Spreads Its Inspiring Message: “Own Your Food, Drive Your Future”

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By Janeen Madan

On October 6th, a group of young organic farmers boarded a brightly painted, veggie-oil powered school bus in La Farge, Wisconsin to kick off the first ever Generation Organic Tour. During a two and a half week road trip, they visited schools, colleges and grocery stores to promote the theme of the tour: “Who’s Your Farmer? Own Your Food, Drive Your Future!”

Generation Organic is teaching consumers about the benefits of organic products and showing their peers just how cool farming can be. (Photo credit: Generation Organic)

Generation Organic or Gen-O, is a group of farmers aged 18-35, who are spreading the message about the viability of a career in organic farming. They are the newest members of Organic Valley, the nation’s largest organic farming cooperative and a leading brand of organic products.

According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the average age of the farmers operating America’s 2.1 million farms is 57. This generational shift presents a huge challenge for the future of agriculture.  The Gen-O campaign is working to reverse this trend by showing that organic farming can be a viable career path.

“If the average age of the farmer is over 50, who’s going to farm for us?” says Theresa Marquez, Organic Valley’s Chief Marketing Executive. Gen-O was born five years ago when Marquez had the idea of bringing together young organic farmers to share their experiences.

These young farmers are determined to urge consumers to “own their food,” and teach them about how personal food choices affect our health and our planet, explains Elizabeth Horton, Director of Public Affairs at Organic Valley.

Generation Organic is teaching consumers about the benefits of organic products and showing their peers just how cool farming can be. (Photo credit: Generation Organic)

Along the tour, the bus made stops at several college and university campuses including SUNY Binghamton, Oberlin, Williams, Brown, Harvard, Yale, Columbia and Barnard. The Gen-Os educated their peers about the benefits of organically grown food by giving presentations to campus sustainability groups and hosting grilled-cheese socials.

In New York City, they visited a Whole Foods Market, where they talked to consumers about the importance of going organic.  And at PS 41, in Greenwich Village, the Gen-O team brought the farm into the classroom where they used planters to teach fifth graders about organic farming.

The tour concluded on October 21st, with a two day visit to the nation’s capital. Restaurant Nora, the first certified organic restaurant in the United States, hosted the Gen-O team for lunch. And the group also met with legislators to promote the importance of organic farming with the hope of influencing future discussions on agricultural policy.

The tour has helped young organic farmers from across the country connect with each other. “Most of us live in isolated areas where there aren’t other young people, and this [Gen-O] allows us to share our stories and ask each other questions,” says Sarah Mahaffy, a dairy farmer from Oregon.

Preston Green, 21, who splits his time between working on his family’s farm and studying agriculture business at the University of Wisconsin said, “The genuine question about ‘where does my food come from?’ is inspiring and empowering as a farmer because people are really starting to care, and we need to pay attention to the growing demand for that knowledge.”

As the new faces of sustainable agriculture, the Gen-Os are urging young consumers to choose organic and showing their peers just how cool farming can be.

Janeen Madan is a research intern with Nourishing the Planet.


Sep20

The NtP Team Keeps on Growing

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Dan Kane graduated in 2009 from Middlebury College (VT) with a degree in biology, focusing mostly on pollination ecology.

Dan Kane

While there he cultivated a serious interest in sustainable agriculture working on the college’s organic garden and at a local dairy. Since graduating, Dan has worked on organic farms in Ithaca, NY and Washington State to hone his skills as a farmer and hopes to someday have his own farm while pursuing a career in agricultural science. Dan also enjoys working on bikes, playing music, gardening, and playing ultimate frisbee. As a Research Intern, Dan is excited to be delving into the political side of sustainable agriculture while writing and researching for the Nourishing the Planet project.