Thursday, January 31, 2008
The Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency of the United Nations, recently reported that at least 20 percent of the world’s estimated 7,600 livestock breeds are in danger of extinction. Experts are warning of a potential “meltdown” in global genetic diversity. Yet the plight of the Ankole illustrates the difficulty of balancing the conflicting goals of animal conservation and human prosperity. An estimated 70 percent of the world’s rural poor, some 630 million people, derive a substantial percentage of their income from livestock. Increase the productivity of these animals, development specialists say, and you improve dire living standards. The World Bank recently published a report saying it was time to place farming “afresh at the center of the development agenda.” Highly productive livestock breeds, the World Bank asserts, are playing an important role in alleviating poverty.
“You do have local animals with various kinds of disease resistance and whatever other kinds of things you don’t want to do away with,” said Chris Delgado, an agriculture policy adviser at the World Bank. “But there’s a problem: They are kept by very poor people, and they don’t want to stay poor.”"
This is a fascinating (long) article, (thanks Leila). There is a similar situation unfolding everywhere in the world, and in Lebanon, most of the cows are now Holstein. The local (baladi) cows have all but disappeared. Problem with the Holstein, here as in Uganda, is that they need lots of care and food and water. Small farmers cannot aways afford to feed them as they should, and sometimes do not give them enough to drink. This reduces productivity of the Holstein, and they become a wasted investment. However, when cared for, they produce very well. I wonder what the situation is like now with the price of feed having gone up more than the price of milk (because once again of monospsony, the presence of only a few large buyers who can dictate the price). Is it still worth having improved breeds or has the old baladi variety become more economically efficient? Are there still any baladi cows around?
The mud has long been prized by pregnant women and children here as an antacid and source of calcium. But in places like Cite Soleil, the oceanside slum where Charlene shares a two-room house with her baby, five siblings and two unemployed parents, cookies made of dirt, salt and vegetable shortening have become a regular meal.
Food prices around the world have spiked because of higher oil prices, needed for fertilizer, irrigation and transportation. Prices for basic ingredients such as corn and wheat are also up sharply, and the increasing global demand for biofuels is pressuring food markets as well.
The problem is particularly dire in the Caribbean, where island nations depend on imports and food prices are up 40 percent in places." (Thanks D. and Leila)
This is the article referred to in the next post down (the previous post chronologically). Lebanon and the Caribbean have this in common: Great inequality and a near total dependence on food exports, no productive sector and tourism in all its versions. The Lebanese are not yet eating dirt, except political dirt. But things will certainly deteriorate if drastic measures are not taken, as food and fuel prices will only rise. Last Sunday's riots against electricity cuts were triggered by long power cuts in some of the poorest areas of Beirut, and they left 7 dead and tens of wounded. Of course, there are political dimensions to the protest, inequality is a political issue, and it will be taken up by the opposition to put pressure on the government. This should give enough incentive to the government to start acting. In fact, and to my great surprise, the Minister of Economy and Trade, Sami Haddad de la tete de qui je me paye tout le temps, seems to have gotten the message. This article in Al Akhbar reports of an investigation (by the Ministry) that uncovered the dirty game of the flour mills cartel, who had submitted an inflated list of bakeries who should benefit from the subsidies on flour, some of which are closed, while others make cakes and not Arabic bread (the only subsidized bread). Apparently the Ministry will now subsidize the bakeries directly without going through the mills. That's a step in the right direction, but I have a small question that may seem irrelevant: Those people who have presented fake lists and who have swindled the state and stolen tens of millions of $, will they be taken to court? I know I shouldn't expect too much, but after all, its my money they have stolen.
LATE RISING by Jaques Prevert
is the soft sound of a hardboiled egg
cracking on a zinc counter
and terrible is that sound
when it moves in the memory
of a man who is hungry
Terrible also is the head of a man
the head of a man hungry
when he looks at six o'clock in the morning
in a smart shop window and sees
a head the color of dust
But it is not his head he sees
in the window of 'Chez Potin'
he doesn't give a damn
for the head of a man
he doesn't think at all
imagining another head
calf's-head for instance
with vinegar sauce
head of anything edible
and slowly he moves his jaws
grinds his teeth for the world
stands him on his head
without giving him any comeback
so he counts on his fingers one two three
one two three
that makes three days he has been empty
and it's stupid to go on saying It can't
go on It can't go on because
and behind those windows
paté de fois gras wine preserves
dead fish protected by their boxes
boxes in turn protected by windows
these in turn watched by the police
police protected in turn by fear
How many guards for six sardines . . .
Then he comes to the lunch counter
coffee-with-cream buttered toast
and he begins to flounder
and in the middle of his head
blizzard of words
muddle of words
hardboiled eggs coffee-with-cream
coffee black rum food
coffee crime black blood
A respectable man in his own neighborhood
had his throat cut in broad daylight
the dastardly assassin stole from him
two bits that is to say
exactly the price of a black coffee
two slices of buttered toast
an a nickel left to tip the waiter
is the soft sound of a hardboiled egg
cracking on a zinc counter
and terrible is that sound when it moves
in the memory
of a man who is hungry.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Mr. Gates isn't abandoning his belief in capitalism as the best economic system. But in an interview with the Journal last week at his Microsoft office in Redmond, Wash., Mr. Gates said that he has grown impatient with the shortcomings of capitalism. He said he has seen those failings first-hand on trips for Microsoft to places like the South African slum of Soweto, and discussed them with dozens of experts on disease and poverty. He has voraciously read about those failings in books that propose new approaches to narrowing the gap between rich and poor.
