Thursday, December 1, 2011

Oxfam’s and ActionAid’s Climate Smart Agriculture policies will accentuate global hunger, not mitigate it! Part 2

Looming Global Hunger Crisis Hysteria based on shoddy research and cloaks a Machiavellian agenda

In May this year, Oxfam published their new report “Growing Better Future" and five months later ActionAid, their “On the Brink” report. Their key message was one and the same: We are hurling towards mass starvation on account of the synergistic impact of accelerating climate change; degradation of natural resources and untameable food price inflation in an over-populated planet.In the process, these NGOs elevated Malthus's reputation as a prognosticator to the Delphic levels of a Nostradamus.

This is Part II of the paper that critique the claim that “climate change” being responsible for high food prices and global hunger and concludes that at best these claims are  based on shoddy research and at worst cloaks a Machiavellian agenda. Part I is the introduction.  NGOs have changed the labels of their hysteria - from Global Warming to Global Hunger with the philosophical underpinnings of their programmes unchanged.  Part III explains how the advocacy of Climate Smart Agriculture and Renewable Energy furthers the eco-imperialistic agenda. Part 4 of this article deals with the attempt  of Western countries to finance such a programme by a Global Green Fund and carbon market at the on-going Climate Summit at Durban. However a huge section of African NGOs are  so upset about this funding linked to carbon trading that they signed an open letter to the leaders not to adopt this programme.

Climate Change (aka Global Warming) accelerating?


The ActionAid Report astonishingly claims that climate change (aka global warming) is accelerating. 

Here’s the latest monthly global temperature anomaly from the UAH satellite temperature dataset, developed at the University of Alabama in Huntsville-NOAA-NASA. Satellite temperature measurements are considered accurate to within three one-hundredths of a degree Centigrade (0.03 C) as compared to surface temperature measurements which have a much wider error rate. The baseline used for UAH is 1979, just a couple of years after the last global warming cycle (1977-2002) started. 

Temperature anomaly stood at just +0.1 degree, at the end of October, and should be well within the negative territory for November.  As also seen from the last 31 years UAH dataset, global temperatures peaked in 1999, the year of the super El Niño and trending flat ever since so much so that climate alarmist scientists, driven to desperation, are reduced to floating various theories to explain the missing heat.

What comes as a further setback to the global warming brigade is the latest draft IPCC Report predicting that "Climate Change Signals Expected to Be Relatively Small Over the Coming 20-30 Years".
In plain IPCC speak, warming is climate change while cooling is natural variability.  Accordingly, what IPCC is forecasting is the absence of global warming till 2030-2040 and by default, global cooling for the next 20-30 years. 

Global Agriculture Production in Decline?

The ActionAid report claims:

Scientists estimate that already global production of key staples, such as wheat and corn, has fallen by 3.8 per cent and 5.5 per cent respectively over the last three decades, as a result of climate change."

This is a remarkable statement as it contradicts over 50 years of global wheat and corn observational production data as shown in the above graphs. (Cornell University is the data source. Incidentally Cornell University has a collaborative relationship with Oxfam for their agriculture programmes, including their System Rice Intensification (SRI) programme!

Meanwhile Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive claimed “The food system is pretty well bust.”  Take a second look at the corn and wheat graphs given earlier. Does it look anything as food systems going bust’?  From the time Oxfam published their report, 2011-12 would be the second consequent year where India will record an all time bumper harvest, including rice which both these NGOs warn us that we are facing productivity declines!
So what does Oxfam exactly mean by food systems going ‘bust’? The narrative of their report explains 

“Global aggregate growth in yields averaged 2 per cent per year between 1970 and 1990, but plummeted to just over 1 per cent between 1990 and 2007. This decline is projected to continue over the next decade to a fraction of one per cent.”   

Oxfam says that yields are still rising, just not fast enough, though more and more are expected to be produced every year for the next decade. Oxfam projects that yield growth will continue to register increases but would be less than 1% throughout this decade. As this productivity growth rate is lower than the population growth rate, it creates a food security crisis in the future.

