Celebrating "Eating Planet-Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet"

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Today, the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) and the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet were proud to host “How do we feed (and also Nourish) a planet of 7 billion?” The event featured notable speakers such as food waste activist and author of American WastelandJonathan Bloom; founder of The 30 Project and new member of the BCFN Advisory Board, Ellen Gustafson; publisher of “Edible Manhattan” and author of Eat HereBrian HalweilStephanie Hanson, Director of Policy and Outreach for the One Acre FundKelly Hauser, Agriculture Policy Director for the One Campaign; and founder and director of Citizen EffectDan Morrison, among others, and marked the official launch of Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet.

During the event, Samuel Fromartz, editor-in-chief of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, moderated a discussion where speakers debated some of the issues the addressed in the book: the paradoxes of the global food system, the cultural value of food, production and consumption trends, and the effects of individual eating habits on health and on the environment. “More than one-third of the food produced today does not even reach people plates—about 1.3 billion tons per year—placing unnecessary pressure on land, water, and soil resources,” said Bloom. “All of us; producers, consumers, policy makers, and those in the food industry need to make an effort to reduce the amount of food that is wasted and its environmental impact.”

Although agriculture is more productive and efficient than ever before, more than 1 billion people worldwide remain chronically hungry, and another 1 billion people are overweight or obese. “The fundamental problem continuing to cause both hunger and obesity is that it is difficult, almost everywhere in the world to access nutritious foods,” said Gustafson. “In the developed world, food is abundant, but the most abundant is usually the least nutritious and most calorie dense. In the developing world, you can often still access soft drinks or packaged processed foods, but not the diversity of healthy foods that are needed for good nutrition.”

Nourishing the Planet and BCFN hope for Eating Planet to contribute to sustainable food and agriculture development in many ways. “The study’s conclusions represent a major step toward ensuring that agriculture contributes to health, environmental sustainability, income generation, and food security,” said Paolo Barilla, Vice President of the Barilla Group. “The ingredients will vary by country and region, but there are some key components that will lead to healthier food systems everywhere.”

Did you attend the book launch, or watch the livestream? Tell us about your experience below!

Click here to purchase a copy of Eating Planet.

Cultivating Knowledge and Crops: Women Are Key to Sustainable Agricultural Development

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

Women account for 75 percent of the agricultural producers in sub-Saharan Africa, but the majority of women farmers are living on only $1.25 per day, according to researchers from the Worldwatch Institute.

Despite the challenging circumstances that women in developing countries face, important innovations in communications and organizing are helping women play a key role in the fight against hunger and poverty. "Access to credit, which provides women farmers with productive inputs and improved technologies, can be an effective tool in improving livelihoods in Africa and beyond," said Worldwatch Institute's executive director Robert Engelman.

Worldwatch researchers traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to meet with more than 350 farmers groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists, highlighting innovations, such as better extension and communication services, that are helping farmers improve their livelihoods. The findings are documented in the recently released report, State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

Nourishing the Planet highlights four innovations that can strengthen women’s agricultural capacity: providing microfinance credit, providing access to the global market, providing extension services, and providing organizational support to women’s projects.

