Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Climate Change and Farming: How Not to Go Hungry in a Warmer World

 Climate change might hit us in the most vital place of all — the dinner plate Why do we care about climate change? 

Obviously we worry about what warming temperatures might do to the geography of the planet — particularly melting polar ice and raising global sea levels. We fear the impact that climate change could have on endangered species, as warming temperatures speed the already rapid pace of extinction for wildlife that have been pushed to the edge by habitat loss and hunting. We focus on the changing risk of extreme weather, of more powerful storms causing billions of dollars of damage in richer nations — and taking thousands of lives in poorer ones. Sometimes we're simply uneasy with idea that our actions are altering the Earth, changing the rhythms of the seasons, shifting weather patterns we've been accustomed to for as long as human beings can remember.
All of that is important — but not as important as the impact that climate change might have on the most vital function of any species: feeding itself. The human population broke the 7 billion mark late last year, and the reason that happened — and the reason we can and will keep growing, barring major changes — is that we've become amazing proficient at raising food. Our distribution is far from perfect — which is the reason the world is simultaneously home to 1 billion hungry and more than 300 million obese people — and the side effects of large-scale farming can damage the environment. But food production still remains humanity's most amazing accomplishment. 
That's why the threat that climate change could mess with agriculture is so scary — and why experts are worried that we're not stepping up to the challenge. In last week's Science, an international group of leading investigators — led by John Beddington, the chief science adviser for the British government — published a call urging policymakers to ensure that agriculture becomes a more vital part of global action against climate change. "Global agriculture must produce more food to feed a growing population," they write. "Yet scientific assessments point to climate change as a growing threat to agricultural yields and food security." In other words, the potential risks to farming are one more reason we need to reduce carbon emissions soon — and the fact that the climate is already changing, and will continue to change, means that we also need to start adapting agriculture to a warmer world immediately. More


Saturday, January 21, 2012


The growing season of 2011 was not kind to the southern United States and northern Mexico. 
As racing fires, heat, and record-dry conditions in Texas claimed attention, crops were quietly failing across the border in northern Mexico. In January 2012, the impact of the drought came to public notice, as communities began to suffer severe food shortages. On January 17, the Mexican government announced that it was distributing food to particularly hard-hit indigenous Tarahumara communities in northern Mexico’s Chihuahua state.This image shows vegetation growth between July and September, the heart of the growing season. 
The image was made with data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, which measures both near infrared light and visible light. Healthy plants absorb visible light and reflect infrared light. By comparing the amount of visible and infrared light reflected from a region, scientists can estimate the density of healthy plants, a measurement called a vegetation index. In this case, the vegetation index from the 2011 growing season is compared with the average vegetation index observed between 2000 and 2010. 
Areas in which plants grew more than average are green, and areas where plants grew less are brown.Drought clearly slowed plant growth in both the United States and Mexico. The drought is the worst in northern Mexico in 71 years, the Mexican government reported. The 2010-2011 La NiƱa likely contributed to the drought’s severity.ReferencesBBC News. (2012, January 17). Mexico food aid sent to crisis-hit Tarahumara Indians. More
Accessed January 20, 2012.Government of Mexico. (2012, January 17). Llegan las nuevas despensas de Sedesol a la Sierra Tarahumara. (Spanish). Published on ReliefWeb. Accessed January 20, 2012.Weir, J. and Herring, D. (n.d.). Measuring Vegetation (NDVI and EVI). NASA Earth Observatory. Accessed January 20, 2012.NASA Earth Observatory image created by Jesse Allen, using MODIS data provided by Jennifer Small and Assaf Anyamba, NASA GIMMS Group at Goddard Space Flight Center and the Global Agricultural Monitoring Project (GLAM) Project. Caption by Holli Riebeek. More

Saturday, January 7, 2012

No therapy in retail

New Delhi, India - In November 2011, when the UPA government announced that it had cleared the entry of big retail chains such as Walmart and Tesco into India through 51 per cent Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, it justified the decision saying that FDI in retail would boost food security and benefit farmers' livelihoods.

But the assurance that FDI in retail would ease inflation did not resolve the political crisis the government was facing; it deepened it. Parliament was stalled for several days of the Winter Session, after which the government was forced to withdraw its decision.
The story of FDI in retail goes back to 2005, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an agriculture agreement with the US, along with the nuclear agreement. On the board of the US-India Knowledge Initiative in Agriculture, as it is called, sit Monsanto (the world's leading producer of GM seeds), ConAgra (among the world's biggest agribusinesses, along with Cargill) and Walmart (the world's largest retail giant).

Protests had prevented Walmart's entry into retail, but, in 2007, it did get a backdoor entry through a joint-venture with Bharti (their stores go by the names of Easyday and Best Price Modern Wholesale). No back-end infrastructure has been built so far, one of the other claims of the government about why we need retail giants.

Farmers' suicides spike in India
The way the UPA government tried to ram through the decision on FDI in retail - without consulting the opposition parties, or even its allies - was clearly undemocratic. But the decision itself was also flawed. It illustrated a disconnect between an ideology based on market fundamentalism - which is the leaning of the present government - and the Indian reality of small farms and small retail. More