News

08.07.2021 |

UN Food Systems Summit: A call for truly sustainable agriculture

Call
A call for truly sustainable farming

More than 800 international organisations, NGOs, farming groups and food experts have issued a call for true sustainability in agriculture. They want agroecology, organic, and regenerative agriculture to top the agenda at this year’s UN Food Systems Summit and have warned against ‘greenwashing’ and the lack of transparency on the road to the summit. On July 7th, the call with the title ‘A unifying framework for food systems transformation’ was published. It was initiated by IPES-Food; organic umbrella organisation IFOAM-Organics International; Agroecology Europe; FiBL Europe and Regeneration International, and has already been signed by organisations such as WWF, Oxfam, IUCN, ECOWAS, Slowfood, Biovision and the Foundation on Future Farming, just to name a few. The signatories stress the need for a transformational change in agriculture and food systems in order to achieve true sustainability and meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and are calling on governments, private companies and civil society to adopt 13 key sustainability principles to guide this agri-food systems transformation. They also denounce ongoing attempts to co-opt sustainable agriculture. “In the run up to this UN Summit, certain groups have been playing fast and loose with the meaning of sustainability,” warned one of the initiators of the call, Emile Frison of IPES-Food, an independent panel of food system experts.

The signatories want governments and businesses to take action and change the “damaging” status quo in global farming. “Today’s dominant agri-food systems – largely driven by an industrial logic of economies of scale, intensification, specialization, and uniformization – are providing neither food security nor adequate nutrition for all. Moving us dangerously beyond the ‘Planetary Boundaries’ within which humanity can continue to safely operate, these food systems are undermining the very foundation they rely on,” the call says. “Conventional agriculture – with its heavy reliance on chemical inputs – has failed millions. It continues to deplete soils, damage biodiversity, drive climate change, and destroy livelihoods,” Frison explains. The signatories argue that these challenges cannot be overcome alone by just making incremental improvements to the current industrial model. “Instead, a bold paradigm shift is needed to redesign our agri-food systems.” According to the call, food systems reform will prove critical to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement and Convention on Biological Diversity, and to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. “Quite frankly, nothing short of a food systems transformation will steer us to safety,” added Frison.

The signatories propose agroecology, organic, and regenerative agriculture as alternatives. “To break away from the current industrial logic, agroecology is increasingly prominent in the discourse on the future of agriculture and food systems. At the same time, steady growth of the organic market is responding to rising consumer demands for healthy, sustainably produced food,” says the text of the call. “And alternative terms, such as regenerative agriculture, ecological organic agriculture, and others are being widely taken up in different regions of the world – each seeking to transform agri-food systems in an integrated way.” According to Agroecology Europe’s Paola Migliorini, “these approaches work with nature, not against it and the international body of evidence can no longer be ignored.” These different approaches find common ground in upholding all 13 principles outlined in a 2019 landmark report published by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE), the science-policy interface of FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The undersigned organisations and individuals are thus calling on Summit leaders to adopt all 13 principles set out by the HLPE.

The first two principles are recycling and input reduction: Preferentially use local renewable resources and close as far as possible resource cycles of nutrients and biomass, while reducing or eliminating dependency on purchased inputs and increasing self-sufficiency. Further principles are soil and animal health: “Secure and enhance soil health and functioning for improved plant growth, particularly by managing organic matter and enhancing soil biological activity” and “ensure animal health and welfare”, HLPE recommended. The fifth principle is biodiversity: “Maintain and enhance diversity of species, functional diversity and genetic resources and thereby maintain overall agroecosystem biodiversity in time and space at field, farm and landscape scales.” The sixth principle, synergy, aims at enhancing positive ecological interaction, synergy, integration and complementarity among the elements of agroecosystems (animals, crops, trees, soil and water). The seventh principle is economic diversification: “Diversify on-farm incomes by ensuring that small-scale farmers have greater financial independence and value addition opportunities while enabling them to respond to demand from consumers.” Further principles include the co-creation of knowledge, social values and diets, fairness, connectivity, land and natural resource governance, and participation.

It remains to be seen whether the UN Food Systems Summit will adopt the 13 principles as requested by the signatories. For Louise Luttikholt from IFOAM - Organics International this would be an opportunity to break the deadlock and the status quo: “If decision makers and business leaders are truly concerned about healthy soils, healthy plants, animals, and people, or even the Paris Agreement, then this is a golden opportunity to unify under one banner and adhere to these principles.” The Summit will culminate in a global event to take place in New York in September, after a pre-summit in Rome at the end of July. In the past months, the summit has been mired in controversy and has drawn criticism from civil society groups from all continents, denouncing the lack of transparency in the run-up to the event. In a new briefing note, published on July 7th, IPES-Food warns that the Summit is also being used to advance a new mode of decision-making that could exclude many voices in food systems. The paper refers to the proposal to create a new panel, an ‘IPCC for Food’, to streamline decisions on the future of food systems. The briefing note warns that such a new panel – as planned – risks imposing a narrow view of science, and shutting down democratic debate. It would also undermine the HLPE which already provides scientific guidance to governments, taking into account diverse knowledge and perspectives from across the food system. (ab)

05.07.2021 |

OECD/FAO: “Global agri-food systems need to transform to reach SDGs by 2030”

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Agriculture in 2030 - the outlook (Photo: CC0)

Additional efforts in the agricultural and food sector are urgently needed in order to meet global food security and environmental targets, according to a new report released on Monday by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Although progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is expected to be made in the coming decade, the past year of disruptions from COVID-19 has moved the world further away from achieving these goals, especially the Zero Hunger goal (SDG2), the “OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030” projects. “We have a unique opportunity to set the agri-food sector on a path of sustainability, efficiency and resilience,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann and FAO Director-General QU Dongyu write in the foreword to the report. “Without additional efforts, the Zero Hunger goal will be missed and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will increase further,” they warn. “We must all work together to transform the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food. An agri-food systems transformation is urgently needed.”

