May 2011 New tool for weighing pros and cons of bioenergy - FAO-developed methodology offers policymakers a way to evaluate potential benefits of growing energy crops, avoid pitfalls
As interest in bioenergy production continues to grow, FAO is promoting the use of a new methodology designed to help policymakers weigh the pros and cons of investing in the sector.
FAO's "Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Analytical Framework" was created to help governments evaluate the potential of bioenergy as well as assess its possible food security impacts.
It consists of a series of step-by-step evaluations that seek to answer critical questions regarding the feasibility of bioenergy development and the impacts on food availability and household food security. Social and environmental dimensions are also considered.
Spikes in oil prices and concerns related to energy security, coupled with worries over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, have been key drivers behind the growth of the bioenergy sector. Another important potential benefit: investment in bioenergy could spark much-needed investment in agricultural and transport infrastructure in rural areas and, by creating jobs and boosting household incomes, could alleviate poverty and food security.
But as interest in bioenergy has grown, so too have concerns over its potential negative impacts. Chief among these is the risk that an expansion of bioenergy crops might come at the expense of food production, leading to reduced food availability and higher food prices. Deforestation due to the conversion of new lands to bioenergy crops and impacts on indigenous peoples are also areas of concern.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year -- approximately 1.3 billion tonnes -- gets lost or wasted, according to an FAO-commissioned study.
- Industrialized and developing countries dissipate roughly the same quantities of food -- respectively 670 and 630 million tonnes.
- Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).
- Fruits and vegetables, plus roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food.
- The amount of food lost or wasted every year is equivalent to more than half of the world's annual cereals crop (2.3 billion tonnes in 2009/2010).
The report distinguishes between food loss and food waste. Food losses -- occurring at the production, harvest, post-harvest and processing phases -- are most important in developing countries, due to poor infrastructure, low levels of technology and low investment in the food production systems.
Food waste is more a problem in industrialized countries, most often caused by both retailers and consumers throwing perfectly edible foodstuffs into the trash. Per capita waste by consumers is between 95-115 kg a year in Europe and North America, while consumers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia each throw away only 6-11 kg a year.
Today more than a billion people in the world are hungry, the result of flawed policies mainly, but also of wars and revolutions and of natural hazards like floods, droughts, pests and diseases compounded, nowadays, by climate change.
But one huge hunger-maker lurks largely unnoticed ...
"Maybe it's because weeds are not very spectacular," says weed expert Ricardo Labrada-Romero. "Droughts, insects and diseases like Swine Flu are attention-grabbers because their effects are dramatic. Weeds are different. They play havoc quietly all year round, year after year."
Consider, he says, the damage caused by one weed alone, Broomrape (Orobanche spp), an aggressive root weed which attacks legumes and vegetables and can not only lead to complete crop failure but also make fields infertile for many years.
Figures clearly show that weeds should be regarded as farmers' natural enemy No. 1. According to a leading environmental research organization, Land Care of New Zealand, they cause some $95 billion a year in lost food production at global level, compared with $85 billion for pathogens, $46 billion for insects and $2.4 billion for vertebrates (excluding humans).
Economic losses may be even greater considering that more than half of the time farmers spend in the fields is devoted to weed control, says Labrada-Romero. It follows that if farms are to increase their productivity one of the first things they must do is improve weed management.
A three-day pan-African ministerial Conference pledged today to promote water development throughout the continent to fully exploit Africa's agricultural and hydroenergy potential.
In a final Declaration, the Conference, on Water for Energy and Agriculture in Africa: the Challenges of Climate Change, noted that water is a key resource to economic and social development as well as to hunger and poverty eradication in Africa, and that food and energy security are prerequisites for the development of Africa's human capital.
The Conference, which brought together ministers from 53 African countries, recognized that the challenges faced by the continent concerning food security, achieving the Millennium Development Goals, increased energy demand and combating climate change required all countries to move together.
Implementation of integrated water, agriculture and energy programmes to enhance sustainable development in Africa should be considered a priority, the Declaration said. This involved expansion of the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control, and accelerated investment in water for agriculture and energy.
December 2008 Irrigation key for Africa's food security - Diouf
Urges Global "Early Reaction Fund" for countries in crisis
Water management is "a key element" in food security, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf told a ministerial conference on Water for Agriculture and Energy in Africa: the Challenges of Climate Change which opened here today.
