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Food & agriculture - Dec 16

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Why Britain faces a bleak future of food shortages

Robin McKie, The Observer
It was an ecological disaster that occurred on the other side of the planet. Yet the drought that devastated the Australian wheat harvest last year had consequences that shook the world. It sent food prices soaring in every nation. Wheat prices across the globe soared by 130%, while shopping bills in Britain leapt by 15%.

A year later and the cost of food today has still to fall to previous levels. More alarmingly, scientists are warning that far worse lies ahead. A "perfect storm" of food shortages and water scarcity now threatens to unleash public unrest and conflict in the next 20 years, the government's chief scientist, Professor John Beddington, has warned.

In Britain, a global food shortage would drive up import costs and make food more expensive, just as the nation's farmers start to feel the impact of disrupted rainfall and rising temperatures caused by climate change. "If we don't address this, we can expect major destabilisation, an increase in rioting and potentially significant problems with international migration, as people move to avoid food and water shortages," he told a conference earlier this year.

The reliable availability of food – once taken for granted – has become a major cause for alarm among politicians and scientists. Next month several of Britain's research councils, together with the Food Standards Agency, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department for International Development – will announce a taskforce that will channel the UK's efforts in feeding its own population and playing a full role in preventing starvation in other nations.

The problem is summed up by Professor Janet Allen, director of research at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). "We will have to grow more food on less land using less water and less fertiliser while producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions," she said...
(13 Dec 2009)
related: Janet Allen, quoted in the article, is associated with this organisation, BBSRC, whose new website just recently launched: www.foodsecurity.ac.uk
Sent in by EB reader Billhook, who writes:
While this article will be barely credible to conventional thinking despite quoting the UK's chief scientist, it plainly understates the perils' urgency, their range, and their unpredictable interactions.

For instances, while any farmer can attest to our rainfall already being disrupted, and the entire PO issue is absented as being the IEA's pigeon, the disease carrying midges that used to be dormant after September can now be seen swarming even in January at 1,000 ft above sea level.

The inference that UK food shortages that threaten the lives of "hundreds of thousands" are decades away is thus very probably wrong.

Meanwhile traditional small-scale mixed farming, being the most productive of evidently sustainable agricultures, is still being discouraged and is losing its skilled personnel, and urgently needs both encouragement and new recruits.


Sinking Feelings About Storing Carbon Emissions on the Farm

Nicholas Kusnetz, Miller-McCune
Over the last few years, scientists and policymakers have looked increasingly to agricultural lands to help solve the climate crisis. Since settlers began plowing the plains, American soils have lost as much as half the carbon they once stored, by one estimate, emitting perhaps 5 billion metric tons into the atmosphere.

So, the idea goes, if we use the right farming techniques, we can put all that carbon back in the soil. Dozens of studies have shown the huge role farmland could play in acting as a giant carbon sink, counteracting our emissions and buying time as we transition to a low-carbon economy.

Now Congress wants to make sure the climate bills moving through the Legislature take advantage of this potential. Both the House bill, which passed the lower chamber in June, and the Senate bill, which passed committee but has not come up for a floor vote, would allow polluters to offset their emissions by purchasing carbon credits from farmers who use practices that either store carbon in the soil or prevent it from being released into the air.

In an analysis of the legislation, the Department of Agriculture said the country's croplands could supply 465 million tons of carbon offsets a year by 2050 — nearly 7 percent of 2007 emissions. One of the most talked about practices is something called conservation tillage, where farmers reduce or eliminate their use of traditional plowing.

Maybe we can stop global warming, improve the nation's soil and provide American farmers with a new income stream all in one go.

If only it were that simple. While few doubt that the right farming practices can help fight climate change, there is significant debate over whether legislating offsets based on how farmers till their soil is a good idea...
(10 Dec 2009)


California's Troubled Waters: Satellite-Based Findings Reveal Significant Groundwater Loss in Central Valley

University of California - Irvine, ScienceDaily
New space observations reveal that since October 2003, the aquifers for California's primary agricultural region -- the Central Valley -- and its major mountain water source -- the Sierra Nevada -- have lost nearly enough water combined to fill Lake Mead, America's largest reservoir. The findings, based on satellite data, reflect California's extended drought and increased pumping of groundwater for human uses such as irrigation.

