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Archived | Themes bookclub 2011 > 1. Food Security

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message 1: by Muphyn (last edited Jan 03, 2011 12:59AM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke had a fabulous new idea around thematic reads... Just to kick start it, the first one is "Food Security" - Marieke can tell you the rest! ;) (I can't remember, do we stick with it for two months or three??? What did we agree on?)


message 2: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i don't think we came to a final consensus--i think because i'm flaky we should do it every two months. i'll post the new theme whenever we set up the poll for the Tour; that way people can be cogitating before the first of the month/new discussion.

Soooo...the idea behind this thematic reading project is that we have will have a randomly chosen theme to focus on. members then suggest and/or read books about the theme as it pertains to Africa and share their thoughts. they can be non-fiction or fiction. hopefully these threads will develop into dynamic discussions (no pressure! hahahaha).

with that in mind, has anyone read any particularly provocative books dealing with food security? or does anyone know of some that they have wanted to read?


message 3: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i think the concept of "food security" is somewhat clear, but i guess i should post some kind of definition. Wikipedia provides a very straightforward definition of, "Food security refers to the availability of food and one's access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation."

from my understanding, food security can be affected by a number of factors that can be inter-related: natural disaster, war, famine, policy decisions, economic structures, social traditions, etc.


message 4: by Muphyn (last edited Jan 03, 2011 03:00PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments I must admit my ignorance here as I've never really thought about 'food security' - I suspect though that it's the term itself as I've thought, read, learned, etc. about hunger and famine... Thanks for the definition, Marieke, very helpful!!

I've got no ideas for book suggestions but I'd be very interested to hear what other members have read and get "inspired" to delve more into the topic.


message 5: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
it doesn't have to be linked to famine. for instance, in some societies, households become food insecure if key members die (for whatever reason). i haven't had a chance to dig around yet to find some good examples of books that address this problem.


message 6: by Matt (new)

Matt | 13 comments "Two Ears of Corn" is a book that has been applied in a a lot of grass-roots situations. It's popular amongst PCVs because of the low-tech approach and simplicity of implementation.


message 7: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Thanks, Matt! That is not one i have heard of...Two Ears of Corn: A Guide to People-Centered Agricultural Improvement ...is that the correct one?


message 8: by Muphyn (last edited Jan 04, 2011 03:47PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments just my ignorance again... what are PCVs?


message 9: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I'm pretty sure those are peace corp volunteers...?


message 10: by LDB (new)

LDB | 66 comments Food insecurity can also be when families or individuals do not receive enough nutrients. Some staple foods, such as cassava or rice, are not high in nutrients. So, for poor families that are unable to add higher nutrient elements (vegetables, meats, etc) to their diet, they may remain food insecure even if they have plenty of the staple food available. On one side food security is related to agriculture and food availability. On another side, it is related to health and nutrition and how people use food.

Food security is the big international development issue right now, with the large Feed the Future Initiative in the US being led by the US Agency for International Development (http://www.feedthefuture.gov/). There are a growing number of non-fiction books out there on food security, although I don't have any to recommend. I look forward to learning of ones that others have read and enjoyed.


message 11: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
good point, LDB! thanks, i had not thought about it from that angle although it makes a lot of sense. i need to check my bookshelves at work to see if i have anything that addresses food security...i feel like i must but nothing is coming to mind.


message 12: by Katy (new)

Katy | 81 comments Marieke wrote: "it doesn't have to be linked to famine. for instance, in some societies, households become food insecure if key members die (for whatever reason). i haven't had a chance to dig around yet to find s..."

In the early 2000s in Zimbabwe, food insecurity was largely political (although drought also played a role). This was because the commercial farms, owned almost exclusively by white farmers, were invaded in 2000 and production of maize, the staple food, dropped drastically. And when the UN's World Food Programme wanted to bring food into Zim, they were at first denied; when given permission, there were reports that the food was being given only to people who could demonstrate membership in ZANU-PF (Mugabe's party).

He's such a thug.


message 13: by Katy (new)

Katy | 81 comments Marieke wrote: "I'm pretty sure those are peace corp volunteers...?"

Yep. And RPCVs are returned peace corps volunteers. :)

Katy G.
RPCV, Zimbabwe


message 14: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments I'm getting really interested in reading some books about this... somehow this entire topic has slipped past me *shakes sad ignorant head*... ;) (Thanks for all the explanations etc., keep them coming! ;) )


message 15: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
i browsed the catalog at work briefly today and everything i was finding was quite academic. but there were a number of edited volumes from over the years that *might* be relatively accessible if anyone was feeling up to it. i think for the purposes of this group it would be great to find a a few journalists who have written on this topic or if anyone can think of novels/short stories that feature this issue.


message 16: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Katy wrote: "Marieke wrote: "I'm pretty sure those are peace corp volunteers...?"

Yep. And RPCVs are returned peace corps volunteers. :)

Katy G.
RPCV, Zimbabwe"


:D

how many times have you gone back? do you imagine you'll volunteer in another country at some point?


message 17: by Katy (new)

Katy | 81 comments Marieke wrote:
:D

how many times have you gone ..."


I was able to go to Zim twice during the two years that I lived in South Africa, but I didn't get to visit my host family or the school where I taught. I hope to do that someday. And yes, I think about the possibility of doing Peace Corps again; maybe when I retire. :) If I'm ever able to retire...


message 18: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I hear you on retirement! We better all find something we really love to do because we will have to do it for a long time... :(


message 19: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments One issue that has come up in my husband's family fairly recently is the issue of growing a cash crop versus a subsistence crop. In a large extended family like ours, some of the ancestral property has always been used for subsistence crops like maize and beans, with the produce going, sometimes by way of fairly complicated trading around, to whoever needs it. But last year, some of my husband's brothers decided to grow wheat, sell the produce and then use some of the resulting cash to buy food if necessary. Long story short, bad wheat year and now all those of us with a cash income will be buying food for the poorer ones. If some of us didn't have cash income, or just didn't want to take responsibility for the shortfall, some people (particularly one widow with children) in the family would be scrounging for enough to eat. So it can be a complex issue of resource decisions too. I'm sure somebody must have written about this, as it's a fascinating issue.


message 20: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments This book is older, but looks interesting. Ill Fares the Land: Essays on Food, Hunger and Power


message 21: by LDB (new)

LDB | 66 comments One of the big challenges for subsistence farmers is often that the subsistence crops (like corn or cassava) are relatively easier to grow than some of the higher nutrient crops (vegetables that need irrigation; higher nutrient sweet potatoes, etc.). The hardier the crop, the more likely it will survive a bad year. So, when subsistence farmers dedicate even a portion of their small parcel of land to something new, they run a high risk of not being able to even feed the family if there isn't enough rain (or too much rain) or bad inputs (seeds, fertilizer, etc).

I find the topic of food security, which I feel like I have been living and breathing for work since about October, fascinating partly because it is such a complex issue, with aspects of agriculture, health, nutrition, vulnerability to shocks, household mentalities, the roles of men and women in household decisions, nutrition in pregnant/lactating women, etc. Food security touches on so many of the development issues out there that in a way it is a part of every book you read about poverty while at the same time it doesn't make much of an interesting story since it is such a way of life for a majority of the world's population.


message 22: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I just saw this article about the AU's plans for improving food security continent-wide. It mentions a new bookThe New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, literally brand-new! i wonder if it is interesting?


message 23: by Matt (new)

Matt | 13 comments Andrea, thanks for bringing up the issue of cash cropping. It's a very deep issue in most African countries. A lot of the West African farmers I knew didn't want anything to do with it simply because they couldn't grow competitively with the subsidized farmers in western countries, cotton is a prime example. I heard that the 2002 civil war in Cote D'Ivoire was funded in part by chocolate money (cocoa plantation cash cropping). BBC ran a story about traditional farmers in Cote leaving their lands to work cocoa plantations (whole families, including children) and finding themselves essentially indentured to the owner of the cocoa plantation.