In particular, he said, he's troubled that advances in technology, health care and education tend to help the rich and bypass the poor. "The rate of improvement for the third that is better off is pretty rapid," he said. "The part that's unsatisfactory is for the bottom third -- two billion of six billion." (Thanks Fawaz)
More from Gates at Davos. Epiphanies.
Although a recession in the developed world is now more or less inevitable, , and some of the oil-producing countries are in a very strong countertrend. So, the current financial crisis is less likely to cause a global recession than a radical realignment of the global economy, with a relative decline of the US and the rise of China and other countries in the developing world.
The danger is that the resulting political tensions, including US protectionism, may disrupt the global economy and plunge the world into recession or worse."
From an article by G. Soros in the FT. (Thanks Fawaz)
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This was send to me by Marcy so I am assuming it is a politically clean project.
"Bad SamaritansBy Ha-Joon Chang
Bloomsbury Press, 288 pages
Ha-Joon Chang’s life is conterminous with his country’s advance from being one of the poorest on Earth—with a 1961 yearly income of $82 per person, less than half the $179 per capital income in Ghana at that time—to the manufacturing powerhouse of today, with a 2004 per capita income of $13,980. South Korea did not get there by following the advice of the Bad Samaritans. Chang’s prologue contains a wonderful account of how post-Korean War trade restrictions and governmental supervision fostered such projects as POSCO (Pohang Iron and Steel Co.), which began life as a state-owned enterprise that was refused support from the World Bank in a country without any iron ore or coking coal and with a prohibition on trade with China. Now privatized, POSCO is the world’s third largest steel company. This was also the period in which Samsung subsidized its infant electronics subsidiaries for over a decade with money made in textiles and sugar refining. Today Samsung dominates flat-panel TVs and cell phones in much of East Asia and the world. "
Please read the (long) review. Another one by dear Kirsten. Very pertinent to the next post... Looks like a great book.
"The concern over carbon emissions is legitimate. But the "food miles" (or "air-miles") argument has three flaws. First, the total carbon emissions associated with the import of organic foods is very small - even tiny - so a halt to certification would have almost zero practical effect.
Second, local transport (especially on European roads) is a major source of carbon emissions, in addition to the costs of congestion and accidents; this includes the vehicles of shoppers (including consumers of organic foods). The combined effect here far outstrips the airfreight emissions of - for example - beans from Kenyan farmers tightly packed into the hold of a plane.
Third, the estimate of carbon emissions should take into account the entire production chain. It may be intuitive to think that distance travelled is an indicator for environmental damage, but other indicators must be factored in to an analysis: the lower-energy intensity of production in the tropics and southern hemisphere, for example. "
Sent to me by dear Kirsten, this article raises an important issue, albeit incompletely. I have discussed this same issue in an earlier post, and I will just pose the problem again, because I still do not have a satisfactory answer: Is carbon cost the only reason why we should question export-oriented farming, even if it is organic? How about the fact that export favors large investors who create monopolies. Even in the case of small farmers, the fact that middle men are needed for export and for all the associated bureaucratic complications favors monopsonies. All of these reduce the profits of farmers and tends to make them more like wage laborers on their own lands. Moreover, there is another issue: the invisible hand of the market. Organic food, made to satisfy the delicate taste buds and immune systems of the people of the North is often out of the reach of the people of the South who grow it. They end up eating the worst, unclean and unhealthy polluted and contaminated produce they cannot sell abroad, while they export the best of the land to Europe. This is an aberration and a terrible one, but it is intrinsic to free trade and free markets. This is the case in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia where organic production is a capital intensive operation and where produce is packed and inspected and flown from the farm without reaching the local markets. I raised this objection with some French people in a recent seminar about farming and trade, and their answer was that if the prices obtained from selling abroad are better, then producers (traders in reality) would sell abroad. This is of course perfectly true, but it does not take into account that "abroad" is also where there are organized markets, where there is a good financial infrastructure, where there are better year-round prices for such products; and most importantly, it is where people are richer. This means that Europeans, who have higher purchasing power and a more organized market structure compete for African food with Africans who have a low purchasing power and weak commercial structures. No wonder the traders would rather sell to the Europeans, leaving the worst for the locals. Sometimes this unfair competition for food is called "Fair Trade".
Monday, January 28, 2008
I have blogged about cola beverages earlier. I recently heard a talk by my dear friend Martine Padilla a nutritionist and food economist, about the change in diets around the Mediterranean. Obesity is on the rise everywhere, but more so in poor countries (Egypt came first) and affecting poor people more than the rich, as the rich are more aware of nutritional issues and can afford the higher price tag of "healthier" food. In the Northern Mediterranean countries (France, Italy, Greece, Spain) diets are becoming increasingly Anglo-Saxon with more meat and more animal fats. In the countries of the southern Mediterranean (North Africa), cereals are still the main source of calories, but these countries are experiencing a tremendous surge in the consumption of sugar in foods but mostly in drinks. Martine gave the example of people who now drink cola beverages instead of the traditional drinks to accompany couscous. In Lebanon, people drink cola with everything, and in Ramadan, many muslim break the fast with cola and the traditional licorice root juice (sous) has almost disappeared. Cola with manoucheh, with shawarma, with most street foods, in extra large bottles.
