Information and stories about food security news.

Giant Leek_opt
Hydrogen sulphide, a gas known for its toxicity to both plants and humans, has rarely even been studied in small quantities. Recently, a scientist researching the effects of hydrogen sulphide on plants made a simple dilution mistake-accidentally exposing the plants to low as opposed to high levels of the gas-that yielded completely unexpected results. In a discovery that has huge implications in regards to global food security, a surprising link was discovered between hydrogen sulphide and enhanced plant growth.

Researchers at the University of Washington were researching the toxicity effects of hydrogen sulphide and mistakenly exposed the plants to a much lower concentration of the compound then they originally intended. Unbelievably, instead of dying the plants responded with an accelerated rate of growth, with seeds germinating in half the time and crop yields nearly doubling. Just to make sure, researchers replicated the experiment several times in order to verify the relationship between hydrogen sulphide and enhanced plant growth, and the plants responded with the same accelerated growth patterns.

This recent development has exciting implications with respect to global food security, as the ability to grow plants at a larger and faster rate will help meet the demands of a rapidly increasing world population.

In regards to the link between hydrogen sulphide and enhanced plant growth, University of Washington Doctoral student Frederick Dooley remarked that, “They germinate faster and they produce roots and leaves faster. Basically what we’ve done is accelerate the entire plant process.”

The ability to both expedite and enhance the germination of plants from seeds to readily available crops carries with it great implications for the future of food security. Moreover, by unexpectedly finding the previously unknown link between hydrogen sulphide and enhanced plant growth, agricultural researchers are helping to solve the world hunger problem.

– Brian Turner

Source Science Daily
Photo Kazak

Afghanistan Farming_opt
For the past 12 years, the US Army has primarily been assigned to the role of peacekeeper in support of the NATO led military operations in Afghanistan. Subsequently, as the security operations draw to a close and military personnel began a phased withdrawal, coalition forces have a renewed focus on the long-term economic benefits of sustainable farming in Afghanistan. Sadly, many of the invaluable skill sets necessary for high yield farming have been lost, a consequence of the frequent military incursions that have occurred over the last half-century. In an effort to both ameliorate local poverty levels and build agricultural capacity, NATO is calling for the US Army to encourage food security in Afghanistan.

Soldiers of the 5-19 Agribusiness Development Team of the Indian National Guard have spent the last year instructing Afghan farmers of the Khowst Provice in the basics of farming. What tasks are being covered in the course curriculum? Army instructors are focusing on row planting, pest control, livestock care, and green house management; all important techniques that will enable farmers to increase crop yields and pass along the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities of sustainable farming to future generations. Thus far, the program assigning the US Army to encourage food security in Afghanistan has reaped substantial dividends, with local farmers taking pride in their yearly harvests and neighboring villages working towards the purchase of farm equipment in the near future.

In regards to the policy calling for the U.S. Army to encourage food security in Afghanistan, U.S. Army Major Gregory Motz noted that, “This is the best job I have had in the Army. To be able to see the progress the Afghans have made in a year and know that it isn’t because we did it for them, but with them…The agricultural community in Khost has made leaps and bounds in the last five years. It is really exciting to be part of that.”

A program calling for the U.S. Army to encourage food security in Afghanistan is a much needed reason to be optimistic about the future of the war torn nation, as the economic opportunities afforded by a newly invigorated agricultural industry will serve as positive legacy that will outlast the violence of the last decade. Furthermore, by laying the necessary groundwork required for a rich food security program to take hold, the citizens of Afghanistan can look forward to a future high in agricultural sustainability and economic development.

Brian Turner

Source: ClarksVilleonline
Photo: National Guard News

childhood stunting
Childhood stunting effects a massive percentage of the world’s youth. UNICEF estimates that some 39% of children in the developing world are stunted. 40% of children in sub-Saharan Africa are stunted and in East and South Asia, estimates climb as high as 50% of children. The numbers tally in at 209 million stunted children in the developing world.

Childhood stunting is a condition that is defined as height for age below the fifth percentile on a reference growth curve. If, within a given population, substantially more than 5% of an identified child population have heights that are lower than the curve, then it is likely that said population would have a higher-than-expected prevalence of stunting. It measures the nutritional status of children. It is an important indicator of the prevalence of malnutrition or other nutrition-related disorders among an identified population in a given region or area.

Aside from inadequate nutrition, there are several other causes of childhood stunting. These include: chronic or recurrent infections, intestinal parasites, low birth weight, and in rare cases, extreme psychosocial stress without nutritional deficiencies. Several of these factors are influenced by each other. Low birth weight is correlated with nutritional deficiencies, and inadequate nutrition is correlated to chronic or recurrent infections.

One of the serious consequences of stunting is particularly impaired cognitive development.  When a child has inadequate access to food, their body conserves energy by first limiting social activity and cognitive development in the form of apathetic and incurious children. These children may not develop the capacity to adequately learn or play. Then the child’s body will limit the energy available for growth.

Fortunately, studies have found that improvement in diet after age two can restore a child to near-normal mental development. Conversely, malnutrition after age two can be just as damaging as it is before age two. However, it is important to note that once stunting is established, it typically becomes permanent.

