Monthly Archives: August 2011

Horn of Africa Food Crisis- What can be done?

The food crisis in the Horn of Africa has been devastating but with a worsening drought and increasing food prices, it can hardly be described as unforeseeable. In the immediate term, the UN is calling for donations to send assistance to the region. At a recent meeting in Rome, FAO chief Jacques Diouf stated “The required funding is lacking…If governments and their donor partners do not invest now, the appalling famine we are now struggling to redress will return to shame the international community yet again.”

The prices of staple grains such as sorghum and maize have increased as much as 200% from July 2010.  Wheat, though not at record levels, is at a 67% higher price than a year ago.  In addition, the price of milk, though lower than it was earlier in the year, is still higher than last year as well (source: the examiner).

The outlying reason for the famine is the extended drought season but other reasons for the increased price include reduced secondary season harvest yields, higher logistical costs (fuel, transport) and higher international commodity prices in the case of wheat.

Repeated articles in the media state ‘long-term solutions’ are required, but little details are given to how and what could be implemented long term.

Ban Ki Moon said in a meeting on August 10th that “We need to focus on practical measures – drought-resistant seeds, irrigation, rural infrastructure, livestock programs; improvements in early warning systems. ”

An huge injection of funding to develop sustainable irrigation systems, and to increase the availability of livestock and reserve seed supplies would obviously help here, but continuing the scientific development of drought-resistant seeds has to be one of the most important factors mentioned.

It could be seen that the public’s distaste towards GM crops could prove to be a hindrance to the progress of global food security, for example a ‘low-risk’ crop of GM wheat most recently being destroyed in Canberra in mid-July this year. Although that crop wasn’t being developed for drought resistance but for dietary reasons and GM crops have many negative aspects (a lot of the commercialisation of GM crops is done with too little testing and inadequate scientific grounding, hence why GM commercialisation is illegal in the UK until further research is done) , the international community will need to become more comfortable with specific uses of GM to help battle global food insecurity, 10% of global arable land is now growing GM crops and facing the positives and negatives of GM head on is going to be necessary to combat the rising global food costs (see DEFRA’s take here).

However, GM is also seen as having a negative effect on food security in terms of arable land and resources being used to support GM biofuel crops instead of food crops, meaning a higher import rate in those countries that are growing corn based bioethanol and a higher pressure globally on food supply ( It seems that the public availability of data makes the truth in this angle difficult to follow, it is not statistically been calculated how growing corn for fuel will affect food prices, rather it is thoroughly suggested by international experts that if fuel crops will gain a higher premium than food crops then fuel crops will be grown and food will become more expensive, as supply reduces.

It seems that some long term solutions would be:

-Developing new energy sources and further research into hydrogen fuel cell efficiency to reduce dependency on biofuels.

-Developing GM drought resistant crops unhindered.

-Community education on the ground about the collection and preservation of water, and the development of low-cost irrigation systems.

-The increased development of wells to tap ground water sources.

-A greater increase globally of vegetarian diets and diets based upon high-yield, locally available, resistant crops.

-An increased emphasis on the care and preservation of arable land globally.

Though, with none of the research based options here coming to the fore anytime soon, the only option we have for now is to donate what we can.


Sustainable food cynics *sigh*

Isn’t it a bit sad that we all still know someone who assumes you’re a beardy rudderless hippie who wants to assert their increased moral status over everyone if you think anything you do can make a difference to the world?

I definitely know a few.

Why do people give you a hard time if you’re vegetarian or vegan or just don’t particularly want to eat asparagus from Peru? We’re not lecturing you about it, just casting our votes on the food we want supplied to us with what we eat, what we order and what we buy. What better way to change things than with your wallet and your stomach!

A great article from Henry Dimbleby, “Food sustainability isn’t ecobabble” (surprisingly in the Telegraph) identifies the  two types of cynics:

“The first – propagated by people such as the charming and increasingly bonkers James Delingpole – argues that that the whole green argument is invalid by turning a withering light on specific flaws in some arguments and lampooning people from the fruitier wing of the green lobby.

The second acknowledges that there is a problem, but believes that most people’s attempts to do something about it are too small and piecemeal to achieve anything. Sustainability is an impossible ideal: a form of ecobabble spouted to make us feel better about ourselves.”

Too true! Let’s hope they leave us alone eh? 😛

Council Allotments and other options

Whenever people ask me how I got a fifteen pole plot after just under a year of waiting in a busy city where growing vegetables is popular,  they seem surprised there are other options available than just sitting on a council waiting list.

Britain’s councils provide a lot of our allotment space and are usually really good at handling their waiting lists. Due to the amount of people who apply for council allotments the plots are usually small and you can wait a really long time for a plot near you.

Here’s a great guide to applying for a council allotment from DirectGov: Council Allotments Guide

But remember independent allotment bodies exist,  which is how I got my plot. Also they are completely reputable; my allotment has been very well maintained (other than all the overgrowth teehee) and is on even ground, with fruit trees, asparagus, rhubarb etc etc and a shed!!! So you won’t be left with a worse plot if you go independent!

If you aren’t aware of your independent local allotment society search around on Google, they likely have a website, or ask your council, as they get a lot of overflow on their waiting lists they will be aware of the local independent societies to direct people there, also ask around on forums such as Remember there’s no rules against being on every waiting list you can be at once!

Another option is Landshare, which puts people with too much space in touch with growers who need some- everything from a busy mum who can’t keep her veg patch in line and is willing to share produce and growing with someone else, to farmers and allotment soceities with messy plots of land which need taming in exchange for growing space.

Don’t give up hope, waiting lists can very rarely be avoided, but you can sometimes find speedier ones! 🙂