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When we talk about the future of food, we usually start with world population growth. Estimates say we’ll pass the 8 billion-people mark around the spring of 2024. The worry for decades has been if we will be able to feed all those hungry mouths.
The number of hungry mouths may not be the problem. A 2002 United Nations study showed that global agricultural production would exceed the population’s needs just six years after we hit the 8 billion mark. How we distribute and sell food in the future could be far more important – and more interesting.
“Oil isn’t cheap,” Katie Camden says when asked about the future of food distribution. “Plus, over the next 10 to 20 years, it’s not going to get any cheaper.”
Camden started her career in neuroscience, but then she moved into the food business. She and her husband, Micah, have a string of successful and unique restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. He’s the chef; she’s the brains. She refines and iterates each operation like a ruthless engineer, optimizing each step in the production and the distribution chain.
Camden is the go-to person when it comes to the future of food. She’s all business. Her no-nonsense perspectives always provide a clear vision for where she sees things going. She has strong opinions.
“The cost of just moving food – especially over long distances – is always going to be expensive,” she explains. “It’s really the limiting factor. It’s not a food problem. It’s not even a farm problem. It’s an oil problem.”
Even with the recent shale gas boom in the U.S., the long-term cost for oil is not projected to drop. On the contrary, it has risen from around $25 a barrel in 2002 to $100 in 2013. The race to renewable and alternative energy will continue over the next few decades.
So if oil and transportation are the real limiting factors, then what should we do? What are the opportunities?
“More food retailers and restaurants will look to local farms and food producers,” Camden believes. “I don’t just mean small farms but all farms that are nearby. Retailers will base their operations on what’s available locally,” she says.
One of her most popular chains is Little Big Burger, a series of purposely small take-out restaurants that serve high-quality hamburgers from only locally sourced beef. “We’ve looked at opening our hamburger restaurants in Texas and Colorado because of their amazing local beef,” she says.
In Camden’s view, the next 10 years will see more local businesses working with local farmers to source food. She says it will go beyond that to the very issue of what’s available from those producers. “That will drive those businesses,” she predicts.
The business of food retailing is just plain hard, with notoriously low profit margins and stiff competition. Retailers are always looking for the newest innovation that will differentiate them. Because of this, hints to the future can be found in the aisles of your local market, as well as in your email in-box, in your smartphone, and in the mass of data being created.
Affinity card programs are nothing new. Those little cards are scanned at supermarket checkouts to get special discounts. Soon, those cards will be paired with high-tech data analytics and real-time shopper tracking. Something really different is emerging: a hyperpersonalized shopping experience.
It isn’t complicated. With your permission, an affinity card tracks everything you purchase. The store offers up coupons that fit your habits. The deals land in an in-box or smartphone app, giving automatic savings at checkout.
It gets interesting when stores cross their data with other information about you. They not only can give discounts on what you are about to purchase but also can make suggestions based on other activity. You might be tracked in real time as you move through a store and are offered suggestions based on health history, social network, and your favorite movies.
Tomorrow Belongs to the Shopper
Most of us don’t realize the power we have when we make those seemingly mundane decisions in stores. Long before crop shortages plague the global supply chain, consumers will vote with their purchases. That sentiment will drive the future, and the real opportunity lies in the imaginations and aspirations of average people all over the world. The interesting question is how can farmers start to participate in that conversation?
Peak Resources investigates the growing concern of global water stress. It is no big secret that the world population of humans is growing at an exponential rate. The growth of the human population has caused almost every nation around the globe to focus its attention on the available of freshwater for the future while some nations must focus on having fresh water today. Add into the mix the continual pressure from global climate change, and you have a lot of trouble. Hotter temperatures mean less ground water, shallower lakes, and rivers, and less water for crops, drinking, and bathing. To set this into motion, MIT researchers developed a new tool that models the ability of the hydrologic cycle to meet the growing needs of the world population through the year 2050.
Water resources are tied to populations of people. By 2050, the world population, is expected to rise to 9.7 Billion. Of those 9.7 billion people, 5 billion are expected to be living in water-stressed communities or regions. Of those 5 billion people, 1 billion are expected to live where there is not enough water to meet daily needs of people, environment, and agriculture. For some nations, this is not news, India, and Middle Eastern countries are already facing water stress issues.
