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Food & agriculture - May 14

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Science as Dialogue: What My Garden and I Are Discussing in 2013

Claire L. Schlosser, Living Low in the Lou 

Another cloudy, wet spring day in St. Louis. The mulched bed is my herb garden.

In the last post I brought up my use of the scientific method in my gardening practice. Now I’d like to talk more about how ordinary folks (and as far as gardening goes, I’m as ordinary as any of you) can use the scientific method to solve problems that come up with the materials of everyday life. What I hope to do is de-mystify the method and also separate it from any negative associations you may have picked up about it from prior experiences, so that you can turn to it when the question you have in mind is amenable to its use.

In my previous post I quoted Wikipedia’s definition of the scientific method: “the process of systemic observation, measurement, and experimentation and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.” It’s an accurate enough description, but I suspect rather forbidding for ordinary people to apply to everyday problems in the material world. This may have something to do with schooling and its tendency to separate knowledge into fields that seem to have nothing to do with each other. The scientific method gets classified as something you do in science class and nowhere else. If you didn’t like or do well in science, you may not realize how useful the method can be.

(9 May 2013)

Biofuels a big cause of famine

Staff, Deutsche Welle 

People around the world should stand up to their governments on the issue of food speculation and price dumping says Jean Ziegler, former UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, in interview with DW.

DW: Mr. Ziegler, who is at fault for the fact that every five seconds worldwide, a child starves to death?

Jean Ziegler: The mechanisms that cause death by starvation are all human-caused reasons. The main reason for this daily massacre is speculation on the food market. Half of the global population lives in cities, where food is not produced. According to World Bank data, 1.2 billion humans are "extremely poor." If the corn price were to explode again, like it did in the past two years by 63 percent, then these people will die because they cannot pay these prices...

(11 May 2013)

Food Price Inflation as Redistribution: Towards a New Analysis of Corporate Power in the World Food System (Preprint)
Joseph Baines, New Political Economy 

Abstract or Brief Description

This paper outlines the contours of a new research agenda for the analysis of food price crises. By weaving together a detailed quantitative examination of changes in corporate profit shares with a qualitative appraisal of the restructuring in business control over the organisation of society and nature, the paper points to the rapid ascendance of a new power configuration in the global political economy of food: the Agro-Trader nexus. The agribusiness and grain trader firms that belong to the Agro-Trader nexus have not been mere 'price takers', instead they have actively contributed to the inflationary restructuring of the world food system by championing and facilitating the rapid expansion of the first-generation biofuels sector. As a key driver of agricultural commodity price rises, the biofuels boom has raised the Agro-Trader nexus’s differential profits and it has at the same time deepened global hunger. These findings suggest that food price inflation is a mechanism of redistribution.

(April 2013)

You can access the report here.

Over half the world's population could rely on food imports by 2050 – study

Kate Ravilious, The Guardian 

Tomatoes from Spain, olive oil from Italy, plums from Chile, salmon from Alaska and green beans from Kenya – how often might some of these ingredients end up in your basket? In the UK most people's shopping trolleys contain a significant proportion of imported foods. But could these foods be grown and produced at home? Which countries are capable of food self-sufficiency? A new series of maps shows which countries could feed their entire population, and which countries are limited by lack of land or water.

Marianela Fader from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, and colleagues, calculated the growing capacity of every country in the world, and compared it with food requirements, both now and projected forward to 2050. Their model employed climate data, soil type and land-use patterns for each country, in order to simulate yields for a variety of types of crop. Using current data on population, and food and water consumption in each nation, they were able to assess what proportion of its food a country could produce.

Although many countries choose to import food right now, the model showed that there are surprisingly few that could not maintain the same diet and still be food self-sufficient. "Today, 66 countries are not able to be self-sufficient due to water and/or land constraints," said Fader. This equates to 16% of the world's population depending on food imported from other countries.

(7 May 2013)

You can access the report here.

Agriculture and Livestock Remain Major Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Laura Reynolds, Vital Signs Online 

Global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the agricultural sector totaled 4.69 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO₂) equivalent in 2010, an increase of 13 percent over 1990 emissions.1 (See Figure 1.) By comparison, global CO₂ emissions from transport totaled 6.76 billion tons that year, and emissions from electricity and heat production reached 12.48 billion tons.

Growth in agricultural production between 1990 and 2010 outpaced growth in emissions by a factor of 1.6, demonstrating increased energy efficiency in the agriculture sector.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) maintains country-specific data for annual GHG emissions from agriculture. These data measure nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane—the three most common gases emitted in agriculture. Methane is generally produced when organic materials—such as crops, livestock feed, or manure—decompose anaerobically (without oxygen).4 Methane accounts for 49.8 percent of total agricultural emissions.5 Enteric fermentation—the digestion of organic materials by livestock—is the largest source of methane emissions and of agricultural emissions overall.

(8 May 2013)

The rest of this article is behind a paywall.

Editorial Notes: Photograph: Wendy Stone/Corbis

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