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Experts suggest how smallholders could get quality seed - SciDev (2016) 

Experts suggest how smallholders could get quality seed - SciDev (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa need sustainable solutions to address challenges of access to high quality seeds… Agricultural experts… said that the continent’s seed sector is not effective, forcing farmers to rely mainly on informal seed sources. This situation… has stagnated agricultural growth in Sub-Saharan Africa, threatening food security and economic development… 


The pilot project aims to provide smallholder farmers access to quality seed of superior crop varieties. “Seed is an important factor for agricultural production; it is the main factor of yield and we need to do a lot to improve the seed sector for increased agricultural production”… Smallholders in Sub-Saharan Africa are unable to get full information on good seeds and access them, pointing out that circulation of fake seeds is a major problem… that hinders the transformation of the agricultural sector… Africa needs well-functioning, market-driven seed systems and research scientists working with smallholder farmers to improve their seeds… 


Strengthening of South-South partnerships would also help to address common challenges in the seed sector… An African-embedded structure and networks of experts would also create a favourable environment for innovation to help match global commitments to national realities. Other solutions suggested included a need to embrace information and communication technologies such as mobile phones to sensitise smallholder farmers on how to source high quality seeds. 


Participants emphasised the importance of involving smallholder farmers in the early processes of seed breeding so that they can own and adopt the seeds… African scientists and agricultural researchers should increase efforts to develop seeds that can help smallholder farmers fight the effects of climate change. “Smallholder farmers are the most hit by the effects of climate change”… farmers need improved seed varieties that can resist or withstand the impacts of climate change such as droughts and flooding… 


http://www.scidev.net/sub-saharan-africa/farming/news/experts-suggest-how-smallholders-could-get-quality-seed.html


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International trade damages tropical nature - NUS (2016) 

Tropical countries incur annual economic losses totalling US$1.7 trillion through destruction of ecosystem services. Countries in the tropics are among the largest global exporters of key agricultural commodities such as oil palm, rice, soybean, sugarcane and cassava. They also represent the main source of new land for agriculture at the expense of forests. 

While international trade may generate economic benefits to the exporting countries… benefits from trade are unable to compensate for the loss of forests and ecosystems in those countries. By quantifying the impact of international trade on ecosystem services, the research team… showed that tropical countries are severely underpricing the agricultural commodities they produce, and thus effectively subisidising consumption by importing countries… 

Global trade volume has grown exponentially, increasing the demand for agriculture, crop and livestock products. To produce the supply, tropical countries have been converting their forests for crop and livestock production, leading to a loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, such as carbon sequestration, flood protection or pollination, while increasing carbon dioxide emissions… This study… analysed data from 85 countries, combining estimates of the land used in tropical countries to produce the commodities for export… also embedded the countries’ imports; the biome that would be present if deforestation had not taken place; the benefits generated by agriculture and timber through trade; and the losses from forgone ecosystem services… 

The majority of tropical countries incur huge net economic losses amounting to US$1.7 trillion each year. Topping the list are countries such as Brazil, Thailand, India, Vietnam and Indonesia, where large areas of land are used for producing timber, crops and livestock for export… “Deforestation is supported under the assumption that the countries are better off by engaging in agricultural activities. However, our findings show that this is not necessarily the case. This points to the urgency for tropical countries to rethink their land-use strategies. Without incorporating the environmental costs into international trade, deforestation beyond optimal levels will continue and may lead to serious environmental consequences”… 

Steps that can be taken to reduce the environmental costs of deforestation while still meeting the global demand for livestock and agricultural products… “include the introduction of an ecosystem services tax on international trade, price premiums for environmentally friendly agricultural produce, or agricultural intensification to spare land.” 



Alexander J. Stein's insight:
Valuing ecosystem services is tricky, but the notion that consumers in importing countries benefit from environmental degradation elsewhere probably holds. 
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Kulthum Kamorudeen's curator insight, March 27, 1:57 PM
Valuing ecosystem services is tricky, but the notion that consumers in importing countries benefit from environmental degradation elsewhere probably holds. 
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Economic burden of underweight and overweight among adults in the Asia-Pacific region: a systematic review - Hoque &al (2016) - Trop Med Int Health

Economic burden of underweight and overweight among adults in the Asia-Pacific region: a systematic review - Hoque &al (2016) - Trop Med Int Health | Food Policy | Scoop.it

To assess the economic burden of underweight and overweight among adults in the Asia-Pacific region. Systematic review... Articles on the economic burden of underweight estimate it at 2.5-3.8% of the country's total GDP... Despite methodological diversity... there is a consensus that both underweight and overweight impose a substantial financial burden on healthcare systems... 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/tmi.12679


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A green evolution - Economist (2016) 

A green evolution - Economist (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Not so long ago Jean Pierre Nzabahimana planted his fields on a hillside in western Rwanda by scattering seed held back from the last harvest. The seedlings grew up in clumps… Harvesting them was not too difficult, since they did not produce much. This year the field nearest to his house has been cultivated with military precision. In February he harvested a good crop of maize from plants that grew in disciplined lines, separated by precise distances… He then planted climbing beans in the same field. On this and on four other fields that add up to about half a hectare Mr Nzabahimana now grows enough to enable him to afford meat twice a month. He owns a cow and has about $230 in the bank. Although he remains poor by any measure, he has entered the class of poor dreamers. Perhaps he will build a shop in the village, he says. Hopefully one of his four children will become a driver or a mechanic… 


Rwanda’s farmers produced 792,000 tonnes of grain in 2014 – more than three times as much as in 2000. Production of maize, a vital crop in east Africa, jumped sevenfold. Agricultural statistics can be dicey… But Rwanda’s plunging poverty rate makes these plausible… Another farmer… says most of her neighbours are getting much more from their land. Perhaps only one in five persists with the old, scattershot “broadcast” sowing – and most of the holdouts are old people. Rwanda… in this respect it is not all that exceptional. Cereal production tripled in Ethiopia between 2000 and 2014, although a severe drought associated with the current El Niño made for a poor harvest last year. The value of crops grown in Cameroon, Ghana and Zambia has risen by at least 50% in the past decade; Kenya has done almost as well. 


Millions of African farmers… have become more secure and better-fed as a result of better-managed, better-fertilised crops grown from hybrid seeds. They are demonstrating that small farmers can benefit from improved techniques. Despite some big, much-publicised land sales to foreign investors, almost two-thirds of African farms are less than a hectare in their extent, so this is good news. Progress need not mean turfing millions of smallholders off the land, as some had feared – though by making them richer it may yet give them and their children the means to move, should they wish. For the time being, though, more than half of the adult workers south of the Sahara are employed in agriculture… With so many farmers and not much heavy industry, boosting agricultural productivity is among the best ways of raising living standards across the continent. And there is a long way to go. Sub-Saharan Africa’s farms remain far less productive than Latin American and Asian ones. The continent as a whole exports less farm produce than Thailand. 


Since 1961 the total value of all agricultural production in Africa has risen fourfold. This is almost exactly the improvement seen in India, which sounds encouraging; after all, India had a “green revolution” during that time. But whereas Indian farmers got far higher grain yields per hectare, in Africa much of the new production just came from new land. In the early 1960s sub-Saharan Africa had 1.5m square kilometres given over to arable farming; now it uses 800,000 square kilometres more. Another thing African farming had more of was people. Even today, when population growth has slowed in rural Asia and Latin America, in rural Africa it is still 2%. More people meant more workers, which can mean more yield from a farm in absolute terms… 


The explanations for Africa’s difficulties begin with geology. Much African bedrock is ancient, dating back to before the continent’s time at the heart of a huge land mass known as Gondwanaland. For hundreds of millions of years Africa has seen little of the tectonic activity that provides fresh rock for the wind and rain to grind into fertile soils. There is some naturally fertile land in the south and around the East African Rift… But much of the interior is barely worth farming. 


