tagged w/ Farming
From Chile to Colombia to Mexico, Latin America has been battered recently by wildfires, floods and droughts.
For many witnessing the extreme weather in the region and around the world, the question that comes up again and again is whether climate change is playing a role. The response from experts: Probably.
While leading climate scientists are unable to pin any single flood or heat wave solely on climate change, experts say the number of extreme weather events is increasing worldwide and the evidence suggests global warming is having an impact.
Wildfires are raging in Chile during an atypical heat wave, and northern Mexico is suffering from its worst drought in 70 years of record-keeping. A second straight season of heavy rains in Colombia killed at least 182 people, destroyed more than 1,200 homes and caused an estimated $2 billion in damage in the past four months.
Researchers predict more wild, unusual weather in the coming years, and they say Latin America is especially vulnerable because deforestation and sprawling construction have made the region more susceptible to flooding and landslides.
At a rose farm in the Colombian town of Chia, workers say floodwaters covered fields of roses last month for the second time in less than a year, leaving damaged greenhouses and a wasteland of shriveled flowers.
"Never in the history of this farm — and it's a business with 30 years in the market — have we ever had any such problem," said Javier Castellanos, the farm's manager, who estimates the damage at more than $6 million after floods in April and December.
He suspects climate change has been intensifying the rainstorms.
While experts say the cyclical cooling of the Pacific Ocean known as La Nina is a big factor in the weather, some also say climate change is likely making some of the severe weather more pronounced than it otherwise would be.
"We're seeing an increase in extremes of high temperatures, an increase in extremes of heavy precipitation, an increase in the length and severity of droughts," said Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University.
more at the linkFrom Chile to Colombia to Mexico, Latin America has been battered recently by... more
1. Food prices have gone up, and more people need help feeding their families
The fact that 46 million people -- about a seventh of the U.S. population -- now receive food stamps (i.e. help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)) should be enough to tell us that something is wrong with America's food system. But thanks to the way public food assistance is now set up, the problem is all but invisible to the rest of us.
Why are so many Americans using food stamps? Beyond our collective economic woes, a large part of the problem lies in the cost of food itself, which rose considerably in the last few years. Then there's the speculation market, which drives up the cost of commodity crops. Ethanol doesn't help, either.
2. The food we can afford could make us sick (or even kill us)
2011 saw the largest Class 1 (i.e. potentially lethal) meat recall in history, involving 36 million pounds of Cargill turkey tainted with multi-drug resistant Salmonella.
The listeria outbreak in cantaloupes was also the deadliest U.S. foodborne illness outbreak in 100 years.
Germany's E. coli outbreak over the summer was also the deadliest on record -- anywhere.
What happened to last winter's Food Safety Modernization Act -- the much-debated legislation that might have updated the regulations that would stop outbreaks like these? Well, to make a long story short, it was never funded. Who's hungry now?
3. GMOs aren't going anywhere
"Superweeds," resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, raise red flags.
Photo: Lost in FogTake a deep breath: 2011 began with the approval of GMO alfalfa (which could permanently change the organic milk industry for the worse). Less than two weeks later, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defied a court order and partially deregulated GMO sugar beets without completing an environmental impact assessment.
Meanwhile, concern about "superweeds," which are resistant to Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, raised red flags beyond the foodie and environmentalist communities; now big business is also worried. And our six-legged friends have outsmarted Monsanto too; an insect called the corn rootworm has become resistant to the company's Bt corn (which is supposed to be engineered to produce its own pesticides).
GMO business got especially fishy this year, as well: GMO salmon may also be inching toward commercial approval. The "frankenfish" appeared to be fast-tracked for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval during the first half of 2010, which would have made it the first genetically engineered animal food on the market. But in June, the House of Representatives blocked the FDA from spending money to approve the salmon. This seemed like a good sign, but in October, the USDA gave Aquabounty, the company looking to produce the salmon, a research grant -- meaning this fish is far from out of the picture.
4. Pesticides: Also here to stay for now
Methyl iodide, a known carcinogen, has been approved for use in California strawberry fields.Eaters may have plenty of evidence to suggest that agriculture should involve fewer pesticides (example: this recent piece about the weed killer atrazine in the rural water supply), but big agribusiness vehemently disagrees.
Last December's approval of methyl iodide (a known carcinogen) for use in strawberry fields in California has many advocates concerned about farmworkers, nearby communities, and water tables. Small bright spot: It has yet to be adopted widely, so many in the state are still working to make the short- and long-term consequences known. Some advocates are even calling for an end to all fumigants.
In May, we covered the fight in Congress to restrict the EPA's ability to regulate pesticides -- specifically when it comes to spraying near streams and waterways -- and the issue has yet to be put to sleep.
