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agriculture

Sri Lanka’s Agricultural Failures

The collapse of the Sri Lankan government was a shock, but outside of regional experts, few were paying attention to the South Asian Island nation during the global pandemic to worry about their agriculture and economy.  Now is the time for us to reflect and consider.  There was a currency crisis, food shortages, energy shortages, a suffering tourism industry during COVID, a popular uprising, but underneath it all were the policies that destabilized the whole system.  Policies that sounded seductively enticing, and generated global admiration from the WEF and sustainable agriculture advocates. Sri Lanka received a glowing ESG score, but despite this international acclaim, it came with one fatal flaw—the policies didn’t support the people of Sri Lanka. 

I will focus primarily on the agricultural aspects of crisis (since it fits best with human geography curriculum) but yes, there were other political and economic factors.  Organic farming is only for the wealthy in developed countries that can afford organic food as a lifestyle choice, or the very poor in rural, underdeveloped regions that engage in subsistence agriculture without access to Green Revolution technologies.  Organic food accounts for 1% of the global food trade, and most of humanity relies of the technological advancements made by the Green Revolution for their food supply. 

Fertilizer is in short supply with the ban on synthetics.

The government of Sri Lanka announced a 10-year plan to transition to 100% organic farming, by banning synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (the very inputs that double Sri Lanka’s yield in the 1960s from the Green Revolution).  Over 30% of Sri Lankan farmland lay dormant without enough manure and other approved replacements.  Something else that we often forget is the modern agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuel usage for the heavy machinery to replace manual labor.  As the economy struggled, fuel prices went up and resources were rationed so that farmers couldn’t run their machinery and couldn’t get they products to the market.   85% of farmers suffered crop losses and overall production declined by over 20%, which might not sound like much as the 4th largest tea exporter in the world and a country that primarily consumes rice, crashing the rice and tea markets in catastrophic. 

Sustainable agriculture sounds lovely as a goal, but not if the needs of the people are not being met first.  Sri Lanka serves a cautionary tale for countries prioritizing international environmental aims over policies that will promote economic growth and human flourishing within their borders. The romanticism of organic agriculture is a fine choice for those who can afford it, but horrible to impose on those who cannot. 

Main Sources: Foreign Policy, BBC World Service Podcast.

Tags: agriculture, political, Sri Lanka, agribusiness, South Asia.

India’s Surging Pollution Problem

As winter approaches each year, a haze of toxic smog envelopes vast swaths of northern India, including the capital New Delhi, forcing authorities to shut schools and restrict the use of private vehicles. Unlike southern parts of the country, most arid regions of northern India, including New Delhi, struggle with dust, a common air pollutant. Environmental experts say New Delhi’s topography hobbles efforts by authorities to stave off the spike in pollution. In recent years, the problem has been exacerbated by the burning of crop residues in Punjab and Haryana states, part of the farm belt that borders New Delhi. Relatively prosperous farmers from Punjab and Haryana, India’s grain bowl, have started using mechanised harvesters to gather the rice crop, partly to overcome the problem of rising labour costs.” SOURCE: Al Jazeera

Mexico City has a reputation for horrible air pollution–and rightfully so–but Delhi’s air pollution is worse and this year it is off the charts. Much of India faces air pollution problems, but northern India, and especially Delhi sees the convergence of urban, agricultural, demographic, and environmental factors to exacerbate the problems. Geographic problems are often intertwined and is a good issue to use a S.P.E.E.D. or E.S.P.N. activity.

GeoEd Tags: urban, agriculture, population, environment, pollution, South Asia, India.

Unexpected Discoveries using the Observatory of Economic Complexity

Do you need a case study on how to explore big data like the Observatory of Economic Complexity with students to uncover geographic patterns? This site let’s you ask interrelated questions and enter a rabbit hole of economic, geographic data. This is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography, so let me show you how the data visualizations can be used to make concrete observations that will unearth spatial relationships.

While I was wondering about the world largest coffee exporters, I looked at the Observatory of Economic Complexity’s data visualization tools. I was expecting to find mostly tropical countries where coffee is grown. I was baffled to find that Germany was listed as a major coffee exporter, along with many other Western European countries. 

Major Global Coffee Exporters (but definitely not all producers). SOURCE: OEC

This at first seemed like a misprint but many European countries like Germany import import green coffee beans from a variety of tropical countries, so they are a major producer of coffee without growing a single bean. In fact, the world’s largest single port for shipping coffee is Hamburg.

Where does Germany import coffee from? SOURCE: OEC

The highlands of East Africa were the original hearth of coffee beans and today, countries like Ethiopia and Uganda export green coffee beans overwhelmingly to European countries which in turn, roasts them and then exports them internationally. 

Which African countries does Germany import coffee from? SOURCE: OEC

African coffee growers face some steep difficulties when it comes to exporting roasted coffee.  This “value added” step would certainly increase the trading power of their agricultural commodities on the international trading market, but many European coffee labels already dominate that step in the commodity chain and have the made deep in-roads with consumers. 

What does Germany export? SOURCE: OEC

Exporting the finalized roasted coffee is but a very small part the overall German economy (the largest of the light green boxes-0.26% of total exports). For Ethiopia however, coffee exports is a major component of all their international trade (34.6%). Ethiopia produces something of high value, but is not positioned to extract a lot of profit from that commodity.

