News

2017-08-01 |

Humanity has already exhausted Earth’s natural resources for 2017

Earth Humanity has already used up nature’s budget for the entire year (Photo: CC0)

August 2 marks Earth Overshoot Day this year – the day humanity has used up the natural resources Earth can regenerate in a year, according to data from Global Footprint Network, an international sustainability think tank. The date is calculated each year by contrasting the world’s demand on nature (ecological footprint) with the biocapacity - forests, pastures, cropland and fisheries as well as the planet’s ability to replenish resources and absorb waste, including carbon dioxide emissions. The world enters ecological ‘overshoot’ this year six days earlier than in 2016. The day has moved up on the calendar from November 4 in 1980 and September 23 in 2000, showing that the world population is exhausting the world’s resources faster than ever. For the rest of the year, we will be living on resources borrowed from future generations.

According to the Global Footprint Network, the estimated level of resources and ecosystem services required to support human activities today is 1.7 Earths. If everyone lived the way Australians do, it would take 5.2 Earths to sustain global consumption. If the entire world followed US citizens’ example, it would take 5.0 Earths. South Korea and Russia are using 3.4 Earths, followed by Germany which is using nature 3.2 times faster than ecosystems can regenerate. The costs of this ecological overspending are becoming more evident in the form of deforestation, drought, fresh-water scarcity, soil erosion, biodiversity loss and the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon emissions are a main contributor to ecological overshoot. “Humanity’s carbon Footprint alone more than doubled since the early 1970s and remains the fastest growing component of the widening gap between the Ecological Footprint and the planet’s biocapacity,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO of Global Footprint Network and co-creator of the Ecological Footprint. “To achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, humanity would need to exit the fossil fuel economy before 2050. This would go a long way toward addressing humanity’s overshoot problem.”

But the Global Footprint Network is also confident that the current trend can be reversed. The think tank projects that if we take decisive action to move Earth Overshoot Day back 4.5 days every year, we would return to using the resources of one planet by 2050. For instance, cutting food waste by 50% at global level could move the date by 11 days. In addition, reducing the carbon component of the global Ecological Footprint by half would move the date by 89 days. “Our planet is finite, but human possibilities are not. Living within the means of one planet is technologically possible, financially beneficial, and our only chance for a prosperous future,” said Wackernagel. “Ultimately, moving back the date of Earth Overshoot Day on the calendar is the name of the game.” (ab)

2017-07-24 |

UN warns 2.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water

WAter Three in ten people around the world lack access to safe drinking water (Photo: CC0)

The world has made little progress on sanitation and drinking water, leaving 2.1 billion people without access to safe, readily available water at home and 4.5 billion people without safely managed sanitation. According to a report released on July 12th by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO) this threatens to expose the world’s poorest to preventable health risks. Of the 2.1 billion people who do not have safely managed water, 844 million do not even have a basic drinking water service. This includes 263 million people who have to spend over 30 minutes per trip collecting water from sources outside the home, and 159 million who still drink untreated water from surface water sources, such as streams or lakes. There are big gaps in service between urban and rural areas. Two out of three people with safely managed drinking water and three out of five people with safely managed sanitation services live in urban areas. Of the 159 million people using untreated surface water, 150 million live in rural areas. “Safe water, sanitation and hygiene at home should not be a privilege of only those who are rich or live in urban centres,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “These are some of the most basic requirements for human health, and all countries have a responsibility to ensure that everyone can access them.”

Of the 4.5 billion people who do not have safely managed sanitation, 2.3 billion do not even have access to basic sanitation. This includes 600 million people who share a toilet or latrine with other households, and 892 million people – mostly in rural areas – who still have to defecate in the open, for example in street gutters, behind bushes or into open bodies of water. While billions have gained access to basic water and sanitation services since 2000, faster progress will be required in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for ending open defecation and achieving universal access to basic services by 2030. According to the report, in 90 countries progress towards basic sanitation is too slow, meaning they will not reach universal coverage by 2030. With regard to drinking water, the situation looks better. By 2015, 181 countries had achieved over 75% coverage with at least basic services. Australia and New Zealand and North America and Europe are already very close to achieving universal basic drinking water services, while Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Eastern Asia and South-eastern Asia, are on track to achieve universal access by 2030. Although many people have gained access to basic drinking water, good hygiene remains a problem in many regions. Many homes, healthcare facilities and schools still lack soap and water for handwashing. This puts the health of those people at risk for diseases, such as diarrhoea. As a result, 361,000 children under the age of five die due to diarrhoea each year. (ab)

2017-07-20 |

UK faces insecure, unsafe and expensive food supplies after Brexit, academics warn

Dood Brexit could cause chaos for UK food supplies (Photo: CC0)

The UK is sleepwalking into a post-Brexit future of insecure, unsafe and expensive food supplies, leading academics have warned. According to a report published on Monday by food policy specialists from three British universities, the UK is unprepared for the most complex ever change to its food system. “Supplies could be reduced, prices could become increasingly volatile, environmental sustainability could be further diminished, safety could be imperilled, inequalities could be amplified, and public trust be undermined,” they write in the 88-page report with the title “A Food Brexit: Time to get real”. The professors warn that the Brexit process is happening at a particularly vulnerable time for the UK food system - a time when it has become excessively dependent upon imports while its productive base is declining. “UK food security and sustainability are now at stake,” said Professor Tim Lang from City University of London, one of the authors. “A food system which has an estimated three to five days of stocks cannot just walk away from the EU, which provides us with 31 per cent of our food. Anyone who thinks that this will be simple is ill-informed.”

The authors criticise that the government is lacking a vision for UK food or agriculture and has failed to warn consumers of the implications even of a ‘soft’ Brexit. “It’s like the rabbit caught in the headlights – with no goals, no leadership, and eviscerated key ministries,” they write. “No-one has warned the public that a Food Brexit carries real risks of disruption to sources, prices and quality,” Professor Lang said. “There is solid evidence about vulnerabilities ranging from diet-related ill-health to ecosystems stress. Food is the biggest slice of EU-related regulations and laws, yet so far the Government has provided next to no details on agriculture and fisheries, and there has been total silence on the rest of the food chain where most employment, value adding and consumer choice are made,” he added. “With the Brexit deadline in 20 months, this is a serious policy failure on an unprecedented scale.”

The report also warns that Brexit could pose serious threats to food safety, standards and quality as the UK is reliant on a vast array of pan-European institutions and scientific infrastructure which keep British food fit to eat. “In the EU, UK consumers and public health have benefited from EU-wide safety standards, without which there will be a risk of the UK having less safe and nutritious products,” said Professor Erik Millstone from the University of Sussex. Another issue addressed in the report is the UK’s dependence on migrant labour. “UK food manufacturing is our largest manufacturing sector but one third of its workforce is migrant. UK horticulture has massive dependency on migrants to pick ‘British’ food UK consumers say they want,” the authors write. They predict that technology will not replace the vast army of migrant labour who work in food service. “The UK’s food system already faces unprecedented challenges on environment and jobs – we see real dangers that these are already being dislocated by Brexit uncertainties,” warns Professor Terry Marsden from Cardiff University.

The report also makes detailed recommendations for each of the key issues explored. The professors call on Government and MPs to publish policy commitment to a low-impact, health-oriented UK food system and to establish a new National Commission on Food and Agriculture to provide oversight and review. They stress that any new food framework needs to commit to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agreement. “We believe the evidence points to the need for a Food Brexit for Sustainable Development. Brexit must not fudge this opportunity for the UK to accelerate into a food system which delivers sustainable diets from sustainable food systems,” they concluded. “This great Food Transition should improve food security at home, and in countries from which we import food, by lightening the UK’s ‘foodprint’ on the planet, improving public health, reducing the economic burdens from poor diet, enhancing food employment, and more.” (ab)

2017-07-11 |

Global food prices to remain low over the next decade, OECD-FAO report

The report projects low food prices over the next decade (Photo: CC0) The report projects low food prices over the next decade (Photo: CC0)

