All posts by besdrongos

A Rally Memorable Event

Singapore Climate Rally

On 21st September 2019, Singapore had her first ever climate rally. For some, this event was a monumental occasion – they had hopes that it will be the catalyst for greater climate action from the government.

If you were unable to attend the SG Climate Rally, here is a detailed account of my experience!

Pre-main event – Activities and Booths

When my friend and I reached Hong Lim Park at about 3.30pm, I was pleasantly surprised to see a tremendous turnout. The registration queue was long but also really quick as the smiling volunteers were hard at work in managing the crowd. Immediately as we entered the park, you could not only feel the blazing heat, but a fiery atmosphere full of passion and excitement to match!

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Sources say over 1,700 people turned out!

As the main event was slated to start at 4.45pm, we had plenty of time to explore the ‘booths’ (or Welcome Activities) and meet people. The “What on Earth is the Climate Crisis” booth was situated near the entrance, so this was the first activity we went to. Here, we could listen to the volunteers giving a crash course on the climate crisis (and related concepts) while also providing a safe space to discuss and ask questions about the whole topic! It was nice to see people openly talk about a wide variety of issues and their specific interests like geoengineering or environmental justice. Additionally, there was a quiz that you can attempt to test your knowledge on climate change 😛

The next booth which caught my eye was the Community Mural Painting; throughout the event, it was constantly being swarmed by people waiting to write or draw messages to express their thoughts and feelings towards the climate crisis! In fact, the volunteers had to roll out an extra banner just to accommodate more people.

Next, we headed to “A Postcard to My MP”. As the name suggests, the booth provided us with postcards, stamps and addresses for us to mail a letter to our MPs! Beyond expressing our concerns for the climate crisis to the government, this activity was also an introspective one for me. It really got me thinking about climate-related issues and what I personally hope an individual with power can and should do. Do I describe my fears and anxiety for the future and hope that their humanity understands mine? Or should I expect more from the ministers and demand something to be done, since it is a crisis after all? I found myself reflecting a lot about my role in environmental advocacy and what I should do as someone who wants to pursue this as a career – because of this, “A Postcard to My MP” was my favourite activity!

By the end of the activity, my friend and I were parched and proceeded to the water station to refill our bottles.

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BES Drongos guides Hoyan and Lydia volunteering for the event!

On the way, we saw many interesting signs that were quite well thought out! Some were also hilarious and uniquely Singaporean like “Respect Your Mother” and “O-Levels are soon, so is this irreversible climate crisis”. Here are some of my favourites but do check @SGClimateRally on Instagram for more!

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Unfortunately, we missed other activities like “Share Your Climate Crisis Story” and “Kids Read for Our Future” as it was already time for the main event – the speeches and the die-in.

Main event – Speeches

The speeches were all pretty neat. Each speaker had their own unique perspective (from an 11-year-old boy to an NGO’s co-founder) with their own take on the issue at hand. At the same time, there was a connecting theme between each speech – the weariness of being told about individual action which translates to the demand of the government and industries to take major action. I highly recommend anyone interested to visit The Online Citizen and watch the recorded speeches! Notably, I admire Oliver’s passion at such a young age and Karen’s wholesome honesty about her fears in speaking out to the government.

It makes no sense to me that we are told to switch off our lights when not in use, but the lights in Jurong Island never seem to be switched off – Ho Xiang Tian

Main event – Die-in

Honestly, I was quite skeptical about the whole “die-in” spectacle and felt that it was going to be an awkwardly uncomfortable experience. The idea was to have us “collapse domino-style” as a show of solidarity to everything we have lost to the climate crisis; thereafter, we can extend our reach to neighbouring attendees as a symbol of the interconnectedness between all things. Even as I type it now, the concept still seems quite peculiar to me!

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Taken form @SGClimateRally instagram!

Alas, perhaps it was because of the impassioned speeches right before, or perhaps it was because of the activity lead who was listing off all the elements of the 6th mass extinction, but the actual die-in felt surprisingly poignant. Despite whatever feelings you have for this segment of the event, I think that it made the rally a whole lot more memorable. Just like the annual Pink Dot, the die-in was SG Climate Rally’s big spectacle that had involved all attendees and meant something profound.

