Tag Archives: Agriculture

Coming soon to a rooftop near you

Coming soon to a rooftop near you


For the time being, all that’s blooming atop the Boston Design Center are panoramic views of the city skyline, harbor, and Seaport District. In a few weeks, though, plants should be sprouting amid the air conditioning units and heat vents.

In this rooftop project, think tomatoes, basil, parsley, chervil, lovage, and thyme, and lots of it, spread over 13,000 square feet in what will be the most ambitious experiment to date in local urban ag.

By next year, the project is expected to total 40,000 square feet of planted produce and another 15,000 square feet of harvest stations and support equipment. As it grows, Boston will become more prominently aligned with a burgeoning urban agriculture movement, one marrying underutilized city space with “green” consciousness and a hunger for locally produced food.

High stakes, indeed.

“For now, our focus is on high-value crops that restaurants are excited to serve,” says Courtney Hennessey, cofounder of Higher Ground Farm, a South End-based firm that will manage the rooftop farming operation once it’s up and running.

Permit issues and as-yet-unmet funding — the project carries a start-up price tag of $250,000 — have pushed installation back to mid-May, according to Hennessey, later than the once-planned February launch, yet still in time for a mid- to late-summer harvest. Despite the delay, Higher Ground Farm hopes to reap around $100,000 in produce this year.

Eventually the farm, which has signed a 10-year lease with the design center, will support four distribution channels: area restaurants, six of which have already come aboard (Toro, Coppa, Sweet Cheeks Q, and Tavern Road among them); community-supported food-growing programs, shares in which will be sold to the public; a small, onsite ground-level farm stand; and nonprofit food collaboratives in Dorchester and Mattapan, two communities where fresh, local produce is traditionally hard to come by.

“Do we see this as part of a bigger movement? Absolutely,” says Hennessey, whose previous jobs include work in community-based agriculture projects and restaurant management. She and her partner, John Stoddard, met as students at the University of Vermont 15 years ago.

Not only is unshipped produce fresher, tastier, and more nutritious, Hennessey says, but food security is also less of a concern and the local economy benefits, too.

In Lynnfield, meanwhile, construction is underway on a new Whole Foods store with a half-acre (17,000 square feet) rooftop farm that is designed into its architectural plans. By late-May, project managers hope they’ll be able to plant tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, leafy greens, and several varieties of herbs, to be sold in the store’s produce bins.

While rooftop farming is not an entirely new concept, notes Jessie Banhazl, founder of Green City Growers in Somerville, what’s currently happening around Greater Boston and the region is taking the idea to a scale, and height, unknown just a few years ago.

“People have been doing it under the radar for years, and some countries are more advanced than ours,” says Banhazl, whose company will manage the Whole Foods rooftop farm. “[But] people are becoming more receptive to it now that it’s becoming more visible, and there’s more understanding of the importance of growing hyperlocally.”

Founded in 2008, Green City Growers also manages a 5,000-square-foot garden atop Dorchester’s Ledge Kitchen & Drinks restaurant and another serving b.good in Downtown Crossing. The Whole Foods installation is being designed and installed by Recover Green Roofs, another Somerville-based firm, which specializes in vegetative “green roofs” and rooftop-ag projects.

Other large-scale rooftop farms already established in Northeastern cities include Brooklyn Grange, which maintains two facilities in Brooklyn and Queens, N.Y., that total 2.5 acres and yield more than 20 tons of produce annually; Eagle Street Farm’s 6,000 square-foot-rooftop farm, situated above a Brooklyn warehouse; and Lufa Farm’s $2 million, 31,000-square-foot rooftop greenhouse in Montreal, which grows 25 varieties of vegetables year round and hydroponically.

Soil-based, seasonal farms like those attached to the Boston Design Center and Whole Foods store are cheaper than the hydroponic kind, note Banhazl and others. Their costs typically run between $30 and $55 per square foot for soil, plants, and irrigation, versus around $200 per square foot for a large hydroponic farm like the one in Montreal. The latter’s energy costs are higher, too.

Across the board, though, rooftop farms yield important energy savings, advocates say, helping to cool buildings in the warmer growing months. Heat from below also lengthens the growing season — perhaps into early November along Boston’s waterfront — by warming soil beds.

“We anticipate as much as 7 percent in annual energy savings,” says Hennessey, standing on the Design Center’s vacant rooftop last week. She estimates 5 to 15 percent of already-built city structures could support rooftop farms of some size.

Landscape architect Lauren Mandel has been studying the urban ag movement for the past four years. In her new book, “Eat Up: The Inside Scoop on Rooftop Agriculture” (New Society Publishers), she identifies eight North American cities — Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, among them — that have been leading the way in high-rise urban farming.

Boston is not in their league yet, concedes Mandel, but it may get there soon. For one thing, she notes, the city has scores of older buildings with the structural integrity to support large-scale projects. Other assets that make rooftop farming feasible? Water sources, freight elevators that reach the roof, and high parapets that allow for safe public access (these are rooftops, after all).

“In a few short years, a constellation of new farms and gardens across our city skylines reveals the industry’s extreme growth, and unparalleled potential for expansion,” writes Mandel in the introduction to “Eat Up,” which comes out this month.

By phone from Philadelphia, Mandel says the distinction between rooftop farming and gardening is, in her view, not only a function of scale but of the growers’ intent as well. “I try to define the terms by where the food is going rather than size [of operation],” she says, with more commercial enterprises qualifying as farming, in her mind.

