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Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home

Simon Romero and Sara Shahriari, New York Times
LA PAZ, Bolivia — When NASA scientists were searching decades ago for an ideal food for long-term human space missions, they came across an Andean plant called quinoa. With an exceptional balance of protein and amino acids, quinoa, they declared, is virtually unrivaled in the plant or animal kingdom for its life-sustaining nutrients.

But while Bolivians have lived off it for centuries, quinoa remained little more than a curiosity outside the Andes for years, found in health food shops and studied by researchers — until recently.

Now demand for quinoa (pronounced KEE-no-ah) is soaring in rich countries, as American and European consumers discover the “lost crop” of the Incas. The surge has helped raise farmers’ incomes here in one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. But there has been a notable trade-off: Fewer Bolivians can now afford it, hastening their embrace of cheaper, processed foods and raising fears of malnutrition in a country that has long struggled with it.
(19 March 2011)

Ethiopia at centre of global farmland rush

John Vidal, Guardian
Locals move out as international contractors seize opportunities offered by government to lease farmland at knockdown rates

… Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of humanitarian food and development assistance, last year receiving more than 700,000 tonnes of food and £1.8bn in aid, but it has offered three million hectares (7.4 million acres) of virgin land to foreign corporations such as Karuturi.

“It’s very good land. It’s quite cheap. In fact it is very cheap. We have no land like this in India,” says Karmjeet Sekhon, project manager for what is expected to be one of Africa’s largest farms. “There you are lucky to get 1% of organic matter in the soil. Here it is more than 5%. We don’t need fertiliser or herbicides. There is absolutely nothing that will not grow on it.

“To start with there will be 20,000 hectares of oil palm, 15,000 hectares of sugar cane and 40,000 hectares of rice, edible oils and maize and cotton. We are building reservoirs, dykes, roads, towns of 15,000 people. “This is phase one. In three years time we will have 300,000 hectares cultivated and maybe 60,000 workers. We could feed a nation here.”

Sparsely-populated Gambella is at the centre of the global rush for cheap land, precipitated by the oil price rise in 2007/2008, when many countries racked by food riots encouraged their farmers to invest abroad to grow food
(21 March 2011)

Perennial Crops, Sustainable Agriculture: A 21st Century Green Revolution

Tom Schueneman, Planetsave
… Our hunter gatherer days are long behind us – a distant past to which there is obviously no return. But [agriculture researcer Wes] Jackson argues that with the advent of agriculture, humanity grew “out of phase” with the natural world. Is our fall from Grace irredeemable? No, if we remember that we actually do know the right way forward.

Through his work at the Land Institute, Jackson advocates the perennialization of major crops. Jackson and his team at the Land Institute have 600 acres of land on which they can experiment, working with hybrids and perennial strains of wheat, some on untilled prairie. “Something closer to the original relationship,” says Jackson. In collaboration with Wendall Berry and Fred Kirschenmann of Iowa State University’s Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Jackson proposed to Congress in 2009 a “fifty year farm bill.” The principal thrust of the bill is to perennialize the American farmscape, with hopes it will take root not only here in America, but around the world.

“The idea is use the current five-year bills as mileposts toward this goal,” writes Jackson. “Our fifty-year farm bill would protect soil from erosion, cut wasteful use of water, cut fossil-fuel dependence, eliminate toxic chemicals, manage nitrogen, reduce dead zones, and restore an agrarian way of life. It would do this largely by shifting the makeup of U.S. agriculture from being 80 percent annuals, as it is today, to 80 percent perennials in fifty years.”

Jackson and his colleagues believe that such a bill would be a revolution in agriculture and human sustainability no less important than any that has gone before. A Green Revolution for the 21st century.

(9 March 2011)

Can poor Kenyan fishermen can improve themselves without destroying local coral reefs?
Jai Ranganathan, Miller-McCune
’s a zero-sum game for people and the environment. For one to win, the other must lose — particularly for the desperately poor in tropical countries. Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

But is it actually true? Dr. Tim McClanahan, a marine biologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, talks about his research with poor fisherman in Kenya who eke out a living fishing — usually overfishing — on threatened coral reefs. When marine reserves that excluded fishing were created on some of these coral reefs, local fisherman stood in fierce opposition.

Contrary to expectations, the incomes of the nearby fishermen doubled within a year of the introduction of these reserves. Fishermen who fished near the marine sanctuary’s edge found that they caught much more valuable fish species than before and the fish that they caught were also much larger. (And it’s not an isolated success story, although humans can still find ways to wreck things.)

Now, in a complete turnaround, the fishermen themselves are calling for the creation of more no-fishing reserves.
(14 March 2011)
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Nunavut plans to promote country foods

Jane George, Nunatsiaq Online
Local foods can combat food insecurity, experts say

To fight hunger in Nunavut, the Government of Nunavut will spend $1.7 million this year to set up community freezers and find ways to distribute more country foods, like Arctic char, caribou, seal and muskox, Nunavut’s Economic Development and Transportation department revealed during the recent legislative session in Iqaluit.

As part of this new push, the Government of Nunavut will help fund efforts like the recent country foods market in Rankin Inlet or this coming weekend’s country foods market in Iqaluit — the second to take place in the city— which is scheduled to start March 12 at noon in front of the Iqaluit elders’ centre.

By promoting local foods, the territory may be able to reduce the growing levels of food insecurity, the department says.

According to the World Health Organization, food insecurity occurs when people don’t “have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

And food insecurity in Nunavut is likely to worsen as the costs of imported store-bought foods rise.

Global food prices hit a record high in February, an increase that’s sure to be felt in northern Canada.

Peak oil prices, water scarcity, high grain prices, over-fishing and natural disasters on the other side of the world will only add to Nunavut’s high levels of food insecurity, says Kirt Ejesiak, Canada’s vice-president on Inuit Circumpolar Council.

And, due to climate change, the entire Arctic region will be forced to address food insecurity sooner than other parts of Canada and many other areas of the world, he said.
(11 March 2011)