Only about 4% of arable land south of the Sahara is irrigated, so local weather patterns determine what can be grown. Those patterns vary a lot from time to time and place to place. Variations in time make farmers more inclined to stick with hardy but low-yielding varieties of crop. Variations in space mean that crops and diets differ a lot across the continent. In Rwanda, white maize and beans are the staple foods. In other places millet, teff, sorghum, cassava or sweet potatoes are more important. Asia’s green revolution was a comparatively simple matter… because Asia has only two crucial crops: rice and wheat. Provide high-yield varieties of both and much of the technical work is done. African agriculture is so heterogeneous that no leap forward in the farming of a single crop could transform it. The continent needs a dozen green revolutions. 


Humans have added to these handicaps in all sorts of ways. Beginning in the 1960s, Africa’s newly independent nations – often, thanks to colonial borders, small and landlocked – taxed farm produce heavily to finance industrial ventures which often failed. They did little to improve the colonial era’s scant and inappropriate infrastructure, which tended to concentrate on railways from mines to ports. Africa still has a thin road network; in rural areas the roads are often primitive and impassable after a heavy shower. Governments frequently imposed price controls, reducing what farmers could earn. And in some places, such as Ethiopia, farmers were subjected to oppressive command-and-control regimes that sapped their will to work. “We lost two and a half to three decades”… 


The sorry history of fertiliser subsidies shows the cost of official ineptitude. Worldwide, about 124kg of artificial fertiliser is used per hectare of farmland per year. Many would argue that this is too high. But the 15kg per hectare in sub-Saharan Africa is definitely too low. Some countries… have thrown money at fertiliser subsidies in flush years only to cut back when budgets tighten. Subsidised fertiliser intended for smallholders has often been resold at market rates with middlemen pocketing the profit… These natural and human obstacles are stubborn and hard to break down. But bit by bit they can be worn away. African agriculture is improving not because of any single scientific or political breakthrough, but because the things that have retarded productivity for decades, both on the farm and off, are being assailed from many sides. 


For farmers, perhaps the most potent symbol of change is hybrid seed… by raising the prospect of higher yields, these seeds persuade farmers to spend money and time on fertiliser, weeding and pesticides… Many of these seeds are being developed in Africa for Africans… Mali has developed six hybrid maize varieties. Because these tolerate drought well, they can be planted north and east of… Bamako, in fields where sorghum is now the dominant crop. As though in retaliation, another nearby team has created a variety of sorghum that yields about 40% more than the indigenous kind even without additional fertiliser. 


Governments and charities are rushing to teach farmers how to plant the new seeds. In Rwanda, One Acre Fund, a charity, provides its clients seeds, fertiliser, know-how and, crucially, credit. To upgrade to hybrids means changing to a system where new seed has to be bought every year, because the plants that grow from hybrid seed do not produce seed of the same sort. And small farmers are usually starved of credit… Last year One Acre Fund’s large network of instructors, farmers themselves, taught some 305,000 more east African smallholders skills such as carefully spacing seeds so as to maximise productivity and measuring fertiliser using bottle caps. Mr Nzabahimana is a client, as are about a third of the farmers thereabouts. In parts of Kenya where One Acre Fund has been operating for at least four years, even the farmers who are not clients get about 10% more maize per hectare than similar farmers in areas where the charity recently arrived. Know-how spreads. 


Untouched, if marginal, land used to be plentiful in Africa. Today it is rare, so farmers must work out how to grow more on each plot. And even countries with plenty of land have little to spare near their growing cities; given the difficulties of moving fresh produce over long distances that makes intensification near the big markets particularly attractive. These urban markets can also change what farmers grow. Farmers close to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, are switching from red teff to fancier white teff because that is what city folk increasingly want. White teff is harder to grow, so the farmers are using more fertiliser and improved seed. Elsewhere, urban hunger for meat and eggs is persuading more farmers to keep cows and chickens. 


Poor roads are not the only reason it is hard to move farm produce long distances… African businesses that exported goods to other African countries faced average tariffs of 8.7%, compared with 2.5% for those that exported goods beyond Africa. But the tariffs and barriers are gradually coming down… 31% of the food calories exported from African countries went to other African countries in the mid-2000s – a low proportion, but an improvement on the 14% rate ten years earlier… Reform has been slower in another area. African farmers often have few or no rights over the land they work. Insecure farmers tend not to invest much, either because they do not see the point or because they cannot get credit. These problems can be particularly bad for women… 


Few of these benign changes would have taken place without a rash of superior government. Sub-Saharan Africa still has some awful regimes in Equatorial Guinea and Zimbabwe (where agricultural productivity is dropping). It has some failed states such as the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Somalia. Yet some terrible rulers have gone and border wars are rare. In part as a result, the region is more placid than it was… Between 1998 and 2014 the total conflict score in sub-Saharan Africa fell from 55 to 30. More peaceful land is more productive. So is land where the people are healthier…. 395,000 Africans died from malaria in 2015, compared with 764,000 in 2000. New HIV infections are down by about two-fifths in the same period. 


There is still much to do. When Mr Nzabahimana wants to sell food, he… hires a woman to carry it on her head to… a tiny market town a few miles away. He does not know in advance what price his crops will fetch. As Africa’s fields grow more productive, such thin, fragmented markets are becoming a bigger problem. Too few agricultural buyers reach villages, and the ones that make it can often dictate prices. “The traders have all the information – they pay the farmers what they want”… Technology can help, to an extent: in Kenya, where mobile phones are ubiquitous, farmers can subscribe to services that give them price data. But rural roads will have to improve, as well as rural phones, if smallholders are to obtain better prices. So will the ability to store crops somewhere other than in their houses, where the weevils get them. Processing foods near farms… would help reduce such waste and provide decent paying jobs. 


Another boost would come from better livestock. Far more of Africa is grazed than is planted, and demand for animal products is rising. Yet there are few meaty analogues to hybrid seeds. African cows are increasingly crossbred with European breeds to create tough animals that produce lots of milk; fodder yields are improving, just like yields of other crops. But animal vaccines remain expensive and are often unavailable, since they need to be kept cold. A pastoral revolution remains in the future… African agriculture is not a way of life or a development activity; it is a business, and it is as a business that it will grow, through investment and access to markets. That said, it will remain a risky business, one in which a vital input, rain, cannot be controlled… 


One way to face that risk is to encourage irrigation, especially water-hoarding drip-irrigation. Another is to offer some sort of crop insurance that pays out in particularly bad seasons, as Ethiopia is trying to do. Both are good options. How much they can do in the face of increasing climate change, which is likely to render the dry parts of the continent drier still, and which will do some of its damage just by making peak temperatures even hotter, remains to be seen. Some crops may become impossible to grow in the places where they are grown today… 


http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21694521-farms-africa-are-prospering-last-thanks-persistence-technology-and-decent


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Why Is China Spending $43 Billion for a Farming Company? - Foreign Policy (2016) 

Why Is China Spending $43 Billion for a Farming Company? - Foreign Policy (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it
The biggest overseas purchase in Chinese history is meant to ensure the world’s largest country can keep feeding its people. 

China’s biggest-ever overseas acquisition… the $43 billion bid for Swiss agricultural company Syngenta is about something a lot more basic and a lot more important: ensuring that its farms will be able to produce enough food to keep pace with the country’s still-growing population, already the world’s largest… China today accounts for about 19 percent of the global population, yet has just 8 percent of its arable land. And unlike other countries with growing populations, there’s no land left to till… China’s available farmland is actually shrinking. 

With the population set to keep growing from 1.3 billion today to 1.4 billion or more by 2030, and with demand for cereal grains rising as the population eats ever more beef and pork, the country needs a quantum leap in agricultural productivity if it is going to feed its population in a generation’s time. Food shortages, or spiking prices for food, have been a recipe for unrest, rebellion, and imperial downfall in China for hundreds of years. Food security… is a political headache for leaders in Beijing who are all too aware that staying in power means keeping rice bowls filled. The Syngenta deal – which is meant to keep Chinese farms humming – could be part of the solution. 

“Food security has become more prominent under President Xi Jinping. He personally has put a lot of political capital into emphasizing food security”… It’s not just Xi. Premier Li Keqiang zeroed in on the under-performing agricultural sector in his wide-ranging critique last year of China’s economy, following former Premier Wen Jiabao’s lifelong focus on food security. For the 13th straight year, China’s guiding annual policy blueprint, the so-called “No. 1 Central Document,” put agricultural innovation at the top of the nation’s wish list. And food security was at the top of the agenda at last year’s summit between Xi and U.S. President Barack Obama. 

