Category Archives: Agriculture

Poisoned, Marginalised, Bankrupt and Dead


Written by: COLIN TODHUNTER


It is becoming increasingly apparent that food and agriculture across the world is in crisis. Food is becoming denutrified, unhealthy and poisoned with chemicals and diets are becoming less diverse. There is a loss of plant and insect diversity, which threatens food security, soils are being degraded, water tables polluted and depleted and smallholder farmers, so vital to global food production, are being squeezed off their land and out of farming. A minority of the global population has access to so much food than it can afford to waste much of it, while food poverty and inequality have become a fact of life for hundreds of millions.

This crisis stems from food and agriculture being wedded to power structures that serve the interests of the powerful agribusiness corporations in the Western countries, especially the US. Over the last 60 years or so, Washington’s plan has been to restructure indigenous agriculture across the world. And this plan has been geopolitical in nature: subjugating nations by getting them to rely more on US imports rather and grow less of their own food. What happened in Mexico under the banner of ‘free trade’ is outlined further on in this article.

Agriculture and food production and distribution have become globalised and tied to an international system of trade based on export-oriented mono-cropping, commodity production for the international market, indebtedness to international financial institutions (IMF/World Bank) and the need for nations to boost foreign exchange (US dollar) reserves to repay debt (which neatly boosts demand for the dollar, the lynch pin of US global dominance). This has resulted in food surplus and food deficit areas, of which the latter have become dependent on (US) agricultural imports and strings-attached aid. Food deficits in the global South mirror food surpluses in the West.

Whether through IMF-World Bank structural adjustment programmes related to debt repayment, as occurred in Africa, bilateral trade agreements like NAFTA and its impact on Mexico or, more generally, deregulated global trade rules, the outcome has been similar: the devastation of traditional, indigenous agriculture.

Integral to all of this has been the imposition of the green revolution. Farmers were encouraged to purchase seeds from corporations that were dependent on petrochemical fertilisers and pesticides to boost yields. They required loans to purchase these corporate inputs and governments borrowed to finance irrigation and dam building projects for what was a water-intensive model.

While the green revolution was sold to governments and farmers on the basis it would increase productivity and earnings and would be more efficient, we are now in a position to see that it served to incorporate nations and farmers into a system of international capitalism based on dependency, deregulated and manipulated commodity markets, unfair subsidies and inherent food insecurity.

As part of a wider ‘development’ plan for the global South, millions of farmers have been forced out of agriculture to become cheap factory labour (for outsourced units from the West) or, as is increasingly the case, unemployed or underemployed slum dwellers. And many of those who remain in agriculture find themselves being steadily squeezed out as farming becomes increasingly financially non-viable due to falling incomes, the impact cheap subsidised imports and policies deliberately designed to run down smallholder agriculture.

Aside from the geopolitical shift in favour of the Western nations resulting from the programmed destruction of traditional agriculture, the corporate-controlled, chemical-laden green revolution has adversely impacted the nature of food, soil, human health and the environment. Sold on the promise of increased yields, this has been overstated. And the often stated ‘humanitarian’ intent and outcome (‘millions of lives saved’) has had more to do with PR rather than the reality of cold commercial interest.

Moreover, if internationally farmers found themselves beholden to a US centric system of trade and agriculture, at home they were also having to cater to the needs of a distant and expanding urban population whose food needs were different to local rural-based communities. In addition to a focus on export oriented farming, crops were being grown for the urban market, regardless of farmers’ needs or the dietary requirements of local rural markets.

Impacts of the green revolution on the farm

In an open letter written in 2006 to policy makers in India, farmer and campaigner Bhaskar Save summarised some of the impacts of green revolution farming in India. He argued that the actual reason for pushing the green revolution was the much narrower goal of increasing marketable surplus of a few relatively less perishable cereals to fuel the urban-industrial expansion favoured by the government and a few industries at the expense of a more diverse and nutrient-sufficient agriculture, which rural folk – who make up the bulk of India’s population – had long benefited from.

Before, Indian farmers had been largely self-sufficient and even produced surpluses, though generally smaller quantities of many more items. These, particularly perishables, were tougher to supply urban markets. And so the nation’s farmers were steered to grow chemically cultivated monocultures of a few cash-crops like wheat, rice, or sugar, rather than their traditional polycultures that needed no purchased inputs.

Tall, indigenous varieties of grain provided more biomass, shaded the soil from the sun and protected against its erosion under heavy monsoon rains, but these very replaced with dwarf varieties, which led to more vigorous growth of weeds and were able to compete successfully with the new stunted crops for sunlight. As a result, the farmer had to spend more labour and money in weeding, or spraying herbicides. Moreover, straw growth with the dwarf grain crops fell and much less organic matter was locally available to recycle the fertility of the soil, leading to an artificial need for externally procured inputs. Inevitably, the farmers resorted to use more chemicals and soil degradation and erosion set in.

The exotic varieties, grown with chemical fertilisers, were more susceptible to ‘pests and diseases’, leading to yet more chemicals being poured. But the attacked insect species developed resistance and reproduced prolifically. Their predators – spiders, frogs, etc. – that fed on these insects and controlled their populations were exterminated. So were many beneficial species like the earthworms and bees.

Save noted that India, next to South America, receives the highest rainfall in the world. Where thick vegetation covers the ground, the soil is alive and porous and at least half of the rain is soaked and stored in the soil and sub-soil strata. A good amount then percolates deeper to recharge aquifers or groundwater tables. The living soil and its underlying aquifers thus serve as gigantic, ready-made reservoirs. Half a century ago, most parts of India had enough fresh water all year round, long after the rains had stopped and gone. But clear the forests, and the capacity of the earth to soak the rain, drops drastically. Streams and wells run dry.

