serious

East African humanitarian crisis

https://www.nbcnews.com/slideshow/news/refugees-flee-drought-war-in-east-africa-34244347

Severe food and security crises in Africa East Africa is suffering a deep humanitarian crisis brought about a complex interaction between war and climate, with large refugee fluxes affecting at least seven countries. The situation is compounded by strong social inequalities, fragile governments, disorganized states and the deliberate policy of some of them to use…

Global grain stocks

Why we don’t know how much food is available globally…Although they are of paramount strategic importance (or, maybe, because of their strategic importance!) world food stocks are not known. They are mostly estimated indirectly based on other data, with a large error. Among the largest producers of cereals and soybean, some are mainly  exporters (Brazil,…

Un succès mondial qui dure: l’école prussienne

Et qui sert-elle?   L’école primaire obligatoire telle que nous la connaissons s’est mise en place petit à petit depuis la fin du 18ème siècle. Elle est souvent l’oeuvre d’éducateurs, philosophes et théoriciens allemands plus ou moins idéalistes, plus ou moins influencés par les idéaux de la révolution française et soutenus par les monarchies au…

Troubles du Déficit de l’Attention: les chasseurs sont parmi nous

Les hyperactifs sont-ils les derniers chasseurs-cueilleurs?Les TDAH, Troubles du Déficit de l’Attention (avec ou sans hyperactivité, aussi ATDH) sont en augmentation constante dans notre societé et touchent actuellement près de 5 % des enfants dans les pays occidentaux (Note 1). Environ environ 50 % des personnes concernées sont porteuses d’un gène spécifique ; chez les autres, les TDAH…

Why are US presidents taller than ordinary Americans?

From George Washington to Barack Obama, US presidents have been 6 to 8 cm taller than average AmericansMany websites, including Wikipedia, compare the height of US presidents with their main contenders and find that, in most cases, the elected president is the taller of the two. This post takes the observation a bit further –…

African geomatics centres

Many African countries have established and operate dedicated institutions dealing with remote sensing, mapping, GIS, GPS, warning systems and other geomatics applications. In addition, at the initiative of groups of countries, regional development associations such as CILSS and SADC, the Africa Union, UNECA (UN Economic Commision for Africa) and NEPAD (AU New Partnership for Africa’s…

Cellphone and internet boom in Africa!

The adoption of new Information and Communicatons Technology (ICT) at the macro and micro levels in Africa and elsewhere is closely linked to socioeconomic growth and development (Obijofor, 2009).  To a large extent, the rapid – phenomenal  (Nyaki Adeya, 2001) – penetration of modern communication technology in Africa can be linked to the fact that…

Amazing maize…

The post analyses current trends of maize yield and production, and tries to look ahead and see where changes are likely in the future. It is related to a previous post on Global food supply trends in 2014, and beyond!  This note was first published in the August 2014 CropWatch bulletin, pages 85 to 88. The…

The three rules of crop yield forecasting

When they have been in a business long enough, “experts” often develop a gusto for the more philosophical side of their trade, and crop forecasters are no exception. Strictly speaking, the philosophical aspects are not needed to build a forecasting method. They are, nevertheless, very useful to avoid naive errors that can result from applying technical methods without paying too much…

Global food supply trends in 2014, and beyond!

This post analyses the trends of yield, area, and production in the 31 countries that together make up 80 percent of the world supply of maize, rice, wheat, and soybean. These 31 countries (actually 30 + 1, where 1 stands for China) which are the key focus of CropWatch analyses, also provide 80 percent of…

Statistical Vs. agronomic significance in crop monitoring and forecasting

We all develop rules of thumb that help us make operational decisions. One of my personal rules is that “agronomic significance” comes before “statistical significance”. For instance, when assessing regression coefficients, I would discard some of them regardless of their statistical significance if they don’t make agronomic sense. An example would be a negative relation…

Crop monitoring dialects

There are many national and a handful of international crop monitoring and forecasting systems. All maintain websites and publish bulletins, which summarise their analyses for decision makers at the national level and beyond. A collection of national bulletins is available from the WAMIS website of WMO, as well as from a number of national agrometeorological…

The return of the overbite

By Anna-Giulia, Eric, Jacques and Wergosum [First published on 20130217; updated 20130328] The idea for this note started with an email from Eric, where he expressed his surprise, and his disagreement, with a post in  The Atlantic about How Forks Gave Us Overbites and Pots Saved the Toothless: “They say that in the tombs dating…

Mixing time series and cross-sectional data

As I was updating a couple of things in another corner of this blog,  I stumbled upon of  a passage in a recent book by Nate Silver (2012) that has a lot of relevance for crop forecasters. It is relevant to two different but related subjects: (1) averaging different forecasts and (2) mixing cross-sectional data…

Forecast and even planned: the Vajont dam disaster

The post on the risky business of forecasting is updated every time something happens with the trial of the scientists who failed to predict the L’Aquila earthquake. The trial reminded me of another story that happened in Italy: the Vajont disaster. In this case, the forecast was perfect (and far more certain than earthquake prediction) … but…

The risky business of forecasting

Forecasting the future is a difficult task, as there are many more ways to be wrong than right! In addition, a forecast is not just a statement about what might happen, it is also embedded in a context that may be as relevant as the forecast itself when it comes to assessing its credibility and…

What, if anything, happened during the Neolithic?

