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Food & agriculture - Apr 17

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Reverie Alone Won't Do: Preparing for a World Without Honeybees

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book
To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
-Emily Dickinson

I want to preface this by pointing out that I'm not a beekeeper (although this was supposed to be my first year - but I think I'll wait until we know a little more about the future of honeybees), or an expert on Colony Collapse Disorder. On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that something really awful is happening to honeybees. If you haven't been watching the news about Colony Collapse Disorder, here are some links ...

I'll also say that I don't intend this to be scaremongering - none of us know what effect this might have on our lives. The end of the honeybee has been predicted before, and it didn't happen then. But speaking pragmatically, I think it is generally better to know and prepare for the worst outcomes, and then be pleasantly surprised when they do not happen. I've not seen an essay yet anywhere that talks about how our local food systems might have to respond to CCD, so I've written one.
(15 April 2007)


Oversight Report Says U.S. Food Aid Practices Are Wasteful

Celia W. Dugger, NY Times
The United States government’s food aid programs are riddled with wasteful practices, including the “inherently inefficient” sale of American-grown food in poor countries to finance antipoverty programs run by aid groups, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office released yesterday.

The G.A.O.’s yearlong investigation of food aid also found that rising shipping and logistical costs have halved the amount of American food delivered to the hungry in Africa, Asia and Latin America over the past five years.

The agency which briefed Congress last month on its preliminary findings, released its full report yesterday. It was especially critical of the practice known as monetization, which involves shipping food at great expense across oceans to the developing countries.

There, managers at nonprofit groups double as grain traders, selling the food on local markets to generate cash for development programs.

Thomas Melito, the G.A.O.’s director of international affairs and trade, said this practice was a highly inefficient way to raise money for development, given that over a third of food aid spending has been consumed by the rapidly rising costs of ocean shipping.

Under American law, virtually all food given as aid must be grown in the United States, which means it has to be shipped out.
(14 April 2007


Food Security and Relocalization

Sharon Astyk, Casaubon's Book
...If we are to rely on our own food production and our own local food sources, we are most likely going to be more vulnerable to those supply failures. This is a real worry, and like Rebecca, I've encountered this concern - and I've had it for myself. Two years ago we lost most of our potato crop to flooding, along with several other major crops. It wasn't a big deal - I just drove over to the localmarket and bought 3 50lbs of potatoes from better drained land than I have. But what if it has been a regional issue, and there were no potatoes to be had?

I think it is helpful to dissect, at least a little, how the current system works. Right now, most hunger is caused by inability to pay. For example, in the US, there are 21 million people who are food insecure - that is, they don't know from one day to another whether they will eat. Those people are not hungry because there are food shortages in Milwaukee, they are hungry because even though the stores overflow with food. The same is true on a larger scale in many poor nations.

...But a relocalized society, as Rebecca points out, would bring home the concrete realities of things like climate change, local weather conditions and environmental degradation. Rebecca doesn't say where she lives, but, for example, for the millions of people who have moved to the Southwest, things are going to get really hairy. It isn't at all clear to me that the driest parts of this nation, or Australia or other places enduring lasting drought due to climate change, are going to be able to feed themselves in the long term.

...My proposition would be that local communities open food security centers, consisting of (ideally), a food pantry, a community kitchen for community canning and food storage, along with cooking classes, a cafeteria, and a food banking system and store.
(15 April 2007)


Ethanol Push Adds to Forces Lifting Food Costs

Uren Etter, Julie Jargon and Conor Dougherty, Wall Street Journal
Americans face sizable increases in their grocery bills this year as a boom in ethanol production diverts more corn from the nation's dinner table to its gas tank. Indeed, their pocketbooks could feel the pinch for years to come.

High corn prices, bad weather and steep energy costs have combined to make food a bigger potential contributor to inflation this year than it has been at least since 2004, when a cutback in dairy production boosted dairy prices and beef prices rose as mad-cow disease disrupted trade.

The Agriculture Department says that retail food prices are likely to climb by 2.5% to 3.5% in 2007, fueled in part by strong demand for corn-derived ethanol. But Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo & Co., thinks the rise could be an even sharper 4.5%.

Food prices are volatile by nature, and economists generally shrug off such jumps because they tend to be offset over time by equally abrupt price declines. But Kenneth Beauchemin, a U.S. economist with consulting firm Global Insight, says that the difference now is that the government's push to promote ethanol, unlike a storm or other temporary factor, "could affect prices for the next 10 years."
(16 April 2007)
The original is available only to subscribers. The article also appears at MarxMail. The WSJ Energy Roundup has some recent entries on ethanol. -BA

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