While the recharge of groundwater has greatly reduced, its extraction has been mounting. India is presently mining over 20 times more groundwater each day than it did in 1950. But most of India’s people – living on hand-drawn or hand-pumped water in villages, and practising only rain-fed farming – continue to use the same amount of ground water per person, as they did generations ago.

More than 80% of India’s water consumption is for irrigation, with the largest share hogged by chemically cultivated cash crops. For example, one acre of chemically grown sugarcane requires as much water as would suffice 25 acres of jowar, bajra or maize. The sugar factories too consume huge quantities. From cultivation to processing, each kilo of refined sugar needs two to three tonnes of water. Save argued this could be used to grow, by the traditional, organic way, about 150 to 200 kg of nutritious jowar or bajra (native millets).

The colonisation of Mexico by US agribusiness 

If Bhaskar Save helped open people’s eyes to what has happened on the farm and to ecology as a result of the green revolution, a2015 report by GRAIN provides a wider overview of how US agribusiness has hijacked an entire nation’s food and agriculture under the banner of ‘free trade’ to the detriment of the environment, health and farmers.

In 2012, Mexico’s National Institute for Public Health released the results of a national survey of food security and nutrition. Between 1988 and 2012, the proportion of overweight women between the ages of 20 and 49 increased from 25 to 35% and the number of obese women in this age group increased from 9 to 37%. Some 29% of Mexican children between the ages of 5 and 11 were found to be overweight, as were 35% of the youngsters between 11 and 19, while one in 10 school age children suffered from anaemia. The Mexican Diabetes Federation says that more than 7% of the Mexican population has diabetes. Diabetes is now the third most common cause of death in Mexico, directly or indirectly.

The various free trade agreements that Mexico has signed over the past two decades have had a profound impact on the country’s food system and people’s health. After his mission to Mexico in 2012, the then Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, concluded that the trade policies in place favour greater reliance on heavily processed and refined foods with a long shelf life rather than on the consumption of fresh and more perishable foods, particularly fruit and vegetables.

He added that the overweight and obesity emergency that Mexico is facing could have been avoided, or largely mitigated, if the health concerns linked to shifting diets had been integrated into the design of those policies.

The North America Free Trade Agreement led to the direct investment in food processing and a change in the retail structure (notably the advent of supermarkets and convenience stores) as well as the emergence of global agribusiness and transnational food companies in Mexico. The country has witnessed an explosive growth of chain supermarkets, discounters and convenience stores. Local small-scale vendors have been replaced by corporate retailers that offer the processed food companies greater opportunities for sales and profits. Oxxo (owned by Coca-cola subsidiary Femsa) tripled its stores to 3,500 between 1999 and 2004. It was scheduled to open its 14 thousandth store sometime during 2015.

De Schutter believes a programme that deals effectively with hunger and malnutrition has to focus on Mexico’s small farmers and peasants. They constitute a substantial percentage of the country’s poor and are the ones that can best supply both rural and urban populations with nutritious foods. Mexico could recover its self-sufficiency in food if there were to be official support for peasant agriculture backed with amounts comparable to the support granted to the big corporations.

In Mexico, the loss of food sovereignty has induced catastrophic changes in the nation’s diet and has had dire consequences for agricultural workers who lost their jobs and for the nation in general. Those who have benefited include US food and agribusiness interests, drugcartels and US banks and arms manufacturers.

The writing is on the wall for other countries because what happened in Mexico is being played out across the world under the banner of ‘free trade’.

GMOs a bogus techno quick-fix to further benefit global agribusiness

Transnational agribusiness has lobbied for, directed and profited from the very policies that have caused the agrarian/food crisis. And what we now see is these corporations (and their supporters) espousing cynical and fake concern for the plight of the poor and hungry (and the environment which they have done so much to degrade), and offering more (second or third generation… we have lost count) chemicals and corporate-patented GM wonder seeds to supposedly ‘solve’ the problem of world hunger. GM represents the final stranglehold of transnational agribusiness over the control of seeds and food.

The misrepresentation of the plight of the indigenous edible oils sector in India encapsulates the duplicity at work surrounding GM. After trade rules and cheap imports conspired to destroy farmers and the jobs of people involved in local food processing activities for the benefit of global agribusiness, including commodity trading and food processer companies ADM and Cargill, the same companies are now leading a campaign to force GM into India on the basis that Indian agriculture is unproductive and thus the country has to rely on imports. This conveniently ignores the fact that prior to neoliberal trade rules in the mid-1990s, India was almost self-sufficient in edible oils.

In collusion with the Gates Foundation, these corporate interests are now seeking to secure full spectrum dominance throughout much of Africa as well. Western seed, fertiliser and pesticide manufacturers and dealers and food processing companies are in the process of securing changes to legislation and are building up logistics and infrastructure to allow them to recast food and farming in their own images.

Today, governments continue to collude with big agribusiness corporations, which seek to eradicate the small farmer and subject countries to the vagaries of rigged global markets. Agritech corporations are being allowed to shape government policy by being granted a strategic role in trade negotiations and are increasingly framing the policy/knowledge agenda by funding and determining the nature of research carried out in public universities and institutes.

Bhaskar Save:

“This country has more than 150 agricultural universities. But every year, each churns out several hundred ‘educated’ unemployables, trained only in misguiding farmers and spreading ecological degradation. In all the six years a student spends for an M.Sc. in agriculture, the only goal is short-term – and narrowly perceived – ‘productivity’. For this, the farmer is urged to do and buy a hundred things. But not a thought is spared to what a farmer must never do so that the land remains unharmed for future generations and other creatures. It is time our people and government wake up to the realisation that this industry-driven way of farming – promoted by our institutions – is inherently criminal and suicidal!”

At the end of the above quote, Save is referring to the near 300,000 farmer suicides that have taken place in India over the past two decades due to economic distress resulting from debt, a shift to (GM)cash crops and economic ‘liberalisation’(see this report about a peer-reviewed study, which directly links suicides to GM cotton).

