Home | TheWaterBlog

TheWaterBlog: If you want to share unique images and observations in this section, or would like to know about syndicating these posts, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.!


Food Miles
Posted by Mekdelawit Messay Deribe
December 18,2017

Food Miles. Does it ring any bells? If yes, great! If not let’s explore it together. Food miles is the distance your food has to travel from the farm to reach your plate. But why should we care how far our food travelled? Because the further your food travels- the more greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions it will produce. Now you might be saying “ really, is that even a thing?” – Just look at the figures below!
If you are living in the US, you are probably buying

  • Olives which have travelled more than 8000km from Italy,
  • Shrimps, cherries, berries, grapes, and lime which travelled around 8200 km from Chile or
  • Garlic and Mandarin from China which traveled almost 12000 km to reach you.

Do you live in Europe say in London?

  • Your coffee traveled more than 8700km from Ethiopia,
  • Bananas usually came from Colombia which is more than 8300km from London
  • Bell Pepper from Israel travel 3600km to reach London
  • A can of tuna from Thailand travels 9500km to London and
  • Onions from Egypt travel more than 3500km to reach you.

You did not think your food traveled so much did you! Food which is not in season also has a large GHG emission as it has to be transported large distances from places where it is in season to reach you. For example when oranges are out of season in Australia, they are just coming in season in the US and travel more than 10,000kms to reach Australia. Transporting just 2kg of oranges from California to Sydney would release more than its own weight in GHG emissions. Growing out of season produce locally using green houses would also take up lots of energy adding to GHG/ carbon emission especially if the energy source is not renewable. Food transport worldwide is quite literally responsible for millions of tons of GHG emissions annually.

Now that we have established that “food miles’ is a serious issue, what can we as responsible global citizens do about it. Well, a very simple solution would be to buy organic, locally produced and seasonal produce. Research indicates that consumers can get plenty of food within 160 km(100 miles) of where they live. By buying local and seasonal produce you significantly reduce your food miles and consequently reduce energy use and GHG emissions. Local produces are usually organic, so you also cut down your exposure to pesticides and other preservative chemicals those exotic produce have to be treated with. 

But obviously there are counter arguments to this buy local movement. One of the most strongly voiced opinions is that buying non-local produce actually helps developing nations as long as fair trade policies are followed. Strictly buying local produce will deprive export-dependent struggling economies of their major source of income. I find this argument very compelling. Especially coming from a developing country I understand that some countries have economies highly dependent on food export. For instance, Ethiopia is the largest coffee exporter in Africa and the fifth largest producer in the world, with coffee accounting for more than 40% of its export and 10% of its annual revenue. For such economies it is easy to see how the buy local movement can be a predicament. People also raise other reasons on a personal level which make buying local difficult for them. These include reasons such as:

  • Local produce is usually more costly,
  • People enjoy exotic taste,
  • Country of origin labels are not usually displayed on food packaging which makes it hard to choose local produce,
  • It is hard to know what is in season and what is not,
  • Locally packaged food may have non-local ingredients,
  • It is difficult to distinguish between locally grown and locally processed or packaged food,
  • Local produce might not be organic. Is it not better to buy organic food from far than organic food locally?
  • I cannot think of all this while shopping in real life,
  • Food miles are the least of our worries in the fight against climate change etc…

Despite the legitimacy of some these claims, I still want to do my part in reducing emissions and I believe most people do too. But does this mean I am never going to have another pineapple or banana again!!!??? Personally this is a huge dilemma for me. However, being informed always helps. The small changes we make have a snow ball effect. If we could be conscious of our decisions and how they affect the environment then I believe we can find a margin of moderation where I do not have to give up my pineapple and still be environmentally responsible. I believe it is all about moderation. Markets respond to the public demand. So for starters we can demand for better labels on country of origin to make the decision easier for us. We can also take advantage of several websites out there which show consumers what is in season and local food markets close by so consumers can easily make informed decisions while shopping. Pairing these actions with other environmentally good practices such as reducing your meat consumption(Yes- a single hamburger takes 2500 litres of water for its production) and reducing food waste we can make a significant difference. You can also support local farmers and community supported agriculture initiatives(CSA) to produce organic food locally! If you want to learn more about CSA initiatives follow this link to see how one such organization operates. If you want to learn more about food miles follow this link and this one.


  • Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals(EDCs)

    Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals(EDCs)Posted by Mekdelawit Messay DeribeDecember 11,2017More than 25 years ago, a group of school kids with their teachers went out on a field trip and observed some very unusual deformities in frogs. Some had three legs, some had odd extensions and looked very “abnormal”. I can’t imagine how confusing it must have been for the kids and the teachers back then. B...

    Read more

  • Turkana: From Desolation to Hope by Recognizing the Potential of Floods

    Turkana: From Desolation to Hope by Recognizing the Potential of FloodsPosted by Elly Yaluk and Loes van der PluijmDecember 08, 2017In just three days in Turkana, of which I spent only one and a half days in the field, I was dazed by the expansive and flat land the people of Turkana are endowed with. Spate rivers famously known as lagha (known as wadi in other parts of the world) run through the l...

    Read more

  • Glaciers in Tajikistan: Pulling the Climate Change Trigger

    Glaciers in Tajikistan: Pulling the Climate Change Trigger Posted by Frank van Steenbergen and Jonathan Demenge November 13, 2017With 1000 glaciers  about to melt,  Tajikistan is at the forefront of climate change. There is nothing trivial about it. Glacier melt means many things: in the long run less water storage in the region, in the short run landslides, mudslides, and river flooding.   ...

    Read more

  • The Badakhshan Landslide

    The Badakhshan Landslide By Frank van Steenbergen and Marta Agujetas Perez November 7, 2017We are in Badakhshan. This is the high mountaineous border of Tajikistan and Afghanistan and only the pristine Panj River, fed by melting water from many glaciers in the region, separates the destinies of the two countries. Afghanistan: for decades in turmoil and tormented, but resilient. Tajikistan: rudel...

    Read more


    A Lecture on Water, by Professor NatureBy Blessings JeranjiSeptember 29, 2017Water has obvious beneficial effects for the environment and communities. However, if not managed well it can have destructive powers. While on a field visit to the Mitundu Extension Planning Area (EPA) (on a Nissan Hardbody car), we had to make a U-turn as rains that day had made the road inaccessible. In the car was a t...

    Read more

  • 'Moon water harvesting' for volcanic wines in Lanzarote

    by Cecilia BorgiaOctober 03, 2017This story is about the ingenuity of women and men farmers in Lanzarote island of the Canary archipelago, who turned the ancestral punishment of volcanic forces and drought into a unique socio-cultural scenery: “La Geria”.The moon appears to be the repeating pattern here: its light gazes across the singular lunar landscape forged by solidified black lava and pa...

    Read more

  • Postcard from Mbitini: Roads against Drought

    Postcard from Mbitini: Roads against Droughtby Bobsammy Mwende Munyoki & Luwieke BosmaAugust 29, 2017Kenya: an economy that is growing quickly and a country that has emerged as one of Africa’s star performers. New transport infrastructure, roads and railways; a penetration of mobile phones and the innovative ‘Mpesa’ mobile money network; diversity of enterprise; the envy of neighbouring ...

    Read more

  • ‘Bajajs’: Filling the Mobility Gap in Rural Ethiopia

    ‘Bajajs’: Filling the Mobility Gap in Rural EthiopiaPosted by Abraham Abhishek, Cecilia Borgia, and Kebede ManjurJuly 17, 2017Blue-and-white three-wheeler motorized rickshaws, droning a constant drone as they lurch their way along unpaved roads, is a common sight in rural Ethiopia. The rickshaws are commonly known as ‘Bajaj,’ after what was perhaps the first brand to break into the Ethiopi...

    Read more

  • Postcard from Marracuene, Mozambique

    Postcard from Marracuene, MozambiquePosted by Frank van SteenbergenJune 30, 2017A civilization is measured by its care and not by its casualty – its attention for detail, its compassion for others, its cleanliness and attention for an environment jointly shared. This is where sanitation comes in and this is where things in many areas of the world have gradually improved. Maybe not as spectacular...

    Read more

  • Rice growing in the water

    Rice growing in the waterBlogpost by: Palal Moet MoetDo you know how to sow rice in deep water? In the soil – of course: ultimately all plants have to be rooted in soil. But what I want to describe is floating rice (FR) which is a range of traditional rice varieties adapted to large changes in flood water levels that occur during the rainy season. Can you believe if I say floating rice can elong...

    Read more