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Could a global grab for fertile soil, bring civil unrest? – ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Could a global grab for fertile soil, bring civil unrest? – ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Updated 9 hours 32 minutes ago

The estimated 1.6 billion hectares of fertile soils currently under cultivation can certainly feed the current world population.

If we still have approximately 800 million undernourished and hungry people on this planet, it is due to serious imbalances in the distribution of wealth, land and natural resources in general.

Market driven preference to allocate part of the fertile soils to producing energy or biofuels instead of food, as well as unsustainable consumption habits and market distortion in the food distribution chain, are causing the perception that our current land resources are insufficient and that we need to further expand agricultural cultivation to new areas.

It is an approach often requiring massive energy inputs, like fertilisers, irrigation and land levelling, and ultimately results in highly unsustainable agricultural models.

The close link between energy prices and food commodity prices on the global markets has been clearly demonstrated during the 2008 food crisis.

Since then we have observed a growing interest by large investors in acquiring land property rights in many parts of the world.

Buying fertile soils is certainly one of the most safe and remunerating forms of long term financial investment, given that fertile soils are a limited, non-renewable natural resource that will be more and more scarce in the future.

 

Buying fertile soils is certainly one of the most safe and remunerating forms of long term financial investment, given that fertile soils are a limited, non-renewable natural resource that will be more and more scarce in the future.

Rapidly progressing soil degradation processes, like erosion, organic carbon depletion, salinisation, contamination and compaction, together with massive urbanisation expanding especially on the most fertile areas of the world, is already seriously threatening the available fertile soil resources.

With a growing population, a changing climate and on-going land degradation we need to develop a common vision to preserve the available soil resources for future generations.

There needs to be a common approach to global soil resources, assuring that all humans to assure the needed food resources for nations lacking sufficient soil resources of their own, needs to be regulated in order to prevent massive displacement of populations as well as emerging conflicts.

The current trend towards ‘land grabbing’ or acquiring exclusive property rights on fertile land for assuring the needed food resources for nations lacking sufficient soil resources of their own, needs to be regulated in order to prevent massive displacement of populations as well as emerging conflicts.

Dangerous trends towards identifying soil resources as a topic of national security (soil security), therefore excluding access to those resources to populations lacking a sufficient agricultural production basis, need to be prevented.

We need to recognize that soil resources are a common natural capital sustaining the lives of all of us on this planet and need to be shared by all humans if we want to feed the world.

The recently established Global Soil Partnership aims to do this.

As a voluntary partnership of all countries and stakeholders genuinely committed to sustainable soil management, it federates the ‘coalition of the willing’ for soil protection at global level.

Through the establishment of Regional Soil Partnerships it allows for the full involvement of all local actors in this new, challenging vision of sustainable and equitable use of the available soil resources in the world.

First posted Sun 23 Mar 2014, 9:07pm AEDT

The Radio Ecoshock Show: California Drought: Is this the big one?

The Radio Ecoshock Show: California Drought: Is this the big one?.

RADIO ECOSHOCK SPECIAL ON CALIFORNIA DROUGHT Despite recent rains, California’s reservoirs are near empty, snow-pack light, and groundwater depleted. Four experts on a drought that really started in 2006, impacts on economy, food, farming, and nature. Guests: Dr. Peter Gleick, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, David Schroeder, Dr. Reagan Waskom

http://tinyurl.com/lrqaxqe

THE CALIFORNIA DROUGHT IS NOT OVER!

Rainstorms finally arrived in California, after a 14 month drought with no significant rain. But the big reservoirs are still pitifully low, and snow pack is less than a quarter of normal. Hundreds of thousands of acres will not be planted, and food bills will likely go up in North America, and possibly around the world.

This is the Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, as a case study of what we can expect in many parts of the Earth. I’ve lined up 4 experts all with something new for you.

Dr. Peter Gleick is a climate and water specialist who has been warning this could happen for years.

Dr. Reagan Waskom is another water and agriculture expert from Colorado.

We connect with boots-on-the ground water conservation specialist David Schroeder in Montclair, right on the edge of thirsty Los Angeles.

Finally, we get back to the big picture, as Professor Jay Famiglietti at University of California Irvine warns of depletion of the ground water under one of the world’s biggest food producing areas. That’s a trend all over the world, as we race toward peak water.

Download/listen to this Radio Ecoshock show in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

PETER GLEICK: Is the drought climate change?

Our first guest is Dr. Peter Gleick. He’s president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California, one of the world’s leading independent think tanks on water issues. Peter is also a scientist known around the world.

Peter introduced the term “Bellwether Drought” for this event. We know climate change threatens the water cycle. Scientists believe the wet areas (like the UK!) will get wetter, and the dry areas like California, will get dryer. So the dice are loaded for more droughts to occur in this major food producing area.

Dr. Gleick points out we could say this drought started in at least 2006. There have been several drier-than-normal years since then. Scientists have found records showing California has experienced droughts lasting more than a hundred years in the past, in the 1100’s for example.

So we may be asking if human-induced climate change has triggered this drought cycle. The causes of regional weather events are complex. We have ocean currents, natural cycles like El Nino and El Nina, and changes to the Jet Stream. All of those, especially the Jet Stream (as shown by the work of Jennifer Francis et al at Rutgers) can be influenced by climate change.

It’s a Bellwether event because whether or not we can nail down direct causation by climate disruption – it’s a sure test of what is likely during the coming decades. As in Australia, it is possible Euro-humans arrived in California during a cyclical wet spell that was bound to end. But have we hastened that process?

I also talk with Peter about desalination, it’s promises and obstacles. A new desalination plant has been build to feed the San Diego water system. But really, it’s so energy intensive and expensive that desalination cannot save the whole California agricultural system.

Peter Gleick is an influential scientist in many places. He talks about the global work his institute is involved in, and it’s heavy-duty stuff. It’s cool he Tweeted this program link out to his 11,000 plus followers.

You can download or listen to this 18 minute interview with Dr. Peter Gleick inCD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DR. JAY FAMIGLIETTI: Looking at the drought from space.

When the rains don’t fall in California, every one checks their wallet for rising food prices. But rain or not, cities and farmers are pumping out California groundwater at an alarming rate. Thanks to new satellite science, now we know how much of that unseen wealth has been depleted. It’s a problem for farmers and all humans all over the world, as we grab water stored over the ages, to keep us alive right now. At some point, the water runs out.

Dr. Jay Famiglietti is a Professor of Earth System Science, and Director of the Center for Hydrologic Modeling at the University of California, Irvine. He’s an expert’s expert.

When the federal government, and state agencies cut off water supplies, as they did just this past month, farmers don’t just roll over and die. All those who can start pumping up groundwater furiously. They’ve been doing that for decades, always at an increasing level. You may think ground water gets replenished with rains, but some of it was captured and contained over millions of years. When I have a glass of water in my village, that water is 100,000 years old.

So just like oil, ground water is a limited resource. When you run out, that’s it.

Amazing to tell, scientists can measure the rate of groundwater depletion in California from space. The twin GRACE satellites have shown the loss of mass in Greenland as the glaciers melt. Now scientists at the University of California Irvine report that California is setting new records for groundwater loss. The state is literally getting lighter.

