Food and Hunger

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rice paddies methaneNew rice variety could feed the planet without warming it
(Science) A new type of genetically modified (GM) rice might significantly lessen the impact of agriculture on the climate. The plant, equipped with DNA from barley, emits as little as 1% of the methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—of a conventional variety, while also producing more rice. Experts say the approach has great potential for boosting food sustainability, but requires more research to check whether the new rice performs well in paddies and fields. “They are extraordinary results,” says Timothy Searchinger, who researches climate and agriculture at Princeton University and wasn’t involved in the study.
Methane has caused roughly 20% of global warming since the industrial revolution. The major anthropogenic source of methane is agriculture, principally from the guts and manure of livestock and from rice. Why rice? Most of the crop is grown in flooded soil, which lacks oxygen and is an ideal home for methane-producing microbes. Between 80% and 90% of methane emitted from rice fields is produced by microbes living on plant roots; some of the gas dissolves into the water and bubbles up, but most is absorbed along with water by plant roots, travels up to the stems and leaves, and escapes into the atmosphere.
There is already a way to significantly cut methane emissions from rice paddies: Briefly draining the fields adds oxygen to the soil and knocks back the methane-producing microbes. This has other benefits as well: Farmers in China already drain their fields because it can boost yields, and in California and elsewhere, draining helps conserve water
16 June
Why does almost half of America’s food go to waste?
(PBS Newshour) A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council says that as much as 40 percent of all the food produced in the United States never gets eaten.
That waste occurs at every point along the food chain. Some is lost in transport and during food processing. Supermarkets and we the consumers end up tossing out a lot too.
But what about what’s lost on the farm? An NRDC report found that anywhere from 1 percent to 30 percent of farmers’ crops don’t make it to market.
Eighty percent of our water, 10 percent of our energy, 40 percent of our land is used to grow our food.
Now food is the largest material in our landfills. Of all the things that are in our dumps, the biggest portion is food. And when it rots in a landfill, it emits methane, which is a very potent greenhouse gas, 30 or 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide. … The food bank’s Farm to Family program has tried to recruit more growers who pack in the field to … separate out the seconds and pack it in these black crates headed for the food bank. The premium heads get packed in the Ocean Mist boxes headed for retailers. It’s a simple process, but only three out of 25 broccoli and cauliflower growers in the state participate.
The state of California does offer farmers tax credits to donate produce, but California Association of Food Banks Paul Ash says the food banks are lobbying for bigger deductions. There are only six other states besides California that give tax breaks to growers for donating food. Fifty million Americans don’t know where their next meal is coming from. We, meanwhile, are wasting this — all this food. If we cut our food waste even by a third, there would be enough food for all those people who don’t know where their next meal is coming from to be fully fed.

FAO chief: Ending hunger starts at the international level
Hunger still exists despite the world’s ability to produce enough food for all, writes Jose Graziano da Silva, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization. Hunger is mainly caused by lack of access and protracted armed conflicts, he writes, and those issues must be addressed directly by the United Nations and others so FAO and other organizations can do the work of feeding people. Food Tank (1/16)

2014

UN reinstates Syrian refugees World Food Programme aid
The UN World Food Programme says it will reinstate food aid this month to the very poorest Syrian refugees.
An online campaign by the WFP has raised some $25m out of $64m needed to keep the programme running this month.
Earlier this week, the UN warned that Syrian refugees were facing “disaster” because it had been forced to suspend the aid.
WFP cutbacks highlight strain on global food aid programs
The World Food Programme and others are being hampered by dwindling donations and the increased demand for food aid. “The vouchers are exactly what help from the international community should be all about, and the program should promptly get the funds it needs to carry on as the winter months make the plight of the refugees even more miserable,” argues The New York Times in an editorial. The Christian Science Monitor (12/1), The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (12/2), Reuters (12/3), ABC News/The Associated Press (12/2)
15 July
No bees no food
Our Bees, Ourselves – Bees and Colony Collapse
Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.
(NYT) AROUND the world, honeybee colonies are dying in huge numbers: About one-third of hives collapse each year, a pattern going back a decade. For bees and the plants they pollinate — as well as for beekeepers, farmers, honey lovers and everyone else who appreciates this marvelous social insect — this is a catastrophe.
Honeybee collapse has been particularly vexing because there is no one cause, but rather a thousand little cuts. The main elements include the compounding impact of pesticides applied to fields, as well as pesticides applied directly into hives to control mites; fungal, bacterial and viral pests and diseases; nutritional deficiencies caused by vast acreages of single-crop fields that lack diverse flowering plants; and, in the United States, commercial beekeeping itself, which disrupts colonies by moving most bees around the country multiple times each year to pollinate crops.
The real issue, though, is not the volume of problems, but the interactions among them. Here we find a core lesson from the bees that we ignore at our peril: the concept of synergy, where one plus one equals three, or four, or more. A typical honeybee colony contains residue from more than 120 pesticides. Alone, each represents a benign dose. But together they form a toxic soup of chemicals whose interplay can substantially reduce the effectiveness of bees’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases.