While there is evidence of plateauing of yields, it does not have anything to do with climate change. Eventually, we will reach the upper circuit, as there would be limits to the amount we can tweak or modify as what we are primarily dealing with are finite biological systems. Having said this, there are few problems which we come across with Oxfam’s basic argument. Oxfam for instance claims
“Climate change poses a grave threat to food production. First, it will apply a further brake on yield growth. Estimates suggest that rice yields may decline by 10 percent for each 1°C (1.8 °F) rise in dry-growing-season minimum temperatures. Second, it will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, which can wipe out harvests at a stroke.” 

Oxfam's claim that rice yields decline for every 1°C rise in temp is based on one study in the Philippines. A cursory reading of this study suggests the following:  

1.   If you thought research findings from a single country being globalized by Oxfam is bad enough, well, it gets even much worse. It turns out that the study is not even representative of the Philippines rice production itself! Data is from a single 100 sq metres experimental plot maintained by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and not from the farmer’s fields.

2.     Irrigated farms started using high input inorganic techniques since the 70s. What the data shows is that these farms 40 years later have not gone bust as Oxfam’s CEO claims but actually still increasing in yields though productivity rates are now falling. There we have it - hybrids yields maybe plateauing but not declining in yields.

3.  The data is confined to the (dry season Jan-April) whereas most of the rice in the Philippines, like in India is grown during the wet season Jun-Nov. This is rather peculiar since if we need to generalize we need to assess impact of increased temperature during the main growing season and not in a season that accounts for less than 10% of the production!

4.     Analysis was not based on raw temperature data. Temperature was adjusted in a CLICOM system developed by World Meteorological Organization (WMO) where historical weather data was imported into and factored also for daily global temperature set extreme values! As data relied on surface measurements which contained significant error rates, the touted 10% grain yield decline may or may not be anything significant.

5.     More importantly, the scientific understanding of minimum temperatures (Tmin) in relation to agricultural productivity is at present too rudimentary.  Besides plants respond to the impact of Tmin and Tmax (maximum temperature) collectively and not to their individual impacts separately. And yet, this study hypes the Tmin factor.

6.     The time line of the study is 1979-2003 - cherry picked to coincide with the last global warming cycle.  Since 2002 global temperatures have been trending flat and since 2010, found marginally declining.

7.     If Tmin reduces yields, how does Oxfam all time record rice harvest in India, two years in a row? Last year, Andhra farmers dumped their rice into the Krishna River to protest low prices due to the rice glut in India. And if prices do not increase this year, which seem the likely scenario, they might do it again as this year’s bumper rice harvest is expected to be even bigger than last year!

 India is categorized as 7th Most Vulnerable Nation??

To justify India’s categorization as the 7th most vulnerable nations in the world in their climate and hunger vulnerability scorecard, ActionAid makes this claim:

“Since 1999, the failure of the monsoon has adversely affected the soil, leaving land barren. In fact, half of India’s land is now classified as desertified. Since India’s land supports 16 per cent of the world’s population and 18 per cent of its livestock, these pressures alone play a major role in promoting desertification. India must develop climate-resilient crops, expand weather insurance mechanisms and promote better agricultural." 

While it is true the 1998-99 India suffered one of the worst droughts in recorded history, because of a super El Niño, we must keep in mind that this ActionAid report has been released in 2011, just a month ago. 12 years have passed and ActionAid chooses to speciously project the lingering imagery of 1999 drought as if this is constant, if not encouraging the perception that drought is an increasing phenomenon in the country. Obviously 1999 was cherry picked as it supported their argument, ignoring the ‘wet’ years e.g. during the last two years India received excess rains at 105% of its Long Period average (LPA).

But since we are talking of climate change, it is important to note that the IPCC models did not forecast increasing droughts for India. They forecasted instead more floods accompanying 15-20% excess rainfalls. This prediction was falsified by observational data with the Long Period Average (LPA) remaining fairly stable, with a minute negative departure that is not statistically significant.


The Indian Monsoon besides displays a 30 year dry-wet oscillating cycle as seen in the table. During the dry period, below average rainfall (and droughts) is relatively more frequent than excessive rainfall (and floods) and vice versa.  (Pls note: The rainfall data in the last row is till 2003 and incomplete as the current 30 year cycle ends in 2020.) 

Then comes an even more shocking statement by ActionAid - In fact, half of India’s land is now classified as desertified.”  ActionAid cited a Caritas article as source. Other than this statement, the article did not divulge either the methodology how this figure was derived or the secondary source of this information.