Find out about the GRACE satellites here. Oh, and by the way, one of their top stories is the discovery that climate change is causing the Earth’s poles to migrate. Don’t believe that? Read about it here.

One result is the land starts to sink, once the water below is removed. That’s serious in the Sacramento delta, where so much of North America’s fruits and vegetables are grown. Once it goes too low, a rush of salt water, say from a storm surge, can take thousands and thousands of prime acres out of production.

Jay Familietti describes what we know. He says the average of prediction of when California will run out of groundwater at current rates is 60 years from now. After that, the glory days of big populations and big cities may be done. Some experts say it will come sooner than that.

That same story is being repeated, even worse, in countries like China and India. India is pumping out the water tables at an alarming rate. In both countries, as thousands of wells go dry, they drill deeper, and burn even more energy with bigger pumps, just to keep up. Some places are already out of water, and out of production.

Keep this story in mind as you build the big picture: peak groundwater. It’s coming.

By the way, I ask Dr. Famiglietti what happens to all the water we pump out for our fields and cities. Some of it goes into the ocean, to become salt water. The warmer atmosphere can hold 4% more water vapor already, since 1970, and that’s a huge amount. Other water ends up falling in those places that are already wet.

Don’t miss this 12 minute interview with Jay Famiglietti. It’s short but powerful. Listen or download in CD Quality or Lo-Fi

Read a key article by Dr. Famiglietti “Epic California Drought and Groundwater: Where Do We Go From Here?“. And check out his LA Times Op-Ed from 2013, “California’s water house of cards“.

DR. REAGAN WASKOM – Feeding the western food supply

I was referred to Dr. Waskom by Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute. Even though Waskom is the University of Colorado in Fort Collins, he’s one of the country’s wisemen when it comes to water supplies and our food system.

Reagan Waskom is the Director of the Colorado Water Institute, and Chair of the Colorado State University Water Center.

It turns out Colorado supplies much of the water to Southern California. We are not talking about the big food production areas, but more the heavy populations in places like Los Anglees. So what happens in Colorado matters a lot to California.

The good news is there is a heavy snow pack this year in Colorado. How useful that is depends on how fast the snow melt is, among other factors.

I ask Dr. Waskom what happens if California really is in a long-term drought. Could we replace all that food with farming somewhere else in the country?

Dr. Waskom has also been studying the big use of water by the fracking industry. We touch on that.

My final question is more personal: “You’ve taught a lot of students, and graduate students. Do you think young people are more disconnected from natural reality than when you were growing up?”

I learned a lot just talking with the man. You probably will too. Download this 17 minute interview in CD Quality or Lo-Fi.

DAVID SCHROEDER on the ground outside of LA

I wanted to get you some reporting from right on the ground in southern California. Acting on a tip from a Radio Ecoshock listener, we’ve reached David Schroeder. He’s a Water Conservation Specialist with the Chino Basin Water District. That’s based in Montclair California, right on the edge of one of America’s biggest cities, Los Angeles.

We talk about where water for southern California comes from, and what to do when it doesn’t. Dave specializes in getting the public involved in tearing up grass to install natural vegetation, to use less water in the home, and so on. There isn’t much farming left in the south of the state. Now the challenge is huge cities and endless suburbs.

Dave lives in the mountains that used to be white with snow in winter, when I lived in L.A. many moons ago. No snow there this year he reports. That’s not good news for the coming fire season, for anything.

Download/listen to this 10 minute interview with David Schroeder in CD Quality

WRAP UP

That wraps up my Radio Ecoshock special on the California drought, 2014. I hope you learned, as I did, about where our water comes from, where it’s going, and the dangerous tightrope we walk trying to feed a growing world population during climate disruption.

Radio Ecoshock is provided free to more than 75 non-profit radio stations. I depend on your financial help to keep going. Find ways to support this program in this blog, and at the show archive and web site, ecoshock.org

I’m Alex Smith. As always, thank you for listening, and caring about your world.

Posted by at 5:37 PM

Is the Earth overpopulated? » peoplesworld

Is the Earth overpopulated? » peoplesworld.

assets/Uploads/_resampled/CroppedImage6060-Meeropol.jpg

march 13 2014overpop520x300

Recently I’ve been facilitating two groups studying global warming. (I will send my annotated 10-book syllabus to anyone who asks for it). Our current discussions are based on Alan Weisman’s new book, “Countdown.”While the book contains statements indicating it is not so simple, Weisman’s main point is that overpopulation is at the core of our environmental problems.

I’ve also been reading Clive Ponting’s “A New Green History of the World.” Ponting concludes that: “The current environmental problems in the world can only be understood in the context of the nature of the world economy produced since 1500.”

At first glance these points of view appear to restate the old argument between Malthus and Marx. Malthus argued in 1798 that food production could never match population growth, and so, the masses were doomed to starvation. Marx, on the other hand, maintained that there would be enough for everyone if the earth’s resources were distributed fairly. He attacked Malthus for placing blame on the victims of capitalist exploitation rather than on the capitalists, who were the real culprits.

Raised by two sets of Old Left parents, and coming of age as a New Left Marxist, I initially rejected all claims that we could eliminate poverty and environmental damage through population control. However, in 1798 when Malthus first staked out his position, there were fewer than one billion people on the planet, and when Marx critiqued him there were no more than 1.5 billion. The world’s population has recently topped 7 billion, and is headed for nine or ten billion in the next several decades. Marx was right that when Malthus propounded his theory it was a self-serving defense of inequality, but since then, overpopulation has become a major problem.

I also agree with Ponting that the world’s current unequal distribution of resources is responsible for environmentally-devastating first world overconsumption and mass human suffering. But capitalism’s love affair with increasing population is a key part of the current global economy. More people equals more workers willing to work for less as they compete with each other. More consumers buy more, generating more profit. A system based on perpetual growth serves its principal beneficiaries when individuals consume more AND there are more individuals doing the consuming. Is it possible that Weisman and Ponting are both correct?

Seven billion people are way too many, and 10 billion will just hasten disaster. Weisman’s point is well-taken; we must and can bring down the population through universal education, and government assisted family planning programs, and doing so is a necessary condition of controlling global warming. Weisman, laments that all we lack is the political will to do so. He writes: “why [are] health decisions about Mother Nature … made by politicians, not by scientists who know how critical her condition is.” But as Ponting makes plain, the nature of our global economy means that politicians serving multinational corporate masters will continue to make such decisions. As long as the world’s economy is driven by competition, profit and growth, efforts to reduce substantially either our population or consumption will be ineffective.

It is not a question of one or the other. Both are essential and we must address them in conjunction.

This article originally appeared at the Robert Meeropol’s blog.

Photo: Tomonari Suzuoki CC

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

From South America to South Asia, a new age of unrest is in full swing as industrial civilisation transitions to post-carbon reality
A pro-European protester swings a metal chain during riots in Kiev

A protester in Ukraine swings a metal chain during clashes – a taste of things to come? Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.

But this hasn’t happened. And it won’t.

Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in VenezuelaBosniaUkraineIceland, and Thailand.

This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet – but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.

Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of thedanger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.

Hunger games

The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others.

In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.

Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere.

Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week:

“Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months… In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest.”

But Bar-Yam’s analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don’t go deep enough – he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface.

It’s a gas

The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels.

In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country’s grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated inofficial statistics – Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortagesdriven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.

While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine’s oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.

Currently, about 80% of Ukraine’s oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine’s energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.

The Ukrainian government’s recent decision to dramatically slash Russian gas imports will likely worsen this as alternative cheaper energy sources are in short supply. Hopes that domestic energy sources might save the day are slim – apart from the fact that shale cannot solve the prospect of expensive liquid fuels, nuclear will not help either. A leakedEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) reportreveals that proposals to loan 300 million Euros to renovate Ukraine’s ageing infrastructure of 15 state-owned nuclear reactors will gradually double already debilitating electricity prices by 2020.

“Socialism” or Soc-oil-ism?

In Venezuela, the story is familiar. Previously, the Oil and Gas Journal reported the country’s oil reserves were 99.4 billion barrels. As of 2011, this was revised upwards to a mammoth 211 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and more recently by the US Geological Survey to a whopping 513 billion barrels. The massive boost came from the discovery of reserves of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco belt.

The huge associated costs of production and refining this heavy oil compared to cheaper conventional oil, however, mean the new finds have contributed little to Venezuela’s escalating energy and economic challenges. Venezuela’s oil production peaked around 1999, and has declined by a quarter since then. Its gas production peaked around 2001, and has declined by about a third.

Simultaneously, as domestic oil consumption has steadily increased – in fact almost doubling since 1990 – this has eaten further into declining production, resulting in net oil exports plummeting by nearly half since 1996. As oil represents 95% of export earnings and about half of budget revenues, this decline has massively reduced the scope to sustain government social programmes, including critical subsidies.

Looming pandemic?

These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Globalagriculture‘s excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes. Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further – elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.

Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel onClimate Change‘s (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius.

This is likely to be a very conservative estimate. Considering that the current trajectory of industrial agriculture is already seeing yield plateausin major food basket regions, the interaction of environmental, energy, and economic crises suggests that business-as-usual won’t work.

The epidemic of global riots is symptomatic of global system failure – a civilisational form that has outlasted its usefulness. We need a new paradigm.

Unfortunately, simply taking to the streets isn’t the answer. What is needed is a meaningful vision for civilisational transition – backed up with people power and ethical consistence.

It’s time that governments, corporations and the public alike woke up to the fact that we are fast entering a new post-carbon era, and that the quicker we adapt to it, the far better our chances of successfully redefining a new form of civilisation – a new form of prosperity – that is capable of living in harmony with the Earth system.

But if we continue to make like ostriches, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when the epidemic becomes a pandemic at our doorsteps.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com

Global riot epidemic due to demise of cheap fossil fuels | Nafeez Ahmed | Environment | theguardian.com.

From South America to South Asia, a new age of unrest is in full swing as industrial civilisation transitions to post-carbon reality
A pro-European protester swings a metal chain during riots in Kiev

A protester in Ukraine swings a metal chain during clashes – a taste of things to come? Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

If anyone had hoped that the Arab Spring and Occupy protests a few years back were one-off episodes that would soon give way to more stability, they have another thing coming. The hope was that ongoing economic recovery would return to pre-crash levels of growth, alleviating the grievances fueling the fires of civil unrest, stoked by years of recession.

But this hasn’t happened. And it won’t.

Instead the post-2008 crash era, including 2013 and early 2014, has seen a persistence and proliferation of civil unrest on a scale that has never been seen before in human history. This month alone has seen riots kick-off in VenezuelaBosniaUkraineIceland, and Thailand.

This is not a coincidence. The riots are of course rooted in common, regressive economic forces playing out across every continent of the planet – but those forces themselves are symptomatic of a deeper, protracted process of global system failure as we transition from the old industrial era of dirty fossil fuels, towards something else.

Even before the Arab Spring erupted in Tunisia in December 2010, analysts at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned of thedanger of civil unrest due to escalating food prices. If the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) food price index rises above 210, they warned, it could trigger riots across large areas of the world.

Hunger games

The pattern is clear. Food price spikes in 2008 coincided with the eruption of social unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Cameroon, Mozambique, Sudan, Haiti, and India, among others.

In 2011, the price spikes preceded social unrest across the Middle East and North Africa – Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya, Uganda, Mauritania, Algeria, and so on.

Last year saw food prices reach their third highest year on record, corresponding to the latest outbreaks of street violence and protests in Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and elsewhere.

Since about a decade ago, the FAO food price index has more than doubled from 91.1 in 2000 to an average of 209.8 in 2013. As Prof Yaneer Bar-Yam, founding president of the Complex Systems Institute, told Vice magazine last week:

“Our analysis says that 210 on the FAO index is the boiling point and we have been hovering there for the past 18 months… In some of the cases the link is more explicit, in others, given that we are at the boiling point, anything will trigger unrest.”

But Bar-Yam’s analysis of the causes of the global food crisis don’t go deep enough – he focuses on the impact of farmland being used for biofuels, and excessive financial speculation on food commodities. But these factors barely scratch the surface.

It’s a gas

The recent cases illustrate not just an explicit link between civil unrest and an increasingly volatile global food system, but also the root of this problem in the increasing unsustainability of our chronic civilisational addiction to fossil fuels.

In Ukraine, previous food price shocks have impacted negatively on the country’s grain exports, contributing to intensifying urban poverty in particular. Accelerating levels of domestic inflation are underestimated inofficial statistics – Ukrainians spend on average as much as 75% on household bills, and more than half their incomes on necessities such as food and non-alcoholic drinks, and as75% on household bills. Similarly, for most of last year, Venezuela suffered from ongoing food shortagesdriven by policy mismanagement along with 17 year record-high inflation due mostly to rising food prices.

While dependence on increasingly expensive food imports plays a role here, at the heart of both countries is a deepening energy crisis. Ukraine is a net energy importer, having peaked in oil and gas production way back in 1976. Despite excitement about domestic shale potential, Ukraine’s oil production has declined by over 60% over the last twenty years driven by both geological challenges and dearth of investment.

Currently, about 80% of Ukraine’s oil, and 80% of its gas, is imported from Russia. But over half of Ukraine’s energy consumption is sustained by gas. Russian natural gas prices have nearly quadrupled since 2004. The rocketing energy prices underpin the inflation that is driving excruciating poverty rates for average Ukranians, exacerbating social, ethnic, political and class divisions.

The Ukrainian government’s recent decision to dramatically slash Russian gas imports will likely worsen this as alternative cheaper energy sources are in short supply. Hopes that domestic energy sources might save the day are slim – apart from the fact that shale cannot solve the prospect of expensive liquid fuels, nuclear will not help either. A leakedEuropean Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) reportreveals that proposals to loan 300 million Euros to renovate Ukraine’s ageing infrastructure of 15 state-owned nuclear reactors will gradually double already debilitating electricity prices by 2020.

