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.

How economic growth has become anti-life, The Guardian

Group claims GMOs failed to deliver promised benefits, Inquirer News

Orange Sweet Potato One of the Most Innovative Ways to Feed the Planet, Says USAID Administrator, HarvestPlus

A YOUng FARMer’s vision, PAEPARD

UK agricultural research aid should do more for poor farmers, says watchdog, The Guardian

Yields of new varieties of agricultural crops continue to increase, Wageningen University

The Idealist: a brilliant, gripping, disturbing portrait of Jeffrey Sachs, From Power to Poverty, Duncan Green

Three Billion Poor People Are Waiting for Business to Reinvent Itself, The Business Solution to Poverty

Science has bigger say in GM food, China Daily

How African innovation can take on the world, PC Tech Magazine

Have a Coke and a … GMO?, Politico

Landscapes debate could reinvigorate UN climate talks in Warsaw – negotiator, CIFOR, Thomson Reuters Foundation

Traditional innovation in farming is under threat, IIED

End Of The Egg? ‘Fake Egg’ Company Aims To Replace 79 Billion Chicken Eggs Laid Each Year, Civil Eats

How to end world hunger, CNN

 

Home grown nutrition

ID-100149608 (2)The 1,000 day Initiative and Scaling Up Nutrition movement, detailed in Chapter 2, brought to the political fore the serious impacts of child malnutrition, which affects 40% of children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa. Malnutrition early in life not only impacts learning, levels of schooling attained, future earning potential and national economic growth but is a condition which is often passed from mothers to children, persisting across generations.

In a new UK Parliamentary report, Home Grown Nutrition, produced by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development, agricultural and other pathways to improving nutrition are discussed.

Agriculture and nutrition

Agriculture is a key industry for sub-Saharan Africa and investments in agricultural development are one of the most effective tools to ensure economic, social and political well-being. Smallholder farmers in Africa represent the largest economically productive business sector in the developing world, but they produce only a sixth of the output of farmers in Europe or North America. The potential to increase their productivity is enormous.

Investing in smallholder agriculture can address malnutrition directly through increased incomes and the diversification of food for household consumption. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, research has shown that the biggest limiting factor on food and nutrition security is income. And a diet that meets children’s energy, protein and micronutrient needs for optimal growth and development is four times more expensive than a diet with only adequate calories. Greater income, generated through agriculture, a sector that employs the majority of people in sub-Saharan Africa, can be spent on healthcare, education and, crucially, food. [Read more…]

Where are we on climate change?

ID-100103034 (2)Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, Director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and advisor to the UK government through the Committee on Climate Change, recently gave a talk at Imperial College London on the latest research and actions around climate change.

Global CO2 levels are currently at 397ppm (parts per million), a level not seen for 4.5 million years. We have increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere by 40% since the Industrial Revolution. While there has been a clear and significant increase in global temperatures since 1850, we have seen a hiatus on temperature rises in the last decade. While sceptics may use this as evidence to support their claims, a decade of cooler temperatures is not outside the range of predictions from climate models.

Global sea levels are rising 3mm per year. While the melting of the Western Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets is contributing around 1mm of this increase, it is unknown how likely this is to accelerate if we reach a threshold point of destabilisation. In the Arctic, recent pictures of the ice cap in mid-September (when it is at its minimum size) show it is half the average size it was in the last century. By 2050-2060 we would expect the arctic ice cap to have vanished come September.

We have seen some significant heat extremes in the past decade: the 2003 European heatwave, 2010 Russian heatwave and more recently the 2012 US drought. Work by NASA scientists Dr James Hansen and colleagues indicates a shift to more frequent and severe bouts of high temperatures. But it is not just heat extremes, as the climate changes we are also seeing cold extremes in certain locations despite remarkable warmth elsewhere. This indicates our ability to predict regional trends is much more limited than our ability to predict global averages and while we may, in the past have viewed climate change as a warming of the planet, now we are trying to understand it as a disruption of our climate systems, one that will have severe and varied results. [Read more…]

Taking action on malnutrition

ID-10031262 (2)A lack of sufficient nutrients in the diet is responsible for around 2.6 million deaths of children per year, the largest killer of children in the world. Those children that do survive will be stunted in their physical growth and mental development, which can not only cause health problems but will detrimentally impact their education and earning potential for the rest of their lives. This is a risk faced by some 165 million children across the world.

This year, high-level decision makers will come together on 8th June for a Hunger summit, hosted by David Cameron, ahead of this year’s G8, and nutrition will likely be on the agenda. But what action can leaders, donors and people on the ground take to tackle undernutrition?

The Montpellier Panel, in their 2011 briefing paper on Scaling Up Nutrition, outlined the urgent need for children to receive adequate nutrition in the first 1000 days of their lives (from conception to 2 years old). It also detailed the measures the United Nations Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) movement was taking globally to combat child undernutrition. The SUN movement works with partner countries (35 to date) to integrate nutrition into development plans across sectors such as health, education and agriculture.

In particular the SUN movement supports the following interventions and policies:

Specific Nutrition Interventions

  • Support for exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age and continued breastfeeding, together with appropriate and nutritious food, up to 2 years of age;
  • Fortification of foods;
  • Micronutrient supplementation; and
  • Treatment of severe malnutrition.