Rather than see the benefits of projects captured by better-off farmers, as in some past projects, the nonprofit groups receiving Gates foundation grants will focus on poor women because studies have found that they are more likely to use gains in income to educate their children and improve their families’ well-being.
Instead of counting on free markets to generate opportunities spontaneously, the nonprofit groups managing some of the grants will intervene to help farmers form groups to sell goods in bulk and provide them with access to the agronomic advice, processing facilities and transportation they need to take advantage of growing markets for products like milk and coffee." (Thanks Anna and D.)
Friday, January 25, 2008
Billions of gallons of bottled water; water filters in millions of homes; organic-food consumption growing 20 percent a year; organic food on sale at Wal-Mart. The inverted-quarantine response to toxics in our environment is now a mainstream, mass phenomenon.
Just because something is a mass phenomenon, though, doesn't mean it is important or warrants concern. So what if we see individualistic, consumeristic behavior in response to environmental threat? Isn't that just what we would expect in a culture that emphasizes individual responsibility and equates consumption with the good life?
Here is why we should be concerned, in fact alarmed: Inverted-quarantine products do not work nearly well enough to actually protect those who put their faith in them. But consumers believe they work. That belief, in turn, tends to decrease our collective will to truly confront serious environmental issues." (Thanks D)
Very interesting article by Andrew Szsaz in the CHE. To read all
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Agricultural Development Association (PARC)-Gaza
No Chance for a Smile in Gaza!
The Agricultural Situation is a Mess.
Throughout modern history, agriculture was a main source of living and income for a large segment of the people of Gaza Strip. It represents a major economic activity in Gaza. Citrus fruits, olives, almond, vegetables, strawberries and flowers and field crops are common there. However, nowadays, the agricultural sector encounters many destructive factors and other problems that lead to it to diminish, deteriorate and collapse. For instance, due to the large increase in population there has been an on-going construction of buildings on the agricultural land, a matter which decreases the farming areas in Gaza Strip. Then, add to this, the Israeli military activities in the green fields in the same area. Moreover, there is the reality that the buffer zone was a strip of land of more or less than 300 meters that runs around the Gaza Strip border with Israel. Nowadays, this buffer zone land strip has been widened -- by the Israeli army -- into area that ranges between 1000-1500 meters. This area constitutes almost 30% of the arable land and water resources. Landowners and farmers of those arable lands cannot, by any means, reach their lands. Thus, they lost the advantage of cultivating it or raising any productive animals on it, while there is a dire need for more agricultural lands. Their land's size is unstable and their water resources used are not safe.
With a population of 1500000 citizens in Gaza Strip, there is a total of around 70000 farmers including 30000 farm workers and laborers. There is 80% of the population under poverty line; they live with international aid from UNRWA and other international & local NGOs. Unemployment rate has reached to 35%. It is also true that 40% of the population have totally lost their financial incomes, 50% lost half of their financial incomes, and that 35% of the population suffer from malnutrition and anemia. The direct and indirect losses in the agricultural sector in Gaza amount to one million dollars per day.
Recently, the agricultural sector in the Gaza Strip (An area of approximately 175000 dunums) received tough blows and inflected wide scale damages in all its parts; it was no wonder that there was no exception for the farming areas. It was obvious that there was a deliberate policy to demolish the infrastructure of the agricultural sector in a way that was hard for the poor farmers to recover their business and rehabilitate their farms and greenhouses (Approximately 50000 dunums have been totally damaged). In addition to those losses, the inconsiderate results of the military land incursions inflected heavy losses upon the small scale and marginalized and poor farmers; sadly, the Palestinian farmers in Gaza Strip paralyzed from rehabilitating their lands. Rehabilitation of land and sustaining plantation need financial capabilities, time and collective efforts that those poor farmers may not endure or afford. Moreover, the damage has knocked down those seasonal and daily framers who work for per diem wages. Nowadays, there are more unemployed farmers than at any other time before, and there is a lower standard of living and malnutrition among the whole population. Those farmers have been forced to return to the long lines of Gaza's unemployed. To many of those farmers, agriculture is the only option they have. There are dozens of hundreds of domestic farmers and laborers who lost their jobs.
The reality that those farms and agricultural areas belong to the private sector makes it hard for its business owners to find some authority to compensate them for any losses they suffer. Undoubtedly, these tragic circumstances and awful situations of the farmers and their families and lands have lead to deteriorate the standard of living in the farming areas as a whole. Therefore, the socio-economic situation suffers from those financial and material losses without having any real opportunity for rising again and compensating their losses and returning to their farms.
Al-Fakkari village can be seen as one live example of the whole agricultural areas in Gaza Strip. In that village, there is some 6000 people living on an area of arable land of 7200 square dunums (A dunum is an area of 1000 square meters.) The vast majority of the citizens are farmers. Approximately 40% of village's land is cultivated with olive tress, different kinds of citrus, and almond, and 60% of it is cultivated with various types of vegetables such as cucumber and tomatoes, potatoes, peace, crops and fruits like watermelon, figs and grapes. There are other plants of wild life in the village. That village is located to the east of the border town of Rafah and adjacent to the 1984 truce border with Israel.
