2014-09-01 |

Eat less meat to prevent climate change, says new study

Pig Forest are cleared to grow feed (Photo: United Soybean Board)

Eating less meat and reducing food waste is essential to ensure food security and avoid climate change, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Researchers from Cambridge and Aberdeen universities found that food production alone could exceed targets for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2050 if current trends continue. The authors warn that a growing population and a global shift towards meat-heavy diets will make it necessary to bring more land into cultivation. Increased deforestation, fertiliser use and livestock methane emissions could cause GHG from food production to increase by almost 80%. If we maintain ‘business as usual’, by 2050 cropland will have expanded by 42% and fertiliser use will have increased by 45% as compared to 2009 levels. The report says the situation can be improved if farmers in developing countries are helped to achieve the best possible yields from their land and if food waste at all stages in the food chain is reduced. But even with these measures, greenhouse gas emissions would still increase. The authors argue that a shift towards more balanced diets with less meat is needed. “More arable cultivation is turned over to producing feedstock for animals that provide meat for humans. The losses at each stage are large, and as humans globally eat more and more meat, conversion from plants to food becomes less and less efficient, driving agricultural expansion and land cover conversion and releasing more greenhouse gases”, said lead author Bojana Bajzelj from the University of Cambridge. The researchers tested a scenario assuming an “average balanced diet” without excessive consumption of sugars, fats, and meat products, which included two 85g portions of red meat, seven portions of poultry and five eggs per week. “This is not a radical vegetarian argument; it is an argument about eating meat in sensible amounts as part of healthy, balanced diets,” said Cambridge co-author Prof Keith Richards. These three measures combined - closing yield gaps, halving food waste and switching to healthier diets - could result in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions almost halving from their 2009 level.

2014-08-28 |

Guatemala: Farmers and indigenous people reject “Monsanto Law”

Maya Women selling vegetables (Photo: Guillén Pérez/flickr)

On Tuesday, indigenous and farmers’ organisations marched in the capital of Guatemala to demand the repeal of a new law which grants breeders exclusive rights over new plant varieties. The “Law for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants” was adopted by Congress on June 26 as a requirement of the Free Trade Agreement between Central America, Dominican Republic and the United States signed in 2005. Indigenous peoples and peasants protested in front of the Parliament and announced a legal appeal to the Constitutional Court. The law, which will enter into force on September 26, was dubbed “Monsanto Law” in reference to the corporation which is dedicated to developing new genetically modified crops. According to the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organisations (CLOC), the law threatens the Guatemalan people who live from agriculture and have been protecting their native seeds for thousands of years. It allows patents on new plant varieties and will initially be applied to varieties that are based on genetic elements of 15 crops, including corn. Within a ten year term, however, patents can be extended to all grains and vegetables. Farmers and indigenous communities are especially concerned about article 50 of the law, which foresees prison terms of up to four years and a fine of 10,000 quetzales for the reproduction of patented seeds. They fear that Monsanto could be the main beneficiary and distribute genetically modified seeds across the country. “Why are transnationals gaining control of our food, our food safety and sovereignty? This is something we will defend as a people”, Mash Mash, a member of Consejo de Pueblos de Occidente”, told Telesur. Farmer Magdalena Alvarado said: “This law affects us and all communities of the Mayan people because we grow corn, beans, and vegetables without contamination, everything is organic. We eat a lot of corn.” Activists criticise the government for approving the law without a social discussion while the public was distracted during the FIFA 2014 World Cup.

2014-08-27 |

Biofuel production is a main driver of the global land rush, new study

Jatropha Jatropha plantation (Forest and Kim Starr/flickr)

The production of agrofuel crops is playing a decisive role in the international scramble for arable land in developing and emerging countries, according to a new study from the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA). The study looked at 956 concluded large-scale land acquisitions (covering 36 million hectares of land) currently listed by the Land Matrix database. Projects that include plants intended for biofuel production account for 23% of the total area. Sub- Saharan Africa appears to be the most popular region for investments, with six countries representing almost half of the total land under contract among the top 10. Brazil ranks first due to its bioethanol-promoting policies. Agrofuel projects are particularly attractive to foreign investors from industrialised countries, the researchers found. With 1.5 million hectares acquired for biofuel production worldwide, companies from Great Britain top the list of investor countries. The analysis of the Land Matrix data also showed that agrofuel projects fail quite often. For instance, investors abandoned 15% of all jatropha projects, an oilseed-bearing plant that was praised for its alleged ability to generate high yields on marginal land. Jatropha had higher failure rates compared to oil palm or sugar cane projects as it became clear that jatropha, like most other plants, yields the best results in fertile soils. Jatropha investors were mostly start-ups with little experience. The researchers believe that the advancement of renewable energies will remain a priority in many countries: “The demand for agrofuels is expected to stay on course, perhaps even leading to a new wave of agrofuel investment.” In low- and middle-income countries, food security needs to be the primary concern of agriculture, the authors conclude.

