Tag Archives: food

Twenty two countries in protracted crisis

FAO reports that:

Twenty-two countries are … are in what is termed a protracted crisis, FAO said in its “State of Food Insecurity in the World 2010” hunger report, jointly published today with the World Food Programme (WFP).

Chronic hunger and food insecurity are the most common characteristics of a protracted crisis. On average, the proportion of people who are undernourished in countries facing these complex problems is almost three times as high as in other developing countries.

More than 166 million undernourished people live in countries in protracted crises, roughly 20 percent of the world’s undernourished people, or more than a third of the total if large countries like China and India are excluded from the calculation.

… Faced with so many obstacles, it is little wonder that protracted crises can become a self-perpetuating vicious cycle,” said the preface to the SOFI report, signed jointly by FAO Director General Jacques Diouf and World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

…For the first time, FAO and WFP offer a clear definition of a protracted crisis that will help improve aid interventions. Countries considered as being in a protracted crisis are those reporting a food crisis for eight years or more, receive more than 10 percent of foreign assistance as humanitarian relief, and be on the list of Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries.

Mapping the USA’s food

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has introduced the Food Environment Atlas, a new web-based data visualization tool.  The atlas is an interactive online tool that allows people to visualize various food related information at the USA county level.  For example the map below:

Pounds per capita of meat and poultry

Ratio per capita of fruit and vegtables consumed vs. processed food

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Michael Pollan interviewed in Vancouver’s the Tyee

Systems thinking food writer Michael Pollan interviewed by Vancouver’s the Tyee after a talk in support of the University of British Columbia’s Farm. The interview – Garden Fresh – discusses US agricultural policy and resilience food systems:

On whether he’s trying to rally a movement in time to avert disaster, or just prepare us for the inevitable mess caused by scarcer oil, degrading ecologies, and global warming:

“It’s more the latter. We need to have these alternatives around and available when the shit hits the fan, basically.

“One of the reasons we need to nurture several different ways of feeding ourselves — local, organic, pasture-based meats, and so on – is that we don’t know what we’re going to need and we don’t know what is going to work. To the extent that we diversify the food economy, we will be that much more resilient. Because there will be shocks. We know that. We saw that last summer with the shock of high oil prices. There will be other shocks. We may have the shock of the collapsing honey bee population. We may have the shock of epidemic diseases coming off of feed lots. We’re going to need alternatives around.

“When we say the food system is unsustainable we mean that there is something about it, an internal contradiction, that means it can’t go on the way it is without it breaking up. And I firmly believe there will be a breakdown.”

Drinking bottled water is drinking oil

ScienceNOW reports a new paper by Peter Gleick and Heather Cooley in Environmental Research Letters that compares the energy use of bottled and tapwater:

… From start to finish, bottled water consumes between 1100 and 2000 times more energy on average than does tap water.

Bottled water consumption has skyrocketed over the past several years. In 2007, some 200 billion liters of bottled water were sold worldwide, and Americans took the biggest gulp: 33 billion liters a year, an average of 110 liters per person. That amount has grown 70% since 2001, and bottled water has now surpassed milk and beer in sales. Many environmental groups have been concerned with this surge because they suspected that making and delivering a bottle of water used much more energy than did getting water from the tap. But until now, no one really knew bottled water’s energy price tag.

Environmental scientist Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Oakland, California, and his colleague Heather Cooley have added up the energy used in each stage of bottled-water production and consumption. Their tally includes how much energy goes into making a plastic bottle; processing the water; labeling, filling, and sealing a bottle; transporting it for sale; and cooling the water prior to consumption.

The two most energy-intensive categories, the researchers reveal in the current issue of Environmental Research Letters, are manufacturing the bottle and transportation. The team estimates that the global demand for bottle production alone uses 50 million barrels of oil a year–that’s 2 1/2 days of U.S. oil consumption. Determining the energy required to transport a bottle isn’t as straightforward. Some bottles of water travel short distances, but others are imported from far-off countries, which increases their energy footprint. Gleick and Cooley found that drinking an imported bottle of water is about two-and-a-half to four times more energy intensive than getting it locally, often outweighing the energy required to make the bottle.

All told, Gleick estimates that U.S. bottled-water consumption in 2007 required an energy input equivalent to 32 million to 54 million barrels of oil. Global energy demand for bottled water is three times that amount. To put that energy use into perspective, Gleick says to imagine that each bottle is up to one-quarter full of oil.

A giant pool of money flows into global agriculture

As part of its interesting Food Chain series, the New York Times writes Food Is Gold, So Billions Invested in Farming about how investment funds are pouring billions of dollars into agriculture. One investment bank has estimated that investments in agricultural commodities has increased over 3X, from $70 billion at the start of 2006 to $235 billion in April of 2008, with roughly half of this growth being due to appreciation and half to new investment (for more details see Financial Times on agricultural funds and why food prices are rising?). However, money is now moving from investments in commodity futures into actual agricultural infrastructure:

Huge investment funds have already poured hundreds of billions of dollars into booming financial markets for commodities like wheat, corn and soybeans. But a few big private investors are starting to make bolder and longer-term bets that the world’s need for food will greatly increase — by buying farmland, fertilizer, grain elevators and shipping equipment.

