Thursday, May 31, 2007

Who is Zoellick?

Zoellick at World Bank? from the Institute for Public Accuracy

Director of 50 Years Is Enough: U.S. Network for Global Economic
Justice, Dossani said today: "Though I am not surprised that George Bush has
nominated another white male neoconservative to the post of World Bank
president, I am appalled. After the departure in disgrace of Paul Wolfowitz,
the White House had a chance to live up to its own rhetoric and democratize
the process for appointing the World Bank head. Instead they've stuck to the
status quo, business as usual, based on a 60-year-old 'gentleman's
agreement.' The situation is unacceptable and gives the lie to any claim
that the World Bank could ever be an institution for advancing the interests
of countries in the Global South." Dossani is a contributor to the blog

Barry is policy director of the International Relations Center, which
features a profile of Zoellick on its web page -- -- noting that, among other
things, Zoellick was a signatory to the Project for a New American Century
letter to President Clinton on Iraq:
Barry is author of an analysis of Zoellick's policies when he was U.S.
trade representative:

Russell is director of international advocacy for the group Health GAP.
She said today: "During his tenure at U.S. trade representative, Robert
Zoellick was well known among AIDS and public health advocates for lobbying
for trade agreements that were major giveaways to the pharmaceutical
industry. Because of Bob Zoellick's efforts, these agreements will increase
the cost of lifesaving medicines in developing countries. He put drug
companies' interests ahead of the interests of people living with HIV and
other life-threatening diseases. He was on the wrong side of that debate.
"We are very concerned that Zoellick will apply that same flawed,
market-fundamentalist thinking to the major health policy issues that have
made the Bank so ineffective in fighting poverty.
"For example, the World Bank has not been a leader in supporting poor
countries in creating the 'fiscal space' that they need to scale up HIV
treatment and care -- that's the flexibility countries need to increase
budget expenditures in health and increase absorption of international donor
aid. That flexibility is hard to get because the International Monetary Fund
pressures governments not to increase health and education investments, in
the name of ensuring macroeconomic stability.
"It's very difficult to imagine the same Bob Zoellick who carried water
for big pharma being the kind of advocate ministers of health need in order
to expand their investments in salaries for doctors and nurses to address
6,000 preventable AIDS deaths each day in Africa alone."

Trade and debt specialist with the American Friends Service Committee,
Beaumont said today: "The World Bank needs a president with a vision for
breaking out of the one-size-fits-all development model promoted by the
World Bank. As U.S. trade representative, Robert Zoellick was the architect
of the cookie-cutter approach to U.S. trade policy. He ensuring that the
Central American Free Trade Agreement and other trade pacts were even more
aggressive than the North American Free Trade Agreement in protecting
multinational corporate interests. ...
Zoellick was at the table telling potential trading partners to take it or
leave it as he helped build the coalition of the willing for the Bush trade

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167

Zoellick to replace Wolfowitz

Profile: Robert Zoellick

"Robert Zoellick may hail from the conservative wing of US Republican party but, unlike his predecessor, Paul Wolfowitz, he has a formidable record in financial and economic governance. After a spell at the treasury and a stint as economics undersecretary of state in the 1980s, he returned to a more senior role in 2001 as George Bush's first trade representative, the chief US trade negotiator. During his four years in the job, he helped launched the Doha round of world trade talks and negotiations to bring China and Taiwan into the WTO. He moved to the state department before leaving government for Goldman Sachs and a job as managing director."

And that's what my friend Rania had to say about it: "not that i was expecting a good man would be nominated, but this man could arguably be worse since he's smarter and more of a diplomat"

NGOs: motion but no progress

"My sister's hamster recently dropped another round of babies. Just when she thought life had returned to normal, a new batch of tiny creatures was born, sending the wheel fresh on its never-ending rotation. Looking at the litter, I couldn't help but think of the plethora of Western-funded Palestinian (and Israeli) non-governmental organizations bent on supporting the non-existing "peace process." Just like the hamsters, they run around and around, creating an illusion of forward movement but willfully trading substance for process. Sure, it may be nice when it comes to assuaging the conscience of the West, but in the end the revolving hamster wheel produces about as much good as the "peace industry."

It should be said that a few honorable people on all sides of the divide really have tried to make a difference and some may even have succeeded in doing so. However, in total, the peace NGOs have been more fraud than friend. The reasons for this are plenty, ranging from warped donor policies to bad organizational administration. However, the main cause is that there is absolutely no basis for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians as long as the Israeli military occupation continues.

It has been said that the West bought out Fatah by creating and funding the Palestinian Authority. Equally it bought out the secular, leftist organizations by creating a parallel PA, the NGO world. It is obvious who has been left out: the Islamic-oriented groups. We can all see where that has led. This just goes to show that foreign largesse is based on cool, calculating politics and not on real need or equality. This fraudulent and vicious circle of interdependence (because all bureaucracies need to spend their allocations), where the focus is on keeping people quiet instead of creating real value, where NGOs are busy enforcing the status quo instead of challenging it as watchdogs, is bound to collapse. "

Great article. From the Daily Star for a change. (Thanks Eugene)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Plans for new US farm bill

"At the heart of their approach is an overhaul of agricultural subsidies. Four major subsidy programs - crafted to reward big growers of traditional crops like corn, wheat and soybeans - would be phased out and replaced by a single "risk-management account" whose main purpose would be to cushion farmers from annual price swings. Crop insurance would still be available for major disasters." (Thanks Yasmine)

On the difficulty of being small

"Some consumers are demanding locally grown food in a bid to help support family farmers, conserve energy and buy what they see as fresher, more nutritious products. The number of farmers' markets increased by 18 percent to 4,385 markets between 2004 and 2006, U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics show. Restaurants are increasingly serving up heirloom tomatoes and herbs procured from local growers.

But farmers, chocolate makers and other producers must overcome a lot of hurdles before they can win shelf space. Problems include how to crack into elaborate distribution systems used by most big supermarket chains, expensive insurance requirements and competition from lower-priced, large-scale producers."

Spill standing

"At present, the main challenge is to determine the next phase. Local environmentalists told The Daily Star that the Environment Ministry has still not decided what to do with the contaminated water and sand that have been collected thus far. Most of the recovered oil still sits in barrels near where it was collected. Environmentalists fear that rain and other climatic factors might cause the oil to escape and cause a new contamination with a potentially huge impact on human health and the environment. They blame disorganization and a lack of follow-up for the situation."

Lethal cocktail

"The concoction becomes lethal. America’s relentless drive to dominate the Middle East and its oil, blends well with Israel’s insatiable appetite for water and unstoppable expansion. It is said that oil and water do not mix – but when they do, it becomes a lethal concoction with no easy solution. The fatal blend engulfing the Middle East today seems to have no end in sight other than darker clouds showering more innocent blood.

Although today Israel imports most of its food staples from the US, and while agriculture is economically insignificant, in territorial-political terms it is of utmost importance. In July 2006, Israel bombed and destroyed Lebanon for 33 days as the world stood by. This was oil and water mixing. Israel did not want Arabs on the border, the United States wanted Hezbollah disabled, a fact readily admitted by then ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton[v]."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Unilever goes ethical- read on

"Unilever, the world's largest tea company, is to revolutionise the tea industry by committing to purchase all its tea from sustainable, ethical sources. It has asked the international environmental NGO, Rainforest Alliance, to start by certifying tea farms in Africa.

Lipton, the world's best-selling tea brand, and PG Tips, the UK's No.1 tea, will be the first brands to contain certified tea. The company aims to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe certified by 2010 and all Lipton tea bags sold globally by 2015.

Based on Rainforest Alliance experience with other crops, it is expected that certified tea will command higher prices than current average prices paid at auction. Unilever estimates that it will be paying farmers around €2 million more for its tea by 2010 and around €5 million more by 2015.

Lipton is the world's best-known and best-selling brand of tea, with sales of nearly €3 billion today. Lipton is the global market leader in both leaf and ready-to-drink tea, with a global market share nearly three times larger than its nearest rival. Available in over 110 countries, Lipton is particularly popular in Europe, North America, the Middle East and parts of Asia."

This is an excerpt from a Unilever press release. Let me now get this thing straight:

1. Unilever owns Lipton and PG Tips tea brands
2. Its sales of Lipton tea alone are $3 billion per year. Lets assume PG tips bring in another $1 billion. Total $4 billion.
3. After 3 years of the ethical branding, farmers will be paid an extra $2 millions
4. If Ethical Branding produces a sales volume increase of 1% per year, Unilever will make around $150 million in the first 3 years.
5. Over this period, the farmers will receive an extra $2 million, which is exactly 1.3% of the net income attributable to the adoption of the Ethical Label.

How ethical is that?

