Posts Tagged ‘Food’

Dec10

5 Strategies the United Nations Special Rapporteur Suggests for Public Health

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By Alison Blackmore

With 1.3 billion people now overweight or obese, nearly 1 billion undernourished, and even more suffering from critical micronutrient deficiencies, it is no secret that our food system is broken. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food released a report in 2011 urging governments to move away from the practice of merely prescribing health warnings and applying band-aids to public health challenges. Instead, he urged governments to address the root causes of the international health crisis.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food urges governments to address the root causes of the international health crisis. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia)

Today, Nourishing the Planet looks at the five actions that Mr. De Schutter suggests that governments take to protect the human right to adequate food around the world.

Taxing unhealthy products. De Schutter reported that taxing unhealthy products can be an effective strategy to encourage healthy diets, since price is an important determinant in consumption levels. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2007 showed that a 10 percent tax on soft drinks could lead to an 8–10 percent reduction in purchases. Because foods high in fat, salt, and sugar are cheap while nutritious diets can be expensive, many consumers gravitate toward unhealthy food choices out of financial necessity. To ensure a more equal food system, the report advises governments to direct the tax revenues raised from foods high in fat, salt, and sugar toward making healthy food more affordable and accessible to poor communities.

Example: Despite strong opposition from retailers city-wide, in May 2010 the Washington, D.C. Council added sweetened soda to those items subject to the 6 percent sales tax. The city intended to use the tax revenue to support D.C.’s Healthy Schools Act, a landmark measure seeking to improve school nutrition and increase Physical Education programs.

Regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt, and sugar. Taxing foods high in fats, sugar, and salt is just one way of suppressing a sugar-high food system before it crashes. De Schutter also suggests that governments regulate junk food and fast food advertisements, especially those catered to children; provide accurate and balanced nutritional information to consumers; and adopt a plan to replace trans-fats with polyunsaturated fats in nearly all food products.

Example: In October of 2011, Denmark imposed a so-called “fat tax” on products high in saturated fats in order to repress rising obesity rates, which have led to increasing medical and social problems. Denmark has a long history of taxing unhealthy products to promote healthy diets, such as a tax on candy and a ban on trans-fats—perhaps a reason the country’s obesity rate in 2011 was 1.6 percent lower than the European average of 15 percent.

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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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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…)

Sep04

Innovation of the Month: Aeroponic Technology

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By Carolyn Smalkowski

As the world’s urban population continues to grow, the demand for food in urban areas continues to expand. To meet this demand, urban agricultural innovations are sprouting up in countries and communities around the world. Aeroponic farming—the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil—is one such innovation.

Aeroponic farming—the process of growing plants in an air or mist environment without the use of soil—can help to meet rising demand for food in urban areas. (Photo Credit: The Young Agropreneur)

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA), aeroponic systems allow for clean, efficient, and rapid food production. In aeroponic systems, crops, which are isolated from seasonal change, can be planted and harvested year round without interruption and without contamination from soil, pesticides, and residue. And because aeroponic growing environments are clean and sterile, the chances of spreading plant disease and infection are less common than in soil-based systems. As a result, aeroponic farming systems can yield high-value crops—such as leafy greens, herbs, and micro-greens—quickly and reliably.

According to AeroFarms, a producer of aeroponic systems in Ithaca, New York, aeroponic production is superior to conventional and greenhouse production for a variety of reasons: the produce does not require washing after harvest; can be delivered fresh to stores and restaurants on a daily basis; has a shelf life of 3 to 4 weeks; offers year round seasonality; has a faster growth cycle; and does not need to be treated with pesticides.

When asked about the benefits of aeroponics, AeroFarms’ Founder and CEO Ed Harwood said, “What I plant is what I harvest, so I can predict what I’m going to have two or three weeks from now, which is much more difficult when the circumstances aren’t controlled.” For farmers whose livelihoods depend on successful harvests, the control and predictability associated with aeroponic production can be a major boon.  (more…)

Mar27

Aquaponics: An Interview with Sweet Water Organics’ Matt Ray

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Nourishing the Planet’s Kimberlee Davies spoke recently with Matt Ray, the principal farmer for Sweet Water Organics, an aquaponics training organization in Milwaukee, about his experience in the field of aquaponics.

Sweet Water Organics uses aquaponics technology to grow food in downtown Milwaukee.

What is aquaponics? How did you become involved?

Aquaponics has been around for centuries. It was traditionally a technique in tropical climates, using floating bamboo rafts with vegetation in fresh water pools. This was simply the adaptation of agriculture to the tropics. The technique has become cutting edge over the last 20 years. We can adapt aquaponics to today’s geographies and culture.

