Safeguarding the oceans for fishing, trade, a blue economy and blue ecology

Safeguarding Life Below Water is the aim of  Sustainable Development Goal 14. Here, David Vivas* from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) discusses a wide range of issues arising from the recent UN Conference on the Ocean including the importance of fishing for food security and livelihoods, the limits to capture fishing, the complex legal regime, the role of trade, marine protected environments, the meaning of a blue economy, some of the challenges for aquaculture, and the gaps in the recent WTO agreement on subsidies to the fishing industry.

You can find more about UNCTAD work on Oceans Economy and Fisheries here, the 4th Oceans Forum on trade-related aspects of Sustainable Development Goal 14 here, the latest issue of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) 2022 here, and details about the 2nd UN Conference on the Ocean in 2022 here.

SDG 14 is reportedly the least funded of all the SDGs, representing 0.01% of all SDG funding from official development assistance (up to 2019), and 0.56% of all SDG funding from philanthropy (2016 to 2020). It is also the least reported of all SDGs.

*The findings, interpretations and conclusions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States. The designations employed in this work do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the United Nations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

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Soils’ vital role in climate change, biodiversity and sustainable farming – a conversation with Prof Pete Smith

When I was young there was a BBC radio comedy programme with a character whose catchphrase was ‘the answer lies in the soil’*. When it comes to climate change, biodiversity and sustainable farming systems we now realise that yes, a great deal of the answer does lie in the soil. So it is with great pleasure I had this conversation with Pete Smith, chair of Plant and Soil Science at the University of Aberdeen. It’s 50 years since I graduated from what was then just the department of soil science at Aberdeen and we’ve learned a lot more about soils since then, including their hugely important role it mitigating climate change, which is where we start our conversation.

You might like to see the free to view/download Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas, which was produced as a joint venture from the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative and the European Commission Joint Research Centre. It is the first synthesis of global soil biodiversity research and its importance to our living world. I wrote a short blog about it when it came out here.

This open access article that may also be of interest: “The significance of soils and soil science towards realization of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

*Older BBC listeners might remember that the character was Arthur Fallowfield played by Kenneth Williams in ‘Beyond our Ken’, which ran from 1958 to 1964

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Three urgent calls for action to avoid food crisis for billions of people from different UN bodies  

I’ve been away but thought you would like to know about the following

Last week in Rome the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and World Food Programme warned of a ‘looming widespread food crisis as hunger threatens stability in dozens of countries ‘Hunger Hotspots – FAO-WFP early warnings on acute food insecurity’. 

In New York also last week, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Trade and Development Rebeca Grynspan launched the second brief of the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance. Their two main messages were that:

‘We are on the brink of the most severe global cost-of-living crisis in a generation. The report demonstrates the interconnected nature of the 3 dimensions of the crisis: food, energy, and finance. And that tackling just one aspect, will not solve the global crisis we are in.’ And that ‘the current food crisis may rapidly turn into a food catastrophe of global proportions in 2023. Higher energy costs and trade restrictions on the fertilizer supply from the Black Sea region have resulted in fertilizer prices rising even faster than food prices. If the war continues and grain and fertilizers high prices persist into the next planting season, the present crisis could extend to other basic foods such as rice, affecting billions more people.

And today Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General, UNCTAD sent the following open letter on ‘Trade and the right to food: The path to SDG2 to Ministers participating in the 12th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization in Geneva from 12-15 June. It reads as follows:

  1. The war in Ukraine inflicts dire hardship on the people of Ukraine and has increased the risk of hunger and famine for tens of millions of people who are on the verge of becoming or are already food insecure. Coming after the COVID-19 pandemic, which compounded food insecurity, income reductions, and accumulated debt, the war has hit countries still on the path to recovery the hardest.
  2. The impact is particularly severe for countries that depend on food imports, such as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries (NFIDCs). For example, in 2020, African countries imported about 80 per cent of their food and 92 per cent of their cereal from outside the continent. Today’s historical rise in food prices obviously has an immediate impact on them: it exacerbates poverty and food insecurity, and this in turn fuels social and political instability. Fair and sustainable food systems, including a trade system that enhances food security, are crucial to food security and the resilience of LDCs and NFIDCs.

