10.02.2023 |

Let's talk about the benefits of pulses

Pulses are great - and colourful (Photo: CC0)

On February 10th, World Pulses Day is celebrated – at least by those who know about the importance of chickpeas, beans and lentils as a powerful and nutritious ally against climate change. Since the celebration of the International Year of Pulses in 2016, each year on this date, fans of the superfood have been trying to raise public awareness of the nutritional and environmental benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production. In line with this year’s theme “Pulses for a Sustainable Future”, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlights how pulses, the edible seeds of leguminous plants, can provide a better life for farmers in water-scarce environments since they have a low water footprint and can better tolerate drought and climate-related disasters. “Pulses contribute in diverse ways towards the transformation of our agrifood systems, and can help us address multiple global crises,” said FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu in a press release published on February 10th. “Pulses can contribute to increasing the resilience of farming systems, help to improve soil biodiversity, and are crucial components of multiple cropping systems,” he added.

Here are the main aspect FAO mentions in its eulogy to pulses: Pulses create economic opportunities for smallholder farmers as they typically offer better profit margins than cereals. For farmers, pulses are an important crop because they can both sell them and consume them, which helps farmers maintain household food security and creates economic stability. The nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses can improve soil fertility, which improves and extends the productivity of farmland and reduces the need to apply synthetic fertilizers. When cereals are grown after pulses in agricultural cropping systems, they can yield 1.5 tonnes more per hectare than those in monocropping systems. Moreover, pulses can help mitigate climate change by increasing the soil’s ability to store carbon and by restoring poor and degraded soils. In addition, pulses are rich in nutrients, minerals, B-vitamins, making them an ideal source of protein particularly in regions where other protein sources are not available or economically accessible. They are low in fat and rich in soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and help in the control of blood sugar. While beans, chickpeas and peas are the most well-known and commonly consumed types of pulses, there are several other lesser-known varieties from around the world such as vetches, lupins, and Bambara beans, all beneficial for food security, nutrition, health, climate change, and biodiversity. So stop reading and prepare a delicious meal with pulses. (ab)

17.01.2023 |

Richest 1% have captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth since 2020

Poverty and wealth are often found side by side (Photo: CC0)

Poverty has increased for the first time in 25 years and, at the same time, the richest have become dramatically richer since the pandemic began. Since 2020, the richest 1% have captured almost two-thirds of all new wealth – nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population. Food and energy companies more than doubled their profits in 2022 while over 800 million people went to bed hungry. These are just some of the sad messages of a new policy paper published by development organization Oxfam on January 16th, the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where elites are gathering for their annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort. “Survival of the Richest” shows that billionaire fortunes are increasing by $2.7 billion a day while at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages. “While ordinary people are making daily sacrifices on essentials like food, the super-rich have outdone even their wildest dreams,” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “Just two years in, this decade is shaping up to be the best yet for billionaires – a roaring ‘20s boom for the world’s richest.”

The report focuses on how taxing the rich could address the current multiple crises and skyrocketing inequality. Oxfam’s calculations are based on the most up-to-date and comprehensive data sources available. Figures on the richest people of the world are from Forbes’ World’s Billionaires List 2022, while wealth data comes from Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2022 and other sources such as the World Bank. The report shows that during the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis years since 2020, billionaires have seen their wealth increase extraordinarily. Almost $42 trillion of new wealth was created between December 2019 and December 2021. $26 trillion or 63 % was bagged by the richest 1 %, while $16 trillion or 37 % went to the bottom 99 %. This comes on top of a decade of historic gains: The number and wealth of billionaires doubled over the last decade. Between 2012 and 2021, new wealth worth 127.5 trillion was created. The top 1% captured 69 trillions of this wealth or 54% which shows that their share has increasing rapidly since the pandemic began. A comparison of Forbes’ Billionaires Lists of 2020 and 2022, with all figures adjusted to October 2022 prices using the US Consumer Price Index to account for inflation and make the numbers comparable, shows that billionaires’ wealth increased by $2.63 trillion in real terms. There are 987 days between the dates of the two lists, so the wealth of billionaires grew by $2.7 billion a day.

Supply-chain bottlenecks caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, corporate behaviour, and climate change have pushed food and energy prices to an all-time high, with food prices expected to be 18% higher in 2022 than in 2021, and those for energy 59% higher. This was another blow to the world’s poorest people but the wealth of billionaires and corporations surged in 2022 with rapidly rising food and energy profits. According to the policy paper, 95 food and energy corporations have more than doubled their profits in 2022. They made $306 billion in windfall profits (defined as 10% above their 2018–2021 average net profit) and paid out $257 billion to rich shareholders. Soaring profits of companies bring fortunes for the richest since share ownership is skewed towards higher-income groups. In the US, for example, the richest 1% own 53% of shares. The Walton dynasty, which owns half of the US retailer Walmart, received $8.5 billion in dividends and buybacks over the last year. Indian billionaire Gautam Adani, owner of major energy corporations, has seen his wealth soar by 46% in 2022 to $136.2 billion at the end of October 2022. At the same time, at least 1.7 billion workers now live in countries where inflation is outpacing wages. In the US, the UK and Australia, studies have found that 54 %, 59 % and 60 % of inflation, respectively, was driven by increased corporate profits. The World Bank is speaking of the largest increase in global inequality and the largest setback in global poverty since the Second World War and announced that the world has almost certainly lost its goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. The same applies to the hunger goal: Over 820 million people – roughly one in ten people – are currently undernourished.

Oxfam therefore calls for a systemic increase in taxation of the super-rich to claw back crisis gains driven by public money and profiteering. It says decades of tax cuts for the richest and corporations have fueled inequality, with the poorest in many countries paying higher tax rates than billionaires. Elon Musk, one of the world’s richest men, paid a “true tax rate” of about 3 % between 2014 and 2018. Oxfam compared this to a flour vendor in Uganda who makes $80 a month and pays market fees collected by the local government that amount to 40% of her profits. The report argues that in recent history, taxation of the richest was far higher. Over the last forty years, governments worldwide have slashed the income tax rates on the richest. “At the same time, they have upped taxes on goods and services, which fall disproportionately on the poorest people and exacerbate gender inequality,” the authors write. In the years after WW2, the top US federal income tax rate remained above 90 % and averaged 81 % between 1944 and 1981. Similar levels of tax in other rich countries existed during some of the most successful years of their economic development and helped to expand public services like education and healthcare. Currently, only four cents in every global tax dollar now comes from taxes on wealth. Half of the world’s billionaires live in countries with no inheritance tax for direct descendants. Rich people’s income is mostly unearned, derived from returns on their assets, yet it is taxed on average at 18 %, just over half as much as the average top tax rate on wages and salaries. “Taxing the super-rich and big corporations is the door out of today’s overlapping crises,” says Gabriela Bucher. “It’s time we demolish the convenient myth that tax cuts for the richest result in their wealth somehow ‘trickling down’ to everyone else. Forty years of tax cuts for the super-rich have shown that a rising tide doesn’t lift all ships – just the superyachts.”

