The problems of climate adaptation, poverty alleviation, and peacebuilding are common to many parts of the world. Yet the efforts to address them are often pursued separately or with little coordination. Capturing the co-benefits of building institutional capacity critical to all three areas is an idea that will likely receive little attention at next year’s Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, says ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko.
“I am now serving as an example to other women in the community because I am not having any more children. I have received training in sustainable agricultural practices, I’m generating income, and I’m educating others,” said Berhane Ferkade, an Ethiopian farmer, to Population Action International’s Roger-Mark De Souza earlier this year. The 39-year-old mother of 11 become one of the community’s model farmers after working with LEM Ethiopia – a local population, health, and environment (PHE) development organization.
›October 12, 2011 // By Geoff DabelkoJon Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is a food security rock star, plain and simple. And he deserves that lofty status in part because he explains our complex 21st century agriculture challenges in such a clear and accessible fashion. See him present (like in the TEDx video above), and you are left wishing all scientists would drop in on the “how to make your work understandable” class that Foley must have aced.
Foley brought that clarity of presentation, mixed with self-deprecating humor, to this past week’s inaugural South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco conference in Austin, Texas. Foley said we must meet three big challenges in the realm of agriculture:
- Feeding the population today: One in seven of the world’s seven billion people do not know where their next meal is coming from.
- Feeding the future population: The planet is expected to reach more than nine billion people in just 39 years (and may still continue to grow beyond nine billion, rather than leveling off as expected until recently).
- Farming the planet sustainably: We are a long way from achieving sustainable agriculture, given overuse of fertilizers, soil erosion and degradation, deforestation (leading to loss of biodiversity), and energy-intensive practices (producing excessive carbon emissions).
But Foley and his colleagues retain their scientific union cards while suggesting specific ways the world might meet the three food security goals listed above. In what must be considered the academic equivalent of a walk-off grand slam, they will be featured as next week’s cover story in Nature and a more accessible derivative in the November issue of Scientific American.
“Today, humans are farming more of the planet than ever, with higher resource intensity and staggering environmental impacts, while diverting an increasing fraction of crops to animals, biofuels and other nonfood uses,” Foley et al. write in Nature. “Meanwhile, almost a billion people are chronically hungry. This must not continue: the requirements of current and future generations demand that we transform agriculture to meet the twin challenges of food security and environmental sustainability.”
Their four-step plan in brief:
- Slow agricultural expansion to stop deforestation and the huge ecological cost that stems from expanding into new lands, often to grow animal feed rather than food for direct human consumption.
- Grow more food on the acres currently under cultivation. The attention, resources, and innovation applied to the best-producing farms need to also be turned on the least productive farms, where rates as low as 20 percent of potential yields are the norm.
- Improve the resource efficiency of agriculture, through better water use, for example. Places like India, where the energy to pump groundwater is effectively free, are very inefficient in the use of water per calorie grown.
- Close “diet gaps,” where only 60 percent of what is grown is actually for human consumption (the rest for animals and fuel), and reduce food waste, whether it is spoilage on the way to market or the excesses of a food industry that leaves so much uneaten.
Video Credit: “TEDxTC – Jonathan Foley – The Other Inconvenient Truth,” courtesy of Youtube user TEDxTalks.
›ECSP caught up with Lisa Hymas, senior editor at Grist, last week during the first South by Southwest (SXSW) Eco conference and she spoke about her recent visit to Ethiopia to see the country’s community health extension program in action. “Ethiopia has a big challenge around population,” Hymas said, “but the government is committed to bringing that down.”
The government extension program places health-workers – young women, for the most part, who have received basic training – directly into each community, where they are able to give out immunizations, provide advice on nutrition, teach families how to properly hang bed nets to prevent mosquito-borne illnesses, and provide family planning services and advice.
Thanks to the program, these health workers and those in the communities they service can “envision very different lives for themselves than their mothers had,” Hymas explained. For instance, one woman recounted that her mother gave birth to 10 children, “and almost died giving birth to the last one, because there was no access to birth control, and there was no good access to health care.” In contrast, she is now able to have a career and to use family planning to delay and space her own childbearing.
For more on Ethiopia’s health extension program, see Schuyler Null’s report on visiting a village health clinic near the town of Fiche last spring.
›Our director, Geoff Dabelko, provides a brief update from South by Southwest’s (SXSW) first Eco conference, being held in Austin, Texas this week:
Bill Ritter, former governor of Colorado, was impressive in an interview with Bryan Walsh of Time magazine, seamlessly alternating between technical and policy questions about energy security.
Ned Breslin, CEO of Water for People, provided some real talk, challenging the notion that it’s “easy” to provide needy populations with freshwater. It’s not as simple as “$25 saves a life,” he said. Providing long-term, sustainable water and sanitation solutions to people around the world requires a great deal of hard work, particularly on financing and ownership questions.
Finally, Jon Foley of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment presented a five-step response to what he called today’s three main food challenges: providing enough to feed today’s population, tomorrow’s (an estimated nine billion people by 2050), and doing it all in a sustainable fashion. The Institute on the Environment publishes an almost-quarterly magazine, Momentum, whose work we’ve featured before on New Security Beat (here, here, and here), and, incredibly, is available, delivered to your house, for FREE. Highly recommended.
Stay tuned for more updates from SXSW, including the ECSP-supported panel, “Three Great Ideas That Won’t Be On the Rio+20 Agenda.”
›September 30, 2011 // By Schuyler NullSouth by Southwest (SXSW) – the popular music, film, and alternative showcase – is moving into the green space with its first ever “eco” conference, kicking off next week, October 4, with more than 50 panels on “solutions for a sustainable world.” There’s one in particular though you should tune into: “Three Great Ideas that Won’t Be On the Rio Agenda,” featuring Geoff Dabelko, director of the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program; Roger-Mark De Souza, vice president of research and director of the climate program at Population Action International; and Aimee Christensen, CEO of Christensen Global Strategies.
The panel will feature discussion on three issues that will likely not be on the table at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development next year: integrated population, health, and environment development programs, climate adaptation as a path to peacebuilding, and how to get the private sector better involved in helping cope with climate change.
If you’re traveling down to Austin, “Three Great Ideas” is scheduled for Thursday, October 6 at 10am CST; if not, stay tuned for webcast information!
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