News

2014-05-16 |

UN expert calls on governments to buy local food from family farms

SchoolFeeding School feeding in Brazil (Photo: Erica Santos/PMC)

Public food purchasing can contribute to making food systems fairer and more sustainable. This is the key message of Olivier De Schutter’s final publication as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. “Governments have few sources of leverage over increasingly globalized food systems – but public procurement is one of them. When sourcing food for schools, hospitals and public administrations, governments have a rare opportunity to support more nutritious diets and more sustainable food systems in one fell swoop,” he said on Thursday. The public sector is an important buyer of goods. OECD countries spend an average of 12% of their gross domestic products on public purchasing. The public catering sector in the UK, for example, represents some $3 billion per year. De Schutter’s report identified five principles for how governments should use the public purse to contribute to the realisation of the right to food. Public procurement policies should source preferentially from small- scale food farmers and ensure that they receive remunerative prices for their production and that farmworkers benefit from living wages. Moreover, public projects should set specific requirements for adequate food diets, source locally whenever possible, impose sustainability requirements on suppliers and increase participation and accountability in the food system. “It may cost governments slightly more to source from a range of smaller-scale, sustainable operators than from major suppliers, but the investment is worth it,” the UN expert said. The report presents positive examples such as the School Feeding Programme in Brazil, where 30% of the budget transferred to states and municipalities must be used to buy products from family farms. The budget of the programme, now covering more than 49 million children, was increased fourfold between 2003 and 2011.

2014-05-15 |

Bee biodiversity boosts crop yields

bee in the blueberries Bee in the blueberries (Photo: FernandoZ/flickr)

Research from NC State University shows that blueberries produce more seeds and larger berries if they are visited by a more diverse range of bee species, allowing farmers to harvest significantly more pounds of fruit per acre. In the study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers looked at blueberries in North Carolina because it is an economically important crop which relies on insect pollination. “We wanted to understand the functional role of diversity. And we found that there is a quantifiable benefit of having a lot of different types of bees pollinating a crop”, says Dr. Hannah Burrack, an associate professor of entomology at NC State. In the designated blueberry fields, the researchers categorised their bees into five distinct groups: honey bees, bumble bees, southeastern blueberry bees, carpenter bees and a grouping of similar local bees which they termed ‘small native bees’. When a bee from one of these groups visited a flower, it was marked. Some flowers were caged after pollination to prevent multiple bees from visiting the same flower. The team discovered that for each group above one, farmers saw an increase of $311 worth of yield per acre. For example if two bee groups visited a blueberry field, the increase would be $311 per acre. If three bee groups pollinated the field, the increase would be $622 per acre. For North Carolina blueberries as a whole, the researchers calculated the benefit of each bee group to be approximately $1.42 million worth of yield each year. The researchers think the benefit stems from differences in behavior between bee groups, in part depending on the weather. Southeastern blueberry bees also worked in bad weather, while honey bees only did their best during warm, sunny days. “We’ve shown that there is a real financial benefit associated with biodiversity,” Burrack said.

2014-05-13 |

Indian farmer sets new record in rice production with SRI method

rice SRI rice ready for harvest (Photo: Oxfam/niawag/flickr)

A farmer in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has set a new record in rice production using the system of rice intensification (SRI) method. Mr. Sethumadhavan from Alanganallur produced a bumper harvest of 24 tonnes of paddy per hectare, according to Jaisingh Gnanadurai, joint director of agriculture in Tamil Nadu. SRI originated in Madagascar 30 years ago and is based on four main cropping principles: Transplanting seedlings to the field at a very young stage; reducing plant density to allow the optimal development of each plant; enriching soils with organic matter; and reducing and controlling water application. The method is more labour-intensive but needs fewer seeds and less chemical fertiliser which is why it has received little support from agribusiness. Sethumadhavan, who has been a farmer for 15 years, said he used the common CR 1009 rice seed, a variety which usually does not produce more than six tonnes per hectare. The farmer ploughed the green manure crop Daincha into the soil as organic manure and only topped up the nutrient supply with some inorganic fertilizer. He alternated between wet and dry conditions, did not allow water to stagnate and used only a hand-pushed kono-weeder. “This is a state record. The Tamil Nadu government has advocated a second green revolution by using more organic fertiliser and less inorganic fertilizer,“ Gnanadurai said. Norman Uphoff, professor at Cornell University and a keen promoter of SRI, put the record harvest into perspective by saying that not too much attention should be given to statistical “outliers“. “[It is] averages that feed hungry people and raise farmers out of poverty, not records,“ he told The Guardian.

2014-05-12 |

Argentine scientist, who warned of glyphosate health hazards, dies

Carrasco2 Andrés Carrasco in Brussels (Foto: V. Gehrmann)

Dr. Andrés Carrasco, an Argentine neuroscientist who confirmed the devastating effects of glyphosate on embryonic development, has died aged 67. Argentina's national science council CONICET announced on Saturday the death of its former president, who had been in declining health. Carrasco, a professor of Molecular Embryology Laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires, was a widely published expert and a thorn in Monsanto's side: His 2010 study provided scientific evidence that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, the world’s top-selling herbicide, can cause serious embryonic damage. The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, found that glyphosate leads to malformations in frog and chicken embryos when applied in doses much lower than what is commonly used in agricultural spraying. It also noted that these malformations were similar to human birth defects observed in GM soy-producing areas exposed to glyphosate.

2014-05-07 |

New Study Identifies Climate Change Hotspots in Africa

Mais Climate change will affect crop yields (Photo: CIMMYT/flickr)

A new study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) identifies distinct regions of Africa which will be most affected by overlapping impacts of climate change such as drought, floods, declining crop yields or ecosystem damages. The German scientists reported their findings in the journal Global Change Biology. The three regions expected to be climate change hotspots in a couple of decades are parts of Sudan and Ethiopia; the countries surrounding Lake Victoria in central Africa; and the southeast of the continent, especially parts of South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They are projected to see more severe dry seasons and reduced plant growth, as well as floodings near Lake Victoria. In these regions, there will be a high likelihood of severe climate change impacts by 2100, affecting countries with high population density and poverty rates. “We tried to identify the places where climate change really hurts most,” lead-author Christoph Müller said in a press statement. The good news is, according to the study, that large countries like Nigeria and the tropical forests of the Congo region will probably be less affected. The researchers said the study focuses on multiple stress points while most research adresses only one aspect of climate change at a time. Farmers and pastoralists need to develop coping strategies to confront likely impacts, such as more intensive droughts in the southern Sahel. The authors believe that based on likelihoods decisions on suitable adaptation measures can be made. These could include insurance systems to balance increased variability in crop yields from one year to another, or water storage systems such as underground cisterns.

2014-05-02 |

Dirty Dozen List: The Most Pesticide-Laden Fruits And Veggies in the US

Erdbeere Strawberries are on the Dirty Dozen list (Jerry Burke/flickr)

Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released an updated list identifying the most pesticide-laden and cleanest conventional produce. To compile the “2014 Dirty Dozen“ and the “Clean 15“ lists, scientists focused on 48 fruits and vegetables. Conventionally-grown apples topped the list of most pesticide-contaminated produce: 99% of apple samples tested positive for at least one pesticide residue, mainly because of chemicals applied to the crop after harvest to prevent them from scalding during storage. Other fruits and vegetables on the negative list are strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and potatoes. Single samples of celery, cherry tomatoes, imported snap peas, and strawberries tested positive for 13 different pesticides apiece; a single grape even for 15 pesticides. Kale, collard greens, and hot peppers were frequently contaminated with insecticides which are a particular threat to human health. 65% of all samples analyzed tested positive for pesticide residues. The Clean Fifteen, on the other hand, lists conventional produce with the lowest pesticide levels. Avocados were the cleanest, with only 1% of samples showing detectable pesticides, followed by sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas and kiwi. The ranking is based on an analysis of 32,000 samples tested by the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration. EWG analysts used six metrics including, the total number of pesticides detected on a crop and the percentage of samples tested with detectable pesticides. “The lists help people find conventional fruits and vegetables with low concentrations of pesticide residues,” said Sonya Lunder, lead author of the report. “If a particular item is likely to be high in pesticides, people can go for organic.” But the report also charges the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency with failing to comply with legislation designed to warn Americans of the risk of eating foods containing chemical pesticides.

