19.10.2018 |

IPES report highlights successful cases of agroecological transition

Replacing machinery with oxen (Photo: CC0)

It is possible for communities, regions and whole countries to fundamentally redesign their food and farming systems around agroecological principles and break away from industrial agriculture. This is the positive message of the latest report from the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), launched this week in Rome. It presents seven case studies from different countries and continents which demonstrate that agroecological change is taking hold across the globe. The group of leading food system experts, co-chaired by former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier De Schutter and nutrition expert Olivia Yambi, says that successful transition to agroecology requires changes in four key dimensions – in production practices, in knowledge generation and dissemination, in social and economic relations, and in institutional frameworks. If change happens at these different levels, reliance on the existing brokers of inputs, knowledge, and market access is drastically reduced and the multiple ‘lock-ins’ of industrial food systems can be overcome and new sustainable food systems can start to emerge. “Transition really takes off when change happens on various fronts at the same time. That’s when new power relations start to form and the logic of the system starts to shift,” said Steve Gliessman, lead author of the report.

One case studies focuses in how Cuba managed to turn economic isolation after the collapse of the Soviet Union into an opportunity for agroecological transition. In response to the crisis, the small-scale agricultural sector in Cuba underwent an “agroecological revolution”. The peasantry was able to increase production despite a severe reduction in external inputs. Changes in production practices included input substitution followed by the adoption of techniques such as diversification, crop rotation, agroforestry and crop-livestock integration. Knowledge generation and dissemination were enabled by a burgeoning campesino-a-campesino movement aimed at farmer-to-farmer knowledge exchange. Institutional actors and research centres provided farmers with knowledge and a variety of seeds and biological inputs for free. Farmers and government agencies were able to deepen their scientific and professional competences via ‘bus tours’ to different farms. Peasant farmers also obtained lots of information through the cooperatives to which most of them belonged. Agroecology was institutionalized in the educational curricula of Cuba’s Agricultural Polytechnic Institutes.

IPES-Food says that changes in social and economic relations led to the rapid scaling of agroecology. A highly organized peasant agroecology movement driven by the national small farmers’ association made knowledge dissemination possible and built solidarity among farmers. Social relations have also evolved through and in response to land ownership modalities under the Socialist regime. Most Cuban farmers privately own their land but cultivate it as part of cooperatives which provide services, credit, and bulk input purchasing. Land, machinery and warehouses in these cooperatives are owned collectively. Changes in institutional frameworks include the decentralization of state farm sector, the institutionalization of agroecology in state and research institutions as well as supportive policies such as land reform. Today, some 300,000 small-scale farmers are said to be practicing agroecology in Cuba. Studies suggest that agroecological practices are applied on 46-72% of small-scale farms, accounting for about 60% of the vegetables, maize, beans, fruits, and pork consumed in Cuba. In addition, urban agriculture (virtually chemical free) has flourished, now supplying up to 70% of the consumption of fresh vegetables in larger cities, making Cuba a global leader in urban agriculture.

Another case study describes how an “Ecovillage” project in Chololo, Tanzania successfully used a package of agroecological practices, aimed at making the most of the limited rainfall, improving soil fertility, reducing farmers’ workload, and improving the quality of local seeds. The village in the semi-arid drylands of Central Tanzania faced challenges such as recurrent drought, food insecurity and vulnerability to climate change. A multidisciplinary project team encouraged villagers to take up and refine agroecological practices, from manure-based soil fertility improvements to water conservation features and optimal planting schedules. Technical guidance through technology groups and farmer-to-farmer outreach as well as a participatory approach to problems and solutions changed the way how knowledge was generated and disseminated. Social and economic relations changed due to community-building through awards, celebrations and the visibility of pioneering farmers. Part of the project was also to empower women to pursue new livelihood activities, such as chicken rearing.