The Outlook is published by the two organisations each year and presents production, consumption, trade and price trends for the main farm and fisheries products at regional, national and global levels for the coming decade. At the time this year’s publication was compiled, the agricultural and food sector has demonstrated high resilience in face of the global COVID-19 pandemic compared to other sectors of the economy, the authors write. The Global Domestic Product (GDP) in 2030 is projected to remain below pre-pandemic projections. The effect of income losses and inflation in consumer food prices have already made access to healthy diets more difficult for many people. The experts say that ensuring food security and healthy diets for a growing global population will thus remain a challenge. According to the report, average global food availability per person is projected to grow by 4% over the next ten years, reaching just over 3,025 kilocalories per day in 2030. However, availability will vary among regions and countries. In low-income countries, food availability is projected to increase by only 3.7% or 89 calories per person per day. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 224 million people are undernourished, daily calorie availability is projected to increase by only 2.5% over the next decade to 2,500 kcal per person in 2030.

The composition of diets is also projected to change in the coming decade. In high-income countries, per capita consumption of meat, fish, dairy, and eggs is expected to grow slowly. The authors write that “health and environmental concerns, together with animal welfare and ethical considerations regarding eating animals are also leading to an increase in the number of vegetarian, vegan or ‘flexitarian’ lifestyles in high-income countries, and in particular among young consumers.” Consumers are also expected to increasingly replace red meat by poultry meat and dairy products. For middle-income countries, the Outlook expects a strong increase of 11% in the per capita availability of animal protein. In low-income countries, economic constraints will only lead to a limited growth in the consumption of animal products, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, per-capita consumption of animal protein is even projected to decline slightly. The composition of diets will also influence global health and there will only be a slow transition towards healthier diets. “At the global level, fats and staples are expected to account for about 60% of the additional calories over the next decade and provide 63% of the available calories by 2030,” the authors project. This trend is reinforced by a higher consumption of processed and convenience food and an increasing tendency to eat outside the home, both associated with ongoing urbanisation and rising women’s participation in the work force. Fruits and vegetables would continue to provide only 7% of the available calories by 2030. The authors point out that additional efforts are needed to increase this share so that a net intake of 400g of fruits and vegetables per person a day is possible for everyone in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations. In order to achieve this aim, food loss and waste that is particularly high for these perishable products, also need to be reduced.

The Outlook predicts that global demand for agricultural commodities – including for use as food, feed, fuel and industrial inputs – will grow at 1.2% per year over the coming decade. “Demographic trends, the substitution of poultry for red meat in rich and many middle-income nations, and a boom in per capita dairy consumption in South Asia are expected to shape future demand.” FAO and OECD consider productivity improvements as key to feeding a growing global population sustainably. Of the increases in global crop production expected in 2030, 87% are projected to come from yield improvements. “Regional yield gaps are expected to narrow over the coming decade, as yields of the main crops are projected to increase in India and Sub-Saharan Africa through better adapted seeds and improved crop management,” says the report. Expansion of cropland is projected to account for 6% of total growth in crop production over the next decade. In addition, 7% will come from increases in cropping intensity which will be driven by the adoption of multi-cropping and new crop varieties and by investments to expand the growing season through technological improvements, such as irrigation systems that allow cultivation during the dry season. A large share of the projected expansion in livestock and fish production is to result from productivity gains. However, in emerging economies and low-income countries, herd enlargement will also contribute to livestock production growth.

The Outlook also highlights the significant contribution of agriculture to climate change. Global greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 4% over the next ten years, mostly due to expanding livestock production which accounts for more than 80% of this increase. This is despite the fact that the carbon intensity of agricultural production is expected to decline over the coming decade because direct agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are projected to grow at a lower rate than agricultural production. Thus, additional policy effort will be needed for the agricultural sector to effectively contribute to the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as set in the Paris Agreement, the authors find. There is a strong need for investments in, and the global implementation of, solutions to improve the environmental sustainability of the agricultural sector, the Mathias Cormann and QU Dongyu point out. “While policy makers are understandably focused on overcoming the immediate COVID-19-related challenges, decisions made now will shape the future of the agriculture sector. There is thus a unique opportunity at this juncture to “build back better”, and to set the sector on a path of sustainability, efficiency and resilience,” the OECD and FAO heads stress in the foreword to the report. (ab)

14.06.2021 |

ILO: Child labour in agriculture remains a persistent problem

Childwork
Many children work on farms (Photo: CC0)

