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Agriculture & Rural Development

Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 31 may 2020

During Covid-19 related lockdown many countries faced issues related to providing food to where it is needed the most. There were huge challenges in food distribution and logistics from farms to markets to homes. In many cases farmers had to dump their produce due to the broken supply chain. Moreover, farmers lacked the resources to transport their produce themselves as markets were unwilling to buy that at reasonable price. Amid all this, in Philippines, one social enterprise led by Cherrie Atilano has found a way to get food from farms to consumers and enabled farmers sell their produce that otherwise would have been wasted. Agrea, her social enterprise, in normal times intended to end rural poverty by helping farmers move from subsistence to small-scale commercial farming. But, during pandemic crisis farmers and the food distribution networks collapsed, so Ms. Atilano started #MoveFoodInitiative to overcome the produce dumping by farmers. She used her extensive network to appeal to private truck owners to help ship the food to consumers in towns, villages and the capital. In addition to moving fruits from farmers to families, the initiative is also donating food to community kitchens set up to feed frontline medical staff treating people with coronavirus. 'Movers', as the workers associated with the project are called, have created impromptu community fresh food markets at various locations. Ms. Atilano also plans to encourage the development of urban farms and says, 'It is time to learn how to produce food near to you. This is the new normal that we need to prepare for.' Dom Hernandez, COO of Philippine fast food chain Potato Corner, is another entrepreneur helping to get food from farms to urban consumers. He has set up a scheme to allow farmers in his home province of Benguet to sell directly to consumers through the use of social media and his family owned bus network. Read on...

World Economic Forum: This entrepreneur is helping farmers get food to consumers during lockdown
Author: Douglas Broom


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 11 jan 2020

Food security problem is a global concern. Everyone should become a part of the solution. Technologies like drones, data analytics, blockchain etc can assist in solving some of the issues related to farming and agriculture. This is what Agriculture 4.0 is all about. It is a new age of food production that leverages digital technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) to cater more precisely to the needs of crops, farmers and consumers. The coming together of - farming communities, researchers and policy makers; farm equipment and machinery, biotechnology, computer and telecommunication companies - can bring agriculture to a new state of success. Multinational agriculture and biotech companies are competing in the race to achieve the technological breakthroughs and expand their businesses and profits. Advocates of Agriculture 4.0 believe that it will solve the food security problems of the future. While critics on the other hand caution that without proper regulation few big companies will attain huge monopolistic power in global agricultural decision-making that will adversely affect small producers. According to the 2018 report Agriculture 4.0 by World Government Summit, approximately 800 million people currently suffer from hunger and by 2050 we will have to produce 70% more food to feed the world. Juanita Rodríguez, Vice-Chancellor of Innovation at Ean University (Colombia), says, 'Even though it's still not widely known, this fourth revolution in agriculture has been agile and its benefits are beginning to show, helping farmers maximise crop yields and developing ways to stop the epidemic of waste that destroys 45% of our supply.' In Mexico, Mexican engineer Julio López and German economist Manuel Richter, have created a platform helping producers to manage their crops using drone and satellite technology. Mr. Richter says, 'There is a huge potential to make the work more efficient, reduce agro-inputs, improve water use, lower environmental impact and create more economic sustainability for the farmer.' Big data use and privacy are other areas that are part of Agriculture 4.0. In 2018, North American companies spent almost US$ 20 billion on third-party data, 17.5% more than in 2017. Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America director of the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC), says, 'Companies have a huge amount of data at their disposal. They can convert it into another business. What lies behind this is the generation of new profits.' Gabriel Cuéllar, an AI researcher, says, 'Data is the new oil. Companies today need data to make their systems more powerful.' Big data and analytics has positive side in agriculture and can assist farmers in effectively detecting pests, spotting failures in agricultural processes, or understanding market demands. The question with data is not only who is collecting it, but who can analyse it, and who wins or loses as a result. In the report 'The Unsustainable Agriculture 4.0 - Digitization and Corporate Power in the Food Chain', Pat Mooney of ETC explains his concerns on big data in agriculture. He believes that the concentration of power in agricultural data collection could result in a few companies controlling seed patenting data, pesticides, fertilisers and machinery, leaving little or no option for farmers and workers to choose what they buy. In recent times many multinationals have been drawn into controversy regarding Agriculture 4.0. According to Ms. Rodríguez, there is also a significant hacking risk associated with Internet of Things devices. Dennis Escudero from UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says, 'The profile of the farmer is changing. It is more digital. You have to understand the new tools. They don't threaten farmers, they empower them.' Read on...

