Inter Press Service » Food & Agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 21 Oct 2014 15:04:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 We Must Think of “Security” in New Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:28:57 +0000 Zafar Adeel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137299 Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities.  Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities. Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

By Zafar Adeel
HAMILTON, Canada, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

Recent events in the Arab world and elsewhere have underscored the point that traditional notions of security being dependent solely on military and related apparatus are outmoded.

Security is a multi-faceted domain that operates at the nexus of human development and sustainable management of water, energy and food resources.The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

“Water, Energy and the Arab Awakening,” a new book from an association of former world leaders, the InterAction Council, co-edited and published by the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, explores dimensions of security from a range of angles and offers some uncommon conclusions.

Much has been written in the recent years about water security as the crucial fulcrum on which human development and overall security balances. Access to modern energy services and adequate food, safe drinking water and sanitation are now deemed key determinants.

A clear indication of this increased awareness was provided by global business and political leaders in Davos last year, who recognised water insecurity as one of the five most important world risks.

Energy generation and consumption are driven by access to clean water and often generate polluting wastewater. Conversely, about eight percent of energy generated is used for treating, pumping, and transporting clean water and wastewater.

And food production is integrally linked to water availability – in most water-scarce countries, over 80 percent of water withdrawals support agricultural production.

It is also increasing clear that our use of resources, particularly freshwater, is not in line with availability. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Arab region, where countries suffer water scarcity, worsening with rising population and changing (warming) climate patterns.

Some leading experts argue that Syria’s security crisis is rooted in ineffective water management and drought, problems amplifying long-standing political, religious and social disputes. The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

New window into security

The new book argues that reversing this situation requires consumption patterns realigned with available resources. And it downplays the significance of military might as part of the overall security equation.

Enhancements in the energy sector — utilising newer technologies and greener generation — can conserve water resources, improve access to energy and boost energy markets. In the book, Majid Al-Moneef of the Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia argues that national energy companies must play an enhanced role in this re-alignment.

Meanwhile, the food prices spikes of 2006-2008, argues Rabi Mohtar of Texas A&M University, can be linked to steep energy prices and to steering agricultural land to biofuel crop production. While the precise drivers of the global food prices are debatable, it is clear that availability of water and productive land, and the cost of energy are key.

The nexus of water, energy and food security demands re-thinking governance of these sectors. We can no longer afford isolated, ‘siloed’ management. The magnitude of these sectors and the respective proportion each contributes to national GDP varies very significantly from country to country.

But the water sector almost always comes out as a junior ministry or bureaucracy in national governments, making its integration difficult.

The book presents the Red Sea – Dead Sea canal as an example of achieving multi-faceted energy, food and water security goals while promoting regional peace. This 180-km long canal will siphon water from Red Sea to replenish the disappearing Dead Sea.

Some of the water will be desalinised for consumption, while also facilitating energy generation and food production. Former Jordanian Prime Minister Dr Majali notes that Israel, Palestinian Authority, and Jordan are all potential beneficiaries.

Climate change as exacerbating factor

There is little argument left that the greatest impacts of climate change are on the water cycle. And these changes can already be observed in spades — for example, in the extreme floods in Australia, Pakistan, Western Europe, and Canada of the last five years. The same can be said of prolonged droughts in Middle East and Central Asia.

The InterAction Council (IAC) – an association of 40 member former heads of state including Bill Clinton (USA), Jean Chrétien (Canada), Vincente Fox Quesada (Mexico), Andrés Pastrana Arango (Colombia), and Gro Harlem Bruntland (Norway) – notes that the U.N. Security Council has recognised climate change as an agenda for its consideration.

The IAC, however, argues in the book that water security should be a major consideration for the UNSC as climate change impacts manifest themselves in the form of water insecurity.

Looking for solutions

How the international community delivers its response to these multi-faceted problems is key; piecemeal solutions are clearly inadequate. The international development community, often led by the U.N. system, has an obvious central role. Numerous caucuses, most notably the summit-level G20, also have an increasing role to play in ensuring that these responses are comprehensive, geographically appropriate, and adequately resourced.

The Arab region is truly the test-bed of whether these solutions will work or not. As all eyes are turned towards the recent developments in Syria and Iraq, there is a wider narrative that relates to stemming problems before they get out of control elsewhere in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Belize Fights to Save a Crucial Barrier Reefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/belize-fights-to-save-a-crucial-barrier-reef/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 13:19:26 +0000 Aaron Humes http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137275 The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

The humble CREWS buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. Credit: Aaron Humes/IPS

By Aaron Humes
BELIZE CITY, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Home to the second longest barrier reef in the world and the largest in the Western Hemisphere, which provides jobs in fishing, tourism and other industries which feed the lifeblood of the economy, Belize has long been acutely aware of the need to protect its marine resources from both human and natural activities.

However, there has been a recent decline in the production and export of marine products including conch, lobster, and fish, even as tourism figures continue to increase.“What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers." -- Dr. Kenrick Leslie

The decline is not helped by overfishing and the harvest of immature conch and lobster outside of the standard fishing season. But the primary reason for less conch and lobster in Belize’s waters, according to local experts, is excess ocean acidity which is making it difficult for popular crustacean species such as conch and lobster, which depend on their hard, spiny shells to survive, to grow and mature.

According to the executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC), Dr. Kenrick Leslie, acidification is as important and as detrimental to the sustainability of the Barrier Reef and the ocean generally as warming of the atmosphere and other factors generally associated with climate change.

Carbon dioxide which is emitted in the atmosphere from greenhouse gases is absorbed into the ocean as carbonic acid, which interacts with the calcium present in the shells of conch and lobster to form calcium carbonate, dissolving those shells and reducing their numbers. Belize also faces continuous difficulties with coral bleaching, which has attacked several key sections of the reef in recent years.

Dr. Leslie told IPS that activities on Belize’s terrestrial land mass are also contributing to the problems under Belize’s waters. “What happens on the land will eventually reach the sea, via our rivers,” he noted.

To fight these new problems, there is need for more research and accurate, up to the minute data.

Last month, the European Union (EU), as part of its Global Climate Change Alliance Caribbean Support Project handed over to the government of Belize and specifically the Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development for its continued usage a Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS) buoy based at South Water Caye off the Stann Creek District in southern Belize.

Developed by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it has been adopted by the CCCCC as a centrepiece of the effort to obtain reliable data as a basis for strategies for fighting climate change.

Dr. Leslie says the CREWS system represents a leap forward in research technology on climate change. The humble buoy hosts several instruments designed to measure conditions above and below the water, and keep track of these developing threats. The data collected on atmospheric and oceanic conditions such as oceanic turbidity, levels of carbon dioxide and other harmful elements and others are monitored from the Centre’s office in Belmopan and the data sent along to international scientists who can more concretely analyse it.

The South Water Caye CREWS station is one of two in Belize; the other is located at the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute (ERI) on Calabash Caye in the Turneffe Atoll range. Other stations are located in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Dominican Republic, with more planned in other key areas.

According to the CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute (CZMAI), Vincent Gillet, this is an example of the kind of work that needs to be done to keep the coastal zone healthy and safeguard resources for Belize’s future generations.

A report released at the start of Coastal Awareness Week in Belize City urges greater awareness of the effects of climate change and the participation of the local managers of the coastal zone in a policy to combat those effects. Several recommendations were made, including empowering the Authority with more legislative heft, revising the land distribution policy and bringing more people into the discussion.

“We need to be a little more…conscious of climate change and the impacts that it has,” Gillett said. He added further that the Authority expects and has the government’s support in terms of facilitation, if not necessarily in needed finance.

The report was the work of over 30 local and international scientists who contributed to and prepared it.

In receiving the CREWS equipment, the Ministry’s CEO, Dr. Adele Catzim-Sanchez, sought to remind that the problem of climate change is real and unless it is addressed, Belizeans may be contributing to their own demise.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Belize, Paola Amadei, reported that the Union may soon be able to offer even more help with the planned negotiations in Paris, France, in 2015 for a global initiative on climate change, with emphasis on smaller states. Belize already benefits from separate but concurrent projects, the latter of which aims to give Belize a sustainable development plan and specific strategy to address climate change.

In addition, Dr. Leslie is pushing for even more monitoring equipment, including current metres to study the effect of terrestrial activity such as mining and construction material gathering as well as deforestation on the sea, where the residue of such activities inevitably ends up.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Warmer Days a Catastrophe in the Making for Kenya’s Pastoralistshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/warmer-days-a-catastrophe-in-the-making-for-kenyas-pastoralists/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=warmer-days-a-catastrophe-in-the-making-for-kenyas-pastoralists http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/warmer-days-a-catastrophe-in-the-making-for-kenyas-pastoralists/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 08:54:53 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137268 Arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of Kenya’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of Kenya’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Seif Hassan is a pastoralist from Garissa, Northern Kenya, some 380 kilometres outside of the capital, Nairobi. He sells his animals at the Garissa livestock market where, during a good season, pastoralists can sell up to 5,000 animals per week and “it is a cash-making business.” 

“In a good season, an ox can go for as much as 1,000 dollars, a heifer for 560 dollars while a camel can be sold for as much as 3,400 dollars,” he tells IPS.

But as weather patterns become extreme with more frequent and prolonged dry spells, “life has become difficult for the pastoralist community,” he says.

Michael ole Tiampati, the national coordinator for the Pastoralist Development Network of Kenya, a network of organisations that support pastoralist development in this East African nation, tells IPS that during dry spells “an ox is sold for between 200 and 300 dollars, a heifer at 50 to 170 dollars, while a camel is sold at between 1,000 and 1,700 dollars.”

When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report was released last month, it emerged that temperatures on the African continent, particularly in the more arid regions, are likely to rise more quickly than in other land areas.

Experts like Dr George Keya, assistant director for Range and Arid Lands Research, tells IPS that if the expected short rains in October fail, “we will be facing a catastrophe in arid and semi-arid areas where pastoralists live.”

Keya says that pastoralists are an extremely vulnerable group “because their capacity to cope with extreme and unpredictable weather changes is significantly low.”

This, he says, compounded with their few livelihood options, makes the community extremely vulnerable.

As arid and semi-arid rangelands face warmer days, with frequent heat waves as predicted by the IPCC report, it poses an increased risk to the livelihoods of the pastoralist community.

“Climate change will amplify existing stress on water availability….particularly in semi-arid environments,” the report states.

Tiampati says that while in the past droughts would occur every 12 years, “we are now experiencing droughts every two to three years.”

As a result, “lands have insufficient time to recover. Pastoralists are also no longer able to practice herd splitting to protect their herds from climate change.”

Herd splitting is where pastoralists divide their herds into groups and take them to different areas with less-severe weather changes.

“But now climate change is affecting arid lands in a uniform manner, and there is no place to shelter the herds,” Tiampati says.

Keya says that extreme weather changes are also resulting in the occurrence of livestock diseases that easily wipe out entire herds. Pastoralist Hassan says that if the disease does not kill them, they die from the extreme weather changes.

“Drought brings Peste des Petits Ruminants (PPR) — a contagious disease that affects goats and sheep. The disease is also trans boundary and can move easily from Northern to Southern Kenya and beyond,” he says.

He adds that it is not just rising temperatures that pastoralists have to contend with, but torrential rains and consequent flooding.

Keya says that East Coast Fever, a disease that infects cattle, sheep and goats and which is caused by ticks, occurs during floods and is just as threatening as PPR.

“These diseases add to the vulnerability of the pastoralist community.”

Keya says that pastoral systems as they are cannot withstand climate change. He says that Vision 2030 — Kenya’s economic blueprint to move from a low- to a middle-income country — lays out a strategy to establish livestock disease free zones. But this is yet to be implemented.

