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Food
A team of scientists from Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom recently collaborated to study nanotechnology-based fertilizer delivery to crops. What they discovered has the potential to revolutionize farming worldwide, reduce environmental impact and mitigate future global food shortages.

The study, which was published in the Jan. 25, 2017 edition of American Chemical Society Nano (ACSNano), acknowledges that fertilizer prices in developing countries are substantial, and the costs often negatively impact food supply. Scientists determined that developing technology to reduce fertilizer costs was necessary, and began testing a trial fertilizer on rice farms in Sri Lanka.

The results were nothing short of impressive. Initial trials showed a 20 percent increase in production using about half the amount of fertilizer. These findings are a boon for future generations. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that crop production needs to increase by approximately 60 percent by 2050 in order to supply the world’s population and avoid global food shortages.


The Science Behind the Results

The scientists in this study didn’t reinvent the wheel. They focused their attention on urea, a common fertilizer. Although urea has been used for decades, it has major weaknesses. When urea comes in contact with water, it breaks down prematurely and cannot be efficiently absorbed by crops. Farmers then have to use more fertilizer if they can afford it. Calling this issue a “major challenge for global agriculture” that “threatens future food security”, the team settled on a nanotechnology-based principle for fertilizer delivery. This method has wide applications in pharmaceutical delivery, and the scientists thought it showed promise.

The team combined Hydroxyapatite nanoparticles with urea to create nanohybrids. Then, they applied the mixture to crops at test farms. It pleased them to discover that the nanohybrid fertilizer decomposed the urea at a slower rate than urea alone. The scientists reported that they reduced the amount of fertilizer application by 50 percent while increasing crop yield by more than nine percent.

Larger Harvests with a Smaller Footprint

Money isn’t the only thing saved when nanohybrids are in play. Less fertilizer applied to crops means that less washes away into bodies of water, avoiding unnecessary pollution. Gehan Amaratunga, one of the scientists on the team, says “this goes a long way to reducing the environmental footprint of agriculture…It is a Green Revolution.”

Gisele Dunn

Photo: Flickr

Hunger in Iraq
Hunger in Iraq remains a big concern. Over 13 years since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the country continues to slip closer to starvation. As U.S. military numbers have increased in the country to just over 4,600 troops, Secretary of State John Kerry outlined additional spending to provide aid to the people of Iraq. His statement, released in April, cites the severe humanitarian crisis facing the country.

To alleviate hunger in Iraq, the State Department plans to spend an additional $155 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing the total to $778 million provided to the people of Iraq since fiscal year 2014. While commendable, this aid is dwarfed by the estimated $2 trillion the U.S. has spent on the war effort in that country and does not go nearly far enough to help solve the problem.

Iraq’s food shortage stems from displacement in the country. The Islamic State (IS) is still in open conflict with the Iraqi government forcing many from their homes, including farmers. Fighting in areas such as Salahuddin, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Anbar have greatly reduced or halted the food generated in these important growing regions, increasing hunger in Iraq. The U.N. estimates more than 3.4 million Iraqis have been displaced in the fighting so far.

Farmers are fleeing as sectarian violence has specifically targeted agrarian production in Iraq. In territory under their control, IS has shown a willingness to confiscate farming equipment. Groups opposing IS have attacked the agricultural production of local Arabs in retaliation for their cooperation. Yazidis have burned the fields of Arab farmers in Sinjar and in the breadbasket region of northern Nineveh, Kurdish fighters have razed entire Arab communities. Farmers face additional difficulties in growing crops such as a lack of agricultural machinery, a shortage of fuel and even unexploded bombs and mines in fields.

Exacerbating the issue, a stream of refugees have flooded over the border from neighboring Syria, seeking a refuge from the fighting there. To get an idea of the size of the problem, imagine a country with the land area and population size of California. Now imagine that the inhabitants of Los Angeles have been displaced to the rest of the state while a flood of refugees pour across the border.

Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, addressed the European Parliament in June 2015 stating, “In the months ahead the humanitarian situation is going to get worse … 10 million Iraqis are likely to need some form of life-saving assistance.” This threat looms in a country with a population of 33 million.

