AIC Notes Issue 2012-03 January 19, 2012
|Saskatchewan Crop Projects Get Share of $8.3 Million |
A record $8.3 million in crop-related research funding from the Saskatchewan Agriculture Development Fund (ADF) will be split among 34 crop-related research projects.
Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Bob Bjornerud and SaskatoonRosetownBiggar MP Kelly Block made the announcement Thursday in Saskatoon at the SaskCanola Producer's annual general meeting.
"As the world population grows, research will be more important than ever to ensuring our producers have the tools they need to continue meeting the demands for safe, reliable agriculture products both at home and abroad," Bjornerud said in a statement.
"This record funding will support projects that will ultimately create long-term benefits for producers at the farmgate."
"This funding goes a long way to support research that is being done right here in Saskatchewan," Block added. "And innovation in agriculture strengthens the economy as a whole."
Crop-related research projects receiving funding in 2012 include:
. Improving yields and disease-resistance in wheat, barley and flax;
. Increasing lentil yields and marketability through fertilization and genetic analysis;
. Studying infrared technology to screen out fusarium-infected wheat and barley seeds;
. Nutritional and quality analysis of peas, oats and saskatoon berries;
. Increasing profitability for wheat and lentil producers through genetic developments;
. Reducing yield losses in pulse crops due to drought;
. Increasing flax seed size to improve yields;
. Identifying clubroot resistant genes in canola; and
. Identifying factors that cause blackleg disease in canola.
"Research is critical to the success of canola producers and we support these projects, which will help improve farmers' profits," SaskCanola chair Brett Halstead said.
ADF provides funding to help institutions, companies and industry organizations conduct research, development and value-added activities that will benefit Saskatchewan farmers and ranchers. A complete list of all approved projects is available here.
The StarPhoenix, January 13, 2012
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|McGill Receives Funding for GHG Mitigation Research|
An extensive McGill-led study to determine the most effective water management practices to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture is benefitting from the federal government's Agricultural Greenhouse Gases Program, a five-year $27-million initiative that focuses on the development of on-farm greenhouse gas mitigation practices. The McGill project, led by Chandra Madramootoo, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, will receive close to $2 million over the next five years. The project was officially announced on Dec. 9 by the Hon. Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry and Minister of State for Agriculture.
"It is important that agriculture be conducted in a way that reduces the effects of soil, water and air pollution and that we develop innovative agricultural practices that can contribute to carbon sequestration and the reduction of greenhouse gases," explained Madramootoo.
The research will be conducted at six crop-producing locations - three in Quebec, two in Ontario and one in Nova Scotia - where the team will first assess GHG (nitrous oxide, carbon dioxide, and methane) emissions and the amount of carbon sequestered by different drainage and irrigation practices. Based on the initial findings, the research team will work with agricultural producers to modify current practices or develop new water management systems that can reduce GHG emissions. The researchers will also conduct socio-economic studies to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of applying various water management technologies.
Soil moisture levels play an important role in the amount of GHGs that are released by the soil. Nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural fields, in particular, are of increasing concern as over a 100-year period it has the potential to contribute to global warming nearly 300 times more than carbon dioxide.
"Water surpluses or shortages are an important factor in crop productivity. Agricultural producers must use water management technologies efficiently to ensure sustainable and profitable agricultural production," said Madramootoo. "This project will contribute to enhancing the competitiveness of Canadian producers and protecting the environment at the same time."
The study is a collaborative effort that will draw upon the expertise of McGill researchers Joann Whalen and Viacheslav Adamchuk and colleagues at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College, the University of Saskatchewan and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. A wide outreach effort will also be conducted to communicate the results and recommendations of the researchers to agricultural producers across the country.
McGill News Release, January 12, 2012
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|Over Half of Farmers Plan to Expand, Diversify: FCC |
Almost six in 10 farmers nationwide plan to expand or diversify their farming operations in the next five years, according to a new survey by Canada's federal ag lender.
Farm Credit Canada on Tuesday released results from a national survey of its Vision panel, showing 27 per cent of producers plan expansion, 11 per cent plan to diversify and 20 per cent plan to both expand and diversify. Another 27 per cent plan no changes and 15 per cent plan to either downsize or quit farming, the survey said.
