Ep. 2: How to Work with Hard to Work with Markets

In our second episode, we’ll discover the market that feeds 80% of the population in developing countries.

Listen here:

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Colombia must get rich fast, data rich that is

In 2013, hundreds of thousands of Colombian farmers engaged in acts of civil disobedience in what is now remembered as one of the most important agrarian strikes the country has faced. Hungry for effective and long-term agricultural public policy, farmers and supporters blocked the country’s main roads for weeks.

38% of Colombian territory is used for agriculture [i], a land area approximately twice the size of The United Kingdom and about the same size as the state of California. For all its magnitude, Colombia is notorious for its lack of agricultural data. Only two agricultural censuses have ever been completed (1960 and 1970) and both of them covered roughly only half of the country. Virtually every report that assesses the Colombian agricultural sector made available by the government or an external agency, highlights the need for better production and distribution of agricultural information. In an article recently published in the journal Global Food Security, the country has been classified with only two other South American countries (Bolivia and Uruguay) in the category high priority for improving cropland maps.

Despite announcing that the results of the third national agricultural census, which was motivated by the 2013 agrarian strike, were going to be publicly available in 2015, no such information can be found online.

My social media conversation with the Colombian statistics department. The meteorological institute (IDEAM) was quick to point out that the census was not their responsibility. The statistics department has not answered.

My social media conversation with the Colombian statistics department. The meteorological institute (IDEAM) was quick to point out that the census was not their responsibility. The statistics department has not answered.

Colombia has an impressive agricultural potential due to its topographic characteristics and location, which create a variety of soils and landscapes that can sustain a broad production of known commodities which include coffee, flowers, sugar and a myriad of ecosystem services. With all its biodiversity it could be home to responsible businesses within a blooming agricultural sector. Mining and fossil fuel extraction are not sustainable ways of managing Colombia’s natural resources but these industries thrive because, amongst many other reasons, they have enough data and information to operate and generate an income for the many Colombian families that need it.

Extreme weather events, such as drought and floods, are increasing the country’s agricultural vulnerability. The 2008 – 2011 coffee leaf rust outbreak (roya), most likely weather-driven by increased precipitation, resulted in an estimated loss of 12 million sacks of coffee – roughly the equivalent to the yield of an entire yield. The 2010-2011 flood events are estimated to have caused losses of around $7.8 billion in reconstruction and governmental subsidies costs. In 2014, drought intensified the ongoing food insecurity of indigenous groups in the Northern Guajira Peninsula. All these events have collateral effects beyond agriculture that include reduced newborn health.

These threats, predicted to increase in frequency, call for organised and informed public policy, which has at its core a thorough recognition of the country’s current capabilities through rigorous agricultural data collection. That’s why Colombia must get rich fast, data rich that is.

[i] Total area 1,109,000 square kilometres, agricultural area (421,420 square kilometres)


How healthy is your ocean?

The category Cool Initiatives is a space where I like to briefly summarise and highlight projects and programmes in agriculture that work towards increasing food security and that I find cool. It’s important to say, cool for me means many things. From implementation of important theories, such as participative action research, to the use of novel tools to support old traditions, cool can mean different things but in each post I make sure I highlight why is the theme in question: “cool”.

In this week’s feedback video I asked professor Tim Lenton if ocean acidification was uneven since warmer oceans absorb less carbon dioxide than cooler oceans. I asked that because I’m from Colombia, a country very close to the equator with warm coasts on the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean and I was wondering how vulnerable is Colombian marine life.

Well, I found something very interesting! It’s called the Ocean Health Index and what I plan to do in this post is describe what it is in the most straightforward way possible and then discuss the score for Colombia.

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A very unscientific explanation of how shells are formed

Ever since I’ve started working for this MOOC, I can’t help but see it everywhere. Walking around the Tate Britain this past weekend I came across these six shelfs of shells – carbon cycle anyone?

