Bite sized wisdom: ET, an alien concept of connectivity

Take a seed, drop it in soil, water it consistently and watch the plant grow. This simple breakdown of a very complex interaction between soil and plant does not take into account some vital factors, which year by year affect our global food supply.

While the above process sounds simple, nature is not simple or straightforward. There are many factors that determine whether or not a plant receives enough water to produce crops, some visible and not so visible to the eye. The combined effect of all factors is known as the ‘evapotranspiration process’- ET. biggest factors to impact ET are: solar radiation, air temperature, air humidity and wind speed. Each of these factors impacts the balance by which water transfers from soil to plant and to the atmosphere.

At the early stages of a plant’s growth much of the water is lost to evaporation from soil. At this stage the plant is small, has almost no leaves to provide shade for the soil, and has undeveloped roots, which don’t absorb a lot of water. During this development stage using drip irrigation (where water is distributed directly to the area where the seed is, or where the stem is starting to sprout), insures that water is not wasted and that the right amount is given directly to the plant.

As the crop matures it requires more water for development. Its roots multiply, it stem grows in height, and its foliage provides shade to the soil below, helping to minimize or lower the rate of water evaporation. In fact, “at the sowing stage of the plant, 100% of ET comes from evaporation, while at full crop cover more than 90% of ET comes from transpiration”

So what is transpiration then? It’s the transfer of water from plant to atmosphere.  A plant ‘breathes’ through its leaves. It takes in water with nutrients from the roots and transports it up throughout the system. At the end of this transfer gases and water vapor escape from the leaf through openings called ‘stomata’.

Due to climate change, temperature rise has put more stress on ET, increasing the rate at which water leaves the soil. Dry soil is unable to retain enough moisture and maintain a high nutrient level to feed the crop. Without enough water and proper soil conditions, crops don’t sprout evenly and yields are significantly cut down.

The ET concept might sound alien to most (pun intended), especially its technical aspects, but the idea in a nutshell is fairly simple. We live in a bubble where each system is connected and influenced by the other. The success of a crop doesn’t just stop at soil and water, it includes, wind, solar radiation, temperature, air humidity and much more.

In our own lives, the success of our development doesn’t stop at education and family status. Much of how we grow depends on our environment, the friends we’re exposed to, the role models we have, and the type of love we get from people that matter. Sometimes, when love is missing within a family we can find it in a teacher or friend who can guide us and steer us to enriching environments.

When faced with a problem, or dealing with individuals who are fighting their own battles, it is easy to jump to conclusions over basic aspects such as – economic, academic and other physical factors. The reality is usually more intricate and some factors are just not visible or comprehensible to us. ET can help us be more understanding of individuals and crops that don’t live up to their full potential. It reminds us that just because it’s the case now, it doesn’t mean that there is something intrinsically wrong with the object, but more often it’s the environment in which it grows.

A recent study showed that we learn best from direct examples, rather than arguments or reasoning (90% to 10%). And if we are not getting the most from what we’re trying to grow, crops or relationships, then it’s time for us to change the atmosphere in which we are developing them, not the plant or person itself. Here’s a quote to summarize the idea: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

And look at that – I just took a complex reality and simplified it to a quote. I guess certain cycles are difficult to change, but as long as we understand them we can have a more wholesome picture of our life on Earth and how everything is truly connected.

Here’s to connecting with the world and each other.

Bite sized wisdom: finding nature’s balance

The word ‘balance’ can be used to describe many things, from a position of a body in its physical state, to a description of an ecosystem. While its application varies, lack of balance always means one thing – something isn’t harmonizing.

Currently, working in the development field I get a chance to interact with bright minds that have seen and experienced the realities happening in many parts of the world. As the main focus of my job is geared towards irrigation and agriculture, one concern that always arises is – use of water.

saynotofoodwaste.bitesizedwisdom.nature.balance.take.give.crop.seeds.grow.water.Climate change, development and improper use have significantly decreased or jeopardized our access to this resource. It’s felt most by farmers (and we don’t have to travel to the ends of the world for an example – take California).

Aside from improper use however, we are faced with a loss of information. Looking at the demographics of farmers we find that many are being replaced or bought out by big corporations. And since the bottom line for any company is profit, we quickly realize that farming is no longer about feeding and learning how nature interacts with us, but the focus shifts to producing more and learning to ‘domesticate nature’ to suit our needs.

