What’s next for food prices?

In 2011, Time magazine ran an article predicting continued food price spikes as a result of rising population, increasing fuel costs and the increasing scarcity of water.

ECO asked a researcher, Aubanie Raynal, to analyse the article five years on to see what has happened since – are food prices still on the way up?  And what will happen in the next five years?

Here are her findings:

………………….

In his 2011 article, Michael Schuman showed how limited food production coupled with
growing population drove to food price spikes.

In 2011, the economic crisis which began three years earlier in 2008, was at its highest point with prices multiplied by two since 2005.

Schumann’s list of pressures on food prices includes:

  • More and more people to feed
  • Changes in our diet – more meat consumption
  • Higher demand on biofuel
  • Higher pressure on agriculture
  • Acts of nature
  • Irrigation, lowering of the water table

Nevertheless after 2011 we observed a drop of the food price index  in 2015 with even bigger falls in 2016.

Were Schuman’s predictions wrong? What changes / factors have driven down the prices?

According to the FAO, the decrease is mainly due to large stock and lower demand. For
example, the production of wheat, sugar and palm oil is higher than expected,
and with the slow trade activity – meaning more product for less demand – the prices are
being driven down.

For Gail Tverberg, the principal cause is what she calls the “high-priced fuel syndrome”.
Indeed, every kilogram of food is produced thanks to fuel (see Figure 3 on the Finite World link). The stabilization of the barrel price predict by analysts, due to high productivity in the USA (2), Russia and Saudi Arabia and their interest to maintain it below $100 should maintain food price stability for a few years.

Furthermore, the fuel price impacts on factors other than the direct cost of
food production. For example, the demand in biofuel is currently decreasing, which implies less land area devoted for biofuel, thus more areas for food.

If we look closer at the relation between food and fuel price we realise that their evolution
might be symmetric but not proportional. Between 2011 and 2015, when the fuel price dropped  50% the food price only dropped off 30% (3).

The difference shows that other factors are playing an important role. Eastern Asian
countries, for example, are currently switching from a traditional diet to a more Western
one. A populous country as China now consumes more meat than the USA.
See: http://www.earth-policy.org/plan_b_updates/2012/update102

The food price evolution is a complex model where economic, human and environmental
parameters are linked to each other. We have to keep in mind that the 2010/2011 food
price spike was a warning and will strike again if we do not change the way we consume,
produce and regulate the food market.

In order to avoid the same scenario recurring, the solutions suggested by Michael Schuman (to increase the investment in R&D in agriculture, to control the food market and to improve food distribution) are more than ever necessary.

‘Enjoy your dinner tonight. While you can still afford it.’

 

References:
1 Editor of The Oil Drum , web article ‘High-Priced Fuel Syndrome’ Posted on September 26, 2012:
High-Priced Fuel Syndrome

2 Steve Austin, Managing editor of Oil-Price.net, web article ‘The top 6 reasons oil prices are heading lower’ Posted on May 7, 2015:

http://oil-price.net/en/articles/top-6-reasons-oil-price-are-headedlower.

3 Tim McMahon, , web article ‘Historical Oil Prices Chart’ Posted on April 30, 2015 :
http://inflationdata.com/Inflation/Inflation_Rate/Historical_Oil_Prices_Chart.asp
The difference shows that others factors are playing an important role. Eastern Asian
countries, for example, are currently switching from a traditional diet to a more western
one. Such a populous country as China now consumes more meat than the USA.

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Choose Clean water – petition to be presented 29 March!

The Choose Clean Water Campaign now has over 10,000 signatures and is aiming for 15,000 before presenting it to Parliament on 29 March.

If you have not already signed the petition you can do so here.

Please come along to the petition presentation event on 29 March at 1pm at Parliament.  Please come and support the petition and the Freshwater team.

The Choose Clean Water team are volunteers who have worked for the love of freshwater, and need your help to cover the costs of printing, publicity materials and a mic and speakers for the presentation to parliament. This will be around $2000.

If you can spare a little (or a lot), it is all appreciated.
Go here to donate.

Mike Joy’s book Polluted Inheritance is available on Bridget Williams Books website as a BWB text.  In this 61-page book Mike demonstrates how the intensification of dairying has degraded our rivers, lakes and waterways to an alarming degree – risking the wellbeing of future generations.  This book will make you angry – and is an urgent call to action.

We know that our freshwater species are disappearing rapidly as the Society for Conservation Biology report last year revealed.