In between some funny letters and a video of a man without pants, Damien Hirst – Forms Without Life (1991) at the Tate Britain. Last week’s reflection finished with this question: How do certain organisms form shells by grabbing carbon from the ocean and layering it onto their backs?
This curiosity comes from previous weeks when it was mentioned that certain organisms make skeletons and shells that they use during their lives and when they die *sad face*, these structures sink to the deep ocean floor and with time and pressure become part of what today we buurrrrrn relentlessly: fossil fuels.
Well, the process by which organisms form minerals is called biomineralization. If you are familiar with the specialised language of this discipline, then go ahead and read this paper and skip to the last bit of this post (Questions for upcoming weeks and other stuff),  if you’re not and you want to get a brief overview, here is my digest about how this magical (biochemical) process works.
There are two types of biomineralization processes:
• Biologically induced: comes from the interaction of biological activity and the environment.
• Biologically controlled: the organism controls the creation of the biomineral.

Shells correspond to the second type of biomineralization, as do our teeth and bones. We make biominerals too!
This type of biominerals are characterized for having complex morphologies, controlled aggregation and texture, preferential crystallographic orientation, well defined structures and compositions and high levels of spacial organisation. I think we can tell all this from just looking at them, dreamy and full of math.

Biominerals are made from, well, both mineral and organic components. 50% of biominerals contain calcium with calcium carbonate as the most abundant compound. Carbon dioxide near seawater breaks down into carbon and sea organisms like molluscs and fish turn some of it into calcium carbonate (CaCO3).
How do shells grow? An answer by a non-artist & non-conchologist:
Shells contain 2% protein and the rest of the material precipitated (or layered) is a mix of different biominerals, I came across this very useful metaphor to understand the role of protein in building shells: the steel and concrete analogy. Protein works as steel forming the matrix and the mineral acts as the concrete that will be poured onto this matrix. Shells have 3 layers, the top layer is called periostracum and is made from a protein called conchiolin. The layer closest to the mantle is also known as nacre, the iridescent substance made from crystal aragonite platelets which disperse light and make it so beautiful. Mantle tissue inside the shell secretes the mineral and protein from the inside out – the oldest layer is on the outermost part of the shell and youngest layer is closest to the mantle tissue. Questions for upcoming weeks and other stuff
So, some questions have been answered. However, calcium carbonate is alkaline (pH 9.91) and since carbon dioxide is absorbed by seawater lowering carbonate ion concentration, a.k.a. ocean acidification, what’s the relationship between this and all the living systems in the ocean that produce and use calcium carbonate?
Week 5 I look forward to you.
In the mean time, let me finish this post by saying that I share the same sentiment as fellow blogger Penny Insole who said that she didn’t find this week’s content as challenging as week 2. Me too! Everything was pretty straightforward, except the bit about how Antarctica loses mass and how its ice melts.
I’d like to add that I found some of the resources useful because my dissertation (still cold as Snowball Earth) involves climate change and trying to link it to the recent coffee rust outbreak in the American continent, particularly in Colombia. Coffee rust is a fungus that needs free moisture to germinate and guess what I found on the extreme events tool? Well, well, well, if it isn’t an extreme rain and flood event in 2011 in Colombia related to La Niña. Heavy rainfall and floods related to La Niña in 2011 – this is an awesome clue. Anyway, statistics will tell if there is a true relationship between this extreme rainfall event and the devastating coffee rust outbreak. I’ll definitely talk more about my dissertation in September when it’s done.
If you enjoy climate tools like this, why not check out the great climate analogues tool.
See you next week and I’m always happy to read your blogs too so please link to them in the comment section below. Josh, another MOOC assistant, is blogging to create a glossary of key terms, check out his blog here. Thank you for reading.


What is it really like to be a family farmer from a developing country – Part 5

This is the fifth and final instalment about Cristela, the family farmer from Colombia.

ÁD: So in what areas do you want to improve your family farm? Would you like a bigger access to the market or a more complete trade system like the one we just talked about? Continue reading

What is it really like to be a family farmer from a developing country – Part 4

This is the fourth instalment with Cristela, a real family farmer from Colombia.

ÁD: Close to your family farm where we are right now, there’s a dairy farm and I was wondering if you have ever interchanged things, sort of like a direct trade that did not involve money. For example, you give them quinoa and they give you milk in return. Or something like that. Do you do this at all?

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What is it really like to be a family farmer from a developing country – Part 3

Before I give you this part of the interview with Cristela the family farmer, if you’re not familiar with the concept of food security and are curious, I explain it in this video 2:24-4:09.

ÁD: So overall, do you consider your family is healthy? Do you think your children are well fed?

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