January 28th, 2016

Earlier this week, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board released a draft of its report on the fire and explosion at the West Fertilizer Company. CSB investigators will present their findings to the board in a public meeting in Waco, Texas, on Thursday.

The Agricultural Retailers Association has conducted a preliminary review of the draft report's findings.

"ARA agrees with several points within the Chemical Safety Board’s report concerning the West Fertilizer Company Fire and Explosion.

First and foremost, agricultural retailers remain committed to the safety and security of their employees and the communities where they operate. Since the tragic accident at West Fertilizer, ARA and the fertilizer industry have responded with several initiatives including the establishment of ResponsibleAg, an independent organization designed to help fertilizer storage and handling facilities achieve and maintain compliance with federal regulations."

Read more from AgProfessional

January 28th, 2016

"After the West Fertilizer Plant explosion on April 17, 2013, there were many promises to change things, to ensure that something so horrific would never happen again, to alter our rules and our systems so that dangerous chemicals like ammonium nitrate would be properly stored and squirreled away only in places where the stuff could do as little harm as possible.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order on improving chemical safety and storage, while every local, state and federal agency that could conceivably come up with a reason to be there conducted an investigation into the mess.  

Now, almost three years after the explosion that killed 15 people, injured more than 250 and flattened half a town, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has come out with its final report on the matter. And its findings, based on almost three years of work, indicate that in the aftermath of West, nothing much has changed. The final report is a 265-page tome dedicated to those killed by the blast. 

The CSB is strictly an investigatory agency — CSB officials don't have the ability to issue fines or cite companies for regulatory infractions or anything like that — which is why the CSB investigators usually get incredible access to the sites of these horrific disasters when they occur. (As we've pointed out recently, it's never a question of if such things will happen but rather where and when.) While the CSB initially had a hard time gaining access to the West Fertilizer Plant explosion site, the investigators ultimately dug in and got the job done."

Read more from Houston Press.

December 11th, 2015

"World leaders are gathered in Paris to reach a global agreement on reducing humans’ influence on climate. As momentum grows around this critical debate, the vital role of agriculture must not be overlooked.

According to a recent World Bank report, agriculture will be the main driver of climate-generated poverty. Rising temperatures threaten harvests, generate higher food prices and trigger unstable global food supplies.

The result? 100 million additional people in poverty by 2030.

"We must transform this grim future into one of opportunity. A more resilient agricultural system is possible when we utilize climate-smart technologies and farmer-focused cropping practices.

Agriculture must mitigate its effect on climate change.

Mineral fertilizers will drive the productivity increases needed to feed 10 billion by 2050. But fertilizer production and use contribute to agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Innovations to intensify food production cannot come at the expense of the environment.

One way we can solve future challenges is by learning from the past. For centuries, rice farmers in Japan and China formed mud into fist-sized balls filled with fertilizer or manure. The nutrient-packed balls were pushed into the soil between rice plants. Farmers wasted less fertilizer and experienced higher yields. International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) researchers used this technique to fine-tune urea deep placement (UDP), an environmentally friendly and income-boosting fertilizer application method."

Read more from IFDC.

October 12th, 2015

"It is officially Fall, and while the weather in New York may be cooling off, agriculture development is heating up!

Last month, when the UN General Assembly met and adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, ending hunger ranked second on the list. This month, agriculture development practitioners will celebrate farmers on World Food Day and Rural Women’s Day, and policy influencers and food security activists will highlight the important role agriculture must play in ending extreme poverty at the UN Committee on Food Security and the World Food Prize.

We could all use some help keeping up with the smorgasbord of food security events happening right now. Get up to speed with One Acre Fund’s Fall 2015 list of agriculture development must-reads (in no particular order):

1. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization recently declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses. For the low-down on how these annual, leguminous crops can help increase nutrition and promote food security for smallholder farmers, visit our agriculture innovations page to read trial reports on nitrogen fixation in beans, pigeon peas, soybeans, and maize-legume intercropping.

