Thursday, December 13, 2012

Agdes Tweeting

As you probably notice, I started Tweeting a couple weeks ago. I feel this is an excellent way to keep up with the volumes of interesting material coming out of the web. I added a Twitter fed so you can check out articles and random things I'm following. And just a couple days, Oxfam twitted about my article on local procurement!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sending Cash, Not Corn

My piece advocating for food aid reform and urging the congress to switch to local and regional procurement just got published by The Morningside Post. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Four Years into Purchase for Progress

See below a good overview about the United Nations World Food Program approach to local procurement - the Purchase for Progress or P4F. This is an excellent model to replicate as the Congress considers reforming food aid in its 2012 farm bill negotiations. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The End of Groundhog Day? Reforming American Food Aid

Washington DC, Th  Dec 5th, 2012  
At a conference organized by Farm Journal last Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that rural districts are losing their ability to exhort political pressure on their elected officials to maintain farm bill programs. This, and the fiscal cliff debate, is drastically changing the political climate of farm bill negotiations. After decades of fruitless criticism to the way the U.S. government distributes food aid globally, international development experts are finally seeing a real opportunity to incorporate long overdue changes to American food aid programs.

The United States remains one of the few countries that continue to ship food aid across the Atlantic instead of providing cash to purchase it close to where the food is needed, a practice common in Japan, the European Union and others donors. American food aid is expensive and ineffective. The Government Accountability Office estimates that approximately 60% of the program’s funds go to shipping. In addition, it can take up to six month for the food to reach its destination –too long to adequately address emergencies. 

Following the example of other countries, the Senate version of the farm bill introduced about $200 million to ‘local and regional food procurement’ or LRP. Instead of sending containers of corn and soybeans, LRP programs provide cash to the World Food Program and NGOs to purchase the food aid close to where is needed. Compare to our current program, LRP will save over 50% in shipping, and strengthen local farmers in the developing world by increasing the demand for their crops. 

The Senate’s effort, however, is currently threatened by a House version of the farm bill that rejects the LRP program. Understanding the reluctance of the House to embrace LRP to save money and make food aid more effective requires following the money and analyzing population trends. 

The farm bill covers a wide range of issues supported by countless lobbying groups. While liberals tend to favor food stamp and conservation programs, conservative groups exhort robust political pressure for farm subsidies and crop insurance programs.  Last year alone, ‘crop production and basic processing industry’ contributed to the House agricultural committee over $2.9 million, with 70% funneled to Republican congressmen. These contributions come from larger farmers and corporations that see no benefit in purchasing grains abroad. 

Opposition to the LRP also comes from rural Congressional districts where farming is still vital to their local economies. In contrast to the Senate, many House policymakers represent these constituencies which demand strong protection against climate variability and subsidized price support for their commodities. For the most part, these districts see little logic in using taxpayer monies to buy corn not in the Mid-West but somewhere in Kenya. 

Why is it that we don't have a farm bill?” Vilsack said. "It isn't just the differences of policy. It's the fact that rural America with a shrinking population is becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country.” According to the Department of Agriculture, over half of rural counties are seeing negative population growth in the past five years. As young people move to cities, farmers’ priorities are becoming less significant to policymakers.

While the issue of reforming the food aid has become a “Groundhog Day” among development circles, it seems that the fundamental changes in the political environment may allow the LRP to become law once for all. With the growing fiscal pressures the momentum is on the side of those opposing farm subsidies and supporting more efficient approaches to food aid. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

My Contribution to Feeding the World

Eating cold-blooded animals, a more efficient way to eat flesh for those of us who can't live without meat. In the picture you see a delicious Szechuan broth with frog legs floating along with chili peppers. You can find this delicacy at Legend Restaurant in the Upper West (109th and Broadway).

Although not better than giving up meat entirely, I'm (almost) sure that the environmental impact of cold-blooded sources of meat is much smaller that beef, chicken and pork. Like humans, cows, pigs and chickens spend most of their calories keeping their bodies warm. Frogs, snakes, and others use the sun for that. I guess the next logical step is eating bugs. Stay tuned

Global Kitchens - An Awesome Exicibition at the American Museum of Natural History

The new exhibit  “Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture” at the American Museum of Natural History is something you don't want to miss if you are anywhere on the East Coast. I had the opportunity to check out a few days ago now I can't wait to visit it again. The exhibit covers the history, science, economics, culture, and taste - yes you can taste the stuff! - of food from all over the world. They even talk about Chontaduros, my favorite fruit!