Meanwhile, there is now clear evidence linking a class of pesticides called neonicotinoids to recent honeybee die-offs, but top USDA scientists still refuse to recommend a ban. To make matters worse, honeybees aren't the only type of bee that's disappearing: Bumblebees are going missing, too.
5. Extreme weather is messing with our food
Between the drought in the Southwest, which wreaked havoc on farms and ranches in both the U.S. and Mexico, and Hurricane Irene, which hit the East Coast at the worst possible moment (peak harvest for farmers in New York state and elsewhere), 2011 was a terrible weather year. The result? Fewer pumpkins for Halloween, and a costlier Thanksgiving, to start with. But this year was also a reminder of the ways a shifting climate could make food production especially unpredictable in the future.
More at the link1. Food prices have gone up, and more people need help feeding their families The... more
Willie Nelson spells out what's going on with those who control our food, they're bigger than the "too big to fail" banks and we're eating this $tuff!Willie Nelson spells out what's going on with those who control our food,... more
With his long black plastic gumboots, overalls and cap, Alamin Ibrahim really looks the part of a farmer leaving his shamba (field) in the Kenyan countryside. Once a car-jacker, he has become a farmer, while the smallholding he works beside a railway line previously used as a tip for the slums of Kibera, Nairobi, produces organic vegetables. Or something very close.
Inside the greenhouse patched together with plastic sheeting, rows of onions and chilli peppers run alongside lines of tender-green spinach, just beginning to sprout. Pests devoured the most recent cabbage crop. This time the onions and chilli are supposed to keep them at bay.
As for the soil, it is still a bit too acidic. "There were quite a lot of car batteries in the tip, so of course there was spillage and the soil is still full of the stuff," Ibrahim explains. Organic farming in Kibera – with neither chemical fertilisers nor pesticides – is still in its early days.
Ten years ago Ibrahim realised he either had to leave his gang, the G Unit, or accept the likelihood of a premature death. "One day I sat down and looked at a photo taken a few years earlier with my mates. They were all dead, most of them shot down by the police," he says. So he had to find some way out. "Our main activity was car-jacking on Mbagathi Way [a major thoroughfare nearby]. In Kibera itself it was mainly petty thieving and hold-ups. If you'd come this way at the time, we'd have stripped you bare."
So a bunch of gang members who did not want to end up full of lead in a ditch decided to go straight, in so far as possible, and set up an organisation to survive in the slum. It evolved into the Youth Reform Self Help Group. They started collecting rubbish, selling plastic to "brokers" who bought recyclable waste.
Then they got hold of a 2,000-litre water tank and began selling water in jerrycans. Ibrahim says: "We did our own market research and noticed there were no latrines, no way of getting a wash, so we saved up and built proper facilities."
The wash-house seems a little like exploiting misery, but there is paper in the toilets, soap in the showers and "security" throughout, laid on by YRSHG members (which means you will not have all your gear stolen while under the shower) and the whole thing only costs five cents a time.
This was soon followed by a small operation renting plastic chairs, much in demand in Kibera. In the makeshift shacks there are never enough seats when people drop in or on special occasions. Another lucrative activity is selling wooden posts, to build the framework of new homes.
The idea of organic farming came later, in the wake of the violence sparked by the presidential election in December 2007. Kibera erupted and even the rails on the nearby track were torn up to paralyse traffic.
When calm was finally restored, the YRSHG decided to clean up the slum's perimeter and then branch out into organic food, in the hope that they could sell their produce to a specialist network. In fact the main buyers are ordinary local people, but the project is still going.
More at the linkWith his long black plastic gumboots, overalls and cap, Alamin Ibrahim really looks... more
In the run-up to Christmas, many charities are encouraging us to shop ethically. By making moral choices about what you put in your shopping trolley, these charities say, you will not only have a guilt-free shopping experience but you will be helping millions to escape the worst excesses of poverty. But what exactly are these ethical principles which underlie the fair trade label and what do we really know about it? In this revealing report, we ask the public if they buy into fair trade and the response is a mixed bag. Many base their purchasing decisions on price and need and plenty of people who know the score in the developing world see it as far from fair.In the run-up to Christmas, many charities are encouraging us to shop ethically. By... more
Consider it a taste of the future: the fire, smoke, drought, dust, and heat that have made life unpleasant, if not dangerous, from Louisiana to Los Angeles. New records tell the tale: biggest wildfire ever recorded in Arizona (538,049 acres), biggest fire ever in New Mexico (156,600 acres), all-time worst fire year in Texas history (3,697,000 acres).
The fires were a function of drought. As of summer’s end, 2011 was the driest year in 117 years of record keeping for New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, and the second driest for Oklahoma. Those fires also resulted from record heat. It was the hottest summer ever recorded for New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, as well as the hottest August ever for those states, plus Arizona and Colorado.
