Overview: Famine

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Author: Yusur al Bahrani

In order to prevent famine and end an existing one, it is crucial to understand what famine is. This introduction will help define famine and identify some of the causes. While famine is a preventable threat to the human population, it will not end if the root causes are not addressed.

According to the www.dictionary.com definition, famine is a “noun” that means: Extreme and general scarcity of food, as in a country or a large geographical area; any extreme and general scarcity; extreme hunger and starvation. This is a broad definition, which could include many countries and geographic areas hit by food insecurities.

However, famine is not a word to be used lightly. Therefore, international organizations have agreed on a scientific frame that would help them identify when to declare a nation to be suffering from famine. According to United Nations, a famine can be declared only when certain measures of mortality, malnutrition, and hunger are met. The measures are:

  1. At least 20 per cent of households in an area face extreme food shortages with a limited ability to cope.
  2. Acute malnutrition rates exceed 30 per cent.
  3. The death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
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You don’t have to be a tree hugger to respect the environment that you live in.

For two million years, before the agricultural revolution, humans foraged the land and brought thousands of species of animals to extinction.

We can say that millions of years ago we didn’t know better, but now we do.

Bees are pollinators, and without them, we wouldn’t be alive. They are responsible for feeding 90% of the world’s population.

David Attenborough, the voice behind The Blue Planet and Planet Earth, warns “if bees were to disappear from the face of the Earth, humans would have just four years to live.”

That may become a reality at the rate things are going.

In a heartfelt Instagram post, the 92-year-old documentary maker shared that “in the last five years, the bee population has dropped by 1/3.”

There is a way to make a difference.

David Attenborough says by leaving a teaspoon of sugar and water in your garden or lawn, you can help to re-hydrate them when they’re tired.

“This time of year bees can often look like they are dying or dead, however, they’re far from it. Bees can become tired and they simply don’t have enough energy to return to the hive which can often result in being swept away. If you find a tired bee in your home, a simple solution of sugar and water will help revive an exhausted bee. Simply mix two tablespoons of white, granulated sugar with one tablespoon of water, and place on a spoon for the bee to reach.”

Are bees sensitive to artificial sweeteners? This may work as an emergency energy boost – but what impacts do artificial and refined sweeteners have on bees vs. the molecules naturally found in nectar?

This article discusses the alarming interconnections between the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the destruction of food products.

Title: ‘A Disastrous Situation’ : Mountains Of Food Wasted As Coronavirus Scrambles Supply Chain
Author: Cagle, Susie
Publication(s): The Guardian
Date: 9 April 2020
Link: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/09/us-coronavirus-outbreak-agriculture-food-supply-waste

Article Excerpt(s):

“Billions of dollars worth of food is going to waste as growers and producers from California to Florida are facing a massive surplus of highly perishable items.

As US food banks handle record demand and grocery stores struggle to keep shelves stocked, farmers are dumping fresh milk and plowing vegetables back into the dirt as the shutdown of the food service industry has scrambled the supply chain. Roughly half the food grown in the US was previously destined for restaurants, schools, stadiums, theme parks and cruise ships.

The impact could be up to $1.32bn from March to May in farm losses alone, according to a National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition report.

Agriculture officials insist that the supply itself is not in question, but matching that supply with demand and getting it to where it’s needed most is a new and urgent problem.

‘A disconnect’ in the food chain

This time last year, half of Paul Allen’s green bean and cabbage crops at RC Hatton farms in Pahokee, Florida, would have been destined for food service. Now he’s plowing 5m to 6m pounds of vegetables back into his fields.

“Retail cannot absorb it,” he said. “Whatever else you’ve got just goes unharvested and you’ve got to mulch it back into the ground.”

Allen is far from alone. He laments the circumstances his tomato-growing friends find themselves in, with 80% or more of their crops previously bound for food service. “Everybody’s in the same situation.”

South Florida is a major producer of vegetables for US consumers, especially in the winter and early spring. Now, for many farmers, the cost to pick and pack that produce is higher than the market price.

