Saturday, January 22, 2011

Is water our most endangered resource?

Water, or “Blue Gold”, is becoming a scarcity around the world at an increasingly rapid rate. With the effects of climate change, water privatization, and a growing world population more regions are becoming deserts and we are running out of water (Bozzo, Arcbar, & Ltvinoff, 2008). Aside from the issues of water privatization and bottled water, and increased water evaporation from land and rising sea levels, agriculture is a massive culprit of depleting our water supply. Agriculture is the dominant user of water, from raising cattle and other livestock to growing food and cotton (Lenntech, 2009).

image from:http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/tag/agriculture/
Agriculture requires 100 times more water than we utilize for personal needs. Seventy percent of the water taken from rivers and groundwater is used for irrigation, while 20% is used by industry and 10% is used domestically (Lenntech, 2009). It can take up to 100,000 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef (or 4000 m3 per cattle or 2400 liters for one hamburger), 4500 liters to produce 1 kg rice, 140 liters for one cup of coffee, and the list goes on (Lenntech, 2009; Project Blue, 2008). Cereals account for 56% of total calories consumed and an even larger portion of cereal grains are used to feed livestock. Growing world population and increases in meat consumption are only exhausting the amount of fresh water on the earth. With Americans consuming an average of 26 billion lbs of beef per year, the amount of water used to raise the cattle, with the combination of drinking water and cereal grains, is astounding (USDA, 2010). As Project Blue explains, “producing animal protein generally requires 100 times more water than producing a vegetable protein” (2008, para. 6).

We continue to take water for granted and we must realize that it is an endangered resource. Contrary to popular belief, water is a finite resource and even though water covers 75% of the world’s surface, 97.5% is salt water and only the remaining 2.5% is fresh water. Much of this 2.5% of fresh water is locked in glaciers, trapped underground, or polluted, leaving less than “one-hundredth of 1 percent readily available for human use” (FAO, n.d., para. 2).

FAO. (n.d.). Water: a finite resource. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/docrep/u8480e/u8480e0c.htm

Lenntech. (2009). Use of water in food and agriculture. Retrieved from http://www.lenntech.com/water-food-agriculture.htm
Project Blue. (2008). Food Production and Water. Retrieved from Project Blue - Roots and Shoots Canada Water Campaign: http://www.janegoodall.ca/project-blue/FoodProductionandWater.html
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2010, July 10). U.S. beef and cattle industry: background statistics and information. Retrieved from http://www.ers.usda.gov/news/BSECoverage.htm

Friday, January 14, 2011

Local vs. Organic

As I have mentioned in other posts, I have been more concerned with buying local than organic.  However, after watching the documentary "Food Matters" last night my view has changed.  The overwhelming concern about soil deficiency causing us (Americans mainly) to have significant nutrient deficiencies, which attributes to the cancer and disease epidemic, is much more prevalent in my mind now.  To think that I was buying "healthy" food when I chose the local produce from my supermarket, when it turns out that produce that is not grown organically is significantly deficient in nutrients (Food Matters).  "Organic food is known to contain 50% more nutrients, minerals and vitamins than produce that has been intensively farmed" (Organic Food Info.net) and when you cook this food the nutrients only decrease further (Food Matters).  Therefore, you will only have to eat more food (or take vitamins in pill form) to get the nutrients you need and as Organic Food Info.Net explains, "unfortunately that means eating more chemicals [and] more detrimental affects on your health eating something that should be good for you!"

A quote from Ken Pinare really hit home with me as well:

As we have learned, none of the certifications are perfect, but USDA Organic is the most prevalent and recognized of those related to food products.The most important to me is the restriction on synthetic chemical use, which is why I'm a little surprised by your statement on not buying organic produce. Produce is one the worst foods when it comes to synthetic chemical residues. The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) publishes a list of the items that have the highest levels of residual chemicals and recommends to at least buy the organic version of those. Also, regarding the tortilla chips, if you don't buy organic, you are surely eating GMOs. And the prices of organic are actually not that much higher if you buy the private label brands.