Virtually every city in the region experienced unprecedented temperatures, with Phoenix, as usual, leading the march toward unlivability. This past summer, the so-called Valley of the Sun set a new record of 33 days when the mercury reached a shoe-melting 110º F or higher. (The previous record of 32 days was set in 2007.)
And here’s the bad news in a nutshell: if you live in the Southwest or just about anywhere in the American West, you or your children and grandchildren could soon enough be facing the Age of Thirst, which may also prove to be the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization. No kidding.
If that gets you down, here’s a little cheer-up note: the end is not yet nigh.
In fact, this year the weather elsewhere rode to the rescue, and the news for the Southwest was good where it really mattered. Since January, the biggest reservoir in the United States, Lake Mead, backed up by the Hoover Dam and just 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas, has risen almost 40 feet. That lake is crucial when it comes to watering lawns or taking showers from Arizona to California. And the near 40-foot surge of extra water offered a significant upward nudge to the Southwest’s water reserves.
The Colorado River, which the reservoir impounds, supplies all or part of the water on which nearly 30 million people depend, most of them living downstream of Lake Mead in Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, Tijuana, and scores of smaller communities in the United States and Mexico.
Back in 1999, the lake was full. Patricia Mulroy, who heads the water utility serving Las Vegas, rues the optimism of those bygone days. “We had a fifty-year, reliable water supply,” she says. “By 2002, we had no water supply. We were out. We were done. I swore to myself we’d never do that again.”
In 2000, the lake began to fall -- like a boulder off a cliff, bouncing a couple of times on the way down. Its water level dropped a staggering 130 feet, stopping less than seven feet above the stage that would have triggered reductions in downstream deliveries. Then -- and here’s the good news, just in case you were wondering -- last winter, it snowed prodigiously up north in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming.
The spring and summer run-off from those snowpacks brought enormous relief. It renewed what we in the Southwest like to call the Hydro-Illogic cycle: when drought comes, everybody wrings their hands and promises to institute needed reform, if only it would rain a little. Then the drought breaks or eases and we all return to business as usual, until the cycle comes around to drought again.
So don’t be fooled. One day, perhaps soon, Lake Mead will renew its downward plunge. That’s a certainty, the experts tell us. And here’s the thing: the next time, a sudden rescue by heavy snows in the northern Rockies might not come. If the snowpacks of the future are merely ordinary, let alone puny, then you’ll know that we really are entering a new age.
And climate change will be a major reason, but we’ll have done a good job of aiding and abetting it. The states of the so-called Lower Basin of the Colorado River -- California, Arizona, and Nevada -- have been living beyond their water means for years. Any departure from recent decades of hydrological abundance, even a return to long-term average flows in the Colorado River, would produce a painful reckoning for the Lower Basin states. And even worse is surely on the way.
Just think of the coming Age of Thirst in the American Southwest and West as a three-act tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.
We have already experienced close to 1º C of that increase, which accounts, at least in part, for last summer’s colossal fires and record-setting temperatures -- and it’s now clear that we’re just getting started.
The simple rule of thumb for climate change is that wet places will get wetter and dry places drier. One reason the dry places will dry is that higher temperatures mean more evaporation. In other words, there will be ever less water in the rivers that keep the region’s cities (and much else) alive. Modeling already suggests that by mid-century surface stream-flow will decline by 10% to 30%.
Independent studies at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute in California and the University of Colorado evaluated the viability of Lake Mead and eventually arrived at similar conclusions: after about 2026, the risk of “failure” at Lake Mead, according to a member of the Colorado group, “just skyrockets.” Failure in this context would mean water levels lower than the dam’s lowest intake, no water heading downstream, and the lake becoming a “dead pool.”
more at the linkConsider it a taste of the future: the fire, smoke, drought, dust, and heat that have... more
A pot that will grow food for your family and the entire world from the comfort of your own home is now a reality. A breakthrough in food production, a single pot will grow food for an entire household. In less than a week, you can grow your own tomatoes, parsnips, peppers and greens without worrying about the well-documented health and environmental risks of genetically modified food. What’s more, famines will be a thing of the past and nasty supermarkets will die a natural death, as they should. So get your pot, some seeds and start growing.A pot that will grow food for your family and the entire world from the comfort of... more
Click on the main link for a 125 page PDF all about frogs and follow link below to submit your comments to the EPA. Hurry, deadline November 14th.
SAVE THE FROGS!
Amphibian populations have been rapidly disappearing worldwide and nearly one-third of the world's amphibian species are on the verge of extinction. Up to 200 species have completely disappeared since 1979. Frogs and other amphibians face an array of threats from climate change to habitat destruction; pesticide use; over-collection for frog legs and dissections; invasive species; and infectious diseases spread by human activity. Frogs eat mosquitoes, provide us with medical advances, serve as food for birds, fish and monkeys, and their tadpoles filter our drinking water. Plus they look and sound cool, and kids love them!
