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Food & agriculture - April 22

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Food Aid Shortfall Threatens Yemen

Hugh McLeod, Al-Jazeera-English
... As the international community focuses on defeating al-Qaeda in Yemen, millions of ordinary people in the country on the south-west tip of the Arabian Peninsula are quietly starving as vital deliveries of UN food aid are severely cut due to a lack of funding.

By the end of June 2010, analysts predict, the WPF will have no food to distribute to Yemen's millions of hungry.

There are fears that this will debilitate the nearly one in three Yemenis - over seven million people - who struggle daily to find enough food to live a healthy and productive life, leading to rates of malnutrition that are the third highest in the world.

A recent survey by the WFP estimated that of those going hungry each day, 2.7mn Yemenis are classified as "severely food insecure" meaning they spend one third of their meagre incomes just on bread.

"They are in a total poverty trap," says Gian Carlo Cirri, thw WFP country director.

"Most of the time they are illiterate, they have no access to land or water. The children are not attending school and the probability of having a malnourished child in the family is extremely high."
(19 April 2010)
Also at Common Dreams.


Food Vs. Fuel: Growing Grain for Food Is More Energy Efficient

ScienceDaily
Using productive farmland to grow crops for food instead of fuel is more energy efficient, Michigan State University scientists concluded, after analyzing 17 years' worth of data to help settle the food versus fuel debate.

"It's 36 percent more efficient to grow grain for food than for fuel," said Ilya Gelfand, an MSU postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study. "The ideal is to grow corn for food, then leave half the leftover stalks and leaves on the field for soil conservation and produce cellulosic ethanol with the other half."

Other studies have looked at energy efficiencies for crops over shorter time periods, but this MSU study is the first to consider energy balances of an entire cropping system over many years. The results are published in the April 19 online issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

"It comes down to what's the most efficient use of the land," said Phil Robertson, University Distinguished Professor of crop and soil sciences and one of the paper's authors. "Given finite land resources, will it be more efficient to use productive farmland for food or fuel? One compromise would be to use productive farmland for both -- to use the grain for food and the other parts of the plant for fuel where possible. Another would be to reserve productive farmland for food and to grow biofuel grasses -- cellulosic biomass -- on less productive land."
(20 April 2010)



Colonizing Cassava

C. Uzondu, Black Agenda Report
When huge corporations start talking about improving the harvests of foods the poor depend on to survive, watch out! Those crops are about to be colonized, made more expensive and genetically altered. Casava is the latest target of global agro-industry.

... Even if you don’t eat cassava the corporate colonization of cassava matters for you. The same corporate controlled food system that works through structural racism to deny affordable access to quality food to residents in urban communities, also super-exploits migrant workers, and also pollutes our water, land, and air. Colonizing cassava and other foods is about power; it is about increasing corporate power over and against people’s rights to food and life, especially racialized people.

Cassava is eaten by millions of people in the global South. For example, in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with 149 million people, more than 70% of the population relies on cassava for much of their food needs. Cassava is also widely consumed in central and South America as well as South East Asia.

Why the growing interest in cassava (and other “marginal” crops like sorghum, millet, pigeon peas etc)? Global hunger is the answer served up. We are told that the reason why corporations are colonizing cassava is to help address growing hunger. That is, agricultural/biotech corporations are laboring to genetically modify cassava because this can help eliminate increasing global hunger. These agricultural corporations promise to engineer cassava that allegedly has more and bigger roots.
(21 April 2010)
Leftist slant, but interesting. -BA



The coming famine: risks and solutions for global food security
(book)
Julian Cribb, Science Alert
... Today the world faces looming scarcities of just about everything necessary to produce high yields of food – water, land, nutrients, oil, technology, skills, fish and stable climates, each one playing into and compounding the others.

So this isn’t a simple problem, susceptible to technofixes or national policy changes.

It is a wicked problem.

The first of these issues is the looming global scarcity of fresh water.

... At the other end of this equation we are ruining our rivers, lakes, seas and oceans in ways that prevent our getting more food from them. Each year we pump around 150 million tonnes more nitrogen and 9 million tonnes more phosphorus into the biosphere than the earth’s natural systems did before humans appeared: we have utterly modified the planet’s nutrient cycle, more radically even than the atmosphere or fresh water cycle. That we may double our release of nutrients to the environment as we seek to redouble food output is alarming. According to Nature this is one of the safe planetary boundaries the human race has already crossed.

Then there’s waste. In developed countries we throw away from a third to half of all food produced, in developing countries we lose similar amounts post-harvest. All told, the Stockholm Institute (below) calculates we waste 2600 out of every 4600 kilocalories of food harvested.

... Peak oil (below, right) has already happened in the United States, in Australia, Britain and in 49 out of 65 of the world’s oil producing regions. Yet 51 million new cars continue to hit the world’s roads every year.

Just as farmers have little control over who snatches their land, water and other assets, they have little control over who takes their fuel. By 2040 dwindling reserves of fossil oil may well be reserved for the military and everyone else will have to get by as they can, including food producers.

The average citizen of a developed country today consumes the diesel distillate from 66 barrels of oil a year, such is the dependency of our modern food systems on fossil fuels. The high-yielding crops we pin our hopes on will be of little use if there is not enough fuel to sow, harvest or transport them.

One of the most pressing questions is where the energy to power the world’s tractors, trucks, trains and ships that move the food will come from in future. It cannot come from the farm: to do that would reduce world food output by 10 - 30 per cent, at the same time as we need to double it.

Optimistically, we may have until 2030 to solve this problem and convert the whole of the world’s advanced farming systems to another energy source, algal biodiesel maybe. Or hydrogen. Or solar-electrics. But there seems little sense of urgency about this issue from governments.

Natural gas will also peak shortly and since it helps make 97 per cent of the world’s nitrogenous fertilizer, an N scarcity is also on the cards. Using coal to make fertiliser does not seem smart, as its contribution to climate change is to create more drought and hence lower crop yields.

By the 2040s it is unlikely we will be using fossil fuels in agriculture. There needs to be a crash global research effort to head off a farm energy crisis.

“The Coming Famine” will be published by the University of California Press and CSIRO Publishing in August 2010.

It was supported by the Crawford Fund and Land & Water Australia.
(18 April 2010)
More from the publisher.

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