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Food & agriculture - March 14

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World hunger, the crisis inside the economic crisis

Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times
As food prices skyrocket, the jobs and wages of the poorest are being devastated. But will the developed world act when it's focused on averting a financial meltdown?
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The economic crisis has now spread from Wall Street to Main Street to the places where there are no streets.

In slums and shacks around the world, hunger is gnawing again as job opportunities shrink but food prices do not. Global cereal prices are 71% higher than they were in 2005, according to the International Monetary Fund, but the wages of many workers are falling.

This is a disaster for the bottom billion, the one out of six humans living on less than $2 a day. But as always, the poor have a problem getting our attention -- especially when the rich have lost half their wealth.

Today's attention deficit is this: Starving children with bloated bellies make for horrific video footage, and the world opens its wallet. But chronic malnutrition, degradation and misery -- suffering that causes real pain but falls short of mass famine -- is being pushed off the front pages by the frightening global economic news.
(12 March 2009)



Lappé: The City that Ended Hunger

Frances Moore Lappé, Yes! Magazine
A city in Brazil recruited local farmers to help do something U.S. cities have yet to do: end hunger.
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In writing Diet for a Small Planet, I learned one simple truth: Hunger is not caused by a scarcity of food but a scarcity of democracy. But that realization was only the beginning, for then I had to ask: What does a democracy look like that enables citizens to have a real voice in securing life’s essentials? Does it exist anywhere? Is it possible or a pipe dream? With hunger on the rise here in the United States—one in 10 of us is now turning to food stamps—these questions take on new urgency.

To begin to conceive of the possibility of a culture of empowered citizens making democracy work for them, real-life stories help—not models to adopt wholesale, but examples that capture key lessons. For me, the story of Brazil’s fourth largest city, Belo Horizonte, is a rich trove of such lessons. Belo, a city of 2.5 million people, once had 11 percent of its population living in absolute poverty, and almost 20 percent of its children going hungry. Then in 1993, a newly elected administration declared food a right of citizenship. The officials said, in effect: If you are too poor to buy food in the market—you are no less a citizen. I am still accountable to you.

Frances Moore Lappé wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Frances is the author of many books including Diet for a Small Planet and Get a Grip, co-founder of Food First and the Small Planet Institute, and a YES! contributing editor.
(Spring 2009 issue)
More articles on food in the Spring issue.



Food for free: how to make nettle soup from foraging

Sanjida O'Connell, Guardian
... As a country, we are not short of nettles. This ubiquitous weed can be found in fields and country lanes as well as cycle paths and alongside city pavements.

You can eat the whole plant right now but only go for the tips when they get bigger and avoid them once they start flowering. Even tender-looking leaves can give you a nasty sting so use gloves. [RECIPE FOR NETTLE SOUP]

... Will wild food help us beat the credit crunch?

Nope, of course not. It might lessen the veg bill a soupçon though and, at the very least, it'll boost your health. Wild food is packed with antioxidants and nutrients. Nettles, for instance, contain high levels of vitamins A and C, iron and surprisingly, 5.5% protein.

According to Professor S. Boyd Eaton, from Emory University, Atlanta, we are genetically designed to eat a paleolithic-style diet – no dairy, grains, sugar or processed oils but loads of vegetables and protein. He points out that our ancestors ate 200 more plant species than us and had five times more micro-nutrients and three times more vitamins than we do.
(10 March 2009)



How Might We Be Fed?(part 1)

Phil Harris, The Oil Drum
While there has never been more food around, modern production is not really a ‘success’ story. In the face of a long term decline in fossil energy, there is significant doubt whether production relying on nitrogen fertilizer can ramp-up to feed the expected world population, or can even maintain existing levels. Similarly, in almost wholly urbanized industrial countries, ‘Western’ production equates to mechanized farming, which requires very significant fossil fuel. Future problems are potentially exacerbated by the spread of the up-market ‘Western’, urban, dietary pattern. Already much of global primary calories and protein are diverted to the meat sector. In addition, this dietary pattern exacts a high price on health. In this post (part 1), I discuss these and related issues.

Through the years, most of the world has lived in village ecosystems, and produced most of its food locally through those ecosystems. An important part of this farming is recycling the nutrients and exporting only relatively little outside the system, unlike the demands made on farming by our urban world. In Part 2, I will talk more about village ecosystems, and will discuss approaches that might be used to overcome deficiencies of our current system.
Western food and the spread of cancer and cardiovascular disease

‘Western’ eating is bizarre in historical terms, and contrasts with remaining large agrarian populations that must rely on mostly vegetarian diets. By comparison, we appear embedded in an atherogenic (arterial plaque inducing) and carcinogenic system. We cannot just blame smoking.

Phil Harris is a plant scientist based near the Scottish border in the UK. He has worked for government agencies in such areas as food safety and plant quarantine. Since 1997, he has worked amid the agricultural results of system-collapse in ex-communist countries of Europe.
(10 March 2009)



Classic Book Review: How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible (etc. etc.)

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture

How to Grow More Vegetables: and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, and Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. John Jeavons. 10 Speed Press.

This is not a new book, but given that it is the time of year when your thoughts may well be turning to gardening, I thought it might be useful for me to wax lyrical about what might lay claim to being one of the greatest gardening books of all time. ‘How to Grow More Vegetables’ wears its heart firmly on its sleeve, and sets out to teach you to do exactly what the title suggests. It has been my gardening bible for the last 10 years, and as you can see (left), my copy is well loved, covered in muddy thumbprints, having regularly accompanied me into the garden.

The book sets out the approach Jeavons has developed, which he calls ‘biointensive’. Biointensive food production has been defined thus;

The `biointensive` method is an organic agricultural system which focuses on maximum yields from the minimum area of land, while simultaneously improving the soil. The goal of the method is long term sustainability on a closed system basis. It has also been used successfully on small scale commercial farms.

Like many great things, it emerged from the same fertile period in the mid 70’s, bookended by the 2 oil shocks of ’73 and ’79, that produced other gems like permaculture design and passive solar building. The book begins with a look at historic precedents for gardening systems that aim to grow the most amount of food on the least possible ground. The Chinese were good at it, and so were the Mayans, the Greeks and the French, developing systems that used deep raised beds, lots of compost and also tight plantings, where plants are planted as close as possible together in triangles, like the 5 on a dice.
(11 March 2009)



New way to farm boosts climate, too

Jared Flesher, The Christian Science Monitor
‘Organic no-till’ combines best of two methods and sequesters most carbon. But can it work consistently?
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Some scientists say an ice age was prevented thousands of years ago by the dawn of human agriculture – deforestation and farming released enough greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to prevent another global cool down, the theory goes.

Now, millennia later, researchers hope new farming techniques will put some of that carbon back into the ground and help stem the rising tide of global warming.

No-till agriculture, in which farmers don’t plow their fields anymore, is one practice said to promote carbon sequestration in the soil. Organic farming is another. Researchers here at the nonprofit Rodale Institute are now developing a hybrid “organic no-till” farming system that they say could sponge up more carbon than any other way of growing food.

The claim: If organic no-till agriculture were used successfully on all of the earth’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, it would absorb and sequester more than half of all present-day CO2 emissions every year, according to Rodale Institute research director Paul Hepperly.
(12 March 2009)

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