“It’s all combined to just be a disastrous situation for south Florida growers, who actually had a bumper crop coming into the harvest season,” said Lisa Lochridge, director of public affairs for the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.

“This is really having a disproportionate effect on warm-weather states and smaller farms,” said Kara Heckert, California regional director for the American Farmland Trust. “It was kind of an overnight shift to at least a significant portion of the food system.”

Strawberries on the California coast and lettuce in the Salinas Valley “salad bowl” – which grows roughly 70% of the nation’s lettuce crop – have been hit particularly hard. And efforts to keep farmworkers safe and socially distanced in the fields mean even slower harvesting.

“There’s still a lot being left on the field, and a lot is being tilled underground,” said Heckert. More still is sitting in storage facilities.

Dairy producers in Wisconsin, Vermont and other states have taken to dumping excess milk en masse, flooding their fields or pouring it down drains in production facilities. The loss of food service business, particularly schools systems that are large buyers of dairy products, has left producers with a highly perishable glut that they can’t easily resolve.

Preparing and packaging food for retail as opposed to wholesale, and getting it packed and shipped on trucks, is an entirely new and expensive problem. And spring is an especially productive season for dairy cows, leading to even more supply in a time with even less demand. Over the last six weeks, US dairy futures prices have nosedived.

Still, said Heckert, there’s confusion over where the pipeline is facing the most stress. “A lot of the grocery stores are limiting how much milk people can buy, thinking it’s going to run out. There’s a disconnect there.”

Farmers filling the gaps

For farmers with direct-to-consumer produce box services, the chaos has been a boon. In the northern San Francisco Bay area, every farm delivery program is full, some with waiting lists in the hundreds.

“We’re using this as an opportunity to encourage collaboration and farmers working together to try to fill the gaps in this disruption,” said Evan Wiig, membership director at the Community Alliance with Family Farmers, which is working to pair farms that previously sold direct to schools and restaurants with already established delivery logistics.

“It’s been kind of a mad rush to figure out supply and demand and who needs what, who has what,” he said. “This is usually something that you do carefully over the course of an entire year. And here we are trying to do it in a matter of a week in order to prevent the closure of the farms, and also a lot of food waste.”

Before the coronavirus, nearly all of Brothers Produce business was food service and school delivery. In March, Brent Erenwert, CEO of the Houston, Texas, food distributor, created an entirely new model to keep his employees in business and his company afloat: selling produce boxes with fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk through co-ops in the region, and direct to customers online.

“Some consumers don’t feel safe going to the grocery store, unfortunately, because of too many people being there. I know how to get that product safely to a consumer’s hand,” said Erenwert. “The biggest thing was to keep my employees’ jobs and keep the supply chain moving – because if people see the supply chain stop, they go into even more of a panic.”

But that supply chain is missing a crucial link, bridging the gap between food that would be wasted and a growing need in food banks nationwide.

Many growers already reeling from huge losses in sales aren’t able to further eat the cost of harvesting, packing and transporting crops to needy food banks without any financial aid. Florida growers have asked the US Department of Agriculture to buy the surplus produce so it could be donated to people in need without further hurting farm finances. The California department of food and agriculture is partnering with the California Association of Food Banks to provide funding and resources for farm donations to feeding programs across the state.

Still, there’s only so much that food banks can take.

“What’s really weird right now in the supply chain is the grocery stores seem to be pretty heavy on product, farmers are throwing away stuff, and food banks are full. We don’t know where the demand lies,” said Erenwert.

“We’re working with the state to try to get it to charities. But quite frankly, a lot of those avenues are full,” said Paul Allen, a Florida vegetable grower. “They can’t absorb it all, no way.”

Food banks aren’t set up to be warehouses for such vast quantities of stranded and highly perishable food.

“Everything under the sun produce-wise is showing up. We’re getting the cream of the crop,” said Brian Greene, CEO of Houston Food Bank. “We have a potential bonanza – now we’re working on the ability to capitalize on it. All the food banks have to solve this puzzle. What are the partnerships we set up so we can utilize this? Because we’re not going to get the other things.”

