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Agriculture - The need for change

It is not only the global financial system that is in turmoil. A report released y the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, a gathering of over 400 scientists, is recommending radical changes to the way that the world grows its food. It seems that all our systems are failing. It is time for us to make some big changes. Overpopulation is the biggest problem we face; we are now discovering we cannot feed nearly one billion people. Peak Oil, Climate Change, and a population predicted to be over nine billion – we need to act now.

Agriculture - The Need for Change
Washington/London/Nairobi/Delhi - 15th April 2008.

The way the world grows its food will have to change radically to better serve the poor and hungry if the world is to cope with a growing population and climate change while avoiding social breakdown and environmental collapse. That is the message from the report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, a major new report by over 400 scientists which is launched today.

The assessment was considered by 64 governments at an intergovernmental plenary in Johannesburg last week.

The authors' brief was to examine hunger, poverty, the environment and equity together. Professor Robert Watson Director of IAASTD said those on the margins are ill-served by the present system: "The incentives for science to address the issues that matter to the poor are weak... the poorest developing countries are net losers under most trade liberalization scenarios."

Modern agriculture has brought significant increases in food production. But the benefits have been spread unevenly and have come at an increasingly intolerable price, paid by small-scale farmers, workers, rural communities and the environment.

It says the willingness of many people to tackle the basics of combining production, social and environmental goals is marred by "contentious political and economic stances". One of the IAASTD co-chairs, Dr Hans Herren, explains: "Specifically, this refers to the many OECD member countries who are deeply opposed to any changes in trade regimes or subsidy systems. Without reforms here many poorer countries will have a very hard time... "

The report has assessed that the way to meet the challenges lies in putting in place institutional, economic and legal frameworks that combine productivity with the protection and conservation of natural resources like soils, water, forests, and biodiversity while meeting production needs.

In many countries, it says, food is taken for granted, and farmers and farm workers are in many cases poorly rewarded for acting as stewards of almost a third of the Earth’s land. Investment directed toward securing the public interest in agricultural science, education and training and extension to farmers has decreased at a time when it is most needed.

The authors have assessed evidence across a wide range of knowledge that is rarely brought together. They conclude we have little time to lose if we are to change course. Continuing with current trends would exhaust our resources and put our children’s future in jeopardy.

Professor Bob Watson, Director of IAASTD said: “To argue, as we do, that continuing to focus on production alone will undermine our agricultural capital and leave us with an increasingly degraded and divided planet is to reiterate an old message. But it is a message that has not always had resonance in some parts of the world. If those with power are now willing to hear it, then we may hope for more equitable policies that do take the interests of the poor into account.”

Professor Judi Wakhungu, said “We must cooperate now, because no single institution, no single nation, no single region, can tackle this issue alone. The time is now.”


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The end of the Green Revolution

Advocates for agriculture fought a losing battle to stop the cutbacks — nowhere more than in the World Bank, the huge institution in Washington that makes low-interest loans to poor countries for development projects.

Adjusted for inflation, the World Bank cut its agricultural lending to $2 billion in 2004 from $7.7 billion in 1980.

The Green Revolution had led to creation of a global network of research centers focusing on agriculture and food production, with 14 institutes — including the International Rice Research Institute — scattered across Asia, Africa and Latin America, in addition to a research office in Washington. The centers, known collectively as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, carry much of the burden of improving crop yields in poor countries.

As the world lost its focus on crops, the budgets of some of the centers were cut. At others, the budgets stayed level or even rose, but donors increasingly directed the money toward worthwhile but ancillary projects like environmental research. Spending fell on the laborious plant-breeding programs needed to improve crop productivity.

As these trends played out, the stage was being set for a food emergency.

In the 1960's the world faced a food crisis - food production was not keeping up with population growth. The world reacted by spending billions in agricultural research and development. In the last twenty-five years we have taken our eyes off the ball and we have been reducing our spending in these areas and as a result we have a food crisis the likes of which the world has never seen. Nearly a billion people are short of food and many are at risk of starvation. With the world population at 6.6 billion and heading to 9 billion we need to massively increase our agriculture research and development. We need to spend less on war and more on food. That will give us real security.

More than crop science

"What is needed in agriculture is more crop science if we are to feed the world."

Yet the report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development, i.e. the report by over 400 scientists that was the focus of the article above, states:

... continuing to focus on production alone will undermine our agricultural capital and leave us with an increasingly degraded and divided planet ...

Clearly what is needed is something much more than more production-focused crop science.

More crop science

What is needed in agriculture is more crop science if we are to feed the world.  Crop science has already saved millions of lives.  Greedy westerners who eat organic food should be haunted by their selfish ways. Have they no conscience?

As an aside, DDT saved millions of lives.  All this damn foolish nonsense about chemicals and genetic engineering does no one any good. 

Finally, the father of LSD died at his home in Basel, Switzerland this week.  Basel gave the world LSD, DDT and a number of other substances.  It would behoove all of you to think well of the Swiss city on the Rhine.  I will be back there next week.

I first wrote to Webdiary from Basel, Switzerland and no doubt I will again very soon. 

Tee hee, I wish you all a lovely weekend. 

Fiona: Have a good journey, David. We look forward to hearing from you in beautiful Basel (a place that I know and love).

Plants with a mind of their own

The more science fiddles with or tries to destroy plants, the more plants fight back. Herbicide resistant weeds are one of the biggest issues facing agriculture in this country. No till farming, introduced to help preserve valuable moisture levels and stop wind erosion, has led to enormous dependence on herbicides to keep fallow paddocks free of weeds for moisture conservation. So the cost of them has trebled with increased demand. But resistance is fast becoming the biggest issue for Roundup, the most widely used chemical for weed control. That and the cost of Roundup has seen some farmers go back to tilling, ie ploughing the weeds.

But forget the science. All the science in the world is useless if there isn't any rain. Lack of rain is and will be the biggest challenge agriculture faces in this country. We farmers all know how to grow bumper crops, provided we get rain or have access to irrigation water. Higher yielding crops are not necessarily the long term answer. The more you take out of the soil, the more you have to put back, especially in this country. It is, after all, the soil that grows the crop, and its nutrients are finite. The more you have to pay for essential nutrients, the lower the overall returns. Fertilizer costs have soared this past two years.

Farmers are already skimping on nutrients such as nitrogen due to cost and a desire to reduce risk. We skimped on it last year, and just as well, as the crop was a write off due to no rain. We did not harvest a single grain. With late summer rains the paddock became a weed bed at which we were not prepared to throw any more money on herbicides. But the roos did well.

On the tablelands we know that cutting hay on a paddock year after year raises acidity levels in the soil. As the acidity increases the yields diminish and such remedies as heavy application of gypsum are very costly. We can ask too much of the soil in this country and we have for too long.

Science has delivered a lot to farmers, but sometimes it can lead to unwise management decisions. Farmers can be like experimental animals for a scientist. It might work, but sometimes it goes horribly wrong.

the soil doesn't come free

The more you take out of the soil, the more you have to put back...

That's it in a nutshell, Jenny. Some things can be tweaked a bit, maybe even a lot if we're lucky, but the soil doesn't come free. The fertilizer costs aren't going to fall, either.

Which also means that when doing the costings on using crop "waste" for biofuels you have to factor in not only the cost of trucking the residue to the processor, but also trucking the extra fertilizer back to the farm. I wonder if they do that.

The trash

I doubt it, Mark. And these days the trash that used to go back as organic matter into the soil is being seen as a marketable product. We have seen so much damage to soils in our area it is not surprising that the area needed now to support a family has trebled in the past fifteen years to around seven thousand acres, and even then you are pushing it if you are relying on range-fed beef as we are. 

But it has not only been soil depletion. Returns for product have remained static for years, while costs have skyrocketed. The farmer is, as usual, the vicitm of factors and market forces beyond the farm gate.

