Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The times they are a-changin'

"It's all part of the global pattern some scientists have been forecasting for decades, and which many in positions of influence have chosen to ignore, scorn, or lie about. The climate is indeed changing. We will never see "normal" times again - or at least not for many centuries - and agriculture, our food supply, is in the firing line. Sometimes the weather will be too dry, sometimes too wet, and although it will generally be warmer it is likely in some places to be colder than ever remembered. The "good" and "normal" years will be the aberrations.

But never mind - shortage is good for business. Wheat prices now are 40% higher than the average of the past decade, the price of US maize last year was up by 30%, and, I suspect, we ain't seen nothing yet. This does wonders for GDP and the economic growth by which governments measure their success.

The world could feed itself - well and forever. But if we are serious about this then we have to design agriculture specifically to feed people. The principles are simple: grow crops where they grow best and fit the livestock in where we can. This way we would provide lots of plants, not much meat, and maximum variety, which is just what nutritionists recommend and is the basis of all the world's great cuisines. Sound farming and great cooking go together.

Why don't we move towards self-reliance? Because in the short term it's more profitable to import food, feed grain to livestock and churn out the biofuel. SUVs first, then beef, then human beings."

Read the full article by Colin Tudge. (thanks Rania)

unkept promises

"Families participating in an American-financed irrigation project from 2002 to 2006 were promised payment in corn for clearing the land and digging canals. The Kenyan government objected to the importation of American corn because the country was awash in a bumper harvest that had caused corn prices to plunge.

The result: American officials, prohibited by law from buying the corn locally, could not deliver it. As the impoverished families waited in vain for sustenance from the American heartland, malnutrition among the youngest children worsened and five people died of hunger-related causes." (thanks Yasmine)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Why do we share food?

"He places his human subjects, too, in an ecological network of "food webs" that vary massively over time as they develop from broad-based hunter-gathering strategies, which took in everything from big game to wild seeds, to an eventual narrowing of our dietary choices to those that can be serviced by settled agriculture. An evolutionary parallel to this process is drawn in his tale of the emergence of the big brain.

We, as we know and celebrate, have very big brains. This capital evolutionary gain comes at a certain cost. First off, our gut reduced in size and complexity to compensate for the over-development at the top end of our bodies; and second, we, and our mothers, needed extra nutrition to give ourselves a head-start. This had a galvanic impact on our eating strategies, putting an emphasis on group cooperation on the one hand, while limiting to a degree the sort of foods we once knew and loved."

A review of Feast: Why Humans Share Food by Martin Jones


"Correctly done, personal consumer action can add to, rather than subtract from, what is needed at a wider political level. Just as the concept of a social contract underpinned the welfare state, an environmental contract on climate change could use public action as a mandate for political action. Politics and consumer action could then move hand in hand."

The response to the Monbiot article below.

Revolutionary shopping

"Green consumerism is becoming a pox on the planet. If it merely swapped the damaging goods we buy for less damaging ones, I would champion it. But two parallel markets are developing - one for unethical products and one for ethical products, and the expansion of the second does little to hinder the growth of the first. I am now drowning in a tide of ecojunk. Over the past six months, our coat pegs have become clogged with organic cotton bags, which - filled with packets of ginseng tea and jojoba oil bath salts - are now the obligatory gift at every environmental event. I have several lifetimes' supply of ballpoint pens made with recycled paper and about half a dozen miniature solar chargers for gadgets that I do not possess.

Ethical shopping is in danger of becoming another signifier of social status. I have met people who have bought solar panels and wind turbines before they have insulated their lofts, partly because they love gadgets but partly, I suspect, because everyone can then see how conscientious and how rich they are. We are often told that buying such products encourages us to think more widely about environmental challenges, but it is just as likely to be depoliticising. Green consumerism is another form of atomisation - a substitute for collective action. No political challenge can be met by shopping."

Monbiot again...Great article. Please follow the link, it is really worth reading.

carbon footprint out of step

"The carbon footprint of our food is under closer scrutiny than ever. Last week the government unveiled a plan to introduce labels on all products, showing the greenhouse gas emissions created by their production, transport and eventual disposal, similar to the calorie count figures already seen on food packaging. The message was that food miles, which consumers are increasingly taking notice of, are not an accurate way of judging the total environmental impact. For example, fruit and vegetables trucked in from Spain could actually have a lower carbon footprint than those grown in UK greenhouses which use up lots of energy for heating.

"When the concept of food miles was originally launched it was about so much more than carbon emissions," says Vicky Hird, senior food campaigner at Friends of the Earth. "It was about fairness in the supply chain and about reconnecting with your food. Now it seems to have been simplified to be just about climate change and it's not always the best way of working out a product's true effect on the environment.""

Read this excellent article. Remember, it is not only about the carbon footprint: in our drylands, the water footprint should be factored in, as farming is the greatest water user. But remember also, simplistic economics (oportunity cost) require you to answer the question: What do you do with the water if you dont irrigate with it? I cringe at the thought that many people are going to say: "sell it". That's one of the reasons why I oppose water privatization.

Don't cook with olive oil

"Sales of extra-virgin olive oil hit a record £71m last year, which means it now accounts for more than 30% - the largest share - of the UK oil market. These figures have led some people to conclude that we're adopting "a healthier, Mediterranean diet".

There are as many things wrong with that statement as with the over-use of the oil in the first place. Yes, as a mono-unsaturated fat, it is healthier than animal fats, but that's not what we're normally substituting it for: usually, we use it in preference to other oils - predominantly sunflower oil - which is poly-unsaturated and, as such, healthier than both olive oil and butter. In practice, any monounsaturate heated to smoking point turns into a trans fat, which is worse for you than all other fats put together. And since olive oil has a much lower smoking point than, say, groundnut oil, almost any cooking activity beyond the gentlest of sweating will bring about this bad-fat transformation. In any case, except in dishes such as ratatouille, which showcase the oil as much as other ingredients, I would never use olive oil for cooking, but rather for dressings."

The good news: the market is booming
The bad news: dont use it for cooking. in Lebanon, many people in villages still fry egges with olive oil. i personally dislike the taste of cooked olive oil, but it is an acquired taste and some people love it. I only eat it raw, but in large quantities, and only my own olive oil, which I harvest by hand and I take to the mill. The Guardian article forgets something: monounsaturated fats like olive oil raise the good cholesterol (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol (LDL), while polyunsaturates lower both.

Dont badmouth olive oil. And dont cook with it.

Coops in trouble

I'm blogging in full this article from the Daily Star on the difficulties facing cooperatives in Lebanon. these coops were started by development projects, then abandonned as the project ended (project lifetime...the usual initiative killer). So the best thing is to create...a new development project to deal with the marketing. I dont exactly see how they intend to market, but I can give them a few pointers:

1. Dont go to supermarkets, establish your alternative system. Go to souk el Tayyeb, it is a great venue to kickstart the chain.
2. Get yourself a quality label: ISO, HACCP, Organic, anthing that can give confidence to the customer.
3. sometimes you just have the wrong product, even if it sounds romantic and exotic, it is not consumed by the customers you are trying to address, and it is available to those who want it. Example: kishk, there is plenty of it accessible to the people who eat kishk, but there is none available to those who dont want it, so dont try filling that gap. There are tons of cheaper jams on the markets, locall or imported, and with a brand confidence level that is much higher.
4. seek to understand ALL the components of the economic supply chain (filiere) and indentify the most limiting factor, and work on it. it may not be marketing, although marketing may be A limiting factor. Sometimes it is the relationship between the people, sometimes the availability of raw materials, sometimes the access to resources.

"With imported food stuffs crowding the shelves of Lebanon's large supermarket chains, and Western fast-food franchises proliferating in the capital, it has become increasingly difficult for local agricultural cooperatives to access more lucrative city markets.

Market access has been even more difficult for the dozens of female-led rural cooperatives set up under the Agriculture Ministry's 1999 initiative. The collective farming units producing traditional staples ranging from kishik to pumpkin preserves got off to a running start initially, but few have managed to become self-sustaining, let alone profitable, since the sellers remain isolated from potential buyers.

