Tag Archives: Hunger

As climate heat worsens, a hungrier world is likely

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

A hotter world will mean a hungrier world. On the evidence so far, the world’s farmers cannot adapt fast enough.

LONDON, 18 June, 2021 − Researchers have once again warned that climate change is likely to mean a hungrier world with less food on the table: by 2050, global crop yield could have fallen by 10%. And by the century’s end − and with a much larger burden of human population − farmers might be producing 25% less than they do now.

The calculations come just a few weeks after a separate team of scientists predicted that uncontrolled global heating driven by continued profligate use of fossil fuels might change the global climate in ways that could cut harvests by as much as a third.

Food is not separable from climate change: modern agriculture and the global appetite for animal products is both a major contributor to ever-greater greenhouse gas emissions and, in very different ways, a potential answer to some of those challenges.

Demand for food for ever-greater numbers of increasingly wealthier people has driven the destruction of forests, savannahs and wetlands that nurse life’s variety, underwrite the planet’s economy, and buffer nations against climate change.

“If difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics?”

But researchers have also found, again and again, that with a different mindset and a shift of global appetite, it might be possible to feed 10 billion people and preserve the planet’s biodiversity.

That is based on an assumption that climate change fuelled by greenhouse gas emissions doesn’t change the nature of farming. And, increasingly, researchers believe that it will.

There has been repeated evidence that higher temperatures and rainfall shifts can reduce not just total yields, but also nutritional value. And the pattern of heatwave and drought promised by ever-rising temperatures suggests the possibility not just of local but of global famine.

Scientists from the US and from Italy report in the journal Environmental Economics and Management that they matched their climate simulations with weather records from the past and applied them to 21 different forecasts of changes in temperature and rainfall, and the potential impact of these changes on just four staples: maize, rice, soybean and wheat. These four crops account for three-fourths of the world’s calorie supply.

Hesitant adapters

Farmers expect to be confronted by unwelcome weather, not least in an ever hotter and hungrier world. All the evidence is that heat waves, drought, windstorm and flooding are likely with time to become more extreme and more frequent. So how farmers have adapted in the recent past to shifts in the climate in the last few decades might provide an answer as to their preparedness to adapt to the new world.

The new study suggests they may not adapt fast enough or surely enough. The researchers find that three decades from now, the global harvest could be 3% less than it is now, or as much as 11%. By 2100, yields may have fallen by 11%, or as much as 25%.

“Globally, farmers’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, even over longer periods, might be limited,” said Ian Sue Wing of Boston University in the US. “Even in the United States, the world’s agricultural technology frontier, farmers have been able only slightly to compensate for the adverse impacts of extreme heat on yields of maize and soybeans over time-frames of decades.”

And his co-author Enrica de Cian of Ca’Foscari University in Venice, Italy said: “We asked ourselves: if difficulties to adapt are observed in the US, what can we then expect of food producers in the tropics, where 40% of the world’s population live and high temperature extremes are projected to rise more than in the major calorie crop-growing regions of the US?” − Climate News Network

Maggot burgers can help to solve world hunger

Fancy maggot burgers for dinner? Eating animals and plants which revolt many of us could cut hunger caused by climate change.

LONDON, 14 June, 2021 − A diet of maggot burgers, green slime and seaweed may not appeal to most people, but scientists say it will be essential if the world is to avoid widespread malnutrition.

These “novel foods”, as the researchers beguilingly call them, may sound disgusting to some cultures, but the idea behind them is strictly serious. It does not recommend eating the ingredients raw, or even cooked, but processed into more familiar foods.

It has been developed by a team at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge, UK, who accept that knowing what a recipe contains is a potential barrier to novel foods, so “consideration must be given to (people’s) gastronomic preferences.” Their research is published in the journal Nature Food.

One way to sidestep the problem of repugnance could be to make pasta, burgers, energy bars and similar foods to look and taste just as they always do, while containing insect larvae or micro- and macro-algae.

