Sunday, September 30, 2012

Govt joins FAO, WFP to train food security experts

An Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) training and analysis workshop was organised jointly by the Government of Pakistan, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), to train a pool of Certified Food Security Analysts at national level and come up with the first IPC map reflecting the current food security situation in Pakistan.

Around 50 food security experts were trained on analysis using IPC approach. The training was be followed by an intensive workshop where the participants worked together in analysing the available information to develop a draft food security phase map of Pakistan.

Participants included the Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFS&R), National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), UN agencies, national and international NGOs, research organizations and academia.

National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Director Dr. Baseer Achakzai in his remarks highlighted the role and importance of IPC in the Pakistani context. He expressed that outputs from IPC could provide important basis for the decision-makers to make evidence based policies and programmes.

Ministry of National Food Security and Research (MNFS&R) Secretary Ahmad Bux Lehri said the IPC platform is a key tool in identifying the grey areas including deforestation, malnutrition, emergencies and other prevailing issues in food security sector in the country. He also shared his experience from recently held IPC workshop in Nepal where IPC has been implemented successfully for providing reliable periodic food security updates during the past five years.

WFP Country Director Jean-Luc Siblot said that WFP is pleased to be a part of the IPC process and expressed his confidence that the IPC results based on consensus by different stakeholders could be important input to a national food security monitoring system and stressed the need to translate the findings from IPC and other food security analyses into appropriate policies and programmes to address food insecurity in the country.

FAO Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator Rajendra Aryal termed this workshop as a great opportunity to have food security and nutrition experts from different parts of the country working together and coming to consensus under one roof.

Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Executive Director Dr. Abid Suleri shared the indicators of the IPC analysis for Pakistan. He noted that the key purpose of IPC analysis is to prepare comparable, consistent, and verifiable data to provide actionable knowledge and information. He further said that these indicators focus on some key sectors such as availability of, access to and, utilization of food; nutrition, vulnerability, migration and coping strategies.

Krishna Pahari, Head of VAM Unit WFP, highlighted the fact that IPC provides a platform and process to analyse and present the food security situation in a country. The IPC does not replace the need of existing food security assessments conducted by various agencies but instead utilizes findings from such studies and comes up with consolidated food security phase maps. More


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Climate-Smart Smallholders

KIGALI – Until the world’s small farmers adopt a series of necessary changes, climate talks such as the United Nations Rio+20 Summit, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro this June, will never translate into action.

The emergence of a global green economy requires governments, other policymakers, and businesses from developed and emerging economies to recognize the inextricable linkages between climate change, the environment, and food security. This means bringing the world’s smallholder agriculture into the discussion.

Every day, smallholder farmers in developing countries confront the consequences of climate change. They are often the very first to fall prey to fickle global markets or extreme weather events.

Yet smallholders cannot be ignored when it comes to climate-change solutions: the world’s half-billion small farms account for 60% of global agriculture production and provide up to 80% of the food supply in developing countries. Together, they manage vast areas of our planet, including 80% of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Can we really count on these farmers, many of them desperately poor, to take a leading role in addressing the twin challenges of food security and environmental sustainability? Can they produce more food while protecting the natural environment?

We believe the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Real-world experience shows that they can. But success is possible only if they can adopt environmentally sustainable techniques that preserve and enhance soil and groundwater.

Examples of how this can be done include terracing to prevent soil loss and degradation through erosion and flooding; radically reducing tillage; rotating crops and applying natural fertilizers – manure, compost, or mulch – to improve soil structure and fertility; and integrating trees with crops and livestock in agro-forestry systems. More


Small Farms' Large Benefit

ROME – As drought becomes increasingly common, farmers worldwide are struggling to maintain crop yields. In the United States, farmers are experiencing the most severe drought in more than a half-century. As a result, global corn, wheat, and soybean prices rose in July and August, and remain high.

But the severe dry spell parching croplands across the US is only the latest in a global cycle of increasingly frequent and damaging droughts. In Africa’s Sahel region, millions of people are facing hunger for the third time since 2005. Lack of rain in the region and volatile global food prices have made a bad situation worse. Indeed, it is the world’s poor – particularly those in rural areas – that suffer the most from these combined factors.

