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Global Water Scarcity on Schedule

A new study by the University of Colorado Boulder published on “One Earth” cites water scarcity as the top threat to food security in the next 20 years. “Multiple events occurring at the same time compound the problem,” the study noted, citing droughts, floods, heat waves, pest outbreaks, diseases, and financial and political conflicts. Over 50% of those experiencing food insecurity live in conflict regions, and increasing political instability and civil unrest will cause this figure to rise. Various agencies such as the World Bank and United Nations have cited that food insecurity reached record levels in 2021 and has increased in 2022. However, one aspect that is not often discussed is water.

Humans can survive longer without food than water. Without water, there are no crops or cattle. Other studies point to increasing global demand for water as well. A 2019 study, “Reassessing the projections of the World Water Development Report,” found that water demand increased 600% over the past century.

“Global water demand for all uses, presently about 4,600 km3 per year, will increase by 20% to 30% by 2050, up to 5,500 to 6,000 km3 per year. Global water demand for agriculture will increase by 60% by 2025. By 2050 the global population will increase to between 9.4 to 10.2 billion people, an increment of 22% to 32%.”

Agricultural needs represent 70% of water demand. The poorest nations often have less access to clean water, and these are the same areas where the population is expected to rise. The aforementioned study also states that food demand will increase by 60% by 2050.

Our model projected entering another “grand minimum,” which overtook the sun beginning in 2020 and will last through the 2050s. This will result in diminished magnetism, infrequent sunspot production, and less ultraviolet (UV) radiation reaching Earth. We are facing a global cooling period on the planet that may span 31 to 43 years. It is interesting that these studies are pointing to 2050 as the point where water will become extremely scarce as it aligns with our models’ projection for the weather as we will then enter a new sunspot cycle.

Supply Chain Failures Prove Growing Need for Localized Economies

What we never hear is the fact that these crises are, in fact, connected. They are symptoms of a global economic system that is not only driving up resource use and pollution; it is squeezing people financially, undermining democracy, concentrating wealth and power in the hands of unaccountable global corporations, and exacerbating conflict and violence.

In addition, recent events have highlighted how vulnerable we are because of our dependence on the global economy. Long-distance supply chains are failing around the world, and the cost of living is skyrocketing as a result.

This is clearest when it comes to our most basic need of all: food. At the grocery store, Americans are paying 10 percent more for food than a year ago, while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that global food prices hit record highs in March. In the United Kingdom, the price of chicken is set to soon match the price of beef.

Why? Largely because economic globalization — which, in short, involves using public monies and government regulations to favor exports over self-reliance — has ensured that we source our food from ever farther away, via ever longer, more complicated supply chains.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

World Has Just ’10 Weeks’ of Wheat Supplies Left in Storage, Analyst Warns

World Has Just ’10 Weeks’ of Wheat Supplies Left in Storage, Analyst Warns

The world has only about 10 weeks of wheat supplies left in storage amid the conflict in Ukraine and as India has moved to bar exports of wheat in recent weeks, a food insecurity expert says.

Sara Menker, the CEO of agriculture analytics firm Gro Intelligence, told the United Nations Security Council on May 19 that the Russia–Ukraine war “simply added fuel to a fire that was long burning,” saying that it is not the primary cause of the wheat shortage. Ukraine and Russia both produce close to about a third of the world’s wheat.

“I want to start by explicitly saying that the Russia–Ukraine war did not start the food security crisis. It simply added fuel to a fire that was long burning. A crisis we detected tremors from long before the COVID 19 pandemic exposed the fragility of our supply chains,” Menker said, according to a transcript.

“I share this because we believe it’s important for you all to understand that even if the war were to end tomorrow, our food security problem isn’t going away anytime soon without concerted action.”

In providing data, Menker said that due to price increases in major crops this year, it’s made another 400 million worldwide “food insecure,” adding that with wheat, the world “currently only [has] 10 weeks of global consumption sitting in inventory around the world.

“Conditions today are worse than those experienced in 2007 and 2008,” she said. “It is important to note that the lowest grain inventory levels the world has ever seen are now occurring while access to fertilizers is highly constrained, and drought in wheat-growing regions around the world is the most extreme it’s been in over 20 years…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Advancing interconnected solutions to the food, energy and finance crises

The governing body of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) met in Rome on April 8, 2022 in an Extraordinary Session to examine the “impact of the Ukraine-Russia conflict on global food security and related matters under its mandate” and advise on how it should proceed. Meanwhile, just two days earlier, the Civil Society and Indigenous People Mechanism (CSIPM) at U.N. Committee on World Food Security (CFS) called for an Extraordinary Plenary Session of the CFS.

