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Posts Tagged ‘Food and Agriculture Organization’

Markets in smaller countries could be under threat: Need to reopen talks on subsidies at WTO

Posted by African Press International on October 24, 2013

Markets in smaller countries could be under threat

JOHANNESBURG,  – The combined effects of the global economic slowdown and increasing climatic shocks are threatening food security in developing countries, prompting many to re-open World Trade Organization (WTO) discussions on limits to support for farmers.

A group of developing countries – known as G33 – is asking to exceed their agreed domestic support limits when they buy, stock and supply cereals and other food to boost food security among the poor; they want these changes to be exempt from any legal challenge.

Essentially, these countries want the freedom to buy grains at set prices from producers and to use that grain to build stockpiles for distribution. The WTO rules do not prescribe limits on the amount of food that can be bought at market prices for food stocks, and it does not limit the amount of food that can be provided as domestic food aid at subsidized prices. The WTO only disciplines buying cereals at administered prices.

The proposal will be discussed at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December.

Developed countries and some developing countries are concerned that the G33 proposal – which is backed by India, China and Indonesia – could affect food security in neighbouring countries. They fear these measures could lead to surpluses in stocks, which the G33 members might dump in the global market, disrupting global prices.

Ashok Gulati, chairman of India’s Commission for Agriculture Cost and Prices (CACP), reckons India wants more leeway to provide support for its farmers and consumers because the government is launching a massive subsidized food scheme through a public distribution system that will reach two-thirds of its population – nearly 800 million people. He told IRIN that a situation where India would be in a position to dump excess stocks could arise “once in 10 years.” He added, “the larger distortion will be domestic,” referring to disruptions to local markets.

A representative from one of the G33 countries at the WTO, who did not want to be named, said not all the members of the group were supportive of the proposal. “India is already the largest exporter of rice in the world… Small exporters will lose their competitiveness because of Indian subsidies… Rice prices are already going down, and with further subsidies it can lead to a price crash,” the representative said.

The delegate estimated that support for rice production in India – both in the form of agricultural inputs and procurement – ran into billions of dollars. Even more support could “ruin” agriculture sustainability and “create food insecurity instead of food security” in the region.

“Although agricultural markets have evolved dramatically since 2007, global trade rules have not”

Gulati has publicly come out against the government’s plan to stockpile staple grains because of the effect it would have on prices in the local markets, according to interviews with the Indian daily theEconomic Times and news agency DNA.

He maintains that dispensing subsidized food will not address malnutrition, a significant problem in India, where almost half the population of children are malnourished. Gulati believes this problem can only be addressed by comprehensively tackling the various dimensions of food insecurity, such as by increasing access to clean water and improving the status of women.

But a new paper, produced jointly by the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), takes a sympathetic view of positions on both sides, and uses the proposal to flag the need to reform global agricultural trade rules. The paper contends there has been minimal reform to agricultural trade rules since the Uruguay Round of multilateral negotiations that led to the formation of the WTO two decades ago.

“The G33 proposal can more broadly be seen as symptomatic of the challenges many countries face in designing policies to achieve food security goals in the new price environment,” the paper notes.

“Although agricultural markets have evolved dramatically since 2007, global trade rules have not,” it adds.

To subsidize or not

Agricultural subsidies have been a contentious issue for years. The WTO has placed ceilings on how much the US and the European Union (EU) can spend on agricultural subsidies that distort trade, but these are still rather high, food rights groups say.

A drought in the US in 2012 and fluctuating food prices have led policy-makers there and in the EU to rethink protection and support for their farmers, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) pointed out.

The US’s agriculture policy is governed by the Farm Bill, which is updated every four years, but the 2008 legislation was extended to September 2013, when the two parties – the Democrats and the Republicans – were unable to come to an agreement on subsidized food for the country’s poor. The new proposed bill recommends an expanded insurance programme with new crop insurance subsidies, which would see farmers receive money when income from certain crops falls below a targeted level. It also sets higher target prices for crops that trigger payments when revenues fall for several consecutive years. The bill is likely to come up for negotiations in the coming weeks.

The EU has largely done away with export subsidies that support the disposal of surplus production abroad, but the EU Common Agriculture Policy still ensures high levels of direct support to farmers and protects EU markets. The EU has substantially reformed farm support over the years to reduce its impacts on trade and production, but some still question whether the support provided continues to give European producers an advantage over competitors elsewhere.

On the other hand, the economic slowdown and its impact on local currencies have forced developing countries like Zambia to remove subsidiesfor farmers and millers because the expenditure is perceived as draining the country’s limited resources.

More imbalances?

If richer nations are strengthening support to their farmers while the poorer countries cut back, could global imbalances grow?