In January 2008 Israel fulfilled several military run over and land incursions flattening small plants and destroying old and high plants. Each time, the Israeli tanks took routs on the vegetable fields destroying greenhouses and all what is green in their own way. Israeli bulldozers opened wide roads on the agricultural fields causing massive damages to the agricultural sector. They bulldozed the crust of the land, the irrigation system, telephone lines and electricity posts, plus other infrastructure. Approximately 25% of the Gaza Strip farmers' plantations have been either uprooted or destroyed by the Israeli military activities.
One of the sad examples came from a witness by Mr. Essayyed Said al-Amor (73 years old) as he mentioned that in 1951 he planted twenty seven olive trees in his land, and he took care of them as if they were his children. In January 2008 in one of the Israeli incursions, the Israeli bulldozers uprooted those trees! Also, he added that when he was forced to flee from his birthplace in the Negev desert 1948, he brought with him an ever green sycamore tree to plant it in al-Fukkari village. That tree was also uprooted by the same Israeli bulldozer. That event made the old man cry like a child who cries for losing his toy! He said that the event caused a deep scar in him and inflected a psychological damage as well. Last week's military land incursion has left an area of approximately two square kilometers of farms as barren as the desert!
The damages in the farmers' cultivable lands, assets and properties have become irrecoverable with the strict Israeli cordon on Gaza Strip. Life needs are running out and there are no supplies for the agricultural sector. What Israel permits into Gaza Strip are the basic needs of life such as floor, sugar, beans, cooking oil, basic medical supplies. (Cf. In 1993 Karni or al-Mintar cross point was built to the east of Gaza city for an approximation of 800 lorries, to pass through into Gaza Strip per day, and for Gaza products to be exported from it. Nowadays, it opens occasionally).
This dire situation added salt to injury. In those days, the farmers are stuck between a stone and a hard rock. On the one hand, the Israeli army activities destroyed their assets, fields and greenhouses, while on the other hand they received no supplies to rebuild their destructed fields. By all means, the current situation meant a total economic collapse in the Gaza Strip. As a result of the current situation, the standard of living has sharply gone down and the level of poverty has terribly gone up from bad to worse. Life of the Palestinian farmer has turned to an unstable one. The majority of the farmers in Gaza Strip live days of mixed feelings between dream and hope on one side, and fear and anxiety on the other. They dream of a fruitful agricultural product of their plantations, and hope of a promising future, but also they feel fearful of the foggy current situation and anxious of the Israeli tanks to run over their plantations turning it into a mess in an hour or two. They do not have a third alternative.
It is no wonder that the agriculture is no longer a profession that minimizes the level of poverty and improves their standard of living, but rather, it is maximizing the scope of the hard situation. In addition to that, products of vegetables, fruits and crops are no longer as available in the local markets as they used to be. It is no longer as inexpensive as it used to be. The Palestinian farmer in Gaza cannot meet the rapid demand for food as the cost of agricultural production has risen to a high level and the requirements of the filed, and agriculture, are unavailable! In simple words, the Palestinian farmer faces an uncertain future due to the Israeli closures, policies, incursions, siege and restrictions! On the contrary to all what the peace agreements mentioned, it is noticeable that minimizing production costs cannot be achieved, and raising quantity and quality productivity cannot be met and there are no genuine chances for modernizing marketing services and infrastructure.
In the last six months or so, due to the closure of border checkpoints to Gaza, the Palestinians are longer capable of easily cultivating their lands. Different kinds of saplings, pesticides and fertilizers are no longer available and they are not permitted into Gaza. Plastic sheets for greenhouses and hoses for irrigation are no longer available. Accordingly, a large number of the farmers found themselves forced to plant their lands with wheat and barley instead of the vegetables because they are easier to grow and they do not need the same care, fertilizers and pesticides. But again, this situation means a retreat from qualitative production and an escape from the hardships on their path. This situation means that those farmers will not be able to be themselves and raise their families or create any employment opportunities. They are no longer in a situation of lucrative agribusiness that yields exporting some kinds of farming products (e.g. strawberry and flowers) to Europe and Japan. In the past, those farmers used to produce something for the local community and other percentage of their production for export, but the reality is that the Palestinians have actually lost hopes of improving their agriculture and investing on it. They are not expecting to grow to where they can play a key role in creating development for their communities.
Moreover, the Palestinians loss of the initiative on their land has also destroyed most of the opportunities of other supportive productive projects like cow raising, livestock, diary farms and milk processing plants. Thus, part of diary production projects has turned to be next to impossible.
Having said this, without any doubt, it has become obvious that the future of agriculture in Gaza Strip is ambiguous. The Palestinians will not have sovereignty over their agriculture with restricted access to their land, water resources, open markets and supportive institutions. They have no real hopes of regional and international trade and business. They have no chances for competing with the Israeli and Egyptian farmers plus that the continuous Israeli closures of the border in the face of needs for agriculture jeopardises the agriculture, economy and life of Gaza farming sector.
After all this mess, it is unfortunate that the sector of agriculture in the Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapsing. It needs serious efforts and financial support to be saved and to come back to live. Those efforts must be accompanied by Israel stopping its military policies and practices against this sector which constitutes a nerve of life for the people in Gaza Strip.