Multilateral recognition of the right to food as a fundamental human right

  1. International human rights law recognises the fundamental human right to food in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (171 States Parties). It sets out the right to adequate food as part of everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living and calls on States Parties to take measures to improve methods of production, conservation, and food distribution, individually and through international cooperation. The Covenant calls upon States Parties to consider the challenges of both food-importing and food-exporting countries to ensure an equitable distribution of world food supplies.
  2. According to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the expert body monitoring the implementation of the Covenant, the right to adequate food is realized when every man, woman, and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.
  3. The right to food is also recognized in several other international and regional instruments: the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (189 States Parties); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (196 States Parties); the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (185 States Parties); the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (known as the Protocol of San Salvador); the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.

Multilateral policy and action coherence needed to achieve food security

  1. The 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) offers a much-needed opportunity to align commitments under this multilateral system with international human rights law. Since WTO Member States are also States Parties to the above human rights instruments, it is expedient to ensure that obligations under the two regimes are mutually supportive and reinforcing.
  2. Faced with the severe threat of hunger and famine in food-insecure countries, there is urgent need for coherence at the level of policy and action between States’ obligations to achieve the full realization of the right to adequate food and obligations under WTO agreements.
  3. In this context, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) appreciate the persistent efforts by the WTO Member States to deliver a ministerial decision at MC12 over food security and the WTO.
  4. OHCHR and UNCTAD welcome the 80-country pledge of 21 January 2021 not to impose export prohibitions or restrictions on foodstuffs purchased for non-commercial humanitarian purposes by the World Food Programme (WFP).
  5. UNCTAD and OHCHR call for a Decision that paves the ground for strengthening the multilateral trading system on agriculture in a way that is consistent with States’ human rights obligations, that is climate responsive and that pays particular attention to those at risk of being left behind.
  6. UNCTAD and OHCHR also call for a Decision providing recommendations for concrete measures to support the realization of the right to adequate food, particularly for people living in food-insecure LDCs and NFIDCs.
  7. Drawing on the report by the Global Crisis Response Group, UNCTAD and OHCHR call upon the Ministers at MC12 to agree to:
  • Refrain from imposing export restrictions on essential foodstuffs purchased by LDCs and NFIDCs, as well as those purchased by WFP for non-commercial humanitarian purposes;
  • Support financially and technically LDCs and NFIDCs in adopting comprehensive social protection measures to avert a food crisis;
  • Increase financial support to LDCs and NFIDCs to mitigate their fiscal constraints in adopting policy measures to fight against hunger, via Paragraph 5 of the Decision on Measures Concerning the Possible Negative Effects of the Reform Programme on Least-Developed and Net Food-Importing Developing Countries;
  • Address the need for LDCs and NFIDCs to increase their resilience to possible food supply shocks by allowing measures that may include input and investment subsidies, access to land, natural resources, seeds, credit, technology and markets to small-scale farmers and resource-poor food producers to bolster their agricultural production.
    1. Beyond the MC12, UNCTAD and OHCHR stand ready to work with WTO Members, within their respective mandates, to address anti-competitive and unfair business practices, particularly when exercised in times of crisis. Hoarding, excessive stockpiling of basic foodstuffs and associated speculation, especially during global food shortages, adversely affect the enjoyment of the right to food and erodes efforts to achieve food security for all.


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New approaches needed to address biodiversity loss and seed systems argues Dr Selim Louafi

A new approach that goes beyond the narrowly scientific is needed to both work with farmers on their seed systems and address biodiversity loss, argues Dr Sélim Louafi, deputy director for Research and Strategy at CIRAD (French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development). In this conversation we first focus on work with farmers across four West African Countries before examining why scientific assessments like those done by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) need rethinking.

You can find an article about the CoEx project Dr Louafi mentioned here. The following open access article in the journal Agronomy my also be of interest ‘Crop Diversity Management System Commons: Revisiting the Role of Genebanks in the Network of Crop Diversity Actors‘. This report of an interview between Dr Louafi and Alexandre Guichardaz ‘Biodiversity science and decision-making: a relationship to build‘ also examines some of the issues discussed in our interview.

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Chocolate Has a Name – come and speak with it

Ghanaian-born human lived experience story-teller Adelle A’asante grew up in Ghana but now lives in West Yorkshire. She comes from a long line of cocoa farmers and story tellers and set up Africaniwa where ordinary individuals are given the space to share extraordinary stories about their lived experience as Africans to a diverse audience. Since cocoa farming was so much part of her tradition she set up Chocolate Has A Name to tell the story of the key role cocoa plays in people’s lives in Ghana through one woman’s life, Maame Boadua, and to introduce training in chocolate making into the syllabus of at first one school then more in Ghana, as she explains here.

