Nine more TEDx talks on food security

Last year we brought you six of our favourite TEDx talks on food security and since then we’ve discovered a whole lot more. Here are nine more interesting talks we think you might like.

JosetteJosette Sheeran, former head of the UN’s World Food Program, talks about why, in a world with enough food for everyone, people still go hungry, still die of starvation, still use food as a weapon of war. Her vision: “Food is one issue that cannot be solved person by person. We have to stand together.” Watch the video.

BittmanMark Bittman, New York Times food writer, weighs in on what’s wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it’s putting the entire planet at risk. Watch the video.

HalweilBrian Halweil, publisher of Edible Manhattan, was on track to become a doctor until he realized that repairing the global food system could help to conserve people’s health and wellbeing more. Halweil believes that the local food movement is a truly powerful medicine. Watch the video.

RedmondLa Donna Redman, Senior Program Associate in Food and Justice at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and long-time food activist, examines how the root causes of violence and public health concerns experienced by her community are strongly connected to the local food system, and are best addressed by making changes in that system. Watch the video.

BaehrBirke Baehr, at the time just 11-years old, presents his take on a major source of our food — far-away and less-than-picturesque industrial farms. Keeping farms out of sight promotes a rosy, unreal picture of big-box agriculture, he argues, as he outlines the case to green and localize food production. Watch the video.

mark-post-900x506Mark Post, a specialist in tissue engineering at Maastricht University in The Netherlands introduces Cultured Beef to the world and explains the process behind its growth and the future he envisions for in-vitro meat. Watch the video.

[Read more…]

Boom and Bust: the future of our food producing ecosystems

ID-100219796A recent paper, No Dominion over Nature, authored by UK ecologists, Professors Mark Huxham, Sue Hartley, Jules Pretty and Paul Tett, describes how current approaches to food production are damaging the long term health of ecosystems, hampering their ability to provide ecosystem services and leaving them vulnerable to collapse. Focusing on continual (and unsustainable) increases in agricultural productivity, for example through intensive monocultures, will inevitably lead to a “boom and bust” cycle.

The “dominant narrative” in meeting the ever increasing demand for food (some estimate we need to increase food production by 100% by 2050 to meet this demand) is to intensify agricultural production, an approach, such as the Green Revolution, that has so far allowed food production to keep pace with population growth. Such a pathway, as authors argue, is causing ecosystem deterioration, eroding the ecosystem services we rely upon such as pollination, climate regulation and water purification. Intensification comes at an economic and ecological cost – ever increasing synthetic input amounts are costly, too costly for some, while they have serious impacts on the environment.

An alternative is low input agriculture such as organic farming, which may not produce the yields to meet future demand without expansion of farming area and similarly poses a threat to the environment with agricultural expansion being a major factor in the conversion of natural habitats, deforestation and biodiversity loss. In particular the report talks about the debate between those arguing for intensification and those for low-input farming, most often framed as an argument between economists and environmentalists, or ostriches and romantics as Paul Collier terms them. Ostriches in that proponents may have their head in the sand ignoring looming environmental and climate crises, romantics in that their advocacy of environmentally friendly approaches such as organic may seem appealing but could have negative impacts, for example increasing the cost of food to account for environmental externalities, which could exacerbate hunger.

The authors reject both approaches suggesting instead “a focus on maintaining ecosystem health through the management of terrestrial and aquatic environments as multifunctional mosaics”. In a sense combining intensive agriculture with neighbouring land that provides ecosystem services in a way that maximises ecosystem resilience. In particular the concepts of bioproductivity, “the ability of ecosystems to capture energy in organic form”, an ability which forms the basis of food production, and thresholds or planetary boundaries are discussed as key management guidelines. Ecosystems should be seen as “functional self-regulating systems” and should be managed to ensure a continual and adequate supply of ecosystem services. [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.

Deep emissions cuts needed by 2050 to limit warming: U.N. draft, Reuters

Teaching a humongous foundation to listen to small farmers, Grist

New report links aquaculture and poverty reduction, WorldFish

The MDG Hunger Target and the Contested Visions of Food Security, Fukuda-Parr & Orr

The Power of Numbers: Why the MDGs were flawed (and post2015 goals look set to go the same way), From Poverty to Power

At last, some evidence on the national impact of the MDGs. In Zambia, rivalry with other governments and measurable indicators have made a difference, From Poverty to Power

The GMO Fight Ripples Down the Food Chain, The Wall Street Journal

How GMO crops conquered the United States, Vox

Coming soon: Genetically edited fruit?, EurekAlert

Let’s Use Organic and GMOs to Feed the World, Huffington Post [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…]

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.

