Posts Tagged ‘Vital Signs Online’

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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May08

Emissions from Agriculture and Livestock Continue to Grow

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By Laura Reynolds

In 2010, global greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector totaled 4.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) equivalent, up 13 percent over 1990. Agriculture is the third largest contributor to global emissions by sector, following the burning of fossil fuels for power and heat, and transportation. In 2010, emissions from electricity and heat production reached 12.5 billion tons, and emissions from transport totaled 6.7 billion tons.

Agricultural emissions have increased over the past two decades. (Photo credit: www.mnn.com)

Despite their continuing rise, emissions from agriculture are growing at a much slower rate than the sector as a whole, demonstrating the increasing carbon efficiency of agriculture. From 1990 to 2010, the volume of agricultural production overall increased nearly 23 percent, according to data compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for its program, FAOSTAT. FAO released a new GHG Emissions database for agriculture, forestry and other land use changes in Dec 2012, which can be found here.

According to FAO, methane accounts for just under half of total agricultural emissions, nitrous oxide for 36 percent, and carbon dioxide for some 14 percent. The largest source of methane emissions is enteric fermentation, or the digestion of organic materials by livestock, predominantly beef cattle. This is also the largest source of agricultural emissions overall, contributing 37 percent of the total.

Livestock contribute to global emissions in other ways as well. Manure deposited and left on pastures is a major source of nitrous oxide emissions because of its high nitrogen content. When more nitrogen is added to soil than is needed, bacteria convert the extra nitrogen into nitrous oxide and release it into the atmosphere. Emissions from manure on pasture in Asia, Africa, and South America together account for as much as 81 percent of global emissions from this source. These emissions from the three regions increased 42 percent on average between 1990 and 2010, reflecting an increase in range-based livestock populations; elsewhere, these emissions either decreased or stagnated.

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Mar22

The Looming Threat of Water Scarcity

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By Supriya Kumar

Some 1.2 billion people—almost a fifth of the world—live in areas of physical water scarcity, while another 1.6 billion face what can be called economic water shortage. The situation is only expected to worsen as population growth, climate change, investment and management shortfalls, and inefficient use of existing resources restrict the amount of water available to people. It is estimated that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, with almost half of the world living in conditions of water stress.

Global water scarcity map. (Photo credit: International Water Management Institute)

Water scarcity has several definitions. Physical scarcity occurs when there is not enough water to meet demand; its symptoms include severe environmental degradation, declining groundwater, and unequal water distribution. Economic water scarcity occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to meet the demand of people who do not have the financial means to use existing water sources; the symptoms in this case normally include poor infrastructure.Large parts of Africa suffer from economic water scarcity.

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Jan15

Certified Organic Farmland Still Lagging Worldwide

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By Laura Reynolds 

Despite the growing worldwide demand for organic food, clothing, and other products, the area of land certified as organic still makes up just 0.9 percent of global agricultural land. In 2010, the latest year for which data are available, 37 million hectares of land were organically farmed—an area that has grown more than threefold since 1999.

Certified organic farmland still represents just .9 percent of all agricultural land. (Photo credit: Andrew Hyde)

There is large regional variation in the area of land farmed organically. Oceania, which includes Australia, New Zealand, and Pacific Island nations, leads the world in certified organic land, with 12.1 million hectares in 2010. In contrast, North America had 2.6 million hectares of organic land, and Africa had just over 1 million hectares.

Reliable data are lacking for land that is farmed using organic principles but that is not certified organic. Many farmers, particularly subsistence farmers or those selling to local markets, farm organically but do not acquire organic certification. Certified organic products have created a niche market in recent decades, allowing farmers to earn premium prices over conventional products, particularly when selling to supermarkets or restaurants.

The countries with the most certified organic producers in 2010 were India (400,551 farmers), Uganda (188,625), and Mexico (128,826), while the region that added the most organic farmland between 2009 and 2010 was Europe. Overall, the amount of organically farmed land worldwide dropped slightly, by 0.1 percent, between 2009 and 2010—due largely to a decrease in organic land in India and China.

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Aug03

Investment in Women Farmers Still Too Low

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Women farmers produce more than half of all food worldwide and currently account for 43 percent of the global agricultural labor force, yet few extension or research services are directed at women farmers, according to new research conducted for our Vital Signs Online service. Women produce as much as 50 percent of the agricultural output in South Asia and 80 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women produce as much as half of the world’s agricultural output. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

In spite of women farmers’ essential roles in global and local food security, there is a persistent gender gap in agriculture. Cultural norms and restrictive property or inheritance rights limit the types and amount of financial resources, land, or technology available to women. Studies in South Asia and throughout the Middle East also show that women receive lower wages and are more likely to work part-time or seasonally than men in comparable jobs, regardless of similar levels of education and experience.