“Pastoralists believe in keeping large herds and disposing of them when they are convinced that the situation is too dire for the animals to survive. We have seen them sell emancipated mature animals for a mere five dollars,” he says.

Tiampati says that pastoralists must begin to see that livestock keeping “as more than a way of life, they need to begin being more commercially oriented.”

He says that heifers raised on ranches are ready for the market in 18 months, but pastoralists take four to five years to get a similar cow ready for the market.

“Losing an animal that they have reared for years is usually a hard blow,” he says.

Statistics by the Range and Arid Lands Research show that arid and semi-arid lands account for about 80 percent of the country’s land. Most pastoralists live in these areas and keep over 60 percent of the country’s livestock population.

“There is sufficient land for investors to set aside large areas where animals can be bought from pastoralists and fattened within three months and either consumed locally or exported,” Keya says.

He says that Kenya has a beef deficiency with “about 40 percent of our beef com[ing] from neighbouring countries.”  He says that it can easily be met by assisting pastoralists better manage their livestock.

Tiampati says that pastoralists need assistance in diversifying their livelihoods. He says that in some arid areas, such as in Laikipia in Rift Valley region, women are making good use of the aloe vera plant, which grows in arid areas, to make soap.

Keya says that also in the Rift Valley region, in Narok, pastoralists are making good use of the highlands and lowlands.

“During the rainy seasons, pastoralists are farming in highlands and keeping their animals in lowlands. While in dry spells, they take the animals to the highlands to feed on fodder from the harvest as the lowlands recover,” he says.

While the IPCC report predicts very tough times ahead for the pastoralist community, experts are convinced that with the right interventions, the Kenyan pastoralist will survive the vagaries of nature.

“Without these [interventions], we are watching a catastrophe in the making,” Keya says.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

 

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#comments Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Family Farmers – Forward to the Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-forward-to-the-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farmers-forward-to-the-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-forward-to-the-future/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 16:09:32 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137246 "Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?" – Pope Francis. Credit: By CIAT [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

"Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?" – Pope Francis. Credit: By CIAT [CC-BY-SA-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

“Who is more concerned than the rural family with regards to preservation of natural resources for future generations?”

Pope Francis posed the question in a message read by Archbishop Luigi Travaglino, Permanent Observer of the Holy See for the celebration of World Food Day on Oct. 16 at the headquarters of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The Pope’s message went to the heart of this year’s World Food Day theme – Family Farming: Feeding the Planet, Caring for the Earth – as part of the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF).

The celebration of World Food Day offered an opportunity to share experiences and steps forward towards the eradication of hunger in a way that is sustainable for the future.

“Family farming is key in this effort”, said FAO Director-General José Graziano Da Silva, praising the contributions of farmers around the world. “For decades they were seen as a problem to be dealt with. The truth is that they are an important part of the solution to sustainable food security.”"For decades they [family farmers] were seen as a problem to be dealt with. The truth is that they are an important part of the solution to sustainable food security" – FAO Director-General José Graziano Da Silva

Food insecurity within the context of a growing world population, increasingly disruptive climate change and environmental destruction, scarce access to land and resources, discrimination against women and lack of financial support for smallholders and youth were some of the problems that were recognised as crucial in the global struggle to feed all.

Sustainable development and smart agriculture, climate change mitigation and adaptation to changing and more extreme conditions were raised as necessary strategies.

FAO figures show that increasing production is not the silver bullet – the world already produces 40 percent more than is needed.

Leslie Lipper, Senior Environmental Economist at FAO’s Economic and Social Department, raised the problem of access: “Today there is enough food in the world for everybody to be food secure, and we still have over 809 million people that are food insecure.”

“They don’t have the means to either buy or in some way get the food they need. We are looking at the need for an agriculture world strategy that increases income, not just production”, she added.

From a social perspective, Giuseppe Castiglione, Undersecretary at the Italian Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policy, highlighted the role of family farmers in terms of employment and social inclusion, saying that they offer the opportunity of involving vulnerable people in a familiar working environment that is more welcoming than other forms of employment.

The International Year of Family Farming has been a demonstration of what the United Nations system does well: gathering people, starting dialogue, creating platforms for discussion, raising awareness and sharing knowledge.

In this context, many speakers called for policy-makers to follow up and implement strategies that permit the creation of supporting infrastructures. In fact, farmers’ challenges include distributing food efficiently, gaining access to markets and financial investments, reducing waste and improving quality.

“Financial services enable farmers to generate income and insulate themselves from income shocks”, said Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development.

“Even a small amount of savings can mean that a mother does not have to sell her chickens or other income-earning assets in order to pay a doctor’s fee,” she added.

The crucial role of women as the backbone of agricultural production was not forgotten, and every speaker called for recognition of their role and for gender equality.

Santiago Del Solar Dorrego, Argentine agronomist and former president of a farmer group, suggested that while innovation is crucial, farmers should not go down that path alone if they do not have the scale to absorb the shock of failure. “Go together,” he said.

Jorge Anrango, responsible for food in rural and indigenous communities in the Ecuador delegation to FAO, talked to IPS about the experience of his country. “Everybody wanted to study, study, study. Nobody wanted to cultivate land”, he said, explaining that the IYFF has raised awareness of the importance of farming and has spurred people to return to the fields.

John Kufuor, former President of Ghana, highlighted the need for political leadership in policy-making for agriculture. He said that the 30 percent increase in rice production in his country had been made possible through offering landless people, women and youth degraded but usable land plots.

By providing them with access to training, markets and services, it had been possible to involve them in a system of plantation development and profit sharing and this programme had created jobs and improved income, food security and nutrition.

In a reference to the recent natural disasters that have hit the host country, Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, a movement promoting local food systems, said that the floods and landslides that affected parts of northern Italy earlier in the month were the result of terrible hydrogeological conditions.

This, he explained, was because while family farmers used to clean canals and rivers and to ensure that the land was looked after, their role had been weakened, negatively affecting the public service they had once provided.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Bamboo Could Be a Savior for Climate Change, Biodiversityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/bamboo-could-be-a-savior-for-climate-change-biodiversity/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 17:37:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137221 The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The bamboo plant has a very important role to play in environment protection and climate change mitigation. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

Bamboo Avenue is a two-and-a-half mile stretch of road in Jamaica’s St. Elizabeth parish. It is lined with giant bamboo plants which tower above the road and cross in the middle to form a shady tunnel. The avenue was established in the 17th century by the owners of the Holland Estate to provide shade for travelers and to protect the road from erosion.

Bamboo has been part of Jamaica’s culture for thousands of years, but it has never really taken off as a tool or an option to resolve some of the challenges the country faces."The evidence shows that [bamboo] is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment." -- Dr. Hans Friederich

That’s until recently.

Last month, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) announced the country would embark on the large-scale production of bamboo for the construction of low-cost houses and value-added products such as furniture and charcoal for the export market.

It is still in the early stages, but Jamaica is being hailed for the project which the director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich, said has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity and mitigating against climate change.

“The plant bamboo, and there are about 1,250 different species, has a very important role to play in environmental protection and climate change mitigation. Bamboos have very strong and very extensive root systems and are therefore amazing tools to combat soil erosion and to help with land degradation restoration,” Friederich told IPS.

“More bamboo will absorb more CO2 and therefore help you with your REDD+ targets, but once you cut that bamboo and you use it, you lock the carbon up, and bamboo as a grass grows so fast you can actually cut it after about four or five years, unlike trees that you have to leave for a long time.

“So by cutting bamboo you have a much faster return on investment, you avoid cutting trees and you provide the raw material for a whole range of uses,” he explained.

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Director of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan (INBAR), Dr. Hans Friederich. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The BSJ is conducting training until the end of November for people to be employed in the industry and is setting up three bamboo factories across the island.

The agency is also ensuring that local people can grow, preserve and harvest the bamboo for its various uses.

“It can be planted just like planting cane for sugar. The potential for export is great, and you can get jobs created, and be assured of the creation of industries,” said the special projects director at the BSJ, Gladstone Rose.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Friederich told IPS bamboos can contribute directly to Aichi Biodiversity Targets 14 and 15.

Target 14 speaks to the restoration, by 2020, of ecosystems that provide essential services, including services related to water, and contribute to health, livelihoods and well-being, taking into account the needs of women, indigenous and local communities, and the poor and vulnerable.

Target 15 speaks to ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks being enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 percent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combating desertification.

“We are here to encourage the parties to the convention who are bamboo growers to consider bamboo as one of the tools in achieving some of the Aichi targets and incorporate bamboo in their national biodiversity strategy where appropriate,” Friederich said.

President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) Senator Norman Grant said bamboo “is an industry whose time has come,” while Acting Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Derrick Kellier has admonished islanders to desist from cutting down bamboo to be used as yam sticks.

“We are collaborating to spread the word: stop destroying the existing bamboo reserves, so that we will have them for use,” he said.

Kellier said bamboo offers enormous potential for farmers and others.

“It is a very fast-growing plant, and as soon as the industry gets going, when persons see the economic value, they will start putting in their own acreages. It grows on marginal lands as we have seen across the country, so we are well poised to take full advantage of the industry,” Kellier said.

On the issue of conservation of biodiversity, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Ibrahim Thiaw said there is a lack of understanding among developing countries that biodiversity is the foundation for the development.

As a result, he said, they are not investing enough in biodiversity from their domestic resources, because it is considered a luxury.

“If the Caribbean countries are to continue to benefit from tourism as an activity they will have to invest in protecting biodiversity because tourists are not coming just to see the nice people of the Caribbean, they are coming to see nature,” Thiaw told IPS.

“It is important that developing countries invest their own resources first and foremost to conserve biodiversity. They have the resources. It’s just a matter of priority. If you understand that biodiversity is the foundation for your development, you invest in your capital, you keep your capital. Countries in the Caribbean have a lot of resources that are critical for their economy.”

Jamaica’s Bureau of Standards said it is aiming to tap into the lucrative global market for bamboo products, which is estimated at 10 billion dollars, with the potential to reach 20 billion by next year.

Friederich said while some countries have not yet realised the potential for bamboo, others have taken it forward.

“I was in Vietnam just last week and found that there is a prime ministerial decree to promote the use of bamboo. In Rwanda, there is a law that actually recommends using bamboo on the slopes of rivers and on the banks of lakes for protection against erosion; in the Philippines there is a presidential decree that 25 percent of all school furniture should be made from bamboo,” he explained.

“So there are real policy instruments already in place to promote bamboos, what we are trying to do is to encourage other countries to follow suit and to look at the various options that are available.

“Bamboo has enormous potential for protecting the natural environment and biodiversity. The evidence shows that this is being seriously undervalued as a possibility for countries to engage in biodiversity protection and protection of the natural environment,” he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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High-Tech, High Yields: Caribbean Farmers Reap Benefits of ICThttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/high-tech-high-yields-caribbean-farmers-reap-benefits-of-ict/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 21:21:49 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137194 Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Kenneth Kerr, climate meteorologist at the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Service, explains how computer modeling is used to provide agrometeorology services to farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Farmers in the Caribbean are being encouraged to make more use of farm apps and other forms of ICT in an effort to increase the knowledge available for making sound, profitable farming decisions.

Peter Thompson of Jamaica’s Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) said Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is being increasingly used to track “localised conditions, pests and disease prevalence. The technology will not only add value to us but to the farmers in giving information that they need.”“The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death." -- Peter Thompson

Thompson spoke to IPS at the recently concluded Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), held Oct. 6-12 in Paramaribo, Suriname.

A great deal of attention was given to “scaling up” the integration of technology into day-to-day farming practices at CWA 2014, co-sponsored by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).

The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, showcased apps that students in the Department of Computing and Information Technology had developed as part of the AgriNeTT project, a collaborative effort between the Department, the Faculty of Food and Agriculture, and farmers’ representatives.

