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Why global food prices are higher today than for most of modern history

September 27, 2021 8.45am EDT

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  1. Alastair SmithSenior Teaching Fellow in Global Sustainable Development, University of Warwick

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Global food prices shot up nearly 33% in September 2021 compared with the same period the year before. That’s according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)‘s monthly Food Price Index, which also found that global prices have risen by more than 3% since July, reaching levels not seen since 2011.


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The Food Price Index is designed to capture the combined outcome of changes in a range of food commodities, including vegetable oils, cereals, meat and sugar, and compare them month to month. It converts actual prices to an index, relative to average price levels between 2002 and 2004. This is the standard source for tracking food prices – nominal prices, as they’re known, which means they’re not adjusted for inflation.

While nominal prices tell us the monetary cost of buying food in the market, prices adjusted for inflation (what economists call “real” prices) are much more relevant to food security – how easily people can access appropriate nutrition. The prices of all goods and services tend to rise faster than average incomes (though not always). Inflation means that not only do buyers need to pay more per unit for food (due to its nominal price increase), but they have proportionately less money to spend on it, given the parallel price increases of everything else, except their wages and other incomes.

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Back in August, I analysed the FAO’s inflation-adjusted Food Price Index and found that real global food prices were actually higher than in 2011, when food riots contributed to the overthrow of governments in Libya and Egypt.

A graph comparing nominal and real food prices between 1961 and 2021.
Nominal prices are lower today than in 2011, but real prices are higher. Alastair Smith/FAO data, Author provided

Based on real prices, it is currently harder to buy food on the international market than in almost every other year since UN record keeping began in 1961. The only exceptions are 1974 and 1975. Those food price peaks occurred following the oil price spike of 1973, which drove rapid inflation in many parts of the global economy, including the production and distribution of food.

So what’s now pushing food prices to historic levels?

Fuel prices, bad weather and COVID-19

The drivers of average international food prices are always complicated. The prices of different commodities rise and fall based on universal factors, as well as those specific to each commodity and region.

For example, the oil price rise which started in April 2020 has affected the prices of all food commodities on the FAO index, by increasing the costs of producing and transporting food. Labour shortages resulting from the COVID pandemic have reduced the availability of workers to grow, harvest, process and distribute food, another universal cause of commodity price rises.

The real average price of food has actually been increasing since the year 2000, reversing the previous trend of a steady decline from the start of the 1960s. Despite global efforts – that have, in part, responded to targets set by both the UN Millennium Development and the subsequent Sustainable Development Goals to reduce hunger – prices have made food steadily less accessible.

No single commodity has been continually responsible for the average real price increase from 2000. But the price index of edible oil crops has grown significantly since March 2020, driven mainly by the price of vegetable oils shooting up by 16.9% between 2019 and 2020. According to FAO crop reports, this was due to the growing demand for biodiesel and unsupportive weather patterns.

A graph depicting commodity price change between 1960 and 2021.
Food oil prices recently hit a 20-year high. Alastair Smith/FAO data, Author provided

The other food category adding most to the overall food price rise is sugar. Here, again, unfavourable weather, including frost damage in Brazil, has reduced supply and inflated prices.

Cereals have added less to overall price increases, but their accessibility worldwide is particularly important for food security. Wheat, barley, maize, sorghum and rice account for at least 50% of global nutrition, and as much as 80% in the poorest countries. Global buffer stocks of these crops have been shrinking since 2017, as demand has outstripped supply. Running down stores has helped stabilise global markets, but prices have increased sharply from 2019.

Again, the reasons for individual fluctuations are complicated. But something that deserves attention is the number of times since the year 2000 “unpredictable” and “unfavourable weather” has been reported by the FAO to have caused “reduced harvest expectations”, “weather-stricken harvests” and “production decrease”.


Read more: Our climate is like reckless banking before the crash – it’s time to talk about near-term collapse


Europeans might worry about the price of pasta as Canadian droughts slash wheat harvests. But, as the real price index for cereals creeps towards levels that escalated riots over the price of bread into general uprisings in 2011, there is an urgent need to consider how communities in less affluent regions can weather these stresses and avoid unrest.

Our technological capacity and socioeconomic organisation cannot successfully manage unpredictable and unfavourable weather. Now would be a good time to imagine food supply in a world warmer by more than 2°C – an outcome now considered increasingly likely according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Without radical changes, climate breakdown will continue to reduce international access to imported food, well beyond any historical precedent. Higher prices will reduce food security, and if there is one solid law of social science, it’s that hungry people take radical steps to secure their livelihoods – especially where leaders are perceived to have failed.

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Registration is open for the IPPC webinar series on Fall Armyworm Training Material

Posted on Mon, 27 Sep 2021, 16:16Responsive image

IPPC Secretariat invites interested users to register for the “Fall Armyworm Training Material: FAO/IPPC Prevention, Preparedness, and Response Guidelines for Spodoptera frugiperda webinar series. (Please register individually for all three sessions in the series)

Webinar 1: 22 October 12:00-13:30 (CET) Register here

Content: Introduction, General launch and guidelines presentation, including FAW distribution and biology

Webinar 2: 19 November 12:00-13:30 (CET) Register here

Content: Fall Armyworm Prevention and Preparedness (When FAW is still absent from a country)

Webinar 3: 10 December 12:00-13:30 (CET) Register here

Content: Fall Armyworm Response and Communication (When FAW has been officially detected and confirmed by a country)

Webinars are addressed to Quarantine and biosecurity experts, NPPOs and RPPOs staffs, researchers supporting NPPOs, producer associations, technical assistance organizations, manufacturers of technical means of control, and surveillance.

The webinar will be held in English with simultaneous interpretation into French and Arabic.

To consult the detailed program and more information, please visit: https://www.ippc.int/en/news/workshops-events/webinars/fall-armyworm-faw-training-part-1-22-october-part-2-19-november-and-part-3-10-december/…..