Changes in institutional frameworks were achieved through the conscious alignment of the project with national climate adaptation policy. The inclusion of local institutions has allowed Chololo Ecovillage to become relevant to national-level policymaking and to emerge as a benchmark case for building climate resilience. Agroecological transition had an enormous impact on the lives of the people in Chololo. At the end of the first project cycle 2011-2014, 54% of farmers and livestock keepers used climate change adaptation innovations, an increase from just 19% during the first year, and yields increased between 37.5 to 70%. The percentage of households eating three meals per day increased from 29% to 62% and the average period of food shortage was reduced from 7.3 to 2.8 months. “The case studies show that change doesn’t always start in the field. Transition can be kick-started by community-building activities, farmer-researcher partnerships and even by external shocks that make people question the status quo,” said Steve Gliessman. (ab)

15.10.2018 |

Accelerated progress needed to achieve zero hunger, report

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

Progress in the fight against hunger and undernutrition has been too slow and uneven. Levels of hunger are still serious or alarming in 51 countries across the globe – and forced migration is closely associated with food insecurity. This is the message of the 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI), published by Welthungerhilfe and Concern Worldwide. Since 2000, the index scores related to hunger have fallen by 28% and child mortality rates were halved. However, the number of hungry people increased to 821 million in 2017. Around 124 million people are suffering from acute hunger, a striking increase from 80 million two years ago. This demonstrates that the current trend is heading into the wrong direction. If progress in reducing hunger and undernutrition continues on its current trajectory, an estimated 50 countries will not succeed in eliminating hunger by 2030, says the report, calling for renewed efforts in the fight against hunger.

The GHI captures three dimensions of hunger – insufficient caloric intake, child undernutrition (wasting and stunting) and child mortality. It ranks countries on a 100-point scale, with 0 being the best and 100 being the worst score. The GHI Severity Scale includes low hunger (below 10), moderate hunger (10.0 to 19.9), serious hunger (20.0 to 34.9), alarming levels (35.0 to 49.9) and extremely alarming levels (more than 50). “The 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI) indicates that the level of hunger and undernutrition worldwide falls into the serious category, at a value of 20.9, down from 29.2 in 2000,” says the report. “Despite these improvements, the question remains whether the world will achieve Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2, which aims to end hunger, ensure food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture, by 2030.” Only 40 out of 119 countries that were ranked have low levels of hunger – at the current rate of progress, only 29 of the 79 countries with moderate to extremely alarming levels will succeed in achieving low hunger by 2030.

According to the 2018 GHI, hunger levels are extremely alarming in the Central African Republic. Since 2012, the country has been suffering from instability, sectarian violence and civil war. Six countries have alarming hunger levels (Chad, Haiti, Madagascar, Sierra Leone, Yemen, and Zambia). In 45 countries, the index indicates serious levels of hunger, among them Sudan, Afghanistan and Timor-Leste. GHI scores for several countries could not be calculated because data were not available for all four indicators. Yet the hunger and undernutrition situations in seven of these countries - Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria - are identified as cause for significant concern. In contrast, Angola, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Myanmar are the frontrunners in 2018 with an improvement in GHI scores of more than 45%.

The 2018 report shows that hunger is both a cause for and a result of flight and displacement. In countries experiencing armed conflicts, rates of hunger are twice as high as in the rest of the world. “There are an estimated 68.5 million displaced people worldwide, including 40.0 million internally displaced people, 25.4 million refugees, and 3.1 million asylum seekers. Hunger is a persistent danger that threatens the lives of large numbers of forcibly displaced people and influences their decisions about when and where to move,” writes guest author Laura Hammond from the University of London. She points out that there are common misperceptions regarding the interplay between hunger and forced migration that continue to influence policy. Hunger is often understood as a result of environmental or natural causes. In fact, hunger, like displacement, is usually the result of political circumstances. She argues that natural disasters only lead to hunger and displacement when governments are unprepared or unwilling to respond. In addition, the world’s response to forced migration is almost always to undertake short-term humanitarian action in the hope that displaced people will be able to return to their areas of origin before long. Instead, most forced migration is protracted, lasting for many years or even generations.

