From Innovations Report
14.05.2008

In 1996, 180 nations—including Canada—met in Rome for the World Food Summit (WFS) to discuss ways to end hunger. Nations pledged to eradicate hunger and committed themselves to a basic target: reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. Five years later, they reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the goals set out in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

In the Rome Declaration, nations committed themselves to ensuring an enabling environment and implementing policies to eradicate poverty and guarantee access to sufficient, safe food to all. They also agreed to promote a fair world trade system, and to work to prevent natural disasters and other emergencies that threaten food security. They further agreed to promote the use of public and private investments in ways that foster human resources and sustainable development.

IDRC’s programs and the research it funds contribute to meeting these commitments. IDRC believes that poverty alleviation, food security, and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. It also believes that effectively addressing these interlinked challenges requires working actively with the main actors, from farmers to researchers to government officials. While this is the thrust of all of IDRC’s programs, two contribute most directly to increasing food supplies—Rural Poverty and Environment (RPE) and Urban Poverty and Environment (UPE). 

A multidisciplinary approach

In rural areas, IDRC supports research that focuses on the needs of the poor who live in fragile or degraded ecosystems. This can take many forms, from promoting participatory plant breeding of staple crops as a means to conserve biodiversity and recognize farmers’ knowledge (read more: Seeds that give – link below), to supporting collaborative management of natural resources such as watersheds and community forests. Research also seeks to support land tenure reforms and improve access to natural resources and focuses on how the poor can improve their livelihoods while better managing natural resources in a context of market liberalization and integration.

Efforts to ensure that research is relevant to the need of farmers have met with success in many areas. For example:

* In Viet Nam, IDRC-supported research has demonstrated that community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) concepts and processes, such as “farmer to farmer” methods, can be successful in reducing poverty at the commune level. The overall goal has been to develop and support processes that will reach and build sustainable livelihoods for a greater number of the poorest in upland communities (read more: Improving Natural Resource Management in Viet Nam’s Hong Ha Commune).

* In the harsh conditions of Jordan and Syria, farmer-selected lines of barley have fared as well or better than those emanating from research centres. What’s more, these varieties yield better forage and are more palatable to sheep and goats, the main sources of meat and milk products in the region (read more: CASE STUDY: North Africa and Middle East Breeding Better Barley — Together – link below). 

* In China, bridging the gap between scientists and farmers has led to the adaptation of varieties of maize to local conditions and the improvement of a number of others, contributing to both food supplies and livelihoods (read more: Bridging the Gap Between Scientists and Farmers in China). 

Growing food in the cities

In the booming urban areas of developing countries, access to land, food, and basic environmental services such as water, sanitation, and waste collection is limited, leading to increased poverty and environmental burdens. One of the goals of IDRC’s UPE program is to support research on urban agriculture (UA) as a means to increase household food security and to generate income (read more: Feeding the Sustainable City)

Thanks largely to the pioneering work of IDRC-supported researchers over the past two decades, some municipalities have now recognized the value of urban agriculture in boosting food security and reducing unemployment among the urban poor. For example:

* City councillors in Kampala, Uganda have created ordinances to better integrate farming activities into urban planning and management (read more)

* In Rosario, Argentina municipal authorities, working farmers’ groups, shantytown dwellers, and civil society organizations devised a scheme for granting tenure to unused municipal lands. As a result, more than 700 community market gardens were established, a vegetable processing agroindustry was created, and plant and craft fairs were held. This has led to sustainable food supplies and livelihoods for poor residents (read more). 

Given the challenges, IDRC and its partners are encouraging governments to team up with stakeholders to develop strategies to meet the MDGs. In answering the need for more secure land tenure for city farmers, governments at all levels could reduce poverty and help improve the lives of slum dwellers. By actively supporting urban agriculture activities, they can reduce hunger and malnutrition while promoting employment among disadvantaged groups such as women.

Innovative approaches

Because hunger and poverty are intimately linked to economic and social policies at the macro and sectoral levels, IDRC also supports research to understand these links and target policies effectively. A first step is mapping poverty and its components. Another is to link changes in these to various combinations of policies. IDRC has been doing this in over 20 developing countries since 1990 (read more: Micro Impacts of Macroeconomic and Adjustment Policies [MIMAP]). An essential component of IDRC’s work in this area is the community-based poverty monitoring system developed in 1996. First implemented in the Philippines, the Department of the Interior and Local Government has since directed all local government units to adopt the system’s 13 core indicators for measuring poverty (read more: Development Takes on a Face and an Address in the Philippines). The CBMS is now being tested, with IDRC support, in 12 countries in Asia and Africa (read more: Poverty and Economic Policy (PEP) Research Network).

