8 ways to halt a global food crisis

The future of food sounds bleak, but it doesn't need to be this way.

There are serious challenges to global food supply everywhere we look. Intensive use of fertilisers in the US Midwest is causing nutrients to run off into rivers and streams, degrading the water quality and causing a Connecticut-size dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.


Chocolate production will soon be challenged in West Africa – home to over half of global production. A variety of nutritional impacts are predicted due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide – including decreased protein content in food, which has a potential to exacerbate malnutrition. And this is just a very small sample of the risks to the food supply chain that are foreseen.

The future of food then, may sound rather bleak. But this does not have to be the case. The food system could become part of the solution for environmental challenges, if we make some changes to it. It could also be an instrument of human health, well-being, dignity, and livelihood – rather than the opposite.

But this won't happen without a radical rethink of our food systems and consumption patterns across the globe – particularly within the context of our cities. Upwards of 75% of the global north's population is urbanised and the global south is rapidly moving in this direction. Strategies for how these city regions can be fed using more local resources are crucial.

Those living in the urban global north are very comfortable with having any foods desired available at any point across the calendar year. This comes at a high cost. Foods transported by air cause nearly four times the CO₂ released compared to truck and 38 times that of a comparable amount transported by rail. Biodiversity and ecosystem loss threatens food production – and meanwhile, agriculture is a key driver of this loss. Furthermore, excessive water use for export agriculture in water-stressed areas can negatively impact local food and livelihoods – for example to secure large quantities of avocados for global north markets.

If we are to avoid some of these crises, we need to re-imagine where our food comes from and move, at least in part, towards more seasonal diets with a lower use of land and a serious reduction in global trade – especially for fruits, vegetables, and protein.

We can do all of this by addressing eight factors that have exacerbated and reinforced environmental disasters in our food systems.

1. Dietary patterns

It is especially important that meat consumption and excess calories in countries with high levels of meat consumption and obesity are reduced. Consuming far less meat provides the greatest ability to feed more people with less land within the US, for example, where meat consumption is particularly high. Every global study of diet and greenhouse gases indicates that reduced meat consumption is the biggest driver of reducing greenhouse gas release via dietary change. Approximately 1.1m hectares of excess corn production are needed to produce the excess calories consumed by just Americans annually.

2. Production practices

Greater organic and agroecological strategies should be prioritised over highly industrialised farming practices. These forms of farming use much less fertiliser – which is not only bad for biodiversity but also produces high emissions. In 2011, agriculture in my home state of Michigan collectively purchased about 200,000 metric tons of nitrogen fertiliser at a CO₂ cost of 1.34 million metric tons (the equivalent of that produced by 291,000 US cars in a year). Meanwhile, organic bread wheat production in the UK appears to use less energy per ton than conventional production, with very little of it accrued from nitrogen fertiliser production and use.

3. Supply chains

Large quantities of food are needed for any city region – an American city region of a million people will require about 900m kg of food annually. Although “food miles" are problematic as a discriminator for greenhouse gas release, shorter supply chains are probably more amenable to electric vehicle transportation than long-distance transport – and hence ultimately to renewable energy use. As such, cities should aim to source their food from the surrounding region rather than globally. Within city regions it should also be possible to use waste recycling more robustly, creating carbon cycles as well as biogeochemical cycles for plant nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Since phosphorus is essential and non-renewable while production of nitrogen fertilisers requires a great input of energy this is very useful.

4. Food waste

Although food is lost throughout the supply chain, it's estimated the greatest losses occur at the consumer level in the global north. In addition, a large amount of produce is wasted for not meeting retail cosmetic standards. All of the energy towards production, transportation, and processing of this food is also wasted. This modern culture of waste must be addressed.

5. Concentrated production

Some crops are grown in an intensely concentrated manner, which leaves them vulnerable to climate changes and pests. For example, over half of US fresh produce and nuts are grown in California, and a number of these crops will be negatively impacted this century. While there is research to develop more draught and heat tolerant varieties across a range of crops it also seems prescient to distribute production more broadly. Variations in weather patterns can make this a challenge. But structures such as poly tunnels can markedly expand the season – to 12 months for lettuce and an additional two-to-three months for tomatoes. And a number of crops, for example apples, can be stored fresh for several months with controlled atmosphere storage.

6. Reward structures

Making negative effects (or costs) of production (such as soil loss) transparent so that all costs are accounted for and then rewarding farmers for things such as soil carbon sequestration, minimised external inputs, and low energy use instead of just total production would greatly help reduce these impacts.

7. Future protein sources

The idea of farming insects and jellyfish are just some examples of the innovative suggestions that have been made for diversifying protein sources beyond meat and, say, soya. This would allow for reduced levels of animal protein in the global north and increased levels in much of the global south.

8. Public policy

Very little of the global north's enormous farm policy budgets tend to be spent on policies such as conservation, agroecological research, and organic production. Policies that stimulate new farmer development, regional market and supply chain development (such as food hubs), prioritise appropriate technology development at smaller scales and price points (including robotics), sustainable energy production and research to minimise external inputs while maintaining high productivity are needed in order to help propel their development.

All in all, much more attention needs to be paid on the sustainability of the planet's urban food systems. If the situation continues unchanged, our food supply chains will soon be in deep trouble.The Conversation

Michael Hamm, Oxford Martin Visiting Fellow, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What was it like to live in a Japanese concentration camp?

During World War II, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps throughout the West.

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Now that the issue of concentration camps in the U.S. has once again reared its head, it can be beneficial to recall the last time such camps were employed in the U.S.
  • After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. incarcerated over 100,000 Japanese Americans in camps, ostensibly for national security purposes.
  • In truth, the incarceration was primarily motivated by racism. What was life like in the U.S.'s concentration camps?