Aquaponics is a blending of aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water without soil). In aquaponics, aquatic animals serve as the nutrition base for the plants. The great thing about aquaponics is that it is a closed system; it doesn’t have to flow in one pipe and out of another.

I saw it begin to pop up in the late 1980s, starting with the Virgin Islands, Australia, and even Asia, where fish are grown symbiotically with rice paddies. Forward-thinking farmers and activists began to develop the practice in non-tropical climates, and academics began researching the field. Twenty years later, we have a lot more people doing it. Scientific data has emerged to support the spread and success of this technique. It’s possible to take the nuts and bolts and adapt them to wherever you are. It’s going to work and it can be replicated.

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Mar11

Argan Oil: Too Much of a Good Thing?

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Most people have heard of the health benefits of using olive oil instead of butter or other saturated animal fats. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil have been shown to reduce levels of harmful cholesterol, and as a result nutrition experts have touted it and other aspects of the Mediterranean Diet as heart healthy.

Photo Credit: Jane Alexander

But olive oil isn’t the only celebrated oil from that region of the world. In Morocco, argan oil has been consumed by the Berber people for centuries. Berbers add the deep yellow, toasty-flavored oil to couscous, serve it alongside bread, or eat it on its own. Argan oil has been shown to reduce cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, and recent research by France’s Institut Pasteur, Morocco’s Lipoproteins and Atherosclerosis Research Laboratory, and others suggests that it might contribute to the prevention of various cancers, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes.

Beyond the health benefits of consuming argan oil, there are also important environmental benefits associated with its production. The same deep root systems that make argan trees well adapted to heat and frequent drought in southwestern Morocco also protect the land against soil erosion and desertification. Meanwhile, argan trees provide shade and protection for crops or pastureland, presenting opportunities for agroforestry.

Arguably, however, the most noteworthy impact of argan oil production is social. This rare oil has captivated a global audience, primarily because of its use in cosmetics. As a result, market prices have been on the rise (making it the most expensive edible oil in the world), and argan oil producers—largely local Moroccan women—have been reaping the benefits.

Because the process of extracting argan oil is extremely labor intensive (it can take 50 kilograms of seeds to produce just half a liter of oil), the women who produce it by hand are frequently part of production co-operatives, such as the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie). Founded in 1999, this innovative co-operative produces and markets argan oil and is supported by the Moroccan government as both a conservation and development strategy. Today, the UCFA unites 22 smaller women’s co-operatives. The women who make up these groups gain status, a steady income, and, in some cases, an education through their work.

Yet the argan oil boom has been a double-edged sword. Argan trees and the area in which they grow are threatened by overuse and deforestation. A study by the University of California, Davis finds that “the boom has predictably made households vigilant guardians of fruit on the tree, but it has not incited investments in longer term tree and forest health.” While the development of a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Morocco is a step in the right direction, it will be both economically and environmentally critical for the same non-governmental groups, development agencies, and government offices that supported argan oil production in the first place to keep sustainability in mind.

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet Project.

 

Dec06

“We Plant a Seed, We Grow Our Future:” Larry Laverentz on Refugee Farmers in the United States

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In November 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Victoria Russo spoke with Larry Laverentz, a program manager with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), about his efforts to educate and support refugee farmers in the United States.

Larry has been involved in agriculture for most of his life, from growing up on a cattle farm to working as an agriculture volunteer in Vietnam for International Voluntary Services. His experiences, including earning a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, have enabled him to run programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and prepared him for his current position at RAPP.

RAPP helps refugee farmers bring familiar and nutritious foods home to their families. (Photo credit: RAPP)

How was the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program created?

In 2003, the director of the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement began to track the trend of agrarian backgrounds of refugees, and decided to create a project that would enable refugees to get in touch with their agrarian roots. The project officially started in San Diego and Phoenix, and soon spread into a national program through support from the Institute for Social and Economic Development. The program is currently in its third round of three-year grants, totaling 24 projects nationwide.

What sorts of challenges do refugees face when they come to the United States and try to make a living through agriculture?

Many refugees come to this country wanting to get involved with agriculture. While they may be well-versed in farming practices, marketing their products and making a livelihood from farming in this country are complicated processes. Those who have lived in refugee camps for many years typically have limited education and few English and literacy skills, making it difficult to communicate. This creates barriers, for example, in finding land to rent or getting loans for farm equipment. If refugees have no credit history or practice balancing a budget or repaying loans, they are susceptible to falling into debt. Most refugee farmers must also find an off-farm income to supplement what they make through agriculture.

What strategies does RAPP use to break down these barriers and help refugees?

