Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

Archive for May 2012

India’s clumsy, insecure environment ministry hides mountain ecology report

leave a comment »

A 522-page report on the ecology of the Western Ghats and the threats to the biodiversity it harbours, a report that was months in the preparation and includes the outcomes of numerous consultations has been ‘released’ to the public by India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests. Not as a well-signposted link on the ministry website, no, that is far too direct and discomfiting for the secretive and conniving bureaucrats and their craven staff.

First there is a pdf document summarily inviting comments from the public on the report, the official title of which is the ‘Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel’ chaired by professor Madhav Gadgil. This pdf contains a link, not to the report, but to the disclaimer! This second pdf file has the text of the ‘disclaimer’ which is: “The Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel report has not been formally accepted by the Ministry and that the report is still being analyzed and considered by the Ministry.” This second pdf then contains a link to the actual Report [pdf, 7.7mb]!

This is from the preface by Gadgil:

“The Western Ghats are naturally an important focus of sustainable development efforts. The protector of the Indian peninsula, the mother of the Godavari, Krishna, Netravathi, Kaveri, Kunthi, Vaigai and a myriad other rivers, Kalidasa likens the Western Ghats to a charming maiden; Agastyamalai is her head, Annamalai and Nilgiri the breasts, her hips the broad ranges of Kanara and Goa, her legs the northern Sahyadris. Once the lady was adorned by a sari of rich green hues; today her mantle lies in shreds and tatters. It has been torn asunder by the greed of the elite and gnawed at by the poor, striving to eke out a subsistence. This is a great tragedy, for this hill range is the backbone of the ecology and economy of south India.”

And this from the introduction:

A section from the map of ecologically sensitive zoning of the talukas of Karnataka

“Mountains also create isolated habitats far away from other similar habitats, promoting local speciation. Hence distinct species of the flowering plant Rhododendron and the mountain tahr goat Hemitragus occur on the higher reaches of the Western Ghats and Himalayas, with a large gap in the distribution of these genera in between. Moreover, mountains, being less hospitable to human occupation, retain much larger areas under natural or semi-natural biological communities.”

“This is why the Western Ghats and the Eastern Himalayas are today the most significant repositories of India’s biodiversity. Amongst them, the Western Ghats scores over the Eastern Himalayas in harbouring a larger number of species restricted to India alone. Not only are the Western Ghats and Eastern Himalayas biological treasure troves, they are also two of the world’s biodiversity hot spots, a hot spot being a biodiversity-rich area that is also under a high degree of threat.”

A pre-Rio pentagram from the IIED

leave a comment »

Energy equity, adaptation planning for food and farming, paying for watershed services, Costa Rica’s environment success and food system governance by citizens – these are the subjects of five new briefing papers prepared and released by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). These topics will feature – more or less prominently, we never know, given the politicisation that occurs at every inter-governmental meeting concerning environment and responsibility – in next month’s Rio+20 summit.

Here are the synopses and links:

1. Energy equity: will the UN Sustainable Energy for All initiative make a difference?
Establishing inclusive governance of food systems — where farmers and other citizens play an active role in designing and implementing food and agricultural policies — is not just a matter of equity or social justice. Evidence shows that it can also lead to more sustainable livelihoods and environments. And yet, across the world, food system governance is marked by exclusionary processes that favour the values and interests of more powerful corporations, investors, big farmers and large research institutes. How can we tip the balance and amplify the voice and influence of marginalised citizens in setting the food and agricultural policies that affect them? Research points to six tried and tested ways that, when combined, can empower citizens in the governance of food systems.

2. Planning adaptation for food and farming: lessons from 40 years’ research
Local farmers and pastoralists in poor countries have long coped with droughts, floods and variable rainfall patterns. This first-hand experience is invaluable for those working on climate change adaptation policies, but how do we access it? IIED has 40 years’ experience working alongside vulnerable communities to help inform regional, national and global policies. Our research has shown that measures to increase climate change resilience must view food, energy, water and waste management systems as interconnected and mutually dependent. This holistic approach must also be applied to economic analysis on adaptation planning. Similarly, it is vital to use traditional knowledge and management skills, which can further support adaptation planning. Taking these lessons into account, we can then address the emerging policy challenges that we face.