EPA Seeks Your Opinion On Atrazine!
The US Environmental Protection Agency is now seeking public comments regarding a potential ban on Atrazine, one of the most widely used herbicides in the United States. The EPA's call for comments was prompted by 10,012 petition signatures received from SAVE THE FROGS! supporters, and over 50,000 emails from supporters of the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The call for comments appeared in the September 14th, 2011 Federal Register, the official journal of the Government of the United States.Speak from the heart in your own words! The commenting period ends November 14th, so please don't delay.
Please copy and paste this address to submit your comments:http://www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0586-0001
http://savethefrogs.com/actions/pesticides/images/Atrazine-Ban-220.jpgClick on the main link for a 125 page PDF all about frogs and follow link below to... more
Phillip Geertson has spent the last 30 years farming and raising many diversified crops, and has been a partner in alfalfa breeding programs for 25 years. Alfalfa is a perennial plant, which makes it extremely vulnerable to contamination.
When Roundup Ready (hereafter "RR") alfalfa was first suggested I did not think that it would be developed and introduced because most alfalfa fields are never sprayed for weed control. And, if a chemical weed control was needed, there is a long list of off-patent low-cost herbicides that are effective if used properly.
Alfalfa hay is usually cut on a schedule of 24 to 30 days for each crop harvest. The entire plant above ground is removed along with any weeds. This frequent cutting and removal suppresses weed growth and will control, and sometimes even eliminate, persistent perennials and noxious weeds that Roundup will not control.
When alfalfa is properly fertilized and growing in appropriate soil conditions (correct Ph, well drained, etc.), alfalfa will outgrow and choke out most weeds. When alfalfa stands become weedy, non-thrifty, and otherwise poor performing it is usually because of poor fertility, insects, water logging, or winter damage. Weeds in an alfalfa forage field are a symptom of problems and simply spraying with Roundup to kill the weeds will not correct the underlying problem that is causing poor performance. A weedy alfalfa field should be plowed out, the soil conditions corrected, and then rotated to another crop that is not a host for alfalfa diseases, insects, or nematodes so that they die away. Afterwards, a new stand of alfalfa can be replanted.
Alfalfa is often planted with a companion crop of oats or other grasses in a spring seeding. The cover crop suppresses weeds and gives some protection to young alfalfa plants. An early summer cutting of the oats and new alfalfa plants produces valuable forage for horses, feeder cattle, and young dairy cattle. This practice, however, cannot be used with the RR technology because the Roundup will kill the oats or grass cover crop.
Forage fields of alfalfa are often planted with a companion perennial grass to produce forage that is an alfalfa-grass mix that is a superior feed for all classes of livestock. The grass component in the forage helps to balance the digestive process and gives a better balance of nutrients, so fewer supplements are required in high performance livestock. A grass mix forage is the best feed for horses and the grass in a dairy cow ration is very helpful in reducing laminitis in dairy cattle. Spraying an RR alfalfa field with Roundup will kill any companion grass.
The need for RR alfalfa is very limited; it only adds one more chemical to a long list of herbicides available.
From the standpoint of a conventional (non RR) alfalfa seed grower, the main problem with the introduction of RR alfalfa is the contamination of all alfalfa with the RR gene.
Alfalfa, a long-lived perennial, is cross pollinated by bees and other insects that fly long distances. Honey bees are known to fly ten miles, and wind gusts can pick up insects that have been pollinating alfalfa blossoms and gathering pollen and move them long distances.
Alfalfa sets and produces seed best if it is cross pollinated from another plant. If the pollen from an RR alfalfa plant fertilizes the flowers on a non-RR alfalfa plant, the seed on that non RR plant will contain the RR gene, and plants that grow from that seed will be roundup resistant. The RR gene will spread throughout the entire alfalfa population and would eventually make it impossible to raise conventional seed without some RR contamination and make it nearly impossible to breed and develop new varieties of alfalfa. This is not a good thing.
Conventional alfalfa contaminated with the RR gene will become a weed in the RR soybean, cotton, and sugar beet fields that cannot be removed.
Farmers that feel the RR technology is a valuable tool should and will avoid the introduction of any plant that is RR resistant . . . including alfalfa. The demand or acceptance of any conventional seed that has even a trace of RR contamination would be compromised, because a farmer who is growing other RR crops would not want his field contaminated with RR alfalfa.
Alfalfa is a native plant of Eurasia and grows as a feral plant throughout Europe. I have pictures of it growing along the Danube River in Austria, the Alps in Switzerland, and even in the median strip in front of the Nazi rally center in Nuremburg. It was introduced into North and South America, New Zealand, and Australia and other areas of the world where it now grows as a wild feral plant.
