Category Archives: Global Hunger

Marching Toward A New Climate Future

Charles W. Elliott

BGR at Peoples Climate March

 

This past Sunday, Buddhist Global Relief joined 400,000 others at the People’s Climate March in New York to demand swift action to halt the threat of global climate change. The streets were filled with marchers as far as the eye could see with young and old, rich and poor, of all races and religions, joined by their common humanity.

Buddhist Global Relief was part of an Interfaith contingent of thousands that packed 58th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues so tightly there was barely room to breathe. Joining us were more than twenty other Buddhist groups in the common cause of compassion and concern for the world.

BGR Peoples Climate March

We marched in the face of the recent onslaught of bad environmental news – the threat of the West Antarctic ice sheet irreversibly melting, 2014 on track to be one of the hottest in recorded history. Yet this was a march of hope. There would be little point in being in the streets were it not for our common belief that we can yet change the course of events.

New BGR Climate March7696

Our presence in New York was a walk in solidarity with those who will be first and most badly harmed by the consequences of climate change: the poor and indigenous populations who did not benefit from the wealth generated in the economies most responsible for the burning of fossil fuels, and who played little or no role in the causes of climate change. We walked in witness to the extinction of species from the changes wrought by rising temperatures and seas.[1] We walked to recognize the impacts of sea level rise that will swamp coasts and destroy both natural habitat and human infrastructure. And acknowledging the threats posed by climate change to food security for the world’s most vulnerable, BGR’s march banner reminded the world: “The World’s Food Supply Depends on a Stable Climate.”

The scientific community predicts that food production will be harmed by rising temperatures, increased air pollution, ocean acidification, and other climate-change induced factors.

The recent Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states: “Under scenarios of high levels of warming, leading to local mean temperature increases of 3-4 oC or higher, models based on current agricultural systems suggest large negative impacts on agricultural productivity and substantial risks to global food production and security.” (Chapter 7. Food Security and Food Production Systems, p. 3).  The IPCC reported one study showing a global food price increase of 19% due to the impacts of temperature and precipitation trends on food supply.

Here, in the United States, according to the most recent (2014) report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,  “Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock.” Agriculture-damaging impacts of climate change in the United States include:

  • Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests, and other climate change induced stresses;
  • Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due to increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rainfed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented.
  • The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded.
  • Drought frequency and severity are projected to increase in the future over much of the United States, particularly under higher emissions scenarios. These droughts will be occurring at a time when crop water requirements also are increasing due to rising temperatures. With increasing demand and competition for freshwater supplies, the water needed for these crops might be increasingly limited. Long droughts can cause crop failures.
  • Fruits that require long winter chilling periods will experience declines. Many varieties of fruits require between 400 and 1,800 cumulative hours below 45°F each winter to produce abundant yields the following summer and fall. By late this century, under higher emissions scenarios, winter temperatures in many important fruit-producing regions such as the Northeast will be too consistently warm to meet these requirements.

As we said in a previous post on climate change, “Our agriculture is fundamentally based on the stable global climate humanity has enjoyed for thousands of years.  That is now disappearing and the evidence is right in front of us.”

New BGR Climate March7700

 

400,000 people in the street sends an excellent message, but marching alone won’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. One of the most powerful protest signs at the march said, “The greatest threat to the planet is the idea that someone else will save it.” That’s why the tag line for the march was “To change everything, we need everyone.”  It has been wisely said that “Those who have the privilege to know have the duty to act.” The writer Ken Wilber echoes this wisdom: “Therefore, if you have seen, you simply must speak out. Speak out with compassion, or speak out with angry wisdom, or speak out with skillful means, but speak out you must.”

We urge all of you to take action, help others understand what is at stake, and speak truth to power wherever it may be.

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[1] The scientific consensus in the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report‘s Summary for Policymakers  is that: “Anthropogenic warming could lead to some impacts that are abrupt or irreversible, depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change” and “There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5°C (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5°C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.”

The Transformative Potential of the Right to Food

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

A new report from the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food maintains that the right to food, poverty alleviation, and the reduction of global carbon emissions can all be facilitated by transitioning from the industrial model of agriculture to an agro-ecological system that benefits small-scale producers.

