SOUTHERN AFRICA: Competing for Limpopo water, A Current Event

African Limpopo Water Article

Crop failure plagues the continent of Africa, especially southern Africa. Now along with the climate change, water shortages are becoming more and more eminent. The shortage in the amount of water will greatly affect the food production the area. Given the threat of even greater water shortages in the area ,Claudia Ringler, a Senior Research Fellow at the US-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and her colleague Tingju Zhu, a senior scientist at IFPRI’s Environment and Production Technology Division, have published research papers on the various effect of scenarios on the water supply.
These scenarios range from if state it is in now continues or green house gas emissions sky rocket based on the water sources available for irrigation, such as rivers, groundwater and rainwater runoff, in various parts of Africa. In addition to these scenarios they “took into account the rate of evapo-transpiration – the release of water into the atmosphere from surfaces such as soil and plants -and changes in rainfall.” One of the areas that they researched was the Limpopo River Basin. This Basin provides water to people in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Ringler and Zhu believe that in the next two decades the water supply from this Basin will greatly diminish. According to the U.N. office of Coordination and Human Affairs, “Nearly a quarter of South Africa’s population of 48 million and 60 percent of Botswana’s people live in the basin, which has 2.9 million hectares of farmland, with 91 percent cropped under rain-fed conditions. According to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) of South Africa, half the basin’s water is consumed by big commercial farms in South Africa and Zimbabwe.” They scientist said they believe the climate change will affect rainfall to 10-25 percent less rainfall for the next two decades.
With the drop in water supply, conflict in the region seems inevitable to follow. The river basin supports the irrigation systems of 97 out of every 100 farmers in the region. Since the distribution of water is based on seasonal rainfall some farmer’s food production will be hit harder than others. In addition, the climate change projects that drought and flood in the region will only worsen. The IRIN reports “Commercial farmers make up 20 percent of the farming population in the basin and own 60 percent of the land, while the remaining 80 percent are small-scale farmers with 40 percent of the land, and therein lies the problem.” Since the commercial farmer have greater access to money and technology they are more prepared to deal with the dwindling water supply. They have accessed to drip-water irrigation systems which uses very little water. In addition to farmers being in competition with themselves, they have to compete with the gold and mineral mines and electric plants.
On a continent that is already plagued with drought, food shortages and conflict, this issue only adds to the list. In order for the countries to create a solution to this quick coming problem they will have to work together and keep in mind all that will be affected. Hopefully solutions can be found without a conflict erupting in an already destitute continent.

Somalia: A Nation in Crisis

Somalia Article NY Times

After discussion of GM foods and food aid can help rebuild the nations of Africa I researched some of the nations in Africa that are in the most peril. The one African nation that stood out was Somalia. Often considered the epitome of a failed nation, Somalia is amidst civil warfare, corrupt government and disease and famine. After representing the World Food Programme in the debate last Thursday, this nation seemed like the textbook definition of a nation that the WFP looks to help grow and rebuild.
Conflict in Somalia started back in 1991 when opposing clans overthrew the President Siad Barre. The various clans failed to reach an argument on a replacement plunging the country into lawlessness and warfare. Not only is this region plagued by warfare but also famine and disease sending the death tool to over 1 million, in addition too, about 1 million displaced people (most include women and children). As of 2004, an unsuccessful transition government has been established. Their lack has been due to the rise of the Islamist group in the South, whose intent is to topple the transitional government. The lack of authority has lead to piracy along the coast of Somalia, greatly affecting international shipping. In effect, a lot of the food aid that is suppose to go the hungry and sick people is ending up in the hands of the corrupt extremist groups.
In united Nations reports that much of the corruption lies in how the food aid is being diverted to the Islamists groups and opposing clans. “As much as half the food aid sent to Somalia is diverted from needy people to a web of corrupt contractors, radical Islamist militants and local United Nations staff, according to the U.N. Security Council report.” In addition the U.N. has suggested to the World Food Programme to rebuild its current food distribution program. They said that the World Food Programme will have to start from the beginning to try and rid the country of what they U.N. claims “corrupt cartel of Somali distributors”. In addition to food aid not reaching the designated people, the U.N. reports that regional Somali authorities are collaborating with pirates who hijack ships along the lawless coast. The United States and the U.N. are trying to work with the new government to hopefully over throw the leader of the Islamist group, Sheik Sharif. Both are providing millions of dollars in government security in hope that this weak but internationally recognized government will be able to gain enough military force to fight off the Islamist. The fate of the government is beginning to look up though, for the first time in years they have passed a national budget and used tax dollars from the ports to pay soldiers. Hopefully intervention can take place and rid the country of Sheik Sharif and his extremist Islamic group. Overall, it will take the help from the U.N. and programs such as the World Food Programme to alleviate these people’s despair in this godforsaken country.

