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Food & agriculture - Nov 25

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Peak phosphorous
(Audio)
Michael Mackenzie, Country Breakfast, ABC Rural (Australia)
You've heard about peak oil, but what about peak phosphorous?

Scientists met in Sydney on Friday to discuss how to bring dwindling global supplies of phosphorous to public atttention.

Phosphorous is critical for plant growth which is why it's one of the essential elements in fertiliser - but it takes 10 million years to form.

The two major reserves are in China and Morocco, but they're less and less keen to share with the rest of the world.

For Australia - where soils are so poor - phosphorous supplies are critical, so how can we prepare ourselves for the scarcity of yet another global resource?

Michael Mackenzie spoke with Professor Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures and Alan Richardson, research scientist with the CSIRO's Plant Industries.
(22 November 2008)
Suggested my Michael Lardelli who writes: "You need to listen from about 45.5 minutes in."



Thousands pick up free vegetables on Colo. farm

Allison Sherry, Denver Post
Down on the farm, a frenzy over free food

In a sign of bad economic times, more than 40,000 show up when a Weld family invites people to gather surplus produce.
---
Want one more palpable sign of a desperate economy?

An estimated 40,000 people came to a Weld County farm Saturday to collect free potatoes, carrots and leeks.

Cars snaked around cornfields and parallel parked along Colorado 66 and 119 early in the morning to get free food from the Miller family, who farm 600 acres outside of Platteville, about 37 miles north of Denver.

As this prolonged Indian summer continued, the Millers had decided to give away produce because so much was left over at the end of their annual fall festival. Any day now, a few deep freezes would kill it off.

They expected between 5,000 and 10,000 people spread out over a couple of days. Instead, they found themselves on Saturday morning inundated with cars and people with sacks and wagons and barrels ready to harvest whatever was available.
(23 November 2008)



Radical producers go free-range on farm policy

Amy Jo Ehman, The StarPhoenix (Canada)
Joel Salatin is a small farmer with a big problem. Everything he wants to do is against the law or runs afoul of the "food police."

No, he isn't growing anything illegal.

His farm is not much different than farms in the olden days, when food was produced organically and sold locally, before the advent of industrial food processes and layers of government bureaucracy.

"People are longing for this type of food," he says. "Who would you trust -- an industry bureaucrat or a local farmer?"

... Case in point: He's been called a "bio-terrorist" because he lets his chickens run free. The fear is that a sick duck might land and give his birds the avian flu. Industrial wisdom says that poultry should be raised indoors, something he is not willing to do.

Another case in point: Safety rules for the big meat processors are also applied to small butchers -- even though the small butchers are not responsible for mass recalls and hundreds of deaths due to contaminated food. Yet these industrial solutions are so onerous and expensive they are putting the small guys out of business.

According to industrial wisdom, livestock should be vaccinated and their meat irradiated so people don't get sick. Salatin's solution is to raise healthy animals, process them at a family-run facility and sell the meat locally.
(24 November 2008)



New geopolitics of world agriculture

Joao Pedro Stedile, Deccan Herald
The price of crops is rising with the rise in the cost of oil and is thus driving up food prices.
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In the 1960s about 80 million people suffered from hunger worldwide. In this period global capitalism was peaking and transnational companies were expanding throughout the planet, dominating markets and exploiting cheap labour and the natural resources of peripheral countries.

This was the world into which the Green Revolution was born, with its promise to end hunger. Its mentor, Normal Borlaug, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The real objective was to introduce a new system of agricultural production based on the intensive use of industrial inputs. Productivity per hectare increased and world production quadrupled. Yet the number of people suffering from hunger grew, from 80 to 800 million.

Today 70 countries depend on imports to feed their people. This demonstrates that the new model of agriculture served to concentrate global agricultural production and trade in foodstuffs in about 30 transnational firms: Bunge, Cargill, ADM, Dreyfuss, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, Basf, Nestle, among others.

According to recent estimates, the world's petroleum reserves, the primary source of energy in the contemporary age, will only last about another 30 years.

In this context, a diabolic alliance has been formed between oil, automotive, and agro-industrial companies to produce agrofuels: the term biofuels is misleading- like ethanol in countries with an abundance of land, sunshine, water, and cheap labour.

In the last five years, millions of hectares that had been previously dedicated to food production and controlled by farmers were taken over by large corporations to plant monocultures of sugar cane, soy, corn, African palm, or sunflower to make ethanol or vegetable oils.

The dynamics of the Green Revolution is being repeated. In this case, because the price of ethanol is linked to the price of oil; the price of crops is rising with the latter and in turn driving up food prices.

(The writer is a member of a member of the Landless Farmers Movement (MST) and of Via Campesina Brazil.)
(November 2008)
Also at ZNet. Originally appeared in truncated form at IPS.



The right to eat: Earth faces starvation

Brenda Dionisi, Russia Today
More people – less food. This is what the world is heading into: millions are already dying from hunger, and this figure is set to increase tenfold if food and agriculture policies of mankind stay the same.

With over 923 million hungry people in the world, the food and agricultural crisis currently underway in many parts of the world will only become bigger and ever more encompassing. This is the warning from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) that has urgently called on the international community to help curb the world's next big crisis: food scarcity.

Drastic food and gas price increases, coupled with agricultural shortfalls due to climate disasters, and the more recent global financial crisis, are factors that have triggered an unprecedented food emergency in 36 countries in Africa, Asia and South America. These new challenges threaten sustainable food security worldwide.

The urgency to tackle such issues and put an end to hunger in the world spurred member countries of the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization to hold a special conference from November 18 to 22 in Rome, Italy.*

What have we got on the plate?

In an inaugural speech on the first day of the conference, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf stated that the food crisis in 2007 that was caused by higher commodity prices further deteriorated the world food situation, creating 75 million more hungry people across the globe. In light of unprecedented global population growth, Diouf said the world needed to double food production by 2050 in order to feed an estimated population of nine billion people, compared to today's 6.6 billion.

Recent surges in food, fertilizer and gas prices have put added pressure on agricultural output, making it difficult for the world's farmers to increase, or even maintain, current food supply levels. According to Diouf, the more recent financial and economic crisis has eclipsed the mounting food crisis as national governments have been concentrating on tackling tumbling stock markets and ailing banks, rather than focusing on curbing escalating hunger levels.
(23 November 2008)
I haven't seen much coverage like this coming from Russia. -BA

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