Global food prices are projected to remain low over the next decade as demand growth for food commodities is expected to slow down and biofuel policies have less impact on markets than in the past. This is the key message of the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2017 - 2026 published on Monday. The report provides ten-year projections to 2026 for all major agricultural commodities, as well as for biofuels and fish. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) say that the completed replenishment of cereal stocks by 230 million metric tonnes over the past decade, combined with abundant stocks of most other commodities, will prevent a rise in prices, which are now almost back to their levels before the 2007-08 food price crisis. “Real prices of most agricultural and fish commodities are expected to decline slightly over the ten-year Outlook period,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. But he also warned that is essential that governments continue joint efforts to provide stability to world food markets since unexpected events can easily change these trends.

Over the outlook period, global cereal production is projected to expand by 12%, leading to a total increase by 2026 of 11% for wheat, 14% for maize, 10% for other coarse grains, and 13% for rice. Future growth in crop production will be mainly achieved through higher yields. For example, 90% of the increase in maize production is expected to come from increased yields and just 10% from area expansion. Global meat production will expand by almost 40 Mt over the outlook period. Growth will continue to be driven mainly by poultry production, which is projected to increase by 13%, and a 10% increase in pigmeat. Growth in meat and dairy production is expected to come from both larger herds and higher output per-animal. By 2026, average calorie availability is projected to reach 2,450 kcal per day in least developed countries and exceed 3,000 kcal per day in other developing countries. “But we also know that more food alone is not enough to eliminate undernourishment and other forms of malnutrition,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. “Access to the additional calories is extremely important. More challenging is the fight against malnutrition: Fighting malnutrition requires a diversified, safe and nutritious diet, ideally produced with a lower environmental footprint,” he added.

The report projects that per capita demand for food staples may not rise (except in least developed countries), while growth in demand for meat may slow. Over the past years, demand growth was mainly driven by China, where rising meat and fish demand caused the consumption of feed to grow by almost 6% per year, and also by the global biofuel sector, where the use of feedstock inputs grew by almost 8% per year. These trends are not anticipated to continue in the same way over the medium term. Global meat consumption per capita is expected to stagnate at 34.6 kg retail weight equivalent by 2026, an increase of less than half a kilogram compared to the base period. This is due to large low-income groups and changing dietary preferences which will keep “convergence” towards western diets limited according to FAO and OECD projections.

The report states that demand growth for ethanol and biodiesel has weakened due to lower fossil fuel prices and fewer incentives from government policies. Even though energy prices are projected to increase, the derived demand for biofuel feedstocks, especially maize and sugarcane for ethanol and vegetable oil for biodiesel, will grow slowly, except in key developing countries where demand increases are driven by more pro-active domestic policies. Biofuel production is projected to grow by 17% over the next ten years, compared to a 90% increase over the previous decade.

This year’s Agricultural Outlook includes a special focus on Southeast Asia. Economic growth has been strong and the agriculture and fish sectors have developed rapidly in the region, the authors write. They found that this growth has enabled the region to significantly reduce undernourishment in recent years. However, the growth of agriculture and fisheries, in particular in the export-oriented fish and palm oil sectors, has led to rising pressure on natural resources. (ab)

2017-07-05 |

World hunger on the rise again due to conflict and climate change, FAO

Poverty A grim outlook for the world food situation (Photo: CC0)

The number of undernourished people in the world has increased again, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations warned on Monday. At the opening of the agency’s biennial conference in Rome, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told member states that conflict and climate change are the main contributing factors behind the rising number of people suffering from hunger. „I wish I could announce here today some good news regarding the global fight against hunger,” da Silva said. “But, unfortunately, it is not the case. Preliminary data available indicate for this year that the number of undernourished people in the world has increased, rising again.” The final numbers will be published in September with the launch of FAO’s annual flagship report, the State of Food Security and Nutrition, but da Silva warned that the world could face the worst food crisis since the Second World War.

