What we’ve been reading this week

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

Urbanisation, value chains, food systems

Growing Food for Growing Cities: Transforming Food Systems in an Urbanizing World, Chicago Council

Are cities doing enough on climate change? Residents say no, Green Biz

Shifting our Approach: Four Priorities for a More Sustainable Food System, The Chicago Council

Done sensibly, agricultural development can reduce poverty in Africa, The Conversation

Small-scale producers in the development of tea value-chain partnerships, ifad

Shifting our Approach: Four Priorities for a More Sustainable Food System, Chicago Council

Climate change

Promising climate for investment, Thomson Reuters Foundation

How should we compensate poor countries for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change? The Conversation

Why the Paris climate change goals may already be slipping beyond reach, The Guardian [Read more…]

Agricultural biotechnology and development: unintended consequences and unheard voices

 

Date palm tissue culture laboratory – Picture from FAO

GM crops have once again come under the spotlight with the recent news that Burkina Faso will no longer be growing Bt cotton (a genetically modified cotton variety, which produces a pesticide to counter the insect pest bollworm). Originally an early adopter of the technology, Burkina Faso became one of the first African countries to develop and release, with Monsanto, crosses of local and Bt cotton crops in 2008. As one of Africa’s largest cotton producers, their adoption of GM technology was ground-breaking. And, at least for some time, successful, increasing cotton production, yields and profits while reducing the number of pesticide sprays needed. With some 140,000 smallholders cultivating Bt cotton, it was also seen to de driving rural development, the average Bt cotton farming family reaping 50% more profits than families growing conventional cotton.

So why the reversal? The lint quality of Bt cotton varieties is poor and, as such, results in economic losses for the Burkinabè cotton companies that market it. Since they provide all seeds and inputs to cotton farmers, they have the power to phase out Bt cotton growing in the industry, which will take place over the next two years. In this case while the technology was boosting production and reducing pesticide use, an unintended impact on lint quality has become too big a hurdle for cotton companies to overcome. Now questions are being asked as to whether the same is likely to happen in other locations and situations, perhaps as a side effect of a “narrow, trait specific approach to addressing agricultural development”.

Despite this news from Burkina Faso, the argument in support of GM crops has somewhat intensified, with a recent article from Tim Benton, Professor of Population Ecology, University of Leeds reasserting that GM crops are one of a myriad of technologies and practices that we will need to feed the world. Since growth in yields are no longer increasing fast enough to meet projected food demand, we will need to expand crop land by an estimated 42% by 2050. This has broader consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as for greenhouse gas emissions, of which those associated with farming and food are currently set to push us past the 1.5℃ temperature-rise target set in Paris in 2015.

As Professor Benton explains, to avoid food shortages or the broader impacts of agricultural expansion we must either reduce demand for food or increase supply. The latter is about employing more efficient forms of agriculture, better land management but also technology to raise yields. How much of this technology will be comprised of biotechnology or genetic modification is unknown.

Some would like to see this be zero – for genetic modification to have no role in shaping future food supply. But could this opinion and the campaigning of anti-GM groups be harmful to food security? The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), in their new report, estimates that “the current restrictive climate for agricultural biotech innovations could cost low- and lower- middle-income nations up to $1.5 trillion in foregone economic benefits through 2050”. They also calculate that due to regulations and export limits that prevent widespread adoption of biotechnology, the lack of access to biotech innovations in farming has cost African agricultural economies at least $2.5 billion between 2008 and 2013. [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.

Nutrition and Food Secuirty

What Works for Nutrition? Success stories from Vietnam, Uganda & Kenya, Results, Concern Worldwide and University of Westminster

Beans and Other Paragons of Dietary Virtue, CIAT Blog

24 TED Talks That Will Help Save the Food System, FoodTank

Good Governance Is the Only Real Way to Provide Food Security, World Politics Review

Can the G7 new alliance reduce hunger and poverty in Malawi? Concern Universal, ChristianAid, CISANET & CEPA

In Kenya, Improving Food Security and HIV Outcomes through Farming, Scientific American

Climate change 

Warming set to breach 1C threshold, BBC News

Rapid, Climate-Informed Development Needed to Keep Climate Change from Pushing More than 100 Million People into Poverty by 2030, World Bank

UN climate fund releases $183m to tackle global warming, The Guardian

The devil is in the detail, E3G

Leadership on Climate Change: COP21 & Beyond, SustainAbility

Linking Food Security and Climate Change: what role for the private sector? ecdpm [Read more…]

Gene therapy for a changing climate

By Emily Alpert

Credit C. Schubert, CCAFS

Credit C. Schubert, CCAFS

The rains are too short. Or are they too long? The temperature seems to be hotter. Maybe the air is getting drier here and wetter there? For certain, the weather is becoming less and less predictable under climate change and African smallholder farmers are amongst the most vulnerable. Already, temperatures in Africa are predicted to rise faster than the global average causing significant losses to yields, herds, calories and nutrients.

Without a better understanding of the climate and how it is anticipated to change, smallholders risk losing their entire crop.  Without crop failure, simply poor harvests alone are enough to cause farmers and their families to suffer. Smallholders won’t have enough to eat, but they won’t have enough to sell either. Lower incomes will drive families further into poverty, worsen undernutrition and prompt coping strategies that lower resilience to shocks and stresses over time.