The government recently announced further funding for three more irrigation schemes for dairying in traditionally dry areas such as Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne – at a time when dairying is weak and has a dubious future.

Three Hawke’s Bay rivers are still out of bounds to the community because of silt spilling from the Waihi Dam. Erosion, farming and forestry are all causing regular damage to Hawke’s Bay rivers.  Maraetotara Lagoon has just been ruled out of bounds to swimming due to excessive faecal matter.

Still in Hawke’s Bay, Forest and Bird are appealing a decision by the High Court which approved DOC’s decision to downgrade and swap land in the Ruahine Forest Park to provide land needed for the Ruataniwha Dam.  Even if the dam does not proceed, the Judge’s decision sets a worrying precedent for the security of conservation land in New Zealand.

Golden Bay: Beautification and Preservation of the Local Waterways

ECO intern Emily Donaldson continues her series reviewing the results of a survey ECO undertook this year into the voluntary work being performed by groups to care for our environment in Aotearoa.

In this post Emily looks at the work of a small and energetic environmental group, Keep Golden Bay Beautiful.

Freshwater quality is currently at the forefront of New Zealand environmental management and policies. ECO’s annual conference this year in August addressed dialogues on freshwater, in attempts to “navigate impasses and new approaches” on a variety of interdisciplinary topics related to freshwater. Keep Golden Bay Beautiful, based in Takaka, is one environmental group working at the ground level to improve the freshwater quality in their locale.

A litter cleanup each year garners the most volunteers and publicity for this small environmental group, a recent respondent to ECO’s survey of the work being done by environmental groups around the country in 2014. Current project sites include the Onekaka River and the Takaka River Oxbow at the southern end of Paynes Ford Scenic Reserve (public land of Tasman District Council, DOC or Land Information New Zealand), which are dependent on a network of groups and individuals and community donations and volunteers. The TDC serves as a member of the group’s parent body- Keep New Zealand Beautiful.

Keep Golden Bay Beautiful predominantly aims to restore riparian vegetation and make sure the lowland river (which has a large number of invertebrate species and fish) is protected from agricultural pollution. Restoring these targeted five hectares to their indigenous state depends on riparian planting (especially of rare species), fence mending, releasing of plants, poisoning out crack willows, spraying weeds, and preparing new planting sites.

In 2014, volunteers contributed 160 hours of their time to these projects, adding to the 20 person-days of managing and working. This conservation work and health of the local waterways are wedded to the cultural identity of the community, which celebrates new citizens by presenting a local kowhai to every child born in the Bay the previous year.

Respondents to the survey recognized their progress over the past years. The lower part of wetland area is returning to its natural gravelly bed habitat as the willows die and release all the damned-up silt. This ecological restoration, in addition to intensifying forest cover along the river, nurtures a great habitat for freshwater fish and invertebrates. The public can already see the forest margin along this waterway and the notable improvement to freshwater quality.

While citizens, environmental groups and organizations, researchers, policymakers, farmers, and other stakeholders should endeavour to improve freshwater quality at every scale of influence in New Zealand, this grass-roots work is a commendable model for others like it.

ECO will continue to cover the intricacies of freshwater quality management and policy-making and highlight conservation efforts, like those of Keep Golden Bay Beautiful.

If you want to learn more about their work, please visit:

http://www.doc.govt.nz/get-involved/volunteer/groups/nelson-tasman/keep-golden-bay-beautiful/

 

Holding environmental degradation at bay

ECO intern and HECUA student Emily Donaldson takes a close look at the work being done by the Bay of Islands Maritime Park group.

The Bay of Islands Maritime Park, an ECO member group in Northland, was one of the respondents to a recent survey undertaken by ECO of the conservation and restoration work being undertaken by the volunteer sector in New Zealand. Bay of Islands Maritime Park is at the forefront of conservation efforts for marine environments.

The Bay of Islands Maritime Park group was established in May, 2006. Its incorporation in 2007 allowed for active working groups to apply for project funding, while bringing together small community groups in the region to develop an integrated approach to target the pressing issues facing the Bay of Islands ecosystems. Their collective mission seeks social, ecological, and economic sustainability founded on devoted community members tackling water pollution, excessive sedimentation and silt, the decline of fish populations, and other anthropogenic problems. The tangata whenua, commercial users, recreational users, tourism sector, ratepayer groups, and environmental and government sector organizations and associations collaborate to run projects and initiatives including Fish Forever, Living Waters: Bay of Islands – Wai Ora, Ocean Survey 20/20, the Seagrass Restoration Project, and marine biodiversity education for schools.