Oxfam is calling on governments to introduce one-off solidarity wealth taxes and windfall taxes to end crisis profiteering. In addition, governments must permanently increase taxes on the richest 1 percent, for example to at least 60 % of their income from labor and capital, with higher rates for multi-millionaires and billionaires. Oxfam says governments must especially raise taxes on capital gains, which are subject to lower tax rates than other forms of income. Moreover, the wealth and resources of the richest 1 % needs to be redistributed by implementing inheritance, property and land taxes, as well as net wealth taxes. According to new analysis by the Fight Inequality Alliance, Institute for Policy Studies, Oxfam and the Patriotic Millionaires, an annual wealth tax of up to 5 % on the world’s multi-millionaires and billionaires could raise $1.7 trillion a year, enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty, fully fund the shortfalls on existing humanitarian appeals, deliver a 10-year plan to end hunger, support poorer countries being ravaged by climate impacts, and deliver universal healthcare and social protection for everyone living in low- and lower middle-income countries. “Taxing the super-rich is the strategic precondition to reducing inequality and resuscitating democracy,” explains Bucher. “We need to do this for innovation. For stronger public services. For happier and healthier societies. And to tackle the climate crisis, by investing in the solutions that counter the insane emissions of the very richest.” (ab)

13.12.2022 |

Statistical report looks at changes in food and farming since 2000

Maize - one of the main crops (Photo: CC0)

The world of food and agriculture has changed remarkably since the turn of the millennium. The global production of primary crops increased by more than 50% between 2000 and 2020 while the number of people working in farming worldwide went down 17% in the same period. A new statistical yearbook, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on December 12th, offers a synthesis of the major factors that are relevant in the global food and agricultural landscape. On 380 pages, this annual publication covers themes such as agricultural employment, agrifood trade, fertilizer and pesticide use around the world as well as environmental and climate factors. Much of the information provided can also be found at FAO’s statistical database FAOSTAT but in the yearbook, the facts and figures are easily and quickly accessible and they authors illustrate the most important facts about the past, present and future of food and agriculture with 69 figures, 32 maps and 59 data tables as well as some thematic info boxes. “FAO is committed to ensuring free access to current, reliable, timely and trusted data, necessary to chart a course towards more sustainable and equitable agrifood systems and a world free of hunger,” said José Rosero Moncayo, Director of FAO’s Statistics Division. The statistics which are based on FAOSTAT’s more than 20 000 indicators covering more than 245 countries and territories are presented in four thematic chapters.

Chapter 1 focuses on the economic dimension of agriculture. Today, some 866 million people – or 27 % of the global workforce – work in agriculture (including forestry and fishing), compared with 1 043 million people (or 40 %) in 2000. Between 2000 and 2021, agricultural employment has declined from around 800 million to roughly 580 million people in Asia. This means that more than one out of every four agricultural workers has left the sector for another job outside agriculture in the region. In Europe, half of the agricultural workforce left while in Africa, employment in agriculture increased. The contribution of agriculture, forestry and fishing to the economy grew by 78 % in real terms between 2000 and 2020, reaching USD 3.6 trillion in value added in 2020. This represents an increase of USD 1.6 trillion compared with 2000. In Africa, the value added more than doubled over the period (+147 %), reaching USD 413 billion. Asia was responsible for the largest share, contributing 64 % of the world total in 2020: the continent shows an increase of 91 %, from USD 1.2 trillion in 2000 to USD 2.3 trillion in 2020. Until 2019, the global contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product (GDP) declined, which is expected to accompany the growth of total GDP. Due to the pandemic and the restrictions related to COVID-19, the value added of the industry and services sectors declined while that of agriculture kept increasing, resulting in an artificial jump of the share of agriculture in the total in 2020.

Chapter 1 also looks at inputs. Global pesticides use increased during the period 2000–2020 by 30 %, to 2.7 million tonnes in 2020. Pesticide use peaked in 2012 and began declining slightly in 2017. The Americas were the region that contributed the lion’s share with 51 % of pesticide use, followed by Asia (25 %), Europe (18 %), Africa and Oceania. The share of the Americas increased from 44 to 51 % of global pesticides consumption while that of Asia and Europe decreased by 4-5 points to 25 % and 18 %, respectively. The USA were the largest pesticide user in 2020 in absolute terms with 0.41 million tonnes, or 15 % of the world total, slightly ahead of Brazil (0.38 million tonnes) and China (0.27 million tonnes). The countries with the highest pesticide application per hectare are Saint Lucia with 20 kg/ha, Maldives (17 kg/ha) and Oman (16 kg/ha). Total agricultural use of inorganic fertilizers, expressed as the sum of the three nutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P2O5) and potassium (K2O), was 201 million tonnes in 2020. The share of nitrogen was 56 %, while phosphorus made up 24 % and potassium 20 %. The overall fertilizer use in 2020 was 49 %, higher than in 2000. The use of nitrogen increased by 40 %, of phosphorus by 49 % and potassium by 81 %.

Chapter 2 gives an overview over production, trade and prices of commodities. Between 2000 and 2020, the production of primary crops, such as sugarcane, maize, wheat and rice, grew by 52 %, reaching 9.3 billion tonnes. Cereals were the main group of crops produced in 2020, with roughly one-third of the total. Just four individual crops accounted for about half of global primary crop production: sugar cane (20 % of the total with 1.9 billion tonnes), maize (12 % with 1.2 billion tonnes), wheat and rice (8 % each with 0.8 billion tonnes). For each crop, the top producer also held a sizeable share of the global output. Brazil, for example, accounted for 40 % of world sugar cane production, whereas the USA grew 31% of the world’s maize output. The global production of vegetable oils increased by 125 % between 2000 and 2019, to 208 million tonnes in 2019. Palm oil registered the largest increase with 236 %. It overtook soybean oil as the main vegetable oil produced in 2006 due to the use of palm oil for biodiesel. World meat production reached 337 million tonnes in 2020, up 45 % or 104 million tonnes compared to 2000. With a share of 35 %, chicken meat was the most produced type of meat in 2020, followed by pig meat (33 %). Chicken showed the largest growth in absolute and relative terms since 2000 (+104 % or 61 million tonnes).

The chapter also analyses the FAO Food Price Index, which measures the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food commodities. Since January 2000, the index increased from 85.4 points to 138 points in August 2022. It spiked in 2007/2008 during the food price crisis that saw the price of cereals reach record levels, especially rice and wheat. Food prices skyrocketed again in late 2010 and early 2011 (especially sugar and dairy). The index declined during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic reflecting uncertainties faced by commodity markets. However, it climbed between May 2020 and March 2022 to 159.7 points, its highest value ever, due to a combination of factors including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the supply chains, the rebound in activity and demand experienced in 2021, and the disruption to exports of cereals and vegetable oils from Russia and Ukraine.

Chapter 3 focuses on food security and nutrition but the figures are quite similar to those already published in the SOFI report that was released in July by five UN agencies. The 20-year trend for the prevalence of undernourishment is frustrating because after a decades-long decline and five years of relative stability since 2014, undernourishment has increased sharply between 2019 and 2020 and rose at a slower pace between 2020 and 2021. Nearly 10 % of the world population suffered from hunger in 2021, compared with 8 % in 2019. The situation is most alarming in Africa: In 2021, 20.2 % of the African population were undernourished. The statistics show that food supply is on the rise. The world average dietary energy supply (DES), measured as calories per person per day, has been increasing steadily to 2,963 kcal per person per day in the period 2019-2021, up 9 % compared with 2000-2002 when the average DES was 2,712 kcal. Food supply is highest in Northern America and Europe with 3,537 kcal per person per day. Africa has the lowest supply with 2,589 kcal. The region first saw a steady increase in DES but it stopped in 2012–2014 and went down again. The fastest increase took place in Asia where dietary energy supply went up 14 % over the last two decades. However, greater availability of food does not necessarily translate into access to it. The report also depicts the other face of malnutrition: Obesity among adults of 18 years and above increased rapidly in every region of the world between 2000 and 2016. In 2016, 13.1 % of the adult population was obese, an increase from 8.7 % in 2000. Oceania and Northern America and Europe had the highest prevalence of adult obesity (both at around 27–28 %), followed by Latin America and the Caribbean.