Diálogo Chino: Agriculture 4.0 promises to transform food production
Authors: Emilio Godoy, Alejandra Cuéllar


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 09 jan 2020

Tackling climate change and protecting environment is critical for the better future of our planet. Current agricultural practices and economic policies that surround it have substantial impact on the natural environment. Prof. Benjamin Houlton, director of the John Muir Institute of the Environment at the University of Califoria at Davis and champion of the One Climate Initiative, says, 'Agriculture might just be the single most important industry on the planet for creating negative carbon emissions under current economic policy. Carbon farming is the key to help solve climate change. Farmers and ranchers can capture carbon and store it in the soil. They can create negative emissions, which means the amount of greenhouse gases that are going into the air from their industry is lower than the amount that they're drawing out of the air.' Prof. Houlton plans to further develop the carbon farm project through One Climate. He explains, 'The One Climate vision is about transforming society in a way that is sustainable, produces the jobs we need, trains the next generation of leaders and creates a climate-smart workforce. And one of the centerpieces of One Climate is creating the world's most innovative carbon farm.' Carbon farming involves using resources such as compost, biochar and pulverized rock, and using enhanced weathering - basically, accelerating Earth's natural processes - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Explaining about biochar, Prof. Houlton says, 'We've teamed up with industry partners to use biochar, which is taking organic carbon like trees, vegetation and manure, and burning it slightly at a high temperature. It becomes more resistant to breakdown and helps with water and nutrient use, while also storing carbon for longer periods of time.' In California, biochar can reduce wildfires by removing trees that could be a fire risk and putting it into the soil. Similarly, compost deposits green waste or food waste into the soil to create a carbon sink. Read on...

UC Davis Magazine: How Can Agriculture Be a Part of the Climate Solution?
Author: Ashley Han


