Friday, May 30, 2008

Blook SA

Sometimes you have the opportunity to be involved with something unique, and I am fortunate enough to be in that position.

Monday will see the release of The Blook SA. I am very honoured to have been asked to write a post for it, and I am looking forward to reading the whole thing. There are some really awesome people involved:

Darren Gorton of Out-Think has been the organising force behind this. Here are all his Blook related posts, and the original idea.

See you on Monday when you come back to read the full Blook :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Follow me on Google Reader (forget twitter)

google reader logoGoogle Reader recently released a new feature which enables me to share some more of my thoughts with you.

I have never been a big fan of regurgitating other people's post and information on my own blog. I see this more as a place to try to share my own thoughts and ideas, or bring a bunch of info together to express a new opinion (I hope I manage to!). So far I have been pointing to blog posts that have stood out to me via the "Interesting article's I've recently read" section in the side bar.

The links in the side bar are the most recent items I have shared using Google Reader. Up until recently, it was only possible to share things that I received via feeds (see below if you don't know what a feed or RSS is). What the clever guys over at Reader have now done is to allow me to share anything, from anywhere and add my own note to that.

This is a new form of microblogging, but is far more interesting (to me, and hopefully to you) than the alternatives, such as twitter.

So now you can follow me and see my thoughts on interesting articles and information that I find. There are a couple of ways to do this.

  1. Subscribe to my Google Shared Items feed. If you know how a feed reader works, you'll know exactly how to use that link to follow me. Otherwise, see the info about feeds and feedreaders below.

    There are one or two minor drawbacks with this, mainly that the original author's name does not come through correctly when I add a note.

  2. If you already use Google Reader you can add me as a friend and my shared items will show up in your Reader. This is a slightly more complex process and requires you inviting me to chat with you via Gmail or Gtalk. You will need my Gmail address, which is duncan.drennan at the expected ubiquitous domain name.

  3. [Update] As Francois quite correctly points out, you can also view my shared items as a webpage (which is linked to in the side bar).

Here is some info for those of you who have never heard of a feed or RSS. On this site subscribing to the feed allows you to immediately receive the latest posts straight into your feedreader.

A feedreader fetches information from a whole bunch of different feeds (e.g. this blog, a news website, etc.) displays them for you.

The beauty of this is that
  1. You can subscribe and unsubscribe extremely easily (just add or delete a feed from your feedreader).
  2. Delivery is guaranteed. Because you fetch the feed (pull) unlike email which is sent to you (push) the feed cannot get lost due to a firewall which is trying to stop spammers. Feeds are spam free!
  3. You never miss a post. This is particularly important if you keep up to date by coming to check back here regularly. You could miss something, or worse, stop coming back ;)
Once you start using feeds you will wonder how you survived without them. I use Google Reader as my feedreader, but there are plenty of others out there. Here is a really useful video which explains RSS and feeds a lot better than I can.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Facing the food crisis

I think that it is worth trying to understand some of the reasons we are heading towards a food crisis.

tomatoesThe result of all of this deregulation meant that small producers lost access to the local market giving global market access to a few global producers. Three companies—Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Bunge—control the vast majority of global grain trading, while Monsanto controls more than one-fifth of the global market in seeds. Consumers from Sioux City to Soweto are more and more dependent on fewer and fewer producers. By eliminating the breadth and diversity of the system, we’ve eliminated its ability to withstand shock or manipulation.

Perhaps the greatest evidence of the scale of deregulation of the world agricultural market is the liquidation of reliable grain reserves. Though we’ve impressively deregulated financial markets, the Federal Reserve and central bankers across the globe still maintain the ability to soften the spikes and plunges of our monetary system. Not so in food markets. For centuries grain reserves have been an essential component of functioning food systems. When prices are high grain reserves can be released on the market, bringing prices down. When prices are low, reserve systems buy up grain, bringing prices back up. In the last two decades, however, the U.S. and most other governments have let reserve systems wither, placing full faith in the free market to self-correct, and eliminating their last emergency response mechanism.

Read the full article on UrbanSprout. Also further reading.

I am no fan of biofuels (or bio–plastics), but I have been a little bit suspicious that all the fingers are being pointed at it as the main cause of the food crisis.

But, looking at this, this crisis is a much more complex and deadly beast. We have already seen the same thing playing out in South Africa in both our bread and diary industries.

Unlike money supply there is currently no way to normalise the fluctuations in food prices - so where to from here? What can we do to fend of this looming crisis?

Trevor Manuel has quite clearly indicated what he thinks is best - grow as much food as possible.

Manuel said food prices had broken out of a 150-year pricing band and shot up in relation to other living expenses. “I don’t think you are going to see a reduction in prices for some time, so whatever can be done to encourage people to plant on every piece of arable land would be a benefit to all,” he said.

I think a lot of people see that comment as a drive for subsistence farming. Yes, and no. In the face of rising food prices, producing food will be a profitable business, whether on a small or large scale. And that means that growing more food makes good business (and social) sense for South Africa.

On the other hand there is a strong case for backyard growing, as well as the conversion of water loving fields of grass to food producing gardens.

"Agriculture is becoming more and more suburban," says Roxanne Christensen, publisher of Spin-Farming LLC, a Philadelphia company started in 2005 that sells guides and holds seminars teaching a small-scale farming technique that involves selecting high-profit vegetables like kale, carrots and tomatoes to grow, and then quickly replacing crops to reap the most from plots smaller than an acre. "Land is very expensive in the country, so people are saying, 'why not just start growing in the backyard?' "

So maybe amongst all the turmoil there is a great opportunity. For some it may be a financial opportunity. For others (like me) it is an opportunity to have some fun (because growing stuff is cool) and contribute in a meaningful way to a number of issues facing us.

Will you be a victim or a hero of this crisis?

[2008/05/15 Update] Thanks to Pia for pointing out this article about the Western Cape making municipal land available for growing food.