“Foods like sugar kelp, flies, mealworms and single-celled algae such as chlorella, have the potential to provide healthy, risk-resilient diets that can address malnutrition around the world,” said Dr Asaf Tzachor, first author of the report.

Millions at risk

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks − floods and frosts, droughts and dry spells, pathogens and parasites − which marginal improvements in productivity won’t change. To future-proof our food supply we need to integrate completely new ways of farming into the current system.”

The team says the recent shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with wildfires and droughts in North America, outbreaks of African swine fever affecting pigs in Asia and Europe, and swarms of desert locusts in East Africa, has shown how vulnerable the world’s harvests and distribution networks are to events beyond human control – and how increasing millions of people will suffer unless we adopt novel foods. The problem will only grow as climate heating intensifies.

These new foods can be grown in controlled environments in huge quantities almost anywhere, because they are not weather-dependent. This means they could be produced where malnutrition is already prevalent, improving the diet of children who suffer stunted growth.

Currently two billion people endure food insecurity, with 690 million more undernourished, among them 340 million children fed a poor diet.

Algae, seaweed and the larvae of soldier flies, mealworms and houseflies can be grown in closed environments in containers stacked one on another. Although each species has slightly different needs insect and algae farms, once established, could use multiple containers and automatic systems. They would also offer the added benefit of using organic waste as a food stock for both flies and algae.

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks”

They would avoid the problems of adverse weather suffered by other farming systems, and would eliminate food poisoning like salmonella. Proper management would let growers adjust production to meet changing demand.

One other advantage is that these systems could operate in any climate, so could be used in parts of the world where the food was to be consumed, cutting down the need for long supply chains. This would be particularly important in places like the Pacific islands where, the researchers say, “feeble agriculture and consumption of nutrient-poor foods contribute to stunting in children, and iron-deficiency anaemia in women of reproductive age.”

However, even though these new systems do not depend on weather or even light, they do need other stable conditions, particularly good electricity supplies. So it would be important to make sure that the novel food factories were set up in places where management was protected from sudden outside shocks and interruptions of supply. They would also have to be shielded from potential contamination.

The researchers urge “scientists, engineers, investors and policymakers to consider future foods as a malnutrition mitigation pathway.” Catherine Richards, a doctoral researcher at CSER, said: “Advances in technology open up many possibilities for alternative food supply systems that are more risk-resilient, and can efficiently supply sustainable nutrition to billions of people.

“The coronavirus pandemic is just one example of increasing threats to our globalised food system. Diversifying our diet with these future foods will be important in achieving food security for all.” − Climate News Network

Fancy maggot burgers for dinner? Eating animals and plants which revolt many of us could cut hunger caused by climate change.

LONDON, 14 June, 2021 − A diet of maggot burgers, green slime and seaweed may not appeal to most people, but scientists say it will be essential if the world is to avoid widespread malnutrition.

These “novel foods”, as the researchers beguilingly call them, may sound disgusting to some cultures, but the idea behind them is strictly serious. It does not recommend eating the ingredients raw, or even cooked, but processed into more familiar foods.

It has been developed by a team at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge, UK, who accept that knowing what a recipe contains is a potential barrier to novel foods, so “consideration must be given to (people’s) gastronomic preferences.” Their research is published in the journal Nature Food.

One way to sidestep the problem of repugnance could be to make pasta, burgers, energy bars and similar foods to look and taste just as they always do, while containing insect larvae or micro- and macro-algae.

“Foods like sugar kelp, flies, mealworms and single-celled algae such as chlorella, have the potential to provide healthy, risk-resilient diets that can address malnutrition around the world,” said Dr Asaf Tzachor, first author of the report.

Millions at risk

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks − floods and frosts, droughts and dry spells, pathogens and parasites − which marginal improvements in productivity won’t change. To future-proof our food supply we need to integrate completely new ways of farming into the current system.”

The team says the recent shock of the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with wildfires and droughts in North America, outbreaks of African swine fever affecting pigs in Asia and Europe, and swarms of desert locusts in East Africa, has shown how vulnerable the world’s harvests and distribution networks are to events beyond human control – and how increasing millions of people will suffer unless we adopt novel foods. The problem will only grow as climate heating intensifies.