The current global system of chemical-industrial agriculture, World Trade Organisation rules and bilateral trade agreements that agritech companies helped draw up for their benefit are a major cause of structural hunger, poverty, illness and environmental destruction. By its very design, the system is parasitical.

Agroecology as a credible force for change

Across the world, we are seeing farmers and communities continuing to resist the corporate takeover of seeds, soils, water and food. And we are also witnessing inspiring stories about the successes of agroecology: a model of agriculture based on traditional knowledge and modern agricultural research utilising elements of contemporary ecology, soil biology and the biological control of pests.

Reflecting what Bhaskar Save achieved on his farm in Gujarat, the system combines sound ecological management, including minimising the use of toxic inputs, by using on-farm renewable resources and privileging endogenous solutions to manage pests and disease, with an approach that upholds and secures farmers’ livelihoods.

Agroecology is based on scientific research grounded in the natural sciences but marries this with farmer-generated knowledge and grass-root participation that challenges top-down approaches to research and policy making. It can also involve moving beyond the  dynamics of the farm itself to become part of a wider agenda, which addresses the broader political and economic issues that impact farmers and agriculture (see this description of the various modes of thought that underpin agroecolgy).

Last year the Oakland Institute released a report on 33 case studies which highlighted the success of agroecological agriculture across Africa in the face of climate change, hunger and poverty. The studies provide facts and figures on how agricultural transformation can yield immense economic, social, and food security benefits while ensuring climate justice and restoring soils and the environment. The research highlight the multiple benefits of agroecology, including affordable and sustainable ways to boost agricultural yields while increasing farmers’ incomes, food security and resilience.

The report described how agroecology uses a wide variety of techniques and practices, including plant diversification, intercropping, the application of mulch, manure or compost for soil fertility, the natural management of pests and diseases, agroforestry and the construction of water management structures. There are many other examples of successful agroecology and of farmers abandoning green revolution thought and practices to embrace it (see this report about El Salvador and this from South India).

Various official reports have argued that to feed the hungry and secure food security in low income regions we need to support small farms and diverse, sustainable agro-ecological methods of farming and strengthen local food economies (see this report by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food and this (IAASTD) peer-reviewed report).

Olivier De Schutter, former UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food:

“To feed 9 billion people in 2050, we urgently need to adopt the most efficient farming techniques available. Today’s scientific evidence demonstrates that agroecological methods outperform the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production where the hungry live especially in unfavorable environments.”

De Schutter’s report indicated that small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years in critical regions by using ecological methods. Based on an extensive review of the recent scientific literature, the study calls for a fundamental shift towards agroecology as a way to boost food production and improve the situation of the poorest. The report calls on states to implement a fundamental shift towards agroecology.

The success stories of agroecology indicate what can be achieved when development is placed firmly in the hands of farmers themselves. The expansion of agroecological practices can generate a rapid, fair and inclusive development that can be sustained for future generations. This model entails policies and activities that come from the bottom-up and which the state must invest in and facilitate.

Proponents of agroecology appreciate that a decentralised system of domestic food production with access to local rural markets supported by proper roads, storage and other infrastructure must take priority ahead of exploitative international markets dominated and designed to serve the needs of global capital. Small farms are per area more productive than large-scale industrial farms and create a more resilient, diverse food system. If policy makers were to prioritise this sector and promote agroecology to the extent ‘green revolution’ practices and technology have been pushed, many of the problems surrounding poverty, unemployment, rising population and urban migration could be solved.

While many argue in favour of agroecology and regard it as a strategy for radical social change, some are happier for it to bring certain benefits to farmers and local communities and see nothing wrong with it being integrated within a globalised system of capitalism that continues to centralise power and generally serve the interests of the global seed, food processing and retail players. And that is the danger: a model of agriculture with so much potential being incorporated into a corrupt system designed to suit the needs of these corporate interests.

But there is only so much that can be achieved at grass-root level by ordinary people, often facilitated by non-governmental agencies. As long as politicians at national and regional levels are co-opted by the US and its corporations, seeds will continue to be appropriated, lands taken, water diverted, legislation enacted, research institutes funded and policy devised to benefit global agribusiness.


Colin Todhunter is an extensively published independent writer and former social policy researcher based in the UK and India.



Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Counter Punch and was retrieved on March 10, 2016 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, comments and thoughts expressed in the article remains thoughts of the author. Please cite the original source accordingly.


 

Regional Workshop Held On Sustainable Oil Palm Production

Source: News Ghana 2016
Source: News Ghana 2016

Organised by Proforest, which is leading the Initiative on behalf of Tropical Forest Alliance (TFA) 2020, the workshop was held in collaboration with the Government through the Ministry of Food and Agriculture.

wpid-palm-oil-fruit.jpgThe workshop, the first of its kind would help plan the regional initiative process leading towards signing a regional Accord at the Ministerial level on responsible palm oil production later in 2016.

The TFA 2020 is a public–private partnership bringing together companies, governments and civil society with a shared goal of reducing tropical deforestation across the globe.

Its focus is on agricultural commodities such as palm oil, soy, pulp and paper, and beef products, which drive more than 50 per cent of such deforestation.

Speaking at the opening session, Dr Ahmed Yakubu Alhassan, Deputy Minister of Food and Agriculture, said the TAF 2020 was part of the important process of ensuring that oil palm was produced in a way that protects the environment, bring benefits to communities, provide a conducive atmosphere for industry and businesses to grow, while contributing to Ghana’s growing economy.

He said it was the belief of the Government that the development of oil palm could be done in a more sustainable manner to help reduce the negative impacts.

Dr Alhassan said it was important that palm oil refiners, manufacturers and other actors who influenced the sector directly and indirectly come together to find ways of reducing the likely negative impacts and increase its benefits.