So based on just one sweeping statement of a NGO’s brief article and instilling the imagery of 1999 drought,  India was placed by ActionAid as the 7th most vulnerable nations in the world in their climate and hunger vulnerability scorecard!!!! And to think this score card was the central showcase of ActionAid’s Report!

Is Extreme Weather caused by Climate Change???

Oxfam  claimed that climate change: 

“will increase the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, which can wipe out harvests at a stroke.”  

And just 4 months after the release of the Oxfam report; the IPCC in their new draft report left Oxfam red faced by its following conclusions: 

- Widely-held assumptions that climate change is responsible for an upsurge in extreme drought, flood and storm events are not supported by a landmark review of the science.
- And a clear climate change signal would not be evident for decades because of natural weather variability.

So not only did the IPCC concede that the claim that weather extremes are  on account of climate change are not supported by scientific data, they further clarified, leave alone acceleration, the global warming signal would not detectable for the next 20-30 years (meaning it is taking a vacation) and  natural variability aka global cooling will be instead prevalent!

In fact we have already entered into a global cooling cycle which is the reason the coming season will be fourth in a row of harsh winters despite global warmists predicting the extinction of snow. But the real bad news is that the cooling cycle is most likely to accelerate after the maxima of the current solar cycle 24 which NASA predicts should be somewhere between 2013-2014.

So even as the planet is fast slipping into a whirl pool of a cooling cycle that could last 20-30 years and perhaps into a LIA phase that could last a century, here are some of the leading NGOs in the world advocating that agriculture be adapted to meet the challenges of accelerating global warming! Reports of NGOs launched with much media fanfare are turning out to be more exercises in buffoonery than serious advocacy!
This brings us to the next question, just what exactly is NGOs’ core competence in climate science? So lets examine their track record. Oxfam and ActionAid were reportedly among the same lot of NGOs found promoting ‘climate adaption’ to drought in Sri Lanka only to find the country hit by unprecedented floods early this year. Gaffes like this can easily reduce Sri Lanka, a food self-sufficient nation, to a net food importer. And if Sri Lanka goes to the global market to make up their shortfalls, it pushes up global food prices. And the irony is that these NGOs are now advocating for the adoption of climate smart agriculture models to bring down spiraling global food prices!
Similarly, they missed completely to anticipate the great drought in East Africa. And why won’t they when they were too busy trying to add up all the imaginary carbon footprints and finding ways to reduce them instead of tracking the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle. The IPCC climate models had in fact forecasted rainfall increase upto 20% in East Africa, a claim which now lies falsified. But NGOs treated the IPCC reports as a Bible. So to take advantage of increased water availability and soil moisture, these NGOs dutifully promoted water intensive cropping patterns, digging tube wells for irrigation while keeping silent on the evil carbon trading schemes which saw Western corporates descend on the region, grabbing arable land to grow monoculture biofuels, reducing local food production all in the name of climate mitigation measures.
The La Niña induced drought caught them on the wrong foot. Instead of owning up and apologizing for their mistakes, NGOs like ActionAid take to by deflecting blame from their own contributions to the East African drought by pointing fingers at climate change! At the same time, Oxfam International’s spokesperson Caroline Pearce expressed honesty (a commodity which is becoming increasingly rare in the NGO sector) - by blaming the East Africa drought on the IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs of the ’80s and ’90s that led to huge disinvestments in the agricultural sector.
“What we’re seeing now in poor agricultural systems partly relates to those kinds of policies. In many cases, we’re actually calling for things to be re-established that were dismantled under structural adjustment programs in the past.” 
Strangely, there is no mention of World Bank/IMF policies contribution to hunger in Oxfam's report. Is this because Climate Smart Agriculture is being pushed by the World Bank?

Has India Fallen into the Malthusian Trap?

The Oxfam Report warns:

“The earth’s population is expected to grow from around 6.9 billion today to 9.1 billion in 2050—an increase of one-third—by which time an estimated seven out of ten people worldwide will live in Low-Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs).”

