Posts Tagged ‘Transportation’

Jul25

Citywatch: Traffic Jam Blues Aching to be Solved by Main Street Food Stores

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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.

Toronto has the worst traffic congestion in North America. (Photo credit: Synergy Merchant Services)

Going for a drive along a nearby street isn’t my usual idea of a good conversation starter or a way to get to know someone, but it was all for a good cause, so I gave it a try—and ended up seeing the internal workings of my main street for the first time.

My assignment was to drive home my idea of a new strategy for fighting traffic congestion in Toronto, a city which regularly wins every booby prize in the books for the worst traffic congestion in North America. I got to do this during an in-car interview with Tanner Zurkoski, who has to stay in his car all-month except for brief bathroom breaks.

An aspiring filmmaker, Tanner got a one-month gig with Evergreen, the city’s leading urban sustainability group, as a stunt man whose time in the car would dramatize how much life is taken out of us while we’re going nowhere fast in a traffic jam. The average daily work commute in Toronto and area takes 81 minutes. It takes over two months of salary for reasonably well-paid people to pay off the US$9000 it costs to own and run a car for a year in Toronto.

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Mar15

UN Calls for More Greenbacks to Grow Green Agriculture Globally

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By Philip Newell

Recently, the United Nations Development Policy and Analysis Division (UN DPAD) released their annual World Economic and Social Survey. This report calls for an increase in government support to aid small-scale farmers and reduce environmental damage from conventional agriculture.

Drip-irrigation systems, like this one in Niger, use significantly less water than conventional sprinklers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The report finds that the Green Revolution practices of the last century have had harmful effects on the environment, leading directly to land degradation, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. But supporting small-scale farmers, according to the report, can encourage the use of local innovations and experience, and mitigate the consequences of conventional agriculture. “Evidence has shown that, for most crops, the optimal farm is small in scale and it is at this level that most gains in terms of both sustainable productivity increases and rural poverty reduction can be achieved.”

According to the report “global food production needs to increase by 70 to 100 percent from current levels by 2050,” but this increase does not need to come from a doubling of the acres of farmland currently under production. Instead, investments in transportation and storage could reduce the amount of food that is wasted. A reduction in post-harvest losses—the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates a 50 percent loss of crops globally—could ease pressure on farmland already under production by maximizing the utility of their current yield.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of worldwide water use. Any significant increase in conventional agriculture could exacerbate looming water shortages because conventional irrigation systems are usually inefficient —up to 40 percent of water pumped never reaches crops. By employing drip irrigation and other watering techniques, such as a buried clay pot system that stores water and treadle pumps, farmers can improve agricultural yields while decreasing water consumption.

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Dec07

Citywatch: Food’s a trip, Actually a Baker’s Dozen of Trips

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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.

My first job, every Saturday from grade 7 to grade 10, was as a bicycle delivery boy for Joe Caruso’s grocery store in – I still groan at the memory – a hilly area of Scarboro. The job paid 50 cents an hour plus tips, so this is when I learned that working people tipped more generously than rich people – still a good backgrounder for any interpretation of modern neo-conservatism.

On average, our food makes 13 trips before it reaches our plates, according to food policy analyst Wayne Roberts. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

As the world turns, bike delivery jobs may be heading for a retro revival like vinyl records. They remain one of the best ways to handle the trickiest and thorniest of what delivery and logistics experts call – with a groan that reminds me of my hill-biking days – “the last mile.”

My trip backwards in time was occasioned by a two weekend assignment (for less pay than I made as a delivery boy) as the “food expert” for a dozen bold and brilliant designers-to-be working on a plan to reduce heavy traffic. The project—co-sponsored by Evergreen Foundation (recently reinvented to promote green cities), George Brown College’s Institute without Boundaries and the regional transportation giant, Metrolinx—will become a showpiece in a transit expo attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to Evergreen’s Brick Works next spring and summer.

To come up with bright new ideas, our team (one of ten)  worked in a “charette,” with a medley of designers unburdened by vested interests or formal training, several free-floating food producer and consumer groups, and me holding the reins on any runaway plans that got too wild.

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Jul20

Citywatch: The Road Not Taken Will Make All the Difference

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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.

People working on food system issues in North America can help city planners get street smart.

Photo credit: www.wayneroberts.ca

I love working on food issues at the city level because it offers scores of fresh and do-able ways of getting at creative solutions in so many seemingly unrelated areas. The best gifts often come in the smallest packages, thanks to the unusual leverage that food brings to the table.

There’s nothing stale in what food perspectives contribute to perennial debates about toll roads, traffic jams and the pollution caused by cars in the city – problems that might seem far away from food.

Right now, debates over roads, highways and traffic jams are going nowhere fast. On one side of the debate are transport policy experts who believe tolls and other charges for the use of roads and highways will convince drivers that it’s less costly for them, as well as less polluting for the environment, if they take public transit or a bicycle.