  • Providing women with microfinance credit. Globally, women fall well short of receiving the same financial benefits and opportunities as men. Only 10 percent of the credit services available in sub-Saharan Africa, including small “microfinance” loans, are extended to women. The New York-based nonprofit Women’s World Banking is the only microfinance network focused explicitly on women, providing loans of as little as $100 to help women start businesses. Microfinance institutions from 27 countries provide the loans to women who in many cases have no other way to access credit.
  • Providing women access to the global market. In Africa’s Western Sahel, the production of shea butter is boosting women’s entry into global markets. Women-run cooperatives across the region are tapping into the global demand for fair trade and organic beauty products by selling the skin-care cream they produce from the shea nut crop to cosmetics firms such as Origins and L’Oréal. These “responsible” companies in turn pay fair price for the products and invest in the women’s communities.
  • Providing women with extension services. In the United States, outreach programs like Purdue Cooperative Extension Services offer training for women to grow their businesses and increase profitability. And in Uganda, agricultural extension workers have introduced women’s groups to “coolbot” technology—solar energy and an inverter—that can be used in traditional reed, mud, and thatch shops to reduce temperatures and prolong the shelf lives of vegetables. “When extension programs invest in women farmers, the payoff can be huge,” write Dianne Forte, Royce Gloria Androa, and Marie-Ange Binagwaho in State of the World 2011. “Women receive an education, raise yields, increase their incomes, and improve the nutritional status of family members, contributing to the wellbeing of entire communities.”
  • Helping women work together. Around the world, numerous organizations are helping to empower and support women farmers. In the United States, American Agri-Women, a coalition of farm, ranch, and agribusiness women’s organizations, works with more than 50 state and commodity affiliates on legislative and regulatory matters as well as on student and consumer education. And the country’s National Women in Agriculture Association helps socially disadvantaged women in rural areas obtain resources administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with the mission to “educate, develop, network and create bonds of sisterhood among all women.”

With a large percentage of women worldwide still lacking necessary services, it is time that policymakers include women, respect what they know, and stand beside them in pursuing the right to equality for all women. The ideas and technologies for the success of women are available, and development programs have the opportunity to thrive if they embrace the knowledge and skills of women farmers.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

Targeting Gaps in the Food Supply Chain: Going Beyond Agricultural Production to Achieve Food Security

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Agricultural production is only the first step in moving the world’s food from farm to fork, according to Nourishing the Planet, a project of the Worldwatch Institute. The other links in the food chain—harvesting, packaging, storing, transporting, marketing, and selling—ensure that food actually reaches consumers. Inefficiencies in these activities, rather than just low yields or poor farming techniques, are often to blame for food shortages and low prices for growers.

With the United Nations projecting a global population of more than 9 billion by 2050, increasing food chain efficiency will become ever more essential. Producers and consumers must be part of a food chain that feeds the world, provides fair prices to farmers, and works in harmony with the environment. “When groups of small farmers better organize their means of production—whether ordering the right inputs at the right time or selling their crops directly to customers—they become more resilient to fluctuations in global food prices while also better serving local communities,” said Robert Engelman, Executive Director of Worldwatch.

In State of the World 2011, contributing author Samuel Fromartz uses the example of corn production in Zambia to illustrate how off-farm inefficiencies exacerbate food insecurity and poverty. Poor market access, unpredictable weather patterns, and insufficient infrastructure make small-scale agriculture a high-risk livelihood. Seasons of surplus corn production can be as detrimental as low-yielding ones. Large surpluses saturate local markets, and local farmers have no alternatives for selling their product. “Many do not have the luxury of picking when to sell or whom to sell to; they are desperate and need to sell to eat. So they take whatever price they can get,” writes Fromartz.

Research done by Nourishing the Planet staff has found innovations in sub-Saharan Africa and other locations around the globe that improve market access, enhance farmer-to-farmer communication, and harness simple information technology. These improvements in the food chain provide farmers with fair prices and also help increase food security by distributing food efficiently.

Nourishing the Planet recommends three ways that agriculture is helping to address gaps in the current food supply chain:

  • Coordinating farmers. In Uganda, the organization Technoserve works with farmers to improve market conditions for sales of bananas. Technoserve helps individuals form business groups that receive technical advice and enter into sales collectively. Coordinating business has decreased transaction costs and helped farmers market their crops and compete with larger producers more effectively. Over 20,000 farmers now participate in the project. Farmers in the United States are also banding together to increase sales efficiency and fair prices. The Chesapeake Bay regions’s FRESHFARM Markets act as an organizational umbrella under which area farmers can coordinate, market, and sell their products.
  • Increasing market transparency. In Nairobi, Kenya, the DrumNet project uses simple communication technology to provide farmers with real-time market information. Having access to market prices and sale-coordination opportunities allows farmers to receive fair prices for their crops. And the transparency increases overall sales transactions, meaning that less food goes to waste.
  • Using low-cost technology to boost efficiency. According to the UN, over 5 billion people on the planet now have a mobile phone subscription. As the cost of the technology drops, using the devices beyond personal communication makes sense. In Niger, farmers use mobile phones to access market information, an application that has reduced the fluctuation in regional grain prices by 20 percent and has helped ensure fair prices for producers and consumers. Similarly, the Grameen Foundation and Google have collaborated to develop Google Trader, an online bulletin board on which farmers and merchants can contact one another. The bulletin also includes applications such as “Farmer’s Friend” a tool that offers farmers information on weather, pests, and livestock management.

