August 2012


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Workers at La Laiterie du Berger in Senegal weigh and filter milk before transforming it into yogurt. The company collects milk from isolated herders who have no other way to get it to consumers. Photo by Jori Lewis for Homelands Productions.

With drought, storms, pests, diseases, poverty and a plethora of other constraints, it’s hard enough for the world’s farmers and fishers to keep us all fed. It hardly seems fair that one-third or more of what they produce goes uneaten.

Not that it’s just a question of fairness. Consider the cost in land, water, labor, fuel, money and greenhouse gases. If we’re going to feed 9 billion people by the middle of the century, and not destroy the planet in the process, cutting down on waste seems like a smart place to start.

Today on Marketplace, the “Food for 9 Billion” project looks at two very different worlds of waste. First, reporter Jori Lewis travels to a remote area of Senegal, where cattle herders throw away much of the milk their cows produce because they have no way to get it to market. Then Adriene Hill visits an elementary school near Los Angeles, where lots of the milk kids take with their lunches ends up in the trash.

The stories echo the dual nature of the food waste challenge: In poor countries, most losses occur on the farm or in transit and storage, while in rich countries, the waste is greatest at the consumer end.

What’s to be done? That depends on where in the world you are.

If you can’t catch the show, look for audio, transcripts and photos on Marketplace.org and Foodfor9Billion.org this afternoon. In the meantime, check out Adriene Hill’s blog post on the global food waste problem.

We wanted to catch you up on the “Food for 9 Billion” project, which has been taking most of our attention lately. As loyal readers will know, Ff9B asks what has to happen for the world to be able to feed itself sustainably and equitably over the next three decades. It’s a collaboration among Homelands Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), American Public Media’s Marketplace and PBS NewsHour.

So far we’ve produced nine radio features, six video features and three features especially for the web. Our reporting has taken us to Mexico, Egypt, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Brazil, India, Ghana, Japan, Niger and Vietnam. Upcoming stories are from Senegal, China, Lesotho, Zambia, Greece, Brazil and the United States.

“Food for 9 Billion” doesn’t aim to be comprehensive, but we have tried to be more or less systematic in our choice of stories. Topics include the role of science, the politics of famine and food prices, population growth and family planning, climate change, land transfers, rural development, the right to food, water scarcity, soil fertility, aging farmers, desertification and fish farming. Stories in the pipeline will look at waste, the spread of supermarkets, meat consumption, obesity, pesticide use and energy. We’re also working on a full-length television documentary, and on educational materials for high school students.

We’re particularly proud of the web features – an interactive world food map and world food timeline (both produced in partnership with the Transnational Learning group at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) and, most recently, an animated video about the impact of excessive beef consumption on the environment and human health. If you like ’em, please share ’em!

You can listen to the radio stories, watch the TV stories, and fiddle around with the web features at the project’s home page on the CIR website. And if that’s not enough links for you, please also check out the “Food for 9 Billion” blog and follow the project on Twitter.

Americans love burgers. They’re filling, tasty and cheap. But what we pay at the counter is only part of the story. Check out this animated video from the “Food for 9 Billion” project, a collaboration between Homelands Productions and the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). CIR’s Carrie Ching directed and produced; art and animation is by Arthur Jones.

The video launched with the new I Files investigative video channel on YouTube, which is programmed by CIR. You can find a fully annotated version here.