AgriNeTT’s project leader/coordinator, Dr. Margaret Bernard, said “the main focus…is developing intelligent systems within agriculture. There is a lack of data [and] many of the models being built did not have real data from the field.”

The apps are intended to support agriculture, she told IPS. “A big part of the AgriNeTT project is the development of an Open Data repository, particularly to house agriculture data on a national level… The repository will house different data sets, including farm level production data, commodity prices and volumes, farm land spatial data, soils, weather, and pest and diseases tracking data.”

Dr. Bernard said the aim of the Open Data repository was to build a platform that would be accessible throughout the Caribbean. The project seeks to encourage all in the Caribbean farming community to share in uploading data so that “developer teams can use that data creatively and build apps [for agriculture].”

She added that the creation of apps and tools based on the data would help to modernise Caribbean agriculture. “The collection, aggregation, analysis, visualisation and dissemination of data are key to Caribbean competitiveness,” Dr. Bernard said.

Dr. Bernard holds high hopes for a new app, called AgriExpenseTT, which her team developed for farm record-keeping. The app, now available for download at Google Play, allows farmers to track expenses of more than one crop at a time, track purchases of agricultural products they use on their farms, as well as track how much of the products purchased are actually used for each crop.

She said farmers who opted for the subscription service for this app would then have their data stored which would allow researchers “to verify some of the models for cost production, so we know this is what it costs to produce X amount of [any crop].”

Another reason for encouraging the use of ICT in agriculture is the need to make farming a more attractive career option for young people, CTA’s Director Michael Hailu explained. He said an important dimension to family farming, the theme of this year’s CWA, was the significant role that young people should and could play in the development of the region’s agriculture.

Since the region’s farming population is aging, “we at CTA are making a special effort to encourage young people to engage in agriculture—in ways that they can relate to, using new technologies that are far removed from the old image of farming,” he said.

To this end, CTA offered a prize to young app developers in the region who would develop innovative ICT applications to address key Caribbean agricultural challenges and foster agri-enterprise among young people.

Winners of this year's AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Credit: Jewel Fraser/IPS

Winners of this year’s AgriHack Talent competition, at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2014. The winners designed apps to be used by farmers. Photo Courtesy of CTA

Many of the apps developed for the CWA 2014 AgriHack Talent competition focused on providing farmers with useful information that is not always readily available.

Jason Scott, part of the Jamaican team that won the agricultural hackathon with their app named Node 420, said, “Collecting the information they need can be a real problem for farmers.” He said he and his colleague Orane Edwards “decided to design some hardware that could gather all sorts of data to help them with their cultivation, including planting, sowing and harvesting.”

RADA’s Thompson said, “The application of these technologies in agriculture pull in young people. If you focus on traditional means, chances are agriculture will die a natural death…We have these young guys coming in who are just hungry to do things in terms of technology. We have to help them.”

However, Faumuina Tatunai, a media specialist who works with Women and Business Development, an NGO that supports 600 farmers in Samoa, told IPS that excessive focus on attracting youth to farming through ICT may be short-sighted.

“The reality of farming is that we need young people on the farms as part of the family. To do that we need to attract them in quite holistic ways…and ICT is just part of the solution but it is not the only solution.”

She said her organisation seeks to encourage interest in farming among youth by taking a family-centred approach and encouraging all members of the family to learn about agriculture and grow together as farmers through the use of training and other opportunities.

“Everyone in the family is a farmer, whether they are six or 70 years old…our approach is to build capacity with mother, father, and child,” Tatunai said.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Curbing Biodiversity Loss Needs Giant Leap Forwardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/curbing-biodiversity-loss-needs-giant-leap-forward/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 17:32:19 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137185 Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet they are on the frontline of destruction. At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet they are on the frontline of destruction. At this Bonaire reef, the olive-green coral is alive, but the mottled-gray coral is dead. Credit: Living Oceans Foundation/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

When political leaders from climate-threatened Small Island Developing States (SIDS) addressed the U.N. General Assembly last month, there was one recurring theme: the urgent need to protect the high seas and preserve the world’s marine biodiversity.

“I have come to the United Nations compelled by the dictates of my conscience,” pleaded President Emanuel Mori of the Federated States of Micronesia."In the long-term, there are no winners on this planet if we lose the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss." -- Nathalie Rey of Greenpeace International

“We are all stewards of God’s creation here on earth. The bounties of Mother Nature are priceless. We all bear the obligation to sustainably manage them.”

An equally poignant appeal came from President Christopher Loeak of the Marshall Islands: “The Pacific Ocean and its rich resources are our lifeline. We are the custodians of our own vast resources on behalf of future generations.”

“Our suffering could have been prevented by the United Nations – if only you had listened,” he told delegates, pointing an accusing finger at the world body for dereliction of duty.

A two-week long Conference of the State Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), currently underway in South Korea and continuing through Oct. 17, will finalise a road map to protect and preserve biodiversity, including oceans, forests, genetic resources, wildlife, agricultural land and ecosystems.

A report titled ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 4‘ (GBO-4) released last week provides an assessment of the progress made towards achieving biodiversity targets set at a meeting in Nagoya, in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture, back in October 2010.

Nathalie Rey, deputy political director of Greenpeace International, told IPS the U.N. report monitoring “the miserable progress to date of implementation of the world’s government’s 10-year plan to save life on Earth shows that sustainable development is still a distant dream.”

Whilst small steps have been made, she said, it is going to require a giant leap forward to get the world on track to slow down and curb biodiversity loss altogether.

Rey pointed out that healthy and productive oceans are the backbone of the planet, and essential in the fight against poverty and ensuring food security. Coral reefs are the rainforests of the seas, providing food, resources and coastal protection to millions of people around the world. Yet the report highlights that they are on the frontline of destruction, she added.

“We continue to plunder them of fish, choke them with pollution and alter them forever with the impacts of human-induced climate change,” she said.

The acidification of oceans from the increased absorption of carbon dioxide in particular is having widespread effects on these coral ecosystems.

Reflecting another perspective, Alice Martin-Prevel, policy analyst at the Oakland Institute, a progressive think tank based in San Francisco, told IPS biodiversity preservation targets will never be achieved without secured access to land for farmers and safeguarding small holders’ ability to invest sustainably in their production activity.

She said the World Bank continues to produce business indicators, such as ‘Doing Business’ and the new ‘Benchmarking the Business Agriculture Project’, to encourage governments to create private land markets and open up to imported hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers.

“This is why we launched the ‘Our Land Our Business’ campaign to protest the Bank’s business-friendly agenda and selling of countries’ ecosystems and land to foreign investors,” Martin-Prevel said.

She added that this jeopardises equal and environmentally-sustainable development.

Chee Yoke Ling, director of programmes at the Malaysia-based Third World Network, told IPS resource mobilisation remains elusive.

She said the second report of the High Level Panel presented to the ongoing COP12 reiterates that estimates at global, regional and national levels all point to a substantial gap between the investments needed to deliver biodiversity targets and the resources currently allocated.

This is true for all of the 2010 Aichi Targets, she added.

The report referred to a 2012 review that estimated current levels of global funding for biodiversity at between 51 and 53 billion dollars annually, compared to estimated needs of 300 to 400 billion dollars annually.

“Although the developed country parties have legally committed to provide new and additional financial resources to meet the full incremental cost of implementing the CBD, this commitment, as with other environmental treaties, has not been honoured,” Ling said.

She said a regular excuse used now is about the current economic condition of developed countries which has restrained development funding.

Rey of Greenpeace International told IPS that without concerted efforts to keep climate change under control, “we will see irreversible damage to coral reefs and other vulnerable habitats, with devastating consequences for marine life and those people that directly depend on them for work and protein.”

Building resilience through the establishment of an extensive network of marine reserves – ocean sanctuaries free of industrial activities – will be an essential tool to help the marine world adapt to climate change and protect against other stressors such as overfishing and destructive fishing practices.

This is a target that governments are still lagging way behind on, she said.

In 2012, world governments committed to double funding towards addressing biodiversity loss. Still, shrinking state budgets are negatively affecting funding for environmental conservation. This points to a continued lack of understanding of the huge economic returns from investing in biodiversity protection, said Rey.

Furthermore, the cost of not acting now far outweighs the costs of acting in the future. There are sufficient sources of money, but it is often a case of redirecting these sources towards sustainable activities, she noted.

Rey also said a clear starting point identified by the Convention for Biological Diversity (CBD) will be to reallocate harmful subsidies to conservation.

It has been estimated, said Rey, that a staggering one trillion dollars or more of public money is spent by governments every year on subsidies harmful to the environment, including the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors.

Yet whilst the report notes there is an increasing recognition of harmful subsidies, very little action has been taken.

The current U.N. report hopefully acts as a half-time reality check that forces a major game change in the second half of this decade. Green groups say governments and companies should stop defending destructive activities, like oil drilling in the Arctic, ancient deforestation and agricultural activities that promote industrial, chemical- dependent monocultures.

“Because in the long-term there are no winners on this planet if we lose the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss,” Rey declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Family Farming – A Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farming-a-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farming-a-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farming-a-way-of-life/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 07:54:28 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137180 Women are the backbone of the farming sector and have a crucial role to play in improving nutrition through food preparation and the education of children. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Women are the backbone of the farming sector and have a crucial role to play in improving nutrition through food preparation and the education of children. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

It does not make the headlines, but 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) and family farming will be centre-stage at this year’s World Food Day on Oct. 16 at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“If we are serious about fighting hunger we need to promote family farming as a way of production and also [...] as a way of life. It is much more than a way of agricultural production”, says Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Office for Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development.

According to FAO, family farming – which is the largest employer in the world – can help combat hunger and poverty and contribute to healthy food systems. It can also play a role in protecting the environment and managing natural resources in a sustainable way.Family farming is estimated to provide 70 percent of the food produced in the world, sustain 40 percent of households worldwide and is twice more effective in reducing poverty than any other productive sector.

There is no official definition for family farming, which sometimes replaces the term ‘smallholders’, but its key features are family ownership and the use of mainly non-wage labour provided by family members.

Family farming is estimated to provide 70 percent of the food produced in the world, sustain 40 percent of households worldwide and is twice more effective in reducing poverty than any other productive sector.

A FAO working paper, which used figures from the World Census of Agriculture, calculates that “there are more than 570 million farms in the world and more than 500 million of these are owned by families.”

The paper also notes that 84 percent of the world’s farms are smaller than two hectares and operate on about 12 percent of the world’s farmland. The remaining 16 percent of farms are larger than two hectares and represent 88 percent of farmland.

East and South Asia along with the Pacific account for 74 percent of the 570 million farms, with China and India accounting for 35 and 24 percent respectively. Only three percent of farms are located in the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean represent four percent each.

Farmers’ organisations from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania met in Abu Dhabi in January at the start of IYFF and issued a set of five demands to make family farming the “cornerstone of solid sustainable rural development, conceived of as an integral part of the global and harmonised development of each nation and each people while preserving the environment and natural resources.”

Among others, they called for strategies to attract young people and prevent migration, creating the conditions for them to take over their parents’ farms or set up new farms.

With regards to gender equality, they criticised discrimination over inheritance rules and wages as unacceptable, saying that women are the backbone of the farming sector and have a crucial role to play in improving nutrition through food preparation and the education of children.

The farmers’ organisations also called on governments to finance the creation of cooperatives, and guarantee access to markets and loans for smallholders.

According to José Antonio Osaba, Coordinator of the IYFF-2014 Civil Society Programme of the World Rural Forum, all nations, and especially developing nations, “have the right to protect their agriculture so as to be able to feed themselves and trade under equitable conditions … the reverse is now the case: a small handful of major exporting nations with high productivity levels and considerable subsidies dominate the world food market.”