Jamie Morrison, a senior economist with FAO and a co-author of the ICTSD/FAO paper, says that, generally, when considering support to farmers in times of disasters, countries should take into account the kind of support they have to fall back on. In rich countries, farmers have access to insurance and other safety nets, which might not be the case in developing countries.

He says rich countries use public funding to “underwrite potential losses [for farmers] which private sector insurance institutions may be less willing to cover. This type of support is considered to be less distortive of markets and trade.”

But developing countries tend to intervene directly in the market to stabilize prices for their producers while providing their consumers “with some level of protection against high food prices”, Morrison said. This generally leads to buying grains at prices above the market value and managing cross-border trade. This support not only drains the country’s coffers but “is considered to be distortive of markets and trade.”

Often these subsidies, whether in the form of cheaper agricultural inputs or higher prices for produce, do not get to the intended poorest farmers, and they are often driven by political opportunism – appeasing the majority of the people in developing countries who depend on agriculture for income and food.

“…for many countries, direct support for farmers ‘may be essential in facilitating agricultural transformation’ and the ‘only practical option available given weaknesses’ in other public institutions that could have supported production”

CACP’s Gulati, who formerly headed IFPRI’s Asia office, said, “Subsidies on fertilizer, power and irrigation are not targeted. Subsidies have risen much faster than public investments in agriculture [in India]. The marginal return on subsidies is less than one-fourth of that from investments. Yet subsidies multiply due to higher political returns. So India wants more leverage on subsidies.”

Yet Morrison adds that, for many countries, direct support for farmers “may be essential in facilitating agricultural transformation” and the “only practical option available given weaknesses” in other public institutions that could have supported production. “Greater use of a system more reliant on market-based instruments may make a more efficient use of resources, but may be impractical at the current time”.

Jonathan Hepburn, agriculture programme manager with ICTSD says, “WTO rules need to take into account the reality that countries are in different situations, and that some have fewer resources at their disposal to achieve public policy objectives. “

Negotiating

In the recent past, negotiating groups at the WTO have sought preferential treatment. The least developed countries (LDCs), for instance, are negotiating to enjoy some flexibility in their implementation of import tariffs on agricultural products. However, even the LDCs face limits on the amounts and kinds of subsidies they provide – although many lack the resources to provide the amount of farm support that would be capped by WTO rules, points out ICTSD’s Hepburn.

Part of the problem in creating new rules on trade, Hepburn said, has “been striking a balance between the rights and responsibilities of different groups of countries – especially as the global economic landscape has evolved dramatically over the last decade or so.”

In December, according to the WTO, countries might decide on a “temporary “waiver” (a formal legal exemption allowing some member states to exceed their limits), a non-binding political statement by the conference’s chairperson or some option in between. Flexibility along these lines has sometimes been called a “peace clause” or “due restraint”, because members would avoid bringing legal disputes against developing countries in these circumstances.”

jk/rz

 

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Secrets in the grass: Tame global warming gases?

Posted by African Press International on September 17, 2013

Brachiaria grass trials at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture‘s headquarters in Colombia

JOHANNESBURG,  – Much has been written aboutwhy eating more red meat could be bad for your health while also harming the environment. But new studies to be discussed at the 22nd International Grasslands Congress in Australia next week show that the scientists might be able to overcome the environmental impact of higher numbers of meat eaters and milk drinkers.

Scientists have been predicting that a growing demand for meat and dairy products will lead to more deforestation, which will increase the harmful carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as pastures are expanded and more land is devoted to sowing crops to feed the burgeoning population of animals reared for their meat and dairy products.

More animals will also mean rising emissions of warming gases such as methane directly from the livestock, and nitrous oxide from the fertilisers, manure and other animal waste. Both these gases are extremely harmful as their capacity to warm the atmosphere is far greater than carbon dioxide.

“The problem is that today’s crop and livestock systems are very ‘leaky,’” G.V. Subbarao, a senior scientist with the Japan International Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS0), was quoted as saying by the congress organisers’ press release. “About 70 percent of the 150 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer applied globally is lost through nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions; the lost fertilizer has an annual estimated value of US$90 billion.”

Secrets in the grass

But evidence has been mounting that a chemical mechanism operating in the roots of a tropical grass used for livestock feed holds enormous promise for reducing the emission of nitrous oxide, which has a global warming potential296 times that of carbon dioxide and is the most harmful of the warming gases.

The mechanism is known as “biological nitrification inhibition”, or BNI, said Michael Peters, who leads research on forages at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), based in Colombia. CIAT is a member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium.

Peters told IRIN the grass belongs to the Brachiaria species commonly found in east and central Africa and is native to the region. Animals that consume the grass produce higher yields of milk and their manure emits smaller amounts of nitrous oxide.

