22 October 2010

Farmers Hurt As Pressure On Arable Land Grows: UN

Reposted in full from Planet Ark, 22 October 2010

'Land purchases by foreign investors in poor countries and the growing use of biofuels are boosting pressures on agricultural farmland and helping make 500 million small farmers hungry, a U.N. envoy said on Thursday.

Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food, said the combination of environmental degradation, urbanization and large-scale land acquisitions by foreign investors formed an "explosive cocktail" for small farmers.

"The plots cultivated by smallholders are shrinking year after year. Farmers are often relegated to soils that are arid, hilly or without irrigation," he said in a new report presented to the U.N. General Assembly.

"This poses a direct threat to the right to food of rural populations."

Each year, up to 30 million hectares (74 million acres) of farmland are lost due to severe degradation, conversion to industrial use and urbanization.

On top of that, more than a third of large-scale land acquisitions - which last year reached some 45 million hectares - are intended to produce agrofuels rather than food, according to the World Bank.

"All these developments have a huge impact on smallholders, indigenous peoples, herders and fisherfolk who depend on access to land and water for their livelihoods," De Schutter said, urging states to recognize these people's land rights.

There has been a steep rise in the number of land deals since a 2008 spike in food prices, with countries like China, South Korea and rich Gulf Arab states seeking to secure their food supplies by buying large swathes of farmland mostly in African nations.

The problem of land rights and ownership is particularly acute in Africa, where according to a U.N. conference in Rome last week 90 percent of the land being targeted by investors is not legally documented.

De Schutter said that transplanting Western concepts of land property to developing countries through land registration and individual titling processes may backfire, benefiting local elites or foreign investors rather than farmers.

"Rather than focusing on strengthening the rights of landowners, states should encourage communal ownership systems, strengthen customary land tenure systems and reinforce tenancy laws to improve the protection of land users," he said, calling for land redistribution in case of grave inequalities.'

19 October 2010

Rescuing Food: A Day With OzHarvest!

On the road with Australia's food rescuers! A bird's eye view...

Excerpt from Not Quite Nigella, 18 October 2010

'...I arrive at the OzHarvest offices this bright Thursday morning. I’m to be a volunteer and riding along with Andrew who has been working at OzHarvest for two months now. The office staff are paid as are drivers and they also have a number of volunteers that accompany the drivers. The vans run 6 days a week, sometimes even on a Sunday and travel as far as Wollongong and Brookvale. They have ambassadors like musician Ben Lee, actor Toni Collette, Neil Perry, Steve Manfredi, Maeve O’Meara and Bill Granger.

Started in 2004 by Ronni Khan a South African woman who for twenty years, had a successful event planning company here in Australia and saw first hand how much food was wasted on a daily basis. When she could, she would take the excess food to charities but this wasn’t always feasible. She then heard about Angel Harvest, the American version of OzHarvest and flew over to find out more about food rescue and then implemented it here. It is a Not For Profit organisation backed by funding from the Macquarie Group Foundation and Goodman International who provided the vans and office space, they deliver 5,000 meals a day with a single a meal costing less than $1. There are over 700 food donors and 194 receipted agencies (charities). It currently exists in Sydney and Canberra with the first trucks rolling out in Adelaide soon. One of the largest hurdles is the legislation which prevents services like OzHarvest from donating as it holds OzHarvest and the donors themselves liable. Through Ronni lobbying the government, in 2005 an amendment made to Part 8A of the Civil Liability Act which states as long as food is given away for a charitable purpose, there is no risk of liability.

I take a look at Andrew’s clipboard. On the left there is a list of pick ups we need to make and then along the way we will also drop the food off and all are in a logical sequence for driving. OzHarvest doesn’t store any food, it distributes it usually within a two hour window of it being picked up so by the end of the day, the van should be empty and the charities stocked with food. I take a look at the list. There is Aldi and Woolworths which are our first stops. And I did mention who doesn’t donate? Coles is the only one of the three major supermarkets not to donate. I ask Lisa Stapleton, a volunteer coordinator why and she says “Unfortunately we have not yet had any interest from the people we approached within Coles to come on board as food donors”.

We stop at Aldi and what they have each day is always a surprise. Sometimes there will be a lot of food but sometimes there may just be the one variety. Andrew tells me that one day he just picked up a huge amount of potatoes. Today there is a lot of bread. Bread is one commodity that is plentiful. As it is so cheap to produce, bakeries often make much more than they need to. Interestingly, bread like sourdough is hard to give away as it is a harder bread and many of the charities have clients whose teeth aren’t in good condition and it is hard for them to eat. All drivers undergo a food safety exam prior to working there.

