Changing The Menu: How Top Chefs Can Inject New Life Into The Development Agenda

Author: Karen Newman | Published on: August 4, 2016

When you think about celebrity chefs, sustainable development may not be the first concept that pops to mind. And for the preponderance of foodies everywhere, the notion that three of the world’s most renowned chefs would want to use their star power, not to open a chain of restaurants or promote another cooking show, but to collaborate with the United Nations may seem puzzling. But that’s precisely what the Roca brothers, famed chefs from what has been consistently designated as among the World’s Best restaurants are set to do. As Goodwill Ambassadors for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and for the Sustainable Development Goals Fund (SDG-F), the Roca brothers will use their expertise in the culinary world to enhance the link between waste reduction, sustainability and food security issues.

And the timing couldn’t be better, especially during this pivotal year, with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) now providing a global framework designed to address poverty in all forms for the next 15 years. Considered the 2030 Agenda, the designated 17 goals aim to eliminate poverty, inequality, hunger and under-nutrition —and at the same time tackle the impact of climate change and adaptation. A key component of the SDGs is Goal #2, which aims to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition and ensure sustainable food systems by 2030. This means ensuring all people – especially children and the more vulnerable have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. It goes without saying that we need greater awareness on the issues and why the hungriest people are often farmers and their families.

UN Member states and other public and private stakeholders have made the connection between food security, nutrition and agriculture, especially around the complex issue of poverty alleviation. Initiatives like Scaling Up Nutrition and Zero Hunger Challenge launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have inspired action and increased awareness on these interrelated issues. But despite these promising efforts, an estimated 795 million people in the world still suffer from hunger according to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

More profoundly, if current trends remain constant, agricultural production will have to increase by at least 60 percent in order to meet the projected demands of the world’s growing population, anticipated to reach 9 billion people by 2050. And all this—while it is estimated that the world loses about one-third of the food it does produce to waste and loss. A recent report by UNEP and the World Resources Institute (WRI), indicates that about one-third of all food produced worldwide, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. More troubling is that when converted to calories, this means that about 1 in 4 calories intended for consumption is never actually eaten.


Want to Double World Food Production? Return the Land to Small Farmers!

Author: GRAIN | Published on: November 22, 2014

All over the world, small farmers are being forced off their land to make way for corporate agriculture, writes GRAIN – and it’s justified by the need to ‘feed the world’. But it’s the small farmers that are the most productive, and the more their land is grabbed, the more global hunger increases. We must give them their land back!

The United Nations declared 2014 as the International Year of Family Farming. As part of the celebrations, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released its annual ‘State of Food and Agriculture‘, which this year is dedicated to family farming.

Family farmers, FAO say, manage 70-80% of the world’s farmland and produce 80% of the world’s food.

But on the ground – whether in Kenya, Brazil, China or Spain – rural people are being marginalised and threatened, displaced, beaten and even killed by a variety of powerful actors who want their land.

A recent comprehensive survey by GRAIN, examining data from around the world, finds that while small farmers feed the world, they are doing so with just 24% of the world’s farmland – or 17% if you leave out China and India. GRAIN’s report also shows that this meagre share is shrinking fast.


Restoring Your Soil: Advice by an Old School Soil to Health Expert


Author: Dr. Joseph Mercola | Published on: August 28, 2016

If you’re at all passionate about health, it’s likely you will eventually reach the conclusion that you need to grow your own food. Hendrikus Schraven, founder of Hendrikus Organics, is a magnificent resource in this regard.

Hendrikus has an innovative approach to environmental landscape design, including a focus on edible landscaping, and he’s an expert at restoring contaminated soils, which so many of us have. The key to this approach, of course, is to improve the quality of the microbiome in the soil.

Early Lessons in Chemical Farming

Born right after the end of World War II on a farm in Holland, about 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the German border, he learned to farm the organic way right from the start.

“In those days, farming was done with horse and plow … You smelled your soil to figure out what it needed. It’s a technique I still teach people today. Smelling the soil is actually [picking up on] the activity of the biology. That is what creates the smells …

We, of course, knew that the healthier the soil was, the healthier the [end] product … That was just called farming.”

