Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Study: Global crop production shows some signs of stagnating

After decades of rapidly growing global agricultural output, production of four of the world’s most important crops could be stagnating or even slowing in some regions, according to a new study published in Nature, a top scientific journal.

The study, by the University of Minnesota’s Deepak Ray and four others, examined millions of census reports from the last half century to gather their data.

The authors are careful to point out that crop production is still increasing in parts of the world; it is by no means a categorical decline. The report’s abstract reads summarizes, “Although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24–39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse.” That’s about a quarter to a third of global production of four of our most important crops.

This is potentially a very big deal. World populations are still growing. So is the global middle class, members of which tend to consume more meat and dairy per person, which means more crops per person. That’s been happening for a while, and it’s been fine as long as food production has kept pace. But the pace of crop production growth appears to be slowing in some really important regions, particularly in parts of India and China – and, yes, the U.S.

How did this happen? Study co-author Jonathan Foley, talking to Science Daily, suggests one possible explanation. “This finding is particularly troubling because it suggests that we have preferentially focused our crop improvement efforts on feeding animals and cars, as we have largely ignored investments in wheat and rice, crops that feed people and are the basis of food security in much of the world,” he said. Yikes. More


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Curbing Tanzania’s “Land Grabbing Race”

DAR ES SALAAM, Dec 19 2012 (IPS) – From January 2013, Tanzania will start restricting the size of land that single large-scale foreign and local investors can “lease” for agricultural use. The decision follows both local and international criticism that major investors are grabbing large chunks of land here, often displacing small-scale farmers and local communities.

The Permanent Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office Peniel Lyimo confirmed that the government would limit the amount of land leased to investors in this East African nation. Previously, there were no limits.

“For a large-scale investor who wants to invest in sugar, the ceiling has been put at 10,000 hectares. (The limit for) rice is 5,000 hectares. The ceiling for sugar is significantly higher due to the fact that it may also produce electric power,” Lyimo told IPS. Sugarcane fibre is used in the generation of electricity.

According to official documents, seen by IPS, from the Tanzania Investment Centre, a government agency set up to promote and facilitate investment: “Even within a seven-year period, an investor would not be able to use more than 10,000 hectares…”

The move will come as a relief to land rights organisations that have continually called for the government to curb the land grabs here. [related_articles]

In 2008 the Tanzanian government launched the Kilimo Kwanza (Agriculture First) initiative in order to increase private sector investments in agriculture.

And when the World Economic Forum took place in Dar es Salaam in 2010, the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a multi-stakeholder partnership to rapidly develop the country’s agricultural potential, was formed and the government began to invite foreign companies to invest in crops like sugarcane, maize, rice and cassava.

However, civil society organisations like the Tanzanian NGO Land Rights Research and Resources Institute (LARRRI) and the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank in the United States, called on the government to review its investment policy to limit the amount of land given to foreign investors.

“Giving tens of thousands of hectares to large-scale investors was hurting small-scale farmers,” said LARRRI executive director Yefred Myenzi.

To date, he told IPS, the government has given 80,000 hectares of land to large-scale investors.

“Land conflicts pitting poor villagers against powerful investors now number more than 1,000 reported incidents. On average, there are five land disputes daily in the country and three of these involve powerful investors,” said Myenzi.

In Tanzania’s northern Loliondo district, which is known for its wildlife, much of the land has been leased out to international hunting concessions, which has resulted in the large-scale eviction of the local population – although the government refutes this. A major U.S. energy company, AgriSol Energy, has also been accused of engaging in land grabs in Tanzania that would displace more than 160,000 Burundian refugees, according to a report by the Oakland Institute. The report states that AgriSol is benefiting from the forcible eviction of the refugees, many of whom are subsistence farmers, and leasing the land — as much as 800,000 acres — from the Tanzanian government for 25 cents per acre.

Myenzi said that of the 1,825 general land disputes reported in 2011, 1,095 involved powerful investors. More


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Grabbing at Solutions: Water for the Hungry First

This piece is part of Water Grabbers: A Global Rush on Freshwater, a special National Geographic News series on how grabbing land—and water—from poor people, desperate governments, and future generations threatens global food security, environmental sustainability, and local cultures

A spontaneous, largely under-the-radar blue revolution is gaining steam in sub-Saharan Africa and has the potential to boost food security and incomes for tens of millions of the region’s poorest inhabitants.

Small-scale irrigation techniques with simple buckets, affordable pumps, drip lines, and other equipment are enabling farm families to weather dry seasons, raise yields, diversify their crops, and lift themselves out of poverty.

But unless African governments and foreign interests lend support to these farmer-driven initiatives, rather than undermine them through land and water deals that benefit large-scale, commercial schemes, the best opportunity in decades for societal advancement in the region will be squandered.

Worldwide, as the limits of available water become ever more apparent, the rush is on to acquire more of the precious liquid before there’s none to be had. Government and business interests from China, India, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and other countries that have depleted many of their own water sources are now acquiring access to the land and water of other nations – especially poor ones – to rake in profits and secure food supplies.

The 2008 spike in global food prices unleashed a frenzy of land and water deals that threaten not only the livelihoods of millions but also the geopolitical security of nations.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Africa, especially poor countries south of the Sahara. Business and government interests are targeting Ethiopia, Mali, Sudan, and other underdeveloped nations to capitalize on their “underutilized” farmlands and waters.

Although pitched as investments to advance economic development, many of these deals are not only failing to deliver promised benefits, they are destroying the livelihoods of traditional farmers, herders, and fisherfolk.

Today, hunger is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa. The 2012 Global Hunger Index ranks forty-two of the forty-five countries in the region for which data are available at “serious” or “alarming” levels. Nearly one in four children are underweight. More