This does not bode well for our future. By 2050, global food production will have to increase by 60% to meet demand from a growing world population with changing consumption habits. To ensure food security for all, we will have to increase not just food production, but also availability, especially for those living in developing countries. That means breaking down barriers and inequalities, building capacity, and disseminating knowledge. In Africa, smallholder farmers – who provide 80% of the sub-Saharan region’s food – need infrastructure for agricultural development, including irrigation and roads, as well as better market organization and access to technology.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development sees enormous potential in Africa’s agricultural sector, which experienced 4.8% growth in 2009, compared to 3.8% in the Asia-Pacific region and only 1.4% in Latin America and the Caribbean. Given that agriculture amounts to roughly 30% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP, and accounts for more than 60% of employment in most African countries, the sector’s development could reduce poverty in the region substantially.

Not only in Africa – in countries like Burkina Faso and Ethiopia – but also in emerging countries like China, India, and Vietnam, experience has repeatedly shown that smallholder farmers can lead agricultural growth while stimulating broader economic development. Small farmers, both women and men, are Africa’s biggest agricultural investors. And agriculture-driven GDP growth is more than twice as effective in reducing poverty as growth in other sectors. More


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How will climate change affect food production?

Food is one of society's key sensitivities to climate. A year of not enough or too much rainfall, a hot spell or cold snap at the wrong time, or extremes, like flooding and storms, can have a significant effect on local crop yields and livestock production.

While modern farming technologies and techniques have helped to reduce this vulnerability and boost production, the impact of recent droughts in the USA, China and Russiaon global cereal production highlight a glaring potential future vulnerability.

There is some evidence that climate change is already having a measurable affect on the quality and quantity of food produced globally. But this is small when compared with the significant increase in global food production that has been achieved over the past few decades. Isolating the influence of climatic change from all the other trends is difficult, but one recent Stanford University study found that increases in global production of maize and wheat since 1980 would have been about 5% higher were it not for climate change.

All else being equal, rising carbon dioxide concentrations – the main driver of climate change – could increase production of some crops, such as rice, soybean and wheat. However, the changing climate would affect the length and quality of the growing season and farmers could experience increasing damage to their crops, caused by a rising intensity of droughts, flooding or fires.

The latest IPCC report predicted improving conditions for food production in the mid to high latitudes over the next few decades, including in the northern USA, Canada, northern Europe and Russia. Conversely, parts of the subtropics, such as the Mediterranean region and parts of Australia, and the low latitudes, could experience declining conditions. For example, across Africa, yields from rain-fed agriculture could decline by as much as 50% by 2020. Beyond this, if global temperatures rise by more than about 1–3°C, declining conditions could be experienced over a much larger area.

The future course of global food production will depend on how well societies can adapt to such climatic changes, as well as the influence of other pressures, such as the competition for land from biofuel production. The IPCC concluded that in the poorer, low-latitude countries, climate change could seriously challenge the capacity to adapt for a warming of more than 3°C. The richer, higher latitude countries are likely to have a greater capacity to adapt and exploit changing climatic conditions.

But we can't ignore the potential for "surprises" down the line. There are many uncertainties in such predictions. The world has not seen such changes in climate for millennia, and so it is impossible to know how our agricultural systems will react in the real world. For example, the complex interlinkages with the impacts of climate change on pests, diseases and pollinators, like bees, are largely unknown. Also, climate models have difficulty in accurately predicting the detailed local environmental changes that are important for food production, particularly weather extremes.

A looming vulnerability is the world's fisheries, which provide an important source of protein for at least half the world's population. Fisheries are already stressed by overexploitation and pollution. Warming surface waters in the oceans, rivers and lakes, as well as sea level rise and melting ice, will adversely affect many fish species. Some marine fish species are already adapting by migrating to the high latitudes, but others, such as Arctic and freshwater species, have nowhere to go. The absorption of carbon dioxide emissions by the oceans also has a direct impact on marine ecosystems through ocean acidification. More


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Call to freeze fishing in Europe to replenish stocks

A think tank has made a controversial case for freezing fishing in Europe, saying most fish stocks would return to sustainable levels within five years.

The London-based New Economics Foundation (Nef) argues in its report that the suspension would generate billions of pounds in profits by 2023.

Private investment would compensate fishermen and maintain boats.

A senior UK fishing industry representative said stocks were already improving and the idea made no sense.

Unsustainable fishing remains a major issue for the EU, where 75% of stocks are still overfished and catches are only a fraction of what they were 15-20 years ago.

