I first wrote about food security in Haiti nearly eighteen months ago. Then this week there is the indescribable devastation of the eathquake .. The FAO has called for $23 million from international donors for agriculture in Haiti as part of the United Nations $562 million appeal following the earthquake. The FAO Media Centre states that: "The money is needed to support to food production in fields and backyards, not just in and around the area hit but in rural areas."
There has been much debate in the last few days about the quality of UK soils and the long term impact on food production. This is a critical issue - check out our sister blog - Poultry Discussion
The Guardian reports that over two million tonnes of topsoil from farms and forests is being eroded by wind and rain each year in the UK. These needs to be addressed if we want to produce food at our current levels or increase production. We take soil for granted at our peril.
The FAO Newsroom reports that the FAO has started a major operation in support of small scale farmers in Zimbabwe as part of its joint efforts with the European Union (EU) to fight hunger this year. The organization has procured 26 000 tons of seeds and fertilizers for distribution to 17 6000 vulnerable farmers – representing between 10 and 15 percent of communal farmers in the country. Check out the full article
There has been an ongoing discussion in the agricultural sector about whether primary producers (farmers) are price makers or price takers. Due to the dynamics of the food supply chain farmers are very often price takers i.e. they are given a price and they can take it or leave it.
Many economists would suggest that farmers look at becoming price makers i.e. look to, or create, markets where they can demand a premium price or get a higher profit on what they sell. These so-called "niche" markets. The problem is that the premium price is only in place whilst there is a shortfall of supply against demand. The minute that demand equals or exceeds demand the suppliers become price takers again. The brake factor with primary production is that there is often such a huge lag phase between when a farmer decides to change their production methods (e.g. move to organic practices); move to free range from intensive production or vice versa and when they are then physically able to supply the market. This lag phase can vary from months to several years and by this time the market dynamics may have changed completely. There is also the "lemming" phenomenon in a market in that potential suppliers may move to an area where there are deemed to be better financial returns only to see those returns demininished or negated because the market is then oversupplied.
The other brake factor with agriculture is that working capital i.e. the money to buy the inputs such as livestock, feed, seeds, fertilisers, is very often borrowed in the hope that when the final crop is harvested there will be sufficient difference (margin) between the growing costs and the final crop price to pay back the loan and the interest and provide a living for the farmer.
The problems in the UK and indeed Europe with low bulk milk prices (liquid milk direct from the farm) and the viability of farming businesses has been in the news for some time. The EU is actually building up a "butter mountain" by so called intervention. There is currently 83 million kilogrammes of butter that is in storage because it has literally been taken off the market in an effort to maintain current prices. Market intervention is a tool that governments or trading groups can use to influence food prices, but it goes against the principles of "free" global food markets.
There have been many other examples in recent weeks of the weakness at primary production level of the global food supply chain. The US hog (pig) industry has been hit as described by Sox First and the chocolate supply in Ghana. The US government has also being buying pork meat to limit the drop in price to the tune of $151 million and the UK pig industry faced similar problems about eighteen months ago but there was no intervention in the UK market. I wrote quite recently about sugar shortages too. This is a difficult time where the market economics of the food supply chain are really under scruitiny.
BBC News reports on the vegetable gardeners of Havana and how they are supporting food security in the country. This was featured in the George Alagiah series of programmes on food security and the organoponicos are worth investigating. Check it out especially the video.
BBC News reports that a Vietnamese man in Vietnam has died from bird flu on 25th February. It is the second death this year in the country. The report states that "Vietnam has the world's second-highest bird flu death toll after Indonesia".
I wrote back in January about the three people from China who have died from bird flu this year. The man from Vietnam became ill after slaughtering and eating ducks his family raised in Ninh Binh, about 100 km (60 miles) south of Hanoi. BBC News states that "Bird flu outbreaks among poultry have spread to 13 provinces in Vietnam this year, killing or forcing the cull of more than 50,000 birds, the Department of Animal Health has said. Bird flu has killed 54 people in Vietnam, including five last year, since it began sweeping through Asian poultry stocks in late 2003". Click on the links to read more.
The Guardian reports that poultry at two Bernard Matthews farms have tested positive for avian influenza. However the strain is different to the H5N1 strain that led to the cull of 152,000 birds in 2007. According to Defra, the strain on this occasion is believed to be H6N1.
The Guardian states that tests were carried out by government vets and these tests confirmed the virus in birds at farms in Ubbeston, Suffolk, and Yaxham, Norfolk. "Bernard Matthews Farms can confirm that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) have undertaken tests for avian influenza on two of its small breeder farms, following notification from the company of an unusual drop in egg production levels," a company spokesman said. The government has imposed movement restrictions around the farms but has not advised a cull.
The Telegraph reports that last year, there were 25,700 'excess winter fuel deaths' - people who died
from pneumonia or other preventable illnesses caused by the cold. The Commission for Rural Communities argue that many rural communities will not qualify for recent fuel poverty initiatives. Many rural houses do not have cavity walls and can only use oil to heat their homes because mains gas is inaccessible. This reduces their flexibility in terms of improving energy efficiency or switching between heating fuels.
Well it has been one of the wettest harvests in the UK for 40 years. As of the 7th September
only around 15 per cent of the wheat crop has been harvested. This compares with over half of the crop at this time last year (bear in mind that last year was pretty wet too). The Telegraph reports that farmers will technically be breaking the law and facing a fine if they
harvest their fields when it is wet. This is due to the cross-compliance requirements for maintaining soil quality.
The floods then followed many parts of the UK last weekend. The town of Upton was virtually cut off (see photo) and Morpeth in the north of England was seriously flooded. In fact there was 227 serious flood warnings. The Guardian carried a further update today - not good news.
I am at a two day conference in Lower Saxony Germany discussing Integrated Farm Management and the work being undertaken throughout Europe. It has got me thinking: "What is farming?" - so here are two definitions:
Farming : the
tillage or use of the soil to raise food for man or beast, the raising
of tobacco, or the propagation and growing of trees, shrubs, vines and
plants for transporting and sale.
Farming means the cultivation of land for the production of agricultural crops, the raising of poultry, the production of eggs, the production of milk, the production of fruit or other horticultural crops, grazing or the production of livestock. Farming does not include the production of timber, forest products, nursery products or sod, and farming does not include a contract to provide spraying, harvesting or other farm services.
Agriculture: The art and science of crop and livestock production. In its broadest
sense, agriculture comprises the entire range of technologies
associated with the production of useful products from plants and
animals, including soil cultivation, crop and livestock management, and
the activities of processing and marketing.
Farming for tax purposes in the UK means "the occupation of land
in the United Kingdom wholly or mainly for the purposes of
Husbandry implies the growing
of crops and the raising of farm livestock.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been defined as "The set of policy principles, regulations and subsidy mechanisms
adopted by the Member States of the European Community that
consolidates efforts in promoting or ensuring reasonable pricing of
food products, fair standards of living for farmers, stable
agricultural markets, increased farm productivity and methods for
dealing with food supply or surplus".
There is no mention in these definitions of the provision of
implementing environmental practice, environmental services or benefits of being custodians of the country
side on behalf of the general public. So what is agriculture .. I thought I knew but my definition was slightly different. I will muse further.