Putting agricultural greenhouse gas emissions on the agenda, not just the menu

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

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Credit: Paul Keeris, 2015

The conference catering trolley: it’s usually piled high with unlabelled food, can be something of a taste Russian roulette, and is often left untouched. It can be a saving grace for the rushed conference attendee or keen networker, but can also seem like a terrible waste.

There will no-doubt be catering trollies at this week’s Climate Action 2016 meetings in Washington, DC, leading one to ponder if the menu and agenda will be in harmony. The summit comes just two weeks after the Paris Agreement was signed, and eight months since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed.

Happily, the agenda for this week’s meetings does include mention of agriculture, which is often strangely absent from high-level discussions about climate change. For example, the COP21 discussions were described as “‘Les Champs-Oubliés,’ or ‘the forgotten fields’” because they largely neglected to mention agriculture as a part of the problem or solution. Greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) from agriculture have nearly doubled in the last 50 years and currently account for one-third of all GHGs, or more than 5.3 billion tonnes per year. At the same time, agriculture and smallholder farmers are also particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, especially in developing countries.

Meat consumption is on the rise

meat production

Meat production by region. FAO STAT, 2016

Of particular concern should be the rise in global meat consumption. GHG emissions from livestock production represent at least 14.5% of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. Enteric fermentation, when livestock produce methane as part of digestion then release it by belching, accounts for 39% of the agricultural sector’s GHG emissions, and rose by 11% in the decade between 2001 and 2011. Despite this damning evidence, meat consumption is on the rise. For example, the global demand for beef is projected to increase by 95% between 2006 and 2050 despite it being one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally damaging foods. Beef production uses seven times more resources, such as water, energy, and food or inputs than pork or poultry, and 20 times more than pulses. [Read more…]

6 indirect approaches to improving nutrition – part one

ID-100334531Malnutrition, in its various forms, is thought to affect over 2 billion people in the world and, as such, has far reaching consequences for societies, economies and livelihoods. Tackling poor nutrition is both complex and opportunistic in that there are links between nutrition and a whole other range of factors. In other words by tackling nutrition directly we may positively contribute to other developmental problems but there are also multiple ways to address undernutrition indirectly. While there is broad consensus on the need to take direct nutrition interventions such as promoting exclusive breastfeeding or biofortification of crops with micronutrients such as vitamin A or zinc, there is also an urgent need to tackle the underlying and inter-related determinants of malnutrition. The Lancet, for example, suggests that direct nutrition interventions, even if implemented at 90% coverage in high-burden countries would only reduce global stunting by 20%.

So-called nutrition-sensitive approaches are gaining popularity and the importance of including nutrition in a wide variety of sectors and policies is becoming better understood. Here we discuss some of the alternative routes through which malnutrition is impacted and thus could be reduced.

  1. Agriculture

The contribution of agriculture to meeting the nutritional needs of the population cannot be overstated, and the nutrition component of agricultural policies and investment plans needs to be strengthened. In Africa, agricultural development has been primarily focused on boosting production and developing markets with little attention given to nutrition. But agriculture is at the heart of addressing malnutrition. Its products provide us with the energy, protein, vitamins and minerals our bodies need. And in many developing countries the majority of people who are malnourished live in rural areas and depend on smallholder farming for their livelihoods. In fact, demographic and health survey (DHS) data shows that individuals living in rural areas are between 1.3 and 3.3 times more likely to be stunted than people in urban areas, which indicates that agriculture still has a long way to go in providing the global population with the right nutrition and adequate calories. It also indicates that by improving agricultural diversity and productivity in rural farming areas, malnutrition could be significantly reduced, although evidence on the impact agriculture can have on nutrition is currently limited in formal literature.

So how does agriculture need to change in order to better serve the world’s nutritional needs? The food system needs to provide access to enough nutritious foods, promote social norms that foster good nutrition practices and provide adequate income to purchase nutritious foods. Ensuring nutritious foods are affordable, accessible and available is essential and has typically been overlooked in the agricultural sector, rather being the domain of development and health. Home and school gardens, small livestock production, aquaculture and marketing policies which keep the prices of such foods at affordable levels are examples of food-based nutrition improvement initiatives. Some argue that the entire food chain needs to be put under a “nutrition lens” in order to identify areas for intervention such as “expanding and diversifying food production, improving food processing, preservation and preparation of foods, reducing losses and waste and assessing intervention impact on dietary consumption”.

