Posts Tagged ‘Farmers’

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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Oct20

Feeding the Future: Ethiopia’s Livestock Growth Program

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By Kimberlee Davies

With one of the lowest GDPs and highest malnutrition rates in the world, Ethiopia desperately needs food security investment and innovation. The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently awarded a contract to CNFA, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, to implement the Agricultural Growth Program–Livestock Growth Project (AGP-LGP) in Ethiopia. The program, sponsored by USAID’s Feed the Future initiative, will encourage growth in the farming sector by increasing the competitiveness and value of Ethiopia’s livestock. CNFA expects the program to create roughly 2,600 new jobs and to improve the nutrition of 200,000 households.

CNFA has accepted a USAID contract to implement a livestock project in Ethiopia. (Photo Credit: ILRI)

In 2009, Feed the Future—a U.S. executive initiative resulting from the 2009 World Summit on Food Security—selected 20 countries, including Ethiopia, to work with on strengthening food security. Ethiopia was chosen for its high level of need and the Ethiopian government’s openness to partnership. Currently, Ethiopia’s annual per capita income is only US$170, and 30 percent of children under five are underweight. Livestock contribute to the livelihood of 60 to 70 percent of the population.

CNFA already has enacted a similar livestock program in Kenya. The Kenya Drylands Livestock Development Program (KDLDP) was one of the first programs implemented in Africa under Feed the Future, and has successfully increased livestock value and yields through improved production, marketing, and market access. Fattening animals and processing livestock products near production areas results in higher prices, thereby increasing local incomes and promoting employment among underemployed groups such as women, youth, and the elderly. AGP-LGP will apply CNFA’s past success to Ethiopia.

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Apr11

Global Food Prices Continue to Rise

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Continuing a decade-long increase, global food prices rose 2.7 percent in 2012, reaching levels not seen since the 1960s and 1970s but still well below the price spike of 1974. Between 2000 and 2012, the World Bank global food price index increased 104.5 percent, at an average annual rate of 6.5 percent.

Global food prices rose 2.7 percent in 2012 (Photo Credit: Thinkstock)

The price increases reverse a previous trend when real prices of food commodities declined at an average annual rate of 0.6 percent from 1960 to 1999, approaching historic lows. The sustained price decline can be attributed to farmers’ success in keeping crop yields ahead of rising worldwide food demand. Although the global population grew by 3.8 billion or 122.9 percent between 1961 and 2010, net per capita food production increased by 49 percent over this period. Advances in crop breeding and an expansion of agricultural land drove this rise in production, as farmers cultivated an additional 434 million hectares between 1961 and 2010.

Food price volatility has increased dramatically since 2006. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the standard deviation—or measurement of variation from the average—for food prices between 1990 and 1999 was 7.7 index points, but it increased to 22.4 index points in the 2000–12 period.

Although food price volatility has increased in the last decade, it is not a new phenomenon. According to World Bank data, the standard deviation for food prices in 1960–99 was 11.9 index points higher than in 2000–12. Some price volatility is inherent in agricultural commodities markets, as they are strongly influenced by weather shocks. But the recent upward trend in food prices and volatility can be traced to additional factors including climate change, policies promoting the use of biofuels, rising energy and fertilizer prices, poor harvests, national export restrictions, rising global food demand, and low food stocks.

Perhaps most significant has been an increase in biofuels production in the last decade. Between 2000 and 2011, global biofuels production increased more than 500 percent, due in part to higher oil prices and the adoption of biofuel mandates in the United States and European Union (EU). According to a 2012 study by the University of Bonn’s Center for Development Research, if biofuel production continues to expand according to current plans, the price of feedstock crops (particularly maize, oilseed crops, and sugar cane) will increase more than 11 percent by 2020.

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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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Oct16

On World Food Day, Supporting Agricultural Cooperatives in the Fight against Hunger and Poverty

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By Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds

Some one billion people belong to cooperatives in nearly 100 countries worldwide guarding consumers, producers, and workers against hunger, bankruptcy, and rights abuses. Agricultural cooperatives help farmers access and share information, get fair prices for their goods, and participate in local decision making. This October 16, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will celebrate “Agricultural Cooperatives: Key to Feeding the World” for World Food Day.

World Food Day is a global day of action against hunger (Photo Credit: Oxfam America)

Agricultural cooperatives are part of a larger movement to make food more environmentally and socially just and sustainable. Agroecological practices enrich soils, improve yields, increase incomes, and support the people, animals, plants, and entire ecosystems affected by agriculture.