RAPP aims to educate and assist refugees in areas where they did not have previous experience. Each project uses grant funding to hire a garden coordinator, recruit volunteers, access land and supplies, and assess projects. In the first year, the team will typically build an incubator training farm, focused on intensive production tied to marketing. Perhaps after the first year the project will grow, and refugees will be able to expand or even start their own small farms. In conjunction with the farms, we teach classes on record-keeping and financial literacy, invite guests such as master gardeners to come speak, or coordinate ESL courses structured toward agricultural vocabulary. We try to give them the tools they need to grow their businesses.

Are most of the program participants experienced farmers, or are they new to agriculture?

Most of them are experienced in agriculture but were subsistence farmers in their countries of origin. This means that if they farmed, they were not typically involved in marketing, and they are not used to selling excess crops. Refugee camps do not usually allow farming due to limited space, and technology has advanced from what they knew before—so even if they are experienced farmers, there is still a learning curve. The question that we are trying to answer is “How do you create independence for refugees?” Dr. Hugh Joseph of Tufts University created the nation’s first refugee farming project in 1998, which focused on teaching them how to transition from being gardeners, to market gardeners, to independent farmers. We hope that our program allows them to eventually take their own produce to market, operate their own stand, and know what to plant each season.

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Nov16

U.S. Government Raises Estimates for Corn and Soybean Harvest, But Lasting Effects of Drought Still Loom

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By Andrew Alesbury

The U.S. government predicts that the nation’s 2012 corn and soybean harvests will not be as low as previously predicted, although the effects of this year’s drought in the country’s top agricultural region are not yet over.

The USDA has raised its production
forecasts for corn and soybeans, but
the effects of the drought are not yet over (Photo Credit: Collective Vision).

In a recent report on national crop production, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) forecasts a slight rise from October’s projections, with total corn production expected to hit 10.7 billion bushels and soybean production projected to reach 2.97 billion bushels. Even with the new projections, the drought is expected to cause deficits in 2012 U.S. corn and soybean production of 13 percent and 4 percent, respectively, over 2011.

This summer’s drought was centered in the Midwest, the heart of U.S. corn and soybean production. Because the United States is the world’s biggest exporter of the two crops, the plant-withering conditions caused soybean and corn prices to reach record highs worldwide, fueling fears over continued price increases. But rainfall late in the growing season has lessened the drought’s impact, allowing farmers to make up for some of the crop shortfall and bring prices down.

Analysts such as Mark Schultz, chief analyst at Northstar Commodity Investment Co., speculate that decreased demand for grains has also helped to soften the blow of global shortages. “Surging costs may have damped demand by makers of food, biofuel and livestock feed,” Schultz said in an interview with Bloomberg. “Given all the rhetoric about the rest of the world running out of food, it appears that supplies are adequate and that high prices may have slowed demand.”

Yet not all is back to normal. Irrespective of recent rainfall or of demand compensating for decreased supply, the drought has still accounted for large crop losses and may have lasting effects. Corn yields for 2012 are expected to average 122.3 bushels per acre, down 24.9 bushels per acre from 2011. If these predictions prove accurate, they would represent the nation’s lowest corn output since 2006 and lowest average yield since 1995.

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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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Oct12

Celebrate World Food Day on October 16th!

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By Devon Ericksen

October 16, 2012, is World Food Day and Oxfam invites you to join in the celebration. By hosting a World Food Day dinner, you can become part of the movement that is happening all over America to talk about ways this country can fix its broken food system and make more food available to people who go hungry.

Oxfam invites you to host a World Food Day dinner on October 16 (Photo Credit: Oxfam)

Even though this planet produces enough food to feed everyone, almost one billion people are hungry. This is because about one third of the food produced is wasted between farm and fork, food that could have fed people in need. Bring this issue and others to the table on World Food Day by hosting a dinner discussion. Oxfam will send tons of free materials, from a discussion guide to placemats and recipe ideas. Share photos from your dinner on the World Food Day Instagram site using the hashtag #WFD2012 and join in the celebration.

Want to ensure your World Food Day dinner is sustainable? Follow the Oxfam GROW Method’s five simple strategies for feeding your family equitably and sustainably. These strategies involve saving food, eating only seasonal produce, eating less meat, supporting small farmers, and using smart, energy-efficient cooking methods. Following these strategies helps consumers reduce the impact of their meals. Got a recipe that follows these principles? Oxfam also invites you to share GROW method recipes on the Pinterest Grow Method Cook Book by tagging your pin with #GROWmethod to add it to the book.

Bring the topic of food justice to the table by joining in the global movement. Host a World Food Day Dinner and share your experience!

Devon Ericksen is a media and communications intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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