IDRC also tackles poverty issues through such innovative means as the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Many Centre-supported projects demonstrate that communities with greater access to ICTs are able to generate and sustain economic growth (read more: An overview of ICTs at IDRC ). For example:

* In Kenya, a project is experimenting with ways of using the Internet to provide financial, marketing, and information services to small farmers so that they can better market their produce and boost their incomes (read more: Kenyan Farmers Discover the Internet). 

* In Senegal, farmers in remote areas can obtain up-to-the-minute market prices for their crops through portable telephones provided through an IDRC-supported project. This has directly increased participating farmers’ incomes by 30% and generated new employment for women (read more: Acacia Partner Garners Two Major ICT Prizes). 

* In India, rural knowledge centres in seven villages provide information on the price of agricultural inputs, market prices, government programs, and much more. The positive impact on villagers livelihoods has led to a movement to bring the benefits of ICTs to 600 000 villages by mid-2007 (read more: Making Waves; Mission 2007—National Alliance Every Village a Knowledge Centre).

Vivien Chiam | Quelle: ResearchSEA 
Weitere Informationen: www.idrc.ca

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Published on 17 May 2008 by Energy Bulletin. Archived on 17 May 2008.by Shepherd Bliss

Petroleum supplies slowly dwindle as demand rapidly soars. So the prices of gasoline and oil that supply modern societies with their industrial production of food will go up, up, and away. A radically different future than the oil-energized twentieth century is dawning.

Let’s face it: our world has become increasingly maddening. Bad news mounts each day: unending wars, financial crises, earthquakes, hurricanes and cyclones killing thousands, chaotic climate change, vanishing pollinating bees and polar bears, rising oceans, thinning forests and a host of human-created or –worsened threats. We live in uncertain times with an even more uncertain future. We face unprecedented, unpredictable converging threats. What can one do to remain somewhat sane? The ostrich approach of denial by burying one’s head in the sand will not be effective or life-enhancing.

It is a good time for an increasing number of people to return to the multiple benefits and pleasures of growing at least part of their own food by gardening and farming. In addition to satisfying the need to eat and drink, farming can also help deal with depression, passivity, and other forms of psychological suffering. It can help treat both the body and the soul. 

One of the many good things that farms based on nature’s patterns can do is help balance people. Much psychological suffering and even mental illnesses have to do with imbalances, which characterize modern society. Before turning to drugs, one can at least trying visiting farms and perhaps volunteering to work there. Or one can connect with farms in collaboration with another treatment program.

Farming can be done in ways that preserve the Earth and put humans in direct contact with it. “Small farms are the most productive on earth,” according to the May 11 “New York Times” article “Change We Can Stomach” by farmer and chef Dan Barber. “A four-acre farm in the United States nets, on average, $1,400 per acre; a 1,364-acre farm nets $39 an acre,” he writes. “Farming has the potential to go through the greatest upheaval since the Green Revolution, bringing harvests that are more meaningful, sustainable, and, yes, even more flavorful,” Barber contends.

Since growing one’s own food is not possible for everyone, it is also a good time to establish direct relationships with local farmers and shop more at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and by subscribing to Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Urban agriculture, farms on the urban fringe, and rooftop gardening are becoming increasingly popular. The large city of Havana, Cuba, grows 70% of its own food. Necessity will change how people get their food in the near future.

Many Americans take their food sources for granted, assuming that super-markets will be able to always supply them with what they need. Having lived in Hawai’i when delivery disruptions and the lack of transportation across the ocean left bare shelves in food stores, I know the panic this can cause.

The “Silent Tsunami,” “Misery Index,” and Mud Cakes

A “silent tsunami” of hunger sweeps the globe, reports the head of the United Nation’s World Food Program, Josette Sheeran, speaking in late April at a food summit in London. The heightened hunger threat endangers 20 million of the world’s poorest children and is pushing 100 million people into poverty. 

“This is the new face of hunger—the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are,” Sheeran reports. “The world’s misery index is rising.”