Recognizing the factors restricting women from receiving full compensation for their role in global agriculture is key to alleviating the gender gap in agricultural employment, resources, and development. Women produce 60–80 percent of the food in developing countries but own less than 2 percent of the land. They typically farm non-commercial, staple crops, such as rice, wheat, and maize, which account for 90 percent of the food consumed by the rural poor.

Fewer extension or research services are directed at women farmers because of perceptions of the limited commercial viability of their labor or products—and only 15 percent of extension officers around the world are women. Yet the Economist Intelligence Unit’s newly developed Global Food Security Index has a 0.93 correlation with its index of Women’s Economic Opportunity, showing that countries with more gender-sensitive business environments—based on labor policies, access to finance, and comparative levels of education and training—have more abundant, nutritious, and affordable food. This relationship provides evidence that when women have equal resources and opportunity, they can produce higher—and higher-quality—agricultural yields.

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Nov29

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.

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Oct11

Global Meat Production and Consumption Continue to Rise

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Global meat production and consumption have increased rapidly in recent decades, with harmful effects on the environment and public health as well as on the economy, according to research done by Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project for Vital Signs Online. Worldwide meat production has tripled over the last four decades and increased 20 percent in just the last 10 years. Meanwhile, industrial countries are consuming growing amounts of meat, nearly double the quantity in developing countries.

According to a new Worldwatch report, global meat consumption and production continue to rise. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Large-scale meat production also has serious implications for the world’s climate. Animal waste releases methane and nitrous oxide, greenhouse gases that are 25 and 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, respectively.

Dirty, crowded conditions on factory farms can propagate sickness and disease among the animals, including swine influenza (H1N1), avian influenza (H5N1), foot-and-mouth disease, and mad-cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy). These diseases not only translate into enormous economic losses each year—the United Kingdom alone spent 18 to 25 billion dollars in a three-year period to combat foot-and-mouth disease—but they also lead to human infections.

Mass quantities of antibiotics are used on livestock to reduce the impact of disease, contributing to antibiotic resistance in animals and humans alike. Worldwide, 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in 2009 were used on livestock and poultry, compared to only 20 percent used for human illnesses. Antibiotics that are present in animal waste leach into the environment and contaminate water and food crops, posing a serious threat to public health.

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May24

“Greening” Fisheries Could Calm Troubled Waters

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By Stephanie Pappas

World Seafood ProductionFishing is a critical means of providing food, livelihood, trade, and economic growth in many developing countries—as well as the United States. In many small island developing nations and coastal countries – such as Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, and Ghana – fish provide at least 50 percent of the population’s total animal protein intake. And approximately 43.5 million people’s year-round incomes depend on fish production while another 4 million’s depend on seasonal jobs as fishers and fish product workers.

Yet, despite the important role of fisheries in maintaining economic and social well-being, “fisheries around the world are being plundered or exploited at unsustainable rates,” said Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Speaking about the preview release of the UNEP’s Green Economy Report: A Preview, Mr. Steiner argued that the current fishing industry “is a failure of management of what will prove to be monumental proportions unless addressed.”

The Green Economy Initiative report, scheduled for release later this year, argues that investment in “greening” the economy across a range of sectors – including agriculture, fisheries, and water – can drive global economic recovery and lead to future prosperity, job creation, and improved environmental conservation.

Currently, some 52 percent of the world’s marine fisheries are fully exploited and producing at— or close to— their maximum limits. Another 28 percent of the world’s marine fisheries are categorized as overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion—a producing less than their maximum potential. And when fisheries collapse, there is more than just the loss of fish life to worry about: livelihoods, communities, and entire economies are ruined.

Though the current outlook on fisheries may be troubling, researchers say that all is not lost. According to the Green Economy Initiative’s report, an $8 billion annual investment in rebuilding and “greening” the world’s fisheries could have a positive, and lasting, impact on the fishing industry worldwide. Researchers say this investment has the potential to both increase fish catches and generate $1.7 trillion in long-term economic returns over the next four decades.

Some possible methods for “greening” fisheries highlighted in the report include providing job training in alternative jobs industries; reducing the size of fishing fleets to limit excess harvesting capacity; and providing additional funding for fishery management to expand marine protected areas.

To read more about fisheries and the impact of the fishing sector, see: Catch of the Day: Choosing Seafood for Healthier Oceans, Farming Fish for the Future, and Vital Signs Online: Global Fish Production Continues to Rise.

Stephanie Pappas is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Apr08

Global Chronic Hunger Rises Above 1 Billion

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(NtP photo contest submission from Julie Carney, Gardens for Health International)

According to today’s Vital Sign Online release, “Global Chronic Hunger Rises Above 1 Billion,” in 2009, “an estimated 1.02 billion people were classified as undernourished, 12 percent more than in 2008. This means nearly one in six people on Earth suffers from undernourishment.”  Going beyond an outline of the overwhelming problem of growing global hunger, today’s Vital Signs highlights some of the environmentally sustainable agriculture innovations being implemented on the ground to alleviate poverty and hunger that will be featured in next year’s State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.