Mailing 21 May 2012

Welcome to the latest FCRN newsletter.

Report: Climate change and agriculture: can market governance mechanisms reduce emissions from the food system fairly and effectively?

This report examines what part market governance mechanisms (regulatory, fiscal, voluntary and information-related) can or could play in addressing GHG emissions from the food system, focusing on the two extreme ends ofthe supply chain – the process of  agricultural production, and patterns of consumption.

Details as follows:

Garnett, T (2012). Climate change and agriculture: can market governance mechanisms reduce emissions from the food system fairly and effectively? International Institute for Environment and Development, London.

Climate and agriculture are inextricably linked: the climate affects agricultural production and is itself affected by agricultural emissions. Agriculture is responsible for 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. How agriculture is practised therefore has significant potential for mitigating climate change, for providing food security and for improving the livelihoods of millions of food producers worldwide.

There is growing interest in the use of market governance mechanisms for tackling climate change by giving the financial incentives to make the kinds of changes that are required. But how widely are these mechanisms being used in agriculture, and are they effective in reducing emissions? What impact do they have on adaptation and other aspects of sustainable development? Are they able to balance the competing demands of producers and consumers, the environment and food security?

The key messages emerging from this study are that economic measures have a vital part to play within this regulatory context, but they need to be designed with care. To be effective, emissions from food production and consumption must be addressed together. If not, emissions reduced in one region will simply be displaced elsewhere. A balance needs to be struck by applying a mix of approaches – regulatory, economic, voluntary, and information: no single measure will be effective in achieving emissions reductions on its own. ‘Soft’ measures, such as voluntary agreements and information have a part to play in providing an enabling context for action, but they must be backed up by ‘harder’ regulatory or economic measures. Regulation, in the form of a cap on emissions, is a prerequisite for other market governance measures to function well. To be effective, MGMs need to consider the social, cultural and economic context within which they operate.

You can download the report here.

FCRN member discussions on organic versus conventional production

Following publication of a report on yields in conventional versus organic production (circulated in a recent mailing) there has been an interesting exchange of views among FCRN members all of which you can find here.

If you would like to comment further, please do. Note that you need to be logged in to comment on mailing articles.

Fruit and vegetable waste questionnaire: please complete

FCRN mailing list member Ella Graham-Rowe is carrying out an on-line study investigating people's thoughts and feelings about reducing their household food waste.

Details as follows:

Please take part in an online study hosted by the University of Sussex investigating people's thoughts and feelings about reducing how much of their household fruit and vegetables get thrown away. To participate in this study you will need to be over the age of 18 and a UK resident.

All you have to do is complete two questionnaires. The first one will take about 15 minutes to complete. You will then be sent a web link to the second questionnaire a week later which will take only a couple of minutes to complete.

All UK participants who have completed both questionnaires will be entered into a prize draw with the chance of winning £75.

If you are willing to take part, then please access the questionnaire here and complete the first questionnaire.

If you have any contacts that you feel would be willing to participate in this study then please could you forward them this email? The person who recruits the most participants will receive £75.

Paper: Nitrogen and agriculture

This paper considers uncertainties in estimating global N2O emissions from agriculture and in projecting future emissions. As regards mitigation, it highlights the potential achievable through dietary change (away from meat and dairy consumption), and of food waste reductions.

Reference, abstract and conclusions as follows:

Reay D S, Davidson K A, Smith K A, Smith P, Melillo J M, Dentener F and Crutzen P J (2012). Global agriculture and nitrous oxide emissions, Nature Climate Change

Abstract

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important anthropogenic greenhouse gas and agriculture represents its largest source. It is at the heart of debates over the efficacy of biofuels, the climate-forcing impact of population growth, and the extent to which mitigation of non-CO2 emissions can help avoid dangerous climate change. Here we examine some of the major debates surrounding estimation of agricultural N2O sources, and the challenges of projecting and mitigating emissions in coming decades. We find that current flux estimates - using either top-down or bottom-up methods - are reasonably consistent at the global scale, but that a dearth of direct measurements in some areas makes national and sub-national estimates highly uncertain. We also highlight key uncertainties in projected emissions and demonstrate the potential for dietary choice and supply-chain mitigation.

