Monday, November 23, 2015

Today's menu

To better understand the average availability of food let’s try to make a day’s diet out of it. Perhaps it would look like this:
  • For breakfast you drink tea or coffee with sugar, eat three slices of bread (or cereal based porridge) upon which you use a vegetable oil based margarine and a sweet fruit-based condiment.
  • For lunch you eat tortillas, and two potatoes (or yams, cassava or sweet potatoes), with tomatoes and onions fried in vegetable oil. Once a week you also have a fish.
  • For dinner you eat boiled rice with a stew of beans, cabbage and a small piece of meat. You round off with a banana, an apple, an orange or half a mango.  
  • In the evening you drink a very small soda or a beer and snack on roasted groundnuts or soybeans.
With more elaborated figures it looks like this:

Table 4 Global food supply per capita per day 2009

Cereals, other
Starchy roots (potatoes, cassava etc.)
Sugar and sweeteners
Beans and peas
Soybeans and groundnuts
Vegetable oils
Alcoholic beverages
Animal fats
Fish, seafood

But the average food supply varies greatly geographically. The food supply per Indian is 2,321 kcal while it is 3,688 for the average Ameri­can. The average Indian gets almost two thirds of their calories from cereals, pulses and root crops while these crops only contribute a quarter of the calories of the American. Sugar and fats contribute almost 40% of the American’s calories but just 21% of the Indian’s. Animal products, including fish, make up 28% of the calorie supply of an American but only 9% for the average Indian. Clearly, the agriculture systems that produce those two diets are very different and the ecological footprints of the diets are also very different. 

Extracted from Global Eating Disorder.  

Order Global Eating Disorder for a 10% discount at: using the code: GWDZZD8D
You can also buy the book from Amazon, and as an ebook from Kindle, and from most internet based booksellers.Or from the English Bookshop in Uppsala or Stockholm.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The pesticide treadmill explained

A new study confirms what organic farmers have known all the time: that pest damage is reduced by more diverse production and that the use of pesticides creates pest problems.  

In recent decades, there has been a steady increase in the amount of pesticides marketed for argicultural use. In the European Union alone, more than 200,000 tonnes of pesticides (active ingredients) are used annually. Between 2005 and 2010, the total volume of global sales rose from US$ 31 billion to US$ 38 billion. The amount of pesticides used internationally has risen fifty-fold since 1950. China is now the country that both uses and produces the largest amounts of pesticides (PAN Germany, Pesticides and health hazards, Facts and figures).

Pests are major challenges to food security, and responses to pests can incur unintended socio-economic and environmental costs and massive damage to health.  The UNEP Cost of Inaction Report (2012) reveals that the costs of injury (lost work days, outpatient medical treatment, and inpatient hospitalization) from pesticide poisonings, in Sub-saharan Africa alone, amounted to USD $4.4 billion in 2005. Another study suggests that the major economic and environmental losses due to the use of pesticides in the United States amounted to USD $1.5 billion in pesticides resistance and USD $1.4 billion in crop losses, and USD $2.2 billion in bird losses. (Global Chemicals Outlook: Towards Sound Management of Chemicals)
Proponents of organic farming and agro-ecology "know" that increasing diversity in the production  system will generally decrease pest problems. This is not to say that there can't be serious pest problems also in organic farms or in other farms which have high diversity. It can, but by and large damage will be less according to my observations in some fifty countries of the world with very diverse production system.

There is, however, a poor understanding of how biodiversity  contributes to ecosystem functions and influences pest populations on farms.To address this gap, a new study examines how species diversity and the network of linkages in speciesabundances affect pest abundance on maize farms across the Northern Great Plains in the U.S. Maize (corn) currently occupies nearly 5% of the land surface of the contiguous United States and 95% of certain counties. Despite the tremendous efforts to combat pests - $3.2 billion was spent to manage maize pests in the United States during 2013 - comprehensive bioinventories of the arthropod species that occur within this habitat are scarce.
The study show that  "increased species diversity, community evenness, and linkage strength and network centrality within a biological network all correlate with significantly reduced pest populations. This supports the assertion that reduced biological complexity on farms is associated with increased pest populations and provides a further justification for diversification of agroecosystems to improve the profitability, safety, and sustainability of food production systems.increased species diversity, community evenness, and linkage strength and network centrality within a biological network all correlate with significantly reduced pest populations."

