Friday, August 31, 2012
Global rates of deforestation do not capture the full damage done to the world’s forests. Forest degradation from selective logging, road construction, climate change, and other means compromises the health of remaining forests. Each year the world has less forested area, and the forests that remain are of lower quality. For example, replacing natural old-growth forests with a monoculture of an exotic species greatly reduces biodiversity.
The spread of planted forests has been accelerating, rising from an expansion of 3.7 million hectares annually in the 1990s to 4.9 million hectares annually the following decade. Planted forests now cover some 264 million hectares, comprising nearly 7 percent of total forest area. Plantations now have the potential to produce an estimated 1.2 billion cubic meters of industrial wood each year, about two thirds of current global wood production. Where forests have already been cleared, plantations can alleviate the pressure on standing forests.
Forests are primarily threatened by land clearing for agriculture and pasture and by harvesting wood for fuel or industrial uses. In Brazil—which has lost 55 million hectares since 1990, an area three fourths the size of Texas—land clearing for farms and ranches is the big driver. Home to the Amazon rainforest, Brazil contains 13 percent of the world’s forested area, second only to Russia’s 20 percent. Between 2000 and 2010, Brazil lost 2.6 million hectares of forest each year, more than any other country. Brazil is trying to reduce deforestation rates 80 percent from the 1996–2005 average by 2020 and has in fact seen a large drop in deforestation in recent years. But rising beef, corn, and soybean prices are likely to pressure the government to weaken its forest protection, further threatening the world’s largest rainforest. More
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Damage to crop harvests from exceptionally dry weather this year raised sharply the Bank's food price index taking it above its peak in early 2011.
The Washington-based bank blamed the drought in the US for the 25% price rise of maize and 17% price rise in soya beans last month, adding that a dry summer in Russia, the Ukraine and Kazakhstan lay behind the 25% jump in the cost of wheat.
"Food prices rose again sharply threatening the health and well-being of millions of people," said World Bank group president, Jim Yong Kim. "Africa and the Middle East are particularly vulnerable, but so are people in other countries where the prices of grains have gone up abruptly."
The bank said food prices overall rose by 10% between June and July to leave them 6% up on a year earlier. "We cannot allow these historic price hikes to turn into a lifetime of perils as families take their children out of school and eat less nutritious food to compensate for the high prices," said Kim. "Countries must strengthen their targeted programs to ease the pressure on the most vulnerable population, and implement the right policies." More
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
It took the brilliant minds of Goldman Sachs to realize the simple truth that nothing is more valuable than our daily bread. And where there's value, there's money to be made. In 1991, Goldman bankers, led by their prescient president Gary Cohn, came up with a new kind of investment product, a derivative that tracked 24 raw materials, from precious metals and energy to coffee, cocoa, cattle, corn, hogs, soy, and wheat. They weighted the investment value of each element, blended and commingled the parts into sums, then reduced what had been a complicated collection of real things into a mathematical formula that could be expressed as a single manifestation, to be known henceforth as the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI).
For just under a decade, the GSCI remained a relatively static investment vehicle, as bankers remained more interested in risk and collateralized debt than in anything that could be literally sowed or reaped. Then, in 1999, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission deregulated futures markets. All of a sudden, bankers could take as large a position in grains as they liked, an opportunity that had, since the Great Depression, only been available to those who actually had something to do with the production of our food.
Today, bankers and traders sit at the top of the food chain -- the carnivores of the system, devouring everyone and everything below. At the very bottom lies the consumer. The average American, who spends roughly 8 to 12 percent of her weekly paycheck on food, did not immediately feel the crunch of rising costs.
