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Food & agriculture - July 26


Permaculture in Malaysia

Joleen Lunjew, Malaysian Star
... The permaculture movement has taken off in many places around the world but it is still relatively new here. In his quest to raise awareness on the subject and, ultimately, to create a fully-sustainable Islamic community, Shaykh Hassan Henning Pedersen, 47 (above), is conducting an introductory sustainability course in permaculture, natural medicine and self-defence.

... The Dane, who lives in Indonesia, is a naturopathic doctor, permaculture designer and master of several martial arts systems with more than 25 years of experience in sustainable living. He has been involved with NGOs and activists since he was a teenager but only got into perma-culture a decade ago.

... Among Pedersen’s main efforts in walking the talk is transforming his home in East Java into an eco-friendly showhouse where water catchments are used to collect rainwater, which in turn is used to breed fish and water the plants. He grows plants wherever possible and uses kitchen and fish waste as fertiliser.

... Pedersen’s way of life has inspired many to start practising sustainable living. One of his students, Atika Irfan, 36, says she hopes to learn how to become more sustainable after completing his workshop.

The Pakistani, who has been living in Malaysia with her Malaysian husband for 14 years, is now thinking about building a rainwater catchment system, rearing her own fish and prawns, and starting her own salad garden. She currently buys only local products from the local markets to minimise consumption of imported food.

... Another student, Awaludin Mohal, 68, is moving towards making his 0.8ha land in Janda Baik fully sustainable in preparation for the peak oil phenomenon. Analysts believe that when the oil runs out, the economy will collapse and food will become scarce — Awaludin is giving himself a headstart.

... Although the aim of the workshop is to set up an Islamic Eco-Village, non-Muslims are welcome to join the course. Dress appropriately.
(24 July 2010)


Biomass Britain: do fields of energy crops spell an end to grazing livestock?

Tom Levitt, The Ecologist
A new vision to replace our grazing land with energy crops will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but many are unwilling to embrace its suggestions for our future diet and countryside

Within 20 years we could - with the right policies and market signals - remove more than 80 per cent of the cattle, cows and sheep that graze in our countryside.

In its place we could grow biomass crops to be used for energy, building materials and industry.

It’s a revolutionary vision that would completely change both the look and outlook of our countryside. It may also change the look of our cities if people start to take a renewed interest in backyard poultry and pig-rearing to meet desires for meat.

But beyond the aesthetics of removing fields of dotted sheep and cattle, the new biomass-producing countryside as outlined in a groundbreaking report from the Centre of Alternative Technology (CAT), could also play a role in significantly reducing the UK’s carbon emissions...
(13 July 2010)
The report is here


Don't fall for jatropha plants, warns UN body

Prabha Jagannathan, The Economic Times
NEW DELHI: In a significant implication for the country’s biofuel policy, a specialised arm of the United Nations has warned that the developing countries should not buy blindly into the ‘jatropha for biodiesel’ argument. Warning against the hype and half-truths around jatropha curacas, an oil seed plant touted as a major potential source of biofuels, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has warned in a special report that yields need to improve significantly for the crop to give an adequate return.

“Although there have been increasing investments and policy decisions concerning the use of jatropha as an oil crop, they have been based on little evidence-based information,” the report said, adding that identifying the true potential of jatropha requires separating the evidence from the hyped claims and half-truths.”

The report comes two weeks after two researchers at Belgium’s University of Leuven said that the crop requires more water than had been thought, and was best suited for small-scale farming in remote areas, where alternative fuel supplies are erratic and expensive.

The cautioning report is also a pointer to several giant corporate houses worldwide such as GM that have invested in the crop. US automobile giant GM was one of the companies that invested in jatropha following a surge of interest five years ago in the potential for biofuels...
(26 July 2010)
You can find the FAO report is here


A More Feminine Food System: Farmer Jane (a Book Review)

Leslie Hatfield, The Huffington Post
Let's try something. Picture for a moment, dear reader, a farmer. It doesn't have to be a farmer you know, assuming you are lucky enough to know a farmer. It could be a farmer you've seen on television, in a movie or read about in a book. It could even be an imaginary farmer, a composite created from the pop culture images you've ingested over the years.

Ok. Got your farmer in your head? What does he look like?

Just kidding -- surely, the title of this post gave away my intention here and skewed the results of this little exercise. But really, most of us probably picture a typical farmer as an aging white man in overalls, when in reality, there are many people of color who tend land, though not without even more difficulties than the white male farmers who're struggling to stay afloat (the Latinos we call "farmworkers" -- who've come to the US in droves, mostly as a result of US policies that pushed them, however indirectly, off of their land -- have a rich agricultural tradition, as do black farmers, many of whom have lost their land as well, in part because of discriminatory practices in USDA lending).

And of course, women of all races, in the US and abroad, are farmers, too. In fact, women grow the vast majority of the food supply in the Global South (PDF). Stateside, they make up the largest group of new farmers (see the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture -- PDF).