Mobile App to Help African Farmers? A Current Event

CNN Article

One would think this idea is far-fetched, but apparently it is more innovated than we thought. What is the reason behind creating an app for mobile phones so that farmers can interact with the market and each other? The idea comes from Amos Gichamba who grew up on a dairy farm in Kenya. Amos Gichamba witness firsthand how the farmers were exploited by the dairy companies. He explained “The price of milk at the farmer level is very low compared to how much it’s sold to consumers. So they end up getting very little money for a lot of work.” He believes with the right information the farmers will be able gain a larger profit from their dairy. Mr. Gichamba states that much of the problems stemmed from lack of information. Rural farmers did not know how much their dairy was being sold on the market or how much other rural farmers were selling it for. Due to this, the farmers did not whether to slow or speed up production or that they could raise the price on their dairy products. This allowed the companies to easily take advantage of the farmers.
So, Gichamba thought what wouldn’t be a more perfect solution than to create a mobile phone app that provides farmers with this information. This phone app would be a text-message based system. Farmers send questions in the form of texts to a computer data base, and then this database will answer their questions regarding the local dairy market in 140 characters or less. When I first heard of this solution I was skeptical. Why would poor farmers in a third world country even own a phone? Africa contains some of the poorest countries in the World; they are struggling to rebuild nations, develop agriculture to feed to hungry, fight disease, and have a profitable market. It doesn’t seem legitimate that these people, especially rural farmers, which are some of the poorest people on the continent, to be downloading iphone apps. But supposedly, while wired telephone lines and broadband internet is virtually nonexistent, the use of the cell phone is exploding. Recently, mobile app developers have been popping up everywhere in Africa, not creating flashy apps such as games but ones that will help alleviate Africa’s problems. Amos Gichamba is one of these new developers. He explains that despite the fact that Africa has the reputation as the “least wired” continent; cell phones use could not be more booming.
According to the article, “Mobile phone subscriptions in Africa are growing at a rate of about 50 percent per year in recent years, faster than that of any other continent, according to the International Telecommunication Union. A 2009 ITU report found 28 percent of people in Africa have a mobile phone subscription”. Apparently cell phone use in Africa is more widely used than the rest of the World thought. Gichamba says that phone apps are helping the African people check market prices, transfer money, learn languages and alert authorities to the need for food or other aid in the event of a disaster. Who would have thought that cell phones would be part of the solution to the many problems that plague Africa? Hopefully these mobile apps will help produce the change that Africa is so desperately in need of.

DDT and the Bald Eagle

Re-establishing breeding populations for the bald eagles off the coast of California has proven to be extremely difficult.  The eagles disappeared from the Channel islands because of the introduction of the pesticide DDT.  Since the 1960’s, DDT has affected many species of birds ability to reproduce.  Seth Newsome and colleagues reconstructed the diet of the eagle on the islands and published a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  Up until around 1800, the eagles primarily fed on seabirds.  When colonization occured, the diet changed to that of the farming industry…mainly sheep carcasses.  Sheep no longer exist on the islands, so if the eagles numbers were to recover, the ecosystem would be affected by way of whatever the eagles decide to prey on.  Newsome suggests sea lions or other marine mammal carcasses, or seabirds, with both being a huge problem.  The seabirds numbers have declined recently and are just now beginning to recover.  As for the marine life, DDT is still present in their tissues leading to an increased problem within the eagle population.  Now the question is, should we restore the bald eagle to its natural breeding grounds?  Probably not.