Buying food at the market. Photo: World Bank/Curt Carnemark

Middle-class Americans take it for granted that whatever hardships we face in life, we can always count on food appearing on the table. Supermarkets feature well-stocked shelves, restaurants bustle with business, and the choice of cuisines available to us would even dazzle Old World aristocrats. But the great majority of the world’s peoples don’t enjoy such blessings. For them, the task of feeding their families is a challenge they face anew each day. Chronic hunger and malnutrition afflict close to 850 million people; another billion subsist on sub-standard diets; and billions more spend a huge portion of their income, even as much as half, on their humble meals of rice, wheat, or corn.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to food as integral to a satisfactory standard of living, affirming “the right of every individual, alone or in community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.” Yet too often this right is neglected or trampled upon. To remedy this situation, in 2000 the UN Commission on Human Rights established the post of UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. Since 2008, this position has been held by Olivier De Schutter, who has spent the past six years seeking ways to ensure that the right to food is fully realized. His final report, issued in March, documents his conclusions and recommendations. Though written in the cool, impersonal language of the policy expert, the report conveys a truly bold message with transformative implications for the future of the global food system.
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Super-Typhoon Devastates the Philippines – Emergency Aid Needed Now

World Food Programme Emergency Aid for the PhilippinesTyphoon Haiyan has caused massive loss of life and destruction in the Philippine Islands. The typhoon – described as perhaps the largest tropical storm ever to hit land in recorded history – has left nearly half a million people in the Philippines homeless and without basic necessities.  Those children and families need your help.  Please consider making a donation to the United Nations World Food Programme – the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. You can make a donation at: https://www.wfp.org/donate/typhoon

Oxfam International is accepting donations for emergency relief at: http://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/typhoon-haiyan

You can also make a $10 donation to UNICEF USA by texting “RELIEF” to 864233

A Buddhist teaching  from the Tibetan Mahayana tradition is to think of all beings as our mothers. Recognizing that all of these suffering beings have been our mothers and in every other close relationship with us since beginningless time, we urge you to help as generously as possible.

The Costs of Economic Inequality: Social, Political, and Moral

by Charles W. Elliott

U.S. is most wealth unequal Gandhi once famously said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” Over the past decade, we have witnessed an unprecedented grab of wealth—with its associated power and influence—by a few at the expense of everyone else. This increasing concentration of wealth for a few in the face of continuing struggles of poor and middle class families just to make ends meet is the consequence of public and economic policies that favor private interests over the public good. This inequality corrupts our political system.  And it ultimately corrodes social cohesion and threatens widespread unrest.

Most people do not have a true perspective of the gross inequality in our economic systems. Fewer still understand its corrosive effects. As writer Michael Lind observed in his article “To Have and to Have Not”[1]:

 The American oligarchy spares no pains in promoting the belief that it does not exist, but the success of its disappearing act depends on equally strenuous efforts on the part of an American public anxious to believe in egalitarian fictions and unwilling to see what is hidden in plain sight.

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Like Moths Circling a Flame

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, points out that earlier civilizations often collapsed because of food shortages brought on by unsound agricultural practices.[1] The Sumerian civilization sank because their soil was ruined by rising salt levels, the result of a design flaw in their irrigation system. The Mayan empire fell due to soil erosion, caused by excessive land clearance to feed their population. We now stand in a similar position, facing an acute threat to our own food system, and the immediate danger comes from a changing climate. But there is a major difference between our civilization and earlier ones: we have a clear scientific understanding of the roots of the crisis and are thus in a better position to respond to it. Collapse is not inevitable. The big question we face is not a “why” but a “whether”: whether we will act effectively before it’s too late.

Brown also says, in the same context, that economic and social collapse was almost always preceded by a period of environmental decline. This indicates that there is generally a margin of time in which we can pull back from the brink. We’re now in that phase of decline, and the need to act promptly and decisively to preserve the world’s food system cannot be overemphasized. We’ve already delayed too long. At present close to a billion people suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. If the food system fails to produce enough food to feed the planet, millions more, mostly children, will be consigned to a life of perpetual want, even to death by starvation. In countries stricken with food shortages social chaos will erupt and food riots break out. Migration will increase from poor countries to more affluent ones, triggering a backlash of resentment. States in the poorest regions will totter and fail, perhaps unleashing more waves of violent terrorism. Continue reading

More Food or New Colonialism for Africa?

Charles W. Elliott

Obama Africa TripIn a recent (June 30, 2013) speech in Cape Town, South Africa, U.S. President Obama announced new overtures to support agriculture in Africa.  But the people of Africa need to be on their guard lest these renewed efforts to “help farmers” in Africa become mere Trojan horses for corporate colonialism.