Chapter 4 deals with the sustainability and environmental aspects of agriculture. Between 2000 and 2020, agricultural land declined by 134 million ha – an area roughly the size of Peru. Some 4.74 billion hectares of the planet’s surface is agricultural land, including meadows and pastures as well as crops. The authors highlight that agriculture is both affected by climate change and an important contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Total emissions on agricultural land in 2020 amounted to 10.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2eq) of GHG released into the atmosphere, a decrease of 4 % compared with 2000. This decline is due to the fact that the decrease in emissions from forest conversion was larger than the increase in farm-gate emissions. Activities within the farm gate accounted for 7.4 Gt CO2eq or 70 % of all emissions in 2020, followed by net forest conversion/ deforestation (28 %) and fires in humid tropical forests and organic soils (2 %). Asia was the top agricultural emitter (36 % of the total) in 2020, followed by the Americas (30 %), Africa (23 %) and Europe (9 %). Of the 7.4 Gt CO2eq of agricultural emissions within the farm gate (those related to the production of crops and livestock), 38 % were from enteric fermentation generated in the digestive system of ruminant livestock. Manure left on pastures accounted for 24 %. Drained organic soils were responsible for a 12 % share, while methane from rice cultivation amounted to 9 %. The most CO2-intensive commodities on average in 2020 were cattle meat (30 kg CO2eq/kg) and sheep meat (24 kg CO2eq/kg), while the emissions intensity of pig and chicken meat was much lower (1.8 kg and 0.6 kg CO2eq/kg respectively). The emissions intensity of cereals is much lower, although rice emits more than five times than wheat and coarse grains. (ab)

10.11.2022 |

Report denounces farming’s costly dependency on chemical fertilisers

A worker fertilizing on oil palm plantation in Papua, Indonesia (Photo: Agus Andrianto / CIFOR,,

As farmers and governments are struggling to cope with increased fertiliser prices, the world’s largest agribusiness giants are making record profits, a new report reveals. According to “The Fertiliser Trap”, published by GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) on November 8th, G20 nations paid almost twice as much for key fertiliser imports in 2021 compared to 2020 and are on course to spend three times as much this year. This entails an additional cost of around US$ 22 billion in 2021 and 2022, while the world’s biggest fertiliser companies are expected to make almost US$84 billion profit over the same period. “This year, the bill for these energy-intensive products has hit new heights. With the world in the midst of an energy and climate crisis, prices for chemical fertilisers are at record levels,” the report authors write. “Fertiliser corporations are using their market power to capture mega profits, while farmers and governments are scrambling to try and cope with the added costs, especially in the global South.” They warn that high fertiliser prices are putting food production at severe risk in many places. The authors conclude that the world can no longer afford the food system’s addiction to chemical fertilisers. “The costs are too high, both in terms of the financial burden for farmers and public budgets, and the severe environmental and health impacts. Governments urgently need redirect public funds and policies away from industrial agriculture and towards agroecological farming.”

The report examines the wholesale costs of the three fertilisers imported in the greatest quantities to the G20 and a sample of developing countries for which data was publicly available, using data collected by Bloomberg Green Markets. One limitation was that for major fertiliser producers, imports only represent a small proportion of their total application of chemical fertilisers. However, domestic production and cost data were not easily available. This means that the findings of the report “only tell part of the story” – the extra costs in 2021 and 2022 to governments and farmers are likely to be significantly underestimated. The report finds that the cost of chemical fertilisers in both the global North and South has skyrocketed over the past two years, putting severe economic strain on farmers’ and public budgets. It is estimated that the G20 members spent almost twice (189%) as much for key fertiliser imports in 2021 compared to 2020 and in 2022, they will spend three times (288%) as much. This means that over this period, the G20 paid at least US$ 21.8 billion extra for the three chemical fertilisers they import in the greatest quantities. For example, the UK paid an extra US$ 144 million for fertiliser imports in the two years analysed, and Brazil paid an extra US$ 3.5 billion. For example, in January 2020 Canada was paying US$ 225 for a tonne of urea from the Baltic, whereas by January 2022, it had to pay US$ 814 per tonne. The nine developing countries examined together spent 186% more in 2021 and 295% more in 2022 for the same sample of fertilisers. This produces a total extra bill of US$ 2.9 billion. Among these countries is Pakistan, which paid an extra US$ 874 million. “The era of cheap fertilizers is over, and the costs have become too much to bear,” the authors write.

But why are costs rising? According to “The Fertiliser Trap”, the initial price increases in 2021 were driven by the rising cost of natural gas – a key raw ingredient for nitrogen fertilisers. After falling slightly in early 2022, there was another sharp increase due to the war in Ukraine which constrained the supply of both gas and fertiliser itself. Russia supplies 45% of the ammonia nitrate market. Russia and Ukraine are both significant exporters of phosphorus fertilisers. Prices climbed again in summer when it became clear the war would not end quickly and concerns over gas shortages in Europe returned. The authors add that some chemical fertilisers are not made from gas but from mineral deposits, such as potash and phosphate. However, the mining and production of fertilisers using these minerals is highly energy-intensive and thus still affected by gas prices. 75% of the world’s potash production comes from China, Canada, Russia, and Belarus.

But another factor is also fuelling fertiliser prices: corporate profits. The US$ 200 billion global fertiliser market is controlled by just a handful of companies. Only four of these companies control 33% of the entire nitrogen fertiliser production. In the US, Mosaic is estimated to control over 90% of the domestic phosphate fertiliser market. Given their market power, these companies have so far been able to pass on the increased costs of their raw ingredients and production processes to maintain or even increase their profit margins. According to company filings, the combined profits of nine of the world’s biggest fertiliser companies (Nutrien, Yara, Mosaic, ICL Group, CF Industries, PhosAgro, OCI, K+S, OCP) were just under US$ 13 billion in 2020. In contrast, if their reported profit levels in the first six months of 2022 are maintained, then over the whole year they will earn more than US$ 57 billion in profits, up 440% from two years ago. The profits of The Big 9 in 2021 and 2022 could reach a total of US$ 84 billion.

What can be done? The response so far from many governments has been to look for ways to increase chemical fertiliser production. Not surprisingly, this is also the solution that the world’s largest fertiliser companies are promoting. But GRAIN and IATP say that increased production will not resolve this crisis. First, the huge profits that fertiliser companies are making should be dealt with urgently. Some ideas that have been suggested include the imposition of windfall taxes and investigations into pricing. Second, governments should take urgent action to support a significant reduction in the consumption of chemical fertilisers. In countries where industrial agriculture is dominant, one of the most immediate and impactful steps that can be taken is public support for farmers to implement more efficient fertiliser use. In many countries, a large amount of fertiliser is over-applied and wasted. The excess evaporates or is washed away, polluting air, soils and water. In Germany, a study found that only 61% of fertiliser is reaching wheat crops, meaning 39% is wasted. In Canada only 59% of fertiliser reaches crops and in Australia 62%. Other measures include a change in subsidies in order to support a managed transition towards farming practices that significantly reduce or eliminate the use of chemical fertilisers. Public or private philanthropic programmes that support the introduction of fertilisers into farming systems which are not already dependent on their use should be stopped. “In many places, farmers are already demonstrating that they can transition away from the use of chemical fertilisers as part of a broader transition to agroecology, without sacrificing their yields”, the report finds. “Agroecology incorporates traditional knowledge with science, empowers farmers as actors in their markets, focuses on delivering varied and healthy food, and works with biodiversity and nature. With agroecology, instead of chemical fertilisers, farmers restore nutrients and fertility to soils through the use of manure or through the cultivation of plants that absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere, such as legumes,” the authors conclude. (ab)