Looking just at food, the U.S. State Department optimistically expects the humanitarian aid from USAID distributed through the World Food Program to be able to feed just over 1.5 million people for about two and a half months. Yet according to the U.N., 4.4 million Iraqis are in need of food support, not counting the estimated 250,000 Syrian refugees taking shelter in the country.

The State Department is also providing funding for education, an important measure, but one that should take secondary priority in a country where millions are not having their daily hunger needs met. Sectarian violence creates a vicious cycle contributing to food shortages which in turn lead to more unrest. A response to hunger in Iraq needs to be part of any solution in the region.

Still in its infancy after the U.S. invasion in 2003, the Iraqi Government has proven ineffective in solving the nation’s hunger problems as it fights for its very survival against IS forces. Unless the international community takes action soon, the situation in Iraq threatens to spiral further out of control.

Will Sweger

Photo: Flickr

Food shortages in VenezuelaBeginning in 2014, oil prices around the world began to plummet. This sparked an extreme financial crisis in Venezuela, whose economy is based solely on its immense reserves of the fossil fuel.

This evolving crisis has contributed to dire food shortages in Venezuela. The CEO of Empresas Polar, Lorenzo Mendoza, is working to aid fellow Venezuelans in need.

Oil became a source of vast political influence in Venezuela once the industry became nationalized in 1975. The Washington Post reports that oil currently makes up about 95 percent of the region’s revenue from exports.

In 2013, following the death of Hugo Chávez, former Vice President and current Head of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro was elected president and promised to continue the policies of his predecessor.

According to The Washington Post, Maduro is “discouraging private industry that could have diversified the nation’s economic base” and using revenues from PDVSA, the state oil company, to “pay for generous social welfare benefits that won votes.”

This lack of diversification and unruly spending, combined with the harsh drop in oil prices, has left the economy and citizens of Venezuela in turmoil. The International Monetary Fund’s figures show that Venezuela “went from earning $80 billion from oil in 2013 to a projected $20-25 billion in 2016.”

This discrepancy of billions of dollars has created food shortages in Venezuela, resulting in riots and violence. Numerous looters have been shot and killed, hundreds have been arrested and lines of hungry families continue to grow.

Political and economic instability has allowed crime to prosper. According to the Los Angeles Times, “gangs on motorcycles have fought over the right to control and distribute food.”

Instead of taking responsibility for the lack of revenue, mounting inflation and food shortages, President Maduro has shifted blame onto the U.S. government, as well as Mendoza.

Mendoza’s business, a large-scale food processing and brewery corporation, is a unique entity within Venezuela’s socialist society.

Empresas Polar is the largest privately owned enterprise in a country whose government controls a substantial portion of businesses.

President Maduro accused Mendoza of withholding goods and slowing production during the crisis. The Wall Street Journal reports that the government views Mendoza as “a traitor responsible for the scarcities.”

Mendoza denies all accusations and believes that it is the government’s control of prices, lack of imports and halts in production forced by a lack of federal funds that is fueling the food shortages.

In fact, Mendoza is actively fighting to end the overwhelming food shortages in Venezuela. The CEO is urging his government to cooperate with organizations that can offer aid.

In February, The Wall Street Journal reported that Mendoza contacted Harvard economics professor Ricardo Hausmann to speak of “Venezuela’s need for up to $60 billion of loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to avoid economic meltdown.”

This cry for help will most likely go unheard, as Venezuela’s government has denied foreign aid from most countries, especially the U.S., since the time of Hugo Chávez.

While President Obama and President Maduro did meet for a few moments at the Summit of the Americas in April, Maduro spent most of his time lambasting Obama for his sanctions, which are based on human rights violations by a handful of Venezuelan officials.

In this time of crisis, Empresas Polar and its charismatic CEO Lorenzo Mendoza are bringing hope to Venezuela. Empresas Polar represents a bright future for Venezuelan business, as it is responsible for the employment of thousands, offers price-conscious products, a provides a profitable business plan and diversification of the Venezuelan market.

Moreover, despite attacks on his character and livelihood made by the government, Mendoza will continue to fight for foreign aid to end the food shortages in Venezuela.

Liam Travers

Photo: Business Insider

Poverty
When you have enough money and food to be comfortable, it can be easy to be unaware of just how many people in the world are lacking in these basics. Sometimes an inspiring film can really drive this point home, with moving stories and imagery that make it shockingly clear that millions of people in the world struggle with poverty every day. These are a few of the documentaries and films about poverty that give an idea of what poverty is like, or attempt to explain the nature of poverty.