What is the most precious commodity? “Meat is like gold” Andrew says. It is expensive to buy and everyone wants it as I learn later when the charities have a look at what is available. “We once got 20 boxes of Cleavers organic meat because it was labelled with the wrong weight” he tells me.

We stop at Woolworths where we pick up an assortment of food including a lot of the prized meat and the Pastabilities which has a huge esky of frozen filled pasta.

Our next stop is the Spotted Cow cookie factory where we are greeted by Pong who gives us an enormous 11 boxes of cookies. Each box has about 120 cookies inside them! They are good until 2011 so we ask why they are giving them away and Pong shows us that they were baked for about 15 minutes too long which results in the smarties inside them breaking so they’re not of a saleable condition. We also get 5 enormous cafe sized loaves of banana bread.

The mobile phone beeps and there’s a new message. Each van has a GPS so that Head Office can see where they are and when a business calls for a pickup they text them to pick up a new shipment.

We’re headed off to Ghermez cupcakes! As they’re a regular donor Andrew gives them boxes to use. They have four boxes ready for us and are about to fill a fifth. They’re all the same flavour and curious I feel the cupcake assuming that they would be older and drier cupcakes but they’re soft and fresh.

With our van halfway full we make a stop to our first destination- Don Bosco House which is part of the Youth Off the Street program. What is key is matching the charity to the need. Not all charities have kitchens so they can’t always take the fresh, uncooked meats. At Don Bosco, they are feeding boys so when a guy comes out and whoops at the sight of “Cupcakes! Cookies!” he is excited. “I’ve never seen someone so excited to see the OzHarvest van” the woman from Don Bosco laughs. At Don Bosco they take two trays of sandwiches, a banana bread, cookies, cupcakes and more. This charity sleeps 11 boys. Is there anything that OzHarvest won’t take?

Apart from cooked rice and soft shelled seafood as they have a high contamination potential they also won’t take products that contain alcohol due to the profile of the charity’s clients.

And where is the best quality food found? Not surprisingly, from the sets of television food shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules. Andrew recalls entire wheels of reggiano and white truffles. The items aren’t close to being used by and they are top quality but they just don’t need them for the show anymore if they were to be used in a cookoff challenge. White truffles! Yes!

We then visit a community store where they hold a weekly barbecue for boarders who live next door and any extra food that isn’t eaten then is given to the boarders to supplement their meals. They have a standing request: sausages, onion and bread for the BBQ. Andrew explains that there is a corporate volunteer present – many large corporations have their employees do voluntary work for two days a year. Interestingly, did you know that St Vincent De Paul has a corporate sleepout where CEOs, business and community leaders sleep outside on cardboard to see what it’s like to be homeless? Interesting!

We have two more pickups to make, one at Aldi and one at Woolworths. The Aldi one yields a lot of bread and some fruit and vegetables whereas the Woolworths one yields a large carton with punnets of strawberries, lots of fruit and vegetables and about twenty cakes and pies!

We are then scheduled to drop these off to a women’s refuge and a young persons refuge in Leichhardt. The women’s refuge are interested in fruit and vegetables and meat as well as a lot of bread and they take a lot of the bread supply which Andrew is happy to give as it can be hard to give away. The young person’s refuge takes much the same along with some cakes, shallots and other things they can cook with.

Our last stops for the morning are in nearby Balmain at Victoire bakery where we pick up a large bag of bread and then at Darling Treats where cakes and other baked goods are handed over.

The afternoon for Andrew will be filled with corporate pickups wherein banks, accountants, lawyers and other business call OzHarvest to pick up food that has been ordered in for catering of meetings and events. Although they mean well sometimes they can get calls for a box of four apples. Between 4.30pm and 10.30pm one van is operational with one person taking calls and this is to pick up items like barbecued chickens and other takeaway food items that haven’t sold from takeaway shops and steak houses and pie shops.

Chefs from restaurants don’t tend to donate food as they are usually quite good at ordering so that there isn’t much wastage so they donate money instead. And how much of the food is used? 100% of the food that charities receive is used. The charities know what they need and how much they can use and don’t tend to take more than they will use. Andrew tells me that the food budget for a place like the Newtown Mission is a miniscule $100 a week so it is a much welcome and needed service. Another organisation is FoodBank who deal with non perishables and they store the perishables and charge the charities a nominal fee for the produce.