The conference is organized by FAO, as the Chair of UN Water, together with the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya Government and in collaboration with stakeholders including the African Union, the African Ministers' Council on Water Development, the African Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Africa.
During the three-day conference ministers from 53 African countries will consider a "Blue Revolution" programme designed to harness Africa's largely untapped water resources to its development. The conference aims at setting the scene for moving from talk to action.
The $65 billion, 20-year programme details the irrigation and hydroenergy investments required in each country. Sub-Saharan Africa, with the world's highest rate of undernourishment, is expected to be hard-hit by climate change. But the continent needs to triple its food production by 2050 to feed a population that will reach two billion.
Harnessing carbon financing to boost sustainable farming - Win-win-win for development, climate efforts. Some 100 experts from five continents meet today to chart the way to harnessing a large new flow of funding - carbon finance - to agricultural development and to improving the lives of poor farmers the world over.
Billions of dollars are available every year under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism to finance initiatives helping reduce the amount of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere.
But so far little of this money has been going to agriculture, although it offers very real potential to reduce GHG pollution since it is a leading source of emissions - contributing some 30 percent at global level when land-use changes and the intensive livestock sector are included.
The meeting, taking place from 28-30 October in West Lafayette, Indiana, will discuss how agriculture can tap into a market worth an estimated EUR12 billion in 2007. That market has developed under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), whereby industries in industrialized countries can fulfil their obligations to reduce their GHG emissions by investing in emission-saving projects overseas.
Slow change, help poor farmers
"This is a win-win-win opportunity," says FAO Senior Officer Theodor Friedrich, an expert in sustainable production intensification (SPI). "We have a chance to slow climate change, help poor farmers make a better living and improve soil health and productivity all at the same time."
But in order to qualify for CDM financing, farm projects would need to produce scientifically measurable evidence of how much they can reduce GHG emissions as compared with traditional farming. Ways would also need to be found to reliably monitor those results and establish prices paid for carbon sequestration that are attractive to small farmers.
When land is tilled and ploughed in traditional farming systems, the CO2 stored there is released into the atmosphere, contributing to GHG buildup and hence climate change. But SPI systems such as no-till Conservation Agriculture (CA), in which seeds are drilled directly into the ground through the vegetation cover, are much more climate-friendly.
Former US President Bill Clinton urged the international community to stop using the global financial crisis "as an excuse" to avoid dealing with escalating hunger, adding that over the long term, only agricultural self-sufficiency could take a significant bite out of world hunger and stave off future financial woes.
President Clinton made the remarks during his keynote speech at a World Food Day commemoration at UN Headquarters, marking the 63rd anniversary of the foundation of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
"Food is not a commodity like others," said Clinton, who heads an international non-governmental organization bearing his name. "We should go back to a policy of maximum agricultural self-sufficiency," Clinton said. While there would always be a global market for crops like rice, wheat and corn, he added, "it is crazy for us to think we can develop a lot of these countries where I work without increasing their capacity to feed themselves and treating food like it was a color television set."
Clinton called for an increase in fair-trade provisions, direct marketing schemes and other policies designed to level the playing field between agricultural producers in developed countries and the mostly small farmers who are responsible for the lion's share of worldwide food production.
Figures released recently by FAO show that 75 million more people slid below the hunger threshold in 2007, bringing the estimated number of hungry people worldwide to 923 million.
July 2008 Farmers urged to join "Greener" revolution - CA to improve soil health, boost food production Some 100 delegates from 36 countries meeting at FAO today called on farmers to join the ongoing "Greener" revolution represented by a form of farming known as Conservation Agriculture. This farming system, CA for short, aims to help feed the world more sustainably by building up soil ecosystems and reducing unnecessary soil disturbance wherever possible.
According to one study, some 20 percent of the earth's cropland is now being eroded or otherwise degraded - a potential catastrophe given the need to double world food production by 2050 to feed a population of more than nine billion.
Rebuilding good soil structure and encouraging biological processes in soil increases its capacity to produce crops, the delegates declared in a Framework for Action adopted at the end of a three-day technical meeting on Investing in Sustainable Crop Intensification and Improving Soil Health.
