A United Nations study has found that a quarter of all land is highly degraded, yet farmers will have to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of a world population that is projected to reach 9 billion.
The U.S. Food and Agriculture Organization says that most available land is already being farmed — and most of that land is being farmed in ways that degrade its production over time. To meet future food needs, there needs to be a major “sustainable intensification” of ag productivity. The report is titled “State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture” and can be found here.
The report paints a grim picture. Increases in food production have resulted in food systems that “face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices.” Competition for land and water will become “pervasive,” both between urban and industrial users and between various ag sectors (crop, livestock, biofuels).
Yes, ag production increased mightily between 1961 and 2009, the UN found, but those rates have been slowing. The growth rates are now only half of what they were during the middle of the Green Revolution.
• Marci Penner with the Kansas Sampler Foundation did a tour of rural Kansas post offices recently. You can see it here and her photo of the office in Home, Kansas, is above.
Our last stop of the day was at Home. How appropriate. Home is one of the top two thriving unincorporated cities in the state (Healy is the other). We first went over to the Feed and Grain store across from the post office. It’s located in an old bank and is just brimming with character. Kansas pride oozes out of owner’s Jim and Pat, as does their affection for Home. They raved about the restaurant across the street opened by a young couple in town. We had a great discussion about the post office and issues of small towns.
We found Elaine and bought our stamps. It’s so interesting to meet these very dedicated post office workers. Elaine also drives school bus.
• The AP has a story today about the increasing number of kids who come to school without being properly vaccinated. More than half the states have seen a rise in this number in the last five years.
There is no rural/urban breakdown, but we can see from the map that the nation’s most rural state, Vermont, is one of the states with the highest rate of parents asking that their children be exempted from vaccination requirements. Medical researchers have found that “vaccine refusers tend to cluster,” according to an Emory University epidemiologist. In some rural counties in northeast Washington, vaccination exemption rates have risen as high as 50 percent. The AP describes this group:
Exemption seekers are often middle-class, college-educated white people, but there are often a mix of views and philosophies. Exemption hot spots like Sedona, Ariz., and rural northeast Washington have concentrations of parents who prefer alternative medicine, as well as libertarians who fear giving government too much authority.
These decisions have consequences. The AP reports a return of measles and whooping cough, which killed 10 unvaccinated infants last year.
• Senate Ag Committee chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D Michigan) has called on Jon Corzine, the former chief executive of MF Global Holdings, to testify before her committee on December 13.
Farmers have gotten caught up in the collapse of MF Global, which is still missing $1.2 billion of customer funds. Thousands of farmers and grain elevator owners used the firm to handle brokerage and derivative contracts. Ranchers have seen their capital stranded in the financial remains of MF and many have lost faith in the futures market, a way farmers and ranchers have managed risk.
“The farmers, small business owners and others who trusted this firm are now facing tremendous hardship and may ultimately never recover all of their money,” said Sen. Stabenow. “A discovery of this magnitude demonstrates yet again the need for strong oversight and protections for consumers to prevent this sort of abuse from occurring.”
• Another report of global rural conditions find that girls are the “backbones of rural economies.”
The study from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs finds that girls and women in rural, poor areas handle 43 percent of all farming and all the household work. Economic development strategies focusing on women could increase ag yields, the study concludes.
• A Maryland state senator says the “war on rural Maryland is real.” Republicans in the state say Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s proposals constitute an attack on rural parts of the state.
The governor has proposed new environmental laws (concerning septic systems, for example) and proposed new fees.
• The anti-venom used to treat scorpion stings costs $100 per dose in Mexico — but over $12,000 in the U.S. Treating a scorpion sting takes more than one injection, so the total cost can exceed $50,000 in the US.
• Federal mine safety inspectors cite coal operations that violate the law and fines are assessed. Trouble is, the federal mine safety agency does a poor job of collecting.
• A new survey of state finances finds that there is still not enough money for all the bills that are coming due.
“State officials will still be cutting some programs, and increases in funding for any program except for health care will be rare,” said Scott Pattison, director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, one of the groups that conducted the survey. The biggest problem will be paying for Medicaid, the medical program for the poor and disabled.
• Here is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, interviewed in the Washington Post:
Growing up in a very rural and remote area in Colorado’s San Luis Valley – one of the poorest counties in the United States – essentially created the framework of values from which I operate. I stand up for the little guy. I fight discrimination at all levels. I fight for an inclusive America. I recognize that my own American dream was one which eluded my parents, but they gave it to me because of education. I don’t believe that the American dream should be reserved for those who are born into the elite or somehow have been given an advantage over others. My growing-up experience is probably the most important thing that guides my priorities and my work today.