Agriculture

A Trip Behind the Labels of Your Ethical Cup of Coffee

April 6, 2015 // 0 Comments

After descending into Stumptown Coffee’s Seattle roastery, where bags of beans from different countries wait for their turn in the WWII-era roasting machine, we gather for the daily cupping: a sampling, by smell and taste, of coffee from five different farms. Today’s cupping features beans from farms in Peru, Colombia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia. The production roaster, Jesse Hughey, describes the roasting process in great detail, cheeks pink from the heat generated by the machine. Beans spin and tumble inside the roaster as they’re heated, turning from pale green to dark brown, before Jesse opens the hatch and they spill out onto a wide grate. A rotating metal arm sifts them around and around as they cool. Confession time: I’m a born-and-raised Seattleite who doesn’t drink coffee. But my sister is a barista, and over time she’s become fascinated by how we in the United States get this much-loved beverage. She works for a local coffeehouse that just started using Stumptown Coffee, and as a result, the shop has raised its prices. “Sometimes customers ask me why our beans have gotten more expensive,” she told me. “But I tell them that we want to be part of Stumptown’s mission to give

Deforestation is messing with our weather and our food

April 3, 2015 // 0 Comments

New research published in Nature Communications provides insight into how large-scale deforestation could impact global food production by triggering changes in local climate. In the study, researchers from the United States and China zero in on albedo (the amount of the sun’s radiation reflected from Earth’s surface) and evapotranspiration (the transport of water into the atmosphere from soil, vegetation, and other surfaces) as the primary drivers of changes in local temperature. The research is the first global analysis of the effects of forest cover change on local temperature using high-resolution NASA global satellite data. A peer-reviewed paper based on the study, “Local cooling and warming effects of forests based on satellite observations,” hints at how land use policies could have economic implications from forest to farmland. “Understanding the precise mechanisms of forest-generated warming or cooling could help regional management agencies anticipate changes in crop yields. Together with a knowledge of other ecological factors, this information can help decision makers and stakeholders design policies that help to sustain local agricultural practices,” said Safa Motesharrei, co-author of the paper and a systems scientist at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Agriculture–specifically, converting forest cover to plantations for oil palm, soy, rubber, coffee,

Without Water We Die

April 3, 2015 // 0 Comments

How long can you go without water? You could probably survive a few weeks without water for cooking. If you stopped washing, the threat to your life might only come from people who can’t stand the smell. But most people won’t live for more than three days without water to drink. It makes sense: our bodies are about 65 percent water. According to the United Nations, about 750 million people lack access to safe water—that’s one in nine! One child dies every minute from a water-related disease and 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the global population, live in areas where water is scarce. And it’s not just in other countries. As of January, at least 1,838 drinking water advisories were in effect in Canada, including 169 in 126 First Nations communities—some ongoing for years. With Canada’s abundant glaciers, lakes, rivers and streams, we often take water for granted. (In my home province, we give it away to large corporations that bottle and sell it back to us at exorbitant prices!) We shouldn’t be so complacent. People in California thought they had enough water to fill swimming pools, water gardens and yards, support a fertile agricultural industry and shoot massive volumes into the ground to fracture shale deposits

New Report Debunks ‘Myth’ That GMOs are Key to Feeding the World

April 2, 2015 // 0 Comments

The biotechnology industry “myth” that feeding billions of people necessitates genetically engineered agriculture has been debunked by a new report out Tuesday by the nonprofit health organization Environmental Working Group. The report, Feeding the World Without GMOs (pdf), argues that investment in genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, has failed to expand global food security. It advocates more traditional methods “shown to actually increase food supplies and reduce the environmental impact of production.” Over the past 20 years, the report notes, global crop yields have only grown by 20 percent—despite the massive investment in biotechnology. On the other hand, it continues, in recent decades “the dominant source of yield improvements has been traditional crossbreeding, and that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.” As the report states, ” seed companies’ investment in improving yields in already high-yielding areas does little to improve food security; it mainly helps line the pockets of seed and chemical companies, large-scale growers and producers of corn ethanol.” After examining recent research on GMO crop production, the report also found: Genetically modified crops—primarily corn and soybeans—have not substantially contributed to global food security and are primarily used to feed animals and cars, not people. GMO crops in the