The authors stress that food-insecure displaced people need support in their region of origin. “Most refugees remain in their native regions,” says Bärbel Dieckmann, President of Welthungerhilfe. “Refugees require not only basic social services but also access to education and employment. Humanitarian assistance alone is not enough,” she adds. The reports calls for a more holistic response that focuses on supporting people’s livelihoods in their regions of origin and bolstering resilience in ways that support local markets and strengthen livelihood systems. “Hunger and forced migration are painful realities for millions, but this state of affairs has yet to spur the kind of political leadership and action by national governments that is so urgently needed. More worryingly, we are seeing the issue of migration become a lightning rod for new political discourse that is increasingly more hard-line than humanitarian,” the publishers write in the foreword to the report. “This year’s GHI is not just a renewed call to action on hunger and forced migration but an urgent call for a resurgence of humanity in how we address the shocking truth that – in a world of plenty – millions of people’s human rights continue to be violated and these people still go to bed hungry each night.” (ab)

08.10.2018 |

Scientists urge rapid and radical changes to limit global warming

Global warming will increase the intensity and frequency of droughts (Photo: CC0)

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society, including agriculture and food systems. This is one of the key messages of the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Incheon, South Korea on October 5th. The report was prepared by 91 authors and review editors from 40 countries and cites more than 6,000 scientific references. It warns that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes. The climate scientists predict that global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. The researchers warn that every fraction of additional warming would worsen the impact of climate change. “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II.

The report highlights a number of climate change impacts that could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C. For example by 2100, global mean sea level rise is projected to be around 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C. In addition, there is also high confidence that the probability of a sea-ice-free Arctic Ocean during summer is substantially lower with a 1.5°C rise. If global warming reaches 2°C, virtually all coral reefs would be lost whereas declines could be limited to 70-90% at 1.5°C. Limiting global warming is also projected to lower the impacts on terrestrial, freshwater, and coastal ecosystems and to retain more of their services to humans. “Climate-related risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth are projected to increase with global warming of 1.5°C and increase further with 2°C,” the report states. The groups most affected will include disadvantaged and vulnerable populations, some indigenous peoples, and local communities dependent on agricultural or coastal livelihoods. The regions which will suffer most are Arctic ecosystems, dryland regions, small-island developing states, and least developed countries. Poverty and disadvantages are expected to increase with rising temperatures. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C could reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million by 2050,” the report finds.

The report also examines pathways available to limit warming to 1.5°C and highlights that this would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050. Mitigation and adaptation options for achieving land transitions are grouped around agriculture and food, ecosystems and forests, and coastal systems. Adaptation options in food and agriculture include improved livestock management, increasing irrigation efficiency, agroforestry and management of food loss and waste. The authors stress that livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all other food sources. Emissions are caused by feed production, enteric fermentation, animal waste, land-use change and livestock transport and processing. “There is increasing agreement that overall emissions from food systems could be reduced by targeting the demand for meat and other livestock products, particularly where consumption is higher than suggested by human health guidelines,” the report says. “Adjusting diets to meet nutritional targets could bring large co-benefits, through greenhouse gas mitigation and improvements in the overall efficiency of food systems. Dietary shifts could contribute one-fifth of the mitigation needed to hold warming below 2°C.”

Another option mentioned in the report is agroforestry: “The integration of trees and shrubs into crop and livestock systems, when properly managed, can potentially restrict soil erosion, facilitate water infiltration, improve soil physical properties and buffer against extreme events.” According to the authors, there is high agreement on the feasibility of agroforestry practices that enhance productivity, livelihoods and carbon storage, including from indigenous production systems, with variation by region, agroforestry type, and climatic conditions. Decreasing food wastage also has high mitigation and adaptation potential and could play an important role in land transitions towards 1.5°C, provided that reduced food waste results in lower production-side emissions rather than increased consumption. Around one-third of the food produced on the planet is currently not consumed, affecting food security and livelihoods. “This report gives policymakers and practitioners the information they need to make decisions that tackle climate change while considering local context and people's needs,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. (ab)

05.10.2018 |

Empowering Africa’s rural women will help fight hunger, study

Women are the backbone of rural production (Photo: CC0)

If women have the same access to skills, resources and opportunities as men, they can be powerful drivers in the fight against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. However, gender gaps in agriculture in Africa are currently holding back progress. This is the key message of “The Regional Outlook on Gender and Agrifood Systems”, published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the African Union Commission. The report is based on a review of statistics and country gender assessments carried out in 40 countries. “We need to better recognize and harness the fundamental contribution of women to food security and nutrition,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “Evidence shows that when women are empowered, farms are more productive, natural resources are better managed, nutrition is improved, and livelihoods are more secure,” he added.