2. The study "Smallholder Farmers and Business:15 pioneering collaborations for improved productivity and sustainability," produced by Hystra Hybrid Strategies Consulting, shows how pioneer companies and organizations have sustainably increased the income and livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers around the world by sourcing produce from them or selling products to them. The study emphasizes smallholder farmers’ role as active partners rather than aid recipients, and provides valuable insights on creating more wealth along the value chain, running cost-efficient operations and sustainably sharing value with farmers.

3. "SDGs and Me: Farmer Voices on the Post-2015 Agenda" is the newest creative product from global sustainable agriculture coalition Farming First. Relying on interviews with 10 actual farmers from across the globe, these stories illustrate the central role the world’s 1.5 billion farmers play in delivering the ambitious post-2015 development agenda. How do these farmers see themselves taking action on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? What do they hope the SDGs can do for them? Are they prepared to embark on such a large-scale challenge? Read their stories to find out what they have to say."

Read more from One Acre Fund.

September 28th, 2015

"Eradication of hunger the linchpin for sustainable development agenda, FAO chief tells world leaders

25 September 2015, New York - Food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture are key to achieving the entire set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva has told world leaders in a plenary address at United Nations headquarters.

"We have given ourselves an enormous task, that begins with the historic commitment of not only reducing but also eradicating poverty and hunger in a sustainable way," he said during his speech at the UN's Sustainable Development Summit.

Fourteen of the 17 new SDGs adopted at the summit are related to FAO's historic mission, the Director-General noted. The second goal - which is "to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture" - must be urgently pursued as rapid progress on that front is the key to the other goals, he added."

Read more from FAO.

August 24th, 2015

"With each passing year, human-caused global warming bullies California for more water. Each year, the heat squeezes more moisture from soils and ecosystems.

This is because, as the atmosphere warms, its demand for moisture rises. Just as a puddle evaporates more quickly on a warm day, soils dry out more quickly during warmer years, which are becoming increasingly frequent in most locations globally.

Currently, California is in the grips of a severe drought, which motivated my colleagues and me to conduct a study to determine how much of this drought can be blamed on natural climate variability. And how much can be blamed on the global warming shakedown? Our answer is 8-27 percent.

This finding, done using a model built on historical data, sheds light on California’s future and the effect higher temperatures have on the natural forces that drive California’s droughts.

California of buckets

Global warming is an emerging background effect on the year-to-year variations in drought caused by natural climate variations, such as El Niño and La Niña. This is especially true in California, where year-to-year precipitation varies wildly.

During most years, when natural climate variations cause wet or near-average conditions, the demands of the increasingly greedy atmosphere are still met with relative ease. During the last few years, however, natural climate variations have caused precipitation totals to be low and temperatures to be high.

Human-caused warming, meanwhile, demands additional atmospheric moisture, at a time when water resources for natural and human systems are already in short supply."

Read more from Newsweek.

August 6th, 2015

"Water containing so little dissolved oxygen that it can’t support marine life was found in an area stretching 6,474 square miles off the coast of Louisiana this summer.


At the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, the dead zone is larger than last year’s 5,052 square miles and much larger than a national target, which was to reduce the annual size to just 1,900 square miles.

For decades, Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium’s Nancy Rabalais has done annual measurements of the dead zone size. A research cruise ran from Tuesday through Monday shows the dead zone extending from the mouth of the Mississippi River west to almost the state’s border with Texas.

“It’s a sick ecosystem. It’s still productive, but it’s ailing, and we need to do something about it,” Rabalais said.

The dead zone is defined as an area where the dissolved oxygen in the water measures 2 milligrams per liter, but this year, there were also large areas where the dissolved oxygen was 1 or even close to zero, Rabalais said. Healthy water in the Gulf of Mexico would measure about 4 or 5 milligrams per liter.

Dead zones occur when nutrients from agricultural land and cities run into the Mississippi River and then into the Gulf of Mexico. These nutrients, often included in fertilizers, feed small organisms that then use up oxygen as they die and decompose on the floor of the Gulf. Without any mixing of the upper freshwater layers from the Mississippi River and the lower saltier waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this lower layer of water can end up with such low oxygen levels that it can no longer support large amounts of marine life."