“Socialism” or Soc-oil-ism?

In Venezuela, the story is familiar. Previously, the Oil and Gas Journal reported the country’s oil reserves were 99.4 billion barrels. As of 2011, this was revised upwards to a mammoth 211 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and more recently by the US Geological Survey to a whopping 513 billion barrels. The massive boost came from the discovery of reserves of extra heavy oil in the Orinoco belt.

The huge associated costs of production and refining this heavy oil compared to cheaper conventional oil, however, mean the new finds have contributed little to Venezuela’s escalating energy and economic challenges. Venezuela’s oil production peaked around 1999, and has declined by a quarter since then. Its gas production peaked around 2001, and has declined by about a third.

Simultaneously, as domestic oil consumption has steadily increased – in fact almost doubling since 1990 – this has eaten further into declining production, resulting in net oil exports plummeting by nearly half since 1996. As oil represents 95% of export earnings and about half of budget revenues, this decline has massively reduced the scope to sustain government social programmes, including critical subsidies.

Looming pandemic?

These local conditions are being exacerbated by global structural realities. Record high global food prices impinge on these local conditions and push them over the edge. But the food price hikes, in turn, are symptomatic of a range of overlapping problems. Globalagriculture‘s excessive dependence on fossil fuel inputs means food prices are invariably linked to oil price spikes. Naturally, biofuels and food commodity speculation pushes prices up even further – elite financiers alone benefit from this while working people from middle to lower classes bear the brunt.

Of course, the elephant in the room is climate change. According to Japanese media, a leaked draft of the UN Intergovernmental Panel onClimate Change‘s (IPCC) second major report warned that while demand for food will rise by 14%, global crop production will drop by 2% per decade due to current levels of global warming, and wreak $1.45 trillion of economic damage by the end of the century. The scenario is based on a projected rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius.

This is likely to be a very conservative estimate. Considering that the current trajectory of industrial agriculture is already seeing yield plateausin major food basket regions, the interaction of environmental, energy, and economic crises suggests that business-as-usual won’t work.

The epidemic of global riots is symptomatic of global system failure – a civilisational form that has outlasted its usefulness. We need a new paradigm.

Unfortunately, simply taking to the streets isn’t the answer. What is needed is a meaningful vision for civilisational transition – backed up with people power and ethical consistence.

It’s time that governments, corporations and the public alike woke up to the fact that we are fast entering a new post-carbon era, and that the quicker we adapt to it, the far better our chances of successfully redefining a new form of civilisation – a new form of prosperity – that is capable of living in harmony with the Earth system.

But if we continue to make like ostriches, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when the epidemic becomes a pandemic at our doorsteps.

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

Tackling food security with a growing population, climate change and peak oil | Climate Citizen

Tackling food security with a growing population, climate change and peak oil | Climate Citizen.

With a growing population and improving diets there is a need to double our food supply by 2050. Identify three measures you would take to meet this demand. Identify one of your measures from your list and post your solution into the discussion – be prepared to defend your choice!

That is a big question to throw in a climate change course. I am presently doing an online course – Climate Change: Challenges and solutions – offered by the University of Exeter (UK). So please indulge me as I also use this blog for some climate course work. This article is for week 6, section 6.5 of the course on ‘Tackling food security’.

Food security is one helluva big area to try and come to terms with. Earth’s population is just over 7 billion people. It is projected by the United Nations in a June 2013 report on global population to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050, although some commentators like David Merkel think it may peak at 8.5 billion around 2030 due to officials underestimating the fall in the fertility rate.

Currently, at least one billion people are constantly hungry or living under the threat of hunger.

Agricultural productivity of the last century has been brought about by the energy input from fossil fuels. There is a strong recent correlation between soaring food costs and soaring oil costs. With Peak oil, energy costs can expect to increase much further, placing further costs on food production. A FAO 2011 report says: “Commodity prices tend to be linked with global energy prices. As energy prices fluctuate and trend upwards, so do food prices”.

”Feeding a growing world population will require a 60 percent increase in food production by 2050, but we are not going to be able to meet that goal the way we did during the Green Revolution, relying on fossil fuels,” said Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources and the Environment. “A very different approach is required.”

The food sector accounts for around 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption and
accounts for around 22 percent of total Greenhouse gas emissions according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Most of the big productivity gains of the Green revolution ocurred due to substantial intensification of energy inputs into agriculture through fossil fuels. From non-organic fertilisers, pesticides, mechanisation of farming practices, increased processing, refrigeration, packaging and transport to more distant markets and more urbanised consumers.

Ten measures to increase food production sustainably

So I sat down and brainstormed ten measures to increase food production, keeping in mind the increasing problem of peak oil and need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for climate change. Yes, I know, the course only wanted me to list three and argue for one! I got carried away.

We are now facing the prospect of increasing productivity to feed a growing global population, reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, and fossil fuels becoming progressively more expensive due to peak oil. The large easily accessed oil fields are now in decline, and to maintain production we are more reliant on fossil fuels both harder to access and more expensive such as Arctic oil, deep sea oil, coal seam gas and tight shale oil. Some of the methods of accessing fossil fuels are either far more polluting, risk chemical contamination of groundwater and can impact agricultural productivity.

So here is my quick list of 10 measures we should be implementing to tackle food security and reducing fossil fuel use in the food sector:

  • 1. Reduce reliance on fossil fuel energy for agricultural production to counter the threat of peak oil and reduce agricultural production of carbon emissions. Reduce non-organic fertilizers and pesticides by adopting integrated pest and weed management techniques, and shifting to crop varieties and animal breeds that require fewer inputs.
  • 2. Reduce ruminants for food and emphasise health importance of a dietary change to less red meat, enabling increased water efficiency and crop production for human consumption. This also reduces agricultural methane production.
  • 3. Reduce food waste (About one third of food produced each year – 1.3 billion tonnes – is wasted) Better logistics and energy efficiency in food manufacturing, processing, packaging and transport would help to reduce this, but increased regulation and prevention of food dumping and waste practices in the food chain from producer to end retailer needs to be enacted. Composting food waste by consumers needs to be encouraged to reduce decomposition and methane production in landfill sites.
  • 4. Encourage consumption from local production rather than long distance and out of season imports (Awareness of food miles), which reduces transport CO2 emissions. Encourage Urban agriculture.
  • 5. Natural Water retention and water storage needs to be enhanced to enable greater crop productivity. The health of river ecosystems needs to be carefully managed and not over allocated for agriculture, especially wetlands which provide important ecological services especially in times of drought as a biodiversity refuge. Ground water aquifers need to be protected from contamination or water table alteration by mining (eg open cut coal mining, fracking for coal seam gas or tight oil deposits)
  • 6. Adopt more intensive organic and agroecological practices, including greater permaculture, companion planting practices, agroforestry, crop rotation and land for wildlife.
  • 7. Reduce monoculture practices and boost support to small farmers as recomended by UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in the Trade and Environment report 2013 (PDF)(media release):
  • 8. Encourage preservation and production of heritage plant species for their genetic diversity, enabling the crossbreeding for producing new varieties tolerant to specific threats in the future.
  • 9. Develop closed cycle aquaponics for intensive horticultural production and aquaculture to supply fish protein.
  • 10. Greater emphasis on soil carbon farming to both enrich soils and act as a carbon storage sink. Reduce soil erosion. See FAO on Greater focus on soil health needed to feed a hungry planet

None of these will be easy to do, but I suspect all will need to be done to lift agricultural productivity while reducing fossil fuel energy input.