Unfortunately, we all know that it is not us who control nature, but rather she controls us. In the fields of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Nepal and other developing nations, farmers are being taught to value water and use it in moderation. Tactics such as, paying for improved water distribution and learning water crop cycles can ensure that water is used intelligently.

After all, crops also have varying needs for water intake. Factors such as soil conditions, climate and type of weather, all play a role in how much water needs to be applied. To master a ‘balance’, farmers, researchers, scientists and even consultants (like me), need to study how these factors influence each other and find a point where they all harmoniously meet.

The more we know about the world and the laws of nature the more we come to realize that finding a ‘balance’ does not mean putting things on a scale and hoping that they balance out. Instead, it’s about realizing that our world is like a jigsaw puzzle and in order to solve it we need to take our time, study each piece and fit it accordingly until we find the ‘balance’ when we see the big picture and come to realize that everything is interconnected.

I personally have come to accept ‘balance’ in my own life through the lens of the jigsaw puzzle. In my own schedule it means learning my natural state of energy and building my daily routine through what comes easy. This means meditation, yoga and journaling in the mornings when I first wake up, and connecting with friends in the evenings after work.

Of course, every morning is different, but this natural flow makes it easier for me to make time for things I love and find this illusive ‘balance’ in working and living.

Happy balancing, friends!

Cooking made us human

Dear Readers,

I’ve missed you! It’s been some time since I’ve shared interesting stories, findings, experiences and facts about food. The stories we share on the site are pieces of information that help reveal a different side of something we’ve become so accustomed to seeing. Due to the abundance of food in grocery stores, restaurants and even trashcans, we stopped appreciating it as much as we once did.

Today I’d like to share a fascinating TED talk by Suzana Herculano-Houzel called “What is so special about the human brain?”.

The information she shared left me speechless. My brain was pouncing with adrenaline from so many thoughts firing in my head and my mouth swung open, as it gulped more air to keep me calm from the rising excitement.

Are you wondering what’s so special about her talk? Let me tell you: 1.5 million years ago primates discovered something that would change the course of our history – they discovered cooking. Yes, this small act by today’s standard is what helped us grow, evolve and turn into these ‘unique’ creatures we often think we are.

In the process of heating up food, combining flavors, and making produce easily consumed and absorbed by the body, our ancestors enabled us to extract more nutrients from what we consume. This cut time for eating, but still energizing the body, allowing our brains to grow. Without cooking and still on a raw diet, it would take us nine hours to look for food and consume enough calories to keep the body working. Cooking flung the door open to our evolution, helping us build different cultures and inventing agriculture to make the process of feeding more local and constant.

The human brain

Our brain is 2% of our body, but it uses up about 25% of all the energy consumed and stored by the cells to keep it properly running. Hence, of the 2,000 calories consumed 500 calories are used by our brain. Unfortunately, as our world became more stressful and jobs more demanding, family time and cooking have flown out the window. companies have solutions for us, they offer us ‘food like substances’ made from chemicals in the lab and claim that the time we save from not cooking we can use on other better things. Yet, by choosing processed and fast-food options we’re denying ourselves the fundamental feature of being human. To preserve what makes us truly unique and not rob ourselves of our history, we ought to look at cooking as a valuable investment and teach future generations to do the same.

Here, on this website, we share tips, stories, recipes, and inspirational quotes that reignite this million year old love for food and cooking, and show the effects it has on our bodies and the environment.

Did you enjoy reading this post? If so, let us know and share your thoughts/stories/recipes so that we can continue building this community of people who love food.

Let’s get cooking, friends!

The Meat of the Issue: Animal Abuse (It Hurts Us, Too) following our ‘Meat of the Issue’ series has probably been waiting for this topic to pop up. Most people are at least mildly aware of animal cruelty in the meat industry, but that doesn’t make it any less worth discussing. After all, I seem to discover new forms of mistreatment every time I hear about this issue. For those unmoved by sympathy for animals, though, there exists an anthropocentric argument to be made over how improperly raising animals can yield tainted meat. However, I would hope that anyone who learns about these animals’ suffering wouldn’t need that second argument – the appalling abuse should speak for itself. Frankly, there is no way I could cover every single form of animal mistreatment in the meat industry, so I’ll just share some ‘highlights.’