Farmers are the guardians of the natural landscape.

The world's two billion farmers are the guardians of much of what is left of the natural landscape, holding in their hands the fate of thousands of threatened species as well as the world's remaining forests.

Agriculture uses three-quarters of the world's fresh water. Its run-off has degraded Earth's main rivers, estuaries and even seas. It occupies 40 per cent of the world's free land surface. It is responsible for 30 per cent of global greenhouse emissions. And it represents seemingly intractable poverty, disadvantage and suffering. That is the true cost of the cheap food many of us still enjoy. For the time being.

At the back of all this is the inconvenient truth that modern civilisation is unsustainable. To exist, it relies on a continuous drawdown - sometimes amounting to total destruction - of the natural resources on which it depends for its existence. Africa's Sahel region, Russia's Aral Sea and Australia's Murray-Darling Basin illustrate the principle.

We live off our natural capital, rather than the interest it generates. And globalisation of the food trade has accelerated the process, as the country-of-origin labels in your local supermarket proclaim. As a consumer, your footprint now extends across Asia, Africa, India and many other places.

This opinion piece is in the Australian by Julian Cribb who is an adjunct professor of science communication at the University of Technology, Sydney and editor of www.sciencealert.com.au.

Julian Cribb points to the sorry state of modern agriculture. Globalisation of the food trade is slowly destroying the planet and pricing many in the developing world out of the food market. This should encourage all of us to buy local and think more about what what we put on our plates.

Rich countries have destroyed the agriculture of poor countries.

Ban estimated that around 100 million of the world's poorest who previously did not require help now can not afford to buy food.

The World Trade Organisation, whose Director-General Pascal Lamy will also attend the Bern talks, says the food crisis reinforces the need to open up world markets.

"Agricultural subsidies by rich countries have destroyed the agriculture of poor countries," a spokesman told AFP. "A more open system will be less subject to distortion."

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is also seeking a rapid conclusion to current world negotiations in the framework of the Doha Round.

The head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Juan Somavia, has warned against the danger of seeking only temporary solutions to the latest crisis, saying this would only mean a return to the original problem in a world in which globalisation would not benefit the world at large.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn,head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has criticised protectionism and the use of foodstuffs to make biofuels, and called for a reform of world coordination of agricultural policy.

With many organisations calling for a reform of world agricultural policy, it is time for all national governments to rethink their policies. The rich are distorting world markets and millions of people worldwide are paying a terrible price.

Cattle and Cars

More than one third of the world's grain harvest is used to feed livestock. Another source puts it at between 32% & 33%, with 10% or 11% for other non-food uses (Feed versus Food - Table 4). That means not much more than half of global grain production is used as food.

In olden days, we wouldn't have dreamt of feeding grain to cattle or sheep, though they would have scored some in supplementary or drought feed. Unfortunately, Table 4 above only goes back to the mid 70's, and by then the feedlots had really taken off. I'd like to see the figures for the industrial countries going back to WW2, and broken down by country. My guess is that originally in America & Europe there was more grain fed the further north, then in the fifties the feedlots take off, first in the USA, then everywhere, and feeding grain takes off as well. Here, the feedlots were getting started in the late '60s early '70s - but our contribution would still be mainly food, rather than feed. Premium wheat is too valuable to use as stock feed.

Another table I'd like to see would be comparing the greenhouse gas efficiency of feedlot and pasture-fed beef. Feedlot may well be the winner - particularly if you put it under a dome and burn the methane for energy.

Evan Hadkins had it right when he said that "the problem is a social/political one". There is, for a while at least, plenty of land to feed us all. Unless we fix the distribution problem, increased production, whether via GM of otherwise, will just go to feed cattle and cars.

PS: Table 4 above is based on Bruinsma 2003. It's notable that only five years ago, biofuels just don't feature at all.

Cattle on feedlots

And last night unless I heard wrong Mark it was stated that the US has the largest ever number of stock on feedlots at the moment. Here the feedlots have been standing back due to the high price of grain but not it would seem in the US. And we all know the return on a tonne of grain fed to cattle is abysmal. Singer and Mason did the figures on this some twenty odd years ago in their book Animal Factories. They also pointed out that 50% of the antibiotics used in the US was as prophylactics in the feedstuffs of intensively farmed animals and I know from experience the use of antibiotics was just as extensive out here. And we wonder why we have antibiotic resistance bacteria.

I am glad I gave up eating meat over twenty years ago, though I did so for ethical reasons at the time, not health. But it was the right call in terms of health too I think.

Brazil is to produce diesel from sugarcane.

A new diesel biofuel derived from sugarcane is to be launched in Brazil after an accidental discovery made while researching malaria cures, the US and Brazilian companies producing it has announced.

John Melo, the head of US biotech firm Amyris, explained that one of his bio-engineers stumbled on the process while working on the Artemisia anti-malaria medicine.

Although the technology could make a variety of fuels, Amyris decided to make diesel with Brazilian partner Crustalsev because of demand for that product was "two to three times higher than for petrol."

Brazilian sugarcane farmers will soon be producing diesel from sugarcane. Australian mining uses millions of litres of diesel a month - one of the reasons we have such a huge trade deficit.

The general manager of Canegrowers, Ian Ballantyne, has estimated that the rising Australian dollar has reduced the price of sugar by $50 per tonne compared with a year ago. More cane farmers are turning to off-farm sources of income and Mr Ballantyne estimates that around half of the farms in Mackay would have at least one family member working in the mines. The industry is consolidating with the number of growers going from 6,000 to 4,500 over the last four years, although the area used for cane growing has only reduced by around 10 per cent.

In Australia rather that putting money into research we are paying $100,000 for farmers to leave the sugar industry.

generous re-establishment grants of up to $100,000 in 2004-05 for growers and $50,000 for harvesters who want to leave the industry;

Up and down the Queensland coast, the sugar cane crushing season is under way. It's a reasonable crop this year, but the world sugar price is still appalling, although it has been improving lately. Many farmers are still struggling, though, to cover costs, and it's been that way for several years now.

In a sign of just how bad things are, the last Australian maker of sugar cane harvesters has closed its gates. The Austoft harvester has been an industry icon for half a century. The parent company, CNH, has decided to close its Bundaberg plant and move all operations to Brazil.

I wonder why CNH closed its plant in Bundaberg and moved to Brazil. Could it be something to do with the Howard government paying our cane farmers to leave the industry, while Brazil was turning sugarcane into diesel?

More globalisation will save the world?

From a more distant perspective, the current inflation dilemma is a natural reflection of the global market struggling to catch up with the new dynamic of lifting two billion people out of poverty. History suggests that rather than the Club of Rome thesis that the world will run out of resources, the more likely story is that technological solutions will be found to satisfy the increased demand. It is discomforting that so many people are prepared to consider the rise of China and India as a huge problem rather than cause for celebration. Despite what many naysayers may claim, the answer to today's problem with food and oil does not lie in protectionism or population control but rather in greater globalisation, scientific innovation and modernisation. The history of global scares about shortage is that they are generally shown to be terribly ill-informed when viewed with the benefit of hindsight. People constantly underestimate the ability of humans to be creative and respond to challenge.

Higher food prices because of greater demand does not automatically spell widespread famine, as some would suggest. It is more likely to trigger a new cycle of investment in agriculture and technology that will eventually lift South America and Africa out of poverty as well.

Those who worry about the environmental impact of population growth and consumerism should realise that increased prosperity is the foundation stone for people demanding a better environment and deciding to have fewer children. Big families are common in the Third World because infant mortality is higher and life expectancy shorter. Without superannuation or a pension, a big family is the best insurance for being looked after in old age.

From this morning's editorial in The Australian. I am sure the 100 million people who are now at risk of starvation are happy to hear that all is OK, increased prosperity is going to feed them. They don't have to have as many children because they are going to have a superannuation payout, history suggests all will be OK. Tell that to the Easter Islanders.

I thought it was the Australian Democrats that believed in fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Carbon farming is easier than a moon landing.

Many have likened carbon capture’s road from the demonstration lab to a safe, cheap, available reality as a challenge equivalent to putting a man on the moon. Norway, which is investing heavily to test the technology, calls carbon capture its “moon landing.”

It may be even harder than that. It is a moon landing that must be replicated daily at thousands of coal plants in hundreds of countries — many of them poor. There is a new coal-fired plant going up in India or China almost every week, and most of those are not constructed in a way that is amenable to carbon capture, even if it were developed.

Plants that could someday be adapted to carbon capture cost 10 to 20 percent more to build, and only a handful exist today. For most coal power plants the costs of converting would be “phenomenal,” concluded a report by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

It seems the world is going to build coal fired power stations regardless of the warnings on ocean acidity or climate change. Perhaps the only way to safely counteract the enormous amount of C02 pollution is carbon farming.

“Carbon farming” is the cultivation of trees in order to sequester carbon and then to obtain tradable rights in that carbon. These rights can then be sold to emitters of CO2 and other interested parties.


We stand by the following facts:

  • The terrestrial biosphere currently sequesters 2 billion metric tons of carbon annually. (US Department of Agriculture)
  • Soils contain 82% of terrestrial carbon.
  • "Enhancing the natural processes that remove CO2 from the atmosphere is thought to be the most cost-effective means of reducing atmospheric levels of CO2." (US Department of Energy)
  • "Soil organic carbon is the largest reservoir in interaction with the atmosphere." (United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation) - Vegetation 650 gigatons, atmosphere 750 gigatons, soil 1500 gigatons
  • The carbon sink capacity of the world's agricultural and degraded soils is 50% to 66% of the historic carbon loss of 42 to 78 gigatons of carbon.
  • Grazing land comprises more than half the total land surface
  • An acre of pasture can sequester more carbon than an acre of forest.
  • “Soil represents the largest carbon sink over which we have control. Improvements in soil carbon levels could be made in all rural areas, whereas the regions suited to carbon sequestration in plantation timber are limited.” (Dr Christine Jones)

Rather than spending a fortune on carbon capture at the source of pollution maybe the answer is to change our farming techniques to improve soil carbon levels. We should do more research into carbon farming - maybe we could turn our deserts into carbon sinks. If we could develop ways of capturing more carbon than we produce, we could continue with use of coal after all.

This could be a win win for all the coal miners, the farmers and the planet.

Looking at totally different farming practices.

With drought and climate change having a huge impact on our farming practices - today we take a closer look at whether our farmers should be looking at totally different farming practices. Whether you're on the land or a consumer in our towns and cities is it time to change how we use our air, water and soil?
A very interesting piece on Radio National's Bush Telegraph program this morning. A discussion on the future of Australian agriculture. The introduction of new crops and the use of native plants.

Should we eat less meat?

Here's a question for all you meat lovers out there - how far will you go to beat climate change?Would you give up meat maybe one or two days a week?

Perhaps you might even consider stop eating animal products all together.

Democrats Senator, Andrew Bartlett, says eating less meat and dairy is one of the cheapest and easiest ways we can help cut greenhouse emissions, though he insists he's not saying we should all become vegetarian or vegan.

The Australian livestock industry has taken offence at his comments that if we don't substantially cut back on the consumption of animal products, our chances of stopping major climate change are almost nil.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney is urging the world to go vegetarian in a bid to fight global warming and is surprised more green groups don't promote it.

In an interview with the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), McCartney said the land and water used for meat production was a major contributor to global warming.

"The biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyle would be to become vegetarian," McCartney said.

Most of us would like to think we live a moral life, a life that does not cause harm to others or the planet. It is time we put thought into the things we eat and the effect it has on the rest of the world.

I agree totally John

 Most of us would like to think we live a moral life, a life that does not cause harm to others or the planet. It is time we put thought into the things we eat and the effect it has on the rest of the world.

John, I agree totally and will say that once one has made the move to give up meat, one wonders how on earth one ever ate it in the first place. Everyone should visit a farm, look into the eyes of the animals waiting to be trucked to the slaughterhouse, and then follow those animals to see how they are treated and how they die.  Then decide if they want to continue eating those same animals.

But since people do like their meat, then maybe they could cut down. For a start it is not healthy to eat red meat every day due to the bowel cancer risk. And it is certainly poor economics to feed intensive pigs on all that grain only to produce a pork chop with an inch of fat which the cook then trims.

As for changing farm practices, they have changed a lot in the past couple of decades. Australia has a reputation for efficiency in its farm sector though of course there are bad farmers as well. But in the end if you don't have rain then even the best farming practices won't save you. And rain is what is again desperately needed all over the eastern wheat belt. So much is hanging on this and people are very worried. The La Nina is continue to weaken and chances of above average rain this winter are diminishing by the day. Yet I see in Sydney and on the Central Coast is has been pouring, yet again. Most of which I guess is going down the drain.  While Sydney complains of a long run of wet weather we are having day after day of warm dry sunny weather west of the ranges. Not a good sign at all.

I think the world food situation is going to get very dire indeed.

Native pastures are more drought tolerant but productivity from them from grazing stock is not high. Many of the introduced improved pastures have higher carrying capacity but are fairly dependant on decent rainfall. We let our place go back to native pastures, but had to take an almost 30 percent cut in productivity which essentially means the property does little more than cover its fixed costs and necessary maintainence, all two thousand odd acres of it. I would not like to be dependant on it for a living, that is for sure. You need at least seven thousand acres now in our area for that, and even that is becoming marginal due to drought. So most families have quit over the past ten years. It is sad to see a community slowly die. It is happening all over the western division.

No water or arable land, no food

John: “We are consuming more food than we are producing. If we continue to carry on as we have in the past how do we expect to be able to feed a growing world population? The future looks bleak for the 100 million or so people who cannot afford a decent meal. Why aren't we seeing the same sort of reaction we saw to the Indonesian tsunami? This is something we can do something about especially in Australia. We should be helping our farmers to produce more and we should be bringing more agricultural land into production. We should also be producing food rather than luxury crops such as vineyards. Until the world is able to feed its population we should put food production at the top of our nations priorities.”

John, how do you grow more food on dying land and diminishing water supplies? Most vineyards are constructed on grazing land. Grazing is a stupid way to produce food as you produce more green houses gases, decimate the soil and have to use about 100 times more land to produce the same amount of toxic food as you would with growing food. The amount of usable agricultural land is dropping as it is being depleted at a growing rate from chemical fertilisation, over grazing, over cropping, hormone and antibiotic poisoning, whilst water available disappears. Haven't you noticed the Snowy Mountains Scheme is almost empty and can’t release any water as they have none for generating power or irrigation?

I think the future looks bleak for more than 2 billion people, as the food crisis will only get worse until a balance is established between the land’s ability to produce, human population, ideologically driven greed and egocentricity. It's well within the realms of possibility that the majority of the worlds cities will collapse as energy and food become scarce, after all cities rely 100% upon rural industries for survival. Without a viable rural culture to supply cities, they have no other option than to die and that scenario for Australia is strong possibility.

We have to remember John, it's the ideologically driven religious who are the main supporters of constant population and economic growth at the expense of the natural world as they believe their mythical god is in charge and will save them no matter what they do. Sadly for the world, the realty is light years away from their god delusions.

We are consuming more food than it has been producing.

A "SILENT tsunami" unleashed by costlier food threatens 100 million people, the United Nations said today, but views differed as to how to stop it.

