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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FEED A BEE!

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.

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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?

Suggestion Box: Breed Better Cows, Produce Milk for Sudanese Children

SadaBimh has posted this idea in the suggestion box:
“To use the Biotechnolgies AI&ETusing sexed animal frozen semen to cross the local sudanese animal milk breeds to produce improved heifers with high productivity.”
That’s an interesting idea, Sada. Please do come back and elaborate on it, since probably few of the people visiting this comment column know much about breeding cattle! This may be a very important proposal. You can post articles here too, if you like, or even photos.

Dear Metta,
Referring to our previous discussions concerning the community projects development partnership in developing countries of East Africa such as ” Burundi and Tanzania” where we are operating the projects. I would like require you for connecting us to the sponsors, donors or Investors who would be interesting to work with us in the above mentioned countries .
Therefore, as discussed the Burundi has 27834kms squares, 18 provinces and total populations of around 12.Millions. Among them the 86% of the populations are depending on the Agriculture and Farming. Our goal/aim is to Reach the Unreached Millions of poor people communities buy ” Fighting Against Diseases, Ignorance, Hunger/Starvation and Poverty which are surrounding and killing many people women, children and poor families around the world especially in developing countries of East Africa.
So, before starting the projects practices establishment, we do provide with the enough Trainings/Seminars for different groups of people to have enough knowledge/skills to know better how to develop themselves, their families, communities and country.
I am attaching some of suggested projects sectors pictures just to show you if there are some which would be interested, while our website is still under reconstruction.
Hoping hear from you soon,
Best Regards,
Revd. Joseph Cimpaye
President
Ph.(+358)402567045 ”WhatsApp” Finland.
” ” ( +257)68441548 ” ”WhatsApp” Burundi.
Ph. ( +255)
Email.reachunreachedm@yahoo.com
Email.visionafrica2030@gmail.com

Dear Joseph.
I enjoyed our conversation too. It is unlisted in YouTube because I will not edit it separately, but you can see it there with this unlisted URL: https://youtu.be/QAN6FXAZgV0. In a few days I will produce a composite show, a little over an hour long, and post it on Facebook and our website on a Monday evening. You are always encouraged to post comments and share articles on that website: https://tosavetheworld.ca
Many thanks, and good wishes, 
Metta

Southern Madagascar faces drought-driven hunger, threatening millions

United Nations World Food Programme | 30 November 2020

Southern Madagascar is in the grip of a humanitarian catastrophe, with 1.5 million people—half the region’s population—needing immediate emergency food assistance, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) warned today. Three straight years of drought have wiped out harvests and hampered people’s access to food and COVID-19 is compounding their suffering.

Those experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” hunger conditions—three times the number forecast mid-year—are mostly children and women.

Of the ten hardest-hit southern districts, Amboasary is the epicenter; families barely scrape together enough food with raw mangoes and tamarind often their only food source. Mothers can no longer breastfeed and are forced to give their infants water which is in scarce supply. A WFP assessment in Amboasary last month found three out of four children had quit school – mostly to help their parents forage for food.

“The hunger and malnutrition we’re seeing is the result of three years of ruined harvests. Families across these drought-afflicted areas are adopting desperate measures simply to survive – selling precious belongings such as cattle, farm tools and kitchen utensils,” said Moumini Ouedraogo, WFP’s Representative in Madagascar.

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Full article available here: https://www.wfp.org/news/southern-madagascar-faces-drought-driven-hunger-threatening-millions

Last edited 4 months ago by Adam Wynne

I am skeptical of the technological solutions approach to the problem of climate change – Plants already make food out of “thin air and sunlight” and have been doing it for over a billion years enhancing the biodiversity, ecological complexity and beauty of our planet. I just watched the wizard of oz last night and it was a good reminder to be sure you are aware of the “man behind the curtain” turning the dials. The hype and hyperbole remind me of the nuclear industries “too cheap to meter” claims. I notice in the link to “carbon capture technology in the article” there is no discussion of the energy required to run the plants that take the carbon out of the air in the first place – and while I’m a fan of solar electricity – the making of photovoltaic panels has its own environmental impacts so claiming that the energy to then turn that captured carbon into “solein” is carbon neutral may prove inaccurate.
 