The European Parliament approved measures this week against third countries which allowed the practice.

However, Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki recently reported progress in the fight to reduce overfishing.

No catch?

In its report, No Catch Investment, Nef said it had calculated the costs of restoring fish stocks and found they were far outweighed by the economic benefits in the short and long term.

Estimated restocking times

  • Mackerel: matter of months
  • Icelandic cod: under five years
  • Skagerrak cod: nine years
source: Nef

It looked at 51 out of 150 commercial fish stocks, including hake, mackerel, whiting and Icelandic cod.

Most, it said, could be restored to sustainable levels within five years, with some varieties such as certain mackerel and herring needing less than a year. More


Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Cause Of Riots And The Price of Food

What causes riots? That's not a question you would expect to have a simple answer.

But today, Marco Lagi and buddies at the New England Complex Systems Institute in Cambridge, say they've found a single factor that seems to trigger riots around the world.

This single factor is the price of food. Lagi and co say that when it rises above a certain threshold, social unrest sweeps the planet.

The evidence comes from two sources. The first is data gathered by the United Nations that plots the price of food against time, the so-called food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN. The second is the date of riots around the world, whatever their cause. Both these sources are plotted on the same graph above.

This clearly seems to show that when the food price index rises above a certain threshold, the result is trouble around the world.

If we don't reverse the current trend in food prices, we've got until August 2013 before social unrest sweeps the planet, say complexity theorists

This isn't rocket science. It stands to reason that people become desperate when food is unobtainable. It's often said that any society is three square meals from anarchy.

But what's interesting about this analysis is that Lagi and co say that high food prices don't necessarily trigger riots themselves, they simply create the conditions in which social unrest can flourish. "These observations are consistent with a hypothesis that high global food prices are a precipitating condition for social unrest," say Lagi and co.

In other words, high food prices lead to a kind of tipping point when almost anything can trigger a riot, like a lighted match in a dry forest.

On 13 December last year, the group wrote to the US government pointing out that global food prices were about to cross the threshold they had identified. Four days later, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia in protest at government policies, an event that triggered a wave of social unrest that continues to spread throughout the middle east today. More


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown

With food scarcity driven by falling water tables, eroding soils, and rising temperatures, control of arable land and water resources is moving to center stage in the global struggle for food security. “In this era of tightening world food supplies, the ability to grow food is fast becoming a new form of geopolitical leverage. Food is the new oil,” Lester R. Brown writes.

What will the geopolitics of food look like in a new era dominated by scarcity and food nationalism? Brown outlines the political implications of land acquisitions by grain-importing countries in Africa and elsewhere as well as the world’s shrinking buffers against poor harvests. With wisdom accumulated over decades of tracking agricultural issues, Brown exposes the increasingly volatile food situation the world is facing.

Chapter 1. Food: The Weak Link

The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold. 1

The abrupt rise in world grain prices between 2007 and 2008 left more people hungry than at any time in history. It also spawned numerous food protests and riots. In Thailand, rice was so valuable that farmers took to guarding their ripened fields at night. In Egypt, fights in the long lines for state-subsidized bread led to six deaths. In poverty-stricken Haiti, days of rioting left five people dead and forced the Prime Minister to resign. In Mexico, the government was alarmed when huge crowds of tortilla protestors took to the streets. 2

After the doubling of world grain prices between 2007 and mid-2008, prices dropped somewhat during the recession, but this was short-lived. Three years later, high food prices helped fuel the Arab Spring. 3

We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by record amounts. On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth’s rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread, eventually bringing down our social system. Can we reverse these trends in time? Or is food the weak link in our early twenty-first-century civilization, much as it was in so many of the earlier civilizations whose archeological sites we now study?