Parson Thomas Robert Malthus 1798 essay on population inspired many self-styled Cassandra’s to use his work as a basis for predicting famine and global woe. The most famous of these was The Population Bomb, Paul Elrich’s overpopulation-panic classic bestseller of 1968. More recently we saw Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs citing Malthus to explain the dire state of Africa and Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson predicting a coming 20 years of global misery. The recent food crisis which pushed 100 million-plus people worldwide into absolute poverty and hunger apparently prompted NGOs like Oxfam and ActionAid to join this bandwagon.

Malthus's argument, in his Essay on the Principle of Population, begins with absolutism: 

"The quantity of land is the ultimate arbiter of how much can be produced, and the unwashed masses will always breed until they've used up the maximum productive capacity of the land. This leaves populations condemned to live on subsistence incomes, with birth rates matched by death rates, in turn determined by the difficulty of acquiring food. The only way to improve lives, Malthus concludes, is to shrink population sizes. Offering relief to the poor simply creates more miserable paupers."

Malthus lived long enough to see how wrong he was with quantity of land stopped being the primary determinant of a country's output and productivity did viz. producing more using less space. Global agricultural output has tripled since 1950 alone, while global GDP has increased eightfold. Out of 140 economies tracked by Maddison between 1950 and 2000, all expanded and only four didn't at least double in size. Eighty-eight percent saw rising incomes per capita (so much for a subsistence income), and none saw a decline in population.

Ester Boserup, a Danish economist, studied economical and agricultural development. Boserup worked at the United Nations as well as other international organizations, and wrote several books.

Her most notable book is The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure. This book presents a "dynamic analysis embracing all types of primitive agriculture."

The work undid the assumption that agricultural methods determine population (via food supply). Instead, Boserup argued that population determines agricultural methods. A major point of her book is that "necessity is the mother of invention". It was her great belief that humanity would always find a way and was quoted in saying "The power of ingenuity would always outmatch that of demand"

Given the choice between the alternate world views of gloom (Malthusian) and optimism (Boserup’s belief in human ingenuity), it is of no surprise that NGOs gave a thumbs up for the former as only a theory of global gloom can confer them continued social relevance which in turn can keep their cash registers ringing.

If India were to have fallen into a Malthusian trap, then its agricultural productivity growth rate should fall behind its population growth rate to create a food security crisis.  So what do observational data tell us?

Food grain production in the country grew at an average 1.98 per cent during 2004-05 to 2008-09, which was higher than the average rate of population growth of 1.50 per cent during the same period, Minister of Agriculture, KV Thomas informed the Rajya Sabha in a written reply.

The last fiscal, Indian agriculture expanded at the rate of 5.4%, spurred by a phenomenal food grain production jump - more than 10% to a record 241.56 million tonne; and includes rice production which Oxfam claims is declining due to higher Tmin! That this was not a fluke is indicated by India being poised to equal or exceed this growth rate this fiscal viz 2011-2012. 

Sharad Pawar, India’s Union Minister for Agriculture in a written reply to parliament stated that India achieved a 3.2 per cent growth in agriculture in the first four years of its 11th Plan. A 3.2 per cent growth rate is over double the country’s population growth rate and despite such performance Oxfam warns:

"India is pointing to a future in which agriculture struggles to keep pace with the demands associated with a growing population.”

Even in 2009-2010, the year of the super El Niño induced drought where India experienced a rainfall deficiency of nearly 20%, agriculture even then managed to keep its head in positive territory, clocking a 0.4% growth rate - a feat India achieved by increasing the drought proofing its agriculture by the expansion of its so called energy intensive irrigation capacity in the country with irrigated share of crop land crossing 60% and which is still climbing.

Oxfam cites for most of its argument of declining yields a FAO report. But the same FAO report offers a caveat: 

"As noted by many authors, global food production is sufficient, at the moment, to cover global consumption needs (c.f. FAO, 2008b)”   

This simply means according to the FAO that there is no food crisis at the moment as reflected in India’s agriculture performance and the so called future crisis of 2050 are based on model projections based on a whole series of assumptions and myth of global warming.

Is Rising Food Prices linked to Climate Change? 

Action Aid:

“Rising food prices – as a result of rapid population growth, stagnating yields and the conversion of cropland into biofuels production – is the third part of the crisis.”

"Companies  and investors are cashing in, while food-insecure governments are rushing to secure supply...80 percent of projects reported in the media are undeveloped, and only 20 percent had begun actual farming.