Transitioning industrial agriculture to organics and agroecology

In my search for some answers and solutions I stumbled upon a seminar held by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC) on 25th April 2012 in Stockholm: 100 % Agroecology Can Feed the World. The presentations were videoed and the powerpoint slides published.

Johanna Björklund, Teaching Professor of Agroecology, Örebro University, argues in her presentation that “To feed an increasing global population and in the same time cope with climate change and ecosystem degradation the large-scale, low productive and extensive mode of food production in industrial countries needs to be abandoned.”

Björklund puts forward some Non negotiable demands on the future food system:

  • More food with less use of water and without fossil fuels
  • Agricultural areas needs to sequestrer carbon
  • Drastically reduced input of new nitrogen fertilizers
  • No more phosphorus which ends up in the oceans
  • Extinction of species need to be halter to at least 10 per cent of today
  • Decreased meat consumption in developed countries

Björklund presentation on The potential of a productive, fossil fuel free agriculture based on ecosystem services is worthwhile watching on Youtube or below. Slide Presentations are also available for viewing. She also emphasised that urban agriculture can play an important part of ensuring food security.

At the same session in Stockholm Hans Herren, Director of the Millenium Institute, gave a presentation on Action plan for changing course in agriculture in which he outlined the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) global assessment report – Agriculture at a Crossroads. This report was prepared by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) by the Division of Early Warning and Assessment. Watch the video, or slide presentation:

Herren has done agricultural modelling to show that transitioning our industrial agriculture to more organic and sustainable agro-ecological methods is possible to feed a larger population with increased productivity, greater employment, increased soil quality, reduced water use, reduced deforestation, providing a more than adequate calorie supply to each person on the planet. A matter of changing agricultural policies and methods and consumer behaviour.

In 2013 Dr. Hans R. Herren, and Millenium Institute partner Biovision Foundation, were selected as a recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, “for his expertise and pioneering work in promoting a safe, secure and sustainable global food supply.”

One of the concerns with organic methods of agriculture is that yields are substantially less than conventional agricultural methods, although often this is made up in social, ecosystem and biodiversity benefits. On the same day as the symposium in Stockholm Natasha Gilbert outlined in a news article in Nature magazine that Organic farming is rarely enough with Conventional agriculture giving higher yields under most conditions. This article draws upon the research by Verene Seufert et al (2012) in Nature who say in their study – Comparing the yields of organic and conventional agriculture:

Our analysis of available data shows that, overall, organic yields are typically lower than conventional yields. But these yield differences are highly contextual, depending on system and site characteristics, and range from 5% lower organic yields (rain-fed legumes and perennials on weak-acidic to weak-alkaline soils), 13% lower yields (when best organic practices are used), to 34% lower yields (when the conventional and organic systems are most comparable). Under certain conditions—that is, with good management practices, particular crop types and growing conditions—organic systems can thus nearly match conventional yields, whereas under others it at present cannot. To establish organic agriculture as an important tool in sustainable food production, the factors limiting organic yields need to be more fully understood, alongside assessments of the many social, environmental and economic benefits of organic farming systems.

FAO: Energy Smart agriculture needed

Since the 2011 UN Durban Climate change conference the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has been pushing for Energy-smart agriculture to escape the fossil fuel trap.

“There is justifiable concern that the current dependence of the food sector on fossil fuels may limit the sector’s ability to meet global food demands. The challenge is to decouple food prices from fluctuating and rising fossil fuel prices,” said an FAO paper published during the Durban UN Conference on Climate Change in 2011.

According to the report, the food sector (including input manufacturing, production, processing, transportation marketing and consumption) accounts for around 95 exa-Joules (1018 Joules), approximately 30 percent of global energy consumption, and produces over 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

On-farm direct energy use amounts to around 6 exa-Joules per year, if human and animal power are excluded — just over half of that is in OECD countries. On farms, energy is used for pumping water, housing livestock, cultivating and harvesting crops, heating protected crops, and drying and storage. After harvest, it is used in processing, packaging, storing, transportation and consumption.

“The global food sector needs to learn how to use energy more wisely. At each stage of the food supply chain, current practices can be adapted to become less energy intensive,” said FAO Assistant Director-General for Environment and Natural Resources, Alexander Mueller.

At the farm level this includes more fuel efficient engines, use of compost and precision fertilizers, irrigation monitoring and targeted water delivery, adoption of no-till farming practices and the use of less-input-dependent crop varieties and animal breeds says the FAO report.

After food has been harvested, more efficient transport and logistics, better insulation of food storage facilities, reductions in packaging and food waste, and more efficient cooking devices offer help to reduce energy use in the food sector.

Losses and wastage in the food system presently amount to around one-third of all food produced, which includes the energy that is embedded in it. Reducing this loss also saves substantial energy.

Agriculture also has some potential for providing some of it’s own energy through processing wastes to produce biogas which can supplement solar, wind, hydro, geothermal or biomass energy resources where they exist.

“Using local renewable energy resources along the entire food chain can help improve energy access, diversify farm and food processing revenues, avoid disposal of waste products, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, and help achieve sustainable development goals,” the FAO report says.

The FAO energy smart food for people and climate program is based on three pillars:

  • (i) providing energy access for all with a focus on rural communities;
  • (ii) improving energy efficiency at all stages of the food supply chain; and
  • (iii) substituting fossil fuels with renewable energy systems in the food sector.

Watch a September 2013 youtube video of Peter Holmgren from the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation on climate smart agriculture

Food miles and food transport

We live in a globalised economy where food is often transported over long distances, often to places where it is out of season. But this uses transport which utilizes primarily fossil fuel energy. Much food is transported over long distances by road, rail and shipping. The FAO report says “Air transport is costly in terms of energy intensity and economic costs, therefore rarely used. For example, only 0.5 percent of the fresh fruit imported to the USA is shipped by air (Bernatz, 2010).

Globalization in the past two decades appears to have increased the average distance travelled by food products by 25 percent.” This has lead many aware consumers in the developed world to look at ‘food miles’, although some point out that Food miles can mislead and total carbon footprinting may be more important for analysing the food we buy.

The report does suggest better labelling on retail food packaging to display the energy used in the production, processing, packaging and distribution of the product so that consumers could consider the energy and GHG implications when making purchases. But this would require development of international standards for measuring energy consumption using standardized Life Cycle Assessment methodologies to assess each stage of the food chain.

“The key question at hand is not, ‘If or when we should begin the transition to energy-smart food systems?’ but rather ‘how can we get started and make gradual but steady progress?” said Mueller in the 2011 FAO media release.

There is at least one example of a country being forced to make the transition to low fossil fuel input into agriculture: Cuba.

