7 short videos on big ideas for improving water use in agriculture

ID-10038665Last week was World Water Week, an annual gathering, starting in 1991, to focus on the globe’s water issues. This year’s event, hosted and organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), had the theme water and energy. One of the main outcomes of the events was a plea to the energy and agricultural industry to reduce waste and improve water use efficiencies ahead of UN climate talks taking place in Lima, Peru in December and in Paris next year. In particular World Water Week focused on the critical role of water in climate change, in human health and in energy and food production – the majority of the world’s freshwater withdrawals going to power and food production, and manufacturing in Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa. The agricultural sector will be key, therefore, in addressing future water resource scarcities.

A commonly cited statistic is that we will need to produce at least 70% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Such an endeavour will require a doubling of water efficiencies and significant efforts to protect water resources under climate change. Demand for fresh water is projected to grow 55% from 2000 to 2050. Alongside the need to increase production is the need to reduce food waste with around a third of food, and the water used in producing this food, thought to be wasted. In the 2013 FAO report, Food Wastage Footprint: Impacts on Natural Resources the impacts of global food wastage on the climate, water, land use, and biodiversity were explored. Torgny Holmgren, SIWI’s executive director claimed that “Reducing the waste of food is the smartest and most direct route to relieve pressure on water and land resources,”

World Water Week began with industry executives and scientists discussing how to reduce food waste and use water more efficiently in agriculture. And while many companies and individuals are taking up this challenge – the Stockholm Industry Water Award was given to PepsiCo Inc. for reducing water consumption in production and increasing water efficiency, saving almost 16 billion litres of water in 2013 from a 2006 baseline – much more needs to be done.

To highlight some of the challenges and solutions to reducing water use in farming we’ve put together some of our favourite videos on water and agriculture.

World Water Week 2014: Energy and Water

The World Water Week, held August 31 – September 5 in Stockholm, is the leading annual global event for addressing the planet’s water and development issues. Hosted by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the event attracts thousands of participants from over 130 countries. This year’s theme: Water and Energy will address some of the most urgent challenges facing our world. Global demand for energy as well as water is booming. Demand for both is projected to increase by over 50 per cent during the coming decades. This narrated piece describes the week, and this year’s theme, in more detail.

Water use on an African farm – Send a Cow

This video follows Eric in Uganda to find out how he uses water on his family farm. They need 15 jerry cans of 20 litres each every day for the home, farm animals and vegetable gardens. But it’s a one mile walk to the borehole. The family does it’s best to harvest rainwater from the roof and save water by composting, mulching and using water saving technologies like a Tip-Tap and water bottle drip irrigation.

Managing water wisely on African farms – Green Shoots

Water is precious. Using water wisely on farm is essential, believes Benson Njoroge from Kenya. In this film he explains how and why managing water wisely matters. This film, one of eleven, is being used to share good agricultural practice in Africa.

How water data can help farmers in the Upper Volta – ThinkBeyondTheTap

Fred Kitzo, based in IWMI’s Ghana office, researches the water resource challenges facing agriculture in the Upper Volta region. Water data is vital, he says, to help farmers and policy makers make more sustainable resource management decisions. [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.

Tropical forests illegally destroyed for commercial agriculture, The Guardian

FAO food price index drops to four-year low, FAO

Rise in greenhouse-gas concentrations continues at alarming rate, Nature

How will the new EU team line up on GMOs, TTIP and energy?, Ecologist

Agricultural revolution in Africa could increase global carbon emissions, Purdue University

Demand for agricultural products drives ‘shock’ tree loss in tropical forests, BBC

Women are much more powerful in agriculture than you might think, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Plant diversity in China vital for global food security, University of Birmingham

Amazon deforestation jumps 29%, The Guardian

Report: A new approach to governing GM crops? Lessons from Brazil, Mexico and India, University of Durham

Harmonizing crop trait data: Crop Ontology, Bioversity International

Corporate influence through the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa, Wolfgang Obenland

Field trial of Xanthomonas wilt disease-resistant bananas in East Africa, Nature [Read more...]

AGRF, CAADP and an African agenda for 2063

headerimgHeld over 5 days from the 1st September in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the African Union’s annual Africa Green Revolution Forum this year was centred on the AU designated ‘Year of Agriculture and Food Security’ and the political will needed to achieve sustainable food and nutritional security across the continent.

In conjunction with the 2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security, a report from the AU Commission, presented as a feature issue of the AU ECHO newsletter, highlights stories and experiences from member states of the African Union and from regional institutions as they have worked to implement the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP) over the last 10 years. For example in Rwanda the joint Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Assessment (CFSVA) and National Nutrition Survey of 2012 showed that the proportion of households failing to meet minimum food requirements declined from 35% to 21%, in part due to increased agricultural production and productivity under CAADP I. According to the 2010/11 Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey, poverty incidence reduced from 59% in 2006 to 45% in 2011, and the 2012 Rwanda Economic Update of the World Bank linked almost half of this reduction to developments in agriculture such as production increases and increased commercialisation.