During 2008 food riots broke out in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. “You are seeing the return of the food riot, one of the oldest forms of collective action,” commented Raj Patel in an April 25San Francisco Chronicle article. The University of California at Berkeley scholar wrote the new book “Stuffed and Starved: Power and the Hidden Battle for the World Food System.”

The World Bank estimates that food prices have risen 83% in three years; other estimates are in the 60 and 70 percent range. Even in the wealthy United States we have recently seen rationing of rice and other staples by food giants such as Costco and Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Clubs, the two biggest warehouse retail chains. Such trends are likely to continue and are creating stockpiling and hoarding.

“In the poorest districts (of Haiti), there is now a brisk trade in mud cakes,” writes Patel in an article titled “The Troubles with Food,”. “Mothers feed the biscuits, made with water, salt, margarine and clay, to their children. The cake puts a dampener on hunger, at least for a couple of hours, but leaves your mouth dry and bitter for several hours more,” he continues. 

Industrial agriculture will be one of the many aspects of human life on the planet hit by the dwindle/demand oil trend and the related peaks of other fossil fuels, such as natural gas. Industrial agriculture depends upon petroleum in many ways—to run tractors and other machines, to make chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and to fuel the trucks that transport food an average of 1500 miles from field to fork. Oil is the most important ingredient in most of conventional food. As the dwindle/demand rate intensifies, food will be less available and more expensive. Famine is likely.

Survival will require that more people return to an earlier energy supply— muscle power. As someone who made a transition in the early 1990’s (while in my late 40s) from a livelihood based on college teaching and related intellectual activities to one based on farming, I can report that there are many advantages to such a change. I feel better as a result of living on the land, growing some of my own food, and sharing that organic food and the farm itself with others. 

I have found my local place. In 2003 I accepted a great job offer in Hawai’i, but after a couple of wonderful years, I felt so homesick that I returned to my farm.

So this will be a report from the farm front, which will focus on some of the psychological benefits of farming.

The multiple consequences of a diminishing supply of humanity’s major energy source at this point in history will include hardships, stress, and suffering. There are many ways of dealing psychologically with such matters, including with family, friends and professional counselors. This article will explore what I have come to describe as agropsychology and agrotherapy.

I was trained to be a counselor. Quite frankly, I was not good at delivering individual therapy. I got too emotional and involved. I did not adequately develop the necessary professional armor and shield. I did not take enough distance from the people I was working with or have enough “impulse control.” So I shifted more to teaching, group work, and writing. In the time since my more conventional psychological training some forty years ago, self-disclosure and emotional men have become more acceptable as sex roles and professional codes have evolved.

Ecopsychology and Ecotherapy

Sierra Club Books published “Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind” in l996. The term refers to the emerging synthesis of the psychological and the ecological. The book’s editor, Theodore Roszak, writes that “ecology needs psychology, psychology needs ecology.” Roszak reports on a l990 conference entitled “Psychology as if the Whole Earth Mattered.”

The Sierra Club plans to publish the book’s sequel “Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind” in March of 2009. My chapter “Farming, Sweet Darkness, Poetry, and Healing” is scheduled to be part of that book. After finishing my contribution I began to realize that what I was writing about could be called agrotherapy, which is the practice of agropsychology, which are sub-sets of ecopsychology and ecotherapy. Farms have historically been healing places, for both those who live and work there and those who visit. Farm tours and even overnight farm stays are becoming increasingly popular as examples of ecotourism. The Small Farm Program at the University of California at Davis, Sonoma County Farm Trails, and Daily Acts are among the many groups that promote such tours.

Simply put, by living on a farm and working the land on a regular basis, I have become a healthier person—physically and mentally. In recent years I have been hosting an increasing number of farm tours at Kokopelli Farm in the Sebastopol countryside, Sonoma County, Northern California. Community, school, and religious groups, as well as families and friends, come to the farm, which grows mainly organic berries and fruit and cares for chickens. 

My visitors tend to feel better from their time on this traditional farm; something positive usually happens to them. Being outside in nature can benefit people. People typically loose sight of chronological time. They can fall into berry time or chicken time, which tend to be slower than the human-made clock, and often more fun and stress-reducing. They sometimes lose their restraint and order, wanting to sprint ahead, or go off the path, as if they were animals, which they are.