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century, when the dominant issues in agriculture were overproduction, huge grain surpluses, and access to markets by grain exporters. During that time, the world in effect had two reserves: large carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) and a large area of cropland idled under U.S. farm programs to avoid overproduction. When the world harvest was good, the United States would idle more land. When the harvest was subpar, it would return land to production. The excess production capacity was used to maintain stability in world grain markets. The large stocks of grain cushioned world crop shortfalls. When India’s monsoon failed in 1965, for example, the United States shipped a fifth of its wheat harvest to India to avert a potentially massive famine. And because of abundant stocks, this had little effect on the world grain price. 4

When this period of food abundance began, the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has 7 billion. From 1950 to 2000 there were occasional grain price spikes as a result of weather-induced events, such as a severe drought in Russia or an intense heat wave in the U.S. Midwest. But their effects on price were short-lived. Within a year or so things were back to normal. The combination of abundant stocks and idled cropland made this period one of the most food-secure in world history. But it was not to last. By 1986, steadily rising world demand for grain and unacceptably high budgetary costs led to a phasing out of the U.S. cropland set-aside program. More



Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices

The costs of feeding a warming world

Climate change is making extreme weather much more likely. As the 2012 drought in the USA shows, extreme weather means extreme food prices.

Our failure to slash greenhouse gas emissions presents a future of greater food price volatility, with severe consequences for the precarious lives and livelihoods of people living in poverty.

This briefing draws on new research commissioned by Oxfam which models the impact of extreme weather – like droughts, floods and heat waves – on the prices of key international staple crops in 2030. It suggests that existing research, which considers the gradual effects of climate change but does not take account of extreme weather, is significantly underestimating the potential implications of climate change for food prices.

This research shows how extreme weather events in a single year could bring about price spikes of comparable magnitude to two decades of long-run price rises. It signals the urgent need for a full stress-testing of the global food system in a warming world. More Report - PDF 190kb


Monday, September 3, 2012

Hunger Games: The price of feeding the world

Have banks been speculating on food markets and could this contribute to pushing millions into hunger and poverty?

"The real problem is not that food is becoming more expensive, it's that money is losing value. Central banks all around the world are simply printing too much money and so you need more money to buy food. It's not the weather, it's not speculation, it's the inflation that central banks around the world are creating." - Peter Schiff, the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital

The NGO said Barclays had reportedly made more than $800m over the past two years from speculating on food markets and that investors were using the food market as a "playground".

It said this has contributed to hunger and poverty not only for millions in poor countries, but also in developed nations.

The allegations come on the back of a World Bank global hunger warning. According to a report by the bank released this week, global food prices have hit record highs. In July alone, its global food index increased by 10 per cent. More: Al Jazeera.

The program discusses the reasons for the increasing cost of food and what is being done to curb record highs. Teymoor Nabili discusses with Christine Haigh,Peter Schiff,& Aly Khan Satchu.


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Feed Europe, Feed the World

WARSAW, Aug 28 2012 (IPS) - A huge moment for reform of the industrial farming system in Europe has many stakeholders on edge. Farmers who are feeling the crunch of rising input costs – from fertilisers to fuel – believe they can benefit greatly from a transition to more traditional and sustainable farming methods.

But opponents of the European Commission-sponsored reform package – which aims to places tough conditionalities upon subsidies to local farmers in an effort to overhaul an ineffective system of food production – say it could stifle productivity.

In times of global crisis, ensuring food supplies is as daunting a task as ever. But advocates of reform say that the answer does not lie in industrial food production.

“We are already producing a lot in Europe,” Trees Robijns, EU agriculture policy officer at BirdLife, one of the NGOs pushing for reform at the local level in Brussels, told IPS.

“But we have to ask ourselves at what cost and for how long we can go on this way. If we do not set our farming on a sound agro-environmental basis, we will lose out in the long-term. We are destroying our water, soils, our biodiversity, and this will lead to decreased productivity.”

Several studies have shown that sustainable smaller-scale farming has more productive capacity than industrial farming.

The latest International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) report, authored by a large international group of scientists and endorsed by governments around the world, shows that sustainable family farming is the best way to address the food and environmental challenges facing the world.

La Via Campesina, a global farmers’ network comprised of over 20 million peasants, also published a report concluding that smaller-scale agriculture can feed the world.

According to the European Network for Rural Development, a body working under the remit of the European Commission, current EU policies could be having a detrimental effect on subsistence agriculture by regarding small farms as “an unwanted feature that hinders the competitiveness of a nation’s agriculture.”

In Eastern European states like Romania, up to two thirds of farms in the country can be subsistence or semi-subsistence. And they are slowly disappearing.

“Most of the people have given up farming in our village, they now go to the city to work and use their salaries to buy food from supermarkets,” Marcel Has, a Romanian farmer who works on a two-hectare farm – most of it on rented land – in Firiteaz village in Western Romania, told IPS. More