In a natural environment, the RR gene in alfalfa doesn't give it any survival advantage. In fact, early yield trials show that alfalfas with the RR gene are poor performers. In the environment created by human activity, however, we have given RR alfalfa a survival advantage. The worldwide use of glysosphate (the active ingredient in Roundup and other generic herbicides) will give alfalfa plants with the RR gene a survival advantage over conventional alfalfa. There is no wonder that the rest of the world does not want RR alfalfa seed and have prohibited the import of any alfalfa seed contaminated with even a trace of the RR gene.
The U.S. Alfalfa seed industry was the world's major producer of alfalfa seed. Historically, the U.S. alfalfa seed industry exported more than half of the alfalfa seed produced in the United States, but 2007 was the last time the USDA reported the size of the U.S. alfalfa seed exports. Why? Export data would be very useful in determining the amount of damage that was done to the U.S. alfalfa seed industry by the release of RR alfalfa into U.S. agriculture.
Alfalfa is the first important perennial plant to be genetically engineered and introduced into the environment that is cross pollinated by insects and that grows as a wild feral plant throughout the world. Putting a foreign gene that cannot be recalled into such an important crop without thoroughly analyzing its potential negative effects is, in my opinion, criminal. If Monsanto and/or other genetic engineering companies can get away with this introduction, then you can be sure that others will follow. Hundreds of other important plants will be subject to genetic mutation and if released into the environment could change the species forever. How does the Endangered Species Act come into play here?
Why was Monsanto given the right to introduce a gene into alfalfa plants without any published studies that prove beyond any doubt that it is safe, useful, and would not cause harm?
more at the linkPhillip Geertson has spent the last 30 years farming and raising many diversified... more
Governments are ignoring a vast store of knowledge -- generated over thousands of years -- that could protect food supplies and make agriculture more resilient to climate change, says a briefing published today by the International Institute for Environment and Development. [paper attached here]
It urges negotiators at the UN climate change conference in Durban later this month to give stronger support to traditional knowledge and address the threats posed by commercial agriculture and intellectual property rights.
The paper includes case studies from Bolivia, China and Kenya that show traditional knowledge and local farming systems have proved vital in adapting to the climatic changes that farmers there face.
This includes using local plants to control pests, choosing traditional crop varieties that tolerate extreme conditions such as droughts and floods, planting a diversity of crops to hedge bets against uncertain futures, breeding new varieties based on quality traits, and having systems in place to protect biological diversity and share seeds within and between communities.
But the paper warns that government policies tend to overlook such knowledge and fail to protect farmers' rights to grow traditional crops, benefit from their use and access markets.
“Policies, subsidies, research and intellectual property rights promote a few modern commercial varieties and intensive agriculture at the expense of traditional crops and practices,” says the paper's lead author Krystyna Swiderska, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development.
“This is perverse as it forces countries and communities to depend on an ever decreasing variety of crops and threatens with extinction the knowledge and biological diversity that form the foundations of resilience.”
The paper says that while modern agriculture and varieties may increase productivity, environmental stress and climatic variability mean the survival of poor farmers depends on more resilient and readily available traditional varieties.
“It is because of famers' intimate knowledge of nature that traditional farming practices have persisted for thousands of years and overcome climatic threats,” adds Swiderska.
“To sweep away all of that knowledge and the biological diversity it relates to in favour of a limited set of modern seed varieties means putting the private interests of commercial seed corporations ahead of the public interest of sustaining food and agriculture.”
More at the linkGovernments are ignoring a vast store of knowledge -- generated over thousands of... more
She was once the victim of injustice. Now she's using what she learned to spare other women the same fate. It's part of an inspiring USAID project in Central Asia.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZI5ypSOGWM&feature=relatedShe was once the victim of injustice. Now she's using what she learned to spare... more
I went to the Occupy Wall Street march last week, as part of the NYC food justice delegation. We carried baskets of farmers’ market vegetables and signs reading “Stop Gambling on Hunger” and “Food Not Bonds.” Food justice advocates came out from around the city—urban farmers, gardeners, youth, professors, union members, and community organizers. The vegetables attracted a lot of attention. Food so often attracts a lot of attention—the New York Times is just one of the outlets to focus in recent days on the makeshift kitchen at Zuccotti Park. What was more surprising were all of the puzzled looks we got from the bloggers, photographers, and other marchers who wanted to talk to us. “What’s the connection here with food?” we were asked many times.
The connection of the protests with food, of course, runs from the local to the global, the specific to the ephemeral. Food justice advocates are connecting with Occupy sites all around the country to donate fresh, healthy, local food or to help find kitchen space. On a broader philosophical level, as Mark Bittman writes in the Times, “Whether we’re talking about food, politics, healthcare, housing, the environment, or banking, the big question remains the same: How do we bring about fundamental change?” But there are also clear and specific reasons that all of us working for a just and fair food system, as the food movement should make the connection between our work and Occupy Wall Street explicit and strong.
