Posts Tagged ‘GRAIN’


Yaks: The Bison of the Mountains

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By Hitesh Pant

Originating in the “roof of the world,” the yak is an important animal, providing a host of nutritional and practical benefits to the people of the Tibetan plateau. It can withstand freezing temperatures and sparse vegetation, and is a major source of meat, milk, fiber, and hide. Although the population of Bos mustus sharply declined due to the arrival of new farmers who poached their meat for commercial gains, the domesticated yak (Bos grunniens) gradually migrated into Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia, becoming an essential driver of economic development in these regions.

Wild yaks are now regionally extinct in Nepal and India, and the demand for domestic pastures has sharply reduced their food source, and with it their population (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Similar in appearance to the North American bison, the yak is characterized by its thick black coat and large dewclaws, both of which are adaptations to the harsh climate of the Himalayas. Perhaps the most striking feature is its round and thick horns, whose open arch gives this bovine an intimidating appearance. The yak reaches sexual maturity by age six, and has an average life span of 23 years.

Seasonal variation of environmental conditions is the biggest limiting factor in yak growth and the main determinant of individual productivity; approximately 25 percent of the body weight gained during the summer is lost over winter and spring, an amount that is difficult to regenerate given the limited availability of year-round grasses. Despite the limitations on growth that they face—low annual rainfall, mean temperatures below 5°C, and seasonal shifts in vegetation—yaks have continued to supplement subsistence farming in the Himalayas and have become an important ecosystem service for the area.

Yak milk is very dense and thick, and its high fat (5.5-7 percent) and protein (4-5.5 percent) content makes it a valuable source of amino acids. Meat, which is primarily derived from castrated or ‘surplus’ males, is an important source of income to the herding families. The thick fur that coats the yak has been extensively used for insulating tin roofs and the growing demand for their fur has resulted in an increase in crossbreeding to bear individuals with the thickest fiber. Although the quality of their hide is lower in comparison to cattle, yak hide is a major source of rawhide in China and is used to pack raw butter, wrap boxes for storage, and felt boots and soles. Farmers use yak feces to make pens and enclosures for winter stocks, and they also paint it on fences to fill cracks.

Known locally as the ‘boat of the plateau,’ the yak serves as an important draft animal and is used for plowing and threshing grain. Likewise, its high endurance makes it ideal to carry loads across large distances without having the need to continually replenish it with water.

Unfortunately, the introduction of motor vehicles in rural Tibet coincided with an increase in commercial poaching, and coupled with the interbreeding of domestic and wild animals, looks to have gradually resigned yaks to the same fate as the bison. Wild yaks are now regionally extinct in Nepal and India, and the demand for domestic pastures has sharply reduced their food source, and with it their population.

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


Global Grain Production at Record High Despite Extreme Climatic Events

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By Danielle Nierenberg and Katie Spoden

Global grain production is expected to reach a record high of 2.4 billion tons in 2012, an increase of 1 percent from 2011 levels, according to new research conducted by the Nourishing the Planet project for our Vital Signs Online service. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the production of grain for animal feed is growing the fastest—a 2.1 percent increase from 2011. Grain for direct human consumption grew 1.1 percent from 2011.

Global grain production is expected to reach a record high of 2.4 billion tons in 2012 (Photo Credit: The Urban Homemaker)

In 2011, the amount of grain used for food totaled 571 million tons, with India consuming 89 million tons, China 87 million tons, and the United States 28 million tons, according to the International Grains Council. The world relies heavily on wheat, maize (corn), and rice for daily sustenance: of the 50,000 edible plants in the world, these three grains account for two-thirds of global food energy intake. Grains provide the majority of calories in diets worldwide, ranging from a 23 percent share in the United States to 60 percent in Asia and 62 percent in North Africa.

Maize production in the United States—the largest producer—was expected to reach a record 345 million tons in 2012; however, drought in the Great Plains has altered this estimate severely. Maize yields for the 2012–13 growing season are now expected to decrease 13 percent from 2011 production, for a total production of 274.3 million tons.

The reliance on grain crops for food security is threatened by more-extreme climatic events, especially droughts and floods. According to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction, the World Food Programme, and Oxfam International, some 375 million people will be affected by climate change-related disasters by 2015. By 2050, the FAO notes, 10–20 percent more people will be subject to hunger based on the changing climate’s effects on agriculture, and 24 million more children are expected to be malnourished—21 percent more than if there were no climate change.

The relationship between food security, grain production, and climate change is especially important in 2012. The recent drought affecting the United States and the rest of the world show the need to reduce price volatility, move away from fossil fuel–based agriculture, and recognize the importance of women farmers to increase resilience to climate change.