An infographic released recently by the Christensen Fund highlights how industrial agricultural practices—including raising meat in factory farms, adding pesticides and chemical fertilizers to fields, and shipping food to markets across the globe—contributes to increased incidences of chronic diseases and severe air and water pollution.

By contrast, agroecological practices—including composting and agroforestry, conserving wildlife habitats, and selling products within a localized food system—can build resilience to climate change, increase nutritional and biological diversity, and double or triple agricultural yields over the long term.

Agricultural cooperatives and agroecological practices go hand-in-hand to support a more sustainable food system. By encouraging worker empowerment, farmer training, and consumer awareness, this year’s World Food Day theme is showcasing one of the most promising elements of a more sustainable food system.

World Food Day is a global day of action against hunger. FAO suggests a variety of ways you can become involved in the day of action, including:

  1. Host a World Food Day meal: As part of its GROW Method, OxfamAmerica promotes 5 very simple actions to help create a better food system: save food, eat seasonally and locally, eat less meat and dairy, support small farmers, and cook smart. If you sign up to host a meal, OxfamAmerica will send you everything you need to host a great event: free World Food Day recipe cards from famous chefs, placemats, videos, and more.
  2. Join your local hunger coalition: The Alliance to End Hunger has created the Hunger Free Communities Network, an online platform for coalitions, campaigns, and individuals committed to ending hunger in their local communities.
  3. Activate a school campus: Why Care? is a student-led campaign of Universities Fighting World Hunger to spark a global conversation about hunger and to build momentum to World Food Day campus events. The campaign offers several simple suggestions on how to spread the word about world hunger on a campus.
  4. Arrange a food and fund drive: the World Food Day website can help you find your nearby food bank or pantry, and gives tips on donating food or funds to maximize your positive impact.

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

Oct16

21 Awesome Policies Changing the Food System!

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Today we celebrate World Food Day in commemoration of the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is a chance to renew our commitment to sustainable and equitable agriculture as a means of ending world hunger.

Around the world, governments and organizations alike have made huge strides towards achieving the principles on which the FAO was founded. Governments on every continent have taken significant steps to change food systems for the better, making them more sustainable, healthy, and accessible to all. Today, we showcase just 21 of the many recent policies and laws enacted by governments worldwide that are helping to change the food system, promote sustainable agriculture, and eradicate hunger.

1. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed in 2010 with a focus on improving the nutrition of children across the United States. Authorizing funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs, this legislation allows the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to make real reforms to school lunch and breakfast programs and promote healthy eating habits among the nation’s youth. Read more about the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and 15 innovations making school meals healthier and more sustainable on the Nourishing the Planet blog.

2. The Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB) was founded in 2011 to help improve the provision of services to farmers in the country. It focuses on adapting its policies to local needs, developing sustainable production systems, and providing farmers and consumers with education, techniques, and services to help supply Rwandans with better foods. The RAB has received praise for its efforts from organizations like the Executive Board of the Forum for Agriculture Research in Africa.

3. Beginning in 2008, the Australian government committed $12.8 million for 190 primary schools across Australia to participate in the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program. Hoping to encourage healthy and nutritious eating habits in young Australians, the program works with primary schools to teach students how to grow, harvest, prepare, and share fresh food.

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Sep26

Citywatch: Getting to the Right Question on the Nutrient Benefits of Organic Food

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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.

Stanford recently released a controversial study comparing organic and conventionally produced foods (Photo Credit: Susan Troccolo)

The international media had a field day headlining a Stanford university study dissing the nutritional benefits of organic food. I hope it’s not too late for me to ask a few questions that might steer the debate in a more useful direction.

I would like the media to explain why a study that was not based on either original research or professional expertise was considered so significant.

The paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is strictly a “meta-analysis,” combining some of the findings of some 200 other scientists’ publications over the years. It is the ninth such paper to come out in a decade, and the fourth to turn thumbs down on organic claims to significant superiority in the nutritional realm – not exactly trail-blazing stuff. Nor, considering the ability of writers to cherry pick various findings from different individual studies, does a meta-analysis inherently prove much more than ability to cherry pick. That’s why new hard research, rather than summaries of old research, is usually the stuff of news stories.

