Tagged: agriculture
Sacred Rice: Environmental Change and Structural Uncertainty in West Africa
| May 1, 2016 | 2:03 pm | Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed

This week’s Tufts Environmental Studies Lunch & Learn was a presentation by Boston University anthropologist Joanna Davidson on her work in rice farming communities in Guinea Bissau. Her book, Sacred Rice, looks at the intricacies of economic and environmental conditions affecting the Jola people. Davidson spent over ten years studying rice cultivation in rural Guinea Bissau and the way rice has shaped the worldview and way of life of the people there.

Joanna Davidson: Sacred Rice

Joanna Davidson: Sacred Rice

Guinea Bissau is a nation of 1.5 million people and 23-27 different ethnic groups. The geography of the country is mostly flat mangrove swampland. There isn’t even a word for mountain in the Jola language. This terrain has made it ideal for palm oil forests and rice paddies. Cultivation of the Oryza glaberrima species began in West Africa, distinct from the rice species grown in Asia, with a higher protein content. Rice gave rise to many of the precolonial African kingdoms, and it is thought that American rice cultivation began only after the slave trade brought rice farmers to the Americas. Since the earliest times, Jola life has depended on rice. The people believe that they were created to farm rice, and their hard work in the rice paddies is part of a covenant with their supreme deity for which they are rewarded with rain. Since the mid 90s, however, the long June to October rainy season that they depend on has shortened to one or two months. As a result, many Jola families don’t have enough rice to last them through the year.

The blame can be laid partially on climate change, but is also the result of centuries of shifting lifeways. During the colonial era, Europeans forced farmers to switch to cash crops like sugar and tobacco for international trade rather than domestic subsistence. More recently, shifts toward urbanization mean that there are fewer people farming rice. Jola farmers have largely responded by simply working harder and longer. According to Davidson, much of this burden falls on Jola women. Seeing rice farming as a dead end long-term, families now send their children to be schooled in the capital city rather than train them in cultivation.

Source: http://www.navvi.com/blog/2015/1/23/how-can-the-countries-hardest-hit-by-ebola-avoid-a-potential-food-security-crisis

Source: http://www.navvi.com/blog/2015/1/23/how-can-the-countries-hardest-hit-by-ebola-avoid-a-potential-food-security-crisis

The Gates Foundation is funding a program called AGRA: the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The hope is that this African-led movement can improve agricultural and market infrastructure. According to Davidson, this program is “not particularly hopeful.”

In a society which defines itself through rice, it is important to consider the effects of climate change beyond the environment or the economy. It becomes an existential issue for the Jola people, who eat rice at every meal. In an anecdote from Davidson’s research, she cooked a spaghetti dinner for the family she was staying with. After the meal, the family asked “So now, where is the food?”

Friedman School’s Tim Griffin on Sustainable Diets
| November 5, 2015 | 3:56 pm | Events | Comments closed

In another installment of the Tufts Environmental Studies Lunch & Learn Lecture Series, Tim Griffin of the Friedman School spoke to students and faculty last week on the topic of sustainable diets. More specifically, the focus was on how to bring sustainable agriculture and sustainable consumption in line with healthy dietary guidelines.

Griffin is the director of Friedman’s Agriculture, Food and Environment program and a former scientist at the USDA.

The talk began with a summary of sustainable agriculture, consumption and diets in the United States. A movement for sustainable agriculture began during the early 1980s farm crisis, as smaller scale farmers began trying to join profitability with socially acceptable practices and products and mitigate the negative effects of agriculture. Over time, most mid-size farms have disappeared resulting in a “bimodal” distribution in which most farms are industrial in scale or very small family farms.

Agriculture is responsible for 80% of world deforestation, 70% of freshwater usage, 30% of greenhouse gases, and is the largest cause of biodiversity loss (mostly a result of the previous statistics). Population growth and the ensuing increase in demand for food will surely increase agriculture’s already enormous footprint. Griffin’s question for the audience was what roles the private and public sector have in advancing sustainable consumption.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) and the USDA publish dietary guidelines that reflect the latest nutrition science (remember the food pyramid?), so the Dietary Guidlines Advisory Committee would be an obvious place to start incorporating sustainability into the American diet. The current guidelines are referred to as MyPlate and do not cover sustainable agriculture or consumption. The guidelines do have a focus on food security, defined at the 1996 World Food Summit as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life,” and since food production requires non-renewable resources, the sustainability related decisions we make now will affect our ability to meet food security goals in the future. Other countries, such as Brazil and the Netherlands, maintain sustainability as an important feature of their dietary guidelines. Griffin cited 2014 article in Nature by Tilman and Clark outlining the environmental effects of different diets.

Tilman and Clark 2014

Tilman and Clark 2014

Dietary patterns higher in plant-based foods are generally more sustainable than animal or pescetarian diets. However, despite Griffin’s best arguments, the USDA and HHS blog states that sustainability will be excluded from the latest nutrition guidelines as too far out of scope.

There has been some discussion this year about whether we would include the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines. (Sustainability in this context means evaluating the environmental impact of a food source. Some of the things we eat, for example, require more resources to raise than others.) Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important and they are addressed in a number of initiatives within the Administration. USDA, for instance, invests billions of dollars each year across all 50 states in sustainable food production, sustainable and renewable energy, sustainable water systems, preserving and protecting our natural resources and lands, and research into sustainable practices. And we are committed to continuing this investment.

In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.”  The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.

Joanna Hamilton ’13: Regional Planning in Northeast Ohio
| June 23, 2011 | 12:00 am | student papers | Comments closed

Joanna Hamilton ’13 is a dual-degree student with the Friedman School of Nutrition. Dual-degree students (no matter the other program) usually complete their time at Tufts in three years. For two degrees, that’s pretty good! This spring, Joanna took Justin Hollander’s Regional Planning class, which got rave reviews from most everyone who took it. Much of UEP’s focus on planning is on the urban and the local, so Justin’s class looks at the broader factors going into planning across a region. For the class final, everyone wrote a policy memo making recommendations for a real-life agency. Joanna chose the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), which is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Cleveland area. She evaluated their regional planning efforts, and made recommendations for more strategic policy in that area.