In the U.S. today, the richest one percent hold 40 percent of the wealth, while almost one in five Americans is on food stamps. Rampant Wall Street speculation on commodities is driving up food costs, small farmers are being driven off their land, and agribusiness holds monopoly control of our seeds and stores. In this climate, the struggle against massive wealth disparities, unregulated financial institutions, and excessive corporate power is our struggle as well. Two points in the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City address the food system. While barely scratching the surface of the potential connections, the protesters have provided an important opening for the food movement. Will we seize it?
Speculation Drives up Food Costs
At the most obvious level, as the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy recently wrote, “Wall Street deregulation has not only made the stock market extremely volatile, it has increased prices and price volatility in agricultural markets.” That is, the relationship between government and Wall Street firms has turned food into commodity like any other, subject to the whims of the market. For decades, only people directly involved in agriculture (e.g., farmers) could freely participate in trade of futures of agricultural commodities (e.g., corn, soy, wheat). Outside speculators were allowed into these markets but with strictly enforced limits to how much they could buy. Futures trading served a practical purpose, giving farmers a guaranteed price for future harvests, and prices stayed relatively stable and reasonable for both buyers and sellers.
But in 2000, a wave of industry-backed deregulation raised and then removed these limits on speculation, which opened commodity markets to a flood of new players—these later included funds controlled by some of the biggest Wall Street firms looking for new investment opportunities after the housing bubble burst. Flooded with new investments unconnected to any direct stake in crop prices, in 2008, the commodity markets exploded, driving up grain prices worldwide. The grain price spikes were catastrophic for millions of people worldwide. Farmers, who sometimes benefit from high grain prices, mostly were no better off, because similarly skyrocketing energy prices also drove up prices of agricultural inputs.
In 2008 and 2009, the UN estimated that an additional 130 million people were driven into hunger by the food price bubble. Spontaneous food riots broke out in dozens of countries where chronic hunger is a reality. Today’s Wall Street protests are not unconnected to those; the effects of food and energy speculation continue in 2011. A study in June by University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Robert Pollin estimates that U.S. gasoline prices are $0.83 higher per gallon due to Wall Street speculation. The CEO of ExxonMobil said he estimates prices are $1.20 to $1.40 higher per gallon. And food commodity prices are as high, or higher, than they were in 2008—while 46 million Americans are now living below the poverty line, struggling with basic expenses like food.
A New Colonialism
Wall Street firms aren’t just gambling on food prices, they have begun speculating on land as well. Alerted to the potential market in agriculture, investors are buying up huge parcels of farmland all over the world, displacing the occupants, and converting subsistence production to cash crops—or, worse, simply leaving the land fallow and waiting for its value to increase. According to international NGO GRAIN, which first reported on this trend in 2008, more than 50 million hectares of land has been transferred from farmers to corporations since 2009. “Land grabs” have affected tens of thousands of people around the world who have been driven off their land–often violently–with little or no compensation, given no say in the process, and left with no recourse. For most of them, land is their livelihood; without it, the future is bleak.
More at the linkI went to the Occupy Wall Street march last week, as part of the NYC food justice... more
Here's a link to a preview of the movie:
We’ve reached a critical time in American Agriculture…increased government regulations, population growth, economic uncertainty and volatile weather patterns all have a deep impact on the American farmer’s ability to produce food for our nation.
The average American is becoming generations removed from being raised on a family farm, and most people don’t understand the important role American farmers play in the nation’s economy. Many people have no idea of what it takes to harvest the crops that end up on their dining room table.
The GREAT AMERICAN WHEAT HARVEST is a documentary film being produced that will tell the story of hard-working custom harvesters who travel from the heart of Texas to the Canadian border harvesting the wheat that feeds our Great Country and the World.
We take it for granted that our food magically appears on our table. It’s important for us to keep telling the story and inform people about the farmers and harvesters who work to make our food supply a safe, abundant, and affordable reality.
Visit our website at GreatAmericanWheatHarvest.com to find out how you can help and contribute to the development and education of telling this vital story.Here's a link to a preview of the movie:... more
Washington, D.C. (September 19, 2011) The highly anticipated report released today by the Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) reveals extensive scientific support for the conclusion that organic farming practices are overwhelmingly beneficial for consumers, farmers, the economy, and the environment. Further, it highlights the urgent need for more research to address an expanding market.
“Our data will provide even more impetus for Congress to advance organic farming initiatives in the upcoming 2012 Farm Bill and beyond,” said Maureen Wilmot, OFRF Executive Director. “To date, only modest public resources have been directed toward funding and support of programs for organic farming. We would like to see that change immediately.”
