Resources Research

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

Tiffin: dry regions, China’s guidelines, permaculture, GM crops, valuing drylands, FAO saves money

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(1) The International Instititute for Environment and Development (IIED) says that current policy narratives limit climate resilience in world’s dry regions: “Partial narratives that underpin policymaking prevent people in arid regions from fulfilling their potential to provide food and sustain resilient livelihoods in a changing climate.” IIED has country-specific papers on the following topics: rainfed agriculture for an inclusive, sustainable and food secure India; pastoralism as the custodian of China’s grasslands; moving beyond the rhetoric and the challenge of reform in Kenya’s drylands. (Thanks to the Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog for this.)

(2) International Rivers says that on 28 February 2013 the Chinese government released its ‘Guidelines for Environmental Protection in Foreign Investment and Cooperation’ which was based on recommendations by the Chinese NGO Global Environmental Institute. These Guidelines provide civil society groups with a new source of leverage when it comes to holding Chinese companies responsible for their environmental and social impacts overseas. These (non-binding) guidelines cover key issues, including legal compliance, environmental policies, environmental management plans, mitigation measures, disaster management plans, community relations, waste management, and international standards.

(3) Permaculture programmes are more multifunctional than typical agricultural development programmes, according to this comment in the Guardian, which is important given the growing call for ‘triple-win solutions’ (more management gobbledygook) for agriculture, health, and environmental sustainability. Some examples are given. Partners in Health ran a model permaculture farmer programme in Malawi which helped HIV/Aids patients get the additional caloric and micronutrient intake that they need. In Malawi and South Africa, permaculture is used “as a sustainable, non-donor dependent tool for improving the health, food and nutrition security, and livelihoods,” of orphans and vulnerable children, according to a recent USAid report. In Indonesia, Oxfam funded a permaculture school that taught ex-combatants and tsunami survivors how to improve their food security and livelihoods, while protecting the environment.

(4) A review article in the Agronomy for Sustainable Development journal concludes that GM crops will not only not feed the world, they are hampering efforts to sustainably feed the world by jeopardising existing biological and genetic diversity. The authors argue that agrobiodiversity should be a central element in sustainable agriculture development, and increased access to genetic resources is necessary to increase food production for an expanding world population under the threat of climate change. GM crops on the other hand concentrate ownership of agricultural resources in the hands of corporate interests in developed countries through intellectual property rights instruments. (Thanks to Third World Network for this.)

(5) Drylands in European and North American countries on average generate US$4,290 and US$277 per hectare respectively every year, but this figure jumps to US$6,462 in Asia, US$9,184 in Africa and US$9,764 in Latin America. Around 40 per cent of the world’s total land area consists of dryland ecosystems, the majority of which are in developing nations. The economic value of dryland ecosystems — determined by factors including food and raw material production, ecosystem services and tourism — is far greater in (what are still commonly called) ‘developing countries’, according to a study. This value in Africa and Latin America is more than double that in Europe and more than 30 times that in North America, which should influence how policymakers prioritise dryland conservation, according to the study that was presented at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s (UNCCD) 2nd Scientific Conference this month.

(6) During the FAO Council’s Hundred and Forty-sixth Session (in Rome, 22-26 April 2013) delegates learned that in addition to the US$6.5 million in savings that member countries mandated FAO to identify, the Organization was able to cut costs by an additional $19.3 million. The total savings of $25.8 million, nearly four times what was required, consisted mostly of savings in administrative areas especially at FAO headquarters. Director-General Graziano da Silva said that this process made it possible to advance with the Organization’s decentralisation, which includes the creation of 55 professional posts worldwide while maintaining technical capacity at Headquarters. “As I have argued before, I believe that a strong presence in the field is the way to truly make FAO a knowledge organization with its feet on the ground,” Graziano da Silva said.

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