I would also like to ask why no-one checked the qualifications of this 12-person team, which was granted immediate credibility, despite the absence of a professional nutritionist, agrologist or bio-medical specialist. One is a librarian, a few are graduate students,  several are medical doctors who specialize in such fields as infectious disease, bio-terrorism, diagnosis or HIV, one is a mathematician, one an administrator, one a research assistant.

The heavy-hitter on the team is Igram Olkin, an 88 year-old retired professor of statistics. Stanford University media releases cite his renown as a specialist in meta-analysis, without mentioning that his name is batted around as a paid witness on statistics for the tobacco industry. Given that the Stanford team’s use of statistics is subjected to withering criticism by organic advocate and academic Charles Benbrook, it’s odd no mainstream reporter checked to see if where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

It’s also a bit odd that no-one asked what an article on nutritional merits of organic foods was doing in a medical journal, given that doctors have minimal training, credentials or interest in this field – although maybe I’ve just answered my own question.

One of the first things I learned when researching for my first serious food book some 15 years ago was that the relation between organic and nutrition does not compute.

Nutritional levels vary according to a host of factors. One big one is the quality of soil long before anyone farmed it organically or conventionally (no history of volcanoes in New York means no rich volcanic ash in the soil, for example). Another factor that has little to do with organic or conventional is when the crop was picked (tomatoes get most of their vitamin C as they turn red, not when they’re hard and green, which is when they get picked by machines).

The list of crucial questions and variables keeps growing: how long was the produce in a truck or store, under what conditions was the food stored, how was the food prepared (some vitamins are destroyed by heat, some nutrients only become available when heated).

It’s quite likely that healthier and stronger plants grow on organically-managed soils, without any help from synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.  But that’s no guarantee that the plants bulked up on more nutrients. Organic or not, plants work to meet their own survival needs, not ours, and the optimum level of vitamin B needed by a particular plant may or may not work best for humans. That’s why people choose particular plants if they’re looking for high doses of particular nutrients.

Put the whole mix together, and a study based on analysis of a conventional ruby red tomato, lightly cooked immediately after picking, will probably show more nutrients than an organic tomato picked green from an industrial organic farm a week ago, hauled across the continent on a truck, and left to sit at a salad bar, for example. These are the kinds of things that affect nutrient levels, and anyone who knows more about nutrition than editors of a conventional medical journal would hear alarms ringing in their ears if writers started making a big case about nutrient differences with or without organic.

This is why nutrition expert Marion Nestle started her blog item on the controversy by saying “sigh,” as in “have I not explained this a hundred times already?” Organic advocates rarely make a nutritional claim, she points out. So the Stanford article is knocking down a straw man.

With dairy and meat, new evidence suggests that a key issue is how animals are treated. Still- controversial studies suggest that grass-fed animals have more nutritious milk and meat than animals fed corn and soy – no matter whether organic or conventional. That’s only logical, given that most animals evolved to eat grass rather than corn or soy, which are good for bulking up fast, but not necessarily so good for complex nutrients.

Organic scores well, even in the Stanford study, in terms of pesticide residue, which is as important to personal health as nutrients. Almost no-one is suffering from scurvy, rickets or wasting in North America or Europe, where the Stanford study got a lot of media, but breast, prostate, colon and bladder cancers have affected almost every family. A strong case can be made that toxic residues from pesticides, brought into the body by food, are implicated in these cancers. So this isn’t exactly a minor selling point for organics.

On the question of toxins, however, I’m also intrigued that there are any—not 30 per cent less, but any—pesticide residues on organic. That can only mean that the toxins from conventional fields migrated by air, rain or water table to organic fields, and who knows where else.

Why didn’t that set off media alarm bells? It means that people who pay extra for organic are still getting toxic residues that rightfully belong to the people who produced and bought conventional food.

This is an issue worthy of a meta-analysis. Are organic consumers dupes, taking the toxic bullet for people who saved money thanks to pesticides. Is it fair that some farmers get to cut their production costs by spreading toxins throughout the environment?

Since the Stanford team is asking whether organic costs more when it doesn’t deliver more nutrients, why doesn’t the team also ask the flip side of the question—whether conventional gets to charge less because the toxic load is passed on to everyone?

That question gets to the penultimate tricky question of agricultural prices. Why do some get to offload costs to the environment for free, while those who contribute to a safer environment get no fee compensating them for their extra work on behalf of the public good? If an environmental fee was paid to the farmer producing the environmental service, then all farmers would compete on an even playing field, and no academics would ever have to ask whether organic delivers more value for the money.