31.10.2022 |

IPES-Food rejects nebulous terms like ‘nature-based solutions’

Nebulous terms are being used in international summits (Photo: CC0)

At international climate, biodiversity and food summits, a growing number of green buzzwords are being used which rather obstruct than accelerate food system transformation. Agrifood corporations, international philanthropic organizations, and some governments are currently deploying the term “nature-based solutions” to ‘hijack’ the food system sustainability agenda, often bundled with problematic and unproven carbon farming and carbon offsetting schemes in partnership with major conservation groups. This is one of the key messages of a new policy brief published by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), a group of experts co-chaired by Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and Maryam Rahmanian, an independent expert on agriculture and food systems. The briefing, written after an in-depth exchange between IPES-Food and researchers from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), analyses how the competing concepts of ‘agroecology’, ‘nature-based solutions’, and ‘regenerative agriculture’ were used at recent international events. “There’s a battle of ideas over the future of food systems. Very loose terms like ‘nature-based solutions’ are being bandied about in international summits without clear definitions, and they’re open to being mobilized in the interests of all kinds of agendas. At worst they are a cover for green grabs that undermine people's rights and threaten the land and resources they depend on,” said Melissa Leach, IPES-Food expert and Director of the IDS. She highlighted that with the UN climate conference in Egypt (COP27) fast approaching, we must be very careful about the use of these ambiguous terms and reject solutions that are not clearly defined.

According to the brief ‘Smoke & Mirrors: Examining competing framings of food system sustainability’, there is widespread consensus on the need to make food systems more sustainable, but how to pursue that objective is subject to much debate. In recent years, terms such as ‘regenerative agriculture’ and ‘nature-based solutions’ have gained popularity within global governance and international development spaces and among agrifood corporations. The authors explain that “these terms add to a growing collection of concepts and ideas that are often used as bywords for sustainable development in discussing the future of food systems, including sustainable agriculture, climate-smart agriculture, nature-positive food production, sustainable intensification, conservation agriculture” and so on. The paper focuses on three concepts, ‘agroecology’, ‘nature-based solutions’, and ‘regenerative agriculture’, considering their origins, evolution, and how they are used in debates on the future of food systems. The authors looked specifically at how these terms were deployed in the run-up to, at and in the follow-up to three high-level summit events in 2021 – the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) and at the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15). They also examined the usage of these terms in other policy and funding spaces (e.g. corporate sustainability schemes and development initiatives).

The researchers found that one controversial idea, ‘nature-based solutions’, is rapidly gaining traction in international summits. The term was very prominent at the UNFSS, contentious in some negotiations at COP26, and has gained a foothold in CBD – where it is being heavily promoted by some parties and strongly opposed by others in ongoing negotiations towards the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. At the UN Food Systems Summit, the term ‘nature-positive’ was preferred in earlier stages. Across summit literature, ‘nature-based’ and ‘nature-positive’ were used as generic prefixes together with a range of topics – “suggesting that the terms are being used in a loose and aspirational way and perhaps to mask the specific and highly-critiqued approaches (e.g., carbon offsets) being promoted by a number of proponents of nature-based solutions”, the authors write. Nature-positive food systems; nature-positive agriculture and nature-positive approaches, practices, and solutions are just some examples that appeared in summit documents and processes. The UNFSS was organised around five action tracks and track 3 is dedicated to “nature positive production”. IPES-Food criticises that the concept of ‘nature-based’ lacks an agreed definition and a transformative vision and is being used to maintain agribusiness as usual. It is a depoliticized concept that ignores inequalities of power and wealth that lead to unsustainability in food systems. Therefore, it falls short of the deep, structural, transformative change required to make food systems truly sustainable in all three dimensions – ecological, social, and economic. In addition, the term is often bundled with risky, unproven carbon offsetting schemes that entrench big agribusiness power. The result is thus a dilution of food system transformation.

By contrast, ‘agroecology’ – the second concept analysed in the paper – is a term given formal definition through democratic and inclusive governance processes, backed by years of scientific research and social movement legitimacy. The authors explain that agroecology offers a more inclusive and comprehensive pathway toward food system transformation because it connects social and environmental aspects of sustainability, addresses the whole food system, is attentive to power inequalities, and draws from a plurality of knowledges emphasizing the inclusion of marginalized voices. Agroecology is the only concept among the three that has attained clarity and conceptual maturity through a long process of inclusive and international deliberation. In 2018, following a 4-year consultative process, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) laid out the ‘10 elements of agroecology. This framework was a milestone in bringing agroecology into mainstream policy debate and establishing a holistic version of it that included social justice components. This conceptual maturity was consolidated the following year when the High Level Panel of Experts of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) translated these 10 elements into a set of 13 operational principles to guide agroecological food system transformation. At the UNFSS, agroecology was mentioned as a type of nature-based solution under action track 3, emerging as a ‘game-changing solution’ under this track. However, the brief concludes that agroecology is not used as an overarching framework in the three fora studied. Insufficient attention to agroecology and food sovereignty was among the reasons why hundreds of civil society groups boycotted the UNFSS, and its outcomes remain highly contested. Agroecology was largely absent from the main business of COP26 and was not mentioned in the CBD’s main outcome document to date, the Kunming Declaration.

The third concept, ‘Regenerative agriculture’, is less prominent in policy spaces, the briefing note finds. Sustainable food system actors use it to emphasize regenerating natural resources. However leading agrifood businesses (including Walmart, Pepsi and Cargill) are in some cases invoking ‘regenerative agriculture’ in their corporate sustainability schemes, often in conjunction with carbon offsetting schemes, stripped of social justice dimensions. “Regenerative agriculture is a term at a crossroads. Highlighting the principles it shares with agroecology (…) can help to reclaim regenerative agriculture from corporate co-optation and reinfuse it with conceptual clarity,” the authors write. The brief also presents a number of recommendations for policy actors, observers, and advocates in global governance spaces on food, climate, and environment. IPES-Food calls to reject solutions that lack definitions, exploit ambiguity and mask agribusiness as usual, while ensuring inclusive global processes to deliberate on socially and environmentally sustainable food system solutions. Business as usual through nature-based solutions, as expressed at the UNFSS, should be rejected in the upcoming climate conference in Egypt. “COP27 faces crucial decisions on agriculture. Rapidly transitioning to more sustainable and resilient food systems is vital if we are to limit global warming and prevent mass crop failures,” said Molly Anderson, IPES-Food expert and Chair in Food Studies at Middlebury College. She stressed that undefined terms like ‘nature-based solutions’ are being used to keep the focus on vague aspirations and this is just another form of greenwashing. “True food system solutions emerge through global, deliberative, democratic processes, and agroecology is the best solution that meets that criteria today,” she added. (ab)

07.10.2022 |

Corporate concentration in the global food chain is increasing, report

Food barons
Front cover of the report (by Garth Laidlaw)

Many key industrial agrifood sectors are now so “top heavy” that they are controlled by just four to six dominant companies. This enables these firms to wield huge influence over markets, agricultural research and policy-development, thus undermining food sovereignty and driving high food prices, new analysis has revealed. A report published by the international research collective “ETC Group” in September shows that new technologies are enabling the biggest players in the industrial food and agriculture chain to further consolidate their wealth and control, especially via the digitalization of agriculture. The report “Food Barons 2022” is an update of ETC Group’s previous reports about corporate concentration and was researched over the last two years. Drawing on 2020 data and sales figures from 11 food sectors, it names and ranks the largest food corporations dominating each link of the 8-10 trillion dollar commercial industrial food chain. The authors also outline the latest corporate maneuvers that make the food system more vulnerable to shocks and disruptions. “We have to remember that structural inequality and corporate concentration drive high food prices. This report highlights the startling consolidation that has enabled profiteering around climate, conflict and COVID-19. It names the culprits who are fuelling growing hunger,” commented Veronica Villa from ETC Group’s office in Mexico City.