The argument for biofuels

"The poor in the U.S. and Latin America would benefit from lower corn prices, jobs, cheaper fuel and higher cash crop prices. Energy security would improve if fuel came from friendly countries like Colombia and Brazil instead of the Middle East, Russia and Venezuela. Lower oil prices would weaken defiant anti-American leaders in Iran, Venezuela and elsewhere."

1919: zionists views on Litani water

"In 1919, the Zionist delegation at the Paris Peace Conference said the Golan Heights, Jordan valley, what is now the West Bank, as well as Lebanon's river Litani were "essential for the necessary economic foundation of the country. Palestine must have... the control of its rivers and their headwaters"."

BBC article on water as an obstacle for peace in the Middle East.


"ISLAMABAD: Italy on Tuesday assured Pakistan to support its bid for "equitable market access" within the European Union through a Free Trade Agreement or a similar mechanism."

Read it to see how equitable market access develops into military imports.

...and now the Swiss are saying it

"A new Swiss study is likely to add fuel to the debate over biofuels because it suggests that the fuels may not be as eco-friendly as believed.

The study, which was commissioned by Swiss authorities, says though biofuels emit fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels, their production may be more environmentally harmful than their traditional counterparts, Swissinfo reported Tuesday."

The World Bank's plan to eradicate poverty by wiping out the poor

"Because of the land privatisation and land conversions, Ya'kub told IPS that peasants have been cornered and their farmlands have become smaller and smaller -- and many have even lost their land altogether.
World Bank-inspired policies that pushed for land titling and market forces to drive agrarian reform have sparked conflict between peasants and investors, which in the Indonesian case would be either the government or the private sector. Ya'kub says the social cost of the marginalisation of farmers and peasants, the main victims, is huge, ranging from loss of livelihoods, arrests and even deaths."

Extensive IPS article in the wake of the Wolfowitz scandal.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Just one little cheese sandwish

The Nahr el Bared Relief Campaign( organized a small convoy yesterday May 26 to the Beddawi refugees camp. It included essential foodstuff, clothes and medicines in 4 cars. The Lebanese army checkpoint of Batroun stopped only one of the cars, and requested the papers of the two people who were inside. One of them, S.B. is a young Palestinian graphic designer and human rights activist who has inherited his refugee status from his parents. Like many Palestinians in Lebanon, his only identity papers are a euphemistically termed “laisser passer”. Euphemistic because the mere fact of showing it at a check point is sufficient reason to have you stopped, checked, searched, retained, and often detained. For this reason, many Palestinians prefer to circulate without it, counting on their luck, their simulated Lebanese accent, and their knowledge of side roads to avoid being arrested at Lebanese army or Internal Security Forces Check points.

S.B. chose to show his “laisser passer”. He was asked to follow the soldier to the headquarters. We pulled over and a group of us including the local representative of a German NGO, a writer friend and myself followed him. We found him standing at the door of a small room, surrounded by a number of soldiers in aggressive interrogation mode. We declared our identities and affiliations and asked for his release. The army obliged, and SB walked free. Our German partner took a peek in the room. She saw on the floor two young men in their early 20’s, handcuffed behind their backs.

In the camp, I told this story to one of our counterparts from the civil society groups. He laughed and said: he got off lightly, because his place of birth does not indicate any one of the camps of the North. Otherwise, you would not have seen him. I asked whether these incidents were frequent and he said that this was common place. I asked to meet someone who was arrested. I did, and this is the story I heard.

R. is a 20 years old young man. When I saw him, he looked like a “dude” from a university campus in the US: clean shaven, baseball cap, polo shirt, faded jeans and loafers. A few days ago he was circulating at night on a moped with a friend on the outskirts of the Beddawi camp when he was arrested by a Lebanese army patrol. He did not have his papers, but his friend did. The patrol allowed the friend to go and fetch R’s papers. Before his return, they took R to the army secret service (mukhabarat) headquarters in Tripoli. They put him in a 2x3 meters cell with 17 other people. They were forbidden to speak to each other. The goal was insalubrious and foul smelling. There were a few bottles which they used when they needed to urinate. His friend brought him his ID, and then left. Most of the others jailed in the cell were like him, not sure what they were doing here. There were many Palestinians, but also some Lebanese and some Syrians. One of the Palestinians was a 16 year old who was arrested in an internet café while browsing a Jihad site.

In the morning, they took him out, handcuffed him behind his back, and blindfolded him. They then beat him heavily, interrogated him about his links with Fateh al Islam, removed the blindfold and made him sign some papers. He could not see what he was signing because the interrogator covered the paper with his hands. He said that he considered briefly not signing, but then saw another person being beaten because he had questioned the contents of the papers, so he signed.

He was then taken to Beirut with 5 other people handcuffed and blindfolded laying on the floor of a pick up truck. As soon as they arrived, they beat them without control, while showering them with verbal abuse, then took him to the doctor for a check up. They took him to the jail, which is a long corridor with cells on either side. As there was not enough space in the cells, they kept him with others on the floor. They were seated, handcuffed, blindfolded and had to look to the floor. He said that the back pain from staying in the same positions for hours was excruciating. Each time one of them would doze off and fall aside, he would be beaten into waking up.

In the middle of the second night, one of the prison guards called his number and told him that he had been granted permission to sleep. He lay on the floor tiles. He woke up next morning shivering and with severe stomach pain. He was taken to the doctor who gave him medicine, gave him a mattress and a blanket and let him sleep for a couple of hours.

He was then taken to the investigator where he was subjected to heavy psychological pressure, and asked what he described as silly questions about the weapons he has at home, the date of his joining Fateh al Islam and other questions to which he had no answer.

He was then taken back to the corridor, where a new guard welcomed him with further beating. Apparently, each time a new guard takes over, the first thing he does is beat the prisoners.

As night fell he was put again in the pick up truck and taken to Jounieh. He knew it was Jounieh from the conversation among the soldiers. He was beaten for half an hour, then placed back in the pick up and taken back to Tripoli.

There, things improved for him. He attributes this to his father’s efforts and contacts made to release him. The officer took him to his office, removed his blindfold and his handcuffs and gave him water.

He was sent to the Military Police jail. It was near midnight, and he was told he would be released in the morning, upon the arrival of the officer. There, they made him sign a paper saying that he was caught driving a moped without registration papers.

The next morning hours passed, and there was no sign of any one. He banged on the door, and someone opened, looking surprised, and asked him what he was doing there. He told his story.

An hour later, an officer arrived, took his papers, repeated the questioning, and put him back in the cell.

Another hour passed before an internal security officer came, listened to his story and then signed his transfer papers. He took him out of the jail and told him to go home. He also gave him a $50 fine for driving a moped without papers.

During his 3-days ordeal, he was given water twice and a small cheese sandwich once.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Food for thought: In the Beddawi refugee camp

I just got back from the Beddawi Refugee camp near Tripoli where most of the displaced from Nahr el Bared have found shelter. It is a tiny piece of land, no more than 1 km2, which, until May 22, used to be home to 18,000 people. Now they are 30,000. You can feel it in the streets: impossible to move by car without hitting someone.

I learned a couple of things.

On war

I spoke with a number of youth and not so youth who have arrived from Nahr el Bared yesterday. I also had a long chat with a US photographer who has been spending endless hours waiting to get into the Nahr el Bared camp. I also had a conversation with a comrade from the PFLP, a mother of 6 who had just made it with her kids from Nahr el Bared.

Fateh al Islam is a new group in the camp. They are not more than 120 people, of whom 20 or so are Palestinians from Lebanon, and only 2 from the Nahr el Bared Camp. All the others are non Palestinians, but no one knew what their nationality was: they only knew that they had strange accents. Their base was in the area close to the Lebanese army, and apparently they attacked the army without prior notice. The PFLP comrade told me she saw them say a prayer of one ruq’a with their weapons in front of them, and then they called for the Jihad and then they went on to attack the army check point and kill all the soldiers. I was told that the army camp in a place called Muhammara was attacked and 4 soldiers were take prisoner. The militiamen tried to take them into the camp as hostages but they refused to move, so they killed them and beheaded at least one of them. In another incident, an armored vehicle of the army came close to the camp and fired heavy machine gun. Its engine stalled and it could not retreat. It was attacked by the militiamen and its personnel were killed; some beheaded.

The army went completely mad at the killing of the soldiers and started shelling the camp indiscriminately with very heavy artillery fire, from both the southern and the northern ends of the camp. The photographer told me that he believed that many of the casualties of the army were due to friendly fire, because the two entrances to the camp are so close to each other. The rows of houses closest to the army positions were totally destroyed, and so was a large part of the camp. After the initial mayhem, which went on for several hours, the street were littered with bodies, and there were dozens of injured. The heavy shelling subsided, but the army responded with canon fire to any bullet from the camp. People remained locked inside their houses, and the dead remained in the streets. The residents woke up in the morning to the sound of feral dogs fighting over pieces of dead bodies. There is a video of these scenes, taken with a camera phone.

