News

2018-02-19 |

Herbicide use drives the evolution of herbicide-resistant weeds, study

Black Black-grass in a barley crop (Photo: CC0, bit.ly/Alop, bit.ly/cc-by-sa30)

Spraying weeds with chemicals has always come at a high cost, both to farmers and the environment. But using herbicides to control weeds is also driving the evolution of herbicide-resistant crops, new research shows. According to a study, led by scientists from the University of Sheffield, farms that use a greater volume of herbicide have more crop resistance to herbicides. Future control of weeds must depend on management strategies that reduce reliance on chemicals, the researchers argue. For the study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the research team mapped the density of the UK’s major agricultural weed, black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) across 70 farms in England, collecting seed from 132 fields. They also collected historical management data for all fields to find out which management factors are driving black-grass abundance and herbicide resistance.

The researchers surveyed 24,824 quadrats in the UK – small areas of habitat selected at random as samples for assessing the local distribution of plants and animals. They found that, black-grass has become a widespread weed present in 88% of the quadrats monitored by the researchers. 32% of quadrats contained high or very high densities of black-grass. It has spread northward in recent years and the scientists found the weed in areas where it had not been found in previous decades. “The driver for this spread is evolved herbicide resistance: we found that weeds in fields with higher densities are more resistant to herbicides,” said the lead author of the study, Professor Rob Freckleton from the University of Sheffield. “Once resistance has evolved it does not seem to go away: two years later, fields with high densities still had high densities, despite farmers employing a suite of different management techniques. This is confirmed by co-author Paul Neve, a weed biologist at Rothamsted. “Resistance is a major driver for black-grass population expansion in England,” notes Neve. “80% of sampled populations were highly resistant to all herbicides that can be used for selective black-grass control in a wheat crop,” he added.

The researchers found that increasing resistance is linked to the number of herbicide applications. “The results were simple: farms that used a greater volume of herbicide had more resistance,” said Professor Freckleton. Diversifying management and the range of chemicals used did not prevent resistance developing, the team report. “A major imminent threat to food production is the growing reliance on glyphosate as a weed management tool,” the researchers warn in their study. “Resistance to glyphosate is already present in eight different countries. How long it will take for resistance to glyphosate to become near universal is uncertain, but in evolutionary terms it is inevitable unless standard management practices change.” The researchers stress the importance of reducing the evolution of resistance. They recommend that farmers switch to weed-management strategies that rely less on herbicides, as it is inevitable that weeds will overcome even new products. (ab)

2018-02-13 |

France withdraws from New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition

Farmer More support for family farmers is needed (Photo: CC0)

France will withdraw from the controversial G7 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN). The decision was announced at the Interministerial Committee for International Cooperation and Development (CICID) on 8 February. Since its launch in 2012, the New Alliance has been heavily criticised by development organisations. They argue that the initiative favours the interest of transnational agribusiness corporations to the detriment of peasant agriculture. It has been denounced by hundreds of organisations for its negative impacts on food security and small-scale farmers in the ten African countries in which the initiative operates. In 2016, even the European Parliament slammed the G7 project. In a report adopted by the parliament’s development committee, the alliance was criticised for benefiting agribusiness while posing a threat to small-scale farmers and the environment. The initiative, which aims to bring 50 million people in Subsaharan Africa out of poverty by 2022 by enabling investment in the agricultural sector, is supported by multinationals such as Cargill, Monsanto or Louis Dreyfus.
France explained the move with the fact that an assessment of the impacts of NAFSN’s implementation in Burkina Faso had shown mixed results. An independent evaluation of the programme, carried out by researchers at the Centre for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD), focussed in particular on the Bagré project, 200 km southeast of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital. “The measures taken there to free up land for future investors caused profound changes in food security and food consumption practices,” the daily Le Monde Afrique quoted from the report. The project intends to introduce large-scale artificial irrigation. But small-scale farmers who depend on rainfed agriculture to cultivate their staple crops fear that they will be deprived of their land. “The situation of family farmers is today very tense compared to the conditions offered to agribusiness, generating a strong feeling of injustice,” the CIRAD experts write. “The approach of this initiative is too ideological and there is a real risk of land grabbing to the detriment of small farmers,” a French Foreign Ministry official close to the case was quoted in Le Monde. According to a paper summarising the results of the CICID meeting, France will instead “strengthen its support for inclusive rural development and family farming, mainly in Africa and in particular in the Sahel, through an agro-ecological intensification, by improving nutrition of the population and through territorial and sectoral approaches.”