Mandel predicts that Boston is ripe for assuming a bigger role in the urban ag movement.

“Rooftop agriculture takes a lot of disciplines — engineers, architects, designers — that Boston already has,” she says. “You don’t need professionals to grow a few tomatoes on your roof. On a bigger scale, you do, though.”

Beyond the expertise required, “A big part of this is exposure and social media coverage,” Mandel continues. “When you couple rooftop agriculture with a restaurant or grocery store, you have a lot of marketing potential. There’s an element of sex appeal there, to be honest.”

Joseph P. Kahn can be reached at
Original article in the Boston Globe

by Anric


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Jeremy Grantham on population growth, China and climate sceptics – Part 1

Jeremy Grantham on population growth, China and climate sceptics – Part 1

‘The world’s most powerful environmentalist’ on battling the ‘misinformation machine’ and why China is his ‘secret weapon’

Jeremy Grantham, co-founder of GMO, speaks during the Ira Sohn Investmen Research Conference: Photograph: Daniel Acker/Getty Images
‘China knows this is serious’… environmental philanthropist Jeremy Grantham.

The following interview by Leo Hickman of the Guardian  with Jeremy Grantham, the environmental philanthropist and legendary fund manager, was published in the Guardian on Saturday.

Leo Hickman:  ”As I have done for my interviews with the likes of Al GoreBill McKibben and James Lovelock (in 2010 and 2012), I have taken the time to transcribe the full interview so readers can see what Grantham said in the kind of detail that the print edition of the Guardian can’t provide. The interview lasted three hours, so I have split the transcript in two. I will publish part two tomorrow, but here’s part one…”

Jeremy Grantham on why he has stepped up his environmental activities:

It’s data driven. We [the Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment] were gracefully moving into the environment, save these animals and habitats, and all these good things, then the data on resources – starting about four years ago – made me realise that some of these were really urgent. That we were already entering a foodcrisis, for example. This time last year I thought it was clear from the data that we were already five years into a food crisis and it is highly unlikely to go away. And unless we get our act together it is likely to become a cascading problem.

On how much time we have to tackle the world’s environmental problems:

We’re already in a bad place. We’re on a sliding scale. The language “it’s too late” is very unsuitable for most environmental issues. It’s too late for the dodo and for people who’ve starved to death already, but it’s not too late to prevent an even bigger crisis. The sooner we act on the environment, the better. The sooner we cut off the carbon dioxide going into the air, etc. The worse accidents we will prevent from happening are 20, 30, 40 years from now. The same applies to food. The faster we act to improve the situation, the fewer Africans – North Africans, in particular – will come to grief. What is happening through the market mechanism is that the rich countries, by being unnecessarily sloppy – and by the Chinese getting richer in a real hurry and eating more meat – we are pricing up grain so that the poor are getting hungry. It’s hard to see this stopping in the immediate future. It’s also very hard to see the poor and hungry getting richer at the same speed as the way we are driving up the price of grain.

On feeding a growing human population:

There is a stretching disparity between the haves and have nots. It’s not the win-win of globalisation that we all grew up with studying in Econ 101. The irony is that as China gets richer, it burns more coal. They put pressure on the global environment and on global grain prices. So in order to give them a nice middle class, variegated diet, they could cause poorer Asians and Africans to starve. There is no mechanism to prevent that. Egypt runs a trade deficit. Their population is programmed to grow dramatically. Three million at the time of Napoleon. Eighty-three million, said their standard when they marched into the Olympic Games last year. And they’re on their way to 140m. They’ve always been very efficient, but they can’t feed much more than half their people. The price of grain from about 2002-2008 – a tiny window – tripled. Why did it grow so sharply? We knew population was growing, but it was growing steadily, if dramatically. When I was born there were two billion, now there are seven billion. It’s the kind of curve than anyone in finance would look at and jump nervously, when you see an exponential curve like that. That’s one factor, but nothing particular to the period of 2002-2008…

On the rising price of oil:

…2002 was a nothing year. The only numbers I was paying attention to in 2002 was for oil. A little wheel was turning at the back of my brain that noted that oil was beginning to act differently. Our firm specialises in the study of investment bubbles. We have the best data. Over the years, we have put together a database that has 330 bubbles of which about 40 are really important ones. What we found about the important bubbles is that every single one had burst completely back to the original trend. Three years up to something triple, and then three years down. They actually tend to go down a little more quickly than they went up, which is surprising. But they always broke. I used to specialise in asking financial audiences to give me an example of the paradigm shift, a major shift in a major financial asset class. And never was one offered. Six years ago I wrote about the paradigm shift in the New York Times. It had 100 years of oil prices – very volatile, but a very central, steady trend line of about 16 dollars a barrel in today’s currency. But then around OPEC in 1972/3, the price trend leaps up to $36.