Conclusion

I personally found Singapore’s first Climate Rally to be a huge success! The organisers definitely didn’t bite off more than they can chew and everything seemed to have gone quite smoothly. Despite the heat and haze, it was also refreshing to see people still so energetic about wanting more to be done. While I believe that such rallies will still be needed in the near future, it was amazing to see Singapore’s environment-based civil society come together to demand better.

Written by: Afiq

Fragrant Frangipani Fans

Clusters of rich, pink flowers decorate its branches, sprinkled among the foliage. Yes, I’m talking about the frangipani tree! I recall that when I was very young, I loved to pick up fallen frangipani flowers and admire them. I’m sure many of you have done the same! I’ve always admired the beauty of the frangipani tree. So, allow me to share more about it with you!

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Photo of the frangipani plant outside the University Health Centre in NUS

There are a few different species of frangipani, which come in a range of colours: red, yellow, white and pink. The species of frangipani commonly found in Singapore is the plumeria rubra. ‘Plumeira’ refers to the genus of the flower, while ‘rubra’ means red in Latin. It first appeared in parts of South and Central America. In Singapore, you can find the frangipani along roadsides, as well as in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It is also found near Buddhist temples as the frangipani plant is a symbol of rebirth.

Interestingly, plumeria rubra produces no nectar, attracts pollinators with a unique floral scent which is more noticeable at night. This is how pollinators are fooled into pollinating the frangipani plants’ flowers. Sneaky, isn’t it?

If you thought that the frangipani plant was completely harmless, you’re about to get a shock! The frangipani tree contains poisonous “milky” sap, even in the leaf stems. This could irritate your skin and cause rashes. To prevent such a case, let’s not pluck leaves or flowers which are still on the frangipani tree! It is important to leave the plant alone so that we may prevent injury to ourselves and preserve the plant’s beauty.

There is a well-known spirit in Singapore – the Pontianak. A figure from Malay lore, she is an Asian vampire hungry for vengeance for wrong-doings to herself after dying during childbirth. She can make even the strongest among us tremble just thinking about her. Perhaps it is her frighteningly long, claw-like nails, or her glowing red eyes. It is said that the fragrant frangipani flower smell will hit your nose at night, right before the Pontianak pounces on her victim. There is little hope of escaping her claws. She sure is spooky!

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Boo! (Art: Chern Ling)

On the flipside, in Singapore’s context, the frangipani flower holds particular significance to the Hindu community. The frangipani flower symbolises love and loyalty to your spouse in Hindu culture. Hence, it is usually included during wedding ceremonies, to welcome the couple as they embark on their journey into marriage and their future together. Frangipanis are also used as decorations and in perfume production.

Evidently, the frangipani is a plant that is deeply rooted in Asian culture. Different cultures could have different perceptions of what the frangipani symbolises. To end off, here is some food for thought: What does the frangipani represent to you?

Written by: Fang Ning

Singapore’s National Bird

If you have been walking around our “rural” parks and forests, you may have noticed a bright flash of red darting from shrub to shrub. What you have seen is most likely the crimson sunbird! It is an attractive and iconic species that can be found in Singapore.

What is the crimson sunbird?

The crimson sunbird, Aethopyga siparaja is a species of sunbird found in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia and Southern China [1]. It inhabits a wide range of habitats ranging from parks and gardens to forests. Males have a distinctive crimson red plumage on the head, mantle and upper breast while females are drab, with olive green upperparts and yellower underparts [1]. Its diet consists largely of nectar and insects [2].

 

Where can they be found?

While the more common sunbirds such as the olive-backed sunbird can be found in urban areas and parklands, the crimson sunbird is less commonly seen outside of rural parks and forests in Singapore. The best places to find them would be the Central Catchment Nature Reserve or Bukit Timah Nature Reserve [1] which are not too urbanised.

