Since the yearlong public media project Food for 9 Billion (which I’ve posted about regularly) appears to have concluded, I thought I’d share a piece in a similar vein from Robert Dreyfuss, writing for The Nation. It’s one of a series of four posts from his visit to Tanzania. (Here are links to the first, second, and third entries.) As part of a CARE USA delegation, in this post he visits Morogoro, “a bustling town with a busy marketplace and a network of paved thoroughfares that lead to dirt roads leading in every direction.” As he writes,
As in most of Tanzania, the majority [in Morogoro] are desperately poor, subsistence farmers. Nearly all of them farm tiny plots, growing barely enough to feed their families, if that, and few have any substantial surplus to bring to market.
One exception is the Uwawakuda irrigation cooperative farm. More than 900 Tanzanian farmers, including 414 women, have banded together to farm a 5,000-acre spread whose productivity is fed by a pumping station and irrigation system that provides underground water to the farm. Originally installed three decades ago during the era of Tanzania’s president and founder, Julius Nyerere, the pumps are creaky now, and thanks to a grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) new ones are being installed. It’s a star attraction for USAID’s Feed the Future program….
Problem is, for the rest of the 2 million people in and around the area, things are bleak.
A drought, worsened by climate change and rising temperatures, has wracked the region. When I asked George Iranga, who manages the project, what happens to the farmers outside the coop, who don’t have access to irrigation, he says that they are struggling. That’s an understatement.
For the full story, which is thoughtful and eye-opening, head here.
This recent piece from Beth Hoffman at Forbes highlights ways that surplus fruits and veggies can make it to those most in need.
… how can leftover locally grown produce get into the hands of those who can use it quickly, without expensive refrigeration, storage and staffing? The answer: via the web. Three year old AmpleHarvest.org is an online forum created to connect the dots between fresh local produce and those in the community who need it most.
At the AmpleHarvest website, gardeners can enter their zip code, find nearby food pantries, and get links to more information such as donation times and contact info. With summer just around the corner, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to can, freeze, or force onto your friends those sometimes-overwhelming amounts of extra produce that come in at harvest time; consider sharing some of your bounty with folks near you who could use a helping hand.
I just learned about the Field to Foodbank program of UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS), which has been working with folks involved in all aspects of Wisconsin agribusiness and food processing to turn excess produce into supplies for area food banks.
I was a little surprised that no fresh vegetables are delivered to food banks—perishables get canned to avoid the need for refrigeration—but I guess this makes sense given the huge amounts of produce involved. As explained in this interview by Jed Colquhoun (professor of horticulture and director of the Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture), delivering a fresh crop to a food bank “isn’t terribly realistic when you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of pounds of carrots,” for example.
He continues, describing the involvement of a variety of Wisconsin businesses: “I remember sitting in a coffee shop in central Wisconsin, watching the logistic chain develop to get snap beans and sweet corn to Second Harvest without my involvement at all. Somebody in the room lined up trucking and asked when they could get somebody else’s harvester over there. The processor asked when they could can that produce and how they could get it down to Second Harvest. So are they generous? Are they engaged? Very much so. And they’re asking how they can do more. They’re in business, yes. But they’re in the business of providing food.”
This week there were two installments in the ongoing series entitled “Food for 9 Billion,” a yearlong collaborative project by the Center for Investigative Reporting, Homelands Productions, PBS Newshour and American Public Media’s Marketplace.
On Tuesday this week, Marketplace aired this piece focused on Bangladesh and the problems its people face due to climate change. As John Miller reports, “Bangladesh is one of the world’s great food success stories. In the 1970s, famine killed more than a million people. But since then the country has made huge strides. It’s still extremely poor. But incomes are up, malnutrition is down, and the population growth rate is about half what it was a generation ago. And it produces enough rice — the staple food — to feed just about everybody. Which is no small feat, since it’s got half the population of the United States crammed into a space the size of Iowa. The question now is whether climate change will sweep those gains away.”