The reasons stated above serve as important reminders of why foreign aid and programs aimed at eliminating extreme malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies are so vital. The impact of new legislation focusing on increasing USAID and other foreign aid is substantial. Stunting can be seriously limited through the introduction of increased access to food security in the developing world. Knowledge of the facts surrounding stunting is also an important step in working to combat and eliminate childhood stunting worldwide.

– Caitlin Zusy

Sources: UNICEF, Future of Children

Can Converting Cellulose Into Starch Solve World Hunger?
When considering the most pressing issues confronting global poverty in the next 30 to 40 years, none are more alarming than the food shortages predicted to accompany a worldwide population of over nine billion people. In an effort to ameliorate future food insecurity, more and more research funding has been allocated towards finding sustainable, nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates capable of meeting the caloric demands of a greatly expanded populace. Quite astonishingly, in a turn of events that have even researchers optimistic about future food security challenges, scientists have recently discovered a way of converting cellulose into starch.

Researchers at Virginia Tech’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, along with their College of Engineering devised an ingenious method of converting cellulose into starch by utilizing a process involving cascading enzymes. Basically, enzymatic reactions transform cellulose – an abundant carbohydrate contained in the cell wall of plants – into amylose and ethanol, which means that absolutely nothing goes to waste. The potential of the cellulose to starch conversion opens up exciting new frontiers in the fight against world hunger, as humans generally derive 20 to 40 percent of their daily caloric intake from complex carbohydrates such as starch.

In regards to the process of converting cellulose into starch, Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering Y.H. Percival Zhang remarked that “Cellulose and starch have the same chemical formula, the difference is in their chemical linkages. Our idea is to use an enzyme cascade to break up the bonds in cellulose, enabling their reconfiguration as starch.”

Scientific breakthroughs such as converting cellulose into starch serve to unlock the potential of feeding the entire world’s population without the necessary land, water, and fertilizer usage that wreaks havoc on the earth’s delicate ecosystems. Furthermore, by harnessing the scientific technology necessary to transform something as abundant as plant cellulose into a viable human food source, future challenges such as global food security are looking much more surmountable.

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: National Geographic

Second Green Revolution in India
For India, the issue of food security has been a chronic blight that has plagued the 1 billion strong nation ever since its beginnings. Recently, the government has launched a comprehensive program aimed at alleviating the widespread malnutrition and low birth weights of many infants and children. In a bold move to add even more momentum and resources toward the fight against food insecurity, the Department of Agriculture has launched the Second Green Revolution in India.

The Second Green Revolution in India was celebrated during the farming festival of Uzhavar Thiruvizha, which will last until May 20th. During the festival, organized by the Department of Agriculture and Ministers from varying levels of Indian Government, farmers were invited to take part in educational seminars covering issues such as water usage, soil testing, and pest control. In addition to the educational aspects of the Uzavar Thiruvizha, 114 farmers also received financial assistance and farming assets valued at 72.42 lakhs.

In regards to the overall goals of the Second Green Revolution in India, Joint Director of Agriculture Mohammed Kalimullah Sherif remarked that “Under the ‘Second Green Revolution’ underway in the State, it has been planned to double the crop production and increase the revenue of farmers threefold over a period of three years ending 2015.”

Government investments such as the Uzhavar Thiruvizha highlight the ongoing commitment of the Indian government in tackling future food security challenges and alleviating chronic malnutrition. Furthermore, through the coordinated efforts of the Second Green Revolution in India, the mission of doubling current agricultural outputs is a goal that has never been more attainable.

– Brian Turner

Source The Hindu
Photo DeshGujarat

The Bank of Agriculture Boosts Small Scale FarmersThe Bank of Agriculture and the Kebbi State government have begun a collaboration to increase the number of small scale farmers in Kebbi State, Nigeria. The Bank of Agriculture has agreed to expend one to two billion naira to encourage and help small scale farmers boost their production. This partnership is specifically targeting small scale farmers because these are the people that produce the majority of the food consumed by the nation. Improving and increasing its efficiency will help the nation become more self-sustainable.

The Bank of Agriculture typically provides credit to commercial farmers and smallholders. Thus, it is quite unique that they are collaborating with the Kebbi State government. Getting support from the Kebbi State government ensures that the government will provide other tools and support necessary to help boost small scale farmer food production and lead to the success of the program put in place by the Bank of Agriculture. Kebbi State Governor, Alh. Saidu Dakingari, has already made a public statement in which he has promised support for the small scale farmers that receive some of the money put up by the Bank of Agriculture.

The success of the program will lead to better food security, reduce the number of those living in poverty, and help generate employment opportunities.

– Angela Hooks

Source: AllAfrica
Photo: New Nigerian Newspapers

Bhutan: First Country with Completely Organic Farming
Bhutan is set to become the world’s first entirely organic country in terms of farming and agricultural practices, as all synthetic fertilizers and pesticides have been banned by the government. Farmers will have to rely on all-natural forms of fertilizers, mainly animal waste and other farm waste by-products.

The government of Bhutan hopes that instead of limiting the country’s agriculture, the ban on pesticides will increase farming and enable more food to be produced, including specialty foods with demand from neighboring countries such as China and India.