The Women Economic Empowerment Project (WEEP) partnered with the Canadian International Development Agency and Oxfam Quebec in 2006 to launch a marketing branch in Beirut to sell the cooperative's products to consumers and supermarket buyers in the capital.
The WEEP's Marketing Unit identified rural women's cooperatives in 14 different villages in the Bekaa region for the first phase of its project, helping them find sustainable markets for their products and transport goods to Beirut to develop a viable customer base. The goal is for the businesses and the villages to prosper, explained WEEP projects coordinator, Natalie Chemally.
"They say they don't have contact points to sell products in Beirut and that if they do have a contact point, how can they reach it?" Chemally said last week at the opening of the Marketing Unit's headquarters on the first floor of the Mansourati building in Mathaf.

The WEEP exhibited products from rural women's cooperatives at local and regional trade shows in 2006, and moved on to the second phase of the marketing strategy with the opening of a permanent distribution point in the capital.

Retailers and consumers alike will now be able to purchase kishik balls stuffed with red peppers, organic fruit jam, pastries filled with yogurt and herbs, and a host of other traditional food stuffs whose recipes have been passed down through generations in rural Lebanon.
If the Marketing Unit succeeds in selling Bekaa products to an increasingly discerning urban customer-base, the WEEP will take on 22 new cooperatives from North and South Lebanon.

Unlike other agri-food ventures financed by international donors, the WEEP marketing unit is geared towards the local market first and foremost, with exports a distant possibility.
Chemally acknowledged that co-op goods have a long way to go before they can compete with established organic, local brands like Green Valley that dominate the shelves of Lebanese supermarkets. But they are not looking to capture a huge share of the local market just yet, she said.

"We know we are not going to be a Wadih-Al-Khader [Green Valley]" Chemally admitted. "We are just trying to mobilize the co-ops to compete in a decent fair-trade market."
Meanwhile WEEP will continue offering technical assistance to women in rural Lebanon so they can participate in the labor force.

"Individual women or local women's associations decide they want to do something on their own, so WEEP helps them define and structure their own goals," Chemally said.
The organization provides start-up capital to women with viable business plans, and then gradually teaches them the skills to become independent, assisting with funding proposals for potential donors.

Recently WEEP organized a hairdressing-training session for 16 girls in Mashat Hammoud, a village in the Akkar region. Half of the participants are now operating their own hair salons now, Chemally offered of a typical WEEP project.

The goal is always to "build their capacities to become more economically autonomous and form and maintain their own grassroots organizations."

The Marketing Unit headquarters are located on the first floor of the Masourati Building, above the Misubishi/Kassab Auto Shop in the Mathaf area of Beirut. More information on WEEP, CRTDA and the Marketing Unit can be obtained via email at elawen@crtda.org or by phone at 01-391196."

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The problem with farmers' markets

I'm blogging in full this excellent Guardian article by felicity lawrence. The Beirut market, Souk el Tayyeb, of which am a founder, vendor and user, has almost exactly the same type of issues.

"There are some things that really bug me about farmers' markets.

(And ok let's get it out of the way at the beginning. I am a dedicated fan on the whole. I joined the campaign to open one in my area so I could buy fresh British food more easily. I cycle over and shop at it each week. I even rang the bell to open it when it was set up.)
But I want them to survive and prosper. I want to use them to do my essential food shopping not just for entertainment. I want my market to serve the whole community, so, these are the questions I'd like answered:

Why are all the broad beans and bits of rhubarb sold in prettily-bundled random bunches that look lovely enough for a Country Living magazine photo shoot but are impossible to compare for weight and price per kilo between producers?
Why is the fantastic bread I buy there more expensive than exactly the same bread sold by the same people at their local shop? Do they think we are all suckers or are their overheads for turning up to market really larger than those for running a shop premises?
Why does the industrial farmer, who got so fed up with being squeezed into the ground by the major retailers that he decided to deal with his public direct again, need to charge the punters more rather than less now he has cut out the rapacious middlemen?
Why do all the stallholders dish out plastic bags?
Why are there so many people in boat shoes pushing their children in off-road 4x4 buggies?
Why can't I buy my bananas there?
In fact, why can't we be more like the French?
One answer of course is that the French have retained their local and wholesale distribution networks where ours have been destroyed by the supermarkets, forcing the new farmer's markets to artificially recreate them. At a French market, the majority of food would be local but I would be able to buy other things too. I live in a metropolis, after all. Whoever said we couldn't have trade?
Yes I know, imposing a defined "local" area from which the produce at farmers' markets may come is one way they try to restore integrity to our much corrupted food. Yes, I know sometimes good food costs more than factory pap. But if they are really going to contribute to changing the whole system rather than just being fashionable playgrounds, farmers' markets need to get real. "


"THE era of cheap food is over. The price of corn (maize) has doubled in a year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. The food price index in India has risen 11 percent in one year, and in Mexico in January there were riots after the price of corn flour (used in making the staple food of the poor, tortillas) went up fourfold.

Soaring Asian demand and bio-fuels mean expensive food now and in the near future, but then it gets worse. Global warming hits crop yields, but only recently has anybody quantified how hard. The answer, published in Environmental Research Letters in March by Christopher Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California and David Lobell of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is quite simple: for every 0.5C (0.9F) hotter, crop yields fall between three and five percent. So two degrees C hotter (3.6F), the lower end of the range of predicted temperature rise in this century, means a 12 to 20 percent fall in global food production. This is science, of course, so that answer could be wrong — but it could be wrong by being too conservative.

The price of food relative to average income is heading for levels that have not been seen since the early 19th century, and it will not come down again in our lifetimes."

Sorry to act like a doomsayer, but I cant help pointing this out. Read this excellent summary

Fresh fault

"In the 6th century AD, John of Ephesus wrote of a cataclysmic event that devastated coastal Lebanon: "The sea withdrew and retreated from the coastal cities of Phoenicia for a distance of nearly two miles.... A tremendous surge of the sea rushed up to return to its original depths." Tripoli was swamped. Beirut took almost 1,300 years to recover.

Now an international team of geophysicists has traced the origins of the July 9, 551, tsunami to an earthquake along a previously unknown fault roughly four miles off Lebanon's coast. The fault traces the coast for up to 90 miles. The data come from a research cruise in 2003 during which the scientists used high-resolution sonar to map the contours of the sea floor. The evidence shows up as relatively fresh fault scarps along the ocean bottom.

The team also examined stretches of coast whose beaches rise in stair-step fashion out of the Medi­terranean – indicators of past quakes that pushed up Lebanon's coast. They estimate that major quakes come in clusters, separated by 1,500 to 1,750 years of relative calm. If that's true, they say, the region is long overdue for a major seismic event. The results appear in the August issue of the journal Geology. "


"At the other extreme, the 29 countries in the near east region account for 14% of the world’s land area and are home to 10% of the world’s human population. Yet the whole region has only about 2% of the world’s renewable freshwater resources.[15] While the global average availability is 7000 cubic meters of water per person per year, in these countries the average is 1577 cubic meters of water per person per year.[15] In Jordan and the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates only 170-200 cubic meters of renewable water resources are available per person per year, less than 3% of the global average.[15]"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

New blog

I found this good blog: Environmental Economics and Sustainable Development. Full of good resources.

Water gets scarcer

From a recent article by Lester Brown. Read it in the context of reduced food supplies and increasing grain prices.

"Saudi Arabia, a country of 25 million people, is as water-poor as it is oil-rich. Relying heavily on subsidies, it developed an extensive irrigated agriculture based largely on its deep fossil aquifer. After several years of using oil money to support wheat prices at five times the world market level, the government was forced to face fiscal reality and cut the subsidies. Its wheat harvest dropped from a high of 4 million tons in 1992 to some 2 million tons in 2005. Some Saudi farmers are now pumping water from wells that are 1,200 meters deep (nearly four fifths of a mile).

In neighboring Yemen, a nation of 21 million, the water table under most of the country is falling by roughly 2 meters a year as water use outstrips the sustainable yield of aquifers. In western Yemen’s Sana’a Basin, the estimated annual water extraction of 224 million tons exceeds the annual recharge of 42 million tons by a factor of five, dropping the water table 6 meters per year. World Bank projections indicate the Sana’a Basin—site of the national capital, Sana’a, and home to 2 million people—will be pumped dry by 2010.

In the search for water, the Yemeni government has drilled test wells in the basin that are 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) deep—depths normally associated with the oil industry—but they have failed to find water. Yemen must soon decide whether to bring water to Sana’a, possibly by pipeline from coastal desalting plants, if it can afford it, or to relocate the capital. Either alternative will be costly and potentially traumatic.