2014-08-21 |

South Asia's agriculture at risk from climate change, report warns

India India’s agriculture is at risk (Photo: P. Casier/CGIAR)

South Asia will be severely affected by climate change within a few decades if no action is taken to counter global warming, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) warned on Tuesday. A new report predicts that six countries - Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka - will see an average economic loss of around 1.8% of their gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, rising sharply to 8.8% by the end of this century. Almost all areas of South Asia will suffer from rising temperatures. While farmers in some parts of the region may benefit from warmer weather, the overall impacts on agriculture are expected to be negative. By 2080, annual rice production could increase by as much as 16% in Nepal, but decrease as much as 23% in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Sri Lanka. Changes in rainfall patterns could increase the likelihood of crop failures, posing a serious threat to food security. Agriculture is an important economic sector in the region, contributing 20% of Bangladesh's GDP and employing 48% of the labor force. India is also deeply at risk from climate change and could suffer economic losses of up to 8.7% of its GDP by 2100. “Agriculture provides employment and livelihood opportunities to most of India’s rural population and changes in temperature and rainfall, and an increase in floods and droughts linked to climate change, would have a devastating impact on people’s food security, incomes, and lives,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development. The report also list adaptation and mitigation measures for South Asia. In agriculture, rice cultivation systems with improved water and nutrient use, more efficient irrigation, altering planting times and diversifying crops could help. According to the report, studies have shown that the system of rice intensification, which combines improvements in rice planting techniques and water application, can double or triple current rice yields.

2014-08-19 |

Earth Overshoot Day: Humans have exhausted natural resources for 2014

eart The planet is sliding into ecological debt (Photo: Royce Bair/

August 19th marks Earth Overshoot Day - the day humanity has used up the natural resources the world can supply in a year, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international think tank. The date is calculated by contrasting the world’s demand on nature (ecological footprint) with the biocapacity - forests, pastures, cropland and fisheries as well as the planet’s ability to replenish resources and absorb waste, including carbon dioxide emissions. Earth Overshoot Day has moved from early October in 2000 to August 19th this year, showing that humans are exhausting natural resources such as land, wood, fibre and fish faster than ever. For the rest of the year, we will maintain our ecological deficit by living on resources borrowed from future generations. In 1961, humans used only around three-quarters of the capacity Earth has for generating food, timber, fish and absorbing greenhouse gases. According to the Global Footprint Network, we would currently need 1.5 Earths to produce the renewable resources necessary to support our footprint. Moderate population, energy and food projections suggest that humanity would require the biocapacity of three planets by 2050. „The interest we are paying on that mounting ecological debt in the form of deforestation, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the build-up of CO2 in our atmosphere also comes with mounting human and economic costs”, the Global Footprint Network warns.

2014-08-15 |

UN warns of severe damage to agriculture in Gaza

Gaza Smashing pumpkins: destroyed farm in south Gaza (Photo: Mohammed Al Baba/Oxfam)

Israel’s military operation in Gaza has devastated local food production and made the population reliant on food aid, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned in a statement. The recent fighting has forced farmers to abandon their fields and has caused considerable damage to Gaza's 17,000 hectares of croplands. Agricultural infrastructure was also destroyed, including greenhouses, irrigation systems, animal farms, and fishing boats. “Up to now, ongoing military operations have prevented detailed assessments of damages to agriculture from being completed,” said Ciro Fiorillo, head of FAO's office in the region, but the recovery in the agriculture sector will definitely need long-term external assistance. According to the latest estimates, Gaza lost half of its poultry birds either due to direct bombardment or lack of water and feed resulting from access restrictions. Gaza’s fishing sector has also suffered extreme financial losses. The Gaza Strip imports large part of its food supply but local food production represents an important source of nutritious and affordable food and almost 30,000 people in Gaza rely on farming for their livelihoods. Food prices have risen considerably due to the fighting, with a 42% increase for potatoes and a 179% spike in the price of tomatoes since the onset of hostilities. The FAO estimates that almost the entire population of Gaza is currently dependent on food aid.

2014-08-04 |

WTO trade deal fails over India’s food subsidy concerns

India India"s farmers: more important than trade (Photo: Bioversity International/Padulosi)

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) failed to reach a global trade deal after India’s refusal to ratify the agreement unless it included concessions allowing the country to subsidise and stockpile food. Consensus on the global reform of customs procedures had already been reached in Bali in December, but the deadline to sign the pact lapsed on Thursday at midnight after WTO members failed to reach agreement over India’s food subsidy concerns. Under its public food security programme India procures rice and wheat from farmers at above-market prices and provides subsidised food grains to the poor population. With current WTO norms, food subsidies are limited to 10% of the value of total agricultural production. However, the support is calculated at prices that refer to the base year 1986-1988 and do not take into account inflation and currency fluctuation. The Bali meeting came up with a “peace clause”: WTO members would not file complaints against India's food subsidies until a permanent solution was found by 2017. India declined last week not to sign the Trade Facilitation Agreement without a permanent solution to the food security issues. US Secretary of State John Kerry had pressed Indian officials to ratify the deal during a visit to New Delhi last week. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was more concerned about the small Indian farmer: "The first responsibility of my government is to the poorest people of the country. While we don't oppose the agreement, we believe that the needs of those living on the margins of society, not just in India but elsewhere too, have to be addressed”, he told Kerry. The deal would have been the first global trade reform in two decades. Indian officials said they were willing to return to the table for new talks.

