Food

INESAD News: Guatemalan Food Security and Livelihoods – Is Strengthening Agriculture Enough?

The Spring 2013 issue of the Tropical Agriculture Association‘s (TAA) Agriculture for Development journal featured a report on food security and livelihoods of the rural populations of Guatemala by INESAD’s Ioulia Fenton. The paper summarizes the results of fieldwork research carried out by Ioulia in the province of Solola that focused on rural-urban linkages approach to development. The report makes practical recommendations for projects and policies that could begin to tackle some of Guatemala’s worst poverty and malnutrition problems. These include focusing on more sustainable farming methods, reverting to agricultural production geared for the local (rather than export) markets, and setting up knowledge transfer initiatives to teach people to conserve fresh produce by drying, salting or pickling it.

The article is available for free exclusively to Development Roast readers and can be downloaded from Ioulia’s Academia.edu site:

Fenton, Ioulia (2013) Rural-urban linkages in development – is strengthening agriculture the best way forward- A case study from Guatemala.

To purchase the full issue of Agriculture for Development, please visit the TAA site here. Read More »

INESAD News: Shopping for the human connection?

Today, the popular anthropology site PopAnth published an article by INESAD’s Ioulia Fenton in which she reflects on her time living and researching in Guatemala and the shopping experience that helped her feel more connected with food and the local people who produced and sold it.

Shopping for the human connection?

By Ioulia Fenton

In Guatemala I was addicted, truly addicted, to my morning regimen. No, it wasn’t a catch up to the day’s news on my iPad with a cup of coffee from Starbucks. Nor was it my favourite bowl of cereal or brand of orange juice. It wasn’t even a luxurious shower or a sleep-in. It was something much more sacred: a daily experience that allowed me to indulge in what makes us human — connections with others. Read More »

Biofuels – A Good Way to Fight Climate Change?

The Earth’s climate is changing and the vast majority of the scientific community as well as the public is now convinced that human activity is contributing significantly to this phenomenon. The underlying cause is an increase in the concentration of ‘greenhouse gases’ in the Earth’s atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, which is released when fossil fuels are burnt; nitrous oxide from chemical fertilizers; and methane which is produced from activities like rice farming and livestock production. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, leading to the ‘greenhouse effect’ – a rise in the average global temperature which leads to melting ice-caps and therefore rising sea-levels. Additionally, the change in the atmosphere makes the climate more unpredictable, increasing the incidence of ‘freak’ weather events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts (‘global weirding’). Regardless of what is causing the climate to change, preparations need to be made to cope with the consequences as they will impact on many aspects of life. One of these will be the world’s food supplies and food prices, since agricultural growing conditions will change in certain places, affecting the type and quantity of crops that can be grown. This in turn will affect people’s ability to buy and otherwise access food.

However, right now, the biggest impact of climate change on food supplies and food access does not come directly from the changes in climate. Instead, it comes from one of the ways in which we are trying to stop climate change: biofuels. ‘Undercovering Undernutrition Part II‘ showed that the growing demand for biofuels (mainly from western countries) means that in some areas biofuel crops are being grown preferentially over food crops due to their profitability. A 2010 report by the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) reported that European countries have chosen to meet the European Union (EU) legal requirement of including 10 percent of renewable energy in all transport fuels by 2020 by importing biofuels from places such as Indonesia, Brazil, and some African countries. One of the results, reported by The Guardian newspaper, is that the land acquired over the past decade for growing biofuel crops could have produced food for a billion people. This has led to increased food prices, leading to more people being unable to afford food and therefore going hungry. Read More »

Uncovering Undernutrition (Part II): What are the causes of undernutrition?

Uncovering Undernutrition Part I looked at how many people are undernourished in different regions of the world, and how much food is available in those regions. These numbers were taken from the 2012 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) entitled ‘The State of Food Insecurity in the World‘. The report shows that there is more than enough food available to feed everyone, therefore, there must be other reasons why several million people are going hungry each year. So, what else affects undernutrition levels around the world? Read More »

Reviving an Ancient Farming System in Bolivia: Camellones

In 1957 the remains of a civilization from 3,000 years ago were discovered in El Beni, a lowland region in the northeast of Bolivia (see map below). This civilization was found to have a highly productive agricultural system which involved the construction of camellones (ridges). These were elevated fields, built to be above the height of the floodwaters, surrounded by channels. This produced a method of irrigation that protected crops from flooding whilst increasing the fertility of the soil. In the wet season, the rainwater collected in the channels, preventing the crops from being washed away. The water could then be stored and used to water crops in times of drought. This system was designed specifically for the ecosystem of the region which is particularly prone to flooding. Read More »

The Cost of Obesity

Being obese or overweight is one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century; it is the fifth leading risk for global deaths according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet it is completely preventable. The problem seems to be related to wealth; the WHO also reports that levels of obesity in high- and upper middle-income countries are more than three times higher than in lower middle income countries although the problem is rising dramatically for the latter.