On the other side of the debate are drivers who will put up with stalled traffic to enjoy the speed, convenience, privacy, freedom of movement and comfort of a personal automobile, and cannot see themselves either bicycling or waiting aimlessly in the sweltering heat of summer or freezing cold of winter at several transfer points before being jostled in a crowded public transit vehicle.

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Jul11

New Nation, New Start

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By Jesse Chang

As the excitement from Saturday’s Independence Day celebration for South Sudan winds down, the new nation faces many challenges. Poverty and hunger – the majority of South Sudanese people live on less than a dollar a day – along with a lack of education, security and infrastructure have stunted the region’s development. A civil war between the North and South dating back to 1955 has taken its toll on the Sudanese. Nearly 40 percent of the population requires food aid to survive, and only a quarter of the adults are literate. According to the New York Times, a 15-year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than she does of finishing primary school and more than 10 percent of children do not make it to their fifth birthday.

A Sudanese farmer uses a tractor to prepare his land for agriculture at the banks of River Nile in Khartoum. (Photo Credit: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

But there is some good news. South Sudan has immense agricultural potential, of which the vast majority remains untapped. A whopping 80 percent of its total land is arable, in comparison to about 45% for the rest Sub-Saharan Africa. This is in thanks to high rainfalls and the tributaries of the Nile River promoting the growth of trees, shrubs and grasses that keep the soil fertile. Based on a recent satellite land cover survey, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calculates that only 4.5 percent of the available land is currently under cultivation.

“South Sudan is enormously rich in terms of natural resources, and with 95 percent of the population dependent on them for survival, it has huge potential for sustainable growth through agriculture” says George Okech, head of the South Sudan FAO office.

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Jun09

Investing in India’s Small-Scale Farmers

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By N.N. Sachitanand

Nourishing the Planet reader N.N.Sachitanand recently wrote this article about the challenges of falling wholesale prices for Indian farmers. The author highlights three areas for increased investment to protect small-scale farmers against price fluctuations and improve their livelihoods. Increasing the availability of storage facilities especially for fresh produce, investing in transportation infrastructure, and focusing on value-added products can help raise incomes of small-scale farmers who comprise the majority of agriculturists in India.

If Tata Motors had to sell the Nano at Rs.10 lakhs one month and Rs.10 thousand in the subsequent month, what would Mr. Ratan Tata do ?  Most probably he would close down production of the Nano. Unfortunately, the Indian farmer does not have the luxury of stopping cultivation when wholesale prices for the crop that he brings to the market collapse to less than the transport cost from the farm to the market. That is because by the time the crop is harvested it is too late.  And, if he does not sow for the next harvest, he will have no income and his family will starve.

There’s a need to improve storage facilities, invest in transportation, and promote value-added products for Indian farmers. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Time and again, the Indian famer has been plagued by this dilemma: “damned if he sows and damned if he doesn’t”.  He rides a roller coaster ride of pricing, with no controls over the coaster. At least the grain farmer has some sort of cushion in the Minimum Support Price offered by the government. For farmers of perishable produce – fruits and vegetables – it is a story of either making a killing or being financially killed. Some months ago onions were fetching the prices of silver; now they are bringing tears to the eyes of the grower. Yesterday tomatoes were ruling at Rs.30 per kilo in Karnataka; today farmers are dumping them on the roadside at the mandis (markets).

Unlike in industry, where the factors of production can be controlled, agriculture is a different ball game where variables like atmospheric moisture, temperature, intensity and duration of sunshine etc. are totally out of the farmer’s control. He has to sow and reap as per seasonal dictates.  Sure, the farmer can create his own micro-climate using greenhouses but the cost is prohibitive and in a price-sensitive market like ours, he will find it almost impossible to recover his costs. We want more agricultural production to meet the rising demands of an increasingly better – off humongous population. But how will agriculture be able to attract the necessary additional investment if the returns on investment are so uncertain and volatile?

With respect to agriculture, while our planners and researchers have done a lot of work on improving productivity, little attention has been paid to stabilizing and enhancing returns. This has kept the small farmers, who form the majority of agriculturists in India, on the fringe of poverty. Industrialists club together to form informal cartels, the so-called “associations,” to control aggregate output commensurate with demand and thus prevent steep price dips. The farming community, because of its widespread and disaggregated nature, cannot do likewise.   This is particularly true of the “fruit and vegetable” farmers, whose produce is rapidly perishable and cannot be withheld for long from the market.

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Mar15

What Works: Connecting Producers to Consumers

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By Andrew Boyd

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

For many farmers, growing enough crops to feed their family and have a surplus is only the first step. Getting the food to the market where it can be sold for a profit is a whole other challenge.

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For many farmers, growing enough crops to feed their family and have a surplus is only the first step. Getting the food to the market where it can be sold for a profit is a whole other challenge. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

One farmer in Sudan’s Kebkabyia province, Abdall Omer Saeedo, has to travel 10 kilometers twice a week to the nearest market to sell his vegetables and green fodder. Without a cart, truck, or other means of transporting a large amount of produce efficiently, he couldn’t make enough money to cover his production and packing costs, let alone the cost of seeds for the next season, education for his children, and other household needs.