 

The national bird of Singapore?

Back in 2002 [5], this iconic bird was designated the unofficial national bird of Singapore after it emerged winner in a poll organised by the Nature Society. Although nature groups have pushed for its status to be made official, no relevant ministries have declared so. At a dinner held as part of the 6th Asian Bird Fair in 2015 [6], there was a short-lived euphoria when it was mistakenly declared as the official national bird of Singapore. However, the crimson sunbird remains a popular choice as the national bird among Singaporeans.

Parting thoughts

While this species is still quite common in Singapore, they are not as commonly seen as other bird species. Hopefully, with the ongoing greening efforts utilising more native plant species, we will see more of them in our neighbourhood parks and gardens. Giving such an iconic species the official status as the national bird of Singapore would also pique people’s interest regarding Singapore’s natural environment, helping to raise awareness about the rich flora and fauna we have on this sunny island.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this entry! Till next time!

Written by: Ke Yao

References

[1]: https://singaporebirds.com/species/crimson-sunbird/

[2]: B. C. (1992). A Guide To The Common Birds Of Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Science Centre.

[3]: https://fryap.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/crimson-sunbird-in-singapore/#jp-carousel-2183

[4]: https://pixabay.com/photos/sunbird-bird-birds-doi-ang-khang-1863178/

[5]: https://singaporebirdgroup.wordpress.com/2015/11/01/crimson-sunbird-is-now-the-official-national-bird-of-singapore/

[6]: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/is-the-crimson-sunbird-singapores-national-bird-er-not-official-yet

Where the skies are not blue

A field trip! To a farm! That seemed like the kind of things we would only get to experience back in primary school. But the BES freshmen recently had the opportunity to visit a local farm called Sky Greens. Here’s a little bit more about it!

BES students getting a guided tour around the farm

Sky Greens is a vertical farm located in Yio Chu Kang and it was founded in 2010 by Mr Jack Ng. It is the world’s first low carbon and hydraulic driven vertical farm. Woah woah… what does this mean?

Basically, the vegetables are grown on shelves fitted on 9m high structures. How this farm works is that the shelves will rotate throughout the day to ensure that the vegetables on different shelves will receive sufficient sunlight for growth. Rainwater collected on the farm is pumped into the system to allow the shelves to rotate and also irrigate the plants.

Vegetables being grown on shelves

Mr Jack Ng shared that he started this project because he was interested in doing farming after he retired. However, as current farming methods are very labour intensive, he decided to explore better farming methods.

While some farms may use hydroponics, Sky Greens grow their vegetables in nutrient rich compost. The contents of the compost include “Nespresso” recycled coffee grounds, recycled vegetable waste, beneficial microbes, seaweed extract, bean sprout waste, recycled woodchips and chicken manure. It was really amazing how he was able to reuse food waste and incorporated them into his compost, turning waste into something useful instead! Such efforts to reduce waste are truly admirable. In fact, the coffee grounds act as a form of natural insect repellent due to its acidity, thus benefiting the vegetables as well.

More photos pf the farm

The efficiency of this farm also was truly mind-blowing. It required 95% less water, 75% less labour, electricity and 10x more yield compared to an open field vegetable farm.  It honestly sounded too good to be true! Such green solutions are definitely needed, given that the global demand for food is increasing while resources are becoming more scarce. Moreover, the farm produces approximately 500kg of greens per day which are packaged and sold at FairPrice express outlets around the island. The greens sold are mostly what locals consume (Cai Xin, Xiao Bai Cai, Mai Bai etc). In fact, it only takes 4hours for the greens to hit the shelves after being harvested, in comparison to imported produce which can range from 3 days to 3 weeks. (Lim, 2015).

A packet of Nai Bai Cai from sky greens

Mr Jack Ng explained that he wanted to keep his produce organic and not use pesticides to keep the pests away. As such, he resolved this problem by producing “mini vegetables” instead. These mini vegetables are smaller in size than regular vegetables, but also required less time to grow (only 3-4 weeks are required!) By harvesting the vegetables earlier, he would be able to reach the food before the pests, so that no pesticides would be needed. I personally thought that was a pretty genius idea.