The most obvious consequence of agricultural intensification is crowding, since fewer farms means more animals per farm. Even in 1997, 60% of America’s pork came from the country’s largest 3% of farms, while 2% of feedlots generated more than 40% of America’s beef. Hundreds if not thousands of cows, pigs, chickens, etc. get packed into windowless enclosures that allow little to no mobility, which tends to generate aggression. For instance, a chicken with as little as 0.6 square feet of space might start pecking at or even eating other birds in its pen, which is why they are often preemptively debeaked by farmers. Close quarters also make a fertile breeding ground for disease pathogens, such as the notorious swine and avian flus, which spread through the clustered animals with astonishing speed due to the great amount of bodily contact. Many of the pathogens, including salmonella (which is harmful to humans but not animals), spread from waste, since the animals are often surrounded by their defecations. As mentioned in the previous post, animals kept in close proximity to their waste also develop other health issues like pneumonia or respiratory infections. form of animal cruelty that many people are oblivious to is forced cannibalism. Over the century, farmers have increasingly integrated their cattle feed with offal: the organs and entrails of, usually, sheep or cows. The offal is meant to serve as a protein additive to increase the animals’ meaty muscle. As revolting as the practice is, there were no real ‘problems’ with it until the 1980s, when it was positively linked to the emergence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) aka Mad Cow Disease. Humans who consume meat of an animal infected with the neurodegenerative disease are liable to develop variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), a fatal disease that causes dementia, memory loss, personality changes, and hallucinations. According to CNN, 229 cases of vCJD were reported in a dozen countries 1996-2014, predominantly in the UK (177 cases), and ‘random’ reports of cows being identified with BSE continue to surface from various countries.

There’s been a lot of discussion of human disease in these meat posts, so, in parting, I’d like to refocus on the animals and the brutal manifestations of our society’s demand for meat (and dairy):

  • Calves are raised in chains to restrict their movement for the purpose of keeping their muscles underdeveloped and tender. They are also deliberately deprived of iron so that their flesh pales to the market-desired shade of pink
  • Male pigs and cows are castrated to alter their meat’s taste, smell, and fat ratio. Castration is typically performed without anesthesia and can involve chemical scrotal injections or cutting off circulation via metal clamps. According to the ASPCA, 100% of piglets and 88% of calves are castrated in the US
  • Pigs develop deformities in their legs and feet due to being forced to live on concrete or slatted floors
  • As mentioned in an earlier post, animals are fed antibiotics and growth hormones to rapidly gain weight. The combination of a fattening diet and virtually no exercise (due to lack of space) leads to obesity and associated diseases like fatty liver syndrome
  • Ducks and geese have pipes shoved down their esophagi as a means of force-feeding excessive quantities of corn mash, so as to swell their livers for foie gras
  • Chickens typically have their wings clipped to prevent flight

Some animals eat other animals – that’s the food chain, and humans are part of it. But why are we the only animal that ‘needs’ to chain up and mutilate its prey in order to eat it?



1. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) – Farm Animal Cruelty Glossary
2. Horrigan, Leo; Lawrence, Robert S.; and Walker, Polly – How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture
3. Nickelsburg, Monica (The Week) – 5 modern diseases grown by factory farming

The Meat of the Issue: Waste of another Kind, a big concern on this website is food waste: food that goes uneaten and gets unsustainably disposed of due to negligence. However, as part of the ongoing series on the consequences of the meat industry (here are posts one and two), this post is going to focus on livestock waste. This type of waste includes all discards and excrement generated by animal agriculture, including: manure, urine, carcasses, feed remnants, bedding, and feathers. In addition to being merely unpleasant, the mishandling and sheer quantity of these outputs causes a lot of dangerous contamination.

In 1999, the General Accounting Office reported that livestock generated 130 times as much waste as humans in the US. The amount of waste produced on farms greatly exceeds that which can be used to fertilize the fields, so much of the excess is transported – with great difficulty, risking spillage – to open, man-made pits known as lagoons. in these lagoons, the liquid manure can leak into surface water and groundwater directly or via run-off. While the fecal matter itself can be hazardous, manure also carries many heavy metals, such as arsenic and antibiotics, and pesticides present in animal feed. These adversely impact soil and water quality with excess nutrients, especially nitrogen and phosphorous. Manure also emits the three primary greenhouse gases, CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide, as well as the hazardous gas ammonia. With over 70 billion farm animals being raised each year, the cumulative impact of their excrement is quite problematic. Steinfeld et al. calculated that livestock farming (including more than just waste, admittedly) accounted for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2006, surpassing those of the transportation sector. course, the effects of contamination don’t stop with the soil, water, and air themselves. High nitrate concentrations can turn drinking water toxic to infants, while high heavy metal content has been known to cause cancer, circulatory complications, and organ and nervous system damage. Meanwhile, compounds like ammonia in manure gases can hurt animals’ lungs and increase their risk of developing pneumonia when stored in improperly ventilated areas. Farm workers are at similar risks through prolonged exposure to the hazardous gases and odors of animal waste, and up to 30% develop asthma or bronchitis. Finally, the waste often carries pathogens that can cause diseases like salmonella – but I think I’ll save those for next week.