"Producers said their optimism is driven by their expectation of profitability over the next five years, increasing global demand for food and the fact that they have either recently, or expect to, reduce their debt over the next five years," FCC CEO Greg Stewart said in a release.
"At the same time, they expressed caution due to factors beyond their control such as weather, unpredictable economic conditions and potential rising interest rates, which makes perfect sense."
The survey, conducted last fall, found farmers' and agribusiness owners' optimism to be at an "all-time high" since it began its Vision panel surveys in 2007, with 80 per cent now expecting their farm or business to be better off in five years.
Another 11 per cent expect no change and nine per cent expect their operations to be worse off, FCC said.
By comparison, the same survey finds 77 per cent believe their farm or business to be better off now compared to five years ago, while 18 per cent say they're worse off and six per cent say they saw no change.
Producers in Saskatchewan are more likely to be optimistic about the future (82 per cent) than other producers (79 per cent). Crop and dairy producers across the country "consistently" report high levels of optimism, Regina-based FCC said.
In an online discussion, farmers said their expectations for profitability come from "a strong position of major agriculture market drivers, such as increases in farmland values, higher commodity and red meat prices and current interest rates," Jean-Philippe Gervais, FCC's senior ag economist, said in the same release.
FCC also found 69 per cent of producers would encourage a friend or relative to pursue a career in primary production; 79 per cent said that they would recommend a career in an ag-related field.
"Rather talk to apes"
The survey also found farmers to be interested in sharing their outlook, good or bad, with others, with 91 per cent sharing their outlook for their own farm and 93 per cent sharing their view on the general state of the ag industry.
That said, the numbers showed just 60 per cent of producers are comfortable sharing their current outlook with people outside agriculture and 70 per cent with sharing their outlook on the larger ag industry with people outside the ag business.
Surveyed producers, FCC said, feel consumers "are not educated well enough on the production of their food," making it "frustrating" for farmers to have meaningful agricultural conversations with consumers.
Outside family, a Manitoba beef producer was quoted as saying, "other producers get the meat and potatoes (the general stuff), suppliers get the bread and water treatment (need to know, maybe a bit more) and outside ag -- I'd rather talk to a group of apes, they'd understand me better," FCC quoted one Manitoba beef producer as saying.
That said, FCC added, producers also "want consumers to be more educated about how hard they work, what goes into producing food and that they receive a very small percentage of the consumer cost of the end product."
Furthermore, FCC said, "producers admit that at times it can be easier to complain about what is going poorly, rather than sharing what is going well. However, they also tell us that when things are going well they do not want to brag or appear boastful."
"With other producers it seems misery loves company when things aren't going so good, so that becomes a little too easy of a trap to fall into," a Saskatchewan crop producer told FCC.
Last fall's Vision panel survey saw invitations sent to 9,329 active FCC Vision members, of which 4,551 completed the survey. Its margin of error is plus or minus 1.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20 on a sample this size.
The latest survey, FCC said, "retired" some questions from previous years, such as those dealing with the main challenges and opportunities in agriculture, and with farmers' financing intentions and spending behaviour.
Country Guide, January 18, 2012
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Optimism about Canadian Agriculture at All-Time High: FCC
Optimism among Canadian agriculture producers and agribusiness owners is at an all-time high, according to the fifth annual Farm Credit Canada (FCC) national Vision panel survey. A full 80% say that their farm or business will be better off in five years - a shift from 76% in 2010. Further evidence of this optimistic attitude is demonstrated in additional survey findings which show:
- that more Canadian producers report being better off today than they were five years ago - 77% compared to 67% in 2010;
- that 58% of producers plan to expand or diversify their operations within the next five years; and
- that seven in ten producers would encourage a friend or relative to pursue a career in primary production.
"The results are great news," says FCC President and CEO Greg Stewart. "Producers said their optimism is driven by their expectation of profitability over the next five years, increasing global demand for food and the fact that they have either recently, or expect to, reduce their debt over the next five years. At the same time, they expressed caution due to factors beyond their control such as weather, unpredictable economic conditions and potential rising interest rates, which makes perfect sense."
"Following a few years of economic uncertainty and challenging weather in some parts of Canada, the results demonstrate the ongoing resiliency of Canadian producers and the agriculture industry," says Jean-Philippe Gervais, FCC Senior Agriculture Economist. "In an online discussion, producers said their expected profitability stemmed from a strong position of major agriculture market drivers such as increases in farmland values, higher commodity and red meat prices, and current interest rates."