Global progress against child labour has stalled for the first time in 20 years. The number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide, with millions more at risk due to the impacts of COVID-19, according to new global estimates for 2020. This is reversing the previous downward trend that saw child labour fall by 94 million between 2000 and 2016. The report, published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNICEF ahead of World Day Against Child Labour on 12th June, indicates that 63 million girls and 97 million boys were in child labour globally at the beginning of 2020, or 1 in 10 children worldwide, an increase of 8.4 million children in the last four years. 79 million children – nearly half of all those in child labour – were in hazardous work that directly endangers their health, safety and moral development, and the number has risen by 6.5 million since 2016. “The new estimates are a wake-up call. We cannot stand by while a new generation of children is put at risk,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

The global estimates mask large variations across regions and continued progress against child labour in Asia and the Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. In both regions, child labour trended downward over the last four years in percentage and absolute terms. In sub-Saharan Africa, population growth, recurrent crises, extreme poverty, and inadequate social protection measures have led to an additional 16.6 million children in child labour over the past four years. In absolute terms, there are now nearly 87 million children in child labour in sub-Saharan Africa, more than in the rest of the world combined. The report warns that globally, 9 million additional children could be pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additional economic shocks and school closures caused by pandemic mean that children already in child labour may be working longer hours or under worse conditions, while many more may be forced into the worst forms of child labour when their families lose jobs and income. “We are losing ground in the fight against child labour, and the last year has not made that fight any easier,” said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Now, well into a second year of global lockdowns, school closures, economic disruptions, and shrinking national budgets, families are forced to make heart-breaking choices,” she added. “We urge governments and international development banks to prioritize investments in programmes that can get children out of the workforce and back into school, and in social protection programmes that can help families avoid making this choice in the first place.”

The report also provides statistics on the sectoral composition of child labour: Most child labour continues to occur in agriculture. 70% of all children in child labour, 112 million children in total, work in agriculture. “This is especially the case among younger children, for whom agriculture often serves as an entry point,” says the report. “Child labour takes place in family subsistence and smallholder farming, commercial plantations and other forms of commercial farming, agro-industrial complexes, capture fisheries, aquaculture, postharvest fish processing and forestry.” Services and industry account for smaller but still substantial shares of children in child labour. Around 31.4 million children work in services, which includes domestic work and work in commerce, transport and motor vehicle repair. Another 16.5 million children work in industry, e.g. in construction, mining and manufacturing.

Child labour is much more common in rural areas. There are 122.7 million rural children in child labour compared to 37.3 million urban children and the prevalence of child labour in rural areas (14%) is close to three times higher than in urban areas (4.7%). “It is necessary to promote “adequate rural livelihoods and resilience, including through supporting economic diversification, investing in basic services infrastructure, extending social protection and devising agricultural extension policies for crop diversification. Family farms and enterprises that depend on the (mostly unpaid) labour of their children need greater support to improve their livelihoods and end that dependence,” according to the report. “Inclusive social protection allows families to keep their children in school even in the face of economic hardship. Increased investment in rural development and decent work in agriculture is essential,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. “We are at a pivotal moment and much depends on how we respond. This is a time for renewed commitment and energy, to turn the corner and break the cycle of poverty and child labour.” (ab)

08.06.2021 |

Global food prices rise to highest level in a decade

Wheat
Global cereal prices increased by 6% in May (Photo: CC0)

World food prices jumped in May by nearly 40% compared to the same period last year, reaching their highest value since more than a decade, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has warned. The FAO Food Price Index, which measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities, averaged 127.1 points in May. This is an increase of 5.8 points or 4.8% compared to April and the sharpest month-on-month increase since October 2010, the UN body said last Thursday. Food prices rose for the twelfth consecutive month in a row to its highest value since September 2011, bringing the Index only 7.6% below its peak value of 137.6 points registered in February 2011. The prices for the average of five main commodity groups (cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar) were 39.7% higher than in May 2020 and the index climbed by 36.1 points compared with a year ago. Increasing demand for cereals in China along with an ongoing drought in Brazil and growing demand for vegetable oil for biodiesel are blamed for the soaring prices. “China has continued to buy, but with Brazil’s drought proving to be more severe than expected, everyone has to pray that the weather in the US is going to be good,” Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at FAO, told the Financial Times.

Soaring food prices will especially hit low- and middle-income countries which depend on food imports. People in poorer countries who already spend a large share of their income on food and are struggling with rising food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic and weather uncertainties, could be hit hard by exploding food prices. “We are not in the situation we were back in 2008-10 when inventories were really low and a lot of things were going on,” Abbassian told Bloomberg. “However, we are in sort of a borderline. It’s a borderline that needs to be monitored very closely over the next few weeks, because weather is either going to really make it or create really big problems,” he is quoted by Bloomberg. According to Abbassian, “any of those things could push prices up further than they are now, and then we could start getting worried.”

