Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Camel milk chocolate

camel milk chocolateThe supply chain for food and ornamental plants for Dubai's population and tourists extends all over the world - seafood from Canada, Halal meat from China, pomegranates from Afghanistan, cut flowers from Ecuador and Colombia, indoor plants from Holland and mediterranean plants from Italy. The Gulf region has had varying success with attempts at increasing local food production with eye-poppingly energy and water guzzling schemes like wheat growing, shrimp farming and mass imports of cows from Australia. The locally produced flowers adorning Dubai's parks, hotels and offices are similarly ambitious and ecologically destructive, there are rose farms in the desert and millions of petunias that need watering.

But there could be a (relative, minor) outbreak of sanity in Dubai's food manufacturing with a new product where one of its main components is actually working with the desert conditions. Chocolate made with camels' milk is making its way to the shelves all around the world. It will be a very niche item as apparently only Dubai has the appropriate facilities to manufacture this premium product, and there are only two camel farms in the country. Other ingredients will come from around the world including honey from Yemen and vanilla from Madagascar.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Food Inc trailer

The film Food Inc, made by Robert Kenner, is screening in the US, hope it goes worldwide. Looks like an amazing insight into the reality of massive industrial food supply chains. The reality of food production is kept very secret, in the US it is illegal to criticise food products and taking photographs of food processing plants may also be prohibited. The reality of how the products are made is increasingly at odds with whimsical marketing of a long gone farming landsape and culture. As for the food, the processed meat products are everywhere, and even vegetarians may have been perplexed by the 'notional tomato' with hardly any flavour.

The movie website has loads of info, I like the Hungry For Change part with the interactive school cafeteria.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Water awareness

A new installation has been launched at Heathrow Airport, a giant 6 metre high pump in the Terminal 5 departures concourse to raise awareness of the water pumps in developing countries which water brand One Water donates all its it profits to. Passengers can donate by text or through buying bottles of One Water, with over 2 million bottles already sold at Heathrow’s retail empire. It’s brilliant to raise awareness and funds for practical programmes to the 1 billion people without access to clean water, but does it have to be by buying bottled water? Whatever the merits of One Water, there is still a lot of packaging and transportation involved.

It’s like buying a fur coat to promote animal rights or eating veal to show support for vegetarianism. It reminds me of British Airways sponsoring an ice rink at the British Natural History Museum, considering their contribution to climate change. Or Heathrow Airport roping some local children into planting 2,500 trees to create a woodland that, according to Airport Watch, the UK umbrella group opposing unconstrained airport expansion, would be unlikely to survive if the contentious third runway goes ahead.

As for having an exhibition about water at an airport. Airports use a huge amount of water and pollute waterways with de-icing chemicals like glycol. I didn’t go to Heathrow Airport to see the water installation or go out to buy some One Water. Instead I took a walk around Bilberry Reservoir in Kirklees, this photo caught the sun on it quite well. Somehow though, by the time our water comes out of the tap it tastes very chlorinated, maybe if there was less chlorine or it was filtered better more people would be happy to drink tap water. I’ve got one of those filter jug things.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Will Kenya's flower exports help the hunger crisis?

Yet another report extolling the supposed benefits of air freighted horticulture (flowers, fruit and vegetables) in Sub-Saharan Africa. This one, Sustainable Development in a Changing Climate, emanates from the UK government’s House of Commons International Development Committee. As usual, the argument that air freighted food and flowers can result in lower greenhouse gas emissions rests on a single study by Cranfield University for supermarket supplier World Flowers. Carried out in 2007, this study compared the supply chain to the UK of air freighted roses grown near Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley in Kenya with similar roses grown in a heated greenhouse in the Netherlands. Whilst this study showed that the Kenyan roses resulted in lower greenhouse gas emissions than the Dutch roses it is just one small scale study and does not apply to the entire air freighted horticulture sector, with produce often carried on connecting flights criss-crossing the globe.

Along with greenhouse gas emissions there are other environmental impacts to consider, as documented in the 2008 report by Food and Water Watch and The Council of Canadians Lake Naivasha: Withering Under the Assault of International Flower Vendors. Over 30 commercial flower farms siphoning off water with canals dug around the lake, restricting access to the lake by blocked corridors so cannot provide water for livestock including Masai cattle grazing, depleting biodiversity, and contaminating the wider environment with toxic pesticides and fertilizers. The chemicals are also poisoning workers, many of whom are not provided with protective clothing. The report highlights wider issues of poor labour standards, low wages and mass sackings which led to protests at the Oserian flower farm, which supplies over 1 billion cut flowers per year, in 2006. While exporting flowers effectively exports enormous amounts of embedded water as a flower is 90 per cent water, there were instances of wages insufficient even for a farmer to purchase water for their family.

Yet the IDC report maintains that horticulture exports are crucial for development and supporting livelihoods. While the export earnings from Kenya’s air freighted horticulture, predominantly flowers, may be impressive, up 64 per cent in 2007 to over $644,000,000, these earnings from fertile land which could feed Kenyan people, are not filtering down to people whose basic food needs are not being met. As with many other countries Kenya’s hunger situation is getting worse. The Kenyan president declared a national disaster in 2008 with nearly a third of the 34 million population facing food shortages due with displacement and disruption post election violence and crop failures exacerbated by drought a key factor in ongoing food crisis in 2009 affecting areas of Kenya including the Rift Valley. By June this year some areas of the Rift Valley have had no rain for several months. In June the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) launched a new food appeal for the Horn of Africa, especially urgent for Kenya because of the widespread famine and worsening conditions.

One organisation contributing to the IDC report, the Overseas Development Institute suggests air freighted produce from Africa might be labelled as ‘good for development’, but there is insufficient evidence that paying growers a pittance for ornamental flowers, something we don’t need, and wrecking the planet in the process, is the best way to lift people out of poverty. In importing countries like the UK the debate has become highly polarised, and the horticulture exports are still a contentious issue in Kenya as well. Just days after the publication of the IDC report, IBECA, the Indigenous Biodiversity Environmental Conservation Association in Kenya began campaigning for a boycott of 30 flower farms around Lake Naivasha, and protestors prevented a farm from extracting water through a deep canal.

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