Lower demand for meat, fewer animals raised as livestock, less waste, healthier planet – is this enough to convince people to eat less meat? Or should we focus on dealing with our waste better, rather than just letting it sit around? Given the evidence, I think we need a dual strategy.


Additional Sources:
Horrigan, Leo; Lawrence, Robert S.; and Walker, Polly – How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture

Walker, Polly et al.– Invited Paper: Public Health Implications of Meat Production and Consumption

The Meat of the Issue: Karma and Disease

While many of the health complications associated with eating red meat stem from naturally-occurring causes, there are many other risks that all industrially-produced meat pose to us because of how we treat animals. As a result of farmers’ efforts to maximize efficiency of meat production, animals get pumped full of chemicals that are passed into the humans that eat them. In other words, we developed animal agriculture in such a way that seems to actually be threatening us. Well done, society. addition to energy-depleting grains, animals are fed growth hormones and antibiotics to induce rapid weight gain. The reasoning is this: the larger the animal, the more meat there is that can be sold for profit. While there is no conclusive evidence that consuming hormones via meat (or dairy) is harmful to humans, it has been linked to premature puberty in girls as well as increased risks of breast and prostate cancer. More evidence exists, however, showing a direct relationship between ingestion of antibiotics via animal products and bacterial resistance in humans. Antibiotics are given to animals to prevent diseases such as E. Coli, of course, but they are also used for sub-therapeutic purposes: to make the animals gain weight. In any case, while the animal may be kept safe from a disease, the human that eats it could very well become more susceptible.

Pesticides are another synthetic material that ends up in our bodies via consumed food. Most attention is paid to their presence on produce, since chemicals are more or less directly applied to growing crops, but these crops are also fed to animals we eat. The consequences of indirectly consuming pesticides are still debated, but it is recommended that pregnant women and babies avoid pesticide-grown food due to concerns about its effects on a developing brain and links to cancer. production is an example of manufacture that generates dioxins, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that are by-products of industrial processes such as bleaching as well as natural events like volcanic eruptions. These pollutants contaminate soils and grain feed and are then consumed by animals and stored in their fat. As roughly 11 billion pounds of animal fat are recycled into animal feed every year, dioxin bioaccumulates in more and more animals. When humans eat products containing animal fat, they are ingesting these compounds – which are carcinogenic and damaging to the immune, reproductive, and developing nervous systems.

Many of these potential problems require further research, but what does that mean for us? I don’t fear modernization per se, but seeing these connections between serious health concerns and the increasingly synthetic and industrial aspects of our meat supply worries me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I still eat meat, and I acknowledge my personal hypocrisy. I just wish there wasn’t such a high global demand for meat, so that people wouldn’t feel compelled to produce it en masse by potentially hazardous means.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and you can expect to see it next week.


The changing agriculture“Unlocking the Climate Puzzle” is the title of National Geographic‘s May 1998 issue. More than a decade ago scientists, politicians and global citizens were disputing whether or not human behavior was negatively impacting our climate. Today, this issue is no longer a puzzle, but a well-documented fact. Humans are contributing to global climate change and environmental devastation on Earth.

Giving thought and arguing over whose to blame is the past. Today, scientists and concerned individuals are asking: “What can we do to stop this change?” Unfortunately, years of research proved that once change is in motion, it’s unstoppable. All we can do now is hope to minimize the negative ripple effects.

Scientists at University of College London (UCL) published their new research in the journal of Nature outlining what it would take to keep global temperature from exceeding a 2C limit. “[The] new research is first to identify which reserves must not be burned to keep global temperature rise under 2C, including over 90% of US and Australian coal and almost all Canadian tar sands.” (The Guardian)

Changing human behavior is challenging, but it is essential for our survival. To motivate change we require monitoring and guidance. Today, we’ll examine global trends on food consumption, land and energy use. This will help map where we are and where we’re going.