What the MIT model does is it allows researchers to look at the two variables that are going to have the most impact on freshwater over time. Those being socioeconomics, and global climate change. What they find when they look into how the socioeconomic data changes over time, they discovered that the rate at which populations grow and the changes to economic growth lead to situations of water-stress. What they are talking about are emerging markets, where water is already limited. The impact of the situation is made worse by adding in global climate change.
Results of the MIT Model
As populations of villages and cities grow more food is needed, more drinking water is needed, and more water is needed for industry, but water is finite and the amount of available water is decreased as temperatures rise. But emerging markets and developing countries are not the only people hit by water issues and global warming. The study shows that developed nations are also going to feel increased water-stress as time passes and global warming increases. Overall, global warming is expected to impact how, when, and where rain falls. Changing patterns of precipitation will impact most countries around the globe.
While this model shows a good picture of what the future will look like, it shows something even more valuable. It shows that studies and modeling of this nature are deeply important to humanity. Peak Resources sees clearly that those who have the knowledge to forecast accurately, will be the ones who have the power to make changes. Those changes represent resource investment opportunities. Knowledge is the tool that will shape the future. Water demand is getting worse, and as time goes by the question is how do we deal with it today.
To feed the world’s burgeoning population while saving it from exhausting natural land resources, the United Nations today issued a report for policymakers, “Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption With Sustainable Supply,” published Jan. 24 by the International Resource Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme.
“Over the past 30 years, we’ve been increasing production on agricultural land, but scientists are now seeing evidence of reaching limits,” says Robert W. Howarth, Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology and a lead author of the United Nations report.
“We need to stop over-consuming land-based products. For example, one of our key challenges is overusing agricultural land for growing meat. There is just not enough land on Earth for everyone in the world to eat like Americans and Europeans,” says Howarth. “We don’t need to become complete vegetarians, but to put this into context and to help sustain feeding a burgeoning global population, we need to reduce our meat consumption by 60 percent – which is about 1940s era levels.”
The U.N. predicts the world’s population will be around 9.2 billion people in 2050, with the world’s less-developed regions contributing the most people. More cropland will be required to feed them. The report explains wide-ranging scientific options for sustainable, global land management. Expanding global cropland forever depletes environmentally needed savannahs, grasslands and forests.
If current conditions continue, by 2050 the world could have between 320 million and 849 million hectares more natural land converted to cropland. “To put things into perspective, the higher range of this estimate would cover an extension of land nearly the size of Brazil,” says the report.
Further, the U.N. report – compiled by noted international scientists – says that decoupling fuel and food markets would be a major component of sustainable resource management. Howarth says that countries must halve their current biofuel expectations to ease potential crises. “With widespread use of biofuels, rising petroleum prices will inevitably also drive food prices because biofuels are derived from cropland,” says the report. “Intolerable price increases for food may lead to spreading hunger, cause riots and sociopolitical disturbances.”
This difficult challenge reaches beyond agriculture and forestry. The report delves into energy, transportation, manufacturing, global health and family planning, climate protection and conservation.
Large areas with degraded soils must be restored, and improved land-use planning must be implemented to avoid building on fertile land, according to the report. An estimated one-fourth of all global crop soils is degraded, but nearly 40 percent of this degenerated land has strong potential for easy restoration.
To ease land pressures, the U.N. suggests more programs for economywide sustainable resource management; promoting a healthy diet in countries high in meat consumption; programs in family planning that slow population growth; and reducing food loss at the production and harvest stage in developing countries by increasing infrastructure, storage facilities and bolstering cooperatives.
This caused damage to the ecosystem of Vietnam that is still present today. More than 5 million acres of forests were destroyed, and half a million acres of farmland were tainted. It will take centuries of nurturing for the land to recover.
The environment was not the only thing affected. Exposure to Agent Orange resulted in five horrible illness in those exposed: soft-tissue sarcoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, chronic lymphocytic leukemia (including hairy-cell leukemia), Hodgkin’s disease, and chloracne. (source) What’s even worse is that the damage may not be limited to those directly exposed – it can affect offspring even up to 3rd and 4th generations.
Over a million US veterans were also exposed:
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided $16.2 billion in compensation to 1,095,473 Vietnam-era veterans.[i] The agency does not relate these service-connected benefit figures directly to Agent Orange/dioxin exposure or to any other possible cause of illness, nor does it provide data on total compensation for the years since the war ended.
Thousands of U.S. veterans returning from Vietnam reported health problems almost immediately and rapidly associated them with Agent Orange/dioxin exposure. Controversy over these assertions began just as fast, and continues now.