When you buy organic you are more assured of what is in your food (or rather, what is not) and where it is coming from.  You are paying for transparency and security, which makes up for the elevated cost.  This reminds me of the quote, from Food Inc I believe, "You can pay a little extra for your food now, or pay the doctor later."

image from http://www.saywhatyouneedtosayblog.com/2012/09/24/local-vs-organic-what-to-buy/

In terms of sustainability and curbing global warming, organic farming is crucial.  With organic farming the amount of GHG would decrease since the biggest part of fossil fuel usage is associated with chemicals (Sustainable Table).  Converting conventional farms to organic farms will not only decrease GHG in the atmosphere but will also rejuvenate the earth and soil to its natural state, helping all cycles of the ecosystem.  Organic farming aids carbon sequestration making them a carbon "sink", prevents dangerous run-off, etc. (Rodale Institute).

I still feel that buying produce from farmers market is the way to go, as the majority of these farmers are producing their food organically yet simply cannot afford the cost of certification.  I will continue to be more vigilant as I walk the isles of my supermarket.

Food Matters Documentary: Trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4DOQ6Xhqss

Sustainable Table. (2009, January) What is local? Retrieved from: http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/eatlocal/



Thursday, January 13, 2011

Portland Roasting Company & Farm Friendly Direct

There is growing concern of the affects of industrialized nations on developing countries and their communities in terms of trade: low wages, poor working conditions, subsidies on agriculture, and the growing inequality gap between the rich and poor (Hunger Notes, n.d.).  With coffee being the world’s most important traded commodity, after petroleum, one should stop and wonder what affect we are having on the coffee farming communities (Holland, 2003). 

The article by Wallengren gives an example:
Serving as grim proof of the severity of the social crisis in Mexico caused by low international coffee prices, most of the immigrants found dead in the Arizona desert last week came from coffee-producing areas. Fleeing the crisis in Mexico's second largest producing state of Veracruz, six of the 14 dead were identified as small coffee farmers, some of the thousands who have been heading to the U.S. to try their luck as illegal immigrants. 

Many Mexican coffee farmers were forced to leave their farms as they were only receiving 60 cents per pound for the coffee they produced, which was not even enough to cover the cost of production, let alone provide them wages to buy food and support their families.

Fair Trade and the Rainforest Alliance were the first to establish goals at supporting the farmers around the globe.  According to the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), “Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers, especially in the South (Tribes, 2009).  

Although it is not as well known as the conventional third-party certification organizations such as Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance, Farm Friendly Direct (FFD) is a solid certification system for coffee that is gaining exposure in the marketplace.  Portland Roasting Company (PRC) was faced with the challenge of whether to continue with FFD, as it may have hinder the company’s’ competitive edge to grow regionally and be ranked with other leading coffee companies, such as Starbucks or Caribou Coffee. 

FFD works a bit differently than third-party coffee certifiers, such as Fair Trade, since FFD works direct with companies, linking the grower and the retailer directly.  Although companies pay more for the coffee beans through FFD, the “cooperative relationship yields high-quality coffee” and gives back to the growing community (Portland Roasting Company, n.d., para. 2).  With the middleman removed, overhead is significantly less, for both the grower and the retailer, and the difference in money is used for local community improvement projects where the coffee is grown (The Human Bean, n.d.).  Fair Trade certification, on the other hand, uses FLO-CERT to certify the farms and then FLO International, a separate division, to provide rights to use the Fair Trade label (FLO-CERT, n.d.).  PRC explains the goals of FFD as two fold, “acquiring quality coffee while adding to the lives of farmers and their communities” (Portland Roasting Company, n.d., para. 3).  With a vested interest in the community where raw goods are produced, PRC is securing their investment in the coffee and allowing the community to provide a continuously safe and quality product.  

As the global economy continues to grow and the demand for trade increases, as pioneers of sustainability we must continue to look at how we are affecting the communities of developing countries; buying local and organic products is simply not enough.  PRC is leading the way with their sustainable practice of using FFD coffee certification.  Since coffee is a good that must be traded with other countries, it is extremely noble of PRC and others using FFD that they are supporting coffee growing communities to the degree that they are helping them to become self-sufficient.  By providing fair wages and allowing extra funds to plant trees, build water pumps and treatment facilities, and to build and fund schools, PRC is helping to bridge the destructive gap between the rich and the poor, allowing these communities to strive and grow.