1. Food Consumption more and having more food available are two big trends in the USA. Comparing our diet from 1950’s to 2000’s, average meat consumption increased from 138.2 pounds annually to 195.2 pounds. There are also 19% more calories available for American consumption compared to 1983. Total fruit and vegetable consumption increased by one-fifth between 1970 and 2000. Interestingly, we’re eating more of everything, even the bad stuff. Our new love for high fat, low nutrient and fast food is wreaking havoc on our bodies; diabetes and obesity are on the rise.

2. Growing Food know that quality and nutritional value of consumed foods depends on the quality of soil. As we continue depleting nutrient rich soil with frequent high volume crop yields we run out of arable land. Figures from the World Bank demonstrate that percentage of land used for agriculture in USA declined from 2000 to 2014, dropping from 44.9 to 44.7. This figure is too broad to make any specific conclusion, but it looks like the average farm size in the USA is shrinking. Figures of agricultural imports and exports demonstrate some interesting findings. Exports in USA show that Feed grain export has declined the most, from 61,006 metric tons to 54,794 metric tons. Oilseeds more than doubled, going from 15,820 to 43,297 metric tons, experiencing the most growth of any sector.  Imports in the USA have increased in all areas but one, tobacco.

Growing consumption and declining farm lands, topped with higher agricultural imports, implies that a lot of the food in the USA has been coming from the outside world. Globalization means that our diets are getting more interconnected. In Brazil, this problem is reflected by changes in land that was once used as pasture land for livestock, but is cleared down for soybean farming.

3. Energy for growth in technology has greatly helped with efficiency in agriculture. And although energy required for food production increased from 2001 to 2009, thanks to technology, efficiency has increased as well. Despite these improvements, this innovation has negative effects. All this good food doesn’t get evenly distributed to people who need it most. And since it can’t last forever, a lot of it goes to waste. Currently, 40-50% of all produced food is wasted, and in the USA that accounts for $165 billion in annual losses. Not something to be proud of when one in six people in America struggle with hunger, and 70 billion pounds of goods are sent to rot in landfills.

Next week, I’ll provide suggestions that you can implement in your daily life to address issues in the food industry which undermine our global sustainability.

Until next time!

Pesticides in Agriculture: Why You Should Care

pic2First, a general introduction: pesticides are chemical substances used to repel or kill pests. Most people think of them as insecticides, but pesticides also target non-insect animals, weeds, fungi, bacteria, algae, and viruses. While the focus of this post is on their use in agriculture, pesticides actually have a wide variety of applications, ranging from: killing vector-borne diseases in public drinking-water containers to household cleaning supplies.

Farmers use pesticides to keep animals, weeds, and diseases from endangering their crops. Pesticides are common in modern agriculture because most agroecosystems have been developed as monocultures, which are easy targets for pests. Synthetic repellants aren’t cheap, though, some farmers concentrate their use on highest-valued like grains, rather than most-harvested crops – fruits and vegetables. Hence, those wary of pesticides emphasize washing fruits and vegetables, not bread.

However, it is important to recognize that pesticides aren’t the only means of pest control. There are a number of natural, as well as, physical farming techniques that are just as, if not more, effective at protecting crops. Fallowing, rotating crops, weeding by hand, erecting physical barriers, strategically growing trap or companion plants, and permitting beneficial predators, are all examples of pest-deterring practices that are more ecologically beneficial and cost-efficient than pesticides.

So, is money the primary concern in the pesticide debate? Absolutely not. The indirect costs to humanity and environment are the main problems: food insecurity, human health detriment, water contamination, air pollution, and non-target species endangerment are some of the most pressing issues.

  • Food insecurity: Pesticides are meant to help farmers yield larger harvests by removing threats to crops. However, many pests, namely insects, are adept at developing chemical resistance. The ironic consequence is that farmers, having destroyed or neglected organic pest control methods in favor of pesticides, suffer even larger infestations of pests that are no longer deterred by the chemicals coating on the crops.