Many questions remain: Whether (and how to test whether) the illnesses of veterans and their offspring are related to Agent Orange and other herbicide exposure; Levels of dioxin present in the chemicals; The accuracy of data about veterans’ exposure; Levels of corporate, military and government awareness of dioxin’s presence; Fixing of responsibility for the contaminant’s presence and liability for its damages; Details of research protocols, accuracy of findings and reliability of interpretations; and Decisions on who should pay what to whom for which possible courses of remedial action. This “blame game” has blocked action in both the U.S. and Vietnam, needlessly prolonging the suffering of millions of U.S. veterans and Vietnamese. – (source)And now, the USDA, in all of their infinite wisdom, intends to expose Americans to one of the deadly ingredients via our food supply.
Corn and soybeans are present in some form in up to 90% of the processed foods available today. So not only will we be exposed to the effects environmentally, anyone who eats processed food will be directly consuming it. Mmmm…Corn with Agent Orange Sauce…Yummy.
Some scientist argue that 2,4-D is not responsible for the horrible human toll extracted by Agent Orange, while others claim the weed-killer is deadly.
According to the Associated Press, scientists don’t believe 2,4-D to be responsible for health complications caused by Agent Orange, and have instead pinpointed the ingredient 2,4,5-T – banned by the EPA in 1985 – as the culprit. Previous findings by the EPA have also declared the weed killer safe to use, but other groups aren’t as confident.
As RT reported in the past, the Natural Resources Defense Council has linked 2,4-D to cases of cancer, genetic mutations and more. In addition the impact on humans, the Save Our Crops Coalition believes it will be extremely difficult to contain the application of the herbicide to a particular area.
“These herbicides have been known to drift and volatilize to cause damage to plants over ten miles away from the point of application,” the coalition claimed. (source)
Proven in the island petri dish of Molokai, the danger of GMO crops is not limited to the consumption of those foods. The farming methods themselves cause an epidemic of deadly health problems to those near the fields, including cancer, respiratory illness, and horrible skin disorders.
The EPA review of these experimental new seeds will occur over the next few months, and if approved (and we all know it will be since the EPA is as much of a sell-out as the USDA) farmers across the country will then be able to plant the new seeds douse the fields with 2,4-D throughout the growing season.
When the very air you depend on to survive is poisoned, what can you do? How can you prep for this?
Agent Orange. It’s coming to a farm near you.
Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor. Her website, The Organic Prepper, where this first appeared, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at email@example.com
While the recent confrontation between Putin’s Russia and Obama’s America has been a masterclass in how to manage one’s foreign interests (where one learns from Putin for those confused) in which Putin largely ignored every attempt at being jawboned by Obama, Kerry and their henchmen, what was left unspoken is that despite the superficial theatrics little would actually escalate since at the end of the day, Russia’s place in a globalized system (not to mention its commodities) is far too important to be jeopardized for political talking points.
Furthermore, as is well-known, when it comes to key players in a global fungible monetary system, a far more important decision-maker than the US government is the FDIC-insured hedge fund that controls all central banks: Goldman Sachs. Which is why it is certainly notable that moments ago none other than Goldman effectively downgraded Russia’s sovereign risk by announcing it is “shifting from constructive to neutral view on Russian sovereign risk.” With the legacy rating agencies now largely moot and irrelevant, what the big banks say suddenly has so much more import. But when the biggest – and most connected – bank of them all, outright lobs a very loud shot across the Gazpromia Russian bow, even Putin listens.
From Goldman’s Clemens Grafe
Shifting from constructive to neutral view on Russian sovereign risk
Russian CDS spreads have tightened by more than those of peers in recent months, as Russia’s fundamentals remain strong and Russia, in our view, is less exposed to the slower pace of Fed asset purchases and higher global interest rates than many other EMs. However, two recent developments cause us to shift from a constructive to a neutral view on Russian credit in the near term. First, banking sector liquidity conditions have tightened significantly as the regulator has substantially stepped up bank oversight actions by withdrawing licences from 30 banks this year (1.2% of retail deposits in the system). While we currently find little evidence of systemic banking sector stress, we believe the risk of bank stress developing – and of potential sovereign exposure – resulting from the regulator’s actions has nonetheless risen. Second, Russian bank and sovereign exposure to both Belarus and Ukraine – credits that have deteriorated substantially in recent years – is both large (around 2% of GDP) and expected to rise further, especially in light of the recently-announced Russian financial assistance package for Ukraine. In our view, both of these factors could be credit-negative for the Russian sovereign.