On the unwillingness to process unpleasant data:

I find the parallels between how some investors refuse to recognise the trends and our reaction to some of our environmental challenges very powerful. There is an unwillingness to process unpleasant data. In a bull market you want to believe good news. You don’t want to hear that the market is going to go off a cliff. You don’t want to listen to the climate people who are telling you it is getting worse and even worse unless you do this and that. You want to listen to the good news. There were always people willing to tell you that smoking was OK and that stuff about cancer was exaggerated. There’s a professor at MIT who defended tobacco who now defends carbon dioxide saying it seems to have lost its greenhouse effect, or whatever. And then there are the vested interests. They are the single most powerful force because you are dealing with an audience who wants to hear good news and into the stock market come all the bullish stock market giant firms telling you everything’s fine because they love bull markets because they make a fortune. They don’t even mind crashes because they don’t do so badly there either. What they would die at is if the market went up at its long-term trend line at 1.8%, plus inflation, a year. But we’re not going back to 2% growth. Maybe we’ll do 1% and it will be reported as 1.5% and once again people don’t want to hear that. They want to hear Ben Bernanke‘s news that it should return to 3%…
Me calling bubbles correctly is all data driven and based on the optimism that is built into humans. Every time we see a bubble, we see an army of people screaming, “No, no, it’s not a bubble, everything is fine.” We see the climate and scores of people screaming the same that everything is fine, or that it’s a plot. It’s par for the course. The general public don’t want to hear it and will choose to listen to the optimistic interpretation. It’s a real uphill struggle. You don’t stop the bubble really until the damage is done. It goes so high that it can’t sustain itself and just pops. And maybe that will happen here and our job is to try to do a better job than we did in the tech bubble.

On climate sceptics:

The misinformation machine is brilliant. As a propagandist myself [he has previously described himself as GMO’s “chief of propaganda” in reference to his official title of “chief investment strategist”], I have nothing but admiration for their propaganda. [Laughs.] But the difference is that we have the facts behind our propaganda. They’re in the “screaming loudly” rather than the “fact based” part of the exercise, because they don’t have the facts. They are masters at manufacturing doubt. What I have noticed on the blogs and in the comments section under articles is that over several years, as the scientific evidence for climate change gets stronger, the tone of the sceptics is getting shriller and more vicious and nastier all the time. The equivalent on the other side is a weary resignation, sorrow and frustration and amazement that people on the other side can’t look at the facts. The sceptics are getting angrier and more vicious every year despite the more storms we have, and the more mad crazy weather we have…
One of the problems is that typically you are not dealing with the facts. Putting in more facts makes the sceptics more angry. They have profound beliefs – as opposed to knowledge – that they are willing to protect by all manner of psychological tricks. So you have people who are very smart – even great analysts and hedge fund managers – who on paper know that their argument is wrong, but who promote it fiercely because they are libertarians. Libertarians believe that any government interference is bad. Anyone with a brain knows that climate change needs governmental leadership and they can smell this is bad news for their philosophy. Their ideology is so strongly held that remarkably it’s overcoming the facts. They are using incredible ingenuity to steer their way around facts that they do not choose to accept philosophically. Laying down more facts just makes them more angry. You may win over a few neutrals. They are the people you can win over. But it’s very hard to win over the hardcore sceptics, of which there are plenty.
We can try to bypass them on one level and we try to contest the political power of the sceptics. They are using money as well as propaganda to influence the politicians, particularly in America. It almost doesn’t even exist in countries outside the US, UK and Australia. A cynic would say that the petrol-chemical industry also happens to be Anglo-Saxon. Where are the great oil companies based? They still have great power. The oil companies seem to have pulled back from directly supporting climate sceptics over the past few years because – in England, in particular – they were embarrassed and it became untenable to be so obvious. But they’re still influential. You don’t have go via back-channels any more, courtesy of the US Supreme Court, because it is completely legal for a corporation to invest tons of money in advertising programmes to say who is good and who is bad in a race for the Senate without even asking permission from the people who actually own the company. Corporations are treated as human beings and money is treated as having the right to speak. There’s dark money and light money. The anonymity they adopt is legal. They don’t have to say who their donors are. It is quite remarkable. And then you get the Something Something for the Environment, which are actually just sceptics funded by the bad guys. And then there are the thinktanks who have become propaganda-tanks. I used to respect the Cato Institute when it came out with reports on this, that and the other, and they have received a lot of hydrocarbon funding. But when the University of East Anglia break-in was engineered they had something like 20 press conferences the following month. The response to the break-in was almost immediate and co-ordinated. I don’t think it was suspiciously rapid, but I do think it was unusually and unexpectedly rapid. It’s very likely that it was simply a terrific response of their behalf. They moved very fast. The good guys are learning slowly, but surely, to step up their response time…
If you’re saying something that people don’t want to hear or accept, a significant proportion of them will reply with hostility. Not because they know the facts, or because they have researched it themselves, but because they’re so psychologically involved in believing good news that they will oppose it with a reflex. In addition, if the solutions proposed sound like they involve the government, you will have all the political rightwing try to block it as a reflex, even if it means them overriding hard science, which is what’s going on today. Changing people’s minds is almost impossible, even among scientists. Max Planck said, to paraphrase, that science advances one funeral at a time. You could add that economics advances the same way. You have to wait to get rid of the people who have career investment in a topic before a new generation can see the light.

On the UK’s unseasonably cold spring in 2013, and recent icy winters:

The scientists are getting very concerned privately – they are conservative in public and have yet to write it up – that blocking processes are sticking in the system. The jet stream is behaving very strangely. One very senior atmospheric scientist said to me recently off the record that we are liable to wake up one day and find ourselves on the latitude – which we are in the UK – of Montreal. It’s a liveable place, but not like London. They have underground tunnels because of their winters. The Gulf Stream is having a few wobbles, too, and the theory there is the melting in Greenland and the Arctic is creating a lot of cold, fresh water, which is a possible source for loss of power in the conductor, so it moves less warm water up from the Caribbean.