The report looks at so-called “food barons”, the world’s leading corporations in the food chain, including giant traders, food processors, grocers, technologists and financiers. The authors examine 11 key industrial “agrifood” sectors: seeds, agrochemicals, livestock genetics, synthetic fertilizers, farm machinery, animal pharmaceuticals, commodity traders, food processors, Big Meat, grocery retail and food delivery. Their rankings and the infographics in the report are mainly based on 2020 sales figures. They find that our food system has already tipped well into oligopoly. Economists typically speak of an oligopoly if at least 40% of a market or sector is controlled by just a few firms. The report shows that just four firms (ChemChina/SinoChem, Bayer, BASF and Corteva) control 62.3% of the world agrochemical market. The top six companies even control 78% of the market. The global market for agrochemical products was US$62,400 million in 2020. ChemChina and SinoChem (Syngenta Group) alone account for one-quarter of the global pesticide market – a share that is likely to expand rapidly following the 2021 merger of ChemChina and SinoChem. The global market for commercial seeds and traits reached $45,000 million in 2020. The top 2 companies (Bayer and Corteva Agriscience) control 40% of this market. The top 6 companies (the former two plus ChemChina/Syngenta, BASF, Groupe Limagrain/Vilmorin and KWS) control 58% of the seed market. Globally, just three companies (EW Group, Hendrix Genetics and Tyson Foods) control commercial poultry genetics, making it the most concentrated sector in the industrial food chain.

The report also looks at three critical, multi-sectoral trends that increase the ability of the Food Barons – Big Ag, together with Big Tech and Big Finance – to maintain control over the industrial food chain. The first of these is the digitalization of food and agriculture. Tech giants are becoming prime players in food, handling the data, networking and artificial intelligence that undergirds the newly digitized food chain. “The Food Barons are introducing a suite of new technologies and “techno-fixes” that are conceived and designed to entrench corporate control over food and agriculture even further,” says the report. ETC Group’s research reveals that every sector of the Industrial Food Chain is in the process of transforming into a digital enterprise. “The vista of new digital initiatives in food and ag is dizzying. On the farm, it includes concerted attempts to impose digital agriculture, weaving in drone sprayers, Artificial Intelligence-driven robotic planters and automated animal-feeding operations tricked out with facial recognition for livestock. Big Ag giants such as Bayer, Deere & Company, Corteva, Syngenta and Nutrien are restructuring their entire businesses around Big Data platforms.” The authors name Bayer’s ‘Field View’ digital platform as an example: It extracts 87.5 billion data points from 180 million acres (78.2 million hectares) of farmland in 23 countries and funnels it into the cloud servers of Microsoft and Amazon to generate new business strategies. The authors fear that these systems will displace farm workers, erode farmer’s rights and manipulate consumers. They also point to the fact that Deere, the world’s largest farm machinery company, now employs more software engineers than mechanical engineers.

The second trend is the rising power of Asian (especially Chinese) and Brazilian food barons. “In decades past, industrial agriculture was overwhelmingly dominated by corporations based in North America and Europe, and focused primarily on meeting market demand in those regions. Today, corporate players in the global South, especially China, Brazil and India are reordering the Industrial Food Chain, while adopting the same extractive model as their Northern counterparts,” the report finds. The authors highlight that the pace and scale of China’s hyper-industrializing agrifood system is without precedent. “Chinese Food Barons are catering to colossal domestic as well as global markets: China’s state-owned Syngenta Group is now the world’s largest agrochemical input firm (seeds, pesticides, fertilizers); and China’s newly consolidated COFCO is second only to Cargill as the world’s largest agriculture commodity trader.” The third trend is horizontal integration, including the increasing involvement of asset management companies in food and agriculture sectors, which creates the semblance of competition, but diminishes actual competition. In sectors such as grocery and food processing, giant asset managers Blackrock, State Street and Vanguard maintain the largest ownership stakes across many of the top firms, showing real competition to be an illusion. For example, these three large asset management firms collectively control more than one quarter of all institutional shares of agribusiness corporations such as Pepsico (20.51% of shares held collectively by the Big Three), Tyson (25.13%) and ADM (23.92%).

ETC Group warns that the extreme market power of a tiny number of firms documented in this report enables and drives high prices. The authors write: “The year 2020 was a horrific year for food security and health – but a bonanza for Big Food and Big Ag. In the midst of a global pandemic – combined with climate shocks, supply chain gridlock, price spikes, increasing hunger, food and energy shortages, civil strife, racial violence and wars – these Food Barons made the most of the converging crises in order to tighten their grip on every link in the Industrial Food Chain. In doing so, they undermine the rights of peasants, smallholders, fishers and pastoralists to produce food for their own communities and many others.” The report makes clear that policymakers and antitrust regulators haven’t developed the tools or the teeth to clamp down on 21st century oligopoly power – including the opaque power of tech giants and asset management firms. “It can be daunting to imagine taking on the Food Barons - They are backed by the titans of capital, have their claws in around 10% percent of the global economy and are ruthlessly buttressing the Food Chain with new technologies and false promises,” said Jim Thomas, ETC Group’s Research Director based in Canada. “But their power is illegitimate and not inevitable,” he added. The report also underlines that agribusiness is currently in a moment of significant transformation. “Agribusiness has failed to feed even a third of people on the planet, while wrecking ecosystems, economies and society along the way. As the food chain becomes more top-heavy these companies become more exposed and vulnerable. It’s time to topple, defund and divest the food barons of their power,” says Jim Thomas.

The authors outline three key proposals for action. The first is to support food sovereignty. According to ETC Group, it is urgent to recognize the vital importance of non-industrial food systems. Food Barons are not feeding the world and it is not in their interest to do so. In direct contrast, feeding people is recognised as a real need and is the core concern of peasants’ and grassroots organisations which have set a very clear path to be able to feed the world and rebuild the planet: food sovereignty and agroecology. The second proposal is to divest from the chain. “Institutions under pressure from civil society have already succeeded in partly directing funds away from tobacco, arms and fossil fuels on moral grounds. Grassroots climate movements have successfully named fossil fuel majors as the obstruction to meaningful climate action. Food movements should follow suit: it is a logical next step to demand divestment from the Industrial Food Chain,” says the report. Schools, universities, pension funds, local authorities and other public institutions holding investments in the identified companies should withdraw their funds from specific Food Barons and even from the entire industrial food chain. Third, powerful new technologies such as blockchains, drones, ag robots, AI platforms, RNAi, alt-proteins, designer microbes and gene drives should be closely monitored. “The participatory assessment of technologies based on precaution, as well as the development and support for the implementation of socially and ecologically useful technologies, should be a top priority for governments, multilateral communities or fora, and civil society,” the authors demand. Food governance bodies such as the Committee on World Food Security should prioritize horizon scanning, technology assessment and monitoring of new technologies that impact food systems. (ab)

29.09.2022 |

Almost 1 million people are facing starvation, UN report warns

Millions of people are living from hand to mouth (Photo: CC0)

The number of people facing acute food insecurity worldwide will continue to rise very quickly as the food crisis tightens its grip on several ‘hunger hotspots’ identified by a new UN report. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) warn that millions of people are facing starvation and death if humanitarian assistance is not scaled up rapidly. Rising conflict, weather extremes, and economic instability aggravated by the lingering impacts of COVID-19 and the effects of the war in Ukraine are among the key drivers of acute food security, the two organisations said in a joint press release. The report released on September 21 says there are 17 countries and 2 regional clusters - the 19 hunger hotspots - where parts of the population will likely face a significant deterioration of already high levels of acute food insecurity during the outlook period from October 2022 to January 2023, putting lives and livelihoods at risk. The report focuses on the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa, where the longest drought in over 40 years is forecast to continue. The fifth consecutive failed rainy season will be aggravating the situation. “The severe drought in the Horn of Africa has pushed people to the brink of starvation, destroying crops and killing livestock on which their survival depends. Acute food insecurity is rising fast and spreading across the world,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “People in the poorest countries in particular who have yet to recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic are suffering from the ripple effects of ongoing conflicts, in terms of prices, food and fertilizer supplies, as well as the climate emergency,” he added.