Russian credit has outperformed peers recently
CDS spreads of Russia’s peers (as measured by credit rating) have tightened by 25bp since June, while Russia’s spread has tightened by 40bp. Russia has, thus, outperformed peers in the past six months. This was in line with the argument that we made in early September that Russian fundamentals are stronger than those of peers on many of the metrics that are important for credit ratings and, in particular, in external variables (current account) and balance sheet (debt stock) metrics, which have been of high market relevance in recent months in the context of the focus on the Fed’s slowing pace of balance sheet expansion. We continue to think that Russia’s conservative fiscal policy, low debt levels and the central bank’s emphasis on bringing down inflation will cause Russia’s risk premium to decline in the long run.
Rising banking sector concerns potentially discounted by current market pricing
However, as we argued in September and as ratings agencies have also emphasized in the past, it is institutional factors such as the structure of the banking sector and potential sovereign exposure to bank bailouts that are holding back ratings upgrades and that prevent Russian risk premia from decreasing below their post-crisis range. However, in recent months the CBR has stepped up its bank regulation efforts to address this issue. In particular, the CBR has withdrawn licences from 30 banks so far this year. While the number of banks concerned is only slightly higher than in previous years (22 in 2012 and 18 in 2011), the size of the banks affected has been larger, with total retail deposits in banks concerned in 2013 of RUB177bn (1.2% of system retail deposits), up from RUB23bn last year. Deposit losses from these banks have so far been covered entirely by the national deposit insurance fund (Agency for Deposit Insurance), which currently has around US$4-6bn of funds available for this purpose. In the long run, we think that strengthening bank supervision is clearly positive for Russian risk.
However, in the short term, these bank closures have introduced some concerns in the banking sector. Liquidity conditions have tightened, with Ruonia having risen to 6.5%, the upper limit of the CBR’s interest rate corridor, and overnight and 1-month Mosprime rates have risen toward 7% (150bp above the main policy rate). While unsecured interbank funding has not been that important as a source of funding for Russian banks, access to this market for many second- and third-tier banks has recently tightened further. Daily Ruonia volumes have fallen from around RUB100bn mid-year to RUB60bn at present. While some of the tightening in liquidity conditions is likely due to seasonal factors (in particular, strong cash demand in December in anticipation of the holiday season), we believe that this is not the driving force behind the recent dynamics.
While, in our view, there is little evidence of systemic stress in the banking sector at present and while we think that larger banks would be well-insulated from any shocks, we do think the CBR’s recent actions have increased the risk of stress developing in the banking sector. CBR actions have focused on banks below the top 50 and, so far, we have not seen any of the larger banks affected by recent CBR actions. In addition, given that the equity capital in the larger banks is likely significantly higher, it is less probable that there would be a concern with these banks and many of these would also likely be deemed systemically-important. Although we think the likelihood of system-wide banking sector stress has risen, we nonetheless think it remains low. Given the system’s low dependence on interbank funding, a more serious deterioration would require large-scale flows of deposits, for which there is little evidence so far. At the same time, banks appear to have significant liquidity buffers, judging from loan-to-asset ratios for most smaller banks of 0.50-0.55.
That said, to quantify potential exposure, we present below a table of loans/deposits of Russian banks ranked by total bank asset size. What we find is that retail deposits in banks below the top 50 amount in aggregate to around US$100bn. While government deposit insurance is up to RUB700,000 per account and we do not have details on the distribution of retail deposit sizes, we would see US$100bn as an upper bound on potential sovereign exposure in the event of the emergence of real stress in the banking sector. This exposure, in our view, could justify a more cautious stance on Russian sovereign risk than we argued several months ago.
Balance sheet exposure to low-rated sovereigns also a potential concern
Russia has also increased its sovereign, corporate and banking-sector (largely state-owned) exposure to lower-rated CIS credits in recent years. This has happened as a result of financial assistance packages provided to neighbouring Belarus and Ukraine. While aggregated information on this exposure is very difficult to obtain, there are some data to suggest that this exposure is both large and increasing. In addition, credit risk has increased in both Ukraine and Belarus at the same time as Russia’s exposure to these credits has grown, as evidenced by their ratings downgrades and widening CDS spreads
Crash on Demand: David Holmgren updates his Future Scenarios: Review
David Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept, published Future Scenarios in 2007, originally as a website, and then published by Chelsea Green in 2008 as a small book (126 pages). He explores four possible human futures as the two great crises of Peak Oil and Climate Change converge into what he has coined ourenergy descent future. In my view, this is essential reading. Adam Grubb, founder of Energy Bulletin, characterized it like this:
These aren’t two-dimensional nightmarish scenarios designed to scare people into environmental action. They are compellingly fleshed-out visions of quite plausible alternative futures, which delve into energy, politics, agriculture, social, and even spiritual trends. What they do help make clear are the best strategies for preparing for and adapting to these possible futures.
