News

16.07.2019 |

More than 820 million people worldwide are still going hungry, UN

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Progress in the fight against hunger has been too slow (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased to more than 820 million in 2018, or one in every nine people, warns a report released on Monday by five UN agencies. At the same time, overweight and obesity are growing in all world regions, particularly among school-age children and adults. According to “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World”, an estimated 821.6 million people did not have enough to eat in 2018, up from 811 million in the previous year. After a decade of steady decline, this is the third year of increase in a row. Considering all people in the world affected by moderate levels of food insecurity together with those who suffer from hunger, it is estimated that over 2 billion people do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. “Our actions to tackle these troubling trends will have to be bolder, not only in scale but also in terms of multisectoral collaboration, involving the agriculture, food, health, water and sanitation, education, and other relevant sectors; and in different policy domains, including social protection, development planning and economic policy,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development, UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization urged in their joint foreword to the report.

Almost 62.5% of the world’s undernourished people, or 513.9 million, live in Asia, mostly in southern Asian countries, followed by Africa with 256.1 million (31.2%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 42.5 million. The report also notes that the share of people who are chronically hungry remains virtually unchanged in the past three years at a level slightly below 11%. Africa remains the region with the highest share of undernourishment, affecting 20% of the population in 2018. The situation is especially alarming in Eastern Africa, where a third of the population (30.8%) is undernourished. In addition to climate and conflict, economic slowdowns and downturns are driving the rise. In Asia, 11.3% of the population are affected while the share is 6.5% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

This year’s report highlights that hunger is increasing in many countries where economic growth is lagging, particularly in middle-income countries and those that rely heavily on international primary commodity trade. The authors write that income inequality is rising in many of the countries affected by food insecurity, making it even more difficult for the poor, vulnerable or marginalized to cope with economic slowdowns and downturns. The chances of being food insecure are higher for women than men, with the largest gap in Latin America. “We must recognize the importance of safeguarding food security and nutrition in times of economic difficulty. We must invest wisely during periods of economic booms to reduce economic vulnerability and build capacity to withstand and quickly recover when economic turmoil erupts,” the UN leaders said in the foreword. “We must foster pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation focusing on people and placing communities at the centre to reduce economic vulnerabilities and set ourselves on track to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition while ‘leaving no one behind’.”

And there is more bad news: Some 148.9 million children aged under five (21.9%) are stunted (too short for their age), while 49.5 million (7.3%) suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. “With regard to nutrition indicators, we are faring no better. If current trends continue, we will meet neither the 2030 SDG Target to halve the number of stunted children nor the 2025 World Health Assembly target to reduce the prevalence of low birthweight by 30 percent,” the UN leaders continue. Together, Africa and Asia bear the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition, accounting for more than nine out of ten of all stunted children and over nine out of ten of all wasted children worldwide. At the same time, overweight and obesity continue to increase in all regions, particularly among school-age children and adults. Adult obesity continued to rise, from 11.7% in 2012 to 13.2% worldwide in 2016. 672 million adults are obese. In addition, 338 million school-age children and adolescents are overweight. The report calls for a profound transformation of food systems to provide sustainably-produced healthy diets for a growing world population. This requires balancing a set of policies and investments to achieve a structural transformation that also fosters poverty reduction and more egalitarian societies. “We must also ensure that reducing gender inequalities and social exclusion of population groups is either the means to, or the outcome of, improved food security and nutrition,” the UN heads conclude in their foreword. (ab)

09.07.2019 |

OECD, FAO: Global food demand to grow by 15% over next decade

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The use of cereals for food is projected to grow (Photo: CC0)

Productivity growth in agriculture is expected to stay ahead of food demand over the coming decade, but new uncertainties are emerging on top of the usual risks facing agriculture. This is the key message of the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2019-2028, which was released on Monday in Rome. The annual report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) provides ten-year projections for all major agricultural commodities, as well as for biofuels and fish. Global demand for agricultural products is expected to grow by 15% over the coming decade. “The way in which this demand is met will determine the sector’s impact on the natural resource base, notably land, water, and biodiversity,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría write in the Foreword to the report. Much of the additional food demand over the next decade will originate in regions with high population growth, in particular Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa,” according to the Executive Summary of the report. The use of cereals for food is projected to grow by about 150 million tonnes over the outlook period – amounting to a 13% increase, with rice and wheat accounting for the bulk of the expansion.