The response of the residents of the camp was variable. Most stayed put and tried to leave at the first opportunity. I also heard reports of armed Lebanese civilians coming to “help” the army, harassing the refugees leaving the camp. At least one person said he was shot at by armed civilians, without being able to identify which party they belong to. About a third of the camp population is still inside.

On needs

This morning, there were 2,757 refugee families from Nahr el Bared in Beddawi. 537 are sheltered in the schools, while 2175 are sharing houses with friends or relatives. Many houses have 4 or 5 guest families. Houses in the camp are very small, typically 60-80 square meters with 2 bedrooms at most.

The UNRWA clinic is extremely busy, and there must have been over 200 people waiting to be examined by 2 doctors. I sat with the doctor for 15 minutes, during which he examined 4 patients, all of them suffering from upper respiratory tract infections. He told me the majority of the cases he has examined from Nahr el Bared were respiratory problems.

Relief is trickling into the camp, and most of it is missing the neediest. Both Fateh and Hamas are distributing aid. The bulk of the aid is going to a couple of large schools, but nothing is reaching the small schools or the overcrowded houses. Supporting the people in the houses is particularly important because the families hosting them are already poor, and can barely provide for their own needs. The end result will be even more impoverishment in Baddawi.

Among the first Lebanese groups to offer food relief to the large schools was the Future Movement of Hariri. I heard conflicting reports about the effectiveness of the action. All those interviewed agreed on 2 things: one is that Hariri aid is highly politicized, and that only Fateh (PLO) families and groups were benefiting from it. The people I spoke to say this is meant to strengthen Fateh’s influence. One old man, frustrated for having been left out of the distribution, told me: “This is not Fateh Arafat anymore; this is Fateh al Hariri now. What a loss ya Abou Ammar!”

The other thing I learned about Hariri aid falls into the tragi-comic category. I was passing by one of the big schools when a car stopped and started unloading bags upon bags of knefeh and boxes of Arabic sweets (halawet el jeben) from the Hallab shop in Tripoli, and taking them to the refugees. I asked about it and was told that this is part of the aid offered by the Hariri movement. Apparently, half of it is thrown, because too much is given to 1 or 2 locations, and this stuff just doesn’t keep. A school teacher swore to me that yesterday they brought them croissants, but that the kids refused to eat them because they had never seen it before. They asked for manousheh.

There is need for anything one can think of, starting with powdered milk and ending with crutches for the wounded. But people are helping themselves and helping each other. A young woman came to the office where I was staying and asked about milk for 24 children. I asked her if they were hers and her relatives. She said she did not know them, that she was a schoolteacher from Beddawi, and that the kids' parents were refugees in her school from Nahr el Bared. She and her colleagues collected money to feed them yesterday. They had not yet eaten today, but she was looking. When she was given the milk, she broke down in tears.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No food

There is, on the outskirts of the Nahr el Bared refugee camp, a neighbourhood called "Al Muhajjarine" (the displaced). It is a small area, some 40 by 40 meters, which houses a few thousands people who live in shared, derelict houses with no privacy, running water or electricity. They are refugees from the Tall el Zaatar refugee camp, where in September 1976 the Phalangists of the Gemayyel clan perpetrated one of the worst massacres of the Lebanese wars, with the help of the Syrian army (small world, innit?).

The Muhajjarin refugee-camp-within-a-refugee-camp is now almost empty: too close to the fighting, its inhabitants are...refugees again, this time in the Palestinian camp of Beddawi. Like the other 12,000 displaced from Nahr el Bared, they lack food and other basic necessities.

Somehow, I don't feel like blogging about food, farming and rural society today.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Nahr al Bared: 2 km2 of poverty

"Most of the inhabitants of the Nahr el Bared camp live in poverty due to the degradation of the economic environment and the shrinkage of job opportunities. The main sources of employment are agriculture and construction and self employment, which explains why unemployement is more than 50%. The camp is home to 40,000 inhabitants on just 2 square kilometers. Some were able to diversify in small and medium trade, making use of the location of the camp between Lebanon and Syria. The camp is located 18 km north of tripoli. It was founded in 1949, and most of its inhabitants are refugees from the North of Palestine. There are 1o schools, and the average number of students per school is 44. There is one technical school funded by charities, and there are 3 large health centers and 10 small dispensaries and no hospitals."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Suddenly everybody is into Hash

“I'm planting all my fields with hash and I don't care if anybody sees it because the army is too busy anyway,” says one farmer outside the Hizbollah-dominated village of Budai.
Instead of the 14,000 square metres that he planted last year, almost all of which was destroyed by the police, he is now planting 70,000 sq metres. “It's easy, I do it myself. I just throw the seeds out and by September I will have a beautiful field of hash.”

Renegade tamales

"Serving a panoply of international tamales, Mama’s Café bills itself as an apprentice-run training facility. Many of the student-worker-chef-hosts are low- and moderate-income immigrants who got their start selling homemade food out of car trunks or shopping carts; Romero’s program helps them navigate the process of manufacturing food legally. “It’s about bringing people from the informal economy into the formal economy,” she says. Anybody training in Mama’s kitchen must also enroll in the business-development courses at the IURD’s adjacent economics lab. “All these people are actually entrepreneurs,” says Romero, whose program teaches students how to apply for a business license, make a business plan, develop a market, and acquire capital."(Thanks Anna who looooooves tamales. jackson, don't you love tamales?)

Sunday, May 20, 2007

We Love Life too say hashish growers in Lebanon

"This is the crop that pays for the bread we eat. We will fight anyone who wants to destroy it" say hashish growers in the Bekaa, Lebanon.
The Bekaa is one of the poorest areas in the country, and it was heavily hit by the Israeli war on Lebanon of July 2006. Here are the main points of the arabic article.
  • Farmers in the Bekaa demand government support in exchange for abandonning the cultivation of Hashish.
  • The Bekaa is poor and villages lack access to the most basic services such as health and roads.
  • Poverty has been deepened by the July war. Many farmers were forced to take bank loans to feed their families and use their lands as collateral. They are afraid of losing them.
  • Resigned minister of agriculture Sahili favors legal planting of hashish according to quota system, and export to Holland.
  • Without some form of governmental support and protection, there is no way Lebanese produce can compete with subsidized imports.
  • The figures: cost of irrigating 10 hectares of potatoes: 12 million lebanese pounds. Cost of producing one kilo of lebanese potatoes (before packing): 250 lebanese pounds. Price of 1 kilo of imported Egyptian potatoes: 225 lebanese pounds.
  • More figures: total cost of production of 10 ha of hashish: 1.5 million lebanese pounds. Yield from 10 ha: 360 kilos of resin. Sale price of 1 kilo of resin: 750,000 lebanese pounds.
  • Farmers are ready to defend their livelihoods by force if need be. The army might win but the price will be high.

I wrote on the same issue a while ago, highlighting the Syria-US connection in the hash trade. Check my post of April 19 2007, "Coca or Hash".

US food aid reform?

"It is also a program reformers seize upon as ripe for repair. A recent report from a government watchdog delivered a searing analysis of U.S. food aid, calculating that 65 percent of emergency spending goes to overhead.
The report rooted problems largely in stringent procurement and transport rules that require U.S. shippers to transport U.S. crops to crisis zones.
By the administration's own accounting, it can take as long as five months for food to arrive at hunger hot spots. The U.S. Agency for International Development, which manages most aid delivery, believes the proposed changes would have sped delivery of aid to Iraq in 2003, to Lebanon in 2006, and to East Africa in 2006 and 2007."

A proposal for reforming US food aid and allow local purchases of food to support emergency situations. search the blog for previous post on the topic.

Of bread and beer

"Fermentation is the process of preserving food and transforming its flavor by subjecting it to beneficial bacteria, or microflora. For Katz, fermentation is an essential culinary technique, a health regimen, and a political act. "We humans are in a symbiotic relationship with single-cell organisms," he writes in Wild Fermentation. "Microflora ... digest food into nutrients our bodies can absorb, protect us from potentially dangerous organisms, and teach our immune systems to function." In a country almost clinically obsessed with sterilization -- with waging war on the trillions of dread germs that permeate air, land, water, and our bodies -- Katz reminds us of the forgotten benefits of living in harmony with our microbial relatives." (Thanks Rania)

The other face of Land and People

It’s been a very busy week for Land and People in Lebanon.

Besides being a blog for food, farming and rural society, Land and People is also a rural development program. The motto of the program is “Celebrating local culture/ Enhancing rural livelihoods". It was borne in the aftermath of the Israeli war on Lebanon of July 2006, with the aim of helping local communities of the South rebuild their shattered livelihoods.

The core of the program is the mobile agricultural clinic that goes from village to village, delivering agricultural extension and organizing training sessions on farming, with special emphasis on agroecological practices.