Starting from the reality that agriculture is one of the necessary options for living in Gaza Strip, and in its relentless efforts and non-stop attempts to create job opportunities and support other development projects, PARC implements strategic intervention plan to achieve relief (Helping poor and young farmers and women, and needy families) and developmental objectives (Marketing poor farmers agricultural outputs). Its intervention can be seen in main programs orchestrated as follows:
First: From Poor Farmers to Poor Families :
In this project, PARC seeks to help both the farmers and the needy families by buying the products of the poor farmers to set up food baskets and distribute it to the poor and needy families in the community for free. In this approach, usually the food basket contains both fresh food (Farm products) and processed food (Feta cheese, olives, olive oil, kokoss, dried herbs, etc.). The source of the fresh food is the poor farmer whereas the source of the processed food is the working woman.
This project has been in function for more than four years. There are direct beneficiaries as well as indirect beneficiaries in this program. Approximately 6000 families receive those direct aids yearly.
Whereas there are at least 15000 families as indirect beneficiaries from other activities . They receive support from PARC in terms of loans for agricultural needs and livestock projects, land rehabilitation, and other services .
Second: Rehabilitation of Destroyed Agricultural Lands of Farmers:
In this intervention program, PARC supports harmed farmers by providing them with agricultural inputs, seeds, seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides according to given available material, and as much as PARC can afford.
Third: Household Economy (Family gardens and livestock):
In its endeavor to support the community, PARC helps by facilitating for those farmers to plant home gardens and help them found front and back gardens when possible. PARC supports those poor farmers by providing them with seeds, farming inputs and expertise, and by helping them with loans and expertise. In this regard, women receive a wide attention as they raise diary animals and husbandry. Also, PARC stands for those who like to create an urban agriculture in their homes. It provides them with agricultural inputs and expertise for creating home gardens and enhancing food security at family level.
Fourth: Agricultural Filed Job Creation:
PARC creates yearly hundreds of job opportunities for unemployed farmers and other workers in the filed of agriculture according to its available capabilities, circumstances and needs of farmers. In this regard, women are given attention and offered working opportunities.
Fifth: Advocacy and Lobbying:
PARC attempts its best in advocating the cause of the farmers in their hard times. This endeavor is performed at all levels, locally, regionally and internationally. PARC attempts shedding light on the agricultural problems and rights, access to lands, inputs and outputs movement. PARC always brings the cause of the farmers to the light and attempts to secure international awareness of their situation as it really is.PARC is very much concerned with keeping the scope open for those farmers whose production quantitvely and qualitatively reaches to levels of export, and to open new horizons for them. PARC believes that those farmers must enjoy the freedom of exporting the production of their farms.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
"Not to be outdone, wheat, coffee, hogs, rice, fruit juice, cotton and corn prices have risen considerably. Grains like wheat, rice and corn -- especially the wheat -- have scaled new heights. Whereas in the 1990s wheat was selling at about US$2.35 a bushel, its price now is about US$4.60 a bushel.
All of this is happening because of the rising populations in China and India and worldwide vagaries of the weather. Moreover China and India now have cash to pay for their grain purchases.
India set a new record for wheat production in 2006-07 at 76 million tons. But India is still importing wheat. The reason is that India is rebuilding its buffer stock, which had been depleted over two previous bad seasons. Domestic production is not enough to rebuild the stock in one year, so imports are necessary.
China is in a similar situation, although its statistics of production and consumption are not reliable. This is driving wheat prices up and allowing exporting nations to reap big rewards.
In the long run, strategic factors may force India and China to take a more serious look at increased mineral production, but the immediate future is less rosy. The same is true of agriculture. As China has polluted its environment and land, and India has not aggressively dealt with land reform and subsidies, foodstuff imports by both will continue. This will continue to drive up food prices all over the world.
What the world should worry about today is the future food supply. Rising populations will demand food, which can only be grown in fields irrigated with clean water and supplied with other input. If water is polluted and land is in short supply, the population will starve. Food and water wars will begin. This scenario, no matter how unpleasant, looks possible in 50 years when the world's population reaches 10 billion.
In short, rapid industrialization of the less developed world has forced up demand for all commodities. This is translating into high prices and prosperity in the resource-producing countries. But there are limits to this prosperity. As the resources run out one by one, these countries will find themselves at the short end of the stick. The immediate tasks, therefore, should be conservation, environmental care and population control."
From: World commodity markets hit the roof, UPI AsiaOnline.
Even the Mediterranean sea trade had been taken over by the Italian cities - without conquest, without pressure, simply by more active and more effective commercial methods. Apart from a few products like sugar and later coffee, Middle Eastern agriculture and industry were no longer able to provide an exportable surplus of commodities, and Middle Eastern traders had to depend increasingly on the transit trade between Europe and the further East."
In May, the Observer reported that dietitians have become so worried about claims being made for so-called superfoods that they convened a debate on the subject at the Science Museum. It may be claimed that particular exotic berries boost IQ, energy and immunity, but the only science even vaguely backing this up is that they contain folic acid, which does boost brainpower, but is present in many foods. The antioxidants in pomegranate juice, which supposedly fight diseases as different as cancer and arthritis, actually only last in the body for an hour. Wheatgrass, that standby of the trendy juicebar, is said to be rich in detoxifying chlorophyll, but every green vegetable and leaf in the world contains cholorophyll - which is not, in fact, absorbable by our bodies.