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Rice feeds half the world. Climate change’s droughts and floods put it at risk

Scientists and growers will need to innovate to save the staple crop

an aerial photo of rice fields
In a severe drought, rice farmers in California’s Sacramento Valley have to leave some of their fields unplanted (upper left).CALIFORNIA RICE COMMISSION, BRIAN BAER

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By Nikk Ogasa

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021 AT 6:00 AM

Under a midday summer sun in California’s Sacramento Valley, rice farmer Peter Rystrom walks across a dusty, barren plot of land, parched soil crunching beneath each step.

In a typical year, he’d be sloshing through inches of water amid lush, green rice plants. But today the soil lies naked and baking in the 35˚ Celsius (95˚ Fahrenheit) heat during a devastating drought that has hit most of the western United States. The drought started in early 2020, and conditions have become progressively drier.

Low water levels in reservoirs and rivers have forced farmers like Rystrom, whose family has been growing rice on this land for four generations, to slash their water use.

Rystrom stops and looks around. “We’ve had to cut back between 25 and 50 percent.” He’s relatively lucky. In some parts of the Sacramento Valley, depending on water rights, he says, farmers received no water this season.

California is the second-largest U.S. producer of rice, after Arkansas, and over 95 percent of California’s rice is grown within about 160 kilometers of Sacramento. To the city’s east rise the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, which means “snowy mountains” in Spanish. Rice growers in the valley below count on the range to live up to its name each winter. In spring, melting snowpack flows into rivers and reservoirs, and then through an intricate network of canals and drainages to rice fields that farmers irrigate in a shallow inundation from April or May to September or October.

If too little snow falls in those mountains, farmers like Rystrom are forced to leave fields unplanted. On April 1 this year, the date when California’s snowpack is usually at its deepest, it held about 40 percent less water than average, according to the California Department of Water Resources. On August 4, Lake Oroville, which supplies Rystrom and other local rice farmers with irrigation water, was at its lowest level on record.

a barren muddy field
Drought in the Sacramento Valley has forced Peter Rystrom and other rice farmers to leave swaths of land barren.N. OGASA

Not too long ago, the opposite — too much rain — stopped Rystrom and others from planting. “In 2017 and 2019, we were leaving ground out because of flood. We couldn’t plant,” he says. Tractors couldn’t move through the muddy, clay-rich soil to prepare the fields for seeding.

Climate change is expected to worsen the state’s extreme swings in precipitation, researchers reported in 2018 in Nature Climate Change. This “climate whiplash” looms over Rystrom and the other 2,500 or so rice producers in the Golden State. “They’re talking about less and less snowpack, and more concentrated bursts of rain,” Rystrom says. “It’s really concerning.”

Farmers in China, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam — the biggest rice-growing countries — as well as in Nigeria, Africa’s largest rice producer — also worry about the damage climate change will do to rice production. More than 3.5 billion people get 20 percent or more of their calories from the fluffy grains. And demand is increasing in Asia, Latin America and especially in Africa.

To save and even boost production, rice growers, engineers and researchers have turned to water-saving irrigation routines and rice gene banks that store hundreds of thousands of varieties ready to be distributed or bred into new, climate-resilient forms. With climate change accelerating, and researchers raising the alarm about related threats, such as arsenic contamination and bacterial diseases, the demand for innovation grows.

“If we lose our rice crop, we’re not going to be eating,” says plant geneticist Pamela Ronald of the University of California, Davis. Climate change is already threatening rice-growing regions around the world, says Ronald, who identifies genes in rice that help the plant withstand disease and floods. “This is not a future problem. This is happening now.”

The top rice producers are in Asia

The world’s top rice producer is China, at 214 million metric tons. India, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Vietnam are next. In Africa, Nigeria (6.8 million) is the largest producer. Brazil (11.8 million) and the United States (10.2 million) are also top producers, according to 2018 data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Worldwide rice production, 2018
a map showing where rice is grown around the world
OURWORLDINDATA.ORG

SOURCE: FAO

Saltwater woes

Most rice plants are grown in fields, or paddies, that are typically filled with around 10 centimeters of water. This constant, shallow inundation helps stave off weeds and pests. But if water levels suddenly get too high, such as during a flash flood, the rice plants can die.

Striking the right balance between too much and too little water can be a struggle for many rice farmers, especially in Asia, where over 90 percent of the world’s rice is produced. Large river deltas in South and Southeast Asia, such as the Mekong River Delta in Vietnam, offer flat, fertile land that is ideal for farming rice. But these low-lying areas are sensitive to swings in the water cycle. And because deltas sit on the coast, drought brings another threat: salt.

Salt’s impact is glaringly apparent in the Mekong River Delta. When the river runs low, saltwater from the South China Sea encroaches upstream into the delta, where it can creep into the soils and irrigation canals of the delta’s rice fields.

a farmer's hand holding dead rice plants being pulled from a paddy
In Vietnam’s Mekong River Delta, farmers pull dead rice plants from a paddy that was contaminated by saltwater intrusion from the South China Sea, which can happen during a drought.HOANG DINH NAM/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

“If you irrigate rice with water that’s too salty, especially at certain [growing] stages, you are at risk of losing 100 percent of the crop,” says Bjoern Sander, a climate change specialist at the International Rice Research Institute, or IRRI, who is based in Vietnam.

In a 2015 and 2016 drought, saltwater reached up to 90 kilometers inland, destroying 405,000 hectares of rice paddies. In 2019 and 2020, drought and saltwater intrusion returned, damaging 58,000 hectares of rice. With regional temperatures on the rise, these conditions in Southeast Asia are expected to intensify and become more widespread, according to a 2020 report by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Then comes the whiplash: Each year from around April to October, the summer monsoon turns on the faucet over swaths of South and Southeast Asia. About 80 percent of South Asia’s rainfall is dumped during this season and can cause destructive flash floods.

