News

07.12.2018 |

Global burden of malnutrition remains unacceptably high, report

Obese
Overweight and obesity among adults are at record levels (Photo: CC0)

The burden of malnutrition across the world remains unacceptably high, and progress unacceptably slow. However, although the world is off track, the chance to end malnutrition has never been greater. These are the messages of the “2018 Global Nutrition Report” released in Bangkok on 29 November. The comprehensive report on nutrition, written by an expert group, reviews existing processes, highlights progress in combating malnutrition, identifies challenges and proposes ways to solve them. According to the report, stunting declined from 32.6% of all the world’s children under 5 years of age in 2000 to 22.2% in 2017. In numbers, this is a decline from 198.4 million to 150.8 million children. Stunting among children in Africa has decreased in percentage terms from 38.3% to 30.3% over the same period. However, due to population growth, the actual number of stunted children has risen. There has been a slight decrease in underweight women since 2000, from 11.6% to 9.7% in 2016. Yet, while there has been progress, it has been slow and patchy.

On the other hand, overweight and obesity among adults are at record levels with 38.9% of adults overweight or obese, stretching from Africa to North America, and increasing among adolescents. Women have a higher prevalence of obesity than men, at 15.1% compared with 11.1%. Worldwide, 38.3 million children under five years are overweight. Beyond health, slow progress on malnutrition is also impacting the social and economic development of countries. It is estimated that malnutrition in all its forms could cost society up to US$3.5 trillion per year, with overweight and obesity alone costing US$500 billion per year. “The figures call for immediate action. Malnutrition is responsible for more ill-health than any other cause,” said Corinna Hawkes, co-chair of the report and Director of the Centre for Food Policy. “The health consequences of overweight and obesity contribute to an estimated four million deaths, while undernutrition explains around 45% of deaths among children under five.”

The assessment shows that just under 50% of countries are on course to meet at least one of nine global nutrition targets. However, no country is on track to meet all of the nine targets that are being covered in the report and just five countries are on track to meet four. Not a single country is on course to meet the adult obesity target. “The uncomfortable question is not so much ‘why are things so bad?’ but ‘why are things not better when we know so much more than before?’” said Hawkes. The report highlights that solutions already exist but the bad news is that effective ideas are not being adopted at scale. For example, studies show that sugar-sweetened beverage taxes are working effectively to reduce consumption of unhealthy drinks. In Mexico, an evaluation of the sugar-sweetened beverage tax found that sales of targeted beverages fell by 9.7% across the population two years after the policy was implemented. The greatest decline in purchases (17%) was seen among households of lower socioeconomic position. Similar studies in Chile and the US (Berkeley and Philadelphia) have also demonstrated the desired policy effect. “While malnutrition is holding back human development everywhere, costing billions of dollars a year, we are now in a position to fight it,” said Jessica Fanzo, co-chair of the report. “From policies such as sugar taxes, to new data that enables us to understand what people are eating and how we can best target interventions, the global community now has the recipes that work.”

The authors call for better political commitment to end malnutrition in all its forms. They mention new nutrition policies developed in China as an example. The country is facing the second-largest undernourished population, with overweight and obesity levels rising at alarming rates and diet-related non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes on the up. To address this, China developed two plans with the potential to transform malnutrition. The National Nutrition Plan (2017–2030), released last year, includes a range of malnutrition targets including stunting, obesity, anaemia, breastfeeding and folic acid deficiency among vulnerable people. Among the measures of the plan are nutrition monitoring, new dietary reference intakes, screening programmes, a campaign to promote healthy lifestyles, recommended limits for sugars, fats and salt in packaged foods, nutrition labelling in cafes and restaurants, standards on fortified foods, and education on healthy diets. It recommends a balanced diet combining cereals, meat, vegetables, fruit, milk and soy. (ab)

28.11.2018 |

Climate change to disrupt agricultural productivity in the U.S., report

Climate
Climate change is a reality - believe it or not (Photo: CC0)

Climate change is affecting the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, and human health and welfare across the U.S. and its territories, warns a federal report released on November 23. The second volume of the “Fourth National Climate Assessment” (NCA4), published by the United States Global Change Research Program, was compiled by more than 300 experts, including individuals from federal, state, and local governments, indigenous communities, national laboratories, universities, and the private sector. The report concludes that “the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans’ physical, social, and economic well-being are rising.” According to the authors, these impacts are projected to intensify, but how much they intensify will depend on actions taken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the risks from climate change now and in the coming decades.