Ranja Sengupta, senior researcher at the Third World Network in India, shares Osaba’s position. On the side-lines of the Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum held in Milan, Italy, on Oct. 10-12, she told IPS that free trade agreements pose a serious problem for the capability of developing countries to sustain their people.

“I think in countries like India, large countries with a large, hungry population, there is no alternative to strengthening small family-based farms”, she said.

“We cannot depend on imported food. So for us, if we have to provide food to our people, we have to take it from our producers and we have to ensure that they are able to produce; that’s why we do need to give essential subsidies – at least for now”, she added.

“It is something which should be non-negotiable for any developing country government and no global agreement should be able to actually say ‘no’ to that”, Sengupta concluded.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Measuring How Climate Change Affects Africa’s Food Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/measuring-how-climate-change-affects-africas-food-security/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 07:30:28 +0000 Xavi Fernández de Castro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137154 A young girl digs a 'zai pit' in order to improve the productivity of her family farm in Kitui County, eastern Kenya. Credit: Xavi Fernández de Castro/IPS

A young girl digs a 'zai pit' in order to improve the productivity of her family farm in Kitui County, eastern Kenya. Credit: Xavi Fernández de Castro/IPS

By Xavi Fernández de Castro
NAIROBI, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

For the past 40 years Josephine Kakiyi, 55, has been cultivating maize, beans and vegetables on her small plot of land in the remote area of Kwa Vonza, in Kitui County, eastern Kenya.

Even though this has always been a hot and semi-arid region, over the last 15 years Kakiyi has noticed that the rainfall has reduced and become increasingly unpredictable.

She doesn’t exactly know why this is happening. The only thing she knows for sure is that “now it’s harder to say when it will rain.”

But farmers all over Kenya, and in most African countries, are facing similar problems.

Experts from around the world are certain that climate change is playing a major role in the difficulties Kakiyi and hundreds of thousands of other farmers are experiencing on the continent.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “there is strong consensus that climate change will negatively impact food security in Africa.”

The report also states that “floods, drought, shifts in the timing and amount of rainfall, and high temperatures associated with climate change could directly affect crop and livestock productivity.”

All of these phenomena, when combined, may easily create numerous crises on a continent that is expected to double its population to 2.4 billion by 2050.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World report, published this year by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the U.N. (FAO) and  International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), estimates that there is around 227 million undernourished people in Africa – a fifth of the continent’s’ population.

Even so, the prevalence of undernourishment in Africa has declined from 27.7 percent in 1990 to 20.5 percent currently.

In Kenya, food security is a great concern for at least 10.8 million people, although the prevalence has also shrunk from 33 percent to 24.3 percent over the last 25 years.

But what experts still don’t agree on is the extent to which climate change is affecting food security.

“Climate change is an exacerbating driver, not the primary cause, of food insecurity and hunger,” Randall Purcell, a senior advisor to the Recovery Unit of WFP in Kenya, tells IPS.

“The weather has always been hot and dry in large parts of Kenya, which makes the country more prone to droughts.”

However, the latest scientific data show that over the last 15 years “droughts [are] coming sooner and in a more unpredictable way,” Purcell adds. “Before, one could predict that a severe drought [would occur] every five to seven years, now it’s every three years.”

And the same applies to rainfall.

The IPCC has forecast a slight increase of rainfall in East Africa, but it also expects it to be more erratic and sporadic.

So it’s getting harder to tell when, where, and how much it will rain, as farmers like Kakiyi have noticed.

Luigi Luminari, a technical advisor to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA), a parastatal organisation set up in 2011 to coordinate a more effective response to periodic drought episodes and dry spells in Kenya, is convinced that “climate change is affecting weather patterns, but we still need more evidence.”

A representative of FAO in Kenya, Luca Alinovi, also prefers to be cautious and explains to IPS the difficulties scientists encounter when linking climate change to its consequences.

“In most African countries the amount of solid data on weather is very [limited], so it’s very difficult to say for sure if a specific event entails a structural change or it’s only a cycle that repeats itself every few decades. Furthermore, a lot of measurements are not done with ground stations but with estimates,” Alinovi says.

Regardless of what the data may prove, the fact is that Kenya has suffered three major droughts since 2001 and the Kenyan government, in collaboration with the World Bank, the European Union and relevant stakeholders, is trying to implement a new approach to address the situation.

“The NDMA has established an early warning system at a county level to facilitate the collection of environmental and socioeconomic data so we can activate our contingency plans before the worst effects of drought have even appeared,” Luminari explains.

But detection is only half of the solution. The other half is based on prevention. “Climate change can also be an opportunity and not only a threat,” Alinovi asserts.

“Innovative agriculture offers a lot of solutions to farmers. For example, if rainfall is more erratic, you can find ways to harvest the water and use it when it suits you better; or as maize is not drought tolerant you can start planting other heat-resistant crops like sorghum or millet, which can provide good revenue as well.”

On her plot of roughly 0.3 hectares, Kakiyi has started using zai pits, an agricultural technique exported from West Africa that consists of digging holes that are two feet by two feet. In the pits she puts a mixture of soil and manure to help improve the infiltration of the run-off water from rainy seasons.

Using this technique, which is labour-intensive but cheap, Kakiyi has been able to increase the productivity of her plot by 10 times.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

This is part of a series sponsored by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).

 

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Biodiversity, Climate Change Solutions Inextricably Linkedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/biodiversity-climate-change-solutions-inextricably-linked/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 21:34:32 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137165 Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

Saint Lucia’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Amazon parrot. Credit: Steve Wilson/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

The remarkable biodiversity of the countries of the Caribbean, already under stress from human impacts like land use, pollution, invasive species, and over-harvesting of commercially valuable species, now faces an additional threat from climate change.

On the sidelines of the 12th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17, Saint Lucia’s Biodiversity Coordinator Terrence Gilliard told IPS that his government understands that biodiversity and ecosystem services underpin sustainable development."Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come." -- Helena Brown

But he said climate change is having an impact on biodiversity of the island nation.

“There have been reports of coral bleaching occasioned by higher sea temperatures and there has been a lengthening in the productive season of some agricultural crops,” said Gilliard, who also serves as sustainable development and environment officer.

“The extreme weather events such as Hurricane Tomas [in 2010] and the [2013] Christmas Eve trough resulted in major landslides within forested areas and there is…loss of animal life during these events. Long periods of droughts limit water availability and affect agricultural production.”

Though less than 616 square kms in area, Saint Lucia is exceptionally rich in animals and plants. More than 200 species occur nowhere else, including seven percent of the resident birds and an incredible 53 percent of the reptiles.

The nation’s best known species is the gorgeous but endangered Saint Lucia amazon parrot. Other species of conservation concern include the pencil cedar, staghorn coral and Saint Lucia racer. The racer, confined to the 12-hectare Maria Major Island, is arguably the world’s most threatened snake following recent increases in numbers of its distant relative in Antigua and Barbuda.

The Antiguan racer, a small, harmless, lizard-eating snake, was once widespread throughout Antigua, but became almost extinct early this century, hunted relentlessly by predators such as mongooses and rats. As of 2013, the population size was 1,020.

Helena Brown, technical coordinator in the Environment Division of the Ministry of Health and the Environment, said there are at least two conservation programmes in Antigua where the racer and another critically endangered species, the hawksbill turtle, are being conserved.

“There is a lot of work being done there but that’s just two species out of many. Our biodiversity is important for our health, our status, our attractiveness as a country and it is important that we conserve it and use it in a sustainable manner that it is there for generations to come,” Brown told IPS.

According to Jamaica’s National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), ecosystems on that island most vulnerable to climate change impacts include coral reefs, highland forests, and coastal wetlands (mangroves).

With more than 8,000 species recorded, Jamaica is ranked fifth globally for endemic species. The Caribbean island has 98.2 percent of the 514 indigenous species of land snails and 100 percent of the 22 indigenous species of amphibians.

Jamaica’s rich marine species diversity include species of fish, sea anemones, black and stony corals, mollusks, turtles, whales, dolphin, and manatee. In addition, nearly 30.1 percent of the country is covered with forests and there are 10 hydrological basins containing over 100 streams and rivers, in addition to several subterranean waterways, ponds, springs, and blue holes.

For Saint Kitts and Nevis, where biodiversity is described as “very important to sustainable development,” the effects of climate change are not highly visible at this point.

“More time will be needed to observe some of the subtle changes that are observed. For instance, in some cases there seems to be longer periods of drought which are impacting on the natural cycles of some plants and also on agricultural crops,” the director of Physical Planning and Environment in the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Randolph Edmead, told IPS.

“The rainy season appears to be getting shorter and when there is rain the episodes are more intense thus leading to flash floods.”

Saint Kitts and Nevis is pursuing tourism development as its main economic activity, and many of the country’s tourism-related activities and attractions are based on biodiversity. These include marine biodiversity where coral reefs represent an important component.

Edmead said coral reefs also support fisheries which is an important source of food.

“The income generated from these activities not only supports development but also is important for sustaining livelihoods,” he explained.

Forest biodiversity also forms an important part of the tourism product of Saint Kitts and Nevis. Ecotourism activities which are based on organised hikes along established trails are engaged in regularly by tourists.

“Biodiversity also helps to protect soils from erosion which is not only important for agriculture but also in the protection of vital infrastructure,” he added.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias told IPS climate change is a main threat to biodiversity and he urged progress at the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP scheduled for Dec. 1-12 in Peru.

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Executive Director of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“The threats to biodiversity continue. But where do these threats come from? They come from public policies, corporate policies and other factors that come from the socio-economic sector. These are population increase, consumption increase, more pollution, climate change. These are some of the big drivers of loss of biodiversity,” said de Souza Dias.

“So unless we see progress in the negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then the loss of biodiversity will probably continue.”

But de Souza Dias is also putting forward biodiversity as part of the solution to the climate change problem. He suggested that better management of forests, wetlands, mangroves and other systems can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We can also enhance adaptation because adaptation is not just about building walls to avoid the sea level rise impacting coastal zones. It is about having more resilient ecosystems that can resist more the different scenarios of climate change,” he told IPS.

“We need to conserve better the ecosystems in our landscape…having more diverse landscape with some forest, some wetlands, some protected catchment areas. Currently we are moving to more simplified landscapes, just big monocultures of crops, large cities, so we are going in the wrong direction.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Vanuatu Puts Indigenous Rights First in Land Reformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:01:10 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137160 Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Stemming widespread corruption in the leasing of customary land to investors is the aim of bold land reform, introduced this year in the Southwest Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, which puts the rights of traditional landowners above the discretionary powers of politicians.

Less than one hour from the capital, Port Vila, is the village of Mangaliliu, one of many across this sprawling nation of 82 islands and more than 247,000 people where livelihoods centre on agriculture and fishing.

Here, villagers are battling the loss of their traditional land due to a lease negotiated without their consent.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake." -- Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor
“Somebody from another village leased one piece of our land to an investor. I tried to stop him. When he started bulldozing the land, I went with my people and took palm leaves, which we use as a sign of [something that is] taboo [forbidden]. We hung them all along the road and the case is now in court,” Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor recounted.

Pristine coastlines and sea views on the country’s main island of Efate have attracted foreign investors interested in property and tourism development and now an estimated 56.5 percent of coastal land on the island has been leased for periods up to 75 years.

More than 80 percent of land in Vanuatu is customary, with ownership held by extended families, who are custodians for the next generation. Rights of use for farming or commercial enterprises are decided by group consensus, as are proposals on leasing to other parties. The importance of land to the culture, identity, food security and social wellbeing of Pacific Islanders is reflected in most national laws, which only allow the lease – not sale – of customary land.

Yet today with the penetration of the cash economy land has also become a source of windfalls to villagers and politicians alike.