Supporting smallholder farmers to better adapt to climate change and build their resilience to a variety of risks – weather-related or not – can be done in a variety of ways. For example, better access to finance can enable farmers to invest more in their farms; better training can teach them how to sustainably maximise their production; and improved land management practices can improve soil fertility and nutrient management. Whilst all of these elements are crucial for supporting smallholders, they may not be sufficient to address the scale of the challenge. Genetic improvements to seed and livestock varieties that can tolerate extremes such as droughts, floods, and vegetation loss, however, may give them the right advantage. [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 Conference on Land Grabs 2014, PAEPARD

A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops, PLOS One

Climate change a “threat multiplier” for farming-dependent states-analysis, Thomson Reuters Foundation

10 billion people for dinner | Nina Fedoroff | TEDxCERN, YouTube

Biotechnology: Against the grain, Nature

Climate smart, sustainable agriculture, AgriPulse

Thirty percent of world’s food wasted, new online platform seeks savings, Thomson Reuters Foundation

How To Eat For The Climate, Forbes

mNutrition – how mobile phones are improving nutrition, The Guardian

South Africa: Five Diseases, One Vaccine – a Boost for Emerging Livestock Farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, All Africa

New project to boost yam production in West Africa, IITA

IPCC preparing ‘most important’ document on climate change, BBC

Resilience for food and nutrition security, IFPRI [Read more…]

Yield gaps, trade liberalisation and biotechnology: three new reports on the way to tackle food insecurity

cover_6Three new publications investigate proposed solutions to global food insecurity, exploring the potential consequences of liberalising trade, increasing crop yields and introducing biotechnology. The first, written by agricultural scientists Tony Fisher, Derek Byerlee and Greg Edmeades, Crop Yields and Global Food Security, investigates the rate at which crop yields must increase if we are to meet global demand for staple crops by 2050. They explore how such targets might be achieved and what the consequences would be for the environment and natural resources.

Population growth, rising incomes per capita and growing biofuel usage mean we expect demand for staple crop products to increase by 60% between 2010 and 2050. This increase can either be met by expanding land area under agriculture or by increasing the yields of crops grown on current land. With land being in short supply and much potential agricultural land requiring deforestation and natural habitat clearance, the latter option has far more support. Indeed crop area is expected to grow only 10% between 2010 and 2050, with some of this increase originating from increased cropping intensity. To date yields of wheat, rice and soybean have been steadily rising over the past 20 years. The rate of growth, however has been declining and wheat yields are increasing at approximately 1% each year compared to 2010 figures (1.5% for maize). Crop models tell us that if we are to meet future demand and keep food prices at less than 30% higher than the low prices of 2000-2006 then yields of staple crops must rise by 1.1% each year. Of course these figures do not take into account the other resource challenges agriculture faces, climate change or tackling hunger and thus authors suggest a higher rate of increase of 1.3% per annum.

The book explains key concepts in crop physiology and yield, for example, a term often used when discussing agriculture in developing countries, “closing the yield gap”. The yield gap is effectively the difference between the yields obtained on a farm (Farm Yield or FY) and the yields obtained under field trial conditions (Potential Yield or PY). For wheat, although the book also explores other staple crops, the yield gap is on average around 48% of the FY. This varies by location with developing countries (and crops produced under rainfed conditions) showing a larger gap and Western Europe showing the smallest gap, some 30%. Progress towards closing this gap is worryingly slow, occurring at a global average rate of just 0.2% per year, and in Western Europe may actually be increasing. Yield gaps are difficult to close and on average closing a yield gap by 10% of FY takes some 20 years. Here authors highlight the difficulty of increasing Farm Yields through technology adoption and improved agronomic practices, and the importance of increasing PY to stimulate Farm Yield gains, likely through improved varieties.

Addressing these yield gaps, authors say, will require a combination of plant breeding of higher yielding and more resilient varieties, public agricultural extension to train farmers in improved farming practices and greater integration between farmers, scientists and businesses. While examples of yield gaps being significantly closed do exist, particularly where new technologies are adopted and markets are reliable – the One Acre Fund being given as an example, the rural transformation required to help subsistence farmers in developing countries close the gap will require substantial investment that as yet is missing. [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.

Who Wants to Farm? Youth Aspirations, Opportunities and Rising Food Prices, IDS

The Shocking Cost Of Food Waste, Forbes

Research-for-development project chalks up significant progress to save maize from Striga weed, IITA

A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World, National Geographic

Food Waste Reduction Alliance Publishes Toolkit for Reducing Food Waste, Food Waste Reduction Alliance

Rejected ideas ‘could have aided developing countries’, SciDev.Net

UN to measure women’s rights progress over past 20 years, The Guardian

Africa’s youth key to strengthening agricultural economy, Teatro Naturale International

Climate change mitigation must benefit the poor, aid experts say, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Biofortified Beans to Fight ‘Hidden Hunger’ in Rwanda, Inter Press Service

The Grapes of Wrath is 75 years old and more relevant than ever, The Guardian

Ten lessons from biotechnology experiences in developing countries, FAO

Climate Efforts Falling Short, U.N. Panel Says, The New York Times