Israel, even though it is a pioneer in raising irrigation water productivity, is depleting both of its principal aquifers—the coastal aquifer and the mountain aquifer that it shares with Palestinians. Israel’s population, whose growth is fueled by both natural increase and immigration, is outgrowing its water supply. Conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians over the allocation of water in the latter area are ongoing. Because of severe water shortages, Israel has banned the irrigation of wheat."


Below is an excerpt from the 2007 half year report of mega agribusiness corporation Syngenta.

"Seeds: Sales of corn grew worldwide driven by higher crop prices and acreage expansion. In the USA this was offset by a decline in soybean sales as planted acreage dropped sharply. Syngenta is transforming its US corn portfolio from a conventional to a fully traited offer and the launch of Agrisure(TM) RW marked further progress. The market for corn biotechnologyis expanding rapidly and Syngenta plans to increase R&D investment furtherto capture all opportunities;"

Traited corn is, if I understand it correctly a euphemism for GMO corn, in the sense that it is corn to which desirable genetic traits have been added using biotechnology. GOM corn is used to make "bio"fuel.

and this is how much Syngenta makes:

"'Strong performance: improved market outlook' -- Reported sales up 9 per cent to $5.7 billion -- Crop Protection sales up 7 per cent (1) to $4.3 billion -- New products sales 15 per cent(1) higher at $760 million -- Seeds sales up 4 per cent(1) to $1.4 billion -- Earnings per share(2) up 16 per cent to $12.13 -- Free cash flow $306 million: full year cash return increased to around $1 billion"

$4.3 billions worth of pesticides!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Now milk- and other stuff

The proof of globalization? easy: prices of milk and dairy products have increased by 20% since the beginning of 2007, and it is set to increase a further 20% according to the head of the milk and dairy products importer in Lebanon. This is in great part due to the lifting of subsidies on dairy products in the EU as well as the increase in the Euro. But the replacement of forages with biofuel crops and the droughts also have their little role to play. I have blogged earlier about this worlwide increase in price, and you can put the pieces together if you search the blog under "milk". Now price increases may be a tad over exagerated (cartels have to make a living too you know) because the EU subsidies were at 27% and they have not yet been completely lifted, but there has been panic buying of milk world wide, and we are feeling it in Lebanon. This good report by Sahar Nasser in the excellent economic page of al-akhbar tells us that the price of one ton of milk rose from $2200 to $5500 and that of butter from $1800 to $5000. These increases are over 120%. The local retail prices have not completely caught up yet because of the stocks available in storage.

At the same time, the wheat mills owners cartel are refusing the government subsidy of $50 per ton and are threatening to dramatically raise the price of flour they sell to the breadmaking industry if the government does not provide them with a subsidy of at least $100 per ton. Labour union leaders are calling this "a blackmail by the mills cartel" (made of just 10 people). The government allows this monopoly to exist, as I've said earlier.

But now where does this leave us? in looming crisis. Hear me out:

Successive Lebanese government have acted knowingly and cold bloodedly to destroy the farming sector in Lebanon (see The roots of inequality and other feature articles). They still do that by signing skewed bilateral free trade agreements. This government in particular has been very, very active at that, and there are many posts below to show it.

There was a point to the super opening of markets: locally, it facilitated trade so that merchants could make money. But aspects of it are more sinister. Food import created dependency, which was very welcome by the US and the EU, as it facilitated control over governments. The same tactic was used in other Arab countries, like Tunisia or egypt: if they do not abide by the day's orders, trading is rendered more difficult, prices increase, bread or food riots ensue, and government become shaky until the donors send in food aid, or governments are allowed to pay subsidies. Subsidies are by the way only allowed to be given to the rich, and only on imported products. Monopolistic import cartels are the ones that benefit from them, as they are the trojan horses of the global economic order in the country. In Lebanon, the head of the grain mills union (cartel) also doubles up as the vice president of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce. For more details about this, see Rania Masri's excellent article in Al-Adab (if you can read Arabic-Rania, could you please blog the english version?).

So we now have a country's whose food sovereignty has been destroyed (note well, not food security, but food sovereignty, which is the right to decide what a nation grows and what it eats), and suddenly world food prices begin to climb.

The good news is that there is a lot that can still be done. Yes, as we are starting to hear, this will help create a revival in agriculture. Already, the increase in local food prices is making more people move back into agriculture (i myself am buying 20 bee colonies and 4 cows, but that's a diffferent issue). However, there are 2 excessively important issues here:

1. The adjustment period is going to be difficult. i would love to be able to say "the government should brace itself and prepare safety nets" and believe what I say, but this government and the dynasty it originates from has not shown any ability and willingness to do that. It has imposed one of the most unjust and primitive form of taxations, and its idea for collecting money is to create taxes that affect mostly the poor, like raising fuel prices. But someone must step in and take action. I hate the idea, but I can see here a great opportunity for sectarian-political leadership to enhance the already near total surogacy of their constituency by creating sectarian-based support systems (Hizbullah's Jihad al Binaa is one of them, and USAID supported NGOs are another- you didn't know that the US is now a Lebanese sect, and ambassador Feltman is its patriarch?).

2. The revival of farming isn't going to happen just like that. It must be promoted and prepared, and must benefit the poor and the small as well as the rich and the big. Sustainable practices must be adopted in order to mitigate the negative impacts of farming. Clear policies for regaining food sovereignty -making resourecs available to all is one of them- must be adopted. Otherwise, this opportunity will turn into another painful debacle.

Of course, a favorable government is absolutely essential for that. One that protects farmers and citizens, and not just the arms of the resistance and its leadership.

Do you think they'll talk about this in the next round of dialogue? if it happens?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Will they privatize Zamzam?

Water privatization through the process of public private partnerships (PPPs) is a step closer to becoming the reality of water production and distribution in Saudi Arabia.

The process of reform in the water industry recently took a major step with the formation of the National Water Company (NWC) and approval of its bylaws by the Supreme Economic Council (SEC).

The plan intends to achieve a separation (unbundling) of water and wastewater operations on a city-by-city basis and offer wastewater treatment plants to the private sector on contract terms yet to be finalized.

Capital cartoon

"Denmark's largest dairy has recovered its leading position in the Middle East despite tough competition and lingering misgivings about the Mohammed cartoon affair

Arla Foods appears to be on the fast track toward recovering its position as the leading dairy in the Middle East. In a number of smaller countries across the region, the dairy giant can boast of sales which surpass the figures from before the Mohammed cartoon affair."

Left out

"Next, I would suggest that any new leftist groups need to come to terms with the huge changes that have taken place in their economies and their societies since the Arab left last considered these matters in detail more than forty years ago. In the case of Egypt these include rapid urbanization, the down-grading of the importance of factory industry in development at the expense of services, including banking and finance, the discovery of new resources like oil and natural gas, the increasing importance of desert agriculture at the expense of that located in the Nile valley, and the impact of the global economy, all of which have enormous consequences for economic management and for the well-being of those directly involved.

The present gap between the logic of security which informs the Mubarak regime and the liberal IMF logic which informs its economic policy would seem to me just such a contradiction, with the possibility that it is the latter which will eventually triumph, taking Egypt into a new system of competitive capitalism - and so into a set of new economic and social tensions it has never experienced before."

Roger Owen on the new arab left.

Albion al arrabiata

"Qatari investors have been quietly buying up British businesses with their overflowing state coffers. But the potential takeover of Sainsbury by an investment fund backed by the kingdom's royal family is throwing the spotlight on the Gulf state. The seriousness of their intentions was highlighted by last week's meeting between Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al Thani and the Sainsbury family. Sheikh Hamad is a cousin of the Emir of Qatar and its prime minister. The move on Sainsbury's is through Delta Two, a fund controlled by the £20bn Qatar Investment Authority, of which Sheikh Hamad is the chief executive. His closeness to the deal means in reality Delta Two's access to cash is almost limitless.

Like its neighbours Kuwait and Dubai, the former British protectorate wants to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by diversifying its investments. It bankrolls Arab TV network al-Jazeera and was outbid by Macquarie for Thames Water last year. Since its launch last year, the Delta Two fund has spent £3bn buying up nursing home operators Four Seasons and NHP, as well as Senad, which runs special needs schools. The Qataris already employ 50,000 Britons. If they succeed in buying Sainsbury that figure will exceed 200,000."

More on the Qatari bid to buy Sainsbury's. Note how it is written. The article from The guardian is titled: "What was on the Sheikh's menu?" What an image: The Arab about to eat Britain.

Land without People?