Bangladesh is one of the most flood-prone rice producers in the region, as it sits at the mouths of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. In June 2020, monsoon rains flooded about 37 percent of the country, damaging about 83,000 hectares of rice fields, according to Bangladesh’s Ministry of Agriculture. And the future holds little relief; South Asia’s monsoon rainfall is expected to intensify with climate change, researchers reported June 4 in Science Advances.

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A hot mess

Water highs and lows aren’t the entire story. Rice generally grows best in places with hot days and cooler nights. But in many rice-growing regions, temperatures are getting too hot. Rice plants become most vulnerable to heat stress during the middle phase of their growth, before they begin building up the meat in their grains. Extreme heat, above 35˚ C, can diminish grain counts in just weeks, or even days. In April in Bangladesh, two consecutive days of 36˚ C destroyed thousands of hectares of rice.

In South and Southeast Asia, such extreme heat events are expected to become common with climate change, researchers reported in July in Earth’s Future. And there are other, less obvious, consequences for rice in a warming world.

One of the greatest threats is bacterial blight, a fatal plant disease caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae. The disease, most prevalent in Southeast Asia and rising in Africa, has been reported to have cut rice yields by up to 70 percent in a single season.

“We know that with higher temperature, the disease becomes worse,” says Jan Leach, a plant pathologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Most of the genes that help rice combat bacterial blight seem to become less effective when temperatures rise, she explains.

And as the world warms, new frontiers may open for rice pathogens. An August study in Nature Climate Change suggests that as global temperatures rise, rice plants (and many other crops) at northern latitudes, such as those in China and the United States, will be at higher risk of pathogen infection.

Meanwhile, rising temperatures may bring a double-edged arsenic problem. In a 2019 study in Nature Communications, E. Marie Muehe, a biogeochemist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig, Germany, who was then at Stanford University, showed that under future climate conditions, more arsenic will infiltrate rice plants. High arsenic levels boost the health risk of eating the rice and impair plant growth.

Leaching in

When grown in a greenhouse at 5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures with elevated carbon dioxide levels (representing a future climate), California rice varieties absorbed more of a type of highly toxic arsenic from the soil, raising the rice’s arsenic levels above European Union safety thresholds.

Arsenic levels in rice grains
a chart showing arsenic in rice under different climate conditions
CREDIT: E. OTWELL

SOURCE: E.M. MUEHE ET AL/NATURE COMM.2019

Arsenic naturally occurs in soils, though in most regions the toxic element is present at very low levels. Rice, however, is particularly susceptible to arsenic contamination, because it is grown in flooded conditions. Paddy soils lack oxygen, and the microbes that thrive in this anoxic environment liberate arsenic from the soil. Once the arsenic is in the water, rice plants can draw it in through their roots. From there, the element is distributed throughout the plants’ tissues and grains.

Muehe and her team grew a Californian variety of rice in a local low-arsenic soil inside climate-controlled greenhouses. Increasing the temperature and carbon dioxide levels to match future climate scenarios enhanced the activity of the microbes living in the rice paddy soils and increased the amount of arsenic in the grains, Muehe says. And importantly, rice yields diminished. In the low-arsenic Californian soil under future climate conditions, rice yield dropped 16 percent.

According to the researchers, models that forecast the future production of rice don’t account for the impact of arsenic on harvest yields. What that means, Muehe says, is that current projections are overestimating how much rice will be produced in the future.

Managing rice’s thirst

From atop an embankment that edges one of his fields, Rystrom watches water gush from a pipe, flooding a paddy packed with rice plants. “On a year like this, we decided to pump,” he says.

Able to tap into groundwater, Rystrom left only about 10 percent of his fields unplanted this growing season. “If everybody was pumping from the ground to farm rice every year,” he admits, it would be unsustainable.

One widely studied, drought-friendly method is “alternate wetting and drying,” or intermittent flooding, which involves flooding and draining rice paddies on one- to 10-day cycles, as opposed to maintaining a constant inundation. This practice can cut water use by up to 38 percent without sacrificing yields. It also stabilizes the soil for harvesting and lowers arsenic levels in rice by bringing more oxygen into the soils, disrupting the arsenic-releasing microbes. If tuned just right, it may even slightly improve crop yields.

But the water-saving benefits of this method are greatest when it is used on highly permeable soils, such as those in Arkansas and other parts of the U.S. South, which normally require lots of water to keep flooded, says Bruce Linquist, a rice specialist at the University of California Cooperative Extension. The Sacramento Valley’s clay-rich soils don’t drain well, so the water savings where Rystrom farms are minimal; he doesn’t use the method.

Building embankments, canal systems and reservoirs can also help farmers dampen the volatility of the water cycle. But for some, the solution to rice’s climate-related problems lies in enhancing the plant itself.

three men stand next to each other
Fourth-generation rice farmer Peter Rystrom (left) stands with his grandfather Don Rystrom (middle) and his father Steve Rystrom (right).CALIFORNIA RICE COMMISSION, BRIAN BAER

Better breeds

The world’s largest collection of rice is stored near the southern rim of Laguna de Bay in the Philippines, in the city of Los Baños. There, the International Rice Genebank, managed by IRRI, holds over 132,000 varieties of rice seeds from farms around the globe.

Upon arrival in Los Baños, those seeds are dried and processed, placed in paper bags and moved into two storage facilities — one cooled to 2˚ to 4˚ C from which seeds can be readily withdrawn, and another chilled to –20˚ C for long-term storage. To be extra safe, backup seeds are kept at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colo., and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault tucked inside a mountain in Norway.