Conclusions

In this Review we have examined agriculture’s current and potential future role in global N2O emissions. We find that recent estimates of agricultural N2O emissions using top-down and bottom-up meth­odologies are in reasonable agreement at the global scale, with con­sideration of N2O emissions arising from recycled nitrogen (such as manure nitrogen) being important in the convergence of these estimates. An on-going challenge in estimating national and sub-national fluxes is the limited geographical spread of measurements, whereas for projecting future fluxes robust modelling of human population and diet is vital. Direct measurements of N2O emissions from fast-expanding food-production sectors, such as aquaculture, are also urgently required if global projections of food-related emis­sions are to be improved.

For mitigation, improving nitrogen use efficiency in agricul­tural production remains a key strategy by which increased food demand in the future can be met without a commensurate increase in N2O emissions. However, we suggest that very significant emis­sions reductions may also be achieved by better addressing dietary choice and food wastage. Relatively high per capita meat intake and consumer-phase food wastage in the developed world indi­cates such interventions may be especially effective in some of the richer nations.

Future studies should explore the drivers of national-scale die­tary change and food wastage in more depth. Such work may then help identify interventions that would reduce average dietary N2O emissions intensity and highlight points in the supply chain where the most effective waste reductions can be made.

You can download the paper here (subscription access only).

The paper was covered in Science Daily here.

Study: quantitative evidence of metaphoric association between meat and maleness

The findings of this study are unlikely to surprise anyone – the research is based on experiments carried out in the US and the UK and finds that there is a strong connection in people’s minds between eating meat—especially muscle meat, like steak—and masculinity.

Reference and abstract as follows:

Rozin P, Hormes J M, Faith M S and Wansink B (2012). Is Meat Male? A Quantitative Multi-Method Framework to Establish Metaphoric Relationships. Journal of Consumer Research

Metaphors are increasingly recognized as influencing cognition and consumption.  While these linkages typically have been qualitatively generated, this article presents a framework of convergent quantitative methodologies that can further document the validity of a metaphor.  To illustrate this multimethod framework, the authors explore whether there is a a metaphoric link between meat and maleness in Western cultures.  The authors address this in six quantifiable studies that involve 1. implicit associations, 2. free associations, 3. indirect-scenario based inferences, 4. direct measurement profiling, 5. preference and choice and 6. linguistic analysis and conclude that there is a metaphoric relationship between mammal muscle meat and maleness.

You can read the paper here (subscription access only) or read coverage of the paper here

Article: Taxes on unhealthy foods

Mytton O T, Clarke D, Rayner M (2012). Taxing unhealthy food and drinks to improve health, BMJ 2012;344:e2931

This article in the British Medical Journal argues that taxes on unhealthy foods could result in significant health gains. The article highlights a range of trials, studies and natural experiments (ie. observational studies) that examine the effect of price changes on behaviour. It concludes that: “Health related food taxes could improve health. Existing evidence suggests that taxes are likely to shift consumption in the desired direction, although policy-makers need to be wary of changes in other important nutrients. However, the tax would need to be at least 20% to have a significant effect on population health.”

It says that the key elements of a successful health related food tax are as follows:

  • Taxing a wide range of unhealthy foods or nutrients is likely to result in greater health benefits than would accrue from narrow taxes; although the strongest evidence base is for a tax on sugar sweetened beverages
  • Taxation needs to be at least 20% to have a significant effect on obesity and cardiovascular disease
  • Taxes on unhealthy foods should ideally be combined with subsidies on healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables.

You can read the article here (subscription access needed).

An editorial on the article, by Susan Jebb, Chair of the Government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal Food Network argues that “there is an intellectual inconsistency in accepting poor diets as the product of a complex web of determinants while advocating single issue solutions.”