On how he chooses where to spend his foundation’s money:

We don’t fund the hard science of solar technology. That would take hundreds of millions. But what we are funding is bringing together the data and put it together and representing it conveniently to the outside world. And we want to train people with a good range of skills so they can produce good PhDs for the future at LSE and Imperial. We also fund old-fashioned style investigative journalism which is dying out in newspapers because the newspaper industry has become incredibly tough. The first people to get fired were the environmental journalists. We had a prize for environmental journalism which we brought in at the top of the market, but we discontinued it last year because there was basically no leverage left for the two-and-a-half environmental journalists left. All we were interested in was the net result of whether it could produce a more effective presentation of the facts. We got going in the nick of time to see that it could drag up environmental journalism, but then all the “dragees” were suddenly looking for different jobs, or put on different beats. Or that they were already working for the handful of independent investigative organisations. We fund about a dozen fledgling journalistic projects. Our argument was they are all fledgling so let’s fund them all first, then winnow them down later – come back in 3-4 years and pick eight and, a couple of years later, pick five. In the end, it doesn’t matter if there are one or two, but that they are the best. They whole point really is to allow these people to do their thing and to play to their skills and to pick the people who are highly motivated and very skilled. None of them would be very happy if we tried to tell them what precisely to do and we don’t know what they should do.

On assessing if the money his foundation spends has achieved its objectives:

It’s a great problem for philanthropists and NGOs. The problems where you can measure the impact are not common in the environmental field. If you can measure them, they tend to be over decades. One is the wildlife population of Namibia. That is by far and away the most successful [conservation project the foundation has funded], by the way. You can see the population of the various types of antelope have improved. But that is unusual. But the ones you feel are most important are the vaguest of them all. How do measure the shift in attitudes towards processing the data? There are guys working on studying the changes in attitudes in the media. But you have to take a leap of faith that they are smart and dedicated.

On whether he tries to persuade other philanthropists to support his causes:

No, I don’t. We might discuss such things informally over lunch. There’s a handful of hedge fund managers, mainly, who have decided to be aggressive about the environment, thank heavens. This doesn’t exist in England where you could get them all on the finger of one hand. I can try to persuade them. I gave a talk in London recently at the head office of a major financial player and someone went to considerably effort to make sure a couple of hundred potential philanthropists and wealthy individuals were there for me to have a go at them. A lot of them left their business cards and if you do that you are kind of asking for trouble. [Laughs.] I believe the majority left their cards, which as things go, is a huge potential hit because even if you get one or two that could be significant. They were a receptive audience. I try to paint the picture of how I got to where I am [as an investor] and then of how fact based the issues appear to be to me. I now try to add my thoughts about food and the “carbon math”…

On the “carbon math”:

…It’s simple, comprehensible maths, as Bill McKibbenexplained in Rolling Stone last year. There are five times the amount of proven carbon reserves as we can possibly allow to be burned if we want to remain under 2C of warming, which is now not even considered to be a safe margin. We must burn just a fifth of what’s there. We will burn all the cheap, high-quality oil and gas, but if we mean to burn all the coal and any appreciable percentage of the tarsands, or even third derivative, energy-intensive oil and gas, with fracking for shale gas on the boundary, then we’re cooked, we’re done for. Terrible consequences that we will lay at the door of our grandchildren. Some things might change very quickly, though. For example, the business mathematics of alternative energy are changing much faster than the well-informed business man realises.

On the falling costs of alternative energy:

Read my next quarterly newsletter entitled, “The Race of Our Lives”, [will be available here] on why civilisations fall and why they’ve always fallen and why we may not because we have two advantages that they did not – a voluntary fall in fertility, which is just amazing, and alternative energy. Every wave of technology has seen an incremental increase in energy needed – steam engines, cars, air conditioning, iPads – they all add to our energy needs and mean we dig a deeper hole, but we feel we are making wonderful progress. But now we have a technology wave which protects us from needing to burn every last ton of coal. Solar, wind, biomass, intelligent grids, and storage – please, more storage – protect us. That is the best part of capitalism. The price of solar panels is now 25% of what it was two years ago and that’s the bit people have missed. If these prices were to be held – they may not be – we are competitive, without a carbon tax, in the areas that have the sun – California, North Africa, Spain, etc. You can build a solar farm and it can be commercial. Meanwhile, the price of hydrocarbons are getting more expensive all the time, because you’ve extracted all the easy stuff first and with China rising and still growing at 7% a year. And that’s just China. Don’t forget India which actually has more coal power plants down to be built on the books at the moment than China. Now you start to get an idea of, wow, why this does not compute. If it computes, it’s only at the enormous increase in cost of digging and shipping coal. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, solar and wind power are getting cheaper and cheaper. Those lines are going to cross big time in the next 20 years. There is no such thing as “locked in and committed” because you can reverse. They might build a few more coal-fired plants, but then they will stop completely. The pay-off for China of getting out of the way of those lines crossing is so great.