That’s where the proposed $43 billion purchase of Swiss-based Syngenta by state-owned China National Chemical Corp., or ChemChina, comes in. Syngenta is one of the world’s biggest producers of crop protection products, from pesticides to fungicides to novel types of seeds that can increase harvests of corn, rice, and wheat. It rebuffed a richer offer last summer from rival agribusiness giant Monsanto Co., but welcomed ChemChina’s bid with open arms… The deal… “is focused on growth globally, specifically in China and other emerging markets, and enables long-term investment in innovation.” 

It could also be just what the doctor ordered for Chinese leaders. “The Syngenta acquisition is very consistent with their goal of overhauling the agricultural sector; one of the themes of that overhaul is to rely on new technology to boost productivity”… Indeed, ChemChina Chairman Ren Jianxin talked up the deal as a way to “increase global crop yields” and placed special emphasis on the Chinese market, where he said it’s necessary to increase both agricultural productivity and quality. 

Of course, the purchase isn’t just a strategic, state-driven decision. It’s also good business for a Chinese firm aspiring to play in the big leagues… “They are on a big buying spree to acquire technology, [and] they want to get intellectual property… For China, food security is always a politically important goal, but purchases like Syngenta have a real business rationale.” Even so, China’s leaders have made clear that Chinese companies… should hew to a government-mandated “agricultural foreign investment strategy.” That shows up in easy credit terms, for example: ChemChina boasted that it had prearranged financing for the entirety of the all-cash deal for Syngenta… “With any deal that big, there’s no way it happens without the government signing off on it”… 

China has actually done a great job of… improving agricultural productivity at a faster clip than even the United States (though China started from a much less productive baseline). China increased its total agricultural productivity three-fold between 1961 and today, while the United States little more than doubled its productivity over the same time frame… China today produces about one-sixth of the world’s wheat (and twice as much as the United States) and almost one-third of the world’s rice. Until 2007, China was a net exporter of grains like those. 

So why the rush to spend tens of billions of dollars, at a time of economic malaise and belt-tightening at home, on a Swiss agribusiness? Because China’s huge gains in production could soon be outpaced by increasing demand from a growing population and a rising middle class eating pork, beef, and other foods that require a lot more grain than a vegetarian diet. China’s agricultural imports today are huge and rising, worth more than $115 billion a year, much of which comes from the United States. (To put that in perspective, China’s voracious appetite for imported crude oil costs only about $150 billion a year.) 

Gaining access to a big international firm specializing in agricultural technologies potentially addresses several big Chinese concerns. First, it’s a way to boost domestic food production and thus reduce the country’s reliance on food imports. While China has embraced global markets as a way to secure food supplies, self-sufficiency remains the ultimate goal. Indeed, while China appeared a few years ago to jettison its official goal of producing 95 percent of the nation’s grains at home, in reality leaders are as anxious as ever to ensure they can feed themselves. “They want to be absolutely self-sufficient in rice and wheat”… 

To do so will require replicating the huge productivity leaps that came after dramatic technological breakthroughs, especially for rice, in the 1950s and again in the 1970s. In order to grow enough rice for a bigger population on the same amount of land, Chinese researchers figure the country needs a way to increase harvests by 30 percent or more in the next decade or so – a third quantum leap. That’s one reason China is looking for answers in the lab: In India, Syngenta helped some small farmers raise yields by 30 percent using a tech-heavy system of hybrid seeds, special soils, and herbicides. 

Embracing that kind of technology may sit well with China’s leaders, who in recent years have become vocal cheerleaders for a biotech revolution in China’s hinterlands. But Chinese consumers, burned by food safety scandals, remain wary… To finally slay China’s centuries-old food security demons, Xi, ChemChina, and others will likely have to convince Chinese farmers and consumers that the answer lies as much in the lab as in the land. 


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Taxing animal-based foods for sustainability: environmental, nutritional and social perspectives in France - Caillavet &al (2016) - ERAE

Taxing animal-based foods for sustainability: environmental, nutritional and social perspectives in France - Caillavet &al (2016) - ERAE | Food Policy | Scoop.it

This his article examines the impact of a consumption tax on environmentally unfriendly animal-based foods. It focuses on three dimensions: environmental emissions, diet quality and social equity... 


An environmental tax may reduce emissions (by -6.6 to -13.2 per cent...) and improve diet quality (1.2 per cent) with a modest impact on the food-at-home budget (-4.0 per cent). 


This beneficial synergy between environmental and nutritional effects holds across income and age groups, with a small regressive impact. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/erae/jbv041


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Can Data-Driven Agriculture Help Feed a Hungry World? - Yale E360 (2016) 

Can Data-Driven Agriculture Help Feed a Hungry World? - Yale E360 (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Agribusinesses are increasingly using computer databases to enable farmers to grow crops more efficiently and with less environmental impact. Experts hope this data, detailing everything from water use to crop yields, can also help the developing world grow more food. 


From… Idaho to… Argentina, tablet-toting agronomists with Anheuser-Busch InBev… are visiting farmers who grow the company's malt barley… offer advice on ways to maximize productivity and profitability. Only these days the conversations are increasingly steered by a computer app called SmartBarley that farmers use to log details on more than 40 variables that affect barley production, such as variety planted, soil type, and tillage method, along with applications of water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Growers use the platform to compare their practices and yields with other farmers who operate in similar soil and climate conditions. 


The program is one of many agribusiness-led initiatives to harness… data that increasingly are being used in agriculture worldwide to boost efficiency and profits, while simultaneously lowering the environmental impact of agriculture. Other agribusinesses that market data-crunching farm-management tools include seed company Monsanto, chemical company DuPont, and precision-irrigation company Valley Irrigation. FarmLink, which leases combines, recently entered the data game with TrueHarvest, a yield comparison tool that leverages data collected by its fleet of farm machinery to help farmers fine-tune their operations to maximize yield and profit… 


Sustainable agriculture and development specialists are working to expand access to important agricultural data to the hundreds of millions of small farmers in the developing world. Already, in an effort to improve yields and profits, farmers in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and India are using mobile phones to exchange information about weather, disease, and market prices. And these trends are only expected to grow as information technology spreads. Meanwhile, big data advocates argue that smaller farmers stand to benefit from data-driven agricultural advances, such as improved crop varieties. 


At its core, big data in agriculture is about trying to corral… information on the environmental, biological, and human factors that govern crop growth and yield in order to provide farmers with tailored insight on how to grow crops more efficiently. While humans have used accumulated knowledge and technology to grow ever-more food for thousands of years, modern computing power has led to breakthroughs in the ability to collect, exchange, process, and synthesize data in ways that promise to transform agriculture into a sustainable enterprise that meets the projected mid-century food demand of 9 billion people. 


But to avoid a massive expansion of agriculture into wetlands and rainforests, to the detriment of biodiversity and the global climate, this yield increase must come on existing farmland. And here, experts say, big data can play a vital role. "To date, humans have not yet developed agricultural systems that can continue to raise yields and reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture concomitantly… We have been successful raising yields, or reducing environmental footprint, but not both at the same time, and that is the greatest scientific challenge facing humankind. Big data will be essential to bring together all the information a farmer needs." 


For now, big data is in its infancy… A seed company, for example, might find in the data an opportunity to sell a drought-tolerant corn variety to a farmer facing increasing irrigation costs. An irrigation company might find an opportunity to sell that farmer a variable-rate pivot, which lowers water usage. The farmer gains from a higher-yielding crop, along with shrinking water and power bills. The environment benefits from water conservation and lower power-sector greenhouse gas emissions. 


But the services themselves often are built on proprietary technology that hinders the aggregation and analysis of data flowing from disparate systems. And the quality of data available on everything from weather to soils varies widely, which raises questions about its usefulness… The world must grow 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet global demand. But "the quantum leaps that we enjoyed with the green revolution 50 to 60 years ago are not going to be repeated"… The triad of improved crop genetics, increased use of synthetic products such as fertilizers and pesticides, and expanded irrigation can no longer provide the necessary gains. 