These new foods can be grown in controlled environments in huge quantities almost anywhere, because they are not weather-dependent. This means they could be produced where malnutrition is already prevalent, improving the diet of children who suffer stunted growth.

Currently two billion people endure food insecurity, with 690 million more undernourished, among them 340 million children fed a poor diet.

Algae, seaweed and the larvae of soldier flies, mealworms and houseflies can be grown in closed environments in containers stacked one on another. Although each species has slightly different needs insect and algae farms, once established, could use multiple containers and automatic systems. They would also offer the added benefit of using organic waste as a food stock for both flies and algae.

“Our current food system is vulnerable. It’s exposed to a litany of risks”

They would avoid the problems of adverse weather suffered by other farming systems, and would eliminate food poisoning like salmonella. Proper management would let growers adjust production to meet changing demand.

One other advantage is that these systems could operate in any climate, so could be used in parts of the world where the food was to be consumed, cutting down the need for long supply chains. This would be particularly important in places like the Pacific islands where, the researchers say, “feeble agriculture and consumption of nutrient-poor foods contribute to stunting in children, and iron-deficiency anaemia in women of reproductive age.”

However, even though these new systems do not depend on weather or even light, they do need other stable conditions, particularly good electricity supplies. So it would be important to make sure that the novel food factories were set up in places where management was protected from sudden outside shocks and interruptions of supply. They would also have to be shielded from potential contamination.

The researchers urge “scientists, engineers, investors and policymakers to consider future foods as a malnutrition mitigation pathway.” Catherine Richards, a doctoral researcher at CSER, said: “Advances in technology open up many possibilities for alternative food supply systems that are more risk-resilient, and can efficiently supply sustainable nutrition to billions of people.

“The coronavirus pandemic is just one example of increasing threats to our globalised food system. Diversifying our diet with these future foods will be important in achieving food security for all.” − Climate News Network

Plants will be hit as a warming world turns drier

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

If a warming world becomes a drier one, how will the green things respond? Not well, according to a new prediction.

LONDON, 26 March, 2021 − The air of planet Earth has been gradually drying this century. If this goes on, that could be bad news for humankind. In a warming world crop harvests will dwindle, even in well-watered farmlands, and trees could shrink in height.

The prospect of stunted forests and shortages of food in a world hit by global heating, climate change and rapid population growth is ominous. But if US and Canadian scientists are right, it may be a simple consequence of plant response to a rarely-discussed worldwide phenomenon known as vapour pressure deficit, which has been rising for the past 20 years as the world has warmed.

The argument isn’t a simple one. Higher global temperatures mean more evaporation. Higher atmospheric temperatures also mean that the capacity of the atmosphere to hold moisture also rises − the rule of thumb is 7% more vapour per degree Celsius rise. So a warmer world should be a wetter world.

But climate science also predicts that although those regions already rainy will get rainier, the drylands and arid zones will get even dryer as the thermometer soars.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle. Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting”

Now there is another factor in the calculations: vapour pressure deficit, or the overall drying of the atmosphere, and how plants react to the problem of dwindling atmospheric moisture.

New research in the journal Global Change Biology analyses 50 years of research and 112 plant species, and 59 physiological traits in those plants. The evidence suggests that atmospheric drying reduces plant yield, as the plants adjust to new conditions.

“When there is a high vapour pressure deficit, our atmosphere pulls water from other sources: animals, plants, etc. An increase in vapour pressure deficit places greater demand on the crop to use more water. In turn, this puts more pressure on farmers to ensure this demand for water is met − either via precipitation or irrigation − so that yields do not decrease,” said Walid Sadok, of the University of Minnesota.

“We believe a climate change-driven increase in atmospheric drying will reduce plant productivity and crop yields both in Minnesota and globally.”

The paradox is that plants can adjust to a changing world but in this case by becoming more drought-resistant. Which, in the case of wheat, maize and even birch trees, means growing less.