With respect to agriculture and food, the report says that rising temperatures, extreme heat, drought, wildfire on rangelands and heavy downpours are expected to increasingly challenge the quality and quantity of U.S. crop yields, livestock health, price stability and rural livelihoods. The first key message of chapter 10 on agriculture and rural communities is that agricultural productivity will decrease. “Food and forage production will decline in regions experiencing increased frequency and duration of drought. Shifting precipitation patterns, when associated with high temperatures, will intensify wildfires that reduce forage on rangelands, accelerate the depletion of water supplies for irrigation, and expand the distribution and incidence of pests and diseases for crops and livestock,” says the report. The authors also warn against the degradation of soil and water resources. “The degradation of critical soil and water resources will expand as extreme precipitation events increase across our agricultural landscape. Sustainable crop production is threatened by excessive runoff, leaching, and flooding, which results in soil erosion, degraded water quality in lakes and streams, and damage to rural community infrastructure.” The experts stress that management practices to restore soil structure and the hydrologic function of landscapes are essential for improving resilience to these challenges.

The third key message is that high temperature extremes will pose enormous challenges to human and livestock health. “Extreme heat conditions contribute to heat exhaustion, heatstroke, and heart attacks in humans. Heat stress in livestock will result in large economic losses for producers. The authors also warn that residents in rural communities often have limited capacity to respond to climate change impacts, due to poverty and limitations in community resources. According to chapter 21 of the assessment, climate change is expected to have wide-ranging impacts on the Midwest. “The Midwest is a major producer of a wide range of food and animal feed for national consumption and international trade. Increases in warm-season absolute humidity and precipitation have eroded soils, created favorable conditions for pests and pathogens, and degraded the quality of stored grain.” The scientists found rising temperatures and more frequent, intense rains are likely to reduce agricultural production in the Midwest to levels seen in the 1980s by 2050. Commodity crops like corn could see reduced yields of 5 to over 25% across the Midwest.

“How many wake-up calls do we need?” said Carol Werner, Executive Director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI). “Every new National Climate Assessment has built on the previous one, confirming that climate change is already happening, and that we need to act,” she added. “Time is running out.” The Trump administration released the report on Black Friday, when Americans traditionally go shopping and spend time with their families, a date that critics said was chosen to bury the report. President Trump told reporters on Monday: “I’ve seen it. I’ve read some of it. I don’t believe it.” He said it makes no sense for the United States to take drastic steps to combat climate change when other countries, such as China and Japan, do not address climate change. “Right now we’re at the cleanest we’ve ever been. It’s very important to me,” Trump added. “But if we’re clean but every other place on earth is dirty, that’s not so good,” he continued. (ab)

23.11.2018 |

UN committee approves declaration on the rights of peasants

Peasant
Reinforcing peasants’ rights (Photo: CC0)

The UN has passed a resolution adopting a declaration on the rights of peasants and other people working in rural areas. On 19 November, a large majority of 119 countries in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly voted in favor of Resolution no. A/C.3/73/L.30, amongst them most Asian, African and Latin American member states. Seven countries rejected the resolution (Australia, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, the UK and the US), while 49 countries abstained from the vote, mostly European countries including Germany and Spain. However, this did not prevent Portugal, Luxemburg and Switzerland from supporting the document. The declaration recognizes the rights and special needs of peasants and other people working in rural areas, including fisher folks, nomads, agricultural workers and indigenous peoples, as well as 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 process for a declaration of peasant rights has been a long journey. In 2012, an open-ended intergovernmental working group (OEIWG) was created after many years of advocacy work by La Via Campesina, the world’s largest peasant movement, supported by many other organizations across the globe. Bolivia, the chair of the process, welcomed the result of this week’s vote, stressing the importance of the declaration in realizing more resilient, sustainable and inclusive societies: “We believe this is a major step towards public policies that recognize not only the rights and needs of peasants but also their contributions to the well-being and quality of life of the societies they nurture through their daily work. We are sure that this instrument will play a central role in human rights as well as in the eradication of hunger and poverty, in line with Agenda 2030 for sustainable development and the Decade of Family Farming, without leaving anyone behind.”

