Category Archives: Agriculture

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint through Change of Diet

By Randy Rosenthal

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What’s the best way to reduce your carbon footprint? A new influential study recently published in Science says: Go vegan.

The study is described as “the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.” To come to their conclusions, the authors J. Poore and T. Nemecek looked at data covering nearly 40,000 farms and 16,000 processors, packagers, and retailers. This means they studied the impact of the meat and dairy industry, from the bottom up, rather than the previous top-down approach using national data, which is why this study is so profoundly revealing. In doing so, they determined that without meat and dairy consumption, we could reduce global farmland use by more than 75% and still feed the world.

This conclusion rests on their finding that livestock uses 83% of all available farmland and produces 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions, yet meat and dairy consumption provide only 18% of our calories and 37% of protein. Based on this study, it seems that eliminating meat and dairy consumption from our diets is the best way to reduce our environmental impact. According to Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Does this mean that we should all become vegan? (That is, those of us who aren’t already.) By looking more closely at the research, it appears the answer is yes—that is, if we truly want to help the environment and alleviate global hunger. But how likely is this to happen? After all, there’s a lot of money in the livestock industry, and many powerful people will want to keep things as they are. Aware of this, the authors of the study say that, cumulatively, their findings support a self-moderating approach, in which “producers monitor their own impacts, flexibly meet environment targets by choosing from multiple practices, and communicate their impacts to consumers.” And yet the authors also emphasize that the mitigating impact will ultimately be decided by consumers, not producers. That is, the market will follow changing diets.

Even so, new research may not be enough for people to change their habits and make new lifestyle choices. After all, we’ve known for decades (at least) that eating less meat and more vegetables and fruits makes us healthier, yet today we have more meat consumption and more obesity and health problems than ever. It seems that knowledge alone isn’t enough. That’s why some people commenting on the study have proposed that we tax meat and dairy products, and also require labels that reveal the environmental impact of products. Both of these methods have been successful in curbing tobacco consumption over the past decades.

But is consuming dairy and meat products equivalent to smoking tobacco? Many people might disagree, even those who care about the environment and are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. They might buy an electric car, but they might not be ready to give up cheese.

The good thing is that they don’t have to. That is, it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. While the authors do say that consumer avoidance of high-impact products is crucial in making a positive change, the main take-away suggests strategic adjustment, farm by farm, not a knee-jerk reaction to go on a vegan-proselytizing mission. Simply reducing our meat and dairy consumption would be a start in the right direction, and that might be a more realistic approach, at least to begin with.

Also, the authors found a variability in environmental impact based on where and how the meat and dairy is produced, which is crucial for implementing this moderate strategy. For example, beef cattle raised on deforested land results in 12 times more greenhouse gases and uses 50 times more land than cattle raised in a natural pasture. (The emissions come from enteric fermentation, manure, aquaculture ponds, and also from slaughterhouse effluent.) Therefore, the authors conclude, if we replace just the most harmful half of meat and dairy production with plant-based food, we would receive two-thirds of the benefits we’d obtain by getting rid of all meat and dairy production.

Thanks to Poore and Nemecek’s study, we now know that eliminating meat and dairy from our diet will not only make us healthier, it will make the planet healthier. If we use more land to raise vegetables, fruits, crops, and other non-animal-based food products, we can feed more people while causing less damage to our environment. Sounds like a win-win.

Randy Rosenthal teaches writing at Harvard University, where he recently earned a Masters of Theological Studies, with a Buddhist Studies focus. His writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and many other publications. He edits at bestbookediting.com.

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Increasing Food Security for Families in South Darfur

By Tricia Brick

BGR’s partnership project with Oxfam Sudan, “Increasing Household Food Security in South Darfur,” provides needed seeds, agricultural tools, and field training to people in the South Darfur region of Sudan, who for over a decade have endured devastating violence and human rights violations as well as climate-related agricultural disruptions. In 2014, a rash of violence by government forces led to the displacement of more than 100,000 people across the Darfur region, as well as to the destruction of water sources, food stores, and other essential infrastructure.

A 2016 Buddhist Global Relief grant enabled Oxfam Sudan to provide groundnut and sorghum seeds and hand tools to 510 farming households in seven villages in Belail Locality, South Darfur. The project also trained 150 farmers in water-harvesting practices.

Oxfam Sudan reported that many farmers participating in the project faced climate-related difficulties, including a combination of some flooding during the rainy season and drought during the September period of crop maturity. Furthermore, land disputes at times resulted in threats of violence, and some farmers harvested crops prematurely to prevent the grazing animals of nomadic pastoralists from consuming the plants.

