Coca-Cola trying to do good?

While this blog began as a look at how five big businesses are attempting to improve the livelihoods and food security of small-scale farmers in developing countries (see previous blog post), it quickly became more than a single blog’s worth of information, in particular, on just Coca-Cola alone. Hence this second instalment looking at the multiple initiatives Coca-Cola, with a number of partners, are running across a variety of themes. As with the last blog we’ll leave it up to you as to whether you think these initiatives add up to a sum total of “doing good”.

coceAt the US-Africa Leaders summit Coca-Cola announced a new investment into its African bottling partners of $5 billion over six years, bringing their total investment, between 2010 and 2020, to $17 billion. This money will be invested in Africa, where they have been working since 1928, in new manufacturing lines and equipment, creating more jobs, as well as several of Coca-Cola’s sustainability initiatives based around sustainable sourcing, safe water access and women’s empowerment. Some of these initiatives include:

Project Nurture – an $11.5 million partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and TechnoServe launched in 2010 supporting 50,000 small-scale mango and passion fruit farmers in in Kenya and Uganda to sustainably grow their crops and double their fruit incomes. As of June 2013, more than 50,000 farmers who were successfully organized into 1,100 producer business groups have been recruited, more than 70 community extension service providers and 48,500 farmers have been trained in agronomic practices, and two processors have been approved as suppliers in the Coca-Cola’s supply chain.

[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.

The Science of Designing Food for the World’s Poor, The Atlantic

Food’s big picture guy, The New York Times

The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition. A Coup for Corporate Capital, Transnational Justice

EU diplomats agree to 7% biofuels cap, EurActive

Is There Such a Thing As Sustainable Corn?, Modern Farmer

Warrior queens battle for Africa’s food future, This is Africa

Can we develop a ‘stress test’ for national food systems?, Simon Maxwell

A farm is greater than the sum of its parts, CCAFS

Super foods: from the lab to the table, The Guardian

GM crops: No gain for small farmers, SciDev.Net [Read more…]

Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems

ID-100207879In November 2013, the African Union Commission (AUC) and Kofi Annan Foundation, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, convened a group of senior African leaders and experts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to discuss actions that could be taken to “sustain the momentum of the many positive transformations taking place in African agriculture and food systems”. A Chairs’ Summary of the high-level dialogue, “Harnessing Innovation for African Agriculture and Food Systems:  Meeting the Challenges and Designing for the 21st Century,” was recently released. The report details the discussions of the meeting, looking at some of the past successes, future challenges and opportunities for action.

The meeting, held in support of the 2014 Year of Agriculture and Food Security in Africa and the 10th anniversary of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), noted the recent change in language used to describe African agriculture, turning to one of potential and transformation. Agriculture and farming businesses can not only play a significant role in the food security of Africans and others in the world but can be a drivers of development, poverty reduction, growth in infrastructure and address social issues such as gender inequality and youth unemployment.

Significant forces of change were identified as smallholder farmers and the private sector, while greater coordination within and beyond the continent, and between sectors, and “scaling, amplifying and transferring” of successes in a way that reflects regional differences were seen to be key to the transformation of the sector.

Some of the challenges Africa faces were, in this meeting, seen also as opportunities. For example, rapid urbanisation and shifting diets mean increased demand for food, and some 60% of the continent’s food needs arise from people in urban centres, but this is also an opportunity to build better urban to rural links and food supply chains, benefiting those in towns and cities but bringing much needed investment capital to rural areas.

Several countries are already seeing significant growth in the agricultural sector, driving reductions in hunger. While engagement of the private sector is seen as a key part of this growth, visionary and determined leadership is driving this process, and good governance and a strong enabling environment developed through the public sector were identified as being needed to “resolve bottlenecks, maintain momentum and optimise for the greatest benefit to all layers in the economy and society”. Governments’ actions to aid the development and transformation of the agricultural sector include incentivising investment, providing regulation, coordinating across sectors and providing safety nets for the most vulnerable. [Read more…]

