How the #commodities casino creates #hunger and unrest – an interview with Alan Bjerga

Earlier this summer a group of northern universities – the n8 – launched their agrifood strategy in Manchester. One of the speakers was Alan Bjerga, who writes about food and commodities for Bloomberg News. He is also author of the book Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest. I took the chance to have a short chat with him about how and why this happens, and what might be done about it.

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#Gender, the right to #food and future priorities – a interview with Hilal Elver, the UN’s 3rd Rapporteur on the Right to Food

I met up with Hilal Elver, the UN’s 3rd Rapporteur on the Right to Food just before she took part in the fifth of a series of seminars on Ecofeminism, Food and Social Justice of the Food Research Collaboration at City University in London in June.

In this interview, she talks about how she is approaching her work as Rapporteur on the Right to Food, and the big issues she sees. She discusses her first piece of work on women’s rights and gender issues in relation to the right to food. She also discusses the challenge of realising the right to food, the need for stronger enforcement mechanisms, urbanisation, nutrition and the sustainable development goals.

You can hear her contribution and see the presentation to the City University Seminar on their website here. You can download her report gender (A/HRC/31/51) to the Human Rights Council in 2015 here and her report on climate change (A/70/287) to the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly in August 2015 here.

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From #diet for a small planet, to myths about world #hunger to living democracy and hope – a conversation with Frances Moore Lappé

It was quite fitting that Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) invited Frances Moore Lappé to give a keynote speech at its 2nd birthday party in mid-July.

Frances has had a huge impact with her work spanning the past 5 decades, which was launched with the publication of Diet for a Small Planet in 1971. A pioneering work on high protein meatless cooking aimed at a US audience, it also sold worldwide. We’ve still got a copy on our shelves, bought when we lived in America in the 1970s.

In 1975, she went on with Joe Collins to found the Institute for Food and Development Policy, usually known as Food First, in San Francisco. Its first publication was Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity. More recently, in 2001, she founded the Small Planet Institute, with her daughter Anna “to create an ongoing tool to explore and share our understanding of the root causes and—most important—the root solutions to environmental devastation and injustices throughout the global food system as well as the democracy deficit that this needless suffering reflects”.

In October 2015, she and Joe Collins published World Hunger: 10 Myths, which is a complete rewrite of their World Hunger: 12 Myths first published in 1977. In this conversation, made at CAWR, she talks about how it all began and why she is hopeful about the possibility of creating a well-fed world.

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Reducing #farmers’ #fertiliser use in N E #China: students live in villages, do experiments on the farm and support farmers.

I found myself in China again at the end of June taking part in an international workshop and a symposium on Agricultural Development Pathways for Smallholder Farmers in China. It was organised by Professor Fusou Zhang, Director of the Centre for Resources, Environment and Food Security at China Agricultural University in Beijing.

After a couple of days workshop discussion in Beijing, we went to Lishu, Jilin Province in N. E China for the symposium and to visit the work being done their with what, in China, are relative large farmers – farming 15-30 mu (1-2 ha). The focus of Prof Zhang’s work is to improve the resource use efficiency in agriculture. In this first interview he talks about the overuse of fertiliser in China, the need to reduce chemical inputs and produce more with less without harming the environment, and the importance of the soil root interactions.

One of the key approaches he and his colleagues have been pioneering in China is the development of ‘Science and Technology Backyards’. Here sometimes staff and certainly doctoral students spend around 3 years living in the villages, doing experiments in the farmers fields and acting as a resource for farmers to draw on – like a resident extension worker. A few years ago I visited some of these in Quzhou county near Handan city, south of Beijing. There the farmers have very small plots, of 5-10 mu (see blog).

The project has developed considerably since then as I saw in Lishu. In this second interview, Prof Zhang explains the background and rationale for this approach and why students are willing to live in the villages, do their research and help farmers with their problems as well as learn about the farmers real situation.

While it is clear that there is a great need to reduce input use and make farming more efficient in its use of resources, the outstanding question for me, as I left, was while it is all well and good to improve the productivity of the farming in the area it is still a maize monoculture – the big challenge is to look at more diverse, ecologically sound farming systems that build on the long standing Chinese experience of sustainable farming with the growing understanding of the biosphere, agroecology and soils emerging in the 21st century.

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Great new guide to global #soil #biodiversity from #EU on show @ESOF2016

Version 3

My first degree was in soil science and it was great to see this beautifully illustrated Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas on display at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF2016) in Manchester earlier this week.

Despite all our lives depending upon soil, it is still remarkably poorly understood in many ways, not least being the rich reservoir of life in healthy soils. There are more organisms in a handful of good soil than people on the planet and we don’t know what most of them are. This new Atlas, which is free to download and costs €25 to buy, goes a long way in showing the fascinating range of living organisms in our soils around the world with some wonderful photos.

Despite the failure to agree a soils directive in the EU, much work continues to safeguard what we have and improve the way we look after the soils not just in Europe but globally. Last year was International Year of Soils, which hopefully has increased the awareness of the importance of maintaining our soils in a healthy state. If you want to know more about what is happening in Europe on this then you can e-mail Arwyn Jones (pictured) at the EC’s Joint Research Centre.

I was at ESOF2016 to take part in a session called FOOD 2030 debate: The sustainability and value of global and local food systems on Tuesday morning. This focussed on the results of an FP7 research project GLAMUR:‘Global and local food assessment: a multidimensional performance-based approach’.