The work of the mobile clinic helps the team identify local products (produits du terroir) that are interesting, promising and in danger of becoming extinct. When a new product is identified, the L&P team works alongside the local community to improve production methods. The goal is to make products that retain their specific characters, while acquiring desirable attributes such as consistency in quality. We then help the community develop a correct pricing system for the products, which are then branded and commercialized. In other words, we take the different elements of the supply chain, improve them and align them so that the chain can run smoothly.

Land and People works with cooperatives, producer groups or even individuals. L&P can also offer support to groups wanting to organize themselves, or to micro enterprises desiring to obtain a bank loan to expand their work.

The L&P products family includes today the famous pure laurel oil soap manufactured by the women of Aita al Shaab. Aita is one of the villages of the south that have been almost erased from the map by the Israelis and which are now being reconstructed. Aita’s women make what is probably the finest laurel soap in the world, from the fruits of the wild laurel that grows uniquely in Aita.

Zaatar (thyme) is probably one of the few spices in the world that also doubles up as a staple. It is eaten in a variety of ways, and it used to be exclusively collected from the wild. A few enterprising farmers have domesticated the wild plant, and produce it today on a small scale (less than one hectare at a time). Abu Kassem from Zawtar, near Nabatiyyeh, is one of those. L&P helped him improve his sales by branding his produce and developing its identity as Zaatar Zawtar. More farmers are now joining in, and Land and People has prepared 50,000 wild zaatar seedlings for distribution fo farmers who want to trygrowing zaatar.

On the faace of it, the Women’s Cooperative of Deir Qanoun Ras el Ayn should not need any support: it has access to a one-hectare farm with its own well, an irrigation system, in addition to a state of the art food processing plant. The farm and the plant were offered by a USAID project implemented by YMCA. The 25 women of the coop were also trained in making jams and preserves and in quality control. However, the project ended before a market could be found for the produce, and the women never made any income from the tens of thousands of dollars that were invested in the project. Moreover, the YMCA project had helped more than 50 such coops, creating a market glut of locally produced jams and preserves.

When the L&P team met with the women of deir Qanoun Ras el Ayn, they were seeking financial support for repairs to their farm. The team fixed the farm equipment with minimal costs, and then proceeded to study local food culture in order to identify one or more products which could become flagship products for the coop.

We found that the village made three interesting breads. One is a sweet and spicy cookie-type of bread, "Kaak el Abbas" (the Biscuit of Abbas) which is cooked and eaten during special religious occasions in South Lebanon. Another is the "Mishtaah Jreesh", a slightly spiced bread made from coarsely ground local wheat. But the most interesting finding was “Millet el Smeed” a thin, crunchy biscuit made mostly from burghul (bulgar), the crushed boiled wheat, and from whole grain sesame. Millet el Smeed used to be made especially for caravan travellers who needed a nutritious food, light to carry, and that did not spoil. This protein-rich biscuit can be conserved in a paper bag for weeks and still retain its freshness. It is worth noting that the combination of burghul and sesame gives this bread a complete amino acids profile. Only 2 old women in the village still knew how to make it.

The Beirut Garden Show, which receives more than 20,000 visitors, was an opportunity to test the public response to these old products. Land and People rented a stand in the Souk el Tayeb space, and presented the products. The response was excellent. People appreciated the products from all three villages, and the sales were very good. The women of Aita sold nearly all their soap. Demand on the 3 breads was so high that the women of Deir Qanoun exhausted their supplies within the first 2 days. Zaatar Zawtar was also very successful and received many orders from returning customers.

The community groups or individuals supported by L&P will manage their own marketing and sales. As of this week, L&P will rent a weekly stall at Souk el Tayeb. Any community group or individual producer benefiting from the L&P services can elect to expose their products in the stall. The stall is managed by the community groups themselves, on a rotational basis. Every group gets to manage the stall at least one week per month. The community groups are supported by a part-time staff member of L&P, usually a student volunteer.

Land and People’s next product will be the Freek of Siddiqine. Freek is the smoked green wheat, which can be cooked and eaten as rice. It is a traditional food which is disappearing because it has been replaced with rice, which travels long distances before reaching Lebanon. Stay tuned.

Land and People projects are implemented through the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the American University of Beirut, and are funded by money from individual donations, by SEAL (Social and Economic Action for Lebanon) and by the Henrich Boell Foundation. The total project funds are $50,000 USD.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

100 miles diet

Good website on eating locally. Starting from beirut, 100 miles radius would be enough to cover all of Lebanon

Another face of climate change

"By 2050, it says, twice as many people could be displaced by conflict and natural disasters, but 250 million could be permanently displaced by climate change-related phenomena such as droughts, floods and hurricanes, and 645 million by dams and other development projects, based on a current rate of 15 million people a year. "The growing number of disasters and conflicts linked to future climate change will push the numbers far higher unless urgent action is taken. We estimate that between now and 2050 a total of 1 billion people will be displaced from their homes.""

Token talk at the UN on the rights of indigenous people

"Commenting on the issues at stake, Mrs. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum, said, "with the increasing desire of States for more economic growth, senseless exploitation of indigenous peoples' territories and resources continues unabated. Majority of the world's remaining natural resources, minerals, freshwater, potential energy sources and more, are found within indigenous peoples' territories. Access to and ownership and development of these resources remain contentious"."

I don't know about you, but I have no faith in anything the UN says (I had written "does" but then remembered that they don't do anything). Worked with them on too many project to believe in them.

Chavez redistributes land--Big land owners say they don't like it

"For centuries, much of Venezuela's rich farmland has been in the hands of a small elite. After coming to power in 1998, and especially after his re-election in December, President Hugo Chávez vowed to end that inequality, and has been keeping his promise in a process that is both brutal and legal.

"The oligarchy is always on the attack and trying to say you are no good," Chávez said to squatters in a televised visit here. "They think they're the owners of the world.""
I guess it is the big wait and see. Will Hugo's redistribution go the way other forced land reforms have gone? Will it work? Make sure you read the comments. Some are very interesting.

Update on Lebanon's oil spill

"Black slime coats beaches and oozes into rock pools in northern Lebanon, nine months after an oil spill led to international pledges to clean that stretch of coast. Oil clings to beach after beach north of Byblos, an ancient fishing port that is one of Lebanon’s main tourist attractions. Israel bombed an oil refinery in Jiyyeh, south of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, during its conflict with the armed wing of Lebanese political party Hezbollah last July. The bombing caused the refinery to spew an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 tons of fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea. It was Lebanon’s worst environmental disaster, say environmentalists.

US state development agency USAID awarded a US $5 million contract to US company Seacor Environmental Services to clean roughly 60km of shore north of Byblos. Lebanon’s Environment Ministry oversaw the work. In January, USAID said the job was done, but Lebanon’s Ministry of Environment clarified that “phase one” was completed - the removal of free-floating oil and oil in danger of going back into the sea.

Bahr Loubnan clean-up supervisor and local resident Raif Nader said many beaches in the area had not been touched. “They didn’t do anything here. USAID told us Mother Nature would wash the rocks. Why does it cost $5 million just to let it wash back out to sea?” "

Indonesia's water privatization problems

"Water projects are among the most critical infrastructure projects for emerging economies. They have natural, cultural, political and legal characteristics that differentiate them from other infrastructure projects. Naturally, water is a limited resource, inseparable from the hydrological cycle, it is an indispensable element of life for human, animal and the ecosystem as a whole.

Regulations governing water infrastructure must contain provisions that obligate financial and legal due diligence toward the bidders. There has to be provisions that specifically regulate water service companies, especially its shareholding, lending structure and corporate executives. Its financial condition must also be declared to the public.

The last of the legal arena is the contract between MNC's subsidiary and the authority. Provision of this contract is very delicate as it must embody and guarantee constitutional, human rights, environmental and financial benefits of all stakeholders.

Ensuring the sustainability of the contract would be difficult because MNC tends to always have a more favorable position to ask for renegotiation once the contract is signed. On the other hand, the government's interest is in ensuring water service from being impeded, and the government will be compelled to do it at any cost.

More on US support to Iraqi agriculture

"While Iraq is viewed as a desert nation, it has fertile river valleys in its central and southern sectors and adequate rainfall in regions to grow a variety of crops and to raise livestock.

Experts said agriculture and agribusiness have been Iraq's second-leading income generator behind oil. Development Alternatives Inc., which managed the Agency for International Development contract, estimated that the sector supported about 27 percent of the country's population until wars, poor government policies, economic sanctions and drought brought the sector to the brink of collapse.