The Regional Outlook highlights the crucial roles of women in food production and food security. In African countries, agriculture is the most important economic sector that employs over 50% of the population, with women representing about 50% of the agricultural labour force. In some countries, women even account for up to 60% of the labour force in family farming. They are largely responsible for agricultural activities such as growing vegetables, preserving harvests and raising small ruminants such as sheep and goats. According to the study, women are also involved in household food security and nutrition through the education and care of children, the preparation of safe and nutritious meals, and the diversification of household food intake through their home garden and incomes. The authors highlight that investing in women’s education, nutrition knowledge and economic empowerment has stronger impact on food security and nutrition of children than similar investments in men, as women tend to spend a larger portion of their income on children and family welfare.

Despite women being key figures in agriculture and food security, persisting gender inequalities constrain their productivity and food security. Women’s deficits in agricultural productivity range between 20 and 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Closing productivity gaps could increase food production and consumption by up to 10% and reduce poverty by up to 13%. One reason for the gender gap is that women do not have equal access and control over productive resources and opportunities. Women have less access to and control over land and the size of land owned by women is 20 to 70% less than that owned by men. Only 32% of women own agricultural lands across 27 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa through either joint, sole ownership, or both (as compared to 43% of men). However, only 13% of female against 40% of male have sole ownership on all or part of the land they own. In addition, land owned by women is often of lower quality with less access to irrigated land.

Further constraints are that women have less knowledge and capacities to access and use efficiently and sustainably their resources to generate income. They are 22% less literate than males (54% literacy rate against 69%) and illiteracy rates and gender gaps are higher in rural areas. Women have 13% to 200% less access to advisory services in the countries where data is available. The report also points out that women face stronger constraints in their access to cash income and rural financial services. This is limiting their use of productive resources and services. In 2017, 51% of male against 32% of female owned a bank account in Northern Africa, and 45% against 35% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Due to those inequalities, women and female-headed households tend to be more vulnerable and less resilient to risk, climate change and environmental degradation as they depend more on natural resources for their income.

“We need to put in place gender targeted programmes that address women’s specific vulnerabilities but also their key role in household nutrition and resilience,” said Graziano da Silva. Significant efforts are required to address structural causes of gender inequality and ensure that investments equally benefit men and women. He called for better representation of women in governance mechanisms and decision-making processes, as well as adequate and equal access to land, financial resources, social protection programmes, services and opportunities for women in rural areas. (ab)

28.09.2018 |

UN Human Rights Council adopts peasant rights declaration

Peasant farmers are the backbone of our food systems (Photo: CC0)

The UN Human Rights Council (OHCHR) has passed a resolution adopting a declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. On 28 September, 33 countries voted in favour, amongst them all Asian, African and Latin American OHCHR member states with the exception of Brazil. Australia, Hungary and the UK voted against the resolution while 11 countries abstained in the vote, mostly European countries including Germany and Spain. The declaration recognises the rights and special needs of peasants and other people working in rural areas, including older persons, women, youth and children and takes into account the need to address the multiple forms of discrimination and threats suffered by peasants worldwide. “The adoption of this UN Declaration is a turning point for the international human rights system,” said Sofia Monsalve Suárez, secretary general of FIAN International, one of the organisations campaigning for the peasant rights declaration. “At a time where the UN risks its legitimacy by a biased promotion of corporate interests, this declaration shows that it is possible to revitalize the original mandate of the UN,” she added.