The Organic Farming for Health and Prosperity report is being presented today at the National Press Club at 9 a.m. The report’s executive summary is available at http://ofrf.org/publications/OrganicFarmingforHealthandProsperity.pdf.
Wilmot, and other top industry authorities on organic farming, point to the Organic Trade Association’s 2011 Industry Survey, which shows significant annual industry growth every year since 1997. Today’s organic food and textile market accounts for $29 billion in sales.
In addition, by 2015, a conservative estimate projects the need for 42,000 organic farmers to meet increasing market demand. Today, the industry is serviced by a mere 14,500 certified organic farmers who struggle with extraordinary production, information, and economic barriers.
With help from lawmakers, Wilmot said she hopes to build momentum for policymaking and programs that will fund further research, ensure fair and appropriate risk management tools, provide coverage for product contamination, and create a robust organic transition assistance program for future organic farmers.
More at the linkWashington, D.C. (September 19, 2011) The highly anticipated report released today by... more
EXTRACTS: "We have tried to have ever more efficient farming, with fewer people, more machines and a greater dependency on pesticides, fertilisers, GM crops and energy, using 10 kilocalories to produce 1 kilocalorie. But that is only possible if there is cheap oil. The system is basically bankrupt." - Hans Herren, Co-Chair of the IAASTD
Dr Herren was dismissive of the concept of "sustainable intensification", the alternative view of food security with food production at its heart, championed by the UK Government-commissioned Foresight report. He described it as "an excuse to sneak in GMOs and to continue with business as usual".
CropWorld Global 2011: Changing our global approach to farming
Farmers Guardian, 1 September 2011
SOCIETY has gone 'properly wrong' in the way it produces and consumes food, according to Hans Herren.
Dr Herren, a renowned scientist and international development expert, is on a mission to promote what he insists is a better alternative to the current global 'industrial' food production system, which he describes as 'bankrupt'.
He is a leading advocate of agroecology, a holistic farming model based on organic principles, where food is produced by small family farms using green methods which nourish soils for future generations.
"We have tried to have more efficient farming, with fewer people, more machines and a greater dependency on pesticides, fertilisers, GM crops and energy, using 10 kilocalories to produce one kilocalorie. But that is only possible if there is cheap oil," said Dr Herren.
"The system basically is bankrupt, which is why we need to change it to a more modern, advanced system, which will create energy, rather than consume it, and is not dependent on fossil energy, but more on people and better science."
Dr Herren, originally from Switzerland, co-chaired the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology, (IAASTD), a three-year project involving more than 400 experts from across the world.
Its 2008 report called for a radical overhaul of the way the world produces food to 'better serve the poor and hungry'. It demanded a shift away from the 'focus on production alone' and a greater emphasis on methods which conserve natural resources, backed up by trade and subsidy reforms and investment in science, education and training.
Dr Herren described it as 'the mother of all reports on agriculture on a global and human scale', but admitted being disappointed about how little its findings had been implemented globally.
Dr Herren, who spent 27 years in Africa researching pest management and sustainable production, continues to promote agroecology through the US-based Millennium Institute, of which he has been president since 2005.
He said the key to future food security was not to use more inputs to produce more food per hectare, but to rely on techniques backed by 'solid science and agronomy - such as crop rotation with legumes and green manure, a cover crop grown to add nutrients to the soil - 'to enable the land to regenerate'.
But he also claimed it had been shown in experiments and in the field these farming methods can 'double, treble or even quadruple' yields in Africa.
He added: "Agroecology will produce food which is affordable because more people will be working, so they can actually afford it.
"We need to support small-scale and family farms, where more people get employed. We have 1.5 billion people who have no job. We really have to see all this in an inter-linked system."
He refuted the suggestion that, while agroecology may have merits in developing countries, where prevailing yields were relatively low and labour was abundant, it was unrealistic and idealistic to imagine it taking over in developed nations.
Instead, he insisted productivity levels could be maintained in developed countries if agroecology displaced intensive farming.
“It has been shown in the US that organic agriculture actually produces equally good yields as traditional agriculture,” he said. “But when there is drought or a flood, organic produces more as it is more resilient. There is no question we can deliver.”
The catch is that increased crop rotation would require a change in the way food is consumed. “You can’t disassociate consumption from production. In a rotation where you have more legumes someone has to eat those beans.”
He added people in urban-centric nations such as the UK and US would return to the land if agriculture became a ‘better and more rewarding job’ through greater investment, better prices for food and a reappraisal of farmers’ importance. “We need to look up to the farmer and down to the professor,” he said.
Dr Herren blamed the lack of wider support for this model of food security partly on what he claimed was a misconception of what it represented.