"That is why we need big data… An agricultural system is so finely tuned – it's responding to temperature, water, humidity, diseases, pests, insects, soil, and nutrients in time and space varying across landscapes, and there is just no other way to do it except by bringing together the data needs so that every field can be managed to bring out its best"… The Global Yield Gap Atlas… is harnessing data to identify the gaps between current average farm yields and the potential yield in major crop-growing regions… a global database populated with publicly available soil, weather, and water data, along with anonymous, farmer-owned and protected data on crop management and yield. When farmers go online and type in their data and geographic location, the database will allow them to compare their management practices and yield against all other similar farms. 


"Such a system… would be like having a distillation from hundreds, or thousands, of field experiments to guide future management decisions on each farmer's field." But for the moment… the road to achieving the vision is a slog. The quantity and quality of the available data is insufficient for farmers to make valid and useful comparisons. And even when the data is created, it is often in a form that is incompatible with data from other sources…


http://e360.yale.edu/feature/can_data-driven_agriculture_help_feed_a_hungry_world/2969


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New research exposes urgent need to transform key agriculture regions across Africa by as early as 2025 - CGIAR (2016) 

New research exposes urgent need to transform key agriculture regions across Africa by as early as 2025 - CGIAR (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Agriculture in parts of sub-Saharan Africa must undergo significant transformation if it is to continue to produce key food crops… Maize, beans and bananas are most at risk… The study examines region-by-region the likely effect of different climate change scenarios on nine crops that constitute 50% of food production in sub-Saharan Africa. The research is the first to allocate timeframes for changes in policy and practice in order to maintain production levels and avoid placing food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers at risk. 


While six of the nine crops studied are expected to remain stable under moderate and extreme climate change scenarios, up to 30% of areas growing maize and bananas, and up to 60% of those producing beans are projected to become unviable by the end of the century. In some areas transformations will need to take place as soon as 2025. Transformation could mean changing the type of crop grown in the area in question, improving irrigation systems, or in extreme circumstances, moving away from agriculture altogether. 


“This study tells where, and crucially when, interventions need to be made to stop climate change destroying vital food supplies in Africa… We know what needs to be done, and for the first time, we now have deadlines for taking action”… 


Key findings: 


- Banana growing regions in West Africa… and maize growing regions in Southern Africa… will need to undergo transformation within the next ten years. 


- 1.85 million hectares of current bean cropping systems in Uganda and Tanzania, responsible for growing 41.4 % of the total sub-Saharan African bean supply, will be unable to do so by 2100. Other regions will be hit even sooner… 


- Millet, sorghum, cassava, groundnut and yams are projected to remain stable for the rest of the century. Given that solutions such as breeding improved crops can take a minimum of 15 years to complete, the authors stress the need for immediate action… 


https://ccafs.cgiar.org/news/media-centre/press-releases/new-research-exposes-urgent-need-transform-key-agriculture-regions


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2947


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Edible insects are the future? - van Huis (2016) - PNS

Edible insects are the future? - van Huis (2016) - PNS | Food Policy | Scoop.it

The global increase in demand for meat and the limited land area available prompt the search for alternative protein sources. Also the sustainability of meat production has been questioned. 


Edible insects as an alternative protein source for human food and animal feed are interesting in terms of low greenhouse gas emissions, high feed conversion efficiency, low land use, and their ability to transform low value organic side streams into high value protein products. 


More than 2000 insect species are eaten mainly in tropical regions... but this food source is threatened. In the Western world, there is an increasing interest in edible insects... Insects as feed, in particular as aquafeed, have a large potential. Edible insects have about the same protein content as conventional meat and more PUFA... 


Edible insects need to be processed and turned into palatable dishes. Food safety may be affected by toxicity of insects, contamination with pathogens, spoilage during conservation and allergies. Consumer attitude is a major issue in the Western world and a number of strategies are proposed to encourage insect consumption. 


We discuss research pathways to make insects a viable sector in food and agriculture: an appropriate disciplinary focus, quantifying its importance, comparing its nutritional value to conventional protein sources, environmental benefits, safeguarding food safety, optimising farming, consumer acceptance and gastronomy. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0029665116000069


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Research finds where bioenergy crops would grow best while minimizing detrimental effects on aquatic ecosystem - U Illinois (2016)

Research finds where bioenergy crops would grow best while minimizing detrimental effects on aquatic ecosystem  - U Illinois (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

New research has identified regions in the United States where bioenergy crops would grow best while minimizing effects on water quantity and quality. Researchers... used detailed models to examine impacts on water quantity and quality in soils that would occur if existing vegetation was replaced by various bioenergy crops in the name of ethanol production.

“We expect the outcome of this study to support scientifically sound national policy decisions on bioenergy crops development”... Currently, corn is the dominant crop used in biofuel production... Bioenergy grasses such as Miscanthus and switchgrasses such as Alamo and Cave-in-Rock causes less nitrogen to be lost due to rain and irrigation than corn. Nitrogen is an important nutrient for crops and a key ingredient in fertilizer, but nitrogen often washes away into rivers and other bodies of water where it is detrimental to aquatic ecosystems. 

 

Another advantage bioenergy grasses and switchgrasses have over corn is their deep root system which allows them to draw water and nutrients from deeper soil levels and allows them to be more resilient in poor growing seasons.

“Growing bioenergy grasses, in general, can mitigate nitrogen leaching across the United States... However, the greatest reduction in nitrogen leaching occurs when bioenergy crops displace other cropland or grassland, because energy crops consume more water and less nitrogen fertilizer than the crops and grasses that they replace, resulting in less water runoff and nitrogen loss.”

By using a combination of crop growth, hydrological, carbon and nitrogen cycle models, researchers found that the estimated land suitable for bioenergy grasses... is limited, despite its relatively high biomass productivity and low water consumption per unit of ethanol... 

Bioenergy crops do best in regions with higher precipitation rates. They are more likely to fail in dryer regions with less frequent and predictable precipitation... 

 

http://www.las.illinois.edu/news/2016/biofuels16/

 

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Corn Area Response to Local Ethanol Markets in the United States - Motamed &al (2016)

We measure corn and total agricultural area response to the biofuels boom in the United States... Specifically, we... test whether a location's corn and total agricultural cultivation rose in response to the capacity of ethanol refineries in their vicinity. Based on these data, acreage in corn and overall agriculture not only grew in already-cultivated areas but also expanded into previously uncultivated areas. Acreage in corn and total agriculture also correlated with proximity to ethanol plants... 

 

Our estimates show that a location's neighborhood refining capacity exerts strong and significant effects on acreage planted in corn and total agricultural acreage. The largest impacts of ethanol plants were felt in locations where cultivation area was relatively low. This high-resolution evidence of ethanol impacts on local agricultural outcomes can inform researchers and policy-makers concerned with crop diversity, environmental sustainability, and rural economic development.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aav095

 

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Biofortification of wheat, rice and common bean by applying foliar zinc fertilizer along with pesticides in seven countries - Ram &al (2016) - Plant Soil

Biofortification of wheat, rice and common bean by applying foliar zinc fertilizer along with pesticides in seven countries - Ram &al (2016) - Plant Soil | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Zinc (Zn) deficiency represents a common micronutrient deficiency in human populations, especially in regions of the world where staple food crops are the main source of daily calorie intake. Foliar application of Zn fertilizer has been shown to be effective for enriching food crop grains with Zn to desirable amounts for human nutrition.

 

For promoting adoption of this practice by growers, it is important to know whether foliar Zn fertilizers can be applied along with pesticides to wheat, rice and also common bean grown across different soil and environmental conditions. 


The feasibility of foliar application of zinc sulphate to wheat, rice and common bean in combination with commonly used five fungicides and nine insecticides was investigated under field conditions at the 31 sites-years of seven countries, i.e., China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey, Brazil and Zambia. 


Significant increases in grain yields were observed with foliar Zn/foliar Zn + pesticide over yields with no Zn treatment... Grain Zn enrichment with foliar Zn, without or with pesticides, was almost similar in all the tested crops. 