With respect to the different commodities the FAO Food Price Index consists of, the largest month-to-month increase was registered for vegetable oil. This index increased by 7.8% in May compared to the previous month, mainly reflecting rising palm, soy and rapeseed oil quotations. “Palm oil prices rose due to slow production growth in Southeast Asian countries, while prospects of robust global demand, especially from the biodiesel sector, drove soyoil prices higher,” FAO said in a press release. The FAO Sugar Price Index increased by 6.8% from April. This was mostly related to harvest delays and concerns over reduced crop yields in Brazil, the world’s largest sugar exporter. However, large export volumes from India contributed to easing the price surge. The FAO Cereal Price Index increased 6% from April. Among the major cereals, international maize prices rose the most, increasing by 8% compared to April. International maize prices averaged 89.9% above their value in May 2020, reaching their highest level since January 2013. Meat prices increased by 2.2% from April, with quotations for all meat types rising due to a faster pace of import purchases by China, as well as rising internal demand for poultry and pig meats in the leading producing regions. The Dairy Price Index rose by 1.8% in May.

FAO also published its first forecast for world cereal production in 2021. According to the latest Cereal Supply and Demand Brief, current prospects for world cereal production point to the third moderate growth in a row. World cereal output in 2021 is projected to reach a new record of 2,821 million tonnes, up 1.9% compared to 2020. World cereal utilization in 2021/22 is predicted to expand by 1.7% to 2,826 million tonnes. “Total cereal food consumption is forecast to rise in tandem with world population, while an increased use of wheat for animal feed is also anticipated,” FAO said. Based on those forecasts, world cereal stocks at the close of crop seasons in 2021/22 are anticipated to increase by 0.3% to 811 million tonnes. FAO’s first forecast for world trade in cereals in the new season also indicates also an increase of 0.3% from the high level estimated for 2020/21, when trade is expected to expand by as much as 6.3 percent to a peak level of 468 million tonnes. However, much will depend on the volume of cereals to be imported by China. (ab)

31.05.2021 |

$ 8.1 trillion needed by 2050 to solve “planetary emergency”, UN report

Desert
We need to tackle the climate, biodiversity & land degradation crises (Photo: CC0)

Investments in nature-based solutions will have to triple by 2030 and increase four-fold by 2050 if the world is to meet its climate change, biodiversity and land degradation targets. This is the message of the “State of Finance for Nature” report, published on May 27th by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative. “No one can be in any doubt that we are in a planetary emergency. The interrelated crises of biodiversity loss, land degradation and climate change – driven by unsustainable production and consumption – require urgent and immediate global action,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and Klaus Schwab, WEF Executive Chairman, write in the foreword to the report. And the new report assesses how much money would be required to finance this action. “Biodiversity loss is already costing the global economy 10 % of its output each year,” Andersen warned. “If we do not sufficiently finance nature-based solutions, we will impact the capacities of countries to make progress on other vital areas such as education, health and employment.” She added that we will not be able to achieve sustainable development if we do not save nature now.

The report compares existing capital flows to recognised investment needs in order to quantify how serious governments, businesses and financiers are about tackling the biodiversity, land degradation and climate crises. “The findings are clear: we are not investing nearly enough in nature,” Andersen and Schwab write. According to the report, we are currently investing USD 133 billion per year into nature-based solutions (using 2020 as base year). Public-sector financing accounts for 86% of this money and private finance for 14%. Of the public funds, over a third is invested by national governments into protection of biodiversity and landscapes. Nearly two-thirds is spent on forest restoration, peatland restoration, regenerative agriculture, water conservation and natural pollution control systems. Looking to the future, investments in nature-based solutions ought to at least triple in real terms by 2030 and increase four-fold by 2050 if we are to solve the planetary emergency. This acceleration would equate to cumulative total investment of up to USD 8.1 trillion, and an annual investment rate of USD 536 billion. Forest-based solutions alone would amount to USD 203 billion per year. That is equivalent to just over USD 25 per year for every citizen in 2021. Silvopasture solutions would require USD 193 billion and peatland restoration 7 billion per year. According to Reuters, Andersen said during the report launch that the total amount of 8 trillion may sound large but “it’s peanuts when we are frankly talking about securing the planet and our very own future”. She stressed that “our health, the quality of our lives, our jobs, temperature regulation, the housing we build and of course the food we eat, the water we drink” all depend on well-functioning natural systems.

The authors of the report argue that structural transformations are needed to close the USD 4.1 trillion finance gap between now and 2050, by building back more sustainably in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. A recent study revealed that out of USD 14.6 trillion the world’s 50 largest economies announced in fiscal spending in the wake of COVID-19, just USD 368 billion or 2.5% were directed towards green initiatives. “The lessons are not being learned,” the authors criticize. “As governments plan their COVID recovery policies stimulus plans, we urge world leaders to ensure that public funding helps meet objectives under the Paris Climate Agreement and serves to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity.” The authors also call on governments to redirect harmful agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies and to create other economic and regulatory incentives. “It is important to reform and repurpose environmentally harmful subsidies to level the playing field and create fiscal space for nature-based investment,” the authors write. “These also include subsidies to adopt sustainable practices and taxes to raise the costs of damaging activities.” They quote Costa Rica as an example where a 3.5% tax on carbon emissions has been introduced. According to the report, this tax has reduced fossil fuel use and raised revenue which is used to support agroforestry, conservation and reforestation. Similarly, in Peru, the Sanitation Sector Law was updated in 2016 and requires utilities to direct 1% of revenues towards improvements in water quality.