Test results proving that the mini-series contained higher levels of Polyphenol, which acts as an                                                                                            antioxidant

Moreover, this mini-series was also found to contain 35% more antioxidants than regular Cai Xin. What struck me as well was his heart behind producing the vegetables this way. Mr Jack Ng shared that he was adamant about not using pesticides as he would only be willing to grow what he would be willing to eat. As a farmer, he had the responsibility over what he was producing, because it was what people were going to consume. Truly, being a farmer is more than just planting crops, but also impacting the health of whoever would be consuming your food!

As a country that imports more than 90% of our food (AVA, 2019), we are heavily dependent on other countries to supply us the food we need. Honestly, that is quite scary, because we definitely cannot sustain ourselves if we were to stop importing food. With urban projects such as Sky Greens, we are certainly heading towards more efficient and sustainable methods of food production and increasing our food security in the long run. What an eye-opening trip!

Written by: Ann Shin

References

LIM, J. (2019). Vertical farming invention wins global award. Retrieved 9 September 2019, from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/vertical-farming-invention-wins-global-award

AVA Vision | AVA Unveils Updated Food Security Roadmap. (2013). Retrieved 7 September 2019, from https://www.sfa.gov.sg/files/avavision/issues3-4_2013/food-security-roadmap.html\

What are the millennials up to lately?

Self-centred, self-absorbed, self-entitled. They are always on their phones, can’t let go of what they love, and seriously, they always think they deserve better in this world.

They are the millennials the society all so frown upon this day… right?

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Article posted by The Straits Times last week!

If you have seen young people watching their instagram feed every moment at noon on 15 March, looking disconnected and dissatisfied with the world, you have probably just encountered someone who has joined the Global Climate Strike 2019 (Tan, 2019). And he or she is probably more conscious about her surrounding and the world than you did at that moment.

Advocating for greater climate action is no longer the sole responsibility of climate scientists or influential businessmen and politicians; the young ones are taking charge, telling the world how the future generations deserve better and how the planet deserve better.

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Greta Thunberg (in yellow) the 16-year-old millennial who started this movement!

The global climate strike was a concerted effort of thousands of students from all over the world. In many of the countries, the students were skipping school and physically coming together to show the grown-ups that one doesn’t need to be rich and powerful to demand a change from the world.

Despite the growing movement towards sustainable development, climate change scepticism still prevails. This clearly shows that we should no longer rely on the scientists and statisticians to persuade the authorities and the general public.

In Singapore, where strikes and protests are not an option, the young people chose to make their voices heard by having a virtual strike on social media.

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Post for the Global Climate Strike from local advocates @theweirdandwild and @tingkats.sg

Several of the climate action and sustainability pioneers in Singapore have also expressed their support for this initiative. Singapore, as the forefront of urban development in Asia, has the ability to lead and set an example on sustainable development for the region (Hermes, 2019). While the booming trend of adopting zero-waste lifestyle such as ditching single use plastic straws and other disposable products used to be criticised as simply a fad, the fact that a growing number of young people have stayed religiously faithful to their commitment shows that the millennials in Singapore are ready to be the change they have envisioned.

Indeed, the millennials are still self-centred, self-absorbed and self-entitled. However, the sense of “self” has grown out of the stereotyped individualism. To the fervent advocates of climate actions and environmental sustainability, they feel the sense of entitlement not for themselves but for the environment, they are so stubborn that they refuse to budge from their pledges to slow climate change and most of all, while the world label millennials to be full of themselves, their belief that every individual has a power to change allow them to push forth many successful ground-up initiatives in the past years.

The strike may be over, but climate change doesn’t stop, and neither should our climate actions!