Less productive plants

Findings such as this are tentative, and will in any case be tested by time. But they also illustrate just how much there is yet to learn about the consequence of climate change in a complex, responsive world.

Other research teams have repeatedly observed that even in the drier regions, plants have so far responded to rising greenhouse gas emissions by an increase in global greenness. But there is nothing simple about the greenhouse effect. And there has been repeated evidence too that forest conservation and more tree plantations may not provide all the answers to the challenge of growth in an ever-warmer world.

The reasoning within the new study is that plant stomata, those tiny holes in foliage through which plants breathe and release water, adjust according to new conditions. The plants become more conservative. They grow shorter, smaller and more resistant to drought, even if there is no drought. And in parallel, they become less able to fix atmospheric carbon dioxide to provide new tissue. So, overall, plant productivity is reduced.

“As we race to increase production to feed a bigger population, this is a new hurdle that will need to be cleared,” said Dr Sadok. “Atmospheric drying could limit yields, even in regions where irrigation or soil moisture is not limiting, such as Minnesota.” − Climate News Network

Rising urban space demands squeeze out farmers

More people than ever now live in cities. Their growing urban space demands devour farmland, bad news for tomorrow’s hungry world.

LONDON, 9 April, 2020 – Even as people crowd into the cities, they don’t crowd the way they used to, and urban space demands are increasing. Even in some of the developing nations, townspeople are demanding more elbow-room.

And in the last four decades, worldwide, humans have claimed around 125,000 square kilometres of farmland or wilderness more than would have been necessary if urban densities had stayed at the 1970 level.

That is: to accommodate today’s city-dwellers with more space than their parents and grandparents ever expected to enjoy, an additional area almost the size of Greece has been covered by asphalt, brick, concrete, tile and glass.

In the US, urban settlements have always been fringed by more roomy suburban developments. Now in China, India and Nigeria, the cities are expanding and the population densities are decreasing.

Risk to farmers

“These three countries are expected to account for more than a third of the projected increase in the world’s urban population by 2050,” said Burak Güneralp, a geographer at Texas A&M University in the US.

“They also still have many millions of small farmers earning their livelihoods working fertile lands on the outskirts of cities. Thus any loss of these high-quality lands to urban expansion has huge implications for the livelihoods of these farmers.”

Dr Güneralp and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they looked at 611 case studies of 330 urban centres to calculate population growth, urban expansion and urban population densities between 1970 – the earliest moment for reliable statistics – and 2010.

They also factored in the size of cities, to distinguish different rates of change in centres with more and with fewer than two million citizens.

“Decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban”

Once most of humanity lived in rural areas. Now more than half the planet is crowded into cities and townships, and in a few decades the proportion could reach two-thirds.

But this crowding creates new problems. Cities are always significantly hotter than the surrounding landscape, and as global average temperatures rise, this in turn is likely to accelerate energy demand and global heating as people are forced to install air-conditioning.

The concentration of people in cities is likely to create new demands on sometimes precarious water supplies, and in any case the combination of climate change and population growth means ever greater numbers are at hazard from drought or flood.

All of this in turn increases the pressure for green spaces within the new cities and a more spacious lifestyle.

Cheek by jowl

But civilised city life comes at an environmental price. About half of India’s land is already classified as “degraded”, while India has the largest rural population but also the steepest fall in what geographers call urban land use efficiency, and the rest of the world calls living on top of your neighbours.

“Our findings suggest that decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban,” Dr Güneralp said.

“Furthermore, small-medium cities in India, China, South-east Asia, Africa and Europe are following in the footsteps of the United States in declines in urban densities.

“These findings are important, because globally, it is these small-medium-sized cities with limited institutional and financial capacity that are growing the fastest.” – Climate News Network

More people than ever now live in cities. Their growing urban space demands devour farmland, bad news for tomorrow’s hungry world.