At the American Geophysical Union meeting this week in San Francisco, UC Irvine and NASA scientists detailed the state's groundwater changes and outlined research on other global aquifers conducted via twin satellites called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment. GRACE monitors tiny month-to-month differences in Earth's gravity field primarily caused by the movement of water in the planet's land, ocean, ice and atmosphere. Its ability to "weigh" changes in water content provides new insights into how climate change is affecting Earth's water cycle.

Combined, California's Sacramento and San Joaquin drainage basins have shed more than 30 cubic kilometers of water since late 2003, said Jay Famiglietti, UCI Earth system science professor and director of the UC Center for Hydrologic Modeling. A cubic kilometer is about 264.2 billion gallons, enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-size pools. The bulk of the loss occurred in the state's agricultural Central Valley. The Central Valley depends on irrigation from both groundwater wells and diverted surface water...
(15 Dec 2009)


L.A. cooperative provides communities with produce

Sandy Bui, The Daily Bruin
For a box of fresh, locally grown produce, $15 is a small price to pay.

This past fall, Shanna Gong, a first-year sociology graduate student, wanted to support a community-supported agriculture cooperative for graduate students living at UCLA’s Weyburn Terrace apartments.

Gong, who said that the organization and structure of our current food system is unsustainable for the future, finds the cooperative system to be an effective food system that offers both good food and social equity.

“We really have to think about how food isn’t just what’s on our table,” Gong said.

Working with the Graduate Students Association Sustainable Resource Center, Gong made the program a reality. Since the program started, many graduate students and other interested individuals have become members of the South Central Farmers’ Cooperative Community Supported Agriculture, which provides them with locally grown, seasonal and organic produce, Gong said.

The South Central Farmers, who provide the produce for members of the program, started out as a group of farmers in South Central Los Angeles who farmed on a 14-acre urban garden at 41st and Alameda streets.

Since being evicted from their land and losing their community garden, the farmers have relocated to other areas, Gong said.
Currently, the CSA members here at UCLA receive their produce from the South Central Farmers in Bakersfield, where they are currently sharecropping on another farmer’s land, Gong added...
(29 April 2009)
For those of you who wondered (like me) what happened to the South Central Farmers featured in the film The Garden, this is the continuation of the story. -KS


Farmers Reclaim Power!

press release, La Via Campesina
Farmers from the international peasant's organisation La Via Campesina are joining the “Reclaim Power Action” today in Copenhagen starting at 8 am at Tarnby train station and going to the Bella Center where the UN Climate talks are being held. This protest is co-organised by the large coalitions of social movements, NGOs, unions and activists in Climate Justice Action and Climate Justice Now!

Farmers reclaim the power to exist
Free-market-oriented agricultural policies and transnational companies destroy farmers lives. Small farmers already lose their livelihoods due to mass imports of cheap subsidised food and WTO policies and we are evicted by infrastructure and other “development projects”. The mechanisms currently discussed during the climate talks will further drive us from our lands and deny us our livelihoods. For example, the pressure on land for agrofuel production already expell us from our farms.

Farmers reclaim the power to save the climate
Farmers are shocked by the complete commercialisation of the climate talks. We must not allow the invention of a carbon market. It will only futher strenghten the transnational companies who have over-exploited the planet and created the current crisis. Farmers, workers, women's groups, indigenous people and communities from around the world propose real solutions to climate change. One of these is to support sustainable family farms and local, direct food markets.

Farmers reclaim the power to build a real people's project
Today, outside the Bella Center people from around the world will set up a people's assembly to discuss the real solutions to the current crises and the real policies and practices that urgently need to be implemented. This assembly is taking place outside the official conference because there is no space inside for people's voices to be heard. The talks are being controlled by the governments and big businesses who support the system which has led us here – and the needs and real alternatives of the majority world are being sidelined. It is time for our alternatives to be made real.

