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The United Nations released a sobering report Tuesday showing that the climate crisis is accelerating global hunger and wreaking havoc on land, sea and in the atmosphere, according to the UN's State of the Climate report.
- Cut Greenhouse Gases Immediately or Face Catastrophe, New UN ... ›
- Climate Crisis Contributes to a Rise in World Hunger, UN Report Says ›
Organic farmers in Africa face an arduous journey getting cropland certified, limiting exports and frustrating farmers who say ecological practices could increase food security while protecting the land.
Fighting Hunger<p>Conventional farming uses artificial fertilizers and pesticides, some of which kill wildlife and may damage human health, particularly in countries where they are poorly regulated or overused.</p><p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/why-biodiversity-loss-hurts-humans-as-much-as-climate-change/a-48579014" target="_blank">A landmark report on biodiversity</a> published by UN-backed scientists last year found that converting land for intensive agriculture is one of the biggest drivers of wildlife loss and degradation of nature — and that this, in turn, endangers the global food system through the less of healthy soil, clean waterways and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/insect-apocalypse-dying-ecosystem-species-loss-a-52160360/a-52160360" target="_blank">insects that pollinate plants</a>.</p>
Access to Finance<p>The area of organic farmland in Africa has doubled in the last decade to 2.1 million hectares, FiBL data shows, with the biggest organic centers in North and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/feeding-east-africa-locals-skeptical-of-gm-crops/a-42385062" target="_blank">East Africa</a> and the crops they grow enjoyed the world over. In Kenya, nuts and coconuts dominate organic output. In Tunisia it is olives. Ethiopia and Tanzania are big coffee-growers, while in Uganda, home to the most organic producers in Africa, the crop of choice is cacao.</p><p>Despite some successes, farmers such as Nashera and Koleta, in Kenya, are caught in a bind between domestic markets not willing to pay a premium for organic food and wealthier regions to which they cannot export without expensive certification. A survey of African farmers by UNCTAD in 2016 found that a quarter of stakeholders thought access to finance had gotten more restrictive in the last five years. Only 13 percent said it had become more efficient.</p><p>But the industry is held back by more than just money, said Okisegere Ojepat, CEO of trade association Fresh Produce Kenya. A lack of crop-specific research and equipment, including understanding of weather patterns and pest control, is keeping farmers from innovating. Pushing for more organic farming without building technical capacity would not be sustainable in the long run, said Ojepat. "It is a double-edged sword."</p><p>Organic farmers looking to reach markets abroad are trying short-term fixes. To reduce the cost of certification — which requires paying auditors from Europe and North America to fly in and inspect farms — organic farmers could apply to be certified together, said Claire Nasike, founder of environmental educational charity the Hummingbird Foundation and an agroecologist at Greenpeace Africa, which has trained a network of farmers who are now applying to be certified as a group.</p><p>"The farmers are able to hold each other accountable," said Nasike. "If one person messes it up, the entire group's certification is cancelled."</p>
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East Africa is facing its worst locust infestation in decades, and the climate crisis is partly to blame.
Nearly 1,100 scientists, practitioners and experts in groundwater and related fields from 92 countries have called on the governments and non-governmental organizations to "act now" to ensure global groundwater sustainability.
- Satellite Data Shows Underground Aquifers Are Running Out of Water ›
- Climate Change Amplifies Groundwater Depletion, Threatening ... ›
- NASA: More Than One-Third of Earth's Largest Aquifers Are Being ... ›
Food will be scarce, expensive and less nutritious," CNN warns us in its coverage of the UN's new "Climate Change and Land" report. The New York Times announces that "Climate Change Threatens the World's Food Supply."
By Richard Waite, Tim Searchinger and Janet Ranganathan
Beef and climate change are in the news these days, from cows' alleged high-methane farts (fact check: they're actually mostly high-methane burps) to comparisons with cars and airplanes (fact check: the world needs to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and agriculture to sufficiently rein in global warming). And as with so many things in the public sphere lately, it's easy for the conversation to get polarized. Animal-based foods are nutritious and especially important to livelihoods and diets in developing countries, but they are also inefficient resource users. Beef production is becoming more efficient, but forests are still being cut down for new pasture. People say they want to eat more plants, but meat consumption is still rising.