Right as you come in, the world's amazing diversity of food crops, including some very weird looking potatoes, is showcased. As you continue you come across a cool live example of vertical gardening, growing greens and herbs. Then, you are suddenly bombarded with vivid colors and figures representing an Aztec public market (see picture). The curators did an impressive job capturing in this vibrant scene the chaotic and diverse nature of markets - You can almost hear the women selling the tamales and the garrobos. The exhibition continues with several documentaries and a demonstration on how to make delicious cider. There are also various displays on the economic significance of agriculture, and how it's traded around the world. Anyway, please visit it if you have a chance. You won't regret it.

To learn more about the exhibition read what the NYTimes had to say about it. Also, check out the promotional video below:

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Food for Thought

The Food for Thought blog from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, has been publishing excellent commentaries on  international food security and nutrition. Check them out below:

Coding for Hunger: Not Development as Usual. By Dr. Maura O'Neill,  chief innovation officer and senior counselor to the administrator at USAID.
Biotechnology and Africa’s Strategic Interests. By Calestous Juma, Professor at Harvard University
Post-Harvest Technology Solutions: Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast. By Alexandra Spieldoch, Coordinator of the Network of Women Ministers and Leaders in Agriculture within Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture & Natural Resource Management.
Tackling Poverty with Nutrition Innovations. By Dr. Manfred Eggersdorfer, Senior Vice-President Nutrition Science & Advocacy at DSM Nutritional Products.
More Scientific Advancements In Agriculture Show Strong Potential to Help Increase Farmers’ Yields. By Dr. Robert T. Fraley, Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto Company. 

Solving the Agriculture-Nutrition Equation

Jess Fanzo in her awesome blog "You Are What You Eat" wrote back in Agust that the understanding of the connections between agriculture and nutrition and health remains the "Holy Gray of Nutrition." She compiled a  broad list of on-going research and published papers on the subject with the conclusion that, well, there isn't one yet. The casual connections between agriculture and nutrition remain elusive at best.

This may change soon. A  DFID-funded report reviewed 151 research projects on how we can use agriculture to use nutrition. Also, FAO just drafted a paper on the " The Guiding Principles on Agriculture Programming for Nutrition." And fresh from the oven, the World Bank hosted an event earlier this week to present a recent discussion paper in Prioritizing Nutrition in Agriculture and Rural Development. One of the presentation's concluding remarks is that while there is a need for more research, we already have sufficient evidence to move ahead with ag projects that we know will have a positive impact on nutrition.
See below the video of the presentation.


Friday, November 30, 2012

US Food Aid and a Simple Argument for Local Procurement

Few months before the 2012 presidential election, political pundits were surprised by the high level bipartisan support reflected in the Senate version of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, or the Farm Bill as it’s commonly known. Even though the House quickly followed with its own version, political calculations prevented the bill to be brought to the floor.

Thanks to the reelection of President Obama, there is a renewed effort to conclude and make into law a final version of the 2012 Farm Bill before end of the year. The current House and the Senate versions of the Farm Bill, however, present drastically contrasting approaches to Food Aid. While the House seeks to maintain the policy of sending American in-kind food to developing countries, the Senate has put forward a mechanism to procure food closer to where it’s needed – the Local and Regional Procurement Program (LRP).

With a political mandate to address the country’s fiscal realities and increase government program effectiveness, policymakers of both parties can find in the LRP the unique opportunity to simultaneously save tax-payers’ dollars and make food aid more effective.  

For more info, check out the infographic below and a new report published by Oxfam and AJWS. Also, don't miss the good research from GAO and the Cornell folks 

Monday, November 12, 2012

UN Secretary General’s Zero Hunger Challenge:

100% access to adequate food all year round

Enabling all people to access the food they need at all times through nutrition-sensitive agriculture and food systems, marketing, decent and productive employment, a social protection floor, targeted safety nets and food assistance; boosting food supply from local producers;
through open, fair and well-functioning markets and trade policies at local, regional and international level, preventing excessive food price volatility.

Zero stunted children less than 2 years

Ensuring universal access to nutritious food in the 1000-day window of opportunity between the start of pregnancy and a child’s second birthday, supported by nutrition-sensitive health care, water, sanitation, education and specific nutrition interventions, coupled with initiatives that enable empowerment of women, as encouraged within the Movement for Scaling Up Nutrition.