Yesterday, PBS Newshour ran this segment focused on a struggle over land and water rights in Ethiopia, where the interests of multinational investors seem to be trampling the rights of rural people. As Cassandra Herrman describes, “The Anuak people of the Gambella region have lived in scattered settlements like this for centuries, growing maize in wetter months farming closer to the river in the dry season. But last year, the Ethiopian government launched a program called villagization. Officials told the people here they would be relocated to areas with better access to clean water, health, and education. But this woman says they were forced to move under false pretenses…. The plight of the Anuak people is at the heart of a complex battle over landownership and water rights between farmers, the government, and foreign investors…. According to the company Saudi Star, when completed, this rice farm [being developed on land that Anuak consider theirs] will be the largest in Africa.To attract investors to this area of the Nile River Basin, the Ethiopian government puts few, if any restrictions on water usage in its contracts with foreign companies. Saudi Star will spend $2.5 billion on the rice farm, on clearing forests, on their fleet of new tractors and combines, and on extra experts…. But, in Gambella, Anuaks say they are not seeing the benefits of the country’s investment strategy. While companies like Saudi Star now have access to much of the region’s best land and water, the leader of this village says they’ve been moved to drier areas where farming is more difficult.”
Both stories are well-reported slices of life in the 21st century that, while distant from the US, are nonetheless very much linked to our modern way of life. Check them out.
As I mentioned a couple months ago, PBS NewsHour, American Public Media’s Marketplace, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Homelands Productions are collaborating on a yearlong project examining how the world is feeding the growing population of 7 billion, which is expected to reach 9 billion by the middle of the century.
Yesterday the food struggles and explosive population growth of the Phillipines were considered by Sam Eaton in reports that aired on Marketplace and, as featured below, PBS NewsHour. Very interesting, and very worth checking out.
Ever wonder what happens to grocery store items that don’t get sold before their expiration dates? Wonder no more, thanks to this report from Nadia Arumugam at The Atlantic. The answers include the dumpster, food pantries, and salvage grocery stores. As Arumugam describes, “outdated, damaged, and out-of-season items from supermarkets, collectively known as ‘unsaleables,’ are sent to large clearing houses known as reclamation centers. These are most often operated by the supermarket chains themselves or wholesale distributors. Here, dangerous items such as broken jars and obviously contaminated or spoiled foods are disposed of. The remainder is sold into the salvage industry or donated to food banks. Every two weeks Patricia Quillen, owner of the Country Discount Grocery [in Wautoma, Wisconsin], re-stocks her store with a 53-foot trailer packed full of goods from the reclamation center. The unsaleables are stuffed into cardboard banana boxes, each one containing a mixture of up to 40 different food and health and beauty items. No one box is identical. So Quillen says she really doesn’t know what’s going to line her shelves until she opens them up. In fact, out of the 1,152 boxes in a single delivery there might be just one jar of much-desired blueberry jam.”
Given all the preservatives in processed, packaged foods, many of these foodstuffs are safe to eat past their expiration dates, though eventually their flavor, texture, and/or appearance will begin to suffer. Also, unless you’re talking about baby formula or some baby foods, the resale of these expired products is legal, since the FDA has “decided that expiration dates are simply an indication of optimum quality as deemed by the manufacturer.” Personally, I always use eggs past their expiration date, along with those infrequently used spices that have been in my cupboard for a while, but I haven’t ever intentionally bought expired items.
As Arumugam details, food that ends up in the dumpster also ends up on some folks’ plates, too. Ever heard the term freegan? Click this link or this one for more info, and then enjoy this loving spoof from Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen of “Portlandia.”
As a followup to my post earlier this week that featured Curt Ellis’s (2009) New Year’s Resolution, I thought I’d share this TedxManhattan Talk from Ellis. In it he describes the vision of FoodCorps. Ellis left the documentary production company and advocacy project that he co-founded to help start and run this new national service program that’s part of AmeriCorps. As described on their website, here’s the FoodCorps mission and vision: “Through the hands and minds of emerging leaders, FoodCorps strives to give all youth an enduring relationship with healthy food. We envision a nation of well-nourished children: children who know what healthy food is, how it grows and where it comes from, and who have access to it every day. These children, having grown up in a healthy food environment, will learn better, live longer, and liberate their generation from diet-related disease. We envision a bright future for our Service Members: emerging leaders who, having invested a year of public service creating healthy food environments for children, will go on to become farmers, chefs, educators and public health leaders. These visionaries, armed with the skills to improve school food, will improve all food.”