The drought taking place in the Midwest and Great Plains of the United States is considered the country’s worst in 50 years, coming close to matching the late-1930s Dust Bowl. The drought is expected to cost many billions of dollars and could top the list as one of the most expensive weather-related disasters in U.S. history. The global market will be most affected by this drought, as so much of the developing world relies on U.S. corn and soybean production. Food prices have already begun to increase due to lower yields, and price fluctuations will inevitably affect food security around the globe.

Further highlights from the report:

  • The FAO expects global maize production to increase 4.1 percent from 2011, reaching an estimated 916 million tons in 2012.
  • Global rice production achieved an all-time high of 480 million tons in 2011, a 2.6 percent increase from 2010.
  • World wheat production is projected to drop to 675.1 million tons in 2012, down 3.6 percent from 2011, with the largest declines in feed and biofuel utilization.
  • Since 1961, grain production has increased 269 percent and grain yield has increased 157 percent, while the grain harvest area has increased only 25 percent. This is due largely to the Green Revolution and the introduction of high-yielding grain varieties.

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


World Grain Production Down, But Recovering

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World grain production fell in 2010, exacerbating a global food situation already plagued by rising prices, according to new research published by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online publication. Despite record rice and maize yields around the world, global wheat production dropped substantially enough to bring total grain output to just below 2008 levels.

Wheat harvesting in drought-plagued Russia. (Photo credit: MercoPress)

Maize, wheat, and rice provide nearly two-thirds of the global human diet and serve as critical inputs for both animal feed and industrial products. The significance of these crops guarantees that a decline in production will produce ripple effects throughout the global economy, particularly as increased food prices continue to take a toll on the world’s neediest populations. Overall, rice and wheat production have tripled since the 1960s, and maize production has quadrupled, despite global acreage of these crops increasing by only 35 percent.

Production increased worldwide, but there was greater reliance on irrigation, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides—all of which take resources, can be costly, and may cause substantial environmental degradation. As farmers have begun to witness these impacts, many have been forced to abandon their fields because of infertile soil.



Pork without a pig: scientists attempt to grow artificial meat in a lab

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By Grant Potter

The most expensive piece of meat in the world—costing about “US $12,000 per kilo” (2.2 pounds)—does not come from a ranch but a laboratory – the meat is grown in vitro, without killing a living animal. The material required for in vitro meat is gathered by “a relatively harmless muscle biopsy from a pig, cow, sheep, chicken” says Nicola Jones, author of a recent article on in vitro meat.  From this extracted muscle tissue, researchers separate myosatellite cells which are adult stem cells used to grow and repair the animal’s muscles after exercise or injury.  Stem cells are important to this process because they can self-divide and multiply their numbers to create a mass of cells where there once was one. These myosatellite cells are incubated in a petri dish with a substance designed to cause cell division and provide nutrients for muscle growth.

Scientists are attempting to grow meat without the animal (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

Yet the practice has not quite caught up to the theory. There are a number of hurdles that scientists must overcome before large-scale growth can occur. “The myosatellite cells will divide only a limited number of times,” according to Jones, making it difficult to produce high volumes of meat. Mark Post, a physiology professor at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands, for example, has been unable to produce enough meat to make a single sausage which will “require another year of research and at least $250,000”. Additionally, the muscles atrophy without the animal to exercise them naturally. Post describes the meat he has produced as “weak and without texture”.  Although researchers are forbidden from tasting their creations, Post describes a TV journalist who stealthily ate a piece and described it as “chewy and tasteless”.  The price and taste of in vitro meat must be dramatically improved before artificial meat is “even remotely competitive with current products” says Post.



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.



“Land Grabs” in Agriculture: Fairer Deals Needed to Ensure Opportunity for Locals

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The trend of international land grabbing—when governments and private firms invest in or purchase large tracts of land in other countries for the purpose of agricultural production and export—can have serious environmental and social consequences, according to researchers at the Worldwatch Institute. Deals that focus solely on financial profit can leave rural populations more vulnerable and without land, employment opportunities, or food security.

In Mozambique, while land grabs can bring in development, it can also strip farmers off their land and livelihoods. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

“Investors claim that land grabs can help alleviate the world food crisis by tapping into a country’s ‘unused’ agricultural potential,” said Danielle Nierenberg, Director of Worldwatch’s Nourishing the Planet project. “But such investments often do more harm than good, disrupting traditional land-use patterns and leaving small-scale farmers vulnerable to exploitation.”