Then a kind of chemical revolution in farming took place, and the Schraven family started using chemical fertilizers like everyone else, having fallen for the promise of being able to grow more food for less money and time.

“Of course, they didn’t tell you how dangerous it was to the body. We started applying [fertilizer] with our bare hands. Everybody did. You spread it out of buckets over the fields. After doing that for a few days, your fingernails were bleeding.

I finally said to my dad, ‘Growing food shouldn’t hurt. There’s something really wrong here.’

He said, ‘Yeah. We are [also] needing more of this stuff. The first two times it was fine, but now we need a little bit more to get the same results. The soil doesn’t smell as good as it used to. OK, let’s go back to the old ways.'”

Today we call the old way of farming “organic farming.” But truly, this is how it was done for ages before chemicals became the norm of farming. There’s nothing really “new” about it, historically speaking.


Land Stewardship Project: Goals, Realities & Soil Health

Author: Brian DeVore | Published: August 8, 2016

It’s been said that soil without biology is just geology—an accumulation of lifeless minerals unable to spawn healthy plant growth. And as intense monocropping production practices increasingly remove more life from the ground than they return, it sends that soil closer to fossilization via what conservationist Barry Fisher calls, “the spiral of degradation”: eroded, compacted and, eventually, dead.

But if a pair of Land Stewardship Project meetings held in southeastern Minnesota recently are any indication, a number of farmers don’t see such a downward plunge as written in stone. Fisher and other soil health experts at these meetings strongly encouraged the standing-room only crowds to return as much biology as possible to the ground beneath our feet. And in most cases, that means making it so living roots are present 365-days-a-year.

“So when in doubt, you plant,” said Fisher, who heads up the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Soil Health Division for the central part of the U.S. Until recently, he headed up a soil health partnershipin Indiana that has made that state the leader in cover crop establishment.

Indeed, through presentations, panel discussions and networking, farmers participating in the southeastern Minnesota meetings focused on a key soil health improvement strategy that is based on Fisher’s advice: cover crops. During the past five years, there’s been a lot of excitement generated around the growing of these non-cash crops on corn and soybean fields before and after the regular growing season. These crops, which are often small grains such as cereal rye or brassicas such as tillage radish, have proven to be very effective at not only building soil health, but also keeping it from washing and blowing away in the first place. In fact, erosion control is the number one reason farmers begin experimenting with cover crops, according to Sarah Carlson, Midwest Cover Crops Coordinator for Practical Farmers of Iowa.


How Organic Farming Hotspots Can Be an Opportunity for Rural Communities

Author: Marilyn Borchardt | Published on: August 23, 2016

“For us, cheese has always been a vehicle to achieve this other thing,” Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm said.

“A vibrant community that’s not completely dependent on globalization. This is our response to globalization: We have the opportunity to extract wealth and redistribute it in our community in a different way.”

Mateo and his brother Andy of Jasper Hill Farm, like all resourceful farmers, understand that making a living in rural America today requires more than just milking cows. And just like the California winemakers of an earlier generation, they set a lofty goal to challenge the best of European cheesemakers.

Can Organic Agriculture Contribute to Increasing Income for the Larger Community?

Do clusters of organic farming activity lead to higher income for farmers as well as others in their community? A recent study suggests that producing organic foods is correlated with lower poverty and increased household incomes in rural communities.


No Other Way Than to Struggle: The Farmworker-Led Boycott of Driscoll’s Berries

Author: Felimon Piñeda interviewed by David Bacon | Published on: August 31, 2016

Felimon Piñeda is vice president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, the independent farm workers union in Washington State. He was one of the original strikers when the union was organized in 2013. The union, together with the union of striking farm workers in Baja California, Mexico, has organized a boycott of Driscoll’s Berries, the world’s largest berry company. They demand that Driscoll’s take responsibility for the conditions and violations of labor rights by the growers whose berries they sell. Piñeda describes the life of a farm worker producing Driscoll’s berries, and his own history that brought him into the fields of Washington State. He told his story to David Bacon during an interview in Linden, Washington.