  • Human health: External contact with pesticides can burn the skin and eyes, while ingestion – airborne or foodborne – can cause carcinogenic, neurological, reproductive, and immune-system damage. Pesticides can be highly poisonous, causing an estimated 220,000 human deaths per year. Additionally, disease vectors, such as malaria-ridden mosquitoes, are made even bigger threats to human health because they can develop chemical resistance.

  • Water contamination: Whether introduced via run-off, leaching, spillage, or otherwise, pesticides can dangerously elevate toxicity levels in bodies of water. Toxicity can render groundwater undrinkable and make aquatic ecosystems uninhabitable to certain species.

  • Air pollution: When pesticides are sprayed onto a patch of land, some chemicals linger in the air and can be spread miles away by wind currents. This brings non-target animals and plants as well as humans into contact with toxic materials. Moreover, pesticide chemical reactions with compounds present in air account for 6% of tropospheric ozone, better known as smog, and contribute to acid rain.

I should mention that all is not as bad as I’ve made it seem. The EPA and similar agencies around the world undertake rigorous testing of pesticides and only permit them with strict usage guidelines. Moreover, consuming food that’s grown with pesticides is unlikely to kill you. Most deaths from poisoning are associated with substance mismanagement in underdeveloped countries. As one EPA brochure puts it:

“Because most crops are treated with pesticides at least some of the time, foods you buy at the grocery store may contain small traces of pesticide residues. Pesticide levels tend to decline over time because the residues break down and because crops are usually washed and processed before reaching the marketplace. So, while we all consume small amounts of pesticides regularly, levels in our food generally are well below legal limits by the time the food reaches the grocery shelves.”

Here are my points: pesticides are quite dangerous, and their use doesn’t seem justified when one considers the abundance of alternative pest control mechanisms and methods. It is worth supporting those growers who abstain from using synthetic pest control substances. Nevertheless, there is significant regulation in place to prevent mass diffusion of chemicals; so consuming food that isn’t certified organic is not going to seriously endanger your health.

Just something to consider,


Other sources:

Environmental Impact of Pesticides

End of Apple Pie?

Screen shot 2014-04-15 at 1.45.13 PMHello!

My name is Hokuma and I’m addicted to sweets. I love baked goods: apple pies, fruit tarts, pumpkin pies, apple turnovers… the list is long. Sometimes, I would wonder whether I was the only person in the world with such a big sweet tooth addiction, but an article I read a few days ago helped me see otherwise. The article was posted on the facebook wall of a very prestigious organization, Oxfam in Azerbaijan.

The article came from a well known news agency in Azerbaijan. It highlighted a new report by the Alliance for Food Security, an organization established in 2012, which aims to aid the development of agriculture in Azerbaijan. This program will help the population seek access to nutritious foods between 2008-2015 through public and private partnerships.

Nizami Garayev, a member of the organization, mentioned findings from a new report that paints a rather worrisome picture of Azerbaijanis and their diet. Regarding fruits and berries, people in Azerbaijan consume only 47 kg of food as opposed to 80 kg worldwide, with fish they consume 5 kg as opposed to 8.3 kg worldwide, and dairy, 209.2 kg vs. 360 kg. When it comes to meat, I was happy to see that Azerbaijanis consume only 27.8kg per year, while the world consumes 70 kg. (Being a vegetarian and an environmentalist, this seems like a positive so, GO AZERBAIJAN!)

Ok, so Azerbaijanis eat less than average, but what does this have to do with my own personal story and addiction to sugar? Here comes the answer, the area where Azerbaijanis excelled above others was in the consumption of baked goods! Azerbaijanis consume 133.8 kg instead of 120.5 kg of bread, and other baked treasures.

DSC_0463There…that’s it! This is the static that showed me that I am Azerbaijani and I shouldn’t take such things to heart. I have a sweet tooth, I loved baked goods, but it’s in my DNA. Plus, you always hear people say that those who like sweets tend to be kind people. I can confidently say that many Azerbaijanis are caring and considerate! Especially some of my relatives that live in Qax and make their own honey. They are the sweetest bunch of people you could ever meet!

And knowing that in recent years, food fraud has increased, I have no doubt that the farmers in my family (small, family owned farm), are the future of a sustainable agriculture. Food and taste matters too much for us, and quality is always important. You won’t see any added sugar in the honey they produce.