July 2008 New global soil database - Soil database win-win options for climate change mitigation and food production A new database on the world's soils improves knowledge of the current and future land productivity as well as the present carbon storage and carbon sequestration potential of the world's soils. It helps to identify land and water limitations, and assist in assessing the risks of land degradation, particularly soil erosion risks, said FAO today.
Until now, most efforts to use agriculture to manage greenhouse gases have involved above-ground sequestration, primarily through planting trees, since the amount of carbon that can be sequestered in this way is substantial. However, there is also growing interest in finding ways to increase carbon sequestration in soils. Soils are presumed to be the largest carbon reservoir of the terrestrial carbon cycle, although estimates of their magnitude vary widely. Soil can be a source or a sink for green house gases depending on land use management. For long-term sequestration, organic carbon must be stored in forms and in locations in the soil profile with slow turnover.
July 2008 Land degradation on the rise - One fourth of the world's population affected, says new study Land degradation is intensifying in many parts of the world, according to a study using data taken over a 20-year period, FAO announced this week. Defined as a long-term decline in ecosystem function and productivity, land degradation is increasing in severity and extent in many parts of the world, with more than 20 percent of all cultivated areas, 30 percent of forests and 10 percent of grasslands undergoing degradation. An estimated 1.5 billion people, or a quarter of the world's population, depend directly on land that is being degraded.
The consequences of land degradation include reduced productivity, migration, food insecurity, damage to basic resources and ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity through changes to habitats at both species and genetic levels.
June 2008 Inappropriate trade policy measures could limit agriculture's response to high prices Without proper policy response, high food prices could reverse agricultural growth in transition countries. Soaring food prices could reverse the significant growth in agricultural production recorded by some of the poorest countries in Europe and Central Asia over the past 10 years, said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today at the opening of the 26th FAO Regional Conference for Europe. Moreover, government response to higher prices has not always been supportive of the farm investment needed to raise production and productivity, favouring instead measures such as export restrictions, which have resulted in cancelled export contracts and lower prices received by farmers, he noted.
Positive trends - "As in most parts of the world affected by food insecurity, hunger in Europe and Central Asia derives from rural poverty and from natural and man-made disasters, rather than from a total lack of food at macroeconomic level," Dr Diouf said.
Untapped potential - "There is strong agricultural potential in Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine," the FAO Director-General said. "With a supportive policy environment and investment in infrastructure, at least 13 million hectares could be returned to production, without major cost to the environment."
He noted that crop yields in those three countries are three times lower than in Central, Eastern and Western Europe, where modern inputs are employed and contract farming is used to reduce market risks.
June 2008 The world only needs 30 billion dollars a year to eradicate the scourge of hunger
Noting that the time for talk was over and that action was urgently needed, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today appealed to world leaders for US$30 billion a year to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflicts over food. In an impassioned speech at the opening of the Rome Summit called to de-fuse the current world food crisis, Dr Diouf noted that in 2006 the world spent US$1 200 billion on arms while food wasted in a single country could cost US$100 billion and excess consumption by the world's obese amounted to US$20 billion. "Against that backdrop, how can we explain to people of good sense and good faith that it was not possible to find US$30 billion a year to enable 862 million hungry people to enjoy the most fundamental of human rights: the right to food and thus the right to life?" Dr Diouf asked.
May 2008 Biodiversity to curb world's food insecurity - Global conference on biological diversity in Bonn. "Our planet abounds with biological richness and this great diversity is key to face the worst food crisis in modern history," FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller said. FAO acknowledges the importance of biodiversity to food security but also raises an alarm. It estimates that about three-quarters of the varietal genetic diversity of agricultural crops have been lost over the last century and that hundreds of the 7000 animal breeds registered in its databases are threatened by extinction.
April 2008 World must seize chance to boost agriculture - High food prices not just threat but opportunity. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today called on the international community not only to take immediate action to de-fuse the current world food emergency but also to seize the opportunities offered by higher food prices and prevent similar dramatic situations occurring in the future.
April 2008 Urgent measures required to reduce impact of high food prices on the poor - Urgent measures are needed to ensure that short-term adverse effects of higher food prices do not impact even more alarmingly on the very poor, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today. "World food prices have risen 45 percent in the last nine months and there are serious shortages of rice, wheat and maize," Dr Diouf said.