“People have learned that if they sell [lease] one piece of land they can buy a car, satellite dish or speedboat,” Mormor said. “It can take many years to save this sort of money, so it is just like a miracle if you sell land.”

However under group custodianship conflict can quickly arise if, for example, “I have a brother who sells a piece of land and doesn’t ask permission of me or my sister, or my children, or my sister’s children,” he added.

In the past, the lands minister could personally decide on disputed leases. The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor programme reports that 21.4 percent of all new leases since the country’s independence in 1980 have been signed under this provision. Last year alleged improper land dealings accounted for almost two-thirds of lawsuits against the government.

Now, the ambitions of land reform by indigenous leader Ralph Regenvanu, who was appointed lands minister in 2013, have become a reality.

In December last year new laws were passed making it mandatory that all members of customary landowner groups give their prior informed consent to any leases over their land. Potential investors must apply to a land management planning committee for approval to conduct negotiations with custom owners. Two customary institutions, Nakamals and Custom Area Land Tribunals, will decide the outcome of disputes, rather than the courts.

According to Regenvanu, investor confidence will increase because now when “you get a lease you can be assured that it was gained lawfully.” But he also believes that the economic and social security which land provides to his people will be strengthened.

Steve Namali of the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs in Port Vila commented that, while consultation on the reforms had not been conducted nationwide, he believed they would help address the fraudulence of land deals in the past.

With adult literacy in the province estimated at 27.6 percent, the greater thoroughness of the approval process should also improve local awareness of the ramifications of entering into land agreements. For example, reclaiming land on a lease expiry often requires compensation to the lessee for developments, even though many villagers do not have the financial means to reimburse an investor the value of a tourist resort or luxury home.

Local communities often “don’t understand what is going to happen in the long term” and that most likely “at the end of a lease, it [land] will never come back to traditional tenure,” Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA), a regional civil society landowner solidarity network, said in Port Vila.

“There is now a process in place that has to be followed and it will stop individuals going and doing their own thing,” he said. “It has been a good change for Vanuatu, especially because of this land boom and people selling land left, right and centre.”

International investors from Australia, Europe and Asia have largely driven growth in the real estate market, along with the nation’s tax haven status. In 2012, foreign direct investment (FDI) amounted to 37.7 million dollars or 4.8 percent of GDP, but Mormor claims local people have seen few benefits.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake,” he said.

Despite average GDP growth of four percent over the past decade, with a high of 8.5 percent in 2006, an estimated 40 percent of people have incomes below the poverty line.

“I think people want development, but what type of development and in whose interests?” Simo queried. He believes protecting indigenous landownership makes sense when the traditional economy, which includes subsistence and smallholder agriculture, is the biggest employer in Melanesia.

In comparison, “many [formal sector] jobs available involve cheap labour and that only gets people into more poverty,” he said. Formal employment in Vanuatu is only 20 percent and the average local wage is 316 dollars per month. So, he continued, “If you don’t have a job, you fall back to the land,” which is the only safety net.

Mormor now wants to retain his land for community-driven projects, such as fish farming and coconut oil production. He is happy that the new laws will help protect the land for his children, but also admits the more thorough land registration and approval process, if he engages with development partners, will take much longer than in the past.

“I could be dead when these projects start,” he laughs.

While Vanuatu’s new laws are popular, it remains to be seen how well they work, and if they eliminate political cronyism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Reducing Hunger: More Than Just Access to Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 20:00:33 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137144 A dozen activists from the Stop Biocidio organisation disrupted Greenaccord’s 11th forum on Saturday Oct. 11 to demand that the Italian government clean up illegal toxic waste dumped on their lands and protect agricultural production around Naples. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

A dozen activists from the Stop Biocidio organisation disrupted Greenaccord’s 11th forum on Saturday Oct. 11 to demand that the Italian government clean up illegal toxic waste dumped on their lands and protect agricultural production around Naples. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

“We want healthy food, we want to produce according to our traditions,” farmers and activists demanded during an international forum of experts on agriculture and the environment in this southern Italian city.

It is not necessary to go far to find an illustration of the difficulties facing farmers in achieving that goal, Dario Natale told IPS. He is a young man who lives in the area between the cities of Naples and Caserta known as “Terra dei fuochi” or land of fire, due to the chronic burning of waste, much of it toxic.

“The land is polluted, people get sick and our products are under suspicion. The government has done nothing,” complained the 24-year-old Natale, who belongs to Stop Biocidio, a group that is demanding an end to the illegal dumping or burying of waste in the area, and to the burning of garbage, which began in the 1990s.

That area in the southwest province of Campania is known for the production of vegetables, fruit and mozzarella cheese made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo.

Since the 1990s, the Camorra, the Naples mafia, has taken over the handling and disposal of refuse and toxic waste hauled in from Italy’s industrialised north and dumped in the south, which has caused serious damage to the environment, health and the local economy.“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn't mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one.” -- Marino Niola

This is one of the problems that will be discussed at the Expo Milan, to be held in May 2015 in that northern Italian city, under the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. In the expo, participating countries will present their situation regarding the production of food, the fight against hunger, and measures adopted to guarantee food security.

These are the same issues that were tackled at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples under the theme “People Building the Future; Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment”.

The Forum, organised by Greenaccord, an Italian network of experts dedicated to training in environmental questions, brought together some 200 reporters, academics, activists, students and representatives of governments and multilateral organisations from 47 countries.

During the four days of talks and debates they also discussed issues like the fight against hunger, the role of transnational corporations, and the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.

The nations of the developing South, different experts said, are in an ambiguous situation, because they fight hunger but are only partly successful when it comes to ensuring food security which also involves production and distribution of quality food.

“It’s not just about production of enough food for everyone; it means that every individual must have access to food,” Adriana Opromolla, Caritas International campaign manager, told IPS. “In Latin America, for example, compliance with that right varies. The fact that countries have laws on it does not mean they are necessarily complying.”

Caritas released a report on food security in Guatemala and Nicaragua on Monday during the annual forum of the International Food Security & Nutrition Civil Society Mechanism, held in the Rome headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Oct. 12-19 is the Food Week of Action.

By 2050, demand for food will expand 65 percent, while the world population will reach nine billion.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report released Sept. 16 revealed that the proportion of undernourished people in Latin America went down from 15.3 percent in the 1990-1992 period to 6.1 percent in 2012-2014.

As a result, this region met the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) one year before the 2015 deadline. The MDGs were adopted by the international community in 2000, and the first is to cut the proportion of hungry people and people living in extreme poverty around the world by half, from 1990 levels.

Measures taken in the region have varied. For example, nations like Colombia and Mexico included the right to food in the constitution, while other countries, such as Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador adopted legislation on the matter.

“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn’t mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one,” Marino Niola, director of the Centre for Social Research on the Mediterranean Diet, or MedEatResearch, at the private Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples, told IPS.

In 2004, FAO adopted the “Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security”, which are being reviewed this year.

The theme for World Food Day, Oct. 16, this year is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”.

“The right to food is an ethical way to address food production and distribution. It has to be guaranteed for importing countries,” Gary Gardner, a researcher with the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS.

In his research, the U.S. expert has found that 13 counties were totally dependent on imported grains in 2013, 51 were dependent on imports for more than 50 percent, and 77 were dependent on imports for over 25 percent.

More than 90 million people in the world are totally dependent on imported grains, 376 million are dependent on imports for more than 50 percent and 882 million are dependent on imports for more than 25 percent.

Opromolla said more budgetary resources are needed, as well as greater transparency in decision-making and more participation by civil society.

“It’s a structural problem,” the Caritas expert said. “Multiple measures are needed, applied in a coherent manner. The commitment by the state is essential, because it must guarantee the right to food.”

Natale is clear on what he wants and does not want for situations like the current one in “Terra dei fuochi”: No more pollution of the soil and water, and government protection of agricultural production. “Our diet is healthy. It doesn’t depend only on pizza and pasta, as the government says. If we don’t produce, where does the food come from?”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Marine Litter: Plunging Deep, Spreading Widehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/marine-litter-plunging-deep-spreading-wide/#comments Fri, 10 Oct 2014 08:26:17 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137098 There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

There are an estimated 13,000 pieces of plastic litter afloat every single square kilometer of ocean. Credit: Bo Eide Snemann/CC-BY-2.0

By Manipadma Jena
ATHENS, Oct 10 2014 (IPS)

Imagine a black-footed albatross feeding its chick plastic pellets, a baby seal in the North Pole helplessly struggling with an open-ended plastic bag wrapped tight around its neck, or a fishing vessel stranded mid-sea, a length of discarded nylon net entangled in its propeller. Multiply these scenarios a thousand-fold, and you get a glimpse of the state of the world’s oceans.

With an average of 13,000 pieces of plastic litter estimated to be afloat every single square kilometer of ocean globally, and 6.4 million tonnes of marine litter reaching the oceans every year according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), researchers and scientists predict a bleak future for the great bodies of water that are vital to our planet’s existence.

A conservative estimate of overall financial damage of plastic to marine ecosystems stands at 13 billion dollars each year, according to a press release from UNEP released on Oct. 1.

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time." -- Vincent Sweeney, coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).
With the 12th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP12) currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the issue of marine health and ocean ecosystems is in the spotlight.

Of the 20 Aichi Bioiversity Targets agreed upon at a conference in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, the preservation of marine biodiversity emerged as a crucial goal, with Target 11 laying out the importance of designating ‘protected areas’ for the purpose of protecting marine ecosystems, particularly from the harmful effects of human activity.

Speaking to IPS on sidelines of the 16th Global Meeting of the Regional Seas Conventions and Actions Plans (RSCAP) held in Athens from Sep. 29-Oct. 1, Tatjana Hema, programme officer of the marine pollution assessment and control component of the Mediterranean Action Plan, told IPS that marine debris results from humane behaviour, particularly land-based activities.

The meeting drew scientists and policymakers from around the globe to chart a new roadmap to stop the rapid degradation of the world’s seas and oceans and set policies for their sustainable use and integration into the post‐2015 development agenda.

There was a near unanimous consensus that marine littler posed a “tremendous challenge” to sustainable development in every region of the world.

The issue has been given top priority since the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil in 2012, and Goal 14 of the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals – which will replace the MDGs as the U.N.’s main blueprint for action at the end of this year – set the target of significantly reducing marine pollution by 2025.

“We did not have any difficulty pushing for the explicit inclusion of this goal in the proposed SDGs,” Jacqueline Alder, head of the freshwater and marine ecosystems branch at the Division of Environmental Policy Implementation for the UNEP told IPS. “After all, oceans are everyone’s problem, and we all generate waste.”

Wastes released from dump-sites near the coast or river banks, the littering of beaches, tourism and recreational use of the coasts, fishing industry activities, ship-breaking yards, legal and illegal dumping, and floods that flush waste into the sea all pose major challenges, experts say.

Similarly, plastics, microplastics, metals, glass, concrete and other construction materials, paper and cardboard, polystyrene, rubber, rope, fishing nets, traps, textiles, timber and hazardous materials such as munitions, asbestos and medical waste, as well as oil spills and shipwrecks are all defined as marine debris.

“Organic waste is the main component of marine litter, amounting to 40-80 percent of municipal waste in developing countries compared to 20-25 percent in developed countries,” Hema said.

Microplastics, however, emerged as one of the most damaging pollutants currently choking the seas. This killer substance is formed when plastics fragment and disintegrate into particles with an upper size limit of five millimeters in diameter (the size range most readily ingested by ocean-dwelling organisms), down to particles that measure just one mm in diameter.

“Micro- and nano-plastics have been found [to have been] transferred to the micro-wall of algae. How this will affect the food chain of sea creatures and how human health is going to be affected by ingesting these through fish, we still do not know,” UNEP’s Vincent Sweeney, who coordinates the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA), told IPS.

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Fishermen haul in their catch on a beach in Sri Lanka’s eastern Trincomalee District. Experts say a large portion of marine litter is a by-product of the global fishing industry. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

“The extent of the microplastic problem till now is somewhat speculative; we still do not have a sense of how much of the oceans are affected,” he added.

Ocean SDG targets have to stand up to four criteria: whether they are ‘actionable’, ‘feasible’, ‘measureable’ and ‘achievable’.

Unlike, for example, the target of reducing ocean acidification (whose only driver is carbon dioxide), which easily meets all four criteria, the issue of marine debris is not as simple, partly because “what shows up on the beach is not necessarily an [indication] of what is inside the ocean,” Sweeney asserted.

“Marine litter can move long distances, becoming international. Ownership is difficult to establish,” he added. Litter also accumulates in mid-ocean ‘gyres’, natural water-circulation phenomenon that tends to trap floating material.

“The risk in not knowing the exact magnitude of marine litter is that we may tend to think it is too big to handle,” Sweeney said, adding, however that “momentum is building up with awareness and it is now getting priority at different levels.”

“To entirely rid the ocean of litter is an aspiration not expected to be achieved in a lifetime, even if we stop waste inputs into the sea, which we still have not. The cost is too much. Much of the waste has been broken down and is beyond our reach. To clean the sea surface of [floating] litter itself will take a long time,” Sweeney asserted.

“Though there are different drivers for marine pollution in each country, the common factor is that we are consuming more and also generating more waste and much of this is plastic,” he concluded.

Aside from insufficient data and the high cost of cleaning up marine litter, the Means of Implementation (MoI) or funding of the SDG ocean targets is yet another challenge for most regions.

Northwest Pacific countries like China, Japan, Russia and Korea, however, have established replicable practices, according to Alexander Tkalin, coordinator of the UNEP Northwest Pacific Action Plan.

“Korea and Japan are major donors and both have introduced legislation specifically on marine litter,” Tkalin told IPS on the sidelines of the meeting.

“Japan has changed legislation to incentivise marine debris cleaning, tweaking its law under which, normally, one pays for littering, but the government now pays municipalities for beach-cleaning after typhoons, when roots and debris from the sea-floor are strewn on beaches,” Tkalin explained.

The Dutch and the U.S. also have strong on-going programmes on marine debris, as does Haiti, according to Sweeney.

The extent of the crisis was brought home when Evangelos Papathanassiou, research director at the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research in Attiki, 15 kilometres from Athens, told visiting regional journalists about his experience of finding a sewing machine at a depth of 4,000 feet in the Mediterranean Sea.

“Even though man-made marine pollution from aquaculture, tourism and transportation are most pressing in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, they are not getting the deserved attention,” he added.

If the new development era is to be a successful one, experts conclude, we terrestrial beings must urgently turn our attention to the seas, which are crying out for urgent assistance.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Family Farmers Don’t Need Climate-Smart Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farmers-dont-need-climate-smart-agriculture/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 23:36:57 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137092 The 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature has drawn journalists, academics and experts from some 50 countries to Naples, Italy Oc. 8-11 to discuss food, agriculture and the environment in the world. Credit: Emanuele Caposciutti/Greenaccord

The 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature has drawn journalists, academics and experts from some 50 countries to Naples, Italy Oc. 8-11 to discuss food, agriculture and the environment in the world. Credit: Emanuele Caposciutti/Greenaccord

By Emilio Godoy
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

Small farmers can look to options like agroecological intensification and innovation, without necessarily turning to climate-smart agriculture, which is promoted by the United Nations but has awakened doubts among global experts meeting in this Italian city.

Alison Power, a professor at the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of Cornell University in New York state, said the concept is an umbrella that can encompass too many different factors.

“There are two approaches to grow production, intensification of conventional agriculture and agroecology. In the last 20 years food production has doubled, but problems like poverty aren’t solved only with that,” Power told IPS.“There are two approaches to grow production, intensification of conventional agriculture and agroecology. In the last 20 years food production has doubled, but problems like poverty aren't solved only with that.” -- Alison Power

“So what is needed then is adaptation by small farmers with innovations based on agroecology,” said the expert, one of the participants in the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature organised Oct. 8-11 by the Italian NGO Greenaccord in the southwestern Italian city of Naples.

Family farmers produce nearly 80 percent of the world’s food. And although more food is being produced worldwide than at any other time in history, the United Nations estimates that over 800 million people are hungry.

The United Nations launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture on Sept. 24 in New York, during the U.N. Climate Summit. The alliance brings together governments, non-governmental organisations and large corporations.

The initiative includes techniques such as conservation agriculture, agroforestry, intercropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, improved extreme weather forecasting, integrated crop-livestock management and improved water management. The aim is to increase the ecological production of food in order to reduce carbon emissions.

The issue forms part of the agenda of this week’s forum, whose theme is: “People Building the Future; Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment”. Other topics are the fight against hunger, the role of transnational corporations and adapting agriculture to climate change.

Some 200 reporters, academics, activists and students from 47 countries are taking part in the event organised by Greenaccord, an Italian network of experts dedicated to training in environmental questions.

Worldwatch Institute researcher Gary Gardner at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples, Italy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Worldwatch Institute researcher Gary Gardner at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples, Italy. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Family farmers don’t need climate-smart agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture has been questioned by academics and civil society organisations who say it could foment the use of genetically modified seeds, which they see as a threat to sustainable production.

Stefano Padulosi, with the Nutrition and Marketing Programme of Bioversity International, said the changing climate and loss of natural wealth requires a cocktail of actions.

“It is necessary to strengthen the resilience of food and production systems and adaptation to climate change. It’s urgent to intervene in local farms and strengthen community seed banks,” the expert, who took part in this week’s global meeting, told IPS.

“It’s possible to build local capital, to confront and resolve problems from the communities and improve local stakeholder networks,” he added.

Bioversity International is a global research-for-development organisation that delivers scientific evidence, management practices and policy options to use and safeguard agricultural biodiversity to attain global food and nutrition security, based on the assumption that agricultural biodiversity can contribute to improved nutrition, resilience, productivity and climate change adaptation in developing nations.

Climate change, Padulosi said, can affect agriculture because of the reduction of the availability of water, rising global temperatures, the flooding of agricultural areas, or an increase in pests.

By the year 2050, demand for food will grow 65 percent, while the global population will reach nine billion.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that net agricultural yields could shrink by between 0.2 and two percent per decade, as demand grows 14 percent per decade.

Gary Gardner, a researcher with the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute, said the measures to be adopted must take peasant farmers into account, because a failure to do so would not make sense.

“Major efforts are needed for conservation of resources and becoming more efficient in their use. But huge gains in efficiency are available for producers, processors, business and consumers,” he told IPS.

Gardner is preparing a chapter on hidden threats to sustainability for Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2015 report.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that 11 percent of the world’s land is highly degraded and 25 percent is moderately degraded.

The U.N. agency estimates that global emissions from agriculture, forestry and other land uses have surpassed 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide.

At the same time, some two billion tons of CO2 per year were removed from the atmosphere as a result of carbon sequestration in forest sinks.
FAO projects that CO2 emissions could increase 30 percent by 2050.

Agriculture provides ecosystem services such as food, fiber, forage, bioenergy and natural habitats, while it benefits from them at the same time – another reason to promote sustainable practices.

“The services have the potential of growing production and sustainability. Practices like improving genetics of crops, integrated management of plagues and nutrients, development of precision agriculture and the management of soil and water can be optimised,” Power said.

For his part, Gardner calls for preserving the extension and quality of farmland and faster progress in promoting the conservation of farming techniques, as well as incentives to remove marginal land from cultivation.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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A Billion Tons of Food Wasted Yearly While Millions Still Go Hungryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-billion-tons-of-food-wasted-yearly-while-millions-still-go-hungry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-billion-tons-of-food-wasted-yearly-while-millions-still-go-hungry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/a-billion-tons-of-food-wasted-yearly-while-millions-still-go-hungry/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 16:56:13 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137084 “We need a transformative change in our food and agricultural policies to have sustainability” – Ren Wang, FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

“We need a transformative change in our food and agricultural policies to have sustainability” – Ren Wang, FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

In his parody of the Michael Jackson hit “Beat It”, the American satirist and singer Weird Al Yankovic has a parent urging his son to eat the food on his plate, warning that “other kids are starving in Japan”.

The parody has raised smiles since it was released 30 years ago, but today “Eat It” could be a battle cry for activists trying to reduce the widespread waste of enormous quantities of food, an urgent concern around the world and no laughing matter.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 1.3 billion tonnes of food go to waste globally every year. Meanwhile, 805 million of the world’s people are still experiencing chronic undernourishment or hunger, Ren Wang, Assistant Director General of FAO’s Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department, told the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature.“Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world” – SAVE FOOD Initiative

“We need a transformative change in our food and agricultural policies to have sustainability,” Wang said.

Organised by the Rome-based environmental group Greenaccord and hosted for the second time by the city of Naples from Oct. 8 to 11, this year’s forum – entitled ‘Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment’ – has brought together experts, journalists and policy makers.

It comes as the United Nations’ International Year of Family Farming draws to a close, and as rising food prices continue to pound the incomes of vulnerable groups.

Wang said that although global food production has tripled since 1946 and the world has reduced the prevalence of undernourishment over the past 20 years from 18.7 to 11.3 percent, food security is still a crucial issue.

The food that goes to waste is about one-third of current global food production, so expanding current agricultural output is not necessarily the answer. In fact, the world produces enough food for every individual to have about 2,800 calories each day, according to scientists. But while some people are able to waste food, others do not have enough.

Even if waste and hunger might not be directly related, there is unquestionable inequality in the world’s food system, said Gary Gardner, a senior fellow with the Worldwatch Institute, a research and outreach institute that focuses on sustainable policies.

“In wealthy countries, food waste often occurs at the level of the retailer or consumer, either at the grocery store or at home where a lot of food is thrown away,” he told IPS.

By contrast, food waste in developing countries mainly happens at the “farm or processing” levels, Gardner said. “Food is lost because usually there aren’t systems for getting it to processing facilities and then to the consumer efficiently.”

Food losses and waste amount to roughly 680 billion dollars in industrialised countries and 310 billion dollars in developing countries, according to the SAVE FOOD Initiative, a project involving the German trade fair group Messe Düsseldorf in collaboration with FAO and the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Saying that “consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes)”, the SAVE FOOD initiative found that “even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world.”

In Europe, the vast quantity of food thrown out by supermarkets has sometimes sparked public outrage, especially in countries where it is illegal for people to help themselves to the rejected items.

British supermarket chain Tesco has acknowledged discarding some 28,500 tonnes of food in the first six months of 2013, according to reports, and in Britain overall, an estimated 15 million tonnes of food is wasted annually.

In the United States, agencies estimate that roughly 40 percent of the food produced is discarded in landfills, with supermarkets accounting for much of this.

Yet, on both sides of the Atlantic, people can be prosecuted for taking food from dumpsters – a sore point with some activists who have organised public campaigns that offer meals cooked from thrown-away food.

At the Naples forum, where experts discussed the social and environmental consequences of food waste, among other issues, Gardner of the Worldwatch Institute described the experiences of activist Rob Greenfield, who has fed himself entirely from food from dumpsters while cycling across the United States.

“Many times the food was in packages that hadn’t been opened – whole boxes of cereal, sodas, that kind of thing – that for various reasons had been thrown out but which was perfectly good food to him,” Gardner told IPS in an interview.

“That’s not the optimal way for us to get rid of waste,” he added. “The better way would be not to generate that waste in the first place.”