“A maize crop grown after planting a certain type of Brachiaria grass produces a respectable yield while using only half the usual amount of nitrogen fertilizer…”

CIAT scientists have also found that a maize crop grown after planting a certain type of Brachiaria grass produces a respectable yield while using only half the usual amount of nitrogen fertilizer, because more nitrogen was retained in the soil, thus reducing nitrous oxide emissions and nitrate leaching. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the livestock sector accounts for 65 percent of the nitrous oxide emitted.

The extent to which the Brachiarias could reduce emissions in the case of crops and livestock “depends… on fertilizer applied”. But “BNI leads both to suppression of nitrification and reduced nitrous oxide emissions by 30 to 50 percent in pastures,” Peters said.

Small beginnings

“Our work on BNI started with a field observation made by one of our scientists in the 1980s – back then it was nothing more than a dream,” said Peters. “But now it’s a dream with an action plan and solid scientific achievements behind it.”

There is no data yet on the specific reduction of nitrous oxide emissions delivered by planting the grasses ahead of crops such as maize. BNI research forms part of a larger initiative referred to as LivestockPlus, which aims to provide major benefits for the poor and the environment through innovative research on tropical forage grasses and legumes.

Other research has shown that deep-rooted, productive Brachiaria grasses can capture atmospheric carbon on a scale similar to that of tropical forests, and could be a further plus for climate change mitigation.

Livestock production provides livelihoods for a billion people, but it also contributes about half of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Peters explained. “BNI is a rare triple-win technology that’s good for rural livelihoods as well as the global environment and climate. It defies the widespread notion that livestock are necessarily in the minus column of any food security and environmental calculation.”

Mitigating in countries that matter

Though Brachiaria grasses originated in Africa they are now planted more widely in South America. Peters told IRIN that breeding lines produced by CIAT have been brought back to Africa but currently cover no more than 10,000 hectares and involve only a few thousand farmers.

Africa accounts for a small proportion of greenhouse gas emissions, including those from the agricultural sector, while developed countries like the USA and emerging economies in Asia, where agriculture is practised on a far bigger scale, are responsible for far greater emissions.

Peters says Brachiaria have a good adaptation potential over a wide range of environments, as long as they are tropical. “This can include southern USA and many parts of tropical Asia. In general, Brachiarias are easy to manage but improved management increases performance. They are good pasture grasses and therefore spread easily.’

Eminent scientists like Peter Thornton from the International Livestock Research Institute have also been calling for regulations for better management of animal waste in the developing world, which could reduce the emission of nitrous oxide.

jk/he  source http://www.irinnews.org

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Cashew price dips

Posted by African Press International on July 20, 2013

Around 40 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s cashews remain unsold due to poor prices this year

DAKAR,  – A slump in cashew nut prices in Guinea-Bissau has left nearly half of the population eking out food, with families skipping meals or selling livestock to survive until the next harvest in September, aid groups say.

The average price per kg of cashews is 112 CFA francs (two US cents) – the lowest yet – down from an average of 300 CFA in 2012. The 63 percent drop is due to plummeting international prices, reduced demand from Guinea-Bissau’s main cashew importer (India), the April 2012 coup, disagreements between the government and traders on benchmark price as well as banks’ decision to reduce loans to traders.

“The result is a significant decrease of [people’s] food security which obliges them to revert to coping mechanisms such as skipping meals, reducing food intake, selling animals and so on,” Ussama Osman, the World Food Programme (WFP) country director in Guinea-Bissau, told IRIN.

This year marks a second consecutive year of falling cashew nut prices. InJuly 2012 the country exported 60,000 tons of cashew nuts compared to more than 100,000 tons by the same time in 2011.

Eighty percent of Guinea-Bissau’s 1.6 million people are involved in cashew nut production. Farmers sell their produce basically to buy food, or they barter cashew nuts for food. The terms of exchange have also worsened. One kilo of rice now “costs” 3kg of cashew nuts, up from an exchange rate of 1:1, Osman explained.

“People’s diet is becoming very poor. They stick to the basic food [rice] but the terms of exchange affect the quality and quantity of their food intake,” he said. “Forty-eight percent of the entire population faces a huge food gap during this lean period that requires an emergency intervention.”

A June rapid food security assessment conducted by WFP, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Guinea-Bissau’s Ministry of Agriculture, the National Cashew Nut Agency and the National Institute of Statistics in seven of the country’s nine regions found that only 8 percent of those interviewed had cereal stocks to last one and a half months.

Some 38 percent of this year’s harvest has not been sold due to the poor prices. Rice imports, which depend on cashew revenue, are expected to be low, “thus combining lack of access and availability of the main source of food during the lean season,” said Patrick David, FAO’s regional food security analyst based in Dakar.