2014-04-16 |

Caritas Calls on EU to Support Agroecological Small-scale Farming

Bauer The EU should focus on small-scale farming to alleviate hunger (Photo: Lakshman Nadaraja/World Bank)

The European Union should support the eradication of world hunger as a priority for the post-2015 agenda, and push for a clear definition of a “Zero Hunger” goal, addressing all the root causes of hunger. This is one the key message of a new report Caritas Europa presented at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. The report calls on the EU to take urgent action in six areas: The right to food; small-scale agriculture; climate change; nutrition resilience, and policy coherence for development. It includes several recommendations on how to create sustainable food systems and how the EU can champion the fight against world hunger. First of all, decision makers should mainstream the right to food as a priority in all policies with an impact on agriculture and food security. In addition, Caritas Europe calls on the EU and its member states to support agro-ecological small-scale farming activities. No funding should be allocated to high-input agricultural activities that destroy eco-systems. The report further recommends that the EU regulate and monitor European private sector investments in developing countries’ agriculture with a view to prioritizing the empowerment of smallholders and their access to productive resources. Attention should also be paid to the multifunctionality of agriculture by addressing food security challenges not only from the perspective of food production but also by considering the socio-cultural, environmental and economic dimensions of agriculture. According to Caritas, particular attention should be given to preserving traditional knowledge and enhancing farmers’ skills and knowledge on biodiversity, with a special focus on women farmers, who produce more than half of the food in the world.

2014-04-11 |

Urban Agriculture is Gaining Ground in Latin America

Havana Urban organic agriculture in Havana (Photo: Melody Breaker/flickr)

According to a new report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), urban and peri-urban agriculture is widespread in Latin America and the Caribbean but it needs the support of government, from national to local levels, to realise its full potential. In 2009, representatives of ministries of agriculture, research institutes, NGOs and international organisations gathered in Medellín, Colombia, to develop strategies for reducing urban poverty and food insecurity across the region. They called for the incorporation of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA) into public policies. Five years later, the report looks at the progress made towards creating 'greener cities'. It is based on a survey in 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries and data on 110 cities and municipalities. The report found that UPA is widespread in the region and is practised, for example, by 40% of Cuban households and 20% of Guatemalan families. In Bolivia’s major cities and municipalities, 50,000 families are food producers. Urban agriculture ranges from backyard vegetable gardening to the raising of small animals for eggs and meat; from school gardens to growing vegetables in containers. But only 12 of the 23 countries have national policies that promote UPA. Cuba’s policy dates back to 1997, when the government decided to promote urban agriculture nationwide. Agriculture is now practiced on an area of roughly 33,500 hectares, including 145,000 small farm plots and 385,000 backyard gardens. In Havana, the “greenest” capital in the region, 90,000 residents are engaged in some form of agriculture. In 2013, UPA produced there some 6,700 tonnes of food for almost 300,000 people in schools, public health centres and hospitals.

2014-04-04 |

New Study: 24% of Europe's bumblebees at risk of extinction

bumblebee Hard times ahead for European bumble bees (Photo: Isidro Vila Verde/flickr)

Nearly a quarter of Europe's bumblebee species could become extinct, according to a recent study examining all of the 68 bumblebee species that occur in Europe. The study, which is part of the Status and Trends of European Pollinators (STEP) project and the European Red List of pollinators, both funded by the European Commission, stresses that habitat destruction, pesticide contamination, agricultural intensification and climate change threaten Europe’s bumblebees. As much as 46% of bumblebee species in Europe have a declining population, 24% face extinction. “We are very concerned with these findings. Such a high proportion of threatened bumblebees can have serious implications for our food production,” said Ana Nieto, coordinator of the study and European Biodiversity Officer of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Three of the five most important insect pollinators of European crops are bumblebee species. Together with other pollinators, bumblebees contribute more than 22 billion Euros to European agriculture per year. According to IUCN, protecting bumblebee species and habitats, restoring degraded ecosystems and promoting biodiversity-friendly agricultural practices will be essential to reverse the negative trends in European bumblebee populations.

2014-04-02 |

Roundtable Calls for SDG on Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition

Hans Herren Right Livelihood Award Laureate Hans Herren at the meeting (Photo: Dirk Verdonk)

A High-level Roundtable, which brought together representatives from governments, UN agencies, civil society, farmers, and the private sector on 27-28 March in New York, has called for a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on “Sustainable Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition.” Such a goal and the broader post-2015 agenda should address five SHIFT elements: Small-scale food producers are empowered; Hunger and malnutrition are addressed in all forms; Inclusiveness in decision-making is achieved; Food systems are sustainable and productive; and Trade policies are reshaped and food price volatility is mitigated. The message from the High Level Roundtable also includes seven proposed targets to be achieved by 2030, as well as a list of further issues which should be included in other focus areas of the post- 2015 agenda, such as climate, biodiversity, and gender equality. Participants agreed that the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) can best provide guiding and monitoring of the implementation of the post-2015 agenda in the field of food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture and food systems. The event was hosted by the Government of Benin, Biovision Foundation, and the Millennium Institute. The agreed recommendations from the meeting will be streamlined and then submitted to the co-chairs of the UN General Assembly's Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals.

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