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 14 nov 2019

Achieving global food security is a challenge that requires all humanity to participate and work together. It is imperative to improve food production and distribution, tackle environmental degradation and climate change, alleviate poverty and resolve conflicts through peaceful means. Prof. Miguel Altieri of University of California at Berkeley focuses his research on the concepts of agroecology. His group's research and publications aid in the emergence of agroecology as the discipline that provides the basic ecological principles for how to study, design, and manage sustainable agroecosystems that are both productive and natural resource conserving, and that are also culturally-sensitive, socially-just and economically viable. He explains that urban agriculture has potential to enhance food security in US cities. According to him, 'I believe that raising fresh fruits, vegetables and some animal products near consumers in urban areas can improve local food security and nutrition, especially for underserved communities.' US Dept. of Agriculture estimates that for 1 out of 8 citizens food insecurity is a near-term risk. The current food distribution system in cities of Califormia, where large population resides, requires enormous amounts of energy and generates significant greenhouse gas emissions. Prof. Altieri says, 'The food it delivers fails to reach 1 of every 8 people in the region who live under the poverty line - mostly senior citizens, children and minorities. Access to quality food is limited both by poverty and the fact that on average, California’s low-income communities have 32.7% fewer supermarkets than high-income areas within the same cities.' In the past 30 years, urban farming has grown by more than 30% in the US. Moreover, it is estimated that urban agriculture can meet 15 to 20% of global food demand. But, it is yet to be seen what level of food self-sufficiency it can realistically ensure for cities. There are limitations and challenges. According to a survey, 51 countries do not have enough urban area to meet a recommended nutritional target of 300 grams per person per day of fresh vegetables. Moreover, it estimated, urban agriculture would require 30% of the total urban area of those countries to meet global demand for vegetables. Land tenure issues and urban sprawl could make it hard to free up this much land for food production. Prof. Altieri explains, 'Although urban agriculture has promise, a small proportion of the food produced in cities is consumed by food-insecure, low-income communities. Many of the most vulnerable people have little access to land and lack the skills needed to design and tend productive gardens.' Cuban model of urban farming can be applied, where local urban farmers were trained to use well-tested agroecological methods to cultivate diverse vegetables, roots, tubers and herbs in relatively small spaces. In Cuba, over 300000 urban farms and gardens produce about 50% of the island's fresh produce supply, along with 39000 tons of meat and 216 million eggs. Most Cuban urban farmers reach yields of 44 pounds (20 kilograms) per square meter per year. Access to land and unaffordable water for irrigation are critical challenges for urban farming in US. Discounted water rates and land reforms specifically for urban farming can provide a boost to the concept. Prof. Altieri says, 'Cities have limited ability to deal with food issues within their boundaries, and many problems associated with food systems require action at the national and international level. However, city governments, local universities and nongovernment organizations can do a lot to strengthen food systems, including creating agroecological training programs and policies for land and water access. The first step is increasing public awareness of how urban farming can benefit modern cities.' Read on...

The Conversation: How urban agriculture can improve food security in US cities
Author: Miguel Altieri


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 26 aug 2019

Research study, 'Onboard Evolution of Understandable Swarm Behaviors', published in Advanced Intelligent Systems by researchers from University of Bristol (Simon Jones, Sabine Hauert) and University of the West of England (Alan F. Winfield, Matthew Studley), brings development of a new generation of swarming robots which can independently learn and evolve new behaviours in the wild a step closer. Researchers used artificial evolution to enable the robots to automatically learn swarm behaviours which are understandable to humans. This could create new robotic possibilities for environmental monitoring, disaster recovery, infrastructure maintenance, logistics and agriculture. This new approach uses a custom-made swarm of robots with high-processing power embedded within the swarm. In most recent approaches, artificial evolution has typically been run on a computer which is external to the swarm, with the best strategy then copied to the robots. Prof. Jones says, 'Human-understandable controllers allow us to analyse and verify automatic designs, to ensure safety for deployment in real-world applications.' Researchers took advantage of the recent advances in high-performance mobile computing, to build a swarm of robots inspired by those in nature. Their 'Teraflop Swarm' has the ability to run the computationally intensive automatic design process entirely within the swarm, freeing it from the constraint of off-line resources. Prof. Hauert says, 'This is the first step towards robot swarms that automatically discover suitable swarm strategies in the wild. The next step will be to get these robot swarms out of the lab and demonstrate our proposed approach in real-world applications.' Prof. Winfield says, 'In many modern AI systems, especially those that employ Deep Learning, it is almost impossible to understand why the system made a particular decision...An important advantage of the system described in this paper is that it is transparent: its decision making process is understandable by humans.' Read on...