FLO-CERT. (n.d.) Scope of certification. Retrieved from http://www.flo-cert.net/flo-cert/main.php?id=14

HollandbyMail. (2003). World coffee trade. Retrieved from http://www.hollandbymail.com/coffee/coffee_trade.html

Hunger Notes. (n.d.). Special report: trade between developed and developing countries,  Retrieved from http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/global/Trade/trade.htm

Portland Roasting Company. (n.d.) Linking coffee and community. Retrieved from http://www.portlandroasting.com/ffd/

Pullman, M., Arends, B., Langston, M., Price, G. & Stokes, G. (2001). Portland Roasting Company: farm friendly direct. Retrieved from http://marylhurst.courseobjects.net/items/4ece2fa8-0d17-7fa2-bfae-cdb0d5ca97e0/1/Portland%20Roasting%20Company%20Case.pdf

The Human Bean. (n.d.). Farm Friendly Direct. Retrieved from http://www.thehumanbean.com/SectionIndex.asp?SectionID=9

Tribes Travel. (2009). What is fair trade? Retrieved from http://www.tribes.co.uk/responsible_travel/what_is_fair_trade

Wallengren, M. (2001, May 29). Coffee crisis sends Mexico producers to death in Arizona. Retrieved from http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/coffee/dowjones052901.html

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Was the "Green Revolution" the antithesis of GREEN?