French development organisations welcomed the step. Action Against Hunger, the CCFD-Terre Solidaire and Oxfam France said the withdrawal should be taken into account by other NAFSN partners, such as the European Union and African States. Germany, another main contributor to the NAFSN, should also pull out of the initiative. The organisations warn that the so-called “magic bullet” of mixing public-private partnerships and legislative reforms to create an enabling environment for transnational companies’ investments, as promoted by the New Alliance, is not the solution to fight hunger. “On the contrary, it goes against the interest of local populations, marginalises family farms – although they produce 70% of the global food items – to the benefit of a few transnational companies which are given all the facilities : finance, taxes, land tenure,” they said in a press release. The NGOs stress that they have repeatedly documented the negative consequences of such a system in Burkina Faso or in Ivory Coast: land grabbing, peasants’ debt, introduction of GMO crops and settlement of growth corridors which are actually agricultural tax heavens. According to the three organisations, France must learn from this failure and no longer engage in investment projects and similar initiatives. “The withdrawal from NAFSN must be the signal for a genuine rethink,” they said. “In coherence with this decision, the 400 million euros France annually affects to food security in countries of the Global South should entirely go to the development of peasant agroecology.” (ab)

2018-01-29 |

World food prices up 8.2% in 2017, says UN food agency

Cereals Cereal prices rose 3.2% in 2017 (Photo: CC0)

Global food prices rose by 8.2% in 2017 compared to the previous year, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned. The FAO Food Price Index, which measures monthly changes in international prices of a basket of food commodities, reached the highest annual average since 2014. According to the latest FAO Food Price Index issued on January 11, global food prices in December 2017 declined by 3.3% from November, led by sharp decreases for vegetable oils and dairy products. However, despite the decrease last month, the Food Price Index averaged 174.6 points in 2017, compared to 161.5 points in 2016 and 164 points in 2015. However, food prices were still 24% below the 2011 high of almost 230 points.

While sugar prices fell in 2017, dairy and meat prices registered sharp year-on-year increases, the UN food agency said. The Dairy Price Index was 31.5% higher over the whole of 2017 than the previous year, jumping from 153.8 to 202.2 points. Meat prices in 2017 rose by 9%, but remained 4.7% below the average for the preceding five years. Ovine meat registered the largest increase, followed by pigmeat, poultry and beef. The FAO Cereal Price Index was 3,2% higher in 2017 than in 2016, climbing from 146.9 to 151.6 points. However, world cereals prices were still 37% lower than during the peak in 2011, when the index soared to 240.9 points. Sugar prices were 11.2% lower, on average, in 2017 than in 2016, due largely to a bumper harvest in Brazil, the world’s leading producer. The prospects for 2018 are still uncertain. FAO senior economist Abdolreza Abbassian told Reuters that it was too early in the year to predict what effect weather conditions would have on harvests. He said that oil prices are also driving developments. “If oil prices are the highest in a couple of years, all you need is some sort of unexpected development in one of the big oil producing countries to see a spike in oil and that would definitely spill over to other commodities,” Abbassian said. He projects that the new year is going to be “a little more uncertain, a little more volatile and unpredictable”. (ab)

2018-01-25 |

World’s richest 1% get 82% of wealth generated in 2017, Oxfam says

Poor Global income growth - who benefits? (Photo: CC0)

82% of the wealth generated in 2017 went to the top 1% the world’s population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half saw no increase at all. This is the finding of a new report published by the charity organisation Oxfam ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The report ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth’ reveals how the global economy enables a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes while hundreds of millions of people are struggling to survive. According to Oxfam, last year the number of billionaires rose at an unprecedented rate, one more every two days. There are now 2,043 dollar billionaires worldwide. In 12 months, the wealth of this elite group has increased by $762bn. This would have been enough money to end extreme poverty in the world seven times over. While billionaire wealth has risen by an annual average of 13% since 2010, the wages of ordinary workers have increased by a yearly average of just 2%. “The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “The people who make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food are being exploited to ensure a steady supply of cheap goods, and swell the profits of corporations and billionaire investors.”

The report says it takes just four days for a CEO from one of the top five global fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi garment worker will earn in her lifetime. Shareholders and corporate bosses benefit at the expense of workers’ pay and conditions. According to Oxfam, the key drivers behind this trend are the erosion of workers’ rights; the excessive influence of big business over government policy-making; and the relentless corporate drive to minimize costs in order to maximize returns to shareholders. Across the world, women consistently earn less than men, not only at the top where 9 out of 10 billionaires are men. A disproportionately large share of women remain trapped in low pay and poverty wages, working in least secure forms of work. “Oxfam has spoken to women across the world whose lives are blighted by inequality,” explains Byanyima. “Women in Vietnamese garment factories who work far from home for poverty pay and don’t get to see their children for months at a time. Women working in the US poultry industry who are forced to wear nappies because they are denied toilet breaks.”