You can join the COCOA ASE* CAUCUS online conversation she mentions on 12 May 2022 at 18.00-19.15 BST and the second Thursday of the following months by registering through this link. Click here for CHOCOLATE HAS A NAME VIDEO CAMPAIGN and here for a webinar from the 2022 Fairtrade fortnight. You may also fine this blog by a storyteller in Uganda of interest as well as this paper by Bob Manteaw of interest says Adelle. This site is a paid service but has some free articles as well.

*ASE : preposition /asi/ a Ghanaian Twi word meaning under or underneath


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Cutting food loss and food waste – the role of true cost accounting

Miranda Burke from Lancaster University is one of the team of early career researchers who won the UK’s Global Food Security programme (GFS) Policy Lab competition for their report  ‘A tool in the toolkit: Can True Cost Accounting remove siloed thinking about food loss and waste?’. Here, she explains briefly the difference between food loss and food waste, the role for true cost accounting and six suggestions for the UK government to act on.

You might also find this article “How much do things really cost?” from the New Yorker magazine on true pricing of interest. In it, writer Nick Romeo, discusses the work of the Dutch non-profit True Price

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The multiple roles for agriculture, forestry and other land use change in mitigating climate change – findings from latest IPCC report, interview with Dr Jo House

The latest almost 3000 page full report on Mitigation of Climate Change from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just landed. Here Dr Jo House, Reader in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Bristol, and a lead author of the IPCC report chapter 7 on Agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU), discusses some its main findings for this sector.

While paragraph C9 in the 27 page Summary for Policymakers reads:

“AFOLU mitigation options, when sustainably implemented, can deliver large-scale GHG emission reductions and enhanced removals, but cannot fully compensate for delayed action in other sectors. In addition, sustainably sourced agricultural and forest products can be used instead of more GHG intensive products in other sectors. Barriers to implementation and trade-offs may result from the impacts of climate change, competing demands on land, conflicts with food security and livelihoods, the complexity of land ownership and management systems, and cultural aspects. There are many country-specific opportunities to provide co-benefits (such as biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services, and livelihoods) and avoid risks (for example, through adaptation to climate change). (high confidence) “

Chapter 7 fleshes out in great detail the wide range of issues to be addressed in its 185 pages. The two figures below show the trends in greenhouse gas emissions and the interaction with land management.

Screenshot 2022-04-08 at 15.23.02Screenshot 2022-04-08 at 15.22.19

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Earthlings – Grow Up or Die Out

I wondered what a benign long-lived alien race observing Earth for millennia would make of what is happening to us on Earth today. Perhaps it might go something like this.

An open letter to all of humanity


In a lot of your fiction and movies you portray alien threats to the future of planet Earth as the catalyst that forces all nations to come together to fight that threat. We’ve been watching you for a very long time. We are not the threat but you are the threat to yourselves. We think of you all as Earthlings. You’re clearly a very clever and inventive species. You’ve spread across the planet, found ways to live in all kinds of different environments, created a huge range of cultures and undergone two major revolutions that have changed the face of the planet.

You moved from wandering bands to settled communities as you discovered agriculture. This laid the foundation for the development of many different civilisations over thousands of years. You wondered about the meaning of life, why are you here, is there something greater than us, and created a whole range of explanations you call religions. And then, as you started to understand more about the nature of the world through your scientific and technical experiments, came an industrial revolution that has reshaped your planet in a couple of hundred years as opposed to the thousands of years it took for agriculture.

And in your little groups and often individually you wanted power over others. Ambitious and ruthless people have led your different civilisations and countries to fight against others to extend their power. You nurture the historical wrongs that have happened on your planet and let them drive your current policies and attitudes to others. And there are so many historical wrongs – all forms of imperialism, slavery, racism and more. And yet many Earthlings recognise these and try to address them. But as yet you’ve failed.

Today, you are in the midst of truly existential threats to the future of human life on this planet of yours. These are linked to the climate change and biodiversity loss caused by the very developments you yourselves have invented and promoted, as well as the inequality that undermines the stability of your societies, yet you continue to fight each other. We see another example of the stupidity of the human race being played out in Ukraine as you let a single individual cause suffering on a huge scale for their own need to assuage their thirst for power and perceived historical wrongs.