“We believe this can be done by joining forces with allies who share the same vision and who are ready to forge strategic, mutually beneficial partnerships to work towards set goals,” he said.

Oil Palm is known to have originated in Africa. Its cultivation has hitherto been on a small scale – primarily as village low-yield multi-crop stands.

According to the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) smallholders account for 70–90% of oil palm producers in Africa.

“As we learn from ourselves and share ideas, it is my hope that we not only develop but find constructive ways of supporting the implementation of a set of regional principles for responsible oil palm development that take account of the development plans of our respective countries and Africa as a whole,” Dr Alhassan said.

“Oil palm development is about our people, our livelihood, heritage, our economy and ultimately our legacy. We don’t owe its sustainable growth only to the over six million people whose livelihood depends on it, or the consumers all over the world whose lives a better because of the oil palm but to posterity,” he added.

He said closing the gaps in the sector and producing oil palm sustainably would require concerted efforts from governments, regional bodies, research institutions, private financiers, investors, and technocrats, to ensure the proper understanding and utilization of oil palm.

Mr Abraham Baffoe, Africa Regional Director Proforest, said the workshop sought to build a shared understanding of TFA 2020 and the Africa Palm Oil Initiative and share ideas and experiences on promoting deforestation-free supply chains as a vital element of better economic growth and making progress towards the Global Goals.

It will also update stakeholders on progress made in the initial focal countries and develop a framework for a set of regional principles for sustainable palm oil in Africa, including a timeline for reaching a regional agreement.

Six leading palm oil producing countries in Africa including Cameroon, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana are engaged in the Initiative.

Other producer countries are expected to join this first regional workshop, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by News Ghana and retrieved on March 8, 2016 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The contents in the article remains those of the author only. Please cite the original source accordingly.


 

 

Rushing to relieve Ethiopia’s shortage of maize and wheat seed

Screen Shot 2016-03-04 at 2.24.20 AM
Image Source: CIMMYT Press Releases

on Thursday, 03 March 2016. Posted in Press releases

Ethiopian organizations, USAID, and CIMMYT partner for rapid help to drought-hit farmers
ADDIS ABABA – As government and external agencies marshal food relief for millions facing hunger from Ethiopia’s worst drought in decades, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) is leading a major, one-year push to provide drought-hit maize and wheat farmers in Ethiopia with urgently-needed seed to save their next harvest.

With a $3.97 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, CIMMYT is rapidly procuring emergency supplies of maize and wheat seed for free distribution to more than 226,000 households in 67 drought-affected counties of Ethiopia, benefitting more than 1.35 million people who have lost their seed from the lack of rains.

Building on pre-existing efforts funded by USAID under the U.S. government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, and involving CIMMYT to strengthen maize and wheat seed production and distribution systems in Ethiopia, the project will obtain seed from areas favored by recent good harvests.

Needy farmers will receive enough seed to sow from ¼ to ½ hectare of land – a quarter or more of the typical farmer’s landholding – along with instructional materials about the varieties and best farming practices.

For maize, the project will distribute seed of high-yielding, broadly adapted, drought tolerant varieties developed by CIMMYT and partners in Ethiopia as part of another, long-running initiative whose seed production and marketing efforts are being massively scaled up with USAID support.

The wheat seed for distribution is of high-yielding varieties able to resist Ethiopia’s rapidly-evolving wheat disease strains. According to Bekele Abeyo, CIMMYT wheat breeder/pathologist for Sub-Saharan Africa, who is coordinating the seed relief initiative, procurement will benefit from recently-begun CIMMYT-led work, also with USAID support, to multiply and spread improved wheat seed.

“While addressing the pressing need to have seed before the spring rains, when many families sow, the work also promotes more widespread awareness and use of the latest improved varieties and farming practices,” said Abeyo, who added that all the varieties had been developed using conventional breeding and that most of the seed was being sourced from Ethiopian farmers and seed enterprises.

Wheat and maize to meet rising challenges and demand

Maize and wheat are strategic food crops in Ethiopia, grown on more than 3 million hectares by nearly 14 million households.

High-yielding, resilient wheat varieties from CIMMYT and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), along with supportive government policies and better cropping practices, have caused Ethiopia’s wheat production to more than double in just over a decade, rising from 1.6 million tons during 2003-04 to around 3.9 million tons over the last few years. “Food security has measurably improved in households that have taken up the improved wheat technologies,” according to Abeyo, who also cited rust resistance research led by Cornell University and involving CIMMYT, as instrumental in developing and spreading disease-resistant improved varieties in Ethiopia and in supporting the creation of a global wheat disease monitoring and rapid-response system.

Maize was originally a subsistence staple in Ethiopia, but government policies and research investments have propelled it to become the nation’s second most-widely cultivated crop and the most important source of calories in rural areas. Average national yield has doubled since the 1990s to surpass 3 tons per hectare, the second-highest level of productivity among nations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Having worked in Ethiopia since the 1970s, CIMMYT has contributed many improved varieties, including maize with enhanced protein quality that can increase height and weight growth rates in infants and young children. Seed of this maize will also be distributed through the relief initiative.

Seeding a food-secure future

“The partnership with USAID for future food security, livelihoods, and nutrition in Ethiopia perfectly fits CIMMYT’s mission and the aims of long and valued collaborations in the country,” said Martin Kropff, CIMMYT director general. “With partners’ help, we will monitor the uptake, use, and impact of the maize and wheat seed distributed through the initiative.”

“Through years of USAID support and most recently through the U.S. government’s Feed the Future initiative, we’ve worked hand-in-hand with the government of Ethiopia and partners like CIMMYT to build the country’s capacity for lasting food security and resilience to recurring drought,” said Beth Dunford, Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Food Security and Deputy Coordinator for Development for Feed the Future. “As the current crisis outstrips Ethiopia’s ability to cope on its own, USAID is committed to helping the country meet immediate needs as well as protect hard-won development gains and speed recovery through efforts like this emergency seed support.”