In the survey, producers openly shared hundreds of positive comments about the industry. "Agriculture is more than a job, it is an amazing lifestyle," said a B.C. dairy producer and member of the Vision panel who answered the survey. "I feel confident that there are exciting changes ahead as young people realize the value in working in an industry that they love." An Ontario beef producer commented in the survey that, "Farming is not going to go away or be moved to another country. People need to eat so farming will always exist. It is a good field to work in. There are a variety of jobs within the field."
"Agriculture is an essential industry for Canada and the world, and as industry champions, FCC has an important role to play in sharing news about the positive reality of the industry," says Stewart. "The numbers clearly show that producers are prepared to capitalize on opportunities Canadian agriculture offers the world. Optimism is just what agriculture needs to attract more people with the skills and passion to grow the industry, as well as investment dollars. This will enable continued innovation," says Stewart.
Across Canada, producers in Saskatchewan are more likely to be optimistic about the future (82%) than other producers (79%). Crop and dairy producers across the country consistently report high levels of optimism, and optimism among beef producers ranges from a low of 59% in Quebec to a high of 87% in Manitoba. Complete survey results, and graphs of findings by sector and province can be found here.
FCC Press Release, January 17, 2012
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|Marginalization of Agriculture Prompts Shifts in Agricultural Research |
The acting associate dean research with the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences says a growing marginalization of agriculture is prompting a shift in agricultural research.
The University of Manitoba's Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences consists of seven departments: Agricultural Business and Economics, Plant Science, Soil Science, Animal Science, Entomology and Food Science and jointly administered with the Faculty of Engineering is Biosystems Engineering.
Acting associate dean research Dr. Martin Scanlon says an increasingly urban population is becoming less interested in agriculture and we're seeing a marginalization of agriculture in the national consciousness.
Clip-Dr. Martin Scanlon-University of Manitoba:
If we look at countries like Britain we've seen the Ministry of Agriculture change its name a few times and now they're all administered by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and so agriculture doesn't even figure in the name in Britain.
Even though those changes are not as progressed in this country I think that we are seeing some of our researchers go from what might be called traditional agricultural research initiatives and actually look at, if we are feeding certain nutrients to swine operations, what might be the role of certain nutrients that come through and do these nutrients have an adverse effect and, if they do, then what might be done to mitigate them either in terms of feeding, in terms of uptake nutritionally in the animals or indeed in terms of remediation of any runoff that might be going into the waters.
Dr. Scanlon says the work tends to be trusted but researchers can't take that trust for granted so we've got to get the message out about the importance of the research.
He says resources aren't unlimited and if the public isn't convinced, the research will become marginalized and, in times of limited resources, may not move forward.
Bruce Cochrane, University News, University of Manitoba, January 16, 2012
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Farm Input Costs Outpace Commodity Prices
Recent figures from Statistics Canada show the cost of farming is going up faster than the financial returns.
The federal agency's Farm Product Price Index for October 2011, released last week, says crop and livestock prices received by Canadian farmers rose 12.2 per cent from October 2010.
"October marked the fifteenth consecutive year-over-year increase, 11 of which have been double digit," Statistics Canada states.
The report also says the farm product price index has increased 29.7 per cent since 1997.
In other words, a basket of representative farm products from across Canada worth $100 in 1997 would sell for $129.70 today.
However, a close analysis shows the price increases may be a bit misleading and farmers aren't making as much money as the figures suggest, says Jared Carlberg, a University of Manitoba agricultural economist.
Carlberg points out Statistics Canada's Farm Input Price Index, released last fall, which shows that the cost of inputs has increased 36.3 per cent since 2002. That is, farmers who 10 years ago paid $100 for fuel, fertilizer and other inputs pay $136.30 today.
This means farm production costs have risen faster over a shorter period of time than market prices have, Carlberg says.
"It's nice to see high commodity prices, but obviously it doesn't mean more money for farmers," he says. "If they're not behind, they're not very far ahead and I think most farmers would be able to tell you that."
Doug Chorney, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, Manitoba's general farm organization, says his own experiences confirm Carlberg's analysis.
