Feeding the world: the Ultimate First-World Conceit

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here is an excerpt from a  great blog by Timothy Wise:
Triple Crisis Blog
October 7, 2014

Since the food price spikes of 2007-8, global hands have been wringing over the question, how will we feed the world? Population keeps growing, food-producing resources like land and water become more scarce, climate change introduces a dramatic uncertainty.

The images are downright Malthusian. The urgent recommendation is to produce more food, quickly. It is the theme of this year’s World Food Prize.

The question is fundamentally flawed, as is the Malthusian panic. There is no “we” who feed the world. There are, mostly, hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers. And there is no abstract “world” out there needing to be fed. There are about one billion hungry people, nearly all in developing countries. The majority are some of those same small-scale farmers. The rest are poor because they are unemployed or underemployed.

Increasing the industrial production of agricultural commodities does almost nothing for these people. Oddly enough, it can even make them hungrier.

Who feeds whom?

In practice, “we” all know whom “we” mean when we ask how “we” will feed the world. We mean industrialized societies, with their high-yield industrialized agriculture. But industrialized farms produce only 30% of the food consumed in the world today. Seventy percent is produced by small-scale farmers. And it’s mostly not traded across borders; only 15% of food is traded internationally. Eighty-five percent is consumed by the farming household, traded locally, or sold in domestic markets.

– See more at: http://triplecrisis.com/feeding-the-world-the-ultimate-first-world-conceit/?utm_source=GDAE%20Subscribers&utm_campaign=c1a7982a4f-TCB_Feeding_World_10_6_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_72d4918ff9-c1a7982a4f-49719997#sthash.ueY1KWS4.dpuf

China Fences in its Nomads : Why is this policy seen as a good idea?

New article by Andrew Jacobs in the NY Times explores the implications of “settling Yak and Sheep herders” on the assumption that their lives (and grasslands) will become better. Americans in Indian Country probably have a lot to say about this development in China and many lessons to share. Why has it been so hard on the Nomads?

— the stated rationale is protecting fragile grasslands but the science of transhumant herding contradicts this rationale — it in fact removes human stewards from a landscape they have been intimately part of for centuries

— better medical care and education but without evidence it will lead to better employment or livelihoods

–for many — alcoholism, unemployment, increased dependence on a coal mining economy to stay employed

–culture loss for multiple ethnic peoples and traditional knowledge loss (what does China lose that it poorly understands?)

–psychological damage from forced resettlement (World Bank has a resettlement policy for a reason)

China Fences in Its Nomads, and an Ancient Life Withers

At what price biofuels?

New posting in SciDev.net — an online science news culling site which everyone should have in their inbox has posted an odd article from Brazil arguing that there are millions and millions of hectares of land available to grow biofuel currently being used for pasture.

Global Biofuels posting

Unfortunately there seems to be very little context in this article about how governments or investors are to determine that a pasture land is ’empty’.  The article proposed intensification of animal rearing and grazing — counter to much of the more recent research by WISP (http://www.iucn.org/wisp/) (a pastureland advocacy program of the World Conservation Union) and by the World Bank and others.  That research found that many of the pasturalists practicing transhumant or rotational grazing in Africa, Asia and Latin America can in fact make very efficient use of grasslands — rearing for meat, hides and dairy with much less use of water and other inputs that intensive livestock rearing.  African transhumant herders have long complained that intensive urban livestock rearing programs in Sahelian and sub-Saharan countries in fact require much more intensive use of water and inputs (and carbon emissions) than their traditional systems kg. per kg. of output.   Women displaced from transhumant systems by allocation of land and resources can also be serious losers in large scale production of biofuels — losing income generating opportunities, access to natural resources, family consumption goods, and status.

It also found that tenure of pasturalists can be quite precarious — (see RRI policy briefs by Liz Alden Wily) ignored historically by nation states laying claim to natural resources in their boundaries  or undermined by conflicting forest, biodiversity, livestock and agriculture policies.  This too commonly leads to decisions over allocation of grasslands that ignores indigenous and local tenure and rights, international agreements over movement of transhumant peoples, and blindsides the environmental community looking for ways to store carbon and reduce consumption of oil, gas, and other non-renewables.

It is a complex story — I am sure there are opportunities, but without a careful examination of rights, realities of the full landscape, traditional and alternative practices, and gender equity, expanding biofuels can just be the source of a different social and environmental problem.

Bumblebees are put on IUCN’s RED LIST of threatened species

Bumblebees in Trouble

The recently published European Red List of Bees revealed that 24% of Europe’s bumblebee species are threatened with extinction and 46% have a declining population. While this was only a regional assessment, it is likely that bumblebees in other parts of the world are faring similarly badly. Changes in land use, including agricultural intensification, as well as climate change and introduced pathogens are among the main threats to the world’s bumblebees.

Habitat destruction and degradation as a result of urbanisation and especially agricultural intensification is a major cause of bumblebee decline. Wide-scale conversion of wildflower meadows to monocultures deprives bumblebees of forage and potential nest sites. Agricultural insecticides can spread widely into the surrounding environment. They are often picked up by foraging bumblebees and carried back to their nests, poisoning working colony members as well as the developing brood. Herbicide use can also detrimentally affect bumblebees by killing their preferred forage plants.

Climate change is another growing threat to bumblebee populations, either affecting bumblebees directly or indirectly via their food plants. For example, the Vulnerable Bombus alpinus, a boreal-alpine species favouring higher altitudes, is declining in the southern Alps due to climate change reducing the amount of suitable habitat.