Agricultural production is expected to grow by 15% over the coming decade. For nearly all commodities covered in the report, real prices are projected to remain at or below current levels, as productivity improvements continue to outpace demand growth. The Outlook foresees that yield improvements and higher production intensity, driven by technological innovation, will result in higher output even as global agricultural land use remains broadly constant. “Rising food production also comes with higher greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly one quarter of all emissions coming from agriculture, forestry and land use change,” Graziano da Silva and Gurría add. Direct emissions of agriculture, mostly from livestock, as well as rice and synthetic fertilisers, are expected to grow by 0.5% annually over the coming decade, compared with 0.7% annually over the past 10 years. This is lower than the growth in agricultural production, indicating a declining carbon intensity as productivity increases.

World agricultural markets will face a range of new uncertainties that add to the traditionally high risks facing agriculture. On the supply side, these include the spread of diseases such as African Swine Fever, growing resistance to antimicrobial substances, regulatory responses to new plant breeding techniques and increasingly extreme climatic events. On the demand side, they include evolving diets, reflecting perceptions with respect to health and sustainability issues, and policy responses to alarming trends in obesity. The report finds that consumption levels of sugar and vegetable oil are projected to rise, reflecting the ongoing trend towards prepared and more processed foods, notably in many rapidly-urbanizing low and middle-income countries. “A combination of excessive calorie consumption, unbalanced diets and declining activity levels imply a growing burden of overweight and obesity in various countries across the world. In many low and middle-income countries, these problems coexist with undernourishment and micronutrient deficiencies, implying a ‘triple burden’ of malnutrition,” warns the report. However, concerns about health and wellbeing, meanwhile, are likely to nudge numerous higher-income countries towards lower consumption of red meat.

This year’s publication has a focus on Latin American and the Caribbean, a region that accounts for 14% of global production and 23% of the world’s exports of agricultural and fisheries products. This share is expected to rise to 25% by 2028. Despite the impressive growth, the region is facing challenges in terms of food security, as many households are unable to afford the food they need, the report warns. In addition, there are also growing natural resource challenges. OECD and FAO highlight that “ensuring a more sustainable and inclusive pathway for future agricultural growth will depend on developments in the areas of nutrition, social and environmental protection and support for livelihoods.” The authors write that extreme poverty in the region has risen since 2015. “Ensuring income growth among the poorest communities is paramount – a challenge where agricultural development has an important role to play.” The Outlook sees “strong growth opportunities” in the region to produce high-value fruits and vegetables, which provide better opportunities for smallholders and healthier diets for the population. Targeted policies could help farmers and consumers reap these opportunities, while protecting the region’s natural resource base, the report notes. (ab)

04.07.2019 |

Agroecology is key to transition to sustainable food systems, HLPE report

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We need to transform the way food is produced (Photo: CC0)

Agroecology has the potential to make agriculture and food systems more sustainable. This is the message of a new UN report launched by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) in Rome on July 3rd. The report, which was compiled by the committee’s High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) in an almost two-year process, looks at agroecological and other innovative approaches that can enhance food security and nutrition and achieve global sustainability goals. “Food systems are at a crossroads,” says the summary of the report. “Profound transformation is needed to address Agenda 2030 and to achieve food security and nutrition (FSN) in its four dimensions of availability, access, utilization and stability, and to face multidimensional and complex challenges, including a growing world population, urbanization and climate change, which drive increased pressure on natural resources, impacting land, water and biodiversity.” At the launch of the report, HLPE Project Team Leader Fergus Sinclair pointed out that current food systems result in widespread malnutrition and are a major driver of exceeding planetary boundaries. “That means unless we have a major transformation of food systems that affects what people eat and how it is produced, transported, processed and sold we are not going to solve current problems.”