The understandable but wrong response to yet another of your crazy wars is for the rest of you to spend more on weapons and militarism, to face up against each other. And you still have so many more potential wars, such as over Taiwan, the continuing consequences of the war in Afghanistan, destruction in Yemen, and fighting for resources in other parts of the world. Because you’re clever you develop the weapons that if widely used endanger your own future life on this planet.

But there is another way. It’s one that requires something in short supply on your planet, and that’s wisdom. The wisdom to recognise that the way you’ve run things up to this point has got to change dramatically if you are all to survive and thrive on your highly unusual and, in this part of the universe, unique place where you have to live. People in all countries recognise that things need to be very different but they are not the ones in power. The only way you can succeed is by learning how to cooperate globally and see yourselves as common Earthling citizens of this amazing place, with a wide range of histories and cultures that have got you to where you are today. But for the future you need to let go of narrow nationalist identities. They are just a small part of the multiple identities any single one of you has. You need to create mechanisms to constrain and prevent gross inequality and the exercise of destructive power by the few, which undermines the well-being of the many.

You do like to tell stories, and you’re often too easily led to believe stories by others that are not true. You have to own, in each of your countries, the bad things you’ve done in your histories but not be defined by them. Not let them dictate the policies you misguidedly believe you have a right to. Your leaders need to recognise that the existential threats you face require you to abandon the old ways you’ve used to manage the world.

Instead of everyone building up military spending to fight against each other, you need to look at ways to improve human security and help you address the key challenges you face. It’s time to progressively switch from using resources to better kill each other, to ones that will nourish and help you survive on this planet in a cooperative and peaceful way. It’s not impossible for you to do this. You’ve shown you’re very inventive. You’re learning more and more about how this complex planet and the life on it operates.

It would be good if you could safely put all your leaders on an island and not let them off until they figured out the ways in which they are going to de-escalate the tensions between them, drop the historical claims to different bits of territory, and work towards a collective human security. This must redirect the intelligence, resources and logistical skills you currently put into military conflicts between yourselves to addressing the need for fundamental change in your economic and social systems, and in the technologies that are required to prevent great suffering through your failure to deal with the existential threats.

Now is the time to understand and address your different fears and how you project from one group to another the evils in your own hearts and minds. Establish dialogue among all your different communities, restructure your failed economics, and constrain the rich and powerful from leading you to destruction. And, if you can’t get the leaders of the countries round the world to do so, then start by drawing people from every country in the world together, to begin the dialogue and working on the path to a new way of running your world before it’s too late.

Photo credit: NASA Goddard –

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Guest blog*: New Scenarios on Global Food Security based on Russia-Ukraine Conflict

by QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Over the past two years, COVID-19 has presented many challenges to global food security. Today, what is happening in Russia and Ukraine adds another significant challenge. Russia and Ukraine play a substantial role in the global food production and supply. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of wheat, and Ukraine is the fifth largest. Together, they provide 19% of the world’s barley supply, 14% of wheat, and 4% of maize, making up more than one-third of global cereal exports. They are also lead suppliers of rapeseed and account for 52% of the world’s sunflower oil export market. The global fertilizer supply is also highly concentrated, with Russia as the lead producer.

Supply chain and logistical disruptions on Ukrainian and Russian grain and oilseed production and restrictions on Russia’s exports will have significant food security repercussions. This is especially true for some fifty countries that depend on Russia and Ukraine for 30% or more of their wheat supply. Many of them are least developed countries or low-income, food-deficit countries in Northern Africa, Asia and the Near East. Many European and Central Asian countries rely on Russia for over 50% of their fertilizer supply, and shortages there could extend to next year.

Food prices, already on the rise since the second half of 2020, reached an all-time high in February 2022 due to high demand, input and transportation costs, and port disruptions. Global prices of wheat and barley, for example, rose 31% over the course of 2021. Rapeseed oil and sunflower oil prices rose more than 60%. High demand and volatile natural gas prices have also driven up fertilizer costs. For instance, the price of urea, a key nitrogen fertilizer, has increased more than threefold in the past 12 months.

The conflict’s intensity and duration remain uncertain. The likely disruptions to agricultural activities of these two major exporters of staple commodities could seriously escalate food insecurity globally, when international food and input prices are already high and volatile. The conflict could also constrain agricultural production and purchasing power in Ukraine, leading to increased food insecurity locally.