"Several Arab institutions and parties in Israel started preparations to counter a new Israeli plan that aims at annexing thousands of dunams from Arab villages in the Galilee in order to expand the district of the Maali Yousef regional council in the Western Galilee.

The plan includes grabbing lands that belong to several Arab villages, such as Kisra, Al Bqei'a, Kufur Samee', and Yanouh, which are all known for their green landscape and fertile agricultural lands. The project was approved by the Israeli Interior Ministry.

Several Israeli media outlets revealed important information regarding the project which will annex 2500 dunams from Kisra village, 300 dunams from Yanouh, and more blocs of land which belong to residents of Al Bqei'a, these lands are estimated to be thousands of dunams."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


The impact of global warming as well as the shift from food cereals to biofuels is starting to be felt in Lebanon: bread makers have threatened to raise the price of bread, so the government stepped in to subsidize wheat prices by selling 50,000 tons at the price of $225 per ton as opposed to $300 price in Beirut. Wheat import in Lebanon is monopolized by a cartel of 12 mills, owned by 10 people. The head of the breadmakers union accuses the government of committing a crime by subsidizing the cartel. The head of the consumers association calls the cartel a group of vampires and blames the minister of Economy and Trade Sami Haddad (him again) for subsidizing it. The cartel: we are falsely accused.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reporting tool

A good tool for those of us who do a lot of reporting in the Food and Farming sector (as in others). You may want to check the following website:

Food Security Information for Action

It contains 4 “lessons” dealing with issues of effective report writing, how to respond to the needs of our users, how to provide effective recommendations to policy makers. (Thanks Marielle)

Losing ground

"Brazilian exports to Syria have been presenting significant growth. Last year the equivalent to US$ 200.88 million were exported to the region, against US$ 166 million in 2005. From January to June this year, sales to the Arab country generated US$ 86.3 million, an increase of 126% over the same period last year. The main products shipped to Syria were sugar, coffee, vehicles, chicken, chassis and chemical paste for wood.

Last year, Brazilian imports of Syrian products totalled US$ 81.8 million. From January to July this year, Brazil purchased US$ 4.5 million from the Arab country, against US$ 40.2 million in the same period of 2006. Cumin seeds, aniseed, plastic fibres, pipes and handicraft are the main products imported."

Iranian gambit

"Agriculture, internal trade and distribution are mostly in private hands. Even so, estimates of how much of the economy the government controls range between 65% and 80%.

Now there is talk of large-scale privatisation to attract investment and improve productivity. Some privatisation has even taken place, though it often entails little more than shuffling assets from one state sector to another. In theory, the pace of privatisation should pick up, thanks to a new constitutional amendment that envisages moving all but 25 state-owned companies into private ownership within eight to ten years (though the government will keep a 20% stake). Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, was a critic of nationalisation in the 1980s and is said to be enthusiastic about the change. The impediment will not be an absence of political will at the top but the hesitation of investors.

In the longer run, Iran faces a different sort of vulnerability. It is finding it hard to acquire the foreign technology and capital it needs in order to boost production of its fast-depleting oilfields and realise its vast potential as an exporter of natural gas. Without this investment, all of Iran's big plans for a prosperous energy-fired future would be put in jeopardy. But Iran still has a few years to sort this out, whereas its mastery of uranium enrichment may be only a matter of months away."

Excellent Economist article on Iranian economics. Read about how Khomeini's legacy (Economics is for donkeys) and Ahmedinejad's populist, spur-of-the moment policies are sinking the Iranian economy. Read (but not enough) about the mullah's corruption. Read how the US and world financial systems are used to squeeze countries into domestic and foreign policies pleasant (ie subservient) to the US. But read also how Iran may still achieve nuclear capabilities and then pick itself up. Not a bad plan: get a single-track populist visionary like Ahmedinejad to move Iran into the elite nuclear club, then replace him with economic reformers to bring the country back within world economic standards and develop its full economic potential. The result: a military superpower and an economic powerhouse, sovereign and united.

In a nutshell

"In addition to the importance of an economic dialogue in itself, it is obvious that the European sponsor has new and profound ideas as well. These ideas that have been abandoned by the economic reformers in Lebanon. Although the Lebanese government have had presented social and development dimensions included in their paper in Paris III, it was dominated by one issue, which is the deteriorating public monetary position.

the European dialogue has passed new horizons towards reform. It tackled "an entire vision for economic and social development" that equally concentrates on economic development, social justice and regional development. On the contrary of the reform program that stressed on development not taking into consideration the limitations of this development to areas and to a lucky segment of citizens.

This also submits us to a political rather than an economic problem, linking between short term and long term worries of the state. This is not what the Europeans need because anyway they were the ones who accepted and supported the current Lebanese cabinet with its political policy, and the economic on e as well. Europe was the main supporter to the cabinet's program that was presented in Paris III. So could the wisdom of the head of the European Union find a way out from this contradiction?"

Bad translation of an article in al hayat by economist Ghassan al Ayyash. In a nutshell:

1. The lebanese government(s) through the ages couldn't have cared less about social equity.
2. The current siniora government epitomizes this trend.
3. The european union wants to teach the lebanese how to care for the poor.
4. But the EU also wants to support the current siniora government.
5. So they will fail- Amen

Civil disagreement

Different reporting styles: on the rise of civil society in Lebanon: Al-Akhbar's title: "More than 20,000 NGOs in Lebanon, are we going to have one NGO per citizen?" The article, in Arabic goes on to expose the exponential increase in proselytizing Islamic NGOs in the North of Lebanon in the past year, all granted legality by Ministers Fatfat and al Sabeh.

The Daily Star article celebrates civil society, and it support to the displaced during the July war and its efforts to promote nationalism (which sometimes sounds like chauvinism with a hint of bigotry, like Lunbani w' bass: "only Lebanese", as if being anything else makes you a lesser human being, and unable to contribute to civil peace).

Royal corporation

"Delta Two, the investment fund owned by the Qatari royal family has indicated it plans to invest over £3billion in the business, massively expanding the company in the UK, creating thousands of new jobs and expanding overseas. This would almost certainly lead to increased demand for seafood along with all other types of food and produce.

The Sainsbury board, chaired by Sir Philip Hampton, yesterday confirmed it had received a preliminary approach and was in discussions with Delta. The two parties are expected to meet in the next few days to clarify the extremely detailed proposal.

It is understood the Qatari's plan is to expand the Sainsbury's brand overseas, opening stores in the Middle East, Korea and China, where the Qatar government has strong links."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Global Anger

A popular backlash against globalisation and the leaders of the world’s largest companies is sweeping all rich countries, an FT/Harris poll shows. Large majorities of people in the US and in Europe want higher taxation for the rich and even pay caps for corporate executives to counter what they believe are unjustified rewards and the negative effects of globalisation. Viewing globalisation as an overwhelmingly negative force, citizens of rich countries are looking to governments to cushion the blows they perceive have come from the liberalisation of their economies to trade with emerging countries."

Read it, it's really good

I found this excellent, extensive dossier on Food published by The Economist in Dec 2003, but still very relevant. Someone sent me a printout, but I do not have the digital files. If you are subscribed to "The Economist", access it and read it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Strategic planning

"Last month, Roche Pharmaceuticals announced a global recall of its HIV/AIDS drug Viracept, after discovering that some batches had been contaminated with a carcinogen during a flawed manufacturing process at its Swiss plant.

Patients should immediately discontinue the drug and switch to other medicines, Roche said, noting that the recall affected "Europe and some other world regions."

In Europe the recall cause little stir, since the drug has mostly fallen out of use, replaced by newer, more expensive alternatives. But tens of thousands of people take Viracept worldwide, most of them poor people with AIDS in developing countries.

And in places, newer substitutes are not available to patients, either because they are not licensed or are substantially more expensive, said people with HIV and international health experts. In Panama, for example, a substitute drug, Kaletra, costs ten times as much as Viracept.This has left patients with the painful choice of discontinuing a lifesaving medicine, or using a drug that might contain a dangerous contaminant.

Roche, which had revenues of 42 billion Swiss francs, or $35 billion, last year, said it would cover the "reasonable costs" of the recall, but so far, patients or HIV treatment programs have had to make up the difference in cost." (thanks yasmine)

Is it only me or does this sound like a plan to scare people away from cheap drugs and force them to buy the expensive stuff? Another conspiracy against the poor? Read the IHT article, apparently, Roche hasn't been very helpful in providing information that would help safeguard public health.