“The report is a wake-up call for Governments, financial institutions and businesses to invest in nature – including reforestation, regenerative agriculture, and restoration of our Ocean,” Andersen said. The upcoming summits on climate, biodiversity, land degradation and food systems, as well as the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration on 5 June 2021, provide an opportunity to harness political and business momentum to align the economic recovery with the Paris Agreement and the anticipated post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, and thus be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels, as well as halting and reversing the loss of biodiversity, the UNEP press release concludes. (ab)

14.05.2021 |

Small farms have higher yields and more biodiversity, study finds

Farm
Small farms have more biodiversity (Photo: CC0)

Smaller farms have higher yields and biodiversity than their larger counterparts, new research suggests. According to a study published in the journal “Nature Sustainability”, smallholders are “both productive and stewards of biodiversity” and their profit per hectare is similar to larger operations, the scientists from the University of British Columbia (UBC) found. “Small farms constitute most of the world’s farms and are a central focus of sustainable agricultural development,” the authors write. 84% of farms are less than 2 hectares in size and those farms produce a third of the world’s food, they added. “However, the relationship between farm size and production, profitability, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions remains contested.” For this reason, they looked at the current state of knowledge and found that smaller farms, on average, have higher yields and harbour greater crop and non-crop biodiversity at the farm and landscape scales than do larger farms. Thus, investing in smallholders could lead to humanitarian benefits but also to increases in food production and benefits to biodiversity, they concluded.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis. “Our initial search resulted in 1474 studies, of which 118 met our inclusion criteria and yielded 318 observations for analysis”, explains author and UBC professor Navin Ramankutty. The team analysed studies from 51 countries on the relationship between relative farm size and yields, crop diversity, non-crop biodiversity at field and landscape levels, resource-use efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions per unit output, and profit per unit area. “In our paper, we synthesize data from studies that have been conducted on this question over the last 50 years,” Ramankutty said. For crop diversity and greenhouse gas emissions, there were too few literature samples to conduct a meta-analysis and the authors simply reported on a previously conducted analysis of crop diversity relationships with farm size based on census and household survey data. With respect to yields, they found that smaller farms have higher yields. 79% of the studies reviewed reported that smaller farms have higher yields measured either in terms of weight per hectare or in crop value per hectare. “We also find that yields typically decrease by 5% for each hectare increase in farm size”, they write. “This is not an altogether surprising result – the inverse farm size-productivity relationship has fascinated agricultural economists for nearly a century.”

The study also found that non-crop biodiversity increases with decreasing farm size, with 77% of studies finding that smaller farms have greater biodiversity at both farm and landscape scales. “The primary studies we reviewed suggest that this is because of more ecological management practices on smaller farms (lower pesticide use, organic management, etc.), edge effects (smaller farms having larger margins that support biodiversity), or more diverse land cover in small-farming dominated landscapes,” Ramankutty explains in a background article to the paper. The authors found that increased field edges can lead to larger available breeding habitats for arthropods, provide refuge for arthropods and smaller species to colonize after escaping recently disturbed fields, increase the number of pollinators and beneficial predators within fields and act as conservation corridors for arthropods and small mammals. The researchers also showed that smaller farms have greater crop diversity. They found that, except for an unexplained dip in the 2–5 ha size range, there is a strong inverse relationship globally between farm size and the number of crop species found across the landscape – with higher species diversity on small farms than larger farms when controlling for area.

The study presented no conclusive evidence for a relationship between farm size and resource-use efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, or profitability, even though the majority of studies concluded that larger farms had greater resource efficiency than smaller farms. With regard to profit, conclusions were limited since the researchers only had 15 observations. For certain smallholder-dominant countries (for example, India and Ethiopia), the authors found that smaller farms were more profitable, whereas larger farms were more profitable in countries dominated by large farms, higher incomes, and better rural infrastructure, such as the US. Small farms were also more profitable when they engaged in niche, high-value markets, for example, export-oriented producers with fair trade or environmental certification. But some studies also showed that even though smaller farms had greater profits per hectare, their absolute levels of production were often too low to maintain viable livelihoods. “So we looked at profit per area, and yeah, they were equal,” lead author Vincent Ricciardi told Canada’s “National Observer”. “But then if you were to divide that amongst all your workers, and you have a lot more workers because all your family is helping you and everything, it's still probably not enough to truly be profitable per person,” he said.

The authors underline the need for increased policy support for smaller farms. “While smaller farms have benefits, smallholders are finding it challenging to make a living from agriculture,” summarizes Ramankutty. “Our study shows that smallholders are both productive and stewards of biodiversity. Rewarding smaller farms for their conservation benefits may be one policy pathway towards supporting smallholders.” The authors explain that their findings come at a time where donor countries need to invest an estimated US$14 billion annually to achieve the goal of Sustainable Development Goal 2.3 to double the incomes and productivity of smallholders. “Our review adds to the motivation for these investments,” they write. “Development support for smallholders is imperative from multiple viewpoints: the data not only show that investing in smallholders could lead to humanitarian benefits but also to increases in food production and benefits to biodiversity.” (ab)

20.04.2021 |

UN report reveals “relentless, continuing climate change”

Trocken
Dry soil (Photo: CC0)

Global temperatures continue to rise, with 2020 being one of the three warmest years on record. Extreme weather events combine with the COVID-19 pandemic in a double blow for millions of people, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). In a report released on April 19th, the UN organization warns that the pandemic-related economic slowdown last year failed to put a brake on climate change drivers and accelerating impacts. “All key climate indicators and associated impact information provided in this report highlight relentless, continuing climate change, an increasing occurrence and intensification of extreme events, and severe losses and damage, affecting people, societies and economies,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas. “The negative trend in climate will continue for the coming decades independent of our success in mitigation,” he added.