Chorney, who grows grains and oilseeds near Selkirk, Man., says he recently locked in 25 per cent of his 2012 canola crop for fall delivery at a near-record contract price of $11.12 a bushel.
On the other hand, when he began farming in the early 1990s, Chorney paid around 18 cents a pound for anhydrous ammonia. Last fall, the same fertilizer cost him 61 cents a pound.
As another example, Chorney paid 27 cents a litre for purple diesel fuel in 1998. He's now paying $1.10 a litre.
"While we've seen the price index go up, the biggest drivers of our variable costs have gone up much faster," Chorney says.
Ron Friesen, FCC Express, January 13, 2012
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|Report Released on Strategies for Assessing and Regulating Risks of Pesticides |
An international expert panel chaired by a now-retired University of Guelph professor released a report today calling for improvements to Canada's strategies for assessing and regulating the risks of pesticides.
The panel was assembled in 2009 following a request by the federal minister of health for Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA).
Len Ritter, a world-leading toxicologist in U of G's School of Environmental Sciences, headed the group of 15 scientists from Canada and the United States. The panel was formed by the Council of Canadian Academies, a non-profit group that supports expert assessments to public policy.
Elizabeth Dowdeswell, president and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies, said the panel's assessment was "exhaustive. We are confident that the report will provide the evidence needed to assist PMRA and other regulatory organizations as they consider the future of chemical testing in Canada and globally."
The report, "Integrating Emerging Technologies into Chemical Safety Assessment," is available online. It identifies a need to strengthen regulatory decisions based on the best available science.
Although the active ingredients in pesticides are among the most stringently regulated compounds on the market, the report said, toxicity data are lacking for the majority of industrial chemicals.
Many current toxicity tests were developed more than 30 years ago based largely on testing of lab animals. Those tests have changed little since and are inadequate to address the backlog of data-poor chemical compounds, the report said.
The report calls for integration of wide-ranging tools and techniques for testing and assessing chemicals. That integration would help in ranking of high-risk chemicals and development of toxicology profiles to inform regulatory decisions, and would also help in assessing the safety of data-poor chemicals, the report said.
Such changes would improve protection of human health and the environment, Ritter said. "Science is advancing in such a way that we now have a deeper understanding of physiology. In order to keep pace with international practices, there is an opportunity for Canada to embrace and integrate new technologies and approaches into current chemical testing practices."
Ritter has worked with the federal and provincial governments on a number of scientific reviews. Last year, he was appointed to lead an independent fact-finding panel on the use of the 2,4,5-T herbicide by Ontario ministries and agencies.
A U of G professor since 1993, Ritter retired in June 2011. Before joining U of G, he held various positions at Health Canada, including director of the bureau of veterinary drugs, chief of the product safety division and chief of the pesticides division.
University of Guelph Press Release, January 17, 2012
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|Public-Service Cuts Won't Impact Food Safety, Agriculture Minister Says |
Cuts to federal meat inspection that will take place as early as April demonstrate how reductions in public services widely anticipated in the coming federal budget could affect ordinary Canadians.
The union that represents federal meat inspectors held a news conference on Monday to highlight plans by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to eliminate 234 jobs in the next fiscal year - mostly food safety personnel who were hired after a listeriosis outbreak in 2008 killed 23 people.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement has said all departments must find ways to cut between five and 10 per cent of their spending as the government grapples with a deficit of $31-billion.
But Bob Kingston, the president of the Agriculture Union, said the elimination of meat inspection jobs outlined in CFIA's 2011-12 Estimates Report on Plans and Priorities is in addition to whatever cuts the agency will have to make to meet the demands of the coming budget.
The report forecasts a reduction of $21.5-million from a current annual program cost of $744-million and says "resources will sunset for listeriosis and for increased frequency of food inspection in meat processing establishments" at the end of the current fiscal year.
Mr. Kingston said that will mean the loss of the 170 extra inspectors who were hired after an investigation blamed a lack attention to food safety in both the public and private sectors for the deadly outbreak listeriosis at a Maple Leaf processing plant in Toronto.
Meanwhile, other federal departments are also trimming costs as part of an earlier program review in addition to the heavy chopping that that will be forced upon them when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty releases his as-yet-unscheduled budget in February or March.