Over-reliance on cashews

Cashews account for 90 percent of Guinea-Bissau’s exports and 45 percent of its GDP. With the withdrawal of budgetary support by key lenders following the 2012 coup, the government will face difficulty in paying public service salaries after the cashew harvesting season ends in September, theInternational Monetary Fund foresees.

Over the years, farmers have converted swathes of forest into cashew orchards and increasingly rely on the land-extensive and low-labour- intensive crop, thus drastically reducing cereal production. Cashew revenue funds tin roofing for houses, marriages, feasts, funerals, bicycles and buying rice among other things, explained Marina Temudo, an agronomist at the Portugal-based Tropical Research Institute (IICT).

“The country has been transformed into a huge cashew tree plantation. This has both economic and environmental hazards. While farmers are now aware of the economic perils of being exclusively dependent upon one cash crop whose market is highly unstable, they have still no idea of the risks of mono-cropping in terms of pests and diseases,” Temudo told IRIN.

“The change from a relatively broad-based food provisioning to almost full dependence on one cash crop is not without shortcomings for farmers’ livelihoods. Food insecurity and indebtedness are growing as a result of the combined effects of a reorientation of the farming systems towards cashew production and dependence upon the market for food supply, as well as the consequences of climate change and the increased use of credit to solve pre-harvest food shortages.”

Farmers should diversify, said Temudo, noting that some farmers have begun switching to food production. “This process should be supported by external agents and donors with incentives for food production and processing facilities,” she said.

The current crisis is forcing some farmers to sell their yet-to-be-harvested food crops at half price in order to buy staples, WFP’s Osman explained. The organization has seen funding for basic nutrition and food security programmes frozen since the coup.

“There is need for immediate financial support from the donors. They have to realize that political pressure, sanctions and boycott are punishing the most vulnerable. A gesture to these people is needed immediately,” he said.

ob/cb source http://www.irinnews.org

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In developing countries, families are prioritizing food above all else

Posted by African Press International on June 11, 2013

In developing countries, families are prioritizing food above all else

NAIROBI,  – When food prices rise, poor people in developing countries not only change or reduce their diets, they are also more likely to engage in riskier but better paid occupations such as mining and prostitution, according to a new report.

Squeezed, jointly published by the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) and Oxfam, also reports that the increased strain on families brought about by price hikes is accompanied by a rise in domestic violence and alcohol and substance abuse.

“The failure of wages to keep up with rising food prices is putting a strain on family relationships. For many men, the inability to be the family breadwinner is a real source of stress and can lead to conflict and violence within households. Parents’ inability to invest in the futures of their children is also a major source of stress,” Richard King, policy research advisor at Oxfam and co-author of the report, told IRIN.

The report noted that while there is optimism about rising wages, these have failed to keep up with the pace of food price hikes and inflation.

“People are working harder over longer hours, and their wages are not keeping pace with inflation, so they have to adapt wherever, and however, possible,” said the report.

Social changes

Women, in particular, have borne the brunt of burgeoning food prices, with many of them having to juggle both domestic chores and work to feed their families. In Zambia for example, female nurses and teachers have had to moonlight as street vendors to supplement their incomes, while in Kenya, some young mothers were forced into prostitution to make ends meet, the report said.

According to Naomi Hossain, a research fellow at IDS and a co-author of the report, the need to earn cash to buy food is quickly replacing the importance people put on social relationships.

“As families increasingly struggle to earn enough to eat, we are seeing how money is becoming more important than relationships, to the point that the social implications are potentially alarming. Policymakers need to catch up,” she said.

“As families increasingly struggle to earn enough to eat, we are seeing how money is becoming more important than relationships, to the point that the social implications are potentially alarming. Policymakers need to catch up”

Uncertain and relatively high prices mean prioritizing earning the cash needed for food above all else… Global food policymakers need to check their assumptions about adjustments to food prices, and decide whether they want the kinds of societies where cash matters above all else,” Hossain wrote in a recent blog post.

And Oxfam’s King said, “People are becoming more individualistic, and reciprocal sources of support that people tend to rely on are becoming strained. There is rising stigma and uneasiness attached to turning to neighbours for help, in the knowledge that the same will be expected in return.”

According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, poor families were more likely to marry off their daughters so that they there would “one mouth less to feed”. In rural Bangladesh, a Tufts University study found that women in households with lower food security reported experiencing “psychological abuse, and about half of women reported physical abuse from their husbands”.

The Overseas Development Institute reported that initial mechanisms for coping with higher food costs – including cutting back spending on expensive foods, borrowing to cover costs of living, and finding ways to work and earn more – were quickly followed by signs of distress, such as “sales of assets, beginning with consumer goods, with land, tools and livestock, sold only after that buffer was exhausted.”