3. Paying for watershed services: an effective tool in the developing world?
Payments for watershed services (PWS) are an increasingly popular conservation and water management tool in developing countries. Some schemes are thriving, and are pro-poor. Others are stalling or have only mixed success. Most rely on public or donor finance; and other sources of funding are unlikely to play a significant role any time soon. In part, financing PWS schemes remains a challenge because the actual evidence for their effectiveness is still scanty — it is hard to prove that they actually work to benefit both livelihoods and environments. Getting more direct and concrete data on costs and benefits will be crucial to securing the long-term future of PWS schemes.

4. Payments for environmental services in Costa Rica: from Rio to Rio and beyond
Costa Rica has shown how a small developing country can grab the bull of environmental degradation by the horns, and reverse one of the highest deforestation rates in Latin America to become the poster child of environment success. Key to its achievement has been the country’s payments for environmental services (PES) programme, which began in 1997 and which many countries are now looking to learn from, especially as water markets and schemes to reward forest conservation and reduced deforestation (REDD+) grow. Within Costa Rica too, there is a need to first reflect on how the contexts for, and challenges facing, PES have changed; and continue building a robust programme that can ensure the coming decade is as successful as the past one.

5. Putting citizens at the heart of food system governance
Establishing inclusive governance of food systems — where farmers and other citizens play an active role in designing and implementing food and agricultural policies — is not just a matter of equity or social justice. Evidence shows that it can also lead to more sustainable livelihoods and environments. And yet, across the world, food system governance is marked by exclusionary processes that favour the values and interests of more powerful corporations, investors, big farmers and large research institutes. How can we tip the balance and amplify the voice and influence of marginalised citizens in setting the food and agricultural policies that affect them? Research points to six tried and tested ways that, when combined, can empower citizens in the governance of food systems.

The planetary case for a meat-free society

leave a comment »

There is no case at all for humans to continue eating the amount of meat they do. In what are commonly called ‘industrialised’ countries (a category that includes most of the OECD countries) the share of meat in total food consumption is around 48% and has been so for several decades (has in fact been so once the overhang of the food shortages of the Second World War wore off, and particularly after the emergence of Europe’s common agricultural policy, which ushered in a change in that part of the world which was as far-reaching in its consequences as was the Green Revolution in South Asia).

Per capita consumption of major food items in developing countries, 1961-2005. Source: FAO

Now we see more clearly that as per capita food consumption has increased it has been accompanied by (those ‘market forces’ at work, the industrialisation of agriculture and the disinheritance from local choices for the average consumer, both by connected design) a change in dietary patterns that can only be described as catastrophic. Those who look at this change from an economic standpoint call it ‘structural’, for we have seen the diets of people in ‘developing’ (forgive the use of this term, so misleading it is, especially when the ‘developed’ world’s ravenous greed for resources turns these very concepts grotesquely on their heads) being altered.

In the South, for these peoples (some of them newly urbanised and whose activities contribute to the growing inequality of incomes – one has only to look at oddly swelling Gini curves to see this), there has been a rapid increases of livestock products (meat, milk, eggs), vegetable oils and, to a smaller extent, sugar, as sources of food energy. These three food groups together now provide 29% of total food consumption (also often called “dietary energy supply”) and this proportion has risen from 20% only three decades ago. Mind, these are not small increases over more than a generation – as a first look at this change will seem to imply. A single percentage point increase over a generation for a country’s population places a very large burden on land, water, crop growing patterns and of course health.

It is the prognosis that I find chilling. The FAO has rather unemotionally remarked that this share is projected to rise further to 35% in 2030 and to 37% in 2050. Can civilisation (let’s assume we can call this human imprint on the planet a single civilisation of a homogenous species although we all know it isn’t, not by any stretch of the fertile imaginations of our tens of thousands of indigenous peoples) tolerate such a shift in how people feed themselves. No, certainly not, the impact is catastrophic already.