We Feed the World: This film examines the contrast between the overproduction and waste of food among the affluent and the scarcity among those who are hungry. Food production is also explored. The story is told via an interview with U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Zigler.

Slumdog Millionaire: One of the most popular films about poverty, Slumdog Millionaire is about how an orphan growing up in poverty in Mumbai comes to be a contestant on India’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” The question is, how did an uneducated orphan come to have the answers to some many of the game’s trivia questions? Moving visual imagery and dramatic storytelling bring both the reality of poverty and the hope amidst it to life.

A Place at the Table: This film, featuring actor-director Jeff Bridges, examines hunger in the U.S. The staggering statistic of 50 million Americans living in household lacking food security is given and this in the “richest country in the world,” reported Bills Moyers & Company. A Place at the Table tells us not only how many Americans are going hungry, but what tax dollars are being spent on instead. It also follows the lives of Americans living with food insecurity. Often they are people who are working full-time. Despite adding many food banks in the U.S., the problem persists.

The End of Poverty: This is another film that asks why there is so much poverty existing alongside so much wealth in the world. Directed by Philippe Diaz and narrated by Martin Sheen, the film takes the view that our current economic system is not only responsible for this situation, but perpetuates it and keeps it from truly changing. A look is taken at policies that keep rich countries rich, and poor countries poor.

Poverty, Inc.: This documentary takes a hard look at how the system of giving aid is and is not working. Although the film acknowledges the good in giving, it raises the question of what happens once money or aid is given. Are there unforeseen consequences? Sometimes aid can create dependence in a community in need. It’s important to examine the most efficient strategies for helping communities to rise above poverty and learn the tools to keep themselves out of it.

These thought-provoking documentaries and films about poverty bring new perspective to how we think about giving aid to those in poverty.

Katherine Hamblen

Photo: Flickr

smuggling in Venezuela
Venezuela’s government continues to battle a food hoarding and smuggling epidemic. It accuses food smugglers of causing national food shortages in the country. The government states that food smugglers hoard goods to resell for profit and smuggle such items into Venezuela’s neighboring countries.

Due to currency controls and a lack of U.S. dollars, Venezuela has found it to be increasingly difficult to import foreign food products from other countries. One of the most popular countries for food smuggling is Colombia, which borders Venezuela. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos have both acknowledged the problem.

Earlier this month, Maduro stated that smuggling seizure efforts in Colombia have recovered close to $400 million U.S. dollars worth of goods. Due to these smuggling incidents, the Venezuelan government intends to introduce a biometric tracking system that will limit citizens’ food purchases via a fingerprint scanning.

A military spokesperson for the government told El Universal newspaper that the quantity of goods smuggled to Colombia “would be enough to load the shelves of our supermarkets.”

This July, the government seized more than 11 tons worth of fish, chicken and beef.

Last month, Venezuela began to close its border to Colombia at night and deploy thousands of troops in an effort to stop the smuggling in Venezuela from taking place. However, opposition to the plan suggests that the policy will treat Venezuelan citizens as criminals and even breach individual privacy. Many have suggested that the policy leans toward food rationing.

Some watchdog groups have even predicted that those without the biometric cards may not be able to shop at state supermarkets. The Venezuelan government believes up to 40 percent of items purchased within the country are smuggled out of the country. This includes medicines and basic foodstuff.

Even though the government has stated that those who make use of the biometric cards may receive various discounts and other benefits, those against the plan suggest otherwise. Nevertheless, the country has seen inflation rates top 60 percent this year due to food smuggling, which indicates that something must be done.

– Ethan Safran

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, Latin Post, The Guardian
Photo: The London Fog

world vision
In Sudan, many parents are finding incentive to send their children to school because of the meals that the children will receive during the day. School related fees such as uniforms, books and writing utensils can be expensive for Sudanese parents; education often takes a backseat when money is tight.

World Vision’s Otash Girls and Boys Schools have helped children stay in school, eat at least one meal per day and have even raised the number of enrolled children .