The problem is not the cow – but the how – how we manage our agriculture – it seems to me that a regenerative agricultural approach would be a lot more promising and have a lot less possible unexpected consequences than these technologies. They seem to divorce us further from the biological connection to our planetary life support system rather than increasing our sense of connection and interdependence. They also are being put forward as “investment” opportunities with big hype and claims – Which at my age reminds me of much I have heard before.

A healthy living soil is probably our best option for sequestering carbon AND producing nutrient dense food AND helping us be more resilient and buffered in the face of potential flood or drought.  But this requires a widespread, dispersed approach and a change in MANAGEMENT – not patentable marketable technology.

So – Interesting but it doesn’t appeal to me and I’m not going to switch from being an ecological farmer to a solein factory technician. I think there is a lot more life, joy and good food in a garden than a vat.

Tony, I agree with you. I would add another dimension to your argument toward a more regenerative agricultural approach – that of the variety and taste of food and what it represents. Do we need to remind people that many people LIVE for food, for eating, with friends and family. Although another protein powder that can be “made out of thin air” could certainly help as a meal supplement, (and can certainly help astronauts as they are searching for another planet to destroy), decentralized farming, vertical farming, hydroponic self contained systems, etc. are much more appetizing to me.

I think this is interesting but it must come with some major caveats.

1. Nobody should think of this as a way of “using” excess CO2. The amount of carbon consumed by humans (and all other animals and microbes) is only a fraction (10%, maybe) of the amount fixed by plants. And almost 100% of everything animals consume is released back to the air! If we take adult humans as the obvious example, we don’t gain weight continually as we age (anyone who does would become morbidly obese, and would presumably die as a result!). So all (or 99.9%!) of the proteins, carbs and fats adult humans eat in a single day are respired, or excreted, within hours or days. (Children that are growing up would retain slightly more obviously—but adults are generally only maintaining their body mass.) When we die, whatever is left decomposes, leaving only bones (and animal bones are really not a significant carbon sink!!)

2. Assuming the energy used to synthesize the protein is 100% from renewable sources (wind, solar, etc) then it makes some sense.

I am all for using forests, agricultural systems and wetlands to take up CO2. But forests and productive soils are becoming increasingly degraded: the “natural carbon sinks” are small and must be managed carefully.

However, the fact is that photosynthesis is generally less than 1% efficient in turning light energy into carbohydrate. (Prob less than 0.1% for plant protein.)

Growing plants to generate electricity is even less efficient as the material has to grow, reach a useful size, and then be harvested and transported to a power generation facility. In comparison, solar panels are typically 15-20% efficient (currently—with potential for further improvements?). And once a PV panel is constructed and installed, the conversion from light photons to electrons is instant! So an optimized industrial process to use solar or wind power to produce synthetic protein should be many times more efficient (in terms of tonnes of protein per hectare of land (or ocean) per year) than growing grass to feed cattle or even rabbits or chickens.

3. Something in the story suggests a major error in reporting: if the factory produces 1000 tonnes annually, how does that equate to 500 million meals per year? 1000 tonnes is 1 million kg or 1 billion grams. That means each meal would contain an average of precisely 2 grams of solein! Not even a mouthful!!

Bottom line: solein sounds very interesting! But beware the hype! Hmm. Just occurred to me that “solein” sounds rather like a contraction of “soylent green”!!!

The following poem is in consideration of the countless worldwide for whom there’s nothing to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day—nor any other day, for that matter—COVID-19 or not …  
   
(Dis)GRACE  
Pass me the holiday turkey, peas
and the delicious stuffing flanked
by buttered potatoes with gravy
since I’ve said grace with plenty ease,
for the good food received I’ve thanked
my Maker who’s found me worthy.
It seems that unlike the many of those
in the unlucky Third World nation,
I’ve been found by God deserving
to not have to endure the awful woes
and the stomach wrenching starvation
suffered by them with no dinner serving.
Therefore hand over to me the corn
the cranberry sauce, fresh baked bread
since for my grub I’ve praised the Lord,
yet I need not hear about those born
whose meal I’ve been granted instead,
as they receive naught of the grand hoard.  