IDS’s Hossain accuses policymakers of being blind to the social changes brought about by food price hikes. Instead, they fixate on “changes they can measure,” she said.

Agriculture suffering

Agriculture as an economic venture has also suffered. While a hike in food prices should ideally inspire more people to engage in agriculture to produce more food, the result, according to the joint IDS-Oxfam study, has been the opposite.

“Instead of flocking to farming as prices rise, the view of agriculture is that it has become much less reliable over the past few years as a result of uncertainties related to input costs, returns and the effects of climate change. People are turning to more lucrative yet dangerous occupations instead – gold mining in Burkina Faso, for example. Education is seen as a ticket off the farm, and agricultural aspirations are rare,” Oxfam’s King said.

The study recommends, among other things, improved social protection policies to address the vulnerability of the poorest people, including cash transfers or subsidies. Improved management of food reserves and regulation of the international grain trade is also needed. Steps to make agriculture a more reliable vocation should also be taken, such as investing in training, technology and sustainability.

ko/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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A call for food systems to improve nutrition

Posted by African Press International on June 10, 2013

New FAO report urges food system changes to eradicate malnutrition

JOHANNESBURG, – Poor health and losses in productivity caused by malnutrition are costing the global economy US$500 per person per year, or a staggering $3.5 trillion annually, according to a new report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Many communities rely on foods that do not meet their nutritional requirements, and when faced with food price shocks, poor families often cut out nutrient-rich foods like milk. The 2013 edition of FAO’s annual State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) report, released today, underlines the need to ensure all the institutions and people responsible for producing and processing food “align to support good nutrition”.

The report also provides an overview of the linkages between agriculture, quality food, health and the economy, emphasizing that “agriculture and the entire food system… can contribute much more to the eradication of malnutrition”. But while discussions on these linkages have been taking place for at least three decades, the problem of malnutrition remains unresolved.

Malnutrition comes in a variety of forms: undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies, overweight and obesity. Two billion people in the world suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, such as anaemia, for example, and more than a billion people are overweight and prone to chronic and life-threatening illnesses like diabetes.

The report urges policymakers to address malnutrition through changes in food systems, public health and education, as well as improvements in supply chains and agricultural productivity.

Incentives needed

John Hoddinott, a senior researcher at International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), told IRIN that the 2013 SOFA report “gets many things right: that malnutrition imposes high costs on individuals and societies, that addressing malnutrition requires multisectoral approaches, and that agriculture is essential for better nutrition.”

But Hoddinott – who authored several 2008 studies in the Lancet showing that inexpensive nutrition interventions can reduce infant and maternal mortality and boost economic growth in developing countries – has some reservation about the report.

He says SOFA “has less to say about the incentives needed at all points in the supply chain to ensure healthy food is available and accessible for all.”

For instance, rapid agricultural and economic growth has not translated into a significant reduction in child malnutrition in India, which has the largest population of undernourished children in the world. Various explanations such as economic and gender inequality have been offered, says SOFA, but the phenomenon remains “largely unexplained” and needs more research.

Lawrence Haddad, head of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS) says his problem with all reports that consider the linkages between agriculture and nutrition is that they do not talk enough about how to provide incentives to the agriculture sector to improve nutrition.

He said in an email, “We know WHY it is important, and there are plenty of opportunities (the WHAT), but they are only seen as opportunities by nutrition people, not by agriculture people. We need research to better understand institutional drivers, incentives and barriers.”

Questions remain

The 2013 SOFA recognizes that knowledge about many of the issues covered in the report remains incomplete. Many countries lack basic data and indicators for evaluating and monitoring the effectiveness of initiatives attempting to improve food quality.

And the report points out that there are still many questions about the effectiveness of home gardens, the role of gender, the fortification of food with micronutrients, technological innovations, biodiversity and the role of local foods in improving nutrition.

There are also gaps in researchers’ understanding of consumer choice and nutritional outcomes. “Concepts such as ‘dietary diversity‘ and ‘healthy diets’ remain fuzzy and difficult to measure objectively,” the report says.

Additionally, contentious issues involving import restrictions and targeted farm subsidies, which serve as a barrier to food production and trade, remain unresolved at the World Trade Organization.

jk/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Food security in Iraq has improved in the last decade – Less dependent on rations

Posted by African Press International on May 13, 2013

BAGHDAD/DUBAI,  – Food security in Iraq has improved in the last decade, as the American-led invasion brought an end to sanctions and a resumption of open relations between Iraq and t he rest of the world. 

Historically, Iraq’s vulnerability to food insecurity has been largely due to barriers to international trade – caused by two decades of wars and sanctions – which hindered the export of oil and import of food commodities. These barriers also affected Iraq’s ability to modernize the agricultural sector and employ new technologies; local production could not meet the country’s growing food needs.As such, even during the worst years of sectarian violence in the last decade, access to food improved on average, compared to the years under sanctions.