Three years later, in 2010, Holmgren contributed an additional important essay,Money Vs. Fossil Energy: The Battle for Control of the World. Holmgren describes this essay as “a framework for understanding the ideological roots of the current global crisis that I believe is more useful than the now tired Left Right political spectrum.” Like all of his work, it is based on a profound energetic literacy, and is quite startling and original, and “challenges much of the strategic logic behind current mainstream climate change activism.”
A year ago, in a December 2012 interview, Holmgren was asked:
What do you see as the biggest challenges in our struggle to control our resources today?
After a lifetime of focusing on the biological basis for existence, and then the energetic basis, I’ve now become more and more interested in money, ironically, after ignoring it for most of my life. On the downside of the energy peak, it’s actually the bubble economies that can unravel so fast, that become almost the most important thing in shaping the immediate future. That bubble economy is, of course, actually falling apart right now. So a lot of the mainstream sustainability strategies assume we have a growing and steady economy. Permaculture works from the basis that we can adapt and do these adaptions in an ad-hoc way from the bottom up, and we’ve been doing that essentially for 30 years without the support of government and corporations. I’m not saying that we’ve got all the answers, but there’s a lot of people out there who are modeling and have been modeling how creative responses are going to happen.
The 2013 Update
And now a year later, as 2013 draws to a close, David Holmgren has published a new essay (a 24 page pdf download), which is an update of Future Scenarios, builds on Money Vs. Fossil Fuels, and expands his new focus on money and economy. The essay is titled Crash on Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future.
Six years on, of the four scenarios outlined in Future Scenarios, Holmgren is seeing the Brown Tech scenario as the one currently in play, where the decline of fossil fuels unfolds slowly, “but the severity of global warming symptoms is at the extreme end of current mainstream scientific predictions.” The political system is Corporatist, and emphasis is placed on replacing declining conventional fossil fuels with lower grade fossil fuels, which are both more expensive and also release more GGE (Greenhouse Gas Emissions), which exacerbates Climate Change even further. The introduction to this essay states:
David’s argument is essentially that radical, but achievable, behaviour change from dependent consumers to responsible self-reliant producers (by some relatively small minority of the global middle class) has a chance of stopping the juggernaut of consumer capitalism from driving the world over the climate change cliff. It maybe a slim chance, but a better bet than current herculean efforts to get the elites to pull the right policy levers; whether by sweet promises of green tech profits or alternatively threats from mass movements shouting for less consumption.
In the extensive discussions about money and economy, the influence of systems analyst Nicole Foss (Stoneleigh -The Automatic Earth) and economist Steve Keen (Debt Deflation) are strong and freely acknowledged. Holmgren believes that deflationary economics is the most powerful factor shaping our immediate future.
The basic recommendation (as noted in the quote above) is not much different from what David Holmgren has been recommending for 30 years: to engage in a shift away from being a dependent c0nsumer, and toward being a responsible self-reliant producer for your household and community, and to shift a significant portion of assets out of the mainstream economy and move them into building household and community resilience. These actions not only put us in a more secure position, they also, if engaged by perhaps 10% of the population of affluent countries, might be just enough to shift our economies out of the perpetual growth paradigm we’ve been inhabiting since at least the industrial revolution, and is now only hanging on via a rising debt bubble. The collapse of the current bubble economy will be painful. However, given that current growth is only being made possible by rising debt, we are not doing ourselves any favors by perpetuating it. As he had previously pointed out in Future Scenarios:
…without radical behavioral and organizational change that would threaten the foundations of our growth economy, greenhouse gas emissions along with other environmental impacts will not decline. Economic recession is the only proven mechanism for a rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and may now be the only real hope for maintaining the earth in a habitable state.
Holmgren makes the case that while it may be too late for the Green Tech scenario to materialize, it may still be possible to avoid the worst effects of the Brown Tech scenario (a 4 to 6 degree “Climate Cooker” Lifeboats scenario). A severe global economic collapse could switch off enough GGE to begin reversing climate change, so that the Earth Steward scenario of bioregional economies based on frugal rural agrarian living, assisted by resources salvaged from the collapsed global economy and the defunct national governments, might emerge in the long term future.