Why doesn’t the Stanford team, or any of the media following their study, ask that?  There I go again, answering my own question.

Wayne Roberts is on the board of Unitarian Service Committee of Canada-Seeds of Survival, which funds “cials” in Honduras, and he toured Honduras as one of their delegation.

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

Aug20

The 2012 Food Sovereignty Tours Hit the Road!

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By Angela Kim

Food First will launch its worldwide Food Sovereignty Tours in September to teach participants about local food and agriculture (Photo Credit: Cari-Vicarious)

Food First, also known as the Institute for Food and Development Policy, is a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging people in the global movement for food sovereignty. In partnership with the Global Exchange Reality Tours, which offers experiential educational tours focused on human rights issues, Food First launched their worldwide Food Sovereignty Tours in 2010. The tours allow participants to learn about and experience local food systems, agriculture, and the social movements of destination countries. The nonprofit tours include meetings with individuals and organizations engaged in changing the global food system, including producers, movement leaders, researchers, activists, and policymakers. Through these interactions and exchanges, Food First hopes to facilitate meaningful relationships between communities and travelers, to deepen the participant’s awareness of food struggles through common interest in food issues. Take a look at the upcoming international tours scheduled for this year, currently open to all for registration.

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Aug08

The Greenhouse Effect: Plantagon’s Urban Vertical Farm

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By Edyth Parker

By 2050, Earth’s population will grow to 9 billion, according to the United Nations. This population growth, coupled with a rabid global urbanization rate, is increasing the pressure on urban areas’ infrastructure and services. Cities will need to find ways to adapt to absorb their new populations, who may become vulnerable to poverty and food and water shortages. One movement that looks to address urban poverty and food insecurity is vertical urban farming, and the Plantagon greenhouse in Sweden is one of the latest examples of this innovation.

The Plantagon Greenhouse: the future of urban framing? (Photo credit: Plantagon)

Plantagon officially broke ground on their vertical greenhouse in Linköping in 2012. The Plantagon Greenhouse Project aims to develop a sustainable vertical farm that can function by using excess heat and waste from the nearby industries for energy and fertilizer. For this, Plantagon has three different vertical farm models: the integrated greenhouse, the parasite, and the stand-alone greenhouse.

The integrated greenhouse is not just a greenhouse. In this model, there will be a façade system of panels on the exterior of the building that will host the cultivation boxes for the crops. The building itself will be used for other industrial purposes as well as urban farming, maximizing land productivity. The façade system will have a conveyor belt that moves each plant in and out of sunlight as the cultivation boxes are carried downward floor by floor.

These boxes or pots will be fitted with an ebb-and-flow irrigation mechanism as well as nutrient reservoirs. The crops will grow as they slowly move down the conveyor belt, arriving mature and ready for harvesting in the basement levels. Harvesting will be done using an automatic harvesting machine, after which the pots will be reused for a new generation of crops. The parasite model was created as a façade or exterior system that could be attached to existing buildings.

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Jul30

Carissa: An African Fruit Could Become as Popular as a Cranberry

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By Julia Eder

Carissa is a shrub, climber, or small tree that can grow up to 20 feet tall and it is cultivated for its plum-like fruits. The berries are used mainly for processed products such as jellies, preserves, or syrup, but they are also eaten fresh. They contain a little more vitamin C than oranges, and are also a source for other vitamins, including Vitamin A and B.

Carissa plants are easy to grow and packed with vitamins. (Photo credit: Josie’s Focus on Flickr)

The species that is mainly produced is Carissa Macrocarpa, or Natal plum, named after a region in Northern South Africa where it grows. There, it is locally called num-num. The Natal plum is a significant commercial resource in South Africa where farmers sell them along the roadsides every January and February.

Carissa can be difficult to grow because the plant exudes a milky sap when cut or broken, which aggravates harvest and transportation of the fruits because they can easily be damaged. And the berries have a short shelf life because the sap congeals.

Carissa is also a popular and cultivated hedge plant because of its thick, dark glossy green leaves, its thorns, and the fragrant white to pink star-like blossoms. It has even become a valued ornamental plant in California and Florida. There, some plants have been selected and reared to have fruits as big as oranges and are grown on a height above the thorny foliage to facilitate the harvest. With further horticultural advancement, carissa can be useful in at least a dozen nations within Africa and in other parts of the world for economic profit.

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