Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fisheries and Aquaculture Fact Sheet

The world fish catch is a measure of the productivity and health of the oceanic ecosystem that covers 70 percent of the earth's surface. The extent to which world demand for seafood is outrunning the sustainable yield of fisheries can be seen in shrinking fish stocks, declining catches, and collapsing fisheries.

Seafood plays a vital role in world food security. Roughly 3 billion people get about 20 percent of their animal protein from fishery products.

The world fish catch has hovered around 90 million tons over the last 20 years.

The wild fish catch per person has dropped dramatically, from 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) per person at its height in 1988 to 13 kilograms in 2012—a 37-year low.

Over four fifths of the world’s fisheries are either considered fully exploited, with no room for safely increasing the catch, or they are already overfished and in need of rebuilding.

Small forage fish account for over half the supply of food fish in 36 countries, including the Maldives, the Philippines, and Ghana.

In 2012, world farmed fish production topped beef production for the first time in modern history.

China accounts for 60 percent of world farmed fish production.

Wild fish play a large role in the production of meat, milk, eggs, and farmed fish. Some 6 million tons of fishmeal and 1 million tons of fish oil are produced each year. Nearly all of the fishmeal is fed to farmed fish, pigs, and poultry; 74 percent of fish oil goes to fish farms.

Some aquacultural producers are scaling back. Between 1995 and 2007, the fishmeal content in shrimp feed dropped from 28 percent to 18 percent. The drop was even more dramatic for salmon, from 45 percent to 24 percent.

People will likely eat more fish from farms than from the wild in 2014, a historical milestone. As the world’s oceans are fished to their limits, any increase in world fish consumption will come from farms. Fish farming output is expected to increase 33 percent by 2021.

Well-managed marine reserves, where fishing is off-limits, help protect biodiversity and rebuild fish stocks. Fish catch and tourism revenue outside reserve boundaries often increase. More


Food, Energy, Water and the Climate: AbPerfect Storm of Global Events?

Food, Energy, Water and the Climate: A Perfect Storm of Global Events?


John Beddington

There is an intrinsic link between the challenge we face to ensure food security through the 21st century and other global issues, most notably climate change, population growth and the need to sustainably manage the world’s rapidly growing demand for energy and water. It is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce 50 per cent more food and energy, together with 30 per cent more available fresh water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change. This threatens to create a ‘perfect storm’ of global events. Science and technology can make a major contribution, by providing practical solutions. Securing this contribution requires that high priority be attached both to research and to facilitating the real world deployment of existing and emergent technologies. On food, we need a new, “greener revolution”. Techniques and technologies from many disciplines, ranging from biotechnology and engineering to newer fields such as nanotechnology, will be needed. On water, managing and balancing supply and demand for water across sectors requires a range of policy and technological solutions. Meeting the demand for energy, while mitigating and adapting to climate change, will require a mix of behavioural change and technological solutions. More (PDF)

By John Beddington CMG FRS Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government, Government Office for Science, Kingsgate House, 66-74 Victoria Street London SW1E 6SW,


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Future heat waves pose threat to global food supply, study says

Heat waves could significantly reduce crop yields and threaten global food supply if climate change is not tackled and reversed.

This is according to a new study led by researchers at the University of East Anglia and published today, 20 March, in IOP Publishing's journal Environmental Research Letters, which has, for the first time, estimated the global effects of extreme temperatures and elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) on the production of maize, wheat and soybean.

Earlier studies have found that climate change is projected to reduce globally by the end of the century under a "business as usual" scenario for future emissions of greenhouse gases; however, this new study shows that the inclusion of the effects of , which have not been accounted for in previous modelling calculations, could double the losses of the crop.

Lead author of the study Delphine Deryng, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, said: "Instances of extreme temperatures, brought about by a large increase in global mean temperature, can be detrimental to crops at any stage of their development, but in particular around anthesis—the flowering period of the plant.

"At this stage, extreme temperatures can lead to reduced pollen sterility and reduced seed set, greatly reducing the crop yield."

The impacts on wheat and soybean are likely to be less profound, primarily because of the fertilisation effects that elevated levels of CO2 can have on these crops.

In plants, CO2 is central to the process of photosynthesis—the mechanism by which they create food from sunlight, CO2 and water. When there is more CO2 in the atmosphere, the leaves of plants can capture more of it, resulting in an overall increase in the biomass of the plant.

In addition, plants are able to manage their water use much more efficiently in these conditions, resulting in better tolerance to drought episodes. However, it is not clear whether these CO2 fertilisation effects will actually occur in the field owing to interactions with other factors.