The added irony, in the topsy-turvy world of supermarkets, is that rich desserts often cost very little, while fruit, especially organic, fairtrade, and prepared fruit, is marked up. At the Sainsbury's where I got my lunch, I could have had four 100g creme brulees for 44p, two tiramisu for 98p, and six chocolate mousses for 69p - or a grand total of 11.5p each, making those Pink Lady slices, gram for gram, four times more expensive. We are, more or less willingly, paying through the nose for a particularly 21st-century version of virtue. "You're made to feel worthy, and therefore you're made to pay a premium for it," says Sanders. "Supermarkets have a lot to answer for in the obesity debate.""The way you've got to look at fruit is that it's better to eat fruit than biscuits, cakes and puddings, because there's very little energy value in it and it's not fattening," he says. "A bit of sugar gives you a lift and takes the pangs of hunger away. But it's not full of all sorts of other nutrients as well. That's a myth"
Read the whole Guardian article by Aida Edemariam. (Thanks Rania)
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Monday, January 21, 2008
Meanwhile, food sales to the Palestinian Authority in 2007 were down 30% from 2006, falling to NIS 300m., the report said. Annual food sales to the PA were NIS 600m. before the outbreak of hostilities in October 2000, the association said."
""The results show there's a world of people who cannot deny themselves that hamburger or extra piece of pizza, but probably make themselves feel better by washing it down with a diet cola."
In terms of fast food, 45 percent of Britons agreed with the statement "I like the taste of fast food too much to give it up" ahead of 44 percent for Americans and Canadians at 37 percent.
The French, long proud of their reputation for high-class cuisine, strongly disagree: 81 percent rejected the statement, followed by 75 percent of Singaporeans and 73 percent of people from Hong Kong and Romania."
"It looks like the removal of the masterplan from the list of priorities of the regime is due to this regime's intention to avoid questions that could challenge the ideological basis of the dominant economic policies of Lebanon. The masterplan addresses the following issues among others: What will be Lebanon's economic role in the region? Will it construct its economic future on the basis of specialization or diversity? How can we move from a vision of balanced development based on grants and donations to one based on the division of labor and the distribution of employment opportunities?"
Read the rest (in Arabic)
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Which would you plump for? In America this is a choice consumers might soon be able to make. The US Food and Drug Administration this week declared cloned food is fit for human consumption. But, who'd want to eat it?
For over three years the FDA has declared cloned meat safe. If you have the time, the FDA say the thousand page draft risk assessment document will now prove to you just how safe it is. Cloned meat may well be a genetic match for its natural relative, it may even taste the same. However, as the Wichita Eagle put it there is a significant "ick" factor at work here."
I've blogged about this issue a while ago. I figure that a lot of the US meat is going to be cloned soon. This will be the food of the poor. The rich will be able to afford the premium paid for "all natural". Capital wins on both counts. Isn't that amazing? Lebanon is of course more "democratic" as in the absence of any food labeling regulations, both rich and poor eat the same thing. Who said we could learn democracy from the US? In fact, the poor, especially those with rural roots or in rural areas, still eat better. Yesterday I had a great breakfast in my village: beid baladi (local free range eggs) fried in olive oil and kishk from my cousin's cows and his wheat and markouk bread (but I think the flour might have been mixed with Russian wheat flour, which is probably OK). Seriously, I sometimes feel I'm a tool with my work of natural and healthy foods, promoting "premium food" for those who can afford it. That's why our main work should be on popularizing healthy, natural eating.
Saturday, January 19, 2008
"After years of falling prices, food suddenly has everyone's attention. Record prices for wheat have led to riots in Morocco, India and Mexico. Governments are halting grain exports to protect domestic food supplies and aid organisations are issuing new appeals for the world's poor.Developing nations are expecting to be hardest hit by food price inflation, especially net food importers. That includes most of the African continent, and those with high numbers relying on food aid can expect more people to be 'pushed over the edge', says Peter Smerdon, public affairs officer for the World Food Programme in Nairobi.
But the same countries are also the places with most potential to benefit. Two thirds of Africa's population already works in agriculture. As investors from the rest of the world buy into agricultural commodities for the first time, African governments should also be seeing new value in the sector."
"Foods of the first kind:
These are the grains and vegetable proteins that form the basis of every traditional cuisine in the world. If you live in Asia, it’s mostly rice and soybeans. In Latin America, corn tortillas and beans. In the Middle East, lentils and wheat.
Tudge argues that — for mostly geopolitical reasons — every country (indeed every region) should be self-sufficient in these crops that are locally adapted, storable and provide the calories and protein people need to stay alive. He also argues that meals based primarily on these foods can be healthy and tasty."
From a nice food blog: Ellis Hollow
I like the idea that Lebanon should be self sufficient in lentils and wheat.
"According to the F.A.O., food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.
“The urban poor, the rural landless and small and marginal farmers stand to lose,” said He Changchui, the agency’s chief representative for Asia and the Pacific.
A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.
No category of food prices has risen as quickly this winter as so-called edible oils — with sometimes tragic results. When a Carrefour store in Chongqing, China, announced a limited-time cooking oil promotion in November, a stampede of would-be buyers left 3 people dead and 31 injured." (Thanks Leila and D.)
Friday, January 18, 2008
THE NEW YORK TIMES
What's Your Consumption Factor?
By JARED DIAMOND
Published: January 2, 2008
TO mathematicians, 32 is an interesting number: it's 2 raised to the fifth
power, 2 times 2 times 2 times 2 times 2. To economists, 32 is even more
special, because it measures the difference in lifestyles between the first
world and the developing world. The average rates at which people consume
resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and
greenhouse gases, are about 32 times higher in North America, Western
Europe, Japan and Australia than they are in the developing world. That
factor of 32 has big consequences.
