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?

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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“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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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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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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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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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.

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?

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.

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.