If the CO2 fertilisation effects do occur, the researchers found that the yields of wheat and soybean are expected to increase throughout the 21st century under a "business-as-usual" scenario; however, the increases are projected to be significantly offset by the effects of heat waves, as these plants are still vulnerable to the effects of .

The positive impacts on soybean yield will be offset by 25 per cent and the positive impacts on wheat will be offset by 52 per cent.

The researchers, from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research (University of East Anglia, Norwich), Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (London School of Economics and Political Science, London), and Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre (McGill University, Montreal), arrived at their results using the global crop model PEGASUS to simulate crop yield responses to 72 spanning the 21st century.

The study also identified particular areas where heat waves are expected to have the largest negative effects on . Some of the largest affected areas are key for crop production, for example the North American corn belt for maize. When the CO2 fertilisation effects are not taken into account, the researchers found a net decrease in yields in all three crops, intensified by extreme , for the top-five producing countries of each crop.

"Our results show that maize yields are expected to be negatively affected by , while the impacts on wheat and soybean are generally positive, unless CO2 fertilisation effects have been overestimated," continued Deryng.

"However, stress reinforced by 'business-as-usual' reduces the beneficial effects considerably in these two crops. Climate mitigation policy would help reduce risks of serious negative impacts on maize worldwide and reduce risks of extreme heat stress that threaten global crop production."

Explore further: Climate change will reduce crop yields sooner than we thought

More information: 'Global crop yield response to extreme heat stress under multiple climate change futures' Delphine Deryng, Declan Conway, Navin Ramankutty, Jeff Price and Rachel Warren 2014 Environ. Res. Lett. 9 034011.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

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

World agriculture is now facing challenges unlike any before. Producing enough grain to make it to the next harvest has challenged farmers ever since agriculture began, but now the challenge is deepening as new trends—falling water tables, plateauing grain yields, and rising temperatures—join soil erosion to make it difficult to expand production fast enough.

As a result, world grain carryover stocks have dropped from an average of 107 days of consumption a decade or so ago to 74 days in recent years.

World food prices have more than doubled over the last decade. Those who live in the United States, where 9 percent of income goes for food, are largely insulated from these price shifts. But how do those who live on the lower rungs of the global economic ladder cope? They were already spending 50–70 percent of their income on food. Many were down to one meal a day before the price rises. Now millions of families routinely schedule one or more days each week when they will not eat at all.

What happens with the next price surge? Belt tightening has worked for some of the poorest people so far, but this cannot go much further. Spreading food unrest will likely lead to political instability. We could see a breakdown of political systems. Some governments may fall.

As food supplies have tightened, a new geopolitics of food has emerged—a world in which the global competition for land and water is intensifying and each country is fending for itself. We cannot claim that we are unaware of the trends that are undermining our food supply and thus our civilization. We know what we need to do.

There was a time when if we got into trouble on the food front, ministries of agriculture would offer farmers more financial incentives, like higher price supports, and things would soon return to normal. But responding to the tightening of food supplies today is a far more complex undertaking. It involves the ministries of energy, water resources, transportation, and health and family planning, among others. Because of the looming specter of climate change that is threatening to disrupt agriculture, we may find that energy policies will have an even greater effect on future food security than agricultural policies do. In short, avoiding a breakdown in the food system requires the mobilization of our entire society.

On the demand side of the food equation, there are four pressing needs—to stabilize world population, eradicate poverty, reduce excessive meat consumption, and reverse biofuels policies that encourage the use of food, land, or water that could otherwise be used to feed people. We need to press forward on all four fronts at the same time.

The first two goals are closely related. Indeed, stabilizing population depends on eliminating poverty. Even a cursory look at population growth rates shows that the countries where population size has stabilized are virtually all high-income countries. On the other side of the coin, nearly all countries with high population growth rates are on the low end of the global economic ladder.

The world needs to focus on filling the gap in reproductive health care and family planning while working to eradicate poverty. Progress on one will reinforce progress on the other. Two cornerstones of eradicating poverty are making sure that all children—both boys and girls—get at least an elementary school education and rudimentary health care. And the poorest countries need a school lunch program, one that will encourage families to send children to school and that will enable them to learn once they get there.

Shifting to smaller families has many benefits. For one, there will be fewer people at the dinner table. It comes as no surprise that a disproportionate share of malnutrition is found in larger families.

At the other end of the food spectrum, a large segment of the world’s people are consuming animal products at a level that is unhealthy and contributing to obesity and cardiovascular disease. The good news is that when the affluent consume less meat, milk, and eggs, it improves their health. When meat consumption falls in the United States, as it recently has, this frees up grain for direct consumption. Moving down the food chain also lessens pressure on the earth’s land and water resources. In short, it is a win-win-win situation.