Some solutions

Tesco and several other British supermarket chains have agreed to a programme of waste reduction, and restaurants in several countries are also taking steps not only to decrease the waste but to turn it into biogas to be used for energy.

Gardner told IPS that instead of throwing away food, supermarkets should be looking at donating produce to local organisations such as soup kitchens, although it would be better if they “weren’t generating the waste to begin with.”

On biogas, some speakers said that using food or household waste for energy at the local level could contribute to wider environmental solutions, but again the main aim should be to stem the creation of waste.

“Food security and climate change have certain challenges in common,” said Adriana Opromollo, international advocacy officer for food security and climate change at Caritas Internationalis, a federation of charity organisations.

“At the local level, we have seen where using food or household waste can be a successful strategy. But we have to focus on solutions that are tailored to the particular context,” she told IPS.

The ways to reduce waste can begin simply. Some U.S. food services companies found that by providing only plates (without accompanying trays), in school cafeterias, students were encouraged to take only the food they could consume, consequently throwing away 25 percent less waste.

Perhaps schools should record another version of “Eat It” for lunch hour.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Acid Oceans Could Deal Heavy Blow to Fishing-Dependant Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/acid-oceans-could-deal-heavy-blow-to-fishing-dependant-nations/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 13:05:36 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137080 The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

The Caribbean's fishing industry provides direct employment for more than 120,000 people and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 9 2014 (IPS)

Scientists here are warning Caribbean countries, where the fisheries sector is an important source of livelihoods and sustenance, that they should pay close attention to a new international report released Wednesday on ocean acidification.

The report, published by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), coincides with the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.” -- Dr. Carol Turley

“Ocean acidification can have quite specific impacts on certain fisheries, and so actually ocean acidification is especially important for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and people that rely on specific types of fishery or some type of organism,” Dr. S. J. Hennige, the lead editor of the report, told IPS.

“There are variable responses with organisms with regard to ocean acidification, but for the ones which are negatively affected by it, if you are reliant on just that one type of fish then it could have very large impacts and you may have to actually switch to a different organism or something like that.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In the report, an international team of 30 experts, led by UK scientists, has concluded that ocean acidification is already underway, and it is now nearly inevitable that it will worsen, causing widespread impacts, mostly deleterious, on marine organisms and ecosystems, and on the goods and services they provide.

David Obura, director of Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean, said food security, in the Caribbean and other regions of the world where there is heavy reliance on the fisheries sector, is threatened.

“Ocean acidification changes the chemistry of the sea water which means that how fish grow is affected and usually negatively,” Obura told IPS. “So productivity will go down or the certainty of knowing what the output is going to be, how much food is produced, is less certain so it undermines the production system.”

Ten years ago, only a handful of researchers were investigating the biological impacts of ocean acidification. Whilst their results gave cause for concern, it was clear that a lot more measurements and experiments were needed.

Around a thousand published studies later, it has now been established that many marine species will suffer in a high CO2 world, with consequences for human society.

Hennige said there are already examples, in the U.S., where an oyster fishery is being impacted by ocean acidification. He said the underlying cause of the problem is carbon dioxide.

“The more carbon dioxide is released from all our fossil fuels into the atmosphere, the more will dissolve in the ocean,” he explained.

“There are practices which can be put in place to offset it on a temporary basis, but the underlying problem is there is still more carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere and this problem is only going to get worse if we continue.

“It’s not a problem that is being caused by the Caribbean, this is a global problem and it’s a global solution that’s needed,” Hennige added.

Dr. Susan Singh-Renton, deputy executive director of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), told IPS that everything in the report applies to the Caribbean situation.

“Ocean acidification is a worrying phenomenon because it means that seawater, as a supporting medium for life, is changing in a very fundamental manner. Since the ocean ecosystem is so complex, it is not possible to predict the impacts with certainty, but it is certain that the impacts will be significant for tropical islands, especially those which have built their economies based on the health and beauty of their local coral reef ecosystems,” she said.

“As coral reefs begin to decline, this will affect many traditional Caribbean fisheries targeting reef fishes, such as snapper, grouper, parrot fish, etc. that depend on the coral reefs for their food, shelter and survival.

“Also, there would likely be declines in the health and survival of animals that grow carbonate shells such as queen conch, which support very important multi-million-dollar commercial fisheries in the Caribbean. With so fundamental a change in seawater chemistry, it is also possible that other forms of ocean life, as we know them today, could be affected ultimately and irreversibly,” Singh-Renton noted.

The report’s authors said the exact magnitude of the ecological and financial costs is still uncertain, due to complex interactions with other human-driven environmental changes.

They said risks to coral reefs are highlighted in the CBD, due in part to the crucial role they have in helping support the livelihoods of around 400 million people.

Hennige said that the by the end of this century, the economic loss caused by ocean acidification would be “a trillion dollars”.

His colleague, Dr. Carol Turley, a contributing author to the report, said the downward spiral could be reversed but urgent action and funding are needed.

“Who can measure acidification? It’s really developed countries that can measure it so we need to start exporting that knowledge to countries like the Caribbean, to countries like the small island developing states,” she told IPS.

“And that’s where financing comes in because as scientists we can collaborate and give you knowledge but we need financing so that we can help you set up monitoring.

“I am worried that we are too slow. We’re in a world where the ocean is acidifying very, very, very rapidly and so we need to move very, very quickly.”

In 2013, experts warned that the acidity of the world’s oceans may increase by 170 percent by the end of the century, bringing significant economic losses. The scientists said then that marine ecosystems and biodiversity are likely to change as a result of ocean acidification, with far-reaching consequences for humans.

They also warned that economic losses from declines in shellfish aquaculture and the degradation of tropical coral reefs may be substantial owing to the sensitivity of molluscs and corals to ocean acidification.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Fracking Fractures Argentina’s Energy Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/fracking-fractures-argentinas-energy-development/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 22:19:22 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137074 Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Pear trees in bloom on a farm in Allen, in the Argentine province of Río Negro, across from a “tight gas” deposit. Pear growers are worried about their future, now that the production of unconventional fossil fuels is expanding in the area. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
AÑELO, Argentina, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Unconventional oil and gas reserves in Vaca Muerta in southwest Argentina hold out the promise of energy self-sufficiency and development for the country. But the fracking technique used to extract this treasure from underground rocks could be used at a huge cost.

The landscape begins to change when you get about 100 km from Neuquén, the capital of the province of the same name, in southwest Argentina. In this area, dubbed “the Saudi Arabia of Patagonia”, fruit trees are in bloom and vineyards stretch out green towards the horizon, in the early southern hemisphere springtime.

But along the roads, where there is intense traffic of trucks hauling water, sand, chemicals and metallic structures, oil derricks and pump stations have begun to replace the neat rows of poplars which form windbreaks protecting crops in the southern region of Patagonia.

“Now there’s money, there’s work – we’re better off,” truck driver Jorge Maldonado told Tierramérica. On a daily basis he transports drill pipes to Loma Campana, the shale oil and gas field that has become the second-largest producer in Argentina in just three years.“That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.” -- Carolina García

It is located in Vaca Muerta, a geological formation in the Neuquén basin which is spread out over the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro and Mendoza. Of the 30,000 sq km area, the state-run YPF oil company has been assigned 12,000 sq km in concession, including some 300 sq km operated together with U.S. oil giant Chevron.

Vaca Muerta has some of the world’s biggest reserves of shale oil and gas, found at depths of up to 3,000 metres.

A new well is drilled here every three days, and the demand for labour power, equipment, inputs, transportation and services is growing fast, changing life in the surrounding towns, the closest of which is Añelo, eight km away.

“Now I can provide better for my children, and pay for my wife’s studies,” said forklift operator Walter Troncoso.

According to YPF, Vaca Muerta increased Argentina’s oil reserves ten-fold and its gas reserves forty-fold, which means this country will become a net exporter of fossil fuels.

But tapping into unconventional shale oil and gas deposits requires the use of a technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” – which YPF prefers to refer to as “hydraulic stimulation”.

According to the company, the technique involves the high-pressure injection of a mix of water, sand and “a small quantity of additives” into the parent-rock formations at a depth of over 2,000 metres, in order to release the trapped oil and gas which flows up to the surface through pipes.

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The extraction of unconventional fossil fuels at the YPF deposit in Loma Campana has already begun to irrevocably affect life in the surrounding areas. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Víctor Bravo, an engineer, says in a study published by the Third Millennium Patagonia Foundation, that some 15 fractures are made in each well, with 20,000 cubic metres of water and some 400 tons of diluted chemicals.

The formula is a trade secret, but the estimate is that it involves “some 500 chemical substances, 17 of which are toxic to aquatic organisms, 38 of which have acute toxic effects, and eight of which are proven to be carcinogenic,” he writes. He adds that fracking fluids and the gas itself can contaminate aquifers.

Neuquén province lawmaker Raúl Dobrusin of the opposition Popular Union bloc told Tierrámerica: “The effect of this contamination won’t be seen now, but in 15 or 20 years.”

During Tierramérica’s visit to Loma Campana, Pablo Bizzotto, YPF’s regional manager of unconventional resources, played down these fears, saying the parent-rock formations are 3,000 metres below the surface while the groundwater is 200 to 300 metres down.

“The water would have to leak thousands of metres up. It can’t do that,” he said.

Besides, the “flowback water”, which is separated from the oil or gas, is reused in further “hydraulic stimulation” operations, while the rest is dumped into “perfectly isolated sink wells,” he argued. “The aquifers do not run any risk at all,” he said.

But Dobrusin asked “What will they do with the water once the well is full? No one mentions that.”

According to Bizzotto, the seismic intensity of the hydraulic stimulation does not compromise the aquifers either, because the fissures are produced deep down in the earth. Furthermore, he said, the wells are layered with several coatings of cement and steel.

“We want to draw investment, generate work, but while safeguarding nature at the same time,” Neuquén’s secretary of the environment, Ricardo Esquivel, told Tierramérica.

In his view, “there are many myths” surrounding fracking, such as the claim that so much water is needed that water levels in the rivers would go down.

Neuquén, he said, uses five percent of the water in its rivers for irrigation, human consumption and industry, while the rest flows to the sea. Even if 500 wells a year were drilled, only one percent more of the water would be used, he maintained.

But activist Carolina García with the Multisectorial contra el Fracking group told Tierrámerica: “That water is not left in the same condition as it was when it was removed from the rivers; the hydrologic cycle is changed. They are minimising a problem that requires a more in-depth analysis.”

She pointed out that fracking is questioned in the European Union and that in August Germany adopted an eight-year moratorium on fracking for shale gas while it studies the risks posed by the technique.

YPF argues that these concerns do not apply to Vaca Muerta because it is a relatively uninhabited area.

“The theory that this is a desert and can be sacrificed because no one’s here is false,” said Silvia Leanza with the Ecosur Foundation.

“There are people, the water runs, and there is air flowing here,” she commented to Tierramérica. “The emissions of gases and suspended dust particles can reach up to 200 km away.”

Nor does the “desert theory” ring true for Allen, a town of 25,000 people in the neighbouring province of Río Negro, which is suffering the effects of the extraction of another form of unconventional gas, tight gas sands, which refers to low permeability sandstone reservoirs that produce primarily dry natural gas.

In that fruit-growing area, 20 km from the provincial capital, the fruit harvest is shrinking as the number of gas wells grows, drilled by the U.S.-based oil company Apache, whose local operations in Argentina were acquired by YPF in March.

Apache leases farms to drill on, the Permanent Comahue Assembly for Water (APCA) complained.

“Going around the farms it’s easy to see how the wells are occupying what was fruit-growing land until just a few years ago. Allen is known as the ‘pear capital’, but now it is losing that status,” lamented Gabriela Sepúlveda, of APCA Allen-Neuquén.