The results... revealed that foliar Zn fertilization can be realized in combination with commonly-applied pesticides to contribute Zn biofortification of grains in wheat, rice and common bean. This agronomic approach represents a useful practice for the farmers to alleviate Zn deficiency problem in human populations.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11104-016-2815-3

 

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Food imports rise as Modi struggles to revive rural India - Reuters (2016)

Food imports rise as Modi struggles to revive rural India - Reuters (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a late night meeting with food and farm officials last week to address falling agricultural output and rising prices, and traders warn the country will soon be a net buyer of some key commodities for the first time in years. Back-to-back droughts, the lack of long-term investment in agriculture and increasing demands from a growing population are undermining the country's bid to be self-sufficient in food.


That is creating opportunities for foreign suppliers in generally weak commodity markets... The long term impact on commodity markets could be significant. Last month, India made its first purchases of corn in 16 years. It has also been increasing purchases of other products, such as lentils and oilmeals, as production falls short. Wheat and sugar stocks, while sufficient in warehouses now, are depleting fast, leading some traders to predict the need for imports next year... 


India's entry into the market as a net importer is good news for suppliers like Brazil, Argentina, the United States and Canada, which are suffering from a global commodity glut. India's move to import corn, for example, has supported global prices... The next big import item on the list could be oilmeals, an animal feed, which India used to export in large quantities until last year... 

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/india-farming-idUSKCN0VA3NL

 

Alexander J. Stein's insight:

Interesting, first India blocks the cultivation of a domestic GM vegetable (eggplant/brinjal), and with it all other efforts to develop better crops through genetic engineering, and now it buys maize on the world market, where a good share of it is GM -- and it may buy oilmeals next, which are often from soybeans, which are mostly GM. (And if it sources non-GM supplies, this will not only cost it more, it will also drive up prices for non-GM in general -- instead of selling non-GM soybeans itself.) In the medium term, perhaps a better approach would be to embrace GM not only for Bt cotton, where Indian production was boosted considerably after the introduction, but also for other crops. 

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Can Agricultural Interventions Improve Child Nutrition? Evidence from Tanzania - Larsen & Lilleør (2016) - WBER

Severely reduced height-for-age due to undernutrition is widespread in young African children, with serious implications for their health and later economic productivity. It is primarily caused by growth faltering due to hunger spells in critical periods of early child development. We assess the impact on early childhood nutrition, measured as height-for-age, of an agricultural intervention that improved food security among smallholder farmers by providing them with a “basket” of new technology options. We find that height-for-age measures among children from participating households increased by about 0.9 standard deviations and the incidence of stunting among them decreased by about 18 percentage points… Compared to nutrition interventions, these are sizable impacts. We show that improved food security in (severe) hunger periods is a probable mechanism behind this result. 


The agricultural intervention is called “Rural Initiatives for Participatory Agricultural Transformation,” or RIPAT… The stated overall development goal of RIPAT is to reduce poverty and improve food security among smallholder farmers by facilitating high and sustainable levels of adoption of improved agricultural and livestock technologies disseminated through local farmer groups… The technology options include new banana cultivation techniques; new improved banana and other perennial and annual crop varieties; conservation agriculture for improved land utilization; post-harvesting technologies; improved animal husbandry; multipurpose trees for fodder, fruit, or firewood; soil and water conservation, including rain water harvesting; and savings groups… RIPAT households are significantly more likely to grow improved banana varieties, and to keep improved breeds of chickens and goats… 


This suggests that the positive impact on the height-for-age of young RIPAT children is likely to come about through higher levels of technology adoption promoting higher levels of food security in the lean season of the year and a larger intake of animal-source foods. Not being exposed to hunger spells seems to have long-lasting consequences for the growth curves of these young children… Toward the end of the project implementation period, a serious drought hit the area, worsening and lengthening the annual hunger period. This has possibly increased the difference in undernutrition levels found between participating and comparison households, since the intervention was designed to increase the drought resilience of farmers and shield their food production, rather than to boost agricultural output during bumper years… our study confirms that there is scope for agricultural interventions in alleviating undernutrition and that they can indeed be very effective. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/wber/lhw006


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New Green Challenge: How to Grow More Food on Less Land - E360 Yale (2016) 

New Green Challenge: How to Grow More Food on Less Land - E360 Yale (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it

If the world is to have another Green Revolution to feed its soaring population, it must be far more sustainable than the first one. That means finding ways to boost yields with less fertilizer and rethinking the way food is distributed. 


For researchers trying to figure how to feed a world of 10 billion people… the great objective… has been to achieve what they call “sustainable intensification.” It’s an awkward term… But the ambition this time is different… how to grow the most food on the least land and with the minimal environmental impact. The alternative… is to continue plowing under what’s left of the natural world. Or face food shortages and political unrest. 


Up to now, the tendency in talking about sustainable intensification has been to focus on the supply side and on exciting technological innovations of one sort or another, from gene editing to satellite monitoring… But achieving consensus about what sustainable intensification should mean – or whether it’s the right objective in the first place – has proved complicated and increasingly contentious. “Depending on how one defines it,” one researcher commented, “I’m in favor of it, or against it.” To critics, the engineering focus has tended to put intensification ahead of sustainability… 


Fertilizer is a key topic of discussion everywhere – most obviously because sustainable intensification means curbing overuse in the industrial world. The European Union began regulating fertilizer use 25 years ago, to reduce farm runoff that was polluting groundwater and turning water bodies hypoxic. The EU’s Nitrates Directive led to a 30 percent reduction in fertilizer use, even as yields were increasing substantially. That kind of intensification – more production with fewer impacts – is certainly also possible in the United States… So far, state and federal agencies have relied on voluntary efforts to reduce runoff, with little success… 


Even as fertilizer use needs to decrease in the industrial world… it must increase dramatically in the developing world, where there is a stark choice between intensification and extensification. That is, if a farmer’s land yields only a quarter of what it takes to feed the family, one possible fix is to apply more fertilizer, or plant legumes to deliver a crop that also adds nitrogen to the soil. What often happens instead, though, is that the farmer just clears four or five times as much land… 


Intensification turns out to be a lot more nitty-gritty and locally driven in the developing world than in industrial nations. In Zimbabwe… poor farmers were often unwilling to risk the cost of applying fertilizer to an entire field. But… “micro-dosing” – that is, applying fertilizer in minute amounts when planting each seed, or as a top dressing soon after emergence – improved yields by 30-100 percent, with a 400 percent return on the investment… In the uplands of Rwanda… Climbing beans fix nitrogen out of the air and produce twice the yield of bush beans, “and it’s a cash crop farmers can sell in the cities”… 


New technologies often “sound fantastic.” But the companies promoting them “are really not thinking about the context of the farmer.” They’re often geared to a yield-per-acre mindset, when yield-per-workday might be more appropriate, given that farmers in the developing world must often piece together a living here and there from multiple sources… Instead of being about a technology or a product, effective intensification might involve developing a supply chain to get fertilizer to farmers in Rwanda, or connecting farmers with food processors in Ethiopia to develop a market for chickpeas, with one type for domestic consumption and another that “fetches a very good price on the international market”… 


“Simply producing more cannot be thought of as sustainable without looking at how that food is distributed, who it is distributed to, and who gets to make those decisions…” The factors likeliest to improve food security and reduce stunting… access to clean water, access to sanitation, and female secondary school enrollment, in that order. Improvements to the food supply ranked well down the list… But… one factor that makes the focus on food supply more urgent: It “is arguably the underlying determinant most at risk of disruption from climate change… and considerable effort needs to be expended to maintain production in the face of these increased uncertainties.” 


Maybe all this uncertainty, disagreement, and dread are the reasons one aspect of sustainable intensification – food waste – has gotten so much enthusiastic public attention lately… The idea that the world now wastes all the agricultural output from 5.4 million square miles of land – an area almost half as large as the United States – doesn’t just offend common sense and beg for urgent solutions. It may also be the only thing about sustainable intensification… on which almost everyone agrees. 


http://e360.yale.edu/feature/how_to_grow_more_food_on_less_land/2975/


Alexander J. Stein's insight:
"To critics... technological fixes also distract from more challenging social reforms like slowing the rate of population growth, shifting away from crops like corn ethanol that don’t put food on the table... 
  No reason to start with productivity as our focus... It doesn’t even necessarily put more food on peoples’ tables...
 Food waste... may also be the only thing about sustainable intensification... on which almost everyone agrees."  