   

How do countries check their soil health? Is there an overseeing body, or is it up to agriculture corporations?

Mountains Of Food Wasted As Coronavirus Scrambles Supply Chain

By: Susie Cagle
9 April 2020

“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.”

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The short documentary “How Chinese Refugees Saved the Sweet Potato” 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.

More information below:

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This Is the “Most Economically Important” Fern on Earth

By Sarah Sloat

One species of fern (Azolla) has potential as a biofuel and major carbon sink. Of note is that “millions of years ago, this fern “sequestered so much carbon that it switched the globe out of ‘hothouse’ conditions into the relatively cooler conditions that we experience now.”/

“Much like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, the fern Azolla filiculoides proves that the small can certainly pack a punch. This minuscule water fern, which has leaves the size of a single gnat, was the focus of a 2018 study published in Nature Plants. Scientists say the bright green plant is complete with unique capabilities — and has the potential to help us mitigate the effects of climate change.

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“Seed: The Untold Story”

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.

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COVID-19 Tests Resilience of Agriculture Community

By: Toban Dyck
March 16 2020

“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.”

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Canadian Cacti: YUM!

Did you know that Canada has several native cacti species? These are all in the Opuntia family of cacti – commonly called prickly pears. Opuntia are more commonly found in Latin America, Mexico, and the Southwestern USA, though they 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 are Nopales——grilled cacti pad. Cooks prefer thornless varieties. Prior to colonization, cacti were only native to the Americas.

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Cherokee Nation Donates Indigenous Crops to the Global Seed Vault

“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.

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Best Before Dates are a Scam!

The most important change we can make in our use of food is to reduce the amount of waste. And in Western societies, a major source of waste is the rule that food containers should state an expiration date, which it should be thrown out. This is ridiculous. People got along fine before that law came into effect. They looked at the food and if it seemed mouldy or yucky, they threw it out. Or they’d smell it or even taste it. Milk products often need to be tasted. But I know lots of people now who look at the label on the can an automatically toss it out. Food doesn’t go bad at a specific date. It depends on the environment it’s kept in. And the manufacturers dont know that. They just make up a date. It’s meaningless. Smell it and look at it before you decide there is something wrong with food!

Tell me if it’s spoiled

What if you can’t tell if the food is bad? Don’t you think it’s important for regulations to be in place to inform people of whether or not the food has gone bad, or at least to give expected dates? Sometimes, you just can’t tell!

How much of Canada’s produce is sourced from Southern Africa?

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.

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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.”

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WARNING: The Glaciers are Melting

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.

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Micro Plastic Pollution on Mountaintops?

Do you think that these water sources are at risk of pollution or contamination? Given how there’s pollution, micro plastics and garbage even at the deepest depths of the ocean, does this also happen on mountain water towers?

Glacial Melt- An Important Source of Water

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.

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A Call for Climate-Focused Agriculture Policy

By Tara Ritter, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

The current Administration has gone to great lengths to suppress climate change research, weaken key research institutions, and scrub mentions of climate change from government websites and documents. Despite these efforts, American farmers already know that the climate crisis is on our doorstep because they’ve been experiencing the negative impacts of it for years. Agriculture is among the hardest hit sectors by the climate crisis, and yet U.S. farm policy is largely devoid of climate considerations, and most climate change policy proposals insufficiently address agriculture.

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Dispensing Liquid Manure

I appreciate the article, and the points it makes, as well as several of the comments. However, there is an important technical error. The article says that methane, which is one of the most important ag GHGs, is mainly from increases in CAFO liquid manure. Although manure is a source of methane, it is actually much less than from ruminant digestion (“cow burps”). And the biggest source of methane from ruminant digestion is cows grazing on pasture.