Aid bodies said there was enough food to go round but the key was to help the poor afford it, and urged producing nations not to curb exports to stockpile food at home.

In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Britain would seek changes to EU biofuels targets if it was shown that planting crops for fuel was driving up food prices - a day after the bloc stood by its plans to boost biofuel use.

Britain also pledged $US900 million ($954.91 million) to help the UN World Food Program (WFP) alleviate immediate problems and address longer-term solutions to "help put food on the table for nearly a billion people going hungry across the world".

The WFP, whose head Josette Sheeran took part in a meeting of experts Brown called today to discuss the crisis, said a "silent tsunami" threatened to plunge more than 100 million people on every continent into hunger.

"This is the new face of hunger - the millions of people who were not in the urgent hunger category six months ago but now are," she said ahead of the meeting.

Riots in poor Asian and African countries have followed steep rises in food prices caused by many factors - dearer fuel, bad weather, rising disposable incomes boosting demand and the conversion of land to grow crops for biofuel.

Rice from Thailand, the world's top exporter, has more than doubled in price this year.

Ms Sheeran said artificially created shortages, such as those caused by countries that have slowed or stopped exports, were worsening the problem.

Major food exporters including Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Egypt and Cambodia have closed their stocks to safeguard supplies.

"The world has been consuming more than it has been producing for the past three years, so stocks have been drawn down," Ms Sheeran said.

"The world knows how to produce food and will do so. But we will have a couple of challenging years."

Rising prices meant the WFP was running short of money to buy food for its programs and had already curtailed school feeding plans in Tajikistan, Kenya and Cambodia.

Ms Sheeran said WFP, which last year estimated it would need $US2.9 billion ($3.08 billion) in 2008 to cover its needs, now calculated it would have to raise that figure by one quarter because of the surge in prices of staples like wheat, maize and rice.

She said this was the biggest challenge in the WFP's 45-year history.

We are consuming more food than we are producing. If we continue to carry on as we have in the past how do we expect to be able to feed a growing world population? The future looks bleak for the 100 million or so people who cannot afford a decent meal. Why aren't we seeing the same sort of reaction we saw to the Indonesian tsunami? This is something we can do something about especially in Australia. We should be helping our farmers to produce more and we should be bringing more agricultural land into production. We should also be producing food rather than luxury crops such as vineyards. Until the world is able to feed its population we should put food production at the top of our nation’s priorities.

One of the most significant changes in land use over the past decade has been an increase in the area occupied by vineyards, often with an associated loss of grazing or cropping land, although in the Riverland region vines are replacing citrus and stonefruit crops in response to the growing market demand for grapes.

The total area of vineyards in South Australia increased by 150% between 1994 and 2002, from 26,584 hectares to 66,456 hectares (Phylloxera and Grape Industry Board of South Australia -

Gamblers are creating havoc on the grain markets.

Prices of broad commodity indexes have climbed as much as 40 percent in the last year and grain prices have gained even more — about 65 percent for corn, 91 percent for soybeans and more than 100 percent for some types of wheat. This price boom has attracted a torrent of new investment from Wall Street, estimated to be as much as $300 billion.

Whether new investors are causing the market’s problems or keeping them from getting worse is in dispute. But there is no question that the grain markets are now experiencing levels of volatility that are running well above the average levels over the last quarter-century.

Mr. Grieder’s crop insurance premiums rise with the volatility. So does the price of the financial tool he has used to hedge against falling prices. Some grain elevators are coping with the volatility and hedging problems by refusing to buy crops in advance, foreclosing the most common way farmers lock in prices.

“The system is really beginning to break down,” Mr. Grieder said. “When you see elevators start pulling their bids for your crop, that tells me we’ve got a real problem.”

Until recently, that system had worked well for generations. Since 1959, grain producers have been able to hedge the price of their wheat, corn and soybean crops on the Chicago Board of Trade through the use of futures contracts, which are agreements to buy or sell a specific amount of a commodity for a fixed price on some future date.

More recently, the exchange has offered another tool: options on those futures contracts, which allow option holders to carry out the futures trade, but do not require that they do so. Trading in options is not as effective a hedge, farmers say, but it does not require them to put up as much cash as required to trade futures.

These tools have long provided a way to lock in the price of a crop as it is planted, eliminating the risk that prices will drop before it is harvested. With these hedging tools, grain elevators could afford to buy crops from farmers in advance, sometimes a year or more before the harvest.

But that was yesterday. It simply is not working that way today.

Futures, for example, are less reliable. They work as a hedge only if they fall due at a price that roughly matches prices in the cash market, where the grain is actually sold. Increasingly — for disputed reasons — grain futures are expiring at prices well above the cash-market price.

When that happens, farmers or elevator owners wind up owing more on their futures hedge than the crops are worth in the cash market. Such anomalies create uncertainty about which price accurately reflects supply and demand — a critical issue, since the C.B.O.T. futures price is the benchmark for grain prices around the world.

“I can’t honestly sit here and tell you who is determining the price of grain,” said Christopher Hausman, a farmer in Pesotum, Ill. “I’ve lost confidence in the Chicago Board of Trade.”

It's not only Wall Street that is being affected by gamblers; it seems the farmers are also suffering through people who want to make money by gambling on what the grain price might be. We need to overhaul all these systems.

Dead biodiversity

John Pratt: “We need to rethink our stance on genetically modified crops. To provide enough food, at the right price, to a hungry market, we will have to use all the technologies available to us."

John, whilst I admire your determination, nothing can be done about the future chaos and collapse. GE food is just the same as nuclear, lead and plastics: in the end they all come back to haunt us and destroy the planet. Just like all plants, GE foods need water, good soil and proper growing conditions. We are already aware of what chemical fertiliser has done to the ability of soil to rejuvenate, condition itself and support life. With GE foods you have to destroy the biodiversity for the crops to grow. This is the major problem faced worldwide: we have committed biodiversity genocide and the ecology has collapsed, which means food plants, especially imported and manipulated ones, are trying to be grown in dead soil.

How do you grow things without water and biodiversity, which is required for pollination, soil rejuvenation and sustainability? It's not only illogical but irrational, and no matter how caring and feel good we want to be, it's painfully obvious that a large number of the human population will not survive the next 5-10 years.

What 99% of the population don't seem to be able to get their head around is that the problems are not in the future. We have come to the end of the road for our society now, not tomorrow but now. To try and make out otherwise is blind lunacy. There are so many crises in agriculture worldwide. They just can't be fixed whilst the world is run on economic growth, population explosion and wealth creation. But the elite of the world continue with their heads firmly buried up to their armpits in egocentric verbal effluent, so nothing is done other than feather the elitists nests.

Read the outcome of 2020 and you will see that nothing has been put forward which will address the agricultural problems, nor the water, salinity and biodiversity problems, nor the heavily overpopulated state of this country, let alone the world.

Northern Land and Water Task Force reorganised.

The Federal Government has announced that it will restructure the task force previously headed by Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan.

The Northern Land and Water Task Force will become part of the Office of Northern Australia, created by the Rudd Government.

The new task force will have different personnel and a wider scope, and will be headed by the parliamentary secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia, Gary Gray.

Mr Gray says the task force will not allow the north to degrade like the Murray-Darling river system.

"We will avoid it. There is absolute intention to ensure that the best advice is brought forward and the opportunity is not lost to get it right," he said.

The North of Australia has huge potential to increase Australia's agricultural output. I hope the importance of this Task Force is appreciated. We must make the North more productive, at the same time protecting the environment. We cannot afford to make the same mistakes as we have made in the South.

Time to rethink our attitude to genetically modified crops.

In the United States, wheat growers and marketers, once hesitant about adopting biotechnology because they feared losing export sales, are now warming to it as a way to bolster supplies. Genetically modified crops contain genes from other organisms to make the plants resistance to insects, herbicides or disease. Opponents continue to worry that such crops have not been studied enough and that they might pose risks to health and the environment.