On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized and directed military commanders "to prescribe military areas … from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion." Under the authority of this executive order, roughly 112,000 men, women, and children of Japanese descent — nearly two-thirds of which were American citizens — were detained in concentration camps.

How did the camps get their start?

With the benefit of a nearly 80-year perspective, it's clear that the internment of Japanese Americans was racially motivated. In response to Japan's growing military power in the buildup to World War II, President Roosevelt commissioned two reports to determine whether it would be necessary to intern Japanese Americans should conflict break out between Japan and the U.S. Neither's conclusions supported the plan, with one even going so far as to "certify a remarkable, even extraordinary degree of loyalty among this generally suspect ethnic group." But of course, the Pearl Harbor attacks proved to be far more persuasive than these reports.

Pearl Harbor turned simmering resentment against the Japanese to a full boil, putting pressure on the Roosevelt administration to intern Japanese Americans. Lieutenant General John DeWitt, who would become the administrator of the internment program, testified to Congress

"I don't want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty... It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty... But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map."

DeWitt's position was backed up by a number of pre-existing anti-immigrant groups based out of the West Coast, such as the Joint Immigration Committee and the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. For many, the war simply served as an excuse to get rid of Japanese Americans. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post, Austin Anson, the managing secretary of the Salinas Vegetable Grower-Shipper Administration, said:

"We're charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It's a question of whether the White man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men. ... If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we'd never miss them in two weeks because the White farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either."

Ironically for Anson, the mass deportation of Japanese Americans under Executive Order 9066 meant there was a significant shortage of agricultural labor. Many Caucasians left to fight the war, so the U.S. signed an agreement with Mexico to permit the immigration of several million Mexicans agricultural workers under the so-called bracero program.

Life in the camps

Japanese American concentration camp

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Circa 1943: Aerial view of a Japanese American relocation center in Amache, Colorado, during World War II. Each family was provided with a space 20 by 25 ft. The barracks were set in blocks and each block was provided with a community bath house and mess hall.

For the most part, Japanese Americans remained stoic in the face of their incarceration. The phrase shikata ga nai was frequently invoked — the phrase roughly translates to "it cannot be helped," which, for many, represents the perceived attitude of the Japanese people to withstand suffering that's out of their control.

Initially, most Japanese Americans were sent to temporary assembly centers, typically located at fairgrounds or racetracks. These were hastily constructed barracks, where prisoners were often packed into tight quarters and made to use toilets that were little more than pits in the ground. From here, they were relocated to more permanent camps — replete with barbed wire and armed guards — in remote, isolated places across the seven states of California, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, and Arkansas.

Many of these camps, also known as War Relocation Centers, were little better than the temporary assembly centers. One report described the buildings as "tar paper-covered barracks of simple frame construction without plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind." Again, overcrowding was common.

As a result, disease became a major concern, including dysentery, malaria, and tuberculosis. This was problematic due to the chronic shortage of medical professionals and supplies, an issue that was not helped by the War Relocation Authority's decision to cap Japanese American medical professional's pay at $20 a month (about $315 in 2019 dollars), while Caucasian workers had no such restriction. As a comparison, Caucasian nurses earned $150 ($2,361) a month in one camp.

The U.S. government also administered loyalty questionnaires to incarcerated Japanese Americans with the ultimate goal of seeing whether they could be used as soldiers and to segregate "loyal" citizens from "disloyal" ones. The questionnaires often asked whether they would be willing to join the military and if they would completely renounce their loyalty to Japan. Due to fears of being drafted, general confusion, and justified anger at the U.S. government, thousands of Japanese Americans "failed" the loyalty questionnaire and were sent to the concentration camp at Tule Lake. When Roosevelt later signed a bill that would permit Japanese Americans to renounce their citizenship, 98 percent of the 5,589 who did were located at Tule Lake. Some apologists cite this an example of genuine disloyalty towards the U.S., but this argument clearly ignores the gross violation of Japanese Americans' rights. Later, it became clear that many of these renunciations had been made under duress, and nearly all of those who had renounced their citizenship sought to gain it back.

Since many children lived in the camps, they came equipped with schools. Of course, these schools weren't ideal — student-teacher ratios reached as high as 48:1, and supplies were limited. The irony of learning about American history and ideals was not lost on the students, one of whom wrote in an essay --

"They, the first generation [of Japanese immigrants], without the least knowledge of the English language nor the new surroundings, came to this land with the American pioneering spirit of resettling. ...Though undergoing many hardships, they did reach their goal only to be resettled by the order of evacuation under the emergency for our protection and public security."

Potentially the best part of life in the camps — and the best way for determined prisoners to demonstrate their fundamental American-ness — was playing baseball. One camp even featured nearly 100 baseball teams. Former prisoner Herb Kurima recalled the importance of baseball in their lives in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. "I wanted our fathers, who worked so hard, to have a chance to see a ball game," he said. "Over half the camp used to come out to watch. It was the only enjoyment in the camps."

The aftermath

When the camps finally closed in 1945, the lives of the incarcerated Japanese Americans had been totally upended. Some were repatriated to Japan, while others settled in whichever part of the country they had been arbitrarily placed in. Those who wished to return to the West Coast were given $25 and a train ticket, but few had anything to return to. Many had sold their property to predatory buyers prior to being incarcerated, while theft had wiped out whatever else they had left behind. Many, many years later, the 1988 Civil Liberties Act mandated that each surviving victim be paid $20,000, though that seems like a small fine to pay for irrevocably changing the courses of more than 100,000 lives.


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Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
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