With shelf-stable staple goods selling out at markets nationwide, food banks are finding it difficult to secure surplus dry and frozen goods. This influx of produce could help shore up a dip in donations, but it requires more workers and volunteers to sort and package the food when charities are in short supply of helping hands. There’s no doubt, said Greene, that much of this food will unfortunately still go to waste.

“The reality is what makes the food chain work normally is there are just tens of thousands of arrangements that have been developed over time in order to match supply and demand. Then you just suddenly break all that and you’re trying to, with voluntary relationships, piece something together in a very short timeframe,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of failure.” “

This short documentary offers an interesting perspective on the importance of crop resilience (in this context kumara – a type of sweet potato). Crop resilience is a vital element of famine prevention.

Title: How Chinese Refugees Saved the Sweet Potato
Author: Ajaka, Nadine
Publication(s): The Atlantic
Date: 19 August 2016
Link: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/496655/chinese-refugees-saved-the-kumara/

For those of you looking for an interesting film to watch, I highly recommend PBS’ Documentary “Seed: The Untold Story.” The documentary discusses how an estimated 94% of vegetable varieties went extinct in the 20th century and the critical importance of preserving seed diversity for human security. It is noted in the documentary that many varieties of vegetables shown in old paintings and photographs have since vanished. There is hope that some seeds have been preserved.

Of note is that a loss of seed diversity and increased monoculture planting has opened up a number of avenues for agricultural diseases and pests to wreck mass havoc on food supplies. This is being seen already with banana crops, as almost all commercial bananas are clones and a fungus blight (Panama disease) is wiping out banana crops in a number of regions. This happened once before – in the mid-twentieth century – resulting in the shift from Gros Michel to Cavendish bananas – which were thought to be more resistant to the fungus (though an increasing number of Cavendish banana plants are succumbing to the blight). In monoclonal or monoculture agriculture, virtually all of the plants have the same and/or extremely similar DNA – leaving them open to the same vulnerabilities.

The PBS documentary “Seed: The Untold Story” additionally features a number of important individuals, including Jane Goodall, Will Bonsall, and Vandana Shiva – among others. Here is a link to the documentary website (including a trailer): https://www.seedthemovie.com/

Attached below is an article about Will Bonsall’s initiative. Mr. Bonsall has one of the largest private seed collections in the world – including many “lost,” heirloom, and rare vegetable varieties. These are important for a number of reasons, including cultural purposes (such as Indigenous cultural revitalization), as well as in that some varieties may be resistant to agricultural diseases, or are more resistant to changing climates and environments. Mr. Bonsall is noted to have donated a number of seeds to various institutions, including research and seed-saving organizations.

Title: The Maine Farmer Saving the World’s Rarest Heirloom Seeds
Author: Poppick, Laura
Date: April 2020
Link: https://downeast.com/land-wildlife/rare-heirloom-seeds

An interesting article discussing and encouraging resilience in Canada (and global) agricultural industries and sectors during COVID-19.

Title: The resilience of the agriculture community is being tested anew amid the COVID-19 outbreak
Author: Dyck, Toban
Publication(s): The Chronicle Herald
Date: 16 March 2020
Link: https://www.thechronicleherald.ca/business/perspectives-on-business/the-resilience-of-the-agriculture-community-is-being-tested-anew-amid-the-covid-19-outbreak-424674/

Article Excerpt(s):

“In 1918, Canadian farmers seeded 17,354,000 acres of wheat, up from 14,756,000 the year before. Dry bean acres increased during the same period from 93,000 to 229,000, according to Statistics Canada.

Prime Minister Robert Borden’s Conservative government at the time urged Canadian farmers to increase production to feed our First World War soldiers in Great Britain and those at home while ensuring there were enough reserves to send overseas as aide to the nation’s allies.

In the spring of 1918, the federally operated and newly minted Food Board, a regulatory body in charge of ensuring food remained affordable and in good supply, bought more than 1,000 tractors and sold them to farmers at cost as a way to support the requested increase in production, according to Canada’s War Effort 1914 – 1918 , issued by the Director of Public Information in Ottawa in 1918. It was also the year the Spanish Flu spread across the nation, in the end killing more than 50,000 Canadians, most of them between the ages of 20 and 40.