The same can’t be said for Americans. While many Americans consume  490 million pounds of honey a year, only 149 million pounds are produced in America. The rest was shipped from miles away, and who knows what additives were placed in it. But this problem doesn’t stop at honey. Other ingredients, such as meat, seafood and juices, are laced with ingredients which are foreign to the product. The beef you are eating could be horse meat, and that tuna, could actually be escolar. Food fraud costs the food industry anywhere between $10-15 billion. Combating it is not easy!

One thing I believe the world can learn from Azerbaijan is the need for moderation. True, not eating enough is never healthy, but eating too much is also a problem. With rising portions in America, it looks like eating more doesn’t mean better health. But, it does show that the drive of our ancestors to consume more food (which influenced the development of our current civilization) is still very relevant to our present lives.

But we can’t continue eating more, we need to eat enough to live, not live to eat. If you want to learn more about the history of agriculture on Earth, then check out this great video. As for me, I finally understand where my sugar craving comes from, and that helped me embrace the truth! I am Azerbaijani – I love sweets!

With much love!

Agriculture in Brazil – How to Feed the World?

201035ldp004Recently we have posted an article published by The Economist about the agricultural miracle in Brazil. Right away we thought that something is wrong about the logic presented in it. One of our fans Manon Crozet have written a critic for us. We wanted to share it with you:

“First, I would like to say that my critics are not as simple as saying “industrial farming is bad!”. It is much more detailed than that and the problems (not) raised by the author are much deeper. Unlike he says, being opposed to his comments is not saying “organic is beautiful”, it is more complicated than that.

My critics will be linear.

The first sentence that stroke me was: […] it decided to expand domestic production through scientific research, not subsidies. Instead of trying to protect farmers from international competition—as much of the world still does—it opened up to trade and let inefficient farms go to the wall.” 

The first part implies a shallow critic to subsidies for agriculture, among others, in Europe for instance. The author ignores or clearly does not know what would be the state of Europe’s countryside if subsidies did not exist, in terms of landscape and human life conditions. Subsidies in Europe protected farmers from being rejected from their own profession by economic and market laws. It is one of the rare professional fields that indeed cannot be totally submitted to international market laws without being totally changed in its structure and justice. Of course I am not saying that there is no abuse of these subsidies and that their use is not sometimes dishonest but without the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) in Europe that guarantees subsidies to a lot of farmers, the main part of agricultural properties would have died (most of Europe’s agriculture is made of family farms) and its agricultural market would be even more dominated by industrial and multinational lobbies. Family farms cannot compete with multinational production (meaning huge farms in the US, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, etc. led by companies like Monsanto or Bayer) without subsidies, unfortunately. And lots of farmers would really prefer to make a living only of what they produce and not also of what they receive.

The second part of the quote is obviously shocking: not protecting the people who feed their own family with their small property, and letting “inefficient farms” die, that is admirable, indeed. Who wants to give a standing ovation to that?

The author certainly forgot that 85% of farm producers in Brazil are small and family producers. They account for only 25% of the land used for agriculture but they supply 70% of what the Brazilian people buys and eats IN the country . Please, let go to the wall 85% of the people who work to feed you. Come on.

Next, the author presents the “agropessimists’ prescriptions” as he calls the people who are, to me, aware of the world’s agricultural stakes. In his listing, one can feel the critic of his tone. So does the author think considering sustainability as a main virtue, encouraging small farms, thinking it is more important to sell products on a local market than to export, is ridiculous? It seems like it and if it is the case, he gives the impression to live 50 years ago. Has he forgotten that producing and selling on a small scale is the work and passion of millions of people? Has he forgotten that sustainability is a virtue we cannot live and see a future without, nowadays? Has he forgotten the environmental damage of large scale production and exporting business?

On the contrary, I am not saying producing on a large scale and exporting is not important: thousands of people work in this field, meat production would not be able to supply our demand (I am, myself a huge carnivore), and it empowers countries. That is good, but as in every subject, making the balance shows your knowledge and your wisdom. On this theme, how is it possible to forget such a large amount of things?

Let’s read another quote: “Brazil’s farms are sustainable, too, thanks to abundant land and water.”