Oil Spill in Venice Louisiana:Current Event

Oil Spill In Louisiana The area in which the oil spill covers

Recently in class we learned about how dead zones and types of algae in the Gulf of Mexico have been threatening to the Mississippi river delta. These things have been detrimental to the fishing industries in Louisiana and other various states. The fishing industry in this area reportedly brings in $2.4 billion a year. Therefore, the fishing industry is a very important part of some person’s livelihoods. After learning this in class I came across an article regarding an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
On April 22 an oil rig exploded dumping 1.6 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico roughly 50 miles off the southeast shore of Louisiana. The untapped wellhead is currently gushing about 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf. It is thought that oil from the spill could make landfall in a few days. The two areas that are most likely to be hit first are Venice and Port Fourchon in Louisiana. Since this could potentially destroy the fishing industry in the areas and cause fishermen to lose a substantial amount of money, Pres. Obama is going to visit those two areas this weekend. In response to this emergency Obama has provided over 2,000 personnel that have laid down 275,000 feet of protective booms to protect the shoreline. In addition, Obama has urged BP, the operators of the Deep Horizon drilling platform that exploded, it find a way to stop the gushing of oil and a way to clean it up. Spokeswoman for BP Marti Powers said they are testing a sub-surface dispersant which will hopefully aid in the cleanup of the oil. “The dispersants, she said, attach themselves to underwater concentrations of oil, causing the oil to sink to the bottom and dissipate.” Rapid Response teams have also been deployed to evaluate the threat to the environment then act as quickly as possible to alleviate the problem. But the problem still remains that the wellhead has not been stopped from gushing out large amount of oil. Every day the oil slick creeps closer and closer to the shoreline threatening marine and wetland wildlife. This will not only be devastating to the economic industries but also drinking water, agricultural systems such as irrigation, and wildlife’s habitat. BP has said they have been trying to use a remote controlled underwater submarine to activate a valve that is suppose to shut off the flow of oil, they claim the valve is not working. Some suggest that the holes be plugged up with cement, which is sometimes done on a small scale, but some also claim that cement leads to explosions. Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, stated that the main priority now is for BP and the government to work together to find a solution to this spill soon. Their duties are to find a way to stop oil flow and clean up the oil quickly as possible.
Even though, both parties will need to cooperate to find a viable solution, the federal government has stated that it is BP’s responsibility to pay for the cost of the response and the cleanup of the spill. However, the president has vowed to continue to help any communities that are in need. Whatever the cause or whoever is responsible, a solution needs to be found quickly. The impact of this oil spill, if spread too far, could not only devastate Louisiana’s commercial fishing industry but all of the Mississippi River Delta’s.

Zimbabwe: Food Aid

Zimbabwe Article

On Thursday I found it interesting to learn Zimbabwe position on food aid and GM food. I was interested to learn how the country has gone about rebuilding after being caught in conflict with neighboring nations Rwanda, Namibia, Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda in Africa’s “first world war”. As of now the government is ruled by a one-party system under the dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. In effort to aid landless blacks, the government in 2000 seized industrial farms from whites which precipitated the near collapse of the country’s agricultural based economy. Rampant inflation has lead to shortages in food and fuel. This has left the nation in turmoil, not only politically, economically but with outbreaks of disease and little food and medical assistance to help the people.
Many Zimbabweans survive on grain hand outs. Many other have decided to move out of the country. Most blame the food shortages on the land reform programme, which is the program that seized the commercial farms from whites and caused a plummet in production. The government and president, Robert Mugabe, blame the drought. Also, Mr Mugabe has accused Britain and its allies of sabotaging the economy in revenge for the redistribution programme. Clearly, there is corruption in the government. Although, Mr. Mugabe believes that the disruption of the economy and food shortage is no fault of his own the country is willing to accept the assistance of food aid. Recently there have been improvements in the livelihood of the nation. Rainfall has been consistent therefore helping agriculture and there has been more liberal policies enacted. Even though there has been a higher production a food due to good rainfall, food insecurity still exist. But the nation is trying to improve the state of the agricultural economic stability. Grain market reforms have also been implemented, which entails free movement and buying and selling of grain in the country, removal of import duties and designation of the government Grain Marketing Board as a buyer of last resort to maintain a floor price for maize and protect domestic producers. This has enable products to reach the markets and prices to decrease.
The Grain Market Reform has mostly benefited the production of maize in the region. Although, maize production has increased the productions of cereals has decreased. This is mainly because seed and fertilizers are too expensive for the farmers to purchase. In addition, much of the seed is being saved in the form of food aid. The UN mission in Zimbabwe recommends emergency assistance by the Government and the international community in acquiring fertilizer and quality seed for delivery. Overall, Zimbabwe will need the support from other nations in order to overcome the hurdles it has laid out for itself. If Zimbabwe can improve its agricultural market, the quality of life for the people will only get better.