Oxfam calls on governments to create a more equal society by prioritizing ordinary workers and small-scale food producers instead of the rich and powerful. The organisation calls on governments to limit returns to shareholders and top executives, and ensure all workers receive a minimum ‘living’ wage that would enable them to have a decent quality of life. For example, in Nigeria, the legal minimum wage would need to be tripled to ensure good living standards. Oxfams also demands the elimination of the gender pay gap and better protection of the rights of women workers. It needs to be ensured that the rich pay their fair share of tax through higher taxes and a crackdown on tax avoidance. In addition, spending on public services such as healthcare and education must increase. Reducing inequality is not just a pipe dream of development organisations: In 2015, world leaders adopted a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among other objectives, they commited to eradicating extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030, ending hunger and malnutrition and reducing inequalities within and among countries. With the report, Oxfam reminds them that it is now time for action. (ab)

2018-01-23 |

We are fed up!: 33,000 march in Berlin for a greener agricultural policy

March 33,000 took to Berlin’s streets (Photo: Alexander Puell/www.wir-haben-es-satt.de)

Over 33,000 people took to the streets of Berlin last Saturday, 20 January, to demand a new food and farming policy that benefits small farmers and protects the environment. Farmers, consumers, beekeepers and food activists joined the march that was led by 160 tractors and ended in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Equipped with colourful posters and creative costumes, they walked under this year’s motto “Stop the agro-industry!”. Many dressed up as cows or chickens, others buzzed across the city as bees or butterflies. A giant dead bee was floating in the air, lying on its back and carrying the slogan “Agroindustry kills”. Farmers from all across Germany had travelled for many hours by tractor to take part. The event was organised by a broad alliance of more than 100 farmers’, environmental, animal welfare and development organisations, known as “Wir haben es satt!” (we are fed up). It was the eighth year in a row that the protesters demand a fundamental chance of course in agriculture during the International Green Week – Europe’s biggest agricultural fair that currently takes places in Berlin.

The protesters called on the future German government to show courage and quickly introduce a greener agricultural policy. “The industrial food and farming industry is causing problems for farmers, the climate, animals and the environment, both at local and global level,” said a spokesman for the alliance, Jochen Fritz. “Politicians must not delay any longer the urgently needed conversion to an agricultural system that is friendly to the environment, animals and the climate and in which farmers can live well from their work,” Fritz added. Many protesters called for a ban on the controversial weed killer glyphosate. Others marched for animal welfare and less meat consumption, against the global close-down of small farms and against subsidies for the agro-industry. “Food is political - more and more people start to realize this. But politicians nurture an agricultural sector that detrimentally affects the environment and animals in the name of productivity,” Fritz said.

The organisations behind the march also demand a reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and call for an immediate end to subsidy payments for investors who buy up land without actually being farmers. “Farmers who cultivate the land in an environmentally-friendly way and operate ethical animal farms should be supported with direct-payment subsidies,” said Georg Janßen, the head of the farming association Arbeitsgemeinschaft bäuerliche Landwirtschaft. “The farmers are ready but politicians need to create the necessary framework. Especially small and medium-sized farms need more land,” Georg Janßen stressed. To make their voices heard, many demonstrators joined the march with pots and spoons for a noisy protest concert. (ab)

2018-01-18 |

Norway steps up efforts to cut down on food waste

Food waste Bread in the bin (Photo: CC0)

In Norway, both the government and the food industry are stepping up efforts to reduce food waste. On January 9, the country’s largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products Tine announced that it would abolish the expiry date on its products in order to prevent consumers from throwing away milk and other dairy products which are still good. According to Tine, the aim is to raise awareness among consumers that “best before” does not necessarily mean that the products can not be consumed at a later date. With this step, the company will follow the example of other Norwegian companies like the dairy brand Q-Meieriene and egg producer Prior. The expiry date on milk cartons will be changed to “Best før, men ikke dårlig etter” - best before, but not bad after”. Lars Galtung, Tine’s Director for Communications and Corporate Responsibility, said that they will start with milk, sour milk, cream, juice, yogurt packs and school milk, with the aim of labeling all other products in this way in 2018.

Each year, an estimated one third of all food produced worldwide – equivalent to 1.3 billion tonnes – is thrown away by consumers and retailers, or is wasted due to poor transportation and harvesting practices. In Norway alone, 350,000 metric tonnes of perfectly edible food is thrown away annually. According to government figures, the average consumer throws out 42 kg edible food every year while food waste in the entire food chain represents 68 kg per person per year. In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One target of goal 12 is to halve per capita food waste at the retail and consumer levels by 2030 and to reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.