By 2002, a country that once satisfied a large portion of its own food needs was importing 80 percent to 100 percent of many staples such as wheat, rice, sugar and protein meals, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. A distribution system of free food implemented in Iraq the mid-1990s undermined efforts to revive the ag sector and continued violence after the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 has made the rebuilding effort harder, officials said. "

And here's my friend's comment: "Talk about a re-working of history. no mention of the 13 years US/UN sanctions/blockade. the distribution system was the only small step that kept mass-starvation at bay during the sanctions, and the food items were also used as barter. but this statement here reveals why the US did not disallow it - as it prohibited the distribution of medicines into Iraq during the sanctions: the goal WAS to destroy the Iraqi agriculture". (thanks Rania)

US program for rebuilding Iraqi farming

"The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded the contract for the Inma Agribusiness Program in Iraq to Louis Berger Group, Inc., a professional services firm based in New Jersey. Inma is a three-year, $343 million program, with two one-year option periods. Complementing USAID's other economic growth programs, Inma will work with the Government of Iraq to support the development of agribusinesses and agricultural markets. This activity will improve the livelihoods of farmers while energizing Iraq's agriculture industry, the single largest source of employment and second largest contributor to the overall gross domestic product in the country.

Inma, meaning "growth" in Arabic, will help build meaningful linkages between farmers, agribusinesses, financial services, and domestic and international markets. Technical advisors will support national and local government agencies as they adapt to the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory, and public service needs of a free market economy. By promoting public- private partnerships and dialogue, Inma will stimulate local and national policy-making opportunities."

It looks like the US is engaged once again in promoting US business methods (see previous post). Why not? The liberation of the Iraqi people has worked so well, there is no doubt the liberation of Iraqi agriculture will be a resounding success. I wonder how the Louis Berger experts intend to carry out their field work. In armoured vehicles? Or will they do it from the safety of their air conditionned Amman or Washington.

US program for rebuilding Iraqi farming

"The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has awarded the contract for the Inma Agribusiness Program in Iraq to Louis Berger Group, Inc., a professional services firm based in New Jersey. Inma is a three-year, $343 million program, with two one-year option periods. Complementing USAID's other economic growth programs, Inma will work with the Government of Iraq to support the development of agribusinesses and agricultural markets. This activity will improve the livelihoods of farmers while energizing Iraq's agriculture industry, the single largest source of employment and second largest contributor to the overall gross domestic product in the country.

Inma, meaning "growth" in Arabic, will help build meaningful linkages between farmers, agribusinesses, financial services, and domestic and international markets. Technical advisors will support national and local government agencies as they adapt to the rapidly evolving legal, regulatory, and public service needs of a free market economy. By promoting public- private partnerships and dialogue, Inma will stimulate local and national policy-making opportunities."

It looks like the US is engaged once again in promoting US business methods (see previous post). Why not? The liberation of the Iraqi people has worked so well, there is no doubt the liberation of Iraqi agriculture will be a resounding success. I wonder how the Louis Berger experts intend to carry out their field work. In armoured vehicles? Or will they do it from the safety of their air conditionned Amman or Washington.

Geographic Indications limit intellectual property theft

The importance of Geographic Indications: Adloun's watermelon growers complain about the usurpation of their name and reputation by other producers and importers, who sell imported watermelon as "Adlouni Watermelon". Geographic Indications or Indications of Origins are certifications that allow local small holders to create cooperative control over a produce or a product they have developed over the years, and that has a special reputation (like Camembert cheese in France is an "appelation d'origine controllee"). Lebanon is currently working on the GI legislation, and soon there will be 2 certified products: Hasbayya's olive oil and Kafarfila's sweet onions. Stay posted for news of Lebanese GI, I'm working on the project.

Lebanon's food price hike

"Food prices increase by 10-12% in Lebanon this year, most of it imported goods"

On the state of water management institutions in Lebanon

Be it private, public-private or public, it's all polluted and mismanaged.

Cereal production increases, but threats looming

"CEREAL PRODUCTION TO SET A RECORD: World cereal production will likely set a record this year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its tentative forecast – released today – estimates an increase of nearly 5 percent over last year. It adds, however, that total supplies will be barely enough to meet increased demand, which has been boosted by fast growth in the biofuels industry. International prices for most cereals have risen significantly and are expected to remain high, FAO says."

This increase in yield comes after a long period of decline, and amidst the threat to world cereal production caused by the imminent threat of Black Stem Rust (see previous posts) and the expansion of biofuel (see previous posts). The outlook is grim.

NAFTA expansion: Congress deal!

"But, shockingly, last night Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi joined the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans in charge of trade to announce a "deal." The deal would facilitate passage of at least Bush's NAFTA expansions for Peru and Panama. The deal involves adding stronger labor and environmental standards, but falls way short of de-NAFTA-fying those two trade agreements by removing the bans on anti-off-shoring and Buy America policies, or the outrageous foreign investor rights that facilitate off-shoring and attacks on our health and environmental laws. It's a scenario where some truly tasty icing has been spread over a deeply rotten cake."

More on this and similar issues on the Public Citizen site (Thanks Annie)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Privatisation fails to provide water for the poor

"Over 134 groups from 48 countries today called on donor governments to abandon support for a highly controversial agency of the World Bank focused on privatisation called the 'Public-Private Infrastructure Advisory Facility' (PPIAF).

The call comes a week ahead of a May 23 meeting of the 13 donors to the PPIAF. In an open letter, groups argue that PPIAF’s bias towards private sector ‘solutions’ to water access represents a poor use of aid money. Earlier this year, the Norwegian government stated that it will not support PPIAF in the future as it no longer believes it is increasing access to water for the poor.

In the letter to PPIAF’s remaining donors, signed by civil society groups and trade unions from around the world, including poor countries where PPIAF has funded water privatisation processes, campaigners say: “The evidence shows that the private sector has shown a great reluctance to commit finance to connecting the poorest people to clean, affordable water…. Our conclusion is that aid could be better spent and we ask donors to withdraw this funding accordingly.” "

But in the Middle East, water privatisation, promoted by the World Bank and USAID, continues to gain strength. WAKE UP!!!

No water? Drink milk

"One key reason for this tragic desertification: the re-privatization of land and water resources and their over-exploitation by Mexican and transnational Agribusiness. Perhaps the most notorious offender is the dairy giant Lala - owner Eduardo Tricio Haro's herds of 200,000 cows exhaust the carrying capacity of this fragile land. Industry insiders calculate that it takes a thousand liters of water to concoct one liter of milk. Lala - which sells more than half its production to Liconsa, the national milk distribution agency - is the source of one out of every two glasses of milk gulped down in this thirsty nation." (Thanks Rania)

Kick All Agricultural Subsidies

Check this site : it kicks it. (Thanks Rania)

Fair trouble

"Last year, a Financial Times investigation claimed that workers on a Fairtrade farm in Peru were being paid less than the minimum wage. Watts believes the Fairtrade monitoring process has "broken down", and others are also concerned. As a spokeswoman for Women Working Worldwide says: "It would be a shame to see a dive in consumer confidence that discredits the brand. But the Fairtrade Foundation must react decisively to criticism. It must become more accountable as an organisation, review its auditing processes and the manageability of its growth in order not to mislead consumers. There are still far too many problems being found on Fairtrade-certified farms.""

Very good article with tons of links on trade, fair trade and reality.

Fuel or food? Chomsky on feeding the poor

"The connection between instability in the Middle East and the cost of feeding a family in the Americas isn’t direct, of course. But as with all international trade, power tilts the balance. A leading goal of US foreign policy has long been to create a global order in which US corporations have free access to markets, resources and investment opportunities. The objective is commonly called “free trade,” a posture that collapses quickly on examination. "

Excellent article by Noam Chomsky in which he links instability in the Middle East, Free Trade Agreements and the corporate drive for more biofuels. Must read.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The poor want globalization say the rich

"Every so often some international conference dealing with world trade and issues revolving around globalization takes place. Without fail the organized forces of the anti-globalization movement appear outside the gates. They whine, they protest, they frequently riot and attack. If you ask them they’ll tell you that what they do is justified because they represent the world’s poor.What is clear is that rarely are the protesters themselves poor. These protesters tend to come from wealthy nations and tend to have been born in families that are more economically advantaged than the people on who’s behalf they pretend to speak. Critics of the anti-globalists have long contended that they don’t represent the poor at all but are more in tune with politically fashionable views among the more wealthy of the world. Now an on-going poll of world opinion seems to back this up.The Pew Global Attitudes Project surveyed some 66,000 people in 44 nations. Generally the results have been met with much interest and little anger. But the anti-globalization movement itself is rather unhappy with the results and with good reason.The poorest nations have populations more supportive of globalization than do the wealthiest nations. The survey noted that: “Only one-in-ten Americans and Canadians (10%, 11%) characterize globalization as a very good thing, and fewer Europeans agree. By comparison, nearly six-in-ten in Nigeria (58%), and more than four-in-ten in Kenya (46%), Uganda (44%) and South Africa (41%) see globalization as a very good thing.” Only Jordan has a majority that says globalization is bad."