...About 80 percent of palm oil ends up in food, but a growing amount is used for biodiesel. .Our hunger for palm oil appears insatiable. Demand is expected to double from 2010 to 2025. This holds terrifying implications for the rainforests of Indonesia, where every minute plantations eat one more hectare (2.5 acres) further into one of the planet’s most carbon rich major ecosystems.”...The biofuel lobby consists of an unlikely alliance of agribusiness, farmers’ unions, energy companies, and input companies.... Biofuel mandates such as the RFS, or those of Canada and the EU, introduce into food markets major sources of new demand that are inflexible in the face of changes in supply, amplifying price movements. And by making crops a substitute for oil, biofuels facilitate price contagion between energy markets and food markets....Some companies’ activities create volatility in the first place, such as the diversion of food crops to biofuels.

... Rich-country governments responded with hypocrisy, professing alarm while continuing to throw billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money at their bloated biofuel industries, diverting food from mouths to gas tanks...Meanwhile the profits of global agribusiness companies rocketed, the returns of speculators soared, and a new wave of land-grabbing kicked off in the developing world, as private and state investors sought to cash in or to secure supply.

...Certainly, the fundamentals that determine long-term food prices are shifting, especially rising demand in emerging economies, although it is not a convincing explanation for short-term price spikes. The dependency of the food system on oil for transport and fertilizers is a key factor in both, as oil prices are expected to rise in the long term and to become increasingly volatile.

....Food markets may also be increasingly linked to financial markets. Holdings in commodity index funds (the principal vehicle for pure financial investments in agricultural commodities) rocketed from $13 billion in 2003 to $317 billion in 2008,106 as investors stampeded to a safe haven from capital markets in meltdown. Many observers argue that excessive speculation in commodities futures has amplified food price movements and may have played a role in the 2008 food price spike.”


So when the headlines of ActionAid and Oxfam reports blame climate change for high food prices, we find absolutely nothing to substantiate this link in the narratives of their report.
Both NGOs categorically single out biofuels as a primary cause for high food prices. But the moot question is what caused this biofuel boom in the first place? These NGOs are too embarrassed to admit.  As we all know, bio-fuels were one of the frontline climate mitigation solutions peddled by climate alarmists, including NGOs. First NGOs lapped up biofuel enthusiastically as a climate mitigation solution and then sat on the fence for some time as its adverse effects started to trickle in and it is only the last 3-4 years that these NGOs started actively campaigning against biofuels and calling for its ban.
They exhibit selective amnesia of their own guilt of promoting biofuels in various parts of the world and by default, contributing to high food prices and global hunger. So while the likes of Oxfam and ActionAid now spit fire and brimstone on biofuels, there is no apology forthcoming for their own complicity in promoting hunger and poverty in developing countries

Food prices have risen in the last couple of years, but not because we're reaching the limits of our productive capacity to prevent global starvation. The largest factor behind recent price increases is U.S. subsidies that divert 80 million-plus tons of corn into ethanol production each year, World Bank economist Donald Mitchell calculated.

And though today's global population of 6.8 billion is more than nine times what it was at Malthus's birth, some experts reckon we could support a population that's twice as big or more without running out of food. Indeed, 1.6 billion people on the planet today are overweight -- far more than the 1 billion who are undernourished. And the ubiquitous decline in fertility worldwide suggests that giving poor people a little more money and education really would permanently reduce the number of malnourished.

It is interesting how Oxfam virulently condemns the land grabbing in Africa but make it out to be attributed to the 2008 food price spike and not the evil of carbon credits and trading system, a part of their climate mitigation solutions, that propelled these land grabs in the first place. How can they when Oxfam is supporting the financing of carbon smart agriculture programmes under a structure that includes also carbon trading? In this respect, at least ActionAid displays courage to take a principled stand against carbon trading. 


More interestingly, Oxfam observes by publishing the above graph:

“The dependency of the food system on oil for transport and fertilizers is a key factor in both, as oil prices are expected to rise in the long term and to become increasingly volatile “  

However they fight shy to publish a similar graph establishing the correlation between food prices on one hand and global temperatures and/or agricultural growth rates on the other hand. Why? The answer is obvious. There is simply no correlation between food prices and the climate” or agriculture production”

Here ends Part II. To go to PART III (CLICK HERE)

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