On why China is his big hope:

China is my secret weapon. I call them the Chinese cavalry riding to the rescue. They have the capital. They have an embarrassment of capital – 50% of their GDP is capital investment. We have a shortage of capital and also have debts. Their problem is how to invest all that capital. My partners worry all the time about them wasting their money. What better programme could they possibly have, with huge social pay-off, than a massive replacement of sustainable energy? When you think what it would mean to them – it would get rid of their pollution – it makes sense. Because of that pollution, they announced recently an incredible increase of 65% in their plans to install by 2015 – just three short years away – 36GW, which is equivalent to 20 vast, state-of-art coal plants, of solar. Throw in wind, too. And, by the way, we will have many breakthroughs in storage. If I had to make a bet, I would say that’s the most promising, important breakthrough of the next several years. Everyone is working on this. If you have a big smart grid – and all the desert of Xinjiang and all the wind of Inner Mongolia – and it’s all swirling around with relatively little loss and you have a grid smart enough to go in there Chinese-style and turn your fridge off for half an hour to save energy, and do this and do that, you don’t need nearly the back-up. The bad guys will tell you that you need 100% back-up and messianic environmentalists will tell you that you need 0%. But maybe 20% back-up will be needed as everyone is working on storage. I’m certain it will happen. Some technologies take time then go, “Bang!”. Look at video conferencing. It has been around forever and the quality was terrible. But now it is so clear and instant. Technology has a habit of boring you to death and disappointing you for 20 years then suddenly it delivers a new world…
I have very high hopes for China because they have embedded high scientific capabilities in their leadership class. And that is huge. They know this is serious. They can calculate the social threat of getting this pollution, weather instability, water out of control. And they are acting much faster now than we are. They have it within their capabilities of coming back in 30 years with the guarantee of complete energy independence – all alternative and sustainable forever. They have an embarrassment of capital. We have an embarrassment of debt. So they can set a stunning pace, which they are doing. And they could crank it up. To hell with their five-year plans, they should move up to 25-year plans for alternative energy – energy security, reducing pollution and low cost. They would have such low-cost energy at the end of it they will be the terror of the capitalist system. With low energy and low labour, that’s the ball game. Five years into a 25-year programme and any capitalist will be urging their government to copy them.

On the Scandinavian countries:

I am inspired by [them]. They have to cope with short-term election cycles and a parliamentary system and all four of them nevertheless act responsibly, not just on alternative energy and environmental issues, but also on social issues that matter. They are, by and large, models of good behaviour. They say in America to me what’s the solution to all this, I say cede your government to Denmark. [Laughs]. They are good enough that they would get the job done.

On environmentalism’s track record of making predictions:

Go and read Limits to Growth, which I did recently. They pretty much predicted doom and gloom 20 years from now. They have been grossly misinterpreted and are pretty much on schedule. There are details that are over and under, but it is amazingly accurate. The William Ophuls model is that we are hard-wired to collapse. Given half a chance we will over-reach. We are over-confident that we will solve every problem. But we will leave it too late and we will crash. All the confidence that people try to give you – the “infinite capacity of the human brain”, unquote – all of that hinges on the apparent infinite supply of hydrocarbons. No civilisation looked durable and resilient until coal and then we acquired this amazing power. We are now coming to the end of that era. If we don’t use that window to fix it and have a sustainable replacement, we are toast. Don’t worry about peak oil, worry about peak temperature. All our flora and fauna has thrived in the last 10,000 years since the end of the last ice age, a period which has seen unbelievable stable weather by long-term standards. Now it is becoming unstable. If you drive the temperature above 40C, well-known brands of corn will not produce. They just stop. You might be able to twist and turn and get it to produce at 41C, and you might move further north in latitude, but temperatures rises are very bad news for grain. The wider point is it [temperature rise] is generally bad for everything that evolved in one stable environment. It has no resilience to produce outside the temperatures experiences during this 10,000 year period. Quite a few grains are now topping out in terms of productivity. I look around and I say just look at the food-producing problems we face. In fact, let’s make it even simpler: look at the grain-producing problems we face around the world. We’ve just had three consecutive monster-bad grain harvests. Not one of those three poor harvests was more likely than a one-in-25-year harvest. But the terrible thing is they went, “whack, whack, whack”. I took some grief when I wrote about the first one and said next year was bound to be less bad, but the next year became a monster. I’ve done more research and reading in the last two years than I ever did at college. I’ve read all the classics. All the limits to growth, all the end of civilisations stuff, all the peak everything stuff, all the soil destruction stuff.

On confronting our environmental problems:

Asking, “Are we too late?”, is not the logic for this problem. It is too late for the dodo. It is too late for the one third of arable land that we have destroyed in 10,000 years. It’s too late for 10% of global biodiversity, and almost certainly another 10%, and 50/50 for yet another 10% after that. But it would be nice to end up with a planet that we can still relate to, that still has a fairly handsome biodiversity. We can still do that. There is one chance that the real pessimists are right. The chance that on our way to a 4-8C rise, and a 10-15ft rise in the oceans, which is probably what’s going to happen over the next two centuries, that things will get worse before they get better, because there is inertia built into the system. You can easily imagine resource wars breaking out unless we put our best foot forward on alternative energy. This would buy us time for everything else to be solved. If you can become energy sustainable in the next 40 years and suck up the pain that will have been paid by then, then you have probably bought the time for another 40 years to transfer the whole of global agriculture into a fully sustainable system before we run out of the resources to run old-fashioned agriculture. And if you do that then, in turn, you have probably bought enough time to deal with the intractable long-term issue of metals, which are entropy writ large. No matter how careful you are with them, they slip through your fingers. In the end, you will need to use organic replacements, which will take a long, long time [to develop]. We’d better start working on it now, but not too many are and they’re not getting much funding. You’ve got to get the population down and you’ve got to ignore the Economist magazine and others talking about rising population as a terrible economic problem. It is a necessary, short-term, intermediate pain to pay for the absolute minimum hope of survival, which is a gracefully declining population, because if you don’t do that you will have a rapidly imploding population one day.