Cuba’s transition to permaculture with early onset of peak oil

When the Berlin wall fell and the Soviet Union reduced it’s fossil fuel subsidies to Cuba in the 1990s we saw a taste of what Peak Oil might mean for a fossil fuel dependant economy. Cuba embarked on fuel rationing which entailed transforming their energy and agricultural systems. The film The power of Community. How Cuba Survived peak Oil provides lessons for us all when the oil starts running out. Watch the Youtube video below

The impact of reduced availability of fossil fuels on Cuban life was transformative. It entailed a major shift in agricultural practices to organic and permaculture methods with much more labour intensive small farm activity, along with urban permaculture. Transport was also shaken up with more emphasis on living locally, using public transport and cycling. It wasn’t an easy transition to make for most people.

Are we ready for such a transition? The earlier we start, the more preparation we make, the easier it will be on the communities we live within. The threat of peak oil and climate change has sparked theTransition Towns movement, a global movement to build community resilience and sustainability to the threats posed by climate change and peak oil. Another small part of the solution.


Sources:

Posted by John Englart at 7:29 PM

Activist Post: Roundup Weedkiller Found In 75% of Air and Rain Samples, Gov’t Study Finds

Activist Post: Roundup Weedkiller Found In 75% of Air and Rain Samples, Gov’t Study Finds.

The GM farming system has made exposure to Roundup herbicide a daily fact of our existence, and according to the latest US Geological Survey study its probably in the air you are breathing…

Sayer Ji
Activist Post

A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey, accepted for publication online ahead of print in the journal Enviromental Toxicology and Chemistry, titled, “Pesticides in Mississippi air and rain: A comparison between 1995 and 2007,”[i]reveals that Roundup herbicide (aka glyphosate) and its still-toxic degradation byproduct AMPA were found in over 75% of the air and rain samples tested from Mississippi in 2007.

The researchers evaluated a wide range of pesticides currently being used through weekly composite air and rain sampling collected during the 1995 and 2007 growing seasons in the Mississippi Delta agricultural region.

The researchers discovered the following:

  • Thirty-seven compounds were detected in the air or rain samples in 2007; 20 of these were present in both air and rain.
  • Glyphosate was the predominant new herbicide detected in both air (86%) and rain (77%) in 2007, but were not measured in 1995.
  • Decreased overall pesticide use in 2007 relative to 1995 generally resulted in decreased detection frequencies in air and rain, but observed concentration ranges were similar between years even though the 1995 sampling site was 500 m from active fields while the 2007 sampling site was within 3 m of a field.
  • Mean concentration of detections were sometimes greater in 2007 than in 1995 but the median values were often lower.
  • Seven compounds in 1995 and five in 2007 were detected in ≥50% of both air and rain samples. Atrazine, metolachlor, and propanil were detected in ≥50% of the air and rain samples in both years.
  • Total herbicide flux in 2007 was slightly greater than in 1995, and was dominated by glyphosate.

According to the report, 2 million kilograms of glyphosate were applied statewide in 2007, or 55% of the total herbicide flux for that year (~129 μg/m2), leading them to state the high prevalence of glyphosate in air and water “was not surprising.”  Even though glyphosate was only tested in 2007, based on the 1995 figures on glyphosate use (147,000 kg state-wide) the researchers estimated that glyphosate added 3% of the total herbicide flux for 1995, or approximately 7 micrograms per centimeter (~7 μg/m2) per sample. This estimate, if correct, reveals that there has been an ~ 18 fold increase in glyphosate concentrations in air and water samples in only 12 years (1995-2007).    

The researchers pointed out that, “the 2007 weekly air concentration pattern for glyphosate was similar to those of other commonly detected herbicides in both 1995 and 2007 in that the highest concentrations occurred in April and May. However, there were detectable concentrations of glyphosate over the entire growing season, which is consistent with how glyphosate is used on GM crops, including for post-emergent weed control throughout the growing season.”  The longer period of exposure adds to growing concern that this ubiquitous toxicant represents an unavoidable body burden and that even small daily environmental exposures may be causing significant harm through their cumulative and synergistic effects with other toxicants.

So, what is the toxicological significance of the discovery of glyphosate in most air samples tested? In the month of August, 2007, if you were breathing in the sampled air you would be inhaling approximately 2.5 nanograms of glyphosate per cubic meter of air. It has been estimated the average adult inhales approximately 388 cubic feet or 11 cubic meters of air per day, which would equal to 27.5 nanograms (billionths of a gram) of glyphosate a day.  Of course, when one considers the presence of dozons of other agrichemicals found alongside glyphosate in these samples, the interactions between them are incalculably complex and produce far more harm together than glyphosate alone (i.e. synergistic toxicity). Also, now that recent cell research has shown that glyphosate may act as an endocrine disrupter exhibiting estrogenic-likecarcinogenicity within the part-per-trillion range, there is all the more reason to raise the red flag of the precautionary principle — especially since inhaled toxicants evade the elaborate detoxification mechanisms of ingested toxicants which must pass through the microbiome, intestinal lining and liver before entering the blood and only a long time later the lung far downstream.

This study brings to the surface the extent to which GM farming has altered our daily exposure to chemicals, such that even the rain and air we now breath contains physiologically relevant levels of glyphosate ‘fall out’ from the war against any plant not part of the monocultured, genetically engineered system of production. With a significant body of research now available today showing that glyphosate and its components are far more toxic than believed at the time of its widespread approval, the implications of ubiquitous glyphosate exposure should be carefully considered.

Ultimately, findings like these reveal just how illusory is the perception of choice and health freedom when it comes to the GM/non-GMO debate, and the consumer’s right to avoid harm from GMOs by refusing to buy or consume them. Not only are consumers in the U.S. not allowed to know what is in their food with accurate and truthful labeling of ingredients, we now know thatbiopollution from GMOs produces uncontrollable and irreversible changes in the genomes of affected organisms when their transgenes escape into them, and we know that even beyond their genomic/proteomic differences the contamination of GM foods with herbicides like Roundup(glyphosate) makes them non-substantially equivalent in chemical composition to their non-contaminated alternatives. The reality is that the environment is becoming so saturated with the ‘fall out’ from the ever-expanding GM agricultural/agrichemical farming grid that even if you somehow find a way to avoid eating contaminated food, you will be forced to have to deal with its adverse health effects, as long as you need air to breath and water to drink. Ultimately, unless our food production system moves through its present chemical war-modeled phase of GM monoculturing, even non-GM food will end up being contaminated with these chemicals and transgenes, because nothing ‘natural’ lives in a vacuum – and if it does, then it really shouldn’t be called “organic,” and maybe shouldn’t even be called food.

Notes:

[i] Michael S Majewski, Richard H Coupe, William T Foreman, Paul D Capel. Pesticides in Mississippi air and rain: A comparison between 1995 and 2007. Environ Toxicol Chem. 2014 Feb 19. Epub 2014 Feb 19. PMID: 24549493

This article first appeared at GreenMedInfo.  Please visit to access their vast database of articles and the latest information in natural health. 

