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Food & agriculture - August 13

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Organic garden takes over San Francisco’s City Hall lawn

Sushil Cheema, MSNBC
San Francisco has long been a place for unusual sights, and the current scene outside City Hall is no different. An edible, organic garden has sprouted in place of the building’s lawn, and it has taken root with Mayor Gavin Newsom’s blessing. The garden is a project by Slow Food, a non-profit group committed to reacquainting people with the food they eat and to consuming food grown locally.

Known as a Victory Garden in reference to similar projects during the 1940s to counter wartime food shortages, Slow Food finished the two-week planting project on July 12 with an opening ceremony attended by Mayor Newsom.

“Most people don’t know what their food looks like or how it grows,” said Slow Food’s Naomi Starkman. In order to help people “make the connection between plate and planet,” Starkman said, the group has planned Slow Food Nation ‘08, a three-day celebration of food over Labor Day Weekend. The Victory Garden is the event’s centerpiece. “We wanted to create a demonstration of the future of food in America,” Starkman said.
(8 August 2008)



NPR misses real story, plants wrong seeds

Frances Moore Lappe, Huffington Post
Too bad.

I depend a lot on NPR, so my heart sank as I listened to Morning Edition's recent series on the world hunger crisis. Using Honduras as its case study, the four-part series reinforces dangerous myths that actually block us from seeing the real solutions to hunger all around us.

We're told that "across the globe .... [f]ood is expensive and there's not enough food to feed empty stomachs." No. In fact the world produces enough to make us all plump. True, today an estimated 100 million additional people are, or will soon be, facing hunger as food prices exceed their budgets, but the deeper lack they're experiencing is not food itself. It is power.

Drawing the distinction between lack of food -- a symptom -- and lack of power -- a cause -- is essential to seeing solutions. Yet this series portrays as progress examples that do nothing to correct, and in fact worsen, the underlying power imbalances at the heart of hunger.
(11 August 2008)
writes:
Last week NPR carried a major four-part series on the hunger crisis. It’s tragic that as hunger is surging worldwide, NPR’s reporting reinforced the very myths that helped get us to this sad place.
Please read my response [this article].
I hope that you'll find a moment to read it, listen to the series if you can, and also submit a comment at the bottom of the piece. People from NPR will be seeing your comments. I’m always interested in your critique of my thinking as well.



A solar success
(on the farm)
Jim Warren, Lexington Herald-Leader (Kentucky)
... The first time you visit The Jerrys Farm - that's what Hicks and Neff call their place - it's easy to get a mite confused as to just what century these guys are living in.

Those solar panels certainly say 21st century. But the draft horses and the antique mowing machine could suggest that the two Jerrys are stuck smack in the middle of the 19th.

You can blame Neff and Hicks for the confusion. On their little farm here they're trying hard to combine the best of the old and the best of the new.

They do rely on solar power to pump water from the spring-fed pond into a gravity flow system that distributes the water around the farm. And they recently added a Web site to tout their products to the wider world.

But when it comes to cutting weeds, mowing hay or moving heavy stuff, Hicks and Neff hitch up Ted and Alice.

... Nowadays, the Jerrys Farm produces grass-finished beef and pork, grass-raised broiler chickens and free-range eggs, as well as honey, for a small but loyal bunch of customers in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia.

Some who might have looked askance at Neff and Hicks and their oddball ideas and their antique farm implements are beginning to think there might be something to their madness.

Even their ideas about farming with horses in an era of mighty tractors - and mighty gas prices.
(11 August 2008)



The curse of Yemen

Ian Black, Guardian
Yemenis' long-held fondness for chewing qat it is doing real damage to a very poor country
---
It is only mid-afternoon in Sana'a's picturesque old city, a maze of tall gingerbread houses, braying animals and colourful markets. But is is strangely quiet as shopkeepers lounge behind their wares, many of them chewing away furiously at a green wad the size of a golfball. Drivers with bulging cheeks negotiate the narrow streets picking at plastic bags of leaves, sipping water to combat dehydration or sweet fizzy drinks to take away the bitter taste of qat - a national pastime and part of the landscape of this beautiful country.

But as consumption increases and the effects of the global food crisis kick in, attention is starting to focus on the huge damage this habit is doing to a desperately poor people with limited resources of land and water. Seventy percent of all households report at least one user; one in seven of the workforce is involved in production, transport or sale. Qat makes up a third of all Yemeni agriculture.

... To some, qat makes sense economically. Like poppies in Afghanistan, qat is a high-value and resilient crop that regularly produces good returns for growers. But the result is that it has taken over the most productive arable land and displaced food crops that used to be grown for local consumption or for export (including the legendary Mocha coffee), boosting dependence on imported staples. The price of wheat has doubled or more in recent months.

Another downside is that qat cultivation consumes a staggering 20% of Yemen's already scarce water- cheap to pump with subidised diesel fuel. Government ministers say openly that reducing fuel subsidies would be the most effective way to discourage qat growing.

And the health risks are indisputable: the use of fertilisers and pesticides to increase crop yields can cause cancers of the mouth and digestive system.
(12 August 2008)


Alternative Trade Networks and the Coffee System

John Thackara, WorldChanging
Every day 1.5 billion cups of coffee are drunk somewhere in the world - quite a few of them in this house - but few of us in the North know much about the 25 million families that grow and produce this valuable bean.

After reading a new book called Confronting The Coffee Crisis I feel better informed not just about the negative aspects of the story - but also motivated to explore practically the potential of emerging alternative trade networks to change the bigger picture in profound ways.

In a system that can involve as many as eight transactions to bring the coffee to market, coffee farmers receive less than two percent of the price of a cup of coffee sold in a coffee bar or roughly six per cent of the value of a standard pack of ground coffee sold in a grocery store.

So far, so outrageous. Less well-known are the damaging effects of these unequal power relations embedded in global coffee networks: threatened livelihoods, greater poverty, malnutrition, deforestation, and out-migration. A “bigger, faster, cheaper” mentality has created a dynamic that exploits the most vulnerable at the bottom of the supply chain.
(12 August 2008)



Feeling the heat of food security

Peter Baker, BBC
Reforming the economics of food production and supply would be beneficial for a number of environmental and social problems, argues Peter Baker. A key issue, he says, is understanding the energy involved in putting food on your plate.
---
Global development, global debt, global warming, food miles, food security, food riots, peak oil, peak water…

What's this got to do with small farmers and global food chains?

The answer is that all the issues mentioned above intersect over small farmers.

If we can't quite get a grip on what is happening to the world, we won't be able to do a good job for them, and we'll waste a lot of resources in the process.

It's perfectly reasonable to want to assist farmers to build a better life by adding value.

It's also perfectly reasonable to expect their produce to be fresh and non-toxic. And it's only natural to want to facilitate this process through aid, technical assistance, capacity building and the like.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. ...

Dr Peter Baker is a commodities development specialist at CABI, a not-for-profit agricultural research organisation
(12 August 2008)



Brazilian agriculture faces huge losses from climate change

AFP via Yahoo!News
Global warming will cause heavy financial losses to Brazil's agricultural sector over the next decade, a government study said Monday.

... A team of 19 researchers evaluated the impact of rising temperatures on the cultivation of cotton, rice, black beans, coffee, sugar cane, sunflowers, cassava, corn and soybeans.

They found that higher temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns, along with an increase in storms, will cause these crops to migrate to places with a more hospitable climate.
(11 August 2008)

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