Change was coming to the great grain exchanges of Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City -- which for 150 years had helped to moderate the peaks and valleys of global food prices. Farming may seem bucolic, but it is an inherently volatile industry, subject to the vicissitudes of weather, disease, and disaster. The grain futures trading system pioneered after the American Civil War by the founders of Archer Daniels Midland, General Mills, and Pillsbury helped to establish America as a financial juggernaut to rival and eventually surpass Europe. The grain markets also insulated American farmers and millers from the inherent risks of their profession. The basic idea was the "forward contract," an agreement between sellers and buyers of wheat for a reasonable bushel price -- even before that bushel had been grown. Not only did a grain "future" help to keep the price of a loaf of bread at the bakery -- or later, the supermarket -- stable, but the market allowed farmers to hedge against lean times, and to invest in their farms and businesses. The result: Over the course of the 20th century, the real price of wheat decreased (despite a hiccup or two, particularly during the 1970s inflationary spiral), spurring the development of American agribusiness. After World War II, the United States was routinely producing a grain surplus, which became an essential element of its Cold War political, economic, and humanitarian strategies -- not to mention the fact that American grain fed millions of hungry people across the world. More
Plutarch wrote 2,000 years ago "an imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all Republics". What then will happen when half of the worlds population cannot afford to buy food? Editor
One new plantation in Gambela, owned by Saudi-based billionaire Mohammed al-Amoudi, is irrigated with water diverted from the Alwero River. Thousands of people depend on Alwero's water for their survival and Al-Moudi's industrial irrigation plans could undermine their access to it. In April 2012, tensions over the project spilled over, when an armed group ambushed Al-Amoudi's Saudi Star Development Company operations, leaving five people dead.
The tensions in south western Ethiopia illustrate the central importance of access to water in the global land rush. Hidden behind the current scramble for land is a world-wide struggle for control over water. Those who have been buying up vast stretches of farmland in recent years, whether they are based in Addis Ababa, Dubai or London, understand that the access to water they gain, often included for free and without restriction, may well be worth more over the long-term, than the land deals themselves.
In recent years, Saudi Arabian companies have been acquiring millions of hectares of lands overseas to produce food to ship back home. Saudi Arabia does not lack land for food production. What’s missing in the Kingdom is water, and its companies are seeking it in countries like Ethiopia.
Indian companies like Bangalore-based Karuturi Global are doing the same. Aquifers across the sub-continent have been depleted by decades of unsustainable irrigation. The only way to feed India's growing population, the claim is made, is by sourcing food production overseas, where water is more available.
"The value is not in the land," says Neil Crowder of UK-based Chayton Capital which has been acquiring farmland in Zambia. "The real value is in water.” 
And companies like Chayton Capital think that Africa is the best place to find that water. The message repeated at farmland investor conferences around the globe is that water is abundant in Africa. It is said that Africa’s water resources are vastly under utilised, and ready to be harnessed for export oriented agriculture projects.
The reality is that a third of Africans already live in water-scarce environments and climate change is likely to increase these numbers significantly. Massive land deals could rob millions of people of their access to water and risk the depletion of the continent's most precious fresh water sources. More
Friday, August 24, 2012
Rhamis Kent interviews environmental film maker John D. Liu for International Permaculture Day (Part 1& 2)
John D. Liu Interview (Part 2): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oD7Nhy-CCTA
What If We Change social media project:
Rhamis Kent is a permaculture consultant in the aid and development field:
International Permaculture Day is an ongoing celebration of all things permaculture happening around the world, culminating in a global day of celebration on the first Sunday in May annually. The next global day will take place on SUNDAY 5TH MAY 2013. In the meantime, please send us your permaculture news, stories, project and event reports to share with the international community.
You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/user/IntPermacultureDay
Small-scale irrigation technology, such as motorized pumps and hosing to access groundwater, could cost a sub-Saharan African smallholder $250 or more but could improve crop yields by between 75 and 275 percent, the report said.
"Factors are working to potentially move the world into another food crisis like 2007-2008, triggered by a U.S. drought and the late onset and irregularity of the South Asian monsoon," Colin Chartres, IWMI director general, said in an interview.
"If there is more investment in small-scale irrigation, it means food supply in those countries is more secure. It won't replace the need for staple cereal crops, but it gives farmers more insurance against a food crisis."
Small-scale irrigation schemes usually cover areas less than 2 hectares. Farmers largely initiate and finance irrigation equipment individually or in small groups and use low-cost technologies such as buckets, watering cans and pumps.
In Ghana, around 185,000 hectares are under small-scale irrigation schemes, benefiting half a million smallholders, and some 170,000 farmers in Burkina Faso water vegetable crops in the dry season using small-scale irrigation, the IWMI estimates.