Feeding the World – Without GMOs

April 2, 2015 // 0 Comments

‘The fact is, there are strategies that take advantage of what we already know about using resources more efficiently that have the proven potential to double food supplies while at the same time reducing agriculture’s burden on the environment.’ (Image:naturalsociety.com) EWG released a new analysis on Tuesday  debunking the myth that genetically engineered crops (often called GMOs) will be crucial to “feeding the world” as the population soars. My report takes a hard look at recent research and concludes that so far, GE crops have done nothing to improve global food security – and there’s little reason to think that they will any time soon. The chief causes of global hunger today are poverty and small farmers’ lack of access to basic resources such as fertilizers and roads to market. So why do Big Ag and biotech companies keep insisting that the solution to meeting the demand for food is investment in their genetically engineered seeds? The fact is, there are strategies that take advantage of what we already know about using resources more efficiently that have the proven potential to double food supplies while at the same time reducing agriculture’s burden on the environment. Read

Grabbing Africa’s seeds: USAID, EU and Gates Foundation back agribusiness seed takeover

April 1, 2015 // 0 Comments

The latest salvo in the battle over Africa’s seed systems has been fired, writes Stephen Greenberg, with the Gates Foundation and USAID playing puppet-masters to Africa’s governments – now meeting in Addis Ababa – as they drive forward corporation-friendly seed regulations that exclude and marginalize the small farmers whose seeds and labour feed the continent. A battle is currently being waged over Africa’s seed systems. After decades of neglect and weak investment in African agriculture, there is renewed interest in funding African agriculture. These new investments take the form of philanthropic and international development aid as well as private investment funds. They are based on the potentially huge profitability of African agriculture – and seed systems are a key target. Right now ministers are co-ordinating their next steps at the 34th COMESA (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa) Intergovernmental Committee meeting that kicked off yesterday, 22nd March, in preparation for the main Summit that will follow on 30th and 31st March 2015. COMESA’s key aim is to pave the way for a “Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) in 2017 under the auspices of the African Union” with uniform regulations, including on agricultural products, seeds and GMOs. A recent meeting on biotechnology and biosafety was held

‘Cow-Free Milk:’ A False Solution to Industry Agriculture

March 30, 2015 // 0 Comments

Sometimes technological advances come about to answer the wrong question. But what happens when you ask the right question but technology is the wrong tool? You get Muufri. If you don’t feel comfortable drinking milk from a cow but do feel comfortable drinking milk that a few guys made in the lab on summer vacation, then Muufri is for you. Here’s what Muufri and its makers, Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi, got right. We have a huge industrial agricultural problem and one of its worst aspects is CAFOs-Confined Feeding Animal Operations—those “factory farms” where animal are crowded together in unsanitary and inhumane conditions, standing in their own urine and feces, waste that eventually moves on to pollute our waterways and contribute to climate change. Animals in CAFOs are cared for by underpaid workers who put their own physical and mental health at risk every day. This system needs to be changed and we need alternatives fast. Now here are a few of the flaws in the proposed “animal-free milk” solution put forth by Muufri. Read

Flower-enriched farms boost bee populations

March 30, 2015 // 0 Comments

Flower strips sown into farmers’ fields not only attract bees but increase their numbers, new University of Sussex research has shown. A two-year study of farms in West Sussex and Hampshire in the UK found that England’s most common bumblebee species saw significant population growth where targeted, bee-friendly planting schemes were in place. A number of ‘agri-environment’ schemes have been introduced to try to halt and reverse the decline of bumblebees, whose numbers have been falling because of changes in agricultural practices that have largely removed flowers from the landscape, leaving the bees with little to feed upon. Read More

The California drought: Water-rationing plan leaves corporate interests untouched

March 30, 2015 // 0 Comments

The unprecedented drought gripping California has deepened for the fourth consecutive year, having already set new records for the lowest annual precipitation levels on record. 2014 brought the highest calendar-year temperature for the state, while this February was the hottest on record and this January the driest. A recent study conducted by Daniel Griffin and Kevin J. Anchukaitis found that the current episode “is the most severe drought in the last 1200 years, with single year (2014) and accumulated moisture deficits worse than any previous continuous span of dry years.” Read

Ploughing On Regardless

March 27, 2015 // 0 Comments

Imagine a wonderful world, a planet on which there was no threat of climate breakdown, no loss of freshwater, no antibiotic resistance, no obesity crisis, no terrorism, no war. Surely, then, we would be out of major danger? Sorry. Even if everything else were miraculously fixed, we’re knackered if we don’t address an issue considered so marginal and irrelevant that you can go for months without seeing it in a newspaper. It’s literally and – it seems – metaphorically, beneath us. To judge by its absence from the media, most journalists consider it unworthy of consideration. But all human life depends on it. We knew this long ago, but somehow it has been forgotten. As a Sanscrit text written in around 1500 BC noted, “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it”. The issue hasn’t changed, but we have. Landowners around the world are now engaged in an orgy of soil destruction – so intense that, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, the world, on average, has just 60 more
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