The Soils, Food and Health and Communities (SFHC) project, used participatory research methods and awareness raising activities in Ekwendeni village in Northern Malawi to help smallholder famers select and test mixtures of diverse legume species for growing in combination with maize. Project results show that the intercropping of maize with legume mixes has led to improved nutrition for children in communities where the project is being implemented (over 9000 farmers have adopted this technology so far). [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.

Building a Food-Secure World Helps America Prosper, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Nutrition and Social Protection, FAO

Weak links hamper knowledge sharing in agriculture, SciDev.Net

Paying farmers to help the environment works, but ‘perverse’ subsidies must be balanced, EurekAlert

Creating an enabling environment for livestock development in Ethiopia, ILRI

SPECIAL SERIES -Wanted: data revolution to track new U.N. development goals, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Can open data prevent a global food shortage?, The Guardian

The challenge of fighting poverty through farming, The Daily Monitor

Food security: businesses want government intervention to avoid long term risk, WWF

Big Ideas and Emerging Innovations, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Plant Doctor Game app was downloaded 1111 times!, Plantwise

As drought hits maize, Tanzania cooks up a sweet potato fix, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Understanding the SDGs: Tom Bigg, IIED

LUMENS is illuminating land-use planning for sustainable landscapes, Landscapes for People, Nature and Food

Farm to Table in Africa, Chicago Council on Global Affairs

FAO Food Price Index registers sharpest fall since December 2008, FAO

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.

Rising fossil fuel energy costs spell trouble for global food security, Oregon State University

Horizon 2020 – first projects funded involving African researchers, PAEPARD

Sustainable Agriculture Research Falling Further Behind, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

OECD – FAO expect stronger production, lower prices over coming decade, FAO

The President of the United States of America meets Sir David, Thinking Country

New Ethiopian ‘livestock master plan’ aims to take 14 million out of poverty, ILRI

Farmgate prices may stay low for 10 more years, says report, Farmers Weekly

Web-based policy tool on small-scale farmer innovation, PAEPARD

Producer Movements in Integrated Landscape Management, Landscapes for People, Food and Nature

Benchmarking the sustainability performance of the Brazilian non-GM and GM soybean meal chains: An indicator-based approach, Gaitán-Cremaschi et al, Food Policy [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.

Can greater transparency help people hold big corporations to account? Some new tools that may help, From Poverty to Power

S&T Committee Urges Change to EU Rules for GM Crops, ISAAA

New Project Announced – Global Food Security by the Numbers, Global Food for Thought

Public procurement in Africa benefitting family farmers and schools, FAO

Eight Ways Monsanto Fails at Sustainable Agriculture, Union of Concerned Scientists

Biodiversity or GMOs: Will The Future of Nutrition Be in Women’s Hands or Under Corporate Control?, Institute of Science in Society

Will Food Sovereignty Starve the Poor and Punish the Planet?, Independent Science News

Limits Sought on GMO Corn as Pest Resistance Grows, The Wall Street Journal

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil, The New York Times [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…]

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.

Big Data and development: Upsides, downsides and a lot of questions, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Cash Crops With Dividends: Financiers Transforming Strawberries Into Securities, The New York Times

Video: ‘Journey of a gene’ illustrates science of genetic engineering for consumers, Genetic Literacy Project

Why NGOs can’t be trusted on GMOs, The Guardian

The Guardian, Marc Gunther and some NGOs can’t be trusted on GMOs, Political Concern

International Food Security Assessment, 2014-24, USDA

On Trial: Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, Chatham House

Could businesses do for aid what Amazon did for retail?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Missing Food, APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development

The Potential Impacts of Mandatory Labeling for Genetically Engineered Food in the United States, CAST

‘Peak soil’ threatens future global food security, Reuters [Read more…]