We must consider these developments along with a new initiative from the U.N. and against the background of the FAO’s global food prices index reaching its highest level ever.

In response to the immediate crises provoked by the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, on March 14 the U.N. Secretary General (SG) António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres announced the establishment of the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance (GCRG). On April 5, he released the GCRG’s initial recommendations. According to remarks made by the U.N. SG at the U.N. Security Council Meeting, these initial recommendations are for the consideration of the member states, international financial institutions and others. In brief, they are:

  • On food: To avoid the risk of hunger and famine spreading further, the GRCG urges all countries to keep markets open, resist unjustified and unnecessary export restrictions, and make reserves available to countries at risk of hunger and famine.
  • On energy: While some countries’ plans to release strategic reserves of fossil fuels in an attempt to reduce their dependence on Russian stocks could help ease the current crisis in the short term, the only medium and long-term solution is accelerated deployment of renewable energy, which is not impacted by market fluctuations. Renewable energy deployment is the best option in most cases and will allow the progressive phaseout of coal and all other fossil fuels.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

TSHTF

TSHTF

You just know everything’s going pear shaped when the venerable acronym TSHTF, well known in our circles, hits mainstream media….. The below article written by Fiona Blackwood from the Hobart ABC Bureau appeared on the ABC News website and it’s so full of ironies I just had to pull it apart. So please bear with what will turn out to be an editing nightmare on my phone while I am still without a working laptop…

“Tasmania has been listed alongside New Zealand, Iceland, the United Kingdom and Ireland as potential havens of the future.” Right….. So whoever wrote this has no idea about food security, because literally nowhere in the northern hemisphere is safe AFAIC.

“The study, published in the journal Sustainability, found Tasmania could become recognised “as Australia’s ‘local refuge (lifeboat)’ as conditions on the continental mainland may become less amenable to supporting large human populations in the future”.

While many people have already moved to Tasmania to escape the heat in other states, some doomsday preppers are weighing up the island state as a post-apocalyptic option.”

Scottsdale's future is changing
Tasmania is already being chosen by mainlanders for its scenic landscape and relaxed lifestyle. (Supplied: Dorset Council)

“Tasmania scored highly in the report in terms of its climate, electricity supply, agricultural resources and population density.”

Mr Polin's land was put on the market in January 2012.
Mr Polin’s land included a bunker during the cold war in case of a nuclear holocaust.(ABC)

“The study states that rising populations and energy use have led to climate change, increased risk of pandemics and ecological destruction.

As a result, it found that human civilisation is in a “perilous position with regards to its future”.

“Professor of Human Geography and Planning at the University of Tasmania Jason Byrne agreed the state would be a good option to seek refuge “if things went pear-shaped globally”.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What does a global pandemic mean for a global food system?

What does a global pandemic mean for a global food system?

In the last few weeks, we have all experienced the impact that COVID-19 has had on food supplies. With supermarkets picked clean, many are wondering whether this is a short-term reaction to the crisis or a prelude to more significant shortages as global trade grinds to a halt. Uncertainty about food availability could spark a wave of export restrictions, resulting in shortages on the global market and price spikes.

Already, there is increased price volatility due to the perceived likelihood of trade restrictions, with wheat prices climbing 8% and rice prices by 25%. Of even greater concern is Nigeria, where rice prices increased by more than 30% at the beginning of the outbreak in March in response to panic purchasing. This volatility, coupled with the domestic restrictions that many nations have placed on their citizens to control the spread of the disease, has led to worrying developments around the world, particularly in the Global South. In Zimbabwe, police confiscated and burned three tons of fruits and vegetables from farmers who had broken movement restrictions, while a stampede broke out at a food distribution centre in Nairobi, resulting in numerous injuries.

In order to head it off at the pass, the WTOWHO and FAO put out a joint statement encouraging countries not to limit their exports of food. The joint statement by their respective Directors-General highlighted the fact that ‘millions of people around the world depend on international trade for their food security and livelihoods,’ and continued to say that, ‘now is the time to show solidarity, act responsibly and adhere to our common goal of enhancing food security, food safety and nutrition and improving the general welfare of people around the world’.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Food-Security Fears Spark Panic-Hoarding, Could Drive Inflation Sky-High

Food-Security Fears Spark Panic-Hoarding, Could Drive Inflation Sky-High

A senior economist from the United Nation’s (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told Reuters that food inflation could be imminent as people and governments panic hoard food and supplies amid the COVID-19 pandemic

“All you need is panic buying from big importers such as millers or governments to create a crisis,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at FAO. 