But one organization, Practical Action, is helping to address these challenges. Working with local metal workers, the organization designed a donkey cart for Saeedo. Now, Saeedo is not only able to cart his produce to market twice a week, he can also easily bring back whatever he is unable to sell. His income has increased along with the quality and quantity of his product, which is no longer lost or destroyed by travel time. (more…)

Feb01

What Works: Untying the Knots of Transportation in the Developing World

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By Andrew Boyd

This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

For those familiar with the hustle of urban life, it should come as no surprise that per capita GDP is directly correlated with the number of roads in an area.  Douglas Gollin, an Economist at Williams College pointed out during the  African Economic Conference of 2009 that in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 20 percent of the population lives within one hour of a market center.  Even more shocking, Uganda has the same road density as the United Kingdom in the year 350 AD.  With greater travel time to market, farm inputs like fertilizer as well the food produced is more expensive and the prices received by farmers are lower.  Poor transportation networks also forces farmers to chose from a smaller pool of transportation companies, skewing price negotiations in favor of middlemen.  Poverty for farmers in these remote locations should come as no surprise.

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Transportation solutions like everything else must be uniquely engineered to compliment the qualities of the immediate landscape. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

One method of developing a functional transportation system is through example.  In the African Trade and Investment Program (ATRIP) Proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Professional Development Program, a two-week training in the U.S. is suggested for twelve East African transportation specialists.  The group will consist of mid-level managers in the rail, road, port, and customs sectors from both government agencies and private institutions.  Choosing mid-level experts ensures that while they are familiar with the unique demands of their individual communities, they are flexible in their thinking and will also have ample time in their career to develop and reach their goals.  These representatives will also have the degree of competency in order to scrutinize what they have learned overseas and make the final decision on whether or not similar methods will work at home.  These leaders will then convene back in Africa to discuss transportation standards between countries.

Better yet, give individual citizens the skills to improve the roadways in their own communities.  In Sri Lanka, the organization Practical Action is helping women from 80 families in Mulberigama build 1.2 kilometers of road.  These women learn techniques for engineering level elevation, drainage, and durability.  In turn, security and safety, two preconditions for the expansion of agricultural investment, are established.  Participants were compensated for their work but chose to donate a portion toward future maintenance costs. While the unifying tendency of travel is obvious, the women of Mulberigama show that the very act of building this infrastructure creates salient community bonds through cooperation. (more…)

Dec15

Nourishing the Planet TV: Getting to Market

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Nourishing the Planet research intern Abisola Adekoya explains how for many farmers, an abundant harvest is only the first step toward feeding their families and earning an income. Vegetables ripening in the field—or even harvested and stored nearby—are still a long way from the market where they can be sold for a profit. In Africa, less than 50 percent of the rural population lives near a road that is accessible year round. And many of these people are farmers who depend on being able to get their harvest to market in order to earn enough money to buy seeds and supplies for the next season’s planting or to send their children to school and take care of other household necessities. In some parts of Africa, transport costs account for up to 60 percent of total market expenses. That is why organizations like Practical Action are working with farmers to develop innovative transportation mechanisms that are improving livelihoods throughout sub-Saharan Africa and around the world.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVKcicqifxs&feature=player_embedded

To read more about innovations that are helping farmers to get their produce to market, see: Getting to the Market.

Nov24

What works: Connecting Farmers to Market

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This post is part of a series where Nourishing the Planet asks its readers: What works? Every week we’ll ask the question and every week you can join the conversation!

A farmer may have the secret technique for growing bushels and bushels of potatoes, but without a connection to the market, that extra yield is not worth much. Whether they’re carting goods by bicycle to nearby towns or selling their crop to a middleman, getting produce to the market means income for farmers.

These are just some the programs helping to connect farmers to the market. Tell us what works! (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

In Sudan’s Kebkabyia province, Abdall Omer Saeedo, a vegetable producer, has to travel 10 kilometers twice a week to the nearest market to sell his crops, including green fodder. Without a cart or truck, he paid others to pack and transport his crops. But the money he earned wasn’t enough to cover his production, packing, and transport costs. Nor did it cover the cost of seeds for the next season, education for his children, and other household needs. The UK charity Practical Action helped Saeedo by working with local metal workers to design and build a cart he could use with his donkey to transport his goods to and from the market twice a week.

Practical Action has also developed a project that provides farmers in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Kenya with bicycle trailers that can carry over 400 pounds of goods to market.

In Cape Town, South Africa, Abalimi Bezekhaya has converted several empty lots in the township into gardens run by 6 to 8 farmers who grow organic vegetables and indigenous plants. And in 2008, Abalimi Bezekhaya began their Harvest of Hope program, purchasing surplus produce from their different plots, packaging them in boxes, and delivering the boxes to area schools where parents can purchase them to take home. (more…)