Our town in Oaxaca is Jicaral Coicoyan de las Flores. We speak Mixteco Bajo. I am 33 years old, but I left at a very young age. In 1996 I got to San Quintin [in Baja California] with my older brother. After four nights in Punta Colonet, we found a place to stay in a camp. There were a lot of cabins for people and we stayed there for six months. We planned to go back to Oaxaca afterwards, but when we’d been there for six months we had no money. We were all working — me, my sister, my older brother and his wife and two kids — but we’d all pick tomatoes and cucumbers just to have something to eat. There was no bathroom then. People would go to the bathroom out in the tomatoes and chiles. The children too.

Another man living there, who spoke another dialect of Mixteco, rented us a little house. It was one room, very small. We were there a year. We were getting home at five in the evening and the children were all eating their food cold because we couldn’t make the stove work. Then my brother said we should buy a plot between all of us, to give us a place to live. So we paid one payment, and then another. My brother is still living there, and his children are grown up now. His oldest son is 22 or 23. My niece now has kids.

In Punta Colonet life was very hard. Work was always badly paid. You had to work a lot for very little. In 1996 the wage was 45 pesos. In 2002 I worked three months there again, and in 2005 I worked almost a year. The bosses paid about 100 pesos. But the food was cheaper then. Maseca [corn flour] cost 55 [pesos]. We were not living well, but earning enough to afford it. A soda then cost five pesos. Now it costs 12 pesos.


A Modern Bison Primer


Author: Caroline Abels | Published on: July 26, 2016

Not long ago, it was bison that dominated North America, reaching into the tens of millions, whereas beef cattle were relative newcomers, introduced by European settlers and miniscule in number.

Today, those numbers have been flipped: there are 90 million cattle in the U.S. and roughly 185,000 bison (another 150,000 are being grazed in Canada). Having barely survived the U.S. government slaughter of the 1800s, modern bison is therefore a niche delicacy.

Even so, bison meat is beginning to show up in more places—in freezers at Costco, on menus at bowling alleys, and in the pockets of amateur athletes in the form of energy bars. Growing consumer preference for lean, grass-fed meats that are humanely raised and offer a taste of place is driving today’s steadily increasing demand. (The recent designation by Congress of bison as the national mammal may spark further interest.)

But consumer perception about how bison are raised doesn’t always line up with the reality. A common assumption is that all bison are raised on grass and live their entire lives under “purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain.”



If Our Small Farms are Allowed to Wither, the Whole Nation Will Suffer

Author: Patrick Holden

Last week, smallholders took direct action over supermarkets’ failure to pay them a fair price. Here, a dairy farmer warns that their demise will deprive the country of skills that we can ill afford to lose.

Conservationists tell us about the extinction of wildlife, but there is another more insidious extinction going on right now – the disappearance of traditional dairy farmers, who have supplied our nation’s milk for generations. As each demoralised farmer quietly gives up and goes out of milk – and there are nearly two a day being forced out right now – a precious and irreplaceable part of our national heritage is lost forever. The Prince of Wales is absolutely right to be highlighting the plight of small family farms in general and dairy farms in particular.

These farmers form the backbone of the rural economy. By their very existence, they play a crucial role in maintaining our countryside. They are the stewards of our landscapes, field boundaries and hedgerows, the guardians of the fertility of the soils, the pastures, biodiversity and the ancient green lanes for herding the cattle in to be milked. As each farm disappears, the skills  of the stockmen are also lost and will be difficult or impossible to replace. These are all priceless elements of our natural and cultural capital.

The reason I feel particularly passionate about this is because I am a dairy farmer myself. I was milking my dairy herd of 80 cows in West Wales on Thursday afternoon when I got a call asking me to write this piece. I am in a lucky position compared with most milk producers, since although we have been receiving less than the cost of production for our milk for a number of years, we have managed to stay in business, partly because we benefit from a modest premium for being organic and also because we are now adding value to our milk by making cheese. I also have a day job, the salary from which goes to shore up any losses.

However, for the majority of UK family dairy farmers, who do not enjoy these privileges, the relentless decline in milk prices has finally driven them into taking direct action, albeit in a less militant fashion than their French counterparts. In doing so, they may not realise that, ironically, they are up against a deeply entrenched orthodoxy in British food and farming circles, shared even by those who claim to represent them. The orthodoxy goes something like this: in an industrial age where reductionist science and global markets rule, we must accept that in farming and food production, as with every other industry, we will be at the mercy of global trade, fluctuating market prices and cycles of boom and bust.