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Hi Doug,

Your comment is partially right in that cow burps (enteric methane) are the major source of methane from agricultural systems – we address this issue in detail in the actual report, which we would encourage you to check out if you haven’t already. On page one, and in Figure 2 on page 8, we note that enteric methane from livestock at 32% is the number two contributor to GHGs behind only N20 from fertilized soil. GHG from manure storage facilities (which is both methane and N2O) ranks as third at 14%.

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I keep coming across references to the usefulness of feeding seaweed to cows. How much does that reduce methane emissions?

How Eating Seaweed Can Help Cows to Belch Less Methane

Hi Metta,

The Yale Environmental Law Review published an article in July 2018.

Unfortunately, the article notes that only a specific species of seaweed reduces methane emissions in cows. This species, Asparagopsis taxiformis, (a type of red algae) is endemic to tropical waters. Traditional Hawaiian cuisine sometimes incorporates this seaweed into dishes. Apparently getting cattle to eat the stuff can be difficult at first – as some cattle are picky eaters – so researchers sometimes mix it with molasses.

The article additionally notes some regions such as Ancient Greece. 18th century Iceland, and modern day Prince Edward Island (Canada) would graze cattle along beaches — so it is possible that cows additionally ate seaweeds in these environments — though whether it was the right type to reduce methane emissions has yet to be determined.

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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.
[…]

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Thanks for the link.

Solar vs. Nuclear Desalination: What’s better?


This photo of a solar plant is in Curacao

The idea of converting ocean water to potable water is not new- they’ve been doing it in Israel with desalination plants. What’s more efficient, and environmentally friendly? Desalination plants, or solar power plants, to convert ocean water into drinkable water?

Is it Ethical to Eat Meat?

One extremely important controversy about reducing global warming is whether to eat meat — and whether to raise livestock. The overwhelming preponderance of opinion holds that we should give up meat and convert land to vegetable crops and forests. But an alternative point of view is represented by the followers of Allan Savory, who insists that soil degradation can be reversed by the proper use of grazing techniques. I’d like to encourage an intelligent discussion of this issue on this website, since the evidence so far seems very mixed — and the answer is hugely important. Here is a post from a regenerative agriculturalist posted elsewhere.

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Walking with the Starving

Following in the footsteps of Strokestown’s missing 1490 famine victims, May 25th to May 30th, 2019
This event is past, so you can’t join it, but it’s a remarkable memorial to the horrible Irish famine of 1847.

The National Famine Walk will take place over six days from May 25th to May 30th 2019 when an international group of famine walkers will launch the National Famine Way walking trail. They will follow in the footsteps of the 1490 tenants from Denis Mahon’s estate who were forced to emigrate during the summer of 1847. We will walk 167 km from Strokestown and Clondra all the way along the Royal Canal to Spenser Dock, the Jeannie Johnson Famine Ship, and Rowan Gillespie Famine sculptures in Dublin city centre.

The event recreates the journey of 1490 tenants from the Mahon estate at Strokestown Park, now the site of the Irish National Famine Museum (http://www.strokestownpark.ie/), who were escorted by Bailiff Robinson to Dublin to ensure they boarded ship and did not return home. Their journey took place in May 1847 or ‘Black 47’, one of the worst years of suffering of the Great Irish Famine.

The story of the tenants’ fate after they left Dublin is a harrowing one. They travelled on open deck packet steamers to Liverpool where they waited in the cellars of quayside buildings at Liverpool docks to board their ships to Canada. The four ships they boarded – Erin’s Queen, Naomi, The Virginius and The John Munn – were badly fitted out and poorly provisioned. Almost half of those who embarked died aboard ship or in the ‘fever sheds’ at Grosse Isle when they arrived in Quebec. Of course, this was not known to them as they walked along the Royal Canal to Dublin, away from hunger and hoping for a better life.
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Staple Crops produce Cyanide?!