It’s not a picture of a bright and shiny future, granted. The last 10 pages or so, however, I found to be quite stimulating, and opened up more possibilities for positive engagement. Topics discussed are Nested Scenarios (different scenarios co-existing at different scales); Investment and Divestment; Formal and Informal Economies; Alternative and Non-monetary Economies; Labor and Skill Vs Fossil Fuel and Technology; Brown Tech Possibilities; Actors at the Fringe; and Not Financial Terrorists (but Terra-ists with hands in the soil). There are also many great footnotes/links worth following up on.
This is a highly recommended essay – essential reading for those trying to make sense of our long term future and how we can best make a positive difference.
It’s like a futuristic film with hoards of evil masses of people, poverty-stricken, living off the land, while the rich and wealthy continue to lord it, served to their hearts content and just raking it in, while the others hardly get enough to eat and drink. Yes, the resources of the planet are finite for the moment. Yes, those resources belong to the same people and yes the lands are worked for the benefit of the dollar-hungry few, while the money-poor subsist on what scraps get thrown to them. But, it might look like the future, but the present certainly resembles very much the long-forgotten past. We haven’t come very far since the days of feudalism, have we? There is still a power-crazed lord of the manor there that is just a business tycoon under another name. There are still the poor vassals that eke out their existence and wait in expectant eagerness for the bones to get tossed to them as the lord and his ladies walk off into the ramparts of the castle. This time it’s the water and the agricultural lands that are the much-sought after means of wealth. They bring down governments these days and oust leaders.
Water and Agriculture are already the cause of many a dispute in the world and even more so in the Middle East, in the Near East and in Africa. Take the example of ex-President Mohamed Morsi and his fall from power. The Ethiopians decided to spend $3 billion on the building of a hydraulic damn to siphon off the Nile. In May 2013, Morsi convened a meeting to discuss the project and it quickly turned into a fiasco with the media as it was transmitted live (by mistake or on purpose) on national television. The meeting went from decision-making discussions to threats of declaring war and to bribery of senior Ethiopian officials, via the destruction of the dam itself by Egyptian forces. Just a few weeks later, Morsi had fallen from power.
Water is everything from economic survival to territorial appropriation. It’s the cause of the downfall of governments and the revolt of the masses in countries that saw the ousting of their leaders during the Arab Springs. No country in the region was in a position to assume agricultural independence and each country has suffered from the increased dependence on water. There were food crises that hit those nations in 2007 as the Western world was being hit by their own financial crisis. The governments of countries in the regions massively invested in agriculture to keep the barking dogs at bay. But, that did nothing but increase the financial pressure on the economy and brought about hyperinflation. The governments were to some extent the cause of their own strife.
- Saudi Arabia pays out a billion dollars per month for imported food.
- Egypt forked out $3 billion for wheat alone in 2010.
- The countries of the Gulf import some 90% of their food today.
- Food prices got out of control in the lead up to the Arab Springs when the United Nations published figures showing that price indexes rose from 2009’s level of 157 to over 230 in 2011.
- Wheat increased over that same period by 30%.
According to the Pierre Blanc from the CIHEAM research laboratory (International Center for Agronomy Studies, France), the future will be worse as agricultural lands are transformed into deserts. Climate change coupled with demographic transitions (increasing numbers of people are huddled together on small pieces of land – in Egypt 95% of the population lives on 5% of the land, for example) in countries in the water-poor regions of the world will lead to increased hydraulic demand that will not be met by available supplies today. While the regions remain politically unstable, the volatility of governments and policies will only mean that it will pave the way for increased disputes over the sharing of resources. Recent discoveries of oil reserves and gas along the Mediterranean coastline between Egypt, Israel Lebanon and Syria as well as Turkey and Cyprus will mean that those countries (as well as other nations in the Western world) will be vying for a place to exploit those reserves to a maximum.
- Egypt has until now supplied 50% of Israel’s energy needs.
- But that may change in the future with the discovery of Tamar and Leviathan gas reserves.
- Tamar (282 billion m3) would allow Israel to ensure its energy needs for the next 25 years.
- Leviathan (540 billion m3) would be a surplus that would enable Israel to rake in a great deal of money.
- 60% of Leviathan will be used for domestic consumption in Israel, while 40% will be exported to other countries.