“I think it’s pretty clear that price and supply concerns have people thinking a little bit differently today,” said Steve Mercer, a spokesman for U.S. Wheat Associates, a federally supported cooperative that promotes American wheat abroad.

The group, which once cautioned farmers about growing biotech wheat, is working to get seed companies to restart development of genetically modified wheat and to get foreign buyers to accept it.

Even in Europe, where opposition to what the Europeans call Frankenfoods has been fiercest, some prominent government officials and business executives are calling for faster approvals of imports of genetically modified crops. They are responding in part to complaints from livestock producers, who say they might suffer a critical shortage of feed if imports are not accelerated.

In Britain, the National Beef Association, which represents cattle farmers, issued a statement this month demanding that “all resistance” to such crops “be abandoned immediately in response to shifts in world demand for food, the growing danger of global food shortages and the prospect of declining domestic animal production.”

We need to rethink our stance on genetically modified crops. To provide enough food, at the right price, to a hungry market, we will have to use all the technologies available to us.

Do We John ?

John Pratt: "We need to rethink our stance on genetically modified crops. To provide enough food, at the right price, to a hungry market, we will have to use all the technologies available to us."

Do we John ?

"Exposed: The Great GM Crops Myth"

"Genetic modification actually cuts the productivity of crops, an authoritative new study shows, undermining repeated claims that a switch to the controversial technology is needed to solve the growing world food crisis.0420 04 1

The study - carried out over the past three years at the University of Kansas in the US grain belt - has found that GM soya produces about 10 per cent less food than its conventional equivalent, contradicting assertions by advocates of the technology that it increases yields." ......cont'd .

Australia can derive substantial benefit from GM crops.

Simon, scientific papers seem to indicate that there would be productivity gains as well as less use of insecticide and fertilizers.

In the second scenario, in addition to the transgenic crop adoption modeled in the first scenario, some transgenic crop adoption is

assumed for Australia. As in scenario one, transgenics crop adoptions are assumed to be phased in over the five years from 2006 to 2010. The

assumed productivity gains for Australia are:

• a 5 per cent productivity gain for canola,

• a 5 per cent productivity gain for wheat and

• a 10 per cent productivity gain for barley.

The gross national product (GNP) difference between these two scenarios represents the difference in national economic welfare of Australia either adopting or not adopting transgenic grain and oilseed crops in the face of further global uptake of transgenic crop technology.

Results of the modeling indicate that Australia can derive substantial benefit from transgenic crop technologies. Productivity gains from commercialising transgenic varieties boost Australian production of wheat, barley and canola.

31 March 2008:

GM crops: potential benefits to Australian agriculture

GM oilseed and wheat crops, if adopted, could provide significant benefits to Australian agriculture, according to a new ABARE report GM crops in emerging economies: impacts on Australian agriculture.

‘The uptake of GM oilseeds and wheat could lead to a gain of $912 million in the Australian economy by 2018 relative to what would otherwise be the case,’ Phillip Glyde, ABARE Executive Director, said on releasing the report.

The economic benefit of GM crops is estimated under the assumptions that imports of GM crops are not restricted in foreign markets and the emerging economies of Argentina, Brazil, India and China will fully adopt these GM crops by 2018.

Australia will forgo significant economic gains by delaying the introduction of GM oilseeds and wheat if emerging economies continue to increase their uptake of GM crops,’ Mr Glyde said.

Argentina, Brazil, India and China, in aggregate, account for around 39 per cent of the world’s total GM crop plantings and this share is expected to increase as they continue to introduce GM crops at a faster pace than other countries.

The increase in GM crop adoption has increased on-farm productivity, farm incomes and reduced input use in these emerging economies.

I guess it depends on who is paying for the science.

Just Wondering ... John

John: "I guess it depends on who is paying for the science."

... seems then, you actually have a pretty poor opinion of "science"?

How can you be so sure your (science is) "right"? ...Might not a bit of old fashioned "prudence" be advantageous ?

Just wondering ....

Genes for drought tolerance.

One of the world's leading wheat breeders believes GM crops are not only safe, but hold the key to helping farmers cope with drought conditions and global warming.

Ian Edwards has worked as a plant breeder and genetic researcher for 42 years and says he is fed up having to de-bunk myths put forward by anti-GM lobbyists.

Dr Edwards wants governments to get behind GM technology, so it can be used to help farmers make money and look after the environment.

"Frankly genes for drought tolerance in our crops are going to become vital to us here in Australia," he says.

"We have a real salinity problem and GM has some very real options in salt tolerance.

"These are the kinds of things we are going to see a lot more of and in fact the environment is a major concern and actually it's also one of the major reasons for a change in public opinion attitudes significantly over the last year".

Simon, it is easy to ask for prudence while you have a full belly. If on the other hand you are having trouble feeding your kids you might say forget prudence, use what ever technology you have to stop my kids from starving.

GM crops have been around for long enough for us to determine risk and they are already producing a lot of the world's food.

It is a bit like global warming there will always be naysayers.

I trust science when the majority of scientists agree.

If we don't act now we are all guilty of mass murder.

Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, told Kurier am Sonntag that growth in biofuels, speculation on commodities markets and European Union export subsidies mean the West is responsible for mass starvation in poorer countries.

Mr Ziegler said he was bound to highlight the "madness" of people who think that hunger is down to fate.

"Hunger has not been down to fate for a long time - just as (Karl) Marx thought. It is rather that a murder is behind every victim. This is silent mass murder," he said in an interview.

Mr Ziegler blamed globalisation for "monopolising the riches of the earth" and said multinationals were responsible for a type of "structural violence".

"And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror. We have to put a stop to this," he said.

Mr Ziegler said he believed that one day starving people could rise up against their persecutors.

"It's just as possible as the French Revolution was," he said.

We don't get accused of mass murder every day. But if we fail to act urgently and millions die as a result that is just what we are guily of.

Now that the 2020 Summit is over a few big ideas that were missing.

We must urgently act to increase our agricultural output to help feed a starving world.

Our agricultural industry is short of labour. We should call on all Australians to help by volunteering our time or money to help farmers to be more productive.

We should allow people of the South Pacific to come to Australia on working visas to increase the agricultural workforce.

We should urgently look at making our land more productive especially in the high rainfall areas of the north.

We should give interest free loans not payable for 5 years or so to experienced farmers who are willing to move to the north to set up farms of all types in the north.

We should fund much more research into areas where we can be more productive and encourage people to move into these areas with tax incentives and removal expenses.

We must make sure that if we are to produce ethanol it comes from farm waste, such as bananna stems, and other waste products, not edible crops.

We should not use agricultural land for growing crops solely for ethanol. Food first then ethanol with the waste.

We are a big continent and we can produce more food even if we will be suffering from the effects of climate change.

We must treat all this with the urgency it demands.

If it was your child starving how urgent would you make it?

We must mobilise the nation just as we would if we were at war.

Improving agriculture is the key.

The head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Pascal Lamy, has called for a major rethink of what sort of aid is given to poorer countries.

Mr Lamy says the massive rise in food prices makes it essential for more attention to be focused on improving agriculture in the developing world, rather than providing food aid.

He said food aid will need to be increased and improvements in agriculture need to be put back at the heart of development spending.

Improving agriculture skills and making it financially worthwhile for farmers to produce food is the answer to the world food crisis. Australia has the skills to teach the developing world.