The report uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), an index agreed on by the international community as a global reference for the classification of food insecurity which includes 5 phases. People in IPC/CH Phase 3 and above are in urgent need of assistance. In phase 3, households are at crisis level and urgent action is needed to protect livelihoods and reduce food consumption gaps. At emergency level 4, lives and livelihoods are at risk because households have large food consumption gaps which are reflected in very high acute malnutrition and excess mortality. At IPC Phase 5 (Catastrophe level), starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical acute malnutrition levels are evident. The new report sounds the alarm because globally, an all-time high of 970,000 people are expected to face catastrophic hunger (IPC Phase 5) and are starving or projected to starve due to catastrophic conditions in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen, if no action is taken. This number is ten times higher than six years ago when only two countries had populations in Phase 5. Around 45 million people in 37 countries are projected to have so little to eat that they will be severely malnourished, at risk of death or already facing starvation and death (IPC/CH Phase 4 and above). A total of 222 million people in 53 countries/territories are expected to be in need of urgent assistance (IPC/CH Phase 3 or above).

The situation is especially alarming in the Horn of Africa: Up to 26 million people are expected to face Crisis or worse (IPC Phase 3 and above) levels of food insecurity in Somalia, southern and eastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya. In Somalia, a likely fifth below‑average rainy season, combined with high food prices and persistent conflict, is rapidly driving an extreme deprivation of food, with parts of Bay region likely to experience famine in the context of critical gaps in funding levels to support humanitarian assistance in the last quarter of the year. Overall, 6.7 million people are expected to face high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 3 and above) in the outlook period, including 2.2 million people in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and at least 300 000 people in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5). “Without an adequate humanitarian response, analysts expect that by December, as many as four children or two adults per 10 000 people will die every day. Hundreds of thousands are already facing starvation today with staggering levels of malnutrition expected among children under 5,” the two organisations warn in their press release. “This is the third time in 10 years that Somalia has been threatened with a devastating famine. The famine in 2011 was caused by two consecutive failed rainy seasons as well as conflict. Today we’re staring at a perfect storm: a likely fifth consecutive failed rainy season that will see drought lasting well into 2023,” said WFP’s Executive Director David Beasley. “But the people at the sharp end of today’s crisis are also facing soaring food prices and severely limited opportunities to earn a living following the pandemic. We urgently need to get help to those in grave danger of starvation in Somalia and the world’s other hunger hotspots.” The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Kenya, the Sahel, the Sudan and Syria also remain ‘of very high concern’ with deteriorating conditions. The alert is also extended to the Central African Republic and Pakistan. Guatemala, Honduras and Malawi have recently been added to the list of hotspot countries, joining Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Zimbabwe.

Violent conflict remains the primary driver of acute hunger and a continuation of this trend is projected in 2022, with particular concern for Ethiopia, where an intensification of conflict and interethnic violence in several regions is expected to further escalate, driving up humanitarian needs. Climate change is also taking its toll. Weather extremes such as floods, tropical storms and droughts remain critical drivers in many parts of the globe, and a “new normal” of consecutive and extreme weather events is becoming clear - particularly in the hotspots. For example, devastating floods have affected 33 million people in Pakistan alone this year and South Sudan faces a fourth consecutive year of extreme flooding. Meanwhile, a third consecutive season of below-average rainfall is projected in Syria. In addition, for the first time in 20 years, the La Niña climate event has continued through three consecutive years – affecting agriculture and causing crop and livestock losses in many parts of the world, including Afghanistan, West and East Africa and Syria. Another factor are economic risks. The persistently high global prices of food, fuel and fertilizer continue to drive high domestic prices and economic instability. Rising inflation rates have forced governments to introduce monetary-tightening measures in advanced economies which have also increased the cost of credit of low-income countries. This is constraining the ability of heavily indebted countries – the number of countries increased significantly in recent years – to finance the import of essential items, says the report.

The two organisations call for urgent humanitarian action to save lives and livelihoods and prevent famine in hotspot countries, especially Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. “Without a massively scaled up humanitarian response that has at its core time-sensitive and life-saving agricultural assistance, the situation will likely worsen in many countries in the coming months,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. The report highlights that insecurity, administrative and bureaucratic impediments, movement restrictions and physical barriers severely limit humanitarian responders’ access to people facing acute hunger in eleven of the hotspot countries. It presents country-specific recommendations for each of the hunger hotspots on priorities for anticipatory action – short-term protective measures to be put in place before new humanitarian needs materialize; as well as emergency response – actions to address existing humanitarian needs. In the case of Somalia, for example, the authors recommend a number of anticipatory actions such as support for social protection and humanitarian programs to avert the loss of livelihoods and asset depletion. Another measure is to build social cohesion to reduce tension over access to dwindling common resources such as water (for human and livestock) and pasture. The emergency response would require USD 624.4 million for food security and livelihoods, and USD 178.8 million for nutrition interventions. It is also necessary to scale up lifesaving emergency food, cash, health, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as nutrition services through more proactive approaches, including mobile health and nutrition services in hotspot districts. The authors also recommend to expand the delivery of life‑saving food and nutrition assistance to populations living in hard‑to‑reach areas and areas that have remained inaccessible so far. (ab)

21.09.2022 |

Acute hunger is increasing in world’s climate hotspots, Oxfam

Global warming will decrease yields (Photo: CC0)

Ten of the world’s worst affected “climate hotspots” – those with the highest number of UN appeals driven by extreme weather events – are also plunging into deeper hunger. According to new research published by Oxfam International, acute hunger has more than doubled in those countries over the past six years. The development organisation says the correlation between weather-related crises and rising hunger in these countries, and others, is “stark and undeniable”. The brief “Hunger in a heating world”, published on September 16th, found that “the climate crisis is increasingly becoming a threat multiplier that conspires with other major drivers of hunger, such as conflict, economic shocks, displacement, poverty and widening inequalities”. Climate change is adding pressure on food production systems, undermining food security and increasing security risks. “Climate change is no longer a ticking bomb, it is exploding before our eyes,” warned Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director at Oxfam International. “It is making extreme weather such as droughts, cyclones, and floods – which have increased five-fold over the past 50 years – more frequent and more deadly.”