The United States cost equivalent of feeding a child during the school year is a mere $34. That amount is incredibly small when you take a look at the big picture. Extreme hunger in Sudan can cause severe damage to a young child’s ability to properly think and remain physically healthy during future years. Poor nutrition will leave a child stunted because of the lack of necessary nutrients needed in order to function and develop.

Dr. Joseph Cahalan stated, “…a stunted child can lose as much as 10% of her lifetime earnings as an adult. Countries with high levels of malnutrition can lose as much as 8% of their gross domestic product because of stunting.”

The physical limitations of children due to severe hunger in Sudan not only affect them personally, but can also impact the country as a whole. Sudan is already struggling financially because of wars and displacement; now those wars have placed 3.7 million adults and children in a state of emergency food insecurity.

Without a basic education, the fear is that children and future generations will be caught in a cyclical lifestyle of severe hunger in Sudan. Now that dry ration food is served during the day at Otash schools, children are able to stay concentrated during the day. So far, 32,798 students located throughout Sudan are able to benefit from World Vision.

– Rebecca Felcon  

Sources: World Food Programme, Huffington Post, World Vision Sudan
Photo: World Vision

syria_peace_talks_geneva
With humanitarian conditions dire in Syria, the Geneva II peace talks between the National Coalition and the opposing Syrian government largely lack progress.

Led by Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian regime has been in violent conflict with the National Coalition since 2011. Claiming over 130,000 lives with nine million more displaced, the peace talks nestled in Switzerland’s town of Montreux are far from arriving at a solution.

The situation on the ground in Syria is sorely lacking in electricity, heat and most importantly of all, food and water.

A recent shipment of food relief arrived in the Yarmuk camp of Palestine, independent of the on going peace talks in Switzerland, yet blockades and the fear of “terrorists” in certain areas leave the greater population of Hom without the relief packages.

In fact, the continued presence of violence and the inadmissibility of evacuation resulted in over 1,870 people killed since the beginning of conflict mediation on Jan. 22. Of those, 498 were civilians.

The continued supply of armaments to the National Coalition from the United States and to the Syrian government from Russia continues to exacerbate the situation, reports Oxfam. A ceasefire, though proposed, is far from being executed. Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations mediator, arbitrates in Montreux, with reports stating that both opposite sides refuse to address one another.

The agenda is said to begin with the issue of humanitarian aid and the release of political prisoners. The real hard-hitting issue of a transitional government, however, is the stalling point.

Hom is located in the heart of Syria and has been a battleground since the start of conflict. For those in Hom living in starving conditions, people are turning towards growing radish and spinach indoors. The infrastructure is in ruin and little medicine available.

Though food envoys are ready to be released, neither side appears ready to allow humanitarian aid access to the famine-stricken city of Hom.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: CBS News, Global Post, The Guardian, The Independent, Oxfam, Thomson Reuters
Photo: GuardianLV

Hunger Casts Shadow Over Zimbabwe Starving Africa
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has announced that Zimbabwe faces a “looming food crisis,”  just days after the UN endorsed the country as the tourism leader for Africa. 2.2 million people, or one in four of the rural population, are expected to need emergency aid in the coming months, the highest number since early 2009. The UN World Food Program (WFP) will provide additional food handouts until the next harvest in March.

Rising hunger, particularly in southern districts, was caused by extreme and inconsistent weather, the high cost and shortages of fertilizer and seeds in the struggling economy, and a 15 percent rise in prices for the corn staple after this year’s poor harvests. Historically in years of economic and political turmoil, Zimbabwe has needed regular food handouts. Approximately 1.4 million of the total 13 million people received food aid in 2012.

“Zimbabwe is chronically food deficient and the long term solution is a holistic intervention. In the short terms with regards to immediate intervention, we are scaling up our targeted assistance, meaning we will be distributing food and cash for cereals and other foods. We will probably reach up to 1.8 million people by January,” Abdurrahim Siddiqui, the UN Deputy Country Director for Zimbabwe, said.

Commercial Farmers Union President Charles Taffs stated that the figures might underestimate the actual number of people that need food. He further added that Zimbabwe was in the midst of a man-made agricultural crisis after more than a decade of destructive policies, such as the land grab campaign.

“We have been avoiding dealing with this issue for too long now. Zimbabwe has the resources, it has the land, and it has the ability to produce food. Now we need investor confidence to be restored and farming to resume,” Taffs said.

