World must transform food production, scientists say

The study says the reforms can free up 1.2 billion hectares of agricultural land for restoration. (Reuters)
Updated 17 September 2019

World must transform food production, scientists say

  • Global over-dependence on a relatively small number of staple foods leaves populations vulnerable to crop failures

LONDON: The world must diversify its food production and consumption, or face damaging supply disruptions that could lead to suffering and social unrest, scientists warned on Monday.

A new global study found the health and environmental benefits of transforming the way we farm would heavily outweigh the cost of doing so, with the authors urging governments to do more to support sustainable agriculture.

“A small disruption in supply really can do a lot of damage and leads to huge price increases,” said Per Pharo of the Food and Land Use Coalition, the global alliance of economists and scientists behind the study.

“That creates suffering and social unrest. And it will highly likely also lead to hunger and instability,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Global over-dependence on a relatively small number of staple foods leaves populations vulnerable to crop failures, with climate change adding to the strain, the report said.

“Four different crops provide 60 percent of our calories — wheat, rice, maize and potatoes. That increases our vulnerability,” said Pharo. The panel said the report was the first of its kind to assess the benefits of transforming global food systems as well as the cost of inaction.

The damage the modern food industry does to human health, development and the environment costs the world $12 trillion a year — equivalent to China’s GDP — the study found.

It proposes a series of solutions, from encouraging more diverse diets to improve health and reduce dependency on specific crops, to giving more support to the types of farming that can restore forests, a key tool in fighting climate change.

In Costa Rica, for example, the government has reversed deforestation by eliminating cattle subsidies and introducing payments to farmers who manage their land sustainably.

As a result, the amount of forest cover has risen from a quarter of the country’s land in 1983 to more than half today, the report said.

And it will highly likely also lead to hunger and instability

The study said the reforms could also free up 1.2 billion hectares of agricultural land for restoration.

That is more than twice the size of the Amazon rainforest, which spans seven nations.

“What we’re saying is realistic if the reform agenda is implemented,” said Pharo, adding that under the proposed changes, consumers would actually get “slightly more affordable food.”

“The excuse that we cannot prioritize environment at the same time because we’ve got to focus on development, on human welfare, is simply false. We can deliver both.”


Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

Updated 06 June 2020

Cirque du Soleil walks a tightrope through pandemic

  • Suitors wage backstage battle to rescue debt-stricken Canadian circus icon
  • Among the potential bidders is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who fouded the acrobatic troupe in 1984

MONTREAL: Its shows canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an already heavily indebted Cirque du Soleil’s fight for survival has invited an intense backstage battle to try to save the Canadian cultural icon.

High on a list of potential suitors is former fire eater Guy Laliberte, who founded the acrobatic troupe in 1984 but later sold it.

“Its revival will have to be done at the right price. And not at all costs,” said the 60-year-old, determined not to see his creation sold to private interests.

The billionaire clown said after “careful consideration,” he decided “with a great team” to pursue a bid, but offered no details.

Under his leadership, the Cirque had set up big tops in more than 300 cities around the world, delighting audiences with contemporary circus acts set to music but without the usual trappings of lions, elephants and bears.

Then the pandemic hit, forcing the company in March to cancel 44 shows worldwide, from Las Vegas to Tel Aviv, Moscow to Melbourne, and lay off 4,679 acrobats and technicians, or 95 percent of its workforce.

Hurtling toward bankruptcy, the global entertainment giant and pride of Canada commissioned a bank in early May to examine its options, including a possible sale.

Meanwhile, shareholders ponied up $50 million in bridge financing for its “short-term liquidity needs.”

Laliberte, the first clown to rocket to the International Space Station in 2009, ceded control of the Cirque for $1 billion in 2015.

It has since fallen into the hands of American investment firm TPG Capital (55 percent stake) and China’s Fosun (25 percent), which also owns Club Med and Thomas Cook travel. The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec (CDPQ) retains the last 20 percent.

The institutional investor, which manages public pension plans and insurance programs in Quebec, bought Laliberte’s last remaining 10 percent stake in the business in February, just before the pandemic.

Since 2015, the Cirque has embarked on costly acquisitions and renovations of permanent performance halls, while its creative spirit waned, according to critics in the Quebec press.

Meanwhile, it piled on more than $1 billion in debt.

Fearing that the Cirque would be “sold to foreign interests,” the Quebec government recently offered it a conditional loan of $200 million to help relaunch its shows as restrictions on large gatherings start to be eased worldwide.

But the agreement in principle is conditional on the Cirque headquarters remaining in Montreal and the province being allowed to buy US and Chinese stakes in the company at an unspecified time in the future, “at market value” and with “probably a local partner,” said Quebec Minister of the Economy Pierre Fitzgibbon.

“The state does not want to operate the circus, but the circus is too important to Quebec (to leave it to foreigners),” he said.

In addition to Laliberte, other prospective buyers include Quebecor, the telecoms and media giant of tycoon Pierre Karl Peladeau, whose opening lowball bid was outright rejected.

“It is essentially the value and reputation of the brand” that has piqued interest in the company, says Michel Magnan, corporate governance chair at Concordia University in Montreal.

But “as long as there are restrictions on gatherings of people, the future is not very rosy” for the Cirque, he said.

Several challenges await, according to Magnan.

“There were a lot of people working in all of these shows. Where are they now? What are they doing? How are they doing? In what shape are they, what state of mind?” he said.

“The more time passes, the more this expertise risks evaporating.”

Small consolation: The Cirque resumed its performances on Wednesday in Hangzhou, China, five months after a coronavirus outbreak in the city.