March 2008 Wheat killer detected in Iran - Dangerous fungus on the move from East Africa to the Middle East ... A new and virulent wheat fungus, previously found in East Africa and Yemen, has moved to major wheat growing areas in Iran, FAO reported today. The fungus is capable of wreaking havoc to wheat production by destroying entire fields. Countries east of Iran, like Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, all major wheat producers, are most threatened by the fungus and should be on high alert, FAO said.
It is estimated that as much as 80 percent of all wheat varieties planted in Asia and Africa are susceptible to the wheat stem rust (Puccinia graminis). The spores of wheat rust are mostly carried by wind over long distances and across continents.
"The fungus is spreading rapidly and could seriously lower wheat production in countries at direct risk. Affected countries and the international community have to ensure that the spread of the disease gets under control in order to reduce the risk to countries that are already hit by high food prices."
February 2008 FAO applauds the opening of seed vault in Norway. A tunnel built into frozen mountain will store samples of the world's most important crops. The creation of the Global Seed Vault, which will house duplicates of unique varieties of the world's most important crops, is "one of the most innovative and impressive acts in the service of humanity," FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said today. "The wealth that is being safeguarded in Svalbard will be the global insurance to address future challenges," he added.
The vault is built into a frozen mountain near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard. Svalbard is a group of islands nearly a thousand kilometres north of mainland Norway and about 1120 km from the North Pole. Permafrost and thick rock will ensure that even without electricity, the genetic material stored in the vault will remain frozen and protected.
February 2008 Significant increase in world cereal production forecast for 2008, but prices remain high ... Early prospects point to the possibility of a significant increase in world cereal production in 2008, but international prices of most cereals remain at record high levels and some are still on the increase, FAO said today.
The forecast increase in production follows expansion of winter grain plantings and good weather among major producers in Europe and in the United States, coupled with a generally satisfactory outlook elsewhere, according to FAO's latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.
With dwindling stocks, continuing strong demand for cereals is keeping upward pressure on international prices, despite a record world harvest last season, the report said. International wheat prices in January 2008 were 83 percent up from a year earlier.
Although prices are high, total world trade in cereals is expected to peak in 2007/08, driven in great part by a sharp rise in demand for coarse grains, especially for feed use in the European Union, according the report.
January 2008 New avian influenza flare-ups: Virus remains a global threat - disease control strongly improved ... Recent avian influenza outbreaks in 15 countries demonstrate that the H5N1 virus remains a global threat and requires close monitoring and strong control efforts, FAO said today. Since December 2007, Bangladesh, Benin, China, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Myanmar, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Viet Nam have confirmed new H5N1 outbreaks in poultry stocks. Except for a few cases in wild birds in China, Poland and United Kingdom, most of the confirmed outbreaks occurred in domestic poultry, including chickens, turkeys, geese and ducks. (Jan. 2008)
December 2007 Organic agriculture can contribute to fighting hunger ... But chemical fertilizers needed to feed the world ... FAO has no reason to believe that organic agriculture can substitute for conventional farming systems in ensuring the world's food security, Dr. Jacques Diouf, FAO Director-General, said here today. Dr. Diouf was commenting on recent press and media reports suggesting that FAO endorses organic agriculture (OA) as the solution to world hunger. "We should use organic agriculture and promote it," Dr. Diouf said. "It produces wholesome, nutritious food and represents a growing source of income for developed and developing countries. But you cannot feed six billion people today and nine billion in 2050 without judicious use of chemical fertilizers." (Dec. 2007)
Aquaculture ... For a quarter century, fish farming has been the world's fastest growing food production sector, sustaining an annual growth rate of 8.8% since 1970. By way of comparison, livestock production, also considered a growth sector, increased at a rate of just 2.8% a year during the same period. Today, some 45% of all fish consumed by humans -- 48 millions tonnes in all -- is raised on farms. (Nov. 2007)
Cereal Prices ... Despite record 2007 production cereal prices remain high - FAO's latest forecast puts world cereal production in 2007 at 2 101 million tonnes, with most of the increase in coarse grains, especially maize in the United States.
International cereal prices in November remained high and volatile, however, reflecting sustained demand, particularly from the biofuels industry, coupled with historically low levels of stocks and insufficient increases in production, mainly of wheat, in exporting countries, according to FAO's latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report. (December 2007)