The survey response indicated that work is conducted by two different groups specifically for the islands: (1) Establishing a network of marine reserves in the Bay of Islands and (2) riparian planting and restoration at two different sites. General conservation work in 2014 included planting, weeding, marine reserve campaigning, and pest control at an expense of approximately $77,000. Some 4,000 volunteer and work hours were contributed to accomplishing these tasks in 2014. Tangibly beneficial projects comprised: restoring a wetland in Tangatapu, reducing sedimentation via riparian planting of the Kerikeri River, and working towards the establishment of a marine reserve.

Ecosystem services, highlighted by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, contribute to the wellbeing of humans in many ways. Broken up into four categories, the ecosystem services of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone provides at least 12 regulatory services, 5 provisioning services, and 9 non-consumptive services, indicative of the significance of restoring and preserving the marine environment in the Bay of Islands. Based on global estimates, marine ecosystems may provide about two-thirds of the total value of services provided by New Zealand ecosystems annually. With coastal and terrestrial ecosystems closely linked, conservation on all fronts is imperative. Thankfully, the diligent community work fostered by this ECO member group is boosting services like the denitrification of water, food support and provisioning, and preservation of Maori traditions.

To learn more about New Zealand’s marine ecosystem services, click below:

http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/77045/1_17_MacDiarmid.pdf

If you want to find out more about The Bay of Islands Maritime Park, visit these websites:

http://doc.govt.nz/get-involved/volunteer/groups/northland/bay-of-islands-maritime-park-inc/

http://fishforever.org.nz/who-are-we/boi-maritime-park-inc.html

Reporting on the ECO Conference on freshwater: an international perspective

Monica Giona Bucci, a PHD student at Lincoln University, attended the recent ECO Conference in Christchurch: “Dialogues on freshwater: navigating impasses and new approaches”.  Here she offers her perspective on the conference and its messages, as an overseas PhD student:

The ECO Freshwater conference was an important occasion to hear more about the social, political and ecological challenges that New Zealand, as a multicultural community, has to face and manage. Most importantly, this meeting brought to light what are the key points on a modern decisions board in which many stakeholders from different backgrounds have to be equally involved.

As an overseas PhD student this meeting was an invaluable source of information to better understand the New Zealand society and its approach to ecological issues.

The freshwater system (river and lakes) in New Zealand is under ecological threat because of the intense dairy farming industry. Dr Joy and Dr Humphrey have clearly illustrated that Nitrate leaks and pollution can cause alteration of the freshwater ecosystem such as algae bloom, E. coli infections, irregular oxygen fluctuation -which can be deadly for aerobic organism such as fishes-, blue baby syndrome – that affects primarily lower-income families.

As Al Fleming (from Healthy River) recalled freshwater health means a lot to New Zealand. “When you meet someone in Māori culture you say ‘ko wai koe’ and what that means is ‘who are you’ but if you take the translation out of it and just translate word for word it is ko meaning who and wai meaning water, so it is actually ‘which water source do you come from’“. This exemplifies how the freshwater ecosystem is important for New Zealand, hence the need to protect and manage it sustainably.

Despite several attempts undertaken to manage the freshwater ecosystem and protect its resilience capacity from modern pollutants (e.g. Treaty of Waitangi) NZ does not recognize the right to a healthy environment at national and international level. However, Dr. Duncan highlighted a key point to better understand the ongoing decision tree for the best freshwater management within the Canterbury experience, using Jasanoff’s analysis (2004). Science and politics need to find the right balance to inform and make the (local, regional, national) communities conscious enough to independently face tricky issues such as eco-management topics. Duncan analysis explained that neither the scientist nor the politician takes the final decision. The conclusive decision is discussed on a democratic and multi-stakeholders board where the last choice rests upon the community representatives. Therefore, the role of the community needs to be empowered while politics and science have to support it rather than lead the decision making process. When the community gets involved in the decision tree each component is important and needs to be encouraged. This will enable a social awareness, which bonds the community participants, helping to recognize common over personal interests. This process can potentially result in a democratic and modern way to recognize the right to a healthy environment in New Zealand.

As highlighted by Scott Pearson, some of the latest experiences of communitarian decision have been unsuccessful. Because of this, there is a need to raise social awareness, especially about the eco-management issues.  From Latin, eco means house, and as in a house, collaboration is the only way to get to achieve sustainable management for our ecosystem.

In conclusion, the social awareness of good eco-management practices is the first step towards the development of a democratic wellbeing including our ecosystem.