>> There seems to be a slight contradiction in the article: If productivity (i.e. getting more food) doesn't matter, why is it a problem if ethanol is produced from corn or if food goes to waste? Clearly, those are flipsides of the same coin, and while it's of course good to reduce food waste (to the extent that energy-hungry cool chains and resource-intensive just-in-time production, packaging and logistics do not turn the food's footprint negative), it is also good to produce more more efficiently (to the extent that this can be done sustainably) if this puts more food on people's tables. This should not be an either-or approach that pits productivity gains against distributional improvements but an as-well-as approach. 
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Kulthum Kamorudeen's curator insight, March 27, 1:57 PM
"To critics... technological fixes also distract from more challenging social reforms like slowing the rate of population growth, shifting away from crops like corn ethanol that don’t put food on the table... 
  No reason to start with productivity as our focus... It doesn’t even necessarily put more food on peoples’ tables...
 Food waste... may also be the only thing about sustainable intensification... on which almost everyone agrees."  

>> There seems to be a slight contradiction in the article: If productivity (i.e. getting more food) doesn't matter, why is it a problem if ethanol is produced from corn or if food goes to waste? Clearly, those are flipsides of the same coin, and while it's of course good to reduce food waste (to the extent that energy-hungry cool chains and resource-intensive just-in-time production, packaging and logistics do not turn the food's footprint negative), it is also good to produce more more efficiently (to the extent that this can be done sustainably) if this puts more food on people's tables. This should not be an either-or approach that pits productivity gains against distributional improvements but an as-well-as approach. 
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Sustaining healthy diets: The role of capture fisheries and aquaculture for improving nutrition in the post-2015 era - Thilsted &al (2016) - Food Pol

Sustaining healthy diets: The role of capture fisheries and aquaculture for improving nutrition in the post-2015 era - Thilsted &al (2016) - Food Pol | Food Policy | Scoop.it
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda makes achieving food security and ending malnutrition a global priority. Within this framework, the importance of fisheries in local and global food systems and its contribution to nutrition and health, particularly for the poor are overlooked and undervalued. This paper reviews current fish production and consumption from capture fisheries and aquaculture, highlights opportunities for enhancing healthy diets and outlines key multi-sectoral policy solutions. 

Mirroring the call for a diversification of agricultural research and investment beyond a few staple grains, it is anticipated that productivity gains for a few farmed aquatic species will not suffice. Capture fisheries and aquaculture have a complementary role to play in increasing fish availability and access, and must be promoted in ways that support measurable nutrition and health gains... The lack of a nutrition-sensitive policy focus on capture fisheries and aquaculture represents an untapped opportunity that must be realised for ensuring sustainable healthy diets for all. 

Fish are beneficial to nutrition and health and will play an essential role in sustaining healthy diets (where culturally appropriate) in the future. If the vision of the SDGs is to be attained, the fisheries sector, in the context of growing demand will require policy frameworks that are nutrition-sensitive. To make this happen, coordinated policy actions and investments across relevant sectors are essential. Fisheries must be seen as a core component of the agriculture sector, as well as an entry point for multi-sectoral interventions aimed at improving nutrition and health outcomes. 

The present narrow focus on productivity gains and economic outputs will not suffice. A more balanced approach to sustaining capture fisheries and growth in diverse aquaculture systems is required. Complementarities between the capture fisheries and aquaculture sub-sectors must be clearly articulated and capitalised on in order for countries to sustainably increase the quantity and quality of fish supply while promoting nutrition and health gains, particularly for poor consumers, between now and 2030. 


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Palatable Proteins for Complex Palates - IFT (2016)

Palatable Proteins for Complex Palates - IFT (2016) | Food Policy | Scoop.it
As the demand for protein increases, some consumers forego conventional sources of protein while others cannot tolerate them. These alternatives may satisfy their protein needs. People who consume vegetarian or vegan diets and people who avoid certain foods that trigger allergic reactions comprise expanding segments of the American population: About 5% of Americans identify as vegetarian, another 2% identify as vegan, and approximately 15 million Americans have food allergies… Moreover, because of consumers’ increased awareness of the positive effects plant foods have on health as well as their concerns about environmental resources and unsustainable agricultural practices, the popularity of plant-based diets is growing. The consumption of protein sources that are not animal-derived and are free of known allergens will thus become more common, and they are projected to constitute 50% of the alternative protein market by 2054. Accordingly, algae-derived and novel plant-based proteins are viable alternatives to protein foods that vegetarians, vegans, and consumers with food allergies or dietary restrictions cannot or will not eat. 

When most people think of sources of protein from the sea, they immediately think of seafood. Fish and other marine animals are excellent sources of protein and other essential nutrients, but they are not the only protein-rich sources that oceans provide. Many forms of algae are also good sources of protein. Algae are a diverse group of photosynthetic organisms that are chiefly aquatic, contain chlorophyll and other pigment molecules, and generate more oxygen than all the plants in the world. Using solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into their food, they are responsible for nearly half of the photosynthesis that occurs on Earth. As a consequence, algae play a significant role in removing excess carbon dioxide from the environment. Algae are categorized in two forms: macroalgae and microalgae. 

Macroalgae are seaweeds (such as kelp and dulse) and other multicellular algae that grow in oceans as well as lakes, rivers, and ponds. These organisms are visible to the naked eye and can be classified into three groups: brown algae, red algae, and green algae. Conversely, microalgae are single-cell organisms that can be seen only with the aid of a microscope—that is, until millions of them link together to form algal blooms… collectively they form the basis of the entire food chain. Both macroalgae and microalgae are nutrient-dense, possessing varying amounts of vitamins A, C, E, folate, and others; calcium, iodine, iron, and other essential minerals and trace elements; omega-3 fatty acids and other lipids; carbohydrates; and protein. In fact, the protein content of seaweeds ranges 3%-50%, and the protein content of microalgae is even higher, ranging up to 70%. These high levels of protein and other nutrients in algae have food and ingredient companies touting alga-derived protein as functional food ingredients and food products that are free of known allergens. 

Among seaweeds, red seaweeds tend to have the highest protein content, and the red seaweed species Porphyra, known as laver or nori, has the greatest: 100 grams of nori contains up to 50 grams of protein (that’s a protein content up to 50%), which means it has more protein than wheat germ or sunflower seeds. Nori has an amino acid profile similar to that of peas or beans, contains a high amount of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and is a good source of vitamin B12, which is rare for a food that isn’t animal-derived. Commonly used to wrap sushi rolls, dried nori is sold in sheets that can be either cut into strips to wrap rice and fish or cut into small pieces to sprinkle onto soups and noodle dishes… 

The red seaweed species Palmaria palmata, known as dulse, is another good source of protein: its protein content can be up to 25%. Dulse also contains vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, C, and D; minerals such as iodine, iron, magnesium and potassium; and an unusually high concentration of EPA (nearly 60% of total fatty acid content). In Iceland, dulse is consumed… In Nova Scotia, Canada, dulse is used… In Wales, dulse is used… The protein content of dulse, nori, and other red seaweeds “is often higher than that found in species from green and brown seaweeds. The usefulness of the seaweed protein depends on the amino acid profile of the protein, and this is not known for all seaweed species to date”… 

The concept of using microalgae as human food is fairly new – at least to Westerners, but Asian cultures have been using microalgae as a source of food for hundreds of years. There are hundreds of thousands of microalgae species (most of which are still unidentified and unexplored), and for some time, microalgae had been associated primarily with certain roles and uses. They constitute the base of the oceanic food chain, serving as food for smaller aquatic organisms that are subsequently eaten by larger organisms (this is why large predator fish have DHA and EPA), and because microalgae are rich sources of DHA and EPA as well as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, some are also used as nutritional supplements. It is partly through microalgae’s use as nutritional supplements that some companies have begun to use them as food and food ingredients… Dunaliella are saltwater green microalgae with a protein content of up to 57% when dried… source of beta-carotene… Chlorella are freshwater green microalgae that can have a protein content of up to 60% when dried… And Arthrospira (also known as Spirulina) are blue-green algae that grow naturally in salty lakes and ponds; their protein content can be up to 70% when dried… 