All food systems are sustainable

Ensuring that all farmers, agribusinesses, cooperatives, governments, unions and civil society establish standards for sustainability; verifying their observance and being accountable for them; encouraging and rewarding universal adoption of sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture practices; pursuing cross-sectoral policy coherence (encompassing energy, land use, water and climate); implementing responsible governance of land, fisheries and forests.

100% increase in smallholder productivity and income

Reducing rural poverty and improving wellbeing through encouraging decent work, and increasing smallholders’ income; empowering women, small farmers, fishers, pastoralists, young people, farmer organizations, indigenous people and their communities; supporting agricultural
research and innovation; improving land tenure, access to assets and to natural resources, making sure that all investments in agriculture and value chains are responsible and accountable; developing multidimensional indicators for people’s resilience and wellbeing.

Zero loss or waste of food

Minimizing food losses during storage and transport, and waste of food by retailers and consumers; empowering consumer choice through appropriate labeling; commitments by producers, retailers and consumers within all nations; achieving progress through financial incentives, collective pledges, locally-relevant technologies and changed behavior.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Agdes Weekly Tweets

These tweets will replace my previous "Leaves and Grains" section. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

Agriculture and Water are Inseparable

Video Highlights from the Water for Food Industry Leaders Panel

Alternative content

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Agdes now Tweets!

Follow this blog at @agdesblog. More updates coming soon.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You’re on top of it: Land Rights in Mozambique

When you read about Mozambique’s agricultural potential it’s hard not to get a sense that the projections are too optimistic. You read about the Beira and the Nancala corridors and their vast swats unused land and wonder why haven’t those corridors become the bread basket of the region already? Why is it that with the growing urban demand, the increasing international commodity prices and the improvements in infrastructure, Mozambique’s agriculture remains stuck on first gear?

It may be the soils – something must be wrong with the soils – you ponder. But then you cross the border into South Africa and the green revolution hits you in the face. (see Google maps for a satellite image). Literally less than a mile away from the border post, the grounds are green with sugar cane crops irrigated with center-pivot systems (those long skeletons that form perfect circles and that are easily confused with the work of a UFO when seen from above). You continue driving and then you see plantains stretching for miles in neatly organized rows. As if this wasn’t enough, suddenly the landscape gets peppered by orange dots on both sides of the highway: citrus season is at its peak and you can buy a whole sack for less than three dollars.

Soils, unlike Colombians, don’t need a visa to cross the border so the bottleneck keeping agriculture below its potential has to be something else. You think about water but then you recall the huge floods this country has faced in the past, so the rivers and their abundant water are definitely there. What about the war, or colonialism, or just culture – aren’t people ‘happy’ just being subsistence farmers? The answer is definitely no, otherwise you wouldn’t hear parent talk about how they want their kids doing something else. And sure, the war and colonialism did affect agriculture quite a bit.

However, you may be standing on top of a more satisfactory answer: the land and specifically its property laws. Well, it turns out that in Mozambique the land belongs to the Mozambicans (aka the government). Instead of buying land, you essentially get a permit to farm it for a fixed amount of years. If land is let fallow, the government has all the right to take it away from you. And even if you are growing bountiful crops, you don’t have legal ownership of the land.

So is that why land in Mozambique remains so underdeveloped? I think it’s definitely a big contributing factor. And it seems that USAID also agrees. Their new version of the Feed the Future Initiative – the so called “Agriculture and Food Security Alliance” is all about partnering with the private sector to give the extra incentive needed to invest here. Mozambique makes part of the second group of countries that will be joining the program. On top of that, the government is finalizing the PNISA, the operationalization document of the agricultural strategy and the action plan for the CADAAP.

Given this willingness to address the bottlenecks related to the disincentives the private sector faces when investing in Mozambique, it seems that the country is heading in the right direction. Although it’s not clear is the actual property law will change, there is definitely a lot of pressure to make it more investor friendly with amendments, tax breaks, and import waivers.

This, of course, has its critics. Chief among them is the Joseph Hanlon, an expert on Mozambique who argued in a recent Guardian article that the private sector approach is incompatible with one that promotes small holder farmers. Although he didn’t call it neocolonialism, he portrayed it as an unwelcome entrenchment of global agro-corporations, scrambling for the last swaps of arable land.

