Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't despair!

I want to make some promotion of this web site, we are all worth a laugh now and then aren't we?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What about a few more people in farming?

In the USA 2008 there were 9.6 milion people employed in restaurants , drinking places and catering. There were 1.5 million in the food manufacturing industry. There were some 15.3 million involved in retail trade. Obviously a lot of those are in the food retail.
There are just above 2 million people employed in farming, hunting and fishing.
Source: Employment Projections Program, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Another way of looking at the situation, in a global perspective is that the coffee in your cup, for which you pay one,two or three Euro costs less than 5 cents, of which in turn the farmer only get som 2-3 cents, i.e. one hundredth of what you pay for it.

That is called value-addition....I hope you enjoy the cup!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Election campaign in Sweden

We have elections coming up in Sweden. This is my contribution to the election campaign.
The sculpture is from the Engelsbergs works, a World Heritage site

How to use the land?

(Photovoltaic elements outside of Heby in Sweden)

Will solar energy farms be a solution for the future? Is it really more efficient to use solar panels on farm land than to grow biomass?

Well, photovoltaic elements seem to have an efficiency of 12-15 percent, e.g. 12-15 percent of the incoming solar energy is captured by the cells and converted to electricity. The photosynthesis supposedly has only a few percents efficiency. I am not hundred percent sure of the math here, but that is what you get from literature. So from that perspective the choice is easy.

Notably, the miracle of the photosynthesis is NOT to just capture energy but to (re)produce life, something quite more remarkable than electricity. Nevertheless, in an energy scarce future we will have these kinds of discussions. Not to speak about the conflict between energy and food...

Another similarly interesting discussion is if you have a dam of water. Will you use that water for:
1. Hydropower
2. Irrigation of biofuel crops
3. Irrigation of food crops
4. Industrial water
5. Household water
6. Tourists water
7. Flooding wet lands to preserve bio-diversity
8. Tear down the dam to restore nature?

In a nature scarce world, there are tough choices to be made.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Being among the 1 percent richest in the world. me, no way!

I work a lot with development issues and think a lot about inequalities in the world. Still I was shocked to realise how privileged I am when I checked my income on the Global Rich List. A great web site.

Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has more wealth than the bottom 45 percent of American households combined

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Winners and losers

What is striking is that the same groups that emphasize that there are no winners and losers with gobalization; that it is beneficial for everybody, they constantly remind us of how important it is that “we keep our edge”, or “improve out competitiveness”, that we upgrade our society so that we are in the forefront of research and technical development. The columnist Thomas L Friedman writes in the World is Flat that:
“So if the flattening of the world is largely (but no entirely) unstoppable, and holds out the potential to be as beneficial to American society as a whole as the past market evolutions have been. How does an individual get the best out of it? What do we tell our kids?. There is only one message: You have to constantly upgrade your skills. There will be plenty of good jobs out there in the flat world for people with the knowledge and ideas to seize them. I am not suggesting that this will be simple. It will not be” (Friedman 2005)

This is echoed by politician from all kinds of camps and by institutions such as the European Union's vision 2020.
“Our economies are increasingly interlinked. Europe will continue to benefit from being one of the most open economies in the world but competition from developed and emerging economies is intensifying. Countries such as China or India are
investing heavily in research and technology in order to move their industries up the value chain and "leapfrog" into the global economy. This puts pressure on some sectors of our economy to remain competitive, but every threat is also an opportunity. As these countries develop, new markets will open up for many European companies”.(European Commission 2010)

Clearly, if is is so important for the USA and Europe to be ahead of the pack, it must be because the ones falling behind are “losers”, i.e. globalization is actually more of a threat for them than an opportunity. Why can't we just relax a bit, spend our energy on cleaning up the environment, reducing our ecological foot-print and enjoy a good life, instead of being coerced into working harder and harder to keep the edge? This, if anything, is the big failure of the globalized market economy. Especially as the actual benefits of unfettered global trade are fairly small.

Even the free trade oriented World Bank states that the "costs" for the current situation compared to full liberalisation corresponds to 0,7 percent of the GDP (World Bank 2007), hardly a “make or break” situation. This was eloquently expressed by the English worker Frank Owen, a character in Robert Tressel's novel, The Ragged Trousered Philantropists from the turn of the previous century:
"We’ve had Free Trade for the last fifty years and to-day most people are living in conditions of more or less abject poverty, and thousands are literally starving. When we had Protection things were worse still. Other countries have Protection and yet many of their people are glad to come here and work for starvation wages. The only difference between Free Trade and Protection is that under certain circumstances one might be a little worse than the other, but as remedies for Poverty, neither of them are of any real use whatever, for the simple reason that they don’t deal with the real causes of Poverty" (Tressel 1955).

Don't misunderstand me. I am not AGAINST globalization. I believe that free movement of goods and of people are human rights. I believe that, in total, there have been more benefits than bad things coming out of globalization, but then I speak about globalization as more than a narrow economic thing. I think of the globalization of human rights, of the internet, of the fact that dictators all over the world don't get away so easily anymore. There are draw-backs and there are benefits of globalization and depending on how the rules are bent it can be good for one and bad for another one. The current globalization has partly been driven, or should we say hi-jacked as a capitalist project opening up all aspects of human life to exploitation. And in that scenario we all have to continue working harder and harder.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Is the sky the limit?