All this is done to protect the biodiversity of rice and amass a trove of genetic material that can be used to breed future generations of rice. Farmers no longer use many of the stored varieties, instead opting for new higher-yield or sturdier breeds. Nevertheless, solutions to climate-related problems may be hidden in the DNA of those older strains. “Scientists are always looking through that collection to see if genes can be discovered that aren’t being used right now,” says Ronald, of UC Davis. “That’s how Sub1 was discovered.”

two people in blue jumpsuits looking at rice seeds on shelves
Over 132,000 varieties of rice seeds fill the shelves of the climate-controlled International Rice Genebank. Breeders from around the world can use the seeds to develop new climate-resilient rice strains.IRRI/FLICKR (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Sub1 gene enables rice plants to endure prolonged periods completely submerged underwater. It was discovered in 1996 in a traditional variety of rice grown in the Indian state of Orissa, and through breeding has been incorporated into varieties cultivated in flood-prone regions of South and Southeast Asia. Sub1-wielding varieties, called “scuba rice,” can survive for over two weeks entirely submerged, a boon for farmers whose fields are vulnerable to flash floods.

Some researchers are looking beyond the genetic variability preserved in rice gene banks, searching instead for useful genes from other species, including plants and bacteria. But inserting genes from one species into another, or genetic modification, remains controversial. The most famous example of genetically modified rice is Golden Rice, which was intended as a partial solution to childhood malnutrition. Golden Rice grains are enriched in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. To create the rice, researchers spliced a gene from a daffodil and another from a bacterium into an Asian variety of rice.

Three decades have passed since its initial development, and only a handful of countries have deemed Golden Rice safe for consumption. On July 23, the Philippines became the first country to approve the commercial production of Golden Rice. Abdelbagi Ismail, principal scientist at IRRI, blames the slow acceptance on public perception and commercial interests opposed to genetically modified organisms, or GMOs (SN: 2/6/16, p. 22).

Looking ahead, it will be crucial for countries to embrace GM rice, Ismail says. Developing nations, particularly those in Africa that are becoming more dependent on the crop, would benefit greatly from the technology, which could produce new varieties faster than breeding and may allow researchers to incorporate traits into rice plants that conventional breeding cannot. If Golden Rice were to gain worldwide acceptance, it could open the door for new genetically modified climate- and disease-resilient varieties, Ismail says. “It will take time,” he says. “But it will happen.”

Climate change is a many-headed beast, and each rice-growing region will face its own particular set of problems. Solving those problems will require collaboration between local farmers, government officials and the international community of researchers.

“I want my kids to be able to have a shot at this,” Rystrom says. “You have to do a lot more than just farm rice. You have to think generations ahead.”

Climate-resilient rice

To keep rice bowls around the world full, researchers breed new varieties of rice that can endure stresses like drought, floods and salt.

Sahbhagi Dhan: Traditional rice varieties take 120 to 150 days to harvest and require four irrigations. Sahbhagi Dhan is a drought-tolerant variety harvested after 105 days and just two irrigations. In normal conditions, it produces about twice as much rice (four to five metric tons per hectare) as other local varieties in India. Under drought conditions, it produces one to two metric tons per hectare; local varieties produce none.

rice paddies
Scuba rice contains a gene that enables the plant to survive several days underwater, important for areas that experience flooding.IRRI/FLICKR (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Scuba riceSub1, a submergence-tolerance gene, has been bred into scuba rice varieties. Rice normally dies after three to four days of total submergence — many varieties will exhaust themselves to death trying to quickly grow to the water’s surface. Sub1 varieties (shown), however, refrain from this frenzied growth spurt, and can withstand over two weeks underwater, able to survive the sudden floods of the summer monsoon.

Salt-tolerant rice: Made by inserting an area of the genome called Saltol, salt-tolerant rice varieties are better able to regulate the amount of sodium ions, toxic in high amounts, in their tissues. Saltol has been incorporated into high-yield varieties throughout the world.

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United Nations

Decades of development efforts undermined by pandemic – FAO report 

A farmer harvests potatoes in Manchaybamba, Peru.

© IFAD/P. Vega A farmer harvests potatoes in Manchaybamba, Peru.    22 September 2021Economic Development

COVID-19 has set back progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), undermining decades of development efforts, according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  

“It’s an alarming picture, in which progress on many SDG targets has been reversed, with a significant impact on all aspects of sustainable development and making the achievement of the 2030 Agenda even more challenging,” said FAO Chief Statistician, Pietro Gennari. 

The analysis, Tracking progress on food and agriculture SDG-related indicators, focuses on eight of the SDGs, which were adopted at a UN Summit in New York in 2015.  

Main findings 

According to the report, the COVID-19 pandemic might have pushed an additional 83 to 132 million people into chronic hunger in 2020, making the target of ending hunger even more distant. 

Around 14 percent of all food is lost along the supply chain, before it even reaches the consumer, which FAO considers “an unacceptably high proportion”. Progress has also faltered towards maintaining plant and animal genetic diversity for food and agriculture. 

Agricultural systems bear the brunt of economic losses due to disasters, small-scale food producers remain disadvantaged, and food price volatility has also increased, due to the constraints placed by the pandemic and lockdowns.  

The report also focuses on gender, finding that women producers in developing countries earn less than men even when more productive; gender inequalities in land rights are pervasive; and discriminatory laws and customs remain obstacles to women’s tenure rights.  

Lastly, water stress remains alarmingly high in many regions, threatening progress towards sustainable development. 

Progress and solutions 

FAO also points to several areas in which progress is being made.  

The UN agency highlights measures against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, sustainable forest management, elimination of agricultural export subsidies, investment in agricultural productivity in developing countries, and duty-free access for developing and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  

The new report coincides with this week’s UN Food Systems Summit, which aims to raise global awareness and spur actions to transform food systems, eradicate hunger, reduce diet-related diseases and heal the planet.  

FAO is asking to scale up investment in agriculture, more access to new technologies, credit services and information resources for farmers and support small-scale food producers. 

The agency also supports the conservation of plant and animal genetic resources, measures to counter food price volatility, and prevent potentially hazardous events from becoming full-blown disasters. 