Roadmap for Strengthening Forest and Farm Producer Organizations, FAO

Six innovations revolutionising farming, The Guardian

Could insects feed the hungry world of tomorrow?, BBC

Beating the heat, Nature Biotechnology

Crop yields and global food security, Australian Government (GRDC)

Acres of genetically modified corn nearly doubled in a decade, Harvest Public Media

What’s the best way to measure empowerment?, Duncan Green, Oxfam

Majority of African Farm Workers Struggle to Afford Food, Gallup

Wild about Agricultural Innovation in Botswana, Global Food for Thought

Pesticide blamed for bee deaths now linked to bird declines, Los Angeles Times

Food Security and WTO Domestic Support Disciplines post-Bali, ICTSD

Why does Europe hate genetically modified food?, Rappler

Can Africa create a new green generation of food producers?, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Higher Food Prices Can Help to End Hunger, Malnutrition and Food Waste, IPS

[Read more…]

What is agroecology?

ID-100203114As the threat of climate change, natural resource scarcity and declines in the provision of the majority of ecosystem services continue, agroecology is increasingly being explored as an option for addressing the stress conventional farming systems put on the environment. To date, however, agroecology is still a niche farming method, relatively underutilised in agricultural development, policy and research despite growing evidence of its benefits for both productivity and sustainability. A new paper by Laura Silici at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) explores what agroecology is, why it is not yet being scaled-up to any significant degree and recommends future action for integrating this social and ecological movement into modern farming systems.

Agroecology is defined as “an ecological approach to agriculture that views agricultural areas as ecosystems and is concerned with the ecological impact of agricultural practices”. The paper explains that it consist of three facets:

1)      The scientific study of whole agricultural systems including social and environmental factors within and beyond the scale of the farm;

2)      The range of techniques developed from ecological concepts to build resilience and sustainability which can be put into practice; and

3)      A social movement, which explores the ways in which agriculture may better serve society.

The benefits of agroecology are numerous arising from the multifaceted approach to managing agro-ecosystems, which allows for exploration of synergies and trade-offs, thus addressing social, environmental and economic objectives. Agroecological farming systems are also found to be more resilient to stresses in the environment such as climatic events, pest outbreaks and environmental degradation. Due to diversity of crops being grown productivity may be higher overall and losses across one crop do not necessarily lead to complete crop failure. Agroecology has also been linked to food sovereignty, allowing farmers to save on synthetic or market-bought inputs and reducing their dependence on national or global markets and prices. Beyond this is also being more widely researched and explored by a variety of organisations in the pursuit of sustainable farming production and consumption systems.

Often associated with lower yields, when compared to conventional agriculture, agroecology may limit the yield potential of farming systems, perhaps displacing agricultural production elsewhere. But there is substantial evidence, particularly in developing countries where farmers may neither utilise intensive technologies or agroecological methods, that agroecology can significantly increase yields without the environmental and economic costs associated with conventional monocultures. Badgley et al (2007) found that alternative agricultural practices in developing countries could provide sufficient yields for food security without more land and, given that such methods are typically labour-demanding, without causing economic motivation for agricultural expansion. Similarly, in an assessment of 286 projects introducing sustainability measures to (mainly) small-scale farms in developing countries, yield increased by an average 79% for a variety of farming systems and crop types (Pretty et al, 2006). Similarly a review of 40 initiatives employing a variety of agroecological practices found average crop yields to increase by 113%. Additionally there is much evidence supporting the environmental benefits of Agroecology such as carbon sequestration, improvement of soil fertility and structure, enhanced pollination and pest control. [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.

Why illegal fishing off Africa’s coast must be stopped, The Guardian

Can Synthetic Biology Survive In A World Haunted By ‘Frankenfood’?, Forbes

Global land prices and the future of farming, Financial Times

We’re massively underestimating climate costs, experts warn, Grist

Agro-sylvo-pastoral systems to feed West and Central Africa, PAEPARD

Call to halve target for added sugar, BBC

A Global Biotechnology Perspective, Scientific American [Read more…]