Per capita GDP and meat consumption by country, 2005. Source: FAO

There are libraries of evidence to show that demand for livestock products has considerably increased since the early 1960s in the ‘developing’ countries. India, for example, so staunchly vegetarian through its struggle for freedom and through the leisurely years till economic ‘liberalisation’ strengthened its grip on minds and alimentary canals alike, is home to a very large and rapidly growing poultry industry (how quickly the vocabulary turns upon the rational, when did harmonious domestication and the organic circling of the nutrient cycle turn into an ‘industry’, banishing animals from their roles in our ecosystems?) and a fisheries ‘industry’ that has depleted the Arabian Sea (it is the Mer d’Oman from the other side) and the Bay of Bengal of their creatures both demersal and pelagic.

Thus we are confronted by the spectres of consumption of food which is attached, like a motor-car engine is to its crankshaft, to growth-by-magnitude. In the ‘developing’ South, the consumption of milk per capita has almost doubled (recall Operation Flood in India), meat consumption more than tripled and egg consumption increased by a factor of five (recall the National Egg Coordination Committee and its catchy jingle: “Meri jaan, meri jaan, murgi ke ande khana“). And yet, it is not yet South Asia – for the most substantial growth in per capita consumption of livestock products has occurred in East and Southeast Asia. China, in particular, has seen per capita consumption of meat quadruple, consumption of milk increase tenfold, and egg consumption increase eightfold between 1980 and 2005. And yet again, among the developing-country regions, only sub-Saharan Africa has seen a modest decline in per capita consumption of both meat and milk (according to FAO).

Where will this lead to? Into what zone of rolling disaster will the pursuit of the animal protein take our land-water-crop-habitat balance, already so precarious and already on a knife’s edge? The estimates (all bland, all unemotional, as if unable or unwilling to emote the reality to come) are that such demand is set to increase significantly towards 2050 because of population growth and continuing change of dietary patterns. The forecasts ought to be seen as terrifying: according to FAO’s estimates, an increase in the consumption of livestock products will cause a 553 million tons increase in the demand for feed, which represents half of the total demand increase for coarse grain between 2000 and 2050.

The FAO’s regiments of agro-economists and trend watchers have said that income growth in low-income countries and emerging economies will drive demand even higher (the Foresight 2011 report has said so too). They concur that there will be a shift to “high-status and non-seasonal foods, including more meat consumption, particularly in countries with rising income” (ah yes, the rising income, the fata morgana of a tide that lifts all boats, as the development banks have long wanted us to believe). No, comrades, it is not so – Nature does not recognise your balance-sheet.

FAO counts down days to Rio +20 with a factsheet

leave a comment »

Entitled ‘100 days to Rio +20, 100 facts Making the link between people, food and the environment’, the FAO has released a list of what it considers 100 pertinent facts. These are grouped under the headings of hunger, water, forestry, gender, fisheries, land, food supply and production, and nature and the environment.

A useful compilation that can serve as a checklist for practitioners, NGOs, research groups and civil society to help them see the dense web of connections between all these aspects of food and human needs. With only marginally more effort, FAO could have turned this document into a meta-bibliography of links and resources on each of these 100 facts – in that way making it very much more useful for all those who want to be heard at Rio +20, such as through the Rio Dialogues.

Here are the first 15 of the 100 and are from the section on ‘Hunger’:

1. The first Millennium Development Goal set by the international community for the 21st century is to half the proportion of hungry people in the world. Progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, but hunger has been steadily rising for the past decade.
2. Today, chronic hunger affects over 900 million people worldwide– almost 16 percent of the population in developing countries.
3. The proportion of hungry people is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, at around 30 percent of the population. The region with the overall greatest sheer numbers of hungry people is Asia and the Pacific.
4. Malnutrition is the single largest contributor to disease in the world. In developing countries, almost five million children under the age of five die of malnutrition-related causes every year.
5. More often than not, the face of malnutrition is female. In households which are vulnerable to food insecurity, women are at greater risk of malnutrition than men.
6. The poor spend as much as 70 percent of their income on food. Urban residents and the rural poor, who can neither produce their own food nor buy it, are particularly vulnerable.
7. Within the next 20 years, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, with most urban expansion taking place in the developing world. Ensuring access to nutritious, affordable food for the poorer of these city-dwellers is emerging as a significant challenge.
8. Almost 100 countries have been significantly affected by high food prices in recent years.
9. With the world population expected to reach 8.2 billion by 2030, the planet will have to feed an additional 1.5 billion people, 90 percent of whom will be living in developing countries.
10. The world will need to raise its food production by 60-70 percent to feed more than nine billion people by 2050.
11. Every year, the average consumer in Europe and North America throws away 95–115kg of edible food.
12. The amount of food wasted by consumers in industrialised countries each year (222m tons) is almost as high as the total net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230m tons).
13. The rate of growth in agricultural productivity is expected to fall to 1.5 percent between now and 2030 and further to 0.9 percent between 2030 and 2050.
14. Growth rate for agricultural productivity between 1961 and now: +2.3 percent per year.
15. There are 70 situations of current or potential conflict in the world and around 20 countries in protracted crisis, meaning they experience an extremely high prevalence of hunger.

Written by makanaka

May 21, 2012 at 07:28

Dear Angie, what part of ‘Nein’ do you not understand?

leave a comment »

So says Le Monde Diplomatique about the rousing change of government in Greece: “From multiple divisions and meetings (from 1968) of the left and progressive reformer, Syriza [Greece’s Radical Left Coalition party] made the biggest breakthrough of these critical elections. By itself, this result could spell the end of bipartisanship.”

“One of the three major issues of the election,” the L M Diplo continued, “was precisely to determine if any of the leftist forces successfully secure a dominant position. Issue decided: with 16.8% of the votes, it definitely gets Syriza leadership status, rising even as the second political force – behind New Democracy (ND, right), with only two points difference. Among young people who voted for the first time, among the unemployed, and throughout the Athens area, Syriza tops.”

From the French original: “Issu de multiples divisions et réunions (à partir de 1968) de la gauche réformatrice et progressiste, Syriza a fait la plus importante percée de ces élections décisives. A lui seul, ce résultat pourrait sonner le glas du bipartisme.”

“L’un des trois enjeux majeurs du scrutin consistait précisément à déterminer si l’une des forces de gauche parviendrait à s’assurer une position dominante. Question tranchée : avec 16,8 % des suffrages, Syriza obtient incontestablement ce statut de leader, se hissant même au rang de deuxième force politique du pays – derrière Nouvelle Démocratie (ND, droite), avec seulement deux points d’écart. Chez les jeunes qui ont voté pour la première fois, chez les sans-emploi, et dans toute la région d’Athènes, Syriza arrive en tête.”

There’s an abundance of ferment in Greece, real ferment, with the Occupy zeal but with a solid political base and programme this time. This re-post from Links (International Journal of Socialist Renewal) has said that Antarsya, the Front of the Greek Anti-Capitalist Left, is a united front of left-wing groups. It is separate from Syriza. There are a number of political differences between Syriza and Antarsya — including on whether to demand immediate withdrawal from the European Union. Antarsya’s position statement before the 06 May 2012 election indicates how volatile this ferment is.

Those dour Germans seem not to have understood what it is that is happening in Greichenland (as Greece is known in Deutschland) and, being firmly stuck in wirtschaftswunder mode, the German ruling oligarchies are making disapproving noises. Der Spiegel has said that that “several German leaders voiced their demands Wednesday that the country stick with the austerity measures negotiated as part of the most recent bailout package”.

The Spiegel reported that Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament and a member of Germany’s center-left Social Democratic Party, told the tabloid Bild: “The Greek parties should bear in mind that a stable government that holds to agreements is a basic prerequisite for further support from the euro-zone countries.”

Moreover, that Jörg Asmussen, European Central Bank board member, told the German business daily Handelsblatt: “Greece must know that there is no alternative to the agreed to restructuring arrangement, if it wants to stay a member of the euro zone.”