Chicken Wisdom and Agrotherapy

This year I returned to teaching psychology, part-time, at Sonoma State University. I sometimes take chickens as Teaching Assistants (TAs). For example, I took two sweet silkies on Valentine’s Day; they modeled being love birds as they cooed and cuddled, one even feeling safe enough to lay an egg.

Chickens can teach many things, such as surrender to what is, joy at the dawn, transformation of throwaways into jewels, and love of the Earth within which chickens take their dust baths to help them get rid of parasites. Chickens offer incredible eggs, humor, joy, and beauty. That other two-legged can teach chicken wisdom, that of a prey, to humans, who are predators. It includes, but is not limited to, the following: delight in simple things (like worms), keep dancing, recycle, snuggle into the earth, slow down, combine vulnerability and hardiness. 

Agrotherapy is not therapy-as-usual. It happens mainly in the open, outside an office, a building, a city and without a defined time limit. The freedom to wonder and to meander characterize being outside. One does not enter the same human-made setting each time; farms are seasonal, as humans are, and are constantly changing. The therapists-of-the-outdoors include trees, berries, birds, bees, chickens, the moon and stars, the clouds, crow congresses and others who can help relieve stress, anxiety, suffering, and even sickness.

Tears sometimes come to the eyes of city folk when they sit on the ground beneath the giant redwoods or sprawling oaks at my farm. Something from their personal or collective memory seems to get activated. We listen to the wind and hear various sounds within it. Within just a few minutes I can usually feel a change in my guests. This is not a “talking cure.” It is non-talking, opening to the other senses. There is not therapeutic couch or chair; the forest provides a comforting bed upon which one can relax and reduce their stress.

My presence on such tours is more as a guide who can point things out, including patterns in nature and persons, and pose strategic questions, than as an expert to make book-based diagnoses and human-devised treatments. Farming—like therapy or personal growth–is a process with no clear beginning or end. There are products along the way, but the topsoil, for example, takes thousands of years to make. Perennial trees and berries planted by one family member can endure far beyond his or her lifetime into that of descendents, continuing to provide beauty and healing.

An email I sent to a local online listserve about agropsychology generated the following response from Jennifer York, the owner of the Bamboo Sorcery outside my hometown of Sebastopol:

“I can vouch for what you call “agropsychology.’ It saved me as a youth in my recovery from a traumatic childhood, and now in middle age. I am once again finding great healing, joy, and contentment in growing my own garden and raising my own farm animals (chickens, rabbits, and someday dairy goats, I hope!) for food, fun and deep connection with the cycles of life and death. For me it is a spiritual, as well as a practical avocation. I recommend it. Besides, it may come in very handy someday.

“In the meantime I am having fun, and feel good about sharing the experience with my 6-year-old daughter. I believe it is creating a sound foundation in her for the future. I have great gratitude to my deceased parents who were Back-to-Landers in the late 60’s and 70’s, and who exposed me to this rich and life affirming way of life.

“My husband says he can tell how happy I am by how much dirt is under my finger nails…and it’s true.”

In his book “Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines” Peak Oil theorist Richard Heinberg includes a chapter titled “The Psychology of Peak Oil and Climate Change.” He writes, “The next few decades will be traumatic.” One resource that Heinberg refers to is the work of eco-philosopher Joanna Macy with respect to workshops on “despair and empowerment.” In them people are encouraged to deal with their grief, and thus feel their connection to the Earth.

Ecopsychology and ecotherapy can take many forms, including agropsychology and agrotherapy. These recently conceptualized fields can make a contribution to the larger fields of psychology and psychotherapy and thus to the healing of people and of the nature of which we are an integral part. Humans often seem to battle nature, whereas participation and collaboration with it seem more healthy, which these developing forms can support.

(Dr. Shepherd Bliss, sbliss@hawaii.edu, teaches at Sonoma State University in Northern California and has operated the organic Kokopelli Farm since the early 1990s. He is a member of the Veterans Writing Group (www.vowvop.org), has contributed to two dozen books, and is currently writing “In Praise of Sweet Darkness.”)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Editorial Notes ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Shepherd Bliss is an Energy Bulletin contributor.