I am posting this blog post not because it is good, but because it provides food for thought. Mind you, the Pew Global Attitude Project is managed by a bunch of right-wing corporatists, led by Madeleine Albright and including Henry Kissinger and Queen Noor of Jordan, in addition to a string of CEOs from the large corporations. Hardly a group of objective scholars. I like this bit best: "Majorities in Lebanon (64%) ... say commercialism is no threat to their culture."

Industrialization and agribusiness in Lula's Brazil

"Between 2002 and 2006, foreign sales of Brazilian agribusiness grew 99%. They rose from US$ 24.8 billion to US$ 49.4 billion, according to figures supplied by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply. The growth continues in 2007. In the first four months alone, sector foreign sales totalled US$ 16.5 billion - the value is 24.7% greater than that exported in the same period last year. The Middle East leads the ranking of regions that grew most as destinations for Brazilian exports - 67.4%, followed by the European Union (34.95%) and Africa (33.4%)."

Brazilian intensive farming and agribusiness have grown tremendously in the past few years. Links to more articles about Brazilian farming. Very interesting stuff from the country of the Amazon, the Favellas and Lula's Left.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Biodiesel to cause 10 times more climate change than fossil oil

"Since the beginning of last year, the price of maize has doubled. The price of wheat has also reached a 10-year high, while global stockpiles of both grains have reached 25-year lows. Already there have been food riots in Mexico and reports that the poor are feeling the strain all over the world. The US department of agriculture warns that "if we have a drought or a very poor harvest, we could see the sort of volatility we saw in the 1970s, and if it does not happen this year, we are also forecasting lower stockpiles next year". According to the UN food and agriculture organisation, the main reason is the demand for ethanol: the alcohol used for motor fuel, which can be made from maize and wheat.

Already we know that biofuel is worse for the planet than petroleum. The UN has just published a report suggesting that 98% of the natural rainforest in Indonesia will be degraded or gone by 2022. Just five years ago, the same agencies predicted that this wouldn't happen until 2032. But they reckoned without the planting of palm oil to turn into biodiesel for the European market. This is now the main cause of deforestation there and it is likely soon to become responsible for the extinction of the orang-utan in the wild.

But it gets worse. As the forests are burned, both the trees and the peat they sit on are turned into carbon dioxide. A report by the Dutch consultancy Delft Hydraulics shows that every tonne of palm oil results in 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, or 10 times as much as petroleum produces. I feel I need to say that again. Biodiesel from palm oil causes 10 times as much climate change as ordinary diesel."

Excellent article by George Monbiot followed with a HUGE string of debate. If you have time and you really do not know how to make up your mind on the issue.

Haven't they forgotten something?

George Corm chastises the Lebanese Opposition for its foolish neglect of the economic agenda. Very timely Arabic article.

Free trade back full swing

«حرب تموز أثرت على عدم إفادة المزارع الجنوبي من الروزنامة بسبب تأخره في زراعة البندورة والخيار، فكان موسم القطف مترافقاً مع انتهاء الدعم، الا أن المزراعين في المناطق الأخرى تمكنوا من تعويض بعض خسائرهم خلال تطبيق الروزنامة». واشار الى أنه «خلال تطبيق الروزنامة كان التهريب لا يزال قائماً وخصوصاً من الأردن وسوريا، لكن حجمه لم يتعدّ الـ15 في المئة من البضائع المستوردة خارج الروزنامة».

"Southern farmers did not benefit from the agricultural calendar (that determines the period during which local production is protected through trade barriers) because the harvest season came about right at the time at which the protection ended. But other farmers from around Lebanon were able to compensate for some of their losses of the war. "

The agricultural calendar which was exceptionally allowed by the Arab social and Economic Council as a show of support for Lebanon after the Summer war, ended yesterday. From now on, Lebanese products compete freely on the market with imported products. Prices have already dropped, but not in supermarkets!

USDA backs down. Protests work!

"More than 3,700 consumers and activists wrote to the USDA’s National Organic Program to protest the recent ruling that would have made Organic certification too expensive millions of small-scale farmers and their cooperatives. It worked: The USDA announced on May 2 that certification for grower groups will continue as it has since 2002 until they come up with a new rule at their fall meeting."

I wrote about the issue earlier on the blog. Protests work. Keep the pressure up! Lets internationalize it. Next time, they should get protests and boycotts from all around the world.

Black brother lead the way

"The National Black Farmers Association is calling on its 66,000members to launch a nationwide boycott of agricultural giant Monsantoto protest a proposed a $1.5 billion merger by the company that wouldreduce competition and crush small farmers.

This news just in from Eco-Farm and USAgNet. This is the same industrial model of corporate consolidation that is currently the basis for the biofuels boom, i.e., the merger of major genetic engineering companies with giant grain and cellulose companies. Encountering resistance to GMOs in our food system, Monsanto and Syngenta are looking to spread them into our fuel and fiber industries."

Corporation to end child hunger

"“If ignored, child hunger will remain a daily reality that ravages millions and goes unseen by most. Walk the World brings this otherwise invisible problem into the spotlight,” said Vindi Banga, president of Foods Unilever. “There is no excuse for chronically hungry children, day in and day out, in the 21st century,” she asserted."

Don't you just love it when transnational corporations who make millions pushing poor quality food to the children of the world suddnly discover that they have a heart? I mean does anyone, anyone believe them? Well, the Arab governments and the UN do. For purely altruitic reasons.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Free Trade is good for Lebanon

"USAID's director dismisses claims that Lebanon's industries overall are still too fragile to be exposed to free trade. "My experience with the Lebanese [is that] they don't need any time," he argues, insisting that the Lebanese are entrepreneurs. "If they see an opportunity they jump for it."

At first Youssef denies that the spread of capital-intensive, large-scale farming that is capable of producing the export-orientated agricultural products favoured by FTAs will result in smallholder farmers being forced off the land as has occurred elsewhere, notably in many Latin American countries.

"I don't see this happening in Lebanon, you have a shortage of labour," he argues. Youssef adds that Lebanon is a small hilly country and so there is no "mass of land which is really going to be mechanised overnight."

When pushed, he conceded that smallholder farmers must eventually give way to larger farms because "that's a free market concept. It's a free economy, demand and supply. These guys can be skilled, they can go some place else and work. Or maybe they can retune their skills and adopt a new technology to be useful in some other areas.""

Super article by Yasmine Ryan (her again!) on Lebanon's farmers and Free Trade Agreements. Read it. It is really good.

Water privatisation and the new apartheid

"I know that in many villages farmers have stopped using the system and the water points have dried up, and people have gone back to the traditional sources of water, like streams and waterholes. "In many instances where water services are cut and pipelines have been closed, "the policy of cost-recovery artificially creates the conditions of drought," said Namibian researcher, Jade McClune."This further contributes to impoverishment of the rural population and encourages their steady urbanisation ... and in turn places added pressure on the water resources of the urban centres," he noted in his report, 'Water Privatisation in Namibia - creating a new apartheid?' for Namibia's Labour Resource and Research Institute."

Meanwhile, Lebanon moves steadily into its water privatisation program, promoted by USAID and the World Bank. The program is housed into the Ministry of Electricity and Water, under Hizbullah Minister Mohammad Fneish. My sources tell me thet the World Bank was " highly impressed" with the level of commitment and enthousiasm of the Hizbullah minister to privatisation.

Way to go.

Meanwhile in Sinai...

"Ibrahim Akeel has an axe hanging over his neck. Along with his fellow farmers in the southern Lebanese village known as Sinai, the elderly man has little control over his fate and that of his children.
Like countless peasants across Lebanon, he lives in fear that in the not-too-distant future, a change in heart from one of the four absentee landlords - who own almost all the agricultural land available to the villagers - will destroy their way of life. A complete lack of government protection for smallholder farmers means that there is little Akeel could do if this were to happen.
Traditional family farmers risk losing their livelihoods, especially as free trade unfolds in Lebanon. With the agricultural industry gearing up for export, the current system of land tenure gives many of them virtually no rights over land that in many cases they have been farming for generations. "

I'm reposting the article by Yasmine Ryan. This one, published in Scoop, has a picture and no typos.

Tracking GMOs

If you are interested in tracking GMO foods, check the Organic and Non-GMO report.

More on Indian mangoes

"Reports of scores of farmers committing suicide in recent years should indeed be an eye-opener for anyone who expects to see Indian agriculture reach world-class standards. Distressed farmers taking desperate action are a powerful reminder of the difficult quality of life in parts of rural India, irrespective of rising rates of economic growth."

Steal the land and abuse its resources: this is colonialism

"The Jordan River, much of which meanders alongside the Palestinian West Bank and is under Israeli control, is the sea's only source of water but this has also shrunk as it provides irrigation and drinking supplies. Crisis scenarios forecast its disappearance by 2050.