FAO currently identifies 19 countries in a protracted crisis situation. “Earlier this year famine was declared in parts of South Sudan. And by the time famine is declared, it means that thousands of people have already died from hunger. Alerts of high risk of famine were also issued for Northeast Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen. Nearly 20 million people are heavily affected in these four countries,” da Silva stressed. These countries are also facing extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. Da Silva said that almost 60% of the people suffering from hunger worldwide live in countries affected by conflict and climate change. The livelihoods of these mostly rural people have been disrupted and “many of them have found no option other than increasing the statistics of distress migration.”

Pope Francis said in a statement that “hunger and malnutrition are not only natural or structural phenomena in determined geographical areas, but the result of a more complex condition of underdevelopment caused by the indifference of many or the selfishness of a few”. It is concrete decisions, he said, that lead to devastating consequences such as war and terrorism. “We are dealing with a complex mechanism that mainly burdens the most vulnerable, who are not only excluded from the processes of production, but frequently obliged to leave their lands in search of refuge and hope.”

According to FAO chief da Silva, “peace is of course the key to ending these crises” but he stressed that “we cannot wait for peace to take action.” He said there is much the world can do to fight hunger during conflicts and protracted crises. Vulnerable people need assistence so that they have the conditions to continue producing their own food. FAO announced its priorities for the next two years would include promoting sustainable agriculture, climate change mitigation and adaptation, poverty reduction, water scarcity, migration and the support of conflict-affected rural livelihoods. Despite the recent setbacks in the fight against hunger, da Silva said that he remained confident that achieving the international community’s goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030 is still possible, but only if countries translate their pledges into concrete action. (ab)

2017-06-29 |

Vulnerable ‘chokepoints’ could threaten global food supply, experts warn

Choke The Panama Canal, one of the critical chokepoints (Photo: CC0)

The world’s food security is increasingly reliant on a small number of global trade chokepoints which are exposed to disruptive hazards, a new Chatham House report has found. The UK-based think-tank has identified 14 trade chokepoints of global strategic importance – maritime straits, major port hubs and inland transport networks – through which over half of all internationally traded grain must pass. “A serious interruption at one or more of these chokepoints could lead to supply shortfalls and price spikes,” they warn. More commonplace disruptions may not in themselves trigger crises, but could add to delays, spoilage and transport costs, contributing to higher prices and increased volatility. “We are talking about a huge share of global supply that could be delayed or stopped for a significant period of time,” co-author Laura Wellesley was quoted by The Guardian. “What is concerning is that, with climate change, we are very likely to see one or more of these chokepoint disruptions coincide with a harvest failure, and that’s when things start to get serious.”

The report points out that international trade in food and agricultural inputs relies on a global web of transport systems. A complex network of railways, waterways, ports, sea lanes and storage infrastructure supports the movement of crops and fertilizers from farm or factory to port and from region to region. The most important inland and coastal chokepoints lie in a few ‘breadbasket’ regions. The US, Brazil and the Black Sea account for 53% of global exports of wheat, rice, maize and soybean. Inland waterways carry about 60% of US exports of the four crops (which make up 13% of global exports) to the sea, primarily to the Gulf Coast ports. In Brazil, four ports are responsible for a quarter of global soybean exports. Around 60% of Russian and Ukrainian wheat exports depend on rail to reach the Black Sea. Among the maritime chokepoints, the Panama Canal and Strait of Malacca see the most significant grain throughput due to their positions linking Western and Asian markets. Over one-quarter of global soybean exports transit the Strait of Malacca, primarily to meet animal feed demand in China and Southeast Asia. Chatham House warns that supply chains are only as reliable as their weakest links, and the most critical parts of the global transport network are these junctures.

The report explores three categories of disruptive hazards: First, extreme whether events, including storms or floods, may temporarily cause the closure of chokepoints. Second, security and conflict may arise from war, political instability, piracy, organized crime and terrorism. Third, political intervention and institutional failure may cause disruptions, such as a decision by authorities to close a chokepoint or restrict the passage of food. Almost all major chokepoints had seen a closure or interruption at least once in the past 15 years. In June 2017, overland routes that carry 40% of Qatar’s food imports were closed as part of a blockade. The report says that the risks are increasing as dependency on chokepoints is growing, especially among food-deficit countries which rely on imports. Over the past 15 years, the share of internationally traded grain and fertilizers passing through at least one of the maritime chokepoints has increased from 43 to 54%. A share of 10% now depends on transit through one or more of the maritime chokepoints as the only viable shipping route. Climate change adds to the pressure by increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather and by threatening the integrity of port operations and coastal storage infrastructure due to rising sea levels. Chronic underinvestment in infrastructure is also a major problem. The US’s inland waterways are old, congested, and vulnerable to drought and flood while Brazil’s roads are poor and often rendered impassable by rain.