But Norway decided to go a step further. On June 23rd 2017, five Ministries on behalf of the Norwegian government and twelve food industry organizations signed an agreement to halve food waste across the whole food value chain in Norway by 2030. According to Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment, Vidar Helgesen, this reduction target is “in fact a bit more ambitious because the goal applies to the entire food value chain from primary production to consumers.” The agreement is voluntary, but binding for the contracting parties. The Norwegian environmental organisation “The Future in our Hands” (Framtiden i våre hender) acknowledges the value of the agreement but it has also been critical of it for not being specific enough in addressing the main problem areas in food waste from supermarkets. A recent report by the organisation found that less than 50% of supermarkets currently donate food to charity, while waste containers outside supermarkets are full of edible food at the end of the day. France and Italy adopted laws to cut food waste in supermarkets while Norway opted for cooperation and collaboration. “We discussed a ban on food waste but it was decided legislation wasn’t enough,” Helgesen told the British newspaper The Guardian. “It could lead to the problem being pushed down the value chain. We are collaborating with all the actors in the food industry and we are encouraging people to smell and taste their food before throwing it away. We are setting targets and how the industry gets there is up to them,” he added. (ab)

2018-01-10 |

A quarter of the world’s land could become arid with global warming of 2ºC

Drought Aridification is a serious threat (Photo: CC0)

Over a quarter of the planet’s land surface could become arid if global temperatures rise 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, new research suggests. This would lead to droughts and wildfires, with a dramatic impact on agriculture. According to the study published January 1 in the journal “Nature Climate Change”, limiting global warming to under 1.5ºC would avoid extreme changes for most of the threatened areas. The international team of scientists, led by the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen China and the University of East Anglia (UEA), studied projections of 27 global climate models. They identified the areas of the world which will become substantially drier when compared to the year-to-year variations they experience now, as global warming reaches 1.5ºC and 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.

The research team found that a global temperature rise to 2ºC would increase the risk of drought and wildfires. “Aridification is a serious threat because it can critically impact areas such as agriculture, water quality, and biodiversity. It can also lead to more droughts and wildfires - similar to those seen raging across California,” said Dr Chang-Eui Park from SusTech, one of the authors. The study predicts that aridification would emerge over about 20-30 per cent of the world’s land surface by the time the global mean temperature change reaches 2ºC. However, limiting global warming to under 1.5ºC would mean that two thirds of the affected regions could avoid significant aridification. “Early action for accomplishing the 1.5 °C temperature goal can therefore markedly reduce the likelihood that large regions will face substantial aridification and related impacts,” the abstract reads.

According to the authors, drought severity has been increasing across the Mediterranean, southern Africa, and the eastern coast of Australia over the course of the 20th century, while semi-arid areas of Mexico, Brazil, southern Africa and Australia have encountered desertification for some time as the world has warmed. “The areas of the world which would most benefit from keeping warming below 1.5ºC are parts of South East Asia, Southern Europe, Southern Africa, Central America and Southern Australia - where more than 20 per cent of the world’s population live today,” said Prof Tim Osborn from UEA. (ab)

2018-01-03 |

Americans will consume a record amount of meat in 2018

meat American meat consumption will hit a record high in 2018 (Photo: CC0)

Americans are set to eat more meat in 2018 than ever before. According to data published by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), consumers are expected to eat 222.2 pounds (100.8 kilo) of red meat and poultry this year, up from 216.9 pounds per person in 2017. That will surpass the previous record of 221.9 pounds per person, set in 2004, Bloomberg reports. The predicted increase is ending a trend of falling meat consumption that began with the Great Recession in 2008. In 2014, the consumption of red meat and poultry was still down at 201.8 pounds per capita before it started to climb steadily, reaching 211.1 pounds in 2015 and 214.6 in 2016. The figure predicted for 2018 corresponds to a meat intake of roughly 10 ounces (or 280 grams) per day, almost double the amount recommended by government nutritionists. According to USDA’s Choose MyPlate nutrition guidelines, adults should not eat more than 5 to 6 ounces of meat per day.
The popularity of dairy products, for example cheese and butter, has also increased to an all-time high, the USDA figures reveal. Domestic meat production is on the rise as well. The total production of red meat and poultry is expected to reach about 103.5 billion pounds in 2018, compared with 97.6 billion pounds in 2016. (ab)