Ali Warlich

Sources: ABC, All Africa
Photo: 

onion sale groupon
Many of us are familiar with Groupons, perhaps having used them to save money on anything from movie tickets to designer cupcakes. People love a good bargain, but it is uncommon for a deal to generate so much web traffic that the site crashes. That is exactly what happened when Groupon posted a deal for onions in India.

The cost of 1 kilogram of onions is up to 100 rupees in India. When Groupon offered onions at nine rupees per kilogram, the website sold 3,000 kilograms in just 44 minutes – enough web traffic to crash the site.

It’s a sign of the times in India, where the depreciating value of the rupee combined with rising inflation and food shortages are making staple foods like the onion increasingly unaffordable. Indian cuisine typically features onions as a part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the price of this everyday food has increased threefold in two months. That explains how the onion deal overloaded Groupon’s server, demonstrating the precarious economic situation in India.

This was certainly not the first time that high onion prices have been a big deal in India. Indira Gandhi, festooned with a garland of onions, promised to bring down the price of the essential food in her campaign for National Congress Party leader in 1980, and she won. More recently, the Delhi state government was brought to tears after they lost the election, thanks to the onion’s outrageous prices.

Jennifer Bills

Sources: Al Jazeera, The Chicago Tribune
Photo: Fresh Plaza

Genetically_Modified_Crops_Prevent_Food_Shortages
With the world population expected to double by 2050, food security will continue to be an increasingly complicated and important issue. More food will be needed to feed more people and, to preserve vital biodiversity sites, we’ll need to produce this additional food using land already devoted to agriculture. While there are many factors that could improve agricultural efficiency, genetically modified crops hold the most potential. Many scientists now believe that transgenic plants could help prevent or minimize future food shortages.

Transgenic plants are those that possess an inserted portion of DNA either from a different member of their own species or from an entirely different species. The inserted DNA serves some special purpose, such as allowing the plant to produce natural insecticides. Once the genes are transferred, they can be passed on to offspring through simple fertilization, allowing farmers to breed advantageous traits in their plants. Transgenic plants have proven extremely profitable in the developed world, accounting for a 5% to 10% increase in productivity, and reducing the cost of herbicides and insecticides.

Such methods could effectively increase productivity in the developing world, where a surge in food production is sorely needed. Developing countries, especially those in the tropics and subtropics, suffer severe crop losses due to pests, diseases, and poor soil conditions. In addition, a lack of financial capital often prevents farmers from investing in high quality seeds, insecticides, and fertilizers. Poor post-harvest conditions such as inadequate storage facilities and thriving fungi and insect populations also fuel crop loss. Currently, pests destroy over half the world’s crop production. Transgenic plants could provide an innovative solution.

Fortunately, bioengineering solutions can be easily adapted from one species to another, allowing one advancement in plant biotechnology to quickly produce many more. For example, insect-resistant strains of several important plant species have been produced using one specific endotoxin. Commercial production of insect-resistant maize, potato, and cotton has already begun. Plant bioengineers hope to use similar technology to create fruits that ripen more slowly, allowing for longer shelf lives and less post-harvest crop loss.

It is important to note that this technology has mostly been established with the developed world in mind. Therefore, adapting it for use in the developing world must be done carefully. For instance, many crops grown in the developing world are local varieties and have not been extensively tested thus far by plant bioengineers. Blindly replacing local crops with bioengineered varieties from the developed world could disturb deep social or religious traditions that are represented in the widely varied cultures in the developing world. Additionally, societies are more likely to embrace a familiar crop than a foreign one. Research and development in bioengineering must, therefore, adapt to include the crops of the developing world.

Although the globe produces enough food for everyone, people everywhere continue to die of starvation. With this unequal distribution in mind, it is imperative that, moving forward, small farmers in the developing world receive the same access to plant biotechnology given to large agribusinesses in the developed world. First-world corporations cannot be granted even more unfair advantages over small landholders in poorer nations, especially as global populations grow and food security becomes ever more scarce and important. As this technology is developed, it is up to us to share it with the developing world in order to minimize severe food shortages in the years to come.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: Plant Physiology, Colorado State University
Photo: Tree Hugger