Chatham says that chokepoints are systematically overlooked in assessments of food security despite their importance to food prices and supply. The report offers a set of recommendations and risk mitigation strategies to be put in place. Governments should diversify production and global grain supply chains; invest in infrastructure that is climate resilient and cooperate with other governments to develop regional strategic reserves and storage infrastructure. The authors also call on developed food-exporting countries to reform trade-distorting farm support. “Such support promotes systemic reliance on a handful of mega-crops and a small number of grain-exporting regions. Instead, public funds should be directed to supporting alternative sources of grain production around the world, in order to diversify global production and reduce import dependence elsewhere.” (ab)

2017-06-28 |

A People’s Food Policy: NGOs call for transformation of England’s food system

Food A more just and sustainable food system is needed (Photo: CC0)

A coalition of food and farming organisations has urged politicians in England to develop a more progressive food policy in advance of leaving the EU. On Monday, they launched ‘A People's Food Policy’, a 100-page report which is calling for a more just food system “where everybody, regardless of income, status or background, has secure access to enough good food at all times, without compromising on the wellbeing of people, the health of the environment and the ability of future generations to provide for themselves.” The report draws on 18 months of extensive, nation-wide consultations and over 150 food and farming initiatives, community groups, grassroots organisations, unions and NGOs have contributed their ideas and proposals.

The organisations highlight that agriculture is one of the sectors that will be faced with the most uncertainty as a result of Brexit. Rising food prices and a lack of workers in the agricultural sector due to migration restrictions are just two issues. They argue that, in the face of this uncertainty, policy, legislative framework and a food act is needed that “integrates the compartmentalised policy realms of food production, health, labour rights, land use and planning, trade, the environment, democratic participation and community wellbeing.” The organisations point out that, while Scotland is already in the process of adopting national food policies and is developing a ‘Good Food Nation Bill', England is lagging behind. “The lack of a coherent, joined-up food policy framework in England is becoming increasingly problematic. In this country we have shameful levels of food insecurity, with food bank usage rising year on year, and an estimated over eight million people now in a state of such financial precarity they can’t afford to eat,” said Dee Butterly, the coordinator of A People’s Food Policy.

According to the organisations the British food system is characterised by inequality and exploitation at all levels. “From the increasing corporate control of agriculture in the UK, to the price of basic food stuffs outstripping the rises in real wages, through to small farmers being aggressively squeezed out of the market, with over 33,000 small to medium farms closing down in the past decade – the UK is witnessing a series of crises in how we produce, distribute and sell food,” said Heidi Chow, food campaigner for Global Justice Now. “The government’s approach to addressing these problems is at best piece-meal and at worst non-existent,” she added. Therefore, the organisations behind “A People’s Food Policy”, whose work is currently being co-ordinated by representatives from the Land Workers Alliance, Global Justice Now, the Ecological Land Co-operative, the Centre for Agroecology Water and Resilience and Permaculture Association, want to radically change the way the food system functions and is governed. “We need to develop a national food policy in the coming years that transforms our food systems and that puts equality, resilience and justice at the forefront.”

The report contains a comprehensive set of recommendations and policy proposals for transforming the food system in England covering the thematic areas of governance, food production, health, land, labour, environment, knowledge and skills, trade and finance. “Brexit brings with it an historic opportunity to create radical change for the better, and it is our responsibility to seize it,” the report reads. “The time has come for us all to join together and to create a food system which is the beating heart of our cultures, our histories, our earth, our communities and our future generations.” (ab)

2017-06-22 |

World population projected to reach 11.2 billion in 2100

Idnia India’s population is expected to surpass China’s (Photo: CC0)

The world population is expected to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a new UN report released on June 21. The “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, projects that India’s population will surpass China’s in 2024 while Nigeria’s population will overtake that of the United States and become the third largest country in the world shortly before 2050. The global population is continuing to grow, albeit more slowly than in recent years. The current number of nearly 7.6 billion will increase by more than one billion people to 8.6 billion by 2030. Ten years ago, it was growing by 1.24% per year. Today, it is growing by 1.10% per year, adding 83 million people annually.