 

Reducing Food Waste: Making the Most of Our Abundance

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

 

According to staggering new statistics from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), roughly one-third of the food produced worldwide for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to some 1.3 billion tons per year. In the developing world, over 40 percent of food losses occur after harvest—while being stored or transported, and during processing and packing. In industrialized countries, more than 40 percent of losses occur as a result of retailers and consumers discarding unwanted but often perfectly edible food.

At a time when the land, water, and energy resources necessary to feed a global population of 6.9 billion are increasingly limited—and when at least 1 billion people remain chronically hungry—food losses mean a waste of those resources and a failure of our food system to meet the needs of the poor. The Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project is highlighting ways to make the most of the food that is produced and to make more food available to those who need it most.

According to Tristram Stuart, a contributing author of Worldwatch’s State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet report, some 150 million tons of grains are lost annually in low-income countries, six times the amount needed to meet the needs of all the hungry people in the developing world. Meanwhile, industrialized countries waste some 222 million tons of perfectly good food annually, a quantity nearly equivalent to the 230 million tons that sub-Saharan Africa produces in a year. Unlike farmers in many developing countries, however, agribusinesses in industrial countries have numerous tools at their disposal to prevent food from spoiling—including pasteurization and preservation facilities, drying equipment, climate-controlled storage units, transport infrastructure, and chemicals designed to expand shelf-life.

“All this may ironically have contributed to the cornucopian abundance that has fostered a culture in which staggering levels of ‘deliberate’ food waste are now accepted or even institutionalized,” writes Stuart in his chapter, “Post-Harvest Losses: A Neglected Field.” “Throwing away cosmetically ‘imperfect’ produce on farms, discarding edible fish at sea, over-ordering stock for supermarkets, and purchasing or cooking too much food in the home, are all examples of profligate negligence toward food.”

Nourishing the Planet researchers traveled to 25 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, meeting with 350 farmers’ groups, NGOs, government agencies, and scientists. The amount of loss we saw is shocking considering that many experts estimate that the world will need to double food production in the next half-century as people eat more meat and generally eat better. It would make good sense to invest in making better use of what is already produced.

“Humanity is approaching — and in some places exceeding — the limits of potential farmland and water supplies that can be used for farming,” notes Worldwatch Institute Executive Director Robert Engelman. “We’re already facing food price spikes and the early impacts of human-caused climate change on food production. We can’t afford to overlook simple, low-cost fixes to reduce food waste.”

Nourishing the Planet offers the following three low-cost approaches that can go a long way toward making the most of the abundance that our food system already produces. Innovations in both the developing and industrialized worlds include:

  • Getting surpluses to those who need it. As mountains of food are thrown out every day in the cities of rich countries, some of the poorest citizens still struggle to figure out their next meal. Feeding America coordinates a nationwide network of food banks that receive donations from grocery chains. Florida’s Harry Chapin Food Bank, one of Feeding America’s partners, distributed 5.2 million kilograms of food in 2010. In New York City, City Harvest collects some 12.7 million kilograms of excess food each year from restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms and delivers it to nearly 600 New York City food programs. Similarly, London Street FoodBank utilizes volunteers to collect unused food items from London businesses and get them to food banks around the city.
  • Raising consumer awareness and reducing waste to landfills. Those who can easily afford to buy food—and throw it away—rarely consider how much they discard or find alternatives to sending unwanted food to the landfill. In 2010, however, San Francisco became the first city to pass legislation requiring all households to separate both recycling and compost from garbage. By asking residents to separate their food waste, a new era of awareness is being fostered by the initiative. Nutrient-rich compost created by the municipal program is made available to area organic farmers and wine producers, helping to reduce resource consumption in agriculture. The Love Food Hate Waste website—an awareness campaign of the U.K.-based organization Wrap—provides online recipes for using leftovers as well as tips and advice for reducing personal food waste.
  • Improving storage and processing for small-scale farmers in developing countries. In the absence of expensive, Western-style grain stores and processing facilities, smallholders can undertake a variety of measures to prevent damage to their harvests. In Pakistan, the United Nations helped 9 percent of farmers cut their storage losses up to 70 percent by simply replacing jute bags and mud constructions with metal grain storage containers. And Purdue University is helping communities in rural Niger maintain year-round cow pea supplies by making low-cost, hermetically sealed plastic bags available through the Purdue Improved Cowpea Storage (PICS) program. Another innovative project uses solar energy to dry mangoes after harvest; each year, more than 100,000 tons of the fruit go bad before reaching the market in western Africa.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

