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Gary Gardner. Water and land, resources at risk

Economy / -

Gary Gardner, senior fellow di Worldwatch Institute

The respected scholar, senior fellow of the Worldwatch Institute - which has contributed to the 2014 edition of the book "State of the World" - warns: agricultural resources are scarce or are badly managed. To ensure access to food, as FAO calling for, requires an ethical governance of agriculture that keeps the food system from the mere laws of the marketplace.

Why is a loss of agricultural resources a global threat?
Because it compromises our ability to generate the most important product of the global economy: our food. It also increases the possibility that some countries have to depend on international markets for food, putting these countries in a position of increasing vulnerability.
 
California, the region where you live, offers us a symbolic case of a loss of natural resources and is suffering a particularly severe drought. Here - as in many other parts of the world - a degradation of agricultural land and climate change can be added to water scarcity. What are the economic consequences of this phenomenon?
In California, the worst drought in a century has devastated farmers. Three years of poor rains have reduced the availability of surface water for agricultural use by 36%, forcing ground water to be extracted. But even the traditional groundwater was not enough. So 173 thousand hectares of irrigated land, about 5% of agricultural land was left fallow. The economic cost is estimated at $2.2 billion with the loss of 17,000 jobs.
 
Irrigation uses 16% water, but produces 44% of the food in the world. Climate change, however, is compromising water reserves. What are the main factors causing water shortages?
We can point to four main factors. One driver of water scarcity is population growth. 
Water is a renewable resource, but the availability of fresh water is generally well defined in most countries. When populations grow, the amount of fresh water per capita decreases. 
But there are also economic factors. If some countries export goods that require intensive use of water - such as agricultural products - these countries are essentially exporting water, and this can put pressure on national water supplies. 
Even physical factors play a role in determining water scarcity. If groundwater is overexploited (that is, it is extracted more than compensated by the rains) it reduces or even eliminates a major water reservoir. Currently, about 20% of the world's aquifers are overexploited. Through the use of satellites, it was noted that for example, between 2003 and 2011, the Tigris and the Euphrates have lost as much water as the Dead Sea and 60% of this decline is due to overpumping. 
Ultimately, climate change can produce water scarcity, both creating droughts and reducing the snowpack, a reserve of natural water that when it melts in spring and summer acts as a source of water in many regions. In California, it is expected that snow will be reduced by 12%-40% by mid-century, and 90% by 2100. A study in 2012 of 405 river basins, which provide 75% of global irrigation resources were experiencing severe water shortages for at least one month a year in about 200 of these basins, and for six months a year in 35 basins.
 
The demand for food is expected to increase by 60% by 2050, but the same IPCC estimates that there will be a decline in net crop yields globally by 0.2% every ten years, then 2% per century. From 15% to 24% of global land is subject to degradation, but demand is expected to increase by 14% per decade. How can we deal with these challenges?
The global agricultural system has three great 'reserves' of food which can be drawn down in the event of scarcity: crops currently given to livestock, used for biofuels, and food waste. 
About 36% - more than a third - of cereal crops in the world has been used to produce meat in 2014. The production of biofuels 'eats up' about 40% of cereal flour in the United States, 50% of sugar beet in Brazil, and 80% of the production of oil seeds in the European Union. 
Meanwhile, about a third of food produced in the world is wasted: on farms, on production, distribution or domestic consumption. 
Among these three large reserves of food, there is ample room to recover production losses due to soil degradation.
But are we doing this? Are consumers in rich countries prepared to reduce their consumption of meat? The programs of biofuel will be scaled down, even as they become more scarce fossil fuels? And how will producers and consumers be persuaded to reduce food waste? Although these reserves are large, their use can be limited by political considerations.
 
You have stated that in the last 25 years, the United States has lost an agricultural area the size of ​​the State of Indiana and in California alone, between 2008 and 2010, an area equal to three-quarters of San Francisco has been lost. Many agricultural areas are being turned over to urban development. What answers can be put forward?
We can proceed with certain technical and economic solutions. When it comes to water scarcity, for example, drip irrigation can produce great efficiency, while farmers can be pushed to choose crops that require less water. But more in general, agricultural resources should be considered strategic, and not commodities subject to market conditions, thereby creating incentives for their conservation. Facilities for privately owned farms, for example, could ensure that productive land is not sold for development or for other non-agricultural developments. Similarly, food should not be treated merely as a market commodity. There should be protective measures to ensure adequate supplies to the market and to avoid overly erratic price fluctuations. 
 
