As Africa’s economy is growing and the population is urbanizing, more people are getting removed from food production – but some are calling on Africa to “think agriculture” for jobs.
“Agriculture should be Africa’s number one priority, especially when it comes to employment,” said Philippe Egger, Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Bureau of Programming and Management, in a recent commentary on the ILO website.
The reality is that agriculture in Africa has been neglected by governments, international development lenders and policy advisers alike. This carries a high cost: Per capita food production has barely grown over the last 50 years, at a pace of 0.06 per cent a year. With the population rising at 2.6 per cent a year, food imports have increased at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent since 1980, with cereals accounting for the largest share. Africa receives close to half of the world’s total cereal food aid.
Yields are comparatively low at an average of 1.3 tons per hectare of harvested land, less than half the world average. Yields have increased at an annual rate of just over 1 per cent, while the world average grew 2 per cent.
Egger suggests that Africa needs to focus on “raising food output per unit of land among the large majority of small-holders” by using an “agriculture first” strategy that includes “wider use of fertilizer and sound water management techniques; support to rural infrastructure and market access; and agricultural research.” But there is no mention of increasing use of biotech crops.
While there is no official ban on growing GMO crops in most of Africa, Europe’s restriction on imports of biotech crops has a significant impact on what farmers in Africa will plant.
The EU is a market for much African produce and these restrictions are preventing many African farmers from growing GM crops. GM crops that could improve yields dramatically, or are more drought tolerant, or resistant to local pests, are being overlooked.
Bluntly, children in Africa are starving because their farmers are frightened to grow GM crops for fear that they will be unable to sell their produce.
That is blunt – probably a bit exaggerated as well – but the point is that both African food production and employment could benefit from growing more biotech crops. Bluntly, biotech crops increase yields which grows the agricultural economy – and helps feed starving children.
The 2012 drought caused a little shake up in the top four corn producing states that produce more than a billion bushels a year. Normally Iowa and Illinois take the top two spots – sometimes Illinois is first but mostly it’s Iowa. Nebraska takes third and Minnesota usually comes in 4th. Last year, however, Minnesota moved up to second place because they actually increased corn production while the other three states were down due to the drought.
Encouraged by such a good year, the Minnesota corn growers are aggressively pursuing export markets and recently went on a trade mission to Taiwan. “We just want to emphasize that we had a very good crop this past year,” said Minnesota Corn Growers Association president Tom Haag, who noted that they also stressed the safety of genetically-modified corn. “We’re feeding them to our own livestock, so it’s safe for them to feed.”
Haag says they were able to meet with high level government and industry officials in Taiwan during the trade mission and would like to return the favor. “Every two years Taiwan has a mission to the U.S.,” he said. A delegation goes to Washington, D.C., to sign an agreement regarding corn purchases and then they visit corn producing states. “Two years ago when they came, they missed Minnesota as a state to visit and we were over there to convince them to come this time to show off our state,” said Haag.
Corn is Taiwan’s top agricultural import from the United States, with an annual trade value of $805 million.
Newspapers, online sources and television reports alike have spent days now terrifying a hungry public with reports that party food favorite buffalo chicken wings will be in short supply this Super Bowl. Linking the supposed shortage to a variety of factors, from the drought to government biofuels policy, these reporters need to check their readily available facts.
Chicken wings will be abundant for the Sunday night football festivities in 2013. Actually, chicken wing supplies are currently 68 percent higher than at this time last year. All of the commotion is for naught.
Using data available to the public, and to the reporters who promote this bogus story, the above chart details the amount of chicken wings in cold storage over the past few years. This information, updated monthly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, provides unbiased, factual data about our nation’s food situation. As it turns out, there will be wings enough for all.
So how does such blatantly false fodder gain national attention?
A group, interested in whipping up public panic and a loud uproar that could work to their own benefit, concocts a pace quickening story that ties directly into a major event. Media outlets, looking for a quick space filler that will attract attention without creating additional work for already strapped staffers, picks up said story. Then, the attention grabbing atrocity takes on a life of its own.
The age old strategy might have worked too. If only it weren’t for those pesky publicly available government reports.
So go ahead and invite a few extra friends over for the big game without fearing a fight will break out over the wings. America’s farmers have you covered.