In June 2014 at the African Union summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, African leaders voiced their commitment to prioritising agriculture in national development plans, to ending hunger and to cutting poverty in half by 2025. The declaration also re-affirmed intentions to devote 10% of their national budgets to agricultural development and to achieve 6% annual growth in agricultural GDP as well as double agricultural productivity, halve post-harvest losses and reduce stunting to 10%. The recent forum (AGRF) included discussions between the public and private sectors to turn these commitments into reality and to accelerate agricultural transformation in Africa.

Since 2003 and the Maputo Declaration on CAADP, annual agricultural GDP growth has averaged nearly 4% in Africa, much higher than rates of growth in the decades before but still falling short of commitments. Progress on CAADP is difficult to discern, even within the AU’s report figures differ, but according to ONE, 43 counties have signed up to CAADP, 38 have signed a CAADP compact and 28 have developed national agriculture and food security investment plans. Only 8 countries have consistently attained the 10% of public expenditure to agriculture target, however, although there has been a significant rise in public agricultural spending overall – on average rising by over 7% each year across Africa since 2003, almost double public agricultural expenditures since the launch of CAADP. At the regional level, 4 out of 8 Regional Economic Communities (RECs) have signed regional CAADP compacts and 3 have developed full investment plans.

The report points to some of the challenges facing CAADP over the next 10 years, one of the biggest obstacles cited is a lack of political will and an unpredictable policy climate, which contributes to poor policy coordination, disorganised markets and low domestic and foreign investment in agriculture. The CAADP process is also quoted by the East Africa Farmers Federation as being a complex one, requiring all stakeholders to come together to plan, strategize and hold each other accountable. To date it has largely been state actors able to access the resources needed to participate, and greater effort needs to be made, if CAADP is to be successful, to ensure farmers are included in the CAADP agenda. [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.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of a human rights approach to development?, From Poverty to Power, Oxfam

Africa’s farmers face ‘failed seasons’ risks, BBC

On the Horns of the GMO Dilemma, MIT Technology Review

McDonalds Can Make History — and Rescue Its Brand — With Sustainable Food, Huffington Post

Farm subsidies among OECD nations continue to fall, AgriPulse

Global Warming Is Just One of Many Environmental Threats That Demand Our Attention, Amartya Sen, New Republic

Africa an El Dorado for South Africa’s Agribusiness Giants, Sustainable Pulse

Water ‘thermostat’ could help engineer drought-resistant crops, Science Daily

Cancer deaths double in Argentina’s GMO agribusiness areas, The Ecologist

Changing global diets is vital to reducing climate change, University of Cambridge

Africa: Ambitious Effort to Confront Africa’s Soil Health Crisis, All Africa [Read more...]

Boom and Bust: the future of our food producing ecosystems

ID-100219796A recent paper, No Dominion over Nature, authored by UK ecologists, Professors Mark Huxham, Sue Hartley, Jules Pretty and Paul Tett, describes how current approaches to food production are damaging the long term health of ecosystems, hampering their ability to provide ecosystem services and leaving them vulnerable to collapse. Focusing on continual (and unsustainable) increases in agricultural productivity, for example through intensive monocultures, will inevitably lead to a “boom and bust” cycle.

The “dominant narrative” in meeting the ever increasing demand for food (some estimate we need to increase food production by 100% by 2050 to meet this demand) is to intensify agricultural production, an approach, such as the Green Revolution, that has so far allowed food production to keep pace with population growth. Such a pathway, as authors argue, is causing ecosystem deterioration, eroding the ecosystem services we rely upon such as pollination, climate regulation and water purification. Intensification comes at an economic and ecological cost – ever increasing synthetic input amounts are costly, too costly for some, while they have serious impacts on the environment.

An alternative is low input agriculture such as organic farming, which may not produce the yields to meet future demand without expansion of farming area and similarly poses a threat to the environment with agricultural expansion being a major factor in the conversion of natural habitats, deforestation and biodiversity loss. In particular the report talks about the debate between those arguing for intensification and those for low-input farming, most often framed as an argument between economists and environmentalists, or ostriches and romantics as Paul Collier terms them. Ostriches in that proponents may have their head in the sand ignoring looming environmental and climate crises, romantics in that their advocacy of environmentally friendly approaches such as organic may seem appealing but could have negative impacts, for example increasing the cost of food to account for environmental externalities, which could exacerbate hunger.

The authors reject both approaches suggesting instead “a focus on maintaining ecosystem health through the management of terrestrial and aquatic environments as multifunctional mosaics”. In a sense combining intensive agriculture with neighbouring land that provides ecosystem services in a way that maximises ecosystem resilience. In particular the concepts of bioproductivity, “the ability of ecosystems to capture energy in organic form”, an ability which forms the basis of food production, and thresholds or planetary boundaries are discussed as key management guidelines. Ecosystems should be seen as “functional self-regulating systems” and should be managed to ensure a continual and adequate supply of ecosystem services. [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.

Study: Earth can sustain more terrestrial plant growth than previously thought, News Bureau, Illinois

Seeds of Truth – A response to The New Yorker, Dr Vandana Shiva

New resource shows half of GMO research is independent, GENERA

UN Draft report lists unchecked emissions’ risks, The New York Times

Specter’s New Yorker GMO Labeling Essay Misses the Mark, Just Label It

Seeking Fertile Ground for a Green Revolution in Africa, PAEPARD

Is soil the new oil in Africa’s quest for sustainable development?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

How the private sector can catalyze innovations for feeding Africa, Devex

The good and bad of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), New Vision

Research is ‘no panacea’ for development, finds DFID, SciDev.Net [Read more...]

Regional free trade agreements: secrecy, safety and sovereignty

ID-100223935New global trade deals are currently being negotiated, in part arising from the failings of the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round. Proposals include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). There are, however, many questions on what these agreements will include and what they will mean for those excluded, particularly poorer, developing countries.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States that could be finalised by the end of 2014. On the one hand such an agreement could boost multilateral economic growth while on the other it could increase corporate power perhaps at the expense of public benefit.

Although the EU released a document in July entitled, State of Play of TTIP negotiations ahead of the 6th round of the negotiations, the content of negotiations has been criticised as being opaque and shrouded in secrecy. Governments involved have stated they will not publish draft text. A recent factsheet released by the Office of the US Trade Representative, laid out the US’s objectives with regard to the TTIP, largely revolving around increasing market access, mainstreaming regulations and standards and removing non-tariff trade barriers, for example:

“We seek to eliminate all tariffs and other duties and charges on trade in agricultural, industrial and consumer products between the United States and the EU, with substantial duty elimination on entry into force of the agreement, transition periods where necessary for sensitive products, and appropriate safeguard mechanisms to be applied if and where necessary.”

“We seek to ensure that U.S. investors receive treatment as favorable as that accorded to EU investors or other foreign investors in the EU, and seek to reduce or eliminate artificial or trade-distorting barriers to the establishment and operation of U.S. investment in the EU.”

The TTIP will have impacts across a range of sectors such as energy, agriculture and environment, as well as different rights relating to, for example intellectual property and labour. John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want, explains what the TTIP is and why it is potentially damaging in this booklet. On the issue of food safety, in aiming to create a framework that allows freer trade, both the US and EU may have to reduce current restrictions. In the EU’s case this may be in relaxing standards on genetically modified organisms, on banned veterinary growth hormones or on other meat and poultry products. For the US, this may mean removing limits on European imported beef in response to Mad Cow Disease. Reluctances to lower food standards, in particular on hormone beef and GM, could in fact threaten the TTIP but if not, many fear countries and its citizens will lose control over what can be grown, how food is produced and how safe it is. Other areas of contention could include the EU’s desire to protect Geographical Indications, foods such as Parma ham or Roquefort cheese, to prevent usage by other producers and differing approaches to agri-environment schemes.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy also released a report documenting the “Promises and Perils of the TTIP”. Controversial criticisms of the TTIP include the threat it poses to the UK’s National Health Service and the so-called investor-state dispute settlement, which could allow corporations to sue governments outside of domestic courts. Such a mechanism in other trade agreements has allowed, for example, mining companies to sue governments trying to keep them out of protected areas and banks to fight against national financial regulations, as George Monbiot explains in The Guardian.

As more details of the TTIP are coming to light, many of the benefits of such a partnership are being questioned while the risks are seemingly very real. In particular the secrecy of negotiations and large role played by corporations in these negotiations is of concern. The potential risks most talked about are in the EU and US themselves with little said about the broader impacts. The German aid organisation Brot für die Welt, however, warns against an EU-US free trade agreement saying it “will undermine local support for smallholders in developing countries and exacerbate the global food crisis” while others believe the TTIP will do little for environmental sustainability and other global challenges.

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is also a free trade agreement currently being negotiated and will cover twelve countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Negotiations for what could be the largest regional free trade agreement in history have been ongoing since 2005, and although expected to be concluded in 2012, disagreement around issues such as agriculture, intellectual property, and services and investments have delayed the process. [Read more...]

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