06.10.2014 |

UN report highlights failure to meet biodiversity protection targets

Farming affects biodiversity (Photo: Andrew Stawarz/flickr)

International efforts to meet a set of targets agreed in 2010 to halt the loss of wildlife and habitats are failing miserably, a new UN report found. The Global Biodiversity Outlook, published at the start of a biodiversity meeting in South Korea on Monday, shows that governments are failing to meet most of the 53 goals set for 2020 in the Convention on Biological Diversity. The signatory states are only on track to meet five goals, for example the goal of setting set aside 17% of the world's land area by 2020 in protected areas for wildlife. 33 targets show some progress, but at an insufficient rate to meet the targets, while the rest show no progress at all or the situation is getting worse. Nations are lagging behind when it comes to halving the rate of loss of natural habitats, including forests, or preventing the extinction of threatened species. “Despite individual success stories, the average risk of extinction for birds, mammals and amphibians is still increasing”, the report said. At the same time, genetic diversity of domesticated livestock is eroding, with more than one-fifth of breeds at risk of extinction. Wild relatives of domesticated crop species are increasingly threatened by habitat fragmentation and climate change. The report called for an increased focus on agriculture, for instance by limiting the over-use of fertilisers since nitrogen and phosphorus pollution continues to pose a very significant threat to biodiversity. According to the report, 70% of the projected loss of terrestrial biodiversity is caused by drivers linked to agriculture. “Addressing trends in food systems is therefore crucial in determining whether the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 will succeed. Solutions for achieving sustainable farming and food systems include sustainable productivity increases by restoring ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes, reducing waste and losses in supply chains, and addressing shifts in consumption patterns“, the authors conclude.

02.10.2014 |

Number of British vegetarians on the rise, new research

Vegetarian English breakfast (Photo: Ben Sutherland/flickr)

In the United Kingdom, the number of vegetarians is increasing. A new survey reveals that 12% of British adults now follow vegetarian or vegan diets - rising to 20% of those aged between 16 and 24. According to research group Mintel, millions more are cutting back substantially on the amount of meat they eat. “The meat alternative market will continue to be driven by an emerging consumer trend towards meat reduction on a part-time basis, also called flexitarianism, entailing increased consumption of plant-based foods without completely cutting out meat”, said Laura Jones, food science analyst for Mintel. In the UK alone, this has led to a booming £625 million-a-year market for meat-free products in 2013, up from £543 million in 2009. The study also claims that more products than ever are showcasing vegetarian credentials: 12% of all new food and drink products launched in Britain in 2013 carried a vegetarian claim, up from 6% in 2009. This includes chocolate and confectionary products which now avoid using animal-based ingredients. Mintel’s report, published yesterday on World Vegetarian Day, reveals that 48% of Britons regard meat-free products as environmentally friendly and 52% see them as healthy.

29.09.2014 |

EU-US trade deal could open the door to GM food in Europe, campaigners warn

TTIP - a trojan horse? (Photo: Gillian/flickr)

As the seventh round of EU-U.S. negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement kicks off in Washington today, fears are growing that the proposed trade deal will lead to food contaminated with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) being allowed into Europe for human consumption, despite public affirmations that food safety standards would be maintained. According to Friends of the Earth Europe, analysis from recently completed trade negotiations with Canada - seen as a model for TTIP - suggests that the EU has already agreed to co-operate with Canada, allowing low levels of GMO contamination in food and seed. The campaign group says that a leaked letter from the EU's former food safety chief signals a willingness to increase imports of GM rapeseed as part of the Canadian trade deal. “Once Europe has accepted low levels of GM contamination, there is a real risk that the existing protection will be whittled away. This trade deal agreed with Canada shows that the EU negotiators are too happy to trade away citizens' rights and environmental protections in order to benefit industry”, says Friends of the Earth Europe food campaigner Mute Schimpf. The proposed TTIP would be the biggest free trade deal in history. US negotiators and industry lobbyists have been pushing for weaker rules on GM imports, arguing that the EU’s current “zero tolerance” rule on GMOs is a barrier to trade, and damages business for US exporters. Mrs Schimpf warns that the biotech industry is using their lobby power in what she calls a “Trojan horse trade deal” to open up the European market to foods contaminated with GMOs.

24.09.2014 |

Corporate greenwash: NGOs reject Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture

Is this climate-smart farming? (Photo: cdn-pix/

On the sidelines of the UN Climate Summit, the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture was launched, which aims to achieve “sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes” and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time. More than 20 governments, and 30 organisations and companies announced they would join the initiative, including McDonald’s, Walmart and Kelloggs. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the initiative: “I am glad to see action that will increase agricultural productivity, build resilience for farmers and reduce carbon emissions.” But a coalition of over 100 civil society and farmers' organisations released an open letter on Monday rejecting the launch of this “deceptive and deeply contradictory initiative”. The organisations, among them ActionAid, Friends of the Earth, the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements and Third World Network, warn that the Global Alliance will not deliver the solutions that are urgently need “to help farming systems - and particularly small-scale farmers - adapt to a changing climate, and to revive and reclaim the agroecological systems on which future sustainable food production depends.” The signatories fear that the Alliance provides a platform for agribusiness firms to promote industrial farming: “By endorsing the activities of the planet’s worst climate offenders in agribusiness and industrial agriculture, the Alliance will undermine the very objectives that it claims to aim for. The organisations say the initiative lacks social and environmental criteria as well as a clear definition for what can or cannot be considered “climate-smart”. Instead of creating one more body for business-as-usual, governments, funding agencies and international organisations should take bold action. According to the NGOs, this includes “committing to shift resources away from climate-damaging practices of chemical-intensive industrial agriculture and meat production and towards investment in and commitment to agroecology, food sovereignty, and support to small-scale food producers.”