Continue to PART 2

by Anric


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Desertification now crisis affecting 168 countries worldwide, study shows

Desertification now crisis affecting 168 countries worldwide, study shows

  • By Ed King for RTCC
  • Severe land degradation is now affecting 168 countries across the world, according to new research released by the UN
MDG : Burkina Faso : Desertification

A Burkinabe man from the village of Selbo village, in northern Burkina Faso, gestures near grass he planted to help stop the advance of the Sahara desert. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

Severe land degradation is now affecting 168 countries across the world, according to new research released by the UN Desertification Convention (UNCCD).

The figure, based on submissions from countries to the UN, is a marked increase on the last analysis in the mid-1990s, which estimated 110 states were at risk.

In an economic analysis published last week the Convention also warns land degradation is now costing US$490 billion per year and wiping out an area three times the size of Switzerland on an annual basis.

“Land degradation and drought are impeding the development of all nations in the world,” UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja told RTCC.

“This is a challenge that is causing governments to take this issue seriously, but how do you get them to take it seriously? By showing them the rate of return on restoring degraded land is one of the smartest investments of our time.

He added: “Desertification, land degradation and drought is an issue of market failure. The lack of economic market valuation has led to land being perceived as a cheap resource.”

The causes of land degradation are varied, but are widely attributed to drought, climate change, intensive farming practices and poor water management.

Desertification is low on many countries’ radar – illustrated by Canada’s recent withdrawal from the UNCCD – but its links to climate change and food security are starting to resonate with governments and business, particularly given fears over the world’s ability to feed a soaring population.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts demand for food will increase 60% by 2050. Experts say the world will need an additional 120 million hectares of agricultural land to support the required food production – that is a new farm the size of South Africa.

Meanwhile recent studies by the UK Met Office and USAID have linked the severe drought that hit East Africa in 2011 and falling rice yields in South East Asia to man-made climate change.

Since 2000, the prices of staples such as of meat, dairy, cereals and sugar have doubled, reflecting a lack of elasticity in the food market’s supply chain.

Vicious circle

Efforts to boost agricultural production often lead to deforestation, a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions.

This has a knock on effect in terms of reducing the planet’s store of natural carbon sinks and destroying the ‘ecosystem services’ trees provide such as water storage, exacerbating the problem.

The UNCCD hopes to adopt a ‘Zero Net Land Degradation by 2030′ resolution at its 2013 Conference of the Parties in Namibia later this year, and there are signs sustainable land management could form one of the Sustainable Development Goals set to be announced in 2015.

Last week former Finland President Tarja Halonen, now Chairman of the UN Global Sustainability Panel, indicated that the links between rural poverty, famine and land management should “guide the work” on those new set of targets.

“Sustainable land management, prevention of land degradation and rehabilitation of land is the most cost effective and cost beneficial ways to eradicate rural poverty,” she added.

In Africa alone a UNCCD expert panel estimates 4-12% of agricultural GDP is lost due to deteriorating environmental conditions, contributing to the high levels of chronic hunger and conflict on the continent.

This situation is acute in Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, where the combination of weak governments and a lack of annual rains linked to climate change are driving desertification levels.

In China over 400 million people are affected by soil erosion, causing annual economic losses of US$10 billion, while the UNCCD says Indian reports of degradation have increased “by a factor of six”.

Original source document: click here

by Anric


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Mexico Will Lead Innovation in Agricultural Development for the World By Bill Gates and Carlos Slim Helú

Mexico Will Lead Innovation in Agricultural Development for the World By Bill Gates and Carlos Slim Helú


February 12, 2013 | By Bill Gates and Carlos Slim Helú

Building on its success a half-century ago pioneering new varieties of wheat and maize that saved a billion people from starvation, Mexico is again at the forefront of advances in agricultural development to help poor countries become food self-sufficient.

Combining the latest breakthroughs in agricultural science and farming practices with digital technology, Mexico’s innovative efforts will enable even the poorest farmers to grow and sell more crops.

Against the dramatic realities of climate change, a growing global population, rising food prices, and a shrinking agricultural land base, Mexico’s leadership in agricultural innovation is critically important—especially to the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa where hundreds of millions of people face severe hunger and poverty.

At the center of these efforts is Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo (CIMMYT), where Mexican and international researchers have worked for decades to develop higher-yielding, more resilient seeds for maize and wheat, and to introduce better agricultural practices that help farmers be more productive. One of CIMMYT’s greatest strength is its partnership approach. In addition to bringing together the world’s leading scientists and agricultural experts, CIMMYT has also involved farmer associations, the private sector, governments, international organizations, and NGOs in developing effective solutions to meet the needs of poor farmers worldwide.

This week, CIMMYT will be celebrating the completion of new agricultural research and training facilities made possible through the financial support of Fundación Carlos Slim. These state-of-the-art labs and greenhouses will ensure CIMMYT’s continued leadership developing high-yielding maize and wheat varieties equipped to tolerate the stresses of climate change. Expanded training facilities will enhance CIMMYT’s ability to develop and deliver resource-conserving farming practices and advance digital technologies that enable poor farming families to increase their productivity and income.