The report on the State of the Global Climate 2020, compiled by the WMO together with an extensive network of organisations and research institutions, shows that the global average temperature was about 1.2° Celsius above the pre-industrial level. The six years since 2015 have been the warmest years on record. The concentrations of the major greenhouse gases continued to increase in 2019 and 2020. The global average for carbon dioxide concentrations has already exceeded 410 parts per million (ppm) and could reach or exceed 414 ppm in 2021. Furthermore, 2019 saw the highest ocean heat content on record. The rate of ocean warming over the past decade was higher than the long-term average, indicating a continued uptake of heat trapped by greenhouse gases. WMO also noted that the trend in sea-level rise is accelerating due to the increased melting of the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. Overall, global mean sea level continued to increase in 2020. In total, around 152 Gt of ice were lost from the Greenland ice sheet between September 2019 and August 2020. A loss of 200 Gt of ice per year corresponds to about twice the annual discharge of the river Rhine.

The report also gives information on the most acute impacts and extreme weather events in 2020. Hurricanes, extreme heatwaves, severe droughts and wildfires led to tens of billions of US dollars in economic losses and many deaths. Heavy rain and flooding affected much of the Sahel and the Greater Horn of Africa, triggering a desert locust outbreak. Severe drought affected many parts of the interior of South America in 2020, with the worst-affected areas being northern Argentina, Paraguay and the western border areas of Brazil. The estimated agricultural losses were estimated at US$ 3 billion in Brazil alone. Long-term drought also continued to persist in parts of southern Africa, especially the Northern and Eastern Cape Provinces of South Africa. Extreme heat and fires were another problem last year. In a large region of the Siberian Arctic, temperatures in 2020 were more than 3°C above average. This led to prolonged and widespread wildfires. In the US, the largest fires ever recorded occurred in late summer and autumn. Australia also broke heat records in early 2020.

The WMO report highlights that COVID-19 worsened the situation for many people worldwide. More than 50 million people were doubly hit in 2020 by climate-related disasters (floods, droughts and storms) and by the pandemic. Mobility restrictions, economic downturns and disruptions to the agricultural sector exacerbated the effects of extreme weather and climate events along the entire food supply chain. Local, national and global supply chains were disrupted, compromising access to farm inputs, resources and services needed to sustain agricultural productivity and ensure food security and slowing the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the authors write. But the food situation of millions of people was bad enough even before the pandemic broke out. After decades of decline, food insecurity has been on the rise again since 2014, being driven by conflict and economic slowdown as well as climate variability and extreme weather events. Nearly 690 million people, or 9% of the world population, were undernourished, and about 750 million, or nearly 10%, were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity in 2019. Between 2008 and 2018, the impacts of disasters cost the agricultural sectors of developing country economies over $108 billion in damaged or lost crop and livestock production.

According to the report, adaptation policies aimed at enhancing resilience to a changing climate are required. “One of the most powerful ways to adapt is to invest in early warning services and weather observing networks. Several less developed countries have major gaps in their observing systems and are lacking state of the art weather, climate and water services,” said Prof. Taalas. In a foreword to the report, UN Secretary-General António Guterres writes that the world knows what needs to be done to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. “We have the technology to succeed. But current levels of climate ambition and action are significantly short of what is needed,” he criticizes and adds a call to action. “This report shows that we have no time to waste. (…) Countries need to commit to net zero emissions by 2050. They need to submit, well ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, ambitious national climate plans that will collectively cut global emissions by 45 per cent compared to 2010 levels by 2030. And they need to act now to protect people against the disastrous effects of climate change,” Guterres concludes. (ab)

07.04.2021 |

Report outlines two visions for the future of food systems

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Visions for the future of food systems (Photo: CC0)

Agribusiness giants could dominate the future of our food systems, accelerating environmental breakdown and surrendering the food security of billions of people to untested technologies managed by for-profit companies. Or civil society and social movements could fight back instead and succeed in transforming financial flows, governance structures and food systems from the ground up. This is the message from a new report published by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and ETC Group on March 30. In the report “A Long Food Movement? Transforming Food Systems by 2045”, they outline how these different futures for food systems, people and the planet could look like. The authors stress that the 2021 Food Systems Summit, convened with the express intention of restructuring the regulatory environment for food and farming, could be a sign of the battles to come. “We are facing a corporate tidal wave. In only six months’ time, the UN Food Systems Summit could rubber-stamp changes that force millions of people off the land and put our food security at the mercy of high-risk big data and AI-controlled farming,” warns lead author Pat Mooney. “But farmers, food workers and their allies are mobilizing in new ways to defend their spaces and livelihoods. In fact, the Summit could spark a quarter century of food system transformation - a ‘long food movement’.”