It’s the end of the food ride for me today and it is fascinating how much excess food there is and how much the charities rely on this service and how much they can take. Andrew tells me “This is a comparatively small amount, sometimes we fill our vans until they’re full”.'

Get the Facts Before Decrying the Idea of a Big Australia

...methinks Bernard Salt needs to update a few of his own facts...there might be a plan, but its not a very good one. Tax base arguments are Ponzi demography, and merely delay the day of reckoning (by which time the consequences will be many times magnified) and the task of thinking of another way to meet societal needs without the need to keep growing.

Unmanaged growth, managed growth - none question the concept of whether more growth is desirable in the first place.

The concerns of the 'anti-growth' lobby - aka the 'pro quality of life' lobby - are not just about infrastructure. They go beyond cities, they go far beyond this country.

Reposted from The Australian, 7 October 2010

'FOR the next decade at least, we need to maintain an average annual population growth rate of 350,000, including net migration of 180,000.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week confirm that in the year to March, population growth was 403,000, down from a record 457,000 one year earlier.

These figures compare with a growth rate during the 1990s of around 220,000 a year, including 100,000 migrants.

The reason why we need to ramp up the growth rate is to maintain our skills and tax base as baby boomers retire from 2011 onwards (when those born in 1946 turn 65).

This outlook for an elevated growth rate is the subject of heated debate.

Conservation groups argue that the migration rate should be reduced to 70,000 per year which, combined with natural increase, would result in annual growth of about 190,000.

Here is the nub of the argument: a Big Australia needs 350,000 per year whereas a Small Australia makes do with 190,000.

A recurring theme advanced by the Small Australia lobby is that we need a plan if we are to continue on the trajectory to a Big Australia.

The question is whether there are in fact plans to manage 350,000 additional residents per year. So pervasive is the assertion that "there is no plan" that it seems to have entered popular belief. But perhaps it's worthwhile to examine its veracity.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics published Population Projections in September 2008 that articulated the Big Australia vision.

The purpose of ABS projections is to inform government departments and business of possible future trajectories for the nation.

This document informed the assumptions used by Treasury in subsequent Intergenerational Reports that reiterated the Big Australia outlook.

Here are two plans published by federal government departments that outline the pathway to a Big Australia.

The existence of a "plan" gets no plainer than the publications of the ABS and Treasury.

But these are demographic and economic plans. What we mean when we say "there is no plan" is that there is no plan for the housing and urban form that underpins Big Australia.

Well, actually there is.

Before the release of the ABS's Big Australia document, strategic planning for Melbourne showed the city's population rising to about 4 million by 2030.

By the end of 2008, the Victorian government had released Melbourne @ Five Million, which plans for a bigger city by the mid 2030s.

The same goes for the South East Queensland Regional Plan, which was revamped earlier this year to accommodate a bigger population with new communities at Flagstone, Yarrabillba and Ripley Valley.

I might add that since September 2008, there has also been a revision to the strategic plan for Adelaide (February 2010). And Sydney's plan, Towards 2036, is currently being reviewed.
Less than three months ago, the Committee for Melbourne published a bold view of the city's form beyond 5 million.

Earlier this month in the Northern Territory, the Country Liberals published a discussion paper for Greater Darwin that imagines a city of 1 million residents, or eight times its current scale.

Darwin may not get to 1million residents in the 21st century, but surely it is a worthwhile exercise to at least think about a city's long-term direction. Far better than stamping your feet and repeating "there is no plan".

The fact is that there are a series of plans to take Australia towards 35 million. These plans stem from federal and state government departments and from special interest groups.

What I suspect the anti-growth lobby really means when it says "there is no plan" is that "there is no investment in the infrastructure required to support growth at this rate".

This is a different question and is one that I am sure state premiers would vehemently disagree with. The Victorian government, for example, is managing a $4.3 billion regional rail link to deliver new and upgraded railway lines to the city's booming west. Name a bigger single investment in public transportation infrastructure on the urban fringe.

I don't think the issue is so much with the trajectory to a Big Australia: with due care, 350,000 extra residents per year can be managed.

The problem is that the Big Australia debate has surfaced precisely at a time when the nation was undergoing hyper growth that scared the public into thinking that this was the way of the future.