2017-12-29 |

2017 was a deadly year for land rights defenders, report

Phil The Philippines recorded the highest number of killings related to land (Photo: CC0)

At least 116 people were killed in 2017, defending their right to land and resources, with the Philippines leading the list of the most dangerous countries for land activists. According to a report, published by the non-governmental organization PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), this year saw continuing and intensifying attacks against rural communities that are asserting their right to land. For the report, the rights group regularly monitored news and articles and collected information from reports of partners and networks. PANAP has recorded 142 cases of human rights violations related to land conflicts in 21 countries from various regions, covering the period January 1 to November 30, 2017. These cases include politically motivated killings of farmers, farmworkers, indigenous peoples as well as activists and supporters who closely work with the affected rural communities. The recorded cases also include various forms of repression such as arrest, detention, legal persecution, threats, harassment, and physical assault, as well as displacement.

According to the report, the 73 cases of killings claimed the lives of 116 individuals, 71 of whom were farmers and farmworkers; 23 were land activists; and 21 were indigenous peoples. Of the total number of victims, 86% were men. The Philippines accounted for 61 victims, followed by Brazil with 22 victims and Mexico with seven victims. Land rights defenders were also killed in Peru, Colombia, India and Uganda, among other countries. In terms of threats, harassment, and physical assault, there were 17 cases and 45 victims monitored this year. Of the total number of victims, 14 were indigenous peoples, 26 were farmers and farmworkers, and 4 were land activists. There were also 52 cases of human rights violations, of which 25 cases or more than half involved mining companies while 15 cases occurred in plantations. State security forces – including the military, police, and paramilitary – have been implicated in seven out of every ten cases of human rights violations.

“Alarmingly, global and regional developments that create conditions for greater land and resource grabbing continue to emerge and fuel social conflicts and unrest in the rural areas,” the report says. “The continued rule of repressive regimes create the environment of impunity in violating the human rights of the rural peoples and small food producers in order to pave the way for corporate, including foreign, interests to take over lands and resources.” PANAP warns that these trends challenge rural communities and advocates of the people’s right to land and resources, food sovereignty and genuine land reform. The group highlights that a strong mass movement is needed that will confront and make accountable land grabbers and human rights violators. (ab)

2017-12-20 |

Income inequality has increased over the past 40 years

Slum3 The report exposes shocking inequality (Photo: CC0)

The rise in wealth inequality over the past decades has been extreme. The top 1% richest individuals in the world have captured as much of global income growth since 1980 as the poorest half of the population. The World Inequality Report, published by French economist Thomas Piketty, warns that in a future in which “business as usual” continues, global inequality will further increase. The report, which draws on the work of over one hundred researchers covering more than 70 countries, said that the poorest half of the global population has seen its income grow significantly thanks to high growth in Asia, particularly in China and India. However, because of high and rising inequality within countries, the top 1% of the world’s population captured 27% of total growth between 1980 and 2016 while the bottom 50% only captured 12%.

Income inequality varies greatly across world regions. It is lowest in Europe and highest in the Middle East. “Since 1980, income inequality has increased rapidly in North America and Asia, grown moderately in Europe, and stabilized at an extremely high level in the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and Brazil,” the authors write. In 2016, the share of total national income accounted for by a nation’s top 10% earners was 37% in Europe, 41% in China and 46% in Russia. The top 10% income share was even higher in the US and Canada at 47% and at around 55% in sub-Saharan Africa, Brazil, and India. In the Middle East, the world’s most unequal region, the top 10% capture 61% of income.

According to the authors, the fact that inequality levels are so different among countries, even when countries share similar levels of development, highlights the important roles that national policies and institutions play in shaping inequality. This is also confirmed by international development organisation Oxfam which said that government action is key to ending inequality. Responding to the publication of the report, Oxfam’s Max Lawson said: “Extreme inequality harms us: our societies, our economies and our politics. Yet [the] report shows inequality is not inevitable - it is the product of government action and inaction.” The World Inequality Report projects income and wealth inequality up to the year 2050 under different scenarios. If no action is taken, unequal rates of growth among wealth groups would lead to a compression of the global middle-class wealth share and a further rise in inequality. “Alternatively, if in the coming decades all countries follow the moderate inequality trajectory of Europe over the past decades, global income inequality can be reduced – in which case there can also be substantial progress in eradicating global poverty,” the report found. The researchers stress that tackling global income and wealth inequality requires important shifts in national and global tax policies. “Educational policies, corporate governance, and wage-setting policies need to be reassessed in many countries,” they wrote. Reducing inequality within and among countries is also the aim of Sustainable Development Goal 10. (ab)

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