You can read the editorial here.

The BMJ has press released the article here.

PhD thesis on GHG from milk and dairy

Flysjö A (2012). Greenhouse gas emissions in milk and dairy product chains improving the carbon footprint of dairy products, PhD thesis, Aarhus University, 2012

FCRN mailing list member Anna Flysjö has successfully defended her thesis.  The thesis takes the form of a summary overview section and 6 papers (5 of them published journal papers). Details as follows:

The PhD project has focused on some of the most critical methodological aspects influencing GHG emission estimates of milk and dairy products and how the methodology can be improved. In addition, the CF for different types of dairy products has been analysed. Based on these results, mitigation options have been identified along the entire dairy value chain.

The key methodological challenges analysed in the present study are: estimation of CH4 and N2O emissions, assessment of CO2 emissions from land use change (LUC), co-product handling, and definition of the functional unit. Estimates of the biogenic emissions CH4 and N2O are associated with large uncertainties due to the complexity and natural variation in biological processes. Accounting for these variations resulted in a ±30-50% variation in the CF for milk in Sweden and New Zealand (excluding emissions from LUC). The inclusion of emissions from LUC can drastically affect the CF of dairy products, and different models can even provide contradictory results. Thus, it is suggested that emissions associated with LUC are reported separately and that underlying assumptions are clearly explained.

Accounting for the by-product beef is decisive for the CF of milk, and when designing future strategies for the dairy sector, milk and meat production needs to be addressed in an integrated approach. It is shown that an increase in milk yield per cow does not necessarily result in a lower CF of milk, when taking into account the alternative production of the by-product beef. This demonstrates that it is important to investigate interactions between different product chains, i.e. to apply system thinking.

You can download the thesis here.

You can find other dissertations and theses on the FCRN website here.

Book: Aid to developing countries

This looks interesting - it’s been written for the International Food Policy Research Institute.  Details as follows:

Akramov K T (2012). Foreign Aid Allocation, Governance, and Economic Growth, Published for the International Food Policy Research Institute, University of Pennyslvania Press.

Foreign aid to developing countries is the subject of debate among economists and development specialists. While some argue that aid promotes prosperity and reduces poverty, others assert that it hurts the economy and fosters poverty. Still others argue that aid has little impact one way or another. There is also disagreement about whether or not a nation’s quality of governance affects foreign aid’s impact. Do democratic governments, for example, use aid to promote economic growth more effectively than other forms of government?

In Foreign Aid Allocation, Governance, and Economic Growth, Akramov takes the position that aid and its effects are not monolithic but need to be distinguished by their intended ends. Among the aid types Akramov identifies are economic aid and aid to social sectors such as education or healthcare. Economic aid consists of two major categories: aid to production (agriculture, manufacturing, or mining, for example) and economic infrastructure (such as transport, storage, or communication networks). Using data on official development assistance compiled by the OECD, he analyzes the impact of economic and social aid on economic growth. He finds that economic aid appears to have a positive impact on economic growth by increasing the resources available for investment. By contrast, aid to social sectors does not seem to have significant impact on human capital—specifically a country’s secondary school enrollment rate.

Akramov’s findings also suggest that the quality of democratic governance is no guarantee of aid effectiveness in promoting economic growth in aid recipient countries. In fact, economic aid to less-democratic countries can be more effective, at least initially, if this aid is invested in physical means (assets) of production and economic infrastructure.

Aid to production sectors has declined as a percentage of total foreign aid over the past 30 years, falling to less than 10 per cent in the 2000s. Although further research into the question is necessary, the book suggests that aid targeted to increasing domestic investment might be an effective means of fostering economic growth in less developed countries.

For more information and to buy the book see here and here.

New Agriculturalist stories on ‘climate sustainable agriculture’

The New Agriculturalist’s May 2012 issue focuses on ‘climate sustainable agriculture’ and features a number of smallholder projects focusing variously on soil carbon, rainwater harvesting, conservation agriculture and so forth.

To read more see here.