What the author forgets to mention is that an approach in which you incentivized agricultural investments, while supporting small holder farmers is exactly what Brazil did – one of the top five world agricultural producers nowadays and a success story in reducing rural poverty. While Mozambique is far from becoming a global agriculture player, it seems that the country is finally now heading in the right direction.

Friday, August 24, 2012

NYT: Drought & the American Farmer

An excellent short video portraying the difficulties many American farmers are facing right now:

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Make your Peanuts Unforgettable

Togolese Peanuts
Back in 2007 I had the opportunity to visit Togo - one of those countries in West Africa you don't hear much about. And there is a reason for that: Compared to its neighbors, Togo does not have much to offer.

There is, however, one thing that has stayed with me since that morning when I walked along the streets of Lome: the amazing taste of SAND-ROASTED PEANUTS. These goodies are salty, crunchy and delicious. By roasting them with heated sand, the peanuts are evenly toasted to perfection. Unlikely anything I've ever tried, the flavor of these nuts lingered on my tastebuds for years. In despair, I was always looking for people how could bring me back some from Togo but only once I got that lucky.

And then I came to Mozambique, where women abound selling small bags of the same sand-roasted peanuts!! (The only difference is that here they are sold with the skin on - not big deal). So I decided to learn how to make them and don't rely on remote African countries to satisfy my crave for crispy, crackling peanuts. More importantly, I'm sharing with you my dear readers what up to now has been a culinary secret passed on from generation to generation.

So lo and behold, here are the instructions of to make your peanuts memorable:

Step 1: Get the ingredients 
Note: understand what's going on instead of worrying about the exact measurements
Raw Peanuts
  • 2lb of Raw Peanuts. Make sure you buy the jumbo size. 
  • 8lb of Sand. Get it from a nearby beach as it will have traces of salt that will enhance the flavor (I'm not kidding). Also, make sure that the sand is not fine but rather coarse. If it's the powdery type, it will get inside the peanuts.
  • 6 cups of water: To boil the peanuts. 
  • 3tbs of Salt: For the water. After adding the salt, make sure the water taste like the pacific: very salty! 
Peanuts being Boiled 
Step 2: Boil Peanuts
Pour the 6 cups of water into a large pot. Add salt, taste it, and make sure is quite salty. The peanuts will absorb a lot of this salt so be generous. Depending on the size of the pot, you may have to split the peanuts in two or three batches. The idea is that there is about two floating layers of peanuts, above 3-4 inches of water. Add the peanuts and bring water to boil. It should take about 15-20 minutes. Once the water is boiling, keep the peanuts for another 10 minutes in the boiling water. To make sure they're ready, take one peanut and look for the following: a wrinkling skin and a yellowish color in the inside. 

Step 3: Put peanuts on a tray and dry 
Guarding Cat
After boiling the peanuts, drain them and put them in a tray so they can dry. It's very important that a cat supervises the drying process, ensuring that no birds get a hold of your soon-to-be-unforgettable peanuts. 
Although I prefer sun-drying, you could also use paper towels and a microwave, but that's lame. 

Step 4: Heat up the SAND!! 
Sand for the Indian Ocean
Start by putting some charcoal on a grill. Get it going until is flaming hot. Let me pause for a second: Laurinda, the woman that taught me how to do this, claims that a stove won't get the sand hot enough...I have my doubts, but if you don't have a grill go ahead and use a stove.
So once the grill is pretty hot, add the a cast-iron pot with the sand. Wait about 20min for the sand to get really hot. You'll see fumes coming out of it and if you touch it, you'll burn your fingers (I think it's important to have scars from legendary recipes, so go ahead and dip your fingers in the sand) . Then add enough peanuts to cover the surface of the pot.
The following step is the trickiest so pay close attention:

Step 5: Shake those Peanuts! (time to put on some good Mozambican music)
Once in the sand, the peanuts will take about 15-20 minutes to roast to perfection. It's really important that every 2-3 minutes you shake, churn, and spin the peanuts. I've added a video to show you how to do this (see below), but essentially, you need to make sure that none of the peanuts stay at the bottom of the pot, otherwise they'll burn quickly and ruin the party. Thanks to Laurinda for teaching me all this!!

The Color of Perfection
Get the Sand Out
Look for the brownish color - it indicates crunchiness and new friends. Once you got the level of crunchiness you like, get the peanuts out of the sand (or they'll keep cooking), spread them on a tray, and let them cool down.
Note that if you let them roast too much, the skin will like break and sand will get inside. It's not a big deal because you almost always take the skin off to eat them, but it's a bit annoying when traces of sand end up in your mouth.

