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.

Do Aid and Development need their own TripAdvisor feedback system?, From Poverty to Power

Rebranding bran: teaching nutrient-rich cooking in Mali, The Guardian

African hub set up to boost research autonomy, Nature

Global Food Industry Reluctant Leaders of Smallholder Farming Revolution, The Huffington Post

Managing for Resilience: Framing an integrated landscape approach for overcoming chronic and acute food insecurity, Buck and Bailey

Agri-tech for Africa’s food security, development, SciDev.Net

Water-Smart Agriculture in East Africa, PAEPARD

New interactive tool brings malnutrition data to life, Devex

Fateful Harvest: Why Brazil has a big appetite for risky pesticides, Reuters

Denmark’s Drug-Free Pigs, 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.

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.

Increasing cropping frequency offers opportunity to boost food supply, University of Minnesota

Climate-Smart Pearl Millet Variety May Be a Game Changer for Nutrition, Feed the Future

WTO chief says no chance of global trade deal, USA Today

Iowa in the Amazon, The New York Times

Science’s role in growing diverse, nutritious food, SciDev.Net

What have been the farm-level economic impacts of the global cultivation of GM crops?, Collaboration for Environmental Evidence Library

‘Total inaction’ at UN climate talks, Africa groups charge, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Eating Aliens, Jackson Landers

Crowdsourcing app fights food loss in Africa, University of Twente

Hunger Grains: Are EU policies undermining progress on development?, From Poverty to Power, Duncan Green

How Africa’s natural resources can drive industrial revolution, CNN [Read more…]

AGRA’s African agriculture report

Woman farmerLast month the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa launched their first annual report detailing the state of African agriculture, entitled The Africa Agriculture Status Report.

Focusing on staple crops, the report synthesises data from 16 African countries as well as international institutions such as the World Bank and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The report highlights some key priority areas for policy makers on the continent:

  • Reducing cheap and subsidised food imports, which weaken African agricultural market development, as well as increasing smallholder farmer access to credit, addressing trade restrictions and high transportation costs.
  • Addressing the gender imbalance in access to productive resources such as land, credit, agricultural technologies and services.
  • Boosting research and development for food security for underperforming countries. Africa as a whole has a mere 70 researchers per million inhabitants (compared to the USA, which has 2,640 researchers per million inhabitants).
  • Addressing declining soil fertility, which threatens crop yields and agricultural development. For AGRA this means addressing the high price of fertiliser in many countries of Africa.
  • Reviewing and harmonising seed laws and regulations to allow the development of Africa’s seed markets.

The value of the report lies in its synthesis of data and, due to this, of being able to make comparisons between countries. AGRA aims for the report to cover all countries in sub-Saharan Africa within a few years and has high hopes that the report will enable researchers, scientists, farmers and policymakers to access reliable agricultural data in order to make informed decisions relating to food security, data which can often be difficult to access.

 

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.

Status of development, regulation and adoption of GM agriculture in Africa: Views and positions of stakeholder groups, Adenle, A., Morris, E.J., Parayil, G.

Investing in people and evidence for sustainable farming, SciDev.net

World Food Day: New Ranking Tool to Guide Investment in Biofortified Crops Launched, HarvestPlus

Past environmental pressures affect current biodiversity loss, European Commission

Commentary – Innovation for Sustainable Intensification in Africa, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Global Hunger Index Calls for Greater Resilience-Building Efforts to Boost Food and Nutrition Security, IFPRI

Report Finds Major Challenges to Meeting Global Food and Nutrition Needs by 2050, Digital Journal [Read more…]

The importance of seed diversity

ID-100144378 (2)Seeds might be small, inconspicuous things but they hold a great deal of power. For some, seeds mean survival, ritual, life. They are the basis of much of the food we consume. Perhaps because of their power and their value to the planet’s food security, seeds are a controversial topic. The sale of seeds, the modification of seeds and the saving of seeds are all issues which inspire much discourse and disagreement.

The Gaia Foundation produced a video called Seeds of Freedom, which documents the century’s old custom of saving and selecting seeds best adapted to local conditions, cultural preferences, and resilient to environmental constraints. The film highlights the threat that privatisation of the production and sale of seeds poses to these traditional farming practices.

Cycles of seed saving and the maintenance of agricultural biodiversity have been challenged by the introduction of higher-yielding hybrid and introduced crops that can lose their vitality after the first season, thus requiring farmers to purchase new seeds every year. The video paints the leaders of the Green Revolution as seeking power over the seed value chain. And while many would disagree with this, that scientists were developing high-yielding locally adapted crops with the aim of increasing food production and reducing hunger, there is little doubt that agricultural crop biodiversity was lost as the rise of monocultures and heavy chemical use expanded rapidly. In the Philippines, a poster country of the Green Revolution, only 8 rice varieties out of 3,500 are now grown.

Agricultural biodiversity and the wealth of information and traits it contains is particularly important given the global challenges we face, not least climate change. There are crops and crop varieties that can withstand extremes that would decimate many of the crops we regularly eat. Pearl millet for example, a crop grown annually on more than 29 million hectares in the arid and semi-arid tropical regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America, can survive the most hot and hostile Sahelian conditions.  Thus conserving seed diversity both in situ and in seed banks is imperative. A recent blog on Food Tank outlines 15 seed saving initiatives protecting biodiversity for future generations.

For many the concept of saving seeds is firmly entrenched in the ideals of food sovereignty, which is about the right of people to define their own food systems. Few would argue against increasing food production in developing countries and reducing the huge amounts of imports, which can leave poor consumers at the mercy of volatile global food prices. But in the extreme, food sovereignty espouses the restriction of all food trade and corporate involvement which raises a couple of issues.

Firstly agro-ecological methods and traditional farming, while often more resilient than conventional monocultures, have limits to the amount of food they can produce per unit of labour. In Africa, where smallholder farms dominate, maize yields average 1 ton per hectare, compared to Iowa, where farmers have access to the most cutting edge of technologies including GM and get, on average, yields of 11 tons per hectare. The answer is not in transferring an Iowan system of farming to Africa but technology does have the potential to transform productivity and livelihoods. [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.

Africa: Science Can Help Small Farmers Feed Africa, Africa Agriculture News

Why Don’t Farmers Believe in Climate Change?, Slate

International Food Security Assessment, 2013-2023, USDA

Once Upon a Village Value Chain in Africa, Huffington Post

Africa must partner to improve agricultural production, Ghana News Agency

Agricultural productivity and greenhouse gas emissions: trade-offs or synergies between mitigation and food security?, Valin et al

Looking for Ways to Beat the Weeds, New York Times

Global Food Security Index shows promise in developing nations, AG Professional

African Countries Come Up Short on Investment in Agriculture, Voice of America

A Gap in Organic Food Chain, Wall Street Journal

Address security issues for effective climate resilience – study, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Cover crops paying off, survey shows, Agriculture.com

Let’s Make Genetically Modified Food Open-Source, Slate