Cassava (aka Yucca)

Several staple crops such as cassava and sorghum naturally produce cyanide. The levels of cyanide in these crops increase with atmospheric CO2 levels and droughts. A case — several years ago in the Philippines — saw 27 children die at a school after eating toxic cassava.

“Staples such as cassava become more toxic and produce much smaller yields in a world with higher carbon dioxide levels and more drought, say Australian scientists.

The team grew cassava and sorghum at three different levels of CO2; just below today’s current levels at 360 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere, at 550 ppm and double at 710 pm.
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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?

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

Coordinate against drought

By Joe C Mathew | September 12, 2019

“The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has called for coordination among UN organisations and intergovernmental efforts to develop a proactive drought management strategy to assist all countries to improve and solidify their drought policies.”

Excerpts:

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has called for coordination among UN organisations and intergovernmental efforts to develop a proactive drought management strategy to assist all countries to improve and solidify their drought policies.

In a report presented at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP-14) of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification Conference (UNCCD) in Greater Noida, UNFAO explores various policy approaches that can be used to support drought-stricken populations and drought-affected activities, reduce vulnerability and strengthen resilience…

The report notes that in India, 330 million people were affected by the drought of 2015-16. “Women and children were among the most seriously affected, with increases in wasting among mothers, an increase in child labour and cases of trafficking and child marriages in some of the affected states,” it observed.

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How does the UN plan on doing this for countries that are experiencing prolonged conflict? That’s where people have the least access to food and water…

Trans-African Water Pipeline


The proposed trans-African water pipe line aims to connect four solar-paneled desalination plants to a 1.5 meter diameter pipe running through 11 Sahel (African) nations. The pipeline would traverse some of the most politically unstable regions on the planet (Chad, Eritrea, etc.). What if someone decides to blow-up a section of this pipeline? How much water will be provided to the middle section?

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Hmmm. Surface water or well water?

Have folks considered the trade-off between surface and well-water in various regions? Of concern is the source of drinking water in heavily contaminated areas. Chemical contamination can seep deep into the soil and contaminate wells. However, surface drinking water can be prone to pathogens – such as bacteria, parasites, etc. Several months ago there were a slurry of articles around straws with built in filters – but I question are these certified for a range of contaminants – such as arsenic vs. bacteria vs. parasites, etc.

Lake Erie toxic algae blooms

I am alarmed to hear of the repeated green algae blooms in Lake Erie. The algae is toxic and has caused bans on drinking tap water in several regions of the United States (in the vicinity of Lake Erie) in recent years. I have heard several theories as to the origin of these algae blooms. One is that it is a byproduct of agricultural run-off and antiquated drainage systems implemented in the nineteenth century.

A large portion of the area south-west of Lake Erie was formerly known as the Great Black Swamp and during colonization, settlers installed drainage pipes in their fields which drained into regional waterways like creeks, rivers, and swamps. This is exacerbated by the increased density of crops and livestock animals in recent decades – with fertilizers and manure eventually ending up in Lake Erie.
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North Korean defectors are amazed at the food in Seoul

Lee Oui-ryuk was on the verge of dying of starvation when he stole a block of tofu in a market in North Korea at the height of a nationwide famine. Too weak to run away after he swiped the food, Lee continued eating as the seller cried and beat him with a metal rod, staining the white tofu red with his blood.
At nine years old he knew the theft would end in violence, but in his head he repeated over and over: “Even if you are beaten, keep eating.” He eventually passed out and when he awoke, took a morsel that remained on his hand to his sister.
“Even today I don’t have the words to describe the hunger,” Lee said. “My head was too big for my body because I was so malnourished and my neck couldn’t support the weight, which meant my head was always at a slant.”
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Nitrogen Fixing Helps Soil Health

Nitrogen fixing is a vital component of soil health. This can be done artificially or naturally. The tree species which are planted can have a significant role regarding this. I recently wrote to Urban Forestry at the City of Toronto regarding the increased prevalence of Kentucky Coffee Trees (Gymnocladus dioicus) being planted in the City of Toronto.

