News

05.10.2018 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28.09.2018 |

UN Human Rights Council adopts peasant rights declaration

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

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

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

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

21.09.2018 |

Agroecology could feed Europe without pesticides by 2050, study

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

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

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

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

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

11.09.2018 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

27.08.2018 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

23.08.2018 |

Sustainable development requires a transformation of food systems

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

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

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

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

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

10.08.2018 |

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

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

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

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

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

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

31.07.2018 |

Humanity has already exhausted Earth’s natural resources for 2018

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

August 1 marks Earth Overshoot Day this year – the day humanity has used up the resources nature can regenerate in a year, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international research organisation. And the speed at which we consume these natural resources is increasing – August 1 is the earliest date ever recorded since the world first went into overshoot in the 1970s. To maintain this level of resource consumption, we would need the equivalent of 1.7 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. The date has moved up on the calendar from late September in 1997, showing that humanity is exhausting nature’s resource budget faster than ever. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations.

The costs of this ecological overspending include deforestation, collapsing fisheries, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, leading to climate change and more severe droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes. These threats can force many people to migrate to cities or other countries. “As we mark Earth Overshoot Day, today may seem no different from yesterday – you still have the same food in your refrigerator,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network. “But fires are raging in the Western United States. On the other side of the world, residents in Cape Town have had to slash water consumption in half since 2015. These are consequences of busting the ecological budget of our one and only planet.” According to the think tank, the estimated level of resources and ecosystem services required to support human activities today is 1.7 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. South Korea and Russia are using 3.5 and 3.3 Earths respectively, followed by Germany which is using nature 3 times faster than ecosystems can regenerate. India only needs the equivalent of 0.7 planets.

But the Global Footprint Network is also confident that the current trends can be reversed. They have identified four solution areas with the most potential to address ecological overshoot: cities, energy, food and population. If we reduced driving by 50% around the world and replaced one-third of car miles with public transportation and the rest by walking and biking, we could move Earth Overshoot Day back 12 days. Reducing the carbon component of humanity’s Ecological Footprint by 50% would get us from consuming the resources of 1.7 Earths down to 1.2 Earths. This corresponds to moving the date by 93 days, or about three months. Another important area is food: If everyone in the world cut food waste in half, reduced the footprint intensity of their diets by switching from industrial animal-based to local, vegetable-based diets and consumed world-average calories, the date could be moved back 38 days. “The past does not necessarily determine our future. Our current choices do. Through wise, forward-looking decisions, we can turn around natural resource consumption trends while improving the quality of life for all people,” Global Footprint Network says on its website. (ab)

26.07.2018 |

We can feed 9.7 billion by growing crops for humans, not animals

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Feed maize to people instead of animals, study says (Photos: CC0)

The current crop production is sufficient to feed the predicted 9.7 billion world population in 2050, but only if we make radical changes to our dietary choices, new research shows. The scientists from Lancaster University stress the need for fundamental changes to human diets, replacing most meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives, and a greater willingness to eat crops such as maize which are currently fed to animals. For the study, published in the journal “Elementa, Science of the Anthropocene”, the researchers combined data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) with food nutrient data, and information on animal grazing and human nutritional needs. In the abstract of the study, they write that “the current production of crops is sufficient to provide enough food for the projected global population of 9.7 billion in 2050, although very significant changes to the socio-economic conditions of many (ensuring access to the global food supply) and radical changes to the dietary choices of most (replacing most meat and dairy with plant-based alternatives, and greater acceptance of human-edible crops currently fed to animals, especially maize, as directly-consumed human food) would be required.”

The scientists looked at calories and calculated what the effect would be if society in 2050 did not reduce waste and maintained per capita non-food uses at current levels while increasing meat, dairy and fish consumption in line with FAO projections to 730 kilocalories per person a day. “If society continues on a ‘business-as-usual’ dietary trajectory, a 119% increase in edible crops grown will be required by 2050”, said Professor Nick Hewitt, of the Lancaster Environment Centre. The researchers admit that meat and dairy, particularly if produced from grass, pasture and stover, may be of dietary importance to people who do not have access to diverse food types. However, they conclude that “Overall, industrialised meat and dairy production, which currently relies on feeding 34% of human-edible crop calories to animals globally, is highly inefficient in terms of the provision of human nutrition, since it reduces the energy, protein, iron and zinc supplies potentially available to humans from crops, and is incompatible with a sustainable global food system as currently conceived.” Professor Hewitt said their analysis “finds no nutritional case for feeding human-edible crops to animals, which reduces calorie and protein supplies.”

