News

13.08.2019 |

IPCC report calls for sustainable land management and diets

Soil
Soil is part of the solution (Photo: CC0)

A transition towards sustainable land management and diets which help reduce emissions and pressure on land is required in order to feed the world in a changing climate. This is the message of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was adopted by the 195 IPCC member states on August 7th. The Special Report on Climate Change and Land was prepared by 107 experts from 52 countries and provides a peer-based review of the latest research on climate change, food security and land use. “Land plays an important role in the climate system,” said Jim Skea, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. Agriculture and food production are major drivers of climate change: Agriculture, forestry and other types of land use accounted for 23% of human greenhouse gas emissions during the period 2007 to 2016. The sector was responsible for 13% of CO2, 44% of methane and 82% of nitrous oxide emissions from human activities globally. If emissions associated with pre- and post-production activities in the global food system are included, the estimated share in global anthropogenic emissions is 21-37%. “At the same time, natural land processes absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to almost a third of carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and industry,” added Skea. The report shows that managing land resources sustainably can help address climate change and limit global warming to 1.5ºC or well below 2°C - but only if immediate action is taken.

The authors highlight that climate change creates additional stresses on land, exacerbating existing risks to livelihoods, biodiversity, human and ecosystem health, infrastructure, and food systems. Roughly 500 million people are already living in areas that experience desertification. “Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. “We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said. The level of risk posed by climate change will therefore depend on the world population and the way it consumes, produces and manages land. Or as the scientists put it in their report: “Pathways with higher demand for food, feed, and water, more resource-intensive consumption and production, and more limited technological improvements in agriculture yields result in higher risks from water scarcity in drylands, land degradation, and food insecurity.”

The report states that coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger. Response options throughout the food system, from production to consumption, can be deployed and scaled up to advance adaptation and mitigation, the authors write. The report notes that about one third of food produced is lost or wasted. Causes of food loss and waste differ substantially between developed and developing countries, as well as between regions. Reducing this loss and waste would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve food security. But also a change in people’s diets can make a difference. “Some dietary choices require more land and water, and cause more emissions of heat-trapping gases than others,” said Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group II. “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.”

The report includes several enabling response options for the appropriate design of policies, institutions and governance systems at all scales which can contribute to land-related adaptation and mitigation. “Policies that support sustainable land management, ensure the supply of food for vulnerable populations, and keep carbon in the ground while reducing greenhouse gas emissions are important,” said Eduardo Calvo, Co-Chair of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. The adoption of sustainable land management and poverty eradication can be enabled by improving access to markets, securing land tenure, factoring environmental costs into food, making payments for ecosystem services, and enhancing local and community collective action. The scientists are clear: Only rapid reductions in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors following ambitious mitigation pathways can reduce negative impacts of climate change on land ecosystems and food systems. Delaying climate mitigation and adaptation responses across sectors would lead to increasingly negative impacts on land and reduce the prospect of sustainable development. (ab)

06.08.2019 |

Quarter of the world’s population faces extremely high water stress

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Many countries face water stress (Photo: CC0)

Countries across the globe, which are home to a quarter of the world’s population, are currently at severe risk of running out of water. According to new data published by the global environmental think tank “World Resources Institute”, 17 countries worldwide are facing “extremely high” water stress, meaning that they are using nearly all the water available. In those countries, irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of available surface and groundwater in an average year. Another 44 countries, home to one-third of the world’s population, face “high” levels of stress, where on average more than 40% of available supply is used every year. “Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about. Its consequences are in plain sight in the form of food insecurity, conflict and migration, and financial instability,” said Dr. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute (WRI). When demand rivals supply, even small dry shocks – which are set to increase due to climate change – can produce dire consequences.

WRI’s updated Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas ranks water stress, drought risk and riverine flood risk across 189 countries and their sub-national regions, using open-source, peer reviewed data. The researchers found that water withdrawals globally have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand. The hot spots for water risk are concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, home to 12 of the 17 countries facing “extremely high” stress. The region is hot and dry, so water supply has always been low, but increasing demand pushed countries further into extreme stress, WRI warns. Climate change is set to complicate matters further. The World Bank says that this region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6-14% of GDP by 2050. Qatar, Israel and Lebanon rank in the top 3 on the list of “extremely highly” water stressed countries, followed by Iran and Jordan. India, ranked 13th on the list, has more than three times the population of the other 16 countries in this category combined. Northern India faces severe groundwater depletion. “The recent water crisis in Chennai gained global attention, but various areas in India are experiencing chronic water stress as well,” said Shashi Shekhar, former Secretary of India’s Ministry of Water Resources. But even in countries with low overall water stress, communities may still be experiencing extremely stressed conditions. South Africa, for example, ranks 48th on the list, yet the Western Cape experiences extremely high stress levels. In 2018, Cape Town was on the brink of running out of water and the government announced “day zero” – the day when all dams in the city would be dry.