22.09.2014 |

New Alliance threatens small-scale farmers' control over land and seeds, NGOs warn

A cassava farmer in Tanzania (Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT)

More than ninety NGOs and campaign groups have condemned the G7’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, warning that the initiative will exacerbate poverty by depriving farmers of control over land and seeds. Representatives of governments and multinational companies, including UK development secretary Justine Greening, meet in New York today to discuss the controversial scheme. The New Alliance was launched at the G8 summit in 2012 with the goal of lifting 50 million people out of poverty within 10 years by increasing private investment and agriculture-led growth in selected African countries. In a joint statement, the organisations say that more than two years after the launch of the initiatve, „there is no sign that the New Alliance is lifting African people out of poverty, but the promise to ‘unleash the power of the private sector’ is very visibly being fulfilled.” The second progress report, published in August, gave no data on the scheme's impact on food security or nutrition in any of the ten African countries it is targeting. According to the NGOs, the New Alliance requires these ten African countries to change their land and seed laws for the benefit of big agribusiness companies. As a result of their cooperation agreements, Tanzania and Mozambique formulated new laws that criminalise farmers who exchange seeds rather than buying them from companies like Monsanto. In Ghana and Malawi similar laws are being drafted. Many small-scale farmers depend on saving seeds to plant the following year and exchanging different varieties with each other. The UK is contributing £600 million in aid money to the scheme: “UK aid should help reduce poverty and inequality, and help the poorest people access essential resources like food, land and water. Instead, the New Alliance is helping some of the world’s most powerful companies expand their control over those resources”, warned Heidi Chow, campaigner at the World Development Movement. Last month, Coca-Cola became the highest-profile company to join the Alliance, joining companies such as Unilever, Syngenta and Yara.

18.09.2014 |

Open letter: Scientists call for a strong commitment to agroecology

Agroecological practices (Photo: Find Your Feet/flickr)

The ‘International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security’, hosted by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on September 18 and 19, has opened this morning in Rome. Ahead of the forum, more than 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems signed an open letter praising and challenging the FAO on agroecology. In the face of the threats posed by climate change, continued food insecurity and rural poverty, the letter calls for a strong commitment to agroecology from the international community. According to the signatories, “agroecology, especially when paired with the developing principles of food sovereignty and food justice, offers opportunities to address all of these problems to an extent not matched by other approaches or proposals”. For this reason, agroecology has been adopted by the former U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), La Via Campesina and most recently, by over 250 scientists and experts, among others. The letter states that agroecology as a set of practices can “provide multiple benefits to society and the environment, from reducing pollution from agriculture and supporting the conservation of the environment to boosting nutrition security and improving resilience in a changing climate.” The scientists point out that international institutions, for example the World Bank and the FAO, are currently using terms like “climate-smart” agriculture and “sustainable” intensification to address critical issues including climate change and food security. They criticize these terms for being vague and “subject to abuse through misleading or incomplete definitions” whereas agroecology is a “well-grounded science and a set of time-tested agronomic practices”. The scientists therefore call upon FAO member states and the international community to build upon the proceedings of the symposium in order to launch a U.N. system-wide initiative on agroecology as the central strategy for addressing climate change and building resilience in the face of water crises.

16.09.2014 |

FAO report: 805 million still chronically undernourished

Most of the world's hungry live in Asia (Photo: Gwenael Piaser/flickr)

About 805 million people in the world, or one in nine, suffer from hunger, according to new estimates published today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme (WFP). The vast majority of hungry people - 791 million - lived in developing regions in 2012-14, down by 203 million since 1990-92. However, much of the progess can be attributed to China where the number of undernourished people fell by 138 million in this period. Several regions continue to lag behind: While Latin America has been able to reduce the prevalence of undernourishment to 6.1% of the population, in sub-Saharan Africa more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished and the number increased to 214 million. Two thirds of the world’s hungry, 526 million people, live in Asia. “It is too early to celebrate. We still have to reach the 805 million people who do not have enough food to lead a healthy and productive life“, WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said at a press conference. The FAO is optimistic that the Millennium Development Goal of of halving the proportion of undernourished people in developing countries by 2015 can be reached if greater efforts are made. Between 1990-92 and 2012-14, the prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 23.4% to 13.5% in developing countries, also due to a growing world population. In order to meet the MDG hunger target, the prevalance of undernourishment would have to decline to 11.7%. The FAO admits that the more ambitious World Food Summit target of halving the absolute number of undernourished people to 500 million by next year will not be achieved. The report also presents seven case studies that highlight diverse experiences in creating an enabling environment to improve food security and nutrition. One of them is Brazil’s Zero Hunger programme, which placed food security at the centre of the government’s agenda and sucessfully linked poverty reduction programmes with policies to support family farming.