Recent history

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in 1980, just four percent of Iraqis were undernourished or “food deprived”, meaning they consumed less than the minimum energy requirement, which in Iraq is currently estimated at 1,726 kilocalories per person per day. Despite years of war with Iran in the 1980s, agricultural subsidies and food imports from the US and Europe helped keep the level of food deprivation low.

But when the UN leveled sanctions against Iraq in August 1990, and US government credits for agricultural exports to Iraq ceased, Iraq – almost completely dependent on imports for its food needs – saw food deprivation rise to 15 percent by 1996, according to FAO. Throughout the 1990s, food deprivation continued to climb, reaching a peak of close to one-third of the population in the late 90s, by some counts.

Humanitarian food supplies delivered through the UN’s Oil-for-Food Programme, initiated in 1995, helped ease the strain, but during the early to mid-2000s, the Public Distribution System (PDS) – the government’s subsidy scheme created in 1991 – remained “by far the single most important food source in the diet” for the poor and food insecure population, according to a 2006 report by the government and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Post-2003

Food deprivation levels began to fall just before the turn of the century, and the decline increased with the toppling of former president Saddam Hussein, which saw Iraq regain the ability to import freely. In the last decade, the country has experienced a “huge transformation”, as one observer put it.

In 2003, months after the invasion, a WFP survey found that 11 percent of the population lacked secure access to food, a large drop from the high of the 1990s.

While food insecurity was found to have risen slightly, to 15.4 percent, in a 2005 WFP-government survey, it fell right back down shortly afterwards.

Joint government-UN analysis of 2007 survey data found that 7.1 percent of the population was food deprived; this dropped to 5.7 percent in 2011, according to the Iraq Knowledge Network (IKN) survey.

The government credits an improvement in security, economic growth and increased humanitarian aid.

PDS

Whereas aid workers estimated 60 percent of the population was food aid-reliant during Hussein’s reign, the PDS is now essential only to the poor.

Sa’ad al-Shimary, a government employee from Baghdad, said his family used to be dependent on the PDS. “I don’t even need the food supplies we get from the ration card now,” he said. “I can buy good quality food from the markets, as everything is available now.”

But while the value of the PDS basket has diminished for most Iraqis (it now represents only 8 percent of the total cash value of food expenditures), it remains a major source of wheat and rice for 72 percent and 64 percent of households respectively, according to the 2011 IKN survey. (Iraq’s PDS is the largest in the world, according to the US Agency for International Development, providing virtually free basic food rations to any Iraqi; as such, it is not only utilized by the poor.)

The PDS is the source of more than one-third of Iraqis’ calorie consumption, and more than half of the poor’s consumption.

And at 35 percent, food continues to comprise the highest proportion of Iraqi household expenditures. Nearly one-quarter of IKN respondents said they used coping strategies to eat enough in 2011. In addition to the 5.7 percent of Iraqis now considered to be undernourished, an additional 14 percent would become undernourished if the PDS did not exist, according to the IKN.

Malnutrition

While the percentage of children under five who are underweight nearly halved from 15.9 percent in 2000 to 8.5 percent in 2011, according to the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), conducted by the government and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), chronic and acute malnutrition indicators look less positive.

The percentage of children under five who are moderately or severely stunted (too short for their age) or wasted (underweight for their height) both increased – if only slightly – over the same period, a “worrying” trend, aid workers said, given the long-term impacts of malnutrition on mental development.

According to UNICEF, one out of every four Iraqi children suffers from stunted growth. High levels of chronic and acute malnutrition are a sign that mothers and children do not have access to quality food. While access to food has improved, stunting and wasting are difficult trends to reverse in a short period of time. As such, it may take years before improved access to food reflects in malnutrition rates across the board.

Impact of violence

Although the last decade has seen overall gains in food security, the sectarian violence of 2006-2007 did have a negative impact. For example, a WFP report based on 2007 data found that levels of food deprivation differed by area: in Diyala Governorate, one of the most volatile during the conflict, 51 percent of the population was deprived of food, while in the northern autonomous Kurdistan region, largely spared the consequences of the invasion, just one percent of the population suffered from food deprivation.

Here, too, there has been change. While in 2007, insecurity had a huge bearing on food security, the food insecure today are traditionally vulnerable groups – the illiterate, the unemployed, the displaced and female-headed households.

Iraq also faces new challenges to its food security, according to Edward Kallon, WFP’s director in Iraq, including rising global food prices, poverty, climate change, desertification and drought.