It also calls for more action to use water efficiently, better interventions to reduce food losses, more protection of ecosystems, progress on the legal and practical aspects of women’s land rights and the sustainability of global fisheries. 

Lastly, the report makes an urgent call for more and better data. 

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, and the world moves further off track in meeting the 2030 SDG deadline, timely and high-quality data are more essential than ever,” Mr. Gennari said. 

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox – Subscribe here to a topic.♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices. 

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The Guardian

Small farmers have the answer to feeding the world. Why isn’t the UN listening?

Elizabeth Mpofu and Henk Hobbelink

We’re among the thousands boycotting the UN food summit – it’s been hijacked by corporate interests while the voices of small-scale farmers go unheard

Members of the "Canasta Campesina" (Farmers Basket)  in Comasagua, El Salvador
Members of the ‘Canasta Campesina’ (farmers’ basket) project pick from a selection of organic vegetables in Comasagua, El Salvador. Photograph: José Cabezas/AFP/Getty

Global development is supported by

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

About this contentThu 23 Sep 2021 02.01 EDT

  • Thursday’s UN food summit proposes to help solve the world’s nutrition crisis, with 800 million people going hungry and 1.9 billion labelled obese, by better aligning food systems with development goals. But it won’t achieve any of this. The summit was hijacked early on by powerful corporate interests – but people are resisting.

Hundreds of social movements and civil society groups across the world representing small-scale and subsistence food producers, consumers and environmentalists are protesting about the summit for being undemocratic, non-transparent and focused only on strengthening only one food system: that backed by the big corporations. Civil society bodies active at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), for instance, are running a massive grassroots boycott of the summit, and there is a website and several actions dedicated to it. Grain, a small nonprofit group campaigning for biodiversity-based food systems, shut down its website and social media in protest on Thursday and many other organisations are holding their own protests around the world. An online alternative forum in July, running in parallel with the pre-summit meeting in Rome, attracted about 9,000 participants. This week, even more are expected.

Even the scientific community is walking out on this farcical effort to address the urgent challenges facing our food systems. It is especially concerned about the summit creating a new scientific agency to justify its agenda, undermining existing UN bodies already responsible for this work. Mainstream development agencies are also starting to question the wisdom of the current direction of travel. The UN Environment Programme has just issued a scathing nine-point assessment of the industrial food system. In a recent joint report, three UN bodies assailed the $540bn (£396bn) of agricultural subsidies that governments currently hand out for promoting food systems that are “harmful for the environment and human health”. Also, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food has rebuked the summit for its corporate bias and lack of a human rights framework.

A farmer harvesting cowpeas in Moyale, Kenya in July

So why is the summit facing such widespread opposition? The main reason is that organisers have given agribusiness a lead role in the process and largely ignored the social movements and small farmers’ organisations around the world that produce the majority of the world’s food. As a result, the summit will unavoidably push for an industrialised and corporate-driven food system, undermining the future of the millions of small-scale farmers, fishers, herders, food vendors and processors across the world.

In contrast, small farmers’ movements such as La Via Campesina and its allies are presenting a very different future. La Via Campesina launched its vision of “food sovereignty” 25 years ago, at the 1996 world food summit. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It is based on a model of small-scale sustainable production benefiting communities and the environment. Food sovereignty prioritises local food production and consumption, giving a country the right to protect its producers from cheap imports and to control its production.

It includes the struggle for land and genuine agrarian reform that ensures the rights to use and manage lands, territories, water, seeds, livestock and biodiversity are in the hands of those who produce food and not of the corporate sector. La Via Campesina sees agroecology as a viable alternative to the industrial food system. It recognises that small farmers, including fishers, pastoralists and indigenous people, who make up almost half the world’s population, are capable of producing food for their communities and feeding the world in a sustainable and healthy way.

There’s no doubt that the current global food system needs a massive overhaul. It is being torn apart by inequality, environmental destruction, the climate crisis, worker and human rights abuses, all of which were laid bare by the Covid pandemic. But peasant movements have a viable alternative. One where the needs of most of the world’s food producers and consumers are put at the centre of the food system, where their voices are heard and where sustainability and the climate are the main concerns. The UN Food System Summit, unfortunately, does not want to hear this.

  • Elizabeth Mpofu a member of Zimbabwe Smallholder Organic Farmers’ Forum (Zimsoff) and general coordinator of La Via Campesina, and Henk Hobbelink is coordinator of Grain.

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OPINION

Protecting Plants Will Protect People and the Planet

ISA Inerpress News Agency

By Barbara WellsReprint |         |  Print | Send by email

ROME, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – Back-to-back droughts followed by plagues of locusts have pushed over a million people in southern Madagascar to the brink of starvation in recent months. In the worst famine in half a century, villagers have sold their possessions and are eating the locusts, raw cactus fruits, and wild leaves to survive.

Barbara WellsInstead of bringing relief, this year’s rains were accompanied by warm temperatures that created the ideal conditions for infestations of fall armyworm, which destroys mainly maize, one of the main food crops of sub-Saharan Africa.

Drought and famine are not strangers to southern Madagascar, and other areas of eastern Africa, but climate change bringing warmer temperatures is believed to be exacerbating this latest tragedy, according to The Deep South, a new report by the World Bank.

Up to 40% of global food output is lost each year through pests and diseases, according to FAO estimates, while up to 811 million people suffer from hunger. Climate change is one of several factors driving this threat, while trade and travel transport plant pests and pathogens around the world, and environmental degradation facilitates their establishment.

Crop pests and pathogens have threatened food supplies since agriculture began. The Irish potato famine of the late 1840s, caused by late blight disease, killed about one million people. The ancient Greeks and Romans were well familiar with wheat stem rust, which continues to destroy harvests in developing countries.

But recent research on the impact of temperature increases in the tropics caused by climate change has documented an expansion of some crop pests and diseases into more northern and southern latitudes at an average of about 2.7 km a year.