In the first scenario termed ‘Agribusiness as usual?’ the authors consider what food systems could look like by 2045 if agribusiness is allowed to run its course. “The keys of the food system are being handed over to data platforms, private equity firms, and e-commerce giants. This is the dystopian future of food and the planet, unless civil society fights back,” explains Mooney. The authors identify the mega-trends of technological development and corporate consolidation that are already underway, but they also point out three further trends that could characterize food systems in 2045 if agribusiness prevails. The first trend is termed “Precision-engineered ecosystems and the internet of farming things”. The authors project that algorithms will be used to pinpoint the growing conditions of every fertile square metre on earth. Crops and livestock will be tailor-made (and modified) for those conditions. Artificial intelligence (AI) will be used to re-engineer ecosystems for optimal performance and robotic tractors and drones are being rolled out as fast as digital infrastructures allow. The second trend is termed “Logistics corridors, resource conflicts, and the new data geopolitics” and foresees a future in which many low and middle-income countries will be convinced to put land, resources, and data in the hands of those supplying the technologies and offering to pre-purchase their harvests. Powerful corporations and major governments will be able to control resources and food supplies across vast economic corridors. The free trade agreements of the 2020s and 2030s will serve mainly to secure access to resources and protect rights to corporate data exploitation. With food seen as a strategic asset, a new wave of land, ocean, and resource grabs will get underway. The third trend focuses on consumers and is termed “Hyper-nudging, personalized diets, and new frontiers in shaping the eating experience”. Data from everyday transactions (digital wallets to automated food services) will be increasingly combined with information harvested online to track and manipulate people’s eating habits in order to reshape food cultures.

In the second scenario, titled ‘Civil Society As Unusual”, the authors imagine how the future of food and farming in 2045 would look like if civil society and social movements – from grassroots organizations to international NGOs, from farmers’ groups, to cooperatives and unions – gained power. This vision would require these movements to develop deeper, wider, and more effective collaborations over the next 25 years than ever before, with collective activities and umbrella strategies. “Civil society and social movements must think decades ahead. We must be ready for shocks on the horizon. Neither short-term actions nor long-term planning can wait. That’s why we need a ‘Long Food Movement’,” said Third World Network researcher Lim Li Ching, who also contributed to the report. This scenario is imagined in four interrelated pathways of food systems reform and transformation: (1) Rooting food systems in diversity, agroecology and human rights, (2) Transforming governance structures, (3) Shifting financial flows and (4) Rethinking the modalities of civil society organisations’ collaboration. The authors also describe 13 strategic opportunities within these pathways that are grounded in what is already happening or is achievable. The key strategies include diverting funds from major commodity subsidies, research expenditures and ‘niche’ budget lines to small-scale food producers. In order to redirect R&D to sustainable food systems, food movements would need to step up the pressure on bilateral donors to reorient research projects in the global South towards agroecology, to realign the mission of global research centres (the ‘CGIAR’), and to reform their own agricultural research programmes.

In addition, the shift towards territorial supply chains and ethical consumerism needs to be accelerated. If the food movement succeeds, as much as 50% of food would be sourced from local and regional supply chains by 2045. The authors also project that up to 80% of people in previously high-meat consuming (wealthier) population group will have shifted to vegetarian and flexitarian diets. Apps would allow consumers to rapidly distinguish between business-as-usual corporations, firms with a sustained commitment to corporate responsibility, and sustainable, cooperative enterprises. Other key strategies include levying taxes on junk food, toxins, CO2 and the revenues of multinationals as well as adopting emergency food security measures that supersede trade and intellectual property rules. By 2045, famine, malnutrition, and environmental degradation would be considered as criminal violations that can be internationally prosecuted if the second scenario becomes true. The authors estimate that the four pathways of civil society-led food system transformation combined could shift $4 trillion from the industrial chain to food sovereignty and agroecology. This includes $720 billion in subsidies going to big commodity production, and as much as $1.6 trillion in healthcare savings from a crackdown on junk food. Under this scenario, 75% of food systems’ greenhouse gas emissions would be cut. “Civil society can and must transform itself,” the authors conclude. “History shows that when confronted by necessity or opportunity, people can adapt almost overnight. (…) The vast changes experienced as society has adapted to COVID-19 (…) show that, tomorrow, anything is possible.” (ab)

30.03.2021 |

Europe and US to reach 'peak meat’ by 2025, study

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Plant-based burger (Photo: CC0)

The market for plant-based alternatives to meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood products is booming: Europe and North America could reach “peak meat” by 2025 – the point at which the consumption of conventional animal proteins begins to decrease. This would have significant environmental benefits, according to a new report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Blue Horizon Corporation (BHC). The study, published on March 23rd, shows that the market for alternative proteins will grow from currently 13 million metric tons a year to 97 million by 2035. Alternative proteins would then account for 11% of the protein market, up from 2% in 2020. If there are more supportive policies and regulations, such as widespread taxation of greenhouse gas emissions or reallocation of agricultural subsidies to support the transition to alternative proteins, the share could be higher. “The final domino could fall if regulators give it a push. Higher carbon prices and support for farmers transitioning from animal agriculture to alternative-protein inputs could boost consumption to 22% by 2035,” the study finds. “At that rate, Europe and North America would reach “peak meat” by 2025, and then the consumption of animal protein in those markets would actually begin to decline.” The growth rate of conventional-protein consumption in the rest of the world will slow, but total consumption will not yet decline.