A 20-egg flat was going for $5.39 at a store in Bethesda recently. Nationally, egg prices are up 35 percent in a year. (Michael Williamson – The Washington Post)

IFPRI Policy Brief by Joachim von Braun

The sharp increase in food prices over the past couple of years has raised serious concerns about the food and nutrition situation of poor people in developing countries, about inflation, and—in some countries—about civil unrest. Real prices are still below their mid-1970s peak, but they have reached their highest point since that time. Both developing- and developed-country governments have roles to play in bringing prices under control and in helping poor people cope with higher food bills.

In 2007 the food price index calculated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) rose by nearly 40 percent, compared with 9 percent the year before, and in the first months of 2008 prices again increased drastically. Nearly every agricultural commodity is part of this rising price trend. Since 2000—a year of low prices—the wheat price in the international market has more than tripled and maize prices have more than doubled. The price of rice jumped to unprecedented levels in March 2008. Dairy products, meat, poultry, palm oil, and cassava have also experienced price hikes. When adjusted for inflation and the dollar’s decline (by reporting in euros, for example), food price increases are smaller but still dramatic, with often serious consequences for the purchasing power of the poor.

National governments and international actors are taking various steps to try to minimize the effects of higher international prices for domestic prices and to mitigate impacts on particular groups. Some of these actions are likely to help stabilize and reduce food prices, whereas others may help certain groups at the expense of others or actually make food prices more volatile in the long run and seriously distort trade. What is needed is more effective and coherent action to help the most vulnerable populations cope with the drastic and immediate hikes in their food bills and to help farmers meet the rising demand for agricultural products.

The Sources of Current Price Increases

The combination of new and ongoing forces is driving the world food situation and, in turn, the prices of food commodities. One emerging factor behind rising food prices is the high price of energy. Energy and agricultural prices have become increasingly intertwined (see figure). With oil prices at an all-time high of more than US$100 a barrel and the U.S. government subsidizing farmers to grow crops for energy, U.S. farmers have massively shifted their cultivation toward biofuel feedstocks, especially maize, often at the expense of soybean and wheat cultivation. About 30 percent of U.S. maize production will go into ethanol in 2008 rather than into world food and feed markets. High energy prices have also made agricultural production more expensive by raising the cost of mechanical cultivation, inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, and transportation of inputs and outputs.

At the same time, the growing world population is demanding more and different kinds of food. Rapid economic growth in many developing countries has pushed up consumers’ purchasing power, generated rising demand for food, and shifted food demand away from traditional staples and toward higher-value foods like meat and milk. This dietary shift is leading to increased demand for grains used to feed livestock.

Poor weather and speculative capital have also played a role in the rise of food prices. Severe drought in Australia, one of the world’s largest wheat producers, has cut into global wheat production.

The Impacts of High Food Prices

Higher food prices have radically different effects across countries and population groups. At the country level, countries that are net food exporters will benefit from improved terms of trade, although some of them are missing out on this opportunity by banning exports to protect consumers. Net food importers, however, will struggle to meet domestic food demand. Given that almost all countries in Africa are net importers of cereals, they will be hard hit by rising prices. At the household level, surging and volatile food prices hit those who can afford it the least—the poor and food insecure. The few poor households that are net sellers of food will benefit from higher prices, but households that are net buyers of food—which represent the large majority of the world’s poor—will be harmed. Adjustments in the rural economy, which can create new income opportunities, will take time to reach the poor.

The nutrition of the poor is also at risk when they are not shielded from the price rises. Higher food prices lead poor people to limit their food consumption and shift to even less-balanced diets, with harmful effects on health in the short and long run. At the household level, the poor spend about 50 to 60 percent of their overall budget on food. For a five-person household living on US$1 per person per day, a 50 percent increase in food prices removes up to US$1.50 from their US$5 budget, and growing energy costs also add to their adjustment burden.

Figure 1

Policy Responses So Far

Many countries are taking steps to try to minimize the effects of higher prices on their populations. Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Vietnam are among those that have taken the easy option of restricting food exports, setting limits on food prices, or both. For example, China has banned rice and maize exports; India has banned milk powder exports; Bolivia has banned the export of soy oil to Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela; and Ethiopia has banned exports of major cereals. Other countries are reducing restrictions on imports: Morocco, for instance, cut tariffs on wheat imports from 130 percent to 2.5 percent; Nigeria cut its rice import tax from 100 percent to just 2.7 percent.