President Obama declared that “Governments and businesses from around the world are sizing up the continent, and they’re making decisions themselves about where to invest their own time and their own energy.”  With phrases invoking American generosity, he proclaimed that:

Instead of shipping food to Africa, we’re now helping millions of small farmers in Africa make use of new technologies and farm more land.  And through a new alliance of governments and the private sector, we’re investing billions of dollars in agriculture that grows more crops, brings more food to market, give farmers better prices[.]

No one would complain if the United States and its corporate partners would help “millions of small farmers” grow more food.  But we wonder: what kind of agriculture is the beneficiary of billions of dollars of investment?  And what are the “new technologies” that purportedly will help those millions of small farmers?
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A New Slate of Projects–Part 2

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

This is the second of a five-part series on BGR projects approved for fiscal year 2013–14. Thanks are due to Patti Price, chair of the Projects Committee, and Jessie Benjamin, Carla Prater, and Jennifer Russ for preparing the material.

 7. Ethiopia: Increasing Yields of Veggies           NEW

Ethiopia-OxfamAmericaSince 1970 the international relief and development organization Oxfam America has worked with local partners to right the wrongs of poverty, hunger, and injustice. BGR will be partnering with Oxfam America on a project to improve food production in the Meki-Ziway area of the Central Rift Valley in Ethiopia. The project aims to apply the System of Crop Intensification (SCI) to such crops as tomatoes, peppers, onions, cabbage, and potatoes. SCI draws on the methods that have already proved successful in the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), extending them to other crops. SCI emphasizes growing bigger, healthier root systems, and enhancing soil fertility with the life in the soil. The method should increase vegetable production while reducing water use and reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Producing more while reducing costs will increase income and enhance household nutritional security among the Ethiopian farmers of the Meki-Ziway area.

8. Haiti: A New Lease on Rice          NEW

Haiti-OxfamHaiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, with nearly 90% of Haitians in the countryside living in poverty and two-thirds in extreme poverty. Haiti was once self-sufficient in rice, a staple in the national diet, but rice production has sagged and it now imports over 80% of its rice. To increase the output and income of rice farmers in Haiti, Oxfam America is promoting the System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a method of cultivation which lowers inputs but results in rice plants that are more resistant to climate extremes, pests, and diseases. Yields can increase by 50%-150% within one or two cropping seasons. With the collaboration of local partners, Oxfam has been providing SRI training and support to roughly 150 farmers. The grant from BGR will enable them to extend the training to thirty additional farmers, both women and men. The grant will also be used to purchase labor-saving agricultural equipment vital for SRI and facilitate the rehabilitation of 5 kilometers of local irrigation canals, which are critical both to rice production and flood control.

9. Haiti: Meals for Hungry Kids

Haiti-boy-with-bagEvery weekday in the impoverished Ti Plas Kazo neighborhood of Port-au-Prince in Haiti, over a thousand children (and a few adults) line up at the Lamanjay free meals program to receive a plate of hot, nutritious food. The U.S.-based What If? Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving the lot of poor children in Haiti, has worked in close partnership with members of the Ti Plas Kazo community to sustain the food program since it started in 2000. The urgency of the program increased sharply following the terrible earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in January 2010. The community served by Lamanjay includes mostly children who still live in nearby tents with unemployed parents or guardians who cannot provide the children with sufficient, nutritious food.  Other children walk miles to attend. For most of these children, the food they receive at the food program is their only meal of the day. The grant from BGR will cover the meals provided by the food program for 36 days between June 2013 and June 2014. The goal is to ensure that, as they struggle to rebuild their lives, thousands of hungry children and some adults in Port-au-Prince have access to hot, nutritious meals.

10. Haiti: Helping Kids Go To School         NEW

Haiti-WIF-studentsOne specific challenge facing Haitians today is the high cost and inaccessibility of education for the poor.  Attending school in Haiti has long been a privilege rather than a right, and half of school-aged children were not enrolled in school before the January 2010 earthquake struck. The earthquake destroyed thousands of schools, driving school costs up still higher. As a result, thousands of school-aged children in Port-au-Prince still lack formal education. It is only through education that these kids will have a chance to escape the crippling cycle of poverty. The What If? Foundation is currently providing scholarships to 194 youngsters for the 2012–13 school year, covering tuition, transportation, books, uniforms, and other fees. A grant from BGR will provide $115 per student toward the scholarship costs of 87 elementary school students. School costs range between $250 and $350 per year.