Tuesday, November 29, 2011

UN warns 25% of planet's land is highly degraded

The United Nations has completed the first global assessment of the state of the planet's land resources, finding in a report Monday that a quarter of all land is highly degraded and warning the trend must be reversed if the world's growing population is to be fed.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that farmers will have to produce 70 per cent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world's expected 9 billion-strong population. That amounts to 1 billion tons more wheat, rice and other cereals and 200 million more tons of beef and other livestock. But as it is, most available land is already being farmed, and in ways that often decrease its productivity through practices that lead to soil erosion and wasting of water, the report said.

That means that to meet the world's future food needs, a major "sustainable intensification" of agricultural productivity on existing farmland will be necessary, the FAO said in State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture.
FAO's director-general Jacques Diouf said increased competition over land for growing biofuels, coupled with climate change and poor farming practices, had left key food-producing systems at risk of being unable to meet human needs in 2050. "The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable," he told reporters at FAO's Rome headquarters. "Remedial actions need to be taken now. We simply cannot continue on a course of business as usual." More

Monday, November 28, 2011

Climate change, extreme weather spike food prices

As the latest round of international climate change talks begins Monday in Durban, South Africa, Oxfam is warning that extreme weather linked to global warming is causing food prices to rise and putting the world's most vulnerable people at risk.

Severe drought in Africa has pushed more than 13 million people into crisis, the aid agency reports, citing a 393% rise in sorghum prices in Somalia and a 191% spike in maize prices in Ethiopia in July compared to a five-year average. In Russia and the Ukraine, drought and fires following a heat wave destroyed much of the 2010 harvest, causing a 60% to 80% increase in global wheat prices within three months.

Oxfam's warning follows a report earlier this month from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that found heat waves, floods and other extreme weather worsen with global warming. The IPCC said worse heat waves worldwide are "very likely" and other extreme weather could intensify unless climate change is mitigated.

"From the Horn of Africa and South East Asia to Russia and Afghanistan, a year of floods, droughts, and extreme heat has helped push tens of millions of people into hunger and poverty," said Oxfam's Kelly Dent in announcing the report's findings. "This will only get worse as climate change gathers pace and agriculture feels the heat. Governments must act now in Durban to protect our food supply and save millions from slipping into hunger and poverty." More

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rising Meat Consumption Takes Big Bite out of Grain Harvest

World consumption of animal protein is everywhere on the rise. Meat consumption increased from 44 million tons in 1950 to 284 million tons in 2009, more than doubling annual consumption per person to over 90 pounds. The rise in consumption of milk and eggs is equally dramatic. Wherever incomes rise, so does meat consumption.  

As the oceanic fish catch and rangeland beef production have both leveled off, the world has shifted to grain-based production of animal protein to expand output. With some 35 percent of the world grain harvest (760 million tons) used to produce animal protein, meat consumption has a large impact on grain consumption, and therefore global food security.  The efficiency with which various animals convert grain into protein varies widely. Grain-fed beef is one of the least efficient forms of animal protein, taking roughly 7 pounds of grain to produce a 1-pound gain in live weight.   Global beef production, most of which comes from rangelands, has grown by about 1 percent a year since 1990.  Pork production has grown by 2 percent annually since 1990. World pork production, half of it now in China, overtook beef production in 1979 and has widened the lead since then. It requires over 3 pounds of grain to produce each 1-pound gain in live weight. More