1. How does beef production cause greenhouse gas emissions?<p><strong><em>The short answer:</em></strong> Through the agricultural production process and through land-use change.</p><p><strong><em>The longer explanation:</em></strong> Cows and other ruminant animals (like goats and sheep) emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they digest grasses and plants. This process is called "enteric fermentation," and it's the origin of cows' burps. Methane is also emitted from manure, and nitrous oxide, another powerful greenhouse gas, is emitted from ruminant wastes on pastures and chemical fertilizers used on crops produced for cattle feed.</p><p>More indirectly but also importantly, rising beef production requires increasing quantities of land. New pastureland is often created by cutting down trees, which releases carbon dioxide stored in forests.</p><p>A <a href="http://www.fao.org/3/i3437e/i3437e00.htm" target="_blank">2013 study</a> by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that total annual emissions from animal agriculture (production emissions plus land-use change) were about 14.5 percent of all human emissions, of which beef contributed 41 percent. That means emissions from beef production are roughly on par with those of India. Because FAO only modestly accounted for land-use-change emissions, this is a conservative estimate.</p><p>Beef-related emissions are also projected to grow. Building from an FAO projection, we estimated that global demand for beef and other ruminant meats could grow by 88 percent between 2010 and 2050, putting enormous pressure on forests, biodiversity and the climate. Even after accounting for continued improvements in beef production efficiency, pastureland could still expand by roughly 400 million hectares, an area of land larger than the size of India, to meet growing demand. The resulting deforestation could increase global emissions enough to put the global goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5-2 degrees C (2.7-3.6 degrees F) <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/we-cant-limit-global-warming-15c-without-changing-diets" target="_blank">out of reach</a>.</p>
2. Is beef more resource-intensive than other foods?<p><strong><em>The short answer:</em></strong> Yes.</p><p><strong><em>The longer explanation:</em></strong> Ruminant animals have <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/223885624_Efficiencies_and_biomass_appropriation_of_food_commodities_on_global_and_regional_levels" target="_blank">lower growth and reproduction rates</a> than pigs and poultry, so they require a higher amount of feed per unit of meat produced. Animal feed requires land to grow, which has a carbon cost associated with it, as we discuss below. All told, beef is more resource-intensive to produce than most other kinds of meat, and animal-based foods overall are more resource-intensive than plant-based foods. Beef requires <a href="http://www.wri.org/shiftingdiets" target="_blank">20 times more land and emits 20 times more GHG emissions</a> per gram of edible protein than common plant proteins, such as beans. And while the majority of the world's grasslands cannot grow crops or trees, such "native grasslands" are already heavily used for livestock production, meaning additional beef demand will likely increase pressure on forests.</p>
3. Why are some people saying beef production is only a small contributor to emissions?<p><strong><em>The short answer:</em></strong> Such estimates commonly leave out land-use impacts, such as cutting down forests to establish new pastureland.</p><p><strong><em>The longer explanation:</em></strong> There are a lot of statistics out there that account for emissions from beef production but not from associated land-use change. For example, here are three common U.S. estimates we hear:</p><ul> <li>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency <a href="https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/draft-inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks-1990-2017" target="_blank">estimated</a> total U.S. agricultural emissions in 2017 at only 8 percent of total U.S. emissions;</li></ul><ul> <li>A <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X18305675" target="_blank">2019 study</a> in Agricultural Systems estimated emissions from beef production at only 3 percent of total U.S. emissions; and</li></ul><ul><li>A <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/114/48/E10301" target="_blank">2017 study</a> published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimated that removing all animals from U.S. agriculture would reduce U.S. emissions by only 3 percent.</li></ul><p>While all of these estimates account for emissions from U.S. agricultural production, they leave out a crucial element: emissions associated with devoting land to agriculture. An acre of land devoted to food production is often an acre that could store far more carbon if allowed to grow forest or its native vegetation. And when considering the emissions associated with domestic beef production, you can't just look within national borders, especially since global beef demand is on the rise. Because food is a global commodity, what is consumed in one country can drive land use impacts and emissions in another. An increase in U.S. beef consumption, for example, can result in deforestation to make way for pastureland in Latin America. Conversely, a decrease in U.S. beef consumption can avoid deforestation (and land-use-change emissions) abroad.</p><p>When these land-use effects of beef production are accounted for, <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2016/05/insider-responding-9-common-questions-about-shifting-diets-sustainable-food-future" target="_blank">we found</a> that the GHG impacts associated with the average American-style diet actually come close to per capita U.S. energy-related emissions. A <a href="https://www.wri.org/carbon-benefits-index" target="_blank">related analysis</a> found that the average European's diet-related emissions, when accounting for land-use impacts, are similar to the per capita emissions typically assigned to each European's consumption of all goods and services, including energy.</p>
