Tag Archives: Living

Climate Change and Food Security for All: Is it Possible?

puffin

This week most of us felt hopeful as we heard President Obama announce new measures to respond to climate disruption. Although we have been hearing the discussion on climate change for a while, most people think of it as something that might unfold in the future. The fact is that climate change is here and is already altering the world as we know it.

Consider the case of the puffin: parents of baby puffins are bringing in food for them that they are not physically capable of ingesting. Why? Because the fish they usually feed on, hake and herring, are no longer found in the waters around them: the water is simply too warm for the fish to survive. So fewer baby puffins are surviving into adulthood. Their life patterns are also changing and the are coming in late this year to their summer habitats.

Meanwhile, humans too are faced with the challenge of feeding 9 billion people in a time of uncertain climatic conditions. The melting ice in the Antarctic could raise sea levels to an extent where China, India,Bangladesh, and Vietnam would lose millions of hectares of arable land and food production would fall. At the other extreme, higher temperatures threaten crop yield in the USA. A warmer climate also means an increase in disease and pests. The cloud of grasshoppers gathering in New Mexico is not from some movie set in the future, but happening right now.

The challenge is not just to create a more productive, climate resilient agriculture sector but also to ensure that all of our food is produced in a way that reduces pressure on a planet where everything is interlinked. If we look at discrete solutions we risk generating more problems: the effort to limit over fishing in the ocean by raising fish in farms, for example, has resulted in the destruction of mangroves and zones algae blooms that suck up oxygen and kill the fish.

The need is to consider the whole problem: whether we live in the Maldives or Mexico, on a farm or in the city, our lives are about to go in a direction different from what we known for centuries and the solutions we devise must take into account the needs of all the whole planet; humans, puffins and all.

And all this, without some coffee to help us along, because that too is likely to disappear as the climate changes.

(Image Courtest: Freedigitalphotos.net)

#Farming Friday 15: Land Grabs in Laos

laos

This post in the Farming Friday series is delayed but the issue it highlights is crucial today as farmers are being displaced in many parts of the world as they lose their land to outside forces, sometimes government projects or corporate interests or urban expansion. This is the experience of specially of farmers from minority ethnic groups in Laos who are being deprived of their lands. While the framework to protect their rights does exist, it is not being put to use.

(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)

 

 

The Episode of the Disappearing Oysters

boat

 

Thanks to a free weekend from Showtime, I was able to catch up on another episode of their show on climate change, “Years of Living Dangerously”. (I reviewed the first episode here).This episode had two story lines: one, in which Ms. Lesley Stahl travels to Greenland to explore the melting glaciers; and the second, where Mr. Ian Somerhalder brings us the climate debate going on in the evangelical community in the USA, a debate that has a significant impact on actual policy making.

We were treated to stunning views of glaciers which drove home the point of how beautiful our planet is and how callous we are in our stewardship of all that it offers. The rumble of the glaciers cracking served as reminders of how quickly all this could vanish. In fact, the melting of glaciers is also opening up possibilities for oil exploration and there is more investment going on in this right now than the GDP of Greenland! This provides income boosting opportunities for the inhabitants of Greenland and here we come up against the reality of climate change: when the environment changes and people’s livelihoods are threatened, policy making and taking action becomes more fraught.

The other narrative thread revisits some territory from the first episode: the attempt to establish that climate change is real and happening now to those whose belief in their faith casts doubt over this. The starting point is the campaign to shut down coal plants in North Carolina and elsewhere in the country. Mr. Somerhalder’s foundation has been committed to calling attention to the issue of  the impact of coal in an effective campaign on social media. But, initiatives like this are being met with resistance by certain faith based groups. We meet pastor Rick Joyner who remains unconvinced about the evidence on climate change despite his daughter’s efforts. She is joined in her effort by Dr. Katherine Hayhoe  who also featured in the first episode; and is a skilled and dedicated communicator on climate change issues.

To illustrate the impact of climate change, we are introduced to the oyster fishermen of Apalachicola Bay which was once full of oysters but is almost empty today. Increased use of water upstream due to drought, and a rise in the sea level, has changed the salinity level of the bay waters making it unsuitable for oysters. A source of income and food has disappeared and, as we know, this story with different players is being repeated all over the world.

The show does not present easy answers: we hear the dilemma of the leadership of Greenland, “our country is not a museum”, people have to survive and they want to give their families a good life; we watch as a tentative coexistence between faith and science develops,  but finally it is up to each of us to find our position and act on it. What is worrisome is that time is not on our side and we need to make changes soon.

I wish that the potential impact of climate change on our food system was highlighted in Years of Living Dangerously. Perhaps that will come in other episodes, there is certainly enough material on it for a whole show to itself!

 

(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)

 

 

Will There Be A Second Green Revolution?

paddy

Last week, The Economist published a piece on the possibility of a second Green Revolution on rice fields in Asia and Africa. The possibilities outlined in it make one hopeful for the future, at a time when stasis on climate change and polarization among the players in the food system usually make for a grim outlook.

The second revolution, if it comes, will be crucial in feeding the growing population as current yields are dropping off from previous levels. And what is remarkable is that the increase in yield required to meet demand can be obtained almost entirely from areas missed by the first Green Revolution. This is because, the green revolution took off in irrigated areas while passing by the rain dependent regions. These areas fall in the marginal category where harvests are often disrupted by drought or floods. Now, the International Rice Research Institute is  offering farmers a rice variety that stays dormant during long periods of flooding and then resumes growth. This would be an invaluable trait for dealing with the possibility of increased rainfall and  flooding due to climate disruption. And, because this offers the possibility of increased production on marginal lands, the impact in terms of greater income would go to the most vulnerable sections of the rural poor whose impoverishment is a result of their dependence on unproductive land.

But how was this new strain of rice developed? The scientists at IRRI had identified a rice strain from Odisha, in eastern India, as having a high flood tolerance. This was then crossed with other rice varieties but the experiments were not successful. Finally, the scientists identified the gene that enabled flood tolerance, and spliced into other rice varieties, to achieve more than a dozen varieties of rice , all flood tolerant and collectively known as “Sub 1”.This is what was so striking for me: decades of traditional breeding saw no success, yet once the genetic sequence of the rice from Odisha was marked, it took only four years for flood tolerant seeds to be produced!

This presents a promising option for making agriculture resilient to future climatic uncertainties in a short period of time, in addition to increasing production on marginal lands and providing income opportunities for the rural poor. This would be a revolution indeed! The article is here and an interesting account of the farmers growing Sub 1 rice in Odisha is here.

(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)

 

#Farming Friday 14: Holiday On A Farm

it

 

All of us cannot be farmers and some of us might not even be ready to give it a try, that too on a holiday. But here is the charming account from someone who took a working holiday on a farm in Italy. I might like to go there now, after reading this, but am still not sure about the “herding the pigs” part!

(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)

#Farming Friday 12: “Farmers Helping Fish”

fishy

 

 

The current drought in  California poses a problem for salmon in their breeding season. Here is a wonderful story of how farmers helped the fish in need!

#Farming Friday 11: Farming in a War Zone

 

wire

 

Farming in truly hostile conditions, with polluted water and with access to markets blocked, images from the lives of Palestinian farmers.

The Conservation Question

ecot

 

Going through all the postings/ articles shared on the occasion of Earth Day, it is encouraging to note the concern for preserving the environment. But, along with  that, comes the realization that preservation/conservation really means different things to different people. As one writer notes, the idea of pristine nature, left to itself; without humans going in and wrecking it is somewhat of an artificial construct.  Delinking people and their surroundings is a distortion. Over centuries, people have lived in harmony with their surroundings but this relationship has become fractured in recent times. The need is to restore it, rather than banish people from these spaces.

In rural areas, the poorest sections of the population often depend on their surrounding environment for food, fuel, fodder,even medicine and shutting them out to “preserve” nature makes the rural poor more vulnerable to economic hardship. Even the practice of eco-tourism as a means of balancing conservation and economic priorities can actually have a negative impact on those who depend on the land for survival.This would become worse as climate change poses a challenge to the food system and way of life of many communities causing them to become food insecure and  displaced from their homelands.

There is a need to emphasize that tackling climate change is not solely a matter of desertification, rising oceans or vanishing habitats for plants and animals. Climate change is impacting the livelihoods of people, specially the rural poor. So any plan of action should, ideally, take the whole picture into account: how can people and the environment coexist in a time of climate change? The answer  can be found partly in the technology that is available to us today and also in the knowledge that indigenous communities possess that enabled them to prosper in their environment in the past.

(Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net)

Earth Day Poetry: “First Morel”

redm

 

American Life in Poetry shared a  lovely poem by Amy Fleury, a poet from Lousiana , to celebrate spring. I thought it was particularly appropriate for Earth Day. When we talk about cherishing and preserving our planet, let us think of all that lives on it: not just the cute polar bears but also the sometimes scary (for me!) bats, not only the redwoods but also the mushrooms below, not only the monarch butterflies that dazzle but also the milkweed that sustains them.

First Morel 

Up from wood rot,
wrinkling up from duff
and homely damps,
spore-born and cauled
like a meager seer,
it pushes aside earth
to make a small place
from decay. Bashful,
it brings honeycombed
news from below
of the coming plenty
and everything rising.

Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net  (yes, I know those are not morel mushrooms in the picture, that image was not available, but it does underline the main theme, everything is worth cherishing!)

Smallholder Farmers Most Vulnerable to Climate Change

cofcl For some time now, we have been aware that coffee farmers have been facing the challenges of climate change; either from too much rain or from drought. Coffee crops are also being attacked by coffee rust which thrives in the warmer temperatures we are experiencing today. Colombia was one of the countries worst affected by this issue but the Colombian Coffee federation has invested on a large scale in rust resistant varieties, thus providing a solution and some hope for the farmers. In Brazil, large coffee producers have moved operations to cooler areas to combat the rising temperatures. But lost in all this is the small holder coffee farmer, often the supplier of the fair trade coffee we prefer as a better option for the planet.

While our choice at the cafe makes us feel we did the right thing, the reality might be different, with the farmer often at the losing end of a deal with middle men and has limited access to resources to deal with the problems facing coffee cultivation. This is an important consideration in any discussion on climate change: the bigger economies/groups with greater resources will at least have the chance to adopt some measures to combat the impact of changing climate; but is is those with the least resources and access, whether it is nations or communities within a country that are most at risk.

Also, can we acknowledge that climate change is not like any other problem that we have faced in the past? It is a challenge to the way we have lived on this planet for so long and its impact will be colossal so it is only logical that we employ all options to deal with this crisis. Those small holder coffee farmers facing the prospect of losing their livelihoods could benefit from solutions offered by biotechnology. In a better world, we would  be open to options that science can offer and not be held back by unfounded fears. At this point, the future looks pretty grim, we are going to need some coffee to deal with that!

 

Image Courtesy: freedigitalphotos.net