La Via Campesina representatives also expressed their satisfaction: „The adoption of the declaration (…) is a strategic victory, not only for peasants but for the peoples of the world as a whole,” said Diego Monton from La Via Campesina (CLOC). “We will continue on this long path of struggle and unity, for rights and social justice, convinced that full democracy is only possible through Agrarian Reform, the social function of land and the full enjoyment of the rights of peasants”, he added. “For 17 years we have been patiently campaigning for an international instrument that can protect our rights as peasants and to guard our food systems from being dismantled to favour a few,” said Elizabeth Mpofu, General Coordinator of La Via Campesina. “It is a proud moment for millions of peasants worldwide, who never give up when faced with adversity.” After this week’s vote, the declaration needs to be formally ratified by the UN General Assembly in December. (ab)

14.11.2018 |

Report reveals massive pension fund investment in farmland

Field
Pension funds invest in farmland (Photo: CC0)

Money from pension funds has fueled a massive investment in farmland over the past decade, with negative consequences for rural communities. This is the message of a new report by international non-profit organization GRAIN. It analyzed public documentation and relevant journals and identified 76 public and corporate pension funds with investments in farmland, managed either in-house or by external fund managers. It estimates that these pension funds have allocated a combined $15 billion to farmland investments over the past ten years. The results compare with those of industry sources, such as a study published in 2016 by financial analyst company Preqin which identified 100 unlisted agriculture/farmland-focused funds that had closed since 2006, raising approximately US$ 22 billion. “Pension funds have quietly taken over large swaths of farmland in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Eastern Europe, New Zealand, and the United States, and are considering investments in other countries,” GRAIN warns. “This unprecedented take-over of farmland by financial companies has major implications for rural communities and food systems, and must be challenged.”

According to the organization, the pace of the global farmland grab has slowed over the past seven years. Community resistance, bad press and investor incompetence have all played a role in reducing the scope and number of large-scale farmland deals in most parts of the world. “But the phenomenon has not gone away, and, unfortunately, within the financial sector, farmland has become an ‘alternative’ option for managers looking for diversification and new income streams,” says the report. “Pension funds, more than any other financial actor, are responsible for making this happen. Without cash injections from pension fund managers, most of the farmland funds in operation today would not have survived or come into existence.” GRAIN’s data shows that most of the money going into farmland is coming from North American and European pension funds, with the pension funds from the United States outpacing those of any other country. The “Dallas Police and Fire Pension System” invested around 162 million dollars in the in the acquisition of farms of row crops and apples and nuts across the US, or the “Teachers Retirement System of the State of Illinois” invested 79 million dollars in Black River Agriculture Fund 2, a $587 million own-and-operate farmland fund created by Cargill, which is so far known to have acquired a sugar mill operation in Brazil and several farms in Australia.

The report reveals that pension funds have confined their farmland acquisitions to North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and parts of South America where there are functioning land markets and sufficient infrastructure for commodity exports. “Pension funds, both foreign and domestic, have quietly taken over huge swaths of farmland in the US, Australia and other industrial countries, without much pushback, even though the implications for rural communities are significant. We estimate that the amount of money pensions funds are currently putting into US farmland is enough to buy roughly 1 in 10 of the farms expected to come on the market in the US over the next five years.” GRAIN says pension funds are more averse to investing in Africa and other places where lands are less privatized, the infrastructure is less developed and they are more liable to accusations of land grabbing. In those parts of the world, most large-scale land deals are being carried out by agribusiness companies. But some pension funds are also prepared to take a risk. Brazil, for example, is a major target for pension fund farmland acquisitions, yet it ranks highest in the world for land conflicts.

GRAIN’s list also includes high pension fund investments by TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association). TIAA has built a mini-empire of farms around the world, with cash supplied by numerous pension funds from different countries and sectors, from civil servants to doctors. Most of TIAA's farmland investments are overseen by its asset investment management arm Nuveen and operated through various subsidiaries. Nuveen stated in 2017 that TIAA's farmland portfolio covers 600,000 ha, of which 43% is in Brazil, 40% in Australia, 15% in the US and the remainder in Poland and Chile. Nearly all of these farms produce grains, oilseeds and sugarcane. According to GRAIN, TIAA’s public response to clear evidence that it was contributing to environmental destruction and land grabs in Brazil was to deny it, and then add a few extra pages to its responsible farmland investment report.

GRAIN says more needs to be done to expose the impacts pension fund investment in farmland is having in the US and other industrial countries. Not only because of how it affects rural communities in these countries, but also because, if these investments are not challenged, pension funds will be emboldened to make riskier farmland purchases overseas. “The stage is set for a massive transfer of land from small farmers to financial corporations – in the near total absence of public debate and regulation,” warns GRAIN. It says urgent action is needed in the face of today’s unprecedented take-over of farmland by corporate actors and financial speculators. “Leaving it to these companies to police themselves with voluntary guidelines is a recipe for disaster,” the report concludes. (ab)

09.11.2018 |

World meat production to reach record high in 2018, FAO

meat
Meat production is on the rise (Photo: CC0)

The world is projected to produce a record 335 million tons of meat in 2018, according to the latest Food Outlook published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This is an increase of 1.5% compared to 330 million tons of meat (in carcass weight equivalent) in 2017 and the fastest growth since 2014. The FAO experts expect a strong recovery of the meat sector in China, after three years of contraction, and increases in the United States and the EU. “Meat production forecasts were raised for the EU and Australia, where dry and warm weather propelled feed costs, fostering an increase in animal slaughter,” says the report. Over the past 50 years, global meat production has almost quadrupled from 84 million tons in 1965. World meat exports in 2018 are forecast to hit a new record of 33.6 million tons, up 2.6% from 2017. FAO said export growth this year is foreseen to originate in the United States, Australia, Argentina, Thailand and the EU, while imports are projected to rise in China, Japan, Mexico and the Republic of Korea. Global meat consumption is also on the rise. On average, every person on Earth currently consumes 43.7 kilograms of meat per year, up from 25 kilograms in 1965.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) criticized in a statement released on Thursday that worldwide demand for meat continues to rise even though meat production is known to be a major contributor to climate change and environmental destruction. “Hectares of rainforest in South America are cleared for cattle, to make our favorite classic burgers and steaks. One average quarter pounder beef burger drains around 1,695 liters of water, depending on where it is made, from precious resources,” the statement says. Animal feed made from soy – one of the largest export commodities from South America – is leading to widespread deforestation and displacement of farmers and indigenous peoples around the globe. James Lomax, Sustainable Food Systems and Agriculture Programme Management Officer at UN Environment, points out that small organic husbandry operations have a very different environmental footprint compared with industrial type livestock production. “But at the core of the environmental issue is the way meat is produced, and crucially, consumed. We must explore ways to strike an ecological balance. Reducing intensively farmed meat consumption is good for people and the planet. That means eating a sustainably reared or alternative burger or steak now and then, rather than an intensively-farmed mass-produced version three times a week,” he added. But there are also vegan and plant-based meat alternatives for those who can’t live without burgers. Research by the University of Michigan shows that Americans eat around three burgers a week. If just one of these was swapped for a plant-based alternative burger for one year, it would be like taking the greenhouse gases from 12 million cars off the road for a year. (ab)

07.11.2018 |

EPO revokes patent on conventionally bred “severed broccoli”

broccoli
Good news for broccoli fans (Photo: CC0)

The European Patent Office (EPO) has revoked a controversial patent on conventionally bred broccoli. This is a great success for “No Patents on Seeds!”, a broad coalition of civil society organizations, which had filed an opposition to the patent. In 2013, Seminis, a company owned by Monsanto, which has meanwhile been bought up by Bayer, was granted patent EP1597965 on a broccoli with a longer stalk than other varieties, making it easier to mechanically harvest the crop. The patent covered the plants, the seeds and the harvested “severed broccoli heads” as an invention. It additionally covered a “plurality of broccoli plants grown in a field of broccoli.” In 2014, the coalition against patents on seeds filed an opposition because according to European patent law, unlike genetically engineered crops, plants and animals “obtained from essentially biological processes” are not patentable. However, EPO had a different interpretation. Its Enlarged Board of Appeal ruled in 2015 on the precedent cases of broccoli and tomato, that even though essentially biological processes for the production of plants are not patentable, the resulting plant can be patented. Despite fierce public protest, it continued to grant patents on conventionally bred plants.

In 2017, due to the pressure from the EU and civil society, EPO adopted new rules in order to exclude from patentability plants and animals derived from conventional breeding using methods like crossing and selection. In its decision revoking the broccoli patent, EPO’s Opposition Division “arrived at the conclusion that in the present case the claimed broccoli plants can only be obtained by an essentially biological process comprising crossing and selection steps”. It is the first time that the new rules have resulted in the revocation of a patent. “This is an important success for the broad coalition of civil society organizations against patents on plants and animals. Without our activities, the EPO rules would not have been changed and the patent would still be valid,” said Christoph Then for ‘No Patents on Seeds!’. “The giant corporations, such as Bayer, Syngenta and BASF, have failed in their attempt to completely monopolize conventional breeding through using patents,” he added.

However, there are still huge legal loopholes as recently shown in the case of conventionally bred barley. In 2016, the breweries Carlsberg and Heineken were granted three patents on barley plants, their usage in brewing as well as the beer produced by these methods. The patents in question are based on random mutations in the genome of the barley. Kernels were brought into contact with chemicals and in reaction showed an increase in their genetic variability. Then, specific mutations, already known to be useful, were selected by standard procedures. Last month, the EPO rejected oppositions filed by ‘No Patents on Seeds!’ and only restricted the patent instead of revoking it entirely. The coalition, which also includes the Foundation on Future Farming, warned that this could threaten free plant breeding in the future since such patented mutations could be hidden in each plant variety. “European politicians now have to take action and close these loopholes. We have to prevent the vested interests of the patent industry from endangering the future of our daily food,” said Then. (ab)

05.11.2018 |

Small-scale farmers are the custodians of Africa’s seed diversity

seed
A variety of seeds (Photo: B. Haerlin)

Small-scale farmers save, use, share and enhance the seed diversity of the crops that feed Africa. However, their traditional practices and their freedom to manage their own seeds are increasingly under threat, according to a new report published by GRAIN and the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA). In this report, the two organizations, together with partners from Ethiopia, Mali, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, outline the battle over seeds, agricultural resources, environmental degradation and the impact on local seed and food systems. “The picture often painted for us is that we need corporate seeds to feed the world: they are alleged to be more efficient, productive and predictable. Locally developed farmer varieties are painted as backwards, less-productive and disease-ridden. But those of us with our feet on the ground know that this is not the reality in Africa,” Million Belay from AFSA and GRAIN’s Henk Hobbelink write in the foreword. They point to the fact that the vast bulk of food produced on the continent comes from homegrown farmers’ seeds – some studies say the share is up to 80%. “If these seeds are so ‘backward’, what moves farmers to keep preserving and planting them and what challenges do they encounter in this effort?” they ask.

The report sheds light on farmer managed seed systems (FMSS), also frequently called “informal”, “local”, “community-managed” or “peasant” seed systems. It concludes that FMSS are not one-size-fits-all; they vary from community to community, are culturally appropriate, customary and inclusive and they produce biodiverse and ecologically resilient seeds. Most importantly, they are centered around community values of selecting, exchanging and sharing seed, as well as sharing knowledge about planting, cultivating, harvesting and processing. Farmers’ seeds are reliable, available and affordable since they are stored locally and are usually distributed for free. “These seeds are intentionally diverse and heterogeneous, and are planted and replanted, season after season, sometimes in mixtures of varieties and with other crops, thus increasing resilience and overall productivity,” says the report. “Farmers’ seeds are very differently nurtured from the way that ‘sow-once’ industrial seeds, some of them genetically modified and all of them designed for monocultures, are manufactured and grown.”