With regard to food waste, the study shows that reducing waste and excess consumption is also important, but quantitatively less significant. “The case for reducing food wastage, at all stages of the supply chain, and for reducing excess consumption above that required for healthy living, is self-evident. However, we show that, in the absence of increases in yield, both are quantitatively less important than reducing the amount of human-edible crops fed to animals,” the authors write. The analysis also shows that there is little scope for biofuel production. “Currently, 16% of crops available for eating are diverted to non-food uses, mainly biofuel. Increasing market pressures for biofuels could further stress the global food system,” said Professor Mike Berners-Lee, of Lancaster University’s Institute for Social Futures. He added that “there is currently widespread emphasis on increasing crop yields and reducing waste as the main mechanisms for ensuring global food security.” However, he stressed that the potential nutritional benefits of increased crop yields would be entirely lost if the additional crop production was diverted to biofuels and largely lost to feeding animals.

The authors highlight that the global food system has major impacts on the environment, through greenhouse gas emissions, water abstraction, soil, water and air pollution, land use change and loss of biodiversity, threatening food security and sustainability. “The challenge of sustainably producing sufficient food for the growing global population will not be solved by increases in production because there is a limit to the potential for efficiency gains, and many of these come with greater environmental costs, while increasing agricultural area by land use change almost invariably leads to losses of biodiversity,” they write. “Achieving global food security while reducing negative environmental impacts is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity,” said Professor Berners-Lee. But we can achieve this if we make radical changes to our dietary choices. (ab)

19.07.2018 |

Big meat and dairy companies are heating up the planet, report

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The meat and dairy industry is heating up the planet (Photo: CC0)

The world’s largest meat and dairy companies could surpass the fossil fuel industry and become the biggest climate polluters within the next few decades, new research shows. The report, published by the non-profit organisations Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and GRAIN, examines the 35 leading companies and found that most are not reporting their greenhouse gas emissions data and few have set targets that could reduce their overall climate footprint. Instead they are pursuing growth strategies that would actually increase their emissions, undermining international efforts to tackle climate change. The research shows that the five largest meat and dairy corporations combined (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra) are already responsible for annual greenhouse gas emissions of an estimated 578.3 Mt – more than major oil companies such as ExxonMobil (577 Mt), Shell (508 Mt) or BP (448 Mt). The combined emissions of the top 20 meat and dairy companies (933 Mt) even surpass the emissions from entire nations, such as Germany (902 Mt), Canada (722 Mt), Australia (533 Mt) or the UK (507 Mt).

According to GRAIN and IATP, most of the top 35 meat and dairy companies either fail to report emissions entirely, or exclude their supply chain emissions, which account for 80-90% of total emissions. Only four companies – NH Foods (Japan), Nestlé (Switzerland), FrieslandCampina (the Netherlands) and Danone (France) – provide complete, credible emissions estimates. The authors of the study complain that less than half of the top 35 meat and dairy giants have announced any type of emissions reduction targets. Out of these, only six include supply chain emissions. And even despite public commitments, most companies are driving overconsumption by ramping up production and exports. Tyson, for example, expects annual growth of 3–4% from beef and poultry sales, while Marfrig targeted 7.5–9.5% annual growth for 2015-2018. “There’s no other choice. Meat and dairy production in the countries where the top 35 companies dominate must be significantly reduced,” said Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN. “These corporations are pushing for trade agreements that will increase exports and emissions, and they are undermining real climate solutions like agroecology that benefit farmers, workers and consumers.”

If the growth of the global meat and dairy industry continues as projected, the livestock sector as a whole could consume 80% of the planet’s annual greenhouse gas budget by 2050. GRAIN and IATP decry that meat and dairy giants receive indirect subsidies because the public is paying the bill for the air, water and land pollution they cause, as well as the public health impacts from antibiotics overuse and biodiversity loss. “There is no such thing as ‘cheap meat,” said Shefali Sharma of IATP. “It’s time we realized over-consumption is directly linked to the subsidies we provide the industry to continue deforesting, depleting our natural resources and creating a major public health hazard. This report shows what a key role they play in creating climate change as well.” The organisations recommend that taxpayer funds should instead be channelled toward creating an agroecological transition of our food system in which farmers can supply everyone with moderate amounts of high-quality meat and dairy in a way that respects people, animals and the planet. “To do so, we must break the power of the big meat and dairy conglomerates and hold them to account for their supersized climate footprint,” the report concludes. (ab)

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