Vegetable production has nearly tripled in the Burkina Faso to 160,000 tonnes in 2005 from 60,000 tonnes in 1996 and is still growing, the report said.
FOOD, WATER TOP THE AGENDA
Food and water security are high on the world's agenda as the United States experiences its driest summer since the 1930s, sending grain prices to all-time highs and raising the spectre of a food crisis such as in 2008.
Climate change is also increasing the uncertainty of rainfall, meaning that groundwater supplies are not being replenished and rainwater is difficult to collect to feed crops.
The majority of the world's poor live in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and most of these people live in rural areas and work in agriculture. More
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Combining data from around the world, the research team has been able to measure the amount of water available and the water usage. The result which Tom Gleeson from McGill called ‘sobering’ indicate global overexploitation of groundwater in a number of regions across Asia and North America. The study suggests that around 1.7 billion people – mostly in Asia – are living in areas where underground water reserves are under threat. That means that we humans as well as the vast ecosystems that water supports, are blindly walking into crisis.
The areas that the research showed were under most stress include Saudi Arabia, Iran, northern India and parts of northern China. In the US, the areas included western Mexico, the High Plains and California’s Central Valley. The overexploitation of groundwater supplies in countries such as China, the US and India is linked to their global scale production of food.
“The relatively few aquifers that are being heavily exploited are unfortunately critical to agriculture in a number of different countries,” Tom Gleeson told Reuters. “So even though the number is relatively small, these are critical resources that need better management.”
The study found that Saudi Arabia had substantially depleted its own aquifers (as has Iran), which is why the country is buying up land in Africa to help ensure food security. However, it is not all bad news. According to the data gathered, groundwater depletion isn’t a worldwide problem and 80 percent of aquifers around the world aren’t being depleted. For example, some of the largest reserves of groundwater are under North African countries like Libya, Algeria, Egypt and Sudan and these haven’t been over-exploited yet.
The biggest scheme to get to this water was Libya’s $25 billion Great Manmade River project, built by the dictator Muammar Gaddafi to supply cities including Tripoli, Benghazi and Sirte with an estimated 6.5 million cubic meters of water a day. The problem is that once this water is taken out of these aquifers, it is not replenished and so the need to control our consumption of water is still a pressing issue.
Authors of the study suggest that limits on water extraction, more efficient irrigation and the promotion of diets with less meat (or no meat at all) could make water resources more sustainable. More
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Things started out well enough earlier this year, as America’s farmers took advantage of the warmest March weather on recordan unusually warm March by planting the largest corn crop in 75 years. As late as May 10, the USDA was projecting that previous corn production and yield records would be shattered. “We’re looking at the potential for just a true bin-buster of a crop [this year],” grain expert and Iowa State University economics professor Chad Hart told The Huffington Post at the time. “There’s going to be a lot of corn flying around here.”
But those predictions came before a historic drought descended upon the country’s heartland, accompanied by soaring summer temperatures. In July, the USDA slashed its estimate for corn productionby 12 percent, the largest such adjustment in a quarter century. The organization released an evenbleaker update last Friday. Meanwhile, many commodity traders, believing the worst may still be yet to come, have reduced their own projections even further. Soybeans, which are frequently intercropped with corn, have also struggled with this summer’s conditions.
As optimism for the corn and soybean harvests has faded, commodity prices have surged. Corn futures have reached record highs, and soybeans have also seen dramatic price increases. Both commodities have now surpassed their peaks from the 2007-8 crisis that led to riots in more than two dozen countries across the world.
Even wheat, which is primarily a winter crop, has experienced a price increase of about 50 percent over the past two months. “If the price of corn rises high enough, it also pulls up the price of wheat,” Robert Thompson, a food security expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, told The Guardian. Wheat has not yet outpaced its high from the 2007-8 crisis, but it is trading higher than after the Russian wheat export ban that helped lead to another crisis in 2010-11 (and ultimately, some analysts say, to the Arab Spring). More
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Africa is endowed with 60% of the world’s unused arable land and millions of dedicated farmers. They simply need the tools, infrastructure, and competence to unlock the continent’s tremendous agricultural potential. There is no reason – and no excuse – to leave the survival of millions to unpredictable weather conditions. Rather, countries must take control by drastically improving efficiency and productivity.
