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Food & agriculture - Feb 11


Is America on the Brink of a Food Crisis?
(Wes Jackson interview)
Robert Jensen, AlterNet
As everyone scrambles for a solution to the crises in the nation's economy, Wes Jackson suggests we look to nature's economy for some of the answers. With everyone focused on a stimulus package in the short term, he counsels that we pay more attention to the soil over the long haul.

"We live off of what comes out of the soil, not what's in the bank," said Jackson, president of the Land Institute. "If we squander the ecological capital of the soil, the capital on paper won't much matter."

Jackson doesn't minimize the threat of the current financial problems but argues that the new administration should consider a "50-year farm bill," which he and the writer/farmer Wendell Berry proposed in a New York Times op-ed earlier this month.

Central to such a bill would be soil. A plan for sustainable agriculture capable of producing healthful food has to come to solve the twin problems of soil erosion and contamination, said Jackson, who co-founded the research center in 1976 after leaving his job as a environmental studies professor at California State University, Sacramento.

Jackson believes that a key part of the solution is in approaches to growing food that mimic nature instead of trying to subdue it. While Jackson and his fellow researchers at the Land Institute continue their work on natural systems agriculture, he also ponders how to turn the possibilities into policy. He spoke with me from his office in Salina, Kansas
(29 January 2009)
Also posted at Robert Jensen's website.


Britain 'must revive farms' to avoid grave food crisis

Jamie Doward, The Guardian
Britain faces a major food crisis unless urgent steps are taken to revive its flagging agricultural sector, warns one of the world's most influential thinktanks.

Following a week in which world leaders and the United Nations expressed deep concern about the prospect of global food shortages, Chatham House suggests there needs to be a major shake-up in the UK's supply chain if the country is to continue feeding itself.

Controversially, the report's authors claim the debate about the use of GM crops in the UK will have to be reopened if productivity is to be increased, a suggestion likely to spark anger from the green lobby.

They claim: "As part of the co-ordinated technological response, the debate over GM technology will need to be reopened. GM crops are cited by many food supply professionals as among the tools required in efforts to reconcile the maintenance of agricultural productivity with more sustainable and affordable food production." But they add: "The issue remains highly contentious."
(1 February 2009)
The Chatham House report is here.


Food security and global warming: Monsanto versus organic

Meredith Niles, Gristmill
This week Science published research ($ub. req'd) detailing the vast, global food-security implications of warming temperatures. The colored graphics are nothing short of terrifying when you realize the blotches of red and orange covering the better part of the globe indicate significantly warmer summers in coming decades.

The implications of the article are clear -- we need to be utilizing agricultural methods and crops that can withstand the potential myriad impacts of global climate change, especially warmer temperatures. The article significantly notes, "The probability exceeds 90 percent that by the end of the century, the summer average temperature will exceed the hottest summer on record throughout the tropics and subtropics. Because these regions are home to about half of the world's population, the human consequences of global climate change could be enormous."

...Last week, Monsanto made a big public relations splash by filing documents with the FDA regarding a drought-tolerant GM corn variety it is developing with a German company, BASF.

...Yet, absent from the media hype were the many technical and social problems with Monsanto's corn.

A little over a year ago, the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics held a conference specific to drought and drought-tolerant crops. As a follow up, the Australian government's Grains Research and Development Corporation published a piece detailing the research shared and lessons learned from the conference. One topic addressed was the potential of GM drought-tolerant varieties. In the analysis stated, "The most notable and problematic (effect) is the tendency of drought-tolerant GM lines to not perform as well under favourable conditions. This appears to be the case for CIMMYT's GM wheat and Monsanto's GM corn. The flaw is a profound one. It amounts to shifting the yield losses experienced in dry seasons onto the good years."

...The future of food security in the face of warming temperatures cannot be based on a system of profits and research that fails to address the needs of food-insecure farmers. We need real solutions that will enable farmers to maintain and increase yields with those materials and techniques already available to them with little extra cost: animal manure, increased irrigation opportunities, cover crops, compost, and integrated pest-management systems. Organic agriculture will reduce, mitigate, and adapt to climate change impacts and still remain accessible and economic to the billions of subsistence farmers around the world. If we really want to fight the food crisis, let's start investing in and promoting organic production today to ensure better climate adaptation in the future.
(16 Jan 2009)

Editorial Notes: The emerging food crisis, as the UN and many other voices have been pointing out, is currently overshadowed by the credit crunch and deepening financial recession, yet the ramifications of it promise to be just as devastating, if not more so. I fear we do need that "50-year Farm Bill" but the world seems to be much better at reactive than proactive policies these days. KS.

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