LONDON, 9 April, 2020 – Even as people crowd into the cities, they don’t crowd the way they used to, and urban space demands are increasing. Even in some of the developing nations, townspeople are demanding more elbow-room.

And in the last four decades, worldwide, humans have claimed around 125,000 square kilometres of farmland or wilderness more than would have been necessary if urban densities had stayed at the 1970 level.

That is: to accommodate today’s city-dwellers with more space than their parents and grandparents ever expected to enjoy, an additional area almost the size of Greece has been covered by asphalt, brick, concrete, tile and glass.

In the US, urban settlements have always been fringed by more roomy suburban developments. Now in China, India and Nigeria, the cities are expanding and the population densities are decreasing.

Risk to farmers

“These three countries are expected to account for more than a third of the projected increase in the world’s urban population by 2050,” said Burak Güneralp, a geographer at Texas A&M University in the US.

“They also still have many millions of small farmers earning their livelihoods working fertile lands on the outskirts of cities. Thus any loss of these high-quality lands to urban expansion has huge implications for the livelihoods of these farmers.”

Dr Güneralp and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they looked at 611 case studies of 330 urban centres to calculate population growth, urban expansion and urban population densities between 1970 – the earliest moment for reliable statistics – and 2010.

They also factored in the size of cities, to distinguish different rates of change in centres with more and with fewer than two million citizens.

“Decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban”

Once most of humanity lived in rural areas. Now more than half the planet is crowded into cities and townships, and in a few decades the proportion could reach two-thirds.

But this crowding creates new problems. Cities are always significantly hotter than the surrounding landscape, and as global average temperatures rise, this in turn is likely to accelerate energy demand and global heating as people are forced to install air-conditioning.

The concentration of people in cities is likely to create new demands on sometimes precarious water supplies, and in any case the combination of climate change and population growth means ever greater numbers are at hazard from drought or flood.

All of this in turn increases the pressure for green spaces within the new cities and a more spacious lifestyle.

Cheek by jowl

But civilised city life comes at an environmental price. About half of India’s land is already classified as “degraded”, while India has the largest rural population but also the steepest fall in what geographers call urban land use efficiency, and the rest of the world calls living on top of your neighbours.

“Our findings suggest that decreasing urban population densities in India and Nigeria since 1970 caused 85% and 30% more land, respectively, to be converted to urban,” Dr Güneralp said.

“Furthermore, small-medium cities in India, China, South-east Asia, Africa and Europe are following in the footsteps of the United States in declines in urban densities.

“These findings are important, because globally, it is these small-medium-sized cities with limited institutional and financial capacity that are growing the fastest.” – Climate News Network

Cuba’s urban farming shows way to avoid hunger

Urban farming, Cuban-style, is being hailed as an example of how to feed ourselves when climate change threatens serious food shortages.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 − When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba’s food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That’s now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.

The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba’s very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.

The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilisers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.

US sanctions

The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict US sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilisers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.

So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organised themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.

At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilisers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.

Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed)  to deter harmful insects.

By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realising the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.

“Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine”

Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers’ calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.

In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.

There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.

Eventually, realising that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertiliser, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.

Partial solution

Cuba’s experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8% of the land in Havana, and 3.4% of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.

As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables – a low-fat diet making obesity rare.

Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.

Despite this, Cuba’s experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.

For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable. − Climate News Network

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The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Urban farming, Cuban-style, is being hailed as an example of how to feed ourselves when climate change threatens serious food shortages.

LONDON, 11 November, 2019 − When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba’s food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That’s now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.

The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba’s very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.

The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilisers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.

US sanctions

The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict US sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilisers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.

So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organised themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.

At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilisers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.

Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed)  to deter harmful insects.

By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realising the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.

“Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine”

Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers’ calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.

In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.

There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.

Eventually, realising that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertiliser, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.

Partial solution

Cuba’s experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8% of the land in Havana, and 3.4% of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.

As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables – a low-fat diet making obesity rare.

Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.

Despite this, Cuba’s experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.

For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable. − Climate News Network

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The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

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