Partners involved in the seed relief initiative include:

  • Amhara Seed Enterprise.
  • The Agricultural Transformation Agency, Ethiopia.
  • Regional Bureaus of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
  • Ethiopian Seed Enterprise.
  • Farmer cooperative unions.
  • Federal and regional research institutes.
  • Oromia Seed Enterprise.
  • Private seed companies.
  • Southern Seed Enterprise.

For more information

Mike Listman, CIMMYT communications, email at m.listman@cgiar.org, mobile at +52 1 595 1149 743. Geneviève Renard, head of CIMMYT communications, email at g.renard@cgiar.org, mobile at +52 1 595 114 9880.

About CIMMYT

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), is the global leader in research for development in wheat and maize and wheat- and maize-based farming systems. From its headquarters in Mexico and 14 global offices, CIMMYT works throughout the developing world with hundreds of partners to sustainably increase the productivity of maize and wheat systems, thus contributing to better food security and livelihoods. CIMMYT is a member of the 15-member CGIAR Consortium and leads the CGIAR Research Programs on Wheat and Maize. CIMMYT receives support from national governments, foundations, development banks and other public and private agencies.

About Feed the Future

Feed the Future is the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. With a focus on smallholder farmers, particularly women, Feed the Future supports partner countries in developing their agriculture sectors to spur economic growth and trade that increase incomes and reduce hunger, poverty and under-nutrition. For more information, visit http://www.feedthefuture.gov.


Article Disclaimer: This article was published at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) on March 3, 2016 and was retrieved on March 3, 2016 and reposted here at INDESEEM for educational and information purposes only. The views and content of the post remains solely the intellectual property of the CIMMYT. Please cite the original source accordingly.


Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP)

Source: http://borlaugleap.org/eligibility

Program Description

The Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (Borlaug LEAP) is currently accepting applications from sub-Saharan African students conducting research on topics related to the US Government’s global hunger initiative — Feed the Future.  All topics related to agriculture (as defined by Title XII) and the Feed the Future initiative are admissible.

ABOUT THE PROGRAM

The Borlaug LEAP offers fellowships to enhance the quality of thesis research of graduate students from developing countries who show strong promise as leaders in the field of agriculture and related disciplines.  The program supports engaging a mentor at a US university and a CGIAR center.

Awards are made on a competitive basis to students who show strong scientific and leadership potential, have a well coordinated proposal between their home university, a US university mentor, and the CGIAR mentor, and whose research has relevance to the national development of the student’s home country or region.

FUNDING

The award level is US$20,000 for a maximum of one year. The funds are administered as a grant to the US university mentor. Grant funds can be used to support a variety of research needs including student’s travel to the research site, research support at the CGIAR or US university, and US faculty member travel to the research site to mentor the student in collaboration with a CGIAR scientist.  Funds should not be used to pay tuition or salaries.

THE FELLOWSHIP

The program supports internships for up to 12 months. Internships can be at the CGIAR, US graduate-level university or a combination of appropriate institutions. Students are encouraged to creatively plan an internship that best suits their educational needs and circumstances.  A minimum of three months should be spent at any one location.

Eligibility

WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO APPLY?

An eligible candidate for a Borlaug LEAP fellowship must be

  • a citizen of a USAID-assisted country.  Currently we are only accepting applications from citizens of USAID-assisted countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  Applicants cannot hold citizenship or permanent residency in the US and/or any non-USAID assisted country. This includes applicants with dual citizenship.
  • currently enrolled as an MS or PhD student at a US or sub-Saharan Africa developing country university. Candidates must maintain student status for the duration of the fellowship.
  • fluent in reading, writing and speaking English. All semi-finalists must provide a TOEFL or IELTS score taken within the past year.  Only applicants enrolled at U.S. universities are exempt from this requirement.  Minimum acceptable scores are:  TOEFL, 550 (paper test); 80 (internet-based test).  IELTS (academic modules), minimum of 7 on a 9-point scale.

In addition, eligible candidates will have

  • completed at least one year of graduate level course work in the graduate program the applicant is currently enrolled in with a US equivalent grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher.
  • a thesis-topic related to agricultural development and related fields. Title XII legislation broadly defines agriculture as:

“…the science and practice of activity related to food, feed, and fiber production, processing, marketing, distribution, utilization, and trade, and also includes family and consumer sciences, nutrition, food science and engineering, agricultural economics and other social sciences, forestry, wildlife, fisheries, aquaculture, floriculture, veterinary medicine, and other environmental and natural resources sciences.”

Successful candidates must:

  • agree to return to their country of citizenship for a minimum of two years following graduation.
  • remain enrolled as an MS or PhD student and have student status at their university for the duration of their fellowship.
  • See Conditions of Training for more information
WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO BE A MENTOR?

An eligible US mentor must be:

  • a faculty member at a US graduate level university.
  • conducting research related to or complementary of the student’s research topic.
  • eligible at his/her institution to supervise graduate students.
  • eligible at his/her institution to serve as Principal Investigator on the fellowship award.
  • willing to make the time commitment to mentor the student.

An eligible CGIAR mentor must be:

Application Deadline: April 6, 2016

Food security: Asia’s critical balancing act

 

35 year old Indian farmer Niren Das manually irrigates his paddy field on the outskirts of Gauhati, India. About 60 per cent of India’s population works in the agriculture sector. (Photo: AAP).


Authors: R. Quentin Grafton ; John Williams, ANU, and Qiang Jiang, Sichuan University. Date: February 2, 2016


Asia’s food systems are under an unprecedented confluence of pressures. Balancing future food demand and supply in ways that protect the most vulnerable, while also being sustainable, must be a first order policy priority.