- The other countries along the coastline seem to have equally promising amounts of gas and petrol in areas under their exclusive economic control.
Where there are resources that we want, there is a fight for power; that struggle turns into political upheaval and change. Too much testosterone will be flying around there yet again and everyone will be playing out their role of the alpha male to dominate the others.
A glass of orange juice in the morning is something many of us take for granted. But that might soon change thanks to a citrus disease affecting every major orange-growing region in the world.
The world’s orange crop is being threatened by “citrus greening,” a bacterial infection carried by a fly that feeds on citrus leaves.
Jack Payne, a senior vice-president of agriculture at the University of Florida, is leading the charge to find a cure in that state where citrus trees are being destroyed in large numbers.
In the science world, the condition is “better known as HLB which stands for huanglongbing, and the reason why it’s become known as citrus greening is that once the tree succumbs to the disease, the fruit remains green,” he explains.
“After about five years, the tree dies, and during that time you have less and less production, the sweetness never develops. It’s a very sour-tasting fruit.”
Citrus greening originated in China and made its first serious impact back in the 1940s and ’50s. But the destruction then was largely regional, among producers in China and Taiwan.
Since then, the disease has spread across much of Asia and, over the past few decades, arrived in the North American and South American growing regions of Florida and Brazil.
Payne says the results have been devastating in Florida where oranges have been the state’s signature crop. “This was first discovered in 2005. Our ag-economists at the university have estimated that since that time there has been a $4-billion loss in revenue to the citrus growers and 6,000 jobs lost.”
Citrus greening has no known cure, apart from additional pesticide use to try to keep the flies away, and additional fertilizer use. But even those techniques haven’t been completely successful, and only kept he disease at bay for a few seasons.
That’s why Payne has been pursuing other avenues, like genetic modification to develop orange varieties that are resistant to the fly.
This week also saw the U.S. Department of Agriculture join the fight in earnest with the announcement that it is creating an “emergency response framework” to tackle the disease.
In the meantime, Florida is inching closer to significant agricultural change.
With 6,000 jobs lost and revenues down billions, oranges may not be the future in Florida. Increasingly, orange farmers are tearing out groves and replacing them with blueberries, strawberries and peaches.
Urgent: The public comment period on actions to protect bees from neonicotinoids in Canada closes today!
Professor Dave Goulson is a UK biologist who specializes in bees. He has published over 200 scientific articles on the ecology of bees and other insects, and is the author of Bumblebees: Their behaviour, ecology and conservation (2010, Oxford University Press) and A Sting in the Tale (2013, Jonathan Cape), a popular science book about bumblebees.
In 2010 he was BBSRC “Social Innovator of the Year” and in 2013 he won the Marsh Award for Conservation Biology from the Zoological Society of London. In 2006 he founded the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, a charity devoted to reversing bumblebee declines.
We spoke to Goulson recently to get the scoop on all this buzz about neonicotinoids.
A\J: George Monbiot, who quotes your work in his blog, says that the EU ban is not comprehensive or meaningful – that only a few kinds of neonicotinoids will be banned and that the class of pesticides as a whole will continue to be used widely.
DG: It’s not a complete ban at all. It’s only two years, so it’s temporary, it applies only to seed dressing on flowering crops, so canola, corn, sunflowers, and only the drilling of seed-treated crops in the spring and summer when bees are flying because of the dust that’s created that leads to fairly swift death for bees. It does not apply to foliar sprays on fruit and vegetables, garden use, or to seed dressings on winter wheat, which is a big crop in Europe that is drilled in the autumn. But lots of them will still be used and, given their persistence in soil, there will be lots swilling around. And even if there were a total ban for two years, because of their persistence I wouldn’t expect bee populations to be bouncing back as a result. It would take many years for these compounds to be removed from the soil.
A\J: My research on this issue indicates that bees are only one factor – that many other invertebrates and birds are threatened by these chemicals. Is part of the problem that services provided by bees can be fairly easily quantified in economic terms? Is this focus on bees at the expense of the bigger picture?
DG: I would agree completely. One of the reasons you highlight is that bees get all the attention because everyone understands that they are important, but fewer people understand the importance of worms, earwigs, etc. The second thing is that beekeepers notice when their bees die. But wild organisms have no one to look after them and no one to notice if they are having problems. The first people to notice the effects of neonicotinoids were French beekeepers back in the 1990s. But there are lots of insects in the environment that we don’t want to be killed that are also being exposed. This can be through build up in soil and water, and the pesticides can be drawn up by non-crop roots. There is every reason to suspect that the effects are much, much broader than just bees, be we have no good monitoring programs for these other organisms.