2013

UN Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO)
2012 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics
The Economist Feast and famine — Demography and development
McGill Institute for Global Food Security

Does the world produce enough food to feed everyone?
The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day according to the most recent estimate that we could find.(FAO 2002, p.9). The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food. – World Hunger Education Services

29 July
Bill Seeks to Halt Bee-Killing Pesticides in U.S.
(IPS) – Two Congressional Democrats have co-sponsored new legislation called the Save America’s Pollinators Act of 2013 to take emergency action to save the remaining bees in the U.S., and in turn, the U.S. food supply.
At issue is the use of toxic insecticides called neonicotinoids. Recent studies suggest that at least four types of these insecticides are a primary cause of the massive decline in bee populations seen in the U.S. in recent years.
During the last winter alone, which began in 2012 and ended early this year, U.S. beekeepers lost 45.1 percent of the colonies they operate, with some beekeepers losing 100 percent, according to a government-sponsored study.
The European Union has already imposed a two-year moratorium on several types of neonicotinoids, after the European Food Safety Authority found in January 2013 that certain neonicotinoids were threatening Europe’s bee populations.
15 July
FAO honors Kuwait for meeting MDGs – envoy
(KUNA) The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) honored Kuwait, along with another 37 member countries, for meeting the anti-hunger targets for 2015, reflecting the Gulf state’s leading food security strategy.
The 38 countries have met targets in the fight against hunger, chalking up successes ahead of the deadline set by the UN as part of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They have been honored at a special ceremony on the sidelines of the just-ended week-long 38th FAO Conference, Kuwait permanent delegate to the UN organizations in Rome Faisal Al-Hasawi told KUNA on Sunday.
“The honoring of Kuwait came in recognition by FAO of the country’s outstanding contributions to famine relief efforts of UN agencies worldwide,” he said.
3 July
Pitfalls And Perils Of Politicized Food Insecurity – Analysis
(Eurasia Review) With food and hunger being basic human issues, there is an urgent need to extensively work at grass-root levels like neighborhood and community-based support projects that would help in achieving a hunger free and sustainable world in a short period of time.
Linking farmers to moving markets

FAO report says policy-makers need to recognize the vast diversity of ‘smallholder farmers’, while linking them to constantly evolving markets, to be able to feed more people
In a new report, FAO is calling for more nuanced policy-making to boost smallholder farm output, requiring better knowledge of individual farm households and the constraints they face, to be able to target investments and policy support where they are needed to ensure that they can sell surpluses from their harvests.
2 July
Generating Global Governance to End Hunger
(IPS) – Sub-Saharan Africa may be home to six of the world’s 10-fastest growing economies, but it also has a majority of the countries that are suffering from a food crisis.
In fact, of the 20 countries in the world suffering from prolonged food shortages, 17 are in Africa, according to José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
The commitment to making agricultural development and the eradication of hunger the focus of Africa’s growing economy reached a new consensus when African and international leaders and key stakeholders met at the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa from Jun. 30 to Jul. 1. At the summit, leaders agreed to renew their partnership and commitment to “Zero Hunger” in Africa by 2025.
Da Silva helped launch and implement the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) programme in his native Brazil, which prioritised investment in poor farmers through social protection nets, and lifted 28 million Brazilians out of poverty.
FAO Sofa2013-en15-22 June 38th FAO conference
21 June
Food Disparities Are Scandalous, Says Pope Francis
(IPS) – Pope Francis has challenged the Food and Agriculture Organisation to end global food disparities, describing it as scandalous that despite food abundance, millions of people still die of hunger.
“It is a well-known fact that current levels of production are sufficient, yet millions of people are still suffering and dying of starvation,” the head of the Roman Catholic Church said during a special meeting with delegates to the 38th Biennial FAO Conference.
“This is truly scandalous. A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table.”
Pope Francis said the world can no longer hide behind goodwill and unmet promises, nor use the current global crisis as a pretext for failing to act on accessing food to everyone. He lamented that human dignity risked turning into a vague abstraction in the face of issues like war, malnutrition, marginalisation and financial speculation which affected the price of food, which was being treated like any other market product.
20 June
Terraviva The latest news on the conference daily in English, Spanish and French (.pdf)
17 June
Budget Is the Missing Link: FAO Director General
(IPS) – World food production in developing regions soared by up to 40 percent over the past decade, yet nearly a billion people continued to live with chronic hunger.
To bridge this gap, there is an urgent need to strengthen the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation’s budget, says FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva, addressing an assembly of delegates and heads of state at the 38th session of FAO’s biannual conference.
22 January
Reduce food waste dramatically with simple acts, says UN
(The Guardian) Small but simple actions by consumers and food retailers could dramatically cut the 1.3bn tonnes of food lost or wasted across the world each year, according to an unprecedented global campaign launched on Tuesday.
Requesting smaller portions at restaurants, freezing leftovers and donating to food banks can help make a difference, says the UN-led Think, Eat, Save: Reduce Your Foodprint campaign, while retailers and supermarkets should be carrying out audits and working more closely with their suppliers to reduce waste.
Nearly half of world’s food wasted, report says
As much as 2 billion metric tons of food are wasted each year, tantamount to nearly half the food produced worldwide, according to a report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Waste in developed economies is attributed to marketing practices and consumer behavior. “This is food that could be used to feed the world’s growing population — as well as those in hunger today. It is also an unnecessary waste of the land, water and energy resources that were used in the production, processing and distribution of this food,” said Tim Fox of IME. The Guardian (London) (1/10), BBC (1/10)