"Amflora potatoes, likely to become the first genetically modified crop in the past decade to be approved for growth in Europe, have become the unlikely poster child in the angry debate over such products on the Continent.The European Commission now says it will approve the potato "probably this fall," even though European ministers have twice been deadlocked on approval in the past eight months, with only a minority voting in favor. According to European Union procedures, "the ministers have not been able to take a decision, so we will have to reaffirm our earlier opinion to recommend it," said Barbara Helferrich, spokeswoman for the European Commission's Environment Directorate.

In one sense, the supreme irony is that Amflora is not a food at all. Although it looks, feels and smells like any other spud, each potato is actually a genetically engineered factory for amylopectin, a starch used to make glossy paper coatings, clothing finishes and adhesive cement.

Only 1 percent of the world's genetically modified food is grown in Europe. In contrast, 55 percent of the world's acreage in genetically modified crops is in the United States, where there is no distinction made between genetically modified and traditional varieties. Between 1998 and 2004, the EU had a moratorium on the approval of new genetically modified crops and food, so experts could study the risks involved. Under pressure from the World Trade Organization and the United States, that was lifted." (thanks Yasmine)

Wake up

"Nor, charge critics, does the Brotherhood have a political programme beyond its simplistic slogan that "Islam is the solution". "They talk about the hijab, and not wanting women judges, but not about the economy or privatisation and issues that matter to millions of ordinary people," said George Ishaq of the grassroots Kifaya movement, which came from nowhere in 2004 to campaign against another presidential term for Mr Mubarak."

And there is a similar problem with the Lebanese opposition, led by Hizbullah: they do not talk about the hijab or women judges, (or at least they have stopped talking about it), but they also do not talk about the economy or privatization and issues that matter to millions of ordinary people, beyond the resistance to Israel (which is endorsed by tens of millions in Lebanon and the world). Wake up. It is time to address these issues seriously. The weapons used by the zio-cons and neo-cons to keep the our people in bondage are as much military as economic. You cannot just fight them with arms and martyrs. We need a clear development program for Lebanon, one that unequivocally addresses the poor. A policy for agriculture and rural development. Your views on industry. On privatization, which you appear to be endorsing so whole heartedly. Where are they? All you have been able to do so far is to silently endorse the neo-liberal plans of this government.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Soul food

The woman in black in the first picture is the wife of resistance fighter Kifah Sharara (Struggle Spark, aren't arabic names beautiful?) killed during the Israeli war on Lebanon in July 2006. She offered his gun (an israeli gun, a war bounty) to singer Julia Butros who raised $5 millions for the reconstruction of the South. Julia waived with the gun and the crowd cheered. You want the resistance weapons? Come and take them.
Watch Julia's song ahebba'i (a7eba2i)" My beloved". The lyrics are taken from Hassan Nasrallah's address to the resistance fighters during the July 2006 war. Great song, great lyrics, full of love.

c'est stupefiant!

Nahr el Bared crisis benefits hashish growers: the army is busy elsewhere. 4,500 hectares planted in Hermel and the Bekaa. The harvest season is almost here: people are asking: if they are going to destroy our crop, why wait till it is ready for harvest. Apparently the army has been unable to destroy the crops because nobody would rent them their tractors: They still owe local people 200 million lira ($133,000) from the eradication campaign of 2005.

Land and People in the news

From As-Safir special dossier on the war: voluterrs and post-war development in South Lebanon.
من دون أن ننسى صابون الغار. ويتحدّث عن شجرة الغار. «هي موجودة منذ زمن. لم يكن أحد يعلم ماهيّتها إلى حين نزح فلسطينيو .48 بعدما استقرّوا في المنطقة، عرّفوا أهل البلدة عليها وعلى ما يمكن استخراجه منها وتصنيعه. وبدأت صناعة الصابون البدائية». يضيف أن عيتا هي البلدة الوحيدة في المنطقة حيث أشجار الغار المثمرة وحيث يصنع صابون الغار، مشيراً إلى أن النساء والصبايا يعملن في هذا المجال. لذا، تمّ استحداث جمعيّة أُطلق عليها اسم: «نساء عيتا». ويخبر كيف حضر الدكتور رامي زريق، أستاذ في الجامعة الأميركية (هو يعمل في حقل الزراعات العضويّة)، وأمّن لهنّ منصّة عرض دائمة في «سوق الطيّب» في بيروت. أمّن زريق القالب وأواني الطبخ، وساهمت نادين بكداش بتصميم غلاف الصابون. ويتوقّف نزار عند مشكلة برزت بعد تدخلهم: «اختلف السعر. بدلاً من أن يتراوح سعر كيلو الصابون (خمس أو ستّ قطع) بين عشرة وخمسة عشر ألف ليرة، أصبح بين ثلاثين وأربعين ألف ليرة. وبدأتُ أخاف. فغالبية الناس هنا يستخدمون هذا الصابون. كيف سيتمكّنون من دفع هذا المبلغ؟». ويوضح: «أنا ضدّ مبدأ الجمعيّة. الطبقة المخمليّة التي اخترعت لنا مساحيق التنظيف السائلة، أصبحت تريد الآن أن تنتزع منا صابون الغار. أنا أريد أن أسلّط الضوء على هذه الصناعة لكنني في الوقت نفسه لا أريد أن أحرم أهلها من استخدام منتجها. أنا ضدّ الاحتكار. لذا، عملنا على مجموعة ثانية من النساء من دون أن نفرض نمط علاقات
اجتماعية.. المجموعة اختارت نفسها
"...without forgetting laurel oil. there has been laurel trees in Aita al Shaab since a very long time. No one used it until the Palestinian exodus of 1948. They taught the people of Aita how to make laurel oil soap. Aita is the only locality in the region where laurel grows so prolifically, and where soap is made, exclusively by women. Land and People helped us in the manufacture and the marketing and Nadine Bekdache made the design. Nizar pointed at a problem that emerged after the intervention: prices started changing, the kilo used to be sold between 10,000 and 15,000 lira (6-10$), and it rose to 30,000 or 40,000 lira. This worried me, he said, because most people around here use this soap, how will they be able to pay this price? He adds: i am against the concept of this organization. The upper class that invented for us liquid soap now wants to take from us our traditional soap. i dont want the people to be prevented from using it. I am against monopoly. That is why we worked to support another group of women without imposing any form of social relations. The group chose itself». Nizar Mourtada, from Aita, interviewed by Milia abu Jawdeh for As Safir.

Chicken and egg? not really.

What should come first, development or foreign investment? This article in al-akhbar asks the right question.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Yes master

I'm blogging in full this excellent article by Lysandra Ohrstrom from the Daily Star (one wonders why she is still there.) Lysandra (whom I do not know) often addresses issues of relevance to trade and small industries and has excellent insights. Read how the current government policies (and previous ones) reject the idea of any intervention in the sectors in order to favor import and trade. Read how their vision for Lebanon is one of services with no production. Read how they blame family agribusinesses rather than addressing (US and EU) market distorting subsidies. Read how the US, directly and through its subservient cronies has decided how the economy of Lebanon will be: services and laissez faire. Read how the capitalists and businessmen of Lebanon are begging the state for some intervention but how the state will not intervene because the US Department of Commerce thinks it should not. This government defers to the US in all matters: local politics, economy and timing of the toilet breaks. You should have heard US ambassador Feltman give the Lebanese people yesterday his views on the Lebanese constitution and on the timing of the presidential elections. One word can describe him: High Commissionner.

Global market changes face of Lebanese economyInvestors focus attention on value-added sectorBy Lysandra Ohrstrom Daily Star staffThursday, July 19, 2007

BEIRUT: As Lebanon's drive toward integration in the global market intensifies, foreign investors are shifting their attention to value-added sectors of the local economy, leaving industry and agriculture to struggle against high production costs and competitively priced imports. Pharmaceuticals, Internet communication technology (ICT), and insurance were identified as Lebanon's "best prospect sectors" in the 2007 annual Country Commercial Guide report released by the US Department of Commerce last week.

The vice president of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce, Arslan Sinno, said the World Trade Organization (WTO) accession process and multi-lateral free trade agreements with European and Arab countries have promoted the liberalization of the economy, forcing business leaders to take stock of promising sectors for development that may be able to compete at the global level.

"In view of the European neighborhood policy, the GAFTA (Greater Arab Free Trade Agreement), and TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement) with America, it will be more difficult for smaller businesses to compete with industrial giants in Western countries so they are focusing on value-added products that rely on human resources," Sinno told The Daily Star in a phone interview Wednesday.