Engineering.com: Robots Learn Swarm Behaviors, Aim to Escape the Lab
Author: NA


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 11 feb 2019

According to the research by Prof. Elizabeth A. Minton from University of Wyoming, Prof. Kathryn A. Johnson from Arizona State University and Prof. Richie L. Liu from Oklahoma State University, 'Religiosity and special food consumption: The explanatory effects of moral priorities', published in Journal of Business Research, people with strong religious beliefs are more likely to buy fat-free, sugar-free or gluten-free foods than natural or organic foods. The research could influence the marketing of those specialty food products. Prof. Minton says, 'Religion is the deepest set of core values people can have, and we wanted to explore how those values impacted the market choices people make. We found religiosity influenced the selection of more diet-minded foods...' The study was carried out online and included responses from over 1700 people across the U.S. Prof. Johnson says, 'Often, people make intuitive decisions about food that could require more careful thought. People might make choices based on a cultural narrative or their religious and moral beliefs, without giving measured thought to whether there is a better option.' According to the research, the moral foundation of care drives the choice of sustainability-minded food products, and the moral foundation of purity is behind the choice of diet-minded foods. Prof. Liu says, 'The findings from our work can directly help businesses promote food products to specific groups of people without potentially alienating customers by including religion.' Read on...

University of Wyoming News: UW Researcher: Religion Affects Consumer Choices on Specialty Foods
Author: Chad Baldwin


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 26 oct 2018

Sustainability is evolving into an essential component of fashion and design industry due to environmental concerns. The Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator (BF+DA), a Pratt Institute (US) initiative, is a hub of ethical fashion and design, providing resources to design entrepreneurs, creative technologists and professionals to turn ideas into businesses. Debera Johnson, founder and ED of BF+DA, also established the Center for Sustainable Design Strategies at Pratt Institute and has been integrating sustainability into art, design and architecture programs. She says, 'There are really three things that we're focused on doing. First - redefining the fashion industry around the environment and society...Second - we have production facilities open to designers. Our goal there is to be a local resource for sustainable production and to help educate designers about how to implement strategies around efficiencies and sustainable supply chain...The third and probably the newest part of what we're doing is becoming a research and design center for the integration of technology into smart garments and functional textiles - and, most importantly, with the idea of sustainability alongside it.' Regarding consumer perceptions, she says, 'Consumers need to decide whether they're more interested in saving pennies or saving the environment. Products that are quality are going to cost more. We just have to decide where we stand...At BF+DA, transparency is a big piece of how we do storytelling...' Regarding coming together of technology and sustainability, she says, 'The digitalization is one of them. I also think that biotech is creating really interesting materials in laboratories and not farms...Then you also have things like blockchain to help with traceability...And there's also nanofibers.' Read on...

GreenBiz: Moving the needle: Toward a more holistic and ethical fashion industry
Authors: Lindsey Strange, Katie Ellman