2012

10 December
Global food crisis ‘one or two bad harvests away’
The fast growth in resource demand from emerging markets has contributed to “a period of intensified resource stress,” a report said
(Emerging Markets) The “scale and speed” of demand growth from emerging countries, coupled with a decade of tight commodity markets, has created the current period of “intensified resource stress,” the report, published by London-based think-tank Chatham House, said.
“The outlook is one of supply disruptions, volatile prices, accelerated environmental degradation and rising political tensions over resource access,” according to the report.
It noted that some analysts have suggested that the “resource boom” that took place over the past decade was coming to an end, because of the maturation of technologies to access non-conventional gas and oil and of the global economic downturn. …
“High and fluctuating prices are spurring new waves of resource nationalism and making unilateral and bilateral responses more attractive,” it said, giving the example of export controls on food in producer countries, which were intended to prevent sharp domestic price inflation in 2008 and 2011 but “ended up magnifying price spikes.”
It noted that a number of key raw materials suppliers such as China, Indonesia, Brazil and India have either resorted to export controls or were considering them.
27 November
Feeding the world’s hungry and growing population
(GM Watch) Recently we were asked to take part in a symposium at the Entomological Society of America annual meeting in Knoxville titled: “Feeding future generations: Expanding a global science to answer a global challenge.” The focus of that challenge was to identify ways to feed 9 billion people in 2050. What follows in a synopsis of our presentation.
We preface what follows by noting that it appears to us that the multinational biotech seed and chemical companies have responded to this challenge by positioning their products as the primary solution to meeting this goal. Not incidentally, they are also using this challenge as a justification for pressing the case for the extension of their intellectual property rights through trade negotiations.
As a result of our readings and discussion with others, it appears to us that much of the discussion about feeding 9 billion people by 2050 has been captured by these firms by setting up a false dichotomy.

Hunger — Not a billion after all
(The Economist) IN 2010, as food prices were spiking for the second time in three years, governments, international agencies and non-government organisations blared out a new and powerful fact: there were a billion hungry people in the world and this, they said, in a period of plenty, was a disgrace. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which had estimated the figure in an annual report, even had the words ‘one billion hungry’ draped in letters 50 feet high outside its headquarters building in Rome. The number of hungry people in the world is indeed a disgrace. But there was one problem with the precise figure: it was completely bogus. This week, in its 2012 report on the state of food insecurity in the world, the FAO quietly revised it down to 868m and got rid of the spike in the numbers that had supposedly occurred in 2008-10.
9 October

Fewer people go hungry, but still too many, FAO says

Fewer people went hungry over the past two years than during the same period a decade ago, but 1 in 8 people — or about 868 million, nearly all of them in developing countries — are still chronically undernourished, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “That is unacceptable, especially when we live in a world of plenty,” writes FAO chief Jose Graziano da Silva, who adds that momentum is needed to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal of halving hunger worldwide by 2015. AlertNet/Reuters (10/9), Reuters (10/9)