“We need to dispel this idea that agroecology is a back-breaking, low-yielding process and that we want to go back to grandfather’s agriculture. Actually, agroecology has a lot of science in it and a lot of knowledge,” he said.EXTRACTS: "We have tried to have ever more efficient farming, with fewer people,... more
Fonterra, the New Zealand based dairy giant is slashing its support for [already token support of] organic farming and moving further towards GE dairy farming [GE rye grass].
Meanwhile, Scion and Arborgen push ahead with their GE tree trials in Rotorua planting 336 GE pine trees.–Gary Cranston
Fonterra has taken its next step towards genetically engineered pastures, with its announced scaling back of organic production by half, according to the Soil Health Association of NZ.
Fonterra’s announcement yesterday of a 50% drop in support for organic dairy production, shows the dairy giant’s lack of support for good environmental practice or consumer health, and marks the next step to genetically engineered (GE) farmlands, according to the Soil Health Association of NZ.
“Fonterra has never really been committed to organic production, although aiming for 200 farms and a 140% increase in production from 2005. Just 200 farms was a very limited vision. Organic production across all New Zealand’s dairy herd should have been in any long term vision for clean green 100% Pure NZ,” said Soil Health – Organic NZ spokesperson Steffan Browning.
“Organic production has been identified as the main obstacle to introducing GE grasses and crops into New Zealand in a Ministry of Research Science and Technology (MoRST, now Science and Innovation) report written by Terri Dunahay, an international biotechnology policy specialist with the United States Department of Agriculture.”
“Government also stopped real support for the organic sector following a briefing to the Agriculture Minister by Dunahay in 2009, yet Dunahay was duplicitous in every presentation I observed her. The misrepresentation of GE internationally, was appalling when Dunahay presented to Dairy NZ and the Institute of Public Administration New Zealand,” said Mr Browning.
“Dunahay and other United States lobbyists, along with New Zealand based pro-GE scientists fail to mention the significant GE contamination of non-GE farms, the loss of markets, the massive increase in herbicide use, the new resistant weeds and disease problems, higher seed and production costs, loss of biodiversity, or the human and animal health problems associated with genetic engineering (GE).”
Yesterday’s shock presentation to organic farmers in Taranaki and the Manawatu that their organically certified milk wasn’t wanted by Fonterra, because of reduced international demand, also included comment that organics caused “conventional” dairy production to be questioned as to its quality.
Best practice organics has improved soil structure and climate resilience, 43% more earthworm counts, 28% higher soil carbon sequestration, improved animal welfare, 33% less energy use, and a massive 58% reduction of nitrate leaching, yet is not valued well by Fonterra, because Fonterra’s conventional farming’s dirty environmental footprint, might be questioned more.
“The KPMG Agribusiness Agenda 2011 released in June, highlighted the potential lost opportunity of high net worth customers globally by New Zealand if support for organic market and production research is allowed to languish.” (4,5)
Organic dairy exports from New Zealand grew 400% between 2005-2009. Organic product sales in the USA grew 7.7% compared with total food sales increase of less than 1% in 2010, yet the New Zealand government is allowed funding for Organics Aotearoa New Zealand (OANZ) to stop this June, and had already long stopped support for the Green Party initiated Organics Advisory Service that had assisted significant growth in organic certification.
“Fonterra missed retailing organic butter in New Zealand, and has failed to market its organic products well. Where was the Fonterra brands organic butter in New Zealand super market shelves? It wasn’t to be found. Blaming reduced markets when there has been continued growth in organic consumption internationally shows a lack of organic marketing commitment by Fonterra, not a lack of customers.”
“Fonterra and the government have spent millions of dollars on GE rye grass development, (6) while support has been stalled for the organic sector.”
“Most of Europe and Scandinavia and many other countries have targets for farm production conversion to organics, because the environmental and social benefits are well recognised, but in New Zealand there appears to be a blind adherence to short term economic benefit including GE, even when non-GE alternatives are proven.”
“When I asked on Friday, why the government had spent tens of millions on GE grasses, but had effectively stopped spending money on organics, Environment Minister Nick Smith told me, “We didn’t think there was any money in it,” “said Mr Browning.
“The planting of 336 GE pine trees by Scion and ArborGen at their Rotorua field trial site last week adds to the sadness of spirit New Zealand is suffering through short term financial aims by giant agribusiness, while it ignores the environmental and social health of Aotearoa New Zealand.”
More at the linkFonterra, the New Zealand based dairy giant is slashing its support for [already token... more
With the economy being as bad as it is, many people are planting gardens to harvest some food to eat. WHACKO-TV brings you a new show called The Risky Gardener. This first episode looks at the friends and foes of every garden and how to keep the bad guys away and let the good guys in. This natural-off-the-grid kind of philosophy can help you plant a better garden.With the economy being as bad as it is, many people are planting gardens to harvest... more