Israeli environmentalists say the plan is a vanity project for Shimon Peres, its chief supporter and a former prime minister, and argue there are better ways to husband resources. These include protection of the Jordan River and a review of agriculture, which uses an enormous amount of water in desert conditions to grow tropical fruits such as bananas."

My own private Morocco

"Agriculture remains a mainstay, a fact highlighted by the government’s estimate that GDP growth would be 3.5 per cent this year because of poor rains, in contrast to last year’s favourable weather. But Mr Oualalou says non-agricultural growth this year is forecast to be 5.2 per cent – the result of years of reforms that have begun liberalising the economy, paving the way for privatisations and higher foreign investment.

“Morocco is currently a big building site,” he says. “It is becoming less and less dependent on agriculture. Of course it concerns more than 40 per cent of the population, but its weight with respect to growth is diminishing due to the birth of new engines of growth.”

Samir Benmakhlouf, who returned 15 months ago to set up a subsidiary of Century 21, the US real estate firm, says: “The government has understood that it needs to get out of the way and let the private sector do what it is supposed to do.”

Yet for all the positives, Morocco still has far to go before it gets to grips with unemployment and poverty and ensures the wealth created does not simply benefit the small elite and rich foreigners. Most agree that not enough jobs are being created, and that reforms to the education and judicial systems are essential. "

Saturday, May 12, 2007

So dumb

My friend Anna sent me this:

"bill gates' foundation invests their billions and billions in companies like dow chemical whose factories are literally killing people kilometers away fromwhere there are gates-funded clinics and ngo's. SO DUMB. it made me call my investor guy and switch all my meager holdings immediately to socially responsible funds, where i suppose they should have been in the first place, but anyway it goes right to the heart of the problem. the next one in the series was about warren buffett's money and its sleazy connections - to darfur-funding chinese petrol companies. great! party on, wayne. party on, garth."

Check the articles. They're a bit long, but they make a fascinating read.

Green Gold

"It is a swift introduction to Lebanon geared toward a readership of outsiders and a counterweight to the country's international media profile as a war-torn basket-case. It is a story about farmers and rural food producers. It's a journalistic account of sustainable development and a personal narrative of discovery and deep affection. It is a cookbook, a beauty guide and a how-to reference on the process of harvesting olives from start to finish. It is a source book for those interesting in organic products, replete with maps and lists of olive oil producers, distributors and the non-governmental organizations that serve their interests in Lebanon. It is a quick flip or a long slog, depending on your own interests."

Review of Green Gold, a book written by my friend Sabina Mahfoud, with recipes and photos by my friend Kamal Mzawwak about Lebanese olive oil. Essential reading.

"she asks Bannout if the lunar calendar guides her to her ripest olives and if she picks them under the cover of moonlight. "No, I just squeeze the olives on the tree," Bannout replies bluntly, "and when they are juicy enough I know it's time." No-nonsense farmer 1, high-minded city folk 0."

I couldn't help posting this excerpt from the review. I was present at that hilarious interview with Suhaila Bannout, my cousin, truly a no-nonsense women, and I can confirm that this is exactly what happened.

Preventive strike

"Hundreds of German police combed offices and flats associated with leftwing activists across six northern cities yesterday, saying they had evidence that a terrorist organisation was planning to disrupt next month's G8 summit."

Should they be forced to consume what they sell?

أفاد أحد أصحاب مزارع ومربي الأبقار في الشمال «الأخبار» أن مستوردي اللحوم البرازيلية المبردة يرفضون تناول اللحوم التي يشرفون "على استيرادها وتوزيعها في الأسواق، ووصف الطريقة التي يتم من خلالها استيراد اللحوم من البرازيل بـ«المثيرة للقلق».

"A livestock farmer from North Lebanon stated that the local importers of Brazilian frozen meat refuse to consume their own products, and described the procedure for meat importation as "worrying" "

"Read my lips: we will not subsidize (Lebanese) production."

حاول الوزير سامي حداد عبر مؤتمر إطلاق مشروع نفاذ الصادرات اللبنانية الى الأسواق، تجميل صورته إزاء ممولي المشروع، "والإيحاء بموقف مغاير لمواقفه السابقة من قطاع الصناعة وجدواه، فقصد أن يعلن بشكل خطابي عن وقوفه مع «مبدأ حماية الصناعة اللبنانية»، علماً أنه لم يترك مناسبة من دون الاعتراض على هذا المبدأ، حتى إن معظم الصناعيين صاروا يطلقون عليه لقب «عدو الصناعة»، نظراً لسجله الحافل بعرقلة تطبيق قانون سلامة الغذاء، وقانون منع الإغراق، وكذلك تأخير تطبيق الروزنامة الزراعية

"Economy and Trade minister Sami Haddad attempted yesterday, at the launch of the Market Access and Compliance for Lebanese Export project, to ingratiate himself to the donors by stating his support to the protection of the Lebanese industry. Haddad has long been known for his opposition to the protection of the industry, to such an extent that the industrialists have nicknamed him: "the ennemy of the industry". Haddad has consistently hindered the implementation of the Food Law, the anti-dumping law and the Agricultural Calendar. " (my summary and translation of the article in Al Akhbar. For a neutered version read the Daily Star). The project itself is good and useful if it is able to achieve its goals.

If you are wondering about the title of the post, this is what Haddad answered the Akhbar journalist who was interviewing him a few minutes after the end of the launch event.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Economics is for donkeys"

"The Islamic Republic imports almost half of all food it consumes and has managed to prevent large scale starvation thanks to heavily subsidized prices. If subsidies were removed, the price of bread, for example, would more than double. Most Iranians are still able to consume sugar because the state picks up a third of the real bill for imports".

Short article by Amir taheri, who writes for the UK Sunday Times, the New York Times and Ashark al Awsat. No need to elaborate further on Taheri's politics. But the article describes reasonably well the Iranian economic predicament. The title of this post is apparently from a quote by a major Iranian political figure. Check the article to learn who it is. It may help understanding why Hizbullah in Lebanon appears to be so impervious to economic thought.

Cabbages and Condoms

"The restaurant is called Cabbages and Condoms, and was opened to raise money for AIDS prevention projects. It's named after Mechai's belief that condoms should be as easily available -- and as easy to discuss -- as cabbages, a staple in Thai kitchens and cuisine" (thanks Anna).

Patenting yoga

Drugs and hatha yoga have the same aim: to help us lead healthier lives. India has given the world yoga for free. No wonder so many in the country feel that the world should return the favor by making lifesaving drugs available at reduced prices, or at least letting Indian companies make cheap generics. If the lotus position belongs to all mankind, so should the formula for Gleevec, the leukemia drug over whose patent a Swiss pharmaceuticals company is suing the Indian government. (Thanks Anna)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

US food aid exposed-again

"Each year millions of tons of food are shipped to developing countries as food aid. But here in the U.S., a dirty little secret is hiding in the food aid system that is benefiting U.S. companies—not developing countries.
Primarily geared towards the disposal of cereal surpluses, U.S. food aid system has been a tool to serve foreign policy and trade interests. This preference given to in-kind food produced in the U.S. and the U.S. shipping industry makes U.S. food aid the most expensive in the world"
(Thanks Annie). For more coverage of US Food Aid issues, check the Oakland Institute

Small scale diversified farming conserves the environment

"We already know how to grow enough food to feed the world. The problem is the food distribution system," Mittal told IPS.

That system favours large-scale monocultures of a few specialised crops, and is destroying biodiversity. Ultimately that approach is a recipe for global famine, she said.

"We know how to end hunger and preserve biodiversity, but there are powerful corporate interests in opposition," Mittal said.

The Asian miracle

"In rural areas, degradation of natural resources is a growing problem, caused by competing demands on land and other natural resources.

Many poor people are being relegated to marginal land, which provides diminishing returns in response to increasing use and pushes many of the rural poor to urban areas in search of better opportunities.

But most urban areas are not yet prepared for the influx, and are being fouled by congestion, smog-filled air, fetid water, and mounting waste.

About 1.9 billion people in Asia are living on incomes of less than US$2 a day, including 620 million living on less than US$1 daily.

Most of the poor live in rural areas where they are highly dependent on ecosystems for their needs. Yet unsustainable exploitation and conversion are severely straining the forests, coastal systems, and lands from which they make their livings."