As reported in this story from Time, the first 50 FoodCorps Service Members (selected from a pool of 1,229 applicants) are busy in their across the country now, “working at sites like the Michigan Land Use Institute, the Rippling Waters Organic Farm in Maine and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health in Arizona.” Ellis’s Tedx Talk is PowerPoint-free, but he’s a pretty compelling speaker so I didn’t miss the slides one bit. Check it out:
Several months ago, The Nation ran this piece by Christian Parenti entitled “Soaring Food Prices, Wild Weather and a Planetful of Trouble.” He examines the confluence of weather and climate challenges to agriculture, corporate control of commodities, rising food prices, and political unrest, focusing in particular on rising wheat prices and the Arab Spring.
In the article, he describes how “in the summer of 2010 … extreme weather triggered fires that burnt down vast swathes of Russian forests, bleached farmlands, and damaged the country’s breadbasket wheat crop so badly that its leaders (urged on by Western grain speculators) imposed a year-long ban on wheat exports. As Russia is among the top four wheat exporters in any year, this caused prices to surge upward. At the same time, massive flooding occurred in Australia, another significant wheat exporter, while excessive rains in the American Midwest and Canada damaged corn production. Freakishly massive flooding in Pakistan, which put some 20 percent of that country under water, also spooked markets and spurred on the speculators. And that’s when those climate-driven prices began to soar in Egypt. The ensuing crisis, triggered in part by that rise in the price of our loaf of bread, led to upheaval and finally the fall of the country’s reigning autocrat Hosni Mubarak.”
Parenti’s article is an extension of his 2011 book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. In it, he considers recent global history to argue that “climate change arrives in a world primed for crisis. The current and impending dislocations of climate change instersect with the already-existing crises of poverty and violence. I call this collision of political, economic, and environmental disasters the catastrophic convergence.” You can hear him discuss the book here in an informative interview on TomDispatch.com.
This week Marketplace, the public radio program from APM, started a series of reports titled “Food for 9 Billion” in collaboration with PBS NewsHour, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and Homelands Productions. According to UN estimates, nine billion is how many human beings there will be in a few decades. What will it take to feed all of us?
The first contribution to the series considers the scientific challenges, with some specialists seeing reason for optimism. But as reporter Jon Miller summarizes, “no matter how generous the funding, no matter how good the science, it won’t make a difference if government policies aren’t right. That means fair prices for farmers and help when crops fail. It means access to land and roads and warehouses and markets. It means education and nutrition programs and family planning. But you can’t just wait for all those things and then call in the scientists. Because if there’s one resource scientists need more than anything, it’s time.”
The second installment looks at the complex factors that lead to famine. One key to avoiding famine, per reporter Scott Tong, is a safety net. Unlike in the 1980s, “Ethiopia [today] — like many African countries — has gradually built a series of shock absorbers for droughts. It stores water and grain around the country for emergencies. It gives farmers better seeds, and insurance for when crops fail. It’s built roads to help people get to market. The point is to weave a safety net, and to lift incomes so enough people won’t ever need the net.”
The series is off to a good start.
I’m visiting family and friends in Ohio, and yesterday I read this story in Cleveland’s daily newspaper, The Plain Dealer. Apparently, due to crop-damaging weather two years in a row, peanut supplies are down and peanut butter prices have risen 30-40% in recent months. As a kid-pleasing, formerly cheap protein source, jarred peanut butter has long been a staple of food pantries. The steep increase in prices, though, means pantry dollars go less far, and peanut butter donations become more expensive for individuals to make. All this as the economy continues to falter and food pantries see ever-growing demand for their services. As the traditional annual holiday food drives get underway, you might consider including peanut butter in your donations. The Cleveland Foodbank recommends donating shelf-stable varieties in larger containers as they last longer.