Perhaps it's time to consider the facts. No one is suggesting recent hyper growth should be maintained into the future. And despite assertions to the contrary, there are demographic, economic and strategic plans in place to manage future growth.

I think the real issue is infrastructure funding on a grand scale (regardless of the odd success in places such as Melbourne's west).

But this funding will never receive the political will it needs until the nation galvanises behind a belief in a common future. And in order to achieve this end, it is important to understand exactly what is being proposed and the plans that are in place to help us get there.'

Bigger Australia as Certain as Death and Taxes

*sniff, sniff* I smell a self-fulfilling prophecy! We get what we PLAN for!

Reposted in full from Sydney Morning Herald, 7 October 2010

'Australia's population will get bigger no matter what politicians do and it's wrong of them to pretend they can stop the growth, a new study says.

Even if migration is drastically cut, the population could be almost 30 million by 2050, and older than it is today.

''Politicians should stop pretending that they can control what Australia's future population will look like. Instead they should turn their attention to the real policy issues … housing, roads, pensions and our natural environment,'' it says.

The report, by the Centre for Independent Studies, tested 36 scenarios using different combinations of migration levels, fertility rates and life expectancy. Population would grow under every scenario except in the unlikely event where migration was cut to zero, the birth rate plummeted and life expectancy stagnated.

''Our future is a bigger Australia and we must start preparing for it,'' said Oliver Marc Hartwich, a research fellow and co-author of the study with Jessica Brown, a policy analyst. ''Big'' Australia became an election issue after then prime minister Kevin Rudd enthusiastically embraced Treasury projections of a population of 36 million by 2050. The two main parties later campaigned on promises to curb growth.

The report, Populate and Perish?, says advocates of a ''small'' Australia want net migration cut by more than half to 70,000 a year. But if the birth rate stayed the same, the population would still reach 29.1 million by 2050.

''It is wrong to think we can control Australia's population size by simply cutting migration,'' the report says. Changes in the birth rate could have a bigger impact. But it was debatable whether governments could influence fertility rates.

Under the study's six most realistic scenarios, the population could vary from 25.3 million to 34.6 million, with it ageing in each case. The lower population assumed low migration of 70,000 a year, low fertility of 1.5 births a woman, which is the current average in Europe, and medium life expectancy; the higher population assumed medium migration of 143,000, high fertility of 2.1 births, and medium life expectancy. Another combination - of medium migration and medium fertility of 1.9 births, the current rate in Australia - would see population rise to 33.4 million.

Clive Hamilton, the author of Requiem for a Species, said Australia could choose between a small or large population increase. ''We can have a 3 million increase or a 14 million increase and that makes a huge difference to everything,'' he said. ''It's rubbish to say 'we can't do anything, get used to it'.''

Net migration could be cut to 50,000 a year, and pro-natalist policies such as the baby bonus ended, to achieve 26 million by 2050. Dr Hamilton agreed this would hasten the ageing of the population but ''we have to have an ageing population sooner or later and the Treasury's Intergenerational Report shows we are in a better position than most countries to deal with it.''

He said Australia had to cut greenhouse gas emissions sharply by mid-century and the bigger the population, the bigger the cut each of us would have to make.

American Wasteland

Excerpt from Huffington Post, 18 October 2010

'...Journalist Jonathan Bloom has a brand new book out called American Wasteland, which looks at why we waste so much perfectly edible food. What is it about our relationship to food that's changed so drastically since the Depression-era hoarding of our parents or grandparents?

Bloom goes through the entire food chain, from gathering to garbage bin, to show where food is wasted and to offer suggestions why. This is an important book, make no mistake. His insight gets to the heart of not only what it means to be a consumer, but more to the point, what it means to be an American in this age. I caught up with Bloom for a few quick questions before he hit the reading circuit...

Chris Elam: Let's cut to the chase, Jonathan - why do Americans today waste so much food?

Jonathan Bloom: We waste food because we take it for granted, simple as that. Food is so abundant in this country. We produce about twice the amount of calories needed to feed all Americans, and it shows - both in the levels of obesity and waste.

Furthermore, we waste food because we can. For many Americans, food is still tremendously cheap in relation to our incomes. True, food prices have risen in the last few years. Yet we still only spend about 10 percent of our disposable income on food - less than any other nation. Those last few scoops of broccoli may seem pretty worthless, but those actions have a cumulative effect. The average family of four throws out $1,350 of food every year (using the conservative 15 percent rate of waste advocated by some experts).