Currently, 60% of the world’s people live in Asia (4.5 billion), 17% in Africa (1.3 billion), 10% in Europe (742 million), 9% in Latin America and the Caribbean (646 million), and the remaining 6% in Northern America (361 million) and Oceania (41 million). China (1.4 billion) and India (1.3 billion) remain the two most populous countries, comprising 19 and 18% of the global total, respectively. Much of the overall increase in population between now and 2050 is projected to occur either in countries with high fertility rates, mostly in Africa, or in countries with large populations. Among the ten largest countries worldwide, Nigeria is growing the most rapidly. The countries that will make the largest total contribution to population growth are India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, the United States of America, Uganda and Indonesia.

Population growth remains especially high in the group of 47 countries designated by the UN as the least developed countries (LDCs), including 33 countries in Africa. Although the growth of LDCs is projected to slow, the population of this group will nearly double in size from 1 billion inhabitants in 2017 to 1.9 billion in 2050. Between 2017 and 2100, the populations of 33 countries, most of them LDCs, are very likely to at least triple in size. Among them, the populations of Angola, Burundi, Niger, Somalia, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia are projected to be at least five times as large in 2100 as they are today. The report warns that “the concentration of population growth in the poorest countries will make it harder for those governments to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality, combat hunger and malnutrition, expand and update education and health systems, improve the provision of basic services and ensure that no-one is left behind.” This presents a considerable challenge to governments in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In sharp contrast to the projected increases in LDCs, the populations of 51 countries or areas in the world are expected to decrease. Several countries are expected to see their populations decline by more than 15% by 2050, including Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia and the Ukraine. Fertility rates in all European countries are now below the level required for the replacement of successive generations (roughly 2.1 births per woman). Fertility for Europe as a whole is projected to increase from 1.6 births per woman in 2010-2015 to nearly 1.8 in 2045-2050. However, this will not prevent a likely contraction in total population size. The report shows that lower fertility will result in ageing populations. Compared to 2017, the number of persons aged 60 or above is expected to more than double by 2050, rising from currently 962 million to 2.1 billion. The 2017 Revision also confirms a significant increase in life expectancy in recent years. Globally, life expectancy rose from 67.2 to 70.8 years between 2000-2005 and 2010-2015. The greatest gains were achieved in Africa, where life expectancy rose by 6.6 years between these two periods. In 2010-2015, average life expectancy in Africa was 60.2 years, compared to 71.8 in Asia, 74.6 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 77.2 in Europe, 77.9 in Oceania and 79.2 in Northern America. (ab)

2017-06-19 |

Restore degraded land to give rural people better chances, UN urges

Dürre Increased frequency of droughts can lead to land degradation (Photo: CC0)

UN agencies have called for better management of land to combat desertification since land degradation is forcing people to flee their homes. On World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought on June 17, they promoted public awareness of land degradation under this year’s theme “Our Land. Our Home. Our Future.”, with a focus on making the land and life in rural communities viable for young people. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide are directly affected by desertification, the degradation of land ecosystems due to unsustainable farming or mining practices, or climate change. “Population growth means demand for food and water is set to double by 2050 but crop yields are projected to fall precipitously on drought affected, degraded land. More than 1.3 billion people, mostly in the rural areas of developing countries, are in this situation,” said Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Across the world, land degradation is forcing people to flee their homes and countries. According to estimates, nearly 500 million hectares of once fertile land – an area more than half the size of China – have been completely abandoned due to drought, desertification and land mismanagement. “Over the next few decades, worldwide, close to 135 million people are at risk of being permanently displaced by desertification and land degradation,” Barbut warned.