Big Food is running in circles to rehash old – and incorrect – claims about renewable fuel.
This time, it’s the National Chicken Council trying to scare football fans about the supply of chicken wings, and it’s déjà vu all over again: the industry repeatedly ignores the true drivers of food costs.
Despite the Chicken Council’s claims, the poultry industry hardly seems to be cutting back on feed and animal production.
Click here for the full post as it originally ran on the Fuels America blog.
Two strong advocates for agriculture in Congress are retiring after this term, leaving a void in the Senate that could make it even more challenging for farmers and ranchers to have their voices heard on the Hill in the future.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) announced Saturday that he would not to seek reelection in 2014. “I’m 73 years old right now,” Harkin said in a statement. “When the current Congress is over, I will have served in the United States House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate for a total of 40 years. After 40 years, I just feel it’s somebody else’s turn.”
On Friday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) announced he would be retiring after serving a combined 20 years in the House and Senate. His reasoning is different than Harkin’s. “Instead, this is about frustration, both at a lack of leadership from the White House and at the dearth of meaningful action from Congress, especially on issues that are the foundation of our nation’s economic health,” Chambliss said.
Both of these lawmakers have served in leadership positions on the agriculture committees in both the Senate and House and have helped shepherd several farm bills through Congress. Certainly both of their reasons for not seeking reelection are very good ones. There is definitely something to be said for limiting terms in Congress and no doubt a lack of action in Washington, but agriculture needs its friends on the Hill and they are getting fewer and harder to come by. We can only hope that they will be followed by others who see the importance of our nation’s food system.
The four represent a range of agricultural commodities including corn and soybeans, hogs, cattle, and dairy and they were chosen through on-line voting and a panel of judges from nine finalists announced last month at the New York Food Dialogues. The winners will act as national spokespeople, and will share stories and experiences on a national stage to help answer consumers’ questions about how food is grown and raised to feed our nation.
When the four were introduced by USFRA this week, they were asked what they believe is the most important story for agriculture to share.
Chris Chinn of Clarence, Missouri is a 5th generation farmer with her husband Kevin, his parents and brother raising hogs, cattle, hay and row crops. “I think it’s more important for us to listen to the concerns that people have about how food is produced so we can have a more open dialogue,” Chris said.
Will Gilmer and his father own/operate a dairy farm in Lamar County, Alabama that has been in continuous operation since the early 1950s. “It’s important that we help people understand what the new things we’re doing are, why we’re doing them and how it’s beneficial to them in giving them great choices at the grocery store,” said Will.
Katie Pratt and her husband Andy (7th generation farmer) and their two children raise corn, soybeans and seed corn in Dixon, Illinois in partnership with Andy’s family. “One of the stories that needs to be told is that we are families operating businesses,” said Katie.
Bo Stone jointly owns P & S Farms in Rowland, NC with his wife Missy and his parents where they grow corn, wheat and soybeans, hogs and cattle, as well as strawberries and sweet corn that are sold at their own roadside market. “We are all consumers of our products and I’d like for everyone to know that we’re in this together,” he said.
Definition of Relevance \ˈre-lə-vən(t)s\ – noun
a : relation to the matter at hand
b : practical and especially social applicability
I’ve heard the word relevant in relation to agriculture several times in recent months – from Senator Chuck Grassley, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and National Corn Growers Association president Pam Johnson, among others. Not that they are questioning the relevance of agriculture, but that Congress and society in general seem to be not just questioning, but even ignoring, the relevance of agriculture.
What is more relevant to a productive and sustainable society than a consistent, affordable and nutritious food supply? Nothing. What will it take to make the non-farming public realize that what they take for granted is not only relevant but vital?
One way would be if we encourage this whole notion of “grow your own” subsistence farming. Most people would gain a whole new appreciation for farmers if they had to produce all, or even part, of the food they need to eat. They would also gain a whole new appreciation for crop protection products when they get insects and diseases in their crops. If more people had to keep chickens to eat eggs they might have a greater appreciation for poultry housing and antibiotics.
Relevance is all about being able to relate, and the majority of people have a tough time relating to farmers and ranchers. We’ve also never experienced any type of food shortage in most of our lifetimes, so it’s really hard for most Americans to relate to going hungry because the crop didn’t come in. There’s enough food to feed a neighborhood in the average convenience store – or enough to feed a whole starving village in sub-Saharan Africa where they don’t have convenience stores.