How effective are these responses likely to be? Price controls and changes in import and export policies may begin to address the problems of poor consumers who find that they can no longer afford an adequate diet for a healthy life. But some of these policies are likely to backfire by making the international market smaller and more volatile. Price controls reduce the price that farmers receive for their agricultural products and thus reduce farmers’ incentives to produce more food. Any long-term strategy to stabilize food prices will need to include increased agricultural production, but price controls fail to send farmers a message that encourages them to produce more. In addition, by benefiting all consumers, even those who can afford higher food prices, price controls divert resources toward helping people who do not really need it. Export restrictions and import subsidies have harmful effects on trading partners dependent on imports and also give incorrect incentives to farmers by reducing their potential market size. These national agricultural trade policies undermine the benefits of global integration, as the rich countries’ longstanding trade distortions with regard to developing countries are joined by developing countries’ interventions against each other.

Sound Policy Actions for the Short and Long Term

The increases in food prices have a dominant role in increasing inflation in many countries now. It would be misguided to address these specific inflation causes with general macroeconomic instruments. Mainly, specific policies are needed to deal with the causes and consequences of high food prices. Although the current situation poses policy challenges on several fronts, there are effective and coherent actions that can be taken to help the most vulnerable people in the short term while working to stabilize food prices by increasing agricultural production in the long term.

First, in the short run, developing-country governments should expand social protection programs (that is, safety net programs like food or income transfers and nutrition programs focused on early childhood) for the poorest people—both urban and rural. Some of the poorest people in developing countries are not well connected to markets and thus will feel few effects from rising food prices, but the much higher international prices could mean serious hardship for millions of poor urban consumers and poor rural residents who are net food buyers, when they actually are exposed to them. These people need direct assistance. Some countries, such as India and South Africa, already have social protection programs in place that they can expand to meet new and emerging needs. Countries that do not have such programs in place will not be able to create them rapidly enough to make a difference in the current food price situation. They may feel forced to rely on cruder measures like export bans and import subsidies. Aid donors should expand food-related development aid, including social protection, child nutrition programs, and food aid, where needed.

Second, developed countries should eliminate domestic biofuel subsidies and open their markets to biofuel exporters like Brazil. Biofuel subsidies in the United States and ethanol and biodiesel subsidies in Europe have proven to be misguided policies that have distorted world food markets. Subsidies on biofuel crops also act as an implicit tax on staple foods, on which the poor depend the most. Developed-country farmers should make decisions about what to cultivate based not on subsidies, but on world market prices for various commodities.

Third, the developed countries should also take this opportunity to eliminate agricultural trade barriers. Although some progress has been made in reducing agricultural subsidies and other trade-distorting policies in developed countries, many remain, and poor countries cannot match them. This issue has been politically difficult for developed-country policymakers to address, but the political risks may now be lower than in the past. A level playing field for developing-country farmers will make it more profitable for them to ramp up production in response to higher prices.

Fourth, to achieve long-term agricultural growth, developing-country governments should increase their medium- and long-term investments in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and market access for small farmers. Rural investments have been sorely neglected in recent decades, and now is the time to reverse this trend. Farmers in many developing countries are operating in an environment of inadequate infrastructure like roads, electricity, and communications; poor soils; lack of storage and processing capacity; and little or no access to agricultural technologies that could increase their profits and improve their livelihoods. Recent unrest over food prices in a number of countries may tempt policymakers to put the interests of urban consumers over those of rural people, including farmers, but this approach would be shortsighted and counterproductive. Given the scale of investment needed, aid donors should also expand development assistance to agriculture, rural services, and science and technology.

Conclusion

World agriculture is facing new challenges that, along with existing forces, pose risks for poor people’s livelihoods and food security. This new situation calls for policy actions in three areas:

  1. comprehensive social protection and food and nutrition initiatives to meet the short- and medium-term needs of the poor;
  2. investment in agriculture, particularly in agricultural science and technology and in market access, at a national and global scale to address the long-term problem of boosting supply; and
  3. trade policy reforms, in which developed countries would revise their biofuel and agricultural trade policies and developing countries would stop the new trade-distorting policies with which they are hurting each other.

In the face of rising food prices, both developing and developed countries have a role to play in creating a world where all people have enough food for a healthy and productive life.

 

Here is the link to the original article.

Here is the PDF version.