Step 6: Enjoy and Show Off: 
La Negra y los Morenos
Anyway, you're pretty much done. Keep them in a dry, sealed container. Otherwise they lose their crunchiness. You can sell them for $7 a pound or give them as presents to your best friends. You can also impress your guests at a dinner party or simply eat them by yourself watching a good movie and enjoying a cold Laurentina Preta.

Anything can happen with these peanuts.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Flood Tolerance Rice: Showcasing the IRRI's Vital Research

Communicating Nutrition: From London to Maputo

One of the things that went unnoticed about the London Olympics was a great event organized by DFID and the British government, showcasing the importance of tacking global chronic malnutrition. This was part of a larger effort coordinated by the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement.

Mozambique's agriculture minister attended the event and we helped draft his remarks arguing for a better integration of agriculture and nutrition. Unfortunately, aside from some coverage by The Guardian, and other media outlets, little was mentioned about the event on the press.

Although it's getting better, this is a difficult problem those working on global nutrition continue to face: creating a sense of urgency about stunting and what to do about it. As opposed to the powerful images of wasting or starvation, stunted children appear 'normal' and their short height for their age is often attributed to cultural factors.  I would often hear that misconception while working in Nicaragua where indigenous children are thought to be shorter 'by nature.' However, I was surprise to hear the same argument it once again here in Mozambique. (The picture on the right compares Guatemalan children with the height of their counterpart raised in the US)

Currently, we're working on developing a communication strategy that addresses the issue of poor nutrition communication. The government strategy to tackle stunting -the PAMRDC- was approved two years ago and there is a sense that we're losing momentum. With the exception of one, none of the provinces have started implementing the plan. That's why it's really important to reengage politicians and policy makers about the importance of addressing chronic malnutrition with a well-defined advocacy and communication strategy.

The arsenal to do this already exists. There are robust studies that link stunting to adult labor productivity and income generation - an argument that a finance minister will likely entertain. There is also plenty of evidence about how chronic malnutrition exacerbates child illnesses and increases mortality rates. Officials at the ministry of health will definitely pay attention to that. Similarly, underfunded institution working on water and sanitation and school feeding programs will also love to hear about how their work impacts nutrition.

And then there is also the broader message about keeping a nation well feed, ensuring that everyone has access to the most basic need - adequate food. In a country that experienced food riots when the price of bread went up just two years ago, this particular message resonates well with voters and politicians. With rural poverty on the rise and early signs of a resource curse, Mozambicans are increasingly worried about the price of food and politicians are taking note.

Despite all these rock solid arguments and incentives, getting all the organizations and institutions together and have them agreed on the key messages we want to send across remains a monumental challenge. Food security in this country continues to be about increasing yields and making food more available. But just the fact Nampula - the country's bread basket - has the second highest rate of stunting should put serious question marks on this approach.

The other challenge is to grab politician's short attention span. They are interested in the silver bullets and the buzz of the day. They love to sign lofty plans and strategies but when it comes to allocating the funds to implement, they can't find the pen to sign the check. As I said on my previous post, Mozambique is filled with strategies that do not materialized and are rather the reflection of demanding donors.

So yes, by championing their own approach and coordinating little with others of their kind, donors don't make things easier either. A recent article by Joseph Hanlon explores these issues of conflicting approaches. And while I don't agree with the article's main point - that the country has to focus on small holders at the expense of neglecting international agricultural investment - his point about fleeting donor interest is well taken.

We'll continue working on this communication and advocacy strategy. In the meantime, check out the video below showing Prime Minister Cameron describing the need for focusing on global nutrition - an excellent example of an engaged leader that understand well global nutrition.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

12 Innovations to Combat Drought, Improve Food Security, and Stabilize Food Prices

This post originally appeared on Worldwatch Institute Blog

Worldwatch Institute highlights 12 ways to make the U.S. agriculture system more resilient to drought and, in the long run, more sustainable.

Soaring temperatures and low precipitation could not occur at a worse time for many farmers in the United States. Intensifying drought conditions are affecting corn and soybean crops throughout the Midwest, raising grain prices as well as concerns about future food prices. The U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 88 percent of this year’s corn crop and 77 percent of the soybean crop are now affected by the most severe drought since 1988. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is providing drought assistance to 1,584 counties across 32 states and warns of increased food prices in 2013 as a result of corn and soybean yield losses.