Nutrition-Sensitive Approaches

  • Agriculture: Making nutritious food more accessible to everyone, and supporting small farms as a source of income for women and families;
  • Clean Water and Sanitation: Improving access to reduce infection and disease;
  • Education and Employment: Making sure children have the energy that they need to learn and earn sufficient income as adults;
  • Health Care: Improving access to services to ensure that women and children stay healthy;
  • Support for Resilience: Establishing a stronger, healthier population and sustained prosperity to better endure emergencies and conflicts; and
  • Women’s Empowerment: At the core of all efforts, women are empowered to be leaders in their families and communities, leading the way to a healthier and stronger world.

Recent interest has focused on the contribution of agriculture to ending hunger and malnutrition. Agriculture plays a crucial role in access to nutritious and diverse crops, affordable sources of foods and as an income source but the links between agriculture and nutrition are not always clear. Several recent reports have summarised how agricultural development can have positive outcomes for household nutrition. [Read more…]

Food for fuel

ID-100136340 (2)A new report produced by ActionAid calls attention to the impacts that growing food for biofuels can have on poverty and hunger. The amount of food crops produced and used for fuel by G8 countries per year could have fed over 441 million people. This is around half the number of people, estimated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, to be chronically hungry in the world.

There are other implications of growing food for fuel beyond directly removing food sources.  Land availability and food prices, are affected which can further impact on poverty, particularly for those who are net buyers of food and who rely on local natural resources for their livelihoods.

In sub-Saharan Africa some 98 European biofuel projects covering 6 million hectares of land have begun since 2009, when the European Union introduced the Renewable Energy Directive, subsequently driving up biofuel demand in Europe. 30 of these are from the UK. Many of these investments are occurring in food insecure countries and pose the threat of displacing local communities.

A report by the World Bank in 2011 concluded that ‘Food prices are substantially higher than they would be if no biofuels were produced’. And future prices are expected to rise further under the EU’s biofuel targets: by 2020 vegetable oils could increase by 36%, cereals by 22% and oilseeds by 20%.

But biofuels are important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector and for lowering fuel costs in the face of oil scarcity. Not true, says ActionAid. Biofuels currently being used in cars are worse for the climate than fossil fuels and, under projected levels of use to 2020, will add an additional 56 million tonnes of CO2  emissions by 2020 – the equivalent of over 26 million new cars on the roads. [Read more…]

Natural resources – boon or curse?

Additional (updated) content from One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world?

ID-10073328In recent years, it has become fashionable to argue that the less developed countries of Sub-Saharan Africa should emulate Brazil and the eastern tigers with rapid industrialization, in many cases on the back of the exploitation of rich mineral, oil and other resources. Around one third of the growth in GDP in Africa between 2000 and 2008 (4.9%) has come from these resources and the associated government spending they generated. The rest has come from internal structural changes (e.g. Nigeria privatized more than 116 enterprises between 1999 and 2006) and from other sectors. Africa is projected to continue to profit from the rising global demand for natural resources given that it comprises 10% of the world’s oil reserves, 40% of its gold and 80 to 90% of the chromium and platinum metal group. But so far, the experience has not been accompanied by much trickle down and indeed has reversed progress towards reduction in poverty and social freedoms. Moreover, countries both with and without significant resource exports have had similar GDP growth rates between 2000 and 2008.

Although in  the short term the export of natural resources such as oil and minerals can give an economy a boost, generating higher incomes, allow greater consumption of both imported and domestically produced goods, and provide governments with greater resources for investment in development, the long-term impacts may offset, if not exceed, these positives. In 1977 the Economist published an article entitled The Dutch Disease that described the situation whereby a country’s export performance is reduced as a result of an appreciation of the exchange rate after a natural resource such as oil has been discovered.

The transition of an economy to the production of natural resources, despite mixed evidence of the nature (i.e. positive or negative) of its impact on economic growth, has been deemed the ‘resource curse’.

The transfer of capital and labour to the natural resource sector can lead to declines in productivity in other sectors, such as agriculture, that will be important sources of growth when the natural resource is depleted. Further impacts can include volatility in public spending associated with volatile prices and thus revenue from natural resources, as well as over borrowing, when commodity prices are high, leading to high debt levels, when commodity prices fall. [Read more…]

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.

Talk point: is water a commodity or a human right?, The Guardian

Demystifying modern biotechnology, Modern Ghana

FAO leader calls for shift towards more sustainable food production and diet, Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) 95th Anniversary Symposium

Yes, I get furious when foreign aid is wasted. But Britons are saving lives… and are leading the world, says Bill Gates, Daily Mail

George Osborne declares ‘historic moment’ on UK aid target, The Guardian

Stop GM crops in Europe – new campaign launched, GM Watch

Food, fuel and plant nutrient use in the future, Council for Agricultural Science and Technology

GMO poll finds huge majority say foods should be labeled, Huffington Post

New metric to be launched on hunger and food insecurity, FAO

New EU policy to improve nutrition across the world and save millions of lives, EU

Connecting the dots between vaccines and hunger, The Guardian

Africa is on the rise – come see for yourselves, Financial Times

Aid for Trade: Reviewing EC and DFID Monitoring and Evaluation Practices, Traidcraft and CAFOD