Tag Archives: food security

The world needs to be concerned: Pathological lives

By Steve Hinchliffe, University of Exeter

“The diversity and geographical distribution of influenza viruses currently circulating in wild ad domestic birds are unprecedented since the advent of modern tools for virus detection and characterization. The world needs to be concerned” (WHO 2015: emphasis added).

Bird flu might be about pathological birds, spreading diseases.  Or is it about pathological lives, a sense that our economies and modes of organising life are in themselves causing concern?

This week half a million birds have been culled in Niigata, Japan in order to contain a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV or bird flu).  On the Friesian island of Texel in The Netherlands, 500 birds have been killed from a related strain, resulting in the closure of an important nature reserve.  Towards the end of 2016, this strain of influenza is busy circulating in 14 countries, affecting wild and domestic birds in Hungary, Germany and France.

In the UK, yet to report any HPAIV infections this year, a 30-day Avian Influenza Prevention Zone has been announced. Farmers and keepers of zoological collections are being encouraged to move birds indoors and to improve biosecurity for ‘housed’ flocks. Biosecurity suggests that housing birds on its own is not enough. Vigilance is needed as HPAIV can also move via staff, boots, equipment, rodents and so on. Meanwhile, and lest anyone should be uncertain about the ‘smoking gun’ in this matter, the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) announced an enhancement of surveillance of wild birds. As a consortium of scientific experts suggests (2016), viral evolution and geographical spread (phylogeography) strongly supports the proposition that migrating wild birds are spreading the viruses. Wild bird surveillance is regarded as a necessary measure to secure domestic flocks.

Concern here is not only for the livelihoods of farmers, or even the balance sheets of national economies (avian influenzas are notifiable and trade-limiting diseases). Nor is it solely a matter for the welfare of wild and domestic birds (though generally it is the latter who are least equipped in evolutionary terms to live with infection). There are also fears for public health. These avian influenza viruses are only a few mutations away from ‘learning’ how to not only infect people (some of them already do that) but also transmit between people (not something that they have managed to do, yet). They are what are known as PPPs, potential pandemic pathogens. With the swarm of influenzas currently circulating, the chances are that the alphabet and numerical soup of ‘promiscuous’ H5-clades (H5N1, H5N6, H5N8 etc) as well as H7s (H7N9) will reassort or shuffle components. This ‘natural’ process of gene exchange and editing is the main reason that the WHO have cause “to be very concerned”.

What are we to make of this concern, what indeed is to be done about this swirling cloud of viruses and birds? The first point to note is that avian flu has been around for a long time, circulating in wild birds without too much of an issue. So current concern is undoubtedly related to recent developments in “virus detection and characterization” (WHO 2015). But this can’t be the whole story. A second point concerns changing stakes and biologies. The relatively recent explosion in global poultry numbers is both a reason for greater economic concern but also a driver of viral shifts. As inexpensively produced protein-rich diets become a worldwide norm, poultry populations, growth rates and metabolisms have changed accordingly. The result is a new set of conditions for viral selection and evolution. As any epidemiologist will tell you, a microbe can only become deadly or pathogenic if there are the right environmental and host conditions. Bird numbers and altered bodies have, in short, made the planet more ‘infectable’.

pathological

In a book just published in the RGS-IBG series, my co-authors and I call this entanglement of microbes, hosts, environments and economies ‘pathological lives’. The term allows us to investigate how these lives have become dangerous to themselves in a world of accelerated throughput and biological intensity. In contrast to the recent global consortium that reviewed the evidence on avian influenzas, we do more than focus on transmission (or the outward movement of a disease agent across space). Rather, we also investigate the conditions for the emergence, persistence and transformation of avian influenzas and other zoonotic diseases, and importantly highlight the changing intensities and enhanced ‘infectability’ of our farming and public health systems.

The result is that instead of biosecurity being a matter for segregating domestic life, ‘closing the hi-tech barn door’ so to speak, a more searching issue arises. We question the sustainability and security of the kinds of intensive protein production that are now, paradoxically, being rolled out across the planet as the solution to the problem that they may in fact have helped to generate. As we demonstrate in Pathological Lives, diseases have complex, multifactorial causes. The traffic of viruses, wild bird assisted or not, can only be regarded as a necessary rather than sufficient cause of a diseased ecology.

About the author: Steve Hinchliffe is Professor or Human Geography at the University of Exeter. His research draws together insights from Science and Technology Studies (STS), particularly actor network theory, and Geography. Steve is author and editor of numerous books and articles on issues ranging from risk and food, to biosecurity, human-nonhuman relations and nature conservation.

References

books_icon Hinchliffe S., Bingham N., Allen J,. Carter S,. 2016 Pathological Lives: Disease, Space and Biopolitics  RGS-IBG Book Series. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN: 978-1-118-99760-4

books_icon The Global Consortium for H5N8 and Related Influenza Viruses (2016). “Role for migratory wild birds in the global spread of avian influenza H5N8.” Science 354(6309): 213-217.

60-world2 WHO (2015). Warning signals from the volatile world of influenza viruses. Influenza. Geneva, Switzerland, World Health Organisation.

Cultivating the land of the concrete jungle: environmental and social security, but for whom?

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University 

ab

There are many different aspects of daily life that symbolise wider environmental challenges in the world, some as close to us as the food we eat. Recent debates and discussions about reducing our environmental impact have often focused on the drive to ‘go local’ with our food, and in particular to grow our own in the face of rising food insecurity at a global scale. One particular potential solution to this has been to promote urban agriculture, however, moving the farm to the city is not without problems.

Neilson and Rickards (2016), in their paper published in The Geographical Journal, draw upon practices of urban agriculture in Melbourne, Australia, to highlight that longstanding tensions between what is seen as the ‘urban’ and what is understood as ‘rural’ continue to prevail. They suggest that the notion of growing food is often perceived to be a ‘rural’ practice that is ‘out of sight and out of mind’ for city dwellers and people who rely on supermarkets and shops to buy their food. Urban farms, therefore, can be seen as being out of place, and are sometimes perceived to be an invasive force that take over the land of the city. Neilson and Rickards (2016: 10) describe urban farms as ‘ecological colonisers’ that seek to be ‘green’ and inhibit the growth of the city through food production.

When we look at examples of urban farming, it’s clear that the tensions in these practices go deeper and further than the land itself, and are reflected within and between the groups of people who are meant to benefit from it. For example, The Guardian reports that a rise in urban farming in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is not a simple solution to issues of health and inequality in different areas of the city. Urban agricultural practices can be problematic in cities like Tulsa because urban farming is perceived to be a ‘white trend’ solution, which reveals and reinforces racial divides. For instance, longstanding issues with social security among ‘minority’ groups can make it difficult for urban agriculture to fully take off. Furthermore, the concept of agriculture brings connotations of slavery from the past for young Black Tulsans, who are among the target group for developing these farms. Black Tulsans tend to associate working on the land with of slavery, so the practice of urban agriculture can expose the influence of a dark past history upon the present generations. These divides unmask how particular sustainable practices, such as urban agriculture, are situated within longstanding historical racial tensions (Lieberman, 2016). Tulsa therefore shows that re-thinking frameworks in the context of urban/rural agricultural dichotomy is not sufficient. People who are practising urban agriculture and those who could benefit from doing so, but are left behind, should all be reached and included. For farms, both urban and rural, it’s essential to recognise not just the diversity of the places, but the world in which we live, to ensure a food-secure future for all.

60-world2 Lieberman A 2016 ‘Could urban farming provide a much needed oasis in the Tulsa food desert?’ The Guardian Online 25th August 2016

books_icon Neilson C and Rickards L 2016 The relational character of urban agriculture: competing perspectives on land, food, people, agriculture and the city The Geographical Journal doi: 10.1111/geoj.12188

Cricket farming as an alternative livelihood strategy

By Afton Halloran, Nanna Roos, University of Copenhagen, and Yupa Hanboonsong, Khon Kaen University

A cricket farmer in Nahon Rachisima Province

A cricket farmer in Nahon Rachisima Province

Rapid urbanization, major losses of biodiversity, climate change, water shortages, and desertification. This is the depressing list which reflects our global society’s failure to maintain ecological balance. The impacts are manifold and widespread, and they quickly lead us speculate how our basic needs will be met in the future: what will we eat?

For every single issued fact, there is amplitude of both far-fetched and realistic solutions of how to ensure sustained food supply like farming with robots, growing algae and in vitro meat and eating invasive species. For others, the future of food lies in the mass-farming of insects in lieu of more conventional livestock like cows and pigs.

To put this all into perspective, we first need to imagine a timeline of agricultural history. Between 13,000 and 10,000 years ago, human beings began domesticating and farming wild animals in the so-called Fertile Crescent. Moving onward in history, we can see honey bees were the first insect species to be domesticated for human use nearly 7000 years ago. Few farmed animal species have been domesticated in the last thousand years; in fact, current trends have tended towards the loss of genetic diversity of the multiplicity of breeds which once dotted our agricultural landscapes.

Small-scale cricket farming was developed in Thailand nearly 20 years ago. Domestication of wild insect species has been proposed to relieve pressure on the hunting and collecting of wild populations as well as to create a safe food product for consumers and generate rural employment. The easy-to-implement and low-investment farming techniques faced few barriers to their adoption, partially due to the existing prevalence of insects (including crickets) within the local diet.