Corn is currently selling at around $9 a bushel, a 50 percent increase from June, while soybeans are selling at a record high of $17 a bushel as a result of drought-related losses in crop yields. “The increased prices may benefit farmers in the short run,” said Danielle Nierenberg, director of the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project, “but consumers will experience the aftermath of price increases in the form of more money spent on poultry, beef, pork, and dairy products.”

Nearly half of all domestic corn production is used as livestock feed, a trend that is now encouraging larger livestock producers to import corn from Brazil while smaller farmers must reduce herd sizes by sending more animals to the market. Most immediately, poultry prices are expected to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent due to the animals’ more rapid growth and therefore more sudden response to higher feed prices. The price of beef is projected to rise the highest—4 to 5 percent by November—but at a slower rate, reflecting the longer growth period and higher feed requirements of beef cattle.

Higher U.S. grain prices could have an even greater impact worldwide. The United States is the world’s largest corn producer as well as a major exporter of crop-derived agricultural products. Declining domestic production could translate into exacerbated food security problems abroad. Countries that import corn and soybean byproducts or animal feed, such as Japan and Mexico, will be affected the most.
Climate change is making it increasingly important to protect local agriculture in the United States and address the issues underlying its vulnerability to natural disasters, such as drought. “Fixing our broken food system is about more than just food prices,” said Nierenberg. “It’s about better management of natural resources, equitable distribution, and the right to healthy and nutritious food.”

The Nourishing the Planet ( project highlights 12 agricultural innovations that can help make U.S. and global agriculture more drought resilient, as well as sustainable.  

1.   Agroforestry: Planting trees in and around farms reduces soil erosion by providing a natural barrier against strong winds and rainfall. Tree roots also stabilize and nourish soils. The 1990 Farm Bill established the USDA National Agroforestry Center with the expressed aim of encouraging farmers to grow trees as windbreaks or as part of combined forage and livestock production, among other uses.

2.   Soil management:Alternating crop species allows soil periods of rest, restores nutrients, and also controls pests. Soil amendments, such as biochar, help soils retain moisture near the surface by providing a direct source of water and nutrients to plant roots, even in times of drought.

3.   Increasing crop diversity: Mono-cropping often exposes crops to pests and diseases associated with overcrowding, and can increase market dependence on a few varieties: in the United States, almost 90 percent of historic fruit and vegetable varieties have vanished in favor of mono-cultured staples such as Pink Lady apples and Yukon Gold potatoes. Encouraging diversity through agricultural subsidies and informed consumption choices can help reverse this trend and the threat it poses to domestic food security.

4.   Improving food production from existing livestock: Improved animal husbandry practices can increase milk and meat quantities without the need to increase herd sizes or associated environmental degradation. In India, farmers are improving the quality of their feed by using grass, sorghum, stover, and brans to produce more milk from fewer animals. This also reduces pressure on global corn supplies.

5.   Diversifying livestock breeds: Most commercial farming operations rely on a narrow range of commercial breeds selected for their high productivity and low input needs. Selective breeding, however, has also made these breeds vulnerable to diseases and changing environments. Lesser-known livestock such as North American Bison are often hardier and produce richer milk.

6.   “Meatless Mondays”:Choosing not to eat meat at least one day a week will reduce the environmental impacts associated with livestock as well as increase food availability in domestic and global markets. Current production methods require 7 kilograms of grain and 100,000 liters of water for every 1 kilogram of meat. Livestock production accounts for an estimated 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and roughly 23 percent of agricultural water use worldwide.

7.   Smarter irrigation systems:The Ogallala High Plains Aquifer, which supplies essential groundwater to many Midwestern states, is experiencing record rates of depletion due to extraction for irrigation purposes. Almost 50 percent of commercial and residential irrigation water, however, is wasted due to evaporation, wind, improper design, and overwatering. Installing water sensors or micro-irrigation technology and planning water-efficient gardens or farms using specific crops and locations can significantly reduce water scarcity problems.

8.   Integrated farming systems: Farming systems, such as permaculture, improve soil fertility and agricultural productivity by using natural resources as sustainably and efficiently as possible. Research and implementation of permaculture techniques, such as recycling wastewater or planting groups of plants that utilize the same resources in related ways, are expanding rapidly across the United States.

