Joshua Keating at Slate has an excellent piece on the role food prices have political stability and the drivers in the rise in food prices since 2000. That trend is result of the intersection of having maxed out on the amount of food we can produce and the growing global middle class demand. The both for greater net calories and more meat and dairy. Keating shares a number of interesting facts and insights.
Thailand’s program of supporting farmers by buying rice above cost and stockpiling it seems to be on the verge of disaster.
Exporting countries like the US stand to gain. And speaking of the US exports, Keating noted that Iowa produces more grain than all of Canada.
Here are the two most interesting bits.
“Sixty-five percent of the world’s food-insecure people live in seven countries: India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Ethiopia, of which all but China have experienced civil conflict in the past decade, with DRC, Ethiopia, India, and Pakistan currently embroiled in civil conflicts.” And China, it should be pointed out, hasn’t been all that quiet. With about 180,000 protests per year, the government now spends about $125 billion annually on riot control.
. . . China has also been at the forefront of the trend of buying large tracts of land in developing countries to meet demand for grain back home, a practice denounced by critics as “land grabs.” State-connected Chinese firms have purchased a swath of farmland the size of Luxembourg in Argentina as well as about 5 percent of Ukraine’s territory.
Purchases on this scale bring up obvious concerns over sovereignty. Anger over the purchase of half of Madagascar’s arable land by the South Korean conglomerate Daewoo was a major precipitating factor in the overthrow of Madagascar’s government in 2009.
Making agriculture work in Africa is going to be the lynch pin to a future that works.
1. SHUTDOWN LEAVES SOME SENIORS WONDERING ABOUT THEIR NEXT MEAL
Patrick Center | TheSalt | NPR
You’ve no doubt heard of Senior Meals on Wheels preparing hot meals delivered to the elderly. But there’s a different meal program that’s been put on hold because of the partial government shutdown. It’s the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
In Michigan’s western Kent County alone, more than 1,300 low-income seniors depend on . For them, it’s a nutrition lifeline: They can’t just go to a food pantry for similar assistance.
Bill Anderson, 81, and his wife, June, 83, are among those affected. Medical emergencies have depleted their savings. Social Security provides enough money to pay the utilities and insurance, but they turn to the government food program for meals.
2. SHIPPING CONTAINERS CAN ADD EXPORT MARKETS FOR FARMERS
Bill Wheelhouse | Harvest Public Media
“If you want to deliver to a foreign customer a product that has been well taken care of, not crushed in the bottom of the hold of a ship, you need to have it in smaller quantities,” he said. “Some people want it genetically modified, some people do not want it genetically modified. Some want this kind of soybean, another one (wants) another strain of soybean. So you can segregate the types of cargo that you are shipping out by moving it into container.”
The items going overseas range from the corn remnants at ethanol plants for animal feed, to a small shipment of soybeans that will arrive directly at a bakery in Korea, to soybeans that will be used to make tofu.
SHORTAGE OF WORKERS HAMPERS CHILE NEW MEXICO CHILE HARVEST
Ted Robbins | NPR
Southern New Mexico is America’s iconic home of chili harvesting and production. But production is a fraction of what’s produced in India and China — countries with large pools of labor. Still, in the fall, New Mexico farmers need hundreds of workers to handpick their crops. Even paying $14 an hour, they can’t find enough help.
4.FOOD PRODUCTION VS. BIODIVERSITY: COMPARING ORGANIC AND ORGANIC AGRICULTURE
Doreen Gabriel, Steven M. Sait, William E. Kunin, Tim G. Benton | Journal of Applied Ecology | via Alexander Stein
Grain production per unit area was 54% lower in organic compared with conventional fields. When controlling for yield, diversity of bumblebees, butterflies, hoverflies and epigeal arthropods did not differ between farming systems, indicating that observed differences in biodiversity between organic and conventional fields are explained by lower yields in organic fields and not by different management practices per se…
Synthesis and applications. Our results indicate that considerable gains in biodiversity require roughly proportionate reductions in yield in highly productive agricultural systems. They suggest that conservation efforts may be more cost effective in low-productivity agricultural systems or on non-agricultural land…
In summary, farmland biodiversity is typically negatively related to crop yield; generally, organic farming per se does not have an effect other than via reducing yields and therefore increasing biodiversity. Only plants benefited substantially from organic farming at comparable yields.
It is not clear that the relatively modest biodiversity gains can be justified by the substantial reductions in food production. Indeed, the relatively low yields of organic farms may result in larger areas of land being brought into agricultural production (locally or elsewhere), at a biodiversity cost much greater than the onfarm benefit of organic practice… Thus, organic farming should be mainly encouraged in mosaic (low productivity) landscapes, where yield differences between organic and conventional agriculture are lower…
FARMER’S PLOWING UP MORE AND MORE OF THE PRAIRIE
Grant Gerlock | Harvest Public Media
In recent years, high grain prices spurred by the ethanol boom set off a nationwide plow-up. A study by the Environmental Working Group shows from 2008 to 2011 farmers reclaimed 23.7 million acres of grasslands, wetlands and woodlands for farming – an area roughly the size of Indiana.
“When you have corn and (soy)bean prices as high as they’ve been for the past year-plus, you expect some pasture land is probably going to go to crop land,” said Mary Kay Thatcher of the National Farm Bureau Federation.
Some of that land had been farmed in the past but was enrolled in a conservation program that pays farmers to temporarily keep land out of production. But land that has never been farmed is also being turned into new farm ground.
The U.S Department of Agriculture reports that in 2012, 54,877 acres of land in Nebraska with no history of growing crops was broken out for farming. That was the most in the country, but the same thing is happening across other Midwest states like South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas.
THE PEOPLE SIDE OF GMO’S
Steve Savage | Applied Mythology
As with any new technology, the development and commercialization of biotech crops is a story about people. Its a story about people with ideas and vision; people who did hard and creative work; people who took career or business risks, and people who integrated this new technology into the complex business of farming. By various artifacts of my educational and career path, I’ve been in a position to know many of these people as friends and colleagues over the last 36 years. Their story is important, but it tends to get lost in much of the conversation about biotech crops.
Many narratives about “GMOs” leave out the people side, presenting it instead as some faceless, monolithic phenomenon devoid of human inspiration, intention and influence. Thats not how it happened. Other narratives about “GMOs” demonize those who made biotech crops a reality. Such portrayals are neither fair or accurate. The real stories of these people matter, because trust in a technology is greatly influenced by what people believe about those behind it.
That is why I’d like to write about what I have observed about these real and trust-worthypeople over the years. I’ll start with the period 1976-1982.
IOWA VIEW: THE STATE HAS TURNED INTO A ‘TOILET’ FOR INDUSTRIAL AG
Bill Leonard | The Des Moines Register
“Family farm” once meant a fruitful homestead built on an ethic of hard work, a love of the land, a spirit of neighborliness and a reverence for nature. Today, “family farm” is a hallowed but hollow buzzword of the political spin doctors and is used to give legitimacy to a lie. It’s the benign image masking land-use practices that, as Iowa environmental writer Bob Watson put it, “have made Iowa a toilet for industrial agriculture.”