The declaration includes the rights to equal access to land and natural resources; to a safe, clean and healthy environment, to biological diversity and the right to food and food sovereignty. Article 19 says that peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to seeds, including the right to save, use, exchange and sell their farm-saved seeds. Most of what the declaration contains is based on pledges already made elsewhere, whether in international human rights instruments or in intergovernmental fora. However, the European Union countries abstained, voicing their concern over the recognition of the rights to seeds, lands and a clean and healthy environment as well as food sovereignty. Ahead of the vote, a group of researchers and scientists, including the former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, urged European states to vote in favour of the resolution. “Should we fear the reference the draft declaration makes to land reform and the right to land?,” they asked in an open letter, pointing out that a binding international treaty, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, already emphasises agrarian reform as a means of guaranteeing “the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger”.

The development of the declaration on peasant rights has been a long process. After many years of lobbying work, an open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) was established in 2012 with the mandate of negotiating, finalising and submitting a draft declaration. “This has been a long tough path but as peasants, as people who have seen the worst of poverty and neglect, we are tough too and we never give up,” said Elizabeth Mpofu, the General Coordinator of La Via Campesina, a global movement of peasants, indigenous people, pastoralists and migrant workers and important driving force behind the declaration. “Today, we are just a step away from acceptance by all member nations of the United Nations,” she added. The declaration now goes before the upcoming 3rd Committee session at the UN General Assembly in New York in October. Then, the declaration will be up for voting and adoption by all UN member states. (ab)

21.09.2018 |

Agroecology could feed Europe without pesticides by 2050, study

The study calls for more hedges, trees and stony habitats (Photo: CC0)

European agriculture could shift entirely to agroecological farming, abandoning pesticides and synthetic fertilisers while sustainably feeding 530 million Europeans by 2050 with healthy diets. This is the result of new research published on September 13th by the French policy research institute IDDRI. The authors Pierre-Marie Aubert and Xavier Poux point out that the current European food system is not sustainable. “The European food system is often perceived as being highly productive,” they write. “However, for several decades, these successes have produced more and more serious social and environmental impacts. In terms of health, diet-related diseases are growing at an alarming rate (diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease).” European agriculture is also threatening biodiversity and contributing to the destruction of tropical forests through soybean imports. “Today, the European Union imports the equivalent of 35 million hectares of farmland, essentially soya from South America used to feed cattle,” Pierre-Marie Aubert was quoted by EURACTIV. “We are presenting an alternative scenario that can lead to a large scale transformation of the agricultural sector via the agroecological transition,” he added.

The experts developed a quantitative model, systemically comparing agricultural production and its uses (food, animal feed and fuel), modes of production and land use, and used it to quantify the implications of an agro-ecological scenario for 2050. Their TYFA scenario is based on abandoning pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, redeploying natural grasslands and extending agro-ecological infrastructures (hedges, trees, ponds and stony habitats), and adoptioning healthy diets. A shift to more healthy diets is needed since Europeans currently consume three times the recommended amount of sugar and double the recommended amount of protein while not eating enough healthy products. The scenario therefore includes fewer animal products, but more fruit, vegetables and fibre, consistent with recommendations by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

The proposed transition to agroecology in Europe includes phasing-out pesticides and synthetic fertilisers. “The goal is to return to agroecosystems that make maximum use of soil life and legume symbiotic nitrogen fixation capacities,” the authors write. “Unfertilised natural grasslands and the animals that enhance them play a key role in this nitrogen supply.” In addition, the model includes a significant development of agro-ecological infrastructures – hedges, trees, ponds, stony habitats favourable to insects - to cover 10% of cultivated land, in addition to the extensive grasslands that are the main component of these infrastructures. “The shift to low-input agriculture with a high proportion of permanent extensive grasslands and other agroecological infrastructures thus makes it possible to directly address the restoration of biodiversity, the quality of natural resources and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.”

