Outside Digital Realm: Food Shortages Expected this year

A friend of mine sent me this article. Granted it is from a website with a left leaning perspective – it draws on information from UN, US and other government agencies from around the globe. I am posting it because sometimes I think we forget we live on a planet, with weather, that grows food.

Severe Food Shortages, Price Spikes Threaten World Population

Worldwide food prices have risen sharply and supplies have dropped this year, according to the latest food outlook of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The agency warned December 17 that the changes represent an ³unforeseen and unprecedented² shift in the global food system, threatening billions with hunger and decreased access to food.

The FAO¹s food price index rose by 40 percent this year, on top of the already high 9 percent increase the year before, and the poorest countries spent 25 percent more this year on imported food. The prices for staple crops, including wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, all rose drastically in 2007, pushing up prices for grain-fed meat, eggs and dairy products and spurring inflation throughout the consumer food market.

Driving these increases are a complex range of developments, including rapid urbanization of populations and growing demand for food stuffs in key developing countries such as China and India, speculation in the commodities markets, increased diversion of feedstock crops into the production of biofuels, and extreme weather conditions and other natural disasters associated with climate change.

Because of the long-term and compounding nature of all of these factors, the problems of rising prices and decreasing supplies in the food system are not temporary or one-time occurrences, and cannot be understood as cyclical fluctuations in supply and demand.

The world reserves of cereals are dwindling. In the past year, wheat stores declined 11 percent. The FAO notes that this is the lowest level since the UN began keeping records in 1980, while the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has reported that world wheat stocks may have fallen to 47-year lows. By FAO figures, the falloff in wheat stores equals about 12 weeks worth of global consumption.

It continues….

Database and Identity in Civil Society

On Monday I was at Advocacy Dev II. I got to meet Steve Anderson who has just joined ONE/NorthWest an network of 300+ environmental groups in the Cascadia – Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

I thought I would post his introduction to give you enterprise guys who read this blog a sense of what the IT folks in Civil Society are dealing with. They are in some ways simpler then identity integration for 30 year old legacy systems. I am excited about the potential do deploy user-centric identity in this sector.

My name is Steve Andersen, the newest member of the ONE/Northwest team. I joined the crew in June to head up our work implementing databases to help our clients strengthen relationships with their constituents. We call the program Powering Relationships, and that’s will be the focus of the work–using technology tools to enable deep and valuable relationships between advocacy groups and their communities. ONE/Northwest has been doing database work for some time, but this year, with the support of MJ Murdock Charitable Trust, we’re going to really dig into the problem with the following goals:

  • Dramatically lowering the cost of database deployments
  • Standardizing our work on a small number of database platforms that show promise for the future
  • Raising the performance of relationship management in the northwest environmental community

I’m really excited about the program, and I’m getting started laying the groundwork for beginning database implementations in the fall of this year. Here’s how I’ve been thinking about the program in my first few weeks:

The Customer
Who are we going to work with? ONE/Northwest has deep relationships with many groups, and I look forward to meeting our customers (I’ve met a few already). Meeting and getting an understanding of who they are, who their communities are, and how they serve those communities will allow us to assist them with database technology to affect change.

The Opportunity
What are the opportunities that northwest environmental groups are facing? Are groups looking to improve donor management, online-advocacy, membership tracking, all of the above? ONE/Northwest has a fair bit of understanding of the existing opportunities from its years of work with groups. I plan to tap into that knowledge by getting up to speed on our current clients and the issues they have with databases. I’d also like to talk directly to some clients, to get the story from the source (always a good idea!).

The Platform
With an understanding of the Customer and the Opportunity, we can get to the technical business of picking a database platform on which to build. This is a critical step, as it is difficult (read: expensive) to change platforms down the road. It takes a bit of clairvoyance to know what platforms will be serving your needs in 3 years. But, there’s some science to it as well, and ONE/Northwest has made a number of platform choices that have worked out over the past few years. I’m confident we’ll make good choices around the database platform as well.

The Process
I’ll be building out a database consulting process that will take us from first contact with a group, through database needs assessment, scoping, implementation, training, and support. I won’t be building this from scratch (thank goodness!) as we’ve got 10 years of experience in this arena I’m really impressed with our consulting methodology and our customers have been very happy with our work in the past.

So, I’ll be busy this summer! I’m looking forward to it, and can’t wait to start implementing some real projects this fall. I’ll try to periodically update this site on new developments.

Farming the Net or the Earth??

Farmers in third world countries leaving the land to ‘farm’ for gold in online games to sell to other avatars (digital identities of a type). The virtual ‘sweatshop labour’. I hope the college activists turn there attention to this issue too.

Net heads may think this is cool and those enamored with the over taking of the real world with the digital. I think it is really freaking and we should figure out how to pay people who farm the land get paid well. We can not as Bruce Sterling so aptly put in his Planetwork 2000 address – dive into our computer screens and survive. He was talking about escaping from the greenhouse effect – seems like having food to eat is equally applicable.

The lesson here is not that atomic scientists are gutless eggheads. Einstein and Sakharov weren’t gutless: these people are colleagues of Einstein and Sakharov. The true lesson of Los Alamos is that there’s no ivory tower to hide in. You can have the biggest supercomputers on earth and a broadband video feed. If a Greenhouse monsoon rolls in, you’re gonna have live video feed of your supercomputers washing downriver.

What are you gonna do when the sky turns black over your town? Are you gonna jump inside your laptop screen? Where you gonna hide, console cowboy? If it gets hotter, you can click up the AC like we do in Texas, but the Greenhouse Effect is an extremely intimate disaster. You’re breathing it right now. The planet’s entire atmosphere from pole to pole has been soiled with effluent from smokestacks. Too much carbon dioxide. It’s in every single breath you take, it fills this very room. You don’t get to pick and choose. There’s no pull-down menu for another atmosphere. The sky is full of soot. Everywhere. There’s soot in Yosemite. There’s soot at the source of the Nile. There’s soot in Walden Pond and soot in the Serengeti. There is no refuge. It’s not imaginary, it’s here.

Yet it’s nothing compared to what is coming. Whatever sins of omission and comission we may have committed environmentally, they are the small ones, they are the beginner steps. Look at the curves, do some of the math. We’re in deep already, but these are just harbingers. The real trouble lies ahead.