2014-05-27 |

G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition raises human rights concerns

Malawi Farmer in Malawi, one target country of the initiative (Photo: ILRI/Mann)

FIAN International has raised grave concerns about the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. In a policy paper published ahead of the G7 summit in Brussels on 4-5 June, the organisation analysed the initiative from a human rights perspective. The paper concludes that the New Alliance ignores general human rights principles and contradicts a human rights-based framework in key issues relevant for those most affected by hunger and malnutrition: small-scale food producers. FIAN says the G8 initiative is bluntly equating the opening of agriculture and food markets to foreign investors with combating hunger and malnutrition. Food security and nutrition is dangerously narrowed down to the general availability of food through increased productivity. The paper directly contrasts policy actions of the G8 initiative in four key areas - seeds, land, social protection/income, and nutrition - with a human rights framework. For example, while the UN-Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food asks governments to implement farmers' rights (as defined in the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources), the G8-led initiative pushes for the “implementation of national seed regulation” for greater private sector involvement. FIAN also criticised the G8's narrow understanding of the nutritional dimension of food production which ignores that food and nutrition security does not simply entail increased caloric intake, but rather a consistent access to diverse, nutritious and culturally-adequate food. “The New Alliance’s investments in agricultural food production tend to focus on mainstream crops with relatively low nutritious and high caloric content, such as maize, sugar, and rice, which results in dietary gaps”, the paper argues.

2014-05-21 |

UN focuses on obesity and unhealthy diets

Chatarra Childhood obesity is on the rise (Photo: Pedro Valle Luna)

UN experts have highlighted the need to address obesity and unhealthy diets. “Parts of the world are quite literally eating themselves to death”, Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), warned on Monday at the opening of the 67th World Health Assembly in Geneva. Around 3.4 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese. “Hunger and under-nutrition remain an extremely stubborn problem. At the other extreme, we see no good evidence that the prevalence of obesity and diet- related non-communicable diseases is receding anywhere”, Chan said, expressing deep concern over the global increase in childhood obesity. More than 40 million children under the age of 5 were overweight or obese in 2012, with numbers climbing fastest in developing countries. To tackle the problem, the UN health body will establish a high-level Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity. The commission will produce a report, to be published in 2015, specifying which approaches are likely to be most effective in different contexts across the globe. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, called for a new global agreement to regulate unhealthy diets. He said that, despite worrying signs, the international community paid too little attention to the problem. In his 2012 report, the Special Rapporteur identified five priority actions to address obesity and unhealthy diets: taxing unhealthy products; regulating foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar; cracking down on junk food advertising; overhauling agricultural subsidies that make certain ingredients cheaper; and supporting local food production. “Attempts to promote healthy diets will only work if the food systems underpinning them are put right,” De Schutter added on Monday.

2014-05-19 |

New report shows importance of fish in feeding the world

Fish Fishermen in Bangladesh (Photo: Finn Thilsted/flickr)

More people than ever before depend on fisheries and aquaculture for food and as a source of income, but harmful practices threaten the sector’s sustainability, says a new FAO report published today. According to the latest edition of “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture“, global fisheries and aquaculture production totaled 158 million metric tonnes in 2012, around 10 million tonnes more than in 2010. Aquaculture provided a record 66.6 million metric tonnes of fish. Fish now accounts for almost 17 percent of the global population’s intake of protein - in some coastal and island countries it can top 70 percent. “The health of our planet as well as our own health and future food security all hinge on how we treat the blue world,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said. Per capita fish consumption has soared from 10 kg in the 1960s to more than 19 kg in 2012. FAO estimates that 10–12 percent of the world’s population depend on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihoods. Some 90 percent of fishers are small scale and it is estimated that, overall, 15 percent are women.

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.

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