Special Report: US Organic Farming Hotspots – an Opportunity for Rural Communities?

Author: Marilyn Borchardt

“For us, cheese has always been a vehicle to achieve this other thing,” Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm said.

“A vibrant community that’s not completely dependent on globalization. This is our response to globalization: We have the opportunity to extract wealth and redistribute it in our community in a different way.”

Mateo and his brother Andy of Jasper Hill Farm, like all resourceful farmers, understand that making a living in rural America today requires more than just milking cows. And just like the California winemakers of an earlier generation, they set a lofty goal to challenge the best of European cheesemakers.

Can Organic Agriculture Contribute to Increasing Income for the Larger Community?

Do clusters of organic farming activity lead to higher income for farmers as well as others in their community? A recent study suggests that producing organic foods is correlated with lower poverty and increased household incomes in rural communities.

In their economic analysis, Pennsylvania State University agricultural economist, Ted Jaenicke and then-student Julia Marasteanu (who now works at the U.S. Federal Drug Administration) identified counties around the country with high levels of organic agricultural activity where a neighboring county also has high organic activity. Their analysis suggests that clusters of two contiguous hotspot counties is correlated with increased median household income by an average of $2,094 – and reduced poverty levels overall.3

This income increase in organic hotspot counties averages 4.7 percent in relative terms for all people residing in hotspot counties.

At a time when most workers in the U.S. are experiencing stagnant or declining income, what economic development official wouldn’t want to promote such a dramatic improvement in income?


Four Important Lessons from Cuba’s Urban Food Survival Strategy

Author: Aurel Keller

Cuba has come a long way since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the loss of imports crucial for the island nation’s industrial agriculture system—such as chemical pesticides and fertilizers—left Cuba with a severe food crisis in the 1990s. Today, Cuba has become a regional leader in sustainable agricultural research. Within its practices and institutions lies a model for localized and small-scale urban agriculture.

With the loss of the Soviet market, which had imported sugar at subsidized prices, and the fall of global sugar prices in the late 1980s, sugar monoculture production in Cuba collapsed. Out of necessity, Cuba underwent a social, scientific, and economic push toward self-sufficiency. This shift required radical change for the authoritarian communist state as desperation and cooperation drove innovation in sustainable agriculture and urban farming. Although Cuba’s successes relied on country-specific policy adoptions and favorable geographic conditions, the country’s scientific frameworks and practices are widely applicable in other regions.

Reforms Propelled by the Government

Cuba’s success hinged on the adoption of Article 27 of the constitution in 1992, which recognized the state’s innate duty to ensure the sustainable use of resources and to protect the nation’s environment and people. The Cuban state and the Ministry of Agriculture instituted austerity measures, re-adjusting priorities and resources into support roles. State companies in many sectors became employee-owned co-ops, and small-farm distribution programs were greatly expanded. Realizing the need to meet the population’s basic food needs with limited resources, funding for agricultural research infrastructure was expanded to optimize low-input, small-scale farming. The government stepped back from direct management and worked with grassroots organizations and co-ops to provide support through extensive research partnerships to optimize and spread beneficial practices.

Grassroots Organizations and Co-ops Were Key

Grassroots organizations—representing small-scale farmers, animal producers, and agricultural and forest technicians—became essential in forming cooperatives and spreading services and education in Cuba. The small farmer organization, ANAP, has been active since the 1980s, working with farmers and the government to teach beneficial practices and create farmer’s cooperatives—groups of farmers who combine their resources and create employee-owned businesses that provide production, credit, and service assistance. Initially slow, the spread of farm co-ops grew once President Fidel Castro recognized their benefits, with official support commencing in 1987, and picked up speed as land-distribution and support programs expanded. Working with agricultural research outposts and universities, ANAP was instrumental in facilitating the extensive spread of research extension programs through its network, as well as propagating resulting improvements. Many peasant farmers were members of ANAP and participated in co-ops, successful to the point of producing 60 percent of produce on 25 percent of worked land in 2003.