This was a watershed year for agriculture in Canada. It was a year the industry increased its resilience. After the First World War, farm-gate sales changed from a representation of how hard a farmer worked to how well he or she could turn a profit in an increasingly global and regulated marketplace. Farmers became professionals in a way they weren’t previously.

Agriculture in 2020 needs its own dose of resilience.

The markets are poor. Talks with China over canola exports have been suspended over COVID-19 fears. Soybeans have suffered a similar fate at the same hand. That market isn’t rallying in any significant way, either.

Land prices remain high. Machinery costs, too, represent a time when companies felt vindicated in adding bells and whistles to new model years all at additional costs that profit margins could justify. It’s been a few years since that line of reasoning bore any meaningful connection to how things are on the average crop farm in Canada.

Transportation disruptions have cost the agricultural industry in ways it hasn’t fully seen yet. Demurrage is a cost that gets passed down the line to the primary producer — the farmer — and there is still a backlog of bulk vessels waiting at port. That expense line is still growing.

Amid these disparate and disruptive elements, there’s the seemingly galvanized skepticism towards our current government’s ability to draw and follow a proper roadmap for agriculture to thrive in Canada.

Then, as our cultural and political scaffolding of popsicle sticks come unglued and institutions like the NHL, NBA and awards ceremonies start to fall away over COVID-19, we’re left to make sense of another disruption. This one is not terrible, but social isolation is a hard thing for the average person to interpret as anything other than cause for panic, regardless of the fact that it should be far from panic inducing.

This will affect the markets. COVID-19 will affect things in ways that are difficult to foresee, as the news is changing every minute and regulators are making bold, unpredictable and immediate moves.

The industry will work on restoring markets. Machinery and land are ultimately vulnerable to what people are able and/or willing to spend. Canada and other affected countries will do their best to contain and control COVID-19, transportation systems will get back on-track and governments come and go.

The agricultural sector has a lineage of resilience. It has survived the Great Depression, two world wars and the high interest rates of the ‘80s (not without casualties, however).”

Did you know that Canada has several native cacti species? These are all in the Opuntia family of cacti – commonly called prickly pears. Opuntia (prickly pears) are more commonly found in Latin America, Mexico, and the Southwestern USA – though grow throughout the Americas. Indigenous and Latin American peoples have used the species for centuries as sources of dyes, fibers, and food. One common cuisine produced from Opuntia (prickly pears) are Nopales – which are grilled cacti pad. Thornless varieties or cacti pads with the thorns (glochids) removed are preferred for culinary applications. Prior to colonization, cacti were only native to the Americas.

However – attention has been drawn to the species in recent years due to its drought resistance and its potential to become an essential crop in areas presently facing and/or at risk of droughts. The cactis are a source of minerals and additionally store significant quantities of water in arid and desert environments.

Here is a report from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nation around the benefits of Opuntia (prickly pears):

Title: Cactus pear deserves a place on the menu: Turning a useful food-of-last-resort into a managed and valuable crop
Author: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Date: 30 November 2017
News Agency: Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Link: http://www.fao.org/fao-stories/article/en/c/1070166/

Article Excerpt:

“Climate change and the increasing risks of droughts are strong reasons to upgrade the humble cactus to the status of an essential crop in many areas,” said Hans Dreyer, director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division.


Cactus pear cultivation is slowly catching on, boosted by growing need for resilience in the face of drought, degraded soils and higher temperatures. It has a long tradition in its native Mexico, where yearly per capita consumption of nopalitos – the tasty young pads, known as cladodes – is 6.4 kilograms. Opuntias are grown on small farms and harvested in the wild on more than 3 million hectares, and increasingly grown using drip irrigation techniques on smallholder farms as a primary or supplemental crop. Today, Brazil is home to more than 500,000 hectares of cactus plantations aimed to provide forage. The plant is also commonly grown on farms in North Africa and Ethiopia’s Tigray region has around 360,000 hectares of which half are managed.