However, a transition to agroecology would be accompanied by a decline in production relative to the current situation and would imply a considerable reduction in non-food uses of biomass and biofuel production. The scenario uses the yield values observed today in organic agriculture to quantify the production levels in 2050, and assumes advances in research, such as plant breeding. The result is a decline in production of 35% compared to 2010 in kilocalories (-30% for plant products and -40% for animal products). However, the authors say that production would still be sufficient to feed Europeans, even when a high proportion of land is given over to agro-ecological infrastructures that do not directly produce but contribute to the functioning of agro-ecosystems. In addition, this agroecological Europe would still be able to maintain its export capacity for cereals, dairy products and wine. A transition to agroecology would results in a 36% reduction in agricultural greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2010 and the figure could even increase to 45% if emissions associated with “imported deforestation” are included, which will disappear if plant proteins imports are suspended. Such a transition would also help to restore biodiversity and to protect natural resources. “An agro-ecological Europe is a desirable, credible option to address food and environmental challenges,” the authors conclude. (ab)

11.09.2018 |

World hunger continues to rise due to climate extremes, UN warns

The reports calls for the promotion of sustainable, healthy diets (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased to an estimated 821 million in 2017, or one in every nine people, warns a report released on Tuesday by five UN agencies. Climate variability and extremes, in addition to conflict and economic slowdowns in some parts of the world, are the key drivers. According to the report, world hunger is on the rise for the third year in a row, returning to levels from a decade ago. “This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done and urgently if the Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030,” the organizations said in a press release. Also the number of people facing crisis-level food insecurity continued to increase from 108 million people in 2016 to 124 million in 2017. “Every five seconds a child is dying from starvation. And there is 300 trillion dollars’ worth of wealth in the world today – that’s unacceptable and it is inexcusable,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, at the press conference in Rome.

Almost 63% of the world’s undernourished people, or 515 million people, live in Asia, followed by Africa with 256.5 million (31%) and Latin America and the Caribbean with 39.3 million. The situation is worsening in South America and most regions of Africa while Asia’s decreasing trend in undernourishment seems to be slowing down. The report also noted a rise in the share of people who are chronically hungry, from 10.8% of the world population in 2016 to 10.9% in 2017. Africa remains the region with the highest share of undernourishment, affecting an alarming 20.4% of the population in 2017. The situation is especially urgent in Eastern Africa, where 31.4% are undernourished. In Asia, 11.4% of the population are affected while the share is 6.1% in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The report shows that hunger is significantly worse in countries with agricultural systems that are highly sensitive to rainfall and temperature variability and severe drought, and where the livelihood of a high proportion of the population depends on agriculture. “The majority of people most vulnerable to climate shocks and natural hazards are the world’s 2.5 billion small-scale farmers, herders, fishers and forest-dependent communities, who derive their food and income from renewable natural resources,” says the report. Changes in climate are already undermining production of major crops such as wheat, rice and maize in tropical and temperate regions and, without building climate resilience, this is expected to worsen as temperatures increase and become more extreme. “If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes,” warns the report.

And there is more bad news: Some 151 million children aged under five are stunted (too short for their age), most of them in Africa and Asia, while 50.5 million suffer from wasting, meaning their weight is too low for their height. At the same time, adult obesity continues to rise each year, from 11.7% in 2012 to 13.2% in 2016, or 672.3 million people. “The problem of obesity is most significant in North America, but it is worrying that even Africa and Asia, which still show the lowest rates of obesity, are also experiencing an upward trend,” write the heads of the five UN agencies in the foreword. The reports calls for implementing and scaling up interventions aimed at guaranteeing access to nutritious foods and breaking the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition. It recommends market regulations that discourage the consumption of unhealthy foods as well as policies that promote the availability and consumption of healthy foods. “A sustainable shift must be made towards nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems that can provide safe and high quality food for all,” the report concludes. (ab)

27.08.2018 |

Food waste could rise by a third by 2030, report warns

Food waste - a growing problem? (Photo: CC0)

Food loss and waste could increase by a third by the year 2030 unless urgent action is taken by governments, companies and consumers. This is the warning of a new report released by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Currently, 1.6 billion tons of food worth about $1.2 trillion are being lost or wasted each year. According to a model developed by the consulting firm, food loss and waste could grow at an alarming rate, reaching 2.1 billion tons of produce worth $1.5 trillion by 2030. Significant spikes are expected in Asia, especially in industrializing countries with growing populations. “As wealth grows, people are demanding more food, more diverse food, food that is not grown locally. That’s going to increase food loss and waste,” co-author Shalini Unnikrishnan told The Guardian.