I could talk for days about the causes and effects of rising food prices in the US.  

Disadvantaged Americans queue for aid in New York

Its becoming a BIG DEAL. 

In the past year 1.3 million new participants (many of them families) have signed up for food stamps in a effort to be able to access essential food stuffs and food stamp programs are projected to reach record-high levels this year.  Food banks have experienced a rise of 20 percent in visits than last year.  Food prices have risen 5.5% in just six months.  

These are just a few facts… type “food prices” into Google and you’ll get 56,800,000 hits, most of them about rising food costs around the world and the social unrest that is coming with it.

There are many reasons for these price increases. According to America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest charitable hunger-relief organization, federal commodity support for emergency feeding organizations has dropped nearly $200 million per year since the enactment of 2002 Farm Bill because of a decline in need for the federal government to buy surplus food to support farmers.  Additionally, food price inflation has caused rapid erosion in the purchasing power of food stamp benefits.  


Kids get afternoon snacks at a Kids Cafe in Cincinnati, OH (uh, looks like someone took that kid on the right’s jello cup)

Kids Cafe is a program started by America’s Second Harvest to try to ensure that children of low-income families get the nutrition they need

“The amount of food stamps per household hasn’t gone up with the food costs,” says Dayna Ballantyne, who runs a food bank in Des Moines, Iowa. “Our clients are finding they aren’t able to purchase food like they used to.” (USA 2008: The Great Depression, The Independent)

American Food Stamps

DC is certainly not exempt for experiencing serious hunger issues. According to Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), a Washington DC food security organization that supports and distributes food to food banks throughout the metro area, nearly 1/3 of DC residents live below the poverty level. ONE THIRD! Thats huge!  60% of households surveyed by CAFB reported at least 1 adult member who was unemployed. In the metro area:

  • One-third of Capital Area Food Bank clients reported having to choose between buying food and paying for utilities at least once during the previous 12 months.  (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001).
  • Over one third reported having to choose between buying food and paying rent or mortgage.  (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001)
  • Nearly one third had to choose between buying food and paying for medicine or medical care.  (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001)
  • 109,000 D.C. residents are eligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program each month, however only two-thirds actually receive them; and of those who do, 74 percent report that they do not last the entire month. (USDA and 2001 Hunger Study-Mathematica Policy Research) 
  • Total number of families making less than $35,000 per year is 43,084 (representing 38.3% of all working families)
  • The average monthly Food Stamp Program benefit is $91.83.
  • Nearly 50 percent of the households served report at least one working adult in the household.   (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. 2006). 

No one should have to choose between paying rent or a mortgage or for medical care and buying food.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/homepage/story/18898.html

A study from 2004

What is the government doing in response to this food crisis?  

In talking with a representative from CAFB the I found that the DC government does not support their efforts, their funding comes from grants, private donors, and fundraisers. The government currently deals with hunger problems in a few ways:

 

  • Food Stamp Program, 
  • Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
  • free and reduced price school breakfast and lunches. 

Though these programs are certainly a step in the right direction, many of the programs are under-utilized by those who need them due to lack of awareness, insufficient time to apply for the needed assistance, and the confusing application process that these programs have. Organizations like Capital Area Food Bank try to help people find and understand these resources along with administering their other very accomplished programs.

http://www.agobservatory.org/library.cfm?refid=97623

What does the farm bill have to do with all of this?

A March 29, article in the Economist sums it up pretty well:

The current [Farm Bill] policy is shameless. Farmers of a few select crops such as wheat or maize can avoid almost all risk using the government’s overlapping system of subsidised insurance, loans and payments. The recipients are hardly the most deserving: farm households make a third more than others, and the richest of them, which get most of the subsidies, bring in three times what the average non-farm household does. Instead of saving the family farm, the policy is destroying it, encouraging agricultural land consolidation and raising barriers to entry. And then there are the deleterious effects America’s price-distorting payments have on foreign farmers and so on trade negotiations.

Well, the 2007 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:H.R.2419:) is a $288 billion, five-year farm subsidy bill being considered by Congress as a continuation of the 2002 Farm Bill.  President Bush, idiotically forgetting that we have to eat, threatened to veto the bill because of its high costs.  Many, many organizations pushed for more sustainable farming and renewable energy initiatives and subsidies.   Current reforms include:

 

  •  A modest increase in support for family farmers
  • Schools will now be allowed to use geographic preference to buy local food with federally-funded Child Nutrition programs
  • A new loan program will support local processing and distribution to support the Farm to School and Farm to Institution markets. 