Helping poor farming families increase production in a sustainable way, and sell more crops, is the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty over the long term. This has been proven in Mexico, India, Pakistan, Brazil, China, and many other countries over the last half century.

The unique partnership between CIMMYT, the government, and our foundations ensures that Mexico will continue to lead in agricultural development—first in Mexico and then the rest of the world.

The new infrastructure funded through Fundación Carlos Slim will enable CIMMYT to carry out cutting-edge agricultural science using the latest digital innovations, and to accelerate the use of mobile technology to provide farmers everywhere with vital information about weather, prices, and new techniques to improve their productivity. The Mexican government’s MasAgro initiative is helping farmers adopt more sustainable and profitable farming practices to increase food production. As these agricultural advances achieve scale in Mexico, the Gates Foundation will ensure that they reach maize and wheat farmers in Africa and South Asia, along with the resources needed to improve productivity.

Fifty years ago, Mexico’s leadership in agricultural innovation helped lift hundreds of millions of people in Latin America and Asia from hunger and poverty. More recently the UN’s Millennium Development Goals have reduced the number of people living in extreme poverty by half, since 1990.

The world is counting on Mexico to continue leading the way in agricultural research and sustainable farming practices to ensure global food security. Meanwhile, the global community must do its part by aligning around a new set of goals –including an agricultural productivity target – and achieving measurable outcomes that improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.

by Anric



Agri trading M&A heats up

The agricultural-trading industry is being redrawn and North America, traditionally known as the bread basket of the world, continues to be a centre point as demand for food and animal-feed in developing countries including China surges.

Marubeni Trading, the Japanese agricultural goods trader, recently bought U.S. grain merchandiser Gavilon Group for USD 5.6 billion- the biggest Japanese acquisition this year and the seventh biggest globally close on the heels of Swiss-based Glencore purchasing Viterra in March for $6 billion .

In the next marketing year that starts in October, the market is expecting a 60 percent jump in China’s corn imports to around 8 million tonnes.

Analysts expect China’s corn purchases to surpass Japan’s annual imports of 16 million tonnes, which is the world’s largest at the moment.

The Marubeni deal is seen in particular boosting Marubeni’s ability to supply US corn and soybeans to the burgeoning Chinese market – a trade route in which it already has a significant presence. Glencore said in March that global grain and oilseed demand will increase as much as 3.5 percent a year.

“It’s a trend that’s been developing over the last five years that’s been accelerating,” Farha Aslam, a New York-based agricultural analyst for investment bank Stephens  told Bloomberg News. “The desire is to broaden the supply, broaden the reach and increase the depth across the globe.”

There are several deals in the pipeline and there may be further acquisitions in the trading industry: Margarita Louis-Dreyfus, the chairman of agricultural company Louis Dreyfus Holding, was cited by Les Echos on May 15 as saying that that the trader is being prepared for a possible IPO. She also isn’t ruling out a merger, the newspaper reported. The Amsterdam-based company said May 1 it agreed to acquire Sugar Land, Texas-based Imperial Sugar for $77.6 million to expand into refining and distribution of the sweetener. Louis Dreyfus recently announced its taking small stake in $3.1 billion Felda IPO

Then there is there is the possibility of a takeover of Australia’s GrainCorp which operates seven of the eight ports that ship grain in bulk from the country’s east coast. It is “inevitable,” Tim Mitchell, an analyst at Citigroup, said in a recent note to clients.

Closely held Gavilon drew interest from Singapore-based Wilmar International Ltd. the world’s largest palm-oil processor, as well as Bunge of the U.S., Switzerland’s Glencore, and Japan’s Mitsui and Mitsubishi, Bloomberg News reported.

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Posted by on June 25, 2012 in Agriculture


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Can we really feed 9 Billion people

By 2050, the planet will need at least 70 percent more food than it does today as population soars, cities sprawl and climate change takes its toll. Will it be possible?

That’s a question AlertNet, the global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, put to experts the world over for a special multimedia report probing the future of food.

The answer: The planet can feed itself – but only with the help of myriad “green bullets” designed to change the way food is planted, watered, harvested, stored, transported, owned and shared.

For the full package, including stories, interviews, videos, info-graphics and commentary, visit

Here is a summary

Local initiatives will be critical if the world is to feed itself over the coming decades

In flood-hit fields in the Philippines, farmers are testing a hardy new variety of rice that can survive completely submerged for more than two weeks. In Kenya’s Kibera slum, poor urban families are turning around their diets and incomes just by learning to grow vegetables in sack gardens outside their doors. And in India, a push to help marginalised rural communities gain title to their land is leading to a significant drop in hunger. These are just a few of the kinds of innovations and initiatives that experts say will be critical if the world is to feed itself over coming decades as the population soars, cities sprawl and climate change takes its toll.

By 2050, the planet will need at least 70% more food than it does today to meet both an expected rise in population to 9bn from 7bn and changing appetites as many poor people grow richer, experts say.

“Can we feed a world of 9bn? I would say the answer is yes,” said Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser to Britain’s Department of Environment and Rural Affairs and a former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But doing so will require fundamental changes to unsustainable but well-entrenched policies and practices, from eating so much meat to spending trillions on agriculture and fuel subsidies, he said. In the meantime, many hunger fighters say the answer lies in clever alterations to the way food is planted, watered, harvested, stored, transported, sold, owned and shared. Many of those changes are already being tested in the world’s farms and fields, in laboratories and government offices, in factories and markets. Some are even speaking of the beginnings of a 21st century food revolution.