11.09.2014 |

Commercial agriculture drives nearly half of illegal deforestation, report

Deforestation threatens the Amazon (Photo: Neil Palmer/ CIAT,

Growing international demand for agricultural commodities such as palm oil, beef, soy and wood is driving the illegal destruction of tropical forests. 71% of all tropical deforestation between 2000 and 2012 was caused by commercial agriculture, according to a new report published today by the Washington-based NGO Forest Trends. Almost half (49%) of this deforestation is the result of illegal clearing, driven by overseas demand for agricultural commodities. The study found that this global market for beef, leather, soy, palm oil, and wood products, including paper is worth an estimated US$61 billion per year. The largest buyers of these products are the EU, China, India, Russia, and the US. This overseas demand resulted in the illegal clearing of more than 200,000 square kilometres of tropical forest between 2000 and 2012, an average of five football fields every minute. “We’ve known that the production of agricultural commodities is a principal driving force behind deforestation, but this is the first report to show the outsize role that illegal activities play in the production of hundreds of food and household products consumed worldwide,” said Michael Jenkins, the president and CEO of Forest Trends. According to the study, this illegal conversion of tropical forest for large-scale commercial agriculture during 2000-2012 released an estimated 1.47 gigatonnes of carbon each year - equivalent to 25% of the EU’s annual fossil fuel-based emissions. The report suggests that at least 90% of the deforestation in Brazil from 2000 to 2012 was illegal because the legal obligation to conserve a percentage of natural forests in large-scale cattle and soy plantations was ignored. More sad news came from Brazil on Wednesday: Government figures showed that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon increased by 29% over the last year as agriculture expanded in the states of Para and Mato Grosso. Around 5,891 square kilometres of forest were cleared, an area half the size of Puerto Rico.

08.09.2014 |

Guatemala: Congress repeals 'Monsanto Law' after public outcry

Woman selling her produce (Photo: David Amsler/flickr)

In Guatemala, resistance from farmers and indigenous rights groups has led to the repeal of the controversial ‘Monsanto Law’ which would have authorised stricter property rights over new plant varieties. On Thursday, the Congress of Guatemala voted 117-111 in favour of repealing the “Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties”, which was supposed to come into effect on 26 September. The law has been widely rejected by farmers, indigenous groups and other sectors of civil society for threatening food security. Since last week, popular movements have blocked roads in several cities to call on lawmakers to dismiss the law. The repeal comes after the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest legal body, provisionally suspended the law’s entry into force in a decision taken on 29 August. Opponents say the law endangers the rights of indigenous peoples and farmers by granting transnational companies like Monsanto intellectual property rights over new plant varieties in Guatemala. Anyone who reproduces patented seeds without authorisation would be punished with four years in prison and a fine of up to 10,000 quetzales ($1,300). In a press conference, Antonio Gonzalez, member of the National Network in Defence of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala (REDSAG) and the Latin American Agroecological Movement, said that “this bill risks biodiversity, native seed varieties that are over 7,000 years old and that never required patents or labs, but have been able to sustain the lives of the Guatemalan people. We are speaking of privatising ancestral knowledge and one of the risks is the disappearance of the milpa system.” The approval of the law was a provision of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) with the United States, signed by Guatemala in 2005.

04.09.2014 |

“Sustainable intensification” will not feed the poor, new paper

Producing more food on less land won't feed the poor (Photo: David Cornwell/flickr)

Scientists have questioned the concept of “sustainable intensification” in international conversations about agriculture and food security, arguing it focuses too narrowly on food production and does not address access to food. In a new paper, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, researchers from Leuphana University Lüneburg, AgroParisTech and Washington State University write the concept does not merit the term “sustainable” because it disregards principles that are central to sustainability. Sustainable intensification (SI) seeks to produce more food on less land with the lowest environmental impact and has become a catchword in debates about how to feed a growing world population, particularly in Africa. The authors argue that SI focuses on production and increases in yields while agriculture is producing more food per capita than ever before and enough for everyone already. Simply producing more does not feed more people, as long as 30 per cent of food is still wasted and large amounts are used to produce animal feed and biofuels. The paper argues that sustainable solutions for food security must be holistic and look at how food is distributed and whether small-scale farmers and the rural poor have access to the food produced. Moreover, producing more on less land will not guarantee that less land will be used for agriculture: As yields increase, the potential profits could encourage “more people to enter the market and farm more land”, according to M. Jahi Chappell, one of the authors of the paper. Give the term’s popularity with international organisations, Chappell warns that “there’s a serious danger that it will drain both funds and attention from the larger and altogether different reforms necessary to fight hunger and food insecurity today, and in the future.”


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