These trees are apparently quite hardy, but they have another advantage: the trees are in the pea family and thus naturally fix nitrogen into the surrounding soil as they grow. This is quite the advantage in urban areas – as nitrogen is a vital nutrient for plant growth and thus ecological health. The trees are additionally quite unique – with the largest compound leaves in Eastern North America – and the seed pods likely date from the era of Woolly Mammoths – who may have chewed on them.

First Nations folks used the pods as a laxative and stimulant – in something not dissimilar to coffee. (The trees are not related to traditional coffee trees). The importance of nitrogen fixing in soil health related discussion cannot be ignored.

The Causes of Famine

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.

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The Risks of Reliance on Monoculture Agriculture

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.

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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.

Please explain earthworms. I had heard that they were very good for the soil — presumably all soil. But now I have learned that Canada never had earthworms until recently. They are an invasive species and biologists worry about them. Should we worry?

I saw something recently about harvesting water from fog. They put up textiles which capture the moisture and collect it. They were even talking about using it in the desert. Does anyone know whether there is enough water in dry air to make such a scheme workable?

Yes! Capture some fog!

Howard, the answer is YES! They can get water out of air in the desert too now. Here’s a link about the new technological innovation that makes it possible.
https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/8/17441496/fog-harvesting-water-scarcity-environment-crisis

‘Environmental bastardry’: Looser grassland controls slammed
By Peter Hannam, August 5, 2019

The Sydney Morning Herald

A dispute is raging in Australia about managing grasslands in the state’s south just weeks after a scientific committee deemed them to be critically endangered, a move which has been blasted by environmental groups.

Famine as a War Crime

Famine Isn’t Just a Result of Conflict—It’s a Cause
By Justa Hopma

A boy holds a kettle as he walks outside his family’s hut at a camp for people displaced by the war near Sanaa, Yemen September 26, 2016. Famine often leads to conflict, but when the conflict is already them, famine is a form of oppression.

The relationship between food insecurity and conflict is almost so logical that it appears to state the obvious: Conditions of food insecurity contribute to the outbreak of social, political and military conflict, which in turn produces further food insecurity.

Many studies concerned with making sense of food insecurity and conflict focus on these causal linkages blaming one on the other in an attempt to identify ways of breaking through the vicious cycle. But it’s more helpful to view the creation of conditions of food insecurity (or food security) as a broader social and political process, by which food and agriculture are controlled by a powerful group—whether that is the state or private interests.

In this way, food has long been used as an instrument of power—and a quick glance at the historical record shows that the ability to control food production, distribution and consumption constitutes a form of power that lets populations live or die.
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History throws up countless examples of this. Take the way that, in the Middle Ages, walled cities under siege could be starved out to force their capitulation. More recent history gives us the systematic deprivation of food, including the well-known German Hungerplan of World War II, that involved a deliberate policy decision to rob millions of Soviet citizens of their food. Or the lesser-known, long-term British occupation of the port of Aden from 1839 to 1963, that allowed it to control Middle Eastern food distribution channels, with sometimes devastating consequences that weakened independent forces in the Arab region.

So creating or exploiting different kinds of what we now describe as “food insecurity” have long been an integral part of conflict.

The case of north-eastern Nigeria is a harrowing present-day example that clearly shows how food security is implicated in longer-standing social and political conflict. In explaining the rise of religious extremism both today and in the 1980s, Nigerian scholars Abimbola Adesoji and Elizabeth Isichei stress the links between poverty, a lack of educational opportunities, widespread corruption and receptiveness to militant Islam in Nigeria’s northern region.

Since 2012, however, the conflict between government forces and the jihadist organization Boko Haram has escalated into widespread violence. Agriculture has often been a direct target in the infliction of violence and Boko Haram has attacked farmers and farm resources, including land and livestock. Large numbers of livestock have been killed and farmers murdered. Crops have been destroyed and land mines have rendered land unusable.