9.   Agroecological and organic farming:Organic and agroecological farming methods are designed to build soil quality and promote plant and animal health in harmony with local ecosystems. Research shows that they can increase sustainable yield goals by 50 percent or more with relatively few external inputs. In contrast, genetic engineering occasionally increases output by 10 percent, often with unanticipated impacts on crop physiology and resistance.

10.   Supporting small-scale farmers:Existing agricultural subsidies in the United States cater disproportionately to large-scale agribusinesses, 80 percent of which produce corn for animal feed and ethanol. This means that small-scale producers are affected more acutely by natural disasters and fluctuating commodity prices, even though they are more likely to be involved in food production. Government extension and support services should be adjusted to alleviate this deficit.

11.   Re-evaluating ethanol subsidies:Although ethanol’s share of U.S. gasoline is still relatively small (projected at 15–17 percent by 2030), in 2009 the Congressional Budget Office reported that increased demand for corn ethanol has, at times, contributed to 10–15 percent of the rise in food prices. Encouraging clean energy alternatives to crop-based biofuels will increase the amount of food available for consumption, both at home and abroad

12.   Agricultural Research and Development (R&D):The share of agricultural R&D undertaken by the U.S. public sector fell from 54 percent in 1986 to 28 percent in 2009, and private research has filled the gap. Private companies, however, are often legally bound to maximize economic returns for investors, raising concerns over scientific independence and integrity. Increased government funding and support for agricultural research, development, and training programs can help address issues such as hunger, malnutrition, and poverty without being compromised by corporate objectives.  

Although food prices will certainly continue to rise as the current drought runs its course, it is clear that the United States has the knowledge and the know-how to make its agricultural system more sustainable and food secure. It’s now a question of putting these innovations to work. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mozambique Thought Series: Sopa do Planos – (Strategies soup)

This is the first one of a series of reflections about my internship in Mozambique. I apologies to readers as the blog has been quite neglected in the past couple months. However, time permitting, I intend to get back to my normal posting habits. Tell me what you think!

Try the following: google ‘Mozambique government strategy’, grab a shield, and hit enter. You will be bombarded with hundreds of official government documents, detailing strategies to… you name it – from reducing poverty and malnutrition to promoting culture and sovereignty. For newcomers to the country – such as me – these documents are a solid proof that the government is serious about the issues of your choice. My issue is food security and nutrition and if you read the PAMRDC (the government’s strategy to combat malnutrition or ‘the bible’ as I call it), the essence of integrated development emerges clearly. You look in detailed and find out that all the Lancet interventions of their maternal and child healthseries are included and you cannot content your happiness. In other countries where REACH operates, such level of government commitment is years in the future. But then you take a copy of your bible to a meeting with a provincial ministry director and he says “PAMR….what”?

Yes, Mozambique has a soup of strategies that seek to satisfy different audiences -especially donors- but when it comes to implementation these lofty strategies often fail to reach the ground. So here is my own exercise to navigate this endless list of documents:  

The country’s development strategy is set in the PQG – a five year plan – and the PARPA. The former is presented to voters and the later to international donors. In addition to those, pretty much every ministry has its plan, and for cross-sectorial interventions such as nutrition, gender, and others, you also have development plans.

But those are just the key ingredients for the soup’s stock. What really makes the soup tasty (or terrible for that matter) are the local strategies. For that, every provincial and district office has a multi-year strategy and the yearly PES (economic and social plans). Moreover, large NGO have projects that completely overshadow the organizational capacity of these local governments and their respective plans. Not only there is little coordination between the NGO’s project and the PES, but also such projects provide little capacity to local governments, and in occasions living things worse off when the project ends.

Another very significant challenge is that cross-sectorial issues at national and local level have little legal and budgetary power. Since these strategies rely on a coordinated approach, they quickly become bureaucratic orphans as none of the ministries likes to take a leadership role in their implementation. And while the country has SETSAN - an agency mandated with the coordination of food security and nutrition interventions among ministries – petty turf wars have left the agency toothless and inefficient – a comment I will often hear outside the formal meeting settings.

So what now? Well, stay tuned for the next post. Something tells me that after all this soup may serve well to Mozambique’s outstanding cuisine.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No sustainable development without eradication of hunger and extreme poverty

Cheers from Mozambique. I've has been taking a break from blogging after a semester filled with term papers and other writing requirements that left me with little appetite for writing. However, i'm getting ready to report on my summer in Mozambique, working on issues of nutrition and food security. Stay tuned! In the mean time, enjoy this great piece by the heads of UN agencies working on food security. Cheers 

By José Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization; Kanayo F. Nwanze, President, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Ertharin Cousin, Executive Director, World Food Programme; and Emile Frison, Director General, Bioversity International

We stand at a crossroads: it lies within our reach to eliminate hunger and poverty, using methods that do not compromise the future of life on this planet. That is the essence of sustainability. It will require not just universal acceptance of the right of every person to be free from hunger, but also profound changes in the way we produce and consume food and manage the earth's resources.