Multinational corporations are increasingly subcontracting local software firms for their computer programming needs, he said, leading to some early "success stories" in the nascent ICT industry. Meanwhile, international film distributors are commissioning tri-lingual Lebanese for film translation and subtitles.

But other productive sectors have not fared as well in their effort to gain a larger share of Western markets. Agri-food exporters, for instance, have attempted to appeal to the growing appetite for ethnic and Mediterranean foods in Europe and America - which has expanded beyond the Middle Eastern diaspora - said Sinno, but the absence of legislation promoting mergers between family-owned SME's has discouraged the consolidation that is necessary to reduce prices in foreign markets.

"We can't have 12 separate canning companies competing for a share in the same market, they need to merge and find financing so they can rival products from other countries like Cyprus who produce the same goods," Sinno explained.

Though multi-national labels like Nestle have shown minor interest in acquiring local food manufacturing labels, very few energy-intensive industries have managed to attract foreign capital or retain qualified personnel - especially for specialized products.

Industrialists are not averse to the further opening of the Lebanese market to international products, insisted Wajih al-Bizri, the vice president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, but they need the government to mimic neighboring countries by creating industrial cities equipped with sewage systems, electricity and irrigation networks, and roads in less expensive, under-developed rural areas of the country.

"Lebanon never had any barriers to trade to begin with so industrialists are not afraid of [an open market]," he explained.

"What worries us is unfair competition from countries with low cost of energy.

"The [government] leased land to the private sector in Choueifat and Akkar and called them industrial zones, but they did not provide any infrastructure," Bizri said.I

ncreased openness has also contributed to the accelerating brain drain from Lebanon to Gulf countries, forcing industrialists to contend with an absence of qualified personnel with knowledge of international markets. Since the domestic market cannot meet the salary requirements commanded by middle and upper management in the Gulf, the quality of local products has suffered.

Though the Lebanese business community is calling for increased government intervention in the economy - however minor - the US Department of Commerce the views the state's laissez-faire investment policy as one of the country's biggest draws.

A multi-lingual workforce and media content providers in the country and the government's plans to upgrade the ICT infrastructure will offer significant opportunities to foreign investors, the department of commerce report said.

Meanwhile the pharmaceutical market generates $400 million a year in retail sales but products manufactured here account for less than five percent of total annual consumption, making Lebanon the biggest importer of prescription drugs in the Levant.

Insurance was also cited as an attractive sector for development since the demand for personal insurance policies and coverage for reconstruction work is projected to rise steadily.
The Lebanese service sector has shifted its gaze to global brands, with local branches of US franchises on the rise, despite declining purchasing power.

The report calls franchising "one of the fastest growing business sectors in Lebanon". Though domestic branches of global fast-food chains have proliferated most rapidly, the volume of clothing, retail, and car rental franchises has also risen, leading to the proposed creation of a union of Lebanese Franchisers this year.

Paul Ariss, head of the Restaurant, CafŽ, and Hotel Syndicate, expects the number of US food and restaurant franchises - there are currently at least a dozen different brands - to continue growing the future.

"Because the market is open, and people are aware of international brands there will always be a market for brands like Burger King, McDonald's, and KFC," he said.
"If they are still all doing well in Lebanon at a time like this other franchises will be encouraged to follow their example," Ariss said.

Kenya maken

"The New Kenya Co-operative Creameries (KCC) have secured a market for milk products in Middle East worth Sh350 million ($5 million). New KCC chairman, Mr. Matu Wamae, said the creamery had received another order to supply 216 tonnes of powdered milk to Yemen.

"We are earning Sh50 million ($750,000) from powdered milk exported to Yemen every month and we hope the earnings will go up by January," said Wamae. He said the creamery had received another order for 100 million litres of milk from the Middle East and Asia.

Farmers currently produce about 350,000 litres of milk daily, which Wamae said was inadequate to satisfy the demand. "There is a huge demand for milk from the Middle East market and we are urging farmers to increase their output," he said."

Last round

"MEDIATORS at the World Trade Organisation made a bid to salvage a global free trade deal today by proposing compromises to overcome impasses in the key areas of agriculture and industrial goods.

The proposals are seen as possibly the last chance to save the so-called Doha round, which has lurched from crisis to crisis since it was launched in Qatar in 2001 to help lift millions of people out of poverty.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, diplomats chairing the WTO negotiations floated detailed texts spelling out ranges of cuts for farm subsidies and a formula for import tariff cuts for agricultural and industrial goods.

"Some of those narrow ranges or target numbers or technical draft text will be very painful, for sure. But that pain will be required to get agreement," said New Zealand's ambassador to the WTO, Crawford Falconer, who chairs the agriculture negotiations.

Under his plan, the United States would have to cut a ceiling for farm subsidies to between $US13 billion ($14.96 billion) and $US16.4 billion ($18.87 billion) a year, lower than its offer so far of $US17 billion ($19.56 billion).
The European Union would have to cut its highest tariffs on farm imports by 73 per cent, more than its offer of 60 per cent."

Endless litany

The great Litani river, the longuest river of Lebanon, the one with the largest watershed, the one Israel wants so badly that it went to war for it, the Litani is so polluted that at some places in the West Bekaa, all that is left from it is a large sewer where algae grows unchecked.

And this is not new: As early as 1937, the Sawt al Shaeb newspaper ran a list of request by local people complaining about the pollution of the water and demanding the Lebanese Government (under French Mandate) to provide the villages with clean drinking water and irrigation water.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Animals, Live!

"Mr McGauran said today’s agreement (with Qatar) was Australia’s ninth bilateral MoU on live animal trade to the Middle East region.

It follows similar arrangements with the United Arab Emirates (December 2004), Kuwait (March 2005), Eritrea (April 2005), Saudi Arabia and Jordan (May 2005) and Libya (May 2007).

In addition, Australia signed two separate MoUs relating to live trade with Egypt in October 2006."

Kofi to save Africa

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) on Monday pledged to increase agricultural productivity of the continent's small farmers and lift tens of millions of people out of extreme poverty in the near future.

Addressing a press conference in Nairobi, AGRA chairman Kofi Annan said the organization has invested $150 million to support the development of new seed systems better equipped to cope with the harsh African climate. ‘Africa is the only region where overall food security and livelihoods are deteriorating. We will reverse this trend by working to create an environmentally sustainable, uniquely African Green Revolution. When our poorest farmers finally prosper, all of Africa will benefit,’ Annan told journalists in Nairobi.

Reuters reports that “… Annan said the Nairobi-based group hoped to replicate farm changes that boosted agricultural productivity in countries like India in the 1970s. … He said the group would focus on helping Africa's millions of small-scale farmers fight poverty and boost productivity by providing stronger and more resistant seed varieties, and improving access to farm inputs and markets. …” [Reuters/Factiva]

Where it will get really funny is when he will start asking for an end to market distorting Western agricultural subsidies. The Green revolution in India was highly controversial Mr. Annan. Small farmers have been made poorer, seeds have been stolen and patented by corporations, people have become slave labourers on their own lands, water resources have been exhausted and fertilizers and pesticides have polluted soil and water. The list is endless, all in the name of productivity while in reality it is in the name of cheaper food to compete with subsidized Western foods on the global market.

Just when we thought the world had become safe from this corrupt politician, he emerges to destroy what is left of Africa. Why didn't he get so excited about african agriculture when he was UN secretary general and had all of the FAO and UNDP under his command? Could it be because it was not on his US-compiled to-do list?

Not good

"An anticipated slowdown in growth of cereal production in low-income food-deficit countries, coupled with prospects for continued high international prices, could result in a tighter food supply situation for these countries in the coming year, according to FAO's latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report.

In North Africa, Morocco's cereal crop this year has been devastated by drought and is estimated at just one-quarter of last year's level. In Southern Africa, the outcome of the recent main cereal harvest is mixed -- with sharply drought-reduced crops in Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, but record or above average harvests in Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Madagascar and Zambia."