However, there are also many opportunities to boost water security. The World Resources Institute highlights three ways to reduce water stress. The first is to increase agricultural efficiency: “The world needs to make every drop of water go further in its food systems. Farmers can use seeds that require less water and improve their irrigation techniques by using precision watering rather than flooding their fields.” And consumers can save water by reducing food loss and waste, which uses one-quarter of all agricultural water. Second, WRI calls for more investment in grey and green infrastructure. Their research shows that built infrastructure (like pipes and treatment plants) and green infrastructure (like wetlands and healthy watersheds) can work in tandem to tackle issues of both water supply and water quality. Third, WRI recommends treating and reusing wastewater. In the MENA region, for example, about 82% of the region’s wastewater is not reused; harnessing this resource would generate a new source of clean water. “A new generation of solutions is emerging, but nowhere near fast enough. Failure to act will be massively expensive in human lives and livelihoods,” Dr. Steer added. There are undeniably worrying trends in water, he said. But by taking action now and investing in better management, we can solve water issues for the good of people, economies and the planet. (ab)

29.07.2019 |

Humanity has already exhausted Earth’s natural resources for 2019

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Humanity has already used up nature’s budget for the entire year (Photo: CC0)

July 29th marks Earth Overshoot Day this year – the day humanity has used up all the resources nature can sustainably supply in a year, according to data from the Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability organization. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations. And the speed at which we exhaust the planet’s resource budget is increasing – this year’s overshoot day is the earliest date ever recorded since the world first went into global overshoot in the 1970s. It is two months earlier than it was 20 years ago. To maintain current levels of consumption, we would need the equivalent of 1.75 Earths. Earth Overshoot Day is calculated each year by contrasting the world’s demand on nature (ecological footprint), including demand for food, timber, fibres (cotton) and accommodation of infrastructure with the planet’s ability to replenish resources and absorb waste, including carbon dioxide emissions.

Overshooting can only be temporary because we are depleting our natural capital, compromising humanity’s future resource security, the organisation warns in a press release. The costs of this global ecological overspending are becoming increasingly evident in the form of deforestation, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, or the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The latter leads to climate change and more frequent extreme weather events. “We have only got one Earth – this is the ultimately defining context for human existence. We can’t use 1.75 without destructive consequences,” said Mathis Wackernagel, co-inventor of Ecological Footprint accounting and founder of Global Footprint Network. He argues that humanity will eventually have to operate within the Earth’s limited resource budget. According to the think tank, the estimated level of resources and ecosystem services required to support human activities today is 1.75 Earths. If everyone lived the way US citizens do, it would take 5 Earths to sustain global consumption. If the entire world followed Australia’s example, it would take 4.1 Earths. Russia and Germany are using 3.2 and 3.0 Earths respectively, using nature three times faster than ecosystems can regenerate. India only needs the equivalent of 0.7 planets.

But the Global Footprint Network also believes that living within the means of our planet is possible and that the current trends can be reversed. The organisation has identified five major areas which offer significant opportunities to address ecological overshoot and improve sustainability: cities, energy, food, planet and population. For instance, cutting CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning by 50% would move Earth Overshoot Day back 93 days. Moving the date back 5 days each year would allow humanity to reach one-planet compatibility before 2050. “We know what the solutions are so it’s time to be hopeful and bold and grab the opportunity to make a positive difference while we still can,” said Aaron Kiely, climate campaigner at the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth. “We have to think again about how we consume. Large-scale political intervention is desperately needed, but as individuals there’s things we can do: stop buying what we just don’t need, make things last, insulate our homes, and collectively stop digging ourselves into ecological debt.” (ab)

16.07.2019 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

09.07.2019 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

04.07.2019 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

30.06.2019 |

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

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Climate change will hit the poor (Photo: CC0)

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

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

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

24.06.2019 |

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

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

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

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

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

17.06.2019 |

Animal products: Companies claim patents from feed to fork

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

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

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

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

12.06.2019 |

Child labour: 108 million children work in agriculture

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

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

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

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

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