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 27 aug 2018

Apparel production is generally linked to environmental issues like water and air pollution, alongwith the land, water and pesticide use related to growing natural fibers. But now research points at the source of another problem created by apparels made wholly or partially from synthetic textiles. Microfibers, a type of microplastic, are shed during normal use and laundering, and remain in the environment similar to plastic packaging that coats so many of the world's beaches, and they bond to chemical pollutants in the environment, such as DDT and PCB. Moreover, the textiles from which they are shed are often treated with waterproofing agents, stain- or fire-resistant chemicals or synthetic dyes that could be harmful to organisms that ingest them. Also, microfibers are being consumed alongwith food and drink. Research review (Microplastics in air: Are we breathing it in? - Johnny Gasperi, Stephanie L. Wright, Rachid Dris, France Collard, Corinne Mandin, Mohamed Guerrouache, Valérie Langlois, Frank J.Kelly, Bruno Tassin) published last year shows that microfibers suspended in air are possibly settling in human lungs. Research led by Richard C. Thompson from the University of Plymouth (UK) in 2004 (Lost at Sea: Where Is All the Plastic? - Richard C. Thompson, Ylva Olsen, Richard P. Mitchell, Anthony Davis, Steven J. Rowland, Anthony W. G. John, Daniel McGonigle, Andrea E. Russell) documented and quantified the occurrence of microplastics in the marine environment. Research by Mark Anthony Browne, one of Prof. Thompson's graduate student, published in 2011 (Accumulation of Microplastic on Shorelines Woldwide: Sources and Sinks - Mark Anthony Browne, Phillip Crump, Stewart J. Niven, Emma Teuten, Andrew Tonkin, Tamara Galloway, Richard Thompson) found - (1) Samples taken near wastewater disposal sites had 250% more microplastic than those from reference sites and the types of microplastic fibers found in those samples were mainly polymers often used in synthetic apparel, suggesting the fibers were eluding filters in wastewater treatment plants and being released with treated effluent (which is released into rivers, lakes or ocean water). (2) A single polyester fleece jacket could shed as many as 1900 of these tiny fibers each time it was washed. Another 2016 study by researchers from UC Santa Barbara in US (Microfiber Masses Recovered from Conventional Machine Washing of New or Aged Garments - Niko L. Hartline, Nicholas J. Bruce, Stephanie N. Karba, Elizabeth O. Ruff, Shreya U. Sonar, Patricia A. Holden) has shown far higher numbers - 250000 fibers. Rosalia Project, a nonprofit focused on ocean protection, led a study of microfiber pollution across an entire watershed (from the mouth of Hudson River all the way to where the river meets the Atlantic in Manhattan). Rachael Z. Miller, group's director, was surprised to find that, outside of samples taken near treatment plants, there was no statistically significant difference in the concentration fibers from the alpine region to the agricultural center of New York state to the high population areas of Manhattan and New Jersey. This suggested to her that fibers might be entering surface waters from the air and from septic system drainfields in rural areas without municipal sewage systems. According to Textile World, demand for polyester has grown faster than demand for wool, cotton and other fibers for at least 20 years. And by 2030 synthetics are expected to account for 75% of global apparel fiber production, or 107 million tons. All textiles, including carpeting and upholstery, produce microfibers. So do commercial fishing nets. But due to the frequency with which apparel is laundered and the increasing quantities of clothing being purchased throughout the world (thanks at least in part to the so-called fast fashion trend), apparel is the microfiber source on which researchers and policy-makers are focusing attention. Krystle Moody, a textile industry consultant, says, 'Outdoor gear is heavily reliant on synthetic textiles due to their performance profile (moisture wicking) and durability.' Jeffrey Silberman, professor and chairperson of textile development and marketing with the Fashion Institute of Technology at the State University of New York, says, 'Price is the big driver behind the use of synthetics in textiles. A poly-cotton blend is generally far cheaper than a cotton one, but doesn’t look or feel appreciably different to most consumers. The motivation is to get natural-like fibers and still be able to get a price point that people are willing to pay.' Katy Stevens, sustainability project manager for the outdoor gear industry consortium European Outdoor Group (EOG), says, 'Initial research suggested that recycled polyester might shed more microfibers. Are we doing the right thing by using recycled polyester that might shed more? It has added a whole other big question mark.' Other studies have found microfibers in effluent from wastewater plants (Wastewater Treatment Works (WwTW) as a Source of Microplastics in the Aquatic Environment - Fionn Murphy, Ciaran Ewins, Frederic Carbonnier, Brian Quinn), in the digestive tracts of market fish (Ingested plastic transfers hazardous chemicals to fish and induces hepatic stress - Chelsea M. Rochman, Eunha Hoh, Tomofumi Kurobe, Swee J. Teh), throughout riversheds (Mountains to the sea: River study of plastic and non-plastic microfiber pollution in the northeast USA - Rachael Z. Miller, Andrew J. R. Watts, Brooke O. Winslow, Tamara S.Galloway, Abigail P. W. Barrows) and in air samples. Two separate studies released in March 2018 revealed that microfibers are found in bottled water sold all over the world. And a study published weeks later revealed that microplastic - chiefly microfibers - were present in 159 samples of tap water from around the word, a dozen brands of beer (made with Great Lakes water) as well as sea salt, also derived globally. Although most research has focused on synthetics textiles, but Abigail P. W. Barrows, an independent microplastics researcher who has conducted numerous studies on microfibers, says, 'Natural fibers such as cotton and wool, and semi-synthetics such as rayon should not be totally ignored. While they will degrade more quickly than, say, polyester, they may still be treated with chemicals of concern that can move up the food chain if the fibers are consumed before they degrade.' The study she led in 2018 (Marine environment microfiber contamination: Global patterns and the diversity of microparticle origins - Abigail P. W. Barrows, Sara E. Kathey, C. W. Petersen) found that in the surface water samples collected globally while 91% of the particles collected were microfibers, 12% of those were semi-synthetic and 31% were natural. Read on...

