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Rise in wheat prices fastest since 1973

Javier Blas, Financial Times
Wheat prices have seen the biggest one-month jump in more than three decades on the back of a severe drought in Russia, prompting warnings by the food industry of rising prices for flour-related products such as bread and biscuits.

Food executives are also warning about surging prices for feeding and malting barley, which could push higher the retail cost of products from poultry to beer.

European wheat prices jumped 8 per cent on Monday to €211 a tonne, the highest in two years. Wheat prices have risen nearly 50 per cent since late June. Crop failures and a price rally have revived memories of the 2007-08 global food crisis, which saw the cost of agricultural commodities from corn to rice surge to record highs and food riots in countries from Haiti to Bangladesh.

“This is the fastest wheat price rally we have seen since 1972-73,” said Gary Sharkey, head of wheat procurement at UK-based Premier Foods, which makes the popular Hovis brand of bread.

“The industry will be unable to ignore a 50 per cent rise in wheat prices,” Mr Sharkey added, echoing a view widely shared by other food industry executives.

The rally comes as the worst heatwave and drought in more than a century continues to devastate grain crops in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

The trio are among the world’s top-10 wheat exporters and key suppliers to countries in North Africa and the Middle East – the largest importing region in the world. Executives and traders fear the three countries could restrict their grain exports or even impose an export ban in an effort to keep their local market well supplied and prices low…
(2 August 2010)

Reviving Anarchy For The Sake Of Sustainability

Antonio Roman-Alcalá, Civil Eats
One thing that fascinates me about political theorist Murray Bookchin’s writing is how prescient it is. His essay, “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought,” was written in 1965, six years before Earth Day, and almost a half-century before now. Yet its content is as relevant as ever, if not more so, given society’s increasing interest in all things “green.” Bookchin even references future ramifications of climate change, long before many had even considered it.

I don’t agree with everything Bookchin has written. To start, he believes that due to technological prowess, we are entering a “post-scarcity” era of humanity—the idea is reflected in the title of the book this essay appears in, Post-Scarcity Anarchism. Still, “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought” convincingly describes how important the rethinking of human organization (i.e. politics) is, given the urgency of our environmental crises. And, similar to an earlier philosopher Peter Kropotkin, Bookchin looks to the teachings of natural systems to illuminate better approaches to our social relations. Without reworking these economic, political, and cultural standards, sustainability will continue to vex us, no matter how many local farms and solar arrays we build.

We begin, as always, with the problem:

“Man has produced imbalances not only in nature, but, more fundamentally, in his relations with his fellow man and in the very structure of his society. The imbalances man has produced in the natural world are caused by the imbalances he has produced in the social world. A century ago it would have been possible to regard air pollution and water contamination as the result of the self- seeking activities of industrial barons and bureaucrats. Today, this moral explanation would be a gross oversimplification. It is doubtless true that most bourgeois enterprises are still guided by a public-be-damned attitude…but a more serious problem than the attitude of the owners is the size of the firms themselves–their enormous proportions, their location in a particular region, their density…their requirements for raw materials…and their role in the national division of labor.”

I would add that, given Capital’s imperative to grow endlessly, maximize profits, and “race to the bottom” (for the cheapest wages, the most easily exploitable resources), the owners of industry can almost be expected to make these damaging choices. But, regardless of the reason, it’s clear (and has been for quite some time) that this status quo just can’t go on…
(6 August 2010)
Read more about the book here.

Foodprint Project: Exploring Food and Cities, and Cities and Food

Amanda Reed, Worldchanging
More good news to report from the Worldchanging team! Former Managing Editor Sarah Rich’s new venture, the “Foodprint Project,” is now online. The Foodprint Project is, at its most basic, “an exploration of the ways food and cities give shape to one another” and was founded by Nicola Twilley and Sarah Rich.

The main way that Twilley and Rich use the Foodprint Project to facilitate explorations of the interrelationships between food and urban form are through Foodprint ‘events’ like the recently completed Foodprint Toronto, and earlier Foodprint NYC. These events are intended as opportunities “to bring together people with diverse backgrounds and expertise to start a conversation about how we might actively use food as a design tool to make our cities more resilient, sustainable, and healthy.”..
(5 August 2010)
See Foodprint Project and Grist’s continuing series of articles about urban agriculture. Also check out Stroud’s new food hub as one way of trying to deal with urban local food distribution issues -KS

Agroecological farming methods being ignored, says UN expert
the ecologist
Success of agroecology in Brazil, Cuba and Africa should be replicated in place of current support for intensive farming techniques

Decision-makers are ignoring low-input agroecological farming methods in favour of major investments in industrial farming techniques and pesticides, says the UN’s independent advisor on food.