Read more from the Advocate.

July 6th, 2015

Enabling people and their goods to stay on the move by rebuilding rural roads in the Democratic Republic of Congo; keeping young children in elementary school in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda; setting up low carbon energy programs for several Central Asian countries; supporting more sustainable and resilient cities across Europe; advising governments on how to collect tax to maintain crucial public services in Peru; providing microfinance for shopkeepers and small businesses in Uruguay, and helping people get back on their feet after Nepal’s devastating earthquake.

This is what development looks like and these are real programs that represent just a fraction of the day to day work supported respectively by the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank,the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank Group.

Most people agree on the need to help poor people living in tough circumstances, but far fewer understand what it takes. Supporting these projects and thousands more like them — from helping a single shopkeeper to building a power plant that will provide energy for tens of thousands of people will be critically important given that 2015 is a milestone year for development when we will take a fresh look at funding models and think seriously about scaling up.

These and other vital issues will be on the table from July 13-16 at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Ethiopia and will continue through to a September UN summit on the post-2015 development agenda, then to a climate summit in Paris in December. Success in these discussions and the decisions that need to be made will be key to the future of people everywhere and will be vital to our living planet.

Read more from Finance for Development.

June 1st, 2015

"Walmart has reached a settlement with the state district attorney’s office to address its violation of a state environmental law.

The law, enacted in 2010, requires retailers to separate phosphorus-free fertilizers from those containing phosphorus, and to post signs describing phosphorus’ adverse effects on the environment. The signs describe how phosphorus causes excessive algae growth, endangering the water supply, and urges consumers to opt for phosphorus-free fertilizer. The law was crafted to reduce water pollution caused by excess phosphorous run-off coming from lawns into New York waters.

The Attorney General’s office investigated 18 Walmart stores across New York State, 10 of them in Western New York, and found most of them in violation of the law. Walmart must pay $98,000 in fines and has decided to stop selling lawn and non-agricultural fertilizers containing phosphorous at its New York Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, as well as to New York customers via the internet at"

Read more from The Buffalo News.

May 26th, 2015

"Imagine a vibrant market in a village in Sub-Saharan Africa, filled with vendors selling lush tomatoes, hearty ears of corn, ripe mangos, and a myriad of other fruits, vegetables, and grains. Where did all that food come from? Where did the farmers get the financing to buy the seeds and fertilizer they needed? What research institutions developed the seed varieties that thrived in local agro-ecological conditions? How did farmers learn the agriculture techniques to produce high-quality crops? And how did farmers get those high-quality crops from their farms to the market?

Agriculture is a tremendously complicated industry. Doing it right requires researchers, successful distributors of farm inputs, banks, providers of agricultural and business skills training, processors, and traders. Some of these players are in the private sector, while others are generally in the public sector. Some, like banks or providers of agriculture skills training, can have a foot in both of those worlds.

A successful agriculture industry in any country requires the many players in the value chain to work together in collaborations that are both formal and informal. Partnerships occur daily between private-sector players, public-sector players, and public and private players. Though perhaps the most challenging formal partnerships to craft, public-private partnerships are essential to the long-term growth of a country’s agriculture sector, as well as long-term environmental stewardship.

We know firsthand the importance of successful public-private partnerships in the agriculture sector. We represent two very different organizations—The Coca-Cola Company, the world’s largest beverage company, and One Acre Fund, a nonprofit agriculture organization that serves 280,000 farmers in East Africa. The Coca-Cola Company sources various agricultural ingredients from all around the world to produce its beverages, and One Acre Fund supports smallholder farmers who grow staple food crops for local and regional markets. We work with different types of crops and in different parts of the value chain, but we have discovered that what we both need from the public sector to be successful is quite similar.

People often talk as if the private sector, nonprofits, and farmer organizations in Africa are at odds, with extremely different motivations, ways of working, and goals. In reality, we are more similar than different. We are all seeking innovative ways to build a strong agriculture sector in which smallholder farmers are profitable businesspeople and responsible environmental stewards. And we all recognize that the public sector has the responsibility to set certain conditions that foster an environment where innovation and growth can occur."