FAO in North America

Looking at land rights

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on February 3, 2012

Landesa, a rural development institute focused on land rights issues, has developed a couple of infographics illustrating the impact of secure land tenure. According to their research, nearly one billion people, who depend on the land for their livelihoods, lack established rights to this land. This was a hot topic during 2011, and earlier in the year FAO published a report on tenure and international land investments, compiled by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition.

Agriculture in the international sphere

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on January 26, 2012

The Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) has just published the 2011-2012 issue of its annual magazine, SAISPHERE. In this year’s issue, members of the SAIS faculty, scholars, alumni and students explore the theme, “Growth Ahead for Global Agriculture”, to coincide with the school’s “Year of Agriculture”.

The school’s focus on agriculture is an attempt “to restore agriculture to its rightful place in international studies”, according to SAIS Dean Jessica P. Einhorn, who writes:

“Agriculture is key to understanding the foreign policy of nations.”

SAIS visiting scholar Robert Thompson provides an overview of the challenges facing agriculture, examining how resource constraints, climate change and changing demographics threaten food security and pointing to the need for greater investment in rural infrastructure, education, health, and agricultural research and technology transfer to solve the problem of rural poverty through development of both agriculture and the nonfarm sector.

Other features explore such topics as historical and political trends in Indian agriculture, China’s agricultural revolution, trends in agricultural investment, high food prices and economic growth, global fisheries, agriculture’s role in Argentina and Brazil’s economic recovery, and the right to food and foreign land deals in Africa.

Read more or download the complete issue.

Greening the blue can bring beneficial tide

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on January 25, 2012

Photo courtesy of UNEP
Healthy seas and coasts would pay healthy dividends in a green economy, according to a report released by the United Nations Environment Programme, FAO and other partners that highlights the huge potential for economic growth and poverty eradication from well-managed marine sectors.

The report, Green Economy in a Blue World, argues that the ecological health and economic productivity of marine and coastal ecosystems, which are currently in decline around the globe, can be boosted by shifting to a more sustainable economic approach that taps their natural potential – from generating renewable energy and promoting eco-tourism, to sustainable fisheries and transport.


Food security under pressure

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on January 23, 2012

The International Council for Science (ICSU) is publishing a set of policy briefs in preparation for the 20th United Nations Convention on Sustainable Development (UNCSD RIO+20). One of these is on food security, and on the challenges to feeding the world sustainability and potential solutions. The brief advocates a “food systems” approach that emphasizes resilience and equity. Because access issues contribute greatly to food insecurity, the authors not only address concerns over production, but also distribution and trade. Read the full brief, Food security for a planet under pressure, on the ICSU website.

From the Amazon to La Pergola – an appreciation of forest food

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on December 21, 2011

As the International Year of Forests winds to a close, a new FAO study released this week shows how plants and fruits from Amazonian forests can be used to improve people’s diets and livelihoods. Written in easy-to-grasp language, Fruit Trees and Useful Plants in Amazonian Life seeks to take science out of the ivory tower and put it to work on the ground, in the hands of people.

While we’re on the subject of forest food, check out what’s cooking in chef Heinz Beck’s kitchen in this video from our friends at the International Year of Forests:

Generation Organic

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on December 14, 2011

While many young people in the United States have been leaving family farms behind, and the average age of farmers continues to rise, NPR’s All Things Considered explores a surge in interest in organic farming among young people. Read more or listen to the story: Who are the Young Farmers of ‘Generation Organic‘.

Climate change could worsen extinction crisis

Submitted by Steve Hirsch on December 6, 2011

Photo: ©FAO/Steve TerrillClimate change is likely to accelerate biodiversity loss, threatening more animal species with extinction as their habitats change, according to a new FAO report released earlier this week.

Wildlife in a changing climate examines likely ecosystem and landscape changes in forests, mountains, wetlands, coastal areas, savannahs, grasslands and steppes and their impact on physical conditions, weather patterns and ecosystem functioning.

“Terrestrial, freshwater and marine wildlife will be severely affected unless we manage to cope with climate changes through decisive planning and action,” the report says.

Climate change will affect such physical conditions as snow cover and sea level and result in increases in the irregularity and severity of such extreme weather events as droughts and floods, the report says.