For more, check out this UN fact-sheet on food security and this presentation by UNICEF comparing the child indicators in Iraq over the last three to five decades. The bulk of statistics come from WFP/government surveys in 2003, 2005 and 2007; and UNICEF/government surveys in 2000, 2006 and 2011. This 2010 report on food deprivation analyzes 2007 data collected in a survey by the government and the World Bank, just as this 2012 report analyzes food security data from the 2011 IKN survey. The FAO has its own figures on food deprivation. The government has also tracked statistics on underweight children fr om 1991 through 2009.

 

af/da/ha/rz  source http://www.irinnews.org

 

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Food security: Cassava flour is consumed by millions in Africa

Posted by African Press International on May 9, 2013

“Super-fly” threatens “Rambo” cassava, food security

Cassava flour is consumed by millions in Africa

JOHANNESBURG,  – A tiny, rapidly breeding cyanide-munching insect, dubbed a “super-fly” by scientists, is threatening the food security of millions of Africans.

The Bemisia tabaci – one of several whitefly species – carries lethal viruses that cause cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) and cassava mosaic disease (CMD), which have decimated the hardy cassava plant.

Cassava, a tropical root crop, is the third most important source of calories in the tropics, after rice and maize. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), it is the staple food for nearly a billion people in 105 countries, where it comprises as much as a third of daily calories consumed. The cheapest known source of starch, cassava is grown by poor farmers – many of them women – often on marginal land; for these people, the crop is vital for both food security and income generation.

The threat to cassava is particularly alarming as the plant is often called the “Rambo” root for its ability to withstand high temperatures and drought. With climate change expected to take a major toll on maize in the coming decades, many hope cassava will offer an alternative route to food security in Africa. Cassava may also prove to be an important source of biofuel.

Experts plan to take aim at the whitefly this week, at a conference of the Global Cassava Partnership for the 21st Century (GCP21), at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy. The conference is dedicated to “declaring war on cassava viruses in Africa.”

Pandemics

From the 1980s to the mid-2000s, CMD ravaged more than 4 million square km in Africa’s cassava-growing heartland, stretching from Kenya and Tanzania in the East to Cameroon and the Central African Republic in the West. But in recent years, the scientific community developed cassava varieties resistant to CMD.

James Legg, a leading cassava expert at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), who works out of Tanzania, told IRIN, “The premature celebrations for this apparent victory were very soon squashed, however, as sinister new reports were received of the occurrence and apparent spread of CBSD in southern Uganda.”

Bemisia tabaci on a cassava leaf

Until then, scientists had assumed that the viruses causing CBSD could not spread at medium-to-high altitudes; the disease had previously only been reported in coastal areas of East Africa and the low-altitude areas around Lake Malawi. “The spread recorded from Uganda instantly cast doubt of the validity of that earlier theory,” said Legg. “Worse still, the disease spread out from Uganda over following years, and into the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda.”

CBSD is now a pandemic, threatening Nigeria, the world’s largest producer and consumer of cassava. The cassava starch industry in Nigeria generates US$5 billion per year and employs millions of smallholder farmers and numerous small-scale processors.

Only in 2005 were scientists able to confirm that the whitefly responsible for spreading CMD was also responsible for spreading CBSD.

“With this realization, it became clear that the spread of these two disease pandemics was really only a consequence of the fact that East and Central Africa was experiencing a devastating outbreak of the whitefly that transmits both of them,” explained Legg.

He told IRIN that in the 1980s, researchers recorded an average of less than one fly per plant, but by the mid-1990s, the number of whiteflies had increased a hundredfold.

“These insects also seem to have a close relationship with the viruses that they transmit, and some evidence has shown that the insects do better on virus-diseased plants”

Arms race

It seems Bemisia tabaci has been assisted by climate change: The warmer temperatures occurring in higher altitudes have created optimal conditions for the insect to breed rapidly, speeding its adaptation and evolution. More importantly, said Legg, is the fact that these flies seem to have worked out how to do better on cassava plants, whose cyanide production deters all but a very small group of insects. As the whitefly population has exploded, rapid spread of the viral diseases – CMD and CBSD – was an inevitable consequence.

What makes a bad situation even worse, however, is that these diseases, in turn, may promote the whitefly. “These insects also seem to have a close relationship with the viruses that they transmit, and some evidence has shown that the insects do better on virus-diseased plants, leading to an ‘I scratch your back, you scratch my back’ type of mutually beneficial relationship,” Legg said.

Scientists are working towards solutions. A member of Legg’s team is examining the impact of climate change on the whitefly in search of ways to deal with the pest. Other planned projects are working to control whiteflies directly, either through introducing other beneficial insects that kill whiteflies, or through producing varieties that combine whitefly and disease resistance.

Efforts to breed high-yielding, disease-resistant plants suitable for Africa’s various growing regions will involve going to South America, where cassava originated, and working with scientists at the cassava gene bank of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), IITA’s sister organization, in Colombia. CIAT is the biggest repository of cassava cultivars in the world.

Experts at the conference in Italy will also discuss a more ambitious plan to eradicate cassava viruses altogether. The aim will be to develop a regional strategy that gradually replaces farmers’ infested cassava plants with virus-free planting material of the best and most disease-resistant cultivars. Approaches to developing these cultivars will include new molecular breeding and genetic engineering technologies to speed up selection. The hope of the team is that by joining forces, and employing the whole range of technologies available, a lasting impact will be made in tackling a crop crisis that poses the single greatest challenge to the future of Africa’s cassava crop.

jk /rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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Nutrition and food security can be improved

Posted by African Press International on April 20, 2013

Photo: FAO
Needed: Improved access to wild foods such as insects

NAIROBI,  – Malnutrition could be greatly reduced and food security improved by ensuring improved access to nutrient-rich forest-derived foods like berries, bushmeat, roots, insects and nuts for the world’s poorest populations, experts say.

“I believe forest foods are particularly important for reducing malnutrition when it comes to micronutrients such as vitamin A and iron,” Bronwen Powell, a nutritionist and researcher at the Centre for International Research on Forests (CIFOR), told IRIN.

Making these foods accessible would mean bringing them to markets to benefit the urban poor, many of whom find imported fruits and processed foods unaffordable, and giving people legal access to forests to obtain bio-resources like game meat and honey in areas where it is illegal to do so.

Nutrient potential

Experts told IRIN that while forest foods are underused, they could prove more affordable and more acceptable than other food options.

“With food becoming scarcer, there are calls for communities to look for alternative food sources and foods – some of which might not be readily acceptable to them – but wild foods and fruits have been a delicacy for generations and would be readily acceptable to many people,” said Enoch Mwani, an agricultural economist at the University of Nairobi.

In its 2011 Forests for Improved Food Security and Nutrition report, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) noted that households living on the margins of poverty could, during the “lean season” or in times of famine or food shortage, rely on forests to provide “an important safety net.”

Others, like Monica Ayieko, a family and consumer economist and an edible insect researcher at Maseno University, say more efforts are needed to change people’s perceptions about wild foods.

“The Westernization of diets has made people associate wild foods like edible insects – a vital source of amino acids and minerals – with poverty. It is a pity because so many children die as a result of nutrient deficiency, yet these are abundant in wild foods,” Ayieko noted.

“The Westernization of diets has made people associate wild foods like edible insects – a vital source of amino acids and minerals – with poverty. It is a pity because so many children die as a result of nutrient deficiency, yet these are abundant in wild foods.”

Studies have recently suggested that insects are a better source of protein as they produce less greenhouse gases than cattle and pigs.

“We must broaden the use of wild foods like wild insects, like crickets, in poor people’s diets, and the good news is FAO has begun to take [the] lead on this,” she added.

Globally, an estimated 1.6 billion people rely on forests for their livelihoods, according to FAO.

Some 870 million people globally are food insecure, while a further 2 billion suffer from nutrient deficiencies.

In Tanzania, a 2011 study of 270 children and their mothers, conducted by CIFOR, revealed that children who consumed wild fruits from forests were more likely to have more diverse and nutritious diets.

The wild foods contributed over 30 percent of the vitamin A and almost 20 percent of the iron that the children consumed each day, even though the foods accounted for just two percent of their diets.

Another study in Madagascar revealed that 30 percent more children would suffer from anemia if they had no access to bushmeat. And studies in the Congo Basin show that bushmeat accounts for 80 percent of the proteins and fats consumed by the local communities.

Strategies needed

According to FAO , the critical role forests could play in improving food security and nutrition is usually “poorly reflected in national development and food security strategies. Coupled with poor coordination between sectors, the net result is that forests are mostly left out of policy decisions related to food security and nutrition.”

CIFOR’s Powell noted that “forest foods haven’t received much attention” in part due to the current method of “measuring food security in terms of energy [or calories] and not in terms of micronutrients, which has meant that foods that aren’t a good source of calories [but have plenty of micronutrients] have been overlooked.”

A lack of national policies to guide the use of wild foods, lack of knowledge about the benefits of such foods, and deforestation and land use changes continue to hamper access to these resources.

Bushmeat consumption is also dogged by concerns over conservation and possible health issues, which could result in calls for stronger policies to regulate their use.

Increased investment in forest development by governments and organizations, increased local control over forest management and use, pro-poor forestry measures, and the integration of forests into national food security strategies are some of the ways to boost access to forest-derived foods.

ko/rz source http://www.irinnews.org

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