A well exploded in March, shaking the nearby houses. It wasn’t the first time, and it’s not the only problem the locals have had, Rubén Ibáñez, who takes care of a greenhouse next to the well, told Tierramérica. “Since the wells were drilled, people started feeling dizzy and having sore throats, stomach aches, breathing problems, and nausea,” he said.

“They periodically drill wells, a process that lasts around a month, and then they do open-air flaring. I’m no expert, but I feel sick,” he said. “I wouldn’t drink this water even if I was dying of thirst….when I used it to water the plants in the greenhouse they would die.”

The provincial government says there are constant inspections of the gas and oil deposits.

“In 300 wells we did not find any environmental impact that had created a reason for sanctions,” environment secretary Esquivel said.

“We have a clear objective: for Loma Campana, as the first place that unconventional fossil fuels are being developed in Argentina, to be the model to imitate, not only in terms of cost, production and technique, but in environmental questions as well,” Bizzotto said.

“All technology has uncertain consequences,” Leanza said. “Why deny it? Let’s put it up for debate.”

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Hotter Caribbean Poses Challenges for Livestock Farmershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/hotter-caribbean-poses-challenges-for-livestock-farmers/#comments Wed, 08 Oct 2014 13:36:57 +0000 Jewel Fraser http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137067 These goats in the Caribbean seek out shade in a bid to ward off heat stress that is driving up livestock mortality rates in the region. Credit: Cedric Lazarus/FAO

These goats in the Caribbean seek out shade in a bid to ward off heat stress that is driving up livestock mortality rates in the region. Credit: Cedric Lazarus/FAO

By Jewel Fraser
PARAMARIBO, Suriname, Oct 8 2014 (IPS)

Livestock farmers in the Caribbean are finding it increasingly difficult and expensive to rear healthy animals because of climate change, a situation that poses a significant threat to a region that is already too dependent on imports to feed its population.

Norman Gibson, a livestock scientist with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), says the effects of climate change mean that farmers must spend more money on feedstock to produce healthy animals, as well as coping with higher mortality rates among their flocks due to heat stress.Once an animal’s core body temperature goes above 45 degrees Celsius, its homeostasis is disrupted, eventually leading to death. So Caribbean farmers are now investing in ventilation systems to keep their livestock cooler.

Gibson was part of a panel discussion at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)’s Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA), being held in Paramaribo, Suriname, Oct. 6–12. The annual event hosted by the CTA focused on promoting policies and practices that will help farmers to adapt to climate change.

Gibson pointed out that decreases in livestock production would have a significant impact on the Caribbean region, where meat forms a major part of the diet. The region imports 40 million dollars worth of meat annually from New Zealand and Australia, he told the audience, and “imports are growing faster than [local] production.”

At the same time, research has shown that climate change is resulting in higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere which “leads to changes in the nutritional status of plants”, he told IPS. He said that tropical grasses are not the most nutritious, and with increases in CO2 they become even less so.

“So animals would have to eat even more to get an acceptable level of nutrition. Because that is often impossible, if you want your animals to produce at a certain level you have to supplement with concentrated feed, which in the Caribbean is imported,” he told IPS, and expensive.

He added that in places like Guyana, that are below sea level and sinking further, salt water intrusion is further compromising the feedstock available for ruminants.

“Once salt water gets into pastures, most of the grass that we currently grow is not adapted to high levels of salts. Most of these grasses have low salt tolerance and therefore will not thrive or grow under those conditions. So scientists will now have to find new breeds of grass that are more tolerant,” he said.

He said a breed of grass from International Centre for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia was showing promise in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Barbados and St. Kitts.

“A lot of the dairy production in Trinidad and Tobago is based on that particular grass…In St. Kitts, it is now the major grass of choice for small ruminant farmers.”

He also pointed out that temperatures were for a certainty increasing, though there was less certainty about increased precipitation. These higher temperatures lead to heat stress in animals that reduces their ability to reproduce.

Heat stress is leading to levels of mortality of up to 15 per cent among ruminants, the FAO’s Cedric Lazarus told IPS. Lazarus was also at the CWA and spoke of efforts being made around the region to reduce the heat stress being suffered by animals.

He explained that once an animal’s core body temperature goes above 45 degrees Celsius, its homeostasis is disrupted, eventually leading to death. So Caribbean farmers are now investing in ventilation systems to keep their livestock cooler, he said.

“It’s the only way you can keep those high-producing breeds of cattle and ensure they survive.” He said the use of ventilation systems was seen particularly in Barbados.

Planting more trees was also a viable—and simple—way of providing more shade for animals, he added.

He said studies showed heat stress also led to a precipitous decrease in milk yields, sometimes by as much as 33 percent, thus reducing the animal’s profitability.

Gibson added that because of the extreme heat the region has been experiencing and the resulting discomfort felt by animals, there were abnormalities in their sperm and a fall-off in vigour resulting in reduced conception rates.

“A livestock farmer’s success depends on how many animals he can get to the market each year, which is a function of how well his animals reproduce,” he told IPS.

Both Gibson and Lazarus said the impact of climate change meant that farmers would have to rely more on local breeds of ruminants to ensure they have hardy stock that can cope with the region’s increasingly intense heat, though there has been a tendency over the past 15 to 20 years to bring in foreign breeds to “improve” local livestock.

Farmers often see foreign livestock as a chance to improve their herd because it means introducing fresh blood without the problems that traditionally come with inbreeding, said Rommel Parris, a black belly sheep farmer and president of the Barbados Sheep and Goat Farmers Association.

However, Parris said, the benefits of a new genetic pool do not outweigh the disadvantages of the foreign stock in the hot Caribbean climate.

“Your cost goes up because you have to keep them in air-conditioned rooms or use fans to cool them down. You have to feed them with special feeds. You have to adjust to the diet they were receiving before. Caring for these animals is tougher than caring for those animals that are adapted to this region for years,” he told IPS.

He added that foreign stock tend to produce fewer offspring, as well, than the local breeds, and are more susceptible to the parasites in the region.

Though inbreeding of local stocks does bring a somewhat weaker herd, “farmers know how to treat their own animals. A lot of them are proactive and know what the signs are and how to prevent sickness in advance…They can pick up on them fairly quickly,” he said, thus reducing mortality rates and losses.

The majority of ruminants in the region are still the local, creole animals, Lazarus said, but the Caribbean needs to guard against the mistake made in other parts of the world, where the introduction of foreign breeds led to the extinction of local, more sustainable animals.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at jwl_42@yahoo.com

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Synthetic Biology Could Open a Whole New Can of Wormshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/synthetic-biology-could-open-a-whole-new-can-of-worms/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:48:42 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137042 In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

In addition to its prized value as an ingredient in high-end perfumes, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion and helping maintain water quality. Credit: treesftf/cc by 2.0

By Desmond Brown
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, is the world’s leading producer of vetiver. In the southwest of the country, vetiver production is hard to ignore.

Driving into Les Cayes, the largest town in the south, one is greeted by fields of vetiver on either side of the road. The same is true if driving from Les Cayes to Port Salut. Steep hillsides of the green grass line many of the ridges between the two towns.Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Haitian vetiver is highly regarded among perfumers, and it is a key ingredient in some of the finest and most expensive perfumes in the world.

However, struggling Haitians who farm this product could be dealt another harsh blow with the introduction of a new industry – synthetic biology. Although still undefined, synthetic biology can be described as ‘extreme genetic engineering,’ and refers broadly to the use of computer-assisted, biological engineering to design and construct new synthetic biological parts, devices and systems, and to redesign existing biological organisms.

“In countries like Haiti there are high-value agricultural exports that form a significant part of the economy, and those high-value low-volume goods are slated to be created by companies like Evolva and could replace the truly natural products,” Dana Perls, food and technology campaigner with the civil society group Friends of the Earth U.S., told IPS.

“Evolva is creating synthetic biology flavours and fragrances which could be offered at a much cheaper price and would ultimately remove the need for different farmers of flavours and fragrances.”

Haiti’s vetiver crop is processed by 10 distillers, but it provides jobs for some 27,000 farming families in the southwest. For these farmers, the vetiver plant has important conservation benefits, preventing soil erosion, and helping maintain water quality.

The global value of the synthetic biology market reached 1.6 billion dollars in 2011and it will further grow to 10.8 billion by 2016, increasing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 45.8 percent.

Haiti’s share of worldwide vetiver exports grew from 40 percent in 2001 to over 60 percent in 2007. But in the wake of the worldwide financial crisis, Haiti has seen a sharp reduction in vetiver exports. The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, produces about 50 to 60 tonnes of vetiver annually, about 50 percent of the world’s supply.

An estimated 60,000 people in Haiti’s Les Cayes region depend on vetiver as their primary income source. The crop is grown on 10,000 hectares.

Before 2009, Haiti’s vetiver crop was valued at approximately 15-18 million dollars per year. In recent years, Haiti’s export earnings from vetiver have declined to around 10 million per year.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, critics say these claims are largely unproven. Credit: Bigstock

Synthetic biology differs from conventional genetic engineering in its technique, scale, and its use of novel and synthetic genetic sequences – raising new risks to biodiversity.

Friends of the Earth International is urging caution and has made several recommendations to the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12) being held here from Oct. 6-17.

“We are recommending a moratorium on the environmental release and the commercial use of synthetic biology, specifically because of the lack of international regulations and virtual lack of environmental and safety assessments anywhere in the world. We are encouraging the CBD to stand behind the precautionary approach which countries have already agreed to by being signatories to the CBD,” Perls said.

“This is a new and emerging issue and needs to be treated as such. Many of the concerns have to do with the environmental, cultural, social impacts of this new technology, including what would happen if a product like ginseng here in Korea were to be produced using synthetic biology. The impact that it would have on small famers across this country could be immense.

“It would also have a large impact on countries like Brazil where the feed stock would be grown in order to produce these synthetic biology organisms, which will churn out whatever you’ve designed it to churn out,” she added.

While biotechnology has been portrayed as a panacea for climate change and other societal ills, Friends of the Earth said the claims that genetically engineered plants and microbes can sequester more carbon in the soil and produce more fuels when processed than conventional methods have yet to be proven.

The group noted that “in the wake of these unfulfilled promises” emerges synthetic biology, a more extreme form of genetic engineering, which has also been touted as the solution to the climate crisis.

But the group said synthetic biology is not a sustainable solution to the climate crisis and has the potential to create an entirely new set of problems.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of coconut oil. Twenty-five million people in a population of 100 million are directly or indirectly dependent on the coconut industry for their livelihoods and domestic food security.

Neth Dano, programme manager with the ETC Group, told IPS, “There is a lot at stake for the Philippines” on this issue because synthetic biology could potentially replace coconut oil in the global market.

“In the Philippines, coconut production is not done in a plantation way, it’s small scale. And in the structure of rural economies, in most cases the coconut producers are among the poorest ones,” Dano explained.

Dano said the CBD as the United Nations body responsible for looking at potential impacts of development on biodiversity and also primarily for conservation of biodiversity can do a lot to address the concerns over synthetic biology.

“The CBD is the only body in the United Nations that had taken up synthetic biology so far and addressed the concerns on its potential impacts on biodiversity,” Dano said.

Dano noted also that most of the commercial beginnings of synthetic biology were related to climate change.

“The earlier research and development efforts were focusing on algae that actually would produce biofuels. And biofuels were seen as a solution to address this problem of massive greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. So it was actually presented as a solution to climate change as a mitigation strategy,” she said.

“The big oil companies invested so much in the development of biofuels from synthetically modified algae but the investments did not deliver, so now they’ve shifted their attention to low-volume high-value and this is where the lauric oils come in,” Dano added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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