 

 

 

Farming the cities, feeding an urban future

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

As people move from rural to urban settings in search of economic opportunities, urban agriculture is becoming an important provider of both food and employment, according to researchers with the Worldwatch Institute. “Urban agriculture is providing food, jobs, and hope in Nairobi, Kampala, Dakar, and other cities across sub-Saharan Africa,” said Danielle Nierenberg, co-director of the Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project. “In some cases, urban farmers are providing important inputs, such as seed, to rural farmers, dispelling the myth that urban agriculture helps feed the poor and hungry only in cities.”

The United Nations projects that up to 65 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, up from around 50 percent today. The rate of urban migration is particularly high in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where inadequate urban infrastructure struggles to keep up with the large influx of people. “Although most of the world’s poor and hungry remain in rural areas, hunger is migrating with people into urban areas,” said Brian Halweil, co-director of the Nourishing the Planet project.

Currently, an estimated 800 million people worldwide are engaged in urban agriculture, producing 15–20 percent of the world’s food. However, this activity occurs mainly in Asia, making it critical to place more worldwide emphasis on this vital sector. In Africa, 14 million people migrate from rural to urban areas each year, and studies suggest that an estimated 35–40 million Africans living in cities will need to depend on urban agriculture to meet their food requirements in the future.

“Urban agriculture is an important aspect of the development movement as it has the potential to address some of our most pressing challenges, including food insecurity, income generation, waste disposal, gender inequality, and urban insecurity“ said Nancy Karanja, a Professor at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and a State of the World 2011 contributing author.

Organizations such as Urban Harvest and others are working across the African continent to enhance urban agricultural efforts. In sub-Saharan Africa, the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), a Florida-based organization, has helped farmers build gardens using old tires and other “trash” to create plant beds. And the group Harvest of Hope has helped organize urban Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in Cape Town, South Africa, purchasing excess produce from city gardens and redistributing it in schools in the area.

These projects are not only helping to provide fresh sources of food for city dwellers, but also providing a source of income, a tool to empower women, and a means of protecting the environment, among other benefits.

According to Nourishing the Planet, urban agriculture provides three important advantages that are evident in successful projects across the African continent:

  • Close to home (and market). Produce from urban farms and gardens does not need to travel as far as produce grown in rural areas to reach the dining table, which helps to reduce production costs, post-harvest waste, and greenhouse gas emissions. This is also helpful in situations when supply chains from rural areas have been interrupted and cities are unable to receive food imports.
  • Empowering women and building communities. In Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya, Urban Harvest has helped women build “vertical farms” simply by using sacks of soil in which to grow vegetables. Using these gardening activities, the women share business ideas and technical know-how, empowering each other. The community gardens also act as a forum where community members can exchange ideas and discuss community issues and problems.
  • Improving urban environments. Faced with limited resources, urban farmers are adept at utilizing urban waste streams to strengthen their soil and grow their crops. Garbage is used as compost or fodder for livestock, and nutrient-rich waste water is used for irrigation. By re-using these waste products, urban farms help to reduce the amount of refuse clogging landfills as well as the amount of water used in cities. Community gardens also provide an aesthetically pleasing space and help improve the air quality in urban areas.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

 

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