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Thursday, February 21, 2013

India's Rice Revolution

Click here to read the full article from John Vidal at The Observer

"It is a set of ideas, the absolute opposite to the first green revolution [of the 60s] which said that you had to change the genes and the soil nutrients to improve yields. That came at a tremendous ecological cost," says Uphoff. "Agriculture in the 21st century must be practised differently. Land and water resources are becoming scarcer, of poorer quality, or less reliable. Climatic conditions are in many places more adverse. SRI offers millions of disadvantaged households far better opportunities. Nobody is benefiting from this except the farmers; there are no patents, royalties or licensing fees."

For 40 years now, says Uphoff, science has been obsessed with improving seeds and using artificial fertilisers: "It's been genes, genes, genes. There has never been talk of managing crops. Corporations say 'we will breed you a better plant' and breeders work hard to get 5-10% increase in yields. We have tried to make agriculture an industrial enterprise and have forgotten its biological roots".

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Global Farmland Rush

OVER the last decade, as populations have grown, capital has flowed across borders and crop yields have leveled off, food-importing nations and private investors have been securing land abroad to use for agriculture. Poor governments have embraced these deals, but their people are in danger of losing their patrimony, not to mention their sources of food.

According to Oxfam, land equivalent to eight times the size of Britain was sold or leased worldwide in the last 10 years. In northern Mozambique, a Brazilian-Japanese venture plans to farm more than 54,000 square miles — an area comparable to Pennsylvania and New Jersey combined — for food exports. In 2009, a Libyan firm leased 386 square miles of land from Mali without consulting local communities that had long used it. In the Philippines, the government is so enthusiastic to promote agribusiness that it lets foreigners register partnerships with local investors as domestic corporations.

The commoditization of global agriculture has aggravated the destabilizing effects of these large-scale land grabs. Investors typically promise to create local jobs and say that better farming technologies will produce higher crop yields and improve food security.

However, few of these benefits materialize. For example, as The Economist reported, a Swiss company promised local farmers 2,000 new jobs when it acquired a 50-year lease to grow biofuel crops on 154 square miles in Makeni, Sierra Leone; in the first three years, it produced only 50.

Monday, February 4, 2013

In Energy Taxes, Tools to Help Tackle Climate Change

The erratic weather across the country in the last couple of years seems to be softening Americans’ skepticism about global warming. Most New Yorkers say they believe big storms like Sandy and Irene were the result of a warming climate. Whether climate change is directly responsible or not, the odd weather patterns have underscored the risk that it poses to all of us.

What’s yet to be seen is whether this growing awareness of the risks will translate into sufficient political support to address climate change, especially after we figure out the costs we will have to bear to do so.

In his inaugural address, President Obama wove Hurricane Sandy and last year’s drought into a stirring plea to address climate change. “The failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” the president said.

But even as he put global warming at the top of his agenda, he avoided dwelling on how much it would cost to address. And nowhere in his speech did he allude to the most powerful tool to address the problem: a tax on the use of energy.