Thursday, February 28, 2008

Southern Bedouins

In the Sectarian Democratic Republic of Lebanon, if you are not part of one of the big sects (and sects are more than religions, they operate like tribes), you become transparent; you do not show on the radar, you are not part of society and the state has no obligations towards you. This is the case with the Dom people (or Roma) and it is also the case for the relic Bedouin tribes of the country. Al-Akhbar, because it is a leftist daily, runs reportages on the marginalized minorities. I have blogged an article they published about the Dom people, and a smaller one about the Bedouins who have settled near Beirut in the Shweifat area.

Here's an informative, long report on the "Kreydiyeen" or the "Kreydiyeh" tribe also known as "`Arab el Kreydiyyeh". According to the report, they are a `ashira (tribe) of Bedouins (Al `Arab) who live at the Lebanese-Syrian-Palestinian border. I believe it is the same `ashira of "`Arab al Kderiyeh" mentioned in the classic reference book: "Tribus semi-nomades de la Palestine du nord" written by Tovia Ashkenazi and published in 1938. Ashkenazi describes them as a tribe of the region of Tabarayya (Lake Tiberias) and Huleh, but who moved freely to the plains of the Anti-Lebanon in summer. This means that they occupied the same area as the "Kreydiyeh", the triangle between Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and it would have really been confusing if they were not the same. The difference in the phonetics is either due to sloppy reporting by one of the 2 researchers, or to the phenomenon of "istibdal", common in Arabic, in which syllables replace each others in the same word: take for example the word for spoon, which should be pronounced "mal`aqa", but is often called "ma`laka" in spoken Lebanese (Beiruti accent). The difference is in the location of the throaty sound "`", before or after the "l". It is very likely that this is how Kreydiyeh became Kderiyeh or vice-versa.

Ashkenazi also indicates that the Kderiyeh kept goats and sheep, but that before WWI they showed a strong tendency to settle, which may explain why they refer to themselves in the Akhbar article as inhabiting the villages of Romthaniyyeh and Rozniyyeh in the Syrian Golan in 1880-1885. Another interesting piece of information from Ashkenazi is that they did not have a sheikh at the time of the study, and that they were generally among the "dispersed" tribes which would also explain why they dispersed in Lebanon after 1967.

Apparently, they were living in the villages of Ayn Arab, Wazzani, and Abbasiyyeh (all near the border) when the 1967 war caused a first wave of displacement, followed by a second one in 1977 when Israel invaded their lands. This time they left their villages and settled in a number of locations near Marjeyoun and Nabatiyyeh.

The article (in Arabic) describes their plight, which include lack of availability of state services. Services in the South are bad enough but the Kreydiyyeh appear to have suffered even more than their settled compatriots. In all their settlements, there is only one primary school, and they get second priority for places in public schools in the villages in which neighborhoods they have settled. They describe themselves as exemplary citizen, who do not follow any political party and are friendly with all (in other words, they are disempowered and cannot express opinions. This is the fate of the marginal and of those who lack political support). In the larger settlements, many have completed their education and are in self employment, but often in menial jobs below their expectations. In the smaller settlements, goat and sheep herding is still a major occupation.

Interesting piece, contains some basic socio-economic and social info, in addition to a rough census. I doubt there is any book written about the Bedouins of Lebanon. There are tens if not hundreds of books and articles about all the other groups, but I couldn't find anything on the Bedouins. And note that the histories of regions in Lebanon often means the history of the dominant sects in that region. The history of Jabal `Amel (South) for instance does not make much mention of anyone other than the Shi`a.

Bright spot

"The economy skidded to a near halt in the final quarter of last year, clobbered by dual slumps in housing and credit that caused people and businesses to spend and invest more sparingly.

There was a bright spot in the report, however. Sales of U.S. goods and services to other countries grew at a 4.8 percent pace in the fourth quarter, better than previously estimated. U.S. exports have been helped by the declining value of the U.S. dollar, which makes U.S. goods less expensive on foreign markets. The U.S dollar dipped to another record low on Thursday in Europe.

For all of 2007, the economy grew by 2.2 percent, the weakest showing in five years. That estimate also was not changed from an earlier reading."

Litani saga

The saga continues as the Litani reaches the West Biqa`.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


"Virgin Atlantic Airways, the British carrier controlled by Richard Branson, tested a jumbo jet on Sunday that was partly powered by a biofuel made from babassu nuts and coconut oil, a first for a commercial aircraft.

The Boeing 747-400, which took off from London and landed in Amsterdam, had one unmodified engine running on a mix of about 25 percent biofuel with the rest coming from standard jet kerosene, Mr. Branson said at a news conference at Heathrow Airport." (Thanks D.)

Trade opportunity

"Both the United States and the United Nations project food prices will remain high, at least for the next year. Should these predictions hold true, economists say food prices may well continue to prompt tariff reductions, which are seen as the best way to promote increased production (Marketplace). Countries scrambling to fill grocery shelves may be willing to bend where they haven’t previously. If major exporters start exporting less, this in turn could make farm industries in developed countries like the United States feel less threatened by imports. In the Journal article cited above, Peter Mandelson, the EU trade minister, notes a shift already afoot: “There’s much less of a need for protectionism than when we started [the Doha Round of global trade talks] in 2001.”" (Thanks D.)

all the dirt on the Litani

Part 2. If it deserves 2 parts it must really be dirty!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Buy food sell people

"Investors should buy more natural gas, livestock, soybean, soymeal, nickel, gold and silver, Merrill Lynch said in the report.

``Going into 2008, the supply-demand balance for agricultural products looks extremely tight,'' the brokerage said. ``Global grain and oilseed inventories sit at very low historical levels in terms of demand coverage, lending support to prices and pushing up volatility.''"

The same Litani

We often talk about the pollution of the Litani river when it actually becomes a river, that is after the city of Zahleh. Here's a report about how polluted it is from its source near Baalback.

Monday, February 25, 2008

From Oakland

Food & Energy Sovereignty Now: Brazilian Grassroots Position on Agroenergy challenges the corporate strategy which has come to determine the official discourse on climate change and how to tackle it. The report contends that instead of taking measures to fight the root causes of climate change, biofuels are helping create new political arrangements aimed at maximizing corporate profits and perpetuating global power imbalance. This crucible moment of "greening" corporations, or "de-carbonizing" the economy to "save the planet" only promotes free trade, while disguised as a commitment to tackle global warming and enforced as an "energy security" strategy. The capacity to mix fossil fuels and agrofuels will prevent a rapid phase-out of oil-based infrastructure and economy, further postponing the required structural changes in the way of life (and patterns of consumption) in the developed world and a structural transition to a post-oil society.
The ecological crisis brought on by the industrial society and its energy demands cries for a paradigm shift in our production and consumption patterns and in the way we depend on nature to provide our basic needs and ensure daily survival. Social movements in the South are building the concept of Energy Sovereignty as an essential component, along with Food Sovereignty, to attain social and environmental justice - "an expression of peoples' right to self-determination, Food and Energy Sovereignty stem from the right to democratic access and effective control over common natural resources, thereby guaranteeing communities and nations the ability to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and to determine their political status," the report proposes. (Thanks Annie)

To download a copy of the report, click Here. (

in the orient

"Mrs. Halabi says her restaurant is the first outpost of Druse cooking in New York, and I have no evidence to contradict her." (Thanks D.)