Sustainable Food Systems

ID-100143900Food demand is expected to rise by 70% to 2050. Urbanisation and increasing incomes per capita are shifting diets to those more demanding of meat and other animal products, which has serious implications for the use of natural resources to produce food. Today around 1 in 8 people are malnourished and 870 million people chronically hungry, indicating our current food systems cannot meet present demand let alone future. Modifying the world’s food production systems to produce more food and perhaps distribute it more evenly, is made harder by a growing recognition of the negative impacts agriculture can have on the environment. Conversion of land to agriculture is the biggest threat to biodiversity. Agriculture places large demands on scarce natural resources, the overuse of which not only threatens the wider global environment and human wellbeing, but the very processes agriculture relies on e.g. pest control, pollination and rainfall.

A new report by the European Commission’s Science for Environment Policy, entitled Sustainable Food: A Recipe for Food Security and Environmental Protection, lays out the changes we need to make to our entire food system and the urgency with which we need to make them.

The report begins with a summary of the pressures on food production and the drivers of food demand namely: population growth; natural resource scarcity including land, biodiversity, water, climate change, and biofuels; changing dietary patterns and; rising food prices.

The report then turns to some of the solutions and pathways to making food systems more sustainable, advocating action around the following areas:

  • Minimising food waste
  • Rethinking land management and agricultural practices:
    • Using agroecological principles such as building soil organic matter, which the EU claim can reduce negative impacts and at the same time increase yields, although evidence of this potential win-win is scarce
    • Conservation agriculture and land sparing versus land sharing
    • Replenishing water supplies through, for example, no-till agriculture
    • Ensuring the long-term sustainability of fish stocks through expanding aquaculture
    • Reducing carbon emissions and mitigating climate change
    • Increasing the efficiency of agriculture through the application of science and technology
    • Understanding consumption patterns in a bid to contain the demand for the most resource-intensive types of food
    • Investing in smallholder farmers to help them increase their productivity and integration with global markets

Of course knowing that we need to undertake many of these actions is relatively easy. Understanding how to take action is hard and the report acknowledges that considerable policy and knowledge gaps exist, for example, what future per capita consumption levels will be, the benefits or impacts of different agricultural practices and ways of integrating multiple objectives in policy making. [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.

Global map of seeds, food and biodiversity launched, SciDev.Net

CAADP 10 Years Out: How Have Countries Fared in Agricultural Development?, IFPRI

Next generation of biofuels is still years away, CTV News

Empowering people and shaping policies for resilient agriculture and food systems, Wilton Park

Transformation of food systems needed for better nutrition, FAO

Changing the Global Food Narrative, Ensia

No-till farming is on the rise. That’s actually a big deal, The Washington Post

What does ‘big business’ say about Africa when it’s off the record?, From Poverty to Power, Duncan Green

Emissions of CO2 driving rapid oceans ‘acid trip’, BBC

Environmental pressures driven by EU consumption but faced by other countries, EC Science for Environment Policy

An Accidental Cattle Ranch Points the Way in Sustainable Farming, The New York Times

Bringing perennial grain crops to Africa is aim of new Gates Foundation-funded project, Michigan State University

Warsaw climate talks expected to deliver loss and damage mechanism, Thomson Reuters Foundation



Where we stand in understanding global food security

ID-100201149The First International Conference on Global Food Security took place on the 29th September to the 2nd October in Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands. The conference brought together scientists and experts across disciplines to discuss food security from many different aspects.

Louise Fresco, Professor at the University of Amsterdam, in her presentation, discussed what we know about food security and what the global situation is. Food security has various dimensions and many complexities that make it hard to generalise. Around 870 million people in the world are hungry in terms of basic calories and 2 billion people are undernourished, that is they lack adequate vitamins and minerals in their diet.

Hearing figures such as these it is hard to see where we are having any effect in tackling hunger but progress is being made. In the last 2 decades, 1 billion people’s nutrition has improved and the UN Millennium Development Goal of reducing the number of those in poverty by half was achieved 5 years early. A century ago half the population was malnourished, this is now 1 in 8 people. A figure that is declining although still unacceptable. Three quarters of the decrease in poverty and malnutrition has occurred in China and there is an urgent need for similar progress in Africa and India where the situation is made more complicated by political failures.