According to the analysts, the key to consumer acceptance is parity. Alternative proteins must taste and feel as good as the conventional foods they replace and cost either the same or less. “We expect parity to spur a new wave of growth, catapulting what is a fairly nascent market today into the mainstream, yielding significant environmental benefits, and facilitating even faster growth,” said Benjamin Morach, a BCG managing director. The findings suggest that alternative proteins will soon reach parity with animal proteins but the date depends on the source of alternative proteins and the product to be replaced. Plant-based alternatives such as burgers, dairy, and egg substitutes made from soy, pea, and other proteins will achieve parity in 2023 or earlier. Alternative proteins made from microorganisms like fungi, yeasts, and single-celled algae could match animal protein in taste, texture, and price by 2025. Alternatives grown directly from animal cells will catch up by 2032.

The adoption of alternative proteins will have a measurable positive impact on the environment, supporting a number of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals including responsible consumption and production (SDG 11) and zero hunger (SDG 2). The shift to plant-based meat and eggs alone would save more than 1 gigaton of CO2 equivalent by 2035. That is the equivalent of Japan becoming carbon-neutral for an entire year. Compared with conventional animal-based proteins, production of plant-based alternatives emits one-eighth the CO2-e per kilogram for chicken, one-third for eggs, one-twelfth for beef, and one-ninth for pork, the authors write. Switching to alternatives would also save 39 billion cubic meters of water, enough to supply the city of London for 40 years. In addition, more than 240,000 square kilometers of farmland that are used to grow animals and their feed, would become available – an area as large as the UK. This space will be freed up over the next 15 years, increasing biodiversity as land formerly used for intensive agriculture reverts to a more natural state.

The question remains who will benefit from the boom in alternative proteins. At the moment, the big players in the market are mainly the major incumbent meat companies which are “already redefining themselves as ‘protein’ companies, making and marketing their own alternatives,” the authors explain. US meat giant Tyson Foods and Germany’s Rügenwalder Mühle have their own alternative-protein brands. The market for alternative meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood products is set to reach at least $290 billion by 2035. This might also be the reason why the consulting firms are interested in the topic of alternative products. The authors stress that investors have much to gain from the protein transformation. “The alternative protein arena is wide open, and progress is happening fast. There is a real opportunity here for investors to make their moves early and become integral players in the future of food,” said BHC managing partner and CEO, Björn Witte. (ab)

08.03.2021 |

Empowering women and girls is key to ensuring food security

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Empowering women is key to food security (Photo: CC0)

Empowering women and girls is crucial to ensure sustainable food security in the aftermath of COVID-19, according to the heads of the three United Nations’ food agencies. Hunger and famine will persist and there will be unequal recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic unless more women in rural and urban areas hold leadership positions with increased decision-making power, they said in a press release published ahead of International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”. The heads of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) highlight that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected women and exacerbated existing vulnerabilities by reducing their economic opportunities and access to nutritious foods while at the same time increasing their workloads and escalating gender-based violence. Empowering women and female farmers is thus important so that they can contribute to the recovery from the pandemic and help create an environment that eliminates poverty, enhances productivity and improves food security and nutrition. “Women and girls can play a crucial role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in particular in transforming our agri-food systems. We all need to work together to spark the necessary changes to empower women and girls, particularly those in rural areas,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

Food security and gender inequality are closely linked with disadvantages beginning at a young age. In many countries boys and girls have very different childhoods, the UN organisations remind. Boys eat first, are given more food than their sisters, do less housework and marry later. For girls, marriage and not school work can dominate their childhoods. “The world is home to more than 1.1 billion girls under the age of 18, who have the potential of becoming the largest generation of female leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers ever seen for the better future. Yet, women and girls continue to face persistent structural constraints that prevent them from fully developing their potential and hinder their efforts of improving their lives as well as their households and communities,” QU Dongyu added. “We know from our work around the world that when women and girls have better access to information, resources and economic opportunities, and are free to make their own decisions, hunger rates fall and nutrition improves not only for themselves but also their families, communities and countries,” said David Beasley, Executive Director of WFP.

Women’s leadership is particularly important in rural areas of developing countries, where the voices of the 1.7 billion women and girls who live there are often overlooked. 60% of women in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture, yet they have less access to resources and services than men, including land, finance, training, inputs and equipment. Research suggests that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields by 20 to 30% and total agricultural output by 2.5 to 4%, lifting 100 to 150 million people out of hunger. In addition to their agricultural work, women are overburdened with domestic chores and caring for their families - roles that have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, women are more negatively affected by the social and economic impacts of the pandemic, including losing livelihoods and experiencing decreases in their personal incomes. “Investing in rural women’s leadership and involving them more in creating our post-COVID future is critical to ensure their perspectives and needs are adequately considered, so that we can build back better food systems where there is equal access to nutritious food and decent livelihoods,” said IFAD president Gilbert F. Houngbo. (ab)

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