Human food and food ingredients made with microalgae are few and far between, so there is plenty of room for new product ideas… the development of microalgae foods and food ingredients is still in early stages. A possible reason for the scarcity of microalgae-based foods is that incorporating microalgal proteins into palatable foods on a large scale is proving to be a challenge: food products containing microalgal protein can have a fishy flavor or aftertaste as well as a green hue. In addition, microalgae grown in open-pond systems are susceptible to contamination, and an alternative means of growing microalgae, using photobioreactors, is cost prohibitive. However, one company seems to have overcome these issues… 

When it comes to the greening of protein, algae-derived proteins are gaining ground, but they have a long way to go to reach the use, consumption, and applications of plant-based proteins… A class of novel plant foods… Floating freely on the surface of marshes, ponds, and lakes, duckweeds may resemble algal blooms, but they are not microalgae. Instead, duckweeds are the smallest flowering plants in the world… Like algae, duckweeds grow rapidly, especially in still or slow-moving waters with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus; photosynthesize, making them beneficial to the environment; and are sources of vitamins, minerals, trace elements, and protein. In fact, duckweeds have protein contents of up to 45% of dry mass, which is among the highest protein levels in the plant kingdom. Although they are usually perceived as food sources for birds and fish, people in Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and parts of Africa have been eating various duckweeds for centuries… 

A legume is a plant whose edible seeds are enclosed in a pod; a pulse is part of the legume family, but the term refers to only the dried seed. Therefore, all pulses – dried beans, chickpeas, lentils, lupins, and so on – are legumes, but not all legumes – peanuts, green peas, green beans, edamame, and the like – are pulses. And even though legumes are often referred to as vegetables, from a botanical perspective, they are fruits because a fruit is a structure that bears the seeds of a plant. Consequently, this also means that peanuts, peas, and pulses, are seeds. Regardless of which plant food category used to describe them, legumes are very nutritious foods. They are rich sources of fiber, vitamins (especially folate and other B vitamins), calcium and other minerals, polyphenols and other beneficial phytochemicals, and high quality protein. Legumes have protein contents that range 20%-40% ... 

Despite their excellent nutrition profile and positive effects on health, the global consumption of legumes is on the decline and is mostly believed to be the result of the increased consumption of meat worldwide. However, for vegetarians, vegans, and food manufacturers, the use and consumption of legumes remains significant. Moreover, as more consumers embrace plant-based meals, the demand for high-protein vegetarian and vegan products will continue to grow… Because certain legumes can be processed into flours, flakes, starches, pastes, and protein concentrates, they are widely used to enrich the protein content of many food products… 

Most legumes and other plant-based protein foods are not complete proteins, which means they are lacking in one or more essential amino acids – essential because, of the 20 amino acids that make up protein, nine of them cannot be produced by the human body. Pairing certain plant-based protein foods with others can provide the amino acid(s) each food is missing; such pairings are called protein complementation. For beans, peas, lentils, and other legumes, nuts are complementary… For plant eaters with tree-nut and/or peanut allergies, grains and seeds are protein options that are complementary to legumes and vegetable proteins. Among grains, the ones with the highest protein contents are amaranth, wild rice, millet, buckwheat, and quinoa. And among seeds, hemp, pumpkin, flax, and sunflower have the highest levels of protein… 

Protein is one of three macronutrients that humans need to survive, but certain proteins cause food allergies, and the production of others (i.e., animal-derived proteins) takes a toll on the environment, depleting land, water, and energy resources. For these reasons, every day more people are motivated to consume less meat and animal products or none at all. As vegan, vegetarian, and other plant-based diets continue to rise in popularity, so do other food preferences and the occurrence of food allergies. For such people, getting enough protein can be a problem. Seaweed, microalgae, duckweed, legumes, whole grains, and seeds may be the solution… 

There are more than 1,900 edible insects on Earth, and about two billion people around the world eat them. Insects contain protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals; however, overall nutrient values for edible insects are highly variable because nutrient levels differ between species and within species due to variations in size, habitat, and diet. What is clear is that raising edible insects requires far less land than raising cattle, chickens, and pigs. In addition, they require six times less feed than cattle and two times less feed than pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein, and they produce fewer greenhouse gases. Despite the benefits and advantages of edible insects, most consumers in Westernized countries are resistant to consuming them. However, consumers who plan to reduce their intake of meat are 4.5 times more likely to eat insects… 

Cultured meat would reduce the amount of land, energy, and water used to produce beef… Scientists created the cultured beef by removing stem cells from a living cow’s skeletal muscle tissue and growing the cells into muscle tissue in an artificial environment… have cultured meat products on the market within five years. 


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Finding the best seeds to match Africa’s needs - U Illinois (2016) 

Finding the best seeds to match Africa’s needs - U Illinois (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it
Soybean farmers in the United States can choose from a “candy store” of hundreds of varieties of soybean seed – high-yielding seed with proven performance traits for every region and latitude. Soybean farmers in Africa may either only have access to a few seed varieties with an unimpressive yield potential, or a few high-yielding varieties for which no performance data exists for their latitude and altitude. A new coordinated soybean variety evaluation program is underway that will address these problems and give African growers more and better seed options. 

“An important component to establishing a foundation for soybean in Africa is having a third-party trial program. It’s vital to have independent confirmation about varieties, yield, adaptation to a particular area, yield performance in area A versus B, and disease resistance… we are transforming the process of soybean seed production by introducing the concept of variety testing”… The trials are running at 12 locations in Kenya, Malawi and Zambia. Each research station tests about 25 varieties on small standardized plots, each about 12 by 15 feet. 

“Varietal testing is a necessary piece of the process of assuring high quality seed is available to farmers, and in turn that allows farmers to be productive and profitable, which leads to reduced levels of poverty and malnutrition… You don’t always know if the yield response was due to genetics, seed quality, agronomics, or just the wrong seed for that particular location. Varietal testing addresses that by testing a set of varieties in numerous locations. Soybean seed is very sensitive to both latitude and altitude so this kind of varietal testing gives objective, third-party assessment of the yield, disease resistance”… 

The Feed the Future Soybean Innovation Lab is looking at all of the pieces of the puzzle – breeder training, breeder equipment, capacity, ability to obtain and properly handle seed material, and the ability to test the varieties. “It’s like a pipeline with the farmer at the end of a long seed development and commercialization process. Without good varietal performance information breeders, multipliers, seed companies, and of course farmers do not have the information to make informed decisions. Varietal testing addresses that problem”… Since SIL began two years ago numerous soybean breeders and public and private seed organizations have come forward seeking to benefit from SIL’s breeder development and varietal testing programs. 


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Fuel or Food? Study Sees Increasing Competition for Land, Water Resources - U Virginia (2016) 

Fuel or Food? Study Sees Increasing Competition for Land, Water Resources - U Virginia (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it
As strategies for energy security, investment opportunities and energy policies prompt ever-growing production and consumption of biofuels… land and water that could otherwise be used for food production increasingly are used to produce crops for fuel. About 4 percent of the world’s agricultural land and 3 to 4 percent of its fresh water are now used for growing biofuels… About one-third of the malnourished people in the world… could be fed by using these resources for food production. With the world’s population at about 7.4 billion people, and projected to grow to about 9 billion by the middle of the century, the need for food and fuel could increasingly be at odds. 

“We are investigating and evaluating the effects of biofuels on food security – the food-energy nexus – and its link with the global appropriation of land and water… The land and water resources claimed by biofuel production have been poorly quantified, and we are trying to gain better understanding to help inform public policy”… If biofuel production for transportation were to be increased to 10 percent of the total fuel used by the transportation sector – as is projected to occur based on recent policy and business patterns that encourage renewable energy production – the planet could meet the food needs of only about 6.7 billion people. “We are looking at a food deficit for about 700 million people with respect to our current world population… It will only get worse as the population grows.” 



