The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.
Founded in 1986, IATP is rooted in the family farm movement. With offices in Minneapolis and Geneva, IATP works on making domestic and global agricultural policy more sustainable for everyone.
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About Think Forward
Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health.
October 29, 2010
Climate change and agriculture: Are we getting to the heart of the matter?
This Sunday, the Netherlands, several other governments, the World Bank and the FAO are hosting a major six-day conference on agriculture, food security and climate in the Hague. Those closely following the climate talks believe that this conference is an attempt to include agriculture much more centrally within the climate negotiations of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In principle, that is a welcome idea—to finally address the air, water and land-related pollution that industrial agriculture causes and the dangers it poses to our health and the health of the planet. Agriculture, along with land-use changes, is said to contribute up to 30 percent of the gases that are warming our planet to dangerous levels. However, we must be able to recognize real solutions in addressing these problems.
The conference agenda shows scant evidence that the real causes of agriculturally based greenhouse gas emissions will be addressed. For instance, one of the biggest sources of agriculture emissions is industrial livestock factories. According to one FAO paper, the livestock sector contributes almost 80 percent of all agriculture-related emissions. Yet, industrial livestock factories do not appear to be a topic of discussion.
Instead the emphasis will be on finding “innovative” ways to finance adaptation to climate change in developing countries and “innovative” practices that can help small farms adapt to climate change. Innovation is well and good, only in this context it appears to mean carbon markets and “climate genes.” Up to 75 percent of these patented technologies are owned by multinational seed and agrochemical companies such as Monsanto, BASF, DuPont and Syngenta.
Civil society organizations, including IATP, concerned about this meeting and its intentions have joined together to send a statement to these governments, the World Bank and the FAO. They say it’s critical that governments heed the policy recommendations of IAASTD, a comprehensive assessment conducted by over 400 experts. They say that small family farms, laborers, indigenous peoples, women and civil society organizations are already providing practical, just and affordable solutions to the problems of food security and climate change. They just need to be heard.
 Others include Bayer, Dow, Mendel, Ceres and Evogene. Source: Syam, N. “Implications of an IP Centric Approach to Adaptation of Agriculture to Climate Change.” Power Point Presentation. South Centre, October 2010
October 26, 2010
"Understanding the Farm Bill" on Facebook
What do farmers, public health professionals, food justice advocates, environmentalists, anti-poverty organizers and economic development authorities have in common? Probably an awful lot, but most pertinent at this time is the impact that the forthcoming Farm Bill will have on all of this work.
Health disparities and neighborhoods
The Twin Cities are lot like other parts of the U.S. when it comes to health. "Health is strongly connected to race, income and the specific parts of the metro area in which people live in," according to a report released earlier this month by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota.
Specifically, the report found that when compared to whites, mortality rates were 3.5 times higher for American Indians, and 3 times higher for U.S.-born blacks in the Twin Cities. Residents in the highest income areas in the Twin Cities had an average life expectancy of eight additional years compared to those in the lowest income/highest poverty areas.
In a comment on the report, IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. writes about the role of a community's environment in public health. "Abundant science now shows that people who live in less healthy, more polluted neighborhoods are sicker and at greater risk for a slew of chronic diseases and conditions than people that are not living in those neighborhoods. And these neighborhoods generally are lower income and more populated by people of color. It is through conscious changes to neighborhood environments that many health improvements are to be had in Minnesota."
One of the essential elements of a neighborhood's environment is access to healthy food. But David writes, "Many lower-income communities also lack access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, or even access to full-service supermarkets."
You can read the full report and comments from David and other local leaders here.
October 22, 2010
Parent Earth: videos about food for families
How can we foster a world that nurtures healthy, thriving children?
Parent Earth, a new website which launched Sept. 29, serves up entertaining and informative videos about the topic on every parent’s mind today: food. Working closely with noted nutritional, medical and educational leaders, the site is produced by two award-winning filmmakers and moms, and features more than 100 original and hand-picked videos covering cooking, gardening, nutrition and behavior.
Created by Emmy Award–winning filmmaker and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Food and Society Fellow Nicole Betancourt and co-founder and filmmaker Sarah Schenck, the two mothers have gained support from enlightened corporate sponsors including Happy Baby and Stonyfield Farm.
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Check out our latest press on Bon Appetite.
This post was originally published on the IATP Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog.
October 21, 2010
UN Committee on Food Security concludes on positive note
IATP's Sophia Murphy was in Rome last week for the Food and Agriculture's Committee on Food Security meeting. A version of this report also appeared on the Triple Crisis blog.
The 36th meeting of the FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS) concluded in archetypal U.N. fashion: one and a half hours of apparently aimless milling about followed by a call to order, a 10-minute exchange during which it becomes clear that the milling about was actually about last—very last—minute negotiations, and, finally, adoption of the report by acclamation. So ended the first meeting of a revamped piece of the U.N. system—a small but fascinating piece.
Why fascinating? Because last year governments agreed to a major overhaul of the way the committee works, and to give the committee a preeminent role in the coordination of U.N. food security policy. The FAO, World Food Program (WFP) and the International Fund Agriculture and Development (IFAD) jointly run the CFS. There are several new mechanisms alongside, including one defining a Civil Society Mechanism to ensure adequate and accountable participation from the nongovernmental sector writ large, and a recently constituted High-level Panel of Experts (yes, another acronym: HLPE) that will be commissioned by the CFS to write reports and more generally to provide the benefit of independent advice and thinking.
The mood was upbeat at the end. Government officials seemed tired but satisfied. And the CSOs did, too. Not excited or exhilarated, but not angry or bored, either. A few governments seemed determined to damn with faint praise (sadly for this Canadian, Canada comes to mind). But others engaged. The United States, for instance, while hardly visionary, was constructive. The budget discussion was a painful rehearsal of so many of the U.N.’s budgetary discussions, along strictly North-South lines. On the other hand, on substance, the divisions were not so predictable.
There are procedural issues to work out for next year. The governments spent hours (and hours) negotiating the outcomes from a roundtable, which seemed a bit tangled. Why not just adopt the report, and spend the negotiating time on outcomes the governments themselves will have to implement? As it is, the HLPE will have its work cut out to make sense of the many proposals and to pick among them because it has nowhere near enough resources to do them all.
On the other hand, there has never been anything like the CFS before—no intergovernmental body was even attempting to concert governments’ responses to food security. Let alone an intergovernmental forum so open to CSO contributions. Particularly in an age when governments have accepted that food security is not a simplistic equation of total availability of grains worldwide divided by the total global population, the need for a CFS in the U.N. system is clear. It is a hopeful sign that so many governments came prepared to engage.
The biggest fight during the meeting was probably around land grabs and how to tackle them. Two processes have somehow emerged, in parallel, serving different audiences. One is under FAO auspices and is known as the Voluntary Guidelines on the tenure of land and other natural resources. The other as RAI, or the “Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resources,”— an interagency process (FAO, IFAD, World Bank and UNCTAD). It has angered many NGOs and CSOs because they have emerged without consultation and instead of starting with the universal human right to food, they build on various corporate social responsibility initiatives.The VG emerged from the 2006 International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and have a better pedigree in terms of consultation and broader ownership by NGOs. Take a look at what the Special rapporteur on the right to food had to say: he should know.
For now, whatever happens next must happen soon. The international community has already sat by for too many years as national governments and investors have muddled and meddled in the highly (and rightly) sensitive issues of land ownership and land use. It was encouraging to see a fight in Rome, but it will be far more encouraging if the governments can actually act, and fast.
October 20, 2010
Draft AGF report offers clues on climate finance
We've posted an October 4 draft report of the U.N. High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF). The AGF was set up by the U.N. Secretary General in February, following the global climate talks in Copenhagen, to evaluate and provide options for financing efforts to address climate change, particularly in developing countries. The AGF is expected to release a final draft in November, and present its findings at the COP 16 meeting in Cancún.
Prior to the climate talks earlier this month in Tianjin, China, IATP released a short paper outlining concerns that carbon markets are considered a reliable source for climate finance. While in Tianjin, IATP and other civil society organizations sent a letter to the AGF co-chairs expressing that the amount of climate finance being considered is not enough; public finance should be prioritized over private finance; multilateral banks should not serve as a channel for climate finance; and that carbon markets lack the necessary reliability for climate finance.
October 19, 2010
Agriculture in global climate talks
While agriculture is unquestionably one of the sectors most affected by climate change, it has historically been somewhat of an afterthought in global climate negotiations. That changed in the lead-up to the climate talks in Copenhagen last year. Agriculture now has its own sectoral chapter within the climate negotiations that covers such ground as food security, traditional farming knowledge, sustainable practices and a research agenda for better understanding agriculture's role in contributing to and addressing climate change. In addition to its own chapter, agriculture will certainly be affected by other aspects of the negotiations, including climate finance (how funding is raised and disbursed to address climate change).
IATP's Shefali Sharma just returned from Tianjin, China where the U.N. held its final negotiations prior to the next big global climate meeting (COP 16) in Cancún, Mexico in December. Shefali writes that despite the wide gaps between countries on many major issues, the stakes continue to be high for climate and food security around the world. In a post-Tianjin report, Shefali outlines the state of play for agriculture within the global climate talks and what we can expect to be discussed in Cancún. Read the full report.
October 18, 2010
Good meat makes good food
As we put the summer garden to bed and our thoughts turn to winter meals of slow-cooked stews and roasts, a welcome guide to cooking and sourcing sustainable meat has arrived from Deborah Krasner. Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meats, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang,combines all the information needed to understand what sustainable meat production is, where to find it and—most gloriously—how to cook it. With over 200 recipes and photographs, the James Beard Award winning author of The Flavors of Olive Oil has opened a window on the world of delicious meats—kept on the farm for far too long for the private enjoyment of farm families. Guinea fowl, lamb shanks, pig’s tails, rabbit hearts, livers, tongues and kidneys of all sorts. In addition to the uncommon, Good Meat is replete with the standard steaks, ribs, loin roasts, sausages, chops and hams. Rounding out the platters of meat are complimentary side dishes, deserts and salads.
The opening section provides an insider’s view of what sustainable meat is and where it comes from. It is this picture of the farmers, the farms and the animals that separates sustainable meats from meat produced in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and industrial meat processing plants. There is a reason you won’t find a cook book that combines pictures of industrial meat production and preparing food for dinner: Nobody would come to the table. From the animal feed to the slaughtering techniques, Good Meat introduces us to a way of producing and preparing food that benefits the farmer, nature and those who eat the food. Krasner has included a substantial resource section, which we are proud to say includes the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy as a source for information about good, safe and local food.
With the apple harvest nearly over and the cider press waiting, I was easily drawn to a recipe for roast chicken with apples, sausage and cider on page 302. My only suggestion is to follow the meal with glass of Calvados and to start planning what new fruit trees to plant in the orchard next spring.
October 15, 2010
Volatile times discussed in Rome
I'm in Rome to talk about volatility (my powerpoint here). More precisely, the volatility in agricultural commodity markets and what can be done to a) mitigate it and b) better cope with its consequences. The topic was part of one of three issues the first meeting of the revamped FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has on its agenda. It will be one of the first topics to be addressed by the High Level Panel of Experts created as part of the revamped CFS structure. It's also an issue close to the French government's heart, as it made clear in the short speech given yesterday by France's Minister for Agriculture. France's President Sarkozy has committed to making agriculture a central part of the agenda for the G20 meeting that France will host next May.
It's great to see that the topic is preoccupying governments. It should be. Of course agriculture prices fluctuate and of course that fluctuation plays a number of very useful purposes in keeping markets on track. Volatility, however, especially unpredictable and extreme volatility, hurts producers, consumers and ultimately undermines investor confidence, starving the sector of much needed capital.
The problem should be tackled both at the source, by limiting the occasion for extreme volatility to occur, and where it hits home, in poor households especially, by providing safety nets and risk management tools. It has to be tackled comprehensively, too. Volatility has several distinct components that need to be considered jointly. There are the futures markets and speculative investors, a problem much discussed by IATP, on this blog and elsewhere. There is the question of grain reserves, the issue I came to Rome to talk about and also a hot topic for IATP writing. Then there is trade - do we have the right rules? What can governments do better?
Climate change is affecting the heart of any food system: the weather. We don't yet know all that it will mean for the future, but for the millions of people coping today with record-setting disasters, from Central America through South Asia with too many stops in between, it is clear that there is a new and particular urgency to addressing volatility quickly and effectively, with as few ideological fights about governments and markets and their respective roles as possible.
This year should see renewed attention from governments on understanding the causes and taking action to at least mitigate volatility. The background paper for the discussion written for the CFS was disappointing: it gave a useful and concise discussion of how climate change was increasing vulnerability to food insecurity but then turned into a very unpersuasive discussion about responses, mostly highlighting the failures of past reserves policies, and not very convincingly. Here's hoping the next iteration serves governments better. Perhaps by CFS 37 (i.e. in one year's time), we could hope to see some binding government decisions on the issues. Fingers crossed.
Times they are a changing at the FAO
I'm writing from Rome, a beautiful city despite the cars. I'm attending the FAO's Committee on World Food Security, a once relatively sleepy piece of the sprawling UN system that last year was given a significant boost by a thorough revamp. Listening to the governments negotiate, agonizing over words (to launch or to discuss? To endorse or to notice? To act by the next session of the committee or at a future session of the committee?) I am mostly pulled back into memories of the days when a UN meeting was a regular part of my life.
But I am also struck by some differences.
There is the technology - someone now has the job of typing amendments into a computer, projected onto huge screens, so that everyone can see the text as it changes. There is the technique - maybe it was just a good day, but the working group report backs were exemplary. Short and on message. Not something I would have expected the system to be good at. But most revolutionary, really, is the presence of civil society organizations - the CSOs. CSOs are a part of the revamped committee, you see. So in the parsing of the sentences that goes into creating a government agreement, you see Via Campesina and FIAN and Oxfam asking for (and getting) the floor, just as the governments do. No governments first rule, no pre-agreed rules about which topics can be addressed. The CSOs spent days in advance discussing the agenda and drafting agreed language themselves.
Now let's see if all this change adds up to a Committee that can fulfill it's promise. This year will be too early to tell, but so far not bad. I'll know more when I get into the building this morning and find out what was decided after I left at 11pm last night.
October 14, 2010
The idea that engineered nanomaterials (involving the manipulation of materials at the molecular level) would be allowed in certified organic food production seems ludicrous on its face. Allowing nanotechnology would seemingly destroy the credibility of the organic label with consumers. Yet, the National Organic Standards Board Materials Committee issued a proposal for public comment recently requesting that the USDA's National Organic Program hold a symposium on whether nanotechnology in organic production is "possible, practical and legal."
In a comment to the National Organic Standards Board sent earlier this week, IATP's Steve Suppan takes issue with the assumption that federal regulators can effectively regulate engineered nanomaterials in food production—meaning, any kind of food production, organic or not. The nanotech industry has been reluctant to submit product data on the environmental, safety and health effects of nanomaterials in food production. Currently, there are no requirements that the industry submit such data before nanoproducts enter the market. And in fact, according to an explosive report from AOL News earlier this year, they already have already entered the marketplace without regulatory oversight.
Steve writes, "Food processing and agribusiness firms engaged in nanotechnology research, sometimes in cooperation with USDA's Agricultural Research Service, have not submitted to regulatory authorities the food and agri-nanotechnology data required to carry out risk assessment to develop standards. [...] USDA's National Organic Program, rather than joining FDA in assuming that food and agri-nanotechnology can be regulated under current authority, should adopt a presumptive prohibiltion on ENMs (engineered nanomaterials) in products that meet the organic standard."
You can read IATP's full comment to the NOSB here.
October 13, 2010
Stonyfield Farm and IATP reward sustainable farming
"It's hard to think green when you're in the red," says IATP's Jim Kleinschmit, as he describes the challenge for farmers routinely trapped by a precarious bottom line. In a short film by Stonyfield Farm, Jim explains how a new program created by IATP in 2006, helps companies involved in the emerging bioplastics industry to support farmers growing corn more sustainably - including no genetically modified crops, no cancer-causing pesticides like atrazine and improved soil management.
You can read more about the Working Landscapes program in our press release below.
October 12, 2010
One Penny More: New video launches CIW supermarket campaign
IATP Food and Society Fellows Shalini Kantayya and Sean Sellers have collaborated on the latest campaign video for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Watch the CIW's supermarket campaign video and take action for fair food here.
By leveraging its high-volume purchasing power, the U.S. supermarket industry plays an active role in farmworker exploitation. Publix, Ahold, Kroger and Trader Joe's all pack a very heavy punch when it comes to their market power in the produce industry. And with great power comes great responsibility—both for the poverty and brutal working conditions from which they have profited for so many years, and for the work of reforming farm labor conditions in their supply chains that lies ahead.
The supermarket giants are the only thing standing between us and a future of respect for human rights in Florida's fields, between a food industry based on farm labor exploitation and degradation today and a more modern, more humane industry tomorrow. Let's send them a message—loud and clear—that it's time for the supermarket industry to join the growing movement for Fair Food.
This blog post, written by fellows Sean Sellers and Shalini Kantayya was originally featured on the Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog.
Who benefits from volatility?
By nearly all accounts, agriculture prices worldwide have entered a new era of volatility. Earlier this year, wheat prices shot up an additional $3 a bushel over two months due in large part to concerns around a wheat export ban in Russia. This week, corn prices have risen dramatically due to a USDA report issued Friday, finding a less-than-predicted corn crop this year.
This era of extreme volatility dating back to the 2007-08 global food crisis has contributed to the nearly one billion people worldwide suffering from hunger. This week in Rome, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is hosting a five-day conference on efforts to address global food security. The meeting comes on the heels of an emergency meeting at the FAO last month focused on increased volatility in grain markets.
Of course, agriculture production has always experienced ups and downs due to a variety of factors—from the weather to pests, economics or war. Traditionally, one of the simplest tools to smooth out agriculture markets is to establish reserves: putting food aside in times of plenty to release in times of scarcity. This week, IATP published a series of short primers on: why we need food reserves, food reserves in practice, what's next on food reserves, and the WTO and food reserves. IATP's Sophia Murphy is attending the FAO meeting in Rome to speak on a panel focusing on volatility, where she'll be making the case for food reserves.
Some kind of food reserve is just common sense, right? Who could be against food reserves and efforts to stabilize agriculture prices? Who profits from volatility in agriculture markets?
Yesterday's press release from Cargill announcing that profits jumped 68 percent this quarter provides a clue. As Cargill CEO Greg Page stated, "Our results were led by the food ingredients and the commodity trading and processing segments, both of which experienced resurgence in volatility across agricultural commodity markets. The change put Cargill's global breadth, trading and risk management skills more acutely into play as we worked with customers to help them manage their price risk and raw material needs."
As agriculture commodity prices remain volatile, agribusiness companies like Cargill and ADM (up $388 million last quarter) with a global reach and diversified holdings throughout the food chain are uniquely positioned to benefit, and so far, they have.
October 11, 2010
Farm to School carries promise, lessons
JoAnne Berkenkamp's new commentary—published last week on OtherWords—addresses the gap between the growing national initiatives to connect schools with healthy local foods, and the agriculture and education policies that have kept it from growing faster. The combination of federal farm programs that disproportionately encourage commodity crops and tight school budgets have kept farmers from the school lunch room.
Berkenkamp remains optimistic though, as the benefits of Farm to School—fighting obesity, raising food literacy, supporting local farmers and economies—speak for themselves, and the model is taking off despite little legislative support.
"Congress can do better," she writes. "No matter how you calculate it, farm-to-school programs are an investment in the education and health of our children, and the economic future of our farmers."
October 08, 2010
Climate finance must add up
One of the most contentious issues at the global climate talks taking place this week in Tianjin, China continues to be finance: how to fund efforts to adapt to climate change and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The global financial crisis has made these discussions even more challenging as developed countries like the U.S. struggle with rising deficits. To move the discussion forward, the U.N. established a High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Finance (AGF) last year, which will present a report at the COP 16 climate talks in Cancún, Mexico in December.
Prior to the Tianjin meeting this week, IATP published a paper outlining our concerns with carbon markets as a reliable source of climate finance. Earlier today, IATP joined over 25 civil society organizations in Tianjin in expressing grave concern that the AGF “is not going to support the type of solutions that will truly benefit developing countries and communities living in poverty.” In a letter to the co-chairs of the AGF, the groups wrote that:
You can read the full letter here.
Global food funds necessary, but not enough
The Obama administration continues to push for new investments to end global hunger. As part of that effort, Bloomberg news reports that the U.S. will urge other nations attending the upcoming G-20 Finance Ministers meeting and the World Bank/IMF meeting this week to contribute to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). GASFP was set up last year to channel funding requests for agricultural development. So far, the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Spain (along with the Gates Foundation) have contributed $880 million.
On the plus side, the fund is driven by host-country requests through partner agencies. Rather than setting up a cumbersome new set of rules and procedures, developing country governments can work with multilateral agencies like the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program and others, using their existing procedures. Some of those agencies, especially IFAD, have a long history of working with small-scale farmers and including women farmers. GAFSP’s steering committee includes donor and recipient governments, as well as representatives from Southern and Northern civil society organizations.
On the other hand, there is reason to be skeptical of a food security fund housed at the World Bank. Over the last 20 or so years, the bank’s structural adjustment programs required trade liberalization, privatization and cuts in public credit, technical assistance and other support to agriculture. In 2007, the World Bank’s own Internal Evaluation Group recognized that its under-investment in African agriculture, and its over-reliance on the private sector, had been a dismal failure. Since then, the bank has committed to mend its ways, but whether new programs housed at the bank can really contribute to food sovereignty—each country’s right to democratically determine its own path to achieve food security and the right to food—remains to be seen.
Obama is right that substantial new investment in agriculture is needed. But, as always, the devil is in the details. Over the last few years the FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS)—which meets next week in Rome (IATP's Sophia Murphy is attending and will report back)—has undergone a thorough reform process. It now includes active involvement by family farmers, urban poor, women, indigenous peoples and development organizations from the Nouth and Sorth. Can GASFP coordinate with the CFS to learn from experiences and priorities around the world? Will it support agro-ecological methods built on local knowledge and priorities or will it advance GMOs and other technological fixes? More money for sustainable agricultural development is necessary, but definitely not sufficient to end hunger.
October 07, 2010
IATP at Tianjin climate talks: Carbon markets not reliable
IATP co-hosted a side event at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate negotiations in Tianjin, China earlier this week. Below are the remarks of IATP President Jim Harkness. Other speakers at the side event included Nick Berning and Karen Ornstein of Friends of the Earth along with a Bolivian UNFCCC delegate on how carbon markets are being treated in the negotiations.
Seed industry promotes doubling of crop yields by 2030
In 2008, Monsanto launched a major public relations campaign to double crop yields in the U.S. by 2030. Recently, discussions in farm country have again picked up on this claim. It is worth examining the issues in depth.
Can it be done? Based on past history, it will be difficult. A recent USDA Economic Research Service bulletin (USDA/ERS) shows that agriculture productivity is growing at the yearly average rate of 1.58 percent which is a doubling in 44 years, not the 20 years proposed. And corn yields, which are the focus of the discussion, have a growth rate of 1.76 percent from 2004 to 2010, or a doubling rate of 40 years.
ERS projects about 175 bushels per acre (bu/A) in 2015, so yield would be about 205 bu/A by 2030. If harvested acreage stays constant (not a certainty) at around 80 million, production would be 16.4 billion bushels, a 31 percent increase over 2010. These data show that a yield doubling is highly unlikely, and is more likely a marketing ploy.
It is easy to dismiss such statements on yield as a way to promulgate more inputs, especially GMOs (genetically modified crops). There are major questions out there. Do GMOs really increase yield? Up to now, the answer depends on who you ask. Some—including some ERS reports—indicate no effect, others are counting on GMOs to really raise the yield.
A recent article in Farm Industry News based largely on interviews from Monsanto and Pioneer (DuPont), BASF and Syngenta scientists and development people, gives insight into what the industry is planning. Stacking, that is putting many GMO traits in a single variety, is claimed to be the wave of the future, especially for corn. The 8-trait SmartStax corn, developed by Dow and Monsanto, was available for 2009. Monsanto scientists are predicting that stacking 20 or more traits will be the norm. Massive breakthroughs in gene marking, real-time micro DNA analysis and computer programming are claimed to allow tailoring seeds to a specific climatic zone, bio-region or cropping strategy. Traits that are projected to be available include drought tolerance, nitrogen efficiency, herbicide tolerance (beyond Roundup) and insect resistance.
But recent findings indicate that the industry's gene stacking for yield and profits is going awry. This recent article from The New York Times documents the plummeting fortunes of the biotech giant Monsanto (shares have dropped from a high of $145 in mid-2008 to about $48 currently) largely because of the slow sales of SmartStax and the Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans. This is attributed to decreased yield coupled with overpricing, and a Department of Justice investigation into possible antitrust violations. But Monsanto's fortunes aside, this shows that predicting the success of biotech technology on yield is uncertain at best.
If it works, drought tolerance might be the biggest trait to increase production as it will permit corn to be grown in drier regions such as Kansas, the Dakotas and western Nebraska where now only sorghum and wheat can be grown without irrigation. If corn can be grown profitably, cattle may well leave the range and wheat acreage will drop.
Herbicide tolerance, which arguably has not increased yields but has increased profits, will move to newer chemicals as well as proven products. Several genes for tolerance to herbicides may be stacked in one variety. Will this bring about new herbicide resistant weed issues? Only time will tell.Several new modes of action for insect resistance are also being studied and refuge-in-a-bag products are now being evaluated by EPA. Will these lead to true yield enhancement? Or just more acres per farm?
Several major issues must be addressed as the corporate world pushes for yield doubling. Some are discussed in recent Iowa Farmer Today. The issues may seem obvious, but it is good to see them discussed in a mainline farm weekly. Gene Lucht, who authored the report, poses the following questions:
It will be interesting to see if crop (especially corn) yield increases continue at roughly their present pace, especially since climate change appears to be lowering projected yields worldwide. However, the use of so many resources on one crop must be questioned, even if it is currently the dominate grain crop. I question the need for this overemphasis, when so many other agriculture research needs exist. The unintended consequences of our current path must be examined.
October 05, 2010
Debating climate finance in Tianjin
IATP President Jim Harkness and Senior Program Officer Shefali Sharma are in Tianjin, China this week monitoring the ongoing global climate talks that will serve as the final prelude to COP16 in Cancún later this year.
In a side event held today, entitled “Carbon markets: A reliable and practical source of climate finance?” IATP hosted a panel to discuss public finance mechanisms, market and environmental integrity in carbon trading, and consequences for sustainable agriculture. A press conference will be held on Thursday.
IATP's Senior Policy Analyst Steve Suppan has also written a new paper addressing the U.N. Secretary-General's High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Finance (AGF), entitled "Trusting in Dark (Carbon) Markets?" Read the press release below: