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Food & agriculture - May 31

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Peru Guards Its Guano as Demand Soars Again

Simon Romero New York Times
... Surging prices for synthetic fertilizers and organic foods are shifting attention to guano, an organic fertilizer once found in abundance on this island and more than 20 others off the coast of Peru, where an exceptionally dry climate preserves the droppings of seabirds like the guanay cormorant and the Peruvian booby.

... As a debate rages over whether global oil output has peaked, a parable may exist in the story of guano, with its seafaring treachery, the development of synthetic alternatives in Europe and a desperate effort here to prevent the deposits from being depleted.

“Before there was oil, there was guano, so of course we fought wars over it,” said Pablo Arriola, director of Proabonos, the state company that controls guano production, referring to conflicts like the Chincha Islands War, in which Peru prevented Spain from reasserting control over the guano islands. “Guano is a highly desirous enterprise.”

... Peru’s guano trade quixotically soldiers on after almost being wiped out by overexploitation. The dung will probably never be the focus of a boom as intense as the one in the 19th century, when deposits were 150 feet high, with export proceeds accounting for most of the national budget.

The guano on most islands, including Isla de Asia, south of the capital, Lima, now reaches less than a foot or so. But the guano that remains here is coveted when viewed in the context of the frenzy in Peru and abroad around synthetic fertilizers like urea, which has doubled in price to more than $600 a ton in the last year.
(30 May 2008)
Slideshow at NY Times.


Industrial ag-onistes
The WSJ on fertilizer markets so manipulated, they might make a Saudi prince blush

Tom Philpott, Gristmill
For all the misery it has caused, the global food-price crisis has at least forced people to think more seriously about food production.

I can think of few things more taken for granted in modern post-industrial society than fertilizer. Few people know people know what fertilizes the fields that produce the food they eat -- fewer, I'd bet, than know the source of their drinking water or electricity. To modern consumers, all of these things appear as if by magic.

But with food prices hovering at elevated levels and hunger protests simmering in the global south, stuff like fertilizer is suddenly front-page news. The Wall Street Journal uncorked a doozy the other day. Did you know that dominant fertilizer giants like Mosaic and Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan -- the ones I'm always writing about -- are organized into OPEC-style cartels and legally allowed to collude on price? I didn't.
(30 May 2008)


Backyard Chickens
(audio)
Crop to Cuisine via Global Public Media
The average person consumes around 260 eggs each year. And in the United States, most of those eggs come from the Midwest and California. We do what we can to find our food local - and when it comes to eggs - there are lots of options.

In this episode we will be visiting a small family "free range" egg farm. We will also be joined by Kelly Simmons. She is the Director for the Boulder Sustainability Education Center, and teaches people how to care for and raise egg laying hens in household backyards.

For more information, go to www.croptocuisine.org.
(12 May 2008)

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