Finally, we squander so much of our food because we've become quite superficial about it. We expect our fresh foods to be both beautiful and uniform, or at least supermarkets think we do. Anything not cosmetically flawless nor the right shape and size is cast aside at some point in the food chain. This increased emphasis on our food's appearance stems largely from the ever-increasing popularity of food TV and the abundance of glossy cooking magazines. Yet, food isn't always "glossy."

CE: How about giving us 3 examples - let's call them "eye-poppers" - that unmistakably demonstrate we've got a major problem on our hands?

JB: Picture the Rose Bowl, the vast 90,000 seat stadium in Southern California. Now picture it filled to the brim with food. America wastes that much food every single day. How much waste is that, exactly? I thought you'd never ask. About 40 percent of all food produced in this country isn't eaten. That waste occurs at every stage of the food chain, from farm to fork.

At what cost? Here's another eye-popper: every year, through uneaten food, we waste 70 times the amount of oil that was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the three months of the Deepwater Horizon gusher. That's because a tremendous amount of energy goes into producing, harvesting, transporting and chilling our food. When we don't eat the items, those resources were used in vain.
Finally, by simply removing trays from all-you-can-eat cafeterias would reduce food waste by about 30 percent. That proves what we already suspected: our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. If left to our own devices, we consistently take more food than we need and waste an awful lot....'

A Melbourne of 8 Million?

Bernard Salt - will you start reading the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, IPCC, Global Footprint Network et al ad infinitum...this is NOT just about density, or what is the 'norm' elsewhere in the world right now, its about a whole perfect storm of trends, demographic and otherwise, that are brewing.

Reposted in full from the Herald Sun, 19 October 2010

'MELBOURNE is facing massive changes as its population surges towards eight million by 2060, big business has warned.

Nuclear energy and a fast-rail link to Sydney are vital developments being pushed by the Committee for Melbourne.

The business think-tank also says government should appoint a minister for Greater Melbourne.

Committee for Melbourne chief executive Andrew MacLeod said a doubling of Melbourne's population over the next 50 years was a "normal" rate of growth.

He slammed suggestions the city's population spurt should be capped, rejecting arguments by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and activist Dick Smith that Australia didn't have the infrastructure to cope.

A population cap was one of the "greatest threats" to Melbourne's future as it would allow governments turn a blind eye to the reality of growth.

At the current growth rate, Melbourne will overtake Sydney as Australia's biggest city in the 2030s.

Demographer Bernard Salt said Melbourne had the capacity to double in size.

"A city of eight million may seem shocking now but it will be no bigger than London or Paris are currently," he said.

"And it will rebalance Melbourne with most of the future growth expected to be in the north and west of the city.

"At the moment Melbourne stretches 50km to the east to Pakenham but only 30km to the west to Melton."

A population of eight millions would stretch the city's boundaries to Wallan in the north and Werribee in the west.

Moving jobs out of the CBD was the key to maintaining Melbourne's liveability, Mr Salt said.

Six new "central activities districts" have already been designated at Box Hill, Broadmeadows, Dandenong, Footscray, Frankston and Ringwood.

Mr Salt said this would breathe life into suburbia, allowing people to spend less time commuting and more time with their families.

But the third volume of the Committee for Melbourne's Melbourne Beyond 5 Million documents to be released today warns of "significant challenges and shortfalls" for Melbourne.

It highlights a $100 billion backlog of unbuilt roads, rails and ports in Victoria that is getting worse by the day.

A vital part of the growth strategy is moving the Port of Melbourne out of the city to Hastings, in Western Port Bay, and freeing up the land at Fisherman's Bend for housing.

Mr MacLeod said the key to maintaining Melbourne's position as one of the world's great cities would be an increase in medium density housing in outer suburbs.

"We don't want a Docklands on every corner," he said.

"But property prices show Melburnians prefer a St Kilda location with its cafes and transport options close to the city than a low-density area like Sunshine."

A spokesperson for Planning Minister Justin Madden said plans were being drawn up for about 600,000 new homes across the city.

"The Urban Growth Boundary was recently expanded to release enough land for more than 20 years - enough for 134,000 new homes," the spokesperson said.

"And there is significant capacity for more housing in Melbourne's existing suburbs, such as the re-use of old industrial sites.

"It is vital to draw on this capacity when planning for Melbourne's growth."'