But the report notes that worrisome developments are threatening FMSS in Africa. Farmers are increasingly being pushed to abandon their seed systems. Well-funded promotion, subsidies, coercion and advertising are being deployed in an attempt to roll out industrial seeds and to displace heterogeneous farmers’ varieties suited to biodiverse agroecological contexts. “The intention is to shift and ultimately change public perceptions, so that people come to believe that the problem of feeding the growing population can only be solved by using genetically uniform industrial seeds of relatively few crops pushed by private seed companies, development organizations and the government,” the authors write. “This approach is shown to be in line with the Green Revolution model of intensification which promotes the uptake of chemical-intensive agriculture, especially monocultures of commodity crops, using so-called ‘improved’ seeds and the agrichemicals they require.” African governments are being pressured to join regional agreements on intellectual property, trade and seed, such as OAPI, ARIPO, UEMOA, COMESA and SADC, which benefit corporations and the industrial seed system, and in many cases the governments are giving in.

Based on the research findings in the six African countries covered in the report, AFSA and GRAIN believe that the promotion of industrial seeds and commodity production should stop and farmers’ local access to and control over their seeds should be supported. “Small-scale farmers on the continent need support and funding from their governments if they are to keep practicing agroecology and protecting their cultures and beliefs that are attached to seed,” they write. Governments should instead support local seed systems and local agroecological farming within the framework of food sovereignty. “Protecting and preserving farmer managed seed systems should be the core business of any government in Africa because any attack on our seed sovereignty is a clear attack to food sovereignty of any nation,” states Andrew Adem from the Eastern and Southern Africa Small Scale Farmers Forum (ESAFF), the organization contributing the Uganda case study. (ab)

31.10.2018 |

Humanity has wiped out 60% of the planet’s wildlife since 1970, report

wild
Wildlife is in steep decline (Photo: CC0)

The way we feed, fuel and finance our societies and economies is pushing nature and the services it provides to the brink, warns a new report. Humanity has wiped out 60% of the global populations of vertebrate species over the last 40 years, according to WWF’s Living Planet Report 2018. This is undermining the health and well-being of people, species, societies and economies everywhere, says the report released on October 30. It consists of contributions from 59 authors from 26 different institutions and includes the latest findings measured by the Living Planet Index, provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), tracking 16,704 populations of 4,005 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2014. “Science is showing us the harsh reality our forests, oceans and rivers are enduring at our hands. Inch by inch and species by species, shrinking wildlife numbers and wild places are an indicator of the tremendous impact and pressure we are exerting on the planet, undermining the very living fabric that sustains us all: nature and biodiversity,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF International.

The Living Planet Index indicates that global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles declined, on average, by 60% since 1970. Freshwater populations in particular, have seen an 83% decline since then. Species’ population declines are especially pronounced in the tropics, with South and Central America suffering the most dramatic decline at 89%. The biggest drivers of biodiversity loss are overexploitation and agriculture, both linked to continually increasing human consumption. “Indeed, of all the plant, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal species that have gone extinct since AD 1500, 75% were harmed by overexploitation or agricultural activity or both,” says the report. Invasive species are another frequent threat, their spread relying heavily on trade-related activities such as shipping. According to the authors, “pollution and disturbance, for example through agricultural pollution, dams, fires and mining, are additional sources of pressure. Climate change is playing a growing role and is already beginning to have an effect at an ecosystem, species and even genetic level.” Over recent decades, human activity has also severely impacted the habitats and natural resources wildlife and humanity depend on such as oceans, forests, coral reefs, wetlands and mangroves. 20% of the Amazon has disappeared in just 50 years while the earth is estimated to have lost about half of its shallow water corals in the past 30 years.