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Seeing Brexit from China – where #food and #foodsecurity matters greatly

SummerPalace-BeijingJet-lagged and Brexit shocked, I’m trying to readjust after returning from a week’s visit to China. The shock began as I got up at 4.30am on Friday June 24th to hear the referendum result, then left for Beijing arriving there at 6 am on Saturday. Thereafter, I caught occasional news stories over the following week.

I was in China for meetings on Agricultural Development pathways for smallholder farmers in China, first in Beijing then in Lishu in Jilin Province in NE China – but more of that in a later blog.

The four Brits in the group – worried about the consequences of the result, for research, education, our children’s future, for peace – watched incredulously as the week’s events unfolded. Picking up a couple of papers on the way home on Friday, China’s Global Times front page headline was ‘Chinese snap up British bargains after Bexit’, while the International New York Times had ‘Which city is going to be the London of the future?’

I noticed yesterday that later this month our local cinema is showing ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ and I wondered which rabbit hole or distorting mirror I’ve fallen through to arrive back in the UK. As Harold Wilson, who oversaw the last referendum on Europe, said, a week is a long time in politics. Seems more like a lifetime.

No-one it seems has any plans, or contingencies. Or perhaps a sense of proportion about our importance in the world? From N E China you could have said a small island, with a population the size of a couple of the largest Chinese cities, lying off the coast of mainland Europe has decided it no longer belongs there.

Yes, it was once a great imperial power, but not today. And Britain’s inglorious role in recent Chinese history is not forgotten, having forced opium onto the Chinese population and fought two Opium Wars in the 1800s. Almost every plaque I saw as we were shown round the Summer Palace on the Saturday afternoon when we arrived, noted it has been rebuilt “after the Anglo-French Allied Forces burned it down in 1860” after the second opium war.

And there is something Alice in Wonderland like about the talk of taking back control – as, for example, it’s the Chinese government that owns, through Bright Food, Weetabix; a Turkish firm Jaffa cakes, Penguin and McVitie’s Digestives and all the other United Biscuits; Kraft owns Cadbury’s; Canadian investors, Jammie dodgers and so on. I wonder what’s on the new shopping list now the pound is falling in value.

The importance of food and food security seems like a forgotten issue in the UK though some are starting to talk about it. In China, food, and food security are central, are hugely important issues, as was clear from the discussions we had. Perhaps, as the Food Ethics Council (I’m a member) statement on Brexit said ‘Now – as the dust settles – is the moment to pause and reflect on the effect of this historic choice on the future of our food and farming.’ As our executive director, Dan Crossley, said “Lets’…treat it as a once in a lifetime for citizens and politicians to co-create a food system that is healthy, sustainable and fair.’

And that’s a challenge not just for the UK or China but for the world.

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Turks set to tackle #agriculture and #food #ethics

Profs Talug, Yalim and Aksoy discuss this new project. The 4 e’s logo represents etik (ethics), ekoloji (ecology), ekmek (bread) and emek (work)

What’s fair? What responsibilities do we have to future generations, weaker citizens or those of other countries? Are the science we are doing and technologies developing, even if sound, addressing the right questions? Are the rewards fairly distributed, do some have an unfair say in decisions? Does doing one thing undermine the opportunities for others, for animals, to act as they’d wish or reduce biodiversity? These are just a few of the many ethical questions facing us in food and farming today.

Last week, I was in Ankara, Turkey, where a new project aims to get to grips with these and other questions important not just for Turkey’s future but all our futures. I was there as a member of the Food Ethics Council (FEC) in the UK to share our experience and materials to help in the development a new EU-funded Agriculture and Food Ethics Project – TARGET, Tarim ve Gida Etigi Projesi.

The city has been transformed since I worked there 30 Years ago on TUYAP – the Agricultural Extension and AppIied Research Project. This visit I could hardly recognise much of it. Still recognisable though was Prof Cemal Talug, whom I first got to know in the late 1970s when I helped in the establishment of an agricultural extension and communications centre at Ege (Aegean) University. It was a surprise e- mail last October from him that led to me being there as a representative of the Food Ethics Council, which I’ve been a member of since 2000 and trustee since 2003.

The FEC was founded in 1998, a year before EURSAFE – The European Society for Agriculture and Food Ethics. It’s director, Matthias Kaiser from the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and Humanities, University of Bergen, Norway was also there along with philosopher Bart Gremmen  Professor, Ethics in Life Sciences and ’embedded ethicist’ at Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. We are the three European Associates supporting the project and we met with the small group developing the project, led by Prof Neyyire Yasemin Yalim, chair of the Turkish Bioethics Association, and Prof. Cemal Talug former rector and dean of agriculture at Ankara University, Turkey’s oldest University.

It has ambitious plans for a survey, education and training in key ethical concerns for food and agricultural professional in Turkey during its 15 months duration but much longer terms plans to influence Turkish food and farming through the establishment of a new NGO – the Turkish Agricultural and Food Ethics Association.

Much to our surprise, Prof Talug had arranged for his three foreign visitors to take part in a live 1.5 hour discussion on Bereket TV – a specialist TV channel devoted to farming – about the project. You can see the programme on YouTube here. This led to a further interview with the national news agency during a conference for some key interested parties in the afternoon.

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