Environment Canada announced last week that 60 of its employees - engineers, compliance officers, biologists, climatologists and others - had been told their services would no longer be needed.
And Service Canada only recently agreed to hire additional staff on a temporary basis after reductions in the number of employees who process employment insurance claims created backlogs and delays that had become unmanageable.
Larry Rousseau, a vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which includes the Agriculture Union, said the government reduced its revenue flow by cutting the corporate tax rates and that means there is less money for public services.
At the same time, it has been expanding the public service. Since taking office in 2006, the federal bureaucracy had grown by some 33,000 jobs and federal spending has increased by $75-billion or 43 per cent. Now the government has determined it is time to cut back.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who is responsible for the CFIA, said in an e-mail on Monday that "Canadian families can be assured that the safety of our food supply will not be affected as federal departments and agencies look for ways to be more efficient and more financially prudent with taxpayer's dollars."
But neither Mr. Ritz nor his department could explain how food safety would remain unscathed by the loss of inspectors in meat processing plants.
Malcolm Allen, the agriculture critic for the opposition New Democrats, said food safety should be spared when the government makes its cuts. "This is really irresponsible on the government's part to really take a machete when they need to take a scalpel," he said. "This is one group that in my view should have been left alone."
Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail, January 16, 2012
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|Coke Invests In Firms to Accelerate Bioplastics |
Beverage giant Coca-Cola Co is making what it said was a multi-million dollar investment in three bio-based companies in an effort to accelerate the development of a PlantBottle made entirely from plant-based feedstocks.
The Atlanta-based beverage company said that it is investing in three companies:
* Virent, based in Madison, US, which makes a bio-based feedstock, BioForm X, for paraxylene
* Gevo in Englewood, US, which has developed a 100% renewable isobutanol, which is a building block for paraxylene.
* Avantium Research and Technology, a Netherlands company whose YXY chemical catalytic technology has led to the company's development of a new bio-based plastic, PEF, to make 100% bio-based bottles that could be a replacement for today's PET bottles.
Coke's aim is to advance the technology to make purified terephthalic acid from non-petroleum sources. PTA accounts for 70% of the PET bottle formulation by weight and monoethylene glycol the other 30%.
Since December 2009, Coke has been marketing a PlantBottle with the 30% MEG portion made from non-petroleum-based renewable resources. Coke said it has sold 10 billion PlantBottles since it was introduced, and it now sells the bottles in 20 countries.
The world's other beverage giant, PepsiCo, said in March that it has developed a 100% renewable PET bottle, but that it will not go into pilot production until sometime in 2012. Even then, Pepsi said it would limit quantities to between 100,000 and 500,000 bottles.
Rick Frazier, Coke's vice president of commercial bottle supply, said the company investigated more than 30 companies before choosing the three partners to help them "develop the next-generation PlantBottle package."
"This is a big step to lead the industry away from non-renewable materials," Frazier said during a news conference in New York. "We felt we needed to disrupt the flow and that we could gain speed by identifying the leading biotech companies and accelerate it by funding."
Coke did not specify the size of its investment in any of the three companies, or the total amount of its investment.
Frazier said moving to a PlantBottle made entirely of plants is imperative as the company's goal is to double the daily serving from Coca-Cola beverages to 3 billions by 2020.
"To double our business in a sustainable way, we must find a new way to do more with less," he said.
"This is a significant R&D investment in packaging innovation and is the next step toward our vision of creating all of our plastic packaging from responsibly sourced plant-based materials" by 2020, if not sooner, he said.
Read more here.
Manitoba BioProducts News, January 2012
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|Biofuel Aspirations Spur 'Land Grabs' That Hurt the Poor |
Ward Anseeuw, Liz Alden Wily, Lorenzo Cotula, and Michael Taylor, 2011
More than 40 million hectares of land have been acquired in developing countries for biofuel production in the past decade, reports a new study published by the International Land Coalition. The topic of this report is most commonly referred to as "land grabbing". It has attracted global attention since 2008, with a series of highly publicised transnational agreements involving the lease of land areas of unprecedented size. Surprisingly, the study found that food production was only the focus of less than a fifth of the land deals. Nearly 60 percent was for biofuels. Authored by leading land experts, this report is the culmination of a three-year research project that brought together forty members and partners of ILC to examine the characteristics, drivers and impacts and trends of rapidly increasing commercial pressures on land. The report strongly urges models of investment that do not involve large-scale land acquisitions, but rather work together with local land users, respecting their land rights and the ability of small-scale farmers themselves to play a key role in investing to meet the food and resource demands of the future.
