Human Development Report 2014 – Resilience and Vulnerability

cq5dam.web.221.289At Agriculture for Impact we talk a lot about resilience and in particular how farms and rural economies can become more resilient to shocks and stresses like climate change, pests and diseases and food price fluctuations. In the new UNDP Human Development Report 2014 released recently, the concept of resilience in terms of individuals, communities and of global political systems is explored. As the report states, “resilience is about ensuring that state, community and global institutions work to empower and protect people”.

In particular the report highlights the precariousness with which we view advances in human development, improvements in peoples’ welfare and the state of the environment and global governance. Corruption, environmental and humanitarian crises, crime, changing leadership, negligence of key sectors such as health and civil unrest can all spell disaster for progress made in tackling poverty, malnutrition, food insecurity, environmental degradation and poor health. As the report states achievements in human development should not only be measured in terms of the gains made but in how secure these gains are or how likely they are to be lost when under pressure. Key then for this report is exploring the vulnerability of current progress and of future human development being sustained. The report also emphasises how human vulnerability, in this case taken as the erosion of people’s capabilities and choices, prevents human development.

Vulnerability appears to be on the increase due to continued environmental degradation, climate change and instability in financial systems. Perhaps this is contributing to the rate of progress in human development falling significantly since 2008. Globalisation increases connectivity around the world which can increase resilience but also introduce vulnerability across broader areas. If one system faces collapse its interconnectedness puts other systems at risk while national abilities to address shocks and stresses become more tied to global rules. A global system seeking to build resilience, however, can be supportive of actions at a local scale.

To understand the causes of vulnerability the report asks why certain people do better in the face of adversity than others and what enabling environment helps people become less vulnerable and thus more resilient. Typically we think of women, children and the elderly as being more vulnerable whether in terms of personal safety, health or economic freedom but what type of interventions can lessen this vulnerability? Responsive policy mechanisms, institutions and social norms that diminish vulnerability and structures that support human choice and empowerment could be included in these. For the most vulnerable groups in society, targeted and sustained interventions are needed as is addressing inequality. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Africa Needs Science, Not Aid, The New York Times

Biotechnology in Africa, Springer

AfDB’s NERICA dissemination project receives US Treasury Award, PAEPARD

Can we change the goals of development without changing the implementers?, IIED

Fishy business, Nature

Climate change research goes to the extremes, Northeastern

Harvest of controversy, The Hindu

UPDATE 1-Brazil farmers say GMO corn no longer resistant to pests, Reuters

Geneticists offer clues to better rice, tomato crops, Phys.org

Climate change wins precarious slot in proposed development goals, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Milking it in Malawi, Global Food Security [Read more...]

Hunger – An Outdated Problem

Agriculture for Impact recently found out about a new online platform and campaign, Transfernation, aiming to tackle hunger through food re-distribution. Here one of their founders, Samir Goel, talks about why we need to shift our thinking about food to tackle hunger, an issue that should be a problem of the past.

THunger is an issue that is talked about constantly: at conferences and congregations, by the average farmer to senior world leaders. In the earlier days of mankind, well before industrialization and the rise of mass food production, this problem made logical sense. The challenge of getting enough food to feed ones family let alone society was a day-to-day struggle for many. Given the massive strides we have made in technology and education since; hunger should be a thing of the past. The fact of the matter is that we produce more than enough food to feed significantly more people than the entire world’s population.

If there is enough food for everyone why are we faced with widespread hunger and disparity in terms of access to food? We believe the problem lies in our own production system and cultural norms, problems that we can fix right now. Imagine if we could do that: a world in which people no longer go hungry. Perhaps hunger will never be entirely eliminated but it could very well become an afterthought, secondary to some of the other issues we face. In fact if just in America we stopped wasting the estimated forty percent of food produced that goes to waste each year we would be able to feed the entire food insecure population of America and then some. That’s what we are aiming to do here at Transfernation. Transfernation was co-founded in autumn 2013 by Hannah Dehradunwala and myself during our sophomore year of college. Transfernation aims to connect corporations and social institutions so that all the extra food from corporate events can go to homeless shelters and soup kitchens to help those in need. We are currently developing our online platform, which will act as a connector by providing corporations and social institutions with the necessary information to schedule food pick-ups to redistribute corporate extra to where it is needed. Eventually we aspire to become the person-to-person food-sharing network, essentially a “Craigslist for food”. [Read more...]

