Monday, March 14, 2011

Five Second: Economist on the new food regime; Part 2

Comparing biofuels: “Brazil gets eight units of energy for every unit that goes into making it, so the process is relatively efficient and environmentally friendly. In contrast, American ethanol produces only 1.5 units of energy output per unit of input…”

Preventing waste: “Grain is often heaped on the ground and covered with a sheet: no wonder the rats get at it. Losses could be reduced by building new silos and better roads and providing more refrigeration, but those things are expensive. … If Western waste could be halved and the food distributed to those who need it, the problem of feeding 9 billion people would vanish.

“But it can’t. Western spoilage is a result of personal habit and law. Education or exhortation might make a difference, but the extent of waste is partly a reflection of prices: food is cheap enough for consumers not to worry about chucking it out, and prices seem unlikely to rise by enough to change that attitude.”

Introducing a dairy to western Kenya doubled farmer milk income. The article covers major improvements in seed availability, but infrastructure still lags behind seriously: “When India began its Green Revolution in the 1960s, it had 388km of paved roads per 1,000 sq km of land, and only about a quarter of its farmland was irrigated. Ethiopia now has just 39km of roads per 1,000 sq km, and less than 4% of its land is irrigated.”

A lengthy section also on livestock, on the difficulty of scaling up backyard operations and the economic value of moving to battery systems for instance. Did you know that “India has the world’s largest dairy herd”? “China raised it output of both eggs and milk tenfold.” The article is also bullish on genetically-assisted breeding. Not modification, but tagging genes to make the breeding process much faster.

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