“We have a lot of work ahead” – IFPRI’s 2016 Global Food Policy Repot

By Alice Marks

On March 31st the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) published the 2016 Global Food Policy Report. The report highlights the scale of the challenged faced by the global food system, including that 1/3 of people in the world are malnourished, nearly a billion people go to bed hungry each day, and environmental degradation and climate change will only exacerbate these problems by making global food markets increasingly unstable.

In a previous blog series (part 1/part 2) agriculture’s role in underpinning all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was explored. Ahead of the launch of the new report, IFPRI’s director Shenggen Fan explained that to meet the SDG’s by 2030 “We have a lot of work ahead. We must promote and support a new global food system that is efficient, inclusive, climate-smart, sustainable, nutrition- and health-driven, and business-friendly in order to ensure that no one goes to sleep hungry.” Looking through the lens of the global food system, IFPRI’s report highlights several challenges and opportunities to achieving the SDGs, including the changing climate, shifts in diets and food waste, and gender inequality.

Gender inequality

woman credit ifpri

credit: IFPRI, 2016

Women are more vulnerable to food price volatility, climate change, and natural disasters than their male counterparts. The reasons are complex, but in general boil down to a lack of access to resources. For example, try typing “women lack access” into a search engine to see a plethora of issues, including lack of sanitation, safe toilets, clean water, contraception and family planning, business capital, information, education and political participation, to name but a few. [Read more…]

5 New Year’s resolutions to help the planet in 2016

ID-100383599Making small changes can have a big impact so this January do away with impossible-to-keep resolutions and do something that can make the planet greener, help local or distant communities and save you money. Make the change for over 66 days and, according to Lally et al (2010), it could become a new habit.

  1. Help tackle climate change

World leaders agreed the Paris Climate Deal in December, but tackling climate change will take all our efforts, not just politicians and big business. The transport sector in the EU is responsible for about one fifth of greenhouse gas emissions so help reduce this by taking public transport, combining trips and flying less (somewhat easier now with the rise of video/conference calls). The energy sector is responsible for almost 30% of emissions and so being more energy efficient is an important goal across industry and society. Learn how to make your home greener, reduce your carbon footprint and household bills with this infographic.

  1. Fight poverty in your community

While significantly more people are in extreme poverty in developing countries it can be difficult, as an individual, to know how to go about helping people often far away. Poverty is global, however, and can be found in most communities in the world. In the UK, for example, one in five people are thought to live below the official poverty line, despite being the world’s sixth largest economy. There are various ways in which we can tackle poverty in our own communities for example by donating food, clothing and other items, by volunteering in shelters, community centres and after-school programmes. You can find out more about volunteering here and here, and donating here, here and here. Or you can become more involved and join a campaign action group such as with RESULTS or find a local group at Global Justice Now. The Borgen Project list ten ways we can all begin to fight global poverty on their blog.

  1. See the world from a new perspective

Educating ourselves on the challenges the world faces can be both enlightening and motivating. Opening ourselves up to new opinions, discussions and perspectives can also help us figure out the solutions. Here are some educational and inspiring TED talks from the past year.

Gary Haugen: The hidden reason for poverty the world needs to address now.

Mia Birdsong: The story we tell about poverty isn’t true.

Pamela Ronald: The case for engineering our food.

Adam Smith: Let’s really feed the world.

Chloe Rutzerveld: 3D printed food: the future of healthy eating. [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…]

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.

10 things you need to know about the global food system, The Guardian

Rising CO2 poses significant threat to human nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health

Leave ‘Organic’ out of it, The New York Times

Major Milestone: 4 billion acres of biotech crops now planted globally, Truth about Trade and Technology

What Democracy Looks Like, According to Three Afghan women, Wilson Quarterly

Development AND resilience vs. development OR resilience, Ideas for Sustainability

Global Absolute Poverty Fell by Almost Half on Tuesday, Center for Global Development

Commentary – Using Science to Drive Adoption of New Technologies, Global Food for Thought

How to solve climate change with cows (maybe), The Boston Globe [Read more…]

The homogenisation and globalisation of diets

ID-10083665The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that some 75% of the diversity of cultivated crops was lost during the 20th Century and, by 2050, we could lose a third of current diversity.