To be sure, progress has been made. Some African governments have reduced regulatory barriers to private-sector investment in agriculture. And some are implementing risk-management and hedging tools to shield farmers from drought and flood, and poor consumers from the food-price volatility that such disasters cause. For example, the Global Index Insurance Facility insures Kenyan farmers against drought or excessive rainfall.
Such initiatives foster the flow of resources into agriculture – both for the agribusinesses needed to feed Africa’s growing cities, and for smallholders who need better seeds, fertilizer, and market roads. Although more developed regions have been taking such measures, they are not yet standard practice in Africa.
The continent’s agricultural sector is further hindered by low skills, a dearth of innovation, weak infrastructure, little funding, and lack of access to land, land titles, and lender security. But, given the right tools, all of these problems are solvable.
For example, in order to finance reform, local banks need incentives to expand credit. That could mean access to specialized credit bureaus and rating agencies, risk-sharing facilities targeting smallholders, and advisory services to provide capacity-building and education.
These banks also need direct support. For example, the International Finance Corporation is investing $25 million in Zambia National Commercial Bank to increase access to finance for small-scale entrepreneurs and rural agribusiness companies, which account for a significant share of Zambia’s economic output.
Moreover, innovative financing techniques – such as structured trade finance, warehouse receipt finance, and supplier finance – are already in place or being developed. Under the Global Warehouse Receipt Program, for example, farmers may use produce stored in depositories as collateral for loans.
Smallholder farm-mechanization models are also needed to improve efficiency and increase yields. Farmers could be grouped together to pool their production and negotiate a favorable offtake agreement to monetize future sales, then use the receipts to lease equipment, such as tractors.
Water is another major constraint on food production in some regions. Most affected countries are working to increase supply by developing new sources of ground and surface water, using wastewater from nearby urban areas, harvesting rainwater, or reusing agricultural drainage. Meanwhile, some countries are focusing on reducing demand, through improved management and innovative agricultural techniques, such as precision and drip irrigation. More
Monday, August 13, 2012
The flow of the Mississippi River has slowed -- at times rivaling 40-year-lows -- allowing saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to seep far up the river channel, threatening community water supplies at the river mouth.
In Iowa, about 58,000 fish died along a 42-mile stretch of the Des Moines River, according to state officials, and the cause of death appeared to be heat. Biologists measured the water at 97 degrees in multiple spots.
Across Indiana, wells have run dry, and farther across the nation's middle, many communities have invoked water restrictions to protect shrinking supplies.
"I've never seen anything quite like it," Justin Pedretti, who owns a farm near the boat ramp in Bonaparte, Iowa, and first reported the fish kill.
In 1895, the first year of such records for the nation, the average July temperature in the contiguous states was 72.1 degrees.
Since then, average temperatures have been rising, if slowly, according to U.S. records, climbing at the rate of 1.24 degrees per century.
This year, average temperatures spiked to 77.6 -- even above the long-term trends, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported last week.
At the same time that temperatures have spiked, setting records in places as far-flung as Lansing and Greenville, S.C., the country has been hit with a spreading drought.
In early August, 62 percent of the contiguous United States was under moderate to exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The heat and drought feed on each other, worsening conditions, scientists said. When the ground is wet, the water absorbs the sun's heat and expends it in evaporation; when the earth is dry in a drought, the ground simply warms.
The rising temperatures and spreading drought this year are consistent with what can be expected with the warming of the climate, said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist with NOAA.
"Any given year in the future could be above or below that rising trend," he said. "But if the current trend continues, the chances of years like this become greater."
The Midwest is particularly vulnerable to large swings, according to federal scientists, in part because it is farther from the oceans, which help to moderate temperatures.
"There is a high degree of confidence in projections that future temperature increases will be greatest in the Arctic and in the middle of continents," according to the U.S. Global Change Research Program. More
The projections mean this year's corn production will be the lowest production since 2006, with soybeans at its lowest production rate since 2003, Roberts said. The USDA said it expects corn growers to average 123.4 bushels per acre, down 24 bushels from last year, while soybean growers are expected to average 36.1 bushels per acre, down 5.4 bushels from last year.