We do observe however, that in a period when reductions in government funding, and major structural adjustment which is affecting rural sectors more consistently than some other sectors of the Australian economy, that we have a large diverse and competent entity to serve agriculture, food, forestry, horticulture and related environmental sectors as they relate to South Eastern Australia. We also have the potential, through the University of Melbourne's approach in managing its own position, to be world leaders in some fields of major relevance to South Eastern Australia. This seems to contain the essential elements for continuing service to critically important industries in Australia and the world. Alumni of the colleges and departments which make up Land and Food, industries which support these entities, students participating or contemplating enrolment in courses of the faculty should be aware that here is a major international focus of education in the sciences, arts and technologies. They should note that these contribute to human development and understanding of its environment as practised in the fields of food and fibre production and environmental management.


Evan, I agree. 

Recently I saw an article (from back in 2007) about the plan for urban agriculture in the form of a skyscraper in Manhattan using urban green waste and recycled water to grow crops. They call it skyfarming. I thought, "No way; the real estate is too expensive and the market will see that asset  (the skyscraper) put to another use with better returns."  But, perhaps there is something in the idea at a smaller scale. Think about how much public land is wasted. Think about road reserves, railway reserves, storm water reserves, and so on.  Think "allotment schemes."

'Guerrilla Garderners'

There was an article in The Age the other day about an interesting new developing growing out of the London urban jungle - Shock gardening troops attack urban eyesores:

They work under the cover of night, armed with seed bombs, chemical weapons and pitchforks. Their tactics are anarchistic, their attitude revolutionary. Their aim: to beautify.

An army of self-styled Guerrilla Gardeners is growing across the world, fighting to transform urban wastelands into horticultural havens. To document and encourage their victories, one of the movement's top generals has written a handbook.


"Our main enemies are neglect and scarcity of land," said Reynolds, a 30-year-old former advertising employee who wrote the book after his website guerrillagardening.org became a global focal point for would-be green-fingered activists.

"Land is a finite resource - and yet areas like this are not being used. That seems crazy to me," Reynolds said.

"And if the authorities want to get in the way of that logic, then we will fight them - but peacefully - through showing them what we can achieve with plants."

As he spoke, Reynolds and several London-based troops were enthusiastically digging over soil in a rough patch of grass outside a tower block in the south east of the capital.

Defying darkness - and risking arrest for criminal damage - they continued their "attack" on the otherwise grim, grey surroundings, forking in a hefty load of compost and planting lavender and Paris daisies for a splash of colour and scent.

Other guerilla units

A lovely piece, Craig, though I suspect I am too much of a dormouse to be prepared to venture out in the wee small hours armed with my spade.

I wonder whether the guerilla gardeners of Europe find themselves in conflict with other, non-police, forces? I'm sure they do, but here is a story about a couple of bands of guerillas that I've just received from my mother in Canberra:

Talking of rain reminds me that we had some beautiful self sown tomatoes bearing on the patch where I was growing beans last year.  There were two big tomatoes just about ready to pick which I thought I would leave until they were really red but someone thought they could manage to ripen them in the sun elsewhere.  Rotters!  Two more were well on the way to ripening and silly me, I left them too. These were not taken by two legged thieves but eaten in situ by possums.  There were more which were too green to pick so I have covered them with a cloth and tied it so that tit or they cannot get in.  I would love to have heard the sounds of fury and frustration when they returned next evening for their feast.

Talking of possums, ethanol and food waste

Fiona, your mother's story reminds me of the time my father wanted to stop the possums raiding the garbage bin. They would knock off the lid in the night on garbage days and rat thought the contents, which in those days had all sorts of tit bits. So he set up a flash camera to go off as soon as the lid was disturbed, hoping that would be a terrifying deterrent in future. There was an awful crash, and with great glee father headed off to get the film developed, and there sure enough was a terrified face, not of the possum however, but of the local garbo. Dad kept a low profile for awhile after that, but come Christmas, felt compelled to make amends of the liquid kind.

Now, if what we saw last night is true, ie that to fill up a 4 wheel drive with ethanol involves the processing of enough corn to feed one person for a year, then it is not hard to see why we are going to have one helluva food crisis.

Australia may be able to do more with rice production in Northern Australia, though past efforts in the NT have had big problems, eg wild geese. Rice production on the Murray is in terminal decline. Buying back water allocations is going to accelerate that, but if the north could be brought on line more then Australia could make a big contribution to world rice stocks.  

In the meantime food waste must be eliminated, starting in our own homes. All that stuff we sometimes buy, only to never use and ultimately throw out once past use by date or when the weevils get into it, should be left out of the shopping basket. I am taking pride in running the pantry down to a few basics. Whether that will help any of those increasing numbers of hungry people around the world is unknowable, but it can't hurt.

And you don't need a big veggie garden. One tomato plant in a pot will produce volumes as will a spinach plant planted next to the tap where it can get a drink every time you turn the tap on.  Try it.


I am pleased to see the tenor of the discussion - that the problem is a social/political one.

There is easily enough land to feed people, with existing technology.  My problem is doing something big enough, fast enough.  My hope lies in lots of small experiments that will be able to link up when needed (eg the Global Ecovillages Network).  I think such things that tend to function below the radar are our most realistic hope.

Other views? 

Toward a true Universal Declaration?

This December will be the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the declaration is about the rights of our "fellow global villagers", perhaps we could each show our interest in the unity of our human family and sign on to it individually.

World Federalism Human Unionism

John (agreeing) and Alan, world federalism may seem an unexpected idea but that is only because we live in the age of nationalism. Humans have spent millennia passing through various unsatisfactory systems of government and the idea that we are somehow naturally and perpetually divided into competing sovereign states is just one more passing fad that will eventually be exposed as just as foolish as the idea we are naturally and perpetually divided into competing tribal groups that must eternally war.

The world federalist movement has not always been small either, although now it is small and splintered. Dr. Joseph Baratta’s The Politics of World Federation provides an excellent summary of the rise and fall of the world federalist movement in the USA.

The main practical problem facing the world federalists has been the idea that the whole world will suddenly change and agree simultaneously to form a world federation. Progress beyond the current system of competing states, if it is to happen, will most likely be gradual and piecemeal. If gradual progress to a transnational political system seems unlikely just think of the EU and how unlikely its gradual progress to its current size and degree of organization appeared 60 years ago.

That is why I count myself as principally a supporter of projects like the Human Union Movement. This is a call for a Human Union,something like the EU, but on a human rather than European scale, and somethingthat can start with as few as one country issuing a Declaration that it is ready to negotiate to form a Human Union and then slowly evolve from there. If one country makes a Human Union Declaration it is a very practical step to beginning a process that will solve many problems. Just as the first small and seemingly insignificant steps that began the EU were the first steps to solving many problems.

The crucial difference between projects like the Human Union or World Federation on the one hand and the UN on the other is that the UN requires no common political values or standards so that the worst dictatorship can be a member in equal standing with the most benign democracy. A World Federation requires all to accept some set of common values simultaneously. A Human Union sets up a process of organic evolution of a political system that can practise and generate common political values.

I think a world federation is the only future.

Thanks for that Lyndon, I think the EU is an excellent example of what can be achieved. Australia and New Zealand would be a logical first step, for us.

It is a good point you make when you distinguish between the UN and a federation of nations that would agree to certain ground rules. Human rights, democracy and an a commitment to international law should be a prerequisite to joining the federation, economic success and free trade would be incentives for countries to join. Eventually we would all unite. Why not?

Commonwealth: Economics for a crowded planet.

Commonwealth: Economics for a crowded planet.

By Jeffrey Sachs.

A Review in The Daily Telegraph by Martin Vander Weyer, April 12, 2008

Can it really be only three years since The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs's previous hellfire sermon on the sins of the rich world and what we must do to make amends? Yes it is, and you might be forgiven for thinking that another dose of moral medicine from Dr Sachs after such a brief interval - this time focused on environmental issues - is an extravagant use of the scarce resources of ink and paper.