For example, reducing tillage, using cover crops, intercropping, crop rotations, etc. should help increase biodiversity. In line with this, the research results show that using pest management practices that reduce biodiversity and species interactions will create systems where pests will continually pose problems (i.e., the pesticide treadmill). This finding provides further justification for diversification of agroecosystems to improve the profitability, safety, and sustainability of food production systems.

The full paper is available at
Trading biodiversity for pest problems
By Jonathan G. Lundgren, Scott W. Fausti
Science Advances31 Jul 2015 : e1500558

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A coffee matte, please

There are more people growing and picking the coffee imbibed in Sweden than all the people working in the Swedish farms and food industry together. How expensive would the cup be if those 200 000 persons had salaries on par with Swedes?

Together with Finns, the Swedes are the biggest consumers of coffee in the world, eight kilo per person in a year, or thousand cups. It is generally said that there are 20 million people engaged in coffee farming, including the pickers. And 10 million hectares are used for growing coffee. Considering that the Swedes consume one percent of all the coffee in the world, this means that 200,000 people and 100,000 hectares are used to grow Swedish coffee.

Compare that with the number of people working in/on the Swedish farms, which corresponds to some 65,000 fulltime jobs, and the food and beverage industry, about 50,000, and you can conclude that there are more people producing the coffee for the Swedes than their entire farm and food industry sector. But the payment to the 200,000 coffee producers is less than 1000 dollars per person and year. Or put in another way. The coffee producers get less than one fiftieth of the average Swedish salary. Coffee pickers earn as little as a few dollars per day. A study from Guatemala revealed that the pickers earned in average four dollars per day. But the actual salary is much less as they in the most cases their spouse and children helped picking without any salary whatsoever.[i]

And the area the Swedes use for their coffee production is bigger than the area used in Sweden for growing the staple food potato, and almost on par with the area used in other countries to grow soy beans for Swedish animal feed.

If you look at other countries, you can make calculations and conclude that 2,6 million persons work to produce the coffee drunk in the United States on a total area of 1,3 million hectares.  Or that there are 300,000 people and 150,000 hectares used for the British coffee consumption (Brits don’t drink a lot of coffee).

Enjoy the cup  – but remember that there are huge disparities in power and wealth that makes it possible enjoy it.

NOTE: the calculations are back of the envelope as there is a lot of uncertainty on many levels, starting with the number of persons working with coffee in the countries of production. The International Coffee Organization estimates that 20 million work in coffee of which 10 million farmers in Africa, 4 million in Asia, half a million in Central America and one and a half million in South America. In addition, some 3 million workers are employed, most of them in Latin America, where plantations are bigger.[ii] It is likely that not all of the 20 million work full time with coffee.The remuneration of the people is calculated with global production * coffee farm gate price / 20 million workers, which comes out on less than 1000 dollars. And even if labor costs is the lion’s share of the costs there are also other costs for seedlings, bags, fertilizers and pest control. Coffee import figures are complicated that some countries are re-exporting a lot of coffee; Germany is the second biggest coffee exporter in the world!
Perhaps there is a 25 percent error in my figures, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?

Obviously, if the people involved in coffee production had Western wages, there would be a number of changes:
1) coffee consumption would slump
2) coffee farming would be changed in the same way as farms have mechanized in the North. Shade coffee plantations on steep slopes would be replaces by monocultures on open fields where harvesting, pruning and other cultivation measures could be made with machinery.


[i] Verité, undated,  RESEARCH ON INDICATORS OF FORCED LABOR in the Supply Chain of  Coffee in Guatemala
[ii] ICO 2015, Sustainability of the coffee sector in Africa