13 August
George Monbiot: Hunger Games
The rich world is causing the famines it claims to be preventing.
You should by now have heard about the famine developing in the Sahel region of West Africa. Poor harvests and high food prices threaten the lives of some 18 million people. The global price of food is likely to rise still further, as a result of low crop yields in the United States, caused by the worst drought in 50 years. World cereal prices, in response to this disaster, climbed 17% last month(2).
We have been cautious about attributing such events to climate change: perhaps too cautious. A new paper by James Hansen, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, shows that there has been a sharp increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers(3). Between 1951 and 1980 these events affected between 0.1 and 0.2% of the world’s land surface each year. Now, on average, they affect 10%. Hansen explains that “the odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small”(4). Both the droughts in the Sahel and the US crop failures are likely to be the result of climate change.
But this is not the only sense in which the rich world’s use of fuel is causing the poor to starve. In the United Kingdom, in the rest of the European Union and in the United States, governments have chosen to deploy a cure as bad as the disease. Despite overwhelming evidence of the harm their policy is causing, none of them will change course.
Biofuels are the means by which governments in the rich world avoid hard choices.
9 August
UN urges US to cut ethanol production
(Financial Times) Intervention will be seized on by state governors, lawmakers and meat and livestock industry, who have expressed alarm at surging prices for corn
23 July
Eating locally not sustainable according to new book
(RCI) Food activists believe many challenges associated with our modern food supply can be solved by eating locally and farming sustainably. But in a new book, entitled, The Locavore’s Dilemma, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu dispute these claims by revealing the true environmental impact of agricultural production and the role of industrial producers in making food more affordable, varied, and available.
Co-authors Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu say producing food in suitable locations around the world and delivering it over long distances with energy efficient transportation is green, and safe.
The book’s authors argue that the route to food sustainability starts by eliminating agricultural subsidies and opening up international trade. Eating globally, and not just locally, is the better way to save the planet.
20 July
Crops Failing as U.S. Simmers in Record Heat Wave
(IPS) The drought, which is less extreme but geographically even more widespread than the one that led to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s – a period of severe agricultural loss in the U.S. – is now affecting more than 60 percent of the country, and 78 percent of the corn-growing regions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. “
In the 18 primary corn-growing states, 30 percent of the crop is now in poor or very poor condition,” the National Drought Summary said. “In addition, fully half of the nation’s pastures and ranges are in poor or very poor condition.”
World braced for new food crisis
(FT) The world is facing a new food crisis as the worst US drought in more than 50 years pushes agricultural commodity prices to record highs.
Heartbreaking Photos Show How The Drought Is Devastating Farmers In The Midwest
22 June
Ban Ki-moon launches Zero Hunger Challenge at Rio+20 summit
UN secretary general unveils five-point food security campaign aimed at a future where all enjoy ‘a fundamental right to food’
The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has called on leaders, business and civil society to step up efforts to end hunger. Launching a Zero Hunger Challenge at Rio+20 on Thursday, Ban emphasised that an estimated 1 billion people still go to bed hungry each day, saying food security was a top priority.
Endorsing the challenge, the UK’s deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said Britain would be allocating £150m from the international climate change fund to support about 6 million farmers, particularly in Niger and Ethiopia. The money will be channelled through the adaptation for smallholder agriculture programme to help farmers adapt to the impact of climate change.
21 June
EU contributes €5 million to help farmers maintain crop diversity
Support under plant genetics treaty fund announced during Rio+20
(FAO News) The European Union is contributing €5 million (6.5 million dollars) towards the Benefit-sharing Fund of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, FAO announced today, at a high-level ministerial meeting on the plant treaty at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.
The Benefit-sharing Fund helps farmers in developing countries manage crop diversity for food security and climate change adaptation.
13 June
World food stocks to rise, but hunger persists in Sahel region, Middle East – UN report
Despite an overall positive outlook for cereal production worldwide, several regions of the world are expected to struggle with the consequences of poor rainfall, severe weather, armed conflict and displacement, the United Nations said today.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) quarterly forecast of agricultural production and food – the Crop Prospects and Food Situation report – a record increase of 3.2 per cent in world cereal production is expected in 2012, totalling an estimated 2, 419 million tonnes, mainly on the strength of a bumper maize crop in the United States.
Drop-off in aid prompts groundbreaking strategies