Demand for food is driven by population and income growth, and also urbanisation. Global population size is projected to increase from over 7.3 billion today to more than 9.5 billion by 2050 under a medium growth scenario. Per capita income growth at 3 per cent a year will more than double average world income by 2050. More people and higher average incomes will result in greater food consumption and changes in diets.

For instance, rapid growth in per-capita income over the past two decades in China has been accompanied by sharp growth in the consumption of livestock products. Intensive livestock production is much less efficient than direct crop consumption in providing food calories. As meat contributes to a greater share of the calories consumed, proportionally more crops will need to be grown.

Recent studies estimate food production will need to increase by at least 60 per cent between 2005 and 2050. Not only are there about 800 million people in the world chronically undernourished today, global studies show that it is necessary to increase global crop yield by a minimum of 1.1 per cent per annum to feed the world by 2050. The current growth of average global crop yields varies between 0.9 and 1.6 per cent per year. The future challenge is whether crop yield increases on the lower end of this range will be sufficient to meet increased food demands.

Prospects for the future are all the more uncertain because past production has sometimes degraded or destroyed ecosystems on which agriculture is ultimately dependent. The availability of suitable lands for agriculture is likely to be plentiful in only a few regions by 2050. To make matters worse, there is increasing competition for land, water and energy for uses other than for food production.

Substantial water deficits from agricultural water use alone are also likely to occur in key food-producing countries, such as China and India. Increasingly high rates of crop water usage will put very large demands on water resources. The projected water deficit from current practices can be eliminated only by reducing water demand in other sectors, or by reducing water levels in surface flows or groundwater.

Climate change poses further risks to future food supplies. This is not just because of higher temperatures that are moderately negative for some plants and positive for some others. The major difficulty in terms of food supply lies in climate variability. A possible increase in the number of extreme weather events poses many challenges, not least of which is the increased variability of food prices.

Given bio-physical constraints such as the availability of land and water, technological improvements and efficiency gains are required. This is especially critical in tropical locations with low soil nutrient availability and water retention. There is a need for investment in research and development to ensure current rates of yield growth do not fall any further. This must also be achieved without compromising the soils and water on which future food production depends.

Food trade will be important for ensuring an adequate distribution of food across countries. Growing food shortages are predicted for South Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. These countries represent ‘choke points’ that are likely to remain even if global crop yields are sufficient in total.

While there is genuine concern about how Asia will meet anticipated increases in food demand, globally agriculture has successfully responded to increased food demand over the past decades. Food supply has more than tripled since 1960 and continues to rise at a global level.

Fertilisers will play an increasingly important role in overcoming yield gaps but complementary approaches are needed to promote sustainable growth. Provided sufficient nutrients are present, crop improvements through genetic modification and improved agricultural management can help overcome possible future food availability deficits. Even substantial improvements in potential crop yields and water productivity cannot offset critically-limiting nutrients.

But fertiliser can impose negative environmental costs on landscapes, as well as planetary nitrogen and phosphorus cycles. Reductions in its excessive use must be accompanied by methods of crop production that offset the expected decline in yields. For countries highly dependent on crop fertilisation, such as China and the United States, finding sustainable ways to deliver nutrients essential to food production is a major challenge.

The sustainability of Asia’s food production systems is being questioned in a world with intensive agriculture. Current agricultural production and distribution already leaves hundreds of millions of people hungry in the world, while growth in agricultural production under a business-as-usual model will likely contribute to the planet approaching or even surpassing its safe operating space in terms of biodiversity, climate change and the nitrogen cycle. Land, biodiversity and water degradation have, and will continue, to restrict growth in food availability in the coming decades. Effectively responding to the nexus of food security and environmental risks will be a key policy challenge for Asian countries in the coming decades.


Information About the Authors:

Quentin Grafton is a professor of economics at the Australian National University and Editor-in-Chief of Policy Forum.net.

John Williams is an adjunct professor at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University and adjunct professor at CSU Institute of Land Water and Society.

Qiang Jiang is an associate research fellow at Sichuan University, China.

An extended version of this article was published in the most recent edition of the East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘Asia’s Inter-generational Challenges‘.


Article Disclaimer: This article was originally published at East Asia Forum and was retrieved and posted here at INDESEEM on 02/02/2016 for information and educational purposes only. Please cite the original and this source accordingly.


 

Australia ranks number one with the most organically farmed land in the world


Written by: Lara Webster, Updated 27 Oct 2015, 11:41pm


As the world population continues to grow, Australia could capitalise on organic export markets, says Bond University sustainability professor Tor Hundloe.

AUDIO: Sustainability professor Tor Hundloe explains why Australia has the most organically farmed land. (ABC Rural)

He has been investigating Australia’s role in feeding the world, with the global population predicted to hit 9.7 billion in 2050.

Through his most recent research he discovered Australia had the most organically farmed land in the world: more than five times that of Argentina who came in second on the list.

“We are a very large continent and much of Australia is semi-arid or arid.

“On that land chemicals have never been used, fertilisers have never been used, pesticides, so it’s basically virgin country, organic country, as it is,” he said.

“We’ve [also] got land that is fairly easily converted from conventional farming back to organic, and I’m thinking about dairying country where that land can revert to being organic.”

He said the potential to produce greater amounts of organic food was of huge benefit to Australian farmers.

Anywhere where there were dairy farms… they are ideal farms for the small scale, intensive, organic farming.

Professor Tor Hundloe

Professor Hundloe said he had been watching trends overseas and there was a steady increase in the number of people who wanted to buy “cleaner, greener” food.

“We’ve got a good chance of feeding those wealthier people in China and South East Asia.

“They’re demanding the sort of product we have [such as] good, clean beef, milk and cereal,” said Professor Hundloe.

“When our fruit and vegetables are coming on in summer it is winter in northern Asia and we can supply fruit and vegetables into those markets.