The cactus pear’s ability to thrive in arid and dry climates makes it a key player in food security. Apart from providing food, cactus stores water in its pads, thus providing a botanical well that can provide up to 180 tonnes of water per hectare – enough to sustain five adult cows, a substantial increase over typical rangeland productivity. At times of drought, livestock survival rate has been far higher on farms with cactus plantations.

Projected pressure on water resources in the future make cactus “one of the most prominent crops for the 21st century,” says Ali Nefzaoui, a Tunis-based researcher for ICARDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas.

Here is a YouTube Video from the UNFAO on the benefits of Opuntia (prickly pears):

Title: Opuntia cactus: a useful asset for food security
Author: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Date: 24 November 2017
News Agency: UNFAO (YouTube)
Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–0EdaCtR_4

For those of you interested in the Ontario context, here is an article and a website about the Opuntia (prickly pears) native to Ontario.

Title: Eastern prickly pear cactus
Author: Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Date: 2009 / 2014
News Agency: Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks
Link: https://www.ontario.ca/page/eastern-prickly-pear-cactus

Title: Prickly pear cactus at home anywhere
Author: Lee Reich
Date: 5 November 2008
News Agency: The Toronto Star
Link: https://www.thestar.com/life/homes/outdoor_living/2008/11/05/prickly_pear_cactus_at_home_anywhere.html

Title: Cherokee Nation Donates Indigenous Crops to the Global Seed Vault
Link: https://www.foodandwine.com/news/cherokee-indigenous-seed-vault-donation-norway

“Earlier this week, the Cherokee Nation started to distribute its supply of heirloom seeds, which are free to any Cherokee. Last year, the Cherokee Nation Heirloom Garden and Native Plant Site distributed almost 10,000 packets of seeds to any Cherokee citizen who requested them. This seed bank was established in February 2006, and the number of participants who register to receive their two crops has steadily increased every February—although 2019 was its biggest year to date.


Although the Global Seed Vault contains more than one million seed samples from around the world, this marks the first time that a U.S. Native American tribe has been invited to store its seeds inside the facility. Anadisgoi, the Cherokee Nation newsroom, reports that nine samples of heirloom seeds were collected to send to the vault, including Cherokee White Eagle Corn—which the tribe considers to be its “most sacred” corn—Cherokee Long Greasy Beans, Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans, and Cherokee Candy Roaster Squash.”

Southern Africa has routinely faced droughts and famines.

I am routinely shocked to see how much produce in Canada comes from South Africa, such as apples, grapes, etc. – in addition to the water intense wine industry.

Is there an opportunity to source produce and wine from a more ecologically friendly region? What impacts would this have on the regional economies of southern Africa? Are these products coming from large – often international – corporations – or are they coming from small-scale, regional farmers? I am additionally shocked how many residents of Southern Africa (not just South Africa) are facing famine like conditions – such as the 45 million individuals with severely insecure food sources.

Pie Kamau recently released an article on this in Africa Agribusiness on 16 January 2020:

Link: https://africabusinesscommunities.com/agribusiness/news/southern-africa-in-throes-of-climate-emergency-45-million-people-facing-hunger-across-the-region-wfp/

“A record 45 million people, mostly women and children in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community are gravely food insecure following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.

As the crisis deepens, the world must step up now to save lives and enable communities to adapt to climate change, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has warned. “This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” said Lola Castro, WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa. “The annual cyclone season has begun, and we simply cannot afford a repeat of the devastation caused by last year’s unprecedented storms”.”

It is important to note that many of the individuals facing food insecurity in this region have little direct involvement with the food being exported, it is still critical to question the role that large-scale agriculture in this region has and whether there is opportunity to better distribute these resources for the benefit of regional residents.