Despite these challenges, Oxfam Sudan estimates that farmers produced enough sorghum and groundnuts to meet 60 to 70 percent of their families’ annual food requirements, on average, with surplus groundnuts to be sold at market, providing funds to be used for food, education, health care, clothing, and other needs.

Among the displaced persons who received support through the Oxfam–BGR partnership was Sumaiya Adam Ahamed, a farmer in Eshma village in South Darfur. With her family she spent two years in a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). “All people of my village [were] displaced to Kalma IDPs camp and stayed there for two years without farming, and our children missed two years of education, especially my elder daughter, Ishraga Hassan,” she told an Oxfam Sudan team member as she harvested groundnuts with two of her daughters. She wore her youngest child, an infant, in a cloth carrier as she worked. “My family was selected by the Oxfam team for support, and we were given groundnut and sorghum seeds in addition to two hand tools. This enabled us to cultivate one acre of groundnuts and one of sorghum.” She estimated that the crops would feed her family of seven for five months; she also supports her family by raising chickens and livestock.

Tricia Brick is a writer and editor in the New York metropolitan area and a volunteer staff writer for Buddhist Global Relief.

Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability

Winning the peaceAn increasingly hungry world is increasingly unstable. A new report issued by the World Food Program USA—Winning the Peace: Hunger and Instability—presents an unprecedented view into the dynamics of the relationship between hunger and social instability.[1]

Based on exhaustive interdisciplinary queries of a database of 90,000,000 peer-reviewed journal articles, the report explores the underpinnings and drivers of humanitarian crises involving food insecurity and conflict.

The dominant driver of today’s humanitarian crises is armed conflict. Ten of the World Food Program’s thirteen “largest and most complex emergencies are driven by conflict”, and “responding to war and instability represents 80 percent of all humanitarian spending today … stretching humanitarian organizations beyond their limits.”[2] Ongoing conflict not only drives humanitarian crises, but complicates the ability of humanitarian organizations to reach those in need and to provide assistance.

Violence, conflict, and persecution have resulted in the displacement of 65,000,000 people, more than any other time since World War II.[3] The average length of displacement is seventeen years. In such circumstances, measures of food insecurity are nearly triple that found in other developing country settings.[4]

The current humanitarian situation confronts these stark realities:

  • For the first time in a decade, the number of hungry people in the world is on the rise. In 2016, 815 million people were undernourished, an increase of 38 million people from 2015. Almost 500 million of the world’s hungry live in countries affected by conflict.
  • The number of people who are acutely food-insecure (in need of emergency assistance) rose from 80 million in 2016 to 108 million in 2017—a 35 percent increase in a single year.
  • Over 65 million people are currently displaced because of violence, conflict and persecution—more than any other time since World War II.
  • For the first time in history, the world faces the prospect of four simultaneous famines in northeast Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Each of these crises is driven by conflict.
  • Increased migration and the spilling of conflicts beyond borders has led to a proliferation of “fragile states”—states defined by “the absence or breakdown of a social contract between people and their government.”
  • By 2030, between half and two-thirds of the world’s poor are expected to live in states classified as fragile. While a decade ago most fragile states were low-income countries, today almost half are middle-income countries.

At the same time, the nature of conflict and the global system of governance are undergoing transitions that undermine the international community’s ability to address and reduce conflict. The report highlights the rise of non-state actors as powerful participants in armed conflict while also recognizing the significance of activities such as the weaponizing of information to undermine the legitimacy of traditional nation-state institutions.

The report also describes how threats such as food insecurity can drive recruitment for terrorists and rebels, worsening destabilization. (Report, p.7) Military strength cannot adequately address these kinds of threats. Rather, appropriate responses to such threats must address their actual nature. Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades will never be a long-term solution to food insecurity-driven instability. Recognition of this basic reality drives the use of so-called “smart power” in the form of foreign assistance, especially food assistance and agricultural development, to address the underlying causes of this instability. Continue reading

My Visit to Kenya’s Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center

By Daniel Blake

Woman trainee with her son

“Poverty starts with the stomach.” These words, spoken to me by Samuel Ndiritu, the co-founder and director of Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya (GBIACK), encapsulate the truth of BGR’s core mission. This past November, I was fortunate enough to make a remarkable visit to GBIACK, where I was hosted for an afternoon by Samuel and his wife and GBIACK co-founder, Peris Ndiritu. Their work is quietly transforming local agricultural practices in Kenya and beyond, one farmer and one acre at a time.