The HLPE writes that agroecology is a dynamic concept that has gained prominence in scientific, agricultural and political discourse in recent years. “It is increasingly promoted as being able to contribute to transforming food systems by applying ecological principles to agriculture and ensuring a regenerative use of natural resources and ecosystem services while also addressing the need for socially equitable food systems within which people can exercise choice over what they eat and how and where it is produced.” Although the authors highlight that there is no single, consensual definition of agroecology, nor agreement on all the aspects embedded in this concept, they come up with a set of 13 agroecological principles. They relate to recycling; reducing the use of inputs; soil health; animal health and welfare; biodiversity; synergy (managing interactions); economic diversification; co-creation of knowledge (embracing local knowledge and global science); social values and diets; fairness; connectivity; land and natural resource governance; and participation. The report divides the innovative approaches to sustainable food systems into two categories: First, the sustainable intensification of production systems and related approaches (including climate-smart agriculture, nutrition-sensitive agriculture and sustainable food value chains) and second, agroecological and related approaches (including agroecology, organic agriculture, agroforestry, permaculture and food sovereignty).

According to the report, many transitions need to occur in particular production systems and across the food value chain to achieve major transformation of whole food systems. Supportive public policies need to be designed that foster transitions towards sustainable food systems, including a shift of public support towards more diversified farming systems. “Given that many smallholder farmers are vulnerable to food insecurity and malnutrition, encouraging them, through appropriate public support to use agroecological methods would have a double impact, addressing both food security and nutrition and transitions to sustainable food systems simultaneously.” Public support measures that enable producers, regardless of their scale of operation, to make greater use of sustainable food production methods could include removing subsidies for synthetic inputs while giving incentives for sustainable food production methods, and for managing multifunctional landscapes including wild species. The authors stress that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to transforming food systems but they put together a series of recommendations to help decision-makers develop concrete actions.

The report recommends that agroecological and other innovative approaches should be promoted in an integrated way. Support is needed to bring about transitions to diversified and resilient food systems. States and NGOs should, for example, support diversified and resilient production systems, including mixed livestock, fish, cropping and agroforestry which preserve and enhance biodiversity, as well as the natural resource base. Subsidies and incentives that currently benefit unsustainable practices, should be redirected to support transition towards sustainable food systems. In addition, international agreements and national regulations on genetic resources and intellectual property should be adapted to better take into account farmers’ access to diverse, traditional and locally adapted genetic resources, as well as farmer-to-farmer seed exchange. Another recommendation is to strengthen the regulations on the use of chemicals harmful for human health and the environment, promoting alternatives to their use and rewarding practices that produce without them. Moreover, States and NGOs, in collaboration with academic institutions, civil society and the private sector, should increase investments in public and private research and development to support programmes in agroecological and other innovative approaches. The report acknowledges that there has been much less investment in research on agroecology than on other innovative approaches, resulting in significant knowledge gaps including on yields and performance of agroecological practices. These are just a few of the recommendations of the report to be presented and discussed at the CFS46 Plenary session in October 2019, when the recommendations are expected to be adopted. (ab)

30.06.2019 |

Promote sustainable agriculture and tackle climate change, UN and Pope urge

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Climate change will hit the poor (Photo: CC0)

Climate change will have the greatest impact on those living in poverty, threatening democracy and human rights, a UN expert has warned. According to a report released by the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, the divide between rich and poor will continue to widen. “We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” He described it as perversely that people in poverty who are responsible for only a fraction of global emissions will have to bear the brunt of climate change, while having the least capacity to protect themselves. Alston warned that climate change threatened to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. “It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work,” Alston said. “Even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger.”

Even the unrealistic best-case scenario of 1.5°C of warming by 2100 will see extreme temperatures in many regions and leave disadvantaged populations with food insecurity, lost incomes, and worse health, Alston said in a press release. Many will have to choose between starvation and migration. “Addressing climate change will require a fundamental shift in the global economy and how States have historically sought prosperity”, the report highlights. “This will entail radical and systemic changes including incentives, pricing, regulation, and resource allocation, in order to disrupt unsustainable approaches and reflect environmental costs in entire economic subsystems including energy, agriculture, manufacturing, construction, and transportation.” And a shift to sustainable agriculture would also presents additional job opportunities, the Special Rapporteur writes.