4. Can beef be produced more sustainably?<p><strong><em>The short answer:</em></strong> Yes, although beef will always be resource-intensive to produce.</p><p><strong><em>The longer explanation:</em></strong> The emissions intensity of beef production varies widely across the world, and improvements in the efficiency of livestock production can greatly reduce land use and emissions per pound of meat. Improving feed quality and veterinary care, raising improved animal breeds that convert feed into meat and milk more efficiently, and using improved management practices like rotational grazing can boost productivity and soil health while reducing emissions. Boosting productivity, in turn, can take pressure off tropical forests by reducing the need for more pastureland.</p><p>Examples of such improved practices abound. For example, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/13/702908768/fighting-global-warming-requires-changes-in-how-cows-are-fed" target="_blank">some beef production in Colombia</a> integrates trees and grasses onto pasturelands, helping the land produce a higher quantity and quality of feed. This can enable farmers to quadruple the number of cows per acre while greatly reducing methane emissions per pound of meat, as the cows grow more quickly. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-012-0640-0" target="_blank">study of dairy farms in Kenya</a> found that supplementing typical cattle diets with high-quality feeds like napier grass and high-protein Calliandra shrubs — which can lead to faster cattle growth and greater milk production — could reduce methane emissions per liter of milk by 8–60 percent.</p>
5. Do we all need to stop eating beef in order to curb climate change?<p><strong><em>The short answer:</em></strong> No.</p><p><strong><em>The longer explanation:</em></strong> Reining in climate change won't require everyone to become vegetarian or vegan, or even to stop eating beef. If ruminant meat consumption in high-consuming countries declined to about 50 calories a day or 1.5 burgers per person per week — about half of current U.S. levels and 25 percent below current European levels, but still well above the national average for most countries — it would nearly eliminate the need for additional agricultural expansion (and associated deforestation), even in a world with 10 billion people.</p><p>Diets are already shifting away from beef in some places. Per capita beef consumption has already <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/01/2018-will-see-high-meat-consumption-us-american-diet-shifting" target="_blank">fallen by one-third</a> in the United States since the 1970s. <a href="https://www.fooddive.com/news/alternative-proteins-could-become-a-food-staple-for-more-us-consumers/550738/" target="_blank">Plant-based burgers</a> and <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/02/flavor-packed-burger-saves-many-emissions-taking-2-million-cars-road" target="_blank">blended meat-plant alternatives</a> are <a href="https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2019/04/01/meat-politics-226342" target="_blank">increasingly competing</a> with conventional meat products on important attributes like taste, price and convenience. The market for plant-based alternatives is <a href="https://www.marketsandmarkets.com/PressReleases/meat-substitutes.asp" target="_blank">growing at a high rate</a>, albeit from a low baseline.</p><p>There are also other compelling reasons for people to shift toward plant-based foods. <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31788-4/fulltext" target="_blank">Some studies</a> have shown that red meat consumption is associated with increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and colorectal cancer, and that diets higher in healthy plant-based foods (such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes) are associated with lower risks. In high-income regions like North America and Europe, people also <a href="http://www.wri.org/shiftingdiets" target="_blank">consume more protein than they need</a> to meet their dietary requirements.</p>
6. Would eating less beef be bad for jobs in the food and agriculture sector?<p><strong><em>The short answer:</em></strong> Not necessarily.</p><p><strong><em>The longer explanation:</em></strong> Given projected future growth in meat demand across the developing world, even if people in higher-income countries eat less beef, the global market for beef will likely continue to grow in the coming decades. The scenario in the chart above leads to a 32 percent growth in global ruminant meat consumption between 2010 and 2050, versus 88 percent growth under business-as-usual. In the U.S., despite declining per capita beef consumption, total beef production <a href="https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/01/2018-will-see-high-meat-consumption-us-american-diet-shifting" target="_blank">has held steady</a> since the 1970s. Burgeoning demand in emerging markets like China will lead to more export opportunities in leading beef-producing countries, although building such markets <a href="https://www.drovers.com/article/beef-consumption-and-growing-beef-imports-china" target="_blank">takes time</a>.</p><p>In addition, major meat companies — including Tyson Foods, Cargill, Maple Leaf Foods and Perdue — <a href="https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/3/22/18273892/tyson-vegan-vegetarian-lab-meat-climate-change-animals" target="_blank">are starting to invest</a> in the fast-growing alternative protein market. They're positioning themselves more broadly as "protein companies," even as they work to reduce emissions from beef production in their supply chains through improved production practices.</p>
Moving Toward a Sustainable Food Future<p>Beef is more resource-intensive than most other foods and has a substantial impact on the climate. A sustainable food future will require a range of strategies from farm to plate. Food producers and consumers alike have a role to play in reducing beef's emissions as the global population continues to grow. And as we all work on strategies to curb climate change — whether in the agriculture sector, the energy sector or beyond — it's important we rely on the best available information to make decisions.</p>
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A study published Monday indicates that it makes a big difference to global food security whether signatories to the Paris agreement are able to keep global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, or allow it to rise a full two degrees.
By Ben Belton, Dave Little and Simon Bush
Over the past three decades, the global aquaculture industry has risen from obscurity to become a critical source of food for millions of people. In 1990, only 13 percent of world seafood consumption was farmed; by 2014, aquaculture was providing more than half of the fish consumed directly by human beings.
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Anishinaabe economist and writer Winona LaDuke identifies two types of economies, grounded in different ways of seeing. Speaking in Vancouver recently, she characterized one as an "extreme extractive economy" fed by exploitation of people and nature. The second is a "regenerative economy" based on an understanding of the land and our relationship to it.
By Lesley Jacobs Solmonson
Dozens of edible varieties of seaweed—the broad term for 10,000-plus types of marine plants and algae—are high in minerals, fiber, antioxidants and sometimes protein.
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By Dana Drugmand
At a time when world resources are dwindling and global population is growing rapidly, finding sustainable solutions to nourish people and the planet is more important then ever. Research has shown that women may play a key role in the fight against global hunger and poverty. Worldwide, roughly 1.6 billion women rely on farming for their livelihoods, and female farmers produce more than half of the world’s food.
Although women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, they typically aren’t able to own land. Cultural barriers also limit women’s ability to obtain credit and insurance.
Strengthening women’s rights can help strengthen the global food system. According to the World Food Programme, allowing women farmers access to more resources could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100-150 million people.
Today, Nourishing the Planet highlights five innovations that are helping empower women farmers around the world:
1. Vertical Farming—Although most farming is mostly associated with rural areas, more than 800 million people globally depend on food grown in cities for their main food source. Considering that women in Africa own only 1 percent of the land, a practice called vertical farming gives these women the opportunity to raise vegetables without having to own land. Female farmers in Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, have been practicing vertical farming using seeds provided by the French NGO (non-governmental organization) Solidarites. This innovative technique involves growing crops in dirt sacks, allowing women farmers to grow vegetables in otherwise unproductive urban spaces. More than 1,000 women are growing food in this way, effectively allowing them to be self-sufficient in food production and to increase their household income. Following the launch of this initiative, each household has increased its weekly income by 380 shillings (equivalent to 4.33 U.S. dollars).
Vertical Farming in Action—This innovation has already proven successful in providing food for urban residents during a time of dire need. During the food crisis that hit Kenya in 2007-2008, there was a blockade of food supplies coming into the Nairobi slums. People in Kibera who grew their own food with the vertical farming technique were self-sufficient and did not go hungry.
2. FANRPAN’s Theatre—Women comprise 80 percent of small-scale farmers in some parts of sub-saharan Africa, and female labor accounts for a majority of food production across the continent. Despite the fact that women make up such a large percentage of the agricultural workforce, they still lack access to important resources and inputs. Men control the seed, fertilizer, credit and technology and have the access to policymakers that women lack. The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network’s (FANRPAN) WARM Project seeks to advocate for agricultural policies in the two focus countries of Malawi and Mozambique. FANRPAN hopes to later extend the program to other Southern and East Africa countries. WARM (Women Accessing Realigned Markets) uses theater to engage communities to meet the needs of women farmers. FANRPAN’s Sithembile Ndema, the programme manager in charge of the WARM Project, explains that the aim of the project is to empower women who lack resources and a voice in farming communities. “What we’re doing is we’re using theater as a way of engaging these women farmers, as a way of getting them involved and getting them to open up about the challenges that they’re facing.”