“It is not a supply issue, but it is a behavioral change over food security,” Abbassian said. “What if bulk buyers think they can’t get wheat or rice shipments in May or June? That is what could lead to a global food supply crisis.”

Consumers from Asia to Europe to the Americas have been panic hoarding food at supermarkets as governments enforce strict social distancing measures to flatten pandemic curves to slowdown infections. 

Grain futures are green on Monday morning, have caught a bid in the last several sessions, led by soybean, oats, and wheat. Investors are starting to pile into grains as the demand for food staples (especially bread, flour, pasta, and crackers) has been elevated. 

France’s grain industry has seen surging demand and struggles to find enough truck operators and staff to keep factories running as panic buying of flour and pasta has led to an increase in wheat exports. 

European countries have enforced strict measures at their boarders amid the virus crisis that is devastating Italy, Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland, and the UK. This has led to food supply disruption across several European countries.

Inflationary pressures could be nearing for food prices as the stockpiling continues. Combine this with a crashing global economy and high unemployment, and maybe stagflation is ahead.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The True Cost of Food: An Excerpt from Nourished Planet, Publishing in June 2018

The True Cost of Food: An Excerpt from Nourished Planet, Publishing in June 2018

True cost accounting is a revolutionary way to measure the total societal impacts from food production. Nourished Planet explores ways to uncover the hidden costs of the food system.

We know how food production needs to change if crisis is to be avoided – so why isn’t this happening?

As the world races toward a projected 9 billion inhabitants, the failings of dominant food systems are impossible to deny. Current food production methods are severely polluting. They are the cause of malnutrition. They are also inequitable, and unjustifiably wasteful. And they are concentrated in the hands of few corporations. Entangled in the multiple crises humanity is facing, establishing global food security is considered a key challenge of our time.

Against the backdrop of climate change, resource shortages and urbanisation, the question of how to ensure adequate food supply for everyone looms rather large. The usual responseemphasises intensifying the output of agriculture through the common model of petrochemical, large-scale, one-crop, intensive farming.

But business as usual is no longer an option for food and agriculture. The global agriculture system will have to be radically transformed to avoid further environmental and social problems, as was concluded by a three-year study commissioned by the UN and the World Bank involving more than 400 scientists. This report, as well as subsequent international studies by the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, have convincingly demonstrated that agroecology – farming that imitates natural ecosystems – is the most promising pathway to sustainable food systems on all continents.

Industrial soybean farming in Brazil. Alf Ribeiro / Shutterstock.com

Agroecology

Agroecology is based on the idea that farms should mimic the structure and functioning of natural ecosystems. In ecosystems, there is no “waste”: nutrients are recycled indefinitely. Agroecology aims to close nutrient loops – returning all nutrients that come out of the soil, back to the soil. In the case of vegetable farming, for example, this could be achieved through composting of vegetable scraps, human and farmyard manure.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Halfway Thoughts On Today’s Food Movements–Still Under Construction–Give Me Another Day!

HALFWAY THOUGHTS ON TODAY’S FOOD MOVEMENTS — STILL UNDER CONSTRUCTION — GIVE ME ANOTHER DAY!

Some people wonder if youthful food movements spreading through cities across the Global North are half-full, half-empty — or maybe even half-baked.

The timing for such questioning is perfect. Once a new trend gets over its first flush, people start to judge it as a movement that will be around for a while. That’s when tough questions crop up.

The food fad/trend-turned-movement is in the midst of such questioning right now.

It’s an important learning opportunity — the social movement equivalent of teething.

We’re often too easily comforted by complacent sayings about how progress is made in social movement history. An old saying, sometimes wrongly attributed to Gandhi, has it that the path to success goes like this: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you….Then they debate you. Then you win.”

Sounds like a pretty smooth and easy ride.

Not so! From the inside of social movements, the order goes more like this: First, we’re exhilarated by the power of the new idea and the bounce it gets from friends and enemies. Then we find out that getting beyond our tiny circle of support is harder than we thought. Then people point out our mistakes. Then we rethink, regroup and set a course of action that leads to debate and win.