It always amazed me seeing American and Asian rice for sale in West African markets.


message 24: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments When I first arrived in Kenya, I wanted to buy fruit juice. But the only kind I could find packaged was imported from Israel or South Africa (this was 1998). Now, one can buy mango juice in glass bottles that is produced in Kenya, but not orange or pineapple or passion fruit juice, although Kenya grows lots of those fruits. Most of the passion fruit juice gets exported, I think, but maybe Kenyans just wouldn't buy packaged juice so there's not much of a market?


message 25: by Manu (new)

Manu (manuherb) | 166 comments Andrea, that surprised me. There are any number of fruit juice manufacturers supplying the local market in Ghana. Blue Skies at Nsawam, reported to employ nearly 1000 workers, must be the largest. I don't recognize all the brands turned up by a web search (Boobo, Pinora, Milani, Papso . . .) but that's because we squeeze our own juice at home from fresh fruit. Having Googled "Ghana fruit juice" I decided to check "Kenya fruit juice" and found an instructive article at http://allafrica.com/stories/20100123... It seems that change is on the way.


message 26: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Thanks for the reference, Manu. I will look for more about this project.


message 27: by Wendy (new)

Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments Katy wrote: "Marieke wrote: "it doesn't have to be linked to famine. for instance, in some societies, households become food insecure if key members die (for whatever reason). i haven't had a chance to dig arou..."

Peter Godwin's When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa did a fairly good job (IMO) discussing the issue of food insecurity and the role played by Mugabe and his "war vets" in dismantling very productive farms via his land redistribution program. I also thought Deborah Scoggins Emma's War made some interesting points about food aid and how it can be used and abused by the "bad guys."


message 28: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Wendy wrote: "Katy wrote: "Marieke wrote: "it doesn't have to be linked to famine. for instance, in some societies, households become food insecure if key members die (for whatever reason). i haven't had a chanc..."

i really want to read that Godwin book. and i really want/need to reread Emma's War. it keeps staring at me...


message 29: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I just saw a short piece about South Africa's plan to improve food security.


message 30: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Wendy wrote: "Katy wrote: "Marieke wrote: "it doesn't have to be linked to famine. for instance, in some societies, households become food insecure if key members die (for whatever reason). i haven't had a chanc..."

It is time for me to read these books, I've been keeping them on my shelves for far too long. And as you indicate, Wendy, they'll probably help me understand a little bit more about food security.

Anybody got any other book suggestions? (Marieke, thanks for the link to "The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa", that sounds interesting too!)


message 31: by Wendy (new)

Wendy (wendywoo) | 82 comments I wish I knew of some books that are more specifically on point to this topic. I really enjoyed reading the 2 that I mentioned, but the food issues are more incidental in each book rather than the main focus. Still, worth reading if you can get around to it.


message 32: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments I mentioned this book on another thread, but I thought it was very good and does address the issue of aid and food security. The Crisis Caravan


message 33: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 171 comments I just want to mention that I really like this new theme thread - I don't have very much to contribute to this particular topic but have learned a lot just reading others comments. I've added several to my TBR list.


message 34: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Melanie wrote: "I just want to mention that I really like this new theme thread - I don't have very much to contribute to this particular topic but have learned a lot just reading others comments. I've added seve..."

Me too!! That was an awesome idea, Marieke!! :D


message 35: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod

actually, it was mostly at Alex's urging, or something. i don't know. i didn't really come up with this idea on my own. but i'm glad people like it! i'll randomly generate a new theme for March and April unless someone tells me it makes more sense to change it on the 1st of each month.


message 36: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: "
actually, it was mostly at Alex's urging, or something. i don't know. i didn't really come up with this idea on my own. but i'm glad people like it! i'll randomly generate a new theme for March an..."