Energy crops could make the poor poorer

"The global rush to switch from oil to energy derived from plants will drive deforestation, push small farmers off the land and lead to serious food shortages and increased poverty unless carefully managed, says the most comprehensive survey yet completed of energy crops.
The United Nations report, compiled by all 30 of the world organisation's agencies, points to crops like palm oil, maize, sugar cane, soya and jatropha. Rich countries want to see these extensively grown for fuel as a way to reduce their own climate changing emissions. Their production could help stabilise the price of oil, open up new markets and lead to higher commodity prices for the poor.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Triangular trade in...potatoes

The only reason I'm posting these articles on the potato trade is that they are totally confusing. Lebanese potatoes cannot cross the Syrian border from Lebanon, but Egyptian potatoes can. No wait, the Egyptian potatoes were in fact Lebanese potatoes, because the real egyptian potatoes were sent to the Gulf by sea. Now why would the egyptian potatoes be in Lebanon to start with? well, you see there about 3 or 4 big potato traders who corner the market in Lebanon (I know them, I went with them to the negotiations for the agricultural calendar in Jordan a few years back). They import Egyptian potatoes when the market is low, store them, then sell them as fresh Lebanese potatoes to the Syrians and to the Gulf state. This infuriates the Syrians and the Gulf countries because of low quality produce. Every now and then Syria and the Gulf decide to stop importing potatoes from Lebanon and they close their borders and request quality tests. So the traders start crying and call onto the government and the minister and the politicians and blame the syrians and the other Arabs. Eventually, they promise not to do it again, and the borders open. Till next time. This has been going on for ages.

Success in spite of the state

Extensive article on the honey production sector in Lebanon. This is one of the most succesful sectors in agriculture, and many organizations have worked on improving it. The market is there because the Lebanese prefer local to imported honey, which is cheaper (same thing in Yemen, where local honey is 3-4 times more expensive than the imported variety). People attribute all sorts of medicinal and aphrodisiac vertues to mountain honey and wild bee honey. Like in other farming sectors in Lebanon the state is absent at the policy as well as at the implementation level.

Arab NGOs call for "fair competition"-

Arab development NGOs discuss aid and call for reforms in the IMF, World Bank and the UN.

The death of another market

Lebanese poor to lose Sunday market. Will it be replaced with a mall? Will they be allowed in?

Remainder of a life

I don't usually post poetry (maybe I should), but this one has the word food in it. (Thanks Kirsten)

Remainder of a Life
by Mahmoud Darwish

If I were told:
By evening you will die,
so what will you do until then?
I would look at my wristwatch,
I’d drink a glass of juice,
bite an apple,
contemplate at length an ant that has found its food,
then look at my wristwatch.
There’d be time left to shave my beard
and dive in a bath, obsess:
“There must be an adornment for writing,
so let it be a blue garment.”
I’d sit until noon alive at my desk
but wouldn’t see the trace of color in the words,
white, white, white . . .
I’d prepare my last lunch,
pour wine in two glasses: one for me
and one for the one who will come without appointment,
then I’d take a nap between two dreams.
But my snoring would wake me . . .
so I’d look at my wristwatch:
and there’d be time left for reading.
I’d read a chapter in Dante and half of a mu’allaqah
and see how my life goes from me
to the others, but I wouldn’t ask who
would fill what’s missing in it.
That’s it, then?
That’s it, that’s it.
Then what?
Then I’d comb my hair and throw away the poem . . .
this poem, in the trash,
and put on the latest fashion in Italian shirts,
parade myself in an entourage of Spanish violins,
and walk to the grave!

Translated, from the Arabic, by Fady Joudah.)

Monsanto stumbles

"On Wall Street, Monsanto's share price has managed to shake off these setbacks, continuing its meteoric rise.
Why? These defeats are puny compared to the company's long string of easy regulatory victories. Roundup Ready alfalfa may be out of commission for a while -- though Reuters reports that 220,000 acres of it have already been planted -- but Roundup Ready corn and soy are rampant in the U.S. Midwest and elsewhere, and the biofuel craze is only ramping up demand."

Agrochemicals induce shorter gestation periods

"A growing body of evidence suggests that the consequence of prenatal exposure to pesticides and nitrates as well as to other environmental contaminants is detrimental to many outcomes of pregnancy. As a neonatologist, I am seeing a growing number of birth defects, and preterm births, and I think we need to face up to environmental causes," said Dr. Winchester. " (thanks Rania)

Research in Lebanon has shown elevated nitrate levels in the Litani river basin (I was part of the team) and in other places. Detecting pesticides is trickier, but the amounts used by farmers are a good indicator. Our research shows that cucumber (one of the most consumed crops in lebanon) is sprayed up to 30 times per season. Yes, you read well thirty. But its only fungicides, so it does not harm us. Ok maybe just a little. And wait till I tell you about strawberries.

More land revolts

"But the small and landless peasants of Nandigram stood up in revolt. Theyformed the Bhoomi Uched Pratirodh Samiti (the Movement against land grab)and refused to give up their land. In January, 2007 the first violenceagainst the movement took place. On March 14th, 17 people were killed. On29th April, another five lost their lives."

Vananda Shiva on the real free economy:

"Farmers markets like the one in Nandigram need no oil, no Walmart, noReliance, no middlemen. Farmers are traders, sellers and the buyers. Themarket is self organised. The community organizes itself for trade. There is no Government license raj, no corporate control. This is the real freemarket, the real economic democracy."

Any Arab NGO among these?

"An alliance of development groups is challenging the European Union and developed countries over their plans to promote water privatisation in developing countries at a key international meeting later this year.

The forum, a key global event which aims to raise the awareness on water issues, will be hosted by the World Water Council (WWC), an international water policy think-tank. The NGO consortium, which includes Corporate Europe Observatory, Bread for the World, Public Services International and the Transnational Institute, fears that the WWC has a "strong preference" for water privatisation, which the NGOs strongly oppose.

"The Mexico World Water Forum happens at a time when the tide is clearly turning against water privatisation and the need to instead support public water solutions is becoming increasingly clear," Olivier Hoedeman, research coordinator with the Dutch campaign group Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO) told IPS Thursday.

"Although the privatisation wave has lost a lot of momentum in recent years due to the many failures, not least in cities in developing countries, there is still a strong ideological push to promote private sector management, including from the World Water Council," he added. "

Democracy, dictatorships and economic growth

Blogger by proxy Anna sent me this link to an intesting article on Democracy and Economic Development:

"Political regimes have no impact on the growth of total income when countries are observed
across the entire spectrum of conditions. Contrary to widespread concerns, democracies do
not reduce the rate of investment even in poor countries. It appears that when countries are
poor there is little governments can do, so that it makes little difference for economic
growth whether rulers are elected or hold power by force. In wealthier countries, patterns of
growth are no longer the same. Dictatorships rely on the growth of labor force and on
keeping wages low, while democracies pay higher wages, use labor more effectively, and
benefit more from technical progress. But while growth under wealthier dictatorships is
more labor-extensive and labor-exploitative than under wealthier democracies, so that
functional distributions of income are different, the average rates of growth of total income
are about the same.

Thus, we did not find a shred of evidence that democracy need be sacrificed on the altar of
development. The few countries that developed spectacularly during the past fifty yearswere as likely to achieve this feat under democracy as under dictatorship. On the average, total incomes grew at almost identical rates under the two regimes. Moreover, per capita incomes grow faster in democracies. The reason is that democracies have lower rates of population growth. In spite of rapid diffusion of medical advances, death rates remain
somewhat higher under dictatorship and life expectancies are much shorter. Population
grows faster under dictatorships because they have higher birth rates, and the difference in
birth rates is due to higher fertility, not to age structures of the population."

And she had the following comment:

"it says that all economies with a per capita income of $6,000 or more succeeded in transitioning to democracy. according to the cia factbook, lebanon is at $5,500.
there's a lot of funny math in there that you professor types might understand, but this paragraph from the conclusion is striking:

"No democracy ever, including the period before World War II, fell in a country with a
per capita income higher than that of Argentina in 1975, $6,055. This is a startling fact,
given that since 1946 alone forty-seven democracies collapsed in poorer countries. In
contrast, thirty-five democracies spent 1046 years in wealthier countries and not one died. Affluent democracies survived wars, riots, scandals, economic and governmental crises, hell or high water."

so maybe this bodes well for lebanon...sort of."

I copied in bold the bit I thought to be most striking: no need for dictatorship to achieve economic growth, democracy would do. But you can also read it the other way around. I also found it perceptive that the author noticed that people in dictatorships are less happy and die earlier. Democratized Iraq is a striking example.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Aid and Development Overview

"Over the past 35 years governments have failed to follow through on their pledges to deliver aid, condemning many millions to unnecessary suffering. Even in the light of international commitment to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and a range of measures to increase development funding, it is extremely unlikely that the global community will come close to halving poverty by 2015. Yet only 10% of the annual global military expenditure would be required to meet the MDGs. The goal of international aid must be to ensure that food, water and medicine are available where most needed. A global economy that can secure these basic human rights needs to be established. The existing aid regime does not work, and needs to be transformed to include a system of sharing essential resources to meet basic human needs. The priority of such a system must be an emergency redistribution of essential resources in order to address extreme poverty.
Below we examine these issues in greater detail and present a list of related resources for those wishing to research further. Additional information about a global economy based on the principle of sharing can be found in the STWR Global Focus section. ""