Saturday, January 25, 2014

Food Security Should Be Top Priority For Pakistan Because Of Climate Change

KARACHI: Experts from various disciplines gathered at the Climate Change Conference in Karachi stressed a dire need for research on the issue in Pakistan as it ranked amongst countries highly vulnerable to the phenomena.

The conference, organised by Habib University, highlighted the urgent need to incorporate climate change adaptation into the national climate policy. The keynote speaker, Dr Bruce McCarl, a disitinguised professor of Agricultural Economic at Texas A&M University, sounded the alarm and advised the government of Pakistan to put a special emphasis on saving it agricultural sector, first and foremost since it was most sensitive to extreme weather.

McCarl, who was also part of the Noble Peace Prize winning team of Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007, said, "From agricultural point of view, Pakistan should focus on its most staple crops like Wheat" because food security should be the top priority in the climate change scenario.

Shafqat Kakakhel, chairperson of Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) said that Pakistan was prone to natural disasters and was frequently facing an increase in floods, droughts and other extreme events.

Kakakhel also stressed the need for educational institutes to introduce climate change and environment policy in the school curriculum.

Climate change and the role of media was the subject of another important panel discussion at the conference where Rina Saeed Khan, a prominent writer on environment, said in her presentation that though Pakistan was one the lowest emitters of green house gases in the world it remained highly susceptible to the climate uncertainties.

Her presentation touched upon the hurdles of communicating climate change phenomenon to the masses in local languages without losing its impact.

Muhammad Badar Alam, the editor of Herald Magazine, was also of the opinion that there was a serious lack of credible information about climate change as the government departments were often tight lipped about the dissemination of information about the issue.

Alam had a three-point solution to address the situation. Firstly, access to viable information from the institutes and the scientists, secondly, its comprehension from the journalists, and most importantly passing that information to the masses in jargon free language. More


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Farmers worldwide suffer as extreme weather wreaks food havoc

To address the crisis, farm ministers from around the world are gathering in Berlin Saturday to discuss climate change and food production.

BOSTON — Volatile weather around the world is taking farmers on a wild ride. Too much rain in northern China damaged crops in May, three years after too little rain turned the world’s second-biggest corn producer into a net importer of the grain. Dry weather in the U.S. will cut beef output from the world’s biggest producer to the lowest level since 1994, following 2013’s bumper corn crop, which pushed America’s inventory up 30 percent. British farmers couldn’t plant in muddy fields after the second-wettest year on record in 2012 dented the nation’s wheat production.

“Extreme weather events are a massive risk to agriculture,” said Peter Kendall, president of the British National Farmers Union, who raises 3,953 acres of grain crops in Bedfordshire, England. “Farmers can adapt to gradual temperature increases, but extreme weather events have the potential to completely undermine production. It could be drought, it could be too much rain, it could be extreme heat at the wrong time. It’s the extreme that does the damage.”

Farm ministers from around the world are gathering in Berlin Saturday to discuss climate change and food production at an annual agricultural forum, with a joint statement planned after the meeting.

Fast-changing weather patterns, such as the invasion of Arctic air that pushed the mercury in New York from an unseasonably warm 55 degrees Fahrenheit on Jan. 6 to a record low of 4 the next day, will only become more commonplace, according to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute. While the world produces enough to provide its 7 billion people with roughly 2,700 calories daily, and hunger across the globe is declining, one in eight people still don’t get enough to eat, some of which can be blamed on drought, the United Nations said.

“There’s no question, while there’s variability and volatility from year to year, the number and the cost of catastrophic weather events is on the rise, not just in the U.S., but on a global scale,” said Robert Hartwig, an economist and president of the insurance institute. “It’s all but certain that the size and the magnitude and the frequency of disaster losses in the future is going to be larger than what we see today.”

The number of weather events and earthquakes resulting in insured losses climbed last year to 880, 40 percent higher than the average of the last 30 years, according to Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurer.

Research points to a culprit: an increase in greenhouse gases, generated by human activity, that are forcing global temperatures upward, said Thomas Peterson, principal scientist at the U.S. National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. The warmer the air the more water it can hold, he said.

“What we’re finding worldwide is that heavy precipitation is increasing,” Peterson said.

Flood waters in Passau, Germany, in May and June reached the highest level since 1501, Munich Re said. That was the year Michelangelo first put a chisel to the block of marble that would become his sculpture of David. High water did $15.2 billion in damage in parts of Central and Eastern Europe, according to Munich Re.

A July hailstorm in Reutlingen, Germany, led to $3.7 billion in insured losses, according to Munich Re. Hailstones the size of babies’ fists cracked the windshield of Marco Kaschuba’s Peugeot.

“Two minutes before the storm started you could already hear a very loud noise,” said Kaschuba, a 33-year-old photographer. “That was from hailstones hitting the ground in the distance and coming closer.”

In 2012, Britain had its second-highest rainfall going back to 1910, according to Britain’s meteorology office. England and Wales had its third-wettest year since 1766. More


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity - Lester Brown

Peak Water and Food Scarcity

Although many analysts are concerned about the depletion of oil resources, the depletion of underground water resources poses a far greater threat to our future. While there are substitutes for oil, there are none for water. Indeed, modern humans lived a long time without oil, but we would live for only a matter of days without water.