The Germans are deaf to the exceedingly loud “NO!” that is coming out of Greece. Alexis Tsipras, head of Greece’s Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), who has been charged with forming the new government, declared on Tuesday that his country’s agreement to the rescue package was null and void. “The pro-bailout parties no longer have a majority in parliament to vote in destructive measures for the Greek people,” Tsipras said. “The popular mandate clearly renders the bailout agreement invalid.”

Now, Angie, what part of “Nein” do you not understand?

Who are the unbanked? The World Bank deals out the numbers

with one comment

Why are people unbanked? The Global Findex shows 3/4 of the world’s poor do not have a bank account, not only because of poverty, but also due to costs, travel distance and paper work involved. Graphic: The World Bank / Global Findex project

The World Bank’s Global Findex (global financial inclusion index) project has said that worldwide, approximately 2.5 billion people do not have a formal account at a financial institution.

“Access to affordable financial services is linked to overcoming poverty, reducing income disparities, and increasing economic growth,” explained the World Bank in its usual ponderous manner – and with its flair for linking the unlinked.

Alarmed by the number of people who apparently have neither credit nor any wish to, the World Bank has created the Global Findex, described in glowing terms as “a new global financial inclusion database to measure the use of financial services and identify those with the greatest barriers to access”.

The graphics are useful, so here are the rest:

Who are the unbanked? The Global Findex shows gaps in financial inclusion across demographics, with women, the poor, youth, and rural residents at the greatest disadvantage. Graphic: The World Bank / Global Findex project

Regional differences in banking. In sub-Saharan Africa 16% Have used a mobile phone to pay bills, send or receive money in the past 12 months. Graphic: The World Bank / Global Findex project

Going mobile. The Global Findex shows mobile banking may help historically unbanked regions gain financial access. Graphic: The World Bank / Global Findex project

More information on the Global Findex project and data is available here.

Written by makanaka

May 10, 2012 at 07:44

Re-indexing what 252 mt of foodgrain estimate means for India

with 3 comments

Cereals, pulses, oilseeds and the cotton-jute-cane group – these charts show how production of these major crop groups has varied relative to their maxima for the 1997-98 to 2011-12 period.

Rice 103 million tons. Wheat 90 million tons. That is the cereal base of the ‘third advance estimates’ of foodgrain production in India for 2011-12. The data has just been released by the Indian Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Agriculture & Cooperation (it is the Directorate of Economics & Statistics which compiles and releases the numbers).

Going by the third advance estimate numbers for major crops, the rice estimate is just over the 102 mt target and the wheat estimate is 6 mt tons above. At just under 42 mt, the estimate for coarse cereals (jowar, bajra, maize, ragi, barley and small millets) is at the target level. Total cereals is 235.54 mt, about 7 mt over the target for the year. Total pulses (tur, gram, urad, moong, other kharif and other rabi) are estimated at 17 mt which is also on target. That gives India’s foodgrain an estimate of 252.56 mt for 2011-12 – it was 241.5 for 2010-11 and was 218.2 mt for 2009-10 (against a target of 239 mt).

[Here’s the data! You can get the data from these links, in the series that goes back to 1997-98 in the following formats: xlsx, xls and ods]

For commercial crops, the third advance estimates for the group of nine oilseeds (groundnut, castorseed, sesamum, nigerseed, rapeseed and mustard, linseed, safflower and soyabean) is 30 mt which is shy of the 33.6 mt target for 2011-12. In comparison, the 2010-11 target was 31.1 mt for the group of nine (target 33.2 mt). Converted to mt from bales, the advance estimate for cotton is 5.98 mt (target 5.78 mt), for jute and mesta just over 2 mt (target 2.,2 mt) and sugarcane 351 mt (target 350 mt).

This set of charts does not show how production has grown (or not) for the crops covered by the advance estimates series. Rather, it bases each crop on the maximum production recorded for the period 1997-98 to 2011-12 (the third advance estimates for this year) and shows how production of a crop in all the other years in the series matches the series maximum. This method gives us a very different view from the usual government-ministry line which tends to show (if not to provide data for) a steady upward trend.

Written by makanaka

May 5, 2012 at 15:36