In our article, published in The Geographical Journal‘Cricket farming as a livelihood strategy in Thailand,’ we offer insight into why and how farmers have added this relatively new form of farming to their repertoire and the social and economic impacts that it has had thus far. We examine how farmers organize themselves, obtain knowledge and problem solve, and how they interact with other farmers and other stakeholders. By doing so, we formulate a complex picture of how rural communities in northern and northeastern Thailand interact with this livelihood strategy. We also explain that cricket farming was not created out of a food crisis, but rather an economic and ecological one.

This exploratory study arises from the GREEiNSECT research project which looks at producing insects as an alternative contribution the green economy in Kenya and examines the farming systems that have developed in some countries in order to gain more in-depth knowledge of their contribution to rural livelihoods. Thailand has the largest known global production of crickets for human consumption, and therefore provided a suitable region for such a case study.

About the authors: Afton Halloran is a PhD candidate within the Department of Nutrition, exercise and sports at the University of Copenhagen. Nanna Roos is a Project Coordinator at the University of Copenhagen. Yupa Hanboonsong is Associate Professor in Entomology at Khon Kaen University, Thailand.

60-world2 GREEiNSECT Research Project – Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen

books_icon Halloran, A., Roos, N. and Hanboonsong, Y. (2016), Cricket farming as a livelihood strategy in Thailand. The Geographical Journal. doi: 10.1111/geoj.12184

60-world2 Kameoka R 2016 Crickets cast as the future of food in project to beat global hunger May 29 2016

60-world2 Malakoff D, Wigginton N S, Fahrenkamp-Uppenbrink J, Widle B 2016 Use our infographics to explore the rise of the urban planet  Science 

60-world2 Munchies (Vice) 2016 Whole foods wants you to eat this invasive, poisonous, awesome-looking fish 31 May 2016

60-world2 North A 2016 California’s Water Future The New York Times May 20 2016

60-world2 Palmer H 2016 Africa’s Great Green Wall is making progress in two fronts PRI

60-world2 Simon M 2016 The future of humanity’s food supply is in the hands of AI Wired

 

Rapid land-use changes are creating the geology of the Anthropocene

By Eli Lazarus

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia.

Deforestation, palm oil plantations, and erosion in Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia. Image courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory.

From a historical perspective, land grabbing – deals involving acquisitions of large-scale land assets – is not a new global phenomenon. But it is a resurgent one. Investigative journalists and non-governmental organisations have been reporting on land grabs with particular attention since 2008, when a market-driven spike in food prices triggered a widespread geopolitical crisis over food security. The crisis is ongoing, further complicated by conflicting interests in land for water access, biofuel production, timber, mineral wealth, industrial expansion, environmental conservation, and the protection of local and indigenous peoples’ rights. Academic researchers have begun to examine the social, political, and institutional dynamics of land grabbing, but such expansive land-use transitions can also have profound, lasting effects on physical landscapes. In my article, published in Area, I consider land grabbing as a peculiar force of change in human–environmental systems.

Through agriculture, construction, resource extraction, and other activities, humans move around a lot of dirt. In terms of mass, we displace more of the planet’s surface on an annual basis than any natural agent of geomorphic change, including rivers, glaciers, wind, hillslopes, and waves. Sediment cores from Central America reveal erosion signals coincident with land clearing by Pre-Columbian empires. Lakes across the western US retain the sedimentary record of the catastrophic 1930s Dust Bowl, which followed the introduction of industrial agriculture to the Great Plains. Environmental historians suggest that humans have caused thus far three global-scale pulses of soil erosion in our time on Earth, and the volume of soil and rock we have moved since early millennia BCE has increased nonlinearly as a function of population and technology.

What makes land-use transitions driven by land grabbing so remarkable is their scale: no natural process of environmental change (aside from a cataclysmic event) operates as rapidly over such vast areas and in so many settings. Global landscape changes driven by human activities are the precursors to what will become the geology of the Anthropocene, an epoch characterised by the legacies, material and indirect, of our built environment. Could this new era of land grabbing ultimately register in sedimentary records around the world? Much as past climates have left their own geologic signatures, humans are already leaving our own in the volume of sediment we move – and in the astounding rates at which we move it.

About the author: Dr Eli Lazarus is a Lecturer at School of Ocean Earth Sciences at Cardiff University.

open-access-icon Lazarus E D 2014 Land grabbing as a driver of environmental changeArea, 46: 74–82. doi: 10.1111/area.12072

60-world2 Image of the Day: Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia NASA Earth Observatory, 7 July 2012

60-world2 Lakhani N, World Bank’s ethics under scrutiny after Honduras loan investigation The Guardian, 13 January 2014

60-world2 MacFarquhar N, African farmers displaced as investors move in The New York Times, 21 December 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, How food and water are driving a 21st-century African land grab The Guardian, 7 March 2010

60-world2 Vidal J, Major palm oil companies accused of breaking ethical promises The Guardian, 6 November 2013

The Importance of Soil

By Daniel Schillereff

Severe soil erosion in a wheat field near Washington State University - This image is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.