Not only are there no substitutes for water, but the world needs vast amounts of it to produce food. As adults, each of us drinks nearly 4 liters of water a day in one form or another. But it takes 2,000 liters of water—500 times as much—to produce the food we consume each day. 1

Since food is such an extraordinarily water-intensive product, it comes as no surprise that 70 percent of world water use is for irrigation. Although it is now widely accepted that the world is facing severe water shortages, not everyone realizes that a future of water shortages will also be a future of food shortages. 2

The use of irrigation to expand food production goes back some 6,000 years. Indeed, the development of irrigation using water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers set the stage for the emergence of the Sumerian civilization, and it was the Nile that gave birth to ancient Egypt. 3

Throughout most of history, irrigation spread rather slowly. But in the latter half of the twentieth century it underwent a rapid expansion. In 1950, there were some 250 million acres of irrigated land in the world. By 2000, the figure had nearly tripled to roughly 700 million acres. After these several decades of rapid increase, however, the growth in irrigated area has slowed dramatically since the turn of the century, expanding only 9 percent from 2000 to 2009. Given that governments are much more likely to report increases than decreases, the recent net growth in irrigated area may be even smaller. This dramatic loss of momentum in irrigation expansion, coupled with the aquifer depletion that is already reducing irrigated area in some countries, suggests that peak water may now be on our doorstep. 4

The trend in irrigated land area per person is even less promising. For the last half-century, the irrigated area has been expanding—but not as fast as population. As a result, the irrigated area per person today is 10 percent less than it was in 1960. With so many aquifers being depleted and more and more irrigation wells going dry, this shrinkage in irrigated area per person is likely not only to continue but to accelerate in the years ahead. 5

Roughly 40 percent of the world grain harvest is grown on irrigated land. The rest is rainfed. Among the big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States—the role of irrigation varies widely. In China, four fifths of the grain harvest comes from irrigated land. For India it is three fifths, and for the United States, only one fifth. Asia, where rice is the staple food, totally dominates the world irrigated area. 6

Farmers use both surface and underground water for irrigation. Surface water is typically stored behind dams on rivers and then channeled onto the land through a network of irrigation canals. Historically, and notably from 1950 until 1975, when most of the world’s large dams were built, this was the main source of growth in world irrigated area. During the 1970s, however, as the sites for new dams diminished, attention shifted from building dams to drilling wells for access to underground water. 7

Most underground water comes from aquifers that are regularly replenished with rainfall; these can be pumped indefinitely as long as water extraction does not exceed recharge. A small minority of aquifers are fossil aquifers, however, containing water put there eons ago. Since these do not recharge, irrigation ends once they are pumped dry. Among the more prominent fossil aquifers are the Ogallala underlying the U.S. Great Plains, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain, and the Saudi aquifers. 8

Given a choice, farmers generally prefer having their own wells because it enables them to control the timing and amount of water delivered with a precision that is not possible with large, centrally managed canal irrigation systems. Pumps let them apply water precisely when the crop needs it, thus achieving higher yields than with large-scale, river-based irrigation systems. Forty percent of world irrigated area is now dependent on underground water. As world demand for grain has climbed, farmers have drilled more and more irrigation wells with little concern for how many the local aquifers could support. As a result, water tables are falling and millions of irrigation wells are either going dry or are on the verge of doing so. 9

As groundwater use for irrigation expands, so does the grain harvest. But if the pumping surpasses the sustainable yield of the aquifer, aquifers are depleted. When this happens, the rate of irrigation pumping is necessarily reduced to the aquifer’s natural rate of recharge. At this point, grain production declines too.

The resulting water-based “food bubbles,” which create a short-term false sense of security, can now be found in some 18 countries that contain more than half the world’s people. In these countries, food is being produced by drawing down water reserves. This group includes China, India, and the United States. 10 (See Table 6–1.) More


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Many Countries Reaching Diminishing Returns in Fertilizer Use

When German chemist Justus von Liebig demonstrated in 1847 that the major nutrients that plants removed from the soil could be applied in mineral form, he set the stage for the development of the fertilizer industry and a huge jump in world food production a century later.

Growth in food production during the nineteenth century came primarily from expanding cultivated area. It was not until the mid-twentieth century, when land limitations emerged and raising yields became essential, that fertilizer use began to rise.

The growth in the world fertilizer industry after World War II was spectacular. Between 1950 and 1988, fertilizer use climbed from 14 million to 144 million tons. This period of remarkable worldwide growth came to an end when fertilizer use in the former Soviet Union fell precipitously after heavy subsidies were removed in 1988 and fertilizer prices there moved to world market levels. After 1990, the breakup of the Soviet Union and the effort of its former states to convert to market economies led to a severe economic depression in these transition economies. The combined effect of these shifts was a four-fifths drop in fertilizer use in the former Soviet Union between 1988 and 1995. After 1995 the decline bottomed out, and increases in other countries, particularly China and India, restored growth in world fertilizer use.

As the world economy evolved from being largely rural to being highly urbanized, the natural nutrient cycle was disrupted. In traditional rural societies, food is consumed locally, and human and animal waste is returned to the land, completing the nutrient cycle. But in highly urbanized societies, where food is consumed far from where it is produced, using fertilizer to replace the lost nutrients is the only practical way to maintain land productivity. It thus comes as no surprise that the growth in fertilizer use closely tracks the growth in urbanization, with much of it concentrated in the last 60 years.

The big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States—account for more than half of world fertilizer consumption. In the United States, the growth in fertilizer use came to an end in 1980. China’s fertilizer use climbed rapidly in recent decades but has leveled off since 2007. In contrast, India’s fertilizer consumption is still on the rise, growing 5 percent annually. While China uses 50 million tons of fertilizer a year and India uses 28 million tons, the United States uses only 20 million tons. (See data.) More