What kind of governance is needed to ensure access to food?
In recent times, an interesting development was the announcement of the 'right to food'. FAO introduced this concept in 2004 adopting Guidelines on the Right to Food, and at least 28 countries have an explicit mention of the right to food in their constitutions. Access to food may need to encode in international trade agreements, so that the food cannot be withheld for political reasons.
 

The big hipped country: abundance in the Kingdom of Tonga’s islands

Culture / -

© Amy Toensing/National Geographic Society/Corbis
© Amy Toensing/National Geographic Society/Corbis

“Il paese dalle ‘grandi cosce’: l’abbondanza nelle isole del regno di Tonga” describes the culture of food, and the body of the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Tonga, an archipelago of Polynesia. The author is Gaia Cottino, cultural anthropologist and researcher of Laboratorio Expo. The essay is part of the ebook “Sguardi etnografici sul cibo”, curated by Silvia Barberani.

The far-off archipelago of Polynesia, in the Kingdom of Tonga, the relationship with food is based on feasts: banquets and rituals, an abundance that reflects the importance of who offers it. This culture has produced a beautiful aesthetic that when it comes to the body believes that big is beautiful. The origin of these values goes back to when the banquet was the way in which the leaders were sharing resources and celebrated their power, but the arrival of junk food has caused what the World Health Organization has called an "obesity of epidemic proportions." But the Tongan government and the WHO, propose nutritional education campaigns, are struggling to spread the message because they do not consider adequately the local culture. The essay “Il paese dalle ‘grandi cosce’: l’abbondanza nelle isole del regno di Tonga” by Gai Cottino evaluates these aspects of the situation.
 
The author
Gaia Cottino has a PhD in Cultural Anthropology, specializing in food anthropology, anthropology body and health. She conducted research in Oceania and worked as a freelance researcher with Federalimentare, with the Santa Maria della Pietà Center of study and research, ASL Roma E, and the Eclectica Research Centre in Turin. In 2013 she published Il peso del corpo. An anthropological analysis of obesity in Tonga, Unicopli. The essay Il paese dalle ‘grandi cosce’: l’abbondanza nelle isole del regno di Tonga is part of the ebook and takes an ethnographic looks at food and is curated by Silvia Barberani, researcher and professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Bicocca University and collaborator of Laboratoro Expo.
 
The culture of the banquet
"Banquets [...] represent a fundamental practice for the balance of Tongan society. And if a big feast gives prestige to the entire family, an abundant body reflects its high social status." «To show off a big pile of tubers is like carrying around a big body» has been repeatedly pointed out to me, as if to underline that abundance is a positive characteristic even when talking of the body. In fact there is an intrinsic link between food and the body, not only because [...] they are biological entities and materials, but also because they are the product of a particular socio-cultural order.”
 
Beauty is a big, healthy body
"As the words of an interviewee clearly show My mom always said that beauty had to be big and healthy. But the point is: define big; you can be big and obese, big and firm, thick and thin" - the body has many more nuances of the optimal size universally fixed by the World Health Organization."
 
The essay, Il paese dalle ‘grandi cosce’: l’abbondanza nelle isole del regno di Tonga by Gaia Cottino is contained in the ebook Sguardi Etnografici sul cibo  curated by Silvia Barberani, and is offered in reading and free download as part of Laboratorio Expo, the project of Expo Milano 2015 and Fondazione Giangiacomo Feltrinelli edited by Salvatore Veca, which promotes scientific research into the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. At Laboratorio Expo you can find, not only book titles, but also take part in events, meetings and high-profile initiatives on cultural issues, such as environmental sustainability and ethics and on food culture, sustainable development and the relationship of city and citizens. It is a project that brings cultural, scientific, anthropological, economic and social questions to life and generates dialogue.
 
(Available in Italian language edition only).  

If the seed of peace is stronger

Sustainability / -

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a land that is continuously scourged by riots and civil wars, the Salisian Family is carrying out various agricultural development projects.

It is not easy to talk about agriculture if you live in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Because in order to have access to food, you need first of all be able to access the plantations, and in this country - plagued since 1997 by continuous hotspots of war in order to control coltan, diamonds, copper, cobalt and gold - the fighting between the Fardc (the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of Congo) and the rebel groups often makes them impossible to reach or makes it necessary to use the structures provided for humanitarian emergencies. And when it is not the social-political conditions that are blocking short-term and medium-term agronomic planning, it may be the rainy season that makes it impossible to arrive, by canoe, to the cultivations.
It is in this dramatical context that the Family Salesian works together with the VIS (International Volunteering for Development) NGO. They have been the only two Italian organisations, and among the very few international ones who remained operative also during the moment of the attack and seizing of the city in 2012. “It was a decision that paid off, and not only for the 12,000 people, most of whom are women and children, that we took in at the Don Bosco Ngangi Centre together with the Salesians – explains Giovanna Ribul Moro, who works for VIS in Goma, who reached "ExpoNet" with great difficulty, because during the riots that took place recently in Kinshasa, the telephone lines and internet were interrupted - but also because it made it possible for us to restart the activities of rural development during a very brief period of time (in May - June 2013, only six months after the most intense fighting had ending) and moreover in one of the rural areas most affected by the conflict".

Two Salesian plantations
The Salesian community of Don Bosco owns two large plantations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, one that grows organic coffee in Nyangoma, and a mixed plantation that mainly grows bananas, in Shasha.
The Shasha plantation covers approx. 218 hectares and produces vegetables, herbaceous crops such as soy, corn, beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, maniocs and different types of bananas. “The main objective of our work was to restart the production of bananas for cooking, soy and vegetables - explains Ribul Moro – to be sold both on the local market as well as to the accommodation structures for more than 3300 troubled children and young people at the Don Bosco Ngangi centre in Goma”.
The Salesians, together with the VIS working with the Salesian family, provide technical support, agricultural training, seeds, support for the development of the commercial networks for soy, bananas, beans and vegetables for 40 farmer associations, with a total number of approx. 2,200 families who benefited from this.
The Nyangoma plantation overlooks the west shore of the Kivu lake near Minova, and covers an area of 60 hectares on which it only produces Arabic coffee. A work project is underway to improve the plantation.
“The project involves planting new seedlings over a total area of approx. 18 hectares; at the same time the existing production of the plantation was relaunched by rationalising the cultivation methods and training the workers - explains Ribul Moro -. Since the end of 2013, the Nyangoma plantation is part of a cooperative of small coffee producers (Amka) that is supported by a Belgian foundation (COMEQUI) that is trying to help the cooperative obtain organic certification”.

An educational project
The plantations have become a centre for training and for reinforcing the skills of local farmers.
“Together with the Salesian community, we have promoted two types of educational activities – explains Ribul Moro - one oriented towards young people between the ages of 14-18, who are invited to attend the Agrarian Agriculture School, which we started in 2013. The school currently has 90 students and is achieving moderate success, both due to the quality of the education as well as the level of equipment available. The project also promotes technical agricultural training for local farmers with sessions that cover general topics (the fight against erosion, production cycles, product conservation and selling, etc.), with continuous consultancy provided to the farmers by project personnel and the organisation of visits for the exchange of experience among farmers in North Kivu.

A participatory process
In addition to increasing technical farming skills, we are focusing in fact on the economic and social development of the area, which currently lacks in basic services for farmers. “With a series of joint brainstorming sessions, the farmers identified what should be the function of the Agricultural Service Centre, how it should work and which services it should offer – comments Ribul Moro –. The selling and transformation of the products ended up being the most problematic areas”.
The fact that the farms actively participated in the creation of the Centre, co-financing the purchase of the land where a hangar to be used for storage and transformation is being built, is another key element.
“The sustainability of this project is also demonstrated by the commitment of the local community to its success – concludes Ribul Moro -. Furthermore, this project did not introduce or force any crop that was not already present, known and sold by the local population, but has been limited to increasing and rationalising the capacity of the existing productive capacity.

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