Innovation of the Week: Reducing Food Waste

Weekly innovations can be found on the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet blog.

In some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 265 million people are hungry, more than a quarter of the food produced is going bad even before it can be eaten because of poor harvest or storage techniques, severe weather, or disease and pests. In the United States on the other hand, food is actually being thrown away by the billions of kilograms (and contributing to 12 percent of total waste), putting stress on already bursting landfills and contributing to the emission of greenhouse gases--in the U.S. landfills are one of the biggest sources of methane, accounting for 34% of all methane emissions.

To prevent the loss of crops after they are harvested in Africa and elsewhere, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is implementing education and technology providing projects. In Kenya, the FAO partnered with the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture to train farmers to take steps to reduce maize crop loss to mycotoxin, a devastating result of fungi growth.

And in Afghanistan, the FAO recently provided household metallic silos to roughly 18,000 households in order to improve post-harvest storage. Farmers use the silos to store cereal grains and legumes, protecting them from the weather and pests, and post-harvest losses dropped from between 15 and 20 percent to less than one or two percent.

Recognizing the need to protect harvest in Africa from weather, disease, pests, and poor storage quality, the African Ministerial Council on Science & Technology is promoting research to analyze and promote various technologies and techniques to prevent post harvest waste and improve food processing. And ECHO Farm, in the United States, where Danielle and I spent some time in August, collects innovations of all kinds to help farmers at all stages of cultivation, including after the harvest. Making these innovations accessible to farmers all over the world is ECHO's mission and we were able to see a demonstration of a number of post-harvest loss prevention techniques that are both simple and affordable.

And progress in waste reduction is being made in the United States, as well. This year San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate that all households separate both recycling and compost from garbage. The Department of the Environment expects this single piece of legislation will result in a 90 percent decrease of household waste in local landfills.

Food collection organizations like Urban Harvestcollect food from restaurants, grocery stores and cafeterias that would otherwise be thrown away and deliver it, free of charge, to local food providers for low income families and the homeless.

Minimizing greenhouse gas emissions is a central theme at the climate negotiations in Copenhagen this year as GHG concentrations reached a record high last year. With landfills producing large amounts of greenhouse gases, and as food prices continue to rise worldwide, the reduction of food waste is an inescapable necessity for people everywhere, from restaurant owners in New York City to maize farmers outside Nairobi, Kenya.

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Listening to Farmers

This is the second blog in a series about Danielle's visit to the World Vegetable Center in Arusha, Tanzania.

4140998514_60433ed91b_m.jpg The World Vegetable Center is focusing on "building a sustainable seed system in sub-Saharan Africa." What does that mean? According to Dr. Abdou Tenkouano, Director of the Regional Center for Africa, it requires "bringing farmers voices into the choices of materials they are using."

The Center does this not only by breeding a variety of vegetables with different traits--including resistance to disease and longer shelf life--but also by bringing farmers from all over eastern, western, and southern Africa to the Regional Center in Arusha, Tanzania, to find out what exactly those farmers need in the field and at market. Mr. Babel Isack, a tomato farmer from Tanzania, was at the Center when I visited, advising staff about which tomato varieties would be best suited for his particular needs--including varieties that depend on fewer chemical sprays and have a longer shelf life.

The Center works with farmers not only to grow vegetables, but also to process and cook them. Often, vegetables are cooked for so long that they lose most of their nutrients. To solve that problem, Dr. Mel Oluoch, a Liason Officer with the Center's Vegetable Breeding and Seed System Program (VBSS), works with women to improve the nutritional value of cooked foods by helping them develop shorter cooking times. "Eating is believing," says Dr. Oluoch, who adds that when people find out how much better the food tastes--and how much less fuel and time it takes to cook--they don't need much convincing about the alternative methods.

Dr. Oluoch also trains both urban and rural farmers on seed production. In fact, one of the women farmers we met in Kibera slum in Nairobi had been trained at the Center and is selling seeds to rural farmers, increasing her income. "The sustainability of seed," says Dr. Oluoch, "is not yet there in Africa." In other words, farmers don't have access to a reliable source of seed for indigenous vegetables, such as amaranth, spider plant, cowpea, okra, moringa, and other crops. As a result, the Center is working--partly with CNFA, an Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) grantee--to link farmers to input or "agro-" dealers who can help ensure a steady supply of seed.

In addition, the Center is providing how-to brochures to farmers in Swahili and other languages to help them better understand how to grow vegetables in different regions.

Stay tuned for more about our visit to the World Vegetable Center later this week.

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Where Are Pixar's Women (or, Does Whimsy Trump Equality?)

(Reposted from here):

I was listening to the Slate's latest (very enjoyable) Culture Gabfest today and was disappointed to see (well, hear) their riff on criticism of the absence of women in Pixar movies (it's roughly 33:00 to 37:00).  First they establish that, indeed, the heroes in Pixar movies are always men, never heroines.  But then Julia Turner interjects that, merits of the criticism aside, "I just resist the sort of close political reading of children's entertainment," offering as an example the "flap" over Disney and race - first, Disney was criticized for offering its multi-ethnic audience only Caucasian protagonists (I remember when I was in the Disney demographic that the bad guys in Aladdin had Middle Eastern accents, but not the good guys), and now that Disney is making a movie with a Black heroine, people are criticizing the portrayal.  Turner and her fellow gabfesters don't like this criticism.  What makes their criticism of the criticism especially annoying is that they're not even arguing Disney's critics are totally off-base.  Turner concedes that:

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False Choice: Protecting Women's Rights and the Future of the Abortion Debate

By  Rachel Johnson

Cross Posted from FaithfulDemocrats.com discussion on Abortion.

After decades of being mired in trench warfare in the country's battle over abortion, a sea change is occurring that has the potential to allow both sides to lay down their weapons and work for a common purpose.  For the first time there is constructive dialogue about the need to address the root causes that contribute to abortion.  This common ground discussion has the potential to shed light on the many economic and social obstacles still facing women and to dramatically lower the nation's abortion rates.

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Abortion: Different Moral Positions

By William Ellis Hill

Cross posted from Faithful Democrats' discussion on abortion

"There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics, and the great pumpkin." These are the wise words of the great philosopher Linus, in Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin.  The issue of abortion involves two out of the three and in most cases should be excluded from the norms of conversation. And, as a male, who can neither get pregnant nor attempt birth, I am hesitant to wade into these forbidding waters as I cannot possibly understand what the female gender must endure with this particular choice. However, as a Christian and as a Democrat, I am compelled to draw the distinctions between the moral and political.

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