Myriad ‘green bullets’

Unlike the last century’s agricultural “Green Revolution”, which dramatically boosted world food production with new high yielding crop varieties and more irrigation, this revolution must rely on myriad “green bullets” to tackle hunger. They range from persuading farmers in Africa’s drought zones to switch from water-hungry rice to hardier crops like sorghum or millet, to helping them build pest-proof grain silos that allow food to be stored longer or sold when prices are higher.

With 70% of the world’s people expected to live in cities by 2050, finding ways to help city dwellers grow food in small urban plots or roof gardens, or group together to buy food at cheaper prices, is a major focus. In California’s East  Palo Alto, for instance, older inner-city residents — who are particularly vulnerable to high food prices — are learning growing techniques for the first time and producing food for themselves and a neighbourhood market. Other urban areas are turning to vertical hydroponic gardens clinging to the edge of skyscrapers. Women — who grow at least 40% of food in Africa and Asia — will need improved land rights and better access to information, something being made much easier by the spread of mobile phone technology, experts say. Rural women in India’s Andhra Pradesh state now use advance drought warnings, relayed by Internet and mobile phone, to switch to more drought-tolerant crops — a move that has saved harvests and helped stem the usual wave of migration to cities in drought times.

Changing farming practices by adopting more water-conserving drip irrigation or planting crops amid fertilising trees, as is now happening throughout Africa, will also be key. So will cutting the at least 30% of the world’s food supply eaten by pests, spoiled on the way to market or thrown away unused from plates and supermarkets. Simply getting supermarkets to stop offering two-for-one specials — which can encourage people to overbuy — would be a start, some antihunger activists say, as would improving roads in regions like South Asia and Africa where transport delays mean produce often rots on the way to market. Solutions to the threat of worsening hunger will vary by region, by country, sometimes even from one farm or village or apartment building to the next, experts say. Not all ideas will succeed, and scaling up those that do prove to work, as quickly as possible, will be essential.

In a world where an estimated 900mn people are already hungry today, curbing surging consumption in rich nations and those fast getting rich, especially India and China, will be particularly important, experts say. “If we look at the graph of (rising) human consumption, that’s the one to worry about,” said Phil Bloomer, director of campaigns and policy for Oxfam Great Britain. “That is a graph that should strike panic in our hearts.”Persuading rich people to eat less meat and fewer milk products, which take a lot of grain to produce, would go a long way toward curbing ever-rising demand for grain.

‘No normal to go back to’

Many innovations focus on easing the adverse effects of climate change on food production. While warmer weather and growing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could spur plant growth and food production in some regions — and open a few northern reaches of the world to farming — many more regions are expected to see worsening losses from droughts, floods, storms, rising sea levels and higher temperatures that can cause crop yields to drop. “It used to be there was an extreme weather event here or there but we knew that in a year or so things would go back to normal,” said Lester Brown, a food security and sustainability expert, and president of the US-based Earth Policy Institute. “Now there is no normal to go back to.” That’s why scientists from Bangladesh to Tanzania are developing new resilient varieties of maize, wheat, rice and other crops that can survive underwater, or with very little rain, or even both extremes in the same season, and still produce a reliable crop. Other innovators are focusing on the effects of growing water scarcity. “A substantial amount of our food production worldwide comes from nonrenewable groundwater sources, and in the long run that is not sustainable,” said Peter Gleick, a leading water expert and head of the US-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. In villages where glacier-fed streams are set to become more irregular or disappear in the years ahead, or where flooding from heavy rain is quickly followed by drought, communities are learning to harvest and store water to ensure supplies throughout the year. They are also developing water-conserving irrigation methods to make what they have available last. Will all such innovations be enough to feed 9bn people by 2050? Possibly, say experts, but success will depend on making enough key changes fast enough. In addition to on-the-ground solutions, those changes will need to include major policy shifts — including potentially a ban on turning grain into biofuel or limits on food speculation. “Food insecurity and climate change are already inhibiting human well-being and economic growth throughout the world, and these problems are poised to accelerate,” said John Beddington, Britain’s chief science adviser, in a March report by the International Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.“Decisive policy action is required if we are to preserve the planet’s capacity to produce adequate food in the future.”

— Reuters (These articles are  part of a special multimedia report on global hunger produced by AlertNet, a global humanitarian news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation)


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Hosepipe Ban in UK Affects 20 Million

Following two of the driest years on record, seven water authorities in parts of southern and eastern England have imposed bans on hosepipes. Nearly 20 million citizens will be affected by this decision, made in part due to drought and “extreme circumstances.”  Failure to comply with the ban may lead to fines of up to 1000 GBP.

To help ease this pressing shortage, water experts and municipal administrators are considering water transfer options from Wales.  However, expense and logistical difficulties may prevent water resources from being accessed by groups who desperately need it.

The UK’s agricultural sector, particularly in the south of England, is at severe risk.  Former National Farmers’ Union vice-chairman Gwyn Jones said if the drought became any worse, “there could be complete crop failure which would be really bad for us.”

The government is encouraging all UK households to be “smarter” about how they use water during these extenuating circumstances.

Continue to read more about this serious water shortage issue here.

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Posted by on April 13, 2012 in Agriculture, Water


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