Core Risk Factors Identified

Cereal crops will be ready for harvest in June. Whether farmers in Ukraine would be able to harvest them and deliver to the market is unclear. Massive population displacement has reduced the number of agricultural laborers and workers. Accessing agricultural fields would be difficult. Rearing livestock and poultry and producing fruits and vegetables would be constrained as well.

The Ukrainian ports on the Black Sea have shuttered. Even if inland transportation infrastructure remains intact, shipping grain by rail would be impossible because of a lack of an operational railway system. Vessels can still transit through the Turkish Straits, a critical trade juncture through which a large amount of wheat and maize shipments pass. Rising insurance premiums for the Black Sea region would exacerbate the already high costs of shipping, compounding the costs of food imports. And, whether storage and processing facilities would remain intact and staffed is also still unclear.

The Russian ports on the Black Sea are open for now, and no major disruption to agricultural production is expected in the short term. However, the financial sanctions against Russia have caused an important depreciation which, if continued, could undermine productivity and growth and ultimately further elevate agricultural production costs.

Russia is a major player in the global energy market, accounting for 18% of global coal exports, 11% of oil, and 10% of gas. Agriculture requires energy through fuel, gas, electricity use, as well as fertilizers, pesticides, and lubricants. Manufacturing feed ingredients and feedstuffs also require energy. The current conflict has caused energy prices to surge, with negative consequences on the agriculture sector.

Wheat is a staple food for over 35% of the world’s population, and the current conflict could result in a sudden and steep reduction in wheat exports from both Russia and Ukraine. It is still unclear whether other exporters would be able to fill this gap. Wheat inventories are already running low in Canada, and exports from the United States, Argentina and other countries are likely to be limited as government will try to ensure domestic supply.

Countries reliant on wheat imports are likely to ramp up levels, adding further pressure on global supplies. Egypt, Turkey, Bangladesh, and Iran are the top global wheat importers, buying more than 60% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine, and all of them have outstanding imports. Lebanon, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan also rely heavily on the two countries for their wheat supply. Global maize trade is likely to shrink due to expectations that the export loss from Ukraine will not be filled by other exporters and because of high prices.

Export prospects for sunflower oil and other alternative oils also remain uncertain. Major sunflower oil importers, including India, the European Union, China, Iran, and Turkey, must find other suppliers or other vegetable oils, which could have a spill-over effect on palm, soy, and rapeseed oils, for example.

Policy Recommendations

1. Keep global food and fertilizer trade open. Every effort should be made to protect the production and marketing activities needed to meet domestic and global demands. Supply chains should keep moving, which means protecting standing crops, livestock, food processing infrastructure, and all logistical systems.

2. Find new and more diverse food suppliers. Countries dependent on food imports from Russia and Ukraine should look for alternative suppliers to absorb the shock. They should also rely on existing food stocks and diversify their domestic production to ensure people’s access to healthy diets.

3. Support vulnerable groups, including internally displaced people. Governments must expand social safety nets to protect vulnerable people. In Ukraine, international organizations must step in to help reach people in need. Across the globe, many more people would be pushed into poverty and hunger because of the conflict, and we must provide timely and well-targeted social protection programs to them.

4. Avoid ad hoc policy reactions. Before enacting any measures to secure food supply, governments must consider their potential effects on international markets. Reductions in import tariffs or the use of export restrictions could help to resolve individual country food security challenges in the short term, but they would drive up prices on global markets.

5. Strengthen market transparency and dialogue. More transparency and information on global market conditions can help governments and investors make informed decisions when agricultural commodity markets are volatile. Initiatives like the G-20’s Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) increases such transparency by providing objective and timely market assessments.

*Given the terrible events in Ukraine I thought it important to share this opinion piece from FAO’s DG issued by FAO today.

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Food, politics, capitalism, and health – a conversation with Prof Marion Nestle

In this conversation, lifelong US food system analyst, Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Emerita, at New York University, discusses how food is the lens through which to see society and why capitalism’s requirement for continual growth is a key problem for healthy nutrition. She also discusses the way the food industry’s funding of nutrition research skews the outcomes, the impact of food marketing, subsidies and the need to address the root causes of why people need food assistance which are about jobs, adequate income, housing, and health care.

Marion runs the Food Politics website which has a wealth of information about her work, books, appearances and other publications. The blog she referred to in the conversation is here.

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