Read more here.
From Manitoba BioProducts News, January 2012
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China Report Spells Out "Grim" Climate Change Risks
Global warming threatens China's march to prosperity by cutting crops, shrinking rivers and unleashing more droughts and floods, says the government's latest assessment of climate change, projecting big shifts in how the nation feeds itself.
The warnings are carried in the government's "Second National Assessment Report on Climate Change," which sums up advancing scientific knowledge about the consequences and costs of global warming for China -- the world's second biggest economy and the biggest emitter of greenhouse gas pollution.
Global warming fed by greenhouse gases from industry, transport and shifting land-use poses a long-term threat to China's prosperity, health and food output, says the report. With China's economy likely to rival the United States' in size in coming decades, that will trigger wider consequences.
"China faces extremely grim ecological and environmental conditions under the impact of continued global warming and changes to China's regional environment," says the 710-page report, officially published late last year but released for public sale only recently.
Even so, China's rising emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels, will begin to fall off only after about 2030, with big falls only after mid-century, says the report.
Assuming no measures to counter global warming, grain output in the world's most populous nation could fall from 5 to 20 percent by 2050, depending on whether a "fertilisation effect" from more carbon dioxide in the air offsets losses, says the report.
But that possible fall can be held in check by improved crop choice and farming practices, as well as increased irrigation and fertiliser use.
China is the world's biggest consumer of cereals and has increasingly turned to foreign suppliers of corn and soy beans.
The report was written by teams of scientists supervised by government officials, and follows up on a first assessment released in 2007. It does not set policy, but offers a basis of evidence and forecasts that will shape policy.
RISING COSTS OF GROWING FOOD
"Generally, the observed impacts of climate change on agriculture have been both positive and negative, but mainly negative," Lin Erda, one of the chief authors of the report, told Reuters.
"But steadily, as the temperatures continue to rise, the negative consequences will be increasingly serious," said Lin, an expert on climate change and farming at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
"For a certain length of time, people will be able to adapt, but costs of adaptation will rise, including for agriculture."
Under different scenarios of greenhouse gas levels and their effects, by the end of this century China's average atmospheric temperature will have risen by between 2.5 degrees and 4.6 degrees Celsius above the average for 1961-1990.
Water, either too much or too little, lies at the heart of how that warming could trip up China's budding prosperity.
"Climate change will lead to severe imbalances in China's water resources within each year and across the years. In most areas, precipitation will be increasingly concentrated in the summer and autumn rainy seasons, and floods and droughts will become increasingly frequent," says the report.
"Without effective measures in response, by the latter part of the 21st century, climate change could still constitute a threat to our country's food security," it says.
Under one scenario of how global warming will affect water availability, by 2050 eight of mainland China's 31 provinces and provincial-status cities could face severe water shortages -- meaning less than 500 cubic metres per resident -- and another 10 could face less dire chronic shortages.
"Since the 1950s, over 82 percent of glaciers have been in a state of retreat, and the pace has accelerated since the 1990s," the report says of China's glaciers in Tibet and nearby areas that feed major rivers.
Read more here.
Chris Buckley, AgProfessional.com, January 18, 2012
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Canada Should Crack Aid Whip on Ethiopian Abuse, Says Human Rights Report
A rights' watchdog is urging Canada and fellow aid donors to pressure Ethiopia into ending an abusive and systematic practice of forcing rural villagers off their land.
A report released Tuesday by New York-based Human Rights Watch blasts the Horn of Africa country for its "villagization" program that it says has forcibly relocated 70,000 indigenous people, and aims to move 1.5 million by next year.
The forced expulsions have cut villagers off from food sources, basic health services while forcing them to endure abuse from the Ethiopian army, the report alleges.
An Ottawa-based researcher and author interviewed more than 100 Ethiopians during a clandestine investigation last year that accuses their country's leaders of sacrificing its own tribes to broader foreign corporate interests.