To understand them, consider our concern with world population. Today, there
are more than 6.5 billion people, and that number may grow to around 9
billion within this half-century. Several decades ago, many people
considered rising population to be the main challenge facing humanity. Now
we realize that it matters only insofar as people consume and produce.
If most of the world's 6.5 billion people were in cold storage and not
metabolizing or consuming, they would create no resource problem. What
really matters is total world consumption, the sum of all local
consumptions, which is the product of local population times the local per
capita consumption rate.
The estimated one billion people who live in developed countries have a
relative per capita consumption rate of 32. Most of the world's other 5.5
billion people constitute the developing world, with relative per capita
consumption rates below 32, mostly down toward 1.
The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some
people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like
Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that's a big problem. Yes, it is a
problem for Kenya's more than 30 million people, but it's not a burden on
the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per
capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300
million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the
population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya
People in the third world are aware of this difference in per capita
consumption, although most of them couldn't specify that it's by a factor of
32. When they believe their chances of catching up to be hopeless, they
sometimes get frustrated and angry, and some become terrorists, or tolerate
or support terrorists. Since Sept. 11, 2001, it has become clear that the
oceans that once protected the United States no longer do so. There will be
more terrorist attacks against us and Europe, and perhaps against Japan and
Australia, as long as that factorial difference of 32 in consumption rates
People who consume little want to enjoy the high-consumption lifestyle.
Governments of developing countries make an increase in living standards a
primary goal of national policy. And tens of millions of people in the
developing world seek the first-world lifestyle on their own, by emigrating,
especially to the United States and Western Europe, Japan and Australia.
Each such transfer of a person to a high-consumption country raises world
consumption rates, even though most immigrants don't succeed immediately in
multiplying their consumption by 32.
Among the developing countries that are seeking to increase per capita
consumption rates at home, China stands out. It has the world's fastest
growing economy, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese, four times the United
States population. The world is already running out of resources, and it
will do so even sooner if China achieves American-level consumption rates.
Already, China is competing with us for oil and metals on world markets.
Per capita consumption rates in China are still about 11 times below ours,
but let's suppose they rise to our level. Let's also make things easy by
imagining that nothing else happens to increase world consumption - that is,
no other country increases its consumption, all national populations
(including China's) remain unchanged and immigration ceases. China's
catching up alone would roughly double world consumption rates. Oil
consumption would increase by 106 percent, for instance, and world metal
consumption by 94 percent.
If India as well as China were to catch up, world consumption rates would
triple. If the whole developing world were suddenly to catch up, world rates
would increase elevenfold. It would be as if the world population ballooned
to 72 billion people (retaining present consumption rates).
Some optimists claim that we could support a world with nine billion people
But I haven't met anyone crazy enough to claim that we could support 72
billion. Yet we often promise developing countries that if they will only
adopt good policies - for example, institute honest government and a
free-market economy - they, too, will be able to enjoy a first-world
lifestyle. This promise is impossible, a cruel hoax: we are having
difficulty supporting a first-world lifestyle even now for only one billion
We Americans may think of China's growing consumption as a problem. But the
Chinese are only reaching for the consumption rate we already have. To tell
them not to try would be futile.
The only approach that China and other developing countries will accept is
to aim to make consumption rates and living standards more equal around the
world. But the world doesn't have enough resources to allow for raising
China's consumption rates, let alone those of the rest of the world, to our
levels. Does this mean we're headed for disaster?
No, we could have a stable outcome in which all countries converge on
consumption rates considerably below the current highest levels. Americans
might object: there is no way we would sacrifice our living standards for
the benefit of people in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, whether we get
there willingly or not, we shall soon have lower consumption rates, because
our present rates are unsustainable.
Real sacrifice wouldn't be required, however, because living standards are
not tightly coupled to consumption rates. Much American consumption is
wasteful and contributes little or nothing to quality of life. For example,
per capita oil consumption in Western Europe is about half of ours, yet
Western Europe's standard of living is higher by any reasonable criterion,
including life expectancy, health, infant mortality, access to medical care,
financial security after retirement, vacation time, quality of public
schools and support for the arts. Ask yourself whether Americans' wasteful
use of gasoline contributes positively to any of those measures.
Other aspects of our consumption are wasteful, too. Most of the world's
fisheries are still operated non-sustainably, and many have already
collapsed or fallen to low yields - even though we know how to manage them
in such a way as to preserve the environment and the fish supply. If we were
to operate all fisheries sustainably, we could extract fish from the oceans
at maximum historical rates and carry on indefinitely.
The same is true of forests: we already know how to log them sustainably,
and if we did so worldwide, we could extract enough timber to meet the
world's wood and paper needs. Yet most forests are managed non-sustainably,
with decreasing yields.
Just as it is certain that within most of our lifetimes we'll be consuming
less than we do now, it is also certain that per capita consumption rates in
many developing countries will one day be more nearly equal to ours. These
are desirable trends, not horrible prospects. In fact, we already know how
to encourage the trends; the main thing lacking has been political will
Fortunately, in the last year there have been encouraging signs. Australia
held a recent election in which a large majority of voters reversed the
head-in-the-sand political course their government had followed for a
decade; the new government immediately supported the Kyoto Protocol on
cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Also in the last year, concern about climate change has increased greatly in
the United States. Even in China, vigorous arguments about environmental
policy are taking place, and public protests recently halted construction of
a huge chemical plant near the center of Xiamen. Hence I am cautiously
optimistic. The world has serious consumption problems, but we can solve
them if we choose to do so.