In Ohio, those numbers translate into a projected 126 bushels per acre yield, which is down 32 bushels per acre from last year for corn, he said. Soybeans are projected at 42 bushels per acre, down from last year's 47.5 bushels per acre yield.
The impact on growers is going to be tough, Roberts said.
"I don't think this is a surprise to anyone, especially growers," he said. "For most farmers, this is the year that they will lose much of the profits they've made over five good years.
"I don't expect to see a lot of bankruptcies, but certainly there will be a lot of belt-tightening among farmers this year. With crop insurance so widespread, it will help ensure that we don't see a lot of bankruptcies and help farmers weather this storm."
This as Ohioans have suffered through multiple days of record-setting temperatures of over 100 degrees this summer, with scant rainfall that has resulted in parched crop fields. In fact, with an average temperature of 77.6 degrees, July was the hottest month ever recorded nationwide, breaking a record set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, according to the National Climatic Data Center. More
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
|Photo by Magharebia|
This, however, is just the beginning of the likely consequences: If history is any guide, rising food prices of this sort will also lead to widespread social unrest and violent conflict.
Food — affordable food — is essential to human survival and well-being. Take that away, and people become anxious, desperate, and angry. In the United States, food represents only about 13 percent of the average household budget, a relatively small share, so a boost in food prices in 2013 will probably not prove overly taxing for most middle- and upper-income families. It could, however, produce considerable hardship for poor and unemployed Americans with limited resources. “You are talking about a real bite out of family budgets,” commented Ernie Gross, an agricultural economist at Omaha’s Creighton University. This could add to the discontent already evident in depressed and high-unemployment areas, perhaps prompting an intensified backlash against incumbent politicians and other forms of dissent and unrest.
It is in the international arena, however, that the Great Drought is likely to have its most devastating effects. Because so many nations depend on grain imports from the U.S. to supplement their own harvests, and because intense drought and floods are damaging crops elsewhere as well, food supplies are expected to shrink and prices to rise across the planet. “What happens to the U.S. supply has immense impact around the world,” says Robert Thompson, a food expert at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. As the crops most affected by the drought, corn and soybeans, disappear from world markets, he noted, the price of all grains, including wheat, is likely to soar, causing immense hardship to those who already have trouble affording enough food to feed their families.
The Hunger Games, 2007-2011
What happens next is, of course, impossible to predict, but if the recent past is any guide, it could turn ugly. In 2007 to 2008, when rice, corn, and wheat experienced prices hikes of 100 percent or more, sharply higher prices — especially for bread — sparked “food riots” in more than two dozen countries, including Bangladesh, Cameroon, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Senegal, and Yemen. In Haiti, the rioting became so violent and public confidence in the government’s ability to address the problem dropped so precipitously that the Haitian Senate voted to oust the country’s prime minister, Jacques-Édouard Alexis. In other countries, angry protestors clashed with army and police forces, leaving scores dead.
Those price increases of 2007 to 2008 were largely attributed to the soaring cost of oil, which made food production more expensive. (Oil’s use is widespread in farming operations, irrigation, food delivery, and pesticide manufacture.) At the same time, increasing amounts of cropland worldwide were being diverted from food crops to the cultivation of plants used in making biofuels.
The next price spike, in 2010 to 2011, was, however, closely associated with climate change. An intense drought gripped much of eastern Russia during the summer of 2010, reducing the wheat harvest in that breadbasket region by one-fifth and prompting Moscow to ban all wheat exports. Drought also hurt China’s grain harvest, while intense flooding destroyed much of Australia’s wheat crop. Together with other extreme-weather-related effects, these disasters sent wheat prices soaring by more than 50 percent and the price of most food staples by 32 percent. More
How will this affect China and South Asia? With the drought in China and Russia and flooding in South Asia in recent years, how will rising prices and potential shortages affect these countries? Editor.
“The U.S. plays a huge role in global food security. The U.S. is the largest food exporter – soybeans, maize and many other food commodities. So anything [that] happens in the U.S. will have global significance,” he said.
The decline in maize production has boosted prices by 30 percent in the past two months. Soybean prices are up 19 percent.
Fan said, “Last weekend’s rain may have helped a little bit, but we think the drought may come back and will continue to affect both soybean and maize production.” More