Researcher Felix Horne says the situation violates Canada's own Official Development Assistance Accountability Act, which says all aid spending must meet international human-rights standards.
Ethiopia is the third-largest recipient of foreign aid from Canada, at about $170 million a year.
Horne told The Canadian Press he had off-the-record discussions with officials at the Canadian International Development Agency, or CIDA, about his findings, but got little meaningful response.
Ethiopia is forcing locals off their land, so they can offer up millions of hectares of fertile farmland to foreign companies from countries such as China, India and Saudi Arabia for large-scale farm factories, said Horne.
"Canada is a huge donor to Ethiopia so they have an obligation to ensure that Ethiopia is not doing these sorts of things," he said.
Ethiopia has a democratically elected government, but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi exerts totalitarian control over the country. He was one of several African leaders that Prime Minister Stephen Harper hosted in a outreach session of the 2010 G8 summit in Muskoka.
Still, Ethiopia is one of CIDA's two-dozen "focus" countries and it is among the poor countries that receives funding related to the Harper government's signature child and maternal health initiative.
Canada also assists Ethiopia with food security and agricultural programs.
"The fact of the matter is people are absolutely starving," said Horne. "The villagization program is lessening food security in the region."
Zenawi's government is trying to improve access to schools, clinics and other services by moving rural farmers to more controlled villages.
The four regions of Ethiopia where this is happening are the four regions where there is extensive land investment for foreign companies, said Horne.
The report says the first round of forced relocations saw people moved to areas with dry, poor soil. Seed, fertilizer and temporary food assistance was not forthcoming from the government, causing hunger and starvation, the report says.
Horne's interview subjects told him they built new huts in their new villages under careful military supervision. Sometimes the army had to resort to beatings and other coercion to force villagers to comply.
One villager quoted in the report said soldiers beat his father with the butt of their guns when he refused to leave his land.
"He said, 'I was born here - my children were born here - I am too old to move so I will stay,'" the report says.
Jan Egeland, a senior director at Human Rights Watch, said donor money is being used "directly or indirectly, to fund the villagization program."
Donors have a responsibility to ensure that their donations are not being used for that purpose, added Egeland, the Norwegian-born diplomat, who became a high-profile United Nations humanitarian rights undersecretary.
"The villagization program is being undertaken in the exact same areas of Ethiopia that the government is leasing to foreign investors for large-scale commercial agricultural operations," Egeland said in a statement. "This raises suspicions about the underlying motives of the villagization program."
A spokesman for Canada's International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
One year ago, Oda's department announced a project to enhance agricultural development in Ethiopia.
"Canada is proud to be working with the World Bank and other donors to support Ethiopia's Agricultural Growth Program. Well-targeted investments in areas such as rural infrastructure and stronger linkages to markets can help to transform subsistence farmers into commercial producers," Deepak Obhrai, Oda's parliamentary secretary, said in a Jan. 28, 2011, statement.
Obhrai was announcing a five-year CIDA funding commitment of nearly $19 million toward an agricultural growth program for small farmers in 83 Ethiopian districts.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press, January 17, 2012
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|Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food|
Irrigated Crop Production Update Conference, Lethbridge, January 31 -February 1, 2012
Conference Board of Canada Canadian Food Summit, Toronto, February 7-8, 2012
Canadian Organic Science Conference, Winnipeg, Manitoba, February 21-23, 2012
6th Annual Growing the Margins: Rural Green Energy Conference and Exhibition and 4th Annual Canadian Farm and Food Biogas Conference and Exhibition, London, Ontario, March 5-7, 2012
Canadian Society of Soil Science and Association Québécoise de Spécialistes en Sciences du Sol Joint Conference, Lac Beauport, Quebec, June 3-7, 2012
Joint Annual Meeting of ADSA - AMPA - ASAS - Canadian Society of Animal Science - WSASAS, Phoenix, Arizona, July 15-19, 2012
Joint Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Agronomy, Certified Crop Advisors and Canadian Society for Horticultural Science, Saskatoon, July 16-19, 2012
5th World Congress of Agronomists and Agrologists, Quebec City, September 17-21, 2012
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|AIC Notes is a weekly update provided as a service for AIC members. Please do not circulate or post. The content of AIC Notes does not represent official positions, opinions or support of AIC or its members.
Frances Rodenburg, Editor