The trend has accelerated as countries that lack sufficient fertile land to meet their own food needs—such as wealthier countries in the Middle East and Asia, particularly China—have turned to new fields in which to plant crops. “Growing demand and rising prices for food are leading some wealthier developing countries to seek secure access to food-producing land in the territory of lower-income ones,” said Robert Engelman, Executive Director of Worldwatch. “If all governments capably represented the interests of their citizens, these cash-for-cropland deals might improve prosperity and food security for both sides. But that’s not often the case. It’s critical that international institutions monitor these arrangements and find ways to block those that are one-sided or benefit only the wealthy.”

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reports that some 15–20 million hectares of farmland were the subject of deals or proposed deals involving foreigners between 2006 and mid-2009. Additional land acquisitions occurred in 2010, including deals in Ethiopia and Sudan, according to Andrew Rice, author of The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget and contributing author to the recent Worldwatch report State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.



In Case You Missed It: The Week in Short

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We have arrived in New York City after another great week in in Johannesburg, South Africa, meeting with NGOs, journalists, and development organizations.


(Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Here are some highlights from the week: This week’s episode of Nourishing the Planet TV features a farmer from Togo who  is bringing the vegetables he remembers from his home to consumers in the greater Washington DC area, and in the process, helping to create a new source of income for local farmers.

This week we also featured one way that organizations like the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Cargill, The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and The Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAAPD) are working to alleviate Vitamin A deficiency- by fortifying vegetable oils used for cooking.

This week’s innovation highlights World Neighbors, a non-profit organization that works with communities worldwide to inspire positive, lasting changes in hunger, poverty, disease, and the environment. Their approach to development is unique—WN operates by inviting all residents of an area to participate in identifying community needs. By doing this, WN programs address interconnected issues rather than individual problem areas.

Now it’s your turn: What were your favorite posts from the week? What do you hope we’ll write about next week? Let us know in the comments!

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.


Large Scale Land Investments Do Not Benefit Local Communities

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By Ronit Ridberg

This is the third blog in a series about the increasing prevalence of large-scale land acquisitions, or land-grabs.

In April 2010, more than 120 farmers’ groups and non-governmental organizations all across the world signed a statement declaring their opposition to the guiding principles endorsed by the World Bank, the FAO, IFAD and UNCTAD on “responsible” land investments.

In numerous deals, land under negotiation is described as “idle” or “unused” – a glaring misrepresentation of the indigenous people (including many pastoralists) who in fact have grown food on the land for years. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The campaign, spearheaded by NGOs GRAIN, FoodFirst Information and Action Network (FIAN), Land Research Action Network (LRAN) and La Via Campesina, calls for an immediate end to land grabbing, claiming that it “denies land for local communities, destroys livelihoods, reduces the political space for peasant oriented agricultural policies and distorts markets towards increasingly concentrated agribusiness interests and global trade rather than towards sustainable peasant/smallhold production for local and national markets.”

The groups also believe that land-grabbing will “accelerate eco-system destruction and the climate crisis” because many of the deals rely on industrial and “mono-culture oriented” production systems.

In an interview with Nourishing the Planet, writer and activist Raj Patel denounced land-grabs as “modern forms of colonialism, except with colonialism there was the argument that the colonizers were bringing civilization to the people they were colonizing. This time around, they don’t bother with that justification. There’s not even the pretense of bringing civilization – now it’s just about efficiency.”

Patel noted that when people tout these land deals as an effective means to end hunger, they often ignore the fact that many deals are not growing food at all, but instead pursuing the rapidly expanding biofuels market. “When you’re talking about turning arable land into zones of cultivation for jatropha, you’ve a hard time arguing that anyone’s belly is going to be fuller as a result,” he said. A 2008 report by the FAO and the International Institute for Environment and Development documents the displacement of households due to this trend in particular. One example the report cites is a multimillion dollar British jatropha project in the Kisarawe district of Tanzania that “has been reported to involve acquiring 9,000 ha of land and the clearing of 11 villages which, according to the 2002 population census, are home to 11,277 people.”

The issue of capturing water in these deals is also often not discussed, but it was mentioned in the April statement, as an example of the many factors that need to be included when assessing the value of the land being leased or sold.

In numerous deals, land under negotiation is described as “idle” or “unused” – a glaring misrepresentation of the indigenous people (including many pastoralists) who in fact live on and have worked the land for years. In an interview with GRAIN, Nyikaw Ochalla, a member of the indigenous Anuak nation in Ethiopia describes the government’s complete disregard for his people’s livelihoods. “There is no consultation with the indigenous population, who remain far away from the deals,” he says. “The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands. And they have no place to voice their opposition. They are just being evicted without any proper consultation, any proper compensation.”

“There are 1.5 billion small-scale farmers in the world who live on less than 2 hectares of land,” according to Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of The Oakland Institute and member of the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group. “Secure and equitable access to and control over land allows these farmers to produce food, which is vital for their own food security as well as that of rural populations throughout the developing world.”

