Food & agriculture – headlines

February 21, 2014

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Using Permaculture Design to Prepare for Floods

Kate Fox, Permaculture Magazine
Permaculture design helps us to look at the landscape with greater understanding and enables us to design more resilient gardens, homes and settlements. Kate Fox describes how a flood forced her to re-evaluate her garden design and ultimately her life.

Nowadays extreme weather is becoming more and more common and it seems that ‘freak events’ are becoming normal; in fact there was extreme storm after extreme storm all winter affecting a lot of the UK with flooding, tidal surges, power cuts, fallen trees and damage from high winds. Any of us can be affected by extreme weather at any time of the year, as I know after experiencing localised flooding in June 2012 where only 10 properties were affected which are nowhere near a river, flood plain or the sea and don’t appear on the Environment Agency’s flood risk map.

When designing a garden, microholding, smallholding or other kind of plot in the future I will always bear in mind extreme weather events including wind, rain, snow and ice. It is probably a good idea to look up weather records if possible, to look for any patterns and any potential threats, and definitely speak to local people…

(12 February 2014)

Iowa Is Getting Sucked Into Scary Vanishing Gullies

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones
Last year, after a record drought in 2012, Iowa experienced the wettest spring in its recorded history. The rains triggered massive runoff from the state’s farms into its creeks, streams, and rivers, tainting water with toxic nitrate from fertilizer. Nitrate levels in the state’s waterways reached record levels—so high that they emerged as a "real issue for human health," Bob Hirsch, a hydrologist for the US Geological Survey, told the Associated Press.

The event illustrated two problems facing Iowa and the rest of the nation’s topsoil-rich grain belt. The first is the challenge of climate change: how to manage farmland in an era when weather lurches from brutal drought to flooding, as it likely will with increasing frequency. The second, related challenge is the largely invisible crisis of Iowa’s topsoil, which appears to be eroding at a much higher rate than US Department of Agriculture numbers indicate—and, more importantly, at up to 16 times the natural soil replacement rate.

(7 February 2014)

Africa’s farm revolution – who will benefit?

Sophie Morlin-Yron & Oliver Tickell, The Ecologist
A farming revolution is under way in Africa, pushed by giant corporations and the UK’s aid budget. It will surely be good for the global economy, writes Sophie Morlin-Yron, but will Africa’s small farmers see the benefit?

World leaders in agriculture and development gathered in London last week at the The Economist’s ‘Feeding the World Summit’ to discuss global solutions to tackling Africa’s food security crisis.

At the event, which cost between £700 and £1,000 to attend, industry leaders spoke of new innovations and initiatives which would help fight poverty, world hunger and malnutrition, and transform the lives of millions of farmers worldwide.

But there was only one farmer among the speakers, Rose Adongo, with barely a handful more in the audience. A Ugandan beef and honey farmer, Adongo was unimpressed by the technical solutions offered by the corporate speakers.

(18 February 2014)

Could This Baker Solve the Gluten Mystery?

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones
Washington State University’s agriculture research and extension facility in Mount Vernon, about an hour due north along the Puget Sound from Seattle, looks at first glance like any recently built academic edifice: that is to say, boring and austere. On the outside, it’s surrounded by test plots of wheat and other grains, as well as greenhouses, shrouded in the Pacific Northwest’s classic gray skies and mist. Inside, professors and grad students shuffle through the long halls, passing quiet offices and labs.

Yet one of those labs is not like the others—or any other that I know of, for that matter. When you look down the length of the room from the back wall, you see two distinct chambers, separated by long, adjoining tables: gleaming chunks of impressive-looking machinery to the left; flour sacks, mixing bowls, a large, multileveled oven to the right. And in place of the vaguely chemical smell of most university labs, you get the rich, toasty aroma of fresh-baked bread.

…According to Jones and McDowell, low-quality industrial white flours and fast-rising commercial yeasts, along with additives like vital wheat gluten—a wheat product added to give bread structure despite superfast rises—have generated a backlash against bread in the form of the "gluten-free" craze. While people with celiac disease genuinely can’t process the gluten in wheat, they argue, most people actually can. The problem is that most industrial bakeries only allow bread to rise for a matter of minutes—not nearly long enough to let the yeast and bacteria digest all the gluten in the flour, let alone the extra dose in the additives. The result can lead to all kinds of problems in our gut….

(12 February 2014)

Elemental Business: Phosphorus

Justin Rowlatt, BBC World Service
In the first of Elementary Business – a new series of programmes about the chemical elements – Justin Rowlatt asks whether phosphorus poses the biggest looming crisis that you have never heard of. Since 1945, the world’s population has tripled. Yet the fact that we’ve still managed to feed all those mouths is in no small part thanks to phosphates. We mine them, turn them into fertiliser, and then spread them onto our fields, whence they are ultimately washed away into the ocean. Justin speaks to chemist Andrea Sella to find out just why phosphorus is so vital to sustaining life, and modern agriculture. He also hears from Jeremy Grantham, a voice from the world of high finance, who warns that pretty soon Morocco may find itself with the dubious honour of a near-monopoly of the world’s remaining phosphate supplies. And Justin travels to the lowly town of Slough, near London, to take a look at one new way of staving off the dreaded day when the world eventually runs out of the stuff.

(November 6 2014)

(Editor’s Note. This episode will only be available temporarily.) -KS

Polish farmers ‘grassroots rebellion’

Julian Rose & Jadwiga Lopata, The Ecologist
Farmers in northern Poland are demanding the right to sell the food they produce in local shops, fighting oppressive sanitary regulations, picketing the Land Agency for access to prime farmland, and resisting GMOs.

A fight-back by farmers is gathering momentum in the provinces of North Poland to secure prime government-owned farmland; prevent any planting of GM crops; and repeal oppressive food regulations that prohibit local sales….

(16 February 2014)

Tags: flooding, industrial farming, peak phosphorus, permaculture design