The world’s biggest aid agencies, including the United Nations, are increasingly turning to local suppliers to alleviate the hunger crisis in the Sahel region of Africa — a shift from a past of getting food aid from U.S. or European suppliers. Local supplies mean less stockpiling in fewer warehouses and jobs for those in affected areas. “With local production, we have a more reliable and efficient way of getting these life-saving products to children who need them most,” said UNICEF spokeswoman Melanie Sharpe. The Globe and Mail (Toronto) (6/12)
23 May
London 2012: David Cameron to hold hunger summit during Olympic Games
‘Major event’ on food security to be held during Games to focus world’s attention on combating hunger and malnutrition
UN land framework provides path against hunger
Nonbinding guidelines to secure access rights to land, fisheries and forest resources for indigenous peoples have been adopted by the United Nations, but the voluntary framework will require nation buy-in to enforce. The directives — following a decade of land selling or leasing of nearly 495 million acres, mainly in Africa and Asia — are seen as a step toward alleviating world hunger. “The challenge now is for countries to adapt these guidelines to national conditions and needs before implementing them,” writes José Graziano da Silva of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. BBC (5/11), The Guardian (London)/Poverty Matters blog (5/11)
10 May
Funding gap threatens efforts to assist millions facing hunger in Africa – UN official
The Horn of Africa, which includes countries such as Somalia and Djibouti, experienced a food crisis last year that left an estimated 13 million people dependent on humanitarian assistance. Currently there are 15 million people facing food insecurity in the Sahel, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, and includes countries such as Niger and Mali.
“In the Horn of Africa we are losing the window of opportunity to build on our recent achievements – which helped to overcome the famine declared last year in Somalia – increasing the resilience of families facing drought,” said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), José Graziano da Silva, in remarks to the Foro Nueva Economía international economic forum in Madrid.
International bodies focus on food security
Producing enough food to feed the world’s population and ensuring that those people can afford and access food are key to solving poverty and grappling with climate change, writes Stephen O’Brien, a British member of Parliament. “Starting at the upcoming G-8 summit, we will help launch a new alliance to lift 50 million out of poverty over the next ten years, using private sector investment to help people achieve the food security we all take for granted in the U.K.,” he writes. Devex.com (5/9)
20 April
Food security: Why hunger is a farm issue
(rabble.ca) A nation that cannot feed itself is a nation that is inherently food insecure. Welcome to Canada, 21st Century. Canada is a nation that imports almost as much food as it exports.
Africa’s impoverished Sahel down to its last grains

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, is leading a broader appeal for “an end to global indifference” over the malnutrition from which an estimated 15 million — about 1.5 million of whom are children — are suffering in the Sahel region of Africa, which is experiencing its third famine in the last decade as a result of drought, high food prices and regional conflict. The violence in Syria is drawing media attention away from the crisis, said Antonio Guterres, UN high commissioner for refugees. Google/Agence France-Presse (4/10), The Boston Globe/The Associated Press (tiered subscription model) (4/10)
Crisis worsens in Africa’s Sahel

Unrest in African countries including Mali, Libya and Nigeria is contributing to the food crisis sweeping the continent’s Sahel region, where aid agencies warn that severe food shortages are affecting up to 15 million people. A photo essay by the BBC depicts the effects of the Sahel drought that is fueling what could become a humanitarian disaster. The Guardian (London) (3/29), BBC (3/29)
Corporate farm plan could revolutionize India
The Indian government, in a bid to boost lagging agricultural output, is on the verge of approving a program that would unify the land of small farmers to create parcels large enough for commercial-scale production of wheat, corn and other crops in partnership with private companies. The program could revolutionize the country’s agricultural sector, which employs about half its workforce. The Wall Street Journal (3/7)
26 January
Global hunger: do the figures add up?

While the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s estimated figures on global hunger often grab headlines, the uncertainty surrounding the numbers receives relatively little media attention

2009

10 November

Food Security Summit: Send a Message

(The Call of the Land) Later this month at the behest of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), governmental representatives from around the world will convene for a third world food summit in Rome.
While the FAO has prepared an official declaration to launch the summit, a group of civil society organizations have prepared their own draft document: Policies & Actions to Eradicate Hunger and Malnutrition.  These alternative proposals are based not on the lobbying of mega food corporations, but rather on the experiences of small-scale farmers, indigenous peoples, pastoralists, women, youth, social movements, and others from all over the world.

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