Pope Francis issued another appeal this week, urging for the cooperation of all in order to tackle the “scourges of hunger and food insecurity” in the world. Addressing the 41st General Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, he said that the increased numbers of refugees throughout the world in recent years shows that one country’s problem is a problem of the entire human family. “For this reason,” he said, “agricultural development needs to be promoted in the most vulnerable regions, strengthening the resilience and sustainability of the land.” Monsignor Fernando Chica Arellano, head of the Holy See delegation to the FAO, called for more investment in sustainable agriculture to solve the grave problems of migration, hunger and poverty in the world. Arellano underscored the importance of promoting policies aimed at developing youth entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector, such as by facilitating young people’s access to land, security and protection of ownership of their land and access to credit and local markets so that they can remain in rural areas. If people are forced to abandon their lands and homes to escape poverty, conflict, persecution, the harmful effects of climate change or natural disasters, they are often trapped in the vicious circle of poverty. He appealed to FAO to formulate policies that support and sustain rural families so that they can maintain their identities as transmitters of values such as the custody of traditional knowledge, and to strengthen the irreplaceable role of women in the agricultural and livestock sectors. (ab)

24.06.2019 |

Over 2 billion people lack access to safe drinking water, UN

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The burden of collecting water falls primarily on women and girls (Photo: CC0)

Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have access to safe drinking water and 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services, the UN has warned. According to a report released on June 18th by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are vast inequalities in the accessibility, availability and quality of drinking water services. Of the 2.2 billion people who do not have safely managed water services, 1.4 million lack basic services, which means that they do not have drinking water from sources located on premises, free from contamination and available when needed. 206 million people with limited services have to spend over 30 minutes per trip collecting water from sources outside the home and 435 million people take water from unprotected wells and springs. 144 million people have to drink untreated water from untreated surface water sources, such as lakes, ponds, and streams, more than half of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa. There are big gaps in services between urban and rural areas. Eight out of ten people still lacking even basic services live in rural areas, nearly half of them in the world’s least developed countries. “Children and their families in poor and rural communities are most at risk of being left behind. Governments must invest in their communities if we are going to bridge these economic and geographic divides and deliver this essential human right,” said Kelly Ann Naylor, Associate Director of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF.

Of the 4.2 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation services, i.e. hygienic toilets from which wastes are treated and disposed of safely, 2 billion do not even have access to basic sanitation facilities such as toilets or latrines. This includes 627 million people who share a toilet or latrine with other households and 701 million people who used unimproved facilities, such as pit latrines without slabs and hanging or bucket latrines. 673 million still defecate in the open, for example in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water. Open defecation perpetuates a vicious cycle of disease and poverty. The countries where open defection is most widespread have the highest number of deaths of children aged under 5 years as well as the highest levels of malnutrition and poverty, and big disparities of wealth. Between 2000 and 2017, 91 countries reduced open defecation by a combined total of 696 million people, with Central and Southern Asia accounting for three quarters of this reduction. However, in 39 countries, the number of people practicing open defecation actually increased, the majority of which are in sub-Saharan Africa where many countries have experienced strong population growth over this period.

Faster progress will be required in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, which call for achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all as well as achieving access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, ending open defecation. “Countries must double their efforts on sanitation or we will not reach universal access by 2030,” said Dr Maria Neira, WHO Director, Department of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health. “If countries fail to step up efforts on sanitation, safe water and hygiene, we will continue to live with diseases that should have been long ago consigned to the history books: diseases like diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and neglected tropical diseases (…). Investing in water, sanitation and hygiene is cost-effective and good for society in so many ways. It is an essential foundation for good health.” (ab)

17.06.2019 |

Animal products: Companies claim patents from feed to fork

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No patents from feed to fork! (Photo: CC0)

European patent laws prohibit patents on animals derived from conventional breeding. However, companies are increasingly trying to circumvent these prohibitions by filing patent applications for food products such as meat and milk derived from such animals, claiming them as “inventions”. New research by No Patents on Seeds! now shows that patents on animals and food products, such as a patent on salmon granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) in Munich, are not just isolated cases but part of a broader strategy of companies. In October 2018, the EPO granted patent EP1965658 on salmon fed with a feedstuff comprising “stearidonic acid feedstuffs”. The patent claims the fish as well as the fish oil. Food derived from these fish supposedly has a higher content of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are considered beneficial to human health. According to the patent, the fish can be fed both with genetically modified feedstuff or plants derived from conventional breeding as long as the content of fatty acids is enhanced in the muscle tissue.

