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To end hunger, global policy can't be 'business as usual'

Analysis: As the UN leader on the right to food steps down, he urges policymakers to think about sustainability. Will a new model for food security arise?
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UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter speaks during a press conference on April 5, 2012 in Nairobi following a meeting of more than 45 food experts in the Kenyan capital Nairobi that discussed food security in Africa. De Schutter said that incorporation of a right to food in national constitutions was a necessity in the fight against food insecurity in Africa. "Food insecurity is not only due to climatic events that have increasingly affected the region adversly in the last decade", he said adding that it is also due to lack of accountability of governments, and the inability of non-governmental or parliamentary controls that governments put in place to reduce food insecurity." (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/Getty Images)

International food prices have fallen since 2008, when agricultural commodity prices doubled, pushing millions around the world from bare subsistence to hunger and raising the number of food insecure people to nearly one billion

Is the crisis over, then? Far from it, according to Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. As he told the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month, global policymakers have yet to address the structural causes of the crisis. In particular, they have failed to recognize that industrial agriculture is not the ultimate solution to global hunger — and that it is, instead, part of the problem.

In part, De Schutter drew his conclusions from his official mission to Malawi last year. As I toured the country last month, it was easy to see what he saw: the promise and allure of hybrid seeds and synthetic fertilizer, as well as their limits.

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Most African leaders not making promised investments in agriculture

Analysis: 10 years after committing to increase government spending on food production, only seven African countries have consistently met that pledge.
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Kenyan farmers pick through their maize crop in a field in the village of Kapsimatwa near the Rift Valley town of Bomet in western Kenya on September 9, 2008. (YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — The African Union commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the Maputo Declaration on agricultural development with the launch of the “Year of Agriculture and Food Security” last week at its summit in Addis Ababa.

Around the summit, following discussions of the political and humanitarian crises in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, I heard the talk turn to agriculture. And African governments certainly have a lot to talk about.

Since Maputo, which mandated that African governments commit to spending at least 10 percent of their budgets on agriculture by 2015, 20 nations have pledged to do so under the rubric of the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Program (CAADP). Agricultural spending has doubled across the continent, a notable achievement that has shown solid results in increased food production and economic growth for those countries that have fully invested in the sector.

But there is a long way to go. According to a new report from the nonprofit ActionAid, most governments are not “walking the talk” – they are failing to live up to their CAADP commitments.

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The world's food supply depends on Morocco. Here's why

DAKHLA REFUGEE CAMP — If hostilities renew between Morocco and Western Sahara rebels, production of a key mineral used in fertilizer would stall. Farmers on every continent could feel the pain.

A hungry Gaza finds sustenance in urban farms

GAZA CITY — On the roof of a six-story apartment block in Gaza City, 51-year-old Abu Ahmed plucks heads of lettuce and vines of tomatoes from his garden. With no land to farm, and only sporadic employment, Abu Ahmed had been struggling to feed his family. 

In Latin America, a growing backlash against genetically modified food

LIMA — Backers say GMOs help farmers produce more, but greens and some politicos fear the risks of tinkering with crops’ DNA.

Food prices rise, prompting fears of another world food crisis

Is another world food crisis in the works? The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization suspects the answer may be "yes," thanks in part to nasty world weather conditions.

Why South Korean farmers are more productive than Chinese farmers

266 million people or 35 percent of workers in China are still employed in the primary sector — agriculture, forestry and fishery.

India: Surplus of grain is going to waste

Recent advances in agricultural technology have helped increase India's grain production through developments including high yield seeds for the past five years, Reuters reports. With all this excess food, it would appear that a solution to the Indian hunger problem has been found.

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The mystery of the exploding pig farms

A mysterious foam is leading to death, disaster and a giant porcine mess.
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A pig at a pig farm in Lishu County, Jilin Province in northeast China, January 17, 2008. Pigs in the Midwest are having a tougher time, thanks to a mysterious exploding foam on some farms. (China Photos/Getty Images)

Pig farming doesn't have a lot going for it, aesthetically.

There's the smell.

There's the pollution and waste. 

There's all the slaughter, of course. 

And now, apparently, there's the mysterious foam that traps methane and then explodes, killing thousands of pigs and injuring humans. 

That's the word out of Minnesota in a story that's been making the rounds today on the internet.

Here's the scoop, according to the Minnesota Daily.

According to the article, pig farmers in the Midwest have noticed a grayish foam on their manure pits.

Not just any foam. Foam that can reach up to four feet high, and then explodes on contact with a spark.

The strange stuff has destroyed at least a half dozen pig barns since 2009.

It's still a mystery, though some early theories are emerging. 

"The researchers still aren’t sure what causes the foam," the Minnesota Daily writes. "But they have noticed a correlation between adding dried distillers grains in soluble — a product of the ethanol production process increasingly used in livestock diets — to the hogs’ diets and the foam."

Scary and apocalyptic thoughts aside, this is also an important business story.

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