Prevention is critical to confronting such threats, as brutally demonstrated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on humankind. It is far more cost-effective to protect plants from pests and diseases rather than tackling full-blown emergencies.

One way to protect food production is with pest- and disease-resistant crop varieties, meaning that the conservation, sharing, and use of crop biodiversity to breed resistant varieties is a key component of the global battle for food security.

CGIAR manages a network of publicly-held gene banks around the world that safeguard and share crop biodiversity and facilitate its use in breeding more resistant, climate-resilient and productive varieties. It is essential that this exchange doesn’t exacerbate the problem, so CGIAR works with international and national plant health authorities to ensure that material distributed is free of pests and pathogens, following the highest standards and protocols for sharing plant germplasm. The distribution and use of that germplasm for crop improvement is essential for cutting the estimated 540 billion US dollars of losses due to plant diseases annually.

Understanding the relationship between climate change and plant health is key to conserving biodiversity and boosting food production today and for future generations. Human-driven climate change is the challenge of our time. It poses grave threats to agriculture and is already affecting the food security and incomes of small-scale farming households across the developing world.

We need to improve the tools and innovations available to farmers. Rice production is both a driver and victim of climate change. Extreme weather events menace the livelihoods of 144 million smallholder rice farmers. Yet traditional cultivation methods such as flooded paddies contribute approximately 10% of global man-made methane, a potent greenhouse gas. By leveraging rice genetic diversity and improving cultivation techniques we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance efficiency, and help farmers adapt to future climates.

We also need to be cognizant that gender relationships matter in crop management. A lack of gender perspectives has hindered wider adoption of resistant varieties and practices such as integrated pest management. Collaboration between social and crop scientists to co-design inclusive innovations is essential.

Men and women often value different aspects of crops and technologies. Men may value high yielding disease-resistant varieties, whereas women prioritize traits related to food security, such as early maturity. Incorporating women’s preferences into a new variety is a question of gender equity and economic necessity. Women produce a significant proportion of the food grown globally. If they had the same access to productive resources as men, such as improved varieties, women could increase yields by 20-30%, which would generate up to a 4% increase in the total agricultural output of developing countries.

Practices to grow healthy crops also need to include environmental considerations. What is known as a One Health Approach starts from the recognition that life is not segmented. All is connected. Rooted in concerns over threats of zoonotic diseases spreading from animals, especially livestock, to humans, the concept has been broadened to encompass agriculture and the environment.

This ecosystem approach combines different strategies and practices, such as minimizing pesticide use. This helps protect pollinators, animals that eat crop pests, and other beneficial organisms.

The challenge is to produce enough food to feed a growing population without increasing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment, particularly through greenhouse gas emissions and unsustainable farming practices that degrade vital soil and water resources, and threaten biodiversity.

Behavioral and policy change on the part of farmers, consumers, and governments will be just as important as technological innovation to achieve this.

The goal of zero hunger is unattainable without the vibrancy of healthy plants, the source of the food we eat and the air we breathe. The quest for a food secure future, enshrined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, requires us to combine research and development with local and international cooperation so that efforts led by CGIAR to protect plant health, and increase agriculture’s benefits, reach the communities most in need.

Barbara H. Wells MSc, PhD is the Global Director of Genetic Innovation at the CGIAR and Director General of the International Potato Center. She has worked in senior-executive level in the agricultural and forestry sectors for over 30 years.https://platform.twitter.com/widgets/follow_button.f88235f49a156f8b4cab34c7bc1a0acc.en.html#dnt=false&id=twitter-widget-0&lang=en&screen_name=IPSNewsUNBureau&show_count=false&show_screen_name=true&size=l&time=1629524871809

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August 4, 2021

Laura Hollis

PlantwisePlus: Helping farmers grow safer, higher quality food

Dr Monica Kansiime is one of the Global Team Leaders for CABI’s new global PlantwisePlus Programme. Building on the success over the last ten years of CABI Plantwise, the new programme aims to enable smallholder farmers to increase incomes and grow safer, higher quality food through climate-resilient approaches to crop production. 

safer food, PlantwisePlus
© CABI

Identifying the challenges

Dr Kansiime’s role within the programme is to identify key safety challenges related to food production. In addition, activities to increase demand for and supply of safer and higher quality farm produce will also be implemented. At least 80% of food consumed in developing regions is grown by smallholder farmers. Raising awareness of agricultural best practice and nutritional information, including safer pesticide use, will help farmers to produce safer, more nutritious food. Not only will this open up new markets to farmers, but local communities will gain access to higher quality, healthier produce. 

Farmer in Uganda
© CABI

Since joining CABI in 2015 Dr Kansiime has gained extensive experience in the agriculture sector programming, providing strategic leadership, research and development at regional and global levels. She has designed and coordinated objective and high-quality research on identified economic and social issues pertinent to CABI projects/programmes and with regional significance, to facilitate learning, program adaptation and evidence-based programming.  

Three key issues

Within this workstream three main issues are being addressed in the initial 3 years of the programme: 

1. Increasing local demand for safer produce within selected agricultural value chains, 

2. Encouraging farmers to work to a voluntary crop production standard to deliver safer, environmentally friendly produce,  

3. Increasing job opportunities for young men and women in rural communities to provide agricultural services to local producers. 

fall armyworm on a leaf
© CABI

Pesticide use

One of the first steps has been to examine the use of pesticides in rural communities. The increase in devastating crop pests, such as the fall armyworm and tomato pinworm, has led to a growth in pesticide use among smallholder farmers, with a prevalent tendency not to adhere to safety precautions.

Frequent use of synthetic pesticides, combined with limited adherence to safety precautions, can have serious implications on the environment, human and animal health.. Because of the hazards associated with pesticides and the risks that they pose, pesticide life cycles are governed by national, regional and international agreements and regulations.