“We predict China is going to produce an enormous amount of beef as the middle class of China becomes richer.

“We are in a beaut position to capitalise on export markets.”

Organic marketing a hurdle

While there have been supply shortages domestically for organic food, Professor Hundloe said there was actually more organic food available than people knew.

He said the problem was marketing.

“We’re just not labelling enough of it [food] as organic,” Professor Hundloe said.

To further understand the role of organic farming in future food production, Professor Hundloe will travel throughout Australia with three students.

The team has already travelled throughout Central Queensland and interviewed a number of large-scale organic beef and sheep producers.

Now they are headed south, to south-east Queensland, to speak with small-scale, organic farmers in the Gympie and Mary Valley region.

“Gympie is on the list because the old dairy industry around Gympie has changed dramatically, and that land has been taken over by small scale beef farmers, pig farmers [and] fruit and vegetable farmers,” Professor Hundloe said.

“Gympie is very close to the Sunshine Coast which is a prime market for organic food.

“It is close to Brisbane so it is the perfect place for the small scale, organic farming industry in Australia.

He said there were many other farming communities throughout the nation which would be able to make the same transition Gympie has seen.

“Anywhere down into New South Wales and Victoria, Tasmania and over in the west too.

“Anywhere where there were dairy farms… they are ideal farms for the small scale, intensive, organic farming.”


Article Disclaimer: This article was published at ABC and was retrieved on 11/10/2015 for information and education purposes only. The views and thoughts expressed in this article remains those of the author. Please cite the original source and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

Researchers on Big Data: More than a lot of numbers!

Photo by 123RF.com

By Steve Sonka and Yu-Tien Cheng, University of Illinois November 03, 2015 | 7:01 am EST


Big Data — the current buzzword of choice. Today it’s very easy to be overwhelmed by the hype promoting Big Data. Farm media, newspapers and general media, and conference speakers all extol the future transforming effects of Big Data, stressing that “Big Data will be essential to our future, whatever it is.” The goal of this article, and the series of five that follow, is to begin to unravel that “whatever it is” factor for agriculture.

We’ll definitely explore “whatever it is” from a managerial, not a computer science, perspective. Potential implications for agriculture will be the primary emphasis of the following set of articles:

1.Big Data: More Than a Lot of Numbers! This article emphasizes the role of analytics enabling the integration of various data types to generate insights. It stresses that the “Big” part of Big Data is necessary but it’s the “Data” part of Big Data that’s likely to affect management decisions.

2.Precision Ag: Not the Same as Big Data But… Today, it’s easy to be confused by the two concepts, Precision Ag and Big Data. In addition to briefly reviewing the impact of Precision Ag, this article stresses that Big Data is much more than Precision Ag. However, Precision Ag operations often will generate key elements of the data needed for Big Data applications.

3.Big Data in Farming: Why Matters! Big Data applications generally create predictions based on analysis of what has occurred. Uncertainty in farming, based in biology and weather, means that the science of agriculture (the Why) will need to be integrated within many of the sector’s Big Data applications.

4.Big Data: Alive and Growing in the Food Sector! Big Data already is being extensively employed at the genetics and consumer ends of the food and ag supply chain. This article will stress the potential for capabilities and knowledge generated at these levels to affect new opportunities within production agriculture.

5.A Big Data Revolution: What Would Drive It? Management within farming historically has been constrained by the fundamental reality that the cost of real-time measurement of farming operations exceeded the benefits from doing so. Sensing capabilities (from satellites, to drones, to small-scale weather monitors, to soil moisture and drainage metering) now being implemented will materially lessen that constraint. Doing so will create data streams (or is it floods?) by which Big Data applications can profoundly alter management on the farm.

6.A Big Data Revolution: Who Would Drive It? Over the last 30 years, novel applications of information technology have caused strategic change in many sectors of the economy. This article draws on those experiences to inform our thinking about the potential role of Big Data as a force for change in agriculture.

Big Data: More Than a Lot of Numbers!

Innovation has been critical to increased agricultural productivity and to support of an ever increasing global population. To be effective, however, each innovation had to be understood, adopted, and adapted by farmers and other managers.

Although Big Data is relatively new, it is the focus of intense media speculation today. However, it is important to remember that Big Data won’t have much impact unless it too is understood, adopted and adapted by farmers and other managers. This article provides several perspectives to support that process.

Big Data Defined

“90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone” (IBM, 2012).

In recent years, statements similar to IBM’s observation and associated predictions of a Big Data revolution have become increasingly more common. Some days it seems like we can’t escape them!

Actually, Big Data and its hype are relatively new. As shown in Figure 1, use of the term, Big Data, was barely noticeable prior to 2011. However, the term’s usage literally exploded in 2012 and 2013, expanding by a factor of 5 in just two years.

With all new concepts, it’s nice to have a definition. Big Data has had more than its fair share. Two that we find helpful are:

•The phrase “big data” refers to large, diverse, complex, longitudinal, and/or distributed data sets generated from instruments, sensors, Internet transactions, email, video, click streams, and/or all other digital sources available today and in the future (National Science Foundation, 2012).

•Big Data is high-volume, -velocity, and -variety information assets that demand cost-effective, innovative forms of information processing for enhanced insight and decision making (Gartner IT Glossary, 2012).

These definitions are impressive. However, they really don’t tell us how Big Data will empower decision makers to create new economic and social value.

From Technology to Value

In the next few paragraphs, we’ll move beyond those definitions to explore how application of Big Data fosters economic growth. In this article, we’ll present non-ag examples because today there is more experience outside of agriculture. The following articles in this series will focus on agriculture.

Big Data generally is referred to as a singular thing. It’s not! In reality, Big Data is a capability. It is the capability to extract information and craft insights where previously it was not possible to do so.