The report outlines that food loss or waste occurs at all steps in the value chain but is most pronounced at the beginning (production) and at the end (consumption). In developing countries, it happens mainly during production and transportation of food from farms, while in developed countries the problem is most prevalent in the consumption phase, among both retailers and consumers. “Roughly one-third of the food produced around the world goes to waste,” says Esben Hegnsholt, co-author of the publication. “This represents a challenge so massive that it was included in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. But while it is a daunting problem, there are steps that can be taken today, actions that draw on currently available technology and know-how, to dramatically slash food loss and waste across the value chain.”

The report presents five key drivers of the problem: lack of awareness among consumers and others, inadequate supply chain infrastructure, supply chain inefficiency, a lack of collaboration among groups across the food value chain, and poorly designed tax and regulatory policies. If those drivers are addressed, the dollar value of annual food loss and waste could be reduced by nearly $700 billion. Increasing awareness among all stakeholders alone could reduce the problem by $260 billion a year. The authors also state that regulations, industry standards, and tax policy have generally not been put in place or designed with an eye toward minimizing food loss and waste and encouraging efficient repurposing. They point out that disposing of food waste remains very cheap, and tax policies do not penalize companies and consumers for the waste they create and there are no incentives to cut waste. Regulations, taxes, and policies that encourage finding another valuable use for food and the recycling of it into the highest value products possible could reduce the problem by $110 billion per year.

BCG stress that real progress can only be achieved through commitment and coordinated action from consumers, governments, NGOs, farmers, and companies. The group says businesses can make an important contribution to cutting food waste: “While many stakeholders have a part to play in combating food loss and waste, the role of companies is perhaps the most critical,” according to Unnikrishnan. “Companies are involved in every aspect of the food supply chain, from production to consumption, and as a result, their decisions and actions have an outsized impact. At the same time, they have deep expertise, insight on potential solutions, and the money to make those solutions happen.” (ab)

23.08.2018 |

Sustainable development requires a transformation of food systems

Healthy and sustainable food consumption patterns are needed (Photo: CC0)

We need to transform our food systems if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and combat climate change. This is the message of an article published in the journal “Agronomy for Sustainable Development” on August 9th. According to the authors, food systems “are at the nexus that links food security, nutrition, and human health, the viability of ecosystems, climate change, and social justice.” They are not just vital for achieving SDG2, which focuses on ending hunger and malnutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture – they concern the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “We need to implement a comprehensive transformation in food systems, centering on different paradigms and models from those of the 20th century,” said lead author Patrick Caron, a researcher with CIRAD and Chair of the UN’s High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition. He stressed that the overriding priority for agriculture was for a long time to increase production, but this century has brought new challenges. We therefore need to move beyond food supply and focus on the long-term sustainability of food and farming.

The authors build on the work of the “Milano Group,” a group of experts convened by the UN Secretary General for an informal meeting in Italy on World Food Day 2015, and propose a four-pillar strategy for the transformation of food systems: First, drastic changes in consumption patterns are needed, with a shift towards healthy eating. “What must be produced in the future, both in terms of volume and quality and the social, health, and environmental footprints of production modes, will mainly depend on what is consumed, wasted, thrown away, or recycled,” the article reads. “Unhealthy diet is now recognized as a universal problem and the number one risk factor driving the world’s disease burden.” Second, the transformation involves a new vision for sustainable agricultural production and food value chains. This includes the promotion of inclusive, sustainable, and nutrition-sensitive forms of agricultural production, processing, distribution, and marketing. According to the authors, “sustainable agriculture can create decent jobs, support inclusive growth, improve livelihoods, and adapt to climate change”. They write that patterns of agricultural production and the measures of agriculture’s performance and effects must be reconsidered in ways that take account of the multiple functions expected from agriculture, including adaptation to and mitigation of climate change, biodiversity management, the provision of ecosystem-based services, people’s incomes, and just societies.