What does Ethiopia export? SOURCE: OEC

This is the crux of what makes decisions about free trade/fair trade difficult for individual consumers that are hoping to “vote with their pocketbook” to put their dollars in economic practices that they approve of. Commodity chains of so many products have become increasingly complex and these goods are more connected with far more places and workers than most would imagine.  Simply reading the label does NOT tell the full story of most products and the economic geographies that produced them.

This is just one story about the global economy that can be unearthed by exploring the Observatory of Economic Complexity. Were you wondering about Ethiopia’s cut flowers or Uganda’s gold? There is an entire network of economic relations that waiting to be uncovered if you are curious and willing to explore the data. This is why it is one of the best online tools for student projects in geography.    

GeoEd Tags: agriculture, economic, Germany.

What Cheese Looks Like Around the World

“Cheese from all around the world comes in different forms, textures, and colors, from white to blue. It’s eaten in many different ways, and some cheeses have legends or myths behind their invention Let’s take a look at what cheese looks like around the world.”

SOURCE: YouTube

Geographers are drawn to videos like this that give a quick tour around the world.  The Travel Insider video channel has a few great examples that show how distinct regional variations in food production create cultural distinct local customs.  Food production is inherently cultural, and these videos show how local flavor creates a series of regional variations. 

While I’m a fan of the “cheese around the world” video, I’ll include some other of my favorites below.  Linked here is a great article showing the amazing diversity of breads around the world. On the food them, there is desserts around the world, sandwiches from around the world, street foods around the world, breads around the world, and off the food topic, but still very cultural, wedding traditions around world as a sampler for the channel.   

GeoEd Tags: culture, place, video, food, food production, agriculture, worldwide

Italy’s practically perfect food

"Pound for pound, Parmigiano-Reggiano can compete with almost any food for calcium, amino acids, protein and vitamin A – and is prescribed by doctors to cure ailments."

Source: www.bbc.com

While this article focuses often on the nutritional aspects of Parmigiano-Reggiano, I want people to notice the understated importance of place and the cultural ethos surrounding the production of this product. True, it is an economic industry for the region, but it is also a defining cultural characteristic of the place and a way of life. The place makes the product and the product makes the place. 

 

GeoEd Tags: culture, place, Italy, Europe, food, food production, agriculture.

Scoop.it Tags: culture, place, ItalyEurope, regions, foodfood production, agriculture.

Here’s What Your Part Of America Eats On Thanksgiving

"Every region enjoys pumpkin pie. But beyond that, there are three Americas: The America that disproportionately has apple pie (New England and the Middle Atlantic), the America that has pecan pie and sweet potato pie (the assorted South), and the America that consumes cherry pie (the Midwest and West)."

Source: fivethirtyeight.com

In addition to this list of distinctive Thanksgiving recipes from each state (I’d love to try so many on this list), the NY Times has also produced this list of the most ‘Googled’ Thanksgiving recipes in each state.  This StoryMap from ESRI is my favorite map of food production, showing where the food on the thanksgiving dinner plate actually came from.  These are very late additions to my favorite Thanksgiving day resources. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and may yours reflect some some regional distinctiveness and cultural context that you appreciate.   

GeoEd Tags: food, food distribution, food production, agriculture.

Scoop.it Tags: foodfood production, agriculture.

Crop Intensity Visualized

This visualization shows Crop Intensity data (regions that produce the most crops), followed by the MODIS croplands product, the 26 countries that produce 82% of the world’s food, the population density in 2002 and finally the projected population in 2050.

Source: svs.gsfc.nasa.gov

Follow the link to a video/animation that displays several important global agricultural trends.  NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio has produced many other agricultural visualizations that would be useful for teaching about the patterns of global agriculture. 

Tags: food production, agribusinessvisualization, agriculture.

WordPress TAGS: food production, agribusiness, visualization, agriculture.

The Root Causes of Food Insecurity

Why are some communities more vulnerable to hunger and famine? There are many reasons, which together add up to food insecurity, the world’s no.1 health risk.

Source: www.youtube.com

This video is an excellent summary of the geographic factors that lead to food insecurity and hunger and the main ways NGO’s are trying to combat the issues. This is an incredibly complex problem that, at it’s heart, is a geographic issue that can challenge student to synthesize information and make the connections between topics.

 

Scoop.it Tags: food, poverty, economic, political, food desert, agriculture, food production.

WordPress TAGS: food, poverty, economic, Political, food desert, agriculture, food production.

Here’s How America Uses Its Land

The 48 contiguous states alone are a 1.9 billion-acre jigsaw puzzle of cities, farms, forests and pastures.

Source: www.bloomberg.com

This set of 15 maps on how land is used in the 48 contiguous U.S. states is a phenomenal resource to visualize how we use our land (admittedly this does exclude Alaska and Hawaii, but given that Alaska’s land use patterns can skew the patterns considerably).  This is especially useful in agricultural units, but has many other applications. 

Scoop.it Tags: agriculture, food production, land userural, USA.

WordPress TAGS: agriculture, food production, land use, rural, USA.

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