Bhutan’s minister of agriculture and forests, Pema Gyamtsho, asserted that the topography of the country played a large role in the decision, citing terrain issues with using synthetic pesticides, including uncontrollable run-off that has a negative effect on plants and animals in the vicinity.

Although Bhutan has only recently seen a boom in development and current technologies reaching citizens, the government is confident that going organic will not only protect the country from future climate change implications but also from an economic standpoint in hopes that the amount of food they will have to import will remain minimal.

Some farmers in Bhutan have expressed their doubts about the plan, citing recent low crop yields due to nontraditional high temperatures and an increase in invasive pests, creating a need for more synthetic fertilizers.

Although the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers are mostly widespread currently, Bhutan as a whole is an extremely sustainable nation: over 95% of the country “has clean water and electricity, 80% of the country is forested and, to the envy of many countries, it is carbon neutral and food secure.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: Guardian

American Chemical Society Advocates For Reduced Food Waste
Did you know that the average American wastes almost 20 pounds of food a month? How about that 4 out of every 10 pounds of food produced in the United States goes to waste? These surprising facts – gleaned from recent scientific research calling for reduced food waste – was discussed at the 245th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society last week in New Orleans, Louisiana.

The topic of reduced food waste, along with various other subjects highlighting specific energy and sustainability challenges was raised in order to meet the needs of an estimated worldwide population of nine billion by 2050. As the global population increases and demands greater food quality – via development and increased standards of living – new and creative methods of food security must be implemented in order to prevent future agricultural and energy constraints. John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture at Kansas State remarked that “We will need another ‘Green Revolution‘ to feed the world by 2050, That will mean scientific innovations, such as new strains of the big three grains — rice, wheat and corn — adapted for a changing climate and other conditions. It also will require action to reduce a terrible waste of food that gets too little attention.”

The emergence of the Chinese middle class – roughly the size of the entire US population – was a popular topic, including their greater demand for energy and evolving dietary tastes predicted to strain worldwide energy and food resources, necessitating increased sustainability and seed development. By taking the first steps in raising awareness of issues such as reduced food waste, scientists are optimistic about meeting future food security challenges through greater collaboration and agricultural research. John Floros further remarked that “Consumers, industry, universities and governments all need to pitch in. The first step is more awareness of these issues and the need for action on multiple levels of society.”

Brian Turner

Source: Science Daily
Photo: Salon

USAID Helps Fund Research for Heat-Tolerant Wheat
As part of the United States’ initiative to ensure food security, Feed the Future, USAID is funding research at Washington State University that will aim to create heat-resistant varieties of wheat better suited for harsh climates around the world that struggle with adequate food sources. Researchers hope to obtain the first temperature-tolerant breed of wheat within five years.

Also taking part in funding the research is the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR).

Because a wheat plant’s productivity falls significantly at temperatures above 82 degrees, researchers will study certain breeds of wheat to determine and then isolate the genes associated with the ability to tolerate higher temperatures. The research will take place in the North Indian River Plain, where issues such as food scarcity and a booming population of over 1 billion people are stretching resources extremely thin.

Although the North Indian River Plain will be the focus of the research, participants acknowledge the impact that heat-resistant varieties of wheat can have in a world of impending climate change and global warming, coupled with increasing populations on nearly every continent.

Kulvinder Gill, project director, stated “The newly developed ‘Climate Resilient’ cultivars will be better equipped to deal with these challenges. The project will benefit all wheat-growing regions of the world, as heat during flowering is an issue in most of the wheat-growing regions.”

Christina Kindlon

Source: USAID

US and India Collaborate on Wheat ResearchThe United States and India have teamed up to develop new wheat varieties. This multimillion-dollar project aims to create new types of wheat that can live in high temperatures. In response to global warming, there is an overwhelming need for such wheat varieties since this plant does not easily adjust to changes in temperature. Given that wheat is a significant component of people’s diets around the world, scientists recognize the urgency behind this project.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR) are funding the experiment. Although scientists from the US and India are involved, the project is led by an Indian American from Washington State University.

The new wheat varieties will help with the U.S. and Indian anti-hunger campaigns and the US’s Feed the Future food security program. Hopefully, we will begin to see the new wheat relatively soon. USAID has set a goal of developing the first set of “climate-resilient varieties” within five years.

As the planet continues to get warmer and the population increases, it is vital for global food security that the scientists are successful. The current wheat becomes less productive when temperatures are about 82 degrees Fahrenheit and lose four percent productivity with every few degrees of increase in temperature.

The method behind developing heat resistant wheat is complicated. “Researchers will combine conventional breeding and newly developed breeding tools to identify genes or sets of genes associated with heat tolerance, a rarely studied trait with outsized importance in yields,” writes Business Line.

Together, scientists from Washington State University, Kansas State University, and DuPont Pioneer, a seed manufacturer, along with India’s Directorate of Wheat Research and National Bureau of Plant Genetics Resources and four other Indian universities, are confident they can successfully develop the new wheat within five years.

– Mary Penn

Source: Business Line
Photo: Agriculture Corner