Activist Post: Worldwide Study: Fertilizer Destabilizing Grasslands

Activist Post: Worldwide Study: Fertilizer Destabilizing Grasslands.

Activist Post

Fertilizer could be too much of a good thing for the world’s grasslands, according to study findings to be published online Feb. 16 by the journal Nature.

This map shows Nutrient Network sites studied
The worldwide study shows that, on average, additional nitrogen will increase the amount of grass that can be grown. But a smaller number of species thrive, crowding out others that are better adapted to survive in harsher times. It results in wilder swings in the amount of available forage.”More nitrogen means more production, but it’s less stable,” said Johannes M.H. Knops, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln biologist and one of the paper’s international co-authors. “There are more good years and more bad years. Not all years are going to be good and the bad years are going to be worse.”

The three-year study monitored real-world grasslands at 41 locations on five continents. The sites included alpine grasslands in China, tallgrass prairies in the United States, pasture in Switzerland, savanna in Tanzania and old fields in Germany. Two sites in Nebraska were part of the study, the Cedar Point Biological Station near Ogallala and the Barta Brothers Ranch in the Sandhills near Valentine.

The study found common trends among grasslands around the world:

  • Natural — unfertilized — grasslands with a variety of grass species have more stability because of species “asynchrony,” which means that different species thrive at different times so that the grassland produces more consistently over time. This finding was consistent with the findings of previous, single-site studies as well as previous biodiversity experiments conducted in Europe.
  • Fertilized plots saw declines in the numbers of species compared to unfertilized control plots. The plots averaged from 4.4 species to 32.3 species per square meter and declined by an average of 1.3 species per site.
  • Fertilization reduced species asynchrony and increased the variation in production levels over time compared to control plots. This weakened the benefits of species diversity seen in the un-manipulated plots.

While public attention has grown about elevated levels of carbon dioxide and global warming, Knops said elevated levels of mineral nitrogen in the environment also are concerning. While it’s rare for ranchers and farmers to fertilize rangeland and pasture, grasslands are affected by nitrogen deposition that results from burning fossil fuels, as well as from fertilizer runoff and ammonia volatilization from cropland.

Knops said fertilizer overuse could intensify the detrimental effects of drought on grasslands, such as the drought that devastated cattle herds in Texas and Oklahoma from 2011-13, when Texas lost about 15 percent of its cattle herd, or about 2 million animals.

It also could have ripple effects during bad years by reducing the plant cover, which increases erosion, and decreases water filtration and carbon sequestration benefits provided by grasslands.

The Nature article, “Eutrophication weakens stabilizing effects of diversity in natural grasslands,” is one of several research articles on the relationships between grassland diversity, productivity and stability, generated by the Nutrient Network experiment. Knops called it an unprecedented experiment.

“In the past you didn’t see a collaborative effort at a really large scale like this in biology or in ecology,” he said.

For more information about the Nutrient Network effort, visit http://www.nutnet.org

Activist Post: New Research Supports Many Benefits of Local Farming

Activist Post: New Research Supports Many Benefits of Local Farming.

Policy makers should value environmental, health benefits of small-scale local farming, researcher argues.

Jeffrey Green
Activist Post 

While the biotech industry continues to assert that modern-day farming must be driven by genetic modification in order to provide more consistent crop production in ever greater numbers, an increasing number of independent studies argue just the opposite.

When it comes to food production, it is one of the manymyths of GMO; GMOs do not provide more food, but do offer Big Ag companies increased profits on the need for more pesticides, herbicides, and patented seeds.

Natural agriculture practices are the real answer, and another new study backs it up.

We are often shown images of starving people in Third World countries who presumably need saving by corporate conglomerates. However, in just one example, poverty-stricken rice and potato farmers in India confirmed record-breaking yields after switching to truly organic food production. (Source)

This is a similar story as others reported in Africa, with incredible additional benefits to the economy and human rights (read the full report here).

Another study showed that biodiversity from polyculture outperforms industrial farming by reducing the chemicals required.

A study by the University of California, Berkeley, presented exhaustive alternatives to current practices. One section of the paper cited research pointing to the positive effects of biodiversity on the numbers of herbivore pests, finding that polycultural planting led to reduction of pest populations by up to 64%. Later, combined results of hundreds of comparisons also favored biologically diverse farms with a 54% increase in pest mortality and damage to crops dropping by almost 25%. The introduction of more diverse insects also promoted increased pollination and healthier crops.(sourceecology and society)

And yet another:

A 9-year study conducted by researchers from the USDA, University of Minnesota and Iowa State University proved that in more complex systems, yield AND profits were both enhanced. When paired against the conventional corn/soy rotation, less fertilizer was used. This difference actually increased over the course of the study, indicating the quality of the soil was improving over time, instead of experiencing the depletion of common practices. (source Union of Concerned Scientists)

The switch to local farming methods protects and enhances this essential biodiversity that is now increasingly lacking around the world according to Timothy Johns, Professor of Human Nutrition at McGill University in Montreal.

Diets for most people around the world are becoming increasingly limited in biological and nutritional diversity. “Large-scale agriculture is characteristically simplified and less diverse than small-holder agriculture,” Prof. Johns cautions. “This is true in genetic, ecological and nutritional terms.”

The answer, according to Johns, is to use the intrinsic benefits of local farming; namely the “range of wild species of fruit, vegetables, condiments and medicines, as well as wild animal-sourced foods,” but then couple that with new technologies that can help local farmers meet the productivity levels needed for an increasing population.

Johns’ conclusions fly in the face of what we are consistently told by mega food corporations like Monsanto; that only they have the capacity to feed an exploding global population. On the contrary, local farming empowered with technology can surpass large-scale growing operations. Professor Johns explains:

Using family members in farming reduces labor and supervision costs, while a more intimate knowledge of the local soil, plants and animals enables smallholders to maximize output. In Brazil, for example, national data from the Censo Agropecuário shows that “family farms” produce 38 percent of national agricultural value from 24 percent of the agricultural land. An assessment of 286 projects in 57 countries, moreover, shows that low-cost, sustainable and diversity-enhancing technologies increased average crop yields on small farms by 79 percent since the early 1990s.

This research highlights the importance of local culture in offering inherent knowledge of which products grow best within a given region, while also preserving the health benefits that have been established through the same train of communicated knowledge.

“Products of biodiversity within culturally-based diets provide essential micronutrients and lower prevalence of diet-related chronic disease.”

Professor Johns specifically notes a developing malady in the First World – being obese, but lacking nutrients that provide true health. In other words, most of the First World is not caloriedeficient, they are deficient in trace minerals and nutrients:

Carbohydrates — mainly cereals, sugars, potatoes and other tubers — and vegetable oils produced efficiently by large-scale agriculture and distributed through global trade are more affordable for many people than lower-calorie, more nutritious foods. In many cases, the result is a form of malnutrition defined by overconsumption of calories. This has helped fuel a growing global epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Johns research urges policy makers to look more closely at the growing body of research indicating that the Monsantos of the world are not the be-all, end-all answer to starving populations and the undernourished; the answer lies in local family farming that supports the previous studies linked above. In all of these studies, it is not only bellies that get filled; it is the strengthening of entire communities economically, socially, and culturally, while still providing healthy nutritious food.