The coalition of non-governmental organisations now fears that the patent on salmon could become a precedent for many other patent applications. They looked at European patent applications filed at the World Patent Institute (WIPO) in 2018 and 2019. Their research reveals that several other patents had been filed recently which all follow a similar strategy: starting with seed and feed, all further food products derived from farm animals are claimed as an invention. For example, Syngenta not only claims genetically engineered maize as its ‘invention’ but also the production of milk and meat which involves the use these maize plants as animal feed. In patent WO2018204245, “a harvested cattle carcass” is part of the invention; whereas patent WO2019075028 claims a “method of increasing the amount of milk produced by a dairy animal”. While these patents rely on transgenic maize, others such as the patent on salmon are based on the use of conventionally-bred plants.

“This is an attempt to make ethically unacceptable profit by abusing patents. The consequences can be serious for animal welfare, farmers and consumers,” said Christoph Then, spokesperson for No Patents on Seeds!. “If such ‘seed to meat’ patents are granted, the patent holders are in a position to control animal food production to a great extent.” He fears that companies will increasingly claim such food monopolies if the strategy works. Therefore, the member organisations of No Patents on Seeds! are demanding changes in the rules for interpreting the current patent law in order to close those loopholes and to make sure that the existing ban is enforced effectively. “However, if a change in the interpretation of current law does not provide sufficient legal certainty and clarity, the European patent law itself needs to be changed accordingly,” the organisations urge. No Patents on Seeds! warns that big companies such as Bayer, DowDupont and Syngenta could increasingly take control of agriculture, breeding and food production if such patents on plants and animals are not refused. (ab)

12.06.2019 |

Child labour: 108 million children work in agriculture

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Worldwide, 108 million children are working in agriculture (Photo: CC0)

Worldwide, more than 150 million children are still trapped in child labour, with almost half of them working in hazardous child labour. In a statement released for World Day Against Child Labour, which is celebrated on June 12, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has called on governments, workers and employers to make a final push to end child labour. Over the past years, progress has been made in reducing child labour. Between 2000 and 2016 alone, there was a 38% decrease in child labour globally. However, 152 million children across the globe aged 5 to 17 are still in child labour, working in mines, factories and fields. Child labour is concentrated primarily in agriculture (71% or 108 million children), which includes fishing, forestry, livestock herding and aquaculture, and comprises both subsistence and commercial farming. This is reflected in this year’s slogan for World Day Against Child Labour, “Children shouldn’t work in fields, but on dreams!” Another 17% of child labour takes place in services and 12% in the industrial sector, including mining.

Nearly half of all child labourers, or 73 million children in absolute terms, are in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety, and moral development. They are for example using sharp tools or spraying chemicals. The agricultural sector accounts for by far the largest share of hazardous child labour. According to ILO, other sectors are likely to become more relevant in some regions in the future in the face of forces such as climate change displacing families from their farms and into cities. Currently, the relative importance of agriculture is highest in the Africa region and the Europe and Central Asia region, where the sector accounts for 85% and 77% of child labour, respectively.

ILO highlights that we must move much faster if we are to honour our commitment to ending child labour by 2025. UN Member States have committed themselves to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Target 8.7 of SDG 8 calls for the end of child labour in all its forms by 2025. However, a simple projection of future progress based on the pace of progress achieved during 2012 to 2016 would leave 121 million children still in child labour in 2025, of which 52 million would be in hazardous work. “We need to urgently accelerate the pace of progress,” urges ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “More coherent action is required, ensuring the availability of quality education, social protection for all, and decent work for parents.” (ab)

07.06.2019 |

Quarter of pesticides used in US are banned in the EU, study

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US farmers use many pesticides banned elsewhere (Photo: CC0)

Pesticides banned in the EU account for more than a quarter of all agricultural pesticide use in the United States, new research has found. According to a peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Environmental Health on June 7th, the US allow the use of 85 pesticides that have been banned or are being phased out in the European Union, China or Brazil. In 2016, US farmers used 322 million pounds of pesticides that are banned in the EU (26.9% of pesticides used in US agriculture), 40 million pounds of pesticides that are banned or being phased out in China (3.3% of total) and 26 million pounds of pesticides banned or phased out in Brazil (2.2%).“It’s appalling the U.S. lags so far behind these major agricultural powers in banning harmful pesticides,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity and author of the study. “The fact that we’re still using hundreds of millions of pounds of poisons other nations have wisely rejected as too risky spotlights our dangerously lax approach to phasing out hazardous pesticides.”