A recent paper by Bilotta et al. (2012) examining the interplay between ecosystem services and soil erosion in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, published under the Boundary Crossings subheading, is an excellent example of the importance of utilizing cross-disciplinary approaches when confronting the large-scale environmental issues facing the world today.

References to ecosystem services are featuring much more prominently in the news, as the public, government bodies, academic researchers and mega-business begin to recognize the need to prioritize the natural environment as pressures from climate change, population growth and land degradation unfold.

Providing sufficient food for a growing population is a particularly pressing problem and in fact a recent UN report, quoted in the Guardian, suggests a 2.6% drop in global food yield this year. Offering a medium for food production is clearly one of the most important ecosystem services provided by soil and Bilotta et al. highlight the threat posed to food provision if the dramatic rates of soil erosion observed globally are not reversed.

The Bilotta paper discusses in some detail the biogeochemical relationships between soil erosion and soil nutrient availability, thereby reducing crop yield but more importantly, they highlight three major limitations to current assessments of soil erosion on a global scale. These are a poor understanding of soil formation rates, limited consideration of changes in soil quality alongside quantitative assessments of soil loss and off-site problems triggered by soil erosion, particularly damage to aquatic environments due to the delivery of substantial fine-grained material.

They finish by emphasising the pressing need for interdisciplinary research to ensure efforts to mitigate soil erosion are successful. As awareness of the importance of ecosystem services continue to grow in the public view, hopefully the suggestions put forward by Bilotta et al. will be taken into consideration.

  G S Bilotta, M Grove, S M Mudd, 2012, Assessing the significance of soil erosion, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 (3) 342-345.

  Biodiversity conservation: moving towards valuation of ecosystem services, The Guardian, 9 October 2012

Food scarcity: the timebomb setting nation against nation, The Guardian, 13 October 2012

Food, Glorious Food… What Next is the Question?

By Jen Dickie

Corn in drought, Western Kentucky, August, 2012 by CraneStation via Flickr (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en_GB)

This week, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation are hosting the ‘Committee on World Food Security’ in Rome. This follows an announcement last Wednesday from the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) stating that the UK suffered its worst wheat harvest since the 1980s, blaming the combined forces of a spring drought followed by the wettest summer in 100 years (Met Office). Describing this year’s weather as “a rollcoaster for British farmers that most now just want to forget”, Fiona Harvey and Rebecca Smithers from The Guardian describe both the difficulties farmers face after a disastrous growing season, and in a related article, how this has impacted on British consumers by not only increasing our shopping bills but by changing our shopping habits. In response to a 32% rise in food prices in the UK since 2007, they report how ethical provenance has dropped down the consumer’s list of considerations when food shopping; instead, affordability is now the key priority.

It is not only the UK that is suffering; in The Observer this weekend, John Vidal highlighted the rising concerns over food security and the potential onset of a global food crisis due to failing harvests across the world. Quoting experts such as Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Research Centre in Washington, and Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and agriculture Organisation, Vidal stresses the complex interplay among concurrent global issues such as climate change, increasing consumption and decreasing production of food, population growth, water shortages and rising food prices.

In a recent article for The Geographical Journal, Tim Lang and David Barling acknowledge the complex nature of the concept of food security, arguing that even the term ‘food security’ is interpreted and used in different ways. They argue that “Much of the food security discourse still is about governments, farmers and the hungry” whereas more coherent policy frameworks are needed that address the development and understanding of a food system that “is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable”.

Whilst policymakers meet this week to discuss how to keep global food prices in check, earlier this month the UN reported that one in eight people in the world are starving or under-nourished. A global food crisis has not yet been declared, however, Lester Brown warns us that “As food prices climb, the worldwide competition for control of land and water resources is intensifying… Food is the new oil, land is the new gold”. This is food for thought!

Tim Lang and David Barling, 2012, Food security and food sustainability: reformulating the debate, The Geographical Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00480.x

Weather-beaten UK farmers lament a dismal year for food production, The Guardian, 12 October 2012

 Food prices: ‘Bread, coffee and fresh fruit have become a bit of a luxury’, The Guardian, 12 October 2012

A mixed harvest, but wheat well down, The NFU website, 10th October 2012

 UN warns of looming worldwide food crisis in 2013, The Observer, 13th October 2012

Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, Earth Policy Institute Press Release

The Geographical Journal Content Alert: Volume 177, Issue 4 (December 2011)

The latest issue of The Geographical Journal is available on Wiley Online Library.

Click past the break to view the full table of contents.

Continue reading