What was missing
- Clear distinction between “enough food” vs. “food security”
- Discussion of the most effective inducers of behavioral change
- Urban governance, and its role in shaping resource consumption
Watch these areas
- Standardized water footprints
- Governance of land acquisitions
- Managing the terrestrial landscapes that sustain rainfall
What was missing
I probably shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to think that I know what was missing from a week-long conference on water and food security, wherein I couldn’t even attend all the sessions – but I’m going to try anyway 🙂
A better distinction between “enough food for billions” and “food security of billions”
The first is a technocratic issue ( which is more or less solved), and the second is a political economic issue ( which is for far from solved). It would be worthwhile to deploy additional energy on the second issue.
Johan Rockstrom talking about “feeding the billions.”
Copyright Patrick Keys, All Rights Reserved.
The headline of the week may have been (some variation of) “Food shortages could force world into vegetarianism.” Aside from me being frustrated that the article makes such a broad generalization about the scientific findings, its frustrating when an experienced journalist misspells the name of one of the world’s most prominent scientists on water issues (its Malin, not Malik, Falkenmark).
Professor Malin Falkenmark, Stockholm University
The problem with the headline about vegetarianism is that it suggests that the world is one unit, and that somehow resource constraints would affect the world in a more or less uniform way. Barring the emergence of some centralized global government, this won’t happen. Some people will always be able to afford meat and will consume it. In 50 years, some people will probably still eat as much as modern Americans. The question is how are we going to create a world that is food secure for billions. I’m very confident that we will go through multiple advances in crop science, etc. that will allow us to feasibly grow more than enough food for 9 billion people. Imagine 6-10 tonnes of harvest per hectare. I’m 100% a techno-optimist in that regard. I’m not, however, optimistic that we are guaranteed to sort out how to ensure that people are food secure, meaning that the food that is produced can reach people who have the purchasing power to acquire it. Ultimately, “food security of billions” will boil down to the ability of those billions to purchase what they can’t grow themselves, and that is a complicated issue that was addressed by Malin Falkenmark in her talk(s), but by very few others.
Discussion of the most effective inducers of behavioral change.
Urban governance, and the role it could take in shaping resource consumption.
Watch these areas
Standardized water footprints, instead of context-less water footprints
Governance of land acquisitions
Managing the terrestrial landscapes that sustain rainfall
Copyright Patrick Keys 2012, All Rights Reserved.
On Thursday I attended the high-level panel on “feeding the billions“. Based on comments by the panelists that were hinting at the importance of “valuing water”, I wanted to get an unequivocal answer to whether or not water pricing was a good approach to manage water scarcity.
2012 Stockholm Water Prize Laureates Seminar. Copyright Patrick Keys, All Rights Reserved.
So, rather than clumsily ramble through a question, I wrote the question out in specific words to try and avoid any weaseling in the responses that I received. It’s not often you have such a high-powered captive audience, and I wanted to make the most of it!
Professor Emeritus Tony Allan, Kings College London
Professor Johan Rockström, Stockholm Resilience Centre
Dr. Colin Chartres, Director General, International Water Management Institute
Professor Emerita Rita Colwell, University of Maryland
Rationing vs. Pricing
A signal of scarcity is needed
What is The QANAT? A weekly digest of water security highlights. If you have suggestions for next week’s QANAT let me know! The QANAT is named after an ancient water supply system.
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FOOD AND WATER SECURITY
This Qanat is going to focus on a few interesting articles from the last month that are related to food security in a time of global change.
This focus comes from the fact that I will be a Junior Rapporteur at the Stockholm World Water Week, focusing on “Good Governance of Water and Food.” To follow World Water Week posts on Twitter, search for #wwweek – and for the junior rapporteur feed add #Jrap to your search.
Farm in the Sinai peninsula, Copyright Pat Keys 2011, All Rights Reserved
“Amid a devastating drought, does it still make sense to use corn for fuel?” Washington Post (July 31, 2012)
Meat and poultry producers get hit especially hard when the price of corn and animal feed rises. Many livestock producers have to respond by culling their herds to stem losses. In the short term, that leads to a drop in meat prices, which squeezes the industry’s profits further. Only after a delay do meat and poultry prices start to leap upward.
- Pat’s thoughts: It never made sense to me to make fuel out of food, and the subsidies that are in place that currently distort the market lead to both perverse consequences and incentives. I understand that the market is complicated, but given the overwhelming data suggesting that in the future there will be an inability to grow enough food for future populations, that using arable land and food crops for fuel seems like a mis-allocation of resources. Additionally, given the dubious affect of biofuels on reducing carbon emissions I fail to see the purpose of using corn for biofuels, aside from providing further artificial stability for corn farmers.
“Urbanization and Climate Change” Global Trends 2030 (August 24, 2012)
By 2030, six of out every ten people will live in cities; by 2050, this number will increase to roughly 70 percent of the global population (or 6 billion). By 2030, roughly 450 million people may be living in megacities. The pressures of population growth and urbanization on megacities and their infrastructure may prove quite problematic, particularly as competition for scarce natural resources becomes more intense. For instance, cities account for 70 percent of global energy use.
- Pat’s thoughts: “Urban resource security” is going to be a buzz word of the coming decades, as urban populations, and their consumption patterns, swell. Understanding the types of food being consumed, and the origin of that food, will be absolutely critical to urban sustainability.
“One man’s future is another man’s present: Farms of the Future hits Tanzania” Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security – CGIAR (August 2, 2012)
…Rosalia got the chance to participate in the first farmer-to-farmer exchange visit to Mbinga and several other analogue learning sites en route to see exactly what she might expect from the future, and, better yet, to learn how farmers there are already coping with their climate.
- Pat’s thoughts: This is an extraordinary example of ‘South-South’ knowledge transfer and climate change planning foresight. Furthermore, the inclusion of female farmers is critical to the longterm viability of any educational effort, given the demonstrated critical importance of women in sustainability efforts – especially in the developing world. It is ironic that they highlight female farmers, and yet the title is refers to “men.”
“Southeast Asia’s rice insulates region from food crisis” VOXXI (August 2, 2012)
But Thailand’s warehouses are practically bursting thanks to a fluke of populist politics. To secure votes in rice country, Thailand’s ruling party has vowed to buy every grain farmers can harvest for up to 50 percent above the market rate.
- Pat’s thoughts: This article makes it sound like rice will be a valuable crop in the future and will provide some sort of regional immunity to food shortages. However, this quote makes it clear that the mitigating influence of rice on regional food shortage is more due to human influences (populist politics) than climatic influences (drought or flooding). I do think that rice will be an excellent buffer in the future against failures of other crops, in that rice is irrigated where the failed corn harvests are rainfed. Likewise, the fact that “rice baskets” are predominantly in a very different part of the world compared to “corn baskets” and “wheat baskets” (“breadbaskets” doesn’t really seem appropriate, given rice is used primarily for… rice – not bread).