Posts Tagged ‘wheat’

Sep25

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.

Jun11

Four-Year-Old Seed Vault Protects Hundreds of Thousands of Crop Varieties

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By Eleanor Fausold

Buried deep in a mountainside located in a group of islands nearly 1,000 kilometers off the northern Norwegian coast lies a vault charged with the task of safeguarding nearly three-quarters of a million seed samples from around the globe. It might sound like something out of a movie, but this seed preservation bunker is very much a real-life agricultural security project.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture has submitted seed varieties for conservation at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. (Photo credit: Neil Palmer, ICTA)

Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a far-northern location that exists in total darkness for nearly four months out of the year. The vault serves as backup to living crop diversity collections housed in “genebanks” around the world and is designed to protect seed varieties from both natural and manmade disasters.  Cary Fowler, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, explains that the seeds that the vault receives are crucial to preservation of global crop diversity: “Our crop diversity is constantly under threat, from dramatic dangers such as fires, political unrest, war and tornadoes, as well as the mundane, such as failing refrigeration systems and budget cuts. But these seeds are the future of our food supply, as they carry genetic treasures such as heat resistance, drought tolerance, or disease and pest resistance.”

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May21

2007-2008 Food Crisis: Causes, Responses, and Lessons Learned

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By Jameson Spivack

The world food crisis of 2007-2008 caused a substantial rise in the cost of food, especially staple foods such as rice, wheat, and corn. This rise in price had a devastating effect on hungry people in the developing world.

When food prices rise, poor people in developing countries are hurt the most. (Image source: IFPRI)

Between 2005 and 2011, world prices for rice, wheat, and maize rose 102 percent, 115 percent, and 204 percent, respectively, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With price increases, people with less disposable income must spend a larger percentage of their earnings on essential staple grains, and less on other food and non-food items. This can have a significant impact on nutrition.

In seven Latin American countries, this increase in price led to an average 8 percent decrease in the amount of calories consumed. Before the crisis, 35 percent of households in Ecuador received an adequate amount of calories; afterwards, only 22 percent were receiving healthy levels of calories. In developing countries, if prices rise 50 percent across the board, and there is no rise in income, iron intake will decrease by 30 percent, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). In the Philippines, this 30 percent decrease in iron consumption would mean that only 5 percent of women have adequate levels of iron.

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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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May19

Innovation of the Week: Researchers Find Farmers Applying Rice Innovations to Their Wheat Crops

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By Matt Styslinger

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI) is an innovative method of increasing the productivity of irrigated rice with very simple adjustments to traditional techniques. It involves transplanting younger seedlings into the field with wider spacing in a square pattern, irrigating to keep the roots moist and aerated instead of flooding fields, and increasing organic matter in the soil with compost and manure. The SRI method of crop management has been shown to increase yields in over 40 countries, while simultaneously reducing costs, labor, and the need for inputs of chemical fertilizers and water.

By allowing the roots of wheat crops to develop more fully, farmers are seeing higher yields with less water, fertilizer, and labor. (Photo credit: Cornell University)

Lead SRI researchers, Norman Uphoff and Erika Styger, are spearheading new research on applying SRI methods to wheat cultivation. The methodology—dubbed System of Wheat Intensification (SWI)—is improving wheat yields for small-scale farmers in India and Mali, while reducing costs and labor. In Mali, wheat farmers can increase their yields by 15 to 20 percent, and Indian farmers have seen yields 2 and 3 times higher than those from conventional methods. SWI practices have spread quickly in India, and farmers have spontaneously begun applying the principles to other crops, such as millet, mustard seed, soybean, eggplant, and maize. Collectively, these practices are becoming known as System of Crop Intensification (SCI).

“Two years ago there were 400 farmers—most of them women, and most of them illiterate and landless—who used SWI,” says Uphoff. “The next year it was 25,000, and this year it was 50,000. To go from 400 to 50,000 in two years is unprecedented.” Uphoff believes that this is because the methodology is well-suited to the needs of small-scale farmers in India, and that it is making big improvements to the food security of farming families. “[The state of] Bihar is where we’ve seen the most excitement generated by farmers who say that between SRI in the summer and SWI in the winter, they’ve gone from producing three months’ supply of food for their families to 6 or 7 months.”

Uphoff says that the method is about managing the crop, soil, and nutrients to promote a vibrant soil system that, in turn, promotes larger root systems. With adequate spacing and loose soil, the roots of the crop can grow deeper than from conventional cropping methods. “The extra root activity keeps the soil from compacting,” he says. “It’s really a less is more strategy.” By using fewer plants and reducing the amount of inputs, each plant is hardier and can grow to its natural potential.

“What’s more is organic matter,” he explains. “By adding plenty of organic matter to the soil, you get a lot more bacteria, fungi, mites, and earthworms. That makes the soil a well-aerated system, allowing more air and water to penetrate the roots.”

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Apr22

Ronnie Coffman Discusses His Project to Contain Virulent Wheat Disease

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By Matt Styslinger

In Ancient Rome, offerings of food and wine were made to the gods to protect the annual wheat crop from a devastating fungal infection known as rust.

wheat-pathogen-rust-Ug99-Ronnie-Coffman-Cornell-University-Bill-&-Melinda-Gates-Foundation-DFID-Durable- Rust-Resistance-in-Wheat-DRRW-Kenya-Ethiopia

A virulent form of wheat rust, known as Ug99, is threatening to spread worldwide (Photo Credit: Borlaug Global Rust Initiative)

Today, rust outbreaks still pose a significant threat to wheat farmers–wheat is the third most produced crop in the world, after  corn and rice. A recent strain of wheat rust pathogen, named Ug99 after being identified in Uganda in 1999, is spreading in East Africa and the Middle East. Cornell University’s Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW) project has been awarded a $40 million, five-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the United Kingdom’s Department of International Development (DFID) to address the threat.

The project is taking a three-pronged approach, says Ronnie Coffman, Cornell professor of plant breeding and genetics and the director of DRRW. “One is surveillance to see where the disease is moving and how it’s evolving,” says Coffman. “We have major screening facilities established in East Africa, where the disease is epidemic.” Since the late 1990s it’s moved from Kenya throughout East Africa, including Ethiopia. In 2006 it jumped across the Red Sea into Yemen. It was discovered in Iran in 2009 and has also spread south to South Africa. (more…)