Written by: Andrea Law

References:

Tan, A. (2019, March 11). Global youth movement on March 15 calling for greater climate action may be held in Singapore as well. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/global-youth-movement-on-march-15-calling-for-greater-climate-action-may-be

Hermes. (2019, March 15). Strike by Singapore students unlikely. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/world/strike-by-spore-students-unlikely

Banking on Sustainability

You might have noticed these sleek white boxes popping up around your town recently:

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Photo: Qiu Jiahui

If you’ve ever been curious enough to peruse their charming infographics, you’ll know that they’re collecting non-perishable food items from the general public, so that they can be delivered to the food insecure population in Singapore, rather than collect dust on mistake-prone shoppers (it happens to the best of us ;)).

I, too, was curious… Curious enough to travel all the way down to their warehouse on Keppel Road, which serves as the headquarters for this simple, spirit-lifting operation!

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Photos: Qiu Jiahui

That’s it! This is where the food you drop off in their boxes is stored, sorted, and carted off to over 300 beneficiaries ranging from family service centres, nursing homes and childcare centres. An office the size of a regular school classroom and a storage space the size of a regular school hallway are where a tiny organization brings their big ambition to life – and the issue at hand is certainly huge. FoodBank Ltd was born when sibling entrepreneurs Nichol and Nicholas Ng discovered the magnitude of Singapore’s food waste problem.

As a land-scarce nation, Singapore has only one landfill for waste disposal – Semakau Landfill, which does not accept organic waste (Tan & Khoo, 2006). Thus, food waste is largely incinerated, generating huge quantities of carbon emissions. In 2002, for example, Singapore produced almost 500,000 tons of food waste, 94% of which was incinerated (Lang, 2008). In 2004, slightly over 300,000 kg of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions were generated per ton of food waste (Tan & Khoo, 2006). The implications of this overwhelming excess on Singapore’s overall carbon footprint are obvious.

Meanwhile, 12-14% of Singaporeans are living under the unofficial poverty line of $1500 in income per month (Loh, 2011), and by extension experience food insecurity.

FoodBank aims to close the gap between these two issues, eradicating their ironic coexistence in a fast-paced, extravagant Singapore. Though we’ve seen the quaint little warehouse where excess goodies from the wealthier spectrum of our society are stored, the real genius in this operation is that it largely takes place on the go. FoodBank knows that powdered Milo, biscuits and candy are far from enough, so in addition to facilitating the donation of non-perishables, its programmes include:

  1. A fresh food truck that collects fruits and vegetables rejected from supermarkets and wholesalers for solely cosmetic reasons,
  2. The Food Rescue Project, which whisks away excess cooked meals from the kitchens of reputable hotels and restaurants, and
  3. Joy in Every Bundle – bundle pledges for members of the public to fund balanced food packages for beneficiaries.

When you think about it, our food is needlessly thrown away through countless pathways, often even before they get the chance to reach our plates. For example, at Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre, inspectors who need to work quickly will examine fruits and vegetables by the carton, and if they spy even one blemished item, the entire carton is discarded. That adds up. Three times a month, FoodBank’s van dutifully pulls up to the centre, fills to the brim with these fruits and vegetables, and distributes it to rental flats around Singapore. It’s hard not to think of what the situation looked like before FoodBank came along: all these riches, turned to rubbish, and on the same island where thousands of poor are living.

With that in mind, I asked an employee what she thought the organization could really use right now, and the answer is: long-term volunteers. Sorting and organizing the food items requires some training, and having nothing but ad-hoc volunteers means that the staff spends a lot of time teaching new volunteers, only to have them leave in a week. Consistent volunteers would save some of that time, and be able to train up newer ones as well.

If you are interested, do drop by their website and check out how you can get involved:

One more thing: this is going to seem trivial, but if you have a lot of used cardboard boxes around, well, the ones that they have at the warehouse are getting a little worn out. And of course, check out their website to participate in their various programmes, learn more about the food waste issue, and make a donation to help out with transport costs (you may have noticed that there is a great deal of transport involved). Wastage in general is awful, but food waste is downright painful. There’s a hole in our system, and it’s time to plug it.