Almond Milk Is Even More Evil Than You Thought

“In the past five years, almond milk consumption in the United States has exploded over 250 percent. The lower-calorie, vegan milk alternative is a staple in grocery stores and coffee shops across the country now, but its booming popularity comes at a heavy environmental cost. According to a new report from the Guardian this week, the titanic and growing demands of the California almond industry are placing a huge strain on the hives of bees used to pollinate their orchards, wiping out billions of honeybees in a matter of months.”


“The high mortality rate among bees who pollinate almonds, beekeepers believe, is due in part to the enormous quantities of pesticides used on almonds — far more than any other crop in California, whose Central Valley region is responsible for more than 80 percent of the world’s almond supply. What’s more, almond pollination is especially demanding for bees, because they need to wake up from their annual period of winter dormancy one to two months earlier than usual to begin. Then, once they start, massive numbers of bees are concentrated in small geographic areas, making it easier for diseases to spread among them.”

Link: https://www.thecut.com/2020/01/almond-milk-honeybee-deaths.html

Globally, between 1 and 2 billion people (20-22% of the world’s total population as of 2020) rely on “mountain water towers” – often interpreted as glacier meltwater – for their drinking and household water. These same water systems additionally have vital roles in natural ecology – supplying water for many ecosystems. These water sources are important in years of drought as they maintain a reservoir source of water even in the event of little to no rainfall. However, climate change is accelerating the rate of glacial melt – putting these whole systems and those reliant on them at risk. If global heating can be limited to 1.5°C, the world could retain 75% of its mountain glacier area and avoid the most significant impacts. Ultimately, these systems sit at the crux of geopolitics, environmental health, and human health.

Ben Cousins – a journalist at CTV news – offers a summary of concerns around these vital water systems:

“An article in the journal “Nature” and in partnership with National Geographic and Rolex, found the world’s 78 mountain-based glacier systems, known as “mountain water towers,” are at risk due to climate change, over population and mismanagement of water resources. These mountain water towers are critical to the world’s water supply because they store and transport fresh water to communities through glaciers, lakes and streams. The researchers, comprised of 32 scientists from around the world, assessed the 78 water towers and ranked them based on how much people in the area rely upon them. They found that the Indus water tower, located in the Himalayas and covering portions of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan, is both the most relied-upon system and also one of the most vulnerable. The Rocky Mountains water tower was labelled as the most important in North America.”

Link: https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/climate-change-threatens-water-resources-for-1-9-billion-people-study-reveals-1.4722622

Here is the link to the original article in “Nature” published December 2019 by Prof. Walter W. Immerzeel and a team at the University of Utrecht University and FutureWater — Netherlands-based research institutes. Their whole project involves 32 researchers on the team — spanning several countries and institutes: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1822-y

Jonathan Amos at the BBC additionally offered an interpretation of these findings.

“These are the 78 mountainous regions that are able to generate and then store vast quantities of water.

They deliver it in a controlled way to major populations living downstream.

The Dutch-led team finds Asia’s Indus basin – fed by the Himalayan, Karakoram, Hindu-Kush, and Ladakh ranges – to be the most important storage unit on the planet.

Its waters, produced at high elevation from rain and snow, and draining from lakes and glaciers, support more than 200 million people settled across parts of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan.

But the Indus water tower, the researchers point out, is also the most vulnerable on their list of 78.

It’s subject to a range of current and future pressures, from ever greater demand – for more drinking water, for increased irrigation and industry, etc – to issues that could severely curtail supply. The latter will include geopolitical tensions, given the Indus intersects national boundaries; but the most obvious threat is climate change. A warming world will disrupt precipitation patterns and denude glaciers of their storage capacity.”


“Africa does not appear in this listing, principally because it is devoid of major glacier systems. Ice bodies do exist on the continent, in places such as on Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, but their contribution to downstream catchments is limited.

And one of the defining aspects of the towers is the way they are able to maintain essential water supplies to populations even in drought years through the steady melt of high-elevation ice in summer months.”

Link: https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-50707138

Furthermore, Dr. Bethan Davies – a lecturer in glaciology at Royal Holloway: University of London and a researcher affiliated with the team (of 32 researchers globally) who published the paper in Nature offers the following comments in an article in the Conversation:

“The Indus basin is the most important water storage unit in Asia. Fed by rain and snow high up in the Himalayan, Karakoram, Hindu-Kush, and Ladakh mountain ranges, the water that drains from lakes and glaciers here supports 206 million people across parts of Afghanistan, China, India and Pakistan. Much of it is used for irrigating crops and in industry, as well as drinking water.”


“In Europe, the Alps is the most important water tower for the number of people dependent on its supply, followed by the Rhone, Rhine and Po basins. In North America, the Fraser and Columbia basins are the most critical water towers. The river Fraser has a high natural water demand in the downstream forest ecosystem, while the Columbia basin is rich in snow and ice and has high demand for irrigation from local farms. In South America, the South Chile, South Argentina, Negro, La Puna and North Chile water towers are the most critical suppliers of water to the thirsty South Atlantic and South Pacific coasts.”


“If global heating can be limited to 1.5°C, the world could retain 75% of its mountain glacier area and avoid the most significant impacts.”

Link: https://theconversation.com/the-worlds-mountain-water-towers-are-melting-putting-1-9-billion-people-at-risk-128501

It is vital to ask where these populations will get their water from once these mountain sources are depleted. One researcher recommended “towing” ice bergs for drinking water – but what happens when that resource melts away too? It is vital to analyze this present scenario to predict future trends in environmental and geopolitical instability as a result of water-based challenges, limitations, and trends.

Has anyone read Julian Cribb’s new book “Food or War?” What are your thoughts on the book? I just saw this article this evening and thought folks here may find it interesting – though I have personally not read their book…

““The most destructive object on the planet,” Cribb writes, “is the human jawbone.” Our agricultural ingenuity has enabled us to masterfully exploit our natural resources, Cribb maintains, but looming food insecurity, thanks to desertification, topsoil loss, dead zones in the ocean, and other climatic hazards, will ultimately lead to wars. […] War itself, of course, also results in starvation. At least 105 million people have died from famine or forced starvation since 1870, more than half the total killed in combat. And wartime malnourishment can lead to still more conflicts, as in the case of roiling civil wars that have plagued Sudan since 1955. Like Ouroboros, the mythical snake that eats itself, war and famine are deeply interconnected. […] Because “Food and War” is so unsparingly bleak — at least initially — readers may find themselves suffering from “eco-anxiety,” a despairing helplessness about the future. But the book abruptly shifts tone in the final third, projecting optimism about the technology and scientific advancements that can break the cycle of war and famine. Cribb’s proposed solutions highlight ecofriendly trends in science, agriculture, and even the dining scene that might actually ensure human survival, as well as increased efforts to ensure farmers a living wage.”

Link: https://undark.org/2019/10/25/food-production-global-conflict/

Thanks for the link.

We can protect famine by limiting the growing technology in the world,,the growth of famine is now day resulted from our daily growing technology

Kelvin – Can you clarify what you mean by this?

I want to join this group, I entered my name and email but no confirmation on this website.

If you don’t see your name …just try again on the platform for survival page and enter info into the form

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Speaking to the issue at a local level I find it interesting that where I live rather than make use of the farmland we have to grow food, we take that land and hand it over to developers who start stuffing houses on it taking advantage of every square inch of property. As development continues the usable farm land dwindles while many of these houses and condos lie empty and steeply priced. At the same time food prices are rising quickly and it reminds me of Germany just before the onset of World War 2, with its massive inflation problems. I don’t see famine as a lack of food but a lack of will to focus on the priority of keeping food available and priced appropriately. And then you have Nestle grabbing thousands of gallons of water which they bottle and sell to us when it was our water in the first place. And then the additional problem of water bottle waste is growing worse every day. Thankfully some people have developed ingenious solutions to the problem which is giving us a reprieve from choking on our own garbage. I see that to conquer famine one must rearrange ones priorities so one is not part of the problem but part of the solution.

I often wonder about the risks associated with our increasing reliance on monoculture agriculture. Several years ago, PBS released a fascinating documentary called “Seed” which examined the role of heirloom seed varieties in relation to the rise of monoculture agriculture. It was horrifying to learn that 75-85% of fruit and vegetable varieties have gone extinct in the last 200 years. The increasing use of monoculture — the planting of the same variety on large-scale farms, year after year — leaves regions and societies incredibly vulnerable to famine via blights, diseases, pests, etc. An example is Panama blight – a fungal disease which impacts bananas. Bananas are a clonal crop – with no seeds – and reproduced via clonal reproduction. As such, virtually all of the plants on large scale production farms are genetically identical – leaving them with the same vulnerabilities to blight, disease, and pests. In the mid-twentieth century, the Gros Michel banana almost went extinct due to Panama blight, and was replaced with the Cavendish banana. Could you imagine the catastrophe should a blight, disease, or a pest impact a staple crop, such as corn (maize), rice, or taro? Crop rotation appears to additionally be on the wayside of many large-scale farms – requiring manual replenishment of soil nutrients. Traditional agricultural methods – such as the “three sisters” (beans, corn, and squash) – offer a perspective on attempting to balance soil nutrition with yield output – though it would be interesting to hear whether this method is adaptable for large-scale agricultural productions.

Interesting image at the top of this page. It is the Dublin side of the Ireland Park Memorial. There are mirrored sculptures in Toronto at Ireland Park (near Billy Bishop Airport). The sculptures commemorate the victims of the Irish famine, many of which died on ships and/or at the quayside in Toronto during the nineteenth century.

That’s a fascinating lecture.

I have heard that the banana industry is facing significant threats from the fungal Panama blight – which recently re-emerged in Latin America. The bananas that you bought several decades ago were a different species – called Gros-Michel – most of which died due to the fungal infection. The industry then switched to Cavendish bananas – which have a different taste and texture. There is concern of the vulnerability of this industry as Cavendish bananas do not contain seeds and are almost entirely reproduced via clonal cuttings. As such, virtually all the bananas have the same genome and thus same vulnerability to blights, disease, etc.

On the context of citrus industries – I heard that several years ago the lime industry was threatened due to irregular rain patterns – likely caused by climate change. Growers had smaller and/or poorly formed crops – causing supply issues and price fluctuations. Is it true that citrus are particularly vulnerable to drought? It is interesting to see how various agricultural species are faring in the face of climate change. I have heard cassava – a staple food for many equatorial regions – becomes more toxic (it naturally contains cyanide) during drought and extremely hot summers. Alarming news – and there have been reports of children being poisoned as a result of consuming this crop during these seasons.

Another interesting side note on the topic of agriculture is that several years ago Tuvalu tried to bring a lawsuit against the United States involving climate change related disasters – such as increased flooding and groundwater salinization on their island. The USA responded by accusing Tuvalu of growing too many pineapples – inducing ecosystem and regional climate change. This was perpetuated by British researchers who accused Japanese pineapple farmers of using too much groundwater in Tuvalu. The thing is – Tuvalu is thousands of miles from markets and has very limited land – and very limited market integration and transportation connections with surrounding regions. Many reports indicate that Tuvalu has never grown pineapples and the land is so low lying that growing pineapples would be a significant challenge regardless. In fact, Tuvalu made lots of money during the internet boom selling their website country code .tv to various companies and through licensing access to their fishing territories.

Check out the PBS Documentary “Seed: The Untold Story” – which talks about biodiversity and heirloom seeds. It mentions elements pertaining to this. It is a fascinating story. Some seed archivists – alongside the Svalbard seed vault – are collecting rare varieties to preserve for future generation. Historic images are show in the documentary – and in the paintings, photos, etc. over 80% of the displayed varieties are now extinct. Some varieties – such as specific type of corns – have cultural and spiritual importance for Indigenous groups.

Students and researchers at the Canadian Mennonite University additionally uncovered 800-year old squash seeds at an archaeological dig. They planted some and had success in growing a species extinct for centuries. Really interesting!


Another example of extinct squash being revived in Salem County, NJ.


The sale of permits to fish in EEZs is a particularly significant component of the economy of many Oceanic nations.