Wildlife consequences, according to the report, include the emergence and increased spread of pathogens, affecting wildlife, humans and livestock; more conflicts between humans and wildlife over the same dwindling resources; and ecosystem changes.

The report also considers a number of responses to climate change, including protecting current ecosystems, adaptive management – such as moving species away from changed ecological conditions or modifying habitats, and restoring degraded ecosystems, particularly those like mangroves, forests, savannahs and grasslands that are important for climate change resilience.

Read the full report.

Report weighs benefits of releasing food safety data

Submitted by Steve Hirsch on December 6, 2011

Releasing inspection and testing data on meat and poultry processing facilities could have substantial benefits, a new U.S. National Research Council report says.

Internet posting of data corresponding to specific meat, poultry and egg product processing plants could improve public health, among other benefits, according to The Potential Consequences of Public Release of Food Safety and Inspection Service Establishment-Specific Data, issued by the council, part of the National Academies.

The US Department of Agriculture collects large amounts of data at thousands of processing facilities as part of efforts to ensure the safety of meat, poultry and processed egg products.  The department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is considering release of both inspection and enforcement data and sampling and testing data on its website.  This information includes data on tests for the presence of such pathogens as salmonella. Some of this information is already available online in aggregated form without processing facility names, and most of the FSIS-collected data can be obtained by the public through the Freedom of Information Act.

The committee that wrote the report looked at information on disclosing similar sorts of information and concluded there are strong arguments for publicly releasing FSIS data, including the names of processing facilities. Releasing the information could allow users to make more informed choices, spur facilities to improve performance and allow research studies of regulatory effectiveness.  Release could also increase public understanding of the information collected and could improve food safety if the public shifts to better-performing facilities.

The report acknowledges that the benefits of release must be balanced against such potential unintended harm as lower profits, misinterpretation of data, pressure on inspector performance and unintentional release of proprietary or confidential information.  The committee found limited systematic evidence indicating the likelihood of such problems, though.

The report calls on the FSIS to consult with other agencies that have released detailed regulatory data on individual facilities’ or firms’ performance, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online, the Labor Department’s Mine Safety and Health Administration and state and local public health departments that have released information on restaurant hygiene and inspection grading.

Hunger report urges policy shift toward healthy foods

Submitted by Steve Hirsch on November 21, 2011

The Bread for the World Institute is today calling for U.S. food and agriculture policies to be shifted toward improving nutrition for Americans.

The group’s recommendations come in its 2012 hunger report, Rebalancing Act:  Updating U.S. Food and Farm Policies.

U.S. farm policies are now skewed toward production of calories, not nutrients, the report said, adding that the United States does not now produce enough fruits and vegetables for Americans to meet the recommended daily allowances of vitamins and minerals.

The report also cited a need for the United States to strengthen its traditional role as the largest provider of food aid while improving nutritional quality of that aid. Purchasing more food aid locally would result in savings that could be used to reduce maternal and child nutrition, particularly in the crucial 1000 days from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday, the report said.

Recommendations in the report included a call for farm policies to be realigned so that they help build markets for domestic farmers to provide nutrition programs with healthy food.  Moreover, the report said, they should be linked to local and regional development of rural areas.

The report said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – formerly known as the Food Stamp Program – should “at least” be able to protect all family members from hunger during the duration of benefits, and should include incentives to make it easier for recipients to afford healthy food.

Among the other recommendations were calls for the provision of meals meeting established dietary guidelines in child nutrition programs, a legal means for illegal farm workers to be in the United States, and an increased commitment to Feed the Future, the U.S. government global hunger and food security initiative.

The report also calls for a shift from farm subsidies to a comprehensive revenue insurance program to help farmers manage risk.

“Congress has a great opportunity to trim our federal deficit and fix our broken food system,” said David Beckmann, president of the Bread for the World Institute. “We are offering a solution that will not only save money but save our country’s small farmers.”

Ideas to end world hunger

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on November 14, 2011

Trickle Up recently held a panel event on ideas to end world hunger. A dozen recommendations surfaced during the discussion by four well-known experts in the field. These ideas included increasing research and development into appropriate new technologies, increasing local, rural capacity, and empowering women.

For more detail and to listen to the podcast, check out their website.

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