Obesity is medically defined as the state in which a person’s body mass index (BMI), obtained by dividing their weight by the square of their height, exceeds 30 kilograms per meter squared. The amount of body fat carried by someone with this BMI affects their health and life expectancy. The most common associated diseases are coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes and high blood pressure, but there are also many others such as osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer. The result has a detrimental effect not just on the individual, but also on the economy as a whole. Read More »

Uncovering Undernutrition (Part I): Is there enough food?

In 1996 the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) estimated that the world was producing enough food to provide each person with 2,700 calories per day. Each day an average grown man needs around 2,500 calories per day, a grown woman around 2,000 calories, and children less. In other words, in the mid-nineties, there was more than enough food to keep everyone in the world adequately fed. Yet nearly 1 billion people, around 17 percent of the population at that time, were undernourished. What was happening?

According to the FAO, undernourishment occurs when, for at least a year, a person is unable to eat enough calories to meet the minimum energy needs of an inactive lifestyle. It does not take into account the needs of those who have a physically active life, such as farmers or manual laborers, and therefore need more calories to stay strong and healthy. Nor does it take into account deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals which can have negative long-term effects on health, such as weak bones and skeletal deformities caused by a lack of vitamin D.

Based on the latest country data on population numbers, availability and distribution of food, and the ability of people to afford and physically access that food, the 2012 FAO report,’The State of Food Insecurity in the World‘ reveals a lot about undernourishment around the world over the past two decades.

Read More »

Graphics: What Exactly Is Wrong With Industrial Agriculture?

An answer to the question What exactly is wrong with industrial agriculture? deserves a whole month’s of posts discovering the issue from both sides. However, sometimes a good graphic presentation, in the old phrase of “a picture is worth a thousand words”, can neatly sum up the arguments involved. Although clearly stating the case against industrial agriculture, the following infographic by The Christensen Fund, first posted by the Nourishing the Planet project, does an excellent job at illustrating why it is that the more natural agroecological methods of crop production are more environmentally and socially sound.

Read More »

Could Countries Trade Food With the Environment in Mind?

The world’s farming and transportation sectors are some of the biggest contributors to global warming and climate change since they emit around 14 percent of total global greenhouse gases each. Emissions are counted mainly from agricultural production and from the fossil fuels burned in road, air and sea freight, respectively. However, the two are also increasingly interlinked because of rapid growth of international trade in agricultural goods—such as foods, natural fibers and bio-fuels—over the last few decades. Agriculture’s impact on atmospheric pollution is rising because of the energy needed to move agricultural products between more and more countries around the world.

In theory, international trade is a good thing because it can reduce the price of goods for consumers and increase sales for producers, making everyone better off. However, this is a purely economic perspective that does not take important environmental issues into consideration. While goods will always continue to flow across national borders, if we are serious about reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and halting climate change, then we need to make sure that they do so in the most environmentally sound way possible. Read More »

Food Sovereignty Tour: Llamas, Quinoa and Andean Food Justice

“It is hard to summarize all the new information that was presented to me by Bolivian locals and from the wonderful professionals – now friends – that I met on the trip. I went in with just an interest in food, and left a food activist.” – Participant in 2011 Food Sovereignty Tour, Bolivia.

If you have an interest in food and agriculture, or simply want to experience a flavor of the Bolivian culture and landscape, then take a look at the Bolivian leg of the Food Sovereignty Tour. It will take place from March 9 – 18, starting on the shores of Lake Titicaca then heading south through the Bolivian Altiplano (high planes), an area with a challenging yet spectacularly beautiful environment with an average altitude of 4,000 meters. You will have the chance to explore the Andean food sovereignty of this region, with an emphasis on llamas and quinoa, whilst being immersed in the local culture. Read More »

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