Oxfam looked at the top ten countries with the most recurring UN humanitarian appeals in response to major extreme weather events since 2000, where climate was classified as a “major contributor” to these appeals: Somalia, Haiti, Djibouti, Kenya, Niger, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, and Zimbabwe. For Somalia and Haiti, for example, Oxfam counted 16 and 12 UN appeals respectively in the last two decades. The calculations of those facing acute hunger and starvation are based on the “Global Report on Food Crises” (GRFC), a UN report published annually since 2016 by the Food Security Information Network. The GRFC uses the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) in which the scale of food insecurity is broken down into five phases (minimal, stressed, crisis, emergency and catastrophe/famine). Today, 47.5 million people across the ten countries examined suffer acute hunger (IPC phase 3+), up from 21.3 million in 2016. This is a rise of 123 percent. Nearly 18 million people in these 10 countries are currently on the brink of starvation (based on the total number of people at IPC 4 level of food insecurity and above in 2021). “For millions of people already pummelled down by ongoing conflict, widening inequalities and economic crises, repeated climate shocks are becoming a backbreaker. The onslaught of climate disasters is now outpacing poor people’s ability to cope, pushing them deeper into severe hunger,” warned Bucher.

Among the ten countries, Burkina Faso has seen the highest increase in hunger with a staggering 1350% rise since 2016. As of June 2022, more than 3.4 million people in this country were suffering from extreme hunger due to armed conflict and worsening desertification of crop and pastoral lands. In the agricultural year 2021/22, cereal production in Burkina Faso decreased by 10% compared to the previous year. Global warming above 2°C could potentially reduce yields of cereals like millet and sorghum in places like Burkina Faso and Niger by 15–25%. In Niger, 2.6 million people are facing acute hunger today (up 767% from 2016). Cereal production has crashed by nearly 40%, as frequent climatic shocks on top of ongoing conflict have made harvesting increasingly difficult. Latin America has also been witnessing rising hunger despite having a significant number of middle-income countries. Hunger in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua has increased almost fourfold over the past two years – from 2.2 million people in 2018 to close to 8 million people in 2021 – a result of years of extreme climate events on top of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Guatemala is also in the top ten list with 6 UN appeals with weather extremes as a major factor. The country saw a 147% rise in acute hunger (IPC3+) between 2016 and 2021. A severe drought has recently contributed to the loss of close to 80 percent of the maize harvest and devastated coffee plantations. “We spent almost eight days with hardly any food,” Mariana López, a mother living in Naranjo in Guatemala’s Dry Corridor, is quoted by Oxfam. Persistent drought forced her to sell her land.

Climate-fuelled hunger is a stark demonstration of global inequality, explains Oxfam. Countries that are least responsible for the climate crisis are suffering most from its impact and are also the least resourced to cope with it. According to the brief, the sum of cumulative carbon emissions of the 10 climate hotspots for 2020 was 0.002 trillion tons of carbon – that is 0.13% of the world emissions. The carbon emissions of the G20 countries – which together hold over 80% of the world’s economy – are 650 times higher than the emissions of these ten. The charity denounces that leaders of these rich nations continue to support mega-rich polluting companies that are often big supporters of their political campaigns. “Fossil fuel companies’ daily profits have averaged $2.8 billion over the last 50 years. Less than 18 days of those profits would fund the entire UN humanitarian appeal for 2022 of $49 billion," says Oxfam. But the research revealed that despite their spiralling hunger levels, funding for the 10 worst climate hotspots in the world has been equally inadequate. Between 2000 and 2021, donors provided less than $20 billion of the $31.6 billion UN appeals linked to extreme weather in the 10 climate hotspots – that is a shortfall of nearly 40 percent.

At the UN General Assembly and ahead of COP27, Oxfam called on political leaders to take urgent action to provide lifesaving aid to address the immediate hunger crisis in these climate hotspots and to guarantee adequate climate and anticipatory financing to help impacted people adapt, prepare for and cope with the next disaster. “Leaders, especially of rich polluting countries, must live up to their promises to cut emissions. They must pay for adaptation measures and loss and damage in low-income countries, as well as immediately inject lifesaving funds to meet the UN appeal to respond to the most impacted countries,” said Bucher. Cancelling debt could also help governments free up resources to invest in climate mitigation: “Rich and most polluting nations have a moral responsibility to compensate low-income countries most impacted by the climate crisis. This is an ethical obligation, not charity,” said Bucher. The report also calls on governments to provide safe and legal avenues for people forced to move due to climate change: They need to be able to access safe countries for both short term climate disasters as well as long term climate shifts which make their places of origin unliveable. Another demand mentioned in the brief is the need to build fairer, more resilient, and more sustainable food systems: “Governments and the private sector must put fairer, gender just food systems at the heart of climate response, to help small-scale food producers recover, rebuild and respond to climate crises. This includes investing in sustainable agriculture that supports local food production and preserves the planet.” (ab)

09.09.2022 |

Transform the economy to avoid social collapse and climate breakdown

We are standing on a cliff edge (Photo: CC0)

If current efforts are not accelerated dramatically in this decade, continued poverty and inequality and rising climate change will cause social collapse in vulnerable regions, according to a landmark analysis by an international team of scientists and economists. Humanity’s future on Earth will be vastly more peaceful, more prosperous and more secure if societies do everything in their power to transform economic systems this decade than if they do not, is one of the key messages of the book published by Earth4All, a platform of experts convened by The Club of Rome, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the Norwegian Business School. “We are standing on a cliff edge,” said Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of “Earth for All: A Survival Guide for Humanity”, who also co-authored the Club of Rome’s groundbreaking report “The Limits to Growth” five decades ago. “In the next 50 years, the current economic system will drive up social tensions and drive down wellbeing. We can already see how inequality is destabilising people and the planet,” he warns. “Unless there is truly extraordinary action to redistribute wealth, things will get significantly worse.” He argues that societies are creating vicious cycles where rising social tensions, exacerbated by climate breakdown, will continue to lead to a decline in trust. “This risks an explosive combination of extreme political destabilisation and economic stagnation at a time when we must do everything we can to avoid climate catastrophes.” But the good news is that the world can still keep global temperatures below 2°C and approach an end to poverty by 2050 by enacting five ‘extraordinary turnarounds’ that break with current trends and provide a framework for a fair, just, and affordable economic transformation.

The book, which was published in German on September 6th and is to be launched in English on the 20th of September, is the result of a two-year research project that brought together scientists, economic thinkers and a team of ‘systems dynamics’ computer modelers. It explores two scenarios beginning in 1980 and ending in 2100. These scenarios which are dubbed “Too Little, Too Late” and “The Giant Leap” explore how population, economies, resource use, pollution, wellbeing and social tensions might change this century depending on decisions taken this decade. The first scenario looks at what will happen if we continue on our current destructive path. It assumes that the world will continue with the economic policies from the last 40 years. GDP will continue to grow, the rich get richer while the poor fall farther behind, creating extreme inequalities and growing social tensions within and between countries. “In this scenario, the model indicates that regional societal collapse, driven by rising social tensions, food insecurity and environmental degradation, is more likely than today. Regional and global crises are often not caused by a single event like one crop failure, but cascading failures made worse by climate change, chronically dysfunctional governments and system failures,” said Per Espen Stoknes, co-author and director of the Centre for Sustainability at Norwegian Business School. In this scenario, global temperatures will soar to about 2.5°C by 2100, significantly exceeding the target of the Paris Agreement. The poorest economies will face the most extreme conditions and will have difficulties adapting to climate impacts. Later in the century, around two billion people will be living in areas that are close to the limits of human habitability. All societies will be reeling from rolling shocks of extreme heat, drought, crop failure and floods.

