FAO in North America

To eat meat, or not to eat meat

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on April 26, 2012

That is the question raised by a number of recent articles exploring meat in the human diet from an evolutionary, ethical, environmental and culinary perspective. According to a recent FAO report, by 2050 an expanded world population will be consuming two-thirds more animal protein than it does today.

NPR’s food blog, The Salt, takes a look back at our meat-eating origins. The article explores the evolutionary advantages (and some disadvantages) of generalist omnivores, consuming a varied diet without the risks inherent in specialization. And although a recent study cited in the article also notes that it takes longer for omnivores to diversify into new species, another study demonstrates the link between diet, nutrition and human development in our evolutionary past.

The New York Times Well blog posted an article on The Challenge of Going Vegan, which focused primarily on the barriers in terms of social norms, cultural traditions and taste preferences that those choosing to avoid animal products face.

Taking on the ethics of an omnivorous diet, the New York Times Magazine published a collection of essays titled Put Your Ethics Where Your Mouth Is. Thousands of readers took up the challenge of addressing this issue. From this pool, a panel of prominent writers who have themselves considered the ethics of meat eating, narrowed down the essays to six contributors, including two farmers with experience in mixed crop-livestock systems.

Finally, Mark Bittman published a New York Times Opinionator piece on famed food writer Colin Spencer. Although not a vegetarian, Spencer has been vocal on the topic of better practices for animal agriculture.

One fish, two fish, big fish, small fish

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on April 2, 2012

Photo: © FAO/Olivier Asselin

Small fish populations are being depleted too quickly, according to a new report issued by the Lenfest Forage Fish Task Force. Forage fish, as they are known, serve as the basis for diets of top marine predators such as large fish, marine mammals, and seabirds. Fish like sardines and anchovies also contribute to human diets. A New York Times article notes how the overfishing and depletion of forage fisheries could undermine the commercial viability of many larger, valuable species. The Task Force offers recommendations for ecosystem-based standards for sustainable fishery management.

Read the Summary of Scientific Analysis online.

Storing agrobiodiversity

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on March 20, 2012

Just as backing up the contents of a computer on an external hard drive is a way to ensure important data and files are not lost, so too is creating a back-up of the world’s crop genetic diversity an important way to manage the risk of losing important seed varieties. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault serves that role, housing the resources from 1,750 seed banks from around the globe.

A recent article in The Economist explores the role the vault has played in preserving seed diversity, noting that approximately two-thirds of the world’s stored crop genetic resources are maintained in the Nordic facility. Moreover, a new effort may soon be under way to collect seeds of crop wild ancestors. The article discusses the significance such a comprehensive gene bank may have in terms of dealing with future crop diseases and pests. But at the same time, the authors recognize that preserving genetic diversity in the field, through proper land management and the use of multiple crop varieties, is an critical step to reducing long-term risks.

National Geographic profiled the so-called “doomsday vault” and other efforts to preserve seed diversity in an article last year. Read more>>

Benefits of bamboo

Submitted by Teresa Buerkle on March 15, 2012

It’s not just for pandas – and may provide a solution to the problem of deforestation and soil degradation in Africa, according to The New York Times’s Tina Rosenberg.

“Under the right conditions, [bamboo] can grow a full meter a day — you can literally watch it grow….

“Its roots grab onto soil and hold it fast.  Plant bamboo on a steep slope or riverbank and it prevents mudslides and erosion. And bamboo is parsimonious with Africa’s most precious resource:  water.”

Read more>>

Landscapes for people, food and nature

Submitted by Rachel Friedman on February 3, 2012

On Monday, the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative launched a new blog to highlight efforts to support integrated agricultural landscapes. As one of the nine co-organizing agencies, FAO will be contributing to various components of the initiative, including the new blog. Intended to serve as a forum for discussion and to showcase the work of the initiative partners and other practitioners of landscape approaches, the blog is organized around three themes: Landscape of the Week, Exploring the Evidence, and Voices from the Field. With a variety of authors from community organizations and NGOs to research institutions and development agencies, there should be  a variety of perspectives.

Check out today’s blog post by Ann Tutwiler, FAO’s Deputy Director-General for Knowledge, to read about FAO’s work related to integrated landscape approaches.

Readers with experience in integrated agricultural landscapes and related areas are invited to share their perspectives with the blog community.

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:

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