2014-07-28 |

45% decline in vital invertebrates in last four decades

Butter Moths and butterflies have declined by 35% on average (Photo: Evan Leeson/Flickr)

The number of worms, spiders, butterflies and other invertebrates has declined by 45 per cent on average over the past 40 years, threatening food supplies, human health, and water quality. The study, published on Friday in the journal Science, reviewed past studies, and compiled a global index of all invertebrate species. The researchers found that, while the human population has doubled over the past four decades, 67 per cent of the world’s invertebrates have decreased in numbers by an average of 45 per cent over the same period. In the UK, for example, there has been a 30 to 60 per cent decline in the number of butterflies, bees, beetles, and wasps. “We were shocked to find similar losses in invertebrates as with larger animals, as we previously thought invertebrates to be more resilient,” said Ben Collen of University College London, a co-author of the study. The fall in invertebrate numbers is thought to be linked to the loss of natural habitats. “The richness of the animal world of our planet is being seriously threatened by human activities”, said lead author Rodolfo Dirzo, a process he calls “anthropocene defaunation”. The experts warn that the decline in invertebrates could have serious effects on ecosystems and food production. 75 per cent of the world’s food crops rely on insect pollination. Moreover, invertebrates contribute significantly to agricultural pest control. The cost of pest control without natural predators could amount to more than $4.4 billion dollars in the United States alone. Insects, spiders, and worms also play a decisive role in decomposition, ensuring soils contain nutrients that are needed for plant growth. Invertebrates are also important for the natural purification of water, the study said.

2014-07-24 |

Beef’s environmental impact 10 times that of other meat

Beefburger Beef is bad for the environment (Photo: Charles Henry/flickr)

Beef is around 10 times more damaging to the environment than any other form of livestock, according to new research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The scientists from the US and Israel analysed how much land, water and nitrogen fertiliser was needed to produce dairy, beef, poultry, pork and eggs, using data from the US Department of Agriculture among other sources. They found that beef production required on average 28 times more land, 11 times more irrigation water, and 6 times more nitrogen per consumed calorie than other animal-derived calories. Cattle are also responsible for releasing five times more greenhouse gases. The environmental impact of dairy, poultry, pork, and eggs were mutually comparable. Even when pasture resources were excluded, beef still required far more land than other meat and dairy products. When compared to the three staple plant foods potatoes, wheat, and rice, the environmental costs of beef per calorie are even worse, requiring 160 times more land, 19 times more nitrogen and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases. One reason is that cattle make far less efficient use of their feed. While it has already been known that beef has a greater environmental impact than other meats, the researchers say that their study is the first to quantify the scale in a comparative way. By highlighting the meat product with the highest environmental resource burden, the authors wish to empower consumers to make dietary changes that mitigate some of these impacts. The results could also show government agencies the directions corrective legislative measures should ideally take, the authors said.

2014-07-22 |

UN working group adopts proposal for Sustainable Development Goals

Women Goal 2 focuses on agriculture (Photo: Jan Beniest/flickr)

The UN General Assembly's Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) concluded its final session on Saturday, adopting the outcome document by acclamation. The proposal contains 17 goals and 169 targets which are to succeed the Millennium Development Goals, including 62 targets on means of implementation. After multiple readings and overnight negotiations, the delegates adopted the proposal on Saturday at noon. Goal 2 is to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”. There was broad agreement on the first target of ending hunger by 2030 and ensuring “access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round”. Target 2.2 is “by 2030 end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving by 2025 the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five.” While previously agreed language listed types of malnutrition, such as obesity and overweight, the final version omits this. However, it lists groups whose nutritional needs should receive special attention. Target 2.3 is to “double the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers” through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, and markets. Target 2.4 focuses on sustainable food production systems and resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, help maintain ecosystems and improve land and soil quality. Many delegates stressed the need to include that productivity must be increased in a sustainable way. Target 2.5 is “to maintain genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species”. The issue of food loss and waste, despite calls for a target under Goal 2, was eventually shifted to Goal 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns). The target is to halve by 2030 per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer level, and reduce food losses along production and supply chains including post-harvest losses. The OWG’s proposal will now be submitted to the UN Secretary-General and the General Assembly for consideration at its session in September before intergovernmental negotiations will start. A summit in September 2015 is expected to adopt the final post-2015 development agenda.

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