Jared Diamond, a professor of geography at the University of California, Los
Angeles, is the author of "Collapse" and "Guns, Germs and Steel."
"You should see about getting some of the non-profits working with the nahr al bared refugees to sign up so they can get small loans. The way it works is an NGO or local non-profit represents the person that needs the loan and then users on the website can loan the money directly to the person via the NGO or non-profit... most the people that apply for a loan usually get the full amount loaned to them within 24 hours. Its really cool! People from Nahr al Bared that are trying to reopen their business or start a new business could get small loans. anywho check it out. www.kiva.org"
The Bush effect
"The cultivation of opium poppies whose product is turned into heroin is spreading rapidly across Iraq as farmers find they can no longer make a living through growing traditional crops.
Afghan with experience in planting poppies have been helping farmers switch to producing opium in fertile parts of Diyala province, once famous for its oranges and pomegranates, north- east of Baghdad." (Thanks Helena)
Thursday, January 17, 2008
Do you want to be healthy? Drinking soda is bad for your health in so many ways; science can’t even state all the consequences. Here’s what happens in your body when you assault it with a Coke:
Within the first 10 minutes, 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. This is 100 percent of your recommended daily intake, and the only reason you don’t vomit as a result of the overwhelming sweetness is because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor.
Within 20 minutes, your blood sugar spikes, and your liver responds to the resulting insulin burst by turning massive amounts of sugar into fat.
Within 40 minutes, caffeine absorption is complete; your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, and your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream.
Around 45 minutes, your body increases dopamine production, which stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain – a physically identical response to that of heroin, by the way.
After 60 minutes, you’ll start to have a sugar crash.
"How do you take a broken system that somehow helps feed 80 million people and fix it without causing social disorder? That is a challenge for Egypt at large, and for this little bakery where Muhammad ekes out a living, with a cigarette hanging from his lips and an angry crowd demanding his bread.
Bread, in Egyptian Arabic, is called aish, which literally means life, rather than khobz, the word that other Arab-speakers use. The word reflects the centrality of bread here. This is a culture of bread, not rice, not meat and potatoes, not humus.
Simple, doughy round pockets of bread that look like pita bread but are baladi bread, that is, peasant bread.
"The word, applied to bread, gives this everyday element an almost mystical quality," said Hamdy el-Gazzar, author of "Black Magic," a popular novel recently translated into English. "Egypt's relationship to bread is not one of freedom, but of necessity.
Egypt started subsidizing staples like bread, sugar and tea around World War II. Then when Gamal Abdel Nasser and his military allies overthrew the monarchy, the state leaned heavily on subsidizes to maintain social order and promote a socialist economic model. When the government tried to stop subsidizing bread in 1977, there were riots. Egyptians are generally not known as explosive people, but tell them you are raising the price of bread - of life - and beware."
When neither government nor private sector work, what's the solution?
Just 37.4%. I swear it felt much higher. Note that salaries have not increased, and thus that we are all relatively poorer. By at least 37%.
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
I don't think I have ever previously mentioned the great chicken crisis. It would be sadistic not to welcome the advent of the 'high-welfare' bird that may now supplant the broilers condemned to poultry hell. Even so, I can't help noticing the similarities between the low-welfare chicken and someone whose predicament I have written about often, the low-welfare prisoner.
As chicken fever took off last week, the announcement that prison suicides in England and Wales increased by 37 per cent in 2007 was rather eclipsed. There were, though, some similarities to the poultry scandal. Campaigners, notably the Howard League, blamed overcrowding for the rise in deaths. A Ministry of Justice spokesman was quoted as disputing this, arguing that cell-sharing is 'a known protective factor against suicide'. In other words, what is bad for caged chickens, who peck and torment one another when crammed into too small a space, is good for humans."Great piece by Mary Riddell writing for The Observer.
"But Selfish Capitalism stokes up relative materialism: unrealistic aspirations and the expectation that they can be fulfilled. It does so to stimulate consumerism in order to increase profits and promote short-term economic growth. Indeed, I maintain that high levels of mental illness are essential to Selfish Capitalism, because needy, miserable people make greedy consumers and can be more easily suckered into perfectionist, competitive workaholism.
With overstimulated aspirations and expectations, the entrepreneurial fantasy society fosters the delusion that anyone can be Alan Sugar or Bill Gates, never mind that the actual likelihood of this occurring has diminished since the 1970s. A Briton turning 20 in 1978 was more likely than one doing so in 1990 to achieve upward mobility through education. Nonetheless, in the Big Brother/ It Could Be You society, great swaths of the population believe they can become rich and famous, and that it is highly desirable. This is most damaging of all - the ideology that material affluence is the key to fulfilment and open to anyone willing to work hard enough. If you don't succeed, there is only one person to blame - never mind that it couldn't be clearer that it's the system's fault, not yours."
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
And last night my wife went out to get some Arabic bread. Could not find any, so we had French bread instead. It's not cake, but I'm no Louis XVI. Not yet at least.
Take a good look at the diet of each country and the cost of what is eaten
in one week.
Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide
Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07
United States: The Revis family of North Carolina Food expenditure for one week $341.98
Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11
Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09
Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna
Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo
Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53
Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo
Food expenditure for one week: $31.55
Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village
Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03
Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp
Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23