And yet, even within the "sustainable agriculture" movement, or the "good food" movement, whatever you want to call it, there is a lack of attention paid to these female agrarians. Of the talking heads that filled the screens of Food, Inc and Fresh, fantastic movies both, most were male. Both featured the well-spoken Joel Salatin, perhaps the most famous livestock farmer of our time, who, rumor has it, refuses to take on female interns at his farm (I heard this through a friend whose friend applied, an online search will find many articles making the same claim). To be honest, as a writer who considers herself a feminist, I've probably been guilty of writing more about men than women, too, and have probably hopped on the usual suspect bandwagon a few too many times .

Enter Temra Costa's new book, Farmer Jane. A compilation of profiles of farmers and food activists, the book groups the women it profiles by what they do -- though most likely do several, if not all, of these things -- into six chapters (Building new Farm-to-Eater Relationships, Advocates for Social Change, Promoting Local and Seasonal Food, Networks for Sustainable Food, Urban Farm Women and The Next Generation of Sustainable Farmers), each with a "recipe for action," and ends with a handy appendix full of resources and essays on topics like genetic engineering the upcoming Farm Bill...
(23 July, 2010)


Filming Haiti’s Food Crisis and Grassroots Movement for Sustainable Agriculture (VIDEO)

Joshua Levin, Civil Eats
When I volunteered in Haiti after the earthquake, it was glaringly obvious that we were standing in the midst of a failed food system that had been collapsing for decades. Natural disasters strike annually all over the world. Yet Haiti’s post-quake humanitarian crisis is the ultimate test case of the dangers of food dependence and an urban-factory based development model. To truly get at the heart of how food affects the most vulnerable people and environments around the world, you must understand the Haitian story.

It’s a story still in the making. Haiti is unfortunately scoped to be rebuilt upon the same models that failed in the past. Yet there is a counter-current as well, and the more I spoke with these dynamic groups, the more I realized that the best way I could awaken people to the impending crisis of the 21st century – sustainable food security – was to document the truth behind Haiti’s crisis and highlight a new model being clearly demonstrated in the countryside.

Thus, Hands That Feed was born – a non-profit documentary film exploring the agricultural collapse in Haiti, its role in the post-earthquake food crisis, and the emerging grassroots sustainable agriculture models that seek to restore Haiti’s rural economy and environment. We are currently fundraising on Kickstarter for our first major filming shoot and are urgently seeking to pull-in grassroots donations to reach our $15,000 goal by August 2nd (or else all funds will be returned to donors).

In the aftermath of the earthquake, the world watched news footage that conveyed looting and wrestling for morsels of food in Haiti. The result was an unprecedented upwelling of international compassion and support. Yet the underlying social and political causes of the crisis are not widely covered or known, and it is easy at first glance to simply blame natural events. But there’s of course a larger story. The development paradigm encouraged and enacted for Haiti over the last 30 years – while converting the small country into America’s 4th largest rice export market – flooded Haiti with cheap, subsidized food imports that rapidly changed the face of the largely rural, agriculture-based country.

Haiti’s rich agriculture generated one-quarter of France’s GNP through the 18th century, literally financing the bourgeoisie’s revolution in France against the aristocracy. Following the world’s only successful slave revolt (which was ironically inspired, in turn, by the ideas of the French Revolution), Haiti then redistributed the French estates and established a tradition of small-scale subsistence farming. The country remained largely food self-sufficient until the early 1980’s. Yet following trade liberalization with America’s heavily subsidized agriculture sector, Haiti’s farming incomes collapsed. As a result, the population of Port-au-Prince has more than doubled since 1989. These migrants came to live by the hundreds-of-thousands in flimsy slums built upon the hills surrounding the capital, seeking illusory factory or construction work, just as they have all over the world. Living off-the-grid, their primary fuel is charcoal, which created a growing industry for the depressed countryside, leading to rapid erosion, severe flooding, and a loss of Haiti’s topsoil and aquifers...
21 July 2010



Is the Next Global Food Crisis Now in the Making?

Dave Thier, AOL News
Recent weeks have produced a series of grim and related headlines: Russia has declared a state of emergency because of drought in 12 regions, while in major wheat exporter Ukraine, severe flooding may depress crop yields. Dry conditions threaten Vietnamese rice production. The USDA has projected a disappointingly low Midwest harvest, and China has raised questions on the demand side by doubling its imports from Canada.

Fortunately, this run of unfavorable farming news follows strong harvests that for now should keep grain prices in check, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. But to see the effects of a bad year for food -- and what the world could be in for if the present trend persists -- one only has to look to 2008.

Two years ago, a confluence of environmental causes compounded by rising fuel costs and a global credit crunch caused food prices to skyrocket an average of 43 percent worldwide, leading to starvation and riots from Mexico to Bangladesh.

Some are worried that was just a warning.

In a new book, "Empires of Food," journalist Andrew Rimas and Leeds University agricultural researcher Evan Fraser examine civilizations from Mesopotamia to Rome to Great Britain. They argue that every empire was made possible by agriculture, and that when those agricultural systems failed, the empires they supported failed with them.

Fraser and Rimas worry that the food system in place today is built around nitrogen-based fertilizers that require petroleum to create, as well as good weather that's graced the world since the dust bowl. If fuel prices go up again, or if the weather gets worse, they say, we could see our food empire unravel as well...
(17 July 2010)
Find out more about the book here

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