First published 20121020 / Last updated 20121028 Bread is one of the most typical products of agriculture, and, somehow, bread is agriculture. Like many other people, I assumed that bread is a neolithic invention. In reality, “bread” and other innovations, appeared gradually over time, and well before the Neolithic. All the necessary pre-inventions must have…

God(s) explained, somehow!

(Published 20100908 / Last updated 20121019) — As a student, I read  an article by Rappaport (The sacred in human evolution, 1971) which impressed me a lot. While  maintaining a latent interest in the subject, I have never really given it much thought since the seventies, beyond holding the opinion that religion originated because it…

Pandemic or not pandemic: Tipping points & H1N1

Experts I’ve interviewed over the past six years generally agree that such a Next Big One is not only possible but probable. They agree that it will almost certainly be a zoonotic disease — one that emerges from wildlife — and that the causal agent will most likely be a virus. They agree that sheer…

Civilisation-ending volcanic winter (note 1)

First published 20120718 /  last updated on 20120924 Is climate change the worst nightmare scenario for our future? We know it is there to stay, and experts tell us daily about what we are to expect (note 2). Nevertheless,  the science of impacts is a very uncertain business, because it relies – through models and…

The cost of hunger and malnutrition

Malnutrition remains the world’s most serious health problem and the single biggest contributor to child mortality. Nearly one-third of children in the developing world are either underweight or stunted, and more than 30 percent of the developing world’s population suffers from micronutrient deficiencies (WB 2006, introduction.) Needless to say, many authors, summits and international declarations…

Naming the invisible

Published 20091223/Last updated 20131218 with the quote from Stefan Zweig under “additional information.” … as imagination bodies forth The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing A local habitation and a name.    —SHAKESPEARE, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i.14–17  (taken from Johnson’s Where good ideas come from) Here…

Projects that will (perhaps) save the planet

(Published 20100212 / Last updated 20111207) There are basically three types of BIG problems facing the earth and, ultimately, the survival of man as a dominant species. The majority (1) has to do with the use and the misuse of natural resources, such as oil and water. (2) Then we have the possibility that an…

News from the future

Version française, cliquez ici. After “The risky business of forecasting“, which focused on  natural disasters, here is a note that looks more closely at the broader picture of our societies. It reviews different articles that have recently shown some skill in forcasting the future. The first comprises of simple power law equations the coefficients of…

Mountain climate(s)

This note about mountain climate is an updated and expanded version of an earlier text I wrote for the website of FAO many years ago (July 2002). Since then, I have left FAO for JRC and I have actually started working on climate related risk issues in a rather mountainous country (Ethiopia)… which somehow improved…

Are all EC and UN languages really needed

While writing the “fun” post below on Eurobabel, I collected some data on the actual use of European languages. Here is thus a more serious note about the importance of EU languages compared with UN languages, and their cultural weight compared with some reputedly “insignificant” languages such as Esperanto and Latin. Importance is, of course,…

Mixing oil, water and food in Saudi Arabia

Updated 20110922 In reaction to the first oil crisis of the mid seventies, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia decided to decrease its dependency on food imports by developing local food production using water from deep, non-renewable aquifers. This has now been going on for about thirty years now, and the country realized that, maybe, water…

La famine de 1845 en Irlande

Cette famine me fascine depuis longtemps. J’ai écrit ce petit texte il y a quelques années, et j’ai rassemblé pas mal de documentation sur le sujet. Disons que cette ébauche me servira d’amorce quand je parviendrai à me décider! Cette famine offre un exemple classique de pénurie complexe: les facteurs incluent des problèmes phytosanitaires (mildiou),…

Climate-crop impacts: some data issues

1. Introduction (*) Crop-climate interactions are of relevance for a number of applications, in food security, crop insurance, market planning and climate change impact assessments. All these fields have an interest in crop modelling and forecasting. The interest of forecasting goes beyond the immediate subjects discussed here, as all science is somehow about “forecasting”, i.e.…

How to find information on a computer? (revised_02; 20100131)

This is a revised version of the 20100103 post. Tom rightly commented on 2010110 that there was some confusion between data and information, and he warned me that if I ended up talking of insight, I would certainly get it wrong. I am lucky he did not mention knowledge and wisdom… Just to clarify things…

How difficult it is to be a climatologist…

Just  before COP-15 took place in Copenhagen in December 2009, unknow people broke into the computers of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia and stole email correspondence of Prof. Jones, a major figure in the IPCC.  The issue received wide media coverage and was eventually referred to as Climategate. The…

Recent rainfall and cattle trends in the Central-Western Sahel

  The graph shows recent trends of climate, urbanisation and a livestock production index (meat and milk). The data stem from various FAO sources: FAOSTAT for the production and population data, while the National Rainfall Indices (NRI) come from CLIMPAG. All variables are aggregated at the level of the “central-Eastern Sahel” by combining data from…

Einstein on crises

Below is a text by Einstein, which I got somewhere on the web. I like it because I have always considered that crises are opportunities to change directions. As Le Chatelier had observed, chemical systems tend to resist changes. While we are certainly complex chemical systems, humans are no exception: we just hate changes (e.g.…