Speaking at a summit on agroecology, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter said the ‘Green Revolution’ model of boosting food production with improved seeds, chemical fertilisers and machines was not the only answer.

Agroecological farming is an approach that focuses on a minimal use of external inputs like chemical fertilisers. It involves, among other aspects, controlling pests and disease with natural predators, mixed crop and livestock management and agroforestry (interplanting of trees and crops).

‘Scant attention has been paid to agroecological methods that have been shown to improve food production and farmers’ incomes, while at the same time protecting the soil, water, and climate,’ said De Schutter…
(28 July 2010)

How to feed a hungry world

Various authors, Nature
Producing enough food for the world’s population in 2050 will be easy. But doing it at an acceptable cost to the planet will depend on research into everything from high-tech seeds to low-tech farming practices.

With the world’s population expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, a certain Malthusian alarmism has set in: how will all these extra mouths be fed? The world’s population more than doubled from 3 billion between 1961 and 2007, yet agricultural output kept pace — and current projections (see page 546) suggest it will continue to do so. Admittedly, climate change adds a large degree of uncertainty to projections of agricultural output, but that just underlines the importance of monitoring and research to refine those predictions. That aside, in the words of one official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the task of feeding the world’s population in 2050 in itself seems “easily possible”.

Easy, that is, if the world brings into play swathes of extra land, spreads still more fertilizers and pesticides, and further depletes already scarce groundwater supplies. But clearing hundreds of millions of hectares of wildlands — most of the land that would be brought into use is in Latin America and Africa — while increasing today’s brand of resource-intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture is a poor option. Therein lies the real challenge in the coming decades: how to expand agricultural output massively without increasing by much the amount of land used.

What is needed is a second green revolution — an approach that Britain’s Royal Society aptly describes as the “sustainable intensification of global agriculture”. Such a revolution will require a wholesale realignment of priorities in agricultural research. There is an urgent need for new crop varieties that offer higher yields but use less water, fertilizers or other inputs — created, for example, through long-neglected research on modifying roots (see page 552) — and for crops that are more resistant to drought, heat, submersion and pests. Equally crucial is lower-tech research into basics such as crop rotation, mixed farming of animals and plants on smallholder farms, soil management and curbing waste. (Between one-quarter and one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or spoiled.)…

Other articles in this series:

(28 July 2010)

How to start growing food on social housing estates

Christine Ottery, The Ecologist
Estate community gardens are springing up in our cities – here’s how to transform a derelict urban space into a food growing hub

Urban agriculture is starting to take seed on social housing estates. Residents and volunteers are sprouting their fruit and veg on raised beds and in polytunnels on roof terraces, disused basketball courts and other derelict spots.

One of the biggest benefits of creating a food-growing space on council estates is that it brings people together. This is no mean feat, according to Alison Skeat, who has set up her own example, the Dirty Hands Project, on her estate in Plaistow, London.

‘I had been living on my estate for 13 years and I had never met my neighbours,’ she says, ‘but once people get together they share skills and share their problems.’

Brian Crow, founder of the gardening club of the Taplow Gardens Estate in Camden, agrees. ‘We’ve had everyone helping out from people with disabilities and OAPs to children; people of every creed and colour.’

This community success blueprint is being supported in London by the Capital Growth campaign’s competition to encourage community gardens on housing estates called ‘Edible Estates’.

…How to do it

The first important hurdle is to secure permission to have your way with the land.

If you live on an estate, the landholder is most likely your council’s housing office. Find out who the right person is to approach with your proposal. If you live in London, Capital Growth may be able to help at this stage.

…Once you have the permission you need, you can start planting. But first, you might need a few things. Here’s the shopping list:

  • tools, such as spades;
  • good-quality top-soil;
  • wood for building raised beds;
  • somewhere to store tools;
  • a water supply;
  • insurance;
  • and most importantly, seeds and plants.

…Green-fingered finance

‘Fundraising is always a challenge,’ says Jane Riddiford from Global Generation. Her top advice is making some good partnerships with local businesses and looking for local sustainability funds. For example, she received funds amounting to approximately £6,000 for the Medway garden from the Guardian, Capital Growth, the Co-op, and the London 21 Sustainability Network.

..A digging crew

You will need plenty of volunteers to contribute to the food-growing and harvesting. Skeat runs a co-op where volunteers must work for 24 hours during growing season (early May to Early October) to receive the fruits of their labour.

But how do you get your neighbours on side, especially if you’ve never met them before? There are various methods, including leafleting, putting up posters and taking part in local events to raise awareness. Top tip from Crow: make sure your leaflets are translated into different languages.

In some ways, it is easier to get more people involved once you have already started as you can demonstrate what you are doing. ‘Just get it started and others will follow,’ says Crow…
(30 July 2010)