The “Green Revolution” refers to the dramatic increases in cereal grains in many developing countries in the 1960s, as an effort to curb hunger around the world.  Mexico, India, Pakistan, and the Philippines were the main countries to implement new agricultural techniques, including irrigation and chemical fertilizers.  With these new agricultural technologies, Mexico was able to become self-sufficient in producing wheat and India and Pakistan averted famine (Lobb, 2003).
The Rockefeller Foundation and the government of Mexico hired Norman Borlaug, agronomist from the U.S., to aid the country in becoming independent producers of cereal grains.  Bourlaug succeeded in Mexico and went on to assist India and Pakistan with their wheat production.  There he introduced Mexican dwarf wheat varieties, which thrived.  Bourlaug also introduced irrigation technologies and the use of chemical fertilizers to each of these developing countries.  “Wheat production in Pakistan nearly doubled in five years, going from 4.6 million tons in 1965 (a record at the time) to 8.4 million tons in 1970,” according to Lobb (para 6).  India also increased their yields from 12.3 million tons of wheat in 1965 to 20 million tons in 1970.  Bourlaug helped both countries to be self-sufficient in cereal production by 1974.  Bourlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970.
The work of Bourlaug was monumental in supporting developing countries to become self-sufficient in crop production, saving many lives from famine.  The majority of the world adopted Bourlaug’s agricultural technologies and this led the world of food production into a new era.  Other positive aspects of the Green Revolution included: the automation of the farming process, crops resistance to pests, many crops could be replanted without having to wait for land to fallow, and the advantage of being able to grow wide array of crops virtually anywhere (Bradley, 2010).
As with any type of revolution, many achievements are made, however with such dramatic changes not all of them were positive.  The Green Revolution was the antithesis of sustainability, making countries dependent on chemical fertilizers to grow their crops, replacing the use of natural manure or mineral fertilizers.  Furthermore, the revolution, which was aimed at curbing world hunger, did not succeed, rather further intensifying the root cause: the distribution of economic power.  The Green Revolution is also highly criticized by many for fueling chemical companies into more dominating and dangerous ground, such as the creation of hazardous chemicals such as “Roundup” and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) seeds.
The issues surrounding chemical fertilizers have been a hot topic of controversy in recent years.  Fertilizers seep into our water from run-off, creating “dead zones” where life cannot be sustained, as the algae blooms have depleted all oxygen from the water (Biello, 2008).  Fertilizers are also known to cause many health issues, as the amount of nutrients and minerals in food treated with these chemicals are diminishing.  For example, one of these depleted nutrients in fertilizer treated crops is Omega-3 oils, which a deficiency of in the body can lead to “heart disease, some cancers, mental disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder, and Alzheimer's Disease”, explains Corriher (2008).  Along with depleting nutrients from the crops themselves, nutrients and minerals in the soil are lost as well when fertilizers are used.  Not only does the soil have a more difficult time absorbing water, but the lack of nutrients and minerals in the soil also cause lack of nutrients and minerals in the crop being produced.  Senate document No, 64 paraphrased in the article by Corriher, explains the importance of nutrients and minerals in our food:
Our physical well-being is more directly dependent upon minerals we take into our systems than upon calories or vitamins, or upon precise proportions of starch, protein or carbohydrates we consume. Do you know that most of us today are suffering from certain dangerous diet deficiencies that cannot be remedied until depleted soils from which our food comes are brought into proper mineral balance? The alarming fact is that foods (fruits, vegetables and grains), now being raised on millions of acres of land that no longer contain enough of certain minerals, are starving us - no matter how much of them we eat.
So where do we draw the line and what is the trade off?  Although chemical fertilizers have aided communities in becoming self-sustaining, being able to grow crops virtually anywhere with less risk of loss from pests or draught, however it has produced inferior crops that lack nutrition and lead to increases in disease. 
            Chemical fertilizers are one example of how the Green Revolution has set us back; another example is the distribution of economic power that the revolution intensified.  The Green Revolution was fueled by the thought that if food production could be increased that world hunger would decrease, unfortunately it is not that simple.  The rules of economics were forgotten in this equation.  In a study conducted by the World Bank in 1986 study, it was concluded that increasing food production does not result in food security.  “Far too many people do not have access to the food that is already available because of deep and growing inequality,” Rosset explains, “If agriculture can play any role in alleviating hunger, it will only be to the extent that the
bias toward wealthier and larger farmers is reversed through pro-poor alternatives like land reform and sustainable agriculture, which reduce inequality and make small farmers the center of an economically vibrant rural economy.”
            Lastly, the Green Revolution has brought power to chemical companies such as Monsanto and DuPont.  Issues surrounding their practices are perhaps the most controversial of all.  Many of their practice surround biotechnology and the altering of seeds in order to yield desirable characteristics.  For example, “Scientists are…developing a genetically modified strain of rice fortified with vitamin A that is intended to help ward off blindness in children” (Rosset). While some biotechnology might sound like a miracle, concerns for GMO’s are increasing.  These concerns include: unknown risks of GMO’s, heath concerns, insufficient or inaccurate research, emergence of resistant weeds, increasing insect resistance, increasing levels of plant estrogens, and that GMO’s are not required to be labeled as such (Smith, 2009).
            As I have gone over, the Green Revolution has many pros and cons.  The Green Revolution fueled technologies that the world very much needed, but at the cost of declining human health and the escalating degradation of our environment.  We must learn from both the positive and negative aspects of the Green Revolution and use them to lead us in the path of increased technology, yet sustainable and healthy technology.

Biello, D. (2008, March 14). Fertilizer runoff overwhelms streams and rivers--creating vast "dead zones". Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fertilizer-runoff-overwhelms-streams

Bradley, J. (2010). The green revolution: facts and fallacies. Retrieved from http://www.joshuabradley.org/green_revolution/pros_and_cons.html

Corriher, T. (2008, April 5). How chemical fertilizers are destroying your body, the soil, and your food. Retrieved from http://healthwyze.org/index.php/fertilizer-dangers.html

Lobb, Richard L.. "Green Revolution." Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. 2003. Retrieved from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403400302.html

Rossett, P. (2011).  Lessons from the Green Revolution. Retrieved from http://www.foodfirst.org/media/opeds/2000/4- greenrev.html

Smith, J.M. (2009, May 20). Genetically modified GM food dangers.  Retrieved from Alternative Medicine Truth: http://alternativemedicinetruth.blogspot.com/2009/05/genetically-modified-gm-food-dangers.html