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Blog Posts: agriculture

  • 3 Key Initiatives from Australia’s Climate Change Policy

    Australia is a major nation to watch when it comes to curbing climate change. The country made an international commitment to reduce its GHG emissions by 5 to 25 percent from 2000 levels by 2020. How Australia achieves these reductions can provide lessons on how other countries around the world can pursue their own climate change mitigation plans.

    WRI’s Open Climate Network and Australia’s The Climate Institute (TCI) recently analyzed Australia’s climate change plan, which includes a mix of policies to reduce emissions (check out the working paper here). We found that three initiatives stand out in terms of their potential to significantly reduce GHG emissions: a carbon pricing mechanism, a Renewable Energy Target (RET), and the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI).

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  • Learning from African Farmers: How “Re-greening” Boosts Food Security; Curbs Climate Change

    President Obama is in Africa this week to discuss development, investment, health, and, notably, food security. The trip comes on the heels of the president’s groundbreaking announcement of a U.S. Climate Action Plan. So it’s a fitting time for Obama and other global leaders to take notice of a strategy that addresses both climate change and food security in Africa—re-greening.

    Re-greening—a process where African farmers manage and protect trees that grow on their farms, rather than cutting them down—is already beginning to transform the continent’s drylands. Supporting and scaling up the low-tech process can not only increase crop yields in drought-prone regions, it can mitigate climate change and reduce rural poverty.

    The History of Re-greening in Africa’s Drylands

    Re-greening in Africa first garnered international attention back in 2007, when the New York Times published a front page article entitled “In Niger, Trees and Crops Help Turn Back the Desert.” Lydia Polgreen, who was the NYT’s West Africa bureau chief in those days, had visited Niger and reported “at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres.” The NYT article revealed that this large-scale re-greening was not due to expensive tree-planting projects, but was the result of farmers protecting and managing young trees that regenerated on their cultivated land.

    This re-greening did not happen everywhere. It was observed in particular in dryland regions with high population densities. Life in dryland areas presents many challenges, and farmers and decision makers are continuously searching for ways to restore their resilience and agricultural productivity.

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  • 10 Ways to Cut Global Food Loss and Waste

    This post is the third installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the 2013-2014 World Resources Report.

    An amazing 24 percent of all food calories produced today go uneaten. Reducing this loss and waste is a critical step toward generating enough food for a population set to reach more than 9 billion by 2050.

    Fortunately, there are low-cost methods that can begin saving food immediately in both the developing and the developed world. WRI’s new working paper, Reducing Food Loss and Waste, identifies a number of these strategies. Some methods cut loss “close to the farm,” while others reduce waste “close to the fork.”

    Reducing Food Loss Close to the Farm

    Improved storage methods

    Simple, low-cost storage methods can drastically cut food loss, especially for small-scale farmers in the developing world, who frequently lose food to factors like pests, spoilage, and transportation damage. For example, a system developed by researchers at Purdue University in which grain is stored in three interlocking plastic bags locks out pests and keeps grain fresh for months. The Food and Agriculture Organization has built more than 45,000 small, metal storage silos—just big enough for use by a single farmer—in 16 different countries. These silos have cut food loss during the storage phase to almost zero. Even using a plastic crate instead of a plastic sack during transport can cut loss dramatically by preventing bruising and squashing.

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  • By the Numbers: Reducing Food Loss and Waste

    This post is the second installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the 2013-2014 World Resources Report. Look for the next installment tomorrow, which will highlight a number of solutions to reduce food loss and waste.

    The world produces about 4 billion tons of food per year, or about 6 quadrillion calories. That’s a large amount, but what’s really shocking is that nearly one-quarter of these calories go uneaten.

    This food is lost or wasted in a number of ways. It might rot in the fields, get eaten by pests in storage, or be thrown away by a grocer or consumer, just to name a few. It’s a problem that must be mitigated: The world will need about 60 percent more calories per year by 2050 in order to adequately feed the projected population of more than 9 billion people. WRI’s new working paper, Reducing Food Loss and Waste, shows that cutting current rates of food loss and waste in half would reduce the size of this food gap by about 22 percent.

    The new paper, part of the ongoing 2013-2014 World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future working paper series, looks at the scale of the food loss and waste challenge and examines how we as a global community can start tackling this issue. The paper and tomorrow’s blog post explore a number of practical, affordable strategies for governments, businesses, and households to reduce their loss and waste immediately.

    But first, it’s important to understand the extent of the problem. Here are several facts and figures that reveal just how much food the world loses and wastes:

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  • The Great Balancing Act: 3 Needs for a Sustainable Food Future

    This post is the first installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the forthcoming World Resources Report.

    How can the world feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment? This is one of the paramount questions the world faces over the next four decades.

    Answering it requires a “great balancing act” of three needs—all of which must be met simultaneously.

    Balancing 3 Needs

    1. The world needs to close the gap between the amount of food available today and the amount required in 2050. According to new WRI analysis, we’ll need about 60 percent more food calories in 2050 than in 2006 if global demand continues on its current trajectory. This gap is in part a function of increasing population and wealth. The United Nations projects that the global population will likely grow from 7 billion in 2012 to 9.3 billion by 2050. At least 3 billion more people are likely to enter the global middle class by 2030, and they will almost certainly demand more resource-intensive foods like meat and vegetable oils. At the same time, approximately 870 million of the world's poorest people remain undernourished even today.

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  • Food and Fuel: 2 Grand Challenges Facing Us this Earth Day

    Since the very first Earth Day more than four decades ago, the environmental movement has tackled a wide range of problems, including air pollution, contaminated water, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and more. But this Earth Day, I propose that there are two fundamental issues the movement must address over the coming decade if it is ever to defuse the tension between development and the environment. In fact, these two issues underlie many, if not most, of the world’s environmental challenges.

    I’m referring here to the human quest for food and the human quest for fuel.

    Unsustainable Food Production

    Food production has significant―but often underestimated―impacts on the environment. Take climate, for instance: About one-quarter of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are agriculture-related. In particular, nearly 13 percent of global emissions comes from livestock, fertilizer use, and farm-related energy consumption, while another 11 percent results from the clearing of forests and other ecosystems, primarily for agriculture.

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  • Without Land, What Would a Farmer Do?

    Rural farmers depend on land and natural resources for food, income, and their physical well-being. But what happens when national or local governments prevent rural people and communities from farming their land?

    All governments have the authority to restrict the use of private land, usually for public interest purposes, such as environmental management or biodiversity conservation. In these cases, the affected individuals should be compensated for their losses even though the land remains theirs. Problems arise when governments routinely restrict the use of private property for ordinary government business or for meeting short-term political ends. With weak rights to their property and insecure tenure arrangements, local people stop investing in their land and natural resources. In many countries, governments restrict the use of private property without consulting the landholders or providing compensation. With courts too expensive to access, poor people have few opportunities for recourse.

    How do governments balance the benefits to the national public with the rights of local citizens? Can these national benefits be achieved without restricting rural people’s land use? To find out, watch WRI’s new animated video, “A Farmer in Africa.”

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  • A New Tool to Measure and Reduce Emissions from Agriculture

    Agriculture is a major actor in spurring global climate change. The sector is already responsible for at least 10-12 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and agricultural emissions are expected to increase by more than 50 percent by 2030.

    Mitigating agricultural emissions, then, could go a long way toward mitigating global climate change. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol is currently developing an Agricultural Guidance to help companies measure and reduce their agricultural emissions. We’ve just released a second draft of the Guidance for open comment period, which will run until May 31, 2013.

    Key Challenges to Measuring Agricultural Emissions

    Reporting agricultural emissions in GHG inventories is a decidedly complex endeavor, which can hinder reduction efforts. For example, agricultural emissions are strongly affected by weather and are therefore often calculated with a large amount of uncertainty. This ambiguity makes it challenging to set and track progress toward reduction targets. The carbon stored in biomass and soils can often be emitted into the atmosphere, making it imperative that companies do not over- or under-count the impact of farming practices on stored carbon. And companies vary widely in how they control different parts of agricultural supply chains—such as commodity production, processing, and retail —so it’s difficult to maintain consistency in how inventories are reported.

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  • Embracing Ecological Progress in China

    This post originally appeared on ChinaDaily.com.

    Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed a remarkable period of economic and human development: More than 2 billion people have gained access to improved drinking water; life expectancy has increased by approximately five years; more children are going to school, with 90 percent enrolled in primary education; and per capita income levels have doubled across developing countries.

    China has experienced an even more profound transformation during this period. The country has sustained an annual GDP growth of around 10 percent. Five hundred million people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. People's lives have visibly improved and there are more opportunities for them.

    Yet, many challenges remain. With the world's expanding population, rapid economic growth, and booming middle class, the pressure on natural resources is mounting. The truth is the world is on an unsustainable path.

    China is part of this problem, but it also must be part of the solution. China faces real challenges when it comes to the environment and natural resources. Demand for water is rapidly outpacing supply, with food, energy, and domestic use intensifying for this scarce resource. The need for affordable and clean energy is on the rise. China's rapidly expanding urban population is having a significant impact on transportation, energy, and water infrastructure.

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  • 4 Grand Challenges to Energy, Food, and Water

    The world is on track to become a very different place in the next two decades. Per capita income levels are rising, the global middle class is expanding, and the population is set to hit 8.3 billion people by 2030. At the same time, urbanization is happening at an accelerated pace—the volume of urban construction over the next 40 years could equal that which has occurred throughout history to date.

    While these projections would bring benefits like reduced poverty and individual empowerment, they have serious implications for the world’s natural resources. Global growth will likely increase the demand for food, water, and energy by 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively by 2030. Add continued climate change to the equation, and the struggle for resources only becomes more intense.

    These are just a few of the estimates included in the new Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) that was released last month. The assessment, which the NIC puts out every four years, reflects in-depth research on trends and geopolitical changes that may unfold in the next 15-20 years—everything from urbanization to conflict to resource scarcity.

    Assessments like the NIC’s are invaluable in providing decision makers with forward-looking insights and analysis. But while the report offers a glimpse into the future, what’s more important is how we respond today to the questions these “megatrends” raise.

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