This is an impressive exercise in presenting complex subject matter in plain English, and in relating the practicalities of life - in subsistence agriculture and water management, for example - to the biggest ideas of modern science. There is still legitimate room to doubt the gloomiest and most sensational predictions of the climate-change lobby, but Sachs does the doomsters a service by representing their case in a persuasively unsensational way.

His account of non-linear environmental changes, or "threshold effects'', in which, at a critical point in the slow process of climate change a small incremental temperature increase could lead to crop failure, epidemic disease, wiping out of species, or a catastrophic rise in sea levels, is about as sensational as he gets - but even then his tone is one of professorial authority rather than headline-seeking panic-punditry.

The End of Poverty was admired for its analysis of global economic problems but derided by free-market commentators for proposing solutions that involved megalomaniac structures of global regulation. In Common Wealth, however, Sachs's position has evolved into that of an idealist who believes in, and hopes for, spontaneous co-operation between scientists, NGOs and corporate leaders, as well as governments and the UN, to address threats which he believes are real and imminent but also capable of solution through shifts in behaviour and relatively modest redirection of funds.

"Markets won't do the job by themselves. Social norms do not suffice. Governments are often cruelly shortsighted. Sustainability has to be a choice, a choice of a global society that thinks ahead and acts in unaccustomed harmony.'' That's a worthy sentiment, and now is a good time to think about it.

When Jeffrey Sachs gave the first of his Reith Lectures at the Royal Society in London a year ago, he was confident that here, in the bosom of the Enlightenment, with Isaac Newton's portrait staring down at him, his message about our ability to overcome the world's problems would go down well. But when he finished he was astonished to be assailed by cries of "No we can't!" No, the world will never cooperate! No, humankind will never be reasonable! No, we can't bridge the divides!

"I was taken aback," says Sachs. "I thought that in this place at least there would be a unanimous approval. This was the elite of UK society. But there was a measure of pessimism that I found frankly amazing."

As you read Common Wealth, in which he piles case upon case in which Bush has said no to global action, it dawns that the American president's most damaging legacy will not be the Iraq war, or Kyoto, or any other single decision, but more generally his pervasive sponsorship of what Sachs calls "negativism as a state of mind". Bush has encouraged the chorus of "No we can't!" It may distress many of them to hear this, but the audience at the Royal Society are in this regard his disciples.

Sachs admits we are headed towards a cliff but, unsurprisingly, remains relentlessly upbeat. Though he won't declare which Democratic candidate he is supporting, he hails "the wonder of the American constitution. We will have a new president on January 20 2009, around noon, and this will give us the chance for a fresh start."

And then he offers a quote by poet Wallace Stevens: "After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends."

The future certainly does depend on that yes.

Sachs is a great believer in breaking things down, to reducing a daunting problem down to its smaller and more manageable parts. He applies the same logic to himself, saying his optimism has two components: a belief in the "ability of science to allow people to live prosperously and sustainably on the planet, and an optimism about the ability of people to cooperate across cultures, religions, language". He pauses, then adds: "Both of these ideas are under attack."

If ever humans needed faith it is now. We need faith in our abilities.

Don't fall into the trap of saying we do not have the ability!

It could be argued that we have achieved everything we have today by cooperation. We now need to cooperate on a global scale - this is the next step in the human story.

Pope calls for binding international rules.

Countries that act unilaterally on the world stage undermine the authority of the United Nations and weaken the broad consensus needed to confront global problems, Pope Benedict said.

In a major speech to the UN General Assembly, the pope also said the international community sometimes had the duty to intervene when a country could not protect its own people from "grave and sustained violations of human rights."

Pope Benedict, who is on the second leg of a six-day US trip, was only the third pontiff in history to address the General Assembly.

Speaking in French and English from the Assembly's green marble podium, he gave a wide-ranging address on issues such as globalisation, human rights and the environment.

The international community must be "capable of responding to the demands of the human family through binding international rules," said the 81-year-old pope, who spoke after meeting privately with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

He said the notion of multilateral consensus was "in crisis because it is still subordinated to the decisions of a few, whereas the world's problems call for interventions in the form of collective action by the international community."

You do not have to be a Catholic to agree with the Pope on this. The world is crying out for global governance.

A shit a day helps keep global warming (and hunger) away .

When I was a kid I asked my Dad what the pipe on the side of our house was for? He said it was a "stink pipe" which released gases from the sewer, otherwise the sewer would blow up.

I remember as teenagers we used to light our own farts with hilarious results.

My wife informs that in China many farms use dung processors to create energy.

Google brings up some interesting links, such as:

This Renewable Energy is Bullshit


We are going to need a smor- gas-bord of energy resources; why can't we have human crap processors in blocks of home units and offices and cow pat processors on farms and such?

Every bit helps and wouldn't it be wonderful to know that: a shit a day helps keep global warming away, and minimise our dependence on oil and the need to convert food supplies to biofuel.

Surely residential and office blocks could supply all their energy needs combining solar, wind and crap machines.

Our politicians (most full of crap anyway) could possibily keep all of the ACT in energy for decades.

GWB and buddies could do same for all of America. At least those arseholes would not be completely useless.

Are we researching this stuff in Australia?

Fiona: Justin, may I refer you to The Good Life and - perhaps less facetiously - The Wilt Alternative?

"Truly we reap what we sow."

'Getting farmers to work for nothing' by keeping farm gate prices to a minimum has been the unwritten code of governments and major corporations. It helps the profits of grain traders Cargill as well as retailers like Tesco, and the policy puts a useful lid on any measure of inflation, so helping governments achieve their economic targets.

The decline in world stocks of cereals has been a long term trend known to anyone who has the slightest appetite for such figures. UN leaders like Sir John Holmes, would, should, have known about this trend for three years or more.

When Josette Sheeran, director of the UN World Food Programme, said last month: "We are seeing a new face of hunger. We are seeing more urban hunger than ever before. We are seeing food on the shelves but people being unable to afford it." the economist in me says "you could, should, have seen this coming, and instead you should be saying "we told you this would happen if farming was neglected and manipulated".

In the UK, Professor John Beddington, the new chief scientific adviser to the government warns that the effects of the food crisis will bite more quickly than climate change, that agriculture needs to double food production. Yet he has no suggestions to help achieve this goal.

World farm policy over the past 15 years or more has been a disgrace. Farmers young and old have fled the industry; farm colleges and courses have closed; farmers have been allowed to become basket cases, supported by environmental hand-outs, the bulk of which go to those least in need; charities which help farmers get over depression have become increasingly busy and well funded.

Meanwhile commentators remain tight-lipped about other major issues of world food policy. Nobody talks about the effects of speculators, the international investors who have been pushing up the price of food commodities for their own profit. The vast increase in the volume of commodities futures trading, and the growth of 'commodity funds' that allow everyone with money to invest to get into corn and pork bellies, has had a fundamental effect on the price of grain and meat, with much of the extra value going into traders rather than farmers pockets.

Neither do commentators mention the savage decimation of the industry in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sudan and other parts of the world, countries which some 30 years ago had significant exportable surpluses but which today have their hands out for aid and charity.

Truly, we do reap what we sow.

From an article in the UK farming magazine Practical Farm Ideas.

The editor of the magazine Practical Farm Ideas was interviewed by Philip Adams on Radio National this afternoon.

The world needs more Richard Bransons

Sir Richard Branson joined the growing ranks of global warming activists yesterday by committing $3bn (£1.6bn) to tackle climate change. The billionaire pledged all profits from his Virgin air and rail interests over the next 10 years to combating rising global temperatures.

You are right Alan, we could do with more Richard Bransons. 