Another initiative, one that can quickly lower food prices, is the cancellation of biofuel mandates. There is no social justification for the massive conversion of food into fuel for cars. With plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars coming to market that can run on local wind-generated electricity at a gasoline-equivalent cost of 80¢ per gallon, why keep burning costly fuel at four times the price?

On the supply side of the food equation, we face several challenges, including stabilizing climate, raising water productivity, and conserving soil. Stabilizing climate is not easy, but it can be done if we act quickly. It will take a huge cut in carbon emissions, some 80 percent within a decade, to give us a chance of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change. This means a wholesale restructuring of the world energy economy.

The easiest way to do this is to restructure the tax system. The market has many strengths, but it also has some dangerous weaknesses. It readily captures the direct costs of mining coal and delivering it to power plants. But the market does not incorporate the indirect costs of fossil fuels in prices, such as the costs to society of global warming. Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, noted when releasing his landmark study on the costs of climate change that climate change was the product of a massive market failure.

The goal of restructuring taxes is to lower income taxes and raise carbon taxes so that the cost of climate change and other indirect costs of fossil fuel use are incorporated in market prices. If we can get the market to tell the truth, the transition from coal and oil to wind, solar, and geothermal energy will move very fast. If we remove the massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, we will move even faster. 10

Although to some people this energy transition may seem farfetched, it is moving ahead, and at an exciting pace in some countries. For example, four states in northern Germany now get at least 46 percent of their electricity from wind. For Denmark, the figure is 26 percent. In the United States, both Iowa and South Dakota now get one fifth of their electricity from wind farms. Solar power in Europe can now satisfy the electricity needs of some 15 million households. Kenya now gets one fifth of its electricity from geothermal energy. And Indonesia is shooting for 9,500 megawatts of geothermal generating capacity by 2025, which would meet 56 percent of current electricity needs. More


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Increasing homogeneity of world food supplies warns of serious implications for farming and nutrition

A comprehensive new study of global food supplies confirms and thoroughly documents for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar -- by a global average of 36 percent -- and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security.

A comprehensive new study of global food supplies confirms and thoroughly documents for the first time what experts have long suspected: over the last five decades, human diets around the world have grown ever more similar -- by a global average of 36 percent -- and the trend shows no signs of slowing, with major consequences for human nutrition and global food security.

"More people are consuming more calories, protein and fat, and they rely increasingly on a short list of major food crops, like wheat, maize and soybean, along with meat and dairy products, for most of their food," said lead author Colin Khoury, a scientist at the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), which is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. "These foods are critical for combating world hunger, but relying on a global diet of such limited diversity obligates us to bolster the nutritional quality of the major crops, as consumption of other nutritious grains and vegetables declines."

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that growing reliance on a few food crops may also accelerate the worldwide rise in obesity, heart disease and diabetes, which are strongly affected by dietary change and have become major health problems, "even within countries still grappling with significant constraints in food availability." The study calls for urgent efforts to better inform consumers about diet-related diseases and to promote healthier, more diverse food alternatives.

The research reveals that the crops now predominant in diets around the world include several that were already quite important a half-century ago -- such as wheat, rice, maize and potato. But the emerging "standard global food supply" described by the study also consists of energy-dense foods that have risen to global fame more recently, like soybean, sunflower oil and palm oil. Wheat is a major staple in 97.4 percent of countries and rice in 90.8 percent; soybean has become significant to 74.3 percent of countries.

In contrast, many crops of considerable regional importance -- including cereals like sorghum, millets and rye, as well as root crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam -- have lost ground. Many other locally significant grain and vegetable crops -- for which globally comparable data are not available -- have suffered the same fate. For example, a nutritious tuber crop known as Oca, once grown widely in the Andean highlands, has declined significantly in this region both in cultivation and consumption.

"Another danger of a more homogeneous global food basket is that it makes agriculture more vulnerable to major threats like drought, insect pests and diseases, which are likely to become worse in many parts of the world as a result of climate change," said Luigi Guarino, a study co-author and senior scientist at the Global Crop Diversity Trust, headquartered in Germany. "As the global population rises and the pressure increases on our global food system, so does our dependence on the global crops and production systems that feed us. The price of failure of any of these crops will become very high."

As the authors probed current trends in food consumption, they documented a curious paradox: as the human diet has become less diverse at the global level over the last 50 years, many countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, have actually widened their menu of major staple crops, while changing to more globalized diets.

"In East and Southeast Asia, several major foods -- like wheat and potato -- have gained importance alongside longstanding staples, like rice," Khoury noted. "But this expansion of major staple foods has come at the expense of the many diverse minor foods that used to figure importantly in people's diets."