The signatories of the April statement (of which Patel was one), demand true agrarian reform, which includes investment in research and training programs for small-holder farmers, overhauling trade policies, supporting regional markets, enforcing strict regulations to foreign direct investment, and promoting “community-oriented food and farming systems hinged on local people’s control over land, water and biodiversity.”

When asked about alternative business models like contract farming, proposed by many intergovernmental agencies, Raj Patel concluded, “What we need is for people to decide what they want to do with the land. The alternative to contract farming on grabbed-land is if people were able to decide in a community forum, in which women had equal voice with men, what the fate of the land should be. That’s what food sovereignty is about. And anything less than that is really just crumbs from the table.”

To read the second half of the interview with Raj Patel, see Change is Possible in this Complex Food System. For examples of agricultural training programs in Africa, see Girl Up: Helping Girls around the Globe Help Each Other Working with the Root, and Improving African Women’s Access to Agriculture Training Programs.

Ronit Ridberg is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.


The Potential of Perennial Grain: Increasing Production, Reducing Labor, and Restoring Degraded Land

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With longer growing seasons and deeper roots, perennial grain crops reduce erosion, build and sustain soil quality, sequester carbon, and require less water. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

An article in the latest issue of the journal Science calls for a greater commitment to the development of perennial grain crops. According to the online news site Seed Daily, researchers writing for Science believe that perennial grains—which require less fertilizer, herbicide, and fuel than grains planted annually—could, with continued financial support, be available to farmers in 20 years. With longer growing seasons and deeper roots, perennial grain crops reduce erosion, build and sustain soil quality, sequester carbon, and require less water. This means that the crops would not only produce bigger harvests, they would also help to restore degraded farmlands. With the number of hungry people worldwide topping 1 billion and with the harmful impacts of industrial farming and climate change damaging increasingly more land, perennial grain crops could be one innovation that nourishes both people and the planet.


AFSA Calls on African Leaders to Remember Farmers in Climate Change Negotiations

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Representatives from the development and management program with PELUM Kenya (photo credit: PELUM Kenya)

Representatives from the Management and Development program with PELUM, Kenya. (photo credit: PELUM Kenya)

On the eve of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA) calls on African leaders to not forget the needs–and rights–of small farmers on the continent. The Alliance issued the Bole Declaration in late November, reminding negotiators about the importance small-scale, sustainable, agro-ecological systems have in both mitigating and adapting to climate change.


Challenges African leaders on Climate Change

Bole Declaration; 25th November, 2009; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

We, the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), representing small holder farmers, pastoralists, hunter/gatherers, indigenous peoples, citizens and environmentalists from Africa, salute the strong and unified approach that African leaders have taken in the run up to the UNFCC Climate Negotiations.

However, we believe that the current African government practices do not go far enough to protecting Africa’s Food Sovereignty, Biodiversity, and the Culture and Livelihoods of her people.

Developed countries have not met their obligations to cap and reduce emissions to mitigate climate change and have not provided adequate support for adaptation in Africa and other developing nations.

Many of the so-called solutions proposed by the developed countries to address the climate crises are False Solutions. These include: biochar, agrofuels, hybrid and GM drought tolerant crops, carbon trading and so forth.

The developed countries’ positions are calculated to distract Africa from pursuing genuine solutions towards empowering communities towards attaining Food Sovereignty, conserving and sustainably using biodiversity and increasing the resilience of Africans to cope with the challenges posed by Climate Change.

We demand that African Leaders:

  • Champion Small African Family Farming Systems based on agro ecological and Indigenous approaches that sustain food sovereignty and the livelihoods of communities while not neglecting other appropriate farming models;
  • Protect the rights of the African people to indigenous seeds, plant and animal genetic resources and combat bio-piracy;
  • Resist the Corporate Industrialization of African agriculture which will result in massive land grabs, displacement of indigenous peoples especially the pastoral communities and hunter gatherers and the destruction of their livelihoods and cultures;
  • Reject the corporate takeover of African land, food production systems, indigenous knowledge and resources; and
  • Bring to an end the continued exploitation of African resources for the consumerist demands of the North.

Africa will be watching her leaders at the upcoming Climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December and will hold them accountable for their engagements and decisions.

Remember that what we do now will have an impact on the current and future generations.

Signed by:

African Biodiversity Network (ABN)

African Centre for Biosafety (ACB)

Coalition for the Protection of African Genetic Heritage (COPAGEN)

Comparing and Supporting Endogenous Development (COMPAS)

Eastern and Southern African small scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF)


Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC)

Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Association