Literature review

An initial literature review has been conducted by Melanie Bateman, one of the team members, to determine whether there is any evidence of pesticide residues exceeding minimum residue limits (MRLs), particularly in domestic markets, and, if so, which pesticides and on which crops.

woman in a market
© CABI

Food safety

Concurrently, a situational assessment is being done focusing on Africa and Asia to understand: the context of food safety within the respective countries; factors that contribute to causing the problem; key stakeholders and what is being done already; and gaps. At the same time, a consumer survey will be carried out to understand consumers’ knowledge, judgments, and practices related to food safety, in particular pesticide safety.

Stakeholder engagement

The combined evidence will be used to engage key stakeholders on the subject of pesticide residue levels to encourage both internal and public dialog on the matter. Similarly, engagements with policy makers and farmers will be done to accelerate adoption of practices that support production of higher quality and safer food by reducing the negative effects of pesticide misuse. The information will also support effective risk communication strategies targeting consumers.

About PlantwisePlus

PlantwisePlus is a global programme, led by CABI, to increase incomes and grow safer and higher quality food through sustainable approaches to crop production.

Working in close partnership with relevant actors, PlantwisePlus strengthens national plant health systems from within, enabling countries to provide farmers with the knowledge they need to lose less and feed more.

CABI gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS, Netherlands), the European Commission Directorate General for International Partnerships (INTPA,EU), the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), for the PlantwisePlus programme.

For more information visit: https://www.plantwise.org
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Plantwise
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CABI_Plantwise (@CABI_Plantwise)

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Science News from research organizations


Nanotech and AI could hold key to unlocking global food security challenge

Date:June 24, 2021Source:University of BirminghamSummary:’Precision agriculture’ where farmers respond in real time to changes in crop growth using nanotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI) could offer a practical solution to the challenges threatening global food security, a new study reveals.Share:FULL STORY


‘Precision agriculture’ where farmers respond in real time to changes in crop growth using nanotechnology and artificial intelligence (AI) could offer a practical solution to the challenges threatening global food security, a new study reveals.

Climate change, increasing populations, competing demands on land for production of biofuels and declining soil quality mean it is becoming increasingly difficult to feed the world’s populations.

The United Nations (UN) estimates that 840 million people will be affected by hunger by 2030, but researchers have developed a roadmap combining smart and nano-enabled agriculture with AI and machine learning capabilities that could help to reduce this number.

Publishing their findings today in Nature Plants, an international team of researchers led by the University of Birmingham sets out the following steps needed to use AI to harness the power of nanomaterials safely, sustainably and responsibly:

  • Understand the long-term fate of nanomaterials in agricultural environments — how nanomaterials can interact with roots, leaves and soil;
  • Assess the long-term life cycle impact of nanomaterials in the agricultural ecosystem such as how how repeated application of nanomaterials will affect soils;
  • Take a systems-level approach to nano-enabled agriculture — use existing data on soil quality, crop yield and nutrient-use efficiency (NUE) to predict how nanomaterials will behave in the environment; and
  • Use AI and machine learning to identify key properties that will control the behaviour of nanomaterials in agricultural settings.

Study co-author Iseult Lynch, Professor of Environmental Nanosciences at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Current estimates show nearly 690 million people are hungry — almost nine per cent of the planet’s population. Finding sustainable agricultural solutions to this problem requires us to take bold new approaches and integrate knowledge from diverse fields, such as materials science and informatics.

“Precision agriculture, using nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, offers exciting opportunities for sustainable food production. We can link existing models for nutrient cycling and crop productivity with nanoinformatics approaches to help both crops and soil perform better — safely, sustainably and responsibly.”

The main driver for innovation in agritech is the need to feed the increasing global population with a decreasing agricultural land area, whilst conserving soil health and protecting environmental quality.

Intensification of agriculture has resulted in extremely poor global NUE, which poses a serious threat to environmental quality as large amounts of nutrients are lost to water and air — warming the planet, with nearly 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture.

Of particular concern is the emission of the ‘laughing gas’ nitrous oxide as a result of excessive nitrogen fertilization of land, which is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide in inducing global warming. Some 70% of the anthropogenic source nitrous oxide emissions into air are contributed from the agricultural sector.

Nano fertilizers offers the potential to target crop fertility, enhance NUE and reduce nitrous oxide emission, which can thus help support the net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050 targets under the UK Climate Change Act.

The research team, which includes experts from the Hellenic Military Academy, in Vari, Greece and Novamechanics Ltd, in Nicosia, Cyprus, note that nanotechnology offers great potential to enhance agriculture in four key ways:

  • Improving production rates and crop yields;
  • Boosting soil health and plant resilience;
  • Improving the efficiency of resources, such as fertiliser, and reducing pollution; and
  • Developing smart sensor plants that can alert farmers to environmental stresses.

Co-author Dr Peng Zhang, a Marie Skodowska-Curie Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Computational approaches including AI and machine learning will have a critical role in driving the progress of nano-enabled agriculture. Such approaches are already starting to gain regulatory acceptance for safety assessment of nanomaterials, allowing the development of safe-by-design nanomaterials for consumer products and medicine.

“Integrating AI and nanotechnology into precision agriculture will play a vital role in probing the design parameters of nanomaterials for use in fertilizer and pesticide delivery to ensure minimal impacts on soil health coupled with minimal nanomaterial residues remaining in the edible tissue portions — helping to ensure safe and sustainable agriculture.”


Story Source:

Materials provided by University of BirminghamNote: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Peng Zhang, Zhiling Guo, Sami Ullah, Georgia Melagraki, Antreas Afantitis, Iseult Lynch. Nanotechnology and artificial intelligence to enable sustainable and precision agricultureNature Plants, 2021; DOI: 10.1038/s41477-021-00946-6

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NiMet, FAO Strategise to Combat Food Security in Nigeria

June 19, 2021 11:30 am 0

Kasim Sumaina in Abuja

Bothered by the growing food insecurity in the country, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) yesterday hinted that it was collaborating with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to strategise on best weather and climate services model to mitigate negative impact of weather to agriculture.