Built in 2009, GBIACK is situated about 50 kilometers east of Nairobi in the small but bustling village of Thika. Sitting upon the 1.5 acre farm is a dormitory for trainees, a front office, a seed bank, a kitchen and dining hall, a sewing classroom fully equipped with machines, a library, and a charming gift shop where crafts made by residents are sold to the public. The center serves as a model for the kinds of Grow Biointensive (GB) techniques that Samuel and Peris (with support from BGR through our partner, Ecology Action in California) hope to impart to program participants. The potential of the GB system to help local farmers lies in its being a “closed loop” system, where farmers preserve and bank the seeds yielded by crops, while carefully cultivating healthy compost to treat the soil. In this way farmers can become self-sufficient and can subsist without purchasing products such as genetically modified seeds or chemical fertilizers.
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The World Reverses Progress on Global Hunger

By Charles W. Elliott

The newest U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”) Annual Report on food security sends a “clear warning signal” of a troubling trend that reverses a long period of progress combating world hunger.

After A Prolonged Decline, World Hunger and Food Insecurity Worsen

FAO 2017 Food Security Report Cover

The 132-page data-rich report, The State of Food Security And Nutrition In The World 2017: Building Resilience For Peace And Food Security [1] notes that for the first time in many years the number of chronically malnourished people across the globe—as well as those suffering from acute hunger—has increased from the prior year, reversing a prolonged historic decline in world hunger. The number of undernourished people jumped from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. Every continent except Europe and North America has suffered an increase in prevalence of malnutrition. The report identifies a variety of causes for this reversal and highlights the interrelationships between global hunger, armed conflict, and climate change.

Emerging from the data is a stark picture of 44,000,000 more people now suffering from severe food insecurity than there were just two years ago. In fact, nearly one in ten people around the world, about 689 million people, now suffers from severe food insecurity. (see Report, Table 2). The people of Africa suffer the highest levels of severe food insecurity—27.4 percent of the population, four times that of any other continent.
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Resilient Livelihoods in Northern India

By Patricia Brick

Jay Devi, a farmer in Pritampur village in Uttar Pradesh, India, struggled for years to earn enough from the sale of her crops to pay for the fertilizers and pesticides she needed for her fields. Like many other women farmers in the region, she was entirely dependent upon purchased chemical fertilizers and pesticides for her crops of beans, corn, tomatoes, okra, and pumpkins. But the high cost of these products cut sharply into her earnings. She dreamed of saving enough money to purchase a water pump for her home so that she would no longer have to walk to a communal well for drinking water. But her profits were never enough; some seasons she could not even afford to buy the chemicals she needed, and as a result her crop yields suffered further.
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Projects for Fiscal Year 2017–18—Part 5 (conclusion)

By BGR Staff

23. U.S.: Urban Farming in Detroit

Nearly 40% of Detroit residents live below the poverty line and 21% of metro Detroiters are food insecure. Keep Growing Detroit (KGD) was established to promote a food sovereign city where the majority of fruits and vegetables Detroiters consume are grown by residents within the city’s limits. The aim is not only to provide residents with seeds to increase food security but to achieve “food sovereignty,” where residents are the leaders and beneficiaries of a transformed food system, able to make decisions about the health, wealth, and future of their families and community.

The grant from BGR will support KGD’s ongoing programs. These include: (1) The Garden Resource Program, which helps increase access to healthy food by providing technical and resource support to 1,500 urban gardens and farms in Detroit, including 400 new gardens in 2017. Together these gardens will produce over 180 tons of fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce for predominately low-income families and engage more than 16,000 residents. (2) Twenty-two events including 16 educational workshops and 6 garden workdays reaching 440 residents. At these events a diverse pool of community leaders and instructors, many Garden Resource growers, will provide hands-on instruction on basic gardening, water conservation, and food preservation techniques to build the skills and confidence of urban farmers. Annually renewable project

24. Vietnam: Enhanced Homestead Food Production

This is the second year of a three-year partnership between BGR and Helen Keller International that addresses household food security for residents of Muong Lang Commune, in Son La Province, a remote mountainous region in the northwest of Vietnam. There is high malnutrition in this region, which is a contributing factor to 50% of infant and childhood deaths. The Enhanced Homestead Food Production (EHFP) program trains multi-generation families to increase year-round food production with more diversified crops to improve nutrition and thereby to improve health. In all over 100 families in 10 villages will benefit from the program (approximately 550 individuals). The grant from BGR sponsors a third of the program.

In year two, an additional ten communities will benefit from the establishment of Village Model Farms (VMF)—a community based resource for training and technical support for the roughly ten families that typically make up each small village. Within each village a community husband and wife are identified and trained as the VMF demonstration farmers. These VMFs will provide agriculture resources for the community households (i.e. seeds),  educate families on nutrient rich crops, and  provide hands on training including bio-composting, crop diversification,  sanitation and hygiene, and even marketing strategies for income generation from sale of excess food production. The family model empowers women to actively contribute to the improved health of their village.
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