Mitigating climate change by means of sustainable farming practices is the third pillar. Agriculture and land use changes produce greenhouse gas emissions, but agricultural practices can also minimize emissions and store carbon in soils. “Provided that opportunistic behavior, in particular green-washing, is avoided, transformed agriculture and food systems can be important levers for effective climate action.” Fourth, the authors recommend a package of operations aimed at rejuvenating rural territories. Effective action at territorial level contributes to the food and nutrition security of rural and urban populations, to steady and shared economic growth, to decent jobs for young people, and to reducing root causes of frustration and conflict. “The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development relies on flourishing rural areas,” says Patrick Caron. “The interdependence of rural and urban areas must be acknowledged and used as the basis for a new rural-urban social contract. This would lay the foundations for a civilization that pays its rural areas and their inhabitants for the functions they fulfil and the public goods (commons) they provide for societies, the planet and economies.”

According to the Milano Group, these four parts together make up the food systems change that is required if the SDGs are to be achieved. But this transformation will not happen automatically: “The transformation will hinge on renewing food system governance, giving priority to human development and food and nutritional security, rational resource management, ecosystem health, and fairer development and consumption models. This means adopting new ways of designing, planning and managing programmes to support production, consumption, innovation and rural development.” The authors stress the need for context-specific, multi-dimensional, and integrated approaches. They refer to the IAASTD’s finding that “context-adapted” and “place-based” solutions should be favored over “one size fits all” prescriptions, even if the latter maintain the illusion to be easily taken to scale. (ab)

10.08.2018 |

Domino-effect could push Earth towards a ‘hothouse’ climate

A hothouse climate would have serious consequences for farming (Photo: CC0)

Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, there is a risk that global warming could trigger other processes which could push the Earth System irreversibly towards a “hothouse” climate, an international team of scientists has warned. The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that even if the targets of the Paris Agreement are met, this may not be enough to “park” the climate system at 1.5°C to 2°C above preindustrial levels. “A 2 °C warming could activate important tipping elements, raising the temperature further to activate other tipping elements in a domino-like cascade that could take the Earth System to even higher temperatures,” the authors write. This hothouse climate would in the long run see global average temperatures of 4-5°C higher than in pre-industrial times and sea levels rising 10 to 60 metres as compared to today. The scientists around lead author Will Steffen from the Australian National University and Johan Rockström from the Stockholm Resilience therefore call for an accelerated transition towards an emission-free world economy.

The authors analysed ten natural feedback processes, some of which are “tipping elements” that lead to abrupt change if a critical threshold is crossed. These feedbacks could turn from being a “friend” that stores carbon to a “foe” that emits it uncontrollably in a warmer world. The feedbacks include permafrost thaw, loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor, weakening land and ocean carbon sinks, increasing bacterial respiration in the oceans, Amazon rainforest dieback, boreal forest dieback, reduction of northern hemisphere snow cover, loss of Arctic summer sea ice, and reduction of Antarctic sea ice and polar ice sheets. “These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes,” said Johan Rockström. “Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if “Hothouse Earth” becomes the reality,” he adds.

“The impacts of a Hothouse Earth pathway on human societies would likely be massive, sometimes abrupt, and undoubtedly disruptive,” the authors warn. It would also have serious consequences for food and farming. “Agricultural systems are particularly vulnerable, because they are spatially organized around the relatively stable Holocene patterns of terrestrial primary productivity, which depend on a well-established and predictable spatial distribution of temperature and precipitation in relation to the location of fertile soils as well as on a particular atmospheric CO2 concentration,” the authors write in the journal. “Current understanding suggests that, while a Stabilized Earth pathway could result in an approximate balance between increases and decreases in regional production as human systems adapt, a Hothouse Earth trajectory will likely exceed the limits of adaptation and result in a substantial overall decrease in agricultural production, increased prices, and even more disparity between wealthy and poor countries.”

“Avoiding this scenario requires a redirection of human actions from exploitation to stewardship of the Earth system,” said lead author Will Steffen. Maximising the chances of avoiding a “Hothouse Earth” requires not only a reduction of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions but also the enhancement and creation of new biological carbon stores, for example, through improved forest, agricultural and soil management; biodiversity conservation; and technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground, the paper says. The authors also stress that these measures must be underpinned by fundamental societal changes that are needed to keep global warming below 2°C. (ab)


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