This it said, was to improve food security, noting that weather plays an important role in agriculture as it dictates if farmers would experience bumper harvest or not.

The Director General/CEO NiMet, Professor Mansur Bako Matazu, in a statement in Abuja signed by the General Manager/Public Relations Officer, NiMet, Mr. Muntari Yusuf Ibrahim, opined that weather had profound influence on growth, development and yields of a crop, incidence of pest and diseases.

According to him, water needs and fertiliser requirements were also mainly dictated by weather patterns. “Due to this, the Nigerian Meteorolocal Agency annually presents the overall Seasonal Climate Prediction (SRP) of the country, with a view to help different sectors of the economy, not just agriculture comprehend the weather outlook for the year to enable them infuse knowledge weather information into their plans to reduce the multiplier negative impacts.”

The NiMet DG, informed the FAO delegation during a virtual meeting that the Agency was committed to continuous monitoring of the developing weather patterns in order to update its partners of the observable changes especially in areas that churn out large output of food because failure to do this would impact negatively on food security in the country at large.

Matazu observed that the Food and Agriculture Organisation being the specialised agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger, the two organisations’ collaboration is not far-fetched due to their visions.

Responding, the Emergency/Resilience Programme Specialist of FAO, Sworo Yopesi, stated that the organisation had noticed evolutions of dry spells that could inhibit agriculture yields in some parts of the country.

According to Yopesi, this necessitated the urgent meeting with NiMet in order for the organisations to synergise and arrive at a collective solution that could lead to timely dissemination of weather alerts to the affected regions impacted by the dry spells.

NiMet had earlier predicted that seven northern states would experience severe dry spells in June. It however noted that by July and August the dry spell would have improved and the affected states would experience normal rainfall.

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Every year, people in Sub-Saharan Africa consume 34 million tons of milled rice, of which 43 percent is imported. But the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly hampered supply chains, making it difficult for imported rice to reach the continent. Indeed, if immediate action is not taken, the supply shortfall will further strain the region’s food systems which are already impacted by the pandemic.

Rice imports from Thailand, one of Africa’s largest suppliers, have declined 30 percent due to lockdowns, border closures and general limitations on supply chains in just over one year since the pandemic started.

Consequently, many poor urban dwellers, who traditionally struggle to afford staple foods, now have to contend with more expensive food as the price of the popular Indica White rice has increased by 22%.

On the flip side, however, these challenges can be viewed as a wake-up call for Africa to strengthen its domestic rice production and achieve self-sustainability. Undoubtedly, the continent has the resources for adequate rice production, and with increased investment, tremendous change can be achieved.

Ghana, for example, has increased its rice production by an average of 10 percent every year since 2008, with a sharp 25 percent rise being reported in 2019 following the rehabilitation and modernization of the country’s irrigation schemes. These investments led to a 17 percent rise in the country’s rice self-sufficiency between 2016 and 2019.

And while the West African nation has yet to produce enough rice to meet its local demand, the impressive increase in output makes it a model example of what can be achieved through supportive policies and investment. On this point, the country’s National Rice Development Strategy of 2009 and the Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) campaign – launched in 2017 – not only prioritized rice but set ambitious expansion targets for domestic production.

Among the objectives of the two policies were the substitute on of rice imports and the production of higher-quality rice that is acceptable to Ghanaian consumers and can compete with imported products.

These policy frameworks played a pivotal role in de-risking market failures while speeding up the implementation of innovations in local rice production, including those that relate to genomics and e-commerce. At the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), we are first-hand witnesses to the transformation, and saw the positive impact of the government’s leadership in the development of favorable policies.

AGRA supported these developments; we helped the government in publicizing its ‘Eat Ghana Rice’ campaign, which sensitized local consumers on the economic and nutritional importance of consuming local products.

The clarion call inspired rice farmers, millers and other private sector players to increase domestic sourcing and marketing. The result, the country’s national production increased from just 138,000 metric tonnes in 2016 to 665,000 in 2019.

AGRA also played a major role in supporting the adoption of innovative technologies in rice production, particularly through the development and distribution of locally adaptable varieties. We remain a key player in availing suitable rice varieties and seed to farmers in the country, a goal we continually pursue by helping train scientists and researchers in the field.

Of the 680 crop breeders that we have trained at post graduate level in Africa since 2006, more than 50, or around 8 percent, have been rice breeders. These professionals have been instrumental in sustaining the production of varieties that are suited to local conditions and yield more per acreage than older types.

We are now delivering such technologies across Africa, and especially in countries with the potential for large scale rice production, most of which are spread across West and East Africa. In countries like Tanzania and Kenya, we soon hope to report a major rise in rice output attributable to our advocacy for the implementation of supportive policies related to the uptake of the best production and marketing practices.

But we cannot do it alone; we believe that investments of a genuinely great extent, like the ones we are pursuing, can only be achieved by the participation of all stakeholders. For this reason, we continue to appeal to all players in the rice value chain to support all efforts aimed at increasing the production of local rice, a crop that holds a leading role in the achievement of food security and economic stability for the continent.

More news fromAGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa)

Websitehttp://www.agra-alliance.org

Published: June 22, 2021

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Faw RISK aS REPT Cover

The document, ‘Pest Risk Assessment of the Fall Armyworm in Egypt’ has just been released by the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management Lab at VA Tech. The document provides information on the following subjects:

FAW identification

Biology

Damage

Mortality and dispersal

Spread and establishment

Risk to other countries

Economic impact

Development of a management plan for the FAW in Egypt

The document can be accessed on the IPM IL website at:

Click to access Egypt-FAW-Risk-Assessment-12-14-17.pdf

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