Poverty and hunger, as discussed in chapter 2 of One Billion Hungry, are inextricably linked and can take many forms, as outlined by Professor Fresco:

1)      Civil unrest, failed states and in the aftermath of natural disasters where people lack the basic means of survival and have been driven from their homes.

2)      Rural poverty. The majority of the world’s poor and hungry reside in rural areas where there are fewer opportunities to earn income and, as in many developing countries, agricultural yields are low.

3)      Urban poverty, which is becoming increasingly significant with urbanisation. Urban poverty can also occur in developed countries. In the US, for example, 49 million people are on food stamps.

Given their dimensions, reducing hunger and poverty requires targeted approaches ranging from humanitarian aid and emergency response, in the case of say war or natural disasters, to child nutrition interventions in the first 1000 days of life, as well as agricultural development and general economic development.

70% of the world’s population is involved in agriculture so investments in this sector in countries with a dominant agricultural workforce can have huge implications for the poor and hungry. In other countries, where agriculture is less dominant, economic development can help reduce poverty. As Prof. Fresco stressed, there are very strong indications that equitable growth in developing nations helps to reduce poverty and hunger. [Read more…]

Healthy people depend on healthy food systems: World Food Day 2013

WFDToday is World Food Day, the day that marks the founding of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), and this year the focus is on sustainable food systems for food security and nutrition. The FAO have produced a brief highlighting the key changes we need to make to our food systems to ensure everyone has access to enough nutritious food.

This year the FAO is emphasizing the ineffectiveness of our current food systems to tackle malnutrition. One in four children under the age of five in the world are stunted due to malnutrition, which when occurring early in childhood can limit physical and mental development for the rest of the child’s life. In total around two million people are not getting sufficient levels of essential vitamins and minerals in their diets, while at the same time some 1.4 billion people are overweight. These different types of malnutrition can coexist within populations and are in some ways linked. Both stunted mothers and overweight mothers can give birth to stunted babies due to a lack of nutrients in their diet, and stunted children are at greater risk of becoming obese as adults.

The cost of malnutrition can be measured in terms of both direct health care costs as well as indirect losses to human productivity and has been estimated at 5% of global income or $3.5 trillion per year. In tackling malnutrition, if we invested $1.2 billion per year for five years the annual gains generated are calculated at some $15.3 billion.

To tackle malnutrition we need to look at every aspect of the food system: the environment, institutions, processes and people. As an example, agriculture, which through poor practice can degrade the environmental resource base on which it depends is a serious threat to our food security. Together with forestry, agriculture uses 60% of the world’s land resources and 70% of the world’s freshwater resources. Using these resources efficiently and sustainably is crucial to ensuring we can feed the world now and into the future. [Read more…]

Food systems for human consumption

ID-10034891Over the next 50 or so years the population is predicted to rise to over 9 billion, an addition of 2 billion people to the planet. Understandably this raises concerns as to how the resources of the planet, not least food, will stretch to meet the growing demand. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations estimates food production will need to  increase 70 to 100%  by 2050. In a new paper entitled, Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare, authors Cassidy et al investigated how our current food production systems could be adapted to feed more people.

Increasingly crops grown are being used to feed livestock and as sources of fuel, uses that can divert food away from the human food chain. Some 36% of the calories produced from crops are used for animal feed of which 12% contributes to human diets, and 4% of human calories are used for biofuel production. The latter proportion has increased four-fold between 2000 and 2010 and looks set to rise further. The study asked the question, how many more people could be fed if crops were only grown for human consumption?

Through mapping the extent, productivity and end use of 41 major agricultural crops, which account for over 90% of total calorie production in the world, the authors were able to identify the gaps between human calorie requirements (taken as 2,700 calories per day) and crop production, now and in the future.

The paper reports significant inefficiencies in the food system. If the current crops being grown were used exclusively for human consumption, our food systems could feed an additional 4 billion people. As the authors state, however, changing the allocation of crops in terms of their end use is only one potential solution but one which when combined with efforts to increase crop yields and to reduce food waste could amount to a substantial solution to the world’s food needs.