A\J: Do we have a handle on how effective neonics are at increasing crop yields? Can it be quantified?
DG: This is the most interesting thing of all. There is no doubt we need farming; we need to produce sufficient food efficiently. If these pesticides were vital to farming we might just have to accept bee kills. The irony is that there is no evidence that they are effective. Pest management in farming is not based on evidence; it’s not based on field trials. Recently there have been a few studies from the US on soybeans that found no effect on yields whatsoever. Farmers are paying good money for seed treatments that don’t benefit them in any way. There is a fundamental problem with the system, in my view, which is that most agronomic advice to farmers comes from people who work for agrichemical companies. So it’s hardly surprising that they are recommending farmers use lots of agrichemicals. And it seems as if some of the ones they are recommending aren’t doing anything. It might sound a bit crazy, but look at it this way – we all buy things that we don’t need all the time: cosmetics that don’t do anything, vitamin supplements that don’t do anything, and so on. We are all easily convinced to buy things we don’t need and farmers have no other source of information. They can’t choose not to use these chemicals anyway, because it’s impossible to get untreated seed at present, so they don’t even have a choice. They are forced to pay for something that doesn’t work, which I think is pretty outrageous and I think if farmers knew that, they might well be quite unhappy.
A\J: Are you saying that after getting their education, most agronomists end up working for agrichemical companies?
DG: I’m not an expert on the Canadian system, but I can tell you that in the UK, 80 per cent of agronomists work directly for agrichemical companies and I believe the situation is similar here.
A\J: If corn, soy and canola farmers are prevented from using neonics, what alternatives will they have? Will these be more harmful?
DG: The first response to this is whether they need an alternative at all. If these chemicals aren’t benefiting their yield, then clearly they don’t need to be replaced with anything. IF one makes the assumption that for someone, somewhere, neonics are providing some small benefit, although there’s no evidence for this, then farmers might want to use something else. They won’t go back to using organophosphates as they have been banned. It’s more likely that farmers might increase their use of pyrethroids slightly, which are being used currently anyway – most seeds treated with neonics are also sprayed with pyrethroids. So that’s the worst-case scenario. Now, pyrethroids do kill bees, they are an insecticide, but they do have a big advantage from a bee’s perspective in that they don’t persist in the environment for longer than a few days. So beekeepers can shut their hives or take them away for a few days, while neonics are in the environment 365 days a year.
A\J: One of our bloggers has suggested that it’s time to rethink they way we practice agriculture – that enormous monocultures are extremely hard on soil, water, wildlife and humans. Are you able to comment on that?
DG: I would say that modern agriculture is probably not sustainable in the long term globally. We are losing absurd amounts of soil from repeatedly plowing in parts of the world where winds or heavy rains can wash it away. We are using up underground aquifers in some of the more arid parts of the world; we have problems of salinization in some parts of the world. We are reducing the ability of the planet to produce food globally. We do need to rethink the ways we are producing food.
A\J: John Bennett of Sierra Club Canada has noted that western Canada hasn’t seen the same die off as we in eastern and central Canada have. He wonders if it might be the difference between corn and canola production. Do you have any insight on that?
DG: I don’t know the details on that, but I’ve heard the same arguments. Application of neonics on canola is much lower than on corn. But the problems for bees are not just pesticides. Bees have been suffering for many decades because there aren’t many flowers left. Modern farming doesn’t leave room for anything but the crop. This applies more to wild bees than to honeybees, but they’ve all undergone a 70-year decline due to lack of food. On top of that we’ve accidentally introduced disease and parasites, and now we’re poisoning them. It’s this combination of stressors that’s at the heart of the problem. Bees could cope with one of them, or maybe two, but if you throw three or more factors at them they get into trouble. So maybe there are fewer stressors in the west or they exist in different combination. It may also come down to the application rate of the pesticides. I have heard that this may be exaggerated, that western bees are not as healthy as they are made out to be, but I don’t have any figures on that.
A\J: Do you have a take away message for us?
DG: I’m always really keen to get people to not just talk about honeybees. Pollination is done by a whole load of different insects and they are all really important and all need looking after. Bees have their champions, but all organisms need to be protected.
You’ve got just enough time left to tell Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency Publications Section what you think about a potential ban – comments are due today! Get the details here.