Rational logic seems dead

The posts so far are a good sign as to how high the probability of turning things around is placed, and that is no probability at all. When all sides stick to their failing ideologies with a vengeance, only disaster looms ahead. You will never get consensus from those programmed in egocentric ideology, they are just stubborn brick walls of ignorance. Globalisation is one of the biggest problems, as it views everything as being equal and belonging to all, no matter where or what. It also puts control of the world's commodities into the hands of a very small number of companies, which is the most negative approach to the future you can find. Turning crops into ethanol is not the problem for food at the moment, food production is dropping dramatically as broad acre farming collapses, especially when using introduced crops and grazing animals. We have to work with nature and not against it. Currently we are trying to push an overladen barrow with square wheels up a mountain, with a broken leg. Sanity must prevail and as you currently can't find any sanity around the world, then it's up to each country, state and community to take the steps necessary for survival.

That would mean getting rid of those things which are causing the problems and replacing them with things which will reverse the situation and sustain us and nature. To achieve a goal like that, we have to take drastic action and the longer it's left the harder it will become, as nature is overrunning us now with its fight to survive. No matter what anyone wants to think or believe, we have no choice: we either change or die as a society and maybe as a species, along with the millions of species we have destroyed and continue to destroy. I just find it incredible how people still cling to these proven, failed ideological approaches.

Just like god, current political and social ideologies never have the outcomes those enslaved to them expect. If you look at history, just like a belief in god, all ideologies always have the opposite outcomes for everyonel, even the elite in the end, meet their end.

Justice, peace, and a sustainable prosperity.

The World Federalist Movement is an international citizen's movement working for justice, peace, and sustainable prosperity. We call for an end to the rule of force, through a world governed by law, based on strengthened and democratized world institutions. World federalists support the creation of democratic global structures accountable to the citizens of the world and call for the division of international authority among separate agencies.
World federalists support the creation of democratic global structures accountable to the citizens of the world and call for the division of international authority among separate agencies, a separation of powers among judicial, executive and parliamentary bodies. Only truly democratic and representative bodies can have legitimate authority over all levels of government. We are dedicated to protecting the rights of every person on the planet and preserving the environment for the global community.
It is time to create a global system that acts together. Multilateral institutions should be capable of taking complicated decisions that involve other institutions in their work, and that are cognizant of other multilateral obligations. Sixty years on, the global system needs a makeover.
Ours is a planet in crisis, suffering grave problems unable to be managed by nations acting separately in an ungoverned world. It has become urgent for the world's people and governments to join in achieving a new level of global cooperation such as can only be sustained by a commitment to the planet as a genuine community. We make that commitment, and call on our fellow citizens and governments to do the same.

It is time for the human race to come of age. We have tried many forms of government, we have seen the collapse of Communism, and we are most likely witnessing the collapse of capitalism. We can fight each other over the crumbs or we can enter a new age of cooperation.

Everything we do at a local level affects the globe. The crops we plant, the food we eat, the cars we drive, all add to the current global picture. It is time to use our much acclaimed intelligence and work towards global cooperation.

The World Federation Movement has done a lot of the ground work and needs to have the support of all our leaders . To avoid food, energy and water wars we must learn to cooperate or will perish. Nations and religions are all human constructs. We have created them and we can recreate them.


John Pratt,  "The World Federalist Movement". Where do you find these these things? I had a look at their website and they are as nutty as the Greens and probably have the same number of members.

World Federalist Movement. United we stand divided we fall.

Alan, I thought the World Federalist Movement would stir up a hornets nest. Too many positive ideas.

If we have a global problem we need to act globally. Remember, "United we stand divided we fall."

Hornets nest

John, too many positive ideas, maybe but what we need are practical ideas and pollies are not capable of doing that. Neither are groups like The World Federalist Movement.

Fiona: Whom, then, would you suggest, Alan Curran? 

Who would I use?

Fiona, I would use people from the business world like Richard Branson. If Branson was in charge of transport in Australia we would have a fast train to every capital city within five years and running at a profit. He would sort out the transport mess in NSW within 12 months, and a lot of union hacks will be on the dole where they should be. Of course we could not afford to pay him, so we will have to put up with the dills we have.

We have forgotten the farmers.

Professor Margaret Alston, from Charles Sturt University, has been studying the impact of the drought and says it's time it was looked at as a national emergency.

She says her research has found it is hard to get the drought message through to the cities, because urban Australians have lost touch with rural areas.

"My suspicion is that we're getting much more ignorance amongst the urbanities about rural issues," she said.

"I think there's a real issue that a lot of urban Australians and urban professionals are losing touch with what's happening over the great divide and don't have experience of it, don't have knowledge of it and therefore I think that ignorance is quite dangerous for us."

The former head of CSIRO's land and water division, Dr John Williams, says the Government is not interested in long term strategies to reduce the effects of drought and climate change.

He says throwing more money at the current exceptional circumstance system will not help farmers or the environment in the long term, and says fewer farmers is not necessarily a bad outcome.

"But the bottom line is we need to have a look at how we can build our agriculture that really is stable and suitable to for the Australian landscape, and I think that will require change and adjustment, and I think we need to have policies and practices that can actually help us make the adjustments to the climate that we've got and building new lease land use patterns to do that."

The National Farmers Federation is renewing pressure on the Federal Government to start a Pacific Islander guest worker scheme.

The NFF says skills shortages mean almost 100,000 agricultural jobs can't be filled.

It says shortages of farm hands, livestock farmers, shearers and heavy equipment operators are already starting to hit productivity.

The NFF's Denita Wawn (worn) says the Government should consider a seasonal worker scheme like New Zealand's.

Because of poor prices paid for agricultural products and long duration of drought farm labour has moved to the mining industry. We have not paid our farmers and they have left in droves. How can we produce the agricultural products the world desperately needs if we are short over 100,000 agricultural jobs?

More funding is needed for agricultural education to combat the growing skills shortage.

The chairman of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Forestry, Alby Shultz, says university courses should be funded on the basis of need, not just on demand.

Mr Shultz says the skills shortfall is having an impact and as an example he notes Australia doesn't have any bee keeping courses.

"Because of that there's a shortage of qualified bee keepers and I'm talking about the whole ambit of bee keeping," he said.

"And we're importing people from third world countries to fill the gap I mean that's a disgraceful indication of the lack of vision of the educators and in particular the universities."

Labor MP Gavan O'Connor is on the committee and says improvements must also be made to primary, secondary and tertiary education.

"For farming to survive in Australia we need to farm smarter, and to do that we need smart farmers, and to get smart farmers on the land, more of them, and to improve the skill levels we really need to invest in education and training and research in this sector."

The die is cast

John Pratt: "All the nay sayers on peak oil, climate change, overpopulation, and the food crisis must be getting some idea of the problems we are now facing."

Isn't the present situation exactly what you wanted? I mean, it's you complaining daily about overpopulation, energy not being expensive enough (asking for higher taxes minus subsidies) and all that. A culling of world population is what I thought all greenie types have been asking for. You should be celebrating. Or are you now just getting cold feet?

Of course you now expect American farmers (and Australians no doubt) to pay all the costs, and charge less than break even for the product. No country is going to enforce this against their own citizens. Something along these lines would begin the greatest era of black-market robber capitalism ever seen (not to mention total power politics). 

Could of course go down the Chavez route and nationalize the farms (might even find somebody who knows something about farming) - great oil prices; pity the shelves are empty - and guess who their biggest food and agriculture supplier is? The oil tap going off this week, is it?

The world's biggest problem (well, some nations') is overpopulation. This problem will be sorted out one way or the other; irrespective of systems of commerce. The final result isn't going to be pretty, and it has never been pretty.

I guarantee that in about five years the people now demanding carbon taxes will be heading for the hills with a hail of bullets running a close second.

That's just ridiculous

Paul Morrella, what will you do when your prediction proves wrong and Webdiarists come wanting you to fulfil your guarantee in about five years?  Promise to stop making silly predictions?

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