This week, ProPublica unveiled its 5-part series on “the truth behind the water crisis in the West,” beginning with this story on Arizona cotton. Every year, Arizona farmers plant 100,000 acres or more of cotton in the desert. And every year, the federal government hands out millions of dollars to support those farmers and those crops. This, amid devastating drought, the disappearance of the Colorado River and questions about America’s water future—as well as everyone and everything that depends on it.
Last fall, we happened to drive by that Arizona cotton. We were en route from Palm Springs, CA, to our home in New Mexico. We’d passed through Phoenix, stopped for gas in Scottsdale, then continued on a small highway that sliced right through field after field of cotton. It was a hot, dry day; not a hint of moisture in the air. And there, all around: cotton. As ProPublica reports, it’s a crop that takes six times more water than lettuce and 60 percent more water than wheat. For that, the story notes, the government has paid $1.1 billion in subsidies to Arizona growers in the past 20 years.
This week, the Food and Agriculture Organization released its report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015. Good news is: the number of hungry people worldwide has dropped to roughly 795 million. But statistics are complicated, and hunger remains a critical problem in regions of protracted political and environmental crises. Some regions fare worse than in previous years. As the FAO reports, “24 African countries currently face food crises, twice as many as in 1990.” This video explains some of the complex issues affecting hunger numbers. And here’s the FAO’s own story on the report.
We’re hearing more and more about the palm oil industry’s destructive practices. But, as this Guardian story points out, “it takes money to make money,” and it’s important to look at the financing for large land acquisitions that lead to deforestation and expansive palm oil plantations. More here.
“We care what we eat. We care what goes into our bodies, but we don’t care that much what goes on our bodies.”
Jill Tucker, former chief technical adviser to the International Labour Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program, said that to me in a recent interview. Her words stuck. She talked about modern food movements, and the knowledge we now have (and have access to) when it comes to food. But we don’t have the same information on clothing. We don’t know nearly as much about the origins of our clothes, who makes them, the conditions in which they work, or the problems inside the factory walls. It’s time for change, Tucker says. She envisions a day when every T-shirt tag contains a QR code for the factory in which it was made. Scan the code, and you can see precisely the story behind that shirt. The technology exists, Tucker says.
My Q&A with Tucker appears in Women’s Wear Daily. It requires a subscription to access. If you’re genuinely interested in knowing more, send me a note. And stay tuned—I think Tucker’s onto something. I suspect in the future, the global fight for better garment factories will have more parallels with modern food movements.
This is such a critical read. In Burundi, one of the world’s most densely populated countries, family members are attacking each other over scarce farmlands. The population continues to grow at a worrisome pace. Analysts warn of the potential for civil conflict in the years to come. These issues are not just found in Burundi. In the past year of interviews that Jerry and I have conducted in Asia, Africa and Central America, we have found similar concerns across the globe. Read more from Jillian Keenan in Foreign Policy.
Researchers say several new varieties of “heat-beater” beans—developed as crosses between common beans and the tepary bean grown for centuries in Mexico and the Southwest—could survive the effects of climate change. More from CGIAR.
How to combat malnutrition? Teach patients to garden and cook. This is what Rwanda’s Rwinkwavu District Hospital is doing (with support from Partners in Health). Dr. Fulgence Nkikabahizi, the hospital’s medical director, explains that many patients have access to nutritious food, but they have never been taught to balance the nutrients in the meals they serve
themselves and their children. Education is key. Thus, the hospital garden.
Across Rwanda, lifestyles and diets are changing quickly as the country develops and people grow wealthier. As a result, Dr. Nkikabahizi says, health is at a turning point. While infectious diseases are still a problem, modern lifestyle conditions—diabetes, cancer—are also appearing. In the past, malnutrition resulted from a lack of food. Today, malnutrition in Rwanda can result from overeating—too much food, not enough balanced nutrients. Dr. Nkikabahizi and team hope to change that.
Many of our country’s migrant farmworkers (some on temporary agricultural visas) live in appalling conditions that mirror those we’ve seen across the developing world. These workers pick our oranges, grapefruits and tomatoes. They go home at night to camps and trailers with backed-up sewage, leaky stoves, pests and mold. Watchdog Sarasota investigates the situation in Florida—though these conditions are not unique to that state.
This is just a delightful read for anyone who loves food, Paris or great writing about either: a Q&A with the food writer Alec Lobrano in the new online magazine, The Gannet. I’m eager to see where they take this publication.
Climate News Network reports this week on the threats that Borneo’s mammals face due to climate change and deforestation. More than half of all Borneo mammal species could lose a third of their habitat by 2080. But there’s even more to the story, not reported in this particular piece. As forests and mammals disappear, so do the wild foods that are critical to the diets of thousands of remote tribal villagers who live scattered throughout this terrain. For millennia, many of Borneo’s indigenous populations have relied heavily on their biologically diverse forests for food. But all of that is changing. To learn more, watch this.