Part of the article is reminiscent of the TechnoGarden scenario of the MA, in which rich companies invest in the underdeveloped African agriculture infrastructure. The article states:

Emergent is raising $450 million to $750 million to invest in farmland in sub-Saharan Africa, where it plans to consolidate small plots into more productive holdings and introduce better equipment. Emergent also plans to provide clinics and schools for local labor.

One crop and a source of fuel for farming operations will be jatropha, an oil-seed plant useful for biofuels that is grown in sandy soil unsuitable for food production, Ms. Payne said.

“We are getting strong response from institutional investors — pensions, insurance companies, endowments, some sovereign wealth funds,” she said.

The fund chose Africa because “land values are very, very inexpensive, compared to other agriculture-based economies,” she said. “Its microclimates are enticing, allowing a range of different crops. There’s accessible labor. And there’s good logistics — wide open roads, good truck transport, sea transport.”

However, unlike the TechnoGarden scenario, this investment seems focussed on increasing yields of food and fuel, rather than producing multiple ecosystem services. Consequently, such investments attempts to increase yields by practicing intensive agriculture are likely to lead to negative impacts on other people and ecosystems using water, and potentially leading to local or regional ecological regime shifts (see our paper Gordon et al 2008).

Also, many of these investments are not aimed at increasing agricultural yield on the ground, but hedging against inflation risk, and providing market power for large funds to leverage investments in other financial instruments, such as options, derivatives and other more complicated packages. This coupling of financial markets, to the already coupled food, fuel, and climate systems means that the systemic consequences of these investments are likely to be unexpected and novel.

Ecological Economics of the Global Food Trade

From the April 26th New York Times, Environmental Cost of Shipping Groceries Around the World, discusses the complexities of global food trade. Its great efficiency, the hidden subsidies to transport, and the politics of carbon footprint calculations:

Cod caught off Norway is shipped to China to be turned into filets, then shipped back to Norway for sale. Argentine lemons fill supermarket shelves on the Citrus Coast of Spain, as local lemons rot on the ground. Half of Europe’s peas are grown and packaged in Kenya. …

Increasingly efficient global transport networks make it practical to bring food before it spoils from distant places where labor costs are lower. And the penetration of mega-markets in nations from China to Mexico with supply and distribution chains that gird the globe — like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco — has accelerated the trend.

But the movable feast comes at a cost: pollution — especially carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas — from transporting the food.

Under longstanding trade agreements, fuel for international freight carried by sea and air is not taxed. Now, many economists, environmental advocates and politicians say it is time to make shippers and shoppers pay for the pollution, through taxes or other measures. …

Some of those companies say that they are working to limit greenhouse gases produced by their businesses but that the question is how to do it. They oppose regulation and new taxes and, partly in an effort to head them off, are advocating consumer education instead.

Tesco, for instance, is introducing a labeling system that will let consumers assess a product’s carbon footprint.

Some foods that travel long distances may actually have an environmental advantage over local products, like flowers grown in the tropics instead of in energy-hungry European greenhouses.

“This may be as radical for environmental consuming as putting a calorie count on the side of packages to help people who want to lose weight,” a spokesman for Tesco, Trevor Datson, said. …

Some studies have calculated that as little as 3 percent of emissions from the food sector are caused by transportation. But Mr. Watkiss, the Oxford economist, said the percentage was growing rapidly. Moreover, imported foods generate more emissions than generally acknowledged because they require layers of packaging and, in the case of perishable food, refrigeration. …

The problem is measuring the emissions. The fact that food travels farther does not necessarily mean more energy is used. Some studies have shown that shipping fresh apples, onions and lamb from New Zealand might produce lower emissions than producing the goods in Europe, where — for example — storing apples for months would require refrigeration.

But those studies were done in New Zealand, and the food travel debate is inevitably intertwined with economic interests.

Farming the World for Food and Feed

Croplands and pastures cover about a 1/3 of the Earth’s ice free surface. Foley et al in their PNAS commentary Our share of the planetary pie illustrate the uses of this agricultural production. Their map shows the percentage of crop NPP used to produce food that humans consume directly (blue) or indirectly in processed products (orange-red). The majority of the nonfood portion is feed for livestock, but also includes fiber or luxury crops, such as cotton and coffee. Note the differences between agriculture is rich (feed for livestock) and poor countries (food).

Foley et al PNAS Fig (http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/104/31/12585)

Click on map for a larger verison.

The map is based on data from:

Monfreda, C., N. Ramankutty, and J. A. Foley (In Press), Farming the Planet. 2: The Geographic Distribution of Crop Areas, Yields, Physiological Types, and NPP in the Year 2000, Global Biogeochemical Cycles, doi:10.1029/2007GB002947.