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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Food, poverty and ‘The Bread and Butter Thing’ – intercepting food surplus to avoid waste and feed people

It’s not a food bank nor a shop, The Bread and Butter Thing (TBBT) is an intermediary that intercepts food that would be surplus in today’s food system and dumped. TBBT turns it into bags of more affordable food for members who need it distributed through community groups, as TBBT CEO Mark Game says in this interview. Currently based in the north of England, he is happy for others to build on what they have done as he explains here.

Version 2I came across Mark at TBBT when I chaired a webinar in July 2020 exploring Manchester’s COVID-19 response and how surplus food is being used to support citizens during the pandemic – and beyond. A few years earlier we’d met briefly when he worked for Company Shop, which I did this blog about in 2015. The 2020 survey that TBBT did of their members breaks down as shown in the graphic. There’s an article in the Guardian about TBBT here, a video on becoming a member here, how they operated pre-Covid here and one about their volunteers from November 2020 here. If you would like to see more interviews with different people from my blog about food and poverty please have a look here.


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Cutting the harms #agriculture does, GHG emissions and increasing #resilience – some key priorities for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Screenshot 2022-02-01 at 10.52.27The US-based, non-profit Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has aimed to foster sustainable rural communities and regions for over 30 years. Here, its Executive Director, Dr Sophia Murphy outlines their key priorities. These include cutting the harm industrial agriculture does, especially in greenhouse gas emissions, protecting the adaptive capacity of agriculture, and focussing on whose voice is heard in setting policy. She discusses meat and dairy, the squeeze farmers find themselves in, market fairness, and looking at places where power is concentrated amongst other things.

You can find links to various reports about issues she refers to in this interview here:


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Protecting biodiversity for food systems in the face of climate change 

IMG_4888Biodiversity, food systems and climate change are inextricably linked. The recent COP26 on climate change in Glasgow got worldwide coverage but it was sandwiched between the two-part COP15 of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming China – which has had far less attention. Farmers play a key role in mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss but also have to adapt to a changing environment. Dr Yiching Song* works with small farmers in south west China to help in dealing with these challenges as I saw first hand during my visits to China in the mid-2020s (see here). She was at both events last year and will be taking part in the second part of COP15 in April/May 2022. I asked her about the links she sees between the two and the role of community-based biodiversity conservation and utilisation.

*Yiching Song is a Senior Researcher and Program Leader in the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP) of the Chinese Academy of Science (CAS) (since 2000) and currently serves as a Senior Researcher for the UNEP-IEMP program in the CAS. She also serves as a Lecture Professor for China Agricultural University, Guangxi University and Southwest China University. Her research focuses on biodiversity, ecosystem-based adaptation, and sustainable rural livelihoods in the context of socio-economic and climatic change and related policies in China. In 2013, she founded a social organization, Farmer Seeds Network in China, aiming to enhancing collaboration between formal (research and private companies) and farmer seed systems for healthy and sustainable food systems. She holds a PhD in rural sociology and rural development from Wageningen University.

You can see a video about some of this work called ‘Root for Adaptation Stone Village China-Farmers’ Seed Network’ here (sub-titled in English)

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