Advances across several technologies are fueling the growing Big Data capability. These include, but are not limited to computation, data storage, communications, and sensing.

These individual technologies are “cool” and exciting. However, sometimes a focus on cool technologies can distract us from what is managerially important.

A commonly used lens when examining Big Data is to focus on its dimensions. Three dimensions (Figure 2) often are employed to describe Big Data: Volume, Velocity, and Variety. These three dimensions focus on the nature of data. However, just having data isn’t sufficient.

Analytics is the hidden, “secret sauce” of Big Data. Analytics refers to the increasingly sophisticated means by which analysts can create useful insights from available data.

Now let’s consider each dimension individually:

Interestingly, the Volume dimension of Big Data is not specifically defined. No single standard value specifies how big a dataset needs to be for it to be considered “Big”.

It’s not like Starbucks; where the Tall cup is 12 ounces and the Grande is 16 ounces. Rather, Big Data refers to datasets whose size exceeds the ability of the typical software used to capture, store, manage, and analyze.

This perspective is intentionally subjective and what is “Big” varies between industries and applications. An example of one firm’s use of Big Data is provided by GE — which now collects 50 million pieces of data from 10 million sensors everyday (Hardy, 2014).

GE installs sensors on turbines to collect information on the “health” of the blades. Typically, one gas turbine can generate 500 gigabytes of data daily. If use of that data can improve energy efficiency by 1%, GE can help customers save a total of $300 billion (Marr, 2014)! The numbers and their economic impact do get “Big” very quickly.

The Velocity dimension refers to the capability to acquire, understand, and respond to events as they occur. Sometimes it’s not enough just to know what’s happened; rather we want to know what’s happening. We’ve all become familiar with real-time traffic information available at our fingertips.

Google Map provides live traffic information by analyzing the speed of phones using the Google Map app on the road (Barth, 2009). Based on the changing traffic status and extensive analysis of factors that affect congestion, Google Map can suggest alternative routes in real-time to ensure a faster and smoother drive.

Variety, as a Big Data dimension, may be the most novel and intriguing. For many of us, our image of data is a spreadsheet filled with numbers meaningfully arranged in rows and columns.

With Big Data, the reality of “what is data” has wildly expanded. The lower row of Figure 3 shows some newer kinds of sensors in the world, from cell phones, to smart watches, and to smart lights.

Cell phones and watches can now monitor users’ health. Even light bulbs can be used to observe movements, which help some retailers to detect consumer behaviors in stores to personalize promotions (Reed, 2015). We even include human eyes in Figure 3, as it would be possible to track your eyes as you read this article.

The power of integrating across diverse types and sources of data is commercially substantial. For example, UPS vehicles are installed with sensors to track the engine performance, car speed, braking, direction, and more (van Rijmenam, 2014).

By analyzing these and other data, UPS is able to not only monitor the car engine and driving behavior but also suggest better routes, leading to substantial savings of fuel (Schlangenstein, 2013).

So, Volume, Variety, and Velocity can give us access to lots of data, generated from diverse sources with minimal lag times. At first glance that sounds attractive. Fairly quickly, however, managers start to wonder, what do I do with all this stuff?

Just acquiring more data isn’t very exciting and won’t improve agriculture. Instead, we need tools that can enable managers to improve decision-making; this is the domain of Analytics.

One tool providing such capabilities was recently unveiled by the giant retailer, Amazon (Bensinger, 2014). This patented tool will enable Amazon managers to undertake what it calls “anticipatory shipping”, a method to start delivering packages even before customers click “buy”.

Amazon intends to box and ship products it expects customers in a specific area will want but haven’t yet ordered. In deciding what to ship, Amazon’s analytical process considers previous orders, product searches, wish lists, shopping-cart contents, returns, and even how long an Internet user’s cursor hovers over an item.

Analytics and its related, more recent term, data science, are key factors by which Big Data capabilities actually can contribute to improved performance, not just in retailing, but also in agriculture. Such tools are currently being developed for the sector, although these efforts typically are at early stages.

So What?

In this discussion, we explored the dimensions of Big Data — 3Vs and an A. The Volume dimension links directly to the “Big” component of Big Data. Variety, Velocity and Analytics relate to the “Data” aspect. While Volume is important, strategic change and managerial challenges will be driven by Variety, Velocity, and especially Analytics.

Unfortunately, media and advertising tend to emphasize Volume; it’s easy to impress with really, really large numbers. But farmers and agricultural managers shouldn’t be distracted by statistics on Volume.

Big Data’s potential doesn’t rest on having lots of numbers or even having the world’s largest spreadsheet. Instead, the ability to integrate across numerous and novel data sources is key.

The point of doing this is to create new managerial insights that enable better decisions. While Volume and Variety are necessary, Analytics is what allows for fusion across data sources and new knowledge to be created.

Emphasizing the critical role of Variety of data sources and Analytics capabilities is particularly important for production agriculture. Individual farms and other agricultural firms aren’t likely to possess the entire range of data sources needed to optimize value creation.

Further, sophisticated and specialized Analytics competencies will be required. To be effective, however, the computer science competencies also need to be combined with knowledge of the business and science aspects of agricultural production.

At times this sounds complicated and maybe threatening. Visiting with a farmer from Ohio about this topic recently, he made a comment that is helpful in unraveling this complexity. He noted that effective use of Big Data for him as a Midwestern farmer is mainly about relationships.

The relevant question is, “Which input and information suppliers and customers can provide the Big Data capabilities for him to optimize his decisions?” And he noted, “For farmers, managing those relationships isn’t new!”


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by Agprofessional.com and was retrieved and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views, opinions, thoughts, and information expressed in this article are those of the authors. Please cite the original and INDESEEM accordingly.


 

 

INDESEEM brings you news, articles, research findings, and innovations from across the globe in style.

%d bloggers like this: