Posts Tagged ‘United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’


We Need a New Paradigm for Investments in Agriculture

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By Renatto Barbieri and Daniel Bornstein

Renatto Barbieri is the Portfolio Manager of the Galtere Global Agribusiness Fund (Galtere is a financial investment advisory firm based in New York). An agronomist by training, Mr. Barbieri has 20 years’ experience in commodity trading, structuring, financing, investment, and business development.

Daniel Bornstein is a junior at Dartmouth College majoring in anthropology and environmental studies. He has written articles on global food security for Nourishing the Planet,, and College News Magazine.

A growing social movement, led by a large number of sustainable farmers all over the world, is fighting daily in order to bring nutritious, clean produce to our tables (Photo Credit: Kyle Woollet)

The most recent price report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned of climbing food prices, a worrying reminder of the precarious state of the global food situation. Whenever corn and soybean prices climb in the various exchanges, investors—in the form of finance companies, pension funds, university endowments, trading companies, seed processors, fertilizer and chemical manufacturers—rush to take advantage of perceived bottlenecks in agricultural production in order to extract a monetary gain. Unfortunately, most of them will have contributed to accelerating the destruction of some of our most precious natural resources and the livelihood stability of rural communities all over the world.

Little notice is paid to the fact that over 90% of soybeans are dedicated to animal production and industrial uses, a figure acknowledged by the United Soybean Board, which is charged with maximizing profit opportunities for U.S. farmers. A large amount of corn finds its way into ethanol production, industrial foods and animal feeds.

In response to rising demand for meat in developing countries, Brazil has converted the Cerrado region into massive soybean plantations.  The notion that the land is simply being “transformed” is a convenient euphemism for this disaster: continued tree felling, local communities’ displacement, the depletion of water resources, and soil degradation—all for the purpose of export production, not local food consumption. Brazil has become one of the world’s largest users of chemical fertilizer, standing as the world’s second-largest importer of phosphate and potash fertilizers, according to Corn and Soybean Digest. This leaves farmers susceptible to international price volatility and exacts a heavy toll on the environment.

The Brazilian government’s initiative to boost domestic fertilizer production, in response to the price volatility issue, only continues down this unsustainable path and distracts attention from alternative approaches. At the same time, vast sugarcane plantations for ethanol production—touted as an alternative to fossil fuel energy—are not only extending chemical-intensive agriculture, but displacing local food production.



Natural Fibres: Benefiting the Environment and Improving Food Security One Organism at a Time

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By Leah Baines 

For thousands of years, natural fibres have been at the core of the textile industry. From cloth, to paper and building materials, natural fibres were always the base material. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, natural fibres are substances produced by plants and animals that can be spun into filaments or thread. Natural fibres originate from either plant fibres, such as coir, cotton and flax, or animal fibres such as camel hair, alpaca wool, and cashmere. As a completely renewable resource, natural fibres provide many benefits both to the environment and to those involved in the market that they create.

This Bolivian woman is using cotton and other natural fibres to weave a hammock. (Photo credit: American Museum of Natural History)

Over the last 50 years, natural fibres have started to become displaced by synthetic, man-made materials such as polyester, acrylic and nylon. These materials are much cheaper and easier to manufacture in bulk, and easily create uniform colors, lengths and strengths of materials that can be adjusted according to specific requirements. The production of synthetic materials, however, is a strong contributor to carbon emissions and waste. According to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, it is estimated that every person in the world is responsible for 19.8 tons of carbon dioxide emissions in their lifetime, simply because of the clothes on their back that include synthetic fibres.

Unlike synthetic fibres, natural fibres not only come from the environment, but also benefit it. These fibres are renewable, carbon neutral, biodegradable and also produce waste that is either organic or can be used to generate electricity or make ecological housing material.



Fishing for Innovations That Conserve Fisheries

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By Abby Massey

It’s no secret that the oceans are running out of fish. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that 80 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks are fully exploited or over exploited. But the Gulf of Maine Institute in Portland, Maine, has recognized that fishing can be profitable even as it supports conservation efforts, according to a recent article in the Portland Press Herald.

In many poor coastal countries, fish and seafood remain an important source of protein. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

High in protein and omega-fatty acids, seafood has grown in popularity over the past decade among health-conscious consumers. And in many poor coastal countries, fish and seafood remain an important source of protein. As a result, fishers continue to scour the seas, over exploiting one of Earth’s limited resources. But the Gulf of Maine Institute is promoting more ecologically friendly catch practices, as well as working with restaurants and food retailers to create markets for under-used fish species.

Although cities like Portland have recognized the need for sustainable fishing, other regions have yet to understand that poor fishing techniques and overharvesting will mean no fish in the future. Fishers often use large trawling vessels, scraping the bottom of the sea and destroying marine habitats. Many fish, such as bluefin tuna, are dwindling in numbers but continue to be caught because they are in high demand.

Fish farming, an alternative to wild harvesting, can produce seafood more efficiently without overfishing the oceans. In fact, half of the seafood eaten today comes from farms. This might sound like the perfect solution, but aquaculture too can cause pollution and habitat destruction if not monitored adequately.

So does all this mean that we should stop eating fish? Not at all. If everyone stopped buying seafood, countless jobs would be lost, as well as a good source of nutrition. But consumers should remember to make thoughtful decisions, purchasing fish that has been farmed responsibly or seafood that has been caught sustainably. Fish lovers drive the market, and making educated decisions is just a first step to more sustainable fishing. Fortunately, communities like Portland are paving the way for other regions to follow, providing seafood that we can all enjoy eating.

For more information on sustainable fish production, see New Guidelines from Seafood Watch, “Greening” Fisheries Could Calm Troubled Waters, Catch of the Day: Choosing Seafood for Healthier Oceans, Farming Fish for the Future, and Vital Signs Online: Global Fish Production Continues to Rise.

Abby Massey is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.


Providing Seeds to Improve Food Security in Burkina Faso

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By Daniel Kandy

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is providing quality seeds to 100,000 vulnerable farmers in an effort to improve food security in Burkina Faso. Much of the country lies within the Sahel, a biogeographic zone that runs between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savannahs to the south. The region is often hit by drought, decreasing food security in the country. The FAO’s efforts are in response to a food crisis that has left millions of people at risk of hunger.

The FAO projects that the provision of seeds will improve food production for 860,000 rural households, or 6 million people. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The European Union pledged €1 billion to aid countries facing food security threats and has partnered with the FAO to develop projects. Burkina Faso is one of 50 priority countries to receive aid, along with other sub-Saharan nations such as Zimbabwe and Mali. The FAO projects that the provision of seeds will improve food production for 860,000 rural households, or 6 million people. The agency is also supporting some 900 seed producers in irrigated areas of southern Burkina Faso to help them increase revenues while contributing to improving food security in the rest of the country.

Burkina Faso stands to have its agricultural productivity decline dramatically with the effects of climate change , particularly the reduction in rainfall in a region that is already drought-prone. While the efforts of the FAO and European Union may help to increase regional food security, there is also a broader need to attain the Millennium Development Goals, another UN endeavor that promises long-term fixes for the pressing issue of food security.

Daniel Kandy is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.