Researcher

A Stanford University research technician erects a net on a Costa Rican coffee farm. The team has identified more than 100 species of birds on farms and associated patches of forest as part of a project to calculate the value of biodiversity. Photo: Sam Eaton/Homelands Productions.

It’s the biggest week yet for the “Food for 9 Billion” project, with five stories scheduled to air on PBS NewsHour and two on PRI’s The World.

Today on the NewsHour, Sam Eaton visits Costa Rica, where farmers and researchers are finding that biodiversity isn’t just good for the environment, but also boosts productivity and profits. Also today, on The World, Mary Kay Magistad eats a meal with the organizers of a grassroots campaign to cut down on food waste in China, where leaving food on your plate is a sign that you’ve made it.

Tuesday on the NewsHour, Jon Miller travels to Qatar to visit a high-tech experiment in transforming sunlight, seawater and carbon dioxide into food, fuel and fresh water. On Wednesday, also on the NewsHour, Sam reports on an ultra-efficient vertical vegetable farm in Singapore.

On Thursday, Jon reports for The World from Uganda, where scientists and activists have staked out very different positions on genetically engineered virus-resistant cassava. Also on Thursday, on the NewsHour, Sam visits farmers in India who are returning to their traditional seeds to protect themselves against the ravages of climate change.

Finally, on the NewsHour on Friday, Serene Fang and Susanne Rust of the Center for Investigative Reporting look at California’s resource-hungry dairy industry, which is turning to China as domestic markets dry up.

As always, if you can’t catch the stories on the day of broadcast, they will all be archived at Foodfor9Billion.org, along with slideshows, interactive graphics and other goodies.

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The Homelands blog may have been idle, but that doesn’t mean we have been! Clearly, though, it’s time for a quick catching up.

School snack bar in Crete

Many schools in Crete have voluntarily banned soft drinks and sweets from their snack bars. The percentage of overweight children in Greece is higher than in the US. Photo by Jon Miller.

In October, Jon Miller’s feature Greece’s diet crisis aired on Marketplace as part of the “Food for 9 Billion” project. The story looked at the rapid rise of obesity in Crete, home to one of the world’s healthiest traditional diets. In November, Mary Kay Magistad (China correspondent for our new radio partner, PRI’s The World; more about that below) joined forces with Cassandra Herrman and Serene Fang at the Center for Investigative Reporting on China strains to satisfy growing demand for meat, which aired on PBS NewsHour.

Then, just before the holidays in December, Jon’s piece Taking the climate fight to the table aired on Marketplace. That story, which looked at how our own eating decisions might affect the world’s ability to feed itself, wrapped up our fruitful and enjoyable year-long partnership with Marketplace (a shout-out to our excellent editors Ben Adair, George Judson and Sitara Nieves). 

For the last few months we’ve been laying the groundwork for a second phase of Ff9B — a series of ten or more stories for The World, to air in a two- or three-week burst this spring. The topic is much more focused than what we’ve done so far; we sometimes describe it as “the future of food in a climate-changed world.” Jon Miller and Sam Eaton will do most of the reporting; as we write this, they’re madly preparing for trips to Singapore, India, Mexico, Costa Rica, Uganda, The Netherlands and Qatar. We also expect to continue working with CIR on a handful of companion pieces for PBS NewsHour.

Group photo

Homelands producers Alan Weisman, Sandy Tolan, Jonathan Miller, Cecilia Vaisman and Beckie Kravetz (Alan’s wife) in Los Angeles in January.

Finally, in January, Sandy, Cecilia, Alan and Jon descended on Sandy’s place in Los Angeles for a weekend retreat. We are spread around the country (western Massachusetts, upstate New York, Chicago, LA) and rarely find ourselves together in the same place. It was wonderful to talk and plan and recharge each other’s creative batteries. A highlight was a party on Saturday night for a few dozen radio friends in LA. Being radio people, nobody thought to take any pictures.

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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.

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.

The “Food for 9 Billion” blog is now live. It actually has been for a little while, but we didn’t tell anyone. You can see recent posts about World Water Day, the possibility that the world population might not have to reach 9 billion, Ethiopia’s villagization program, and other topics. We hope to post once or twice a week. You can sign up for an RSS feed here.

We’ve also started a Ff9B Twitter feed. If you’re a twitterer, go thither!

Congratulations to our friends at the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), who just announced their merger with the Bay Citizen. According to CIR, the merger “will create the largest nonprofit organization in the country focused on watchdog and accountability journalism.” You can read about the merger on the CIR blog and on the Bay Citizen site.

CIR is one of our partners on the “Food for 9 Billion” project. Last month the organization won a MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

The latest “Food for 9 Billion” feature, on the connection between farmland investment and displacement in Ethiopia, airs tonight on PBS NewsHour. It was produced and reported by Cassandra Herrman and Beth Hoffman and edited by Cassandra and David Ritsher at the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The Saudi-owned company Saudi Star plans to create Africa’s largest rice farm in Ethiopia and export the rice to the Middle East. Photo: Dallas McNamara

In recent months, both Human Rights Watch and the Oakland Institute have released reports critical of the Ethiopian government’s “villagization” program, which moves isolated farm families into permanent settlements.

The Human Rights Watch report documents the removal of tens of thousands of members of the minority Anuak tribe from their farms in the Gambella region. It includes satellite maps showing patterns of displacement.

The Oakland Institute’s investigations look at various land deals in Ethiopia and their impact on local populations.

Both organizations have questioned whether donor money is facilitating the forced relocation of Ethiopian farmers. Ethiopia receives more than $1 billion a year in US aid. The Ethiopian government denies that the villagization program is connected to its policy of leasing prime farmland to foreign corporations.