Hmmm. I’m not sure what to say….

 

Horribly, the bill cut all mandatory funding for the Community Food Projects Program and Organic Transition – two critical programs that support a transition to organic and local food systems. No more automatic funding means that organizations will have to put a huge amount of effort into fighting for funding every year.  Fights continue between Democrats and Republicans about the Farm Bill up into this month (April), but will have to end by April 18, at which point current policies will be extended for a whole nother year, something we cannot see happen. (Community Alliance For Family Farmers)

According to Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest in an April 4 press release,“Hungry Americans can not wait any longer [for changes in the Farm Bill]. We are seeing absolutely tragic increases nationwide in the number of men, women and children in need of emergency food assistance, many for the first time ever….Food stamp enrollment is projected to reach record high levels, during the coming year.  This rapid rise in food stamp participation is being fueled by the worsening economic downturn. Low-income families are desperately in need of a new Farm Bill to make improvements in the programs that help ensure that they can put food on their tables and lead productive, healthy lives in this nation so richly blessed with food resources.”

“A one year extension to the Farm Bill would be catastrophic for food banks and those they serve,” said Escarra.  “The charitable sector does not have the capacity to meet dramatically increasing requests for food assistance.  It is critical for Congress to show leadership by passing a Farm Bill, and for the President to show compassion by signing it. If that happens, none of those in our great nation who face hunger daily will have to wait longer for relief.”(Hungry Americans Cannot Wait For A Farm Bill, March 19, 2008)

In the Video, Dan Imhoff, Author of Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill, talks about the Farm Bill on a Food News for Cooking Up a Story.

This is just part 1 of 5. To see the rest, go to the Cooking Up A Story site (where you can also find some other amazing videos about food systems).

and here’s part 5 of the same series.

Want to learn more about the Farm Bill?  Well, there’s a billion sources but here’s some of my favorites:

The 2007 Farm Bill Gets More Attention Than Any Other in History

Community Food Security Coalition: Policy Priorities and Farm Bill Materials

A Summary of Farm Policy News

“Long time in germination; The farm bill”. Economist. March 29, 2008. http://agobservatory.org/headlines.cfm?refID=102132

Hungry Americans Cannot Wait For Farm Bill” America’s Second Harvest Press Release. March 19, 2008.

Soaring Food and Fuel Prices Create Urgent Need for A Farm Bill.” America’s Second Harvest. April 4, 2008.

Imhoff, Dan. Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill.

Community Alliance with Family Farmers 

Farm and Food Policy Project 

American Farmland Trust 

 

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. A Fair Farm Bill Series

Cool pamphlets with lots of good information and cool retro-ish pictures describing issues and changes that could be made (or could have been made) in the 2007 farm bill.

A Fair Farm Bill for America: How Americans are effected everyday by the Farm Bill―from energy and health to the environment, labor and hunger.

A Fair Farm Bill for the World: The Farm Bill’s influence over world policies is colossal―the WTO, food aid, market concentration and public health may all change.

A Fair Farm Bill for Renewable Energy: The Farm Bill should support the next generation of sustainable energy crops and strengthen local ownership

A Fair Farm Bill for the World’s Hungry: The Farm Bill could make food aid more efficient and stop pushing farmers in poor countries off the land

A Fair Farm Bill for Competitive Markets: The Farm Bill should address the domination of agricultural markets by a few big companies.

A Fair Farm Bill for Conservation: A better Farm Bill would do more to support farmers who improve soil and water quality, and enhance biodiversity.

A Fair Farm Bill and Immigration: A fair Farm Bill would help family farmers in Mexico and the United States.

A Fair Farm Bill for Public Health: The U.S. Farm Bill could do a lot to support a healthier food system.

 

 

Links on Hunger Issues (Some in DC)

Capital Area Food Bank

DC Hunger Solutions

Government Programs in DC

 

 

Center on Hunger and Poverty

Community Food Security Coalition** One of my favorite sites with amazing loads of information!

Center for Food and Justice (Occidental College)

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)

Farm to Family Connection

Food Security Learning Center

USDA Hunger & Food Security

 

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