Food movements are at the halfway — hopefully half-full — point of this narrative arc.

A number of academic heavies have criticized food movement leaders for their inattention to food system policy, politics and government, and their elitist neglect of disadvantaged people who suffer most from food industry wrongs.

HALFTIME BREAK

It’s time food movements take a half-time break for rest, reflection and renewal.

I learned a lot from two informed, positive and well-written contributions to the discussion. One is an academic article by Lesli Hoey and Allison Sponseller. The other is Mark Winne’s latest book, based on his 47 years as an organizer working on food issues. I will present their arguments, and then offer some of my own.

To disclose any bias, I should say I know two of the three writers quite well.

I met Lesli about ten years when she invited me to speak at Cornell, where she got her Ph D in city planning. Two years ago, she invited me to do a speaking tour around Michigan University in Ann Arbor, where she’s a popular professor. She later joined me and our family and friends on a canoe trip through the wilderness of northern Ontario.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Import and Die: Self-sufficiency and Food Security in India

Import and Die: Self-sufficiency and Food Security in India

India’s Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu recently stated that the country cannot survive on imported produce for its food security. He called for a greater focus on agriculture: “We can export (agricultural produce) for the time being but the population is growing.”

Naidu pointed out what has become increasingly apparent: “People are leaving agriculture and going to other professions. An agriculturist does not want his son to continue with the profession because of uncertain monsoons, natural calamities, market exploitation, etc. All this is affecting agriculture.”

Noting that agriculture is becoming financially unviable for farmers, he called for an end to the urban-rural divide by ensuring that people living in rural areas are provided basic amenities.

There are hints of the need to achieve food self-sufficiency in what he says and that is encouraging. But there is also a World Bank-backed plan for the future of India and the majority of farmers don’t have much of a role in it. Successive administrations in India have been facilitating this plan by making farming financially unviable with the aim of moving farmers out of farming and into the cities to work in manufacturing or service sector jobs – jobs that, by the way, do not exist. It is an agenda founded on a bogus model of ‘development’.

According to this report, the number of cultivators in India declined from 166 million to 146 million between 2004 and 2011. Some 6,700 left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022 the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127 million.

The aim is to restructure agriculture according to the wishes of the US and its agribusiness corporations.

It entails displacing the existing labour-intensive system of food and agriculture with one dominated by a few transnational corporate agribusiness concerns which will control all aspects of the sector from seed to plate.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Pandemonium and City Food Security

Pandemonium and City Food Security

I supervised a university-level food studies class last week that, partly by design and partly by sheer accident, gave me some new insights into the challenges of city-oriented food security policy.

A team of students responsible for teaching a segment on urban food policy tried to stimulate direct engagements with their classmates by getting them to play a version of the software game called Pandemonium – by applying the rules of that game to an imaginary “real life” experience of food policy making.

As it goes with Pandemonium (the game and in real life), something out of the blue happens every two minutes that upsets the whole gameplan of the policy makers. Word of drought came one minute into the class exercize, upsetting the best-laid plans of a work team. News of an epidemic broke two minutes later, upsetting even more best-laid plans.

Just as the students were coping with these upsets, a real life security guard opened the door, apologized for interrupting the class, and calmly told us everyone had to leave the building immediately.

As they say in the pandemonium-watching business, it’s never a question of if pandemonium will break out; it’s a question of when.

My class of ten stood around outside the building with several hundred others who had been in the building. Police pushed people calmly and politely back, as far away from the building as possible.

The police knew nothing, or said nothing, about what was going on. In today’s world, that just meant that everyone got out their mobile phones, and within minutes learned that an unattended package had been found in the building, and authorities were worried that it might contain a bomb.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

No scientific evidence of GM food safety

No scientific evidence of GM food safety

It is “premature” to declare GM safe due to “incomplete” scientific knowledge, finds report commissioned by Norwegian Environment Agency

A new study commissioned by the Norwegian government, and conducted by a nationally recognised scientific authority on the safety of biotechnologies, concludes that available scientific data on GM crops is inadequate to prove their safety.

The scientific report was commissioned by the Norwegian Environment Agency and completed last year, before being publicly released in June by the Genok Centre for Biosafety, located in the Arctic University of Norway. The Genok Centre is a nationally-designated centre of competence on biosafety issues.

Absence of evidence

The new study analyses a dossier by giant agribusiness conglomerate, Monsanto, submitted to the Brazilian government, and also conducts a comprehensive review of the available scientific literature from other sources.