A recent study by Khoury et al in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, investigated how the composition of crops contributing to human diets has changed over the past 50 years. As suspected by many, diets across the world are becoming more homogenised or more similar with greater reliance on only a handful of crops, notably wheat, rice, potatoes and sugar (energy-dense foods). Wheat is now a major food in 97% of countries. Local and traditional crops, important regionally, such as millet, rye, yams and cassava (many of which are nutrient-dense) are being produced and consumed less. Although the amount of calories, protein and fat we consume has increased over this period, the declining diversity evidenced is cause for concern. We require a variety of foods in our diet to ensure we consume adequate amounts of micronutrients, things like iron, vitamin A and iodine. Some 2 billion people in the world suffer from a lack of micronutrients in their diet, something labelled hidden hunger, which can have severe impacts on health, causing heart problems, obesity, diabetes, blindness, anaemia and goitre, and the list goes on.

An agricultural system based only on a few crops is also less resilient. If one crop fails we have only a limited number of crops to fall back on. The Irish potato famine is historical evidence for this. If this were to happen on a global scale the impacts on human lives would be unthinkable. Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of events which could lead to crop failure: pest and disease outbreaks, droughts and other extreme events. Ensuring diversity in our agricultural production would be a kind of insurance against the impacts of climate change.

But what is driving this homogenisation? It could be our quest for economic efficiency: is it easier and more cost-efficient to cultivate large monocultures rather than diverse multi-crop farms?  Urbanisation, rising incomes, more westernised diets, trade liberalisation, increasing trade of food, multinational food industries and food safety standardisation have all been implicated.

Authors of the paper explain we need greater cooperation between the private sector and public sector, the latter of which have the ability to pursue longer term research in crops important for health and livelihoods while the former dominate the food sector. We also need to conserve and use different crop genetic varieties, which will require public education and investment in gene and seed banks.  In Norway and Sweden diets have changed little in the past 50 years as a result of campaigns to raise awareness about the impacts of food choices coupled with economic incentives such as taxation policies.

Recently, the European Parliament adopted a resolution for EU countries to implement measures to preserve crop genetic diversity in a bid to source varieties that will be able to cope with projected climatic changes. This should complement private crop breeding which focuses on only a small number of varieties. Turning the tide away from a narrowing of diets will require much investment in research, conservation and education. And an even greater effort to mobilise the private and public sectors to adopt a mandate that boosts dietary diversity.

Innovation in the agriculture, forestry and other land uses sector could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half

SmithA new paper by Smith et al published in Global Change Biology asks the question, How much land-based greenhouse gas mitigation can be achieved without compromising food security and environmental goals? Authors attempt to answer this question by modelling the potential of supply- and demand-side mitigation options available in the Agriculture, Forestry and other land uses sector, as well as their impacts on one another and on food security.

On the supply side such practices as alternative uses for biomass, and land sparing, have the potential to reduce emissions by 1.5 to 4.3 Gt CO2 equivalent per year at carbon prices of between $20 and $100. For 2011, the International Energy Agency estimated annual emissions as 31.6 Gt CO2 equivalent. Seeking to reduce the carbon footprint of the AFOLU sector while at the same time increasing food production, is a core aim of sustainable intensification, which advocates using inputs in a more judicious manner to achieve greater outputs.

On the demand-side measures such as reducing food waste and shifting to less resource-intensive diets could reduce emissions between 1.5 and 15.6 Gt CO2 equivalent per year. Such solutions may also aid in the fight against food insecurity and hunger.

The paper advocates for action to be taken on both the supply- and demand-sides, which when their maximum potentials are totalled could mean a halving of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Sonja Vermuelen, Head of Research at CGIAR’s research programme on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in her blog on the paper, indicates the importance of policy, both for stimulating a shift to sustainable intensification but also the considerable changes in consumer behaviour that will be required. Political leadership, determination and significant innovation will be needed if we are to reach this goal.

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.

New Report Urges a U.S. Global Food Security Focus on Science, Trade and Business, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Pesticides Make a Comeback, The Wall Street Journal

The biodiversity challenge in Europe, Thinking Country

Q+A: Committee on World Food Security chair urges use of forest foods in diets, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Ghana hosts 6th Africa Agriculture Science Week, Joy Online

Trees on farms: challenging conventional agricultural practice, The Guardian

Disasters displaced over 32 mln people in 2012, rising trend forecast, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Feature: Curbing hunger, Ghana must go biotech, Ghana Business News

G8 under pressure to rethink biofuel mandates, EurActiv.com