The resulting shortfall in food production has not only contributed to scarcity in the north-eastern region, but is also linked to price rises for food in southern Nigeria and neighboring countries Niger and Cameroon.

In January 2017, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported that: “More than 4.8m people are in urgent need of food assistance and 5.1m are predicted to be food insecure if not supported by the humanitarian community.”

Regional humanitarian coordinator Toby Lanzer appears somewhat reluctant to use the word “famine”, but warns that such extreme prolonged and general scarcity of food is but one step away in northern Nigeria.

Language matters

In spite of the clear indications that it’s almost always a combination of social, political and environmental factors that leads to situations of widespread hunger, many news outlets continue to represent famine through language that uses natural metaphors.

The Huffington Post, for example, speaks of a “perfect storm” of contributing factors while other publications outline how drought and war “spark” famine or contribute to its “outbreak”.

The consistent use of such language suggests that the onset of famine is rapid and calamitous, like a fire or infectious disease. But the reality is very different. As the cases of both Nigeria and South Sudan make clear, the development of famine is a dynamic social and political process with a long build-up.

The continued representation of famines as disastrous events largely sprung upon populations by the forces of nature, prevents us from understanding famine—and food insecurity—as a socio-political process, even though doing so is especially important for realising its future prevention.

Famine as a war crime
South Sudan is in a similar situation to north-eastern Nigeria. A lengthy conflict has produced a situation in which 4.8m people are facing “severe” food insecurity and “more than 8m people “face some degree of food insecurity”. Referring to the situation there, Leslie Lefkow, deputy director at the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, has written that creating some mechanism of accountability is one of the only hopes of resolving the conflict there. Lefkow recognizes that:

There is no offence of ‘creating a famine’ under international law but in a conflict—civil or international—’objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population’ may not be attacked. They have a protected status as civilian objects and because their protection goes hand in hand with the prohibition on using starvation of the civilian population as a weapon of war.

Put this way, willingly contributing to the increased food insecurity of populations can be linked to war crimes. Importantly, recognising that famine—but also various other conditions of food insecurity and food security—results from socio-political processes is a prerequisite for developing such legal accountability.

Once we do this, we’ll be in a better position to acknowledge the power embedded within the ability to organize and control food production as well as the multiple ways in which food products circulate the planet. And this is as true during times of war as it is in times of peace.

For more on understanding famine as a socio-political process, see Whose Hunger? Concepts of Famine, Practices of Aid by Jenny Edkins & Famine Crimes: Politics and the Disaster Relief Industry in Africa by Alex de Waal.
This article is part of a series by The Conversation on food security.
Justa Hopma is Research fellow at the University of Sheffield

This is an excellent piece on soil degradation and the possibilities of reversal. It includes a very interesting section on perennial grain crops as developed by The Land Institute.

http://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/follow-the-food/why-soil-is-disappearing-from-farms/

Amazon Deforestation up 60%

(CNN) Amazon deforestation accelerated more than 60% in June over the same period last year, in what environmentalists say is a sign that the policies of President Jair Bolsonaro are starting to take effect.

The rate of rainforest destruction had been stable during the first few months of Bolsonaro’s presidency but began to soar in May and June, according to Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research (INPE), a government agency whose satellites also monitor the Amazon.

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Terra Preta is a rich black soil in the Amazon that was created by Indians who lived there a thousand years ago. They created charcoal from their household waste and buried it. This removed carbon from the atmosphere and sequestered it permanently. We need to do the same. It’s the best possible soil for agriculture.

Mother Earth, our soil, can not only feed us but absorb the excess carbon we’ve poured into the atmosphere. But we have to respect it and treat it right. Charcoal, added to the soil or even spread on top, can sequester carbon for thousands of years and improve the fertility, enabling abundant food to be produced.

That’s a fascinating lecture.

Bananas in Danger of Fungal Infection

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.

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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!

https://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/blogs/students-revive-extinct-squash-800-year-old-seeds

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

https://www.heirloomgardener.com/organic-gardening/squash-varieties-zmaz12fzfol

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