The dietary changes documented in the study are driven by powerful social and economic forces. Rising incomes in developing countries, for example, have enabled more consumers to include larger quantities of animal products, oils and sugars in their diets. Moreover, urbanization in these countries has encouraged greater consumption of processed and fast foods. Related developments, including trade liberalization, improved commodity transport, multinational food industries, and food safety standardization have further reinforced these trends.

"Countries experiencing rapid dietary change are also quickly seeing rises in the associated diseases of overabundance," said Khoury. "But hopeful trends are also apparent, as in Northern Europe, where evidence suggests that consumers are tending to buy more cereals and vegetables and less meat, oil and sugar."

The researchers single out five actions that are needed to foster diversity in food production and consumption and thus improve nutrition and food security:

  • Actively promote the adoption of a wider range of varieties of the major crops worldwide to boost genetic diversity and thus reduce the vulnerability of the global food system in the face of challenges that include climate change, rising food demand, and increased water and land scarcity. This action is especially important for certain crops, like banana, for which production is dominated by a very few, widely grown commercial varieties.
  • Support the conservation and use of diverse plant genetic resources -- including farmers' traditional varieties and wild species related to crops -- which are critical for broadening the genetic diversity of the major crops. Key measures needed are more vigorous implementation of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to better safeguard and share these genetic resources internationally, and increased investment in crop breeding and related research.
  • Enhance the nutritional quality of the major crops on which people depend -- for example, through crop breeding to improve the content of micronutrients like iron and zinc -- and make supplementary vitamins and other nutrient sources more widely available.
  • Promote alternative crops that can boost the resilience of farming and make human diets healthier through research aimed at making these crops more competitive in domestic and international markets. Key measures include identifying and conserving nutritious locally grown "neglected and underutilized" crops, fostering their production potential through crop breeding, and increasing their use through awareness raising and policy.
  • Foster public awareness of the need for healthier diets, based on better decisions about what and how much we eat as well as the forms in which we consume food.

This comprehensive new study, relying on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), encompassed more than 50 crops and over 150 countries (accounting for 98 percent of the world's population) during the period 1961-2009. In addition to CIAT and the Global Crop Diversity Trust, it involved researchers from Wageningen University in The Netherlands and the University of British Columbia in Canada.

"International agencies have hammered away in recent years with the message that agriculture must produce more food for over 9 billion people by 2050," said co-author Andy Jarvis, director of policy research at CIAT and leader for climate change adaptation with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which CIAT leads. "Just as important is the message that we need a more diverse global food system. This is the best way, not only to combat hunger, malnutrition, and over-nutrition, but also to protect global food supplies against the impacts of global climate change." More


Sunday, March 2, 2014

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels

If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.

Protester in Ukraine

But this hasn't happened. And it won't.

Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in Venezuela, Bosnia,Ukraine, Iceland, and Thailand.

This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet - but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.

Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of the danger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.

Hunger games

The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others.

In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa - Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.

Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere.

Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week:

"Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months... In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest."

But Bar-Yam's analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don't go deep enough - he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface.

It's a gas

The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels.

In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country's grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated in official statistics - Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortages driven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.

While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine's oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.

Currently, about 80% of Ukraine's oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine's energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.

The Ukrainian government's recent decision to dramatically slash Russian gas imports will likely worsen this as alternative cheaper energy sources are in short supply. Hopes that domestic energy sources might save the day are slim - apart from the fact that shale cannot solve the prospect of expensive liquid fuels, nuclear will not help either. A leaked European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) report reveals that proposals to loan 300 million Euros to renovate Ukraine's ageing infrastructure of 15 state-owned nuclear reactors will gradually double already debilitating electricity prices by 2020.

"Socialism" or Soc-oil-ism?

In Venezuela, the story is familiar. Previously, the Oil and Gas Journal reported the country's oil reserves were 99.4 billion barrels. As of 2011, this was revised upwards to a mammoth 211 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and more recently by the US Geological Survey to a whopping 513 billion barrels. The massive boost came from the discovery of reserves of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco belt.

The huge associated costs of production and refining this heavy oil compared to cheaper conventional oil, however, mean the new finds have contributed little to Venezuela's escalating energy and economic challenges. Venezuela's oil production peaked around 1999, and has declined by a quarter since then. Its gas production peaked around 2001, and has declined by about a third.

Simultaneously, as domestic oil consumption has steadily increased - in fact almost doubling since 1990 - this has eaten further into declining production, resulting in net oil exports plummeting by nearly half since 1996. As oil represents 95% of export earnings and about half of budget revenues, this decline has massively reduced the scope to sustain government social programmes, including critical subsidies.

Looming pandemic?

These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Global agriculture's excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes. Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further - elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.

Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius. More