Sustainable Development Goals – an update

ID-10027716On the 19th July after 7 days of discussions, the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed an outcome document containing 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets. The OWG, which comprises of 30 representatives from the five UN regional groups nominated by UN Member States, and the commitment to create the SDGs came out of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012. The OWG’s primary responsibility has been to create the proposed SDGs and this proposal will be submitted to the UN General Assembly for consideration at its 68th session on the 24th September 2014.

Taking place at the UN headquarters in New York, OWG 13, chaired by Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Csaba Kőrösi of Hungary, was extended by a day due to overnight negotiations. In particular discussions around the issues of climate change; sexual and reproductive health; peaceful and inclusive societies; rule of law; accountable and inclusive institutions, as well as the implementation of the goals called for an extended negotiation period. But agreement was reached and the final 17 SDGs proposed are:

Proposed Sustainable Development Goals

  1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
  5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
  7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all
  8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
  9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
  11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
  16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

[Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Big Data and development: Upsides, downsides and a lot of questions, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Cash Crops With Dividends: Financiers Transforming Strawberries Into Securities, The New York Times

Video: ‘Journey of a gene’ illustrates science of genetic engineering for consumers, Genetic Literacy Project

Why NGOs can’t be trusted on GMOs, The Guardian

The Guardian, Marc Gunther and some NGOs can’t be trusted on GMOs, Political Concern

International Food Security Assessment, 2014-24, USDA

On Trial: Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, Chatham House

Could businesses do for aid what Amazon did for retail?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Missing Food, APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development

The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States, CAST

‘Peak soil’ threatens future global food security, Reuters [Read more...]

Efficiency the key to feeding more people without environmental damage

ID-10028951A new report by researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, published in Science, shows that an extra 3 billion people in the world need not lead to higher levels of hunger if existing cropland is used more efficiently, additionally reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. The report focused on 17 crops that account for 86% of the world’s crop calories as well as the majority of irrigation and fertilizer use. The hope is that the report can help guide and prioritise donors’ and policy makers’ activities for the greatest benefit.

The report identifies three areas of priority that, with the suggested actions, hold the most potential for meeting global food needs and reducing agriculture’s environmental footprint, a key pillar of sustainable intensification. Geographically the majority of these opportunities occur in China, India, U.S., Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan and Europe. To summarise we need:

1. To produce more food on existing land, in particular closing yield gaps. An estimated 850 million people could be fed by closing the most dramatic yield gaps, in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, by 50%.

Closing yield gaps may seem a simple task through technology and access to productive resources but the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) believe that we need to rethink how we approach yield gaps, taking a whole systems approach.

2. To grow crops more efficiently, in particular using water and nutrients more precisely and reducing climate impacts. The largest potential gains in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as pinpointed by the study, could come from deforestation in Brazil and India, rice production in China and India and crop fertilization in the U.S.

The U.S., China and India, and particularly their maize, rice and wheat production, were also found to be the largest sources of the overuse of nutrients in the world. Across the globe 60% of nitrogen and around 50% of phosphorus applications are in excess of amounts needed by crops. A 2012 article on China Dialogue highlights the dangers of overusing fertilizer. Improving the efficiency of fertilizer use would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Together with Pakistan these countries are also responsible for the majority of irrigation water use, water that could be reduced by 8 to 15% without yield penalties by improving crop water use efficiency.

3. To use crops more efficiently, in particular reducing food waste and reducing the proportion of crop calories going into livestock feed as opposed to directly for human consumption. Current crop animal feed, predominantly maize, could feed approximately 4 billion people. Such a shift would require widespread behavioural change, reducing the overreliance on meat in developed countries, although the report’s authors highlight the potential to shift crops from livestock to humans in times of crisis. [Read more...]

What we’ve been reading this week

This week’s summary on the news stories, reports and blogs that have grabbed our attention. We welcome your thoughts and comments on these articles.

Roadmap for Strengthening Forest and Farm Producer Organizations, FAO

Six innovations revolutionising farming, The Guardian

Could insects feed the hungry world of tomorrow?, BBC

Beating the heat, Nature Biotechnology

Crop yields and global food security, Australian Government (GRDC)

Acres of genetically modified corn nearly doubled in a decade, Harvest Public Media

What’s the best way to measure empowerment?, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Majority of African Farm Workers Struggle to Afford Food, Gallup

Wild about Agricultural Innovation in Botswana, Global Food for Thought

Pesticide blamed for bee deaths now linked to bird declines, Los Angeles Times

Food Security and WTO Domestic Support Disciplines post-Bali, ICTSD

Why does Europe hate genetically modified food?, Rappler

Can Africa create a new green generation of food producers?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Higher Food Prices Can Help to End Hunger, Malnutrition and Food Waste, IPS

[Read more...]

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