Written by: Qiu Jiahui

References:

Lang, J. C. (2008) Zero Landfill, Zero Waste: The Greening of Industry in Singapore In Leapfrogging Development In Emerging Asia: Caught Between Greening and Pollution. pp 151-172. New York, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.

Loh, J. (2011) Bottom Fifth in Singapore. Social Space. 88-90. Retrieved from https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1072&context=lien_research

Tan, R. B.H. & Khoo, H. H. (2006) Impact Assessment of Waste Management Options in Singapore. Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association, 56:3, 244-254, DOI: 10.1080/10473289.2006.10464463

 

Do You Eat to Live or Live to Eat?

There exists two extreme groups of people in this world: those who eat more than they need and those who struggle to get enough to survive. Even if you fall into neither of the groups, we’ve all probably been guilty of food wastage before!

Either way, it is clear that much of humanity’s dietary choices are slowly killing this planet.

The EAT-Lancet Commission recently published a report detailing the environmental unsustainability of a modern-day diet – high in red meat but low in vegetables. According to the UN, livestock contributes to at least 14% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which is equivalent to the emissions of all vehicles combined! If this is not alarming enough, think about it as being responsible for half the total global GHG emissions by the year 2030.

The reason for this is the large amount of methane emitted by livestock and the need for grains to feed them. On the other hand, having a plant-based diet drastically reduces the level of GHG one would emit. Dr. M. Sanjayan from Vox shared in a video that an average of 330g of CO2 is produced for every serving of beef, 74g for any cheese and 14g of CO2 is emitted for every serving of vegetables or rice and a shocking 2g for lentils.

Before we start accusing Lancet of trying to brainwash everyone into adopting veganism or vegetarianism, this is absolutely not the case!

What the EAT-Lancet Commission is proposing is the adoption of a Planetary Health Diet that is similar to the Mediterranean diet – one that is largely plant-based with moderate consumption of dairy and low consumption of red meat.

Based on the planetary health diet, it is recommended to reduce our food consumption by one serving of red meat per week, one ounce of white meat and fish and a quarter of an egg per day. This is equivalent to simply eating less of one serving of beef rendang, one serving of chicken (as in a plate of chicken rice), one tuna sandwich and 2 eggs every week.

I know it’s difficult… but you can do it!

Here is a food guide for the Planetary Health Diet:

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Figure 1

While it seems stringent, the nutritious value does not fall short of the 2000 kcal needed by an average adult every day.

If changing personal diets can save the planet, then what are we waiting for?

Unfortunately, there are problems equally, if not more pressing, than the sustained high GHG emissions; the global food system impacts not only the rich but also the poor. It is indeed applaudable that the first world countries persist in their pursuit to alleviate issues such as global warming and environmental degradation as a result of the global food system. However, as we overcome these issues through breakthroughs in sustainable food production methods one after another, we must never overlook the fact that there is way more people who are overfed than those that are malnourished in the world.

According to the Guardian, while around 820 million people worldwide are underfed, over 2.6 billion people are at the same time either overweight or obese, and many of these cases arise due to poor dietary choices.

Hence, beyond just informing the world about making better dietary choices, the Planetary Health Diet could potentially be tailored to achieve better food distribution around the world.

This begs the question: how do we make such a radical change to the food systems in the world?

It is not uncommon for individuals to lack motivation when it comes to drastic lifestyle changes. Therefore, more top-down approaches can be adopted to induce a greater change in people. Perhaps, on top of the “healthier choice” label in dining places, dishes that adhere to the Planetary Health Diet guide can be marked out to give consumers a better indication of the better choices that they can make.

So, to all those faced with the first-world problem of deciding what to eat every other meal, the Planetary Health Diet could very well be your solution!

Written by: Andrea

References:

Barclay, E. (2019, January 24). The way we eat could doom us as a species. Here’s a new diet designed to save us. Retrieved from https://www.vox.com/2019/1/23/18185446/climate-change-planet-based-diet-lancet-eat-commission

Carrington, D. (2018, November 28). Global food system is broken, say world’s science academies. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/nov/28/global-food-system-is-broken-say-worlds-science-academies