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blogging the big picture

June 26th, 2009

Grab land! The food is running out.

South Korea’s biggest is 1.3 million hectares in Madagascar. China’s is 1.24 million in the Philippines.

With rich, resource-poor nations increasingly outsourcing their food production to less developed nations, a new website aims to expose the extent of the agricultural land-grab epidemic. It’s a simple if iniquitous equation: rich countries with limited land resources snap up agricultural land in less developed nations in order to secure food production. From African fields to Korean plates, trading cash for cropland is a throwback to an earlier, less enlightened time. Not for nothing has it been dubbed a neo-colonial enterprise.

A recent report by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) on behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organization and International Fund for Agricultural Development revealed that in five African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali and Sudan) a total of 2,492,684 hectares of farmland had been allocated to overseas interests since 2004. According to GRAIN, an international NGO that promotes sustainable management and agricultural biodiversity, more than 20 million hectares worldwide have been earmarked for or given over to crops that will feed people a thousand miles away from the fields in which they were grown.

Don’t let anyone try to fool you into thinking that there is a technology around the corner that will solve the problem of growing enough food for 7 billion+ people on a planet with a maximum carrying capacity of 2 billion.  The only reason we can do it today is by exctracting millions of years’ worth of sun’s energy from the ground – oil.  There is no second (or third or fourth or fifth) sun or planet.

If you think the economic crisis is painful, imagine the ecological crisis that is happening, but not recognised … yet.

The major players:

South Korea: 2.3 million hectares in… Madagascar (1,300,000), Sudan (690,000), Mongolia (270,000), Indonesia (25,000), Argentina (21,000).

China: 2.1 million hectares in… Philippines (1,240,000), Laos (700,000), Russia (80,400), Australia (43,000), Cameroon (10,000), Kazakhstan (7,000), Cuba (5,000), Uganda (4,046), Mexico (1,050), Tanzania (300).

UAE: 1.3 million hectares in… Pakistan (900,000), Sudan (378,000), Philippines (3,000), Algeria (1,500)

Saudi Arabia: 1.6 million hectares in… Indonesia (1,600,000), Sudan (10,117).

The report:  Land Grab or Development Opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa

The website

Extent of agricultural land-grab revealed on new website, The Ecologist.

June 26th, 2009

Greenwash undermines green living – the 7 sins of greenwash.

Natural. Non-toxic. Biodegradable. It’s possible for manufacturers to cover a multitude of environmental sins with a carefully – if inaccurately – chosen word. And most of them do, as a US House of Representatives committee on greenwash recently found. 98% of the products claiming to be environmentally friendly are guilty of greenwash.

That in itself makes it very difficult for authentic businesses to succeed – because they are swamped by lies made by better funded incumbents. The Seven Sins of Greenwashing report assesses claims made by manufacturers keen to cash in on the growing popularity for environmentally friendly products and the conclusions are damning, if not surprising.

See the report on-line here. It’s an amusing website.

Greenwash taints most ‘eco-friendly’ claims, The Ecologist.

June 26th, 2009

Home by Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Famous for his ‘earth from above footage’, photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s new film, Home, is a feast for the eyes with a strong ecological message.  It’s not the usual eco-movie.  It’s filmed from above, which makes it spectacular. It gradually unfolds a story, starting with the birth of Earth, and then moves onto how it developed, how it flourished, and at the rate we’re going, humanity becoming the eventual death of it.

See the website here.

June 26th, 2009

Organic ‘mainstream agriculture in waiting’

We’ve known for a long time that organic agriculture is what the planet needs. A new report shows how much it has to offer and that it must become the mainstream. The new independent report by the University of Reading shows that organic farming has “much to offer” and “is, perhaps, mainstream agriculture in waiting.”

Peter Melchett, Soil Association policy director, comments: “In the face of the rising prices and scarcity of key fossil fuel and mineral inputs, and the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050, food and farming systems will have to go through revolutionary changes in the next few decades. The rapidly escalating diet related health crisis means that our diets are also going to have to change dramatically. This independent report shows that organic farming could provide us with a far healthier and much more climate friendly diet.

Key findings:

  • Cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution.
  • Energy intensive inputs to farming would fall, with fertilizer inputs cut by 95% and sprays by 98%.
  • More wildlife supported.
  • Jobs in the countryside would increase, including a 73% increase in farm employment.
  • As organic fruit and vegetable yields compare favourably with conventional agriculture, organic farming could, with some adjustment, supply similar volumes as at present, or even increase output if necessary.
  • Due to the need to abolish intensive pig and poultry systems in organic agriculture, chicken, egg and pig meat production would fall to roughly a quarter of current levels, making large quantities of grain available for human consumption.
  • Dairy production would fall by around 30%-40%, unless herds were to be re-established and dairies were to re-open in parts of the country which have lost them.
  • While the amount of wheat and barley produced would drop by around 30% due to lower yields, because far less grain would be fed to animals there could be as much wheat and barley available for human consumption under an organic system as there is at present.
  • A wholly organic agriculture could actually produce more beef and lamb than at present, with beef production rising by 68% and lamb by 55%.

Melchett also, comments: “Organic farming does not have all the answers to the challenges of climate change and diet related ill-health, and there is still a lot of work to do to improve organic systems, but the report, ‘England and Wales under organic agriculture: how much food could be produced?’ shows the positive impact that organic farming could have.

Download the full report [PDF, 620 KB]

For a summary of the research findings see: http://www.apd.reading.ac.uk/AgriStrat/projects/org_exec.html

The research was commissioned by the Soil Association with funds from the HCD Memorial Fund.

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