The study compared the approval status of more than 500 pesticides used in outdoor applications in the US, EU, Brazil and China. It found that the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to allow the use of 85 pesticides for outdoor agricultural applications that are banned or in the process of being completely phased out elsewhere. 72 pesticides were banned in the EU, 17 in Brazil and 11 in China. “Of these 85 pesticides, most are herbicides (58%) followed by insecticides (20%), fungicides/nematicides/bactericides (16%) and those having both insecticide/fungicide activity (6%),” the author writes. Examples for pesticides banned or being phased out in at least two of the three other examined parts of the world are 2,4-DB, bensulide, chloropicrin, dichlobenil, dicrotophos, EPTC, norflurazon, oxytetracycline, paraquat, phorate, streptomycin, terbufos and tribufos. The majority of pesticides banned elsewhere have not appreciably decreased in the US over the past 25 years and almost all have stayed constant or increased over the past 10 years. From 1992 to 2016, the use of four pesticides (chloropicrin, dicrotophos, oxytetracycline and paraquat) significantly increased.

The study concludes that deficiencies in the US pesticide regulatory process are the likely cause of the country failing to ban or phase out pesticides which have been considered harmful by others. The author criticizes that EPA “has all but abandoned its use of non-voluntary cancellations in recent years, making pesticide cancellation in the USA largely an exercise that requires consent by the regulated industry.” As a result, pesticide cancellations in the U.S. are more often economic decisions rather than decisions made to protect human or environmental health. “Bans are the most effective way to prevent exposures to highly hazardous pesticides and can spur the transition to safer alternatives,” said Donley. “A combination of weak laws and the EPA’s broken pesticide regulatory process has allowed the pesticide industry to dictate which pesticides stay in use. That process undermines the safety of agricultural workers and anyone who eats food and drinks water in this country.” (ab)

20.05.2019 |

On World Bee Day, UN highlights importance of bees

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Be nice to bees (Photo: CC0)

Bees play an important role in agricultural production and directly contribute to food security, yet they are increasingly under threat from human activities. In order to raise awareness of the importance of bees and the threats they face, the United Nations have declared 20 May World Bee Day. The greatest contribution of bees and other pollinators is the pollination of nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of the world’s food production depends on bees. Not all crops need pollination: rice, wheat and potatoes, for example, would survive even without pollinators. However, many of the very nutritious, micronutrient-rich foods, like fruits, some vegetables, seeds, nuts and oils, would disappear without pollinators.

Bees and other pollinators, such as butterflies, bats and hummingbirds, are increasingly under threat from human activities. In Europe, 9% of bee and butterfly species are threatened and populations are declining for 37% of bees and 31% of butterflies. According to a new report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), between $235 billion and $577 billion in annual global crop output is at risk as a result of pollinator loss. The report lists “land use change, intensive agricultural management and pesticide use, environmental pollution, invasive alien species, pathogens and climate change”, as major threats to the abundance, diversity and health of pollinators. “Increasing crop and regional farm diversity as well as targeted habitat conservation, management or restoration, is one way of combating climate change and promoting biodiversity,” says UN Environment biodiversity specialist Marieta Sakalian.

On the occasion of World Bee Day, FAO highlights 6 ways to show our gratitude to bees, butterflies and other vital pollinators. The first recommendation is to give bees food they like by growing native plants in our gardens. Planting a diverse set of native plants which flower at different times of the year can make a huge difference for pollinators. The second point is about honey: The western honey bee is the most widespread managed pollinator in the world, and globally there are about 81 million hives producing an estimated 1.6 million tonnes of honey per year. Many local smallholder farmers and forest communities maintain sustainable beekeeping practices. FAO recommends supporting local farmers by buying raw honey, beeswax or other bee products directly from them. Another way of helping bees is by providing water for them. A single honeybee will typically visit around 7,000 flowers a day. Leaving a clean, shallow water bowl, with rocks or sticks in it so that bees don’t drown, is a good way to give the bees a resting spot and some necessary refreshment.