Rio+20 gives us a golden opportunity to bring together the agendas of food security and sustainable development to build the future we want. Increasingly, we know how to eliminate hunger and poverty in ways that also promote sound management of natural resources, encourage social inclusion and drive economic growth.

There are 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty, and close to 900 million chronically undernourished. An additional 1 billion suffer from “hidden hunger”, a lack of vitamins and minerals. Undernourishment in children prevents them from ever reaching their full physical and cognitive potential, costing lives, livelihoods and economic growth. We must all understand that the Rio vision of sustainable development cannot be achieved as long as hunger and extreme poverty persist.

We can and we must help poor people worldwide access the food they need, and we must support their efforts to escape the poverty trap for good. But the world's ecosystems and biodiversity are already under extreme pressure from overexploitation, degradation and the effects of climate change. We now face the challenge of raising global food production by 60 per cent by 2050 while managing the natural resource base so that we are not robbing future generations.

It can be done. We can reach our goal of eliminating hunger while promoting sustainable food production. We know what the right tools and policies are. What we need most are the governance systems and institutions that promote accountability and ensure that the right tools and policies are scaled up and applied.
Rio+20 must demonstrate the political will to improve governance, reform policy and, above all, take action.  All our efforts toward "sustainable development" will be in vain if we cannot feed humanity and also safeguard the resources upon which life depends.

This is a shared challenge, involving actions that must be undertaken by government, the private sector and civil society, and producers and consumers of food. It is everyone’s responsibility. We must unlock the power of partnerships, working across sectors and tearing down barriers that have sometimes made development efforts uncoordinated and inefficient. The principles of inclusiveness, equity, gender equality and a rights-based approach must be upheld both in the consultative process and the actions undertaken. We can also build upon existing institutions such as the inclusive Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

We must recognize that individuals and the private sector make the bulk of investments in our food systems. The people who work the world's 500 million small farms are the backbone of many rural economies, and are the largest investors in agriculture in the developing world. They are also custodians of a large part of the world's natural resources and biodiversity. They have enormous potential as entrepreneurs, but all too often lack the resources they need to thrive, feed their families and contribute to the food and nutrition security of others.
Women are drivers of change. The majority of small farmers are women.  Giving them the same access as men to assets, services and other resources could make a powerful contribution to poverty reduction and food security.  Let us not waste this potential, nor exclude their voices.

We must scale up safety nets and build resilient livelihoods and landscapes. To ensure access to adequate and nutritious food at all times, the poorest and most vulnerable people in both rural and urban areas need to be supported through research, education, assistance, and social protection programmes, or safety nets.  Disaster risk management and resilience-building need to be adopted by food-insecure countries and communities exposed to increasing land degradation and resource scarcity, changing rainfall patterns and  extreme weather events, as well as market downturns, food price spikes and other shocks.

Responsible tenure systems* are needed to secure access rights to land, fisheries and forests for poor people. Agricultural methods and technologies that work with and not against nature can help them produce more, and more sustainably. Promotion of crop diversification can ensure that agriculture produces a variety of foods suitable for health and nutrition, and also provide the necessary resilience to cope with climate change.
Action also must be taken to deal with the fact that one third of food produced globally is wasted or lost to spoilage, damage and other causes. Making the most of what we already produce and harvest would reduce the increase in production required to feed a growing population, raise the incomes and food security of poor farmers, and also minimize the impact of food production on global ecosystems.

The future we want is within our grasp. Together, the Rome-based food and agriculture agencies commit to working with international organizations, governments, research institutions, civil society and non-governmental organizations, cooperatives, small farmers’ organizations, communities and the private sector, at all levels. We must all rise together to meet this challenge. 

Let us seize this historic opportunity. Let us dedicate ourselves to transforming our current unsustainable food production and consumption systems, so as to ensure access to sufficient nutritious food for all people. We must act now. 

* The Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, recently endorsed by the  CFS, outline principles and practices that governments can refer to when making laws and administering land, fisheries and forests rights.