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How We Grow Food Could Determine Whether 28,000 Species Can Survive
By Ajit Niranjan
The way food is grown around the world threatens 24,000 of the 28,000 species that are at risk of extinction, according to a report published Wednesday that calls on world leaders to urgently reform the global food system.
Plants and animals are dying out at a rate that is at least tens — if not hundreds — of times faster than the average over the past 10 million years, according to the report, which was published by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), British think tank Chatham House, and animal welfare organization Compassion in World Farming. The decline has mostly been driven by people destroying natural ecosystems to make space for cropland and pastures.
But world leaders could slow the accelerating loss of the planet's wildlife with simple steps: protecting more land, farming with fewer pesticides and monocultures, and shifting diets from meat towards plants. The scope of the first two solutions, the authors warned, depends on how much people change their diets and stop throwing food away.
"If our demand for food continues to increase, the more intensively we have to use the land that is left," said Tim Benton, an ecologist at the think tank Chatham House and co-author of the report. "It is about changing the way that we relate to food."
Feeding the World
The food system sits at the heart of four worsening global crises: climate, extinction, hunger and obesity. With more than a third of the world's land used for agriculture, experts are grappling with how to feed a growing population more food that is healthy — while at the same time killing less wildlife and emitting fewer greenhouse gases.
For decades, environmental activists have held up organic farms, which avoid synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as a nature-friendly alternative to conventional agriculture. Some farmers have turned to regenerative practices that store carbon dioxide in soils and make crops more resilient to storms and droughts.
But ecologists say there is a catch.
The Organic Dilemma
Because organic and regenerative farms typically yield less food per hectare than industrial farms, sustainable farmers need to use more land if they are to grow the same amount of food.
A 2019 study published in the journal Nature Communications found that adopting organic farming across the UK would, in fact, lead to more greenhouse gas emissions. Lower yields at home would be offset by imported food from croplands that would expand onto natural ecosystems.
In the US, a detailed lifecycle assessment of a regenerative farm found that its greenhouse gas emissions for each kilogram of meat were 66% lower than conventional alternatives, but took up 2.5 times more land, according to a study published in December in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.
Experts say there isn't enough land to feed the world and its growing appetite for meat through sustainable farms alone, even if they were built on marginal lands like degraded cropland.
The only thing that will allow us to farm in a sustainable way is changing our demand for food, said Benton. "That sounds horribly elitist, middle-class, 'let's all go vegan'," he said. But it could free up demand for land that could then be satisfied by sustainable farms.
Beef and a few other red meats, for instance, supply 1% of the world's calories but account for 25% of the emissions that come with changing how land is used, according to a study published in the journal Nature in January. To produce the same amount of protein as tofu, beef uses up 75 more times land.
In countries like Brazil and Indonesia, foreign demand for commodities drives companies to raze rainforests to grow soy for cattle and oil palm for cooking and use in processed foods.
In many cases, the food is not even eaten. About a third of all food made is lost during production or wasted.
Cheap, Unhealthy Food
The charge sheet ecologists have against industrial agriculture is long: destroying forest homes of endangered mammals like orangutans; killing bees that farmers rely on to pollinate crops; chopping trees that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere; and degrading soils that future generations will need to feed themselves.
But doctors, too, are worried.
Expanding farmlands raises the risk of zoonotic diseases crossing from animals to humans. Factory farms pump antibiotics into livestock that encourages the growth of bacteria that are resistant to treatment. And then there's nutrition.
Obesity rates have tripled in the last half century amid a rise in foods high in fat and sugars and a fall in physical activity, bringing greater risk of heart disease and some cancers. The World Health Organization has called on the food industry to reduce the fat, sugar and salt content of processed foods, and make sure that healthy choices are affordable to everybody.
"Our current food system is a double-edged sword shaped by decades of the cheaper food paradigm," said Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP's Ecosystems Division. It aims to make more food, quickly and cheaply, without considering the costs to biodiversity and health, she said.
But at the same time, cheap food prices and productivity increases in agriculture have given more people access to food, said Irene Hoffman, Secretary of the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who was not involved in the report. "Otherwise, our current food insecurity index would be much, much higher."
The world population has doubled in the last 50 years to 7.8 billion people. While food production has kept up, 1 in 10 people today still go to bed hungry each night. By 2050, when the population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion people, the competition for land will be even greater because of efforts to grow plants to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
A landmark study published in the medical journal Lancet in 2019 found that world leaders could feed 10 billion people and still stay within a "safe operating space on Earth" by radically changing food production and shifting diets.
And doing so, the authors found, would make people healthier.
A move to healthy, sustainable diets would involve eating half as much red meat and sugar globally, and twice as many nuts, fruits, vegetables and legumes. It would avoid more than 7 million premature deaths per year, as well as reducing pressure on nature.
This, in turn, this would also make the farms more resilient to shocks like climate change, disease and soil erosion, safeguarding food supplies for the future.
"There's often a tendency to play nature against agriculture, which is absolutely not the case," said Hoffmann. "Agriculture depends on biodiversity, it is shaped by biodiversity [and] it manages biodiversity."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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