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Study suggests impact of climate change on agriculture may be underestimated - Brown U (2016) 

Study suggests impact of climate change on agriculture may be underestimated - Brown U (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Studies of how climate change might affect agriculture generally look only at crop yields – the amount of product harvested from a given unit of land. But climate change may also influence how much land people choose to farm and the number of crops they plant each growing season. A new study takes all of these variables into account, and suggests researchers may be underestimating the total effect of climate change on the world’s food supply. 


The study… focused on the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso… The researchers used variations in temperature and precipitation across the state over an eight-year period to estimate the sensitivity of the region’s agricultural production to climate change. Those historical comparisons can help in making predictions about the sensitivity of agriculture to future climate change. 


The study found that… an increase in average temperature in Mato Grosso of just 1 degree Celsius will lead to a nine to 13 percent reduction in overall production of soy and corn. “This is worrisome given that the temperature in the study region is predicted to rise by as much as 2 degrees by midcentury… 


But the study’s broader implications stem from the mechanisms behind the changes in agricultural output. Most studies of this kind look only at the extent to which climate shocks affect crop yield – the amount of product harvested from a given unit of agricultural land. But by only looking at that single variable, researchers can miss critical dynamics that can affect overall output… “If you look at yields alone, you’re not looking at all of the information because there are economic and social changes going on as well… You’re not taking into account farmers’ reactions to climate shocks.” 


For example, farmers may react to decreasing yields by putting less land area into production because it’s simply not profitable. Farmers may also vary the number of crops they plant in a growing season. Double cropping – the planting of two successive crops in the same field in the same growing season – is common in Mato Grosso. If the weather is bad, farmers may alter their decision to plant a second crop… The researchers looked not only at crop yield, but also at year-to-year variation in crop area and double cropping. 


To develop those additional datasets… gathered imagery of the Mato Grosso region from NASA’s MODIS satellite, which monitors land cover and land use all over the world… “The changes in cropping that we quantified with remotely sensed data were stunning,” Mustard said. “We can use those satellite data to better understand what’s happening from a climate, economic, and sociological standpoint.” 


The study showed that temperature increases of 1 degree Celsius were associated with substantial decreases in both total crop area and double cropping. In fact, those decreases accounted for 70 percent of the overall loss in production found in the study. Only the remaining 30 percent was attributable to crop yield… Taken together, the results suggest that traditional studies “may be underestimating the magnitude of the link between climate and agricultural production”… That’s especially true in places like Brazil, where agricultural subsidies are scarce compared with places like the U.S. … 


A next step for this line of research might be to repeat it in the U.S. to see if increased subsidies or insurance help to guard against these kinds of shocks. If so, it might inform policy decisions in emerging agricultural regions like Mato Grosso. “We may need to figure out a way to create incentives – credit products or insurance – that can reduce farmers’ responses to climate shocks”… 


https://news.brown.edu/articles/2016/03/matogrosso


Original article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2934


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The Impact of Positive and Negative Income Changes on the Height and Weight of Young Children - Buser &al (2016) - World Bank Econ Rev

We estimate the impact of changes in unearned income on the height and weight of young children in a developing country. As a source of income variation we use a change in the eligibility criteria for receipt of an unconditional cash transfer in Ecuador. 


Two years after families lost the transfer, which they had received for seven years, their young children weigh less and are shorter and more likely to be stunted than young children in families that kept the cash transfer. We find no statistically significant effect... two years after gaining the cash transfer. 


Information on household expenditures suggests that a reduction of food expenditures by households that lost the transfer is the main mechanism behind this finding. 


http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/wber/lhw004


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The Impact of Cash Transfers on Food Security - UNICEF (2016) 

The Impact of Cash Transfers on Food Security - UNICEF (2016)  | Food Policy | Scoop.it

Vulnerable populations in sub-Saharan African countries often face high levels of food insecurity which disproportionately affect households living in poverty and children are particularly at risk. 


Cash transfers have an impact on several different dimensions of food security... There is good evidence that cash transfers have a large impact on food security.

http://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/800


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The Impacts of India's Food Security Policies on South Asian Wheat and Rice Markets - Villoria & Wamboka (2016) - WBER

We quantify the extent to which India's success in stabilizing its wheat and rice markets affects other countries in South Asia. We deal with the variability of Indian trade and price policies by analyzing market outcomes during periods of low and high world prices; we also conduct stochastic simulations where Indian policies endogenously adjust to fluctuations in domestic and world supplies.

 

South Asian wheat and rice markets operate near autarky, and therefore, intra-regional price transmission is limited. However, we find that when India's policies result in implicit export subsidies, consumers in countries that import from India benefit; meanwhile implicit producer taxation harms consumers elsewhere.

 

Pakistan – the only country in the region that competes with India in foreign markets – would see gains in market shares when India reduces its export subsidies. We also find that the low intra-regional trade shields India's neighbors from the excess volatility caused by Indian policies.

 

https://wber.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2016/02/17/wber.lhw002

 

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Do Cash Transfers Promote Food Security? The Case of the South African Child Support Grant - d'Agostino &al (2016) - MPRA

This paper evaluates the causal effect of the Child Support Grant (CSG) implemented in South Africa on household food consumption and dietary diversity... Our results show that the CSG have proved to be effective in increasing total food expenditure per adult equivalent but has not significantly changed the dietary habits of the beneficiary households, nor has the program resulted in any stronger effect for the most vulnerable subgroups of the beneficiary population... 

 

The current design of the CSG, which only provides a small grant for each beneficiary child, and its strategy of gradually raising the eligible population, has not been appropriate to guarantee a significant reduction of deprivation for the most vulnerable households. A more effective approach would be to implement a specific, comprehensive strategy to reduce food insecurity and deliver additional grants and ancillary social services to the most vulnerable households... 

 

http://econpapers.repec.org/RePEc:pra:mprapa:69177

 

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Do Fertilizer Subsidies Improve Household Food Security? A Spatial Autocorrelation Analysis from Malawi - Mkwara (2016) - Global Soc Welfare

Do Fertilizer Subsidies Improve Household Food Security? A Spatial Autocorrelation Analysis from Malawi - Mkwara (2016) - Global Soc Welfare | Food Policy | Scoop.it

In recent years, a number of Sub-Saharan African countries have resumed farm input subsidies in order to stimulate farm level fertilizer application, enhance food security and alleviate poverty. In this study, spatial analysis is employed to examine whether fertilizer subsidies improve household food security in Malawi.


Results suggest that household food security is heavily skewed with the south lagging behind the centre and the north. With regard to distribution of subsidised fertilizer, it is recommended that the areas with higher potential for maize production should be prioritised over those with less potential. It is also suggested that there is a need to ensure that the subsidy programme is guided by a properly formulated strategy that indicates an exit period... 


Maize production in Malawi is positively linked to fertilizer subsidies... At household level, food security is heavily skewed with the south of the country lagging behind the centre and the north... There is spatial autocorrelation between maize production and location. The central region stands out as the main country’s food basket as far as maize production is concerned... There is high correlation between subsidised fertilizer and maize production per administrative area suggesting that targeting the region would be more beneficial than a countrywide fertilizer subsidy programme.


In places where maize fails to do well, encouraging smallholders to diversify into other crops or small-scale businesses may help increase their income and food buying power. This may also save government revenue through reduced subsidies that are currently extended to the majority of smallholders including those in areas where maize production is hampered.

 

Apart from fertilizer subsidies, rainfall is a significant factor in the country’s maize production. Unfortunately, substantial reliance on rain-fed agriculture has partly led to the country’s failure to achieve long lasting maize production and food security. It has therefore been suggested that the country should implement wide-scale irrigation schemes for sustainable production of maize and other crops, especially given than the country is well endowed with water from rivers and lakes. 

 

Lastly... there is a need to ensure that the subsidy programme is guided by a properly formulated strategy that indicates an exit period. A 10-year subsidy period has been suggested during which smallholder farmers could be prepared to either go commercial or invest away from agriculture into small-to-medium scale businesses.

 

http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s40609-016-0044-6

 

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