Farmers reclaim the power to oppose violence
The real violence is happening inside the negotiation rooms. Decisions taken there (and NOT taken there) are leading to more natural disasters, more land grabs, more evictions in the name of environement protection and more hunger and poverty. The more the talks advance, the more farmers and activists are muzzled. Some countries are excluded from the discussions through the “green room” processes, accreditations to the conference are suddenly being restricted and protestors are arrested arbitrarily

La Via Campesina condemn the massive police repression of the protests, the preventive arrests to avoid free expression of dissent and the “show business arrests” of protestors. We support and take part in non-violent actions of civil disobedience in order to develop a society with more justice and dignity. We clearly reject violence as a means of action as we reject the violence of the policies discussed behind closed doors. We are protesting today against the current global model of society obsessed with trade and the privatisation of the commons and we continue our struggle for solidarity, climate justice and food sovereignty.
(16 Dec 2009)
related: Small Scale Sustainable Farmers are Cooling Down the Earth


Free lunches handed out to highlight food waste

Rob Dale, The Independent
With countries stalling over policies in Copenhagen, one easy way to cut down on emissions seems rather obvious - eat food more carefully. Recent estimations show that 10 per cent of the worlds richest countries greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food which is never eaten.

Speaking today at the 'Feeding the 5000' event in Trafalgar Square, London, leading food waste campaigner Tristram Stuart teamed up with charities to highlight the global problems with food waste and demonstrate some practical ways to solve it.

'Food is a basic human need but 1 billion people in the world are malnourished' he said. 'Even in the UK there are 4 million people unable to afford a healthy diet. There is plenty in the world, yet the amount of waste at every level of the system means many still go without. What we're showing here is that the easiest solution to this problem is quite simply to eat it. This isn't just about showing people how to save money, its about showing everyone how we can help protect the environment.'

The ingredients used in the feast were collected from local traders. Most was either excess stock or had been deemed unsellable due to irregular shape or size. With this volunteers worked from early in the morning to provide enough free curries, fruit bags and smoothies for five thousand passers-by...
(16 Dec 2009)


Setting the Table
(report)
Press release, Sustainable Development Commission
A new report published today (Friday 11 December) by the Sustainable Development Commission finds that eliminating waste, cutting fatty and sugary foods and reducing meat and dairy consumption would make the biggest contribution towards improving health and reducing the environmental impacts of the food system.

Setting the Table: Advice to Government on priority elements of sustainable diets, commissioned by Defra, assessed the environmental and health impacts of changing patterns of food consumption. It concludes that there is strong evidence that many changes in consumption which benefit the environment also have the added advantage of improving nutritional health in the UK.

Our food chain and dietary choices have huge environmental impacts, as well as affecting our health. Around 18% of UK greenhouse gas emissions are related to food consumption and production. And an estimated 70,000 premature deaths in the UK could be avoided if our diets matched nutritional guidelines.

The SDC's research found evidence that consuming only fish from sustainable stocks, eating more seasonal food, cutting out bottled water, shopping on foot or over the internet and consuming more wildlife-friendly, organic foods would also contribute towards a more sustainable diet. However, the most significant health and environmental benefits were from reducing meat and dairy, cutting food and drink of low nutritional value – including fatty and sugary foods – and reducing food waste.

The Sustainable Development Commission is calling for all food advice generated across Government to incorporate environmental considerations as well as health guidance, and for sustainability criteria to be incorporated into public sector catering standards. It also recommends further research on particular sustainability 'hotspots' – including meat and dairy, fish, soy and palm oil – and how different methods of production can affect sustainability.

Tim Lang, Food Commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission, said:
"For some time, consumers have been raising the problem of how to juggle competing demands between environment, health and social justice. They are right to do so. Our research found strong evidence of 'win-wins' in these areas, suggesting that a diet which is sustainable on multiple fronts – good for health, environment, social justice and economy – is possible.

"Cutting down on meat and dairy, and eating only sustainably sourced fish, fruit and vegetables, would all help reduce the impact of our food system, as well as improving health. We understand that this raises complex questions for companies, government and consumers, and more work remains to be done to address these issues. Life cycle assessments of different foods, methods of production and consumption patterns are all urgently needed. The good news is that the UK Government and industry realise this.

"Our report finds that there is already sufficient evidence to chart a direction for a sustainable food system. Advice to consumers ought to change, and stop compartmentalising health, environment and social issues. Where there are problems, let them be faced. That’s the spirit called for by this report, which is designed to build on the good work already going on in a wide range of different areas."

Setting the Table: Advice to Government on priority elements of sustainable diets was commissioned by Defra as part of its Food 2030 project.
(11 Dec 2009)
Download the report here

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