The report also focuses on the importance and value of nature to people’s health and well-being and that of our societies and economies. Globally, nature provides services for humanity worth around US$125 trillion a year, while also helping ensure the supply of fresh air, clean water, food, energy, medicines and other products and materials. Pollinators alone are responsible for US$ 235-577 billion in crop production per year. However, a changing climate, intensive agricultural practices, invasive species and emerging diseases have impacted their abundance, diversity and health. “Nature has been silently sustaining and powering our societies and economies for centuries, and continues to do so today. In return, the world has continued to take nature and its services for granted, failing to act against the accelerating loss of nature. It is time we realized that a healthy, sustainable future for all is only possible on a planet where nature thrives and forests, oceans and rivers are teeming with biodiversity and life,” said Lambertini. “We need to urgently rethink how we use and value nature - culturally, economically and on our political agendas,” he added.

WWF urges the global community to unite for a global deal for nature and people to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss. The organization is calling on people, businesses and governments to mobilize and deliver on a comprehensive framework agreement for nature and people under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), one that galvanizes public and private action to protect and restore global biodiversity and nature and bend the curve on the devastating trends depicted in the report. Prof. Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL, is still optimistic. “The statistics are scary, but all hope is not lost. We have an opportunity to design a new path forward that allows us to co-exist sustainably with the wildlife we depend upon. Our report sets out an ambitious agenda for change,” he stressed. (ab)

23.10.2018 |

We can feed 10 billion people by 2050 within planetary limits, study

plant
A global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets is needed (Photo: CC0)

Feeding a world population of 10 billion people by 2050 within planetary limits is possible if we change the way we eat and produce food, new research shows. A global shift towards healthy and more plant-based diets, halving food loss and waste, and improving farming practices are measures required to reduce the environmental impacts of the food system, says the study published in October in the journal Nature. “Greening the food sector or eating up our planet: this is what is on the menu today,” explains co-author Johan Rockström. The international research team quantified how food production and consumption affects the planetary boundaries that describe a safe operating space for humanity beyond which Earth’s vital systems could become unstable. „The food system is a major driver of climate change, changes in land use, depletion of freshwater resources, and pollution of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through excessive nitrogen and phosphorus inputs,” reads the abstract of the study. The authors show that between 2010 and 2050, as a result of changes in population and income levels, accompanied by a rise of diets high in fats, sugars and meat, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90%, reaching levels that are beyond the planetary limits.

The study combined detailed environmental accounts with a model of the global food system that tracks the production and consumption of food across the world. With this model, the researchers analysed several options that could keep the food system within environmental limits. “To keep food production within planetary boundaries, we can do three things: eat healthier more plant-based diets, systematically reduce food loss and waste, and improve agricultural technologies like for instance tillage or fertilizer recycling,” said Rockström. Adopting more plant-based “flexitarian” diets globally could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half, and also reduce other environmental impacts, such as fertilizer application and the use of cropland and freshwater, by a tenth to a quarter. “When it comes to diets, comprehensive policy and business approaches are essential to make dietary changes towards healthy and more plant-based diets possible and attractive for a large number of people,” said the lead author, Marco Springmann from the University of Oxford. “Important aspects include school and workplace programmes, economic incentives and labelling, and aligning national dietary guidelines with the current scientific evidence on healthy eating and the environmental impacts of our diet,” he added.

In addition to dietary changes, improving management practices and technologies in agriculture is required to limit pressures on agricultural land, freshwater extraction, and fertilizer use. “Improving farming technologies and management practices will require increasing investment in public infrastructure, the right incentive schemes for farmers, including support mechanisms to adopt best available practices, and better regulation, for example of fertilizer use and water quality,” said Line Gordon, another study author. Finally, halving food loss and waste is needed for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Halving food loss and waste could, if globally achieved, reduce environmental impacts by up to 16%. “Tackling food loss and waste will require measures across the entire food chain, from storage, and transport, over food packaging and labelling to changes in legislation and business behaviour that promote zero-waste supply chains,” said co-author Fabrice de Clerck. “No single solution is enough to avoid transgressing planetary boundaries. But when they are implemented together, our research indicates it may be possible to feed the growing population sustainably,” said Dr Springmann. (ab)

19.10.2018 |

IPES report highlights successful cases of agroecological transition

Ox
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)

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