Drought in Central America – Sequía en Centroamérica

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Sometimes, it´s easy to get caught up in the news of the day – Ukraine, Gaza, ISIS – that other news items go unnoticed. So, for example, that Central American agricultural producers are being hit extremely hard this year after a disease called coffee leaf rust destroyed many export crops. Now, on top of that, a drought has set in that might leave as many as 2.81 million in the need of food assistance, according to UN estimates.

Dry soils (here in Argentina in 2007-08) = no food :(
Dry soils (here in Argentina in 2007-08) = no food 😦

Though the drought is affecting much of Latin America as well, it is countries in the ‘dry corridor’ of Central America – southern Guatemala, northern Honduras, and western El Salvador – that are suffering most. Guatemala has called out a national state of emergency after 256,000 families lost their crops. Particularly corn and beans, staple foods in the region, have seen stark reductions of up to 80 – 90%. Furthermore, thousands of cattle have died of undernutrition. The region is extremely reliant on agricultural self-sufficiency, with over 60% of the 42 million inhabitants living below the poverty line.

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Of Water and of Meat

Hi y’all, welcome to a new ‘what I’ve been reading!’ So much good information out on the internet these days… First up, National Geographic (my love) has an awesome article on The Evolution of Diet. It talks about scientists trying to analyze what the last hunter-gatherer societies on the planet are eating, in order to … Continue reading Of Water and of Meat

The #Bettertarian Campaign – Awareness Raising or Marketing Plot?

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I love having friends from around the world – it’s the best way to broaden your horizons about what is happening in different countries! My friend Brooke (hi!) pointed me towards the Bettertarian campaign that was recently launched by Meat and Livestock Australia. It’s a pretty comprehensive website that argues for abolishing inflexible diet labels (such as vegetarian, fruitarian, paleo, etc.) and rather make ‘better’ choices by researching and understanding your meat.

 

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Drought in California = Food Shortage in the USA?

There might be some rain coming soon, but it might still not be enough to quench the drought in California. Apparently, this past year has been the driest in the past half millennium for the state. Currently, the federal government says thatevery square mile of California is in some state of drought—and 14.62% of the state, concentrated in central California’s agricultural heartland, is in the most extreme state of exceptional drought.” In some parts of the state, there has barely been any rainfall over the last months – since July 1st, for example, only 35% of the usual precipitation has reached San Francisco.

What consequences does that have for US agriculture? Well, look at the map that Mother Jones has provided for a first impression:

Final-Crop-Map_1

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Wait, What’s the Deal with Wetlands?

Ah! I just found this new lecture series and suddenly new and exciting information is all around me! (Those of you in Uppsala, check out CEMUS and the Centre for Sustainable Development in general, there are great events happening all the time!)

Remember when we talked about phosphorus and nitrogen? One of the things that struck me most is the whole “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” idea. The fact that excess nutrients in waste water are seen as pollutants, whereas they are specifically mined and sold as agricultural inputs, is beyond me. Today, however, I learnt another part of the puzzle – there are initiatives taking advantage of that fact and using ecological methods to treat wastewater. I introduce you to – constructed wetlands!

An idea that originated in the 1970s in Germany, it’s built on a couple of main assumptions:

1. Our wastewater (coming from households, farming, or even from industry) is full of components that would be harmful if released into the general water stream, including but not limited to organic matter, pathogens, heavy metals, excess nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) etc.

2. We know that plants can absorb many of these compounds (particularly  the nutrients, but also metals and to a certain extent the other pathogens).

3. And we know of plants that actually grow floating in or standing in water!

4. Why not use the plants as natural filters to clean the water while they grow and produce cellulose and even (occasionally) fruit?

There are different types of constructed wetlands, such as vertical or horizontally flowing systems, those running at the surface or subsurface where the water is just saturating the soils, those with floating plants versus those that have roots, and even those that evaporate all the water and store the nutrients such that the wastewater pretty much disappears. This is especially convenient for single house systems where households thus take care of their own wastewater, and particularly popular in Denmark where you are taxed on the amount of household waste water you contribute to the local treatment system.

Treatment-pond-raster

Our lecturer was from Denmark and gave many examples of Danish and Northern European systems, but I was most impressed by the variety of contexts this system can be employed in – notably, after the 2004 tsunami, Danish organisations helped establish constructed wetlands at the Thai coast as a cheap and efficient wastewater management system. It has been employed in coastal villages in Fiji, and is often used to help deal with the de-icing agent glycol at airports.

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Barilla International Forum on Food And Nutrition – Happening Now! (Live Stream!)

Today and tomorrow, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition is holding their International Forum on Food and Nutrition, an event that according to their website “proposes to promote debate on global topics linked to food, encourage awareness and generate sound proposals for the future of our planet.” Today is dedicated to showcasing youth projects on food and sustainability, … Continue reading Barilla International Forum on Food And Nutrition – Happening Now! (Live Stream!)