What we’ve been reading this week

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

How food scares galloped across Europe’s borders, Financial Times

Africa leaders urged to harness benefits of biotechnology to address food insecurity, Vibe Ghana

Torrential rain, lack of preparedness batter Tanzania, AlertNet

What you need to know about Genetically Engineered food, The Atlantic

How can the EU take forward the resilience agenda: a ten point plan, Simon Maxwell

Horsemeat scandal spreads across Europe, Financial Times

Bt Cotton is failing; Blame the farmers, Field Questions

Justine Greening: DfID to push for UK private investment in Africa, The Guardian

Africa: New Era of Food Scarcity Echoes Collapsed Civilisations, Africa Agriculture News

EU moves to reassure consumers on safety, Financial Times

EU sets ambitious US trade pact deadline, Financial Times

EU aid cuts: A short-term approach to a long-term budget, E! Sharp

Tanzania: Tissue Culture May Save Banana Farmers, All Africa

Gene breakthrough boosts hopes for sorghum, Phys.org

Deputy Prime Minister launches engagement with Africa ahead of G8, Cabinet Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Food and nutrition security should be the top development goal, FAO Media Centre

Bringing the field to the farmers: how video is transforming agriculture, The Guardian

Less nitrogen could lift your potato yields, Farmers weekly

What we’ve been reading this week

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

Feeding China’s pigs: Implications for the environment, China’s smallholder farmers and food security, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Global partnership launched to drive Africa’s agricultural research, SciDev.Net

New U.S. Biofuel Proposals Could Draw Heavily from Food Sources, Inter Press Service

Burkina Faso cotton output soars 57.5% due to GMOs –producers, Reuters

Community radio helps Cameroonians track climate change, AlertNet

Innovation is the future for Europe, Financial Times

FAO calls for governmental support for Agroforestry, Farming Online

Monsanto introduces another seed variety, The Daily Times

Ground water and climate change, Nature

Connecting Farmers to Markets Through Ethical Partners

Smallholder farmers, estimated to number some 500 million, are often disconnected from formal and export food markets. But new opportunities for linking retailers in Europe and the US with producers in Africa are emerging.

Some of the barriers smallholder farmers face in making these connections, as discussed in a new paper authored by Abbi Buxton and Bill Vorley of the International Institute for Environment and Development, include the high standard of products retailers require, timely delivery of products, and certification.

The paper discusses a four year project, which investigated new business models to address these barriers. The project was in collaboration with the Sustainable Food Laboratory, Catholic Relief Services, Rainforest Alliance and The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project examined four different value chains, this paper, the first in a series of four, looked at flowers in Kenya. [Read more…]

Extreme Weather Events on the Rise

Can scientists now say with a fair amount of confidence that extreme weather events such as the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the European heat wave of 2003 are directly linked to global warming caused by humans?

In a new paper entitled ‘Perception of Climate Change’ NASA scientist James Hansen and two colleagues describe how climate change has increased the occurrence of unusually warm weather events in the past 30 years. There is only a small chance that the shift towards both higher temperatures and increased weather extremes would have happened in the absence of climate change.  Periods of extreme summertime temperatures have increased in geographic scope from less than 1% of the land’s surface in the base period of 1951 to 1980 to covering 13% in recent years. [Read more…]

Food Price Rises: The Role of Speculation

Scientists from the New England Complex Systems Institute, in a paper published in September 2011, identified investor speculation and ethanol conversion as the two key causes of changes in food prices over the period 2004 to 2011. The latter linked to a gradual upward trend in prices, the former to food price spikes. Global food prices since 2007 have seen two surges whereby prices have increased by over 50% in less than a year. Authors of the paper warn that policy action to curb speculation in global food markets is urgent if we are to avoid another surge at the end of 2012. This is also important for the long-term given that the UN predicts food prices will rise by at least 40% in the next decade.

Speculation in the food market in the past has been limited to actors within the food industry itself. By setting a price, agreed between farmer and trader, prior to the harvest, risks were minimised as the farmer received a good price even in a bad year and the trader received a better than  average price in good years. In general, speculation had a stabilizing effect on food prices. With the liberalisation of markets in the late 1990s, however, non-food industry actors have become involved and speculation in the food commodities market by financial institutions has grown rapidly. In 2003 the market was worth £3 billion but by 2008 its worth had risen to over £55 billion. [Read more…]