GreenBiz: Why are our clothes so bad for the environment?
Author: Mary Catherine O'Connor


Mohammad Anas Wahaj | 23 jun 2018

Food waste is a global concern and innovative solutions are needed to overcome it. Recent data from National Resources Defense Council found that the average American throws out 400 pounds of food a year, meaning that up to 40% of food grown on the farm bypasses the fork and ends up in a landfill. Globally, impact of food waste can be seen in terms of lost resources, wasted water (70% of fresh water is consumed in agriculture), increased levels of climate-change-producing gases, and diverted food that could contribute to alleviating hunger. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) - It is estimated that annually over 60 trillion gallons of water are used to grow food that is ultimately wasted; Roughly 1/3 of the food produced for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tons - gets lost or wasted, representing nearly US$1 trillion. The cost of producing, harvesting, transporting, and disposing of this food isn't just financial - food waste accounts for about 8% of global climate pollution, more than the nations of India or Russia. According to one report, food waste throughout the US accounts for more than 60 million tons of waste, which translates into US$ 160 billion of produce and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), represents over 21% of all waste in landfills. Adequate government policy alongwith solutions from for-profit and nonprofit sectors can successfully tackle this challenge. Sherri Welch, writing in Crain's Detroit, highlights two food-box subscription companies that sell produce and other food that retailers won't touch in the Detroit market. One is the Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest; the other is Toronto-based Flash Food. They are both for-profit companies. Denver's We Don't Waste is a nonprofit working on similar lines. Other nonprofits are working with hunger relief organizations and give their customers the option to buy a box of imperfect produce and donate it to a family in need. Phillip Knight, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan, says, 'At this point, I think we are all working together to feed hungry neighbors, reduce waste and lessen the impact on the environment.' Other solutions include processing food waste as bioenergy. In the Pacific Northwest, Impact Bioenergy develops and manufactures bioenergy products that allow communities and commercial food waste generators to lessen their environmental footprint and conserve local soil resources while also reducing their waste disposal and energy costs. Policy approaches can also play an important role to shift the amount of food entering the waste stream. A May 2017 paper published by Harvard Law School's Food Law and Policy Clinic looks at the 2018 Farm Bill as a portal for changing the national conversation on food waste by integrating strategies and initiatives to support diversion efforts. Policy is a major focus on ReFed, one of the nation's leading nonprofits dedicated to addressing food waste. One of their initiatives in partnership with the Food Law and Policy Clinic is the US Food Waste Policy Finder, a tool that provides research on current food waste policy. Another promising approach is to incorporate the reuse of food that has been rejected by the conventional market into social enterprises. DC Central Kitchen is a job-training catering social enterprise that buys food seconds from farmers and uses that produce in the meals it serves to students in schools and catering event guests, even as the nonprofit also addresses the cycle of hunger. According to ReFed's 'Roadmap to Reduce US Food Waste by 20 Percent', an estimated 15000 permanent jobs could be created through policy initiatives alone. 'Wasted! The Story of Food Waste', a documentary produced by the late Anthony Bourdain, offer a glimpse of ways that nonprofits can expand their missions and collaborate with others to reduce food waste while improving the health and well-being of those in need. Read on...

Nonprofit Quarterly: For-Profit and Nonprofit Firms Devise Creative Ways to Reduce Food Waste
Author: Derrick Rhayn

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