Around thirty-five years ago interest in organic farming developed into a market-oriented concept, and that is when standards and certification were born, to be followed later on, by public regulations. Since then, and recently through a deep global recession, in almost all markets organic sales have maintained their growth. The area of organic farmland also continues to grow, but there are signs that there are limits to this growth. For example, in the last decade, the organic area of a few European countries has actually shrunk or been at a standstill for some years. In most cases this has been associated with changes in how those countries have implemented the European Union support programmes. Small farmers also leave organic certification, not because they stop farming organically, but because they want no involvement with the formalised organic sector and the hassle of certification.

It would be possible for all agriculture to be transformed into following organic methods. It would not be easy. Some aspects of organic farming might have to change. For example, it is hard to see how a total rejection of human waste, now prominent in organic regulations in the EU and the USA, could be combined with a full scale conversion to organic systems. Sewage systems would have to be improved so that what comes out of us could go back to where it came from, as with other cycles in nature. If organic farming was the norm for food production it would also be a logical step to abolish the practice of a special label and special certification. It would be more natural to insist that non-organic food is labelled – with warning messages if needed.

In most countries with an organic movement that has been ‘big’ for many years, most of the farmers that can easily convert to organic systems have already done so. This can be clearly seen by comparing, say, dairy and poultry farms in Northern Europe. In most Northern European countries it is relatively straightforward to convert a dairy farm to organic; the changes in management and infrastructure are not that dramatic. However, a comparable poultry operation is much harder to convert. This can be clearly seen in the proportions of poultry and milk sold respectively. Not only are poultry difficult at the production level; supply is limited and those that do convert demand good prices. So, ultimately market shares are affected as the proportion of buyers shrink when price premiums go from ten to hundred percent.

The strength of consumers’ voluntary choices as a force to change society can be seen when it comes to new technologies that transform our daily lives. Consumers use mobile phones because they are convenient and handy. Consumers buy TVs because they like to watch it. Hundreds of millions are on facebook every day. Certainly, peoples’ voluntary actions have a tremendous potential for change. The organic choice is a somewhat different choice. It is the first, and most the prominent, example of a process-oriented ecolabel, and as such a poster child for those that believe the market can fix all sorts of problem, including the lack of internalisation of costs. Producers and consumers of conventional food do not have to pay the true cost of production of conventional, non-organic food. The cost is paid by tax payers or future generations. If all external costs – that is the costs for water purification, soil degradation, health effects just to mention a few – were incorporated into the price of non-organic food those foods would be more expensive than they are today, some might be on par with organic, some perhaps remain cheaper others more expensive than organic food. The question of whether some consumers should voluntarily shoulder the costs while others can be free-riders is not only a practical one, but also a philosophical and ethical one. It may also be the reason for? that health – the only aspect of consuming organic products where the benefits are accrued by the consumer – is the killer argument in favour of buying organic products. The environmental or animal welfare benefits of buying organic foods are shared by those buying conventional food. It is rather naïve to believe that this system will be the system that carries organic production from a couple percent to the mainstream. The organic labelling system is a forerunner, but it certainly needs assistance for the transformation of agriculture to a situation where ‘organic’ is simply normal.

Leader in the upcoming issue of The Organic Standard

Monday, August 9, 2010

A barrel of oil: a ton of maize

According to FAO, 6,000 MJ of fossil energy (corresponding to a barrel of oil) is used to product one ton of maize in industrial farming, while for the production of maize with traditional methods in Mexico only 180 MJ (corresponding to 4.8 liter oil) is used. This calculation claims to include energy for synthetic fertilizers, irrigation and machinery, but not shadow energy, i.e. energy used for making machinery, transporting products to and fro the farm, and for construction of farm buildings (FAO 2000). The energy ratio is negative (below 1) for modern rice farming and just above one for modern maize farming, while traditional production of rice and maize give a return of 60 to 70 times on energy used . FAO has also compiled average data for energy yields for developed and developing countries respectively (see table). It shows that developed countries use more than double the amount of energy to produce a ton of grain, and three times as much per hectare (the reason for it being more per hectare is that yields are a bit higher in developed countries). FAO notes that “productivity is higher” when more energy is used, and with that they mean in particular productivity per labor unit. One could of course put it the other way round and say that the productivity measured on used energy is very low. When we discuss bio-energy this discussion is suddenly very relevant.

Different kinds of agriculture production and different food also have different energy ratios. The energy ratio is very low for deep sea fishing; for meat production from feed lots and from vegetables in heated green houses . A big share (often above 50%) of the energy use in farming is for the production of synthetic fertilizers, in particular nitrogen fertilizers, and pesticides. This also means that the contentious debate about organic vs conventional (non-organic) farming has a strong element of energy dependency debate. If improved energy ratio is a primary goal for farming, skipping, or at least dramatically reducing, nitrogen fertilizers is one of the best ways to get there.