The second scenario is far more optimistic and argues that we can also achieve the fastest economic transformation in history. If me make ‘The Giant Leap', it will be possible to keep temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, stabilise the population well below nine billion people, reduce material use and approach an end to extreme poverty globally by 2050 – a generation earlier than in the pessimistic scenario. Social tension will decrease and wellbeing rise throughout the century because of greater income equality. In order to achieve this, societies would need to adopt immediate action across five interconnected turnarounds: Empowerment, inequality, poverty, food and energy. “Out of hundreds of potential solutions, we have found five interconnected turnarounds that represent the simplest and most effective solutions that we must start implementing this decade to build economies operating within planetary boundaries by around 2050,” said Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. First, women need to be empowered to achieve full gender equity by 2050. Second, gross inequality needs to be addressed by ensuring that the wealthiest 10% take no more than 40% of national incomes. “The wealthiest 10% currently have 50% of global incomes,” explains Owen Gaffney, author and global sustainability analyst at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “Effective progressive taxation, including wealth taxes, can easily provide the funds needed for The Giant Leap. These solutions will also help redistribute wealth which will go a long way towards reducing polarization and building the trust and legitimacy governments need to take giant leaps.” Third, poverty needs to be ended through reform of the international financial system, lifting 3-4 billion people out of poverty. “Our economic and financial systems are broken, and we are reaching dangerous levels of inequality,” said Sandrine Dixson-Declève, author and co-president of The Club of Rome. “Do we want to create the first trillionaire or do we want to create functional, fair democratic societies?” Fourth, a transformation of the food system is needed to provide healthy diets for people and the planet and fifth, we need to transition to clean energy to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

The authors underline that economic transformation is affordable. They write in their key messages that the investment needed to build a more resilient civilization is likely to be small: in the order of 2-4% of global income per year for sustainable energy security and food security. “That’s less than our current annual subsidies to fossil fuel industries. This is easily affordable, and it will create millions of jobs,” says Sandrine Dixson-Declève. She explains that “The Giant Leap” does not mean an end to economic growth. However, it is the end of “directionless economic growth that is destroying societies and the planet”. The authors call for the creation of a novel financial innovation, the Citizen’s Fund, to tackle inequality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide a safety net for the most vulnerable through economic shocks. The fund would distribute the wealth of the global commons to all people as a Universal Basic Dividend. “What is missing is coalitions of politicians willing to make it happen,” said Dixson-Declève. This is echoed by Per Espen Stoknes who said: “We have known shocks were coming our way since 1972, and yet the response has been denial.” He highlights that it is now time to hold governments accountable for the future and push for strong governance models flexible enough to deal with today’s complex challenges. (ab)

12.08.2022 |

Veggie products have only up to a tenth the environmental impact of meat, study

Vegetables have a low impact (Photo: A. Beck)

Eating plant-based foods is better for the environment than going for meat and dairy products and more nutritious products are frequently more environmentally sustainable, new research reveals. According to a British study, led by researchers at the universities of Oxford and Aberdeen, many meat alternatives such as plant-based sausages or burgers had a fifth to less than a tenth of the environmental impact of meat-based counterparts. The study, which was published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on August 8th, assessed the environmental impact of more than 57,000 products sold in supermarkets, including many processed foods with multiple ingredients. In addition, the scientists linked this environmental footprint to the nutritional value of foods. They found that products that were more sustainable tended to be more nutritious, including meat alternatives. There were of course also exceptions to this trend such as sugary beverages, which had a low environmental impact but also scored poorly for nutritional quality. “By estimating the environmental impact of food and drink products in a standardised way we have taken a significant first step towards providing information that could enable informed decision-making,” said lead author Dr Michael Clark from the University of Oxford.

The researchers used publicly available information to calculate a standardised score for the environmental impact of the most common food and drink products sold in UK supermarkets, focusing on multi-ingredient products. “While previous analyses compared the impacts of food commodities such as fruits, wheat, and beef, most food products contain numerous ingredients. However, because the amount of each ingredient in a product is often known only by the manufacturer, it has been difficult to assess their environmental impacts,” the authors write in the abstract. “This work is very exciting – for the first time we have a transparent and comparable method for assessing the environmental footprint of multi-ingredient processed foods. These types of foods make up most of the supermarket shopping that we do, but until now there was no way of directly comparing their impact on the environment,” said Pete Scarborough, Professor of Population Health at the University of Oxford. The scientists identified individual ingredients of a product and known percent composition by analysing back-of-package ingredient lists which provide all ingredients in order of size. The information on each individual ingredient was then paired with environmental and nutrition databases. The analysis makes use of foodDB, a Big Data research platform that collects and processes data daily on all food and drink products available in 12 online supermarkets in the UK and Ireland, and a comprehensive review of 570 studies of the environmental impact of food production, which includes data from 38,000 farms in 119 countries. The percentages of all ingredients within each product were then used to estimate the impact and nutritional quality of each whole product. The environmental impact was estimated for four indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water stress, and eutrophication potential (when bodies of water become enriched with nutrients, often causing harmful algal blooms and ultimately killing other life). These four scores were combined into a single estimated composite environmental impact score per 100g of product.

The study found that those products made of fruits, vegetables, sugar, and flour, such as soups, salads, bread and many breakfast cereals, have low impact scores. Many of the products with the lowest impact were composed mainly of water, such as sugary drinks. Products with an intermediate environmental impact were many desserts and pastries. Those products made of meat, fish and cheese were at the high end of the scale. Jerky, biltong, and other dried beef products, which typically have more than 100g of fresh meat per 100g of final product, had the highest environmental impact. When looking at specific types of food products, such as meat and their alternatives, lasagne, cookies and biscuits, and pesto sauces, the researchers found large variation within these types of foods. For these food types, lower-impact products often had one half to one tenth the environmental impact of higher-impact products. For sausages, for example, there was a clear difference in the impacts based on the most prevalent meat in the product. With regard to the environment, sausages primarily containing beef or lamb had on average a 240% higher impact than pork sausages, which had a 100% higher impact than chicken and turkey sausages, which in turn had a 170% higher impact than vegan and vegetarian sausages. A limitation of the analysis is that information on ingredient sourcing, such as the country of origin or agricultural production method is lacking from ingredient lists, which would help to increase the accuracy of the environmental impact estimates. For example, Brazilian beef has a very different environmental footprint than British beef from grass-fed animals.

The authors write that “assessing and communicating the environmental impacts of food products will be integral to achieving the food system transformations that are urgently needed to prevent rapid environmental degradation. (…) The algorithm developed here could help enable this transformation by providing a framework that derives first estimates of the environmental impacts of food products in countries with ingredient list regulations that are similar to those in the United Kingdom.” The researchers conclude that replacing meat, dairy, and eggs with plant-based alternatives could have large environmental and health benefits in places where consumption of these foods is high. They point out that there are multiple ways to achieve this dietary change, including direct and large substitutions (e.g., beans instead of beef) or smaller transitions between like-for-like products. They admit that in some cases, large substitutions may be difficult because of taste preferences, cultural norms, or lack of access to appropriate alternatives while “smaller transitions could be more palatable” instead. “This work could support tools that help consumers make more environmentally sustainable food purchasing decisions. More importantly, it could prompt retailers and food manufacturers to reduce the environmental impact of the food supply thereby making it easier for all of us to have healthier, more sustainable diets,” said Professor Scarborough. According the authors, understanding and communicating the environmental impacts of food products is key to enabling transitions to environmentally sustainable food systems. “We still need to find how to most effectively communicate this information in order to shift behaviour towards more sustainable outcomes, but assessing the impact of products is an important step forward,” added Dr Michael Clark. (ab)


Donors of globalagriculture Bread for all biovision Bread for the World Misereor Heidehof Stiftung Hilfswerk der Evangelischen Kirchen Schweiz Rapunzel
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