AFRICA (20 countries)

Exceptional shortfall in aggregate food production/supplies


Multiple year droughts, HIV/AIDS impact


Conflict and drought


Multiple year droughts, HIV/AIDS impact


Deepening economic crisis, drought

Widespread lack of access


IDPs, returnees, high food prices


Low incomes, high food prices


Post-conflict recovery period, IDPs


Multiple year droughts

Sierra Leone

Post-conflict recovery period, refugees

Severe localized food insecurity


Civil strife, IDPs, returnees and recent dry spells

Central African Republic

Civil strife, IDPs


Refugees, insecurity

Congo, Democratic Republic of

Civil strife, IDPs and refugees

Congo, Republic of

IDPs, refugees

Côte d'Ivoire

Civil strife, IDPs


IDPs, refugees, high food prices


After effects of floods, localized insecurity


Drought in parts


Civil strife, returnees


Civil strife, IDPs

ASIA (7 countries)

Exceptional shortfall in aggregate food production/supplies


Conflict and insecurity, IDPs

Widespread lack of access


Conflict, IDPs and returnees, floods

Korea, Dem. People's Rep. of

Economic constraints


Market access and effects of conflict and drought/floods

Severe localized food insecurity


After effects of the Kashmir earthquake, floods

Sri Lanka

After effects of the Tsunami, deepening conflicts and floods


IDPs and drought

LATIN AMERICA (1 country)

Severe localized food insecurity


After effects of adverse weather conditions (floods in lowlands; drought, hail and frost in highlands)


MoroccoLack of rainfall
SomaliaConflict, drought in parts

Would the US be the same without chewing gum?

"Gum arabic is so vital to Western consumers that U.S. lawmakers carved out an exemption for the commodity after President Clinton first imposed trade sanctions against Sudan in 1997, despite reports that Osama bin Laden had once dabbled in the industry. When President Bush recently tightened economic sanctions against Sudan to protest the conflict in Darfur, gum arabic suppliers were once again left off the list of targeted firms. The U.S. buys about one-quarter of Sudan's gum arabic.

The ancient industry is facing its biggest threat yet because of the conflict in Darfur and government mismanagement. Its future could affect not only the nearly 5 million Sudanese whose livelihoods depend upon the commodity, but also the price, quality and availability of hundreds of popular Western consumer products.

As a result, Importers Service and other international buyers began to look elsewhere. Chad, Nigeria, Uganda and Ethiopia are ramping up their production. Berliner said his firm shifted part of its business to the few private sellers in Sudan. Others began searching for lab-produced substitutes that can mimic the properties of gum arabic."

I've been waiting for this to happen for ages. German scientists, 20 years ago, started looking for a tissue culture method to produce gum arabic without the trees. They have clearly not managed it. GA is produced from the acacia tree, which also grows well in Yemen and other similar regions.

From dove's eye view

My friend Bedouina on permaculture.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mediterranean food culture a world heritage

أطباق المتوسط... تراث للثقافة العالمية
أثنت ايطاليا على طلب اسبانيا من منظمة اليونسكو اعتبار أطباق طعام حوض البحر الأبيض المتوسط جزءا من التراث الثقافي العالمي، مثل الحيد المرجاني العظـيم في اسـتراليا او كنيـسة نوتردام الفرنسية. وذكرت وكالة الأنباء الايطالية، انسا، ان مؤسسة «كولديريتي»، وهي أكبر الشركات الزراعية في ايطاليا، وصفت الطلب الاسباني المدعوم من قبل المفوضية الأوروبية، بأنه «شديد الأهمية» بالنسبة لايطاليا المعروفة بأطعمته الشهيرة. وقالت مؤســسة «كولديــريتي»، «ان الطـعام المتوســطي جزء من تراث ايطـاليا الثقـافي والتـاريخي والاجتـماعي والبيـئي منذ قرون، وهو على علاقـة وثيـقة بأسـلوب حيـاة شعـوب المتوسـط عبر التاريخ». أضافت المؤسسة ان المكونات الرئيسية للطعام الايطالي، من معجنات وفاكهة وخضار وزيتون ونبيذ، تشكل مجد المطبخ المتوسطي، واعتبرت «أن المبادرة الاسبانية قيمة للغاية لايطاليا التي تشكل نموذجا لتجذر الطعام في الثقافة». -->

From As-Safir today

Mediterranean dishes, a world cultural heritage

Italy supported Spains request to Unesco to consider Mediterranean dishes as part of the world cultural heritage, just as the great reef barrier of Australia or Notre Dame's church. This includes pasta, fruits, vegetables, olives and wine.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Uganda Crop Industries is in a campaign to ensure that over 5,000 farmers grow cardamom in the next three years. Mansoor Nadir, the managing director of the company which exports thecrop to Germany, France and Middle East countries, says they have started investing over $500,000 in supporting farmers in addition to $300,000 already spent in the last three years.

Free trade primer

A nice primer on free trade

Brace yourself for more structural adjustment

"The Middle East and North Africa region has become the fastest-growing area for investments from the World Bank's private sector arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which surpassed one billion dollars for the first time last year, according to the Bank Information Centre, a Washington-based research group on international public lenders.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, received most of the loans (283 million dollars) over the past five years, followed by Oman, Algeria and Iraq.

The report's authors say that the IFC is also taking advantage of new investment opportunities created by accelerated trade liberalisation and privatisation reforms in the region, which are often tied to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) programmes.

Of all loans from multilateral financial institutions, including the African Development Bank, nearly a quarter again went to Egypt, which has implemented a rigorous World Bank-sponsored liberalisation programme.

Lending to Iraq is also forecast to grow in coming years. The World Bank has approved emergency loans worth around 400 million dollars to the country through its Iraq Trust Fund, while the IFC has committed over 100 million dollars in private sector operations.

The study notes that in 2001, the World Bank provided 507 million dollars to MENA -- only 2.9 percent of the total Bank lending that year. But in 2006, it gave out 1.7 billion dollars, more than half which went for finance and energy projects after several years of relatively minimal allocations to these sectors.

Lending projects in the water and sanitation, health and agricultural sectors dropped off almost entirely, it says.

In the last five years, Egypt has borrowed more from the World Bank than any other country, receiving over 1.2 billion dollars, followed closely by Iran, which has received 1.1 billion dollars from the Bank over the same period.

The study found that the Bank went into the region with the same ideology it imposes elsewhere in developing nations. It says its focus has been on instituting "comprehensive structural reform" to facilitate greater liberalisation measures such as the elimination of trade barriers to open up the region to increased private investment and economic integration. The authors of the report cite many of the Bank's own studies, which have revealed that income inequality in MENA is on the rise, despite increased economic growth and investment. "

The jury is still out about the significance of increased IFI investment in MENA for the region's people. The impacts of the influx of public financing on poverty, inequality, unemployment and the environment in MENA remain to be seen," the authors of the report said.

"Investment is not an unambiguous good, as it is often portrayed to be, nor is investment itself tantamount to development"."

In a nutshell: There out to get Iraq in financial chains, if it has a slight chance of ever becoming a country again, privatization will boom in the region, neo-lib policies will be fostered, trade will be unbridled, the rich will become richer, and they've already got Iran by the balls.

We just love junk food

McDonald's Corp., the world's largest restaurant company, said second-quarter profit exceeded analysts' estimates, excluding the sale of Latin American stores that resulted in its first loss in more than four years.

Sales in the region encompassing Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East and Africa climbed 10.9 percent, helped by Japan, Australia and China.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Organic cooperation

"Alayyan is one of dozens of Jordanians working in cooperation with Israeli colleagues, targeting rodents with a natural predator instead of with chemicals.The project also has gotten support from political and former military leaders in both countries, including Mansour Abu Rashed, the former head of Jordanian intelligence. "

Doesn't this just sound like the new Israeli-Jordanian plan to end the Resistance? (thanks Yasmine)

The Best Place to Be in a Peak Oil Collapse

"Someone was asking me to elaborate on my views of the best place to live after a hypothetical Peak Oil collapse.

Russia could probably support its current 150 million population as this is not much higher than what it had 100 years ago. It would have an ugly time fending off the migrating people from other, more densely populated regions, however.

Ireland actually has roughly 1/2 the population that it had in 1845, before the Potato Famine, so it's certainly not in as bad a shape in a collapse as England.

France is amazingly fertile and supported a population of 3-6 times that of England in the Middle Ages. Rough times for the Paris region, post-collapse, but France has preserved most of its agricultural land and would be back on its feet before most other European countries.

My vote among the English speaking countries would be New Zealand. Relatively mild climate and fairly low population for its size. Second would be the agricultural regions of the US heartland, especially those areas with ample water and/or close to the Mississippi.

Worst countries and/or regions in the world post-collapse: Japan, England, desert SW of the U.S., southern Florida, India, China, Sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico, the Middle East. All these areas have too many people for their agricultural resources."

I dont usually post from blogs, but I liked the reminder that we are too many for too little

Sunday, July 15, 2007

I read Al Hayat today

The Arab World is catching up on the globally warm issues: In its weekly section "Oil in a Week", Al Hayat today ran an article about how agrofuel production is causing an inflation of the prices of foodstuff. The article had nothing new to offer (see previous posts on this blog for complete briefings on the issue of agro fuels) and included no analysis whatsoever, and no mention of the impact of this price increase on food and farming in the Arab World. But its alays a good thing to have as background material in an broad circulation Arabic daily. Its a pity that the editor does not really integrate information because it would really be interesting:

In the same issue (sunday July 15) Al Hayat also ran a couple of small pieces (not available online) about the price increase of wheat, resulting in the prices of bread and pasta shooting skywards (but without mentionning the AW). The price hike is attributed to climatic conditions (drought) and to the demand on agro fuel. This has resulted in the increase of the price of the loaf of bread in Britain by 30-40% during the course of the past year. The largest pasta makers in the world, Barilla, decided they will increase their prices next fall. This could of course have dramatic consequences for many countries, like Lebanon, where the country is only 25% self sufficient in bread flour, and worse for Egypt, which has recently adopted pasta instead of rice as the staple for its army. Dont laugh, you're talking about feeding hundreds of thousands daily.

Just under this small brief, in the same issue, is an even smaller piece of news: Tunis increases its wheat imports by 19% in the first quarter of the past year. The wheat will be used to manufacture...pasta for export to African countries. Wonder how the wheat price hike will affect the newly establishd Tunisian food industry.

...and in the Arabian Gulf, low catches this year have resulted in a 25% increase in the price of local fish. The article blames the Gulf war and rampant urbanization and the destruction of coastal habitat due to the creation of artificial lands, such as the Palm in Dubai and many, many others, for the decrease in fish stocks. I'm sure the Gulf war affected the fish population, but fishermen in Bahrain will tell you (as they told me) that the royal family owns all the lands on the coast, and that they detroyed all the mangrove swamps to erect huge complexes (in the Freudian sense). The mangrove swamps are where fish lay their eggs and fish babies grow sheltered from predators by the web of mangrove roots. The construction started 15 years ago and intensified 10 years ago, and we are now seeing the resulting decline in the stocks. That's about the time it takes for the impact on populations to be felt.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ard w' Nath

"Kamal Nath, India's minister of commerce and industry, has been called a lot of names in recent weeks, few of them good.

The latest round of talks between the Group of 4 - India, Brazil, the United States and the European Union - ground to a halt in late June after Nath and the Brazilian foreign minister, Celso Amorim, walked out. The U.S. trade representative, Susan Schwab, quickly called their actions "inflexible" and "low-ambition" and said they could harm other emerging nations.

India and Brazil are asking the United States to reduce the estimated $22 billion in subsidies that it allots to farmers, and the European Union to trim its €55 billion, or $75.8 billion, in such aid, saying they keep food prices on world markets artificially low, hurting farmers in developing nations. Developed nations would like to see substantial reductions in the taxes on imports to countries like India and Brazil, to give their manufacturers greater access to these fast-growing economies." (Thanks Yasmine)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Land and nomadic people

"However, pastoralism has never been recognised by conventional thinking on development. There have been erroneous views that pastoralists should settle into modern farms; privatise and individualise land, keep fewer livestock etc.

But recent research on pastoralism by Roger Blench, Adrian Cullis, Charles Lane, Jeremy Swift and our own Prof. Mamhood Mamdani etc, have found out that this is a way of life, a scientific practice, a rational and efficient low-intensity stock rearing production system suited to the fragile environment that the pastoralists live in. It is therefore not by accident that pastoralists straddle the semi-arid areas in Africa, from Ankole to Karamoja, Turkana, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea etc.

The mobility of pastoralists is not a backward practice, but a rational adaptive strategy. Mobility also prevents overgrazing and environmental degradation. Besides, there are grass species and salt licks that are scattered over space and time and can only be accessed through mobility. There are about seven million pastoralist communities in Uganda in 27 districts. .

Many governments have tried without success to change pastoralists. In Iran, from 1910-45, the government used gunships to bomb the Qashqa'I into settlement and even tried to change their language, culture and dressing by force. It failed.

In Kenya, in Kitengela sub-location near Nairobi, Maasai pastoralists in the 1980s were encouraged by a government programme to divide their communal lands into individual ownership. It did not work as the pastoralists whom I visited in 2005 have now fallen back to grazing their livestock communall disregarding their individual borders because of the fragile ecosystem that cannot sustain livestock in small land holdings.

Conversion of communal lands in grazing areas to individual ownership have not only benefited a few rich, but even those who have done so have either failed to sustain individual ranches, and if they have sustained them, it is at very high cost."

No rust, just smut

An article in Arabic in Al-Akhbar about a fungal disease decimating this year's wheat harvest in the West Bekaa. Apparently, it has affected 7,500 ha out of a total planted area of 12,000 ha and caused up to $10 millions in losses. The farmers believe this was caused by unstable weather this year and late rainfall followed by unseasonal frost. I got worried that this may be the devastating black stem rust we have been expecting and wrote to my friend Wafa Khoury in the FAO. This is what she answered:

"In fact this is one of the wheat smuts not stem rust. Smut is controlled by treating the seeds before planting since it is a systemic fungus that grows either from the embryo or infects the seedlings an moves systemically. The emerging seeds will be infected and will be filled with smut spores rather than wheat, and with the harvest they will spread and infect the other seeds to be used for planting. If there has been an epidemic this year, it must have been the accumulation of lack of seed treatment for the past several years (at least 2-3 years). If you are thinking of the new virulent stem rust strain that is now becoming very serious in the region, it might reach Lebanon next year and affect most of the varieties planted, but we believe it will take at least another year before reaching Lebanon and Syria."

So what I read in her message is that the farmers got it wrong, and it is not this year's weather, but a lack of seed treatment over the past years that is the cause of the losses. This is the simplest things, and the Ministry of Agriculture and its various branches should really get their act together and improve their extension. And the mega million development projects funded through bilateral aid (USAID, EU, who do not create $10 million in revenue trust me), could have invested a couple of millions in mobile extension programs, which would have saved wheat farmers $10 millions.

Freedom from market freedom

"For many economists, questioning free-market orthodoxy is akin to expressing a belief in intelligent design at a Darwin convention: Those who doubt the naturally beneficial workings of the market are considered either deluded or crazy.

But in recent months, economists have engaged in an impassioned debate over the way their specialty is taught in universities around the country, and practiced in Washington. They are questioning the profession's most cherished ideas about not interfering in the economy.

Part of the reason is the growing income inequality and dislocation that global markets and a revolution in communications have helped create. Economists who question the free-market theories "want to speak to the reality of our time," Reich said.

Meanwhile, critics have also pointed out the limits of standard cost-benefit accounting to measure items like the cost of inequality or damage to the ecosystem.

Heterodox economists complain that they are almost completely shut out by their more influential neoclassical colleagues who dominate most American university departments and prestigious peer-reviewed journals that are essential to gaining tenure". (Thanks Yasmine)

The tide is truning, slowly but surely. When will it permeate into the Lebanese system?

Keep your hands off farming!

"These targets far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to plant 70 percent of its farmland with fuel crops. The entire corn and soy harvest of the United States would need to be processed as ethanol and biodiesel. Converting most arable land to fuel crops would destroy the food systems of the North, so the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries are looking to the South to meet demand."

From a recent article in th IHT. It looks like everyone is now arming against agro-fuel (we should stop using the word biofuel, it gives a false impression that it is green and harmless). the article goes on:

"The rapid capitalization and concentration of power within the biofuels industry is extreme. Over the past three years, venture capital investment in biofuels has increased by 800 percent. Private investment is swamping public research institutions."

I have read in a brief piece of news in the Guardian that more than $70 billions were invested in wind and solar power and agro-fuel, up 43% on 2005. But what is really worrying is the fact that the South is now set to produce most of it, at the cost of its own food systems. In a talk he gave a few weeks ago, Lebanese opposition economist George Corm gave the example of agro-fuels as a direction in which the country's agricultural sector could go to rebuild its production sector. Now the good thing is that no one will listen to him, but I don't know if you realize how silly this proposal is. Just imagine how much imported diesel would be needed to pump deep, barely renewable underground water to make corn to make biofuel to export to the North.

Farming is too serious a sector to be managed by economists.