Erik Solheim, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, echoed that land degradation affects where and how people live. “It drives human displacement by threatening lives over the short term and making people’s livelihoods untenable over the long term, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable.” If more land is getting lost to desertification, rural populations who rely on pastoral livelihoods, agriculture and natural resources will face additional threats such as increasing poverty and poor levels of education. This is why the subject of land also features prominently on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a stand-alone Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Goal 15, in particular, calls for combatting desertification, and undertaking efforts to halt and reverse land degradation. To address this growing threat, Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, called for a double approach: First, better land management to arrest desertification and preserve the productivity of farmland and second, strengthening resilience of vulnerable populations by supporting alternative livelihoods. Ms Barbut also believes that with the right type of investments in land, rural infrastructure and skills development, once degraded lands can build resilience to extreme weather-elements like drought and can provide not just enough to get by, but new opportunities for young, rural populations: “We need policies that enable young people to own and rehabilitate degraded land… Let us give young people the chance to bring that natural capital back to life and into production.” (ab)

2017-06-15 |

European Parliament bans pesticides from Ecological Focus Areas

Pestdcises Pesticides will be banned in the EU at least on ecological focus areas (Photo: CC0)

The European Parliament has adopted a ban on the use of pesticides on land set aside for nature conservation. As a result of a plenary vote on June 14, EU Farmers who receive subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will no longer be allowed to spray pesticides on “ecological focus areas” (EFAs). In February, the European Commission had proposed a ban as part of a package of measures designed to simplify the so-called “greening” of the CAP. On May 30, Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (COMAGRI) adopted a resolution to veto this Commission proposal. A group of lawmakers argued that a pesticide ban would undermine the production of crops that are allowed to be grown in those areas. However, in Wednesday’s plenary vote, opponents of the pesticide ban failed to secure the required majority. 267 MEPs voted for a ban while 363 MEPs voted for pesticides, missing the absolute majority by 13 votes. This means that Parliament automatically supported the Commission’s pesticide ban. “Saved by procedure manual!,” was the comment of environmental organisation BirdLife. “Even if the majority of MEPs present in the European Parliament voted in favour of pesticides, nature still won,” said Trees Robijns, Senior Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia. “This vote, a brazen display of vested interests over public good, shows that a big part of MEPs are not listening to the hundreds of thousands of people who have repeatedly expressed their support for nature in recent EU public consultations.”

Environmental groups and other non-governmental organisations still welcomed the outcome of vote. PAN Europe, a network of European NGOs promoting sustainable alternatives to pesticides, said the EP refusal to undermine EFAs by allowing pesticides use “is a small but welcome victory for common sense, biodiversity and the wider environment”. But Henriette Christensen, PAN Europe Senior Policy Advisor, added that “in truth, much more must be done on the road to sustainable agriculture.” The World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF) also welcomed the decision: “Banning pesticide use on a small percentage of arable land will not impact overall agricultural production and is the right thing to do to bring back some of the farmland biodiversity we have been losing over the last decades,” said Jabier Ruiz, Senior Policy Officer, Agriculture and Sustainable Food Systems. He heavily critisied COMAGRI: “The EU Parliament's Committee on Agriculture tried to block this improvement over the last few months, showing clearly that they lack environmental awareness, and that they cannot be entrusted with full responsibility in future debates on the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Ecological Focus Areas were introduced as part of CAP’s greening measures. Farms with more than 15 hectares of arable land are required to dedicate at least 5% of this land to EFAs in order to receive payments. On these areas, they can implement measures such as creating buffer strips, maintaining hedges, leaving land lying fallow or planting nitrogen-fixing crops. In January, research by a group of scientists from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, the University of Göttingen and other institutions found that nitrogen-fixing crops like legumes do not benefit biodiversity much if farmers use pesticides on these areas. They had called for stricter management requirements. “It is of course essential to forbid the use of pesticides on EFAs,” said the lead author of the paper, Guy Pe’er. “It makes no sense to harm biodiversity in areas that are explicitly designated to protect it.” The ban on the use of pesticides in ecological focus areas will now apply from January 2018. (ab)

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