Yes, please do!!


message 37: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
please do which? please generate a new theme for March/April or a new theme now? i'm happy to do whichever.


message 38: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: "please do which? please generate a new theme for March/April or a new theme now? i'm happy to do whichever."

*laugh* totally missed that!! ;) Go with the bi-monthly theme change (ie. new theme for March/April) unless others wanted a new theme now??


message 39: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 171 comments Bi-monthly works for me.


message 40: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
haha. okay, i'll keep as originally planned. new topic will appear in march! :D

and melanie, let me know if there are topics you'd like added to the randomizer. somewhere around here we have a list we started...


message 41: by Muphyn (last edited Feb 01, 2011 10:06PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: ...somewhere around here we have a list we started...

It's here... http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/4... :)


message 42: by Melanie (new)

Melanie | 171 comments Marieke wrote: "haha. okay, i'll keep as originally planned. new topic will appear in march! :D

and melanie, let me know if there are topics you'd like added to the randomizer. somewhere around here we have a lis..."


Will do - thanks!


message 43: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
oops! it's March! i need to get a new topic listed! but this thread will of course remain open. because you never know when you will run across articles like this one...Gates Foundation, Monsanto, Cargill, and food security in Africa???


message 44: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Thanks for the link, Marieke, that's a really interesting article! I know so little about the Gates Foundation (other than they have enormous budgets and fund projects with millions of $). I surprised that (according to the article) they don't partner with local communities or NGOs that work with local communities. Their approach seems to be quite research-focussed, especially on genetic engineering...


message 45: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new)

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I just saw this on Twitter: Democracy Now! covering new reports by the Oakland Institute. The Democracy Now! blurb says:

A new report raises questions about the connection of Harvard, Vanderbilt and other U.S. universities to European financial interests buying or leasing vast areas of African farmland. Called “Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa,” the report by the Oakland Institute claims farmers in Africa are being driven off their lands to make way for new industrial farming projects backed by hedge funds seeking profits and foreign countries looking for cheap food. We speak with Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute. “We have heard about the role of these private hedge funds in food speculation and speculation of food prices because they control commodities” says Mittal. “But when they start buying even the means of production, they control labor, large tracks of land, they control water, it is the kind of vertical integration of the food system we have never seen before.”


message 46: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Off the African topic, but perhaps germane, I just returned from visiting my family in Iowa (middle of the U.S.). Many Iowa farmers have sold their family farms to large food/pharm companies or have incorporated their family holdings into corporations. Even many of the large prosperous family farms I knew as a kid have abandoned houses. At first it was sad, now it's just kind of spooky.


message 47: by Tinea, Nonfiction Logistician (last edited Aug 16, 2011 10:29AM) (new)

Tinea (pist) | 421 comments Mod
My work has me researching causes of the developing famine in East Africa right now, and I wanted to recommend the following book for a readable if fiercely frustrated aid worker's perspective on structural causes of food insecurity in Somalia. The book is about 10 years old, and unfortunately relevant today.

The Road to Hell The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity by Michael Maren The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity


message 48: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Thanks Millicent! Interesting title... I'll check it out.


message 49: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 660 comments Wow, quite the title alright! Thanks, Millicent.


message 50: by Friederike (new)

Friederike Knabe (fknabe) | 162 comments Sorry, I missed this discussion earlier. Lots of good comments. I just wanted to add the topical problem of "Western (and Chinese) Landgrab in Africa". Western companies buy huge area of lands in Africa to use either for planting bio-fuel crops or use it otherwise, often depriving the local farmers of their subsistence for survival. The argument goes that the land is of poor quality and not suitable for "quality" agriculture, therefore "useless". What is overlooked (deliberately I would say) that what we term poor land may not be such for the local farmers who grow a variety of local foods on the land. The traditional landownership rules facilitate these landgrabs because farmers cannot "prove" they have title to the land... Material on this topic may not yet be reflected in books, but it is coming from Southern sources in any form of papers and studies.

On the general question of Food Security, I can also recommend Bringing the Food Economy Home


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