What Money Can Buy…

First of all, ugh, I wasn’t planning to disappear for so long! The longer I am working, the more appreciation I have for the more professional bloggers that do it next to their day job – what a tough call! However, I really miss this little space whenever I quiet down for a while, so … Continue reading What Money Can Buy…

Drought in Central America – Sequía en Centroamérica


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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10 Facts About Food (Shortages) in North Korea

Think of “food” and “North Korea” and chances are you will be reminded of the near-yearly news items speaking of hunger, starvation, and malnutrition in the country. However, times might be changing, at least if you believe Andrei Lankov, professor of Korean Studies at Seoul University. In this Al Jazeera piece, he argues that the “myth of starvation” is over due to the moderate economic growth in the country driven by semi-legal private enterprises starting to bloom. Yet, the situation of the current food system is still dire and stuck between the bizarre and the fascinating in this neo-Stalinist state. Inspired by Lankov’s article, here are 10 facts about food (shortages) in North Korea you might not know:

1. According to Lankov, “this year, North Korea enjoyed an exceptionally good harvest, which for the first time in more than two decades will be sufficient to feed the country’s entire population. Indeed, according to the recent documents of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), North Korea’s harvest totaled 5.03 million tonnes of grain this year, if converted to the cereal equivalent. To put things in perspective, in the famine years of the late 1990s, the average annual harvest was estimated (by the same FAO) to be below the 3 million tonne level.

2. However, the WFP and FAO estimate that despite the 3-year improvements in food production, there are still shortages particularly for protein-rich foods, and child malnutrition remains widespread, said the Wall Street Journal in November of last year. 84% of the population’s households were estimated to have borderline or poor food consumption.

Image via Flickr-user yeowatzup, who commented: Situated on the outskirts of Wonsan, the Chonsam Cooperative Farm is possibly the only place in the country where foreign visitors are allowed into a working farm. While it is indeed a working farm, it does feel a little bit contrived. (Flickr CC)

3. One of the main reasons for the ongoing problems is a combination of outdated farming practices and a lack of access to agricultural inputs such as fertilizers due to international trade sanctions. This account of a North Korean farmer-turned-emigrant is fascinating (though sad) in describing farming conditions reminiscent of the early 20th century: “As North Koreans do not have good equipment or much fertilizer, we got used to doing most of the work by hand rather than with the help of machinery. In spring when weeds bagan to sprout it would be time to plough the fields and this could be done by ox or with tractors. But in North Korea, in addition to fuel being too expensive, there aren’t many tractors for the farmers to use, so most of the ploughing is done by oxen. As you can probably guess, the oxen were therefore very valuable animals, and we needed to keep them healthy for the entire year’s farming work. While oxen could help plough the fields, they were useless at dealing with weeds. So when new weeds appeared in the fields again, they had to be removed by hand because the chemicals we had were not sufficient. Between spring and autumn, we did back breaking work,  weeding the field about four times with a hoe. Not wanting to waste even the weeds, we also used a sickle to cut them down to make compost with them. This compost helped make the soil better, so every summer or autumn we made compost after doing the weeding.” It also serves as a good reminder that the mechanization of agriculture has, indeed, had a massively beneficial impact on farmers’ lives, despite the calls to go back towards a more natural way of farming…

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The USA Have A Farm Bill! Halle … Well … Yeah.

The USDA will begin to implement the Bill soon, provided it passes the Senate floor.

On Wednesday, as anticipated, the House of Representatives passed the Farm Bill after a 2 year impasse with 251 to 166 votes. The Democratic leadership of the Senate has already endorsed it, making it likely that it will pass the Senate floor as well in the coming week and be on President Obama’s desk soon. Media and lobby group reactions, as well as politicians’ own levels of satisfaction, were an extremely mixed bag. One frequently cited commentary came from Rep. Tim Walz (a Democrat from Minnesota):

“Of course it’s not perfect. If you want perfect, you’ll get that in heaven. This place is closer to hell, so this is a pretty good compromise that we have come up with.”

Let’s go through the main features, shall we?

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How Much Do You Really Know About Hunger? (+ Help The WFP Provide Relief in the Philippines!)

A lot? A little? Nothing at all? The World Food Programme (WFP) challenges you to test your hunger IQ and help feed a child in the process! For every submitted quiz, a child will receive a warm meal thanks to an anonymous donor. The WFP website also has a ton of additional resources, such as … Continue reading How Much Do You Really Know About Hunger? (+ Help The WFP Provide Relief in the Philippines!)

IF … Policymakers Would Listen to Civil Society?

This weekend, David Cameron hosted the G8 “Hunger Summit” in Northern Ireland, resulting in promises, pledges, praise – and a lot of backlash from African civil society, who this summit was supposed to help. What was the problem?

(the IF campaign actually had a really good promotion video.)

Prior to the summit, Cameron announced his goals – trade, taxes, and transparency – and stressed the continued importance of the G8, since “as eight countries making up around half of the world’s entire GDP, the standards we set, the commitments we make, and the steps we take can help solve vital global issues, fire up economies and drive prosperity all over the world.” He promised that this G8 would be different, though – “Too often, development at the G8 has been about rich countries doing things to poor countries. But at Lough Erne, we in the developed world will concentrate on issues that involve us putting our own house in order and helping developing countries to prosper.”

Rich countries doing things to poor countries indeed.

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Shift in U.S. Food Aid Policy At The Horizon?!

If you were asked to design an efficient, responsive, economical system to deliver food aid to poor people in a hunger crisis due to food price spikes, how would you do it?

a) Buy grain from your country’s farmers, put it on big boats, ship it across an ocean, hire some trucks, drive the trucks across a continent, circumvent the rebels that try to steal/blow up your trucks, and finally give out the food to the people that started to be hungry months ago.

b) Use the same money to buy vouchers or give cash transfers to the hungry people so that they can buy the more expensive food (that is locally produced, fits their diets and their nutritional needs) in the markets. Done!

Flying and shipping boxes and bags of food is what we normally think of when we consider food aid. But is that the only option?
Image by UN Photo/Logan Abassi, via Flickr CC.

I’ll let you think about it a minute. Well? It should come as no surprise that option b) is the quicker and more effective way to fight hunger crises in situations where the problem is food affordability, not food availability*. And after 50 years stuck with formula a), it seems that U.S. policy makers have figured this out as well! The Obama administration in its 2014 budget is suggesting a major overhaul of its food aid policy, promising to make it more efficient, fair and responsive.

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Is the “Optimization” of Food Aid Ethical?

A friend of mine sent me a link to this paper titled “Ready-to-use food-allocation policy to reduce the effects of childhood undernutrition in developing countries” – originally more as a “look at what weird things get published” link, but as I read through the abstract, it got me thinking…

How ethical is it to distribute food aid according to strict statistical requirements?
Image by UNICEF/Olivier Asselin, via Flickr CC.

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