Johns offers one concrete example of how this functions:

Brazil’s National School Feeding Law and program since 2009 requires that at least 30 percent of food in the program must come from family agriculture. It also has explicit guidelines for the use of healthy food in school menus, including foods that respect the culture and traditions; and it provides incentives for the purchase of diversified foods, preferably from local family agriculture.

“Food-policy makers around the world should seek to develop novel compensation mechanisms that reflect the benefits of small-scale, biodiverse agriculture . . . This may involve direct subsidies to farmers, but it must also involve investment in extension services, infrastructure, supply-chain research and development, and progressive market regulation.”

In lieu of solutions being found in the compromised political institutions of the West, which are often populated by the revolving door of corporate farming, I would urge readers to investigate novel technologies that are showing great promise for both small- and large-scale farming that have the power to supercharge natural production anywhere in the world – found in the following article links:

For more information on the symposium being given by Professor Timothy Johns please visit: http://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2014/webprogram/Session7028.html

Coffee to Soybean Wagers Climb on Brazilian Drought – Bloomberg

Coffee to Soybean Wagers Climb on Brazilian Drought – Bloomberg.

By Luzi Ann Javier  Feb 10, 2014 4:19 PM ET
Photographer: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg

A woman harvests coffee beans at the Ponto Alegre estate farm in Cabo Verde, in the… Read More

Hedge funds raised bullish commodity bets to a 15-week high after a drought in Brazilthreatened crops from coffee to soybeans.

The net-long position across 18 U.S.-traded commodities climbed 15 percent to 900,330 futures and options in the week ended Feb. 4, the biggest gain since August, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Investors turned bullish on arabica coffee for the first time since July 2012 and soybean wagers rose by the most in almost three months. Brazil is the biggest exporter of both crops.

The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Agriculture Index of eight commodities rose 3.3 percent last week, reaching an eight-week high Feb. 6. In Brazil, also the top sugar grower, the driest January since 1954 drained dams and scorched plants. Extreme global weather also is threatening other crops with too much rain hampering Indonesia’s cocoa harvest and freezing temperatures damaging U.S. wheat.

“Agriculture is probably the best hope for a decent commodity run this year,” said Peter Sorrentino, who helps manage $4.4 billion at Huntington Asset Advisors in Cincinnati. “These weather issues will definitely have a decided positive influence on prices.”

The S&P GSCI Spot Index of 24 raw materials gained 2.1 percent last week. The MSCI All-Country World index of equities rose 0.8 percent, while the Bloomberg Treasury Bond Index slid 0.1 percent. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, a gauge against 10 major trading partners, dropped 0.8 percent. The S&P GSCI Agriculture Index rose 0.2 percent at 4:18 p.m. New York time.

Coffee Bulls

Money managers held a coffee net-bullish position of 7,981 contracts on Feb. 4, the CFTC data show. That’s the first bet on a rally since July 2012. Prices for arabica, the variety favored by Starbucks Corp., surged 23 percent since Dec. 31, the best start to a year since 1997.

Plantations in Brazil are enduring dry weather just when rain is needed the most for tree roots to absorb nutrients as the beans begin to grow inside the coffee cherries. Rain may be “too late” and there isn’t enough time to reverse the damage to trees and beans, Terra Forte, a Sao Joao da Boa Vista-based shipper, said in a report.

Hot, dry weather cut potential soybean yields in as much as 40 percent of Brazil’s growing areas, Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland, said in a report Feb. 7. In Kansas, the top winter-wheat-growing state, 35 percent of the crop was in good or excellent condition, down from 58 percent on Dec. 30 after sub-zero temperatures swept the nation, the government said Feb. 3. The Indonesian Cocoa Association sees the nation’s crop dropping to the lowest in a decade as rains in the third-biggest grower hurt flowering and delay the harvest.

Goldman, Citi

Raw materials from copper and corn to sugar and coffee will be have supply surpluses this year after a decade-long bull market spurred producers to build new mines, drill more wells and expand planting of crops. Banks led by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. say commodities are heading for losses in 2014. The S&P GSCI Agriculture Index tumbled 22 percent last year, the most since 1981, after U.S. crops recovered from the worst drought since the 1930s.

Inventories of soybeans around the world will equal 26.7 percent of consumption this season, up from 23.5 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Jan. 10. Corn stockpiles will equal 17.1 percent of use, compared with 15.4 percent a year earlier. Global coffee production is set to exceed demand for a fourth season, pushing stockpiles to a five-year high, according to the USDA.

Supply ‘Buffer’

“We’re not in a precarious situation for crop supplies like we were a year ago,” said Kelly Wiesbrock, a managing director at Harvest Capital Strategies in San Francisco, which oversees $1.8 billion. “We do have a buffer today in the event that we have below-trend yields this year. It’s unlikely we see drastic price reaction.”

World food prices fell in January to a 19-month low, the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization said Feb. 6. The Rome-based group’s index of 55 food items is 4.5 percent lower than a year ago.

The S&P GSCI Enhanced Commodity Index, Goldman’s preferred measure, will drop 3 percent in the next 12 months, the bank said in a Jan. 12 report. Precious metals will lead losses with a 15 percent drop, while agriculture will decline 11 percent.

Money managers increased their net-bullish soybean holdings by 20 percent to 146,533 contracts, the highest this year. Prices gained 3.8 percent last week, the most since August. Cocoa wagersgained 7.2 percent to 83,038, a second straight increase. Investors held a net-short position of 52,963 in wheat, compared with 62,501 a week earlier.

Gold Wagers

Wagers on a gold rally slid 2.1 percent to 59,408 contracts, the first decline this year, the CFTC data show. Federal Reserve officials said Jan. 29 they would trim monthly purchases of bonds to $65 billion from $75 billion, after a $10 billion cut announced in December. Bullion rose 70 percent from December 2008 to June 2011 as the Fed pumped more than $2 trillion into the financial system.

Gold rebounded 5.6 percent this year after a 28 percent decline in 2013 that was the biggest since 1981. About $1.6 trillion was erased from the value of global equities in 2014 amid signs of slow economic growth in China and a slump in emerging-market currencies. Sales of gold coins by the U.S. Mint rose 63 percent in January to the highest since April.

Copper Inventories

Investors became bearish on copper before prices capped the biggest rally this year. Funds are holding a net-short position of 6,832 contracts, compared with a net-long of 11,735 a week earlier. Futures in New York rose 1.2 percent last week, the most since Dec. 27. Inventories at warehouses monitored by the London Metal Exchange declined 16 percent this year to the lowest since December 2012.

“Commodities, especially base metals, might be getting to close to a point where investors have discounted something close to a worst-case scenario,” said Sameer Samana, a senior international strategist at Wells Fargo Advisors LLC, which oversees about $1.4 trillion. “There will be pockets of strength. The issue in Brazil could be a catalyst.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Luzi Ann Javier in New York at ljavier@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Millie Munshi at mmunshi@bloomberg.net

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