Food is what makes agriculture relevant. Agriculture literally equals food – not to mention feed (for more food), fiber for clothing, and fuel for energy. But mainly food. Without the farmers, there is no food.
As long as food is relevant, agriculture must be relevant to society and to its representatives in government.
In 2012, Americans consumed less high fructose corn syrup per person than they have since 1997. Dieters, who have become increasingly conscious of calories in HFCS sweetened beverages such as soda, have dropped their HFCS consumption but not the extra weight.
Levels of obesity continue to grow despite waning HFCS consumption? How could this be when pseudoscientists such as the great Oz have prattled on endless about the evils of corn sugar?
This week, public health and nutrition expert Marion Nestle gave a simple, concise explanation. Noting that the attention paid to obesity has had a negative impact on HFCS consumption, she pointed out dieters need to reduce their overall sweetener consumption to see a real impact.
“A lot of attention has been paid to obesity, and that’s hurt high-fructose corn syrup,” said Nestle. “Now, if only people weren’t making up for it by eating more sugar.”
In short, the truth about sweeteners is quite simple. Sugar is sugar whether it is from corn, cane or beat.
This academic, fact-based approach to nutrition does not offer dieters the same sweet solution that demonizing a single food does, it does offer results. Thoughtful, deliberate moderation does work, whether one needs to drop another pants size or drop the fad diet fluff.
Now I know that there are not too many fans of the Humane Society in this room. But egg producers thought it was in their best interest to avoid fifty different referendums, fifty different sets of rules. So they sat down with folks and they reached common ground. After all, isn’t that what we’re asking our Congress to do? Isn’t that what we’re asking our political leaders to do? To sit down and make common cause? I think the egg producers have the right idea.
There is no doubt that most livestock producers in the United States consider HSUS to be a threat to their operations – their business, their livelihoods, their very lifestyle. But it is an issue that crop farmers, particularly corn growers, need to be concerned about as well since it impacts your largest customer base. As the livestock industry goes, so goes the corn industry.
The question of whether agriculture should sit down with groups like HSUS to find “common cause” is a poll question this week on AgWired.com and while the answers had at first been running well against such dialogue, the poll has now been “hijacked” by HSUS who got out supporters to vote in favor. Overnight, the poll received nearly 400 responses in the affirmative – and some of the comments of those supporters show exactly why all of agriculture should be very afraid of their agenda.
“Let animals be animals, not commodities.”
“Stop the torture and Killing of the animals.”
“People should just stop eating animals period – there’s no such thing as humane murder.”
The ultimate agenda is obvious – the end to animal agriculture. Once the livestock industry begins to make concessions to animal rights activists that drastically change production methods it becomes a very slippery slope very quickly. It will only be a short matter of time before allowing chickens more room in cages becomes allowing all animals the right to life. Treating animals humanely is not the same as treating them like they are humans – but many activists see no difference.
With that, the question may actually be, can there even be “common cause” to find?
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is happy to be keeping his “great job” and continuing to fight for the future of American agriculture.
“I am extraordinarily privileged and honored to have the job as the United States Secretary of Agriculture and to have another opportunity to continue this work,” Vilsack told the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting this week in Nashville. “I don’t know that there’s not a more important place, a more significant place in the future of this country than rural America.”
Vilsack told Farm Bureau members that he was glad to see 2012 come to an end and expressed his optimism that 2013 will be better for agriculture. “We are committed … to making sure that 2013 is not a repeat of 2012. We need a five-year bill and we need it now,” he said, going on to outline that the bill needs to include a number of important items, including an adequate safety net, commitment to trade and support for research and renewable energy.
“It is rural America that if you think about it is providing the feed stock for most of the energy and most of the fuel that’s consumed and used in homes and businesses across this great land. It is rural America that’s responsible for millions of jobs,” he said. “The question, given all of that contribution and more from rural America, why is it so difficult for us to get a five-year bill through the Congress? What has happened?”
Admitting that rural America has less clout in Washington than in the past, Vilsack said it’s “going to be important and necessary for us to have conversation about how we rebuild that political capacity, and I believe we can.”