Declining Honeybees a “threat” to food supply

Bees MSNBC Article

It has been mentioned in class a couple times that if the honey bees no longer existed it would be devastating to agriculture. This comes from the fact that if bees no longer existed the plants would not be pollinated or humans would have to do it manually themselves. Let’s just say, the world definitely takes advantage of these little insects and their capabilities.
Back in 2007 reports were coming out the honey bee population was decreasing drastically. This was alarming to many people especially the bee keepers that could not find out why their bees were dying off in such large numbers. In the article it states that unless people discover soon who this mysterious killer is it may have a great effect on people’s dinner plates. The man that was interviewed in the article states that the bees pollinate 90 of the crops they grow. This contains a variety of crops such as apples, nuts, avocados, soybeans, asparagus, broccoli, celery, squash and cucumbers. In addition, it includes an array of fruits including citrus fruit, peaches, kiwi, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, cantaloupe and other melons. Imagine if this farmer no longer had the bees to pollinate his crops for him; it would result in crop failure and a great economic loss. Not only would this be a detrimental loss to the farmer but people’s diet would be limited.
In fact, about one-third of the human diet comes from insect-pollinated plants, and the honeybee is responsible for 80 percent of that pollination, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Stated in the article not only would the agriculural industry be affected but also the animal industry. The alfalfa that is feed to cattle depends on the bees to pollinate these plants. Although, some scientist believe that we are not on the brink of a food crisis the question still is ‘why are the colonies of bee being killing off more quickly than ever before?”. Large scales of bee die-off has happened before, but his one is particulary alarming because it is occurring in larger numbers and has lasted longer than prior bee die-offs. Back in 2007, U.S. beekeepers lost one-quarter of their colonies, which is about fives times larger than winter losses. This has been dubbed Colony Collaspe Disorder. Not only has this been happening in the U.S. but silimar patterns have shown up in Europe, Brazil and Canda. People believe that these large dis-offs are partly in due to that bees genes are not able to fight off disease and posions. In addition, due to the colony structure if one bee gets infected with posion and disease then the whole colony becomes effected anf therefore die-off. Whatever the the reasons a solution needs to be found. The production of crops are very dependent on honeybees and their ablity to pollinate. As of now, scietnist are still struggling to figure out the phenonmen known as Colony Collaspe Disorder. Hopefully a answer will be found soon because whatever the cause it is a known fact that life without honeybees would be dim.

Coyote vs. Greyhound: The Battle Lines Are Drawn


Coyote vs. Greyhound

Interesting article out of the NYTimes about an ethical issue I’m not sure we covered in class.

In short, on the plains of Oklahoma and many places out West, greyhounds, or other large dogs, are trained to track and kill coyotes.  The latter can be a nuisance to farmers and ranchers, killing livestock and costing thousands in vet bills and replacement costs.  The former, however, though we may be more accostumed to it on the racetrack, is a great runner and loves the chance to get out and chase.  The greyhounds are trucked around in specially built crates built on the beds of pick-ups and when a coyote is spotted, they’re let loose.

Ethical?  Some would call it the most natural form of hunting imaginable.  Others would call it animal brutality.

Manure: A Great Source of Energy

Manure Article

A women forms patties of cow dung to be dried and used as fuel i New Delhi, India

In class, when discussing CAFOs, we learned about how much of the animal waste is not disposed of properly. This leads to pollution in the environment; some believe it is one of the causes leading to the climate change. But back in 2008 am article was published that said if used properly we could have a new source of renewable energy: manure.
Livestock globally produce 13 billion tons of fecal matter a year according to the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization. People believe that is processed properly, it can be a clean and abundant way to produce electrical and heat energy. According to Ecofriend, one pound of cow manure can be produced into enough energy to make meals all day for a family of four to six people in India. In addition they state, “One cow in one year can produce enough manure, which when converted into methane can match the fuel provided by 200 liters-plus (about 53 U.S. gallons) of gasoline.” Although they also say that it would take about six cows to a home in the developed world to produce enough energy for that home for a day. Manure needs to be utilized because right now untreated manure is dangerous to lot of aspects of our lives.
Livestock are contributors to some of the most serious environmental global problems. “Livestock rearing was responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it said, putting it easily ahead of the transportation sector in the list of environmental villains (which emits around 13 percent of global emissions).” Livestock emissions also contribute to producing 9 percent of human-induced carbon dioxide (CO2); 37 percent of all human-induced methane (CH4); and 64 percent of ammonia, which is tied to acid rain. ( FAO) Most of the manure that is produced in the developed world come from concentrated animals operations and they do not treat it properly. A lot of the problems in the ecosystems, which are in close proximity to CAFOs, come from the lack of treatment of the immense amounts of manure. One of the effects is the run-off that comes from the manure when it rains. The run-off causes eutrophication, which essentially is when rivers and streams are starved of oxygen. These consequences of untreated manure are strong reasons why we need to utilize the good effects of manure.
There are two basic ways to turn manure into energy: biodigestors and bioreactors. Biodigestors use a process known as anaerobic digestion (AD) and it effectively expands manure’s usefulness fourfold. Farmers who use this method can provide themselves with methane gas to produce heat and energy for their homes, liquid manure for fertilizers, fibrous matter for animal bedding; and waste heat to warm their homes and barns. “According to carbon-offset program Terrapass, if all the uncovered manure lagoons in the United States were fitted with methane digestors, it would have the effect of taking more than 10 million cars of the road a year.” Countries such as Sweden and Germany have adopted these methods of converting manure into energy and they couldn’t be more successful. Manure could be a very useful tool in helping solve the energy crisis. The rest of the world along with the CAFOs need to create better treatment processes so we can benefit from a virtually endless supply of energy.