Another important measure to protect bees and other pollinators is to avoid pesticides, fungicides or herbicides in the garden. They can kill pollinators and poison hives with contaminated nectar or pollen brought by bees from contaminated plants. Try to find natural solutions to pests for the plants in your garden, FAO recommends. The organization also calls on farmers to create a good habitat for bees in order to ensure pollination. “Leave some areas of the farm as a natural habitat. Create hedgerows with native plants that flower at different times during the year and plant attractive crops such as sunflower and coffee, and fruit trees such avocado and mango. Reduce your use of pesticides, and leave bee-nesting sites untouched,” FAO says. Finally, the organization calls on everyone to respect bees and learn more about them to reduce fears. Bees are not generally dangerous and not all bees sting. Knowing more about them can help to avoid bad encounters and promotes peaceful coexistance. (ab)

17.05.2019 |

EU farming policy needs to support sustainable farms, urges report

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Subsidies for sustainable farming (Photo: CC0)

The EU must urgently reform its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in order to protect the environment and the climate, improve animal welfare and promote small and medium-sized sustainable farms, says a new report released on Tuesday. The Agriculture Atlas 2019, published by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Friends of the Earth Europe and BirdLife Europe, says that the EU promotes unsustainable farming practices with almost 60 billion euros per year. Every citizen pays 114 euros into the EU’s agriculture fund. In the budget period 2014–2020, direct payments account for 72% of the overall CAP budget. Most of these subsidies are still granted without the fulfilment of goals such as conserving the environment, keeping animals in appropriate conditions, protecting water, birds and insects, and maintaining life and livelihoods in rural areas.

Across the EU as a whole, 80% of direct payments go to just 20% of farms. Over 30% of the total goes to just 131,000 or 2% of the EU’s 6.7 million farm holdings which receive subsidies. “Today's farming policy is highly inefficient, ineffective, and inequitable,” said Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung. The report explains that these direct payments are inefficient because they are paid to all farmers on the basis of hectares farmed, rather than linked to specific outcomes and objectives. “They are ineffective because they do not tackle the root problem of low incomes on some farms, which is low productivity. They are inequitable because such a large share goes to farms where incomes are well above the average both for farming and for the economy as a whole,” the report reads. The authors stress that payments tied to area disproportionately benefit large, industrialized farms, while goals to minimize and adapt to climate change, protect the environment and promote rural development are poorly served. “Instead of mainly supporting the biggest, agro-industrial players the CAP needs specific instruments and targets which coherently support sustainable farms, which are the ones that manage to link healthy food, care for the environment and employment and thus better perspectives for our European regions,” Unmüßig added.

The Agriculture Atlas 2019 also shows that the number of European farms is decreasing. Between 2003 and 2013, one-third of all farms in the EU closed down. This trend affected Europe as a whole: half of the EU’s member countries lost between one-third (Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Poland, the UK, etc.) and two-thirds (Bulgaria, Slovakia) of their farms. The land is now worked by others. Large and very large farms are increasing in number and economic importance. Average farm size has increased all over Europe, but particularly in the East. On average, the largest farms are in the Czech Republic (130 hectares, up from 80 hectares ten years earlier) and northern Europe, while the smaller ones are in southern and eastern Europe. Farms over 100 hectares account for only 3% of the EU’s farms, but their numbers have risen by 16% from 2005 to 2013. They now use 52% of all agricultural land. “Large farms often go hand-in-hand with the loss of jobs, a decline in diversity of farming systems, a rise in intensive practices – and environmental depletion,” according to the report. “Small-scale, family farmers are under threat like never before. With our natural world and the climate on the verge of breakdown, the EU needs to do everything it can to support these farmers who farm with nature, and stop subsidising dangerous industrial agriculture which leads to farming without farmers,” said Stanka Becheva, food sovereignty campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe.

The three publishing organisations call for a fundamental reform of the EU farming policy. They argue that a radical change in the CAP is crucial to fulfil the Paris climate commitments, prevent the dangerous consequences of environmental degradation and revive rural life in Europe. “There is enough money in EU coffers for a different type of farm policy. But it has to be used in a way that rewards agricultural services that serve the common good,” they write in the introduction to the report. They warn that current proposals of the EU Commission and the opinion of the outgoing Agricultural Committee in the European Parliament for the new CAP after 2020 disregard the environmental and social potential of the CAP by far. “The Common Agricultural Policy needs to be taken as an opportunity to unite the European continent by deconcentrating and spreading fair and equal subsidies throughout all our regions, enhance thus social cohesion, provide the rural population with long-term development perspectives and reinforce the positive perception of Europe”, says Unmüßig. “We all need to get out and vote in this month's European elections for candidates who will build a better Europe and a safer, more sustainable food and farming system,” Becheva added. (ab)

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