I do not think the author ever questioned himself about what sustainability is. One’s business is not sustainable depending on the existing amount of the things one uses, but on HOW one uses them. Land and water are, indeed, HUGE resources in Brazil. But the big farms that use them are far from being sustainable. These resources look endless in Brazil but they are not. It is not because the resource is abundant that you can use it without counting and be sustainable. What makes your business sustainable is your capacity to preserve it, use it the least you can, reject it clean, even though it is abundant. Economically, these farms are, for now and yet a long time, sustainable. Environmentally, I will not even comment, I will just say that the themes of pesticides, GMOs, the use or not of ploughing, monocultures, certified and patent seeds could be discussed in relation to this article but it would be too long and it opens a huge debate once again. And socially, once more, the author ignores, forgets, a great problem present in Brazil for decades. The multinational farms installed for a great many of them in Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Bahia, Goiás, São Paulo, have literally colonized Indian lands, sending the populations to live out of their original homes, concentrated in some areas, in more than dark agreements between who knows whom… Very often, these people, work in these farms, barely paid, and totally submitted. Unfortunately they don’t really have the choice and trying to complain is dangerous. The power of the new land owner is so big that bothering him in his business threatens your life. The symbol of this danger is the former environmental activist and seringueiro producer (amazon tree cultivated for its sap) Chico Mendes who was killed in 1988 by big farm producers. A long time ago, but we don’t forget.

If this is sustainable for the author I don’t know where he got his definition.

The author gives various reasons to admire the “Brazilian agriculture” (reminding that he includes only 15% of producers of the country). This agriculture is efficient and productive. It is true. In the field of cotton, soya, sugar cane and more, these farms are fantastic in terms of technologies, yields and costs of production. No wonder no one can compete with them. It IS a miracle, technically. I do not deny this. But reading Africa should take Brazil as an example was the biggest shock for me. The rob of some peoples’ land is already happening in Africa and applying the Brazilian example could of course make its farming produce economy skyrocket but would also have disastrous social, environmental and local economic consequences. When locals of African cities buy imported rice from Brazil (with which local farmers cannot compete because the cost of Brazilian large scale production is so low that even imported rice from Brazil can be cheaper than local rice in Africa) or start to buy locally produced rice on the example of large Brazilian farms,  they will not buy local rice coming from small scale agriculture anymore and its producers will stop their activity and make the slums of the cities grow bigger and bigger, unfortunately for them and for the common good. This is already happening with farm produce from the giants of agriculture like Brazil and the Brazilian way of farming is far from “being more likely to do good in the poorest countries of Africa”, if one cares about the rural population of course.

Last but not least, the author tackles the accusation that is classically made about Brazil: Brazil destroys its Amazon forest. He recognizes that it has been the case and adds that most of the revolution of the past 40 years has taken place in the cerrado, hundreds of miles away”, precising that in this way, there is no “need to touch the natural wonders”. That is true, but that is not the problem. Saying this, the author contributes to the common image that the cerrado is a dry, unfertile and useless landscape. This is ignoring that the cerrado is a whole ecosystem in itself with a generous biodiversity. Of course we are not talking about beautiful parrots or monkeys. We are talking about thousands of native plants, 1200 species of fish, 837 species of birds, 180 species of reptiles, a large number of insects. A lot of these species are endemic to the cerrado. Without forgetting that the cerrado contains 220 species of medicinal plants and more than 10 species of fruits that are all regularly used and consumed by locals. The fruits are also consumed in the cities of the country. Indians communities and quilombolas (communities of descendant of slaves that fled and created quilombolas) are present in this ecosystem and have a traditional knowledge of all its resources.

So of course, extending the agricultural frontier in other spots than in the amazon is a good thing but let us not say that it does not destroy ecosystems that are rich and contain the resources that permit populations to survive. The cerrado is maybe not a natural wonder to the common eye, but it is to the eye of thousands of people who give value to such a rich ecosystem or to the eye of people who also give it a practical value and for whom it is a source of nutrients and cures.

These are my critics to this article that was published 3 years ago.

I will just finish by reminding also that the producers included in this article, for a lot of them, do not produce food for humans. The title “How to feed the world” is just funny, ironically speaking. An important part of these lands are used to produce soya for European farm animals or sugar cane to provide the cars in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, among other crops of course.

So I will let you imagine how curious I got when I saw this title associated to the beautiful photo (and I am not being ironic) of this grown field. It is a picture that does not represent, to me, a solution to economic, environmental and social problems that are rising in front of us. I think the author chose the wrong title: behind “world”, read “corporate lobbies”. Thank you.”

Manon Crozet

Final semester student in agricultural and environmental engineering

Double-degree AgroParisTech (Paris, France) / ESALQ-USP (São Paulo, Brazil)