FANRPAN’s Theater in Action—After each performance, community members engage in a moderated discussion about issues raised in the performance. This gives them an opportunity to raise their concerns, especially the women farmers who typically do not have access to policymakers.
3. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)—In developing countries like India, women are commonly disenfranchised and not afforded the same opportunities and rights as men, such as access to credit and land ownership, for example. The Self Employed Women’s Association, a female trade union in India that began in 1992, works with poor, self-employed women by helping them achieve full employment and self reliance. SEWA is a network of cooperatives, self-help groups and programs that empower women. Small-scale women farmers in India have particularly benefited from this network that links farmers to inputs and markets. “We organize the women as workers, try to build their collective strength, their voice, their visibility, explains Reema Nanavanti, director of Economic and Rural Development at SEWA.
SEWA in Action—SEWA not only provides organizational support, but also brings resources to women who lack access to them. By building what Nanavanti calls “capitalization,” SEWA is providing tools and equipment, as well as access to licenses and to land. Furthermore, SEWA empowers women by building their leadership capacity, giving them a voice that otherwise might go unheard.
4. Women’s Collective—Also in India, women’s subordinate position in society makes them easy targets for domestic and sexual violence. For example, landless women who rely on agricultural landlords for employment, for example, are often sexually harassed. Poor rural women additionally face issues with food and water insecurity. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective (WC) focuses on advocating for women’s rights and improving food and water security. The collective reaches over 1,500 villages spread across 18 districts in India’s Tamil Nadu state. Environmental protection, alternative farming for food security, and women’s rights, including protection against domestic violence, are some of the major focus areas the WC has undertaken. In addressing violence against women, for example, the WC provides counseling and support for female victims. Women’s participation in local government is another initiative the WC has taken up. By empowering women, giving them a voice at the household and political level, and helping women strengthen local food systems and employ natural farming methods, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective is actively addressing issues of food and water insecurity and improving rural livelihoods.
Women’s Collective in Action—Beginning in 1998-1999, Women’s Collective members were educated about natural farming techniques. The concept of natural farming maximizes natural inputs, or inputs derived from the farm itself. Natural farming can increase soil water retention, leading to better yields under rain-fed conditions. Shanta, a single mother from the Vellanikkottam village, started practicing natural farming with help from the Women’s Collective. Since transitioning to natural farming, Shanta has benefited from increased crop yields.
5. GREEN Foundation—Studies have shown that women farmers typically have lower crop yields than their male counterparts. A study conducted in Burkina Faso, for example, has found that women’s yields were 20 percent lower for vegetables and 40 percent lower for sorghum. Rural women farmers’ lower productivity compared to male farmers may be due to women lacking access to high-quality seeds and agricultural inputs. The GREEN Foundation has partnered with NGOs including Seed Saver’s Network and The Development Fund to create community seed banks in India’s Karnataka state. Women run these seed banks, thereby gaining leadership skills and acquiring quality, organic seeds that yield profitable crops. Landless women farmers are encouraged to grow indigenous vegetables in community gardens. The gardening project, which improves women small-scale farmers’ food security and economic status, involves training women in agricultural methods and encouraging them to grow a variety of fruits, vegetables and medicinal plants for their families. Part of the GREEN Foundation’s mission is to empower women and enhance women’s leadership skills. The foundation has successfully touched upon different dimensions of sustainable agriculture that have helped farmers secure seed, food and better livelihoods.
GREEN Foundation in Action—The Foundation’s kitchen gardening project is an important innovation that promotes agricultural biodiversity while empowering women. Mahadevamma is one example of a rural Indian woman who has improved her food security and her family’s income by growing crops in a kitchen garden. She uses waste water from her house to irrigate the crops and employs vermicompost for manure and fermented plant extract for pest control. She has gotten good yields and any excess vegetables and seeds she sells to make a profit. Mahadevammma has earned 2000 rupees (44.61 U.S. dollars) just from her kitchen garden.
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Dana Drugmand is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project