Its focus is on Monsanto’s GM soybean Intacta Roundup Ready 2 Pro, which is grown in Brazil, and also authorised in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, and probably also present in Bolivia due to illegal introductions from neighbouring countries.

The report, titled ‘Sustainability Assessment of Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerant Crops’ concludes that due to major gaps in the scientific literature, it is not possible to give a scientific verdict on their safety. Monsanto’s dossier, the report concludes, demonstrates a range of methodological weaknesses, and highlights the problem of incomplete information and research on GM crops in the available literature.

According to Monsanto, genetically modified organisms do not harm human or animal health, and therefore do not have any adverse effects on crops and the environment.

But according to the new Norwegian study:

 

“Contrary to this assertion, the literature provides indications of harmful and adverse effects to the environment and to health (both animal and human), as well as to socio-economic conditions, particularly over the medium- and long-term.”

The new study is authored by Georgina Catacora-Vargas, a researcher at the Agroecology Centre (AGRUCO) at the Faculty of Agricultural, Livestock and Forestry Sciences, University Mayor de San Simon, Cochabamba, Bolivia. Catacora-Vargas was until recently technical biosafety advisor at Bolivia’s Vice-Ministry of Environment, Water and Forestry Management.

 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

City Region Food Systems – Part IIIA – Scale and Production Strategy

City Region Food Systems – Part IIIA – Scale and Production Strategy

This is the first of a two-part blog looking at scale and production strategy.  In this piece I analyze critiques of smaller scale and alternative production strategies from several angles.  In the second I will discuss problems inherent in the argument that small scale can feed the U.S. population and consider a middle path of scale and production diversity. As in the previous posts (Part IPart II) – I invite your comments, suggestions, and criticisms.

My analysis of this derives from my thinking over the last twenty years as well as engagement in a broad range of food system localization efforts. Early in the noughts I gave a conference plenary talk and made the following statement:

“I’d like to live in a food system in which I know where a significant percentage of my food comes from, not necessarily all of it … I’d like to know that the production, processing, distribution, and waste were done in an environmentally sensitive manner. I’d like to know that the democratic principles upon which this nation (U.S.) was founded are made stronger and not weakened through consolidation and monopolization. I’d like to know that the farmers who grow our food are honored as heroes and not marginalized as commodity producers. I would like to know that every person and consumer working in the food system has the opportunity to reach their potential and is not limited by less than living-wage jobs, poor nutrition, and substandard education. I would like a food system in which food is a right and working honestly is a responsibility.”

 

Photo: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr

That still resonates with me and is the starting point for much of my thinking.  It is also at odds with the notion that the only way to ‘feed the world’ is by large scale, conventional, commodity-driven agriculture.  It is also at odds with the notion that we can continue consuming an average U.S. diet that is so at odds with eating patterns that are both healthier for people and the environment. 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Wicked problems and wicked solutions: the case of the world’s food supply

Wicked problems and wicked solutions: the case of the world’s food supply

Can you think of something worse than a wicked problem? Yes, it is perfectly possible: it is a wicked solution. That is, a solution that not only does nothing to solve the problem, but, actually, worsens it. Unfortunately, if you work in system dynamics, you soon learn that most complex systems are not only wicked, but suffer from wicked solutions (see, e.g.here).

This said, let’s get to one of the most wicked problems I can think of: that of the world’s food supply. I’ll try to report here at least a little of what I learned at the recent conference on this subject, jointly held by FAO and the Italian Chapter of the System Dynamics Society. Two days of discussions held in Rome during a monster heat wave that put under heavy strain the air conditioning system of the conference room and made walking from there to one’s hotel a task comparable to walking on an alien planet: it brought the distinct feeling that you needed a refrigerated space suit. But it was worth being there.

First of all, should we define the world’s food supply a “problem”? Yes, if you note that about half of the world’s human population is undernourished; if not really starving. And of the remaining half, a large fraction is not nourished right, because obesity and type II diabetes are rampant diseases – they said at the conference that if the trend continues, half of the world’s population is going to suffer of diabetes. That’s truly impressive, if you think about that for a moment.

So, if we have a problem, is it really “wicked”? Yes, it is, in the sense that finding a good solution is extremely difficult and the results are often the opposite than those intended at the beginning. The food supply system is a devilishly complex system and it involves a series of cross linked subsystems interacting with each other.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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