Archive for October, 2010

For the women of India’s mid-Gangetic plains, which cover most of northern and eastern India, the road to economic prosperity is littered with stumbling blocks. First, they must overcome the limitations of their patriarchal society and the perception that being women renders them less valuable and less competent than their male counterparts. Then, as residents of India’s poorest region, they struggle to acquire the financial capital, education or connections needed to break poverty’s vicious cycle. And, for women of a certain caste, social stratification presents yet another barrier to upward mobility.

For the next six to eight years, many women in India’s mid-Gangetic plains, the country’s poorest region, will receive the financial capital and support needed to pull themselves out of poverty (Photo Credit: babasteve).

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The 2008 world food price crisis, and more recent price hikes this year, have focused attention on the ability of the world food system to “feed the world.”  In La Via Campesina, the global alliance of peasant and family farm organizations, we believe that agroecological food production by small farmers is the agricultural model best suited to meeting future food needs.

The contemporary food crisis is not really a crisis of our ability to produce.  It is more due to factors like the food speculation and hoarding that transnational food corporations and investment funds engage in, the global injustices that mean some eat too much while many others don’t have money to buy adequate food, and / or lack land on which to grow it, and misguided policies like the promotion of agrofuels that devote farm land to feeding cars instead of feeding people.  However, we cannot deny that our collective ability to grow enough food — including, crucially, how we grow it — is an important piece in the jigsaw puzzle of ending hunger.  It is here where the corporate agribusiness model of large-scale industrial monocultures is failing us, and where peansant-based sustainable farming systems based on agroecology and Food Sovereignty offer so much hope.

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Lexington, KY—First Lady Michelle Obama recently planted a vegetable garden at the White House as part of

her platform on healthy living, which also emphasizes the expansion of sustainable farming. The First Lady’s

action highlights the growing importance of a change in the national mentality: production must be managed

with a mindset of preservation. As a nation, the United States collectively produces and consumes unparalleled

amounts of food, and corporate farming practices often leave the land exhausted and unable to sustain

sufficient yields. Fighting against these negative practices, sustainable agriculture is increasing farmers’

awareness of the diminishing resources they face and the impact their farming has on the environment.


Over the years, Frederick L. Kirschenmann has established himself as one of the most respected critics of

industrial food and the unsustainable farming practices of the modern age. His active participation in the fight

for agrarian sustainability has placed him in the ranks alongside other notable advocates of agricultural

renewal, such as Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson.


Cultivating an Ecological Conscience: Essays from a Farmer Philosopher presents a series of essays that

take readers on a journey through Kirschenmann’s life, detailing the development of his farming philosophy

through stories of his personal thoughts and experiences. Beginning with his childhood on the family farm in

North Dakota, the essays chronicle his growth as both a philosopher and a farmer. Organized chronologically,

the earlier essays focus on production strategies concerning the transition to a sustainable system, while later

essays explore more universal themes about the relationship between agriculture and ecology.


Kirschenmann’s present philosophy recognizes that it is virtually impossible to preserve “things as they are,”

as technological development and the need for rapid production continue to increase as farmers struggle to

meet the demands of an ever increasing population. Instead, he advocates the importance of a scientific

understanding of the lasting effects that rigorous farming techniques impose on the landscape and the overall

quality of the land.

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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, joins us to discuss his recent warning that some 500 million small farmers in poor countries are suffering from hunger, partly because foreign countries and corporations have bought up large tracts of land. We’re also joined by Smita Narula, author of a new study suggesting that many of the land deals in Africa and South Asia lack transparency and could threaten local communities with eviction, undermine their livelihoods, and endanger their access to food.

See the video of this segment of Democracy Now.

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A raging debate is underway on why and to what extent excessive nitrogen fertilizer use is degraded soil quality around the world. The problem is unmistakable in many countries as average crop yield levels plateau or even start of decline.

Three University of Illinois scientists explain why in a compelling commentary. The two published papers by this team from 2007 and 2009 are the first and second most read papers in the prestigious “Journal of Environmental Quality.”

Thanks to the team for permission to post this important piece.

Read the report.

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A “Brown Revolution” to improve soil quality is more important to African agriculture than new seeds and fertilizers, said Howard Buffett, who may succeed his father,Warren Buffett, as chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Africans who farm plots of less than 3 acres (1.2 hectares) will need tailored solutions that may be different from the “Green Revolution” that boosted crop yields in Asia, Howard Buffett, 55, said today in a speech at the World Food Prize conference in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Food security is complicated, agriculture is complicated,” said Buffett, who illustrated his speech with anecdotes and photographs from interviews with African farmers. “Simply distributing seeds and fertilizer, if that’s the plan, will fail long term.”


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The Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition in Parma, Italy has proposed a “double pyramid” to help guide food choices in an increasingly interconnected world where the impacts of culture, tradition, and family on food consumption patterns are waning.

One pyramid is driven by the nutrient content of foods relative to human needs, and reflects the contemporary USDA food pyramid.  The second pyramid reflects life-cycle environmental impacts in terms of land, water, and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Barilla Center concludes that:

“…those foods with higher recommended consumption levels, are also those with lower environmental impact.  Contrarily, those foods with lower recommended consumption levels are also those with higher environmental impacts.” (Page 8).

Foods that should be consumed the most for nutritional and environmental reasons include fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, and rice, legumes, and olive oil.  Those that should be consumed less because of low nutritional value and high environmental impacts include sweets, red meat, cheese, and white meat.

The free, 150-page report by the Barilla Center entitled “Double Pyramid: healthy food for people,
sustainable food for the planet” is beautifully laid out and contains full details on the methodology and data sources used to construct the two pyramids.

See the report.


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