Druse cooking from the new Middle East of ethnic states.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Tie die

I've been meaning to write this post for a few days now but I've extremely busy. People who follow what's going on in Lebanon (and I mean the economic events, not the drum beating), will know that the government is trying hard to privatize electricity. I have blogged about this issue a few times, easily found using the search function. It is important: this would be the first of the public services to be privatized. The World Bank (!) has tried to dissuade the government, but it is still set on doing that. The electricity problem is also important because 7 youth died and 30 were wounded in incidents related to electricity shortages in January. The government and the March 14 cronies tried to imply that the people of the southern suburbs steal electricity by hooking up to the mains (which they do), and that this is why there are shortages. I have blogged many reports from Al Akhbar's excellent economic page in which it investigates the claims: it appears that all regions of Lebanon are stealing electricity. But Al Akhbar went further and obtained copies of documents showing that it is the Government, through its various agencies and "gifts" that is the biggest drain on the Lebanese electricity sector: it owes "Electricite du Liban" an unbelievable $500 millions in arrears. Yes you have read well, this is not a typo. The government responded to these "allegations" and Al-Akhbar stuck with its data and responded back.

This was last Wednesday February 20. On the same day, there were a lot of interesting information. The front page of Al Akhbar was about Prime Minister Sanioura allowing, by special decree, smuggling of fuel oil and heating oil and diesel and foodstuffs and farm products from Syria. Weapons are still forbidden. This is a tremendous action, as for decades, Lebanese farmers have been asking for a control of smuggling of farm products from Syria. This is NOT protectionism, this is just the rule of law, now being broken by decree. Al Akhbar says the true reason is that Saad Hariri promised to relax smuggling laws so that the people of Akkar (to whom he promised $53 millions in "private" aid) could benefit from the smuggling which is an important part of their livelihood. Akkar is the main recruiting grounds for the Hariri Future movement's large demonstrations, and this came in the wake of the February 14 demonstration.

On the same day, Assafir ran a very interesting report on the status of the balance of trade in Lebanon. A few interesting facts:
  • The trade deficit in 2007 was $ 9 billions, up $2 billions from 2006.
  • We import (in order of importance): metallic products, electric goods, chemical products, transportation equipment, ordinary metal, and food ($756 millions, 6%).
  • We export (in order of importance): ordinary metals and products, pearls, precious and semi-precious stones and precious metals, electrical equipment, food and foods industry products ($283 millions, 8%), and electric goods.
  • We import from (in order of importance): the US ($1.14 billions), Italy ($1.06 billions), China, France, Germany and Egypt.
  • We export to (in order...): Switzerland (this must be the gems. Or Ghandour chocolates), UAE, Syria and Saudi Arabia.
It ties in nicely together, right?

Friday, February 22, 2008


The new Badael/Alternatives page in Al-Akhbar. My article on the history of food systems in Lebanon, and how the local food system were destroyed by over specialization in Mount Lebanon (mulberries) and by neglect in the provinces. My editorial asks: How can the government get away with a voluntary abandon of the agricultural calendar? Answer: both sides are too busy with sectarian build up to look at livelihoods. Rana Hayek asks: with the USDA approval of cloned meat and its refusal to label it, will steaks restaurants in Lebanon soon start serving it? Assaf Abu Rahhal on the potteries of Rachayya al Foukkhar in the West Bekaa, and Mariana Yazbeck on Akkoub (or Akkub), an edible thorny wild plant.


Lebanon is the second largest producer of avocados in the Arab World. A grand title for relatively little production: barely 5000 tons produced per year on 345 hectares (Morocco produces 16,500 tons). This year Lebanon exported 145 tons to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. I like this, most of this product is consumed locally, and some of it is exported. Avocado is a very nutritious fruit. Problem is that the price is still very high (between 4,000 and 5,000 LBP or $2.6 to 3.3$-per kilo) making it a food for the richer classes. And increasing the production to export some more wouldn't harm anybody...

Country fuel

"AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about sustainable biodiesel, the whole idea, the company that you founded with Annie Nelson, your wife?

WILLIE NELSON: Well, the whole idea is to keep it local, is to grow—the farmers can grow what we need—food, fuel—over across the road over there, and we can buy it from them, consume it, and everything stays within the community. The problem is when we start importing everything, then you have all the transportation, all the environmental issues, and the price goes high. So biodiesel is a great idea, but it has to be done locally, has to be sustained locally and has to be for the local community, or else, you know, it’s no different than any other energy cartel. We have to keep things local. Our farmer grows it. We buy it from him, whether it’s food or fuel. He makes a couple of bucks. We consume it. If there’s anything over, we might send it out north a hundred miles or so. But otherwise, it stays right here."

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Palestine food trail

" Though small in size, Palestine is vast in its array of terrain. Palestine's diverse landscape is translated into a wide palate of flavors: from the fresh seafood of Gaza's beaches to the olive oil harvested from among Tulkarm's terraced hillsides. It is among this eclecticism that Palestine has found a flavor of its own.

The Uncrowned Queen of Palestine," as Nablus is called by historians, was founded in 72 AD by the Roman Emperor Titus. It was named Neapolis, the "New City," which later became Nablus. The city was erected upon a fertile valley nestled between two mountains. Today Nablus is a principal industrial and commercial centre and is among the largest cities in the West Bank. The lively Old City is lined with shops selling Palestinian sweets such as knafeh, baklawa and burma. Nablus is most famous for its knafeh, a Palestinian culinary specialty consisting of white goat cheese, pastry, and syrup served in hot square slices.

Jenin, the ancient city of Ginaea is located north of Nablus, on the slopes of a hill nestled among the picturesque surrounds of fig and palm trees. Its fertile lands produce a variety of fruits and vegetables. Jenin is well-known for its delicious watermelons. Archaeological findings indicate that watermelons have been grown in Palestine since about 2000 BC. Watermelons were valued as a source of water during dry periods. They are likewise a source of refreshment during the hot Palestinian summers of today. " (Thanks Muna)

A beautiful article on the various food specialties of Palestine.

Two countries, one cuisine

"However, food is at the center of Palestinian social life, and is always prepared in quantities that permit the spontaneous invitation of whoever may drop in close to meal time. Most home food preparation is performed by women. As elderly Palestinians commonly reside with their children (often the eldest son), three generations of women often work together in cooking and processing food, and the many hours spent in the kitchen provide for the passage of both culinary and other forms of wisdom from one generation to another.

Lunch: The main meal of the day, lunch is typically taken around two in the afternoon. Many offices shut down so employees can eat at home with their families. The basic ingredients for many dishes include rice, lamb, chicken, fish and vegetables, and common spices include cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper. Olive oil and samneh (clarified butter or ghee) are the most common cooking oils. Some broad categories of foods include yakhneh, meaning, generally, lamb stewed with a vegetable (green beans, spinach, various kinds of squash, etc.), and mahshi, meaning stuffed vegetables or meats. Grape, cabbage, and chard leaves are stuffed with either rice and meat or rice and vegetable, as are peppers, artichokes, turnips, a special kind of carrot, squashes, cucumbers and other vegetables. A widely eaten favorite is kousa mahshi (kousa is a local squash that resembles a plump and light-colored zucchini). Waraq 'ainab, or grape leaves, is also a favorite, often reserved for honored guests due to the amount of labor involved in preparing it. A third general category are dishes baked or roasted in a large round baking pan with a two-inch rim, called a saniyeh. Finely-ground lamb is mixed with parsely, onions and spices, formed into thin patties, and baked over potato and tomato slices. Kibbeh bi-saniyeh is pounded lamb meat mixed with onions, spices, and burghul (bulgur wheat), then baked in the oven." (Thanks Muna)

A very nice article on traditional Palestinian cuisine (similar to Lebanese cuisine).

Running on empty

"If two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are correct, people will still be driving gasoline-powered cars 50 years from now, churning out heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — and yet that carbon dioxide will not contribute to global warming.

The scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom, for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into gasoline.

The idea is simple. Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.

There is, however, a major caveat that explains why no one has built a carbon-dioxide-to-gasoline factory: it requires a great deal of energy."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sunbeams from cucumbers

"It is doubtful whether the G-8 leaders themselves believe all the gaseous rhetoric that emanates from their meetings. But a sort of fifth estate, composed of actors and aging rock stars, has emerged, determined to hold the prodigal statesmen to their word. The new Africrats include pop empress Madonna, actress Angelina Jolie, and U2 singer Paul Hewson, better known as Bono, who has emerged as Sachs’s leading promoter and enforcer. After attending this year’s G-8 summit at Heiligendamm, Germany, Bono pronounced himself “skeptical” of the pledges made at Gleneagles. The skepticism was reasonable, given that the document in question was not intended to be credible. But Bono, who wrote the foreword to Sachs’s The End of Poverty, has made it his life’s work to force the G-8 to take its oratory seriously. At Heiligendamm, he got into what he called a “huge row” with the Germans, whom he accused of “playing a numbers game” with their aid contributions.

How did today’s prosperous nations create the embarrassment of riches that they now enjoy? No benign magician descended, à la Jeffrey Sachs, on London or Washington to shower its inhabitants with money. Instead, the rich nations developed laws and freedoms that enabled people to take their futures into their own hands. As Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has argued in The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, the world’s poorest countries remain poor in part because they lack legal protections—property rights foremost among them—that enable people in the West to tap the potential of “dead” capital and invest it in wealth-generating enterprises." (Thanks D.)

A scathing critique of foreign aid ("paternalism") from an ultra capitalist perspective: wealth generation will cure the world, and Thatcher-Reagan were right. But extremely well written, hilarious at times, and soooo true in its description of "The Africrats". An enjoyable read.

Saving Irish agriculture

"The latest move for a deal is understood to be coming from the US. President Bush, who is due to leave office in November, is apparently keen to leave a legacy behind him -- ( as if the war in Iraq isn't enough) -- and he wants a deal on WTO to be brokered under his watch.

Commentators in favour of a quick resolution believe that a trade deal would inject much-needed confidence into a troubled world economy -- a line being adopted all too readily by many quarters who seem intent on sacrificing agriculture in this round of the talks.

The Doha round of talks, launched in late 2001, has been deadlocked for years. Sealing this elusive global trade deal for the sake of Bush's vanity is ludicrous.

If Irish agriculture is to have any future, every effort must be made to block the current deal that's on the table." (Thanks Rania)

Full Independent article here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Stoic like a Bordeaux

"Still, Lebanese wineries, with their French-inspired techniques, have achieved high status within the industry. They create complex blends of grapes, mixing imports with native Lebanese varieties, like the Obaideh and Merwah in Chateau Musar's white wines. And their vintages appear at distributors around the world, and on wine lists at restaurants like Cyrus in Healdsburg."

I blogged this for 2 reasons: one to lighten up a little bit, this blog has been gloomy of late (reflects my mood) and because I am fascinated with the description of the wine by the taster. Read this:

2004 Massaya Gold Reserve Red ($25) Fifty percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Mourvedre, 10 percent Syrah. Opens with a mix of dry wood notes, plus blackberry, licorice and the funk of saddlebags. Vanilla and hints of herb-rubbed meat are added to the mix, with a dark, anise-filled, slightly bitter palate. More angular than a Chateauneuf, less stoic than Bordeaux, it ends bright and long. It needs a good five years to age, but also distinctively world-class."

Herb-rubbed meat?

Israel to steal more land? How surprising.

"The indigenous Bedouin are the target, and their lands are required by the state in order to complete the implementation of a master plan for the Negev. The plan relegates the Bedouin to ghetto enclaves while allocating huge swathes of territory for Jewish suburban development and agricultural communities. The Negev is the final frontier inside Israel, the last tract of largely undeveloped land in the state. Israel has virtually completed the dismemberment of Palestinian lands in the center and north of the country, and now is consolidating the ‘Jewish redemption’ of the southern desert."

From an excellent article by Fred Schlomka a board member of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Read the rest on this blog.
Lester Brown to Al-Akhbar: The next crisis will be the food crisis. In Arabic.

Beef recall

"A California meat company on Sunday issued the largest beef recall in history, 143 million pounds, some of which was used in school lunch programs, Department of Agriculture officials announced.

The recall by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company, based in Chino, Calif., comes after a widening animal-abuse scandal that started after the Humane Society of the United States distributed an undercover video on Jan. 30 that showed workers kicking sick cows and using forklifts to force them to walk.

The video raised questions about the safety of the meat, because cows that cannot walk, called downer cows, pose an added risk of diseases including mad cow disease. The federal government has banned downer cows from the food supply."

The world is flat. Slaughterhouses are the same everywhere.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The day of the locust

"Food crops could be ravaged this century by an explosion in the numbers of insect pests caused by rising global temperatures, according to scientists who have carried out an exhaustive survey of plant damage when the earth last experienced major climate change."

Just what we needed.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

On the road

She bakes bread and manaqish (thyme and oil pies) in a traditional wood-fired clay oven (a furniyyeh) in a shack by the roadside a few kilometers north of Sour. This is where I buy my breakfast when I go to work with the mobile agricultural clinics of Land and People. She asked me yesterday why flour prices have increased and why were the bakeries getting subsidized flour to make cake when she now has to pay twice the usual price to scrap a living.

Aita al Shaab under the snow

Developing biotech

"Farmers in 12 developing countries planted biotech crops in 2007, and for the first time these countries outnumbered the industrialized countries where such crops are grown, according to the report from the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications.

Argentina led developing countries with 47.2 million acres in biotech corn, soy and cotton. Brazil was second with just over 37 million acres of biotech cotton and soy.

India grew 15.3 million acres of genetically engineered cotton in 2007, its only biotech crop."

Global Food Prices Crisis

Press Release - La Via Campesina

A response to the Global Food Prices Crisis: Sustainable family farming can feed the world

(Rome, 14 February 2008) Consumers around the world have seen the prices of staple food dramatically increasing over the past months, creating extreme hardship especially for the poorest communities. Over a year, wheat has doubled in price, maize is nearly 50% higher than a year ago

However, there is no crisis of production. Statistics show that cereals' production has never been as high as in 2007 (1).

Prices are increasing because part of production is now diverted into agrofuels, global food reserves are at their lowest in 25 years due to the de-regulation of markets by the WTO, and extreme weather has effected crops in some exporting countries such as Australia. But prices also increase because financial companies speculate over people's food as they anticipate that agriculture prices will keep rising in the near future. Food production, processing and distribution falls increasingly under the grip of transnational companies monopolising the markets.

The tragedy of industrial agrofuels: they feed cars and not people

Agrofuels (fuels produced from plants, agriculture and forestry) are presented as an answer to the peak in production of oil and global warming alike. However, many scientists and institutions now recognise that their energy benefits will be very limited and that their environmental and social impact will be extremely negative. However, the whole business world is rushing into that new market that is directly competing with people food's needs. The Indian government is talking of planting 14 millions hectares of land with Jatropha, the Inter-American Development Bank says that Brazil has 120 million hectares that could be cultivated with agrofuel crops, and an agrofuel lobby is speaking of 379 million hectares being available in 15 African countries (2). Current demand for corn in order to produce ethanol already represents 10% of the world consumption, pushing up world prices.

Industrial agrofuels are an economic, social and environmental nonsense. Their development should be halted and agricultural production should focus on food as a priority.

All farmers do not benefit from higher prices

Record world food prices hit consumers, and contrary to what can be expected, they do not benefit all producers. Stock breeders are in a crisis due to the rise in feed prices, cereal producers are facing sharp rises in fertiliser's prices and landless farmers and agricultural workers cannot afford to buy food. Farmers sell their produce at an extremely low price compared to what consumers pay. The Spanish coordination of farmers and stock breeders (COAG) calculated that consumers in Spain pay up to 600% more than what the food producer gets for his/her production.

The first to benefit from higher agricultural prices are the agro-industry and large retailers because they increase food prices much more than they should. Will food prices decrease when agricultural prices go down again? Large companies are able to stock large quantities of food and release them when the markets prices are high.

Small farmers and consumers need fair and stable prices, not the current high volatility. Small farmers cannot produce if prices are too low, as has often been the case in the last decades. They therefore need market regulations, the opposite of the WTO policies.

Agriculture trade "liberalisation" leads to crisis

The current crisis reveals that agricultural trade "liberalisation" leads to hunger and poverty.

Countries have become extremely dependant on global markets. In 1992, Indonesian farmers produced enough soya to supply the domestic market. Soya-based tofu and 'tempeh' are an important part of the daily diet throughout the archipelago. Following the neo-liberal doctrine, the country opened its borders to food imports, allowing cheap US soya to flood the market. This destroyed national production. Today, 60% of the soya consumed in Indonesia is imported. Record prices for US soya last January led to a national crisis when the price of 'tempeh' and tofu (the <<>>) doubled in a few weeks. The same scenario applies to many countries, for example for corn production in Mexico.

Deregulation and privatisation of safeguard mechanisms are also contributing to the current crisis. National food reserves have been privatised and are now run like transnational companies. They act as speculators instead of protecting farmers and consumers. Likewise, guaranteed prize mechanisms are being dismantled all over the world as part of the neo-liberal policies package, exposing farmers and consumers to extreme price volatility.

Time for Food Sovereignty!

Due to the expected growth of world population until 2050 and the need to face climate change, the world will have to produce more food in the years to come. Farmers are able to meet that challenge as they have done in the past. Indeed, the world population doubled in the past 50 years but farmers have increased cereal production even faster.

Via Campesina believes that in order to protect livelihoods, jobs, people's health and the environment, food has to remain in the hands of small scale sustainable farmers and cannot be left under the control of large agribusiness companies or supermarket chains. GMOs and industrial agriculture will not provide healthy food and will further deteriorate the environment. For example, the new "Green Revolution" pushed by AGRA in Africa (new seeds, fertilizers and irrigation at large scale) will not solve the food crisis. It will deepen it. On the other hand, recent research shows that small organic farms are at least as productive as conventional farms, some estimates even suggest that global food production could even increase by as much as 50% with organic agriculture (3).

To avoid a major food crisis, governments and public institutions have to adopt specific policies aimed at protecting the production of the most important energy in the world: food!

Governments have to develop, promote and protect local production in order to be less dependent on world food prices. This implies the right for any country or union to control food imports and the duty to stop any form of food dumping.

They also have to set up (or to maintain) supply management mechanisms such as buffer stocks and guaranteed floor prices to create stable conditions for producers.

According to Henry Saragih, general coordinator of Via Campesina and leader of the Indonesian Peasant's Union, << farmers need land to produce food for their own community and for their country. The time has come to implement genuine agrarian reforms to allow family farmers to feed the world. >>.

Ibrahim Coulibaly, president of the National Coordination of Peasant's organisation in Mali said: <Increasing food imports will only make us more dependent on the brutal fluctuations of the world market >>.

Via Campesina believes that the solution to the current food price crisis lies in food sovereignty. Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and the right of their governments to define the food and agriculture policies of their countries, without damaging agriculture of other countries. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture and food production.

For more information and to interview world farmers leaders in Rome:

Via Campesina delegation in Rome: +393487276117
e-mail :

(1) Les Chambres d'Agriculture - France:

(2) Grain:
(3) "Shattering Myths: Can sustainable agriculture feed the world?":
International Operational Secretariat
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"While scholars debate the odds of such scenarios, one thing is certain: Bangladesh is the most likely spot on the planet for one of the greatest humanitarian catastrophes in history. The country’s future, however, and the fate of its impoverished millions, will be determined not necessarily by rising sea levels, but by their interaction with, among other things, the growth of religious fundamentalism, the behavior of its neighbors and other outside powers, and the evolution of democracy. So, I came to Bangladesh." (Thanks D.)

Article by Robert Kaplan, a former US military officer. He thinks that the only thing poor people of Bangladesh have against the US is that it walked out of the Kyoto protocol. He also thinks that climate change (not Northern imperialism) is the key mover of Islamic fundamentalism. Read and learn.

There are a couple of good paragraphs though, where he talks about Bangladeshi NGOs.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Church economics

This is an extremely interesting opinion piece by Fadi Abboud, the head of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists. Do not miss it if you read Arabic. The bulk of the article is an excerpt from a recent position paper of the Maronite Church on the economic situation of Lebanon. It is amazing (but too long to translate here)! The Church criticizes the (Hariri) post-war reconstruction policy, and the (Hariri) financial and borrowing policy that made the local banks richer and bankrupted the state, and accuses "statesmen" to have personally benefited from that! It also makes the point that migration (encouraged by Harirism) is neither irrevocable nor is it necessarily "free" as the country loses people who have benefited from education and hence from state investment. The Church also strongly criticizes the signature of Free Trade Agreements (promoted by Haririte governments) which destroy local economies. The paper also includes a series of recommendations.

By the way, the parenthesis are mine.


The new Badael-Alternatives page in Al Akhbar: Rana Hayeck's main article on Lebanon's Science and Technology Strategy, my editorial in which I ask what use is a strategy without a state? Usma al Khalidi writes about Jordan's experience with the virtual center for biotechnology, Rana again with a short article on the commercialization of love, and Marianna Yazbeck on the origins of the humble tomato.

Meat in Lebanon

Meat consumption in Lebanon, in thousand tons: total consumption: 182; locally produced: 195; exported: 2 tons; imported 32; reserve: 44. FAO (weird) data.

Watt? Me worry?

Who steals electricity in Lebanon, in million kilowatts: follow up on the file that has left 7 people dead and 30 wounded: Beirut and suburbs: 383, Mount Lebanon 311, Bekaa 334, North 332, South 465. Data from Electricite du Liban.


Corruption sleuth Rasha Abu Zeki exposes the wheat and flour cartels and the government's "inefficiency" in the economics page of Al Akhbar. If you can read Arabic, do not miss this one! Apparently, the government (Haddad again) called for bids to import 50,000 ton of wheat. They were won by 2 companies (25,000 tons each). One company imported from Kazakhstan at $457.90 per ton. The other paid slightly less for Russian wheat. Why did the government buy wheat by bids and then distribute it to the mills? Because the mills cartel offered to import wheat for $420 per ton a price it thought to be too high! So now the government is paying more for it from the "market". Isn't there something wrong here? As a result, the government subsidizes the mills and the bakeries to the tune of $4.65 millions per month from the taxpayer's money. But it gets worse: Rasha reports that Egypt is importing bread wheat from Kazakhstan for...$250 per ton while we are paying $457.9 for the same wheat!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

It's been raining all day. I've worked all day. There has been two mega demonstrations in town, one mourning Hariri and the other mourning Mughniyya, the Hizbullah guy who was car bombed in Damascus 2 days ago. There was at least one street battle in Beirut, under the house of my son's friend, near Sodeco. Their car got smashed and riddled with bullets and they had to hide for hours in the corridor, away from the windows.

So no blogging about food for today. I've lost my appetite.


Lebanese cartels:Companies controlling 50% of the market: One company for the butane gas market (the only way to cook at home). 5 companies for the drugs (medicines) market. 5 companies for the foreign exchange market. 5 companies for the insurance market. 3 companies for the cement market (in the country of the never ending reconstruction). 3 companies for the market of bottled water (in the country of polluted tap water).

From a study by the Ministry of Economy, published in Al Akhbar, the best newspaper around.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


"Soil scientist Daniel Richter at Duke University in Durham, N.C., would agree. In an announcement of his work last month, he explained that human-induced changes to the world's soils are enough in themselves to justify saying we have entered the "Anthropocene (or man-made) age." He notes, "With more than half of all soils on Earth now being cultivated for food crops, grazed, or logged for wood, how to sustain Earth's soils is becoming a major scientific and policy issue."

He adds, "If humanity is to succeed in the coming decades, we must interact much more positively with the great diversity of Earth's soils."

Dr. Richter cites Africa as an example of this challenge. There, widespread farming without nutrient recycling threatens continent-wide soil infertility. He adds that, globally, "expanding cities, industries, mining, and transportation systems all impact soil in ways that are far more permanent than cultivation." Richter is part of an international group that has set up the first global long-term soil research network. This will help develop the knowledge needed for worldwide soil management." (Thanks D.)


"Casting doubt on the benefit of low-calorie sweeteners, research released Sunday reported that rats on diets containing saccharin gained more weight than rats given sugary food.

The study in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience found that the calorie-free artificial sweetener appeared to break the physiological connection between sweet tastes and calories, driving the rats to overeat."

Fatal traction

"Earlier this month, President Bush roiled U.S. vegetable farmers by announcing a crackdown on undocumented workers. Last week, industrial-meat giant Smithfield Foods goosed the hog-futures market by inking a deal to export 60 million pounds of U.S.-grown pork to China.

These events, unrelated though they seem, illustrate a common point: that despite all the recent fuss around local food, the globalized food system, far from losing strength, continues to gain traction. " (Thanks D.)

Lunatic calendar

Yesterday, the minister of Economy and Trade Sami Haddad (yes, him again) declared the death of the agricultural calendar and the lifting of all protection measures on Lebanese farm products. I've blogged about this earlier, but Al Akhbar ran a number of really interesting article for those who can read Arabic and are interested: Antoine Hoayeck, the head of the Lebanese Farmer's Association asks if there is a political cover operation for the canceling of the agricultural calendar, and the excellent Rasha Abou Zeki on the repercussions of Haddad's decision. I saw Rasha today and she told me that Haddad refuses to grant her interview after his famous foot in the mouth conversation with her. It looks like he made them change the picture of that famous interview, but I have blogged the original, much funnier one. You have to remember that the Arab trade partners have allowed Lebanon a few protectionist measures, but that Haddad is rejecting them. Yesterday, Rasha also wrote about the calendar in her report of Haddad's press conference. But hidden somewhere in the article, there was an odd piece of news: apparently politicians on all sides of the spectrum are interfering to increase this or that bakery's share of subsidized flour. And if one is to believe what the article says, (reporting a conversation by Kazem Ibrahim, the head of the Bakerie's union) Prime Minister Sanioura was himself asking Haddad to increase the share in flour of the Shamseen Bakeries (one of the largest), in which Sanioura's brother in law is a shareholder. Lebanese politics...
For the record: There are motorcades of vehicles overstuffed with young men waving (Hariri) Future movement flags and (Jumblat) PSP flags driving through Beirut shooting in the air with machine guns and hand guns. One just passed under my house in Ras Beirut. My kids freaked out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cold spell compounds woes of Palestinian farmers

"A recent cold snap with sub-zero temperatures has caused farmers in the West Bank to incur losses of nearly US$14.5 million, according to initial estimates by the Palestinian ministry of agriculture (MoA) set out in a 6 February joint "fact sheet" with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

"I can't export to Israel anymore because of their restrictions. We can't export to Gaza, because of the closure there. I can't export to Jordan because I don't have [an Israeli-issued] permit," he said, adding that he could only sell within the West Bank, but even there some markets were hard to reach due to checkpoints." (Thanks Marcy)

Probably the only place where agriculture is worse off than in Lebanon.

The P-word

"Even here, however, population growth is not the most immediate issue: another sector is expanding much faster. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation expects that global meat production will double by 2050 - growing, in other words, at two and a half times the rate of human numbers. The supply of meat has already trebled since 1980: farm animals now take up 70% of all agricultural land and eat one third of the world's grain. In the rich nations we consume three times as much meat and four times as much milk per capita as the people of the poor world. While human population growth is one of the factors that could contribute to a global food deficit, it is not the most urgent."

Classic Monbiot, a great read.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Hanging by a thread

There was lots of shooting in Beirut last Saturday night, and it brought back bad memories. Apparently it was supporters of the Loyalists (to the government, as opposed to the Opposition) who were shooting in the air to celebrate Saad Hariri's and Walid Jumblat's (Loyalist leaders) addresses to the crowds. I read the text of the speeches they gave, and they both made it clear that if need be, they are ready for war. The shooting, I assume, was for emphasis.

I have promised myself not to write about Lebanese politics on this blog unless the situation is so bad that it cannot be ignored, like during the Nahr el Bared crisis. These days, I have to keep reminding myself that this is a blog that's just about development and food politics. But tension is really high, with a mega demonstration in memory of Hariri the father being planned with enormous media investments for February 14. Everybody is hoping things will not slip out of hand and that the whole thing won't end in street battles. I personally do not think this will happen.

The celebratory shooting had, however, another result than the intended show of force and readiness by the Loyalist: it undermined the neutrality of the Lebanese army, and it may very possibly have given the Opposition another excuse not to trust Michel Sleiman, the current Army Chief, who is to be the next "consensually elected" president. The public in the areas dominated by the Opposition, as well as the parents of the young people who died during Black Sunday's demonstrations, are asking why did the army not arrest the thugs who were going around Beirut shooting in the air, and in one case, shooting at the Internal Security Forces guarding the house of the speaker of the parliament (these were arrested later), when this same army shot young men burning tires in the street. Since when, they say, is burning tires in the street a deadly offense, while shooting in the streets with machine guns is acceptable.

What do the loyalists get from the escalation? There are many theories circulating (after all this is Beirut), one of them is that armed confrontation will force Hizbullah to address the difficult reality that it is heavily armed and that it promised "never to turn its arms towards Lebanon". Already its public is pressing for revenge for all those who have been killed either by the army, by Internal Security or by thugs. And even if Hizbullah can control its members, the Opposition is not exclusively made out of members of Hizbullah, and they are armed, like most other Lebanese. It will be difficult, for instance, to control the Amal people if they lose of few members to sniping or skirmishes. It is thought that armed confrontation will induce an internationalization of the crisis, which will push the "International Community" led by the US to interfere and appoint a sympathetic regime. The Maronite patriarch has already indicated that if the crisis goes on for longer, the UN should appoint a governor for Lebanon (or something to that effect).

Where is the Opposition in all that? Clearly, they are trying to avoid armed confrontations, because they will be the main (political) losers. Look at the events: Since February 14, 2005, car bombs have killed many loyalist politicians (and scores of innocent people who are not less important than the politicians), but it is almost exclusively Opposition sympathizers who have been killed in shooting incidents. They were killed by other civilians (assumed to be Loyalist thugs), the army, or internal security. And the Opposition has been able to control public anger and to prevent slippage into open war. There is a reason for that: Hizbullah will lose whatever credibility it still has as a resistance movement the moment it turns its weapons towards other Lebanese, and it will become just another sectarian militia. For many it still holds today the "resistance" high moral ground.

So what will happen if a "High Commissioner" is appointed, or if the loyalists elect a president with a 50% parliamentary majority? Among the various theories circulating is that the opposition will let things happen and will not confront heads-on any attempt to take over the government by the loyalists, with or without the help of the "International Community". Their offer to the loyalists is clear: either we rule together with veto power for all concerned parties (the President being one of them), or you rule on your own and bear responsibility for what happens later on in terms of economic regression and security degradation. A Loyalist regime will not be able to come to an agreement with Hizbullah over its weapons and it would be faced with the difficult choice of sending the army to get them or doing nothing. The military option would certainly be disastrous in terms of human and economic costs, and the army is not a clearly favored winner here. The "doing nothing" option does not appear to be acceptable to the "International Community", especially the US, who backed the loyalists in order to implement UN resolution 1559 calling for the disarmament of Hizbullah.

These scenarios all look pretty dramatic. However, the real drama is the fact that even if tomorrow Loyalists and Opposition come to an agreement, it will not change the reality for the average Lebanese. What is going on is just another round of push-pull for a further division of the country between different parties, many of whom are previous militias having demonstrated their destructive and criminal abilities throughout the 1975-1990 period. As usual, the geopolitical dynamics are put to good use by sects, confessions and their militias, in order to readjust the balance of power in Lebanon. This of course happens at the expenses of the Lebanese people, who is unfortunately taking active part in this tragedy: when Loyalists or Opposition are able to gather millions of people in the streets, there are not many Lebanese left out.

Meanwhile, the livelihoods of the people of Lebanon continue to crash, in spite of the money offered by the various parties (Saad Hariri pledged yesterday in Tripoli $53 millions in "charity", and it is no secret that Hizbullah also has a strong social program for its supporters). However, this money cannot solve much: compared to the needs, this is just scratching the surface, and it can only provide a temporary relief. There are things that only a state can do.

Look for instance at the situation of sanitation in Lebanon: A recent UN report indicates that 1/3 of the Lebanese do not have access to sanitation (no sewer systems!). Read the Arabic summary article here. Those who do have sewers are in cities, while the rural people are left without. This contributes to the infiltration of sewage into the groundwater, and contaminates the drinking water springs. But do not rejoice too quickly o city dwellers: there is NO wastewater treatment in Lebanon to speak of. All that is collected in the city sewers is thrown directly into the sea, near the shores, and then we swim in it. Many many NGOs have tried their hand at sanitation: it does not work, we need a state structure for that, and for a million reasons: economy of scale, but also sustainable maintenance.

Look also at the eternal issue of agricultural production and protectionism: I'm tired of talking about him, but at least he is consistent: the minister of Economy and (Free) Trade, Sami Haddad, is refusing to engage into talks with his Arab counterpart to allow Lebanon to establish an agricultural calendar to protect some of its production. Of course this is a form of protectionism, but the farmers argue: we have no state while all the other Arab countries have one, and we have always been neglected and the government does not do its duties in research, extension, credit and legislations for land access. So, they say, we should ask for special favored treatment. Haddad, will however prevail, apparently and according to this article, he blackmails the government into accepting his ultra liberal policies by threatening to resign, which would have very bad consequences on a government that's already hanging by a thread.

As if it was only the government that is hanging by a thread.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Absurd science

"El-Baz, the director of the US-based Boston University's Center for Remote Sensing, has been advising the Gulf states on science for over three decades, participating in nearly every science and research initiative in the region.

So far, those initiatives have largely failed to bear fruit. "The state of science in this region remains terrible," says El-Baz.

After several unsuccessful attempts in the 1970s to bring scientists into the kingdom, Saudi Arabia is experimenting with an unorthodox model.

The country is looking at supporting foreign researchers at their home institutions worldwide through the new King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), a graduate-level university — and Saudi Arabia's first co-educational institution — due to open on the shores of the Red Sea in 2009. The catch is that the grants will only go, at least initially, to research areas of interest to Saudi Arabia."

And what a great catch it is...for the subcontracted universities in the North! This is the new face of Arab-Islamic Science: pay someone else to do it somewhere else. La science de l'absurde.

Full article here.

meanwhile in Al Andalus...

"The rich realm of Al-Andalus (modern Andalusia) applied innovative agronomy, abandoning the usual practice of rotating crops every two and three years. Instead, farmers intensively cultivated a diverse crop portfolio for several years running, then planted legumes (such as clover and lucerne) to help the soil recover.

This Islamic-inspired agrarian movement reached its apogee in the twelfth century in the person of Ibn-el-Beithar of Malaga, also known as Ennabâty (the botanist).

In the words of Stanley Lane-Poole in 1886: "The land deprived of skillful irrigation of the Moors, grew impoverished and neglected… and most of the populous cities which had filled every district in Andalusia, fell into ruinous decay; and beggars, friars, and bandits took the place of scholars, merchants and knights.""

Opinion piece on Muslim agriculture by Denis Murphy. I like these historical pieces, but only for their intellectual benefit, and NOT as a way of evading acknowledgment of the current technological torpor of the overwhelming majority of Arab/Muslim countries. Of course, Islam in the sense used in this piece does not refer to Arabs only, nor does it refer to Muslims only. Many of the great "Muslim" scientists where non-Muslims.

The business of climate change

  • "Fully 60 percent of global executives surveyed by The McKinsey Quarterly regard climate change as strategically important, and a majority consider it important to product development, investment planning, and brand management.
  • Fewer companies, however, act on these opinions. More than one-third of executives say their companies seldom or never consider climate change when developing overall strategy.
  • Nonetheless, executives express optimism about the business prospects of addressing climate change. Sixty-one percent expect the issues associated with climate change to boost profits—if managed well.
  • Despite the uncertainties around regulation, a remarkable 82 percent of executives expect some form of climate change regulation in their companies’ home country within five years." (Thanks D.)
From the McKinsey Quarterly (full article needs registration)

Who steals electricity?

Seven young men died and scores were wounded two weeks ago in Chiyah because of electricity cuts. The government blamed it on the victims themselves: they were stealing electricity. Here's who steals electricity in Lebanon, 2002 figures: Tripoli ranks highest with 75.8% of the electricity there being stolen, followed very closely with Chiyah (55.4%) and Walid Jumblat's stronghold of Beyteddine (53.8%) and then Saida (Hariri's town) with 45.8%. And note that the Chiyah district includes both Ghobeiry (Hizbullah and Amal) and Ain el Remmaneh (Lebanese Forces and `Awn).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Trees, Carbon and Deserts

The Offsets Market in India, Confronting Carbon Colonialism. A beautiful photo essay from the TransNational Institute. Look also at this one: Where the Trees are a Desert, on the impacts of the eucalyptus monoculture in Brazil.

Mississippi burping

"A Mississippi lawmaker proposed to ban restaurants from serving fat people. Bill text: 1) Restaurants "shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese." 2) "The State Department of Health shall monitor [compliance] and may revoke the permit of any food establishment that repeatedly violates" this rule. Rationales: 1) Mississippi has the nation's highest obesity rate. 2) "Mississippi's obesity rate cost Medicaid alone $221 million each year." Objections: 1) "The food police have gone too far." 2) "It's discriminatory." 3) The state should focus on promoting exercise instead. 4) "Some people are big and happy." 5) "I've seen a lot of crazy laws, but this one takes the cake. Literally." Sponsor's rebuttal: I'm just trying to highlight the problem. Human Nature's view: Banning people from restaurants based on appearance. In Mississippi. Great idea. (Related: The war on junk food; the war on trans fats; the war on soda; the war on salt.)

Fat people are less medically expensive than other people over a lifetime, according to a Dutch study. Findings: 1) Fat people cost more per year than smokers or nonfat nonsmokers do, but only up to age 56. 2) After that, smokers cost more. However, 3) fat people and smokers die earlier (by 4 and 7 years, respectively). Net result: "Lifetime health expenditure was highest among healthy-living people and lowest for smokers," with fat people in between. Conclusion: "Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures." Critiques: 1) The study didn't include non-medical costs, such as lost productivity. 2) If saving money is our overriding goal, let's promote quick killers such as lung cancer. Old argument for the war on fat: Fat costs everyone money. New argument for the war on fat: Fat's costs are "immeasurable." (Related: Financial penalties for fat employees; obesity and responsibility; the war on smoking.)"

I love this section in Slate (Thanks D. and I've kept your title it is just too good.)

In the drylands

"Washington looks at many of these clashes and erroneously sees Islamist ideology at the core. Our political leaders fail to realize that other Islamic populations are far more stable economically, politically and socially—and that the root of the crisis in the dryland countries is not Islam but extreme poverty and environmental stress.

The Washington mind-set also prefers military approaches to developmental ones. The U.S. has supported the Ethiopian army in a military incursion into Somalia. It has pushed for military forces to stop the violence in Darfur. It has armed the clans in the deserts of western Iraq and now proposes to arm pastoralist clans in Pakistan along the Afghan border." (Thanks D.)

Jeffrey Sachs in Scientific American on the dryland predicament.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Egypt - Masr yamma ya bahiyya

What's going on in Egypt? Here's an article by Hashim Safieddine titled: "The economic stick and Egypt's dependency: The forgotten face of the struggle". The author discusses the replacement of US aid to Egypt with trade agreements, which are pushing the country into the neo-liberal camp, a move that only profits Capital. He also discusses linkages between aid and radical economic reforms (this is very common with US aid). He then indicates that the invisible hand of the market did not benefit Egypt as much as it did the US: US imports into Egypt increased but Egyptian exports to the US did not, which caused further trade imbalances. These are evaluated at $1.5 billions, or one and a half times the total value of aid offered by the US since 1998. The author also makes an interesting observation, which is the change of hands of the regime from the military and bureaucrats (Mubarak the elder) to the businessmen (Mubarak the younger).

Another article on the Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris by Dina Hashmat in which she says: "Of course he loves Egypt, which country could have made him richer?" (he is number 62 in Forbes list of billionaires 2007). Worth reading if you are interested in token "good" gestures of cut-throat capital.

And then there is this Washington Post article on the Egyptian government appropriating farmer's land on the Island of Gold, a small island populated with farmers who feed much of Cairo with grain, dairy and vegetables. The purpose: urban development- investments that benefit a precious few. This is what the farmers think of it:

""We will die to protect this land," said Ashraf Kamal, a 46-year-old farmer.

"We will die, and they will die, too," said Um Khaled, 56, a woman with chapped, round cheeks sitting in a reed hut lit by bars of sunlight. "

And you know what the sad thing is? They probably will...

From the economic page: wages, cartels, cold damages and trade deficit.

Today's economic page in Al Akhbar carried a lot of very interesting articles. I learned that there seems to be some progress towards increasing the minimum monthly wage to $300. Not a moment too soon, especially with the 25% registered increase in cost of living. But I'll believe in the raise when I'll see it. after all, the government believes that no one in Lebanon earns the minimum wager, and then publishes data to show that 30% of the population is below the poverty line. There is also a report to indicate that now that the flour mills cartel seems to have been slightly neutralized, it is the bakeries cartel that is trying to benefit from the flour subsidies. In addition, there are 2 reports on the damages caused by the cold wave to the beekeepers of the North (Akkar and Dinniyeh, with data about their number and their production) and to the vegetable farmers in Bint Jbeil (one of them an organic farmer). And finally three numbers: $9,697 millions- these are the total imports of Lebanon until October 2007; and $2,282 million- these are the total exports from Lebanon during the same period; and $7,415 millions, is the trade deficit. Interestingly (?) metal products were the main imports ($5,175 millions) and...metals were the main exports ($416 millions).


It's Friday, the day Al-Akhbar publishes the "Alternatives" page: A main article on the water of South Lebanon by Nadim Farajallah, my editorial on destructive chaos in the Lebanese economy, an article on freekeh (smoked wheat, cooked as rice), another on wild chicory, and Rana Hayeck asks: should we eat vegetables frozen of fresh?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Iraqi agriculture

"In the 1950s, Iraq was self-sufficient in agricultural production, according to a 2004 Congressional Research Service report. But by the 1960s it imported 15 percent of its food, by 1980 it imported half, and by 2002 it relied on imports for 80 to 100 percent of many staples, including wheat, rice and vegetable oil, under the United Nations oil-for-food program.

Part of the reason for that slide from self-sufficiency was a rapidly growing population that outpaced production capabilities. Throughout the 1980s the Iraqi government heavily subsidized agricultural production. But by the mid-1990s economic problems related to international sanctions ended much of that support, and lack of resources such as fertilizer, farm machinery and pesticides meant production dropped. Also, water pumps and irrigation canals -- which are essential to most farming in the country and which must be cleaned and repaired each year -- were neglected, leading to problems with soil salinity.

Some U.S. and international organizations are working to help rehabilitate Iraq's agricultural infrastructure.

Since 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Foreign Agricultural Service has sent employees to Iraq to serve on Provincial Reconstruction Teams -- groups of civilians that work with military units on reconstruction projects. As of late January, 23 USDA agricultural advisers were working across Iraq." (thanks D.)

Don't you just love how they break everything and then make you pay for fixing it? What did Klein call it again? Disaster capitalism? And now they have "embedded professional development experts" with the army. I blogged about these earlier.

Read the article for the list of projects that are supposed to change the face of food sovereignty in Iraq. Example: A beekeeper association in a town. Those people have no imagination! This is exactly the same kind of projects they set up in Lebanon and elsewhere through over paid and overfed US NGOs and then claim it as a contribution to sustainable livelihoods. This is smaller than a pin prick. And rest assured that in the absence of a strong state that builds infrastructure (destroyed by the war) and supports the establishment of agricultural inputs factories (bombed by the US) and agrofood industries (destroyed by the war too), there can be no salvation. Not to sound conspiratory, but look how beautifully designed: Northern NGOs get multi millions contracts to teach the date growers how to grow dates, everybody celebrates the achievement of the token civil society group (this falls under the general label: "Democracy"), and the millions of Iraqis who have not yet been made refugees continue to consume the products imported from the North paying for it high prices from oil sales. Who said the the oil-for-food program has ended?

And if you don't believe me, read what this Iraqi economist says in the same article: "And he questioned some of the agricultural laws put in place by the coalition provisional authority in 2004, which he said could pave the way for international agribusinesses to enter the Iraqi market in a way that would be detrimental to the average farmer."

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


"We'll try more or less anything: kangaroo, ostrich, monkey's brains, dog, horse, foie gras, larks. And it's all got to be cheap, so the rich and the poor can all have as much as they want, and no one who can afford organic or humanely reared food may criticise nasty production methods, because they are privileged snotters who have no right to tell the poor what to do. So on we go, gorging on anything that moves and takes our fancy, growing the billions of acres of crops to feed the millions of animals that we don't even need to eat."

Arab food security

An article in Al Safir on Arab Food Security, calling for a revival of the (alas anachronistic) idea of a Greater Arab Food Production Strategy and integration of the production capabilities of Arab countries. I remember this was a very fashionable idea during Nasser's time, and it was promoted by Arab Nationalists everywhere. The land of Sudan and Iraq, the waters of the Nile, the Euphrates and the Tigris, the local manpower and the investment capacity of the oil-rich Gulf: these were the central tenets of the concept. This of course never worked, I assume for political reasons (look at the sate of leadership in the Arab World). It would be interesting however to calculate the true potential of food production of the Arab World and see if together they can be net exporters, provided adequate technology and investment. For now, these are the figures presented in the article: In 1985, the value of food exports from the Arab World wa 13% that of the imports, which totaled 20 billion $. Things haven't gotten better since.

I'm not a supporter of the classical food security idea, and some degree of trade is necessary and healthy, but to be that dependent on food imports is just plain stupid. With the increase in demand for grain-fed meat in China and the high demand for cereals in many Arab countries and considering the limited world food supplies, the poorer Arab countries will soon be competing with Chinese livestock for their staple. Way to go.

Trees to firewood

From today's Al-Akhbar, an article on wood harvesting in the Bekaa. With fuel oil prices sky high, and unreliable and expensive electricity supply, many people have gone back to firewood for heating. This article says that 12,000 tons of wood originating from woods but also from orchards which are being abandoned by their owners and turned into cash. Orchards are being cut because the cost of production does not apparently is not justified by the profits: cherry, apricots, grapevines are disappearing; but also oak, juniper and pine.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Good bye pork pie hat

"As a result, Dr. Lynfield said the investigators had begun leaning toward a seemingly bizarre theory: that exposure to the hog brain itself might have touched off an intense reaction by the immune system, something akin to a giant, out-of-control allergic reaction. Some people might be more susceptible than others, perhaps because of their genetic makeup or their past exposures to animal tissue. The aerosolized brain matter might have been inhaled or swallowed, or might have entered through the eyes, the mucous membranes of the nose or mouth, or breaks in the skin.
Dr. Lynfield hopes to find the cause. But she said: “I don’t know that we will have the definitive answer. I suspect we will be able to rule some things out, and will have a sense of whether it seems like it may be due to an autoimmune response. I think we’ll learn a lot, but it may take us a while. It’s a great detective story.”"

Workers getting sick from contact with pork brains in meat packing plants: what a great opportunity for a whodunit.

Granos, a new Slow Food project

What is GranOS for?

The objective of GranOS is to describe and protect the genetic, morphological, and physiological characteristics of conservation plant varieties, along with their known food and non-food uses.

In this respect it resembles the aims of the CGIAR network, but with one important difference: the varieties are conserved “in vivo” and not “ex-situ” or even “in vitro”. By “ex-situ” conservation we mean conservation outside the exact place of origin in centers of the above network, with periodical sowing of seed material to prevent loss of terminability. With the GranOS project, seeds remain “in situ”, in farms, houses and fields, as well as in existing germplasm banks and collections of seed saver associations, who in recent decades have done fundamentally important, invaluable work. In addition to the other information about a seed which will be placed online, GranOS will also indicate where it can be obtained and who uses it to produce products based on it. In this way GranOS will not only be an instrument for conservation and cataloging, but also an instrument for promoting food products based on the seeds.

Food puritanism

"It's good to get a historical perspective on these matters, though Kaufman is perhaps a little reductive in his approach. Still, he makes some valuable points about how the stomach influences the ways Americans view themselves. "Our understanding of virtue and vice, success and failure, has long been expressed in the language of appetite, consumption, and digestion," he writes. Our appetites may drive us, but so does our need to control them. For a Puritan like Mather, the stomach was an organ that needed to be tamed and purified. "He that would have a Clear Head," Mather proclaimed, "must have a Clean Stomach." He was fanatical on this issue and concocted schemes involving vomiting and fasting to keep stomach and mind in good working order.

Such attitudes aren't just a thing of the past. In fact, Kaufman argues, the views of the organic food movement aren't much different from Mather's. He reports on a "subversive" group of New Yorkers who swear by unpasteurized milk, which is not only "totally forbidden" but just might give you tuberculosis. Such raw-food devotees, he writes, are "postmodern Puritans" intent on "banishing all traces of pollution from their digestive tracts and every last antibiotic from all the world's food supply." Kaufman, however, is suspicious: There's just too much danger lurking in all that so-called purity." (Thanks D.)

A review of Kaufman's book: "A Short History of the American Stomach". I haven't read the book, but there is more than puritanism in the food movement: some would call it fundamentalism.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Helping Gaza Resist and Exist

Seven years ago, the Arab Group for the Protection of Nature started its campaigns for Palestine, with a focus on sustainable development even in its relief efforts. Due to the current circumstances in the Gaza Strip, APN is undertaking the following projects:

"From the Besieged Farmer to the Besieged Family" Campaign - Gaza

  • Preparing food baskets consisting of foodstuffs and produce bought from farmers and distributing them among needy families, which have lost their livelihoods due to invasions, closures and the resulting deaths and loss of jobs among family providers.
  • The baskets contain locally produced cheese, palm dates, thyme, strawberry juice, tomato, cucumber, potato, cabbage, onion and cauliflower
  • Required amount: $200,000 - $70 per basket (2,130 baskets for 2,130 families)

"They Uproot One Tree.We Plant Ten" Campaign - reclamation and planting of destroyed agricultural lands in Gaza

· Today, more than 80% of Gaza's population, the majority of which are farmers, live under the poverty line with unemployment reaching more than 40%. 70,000 farmers and 30,000 agricultural workers were affected by the poor conditions in the agricultural sector.

· The project will contribute to planting more than 20,000 trees in the destroyed lands.

· Required amount for rehabilitation and planting: $100,000

The Arab Group for the Protection of Nature

Tele: 5673331, e-mail:

Fax: 5699777, P.O.Box 811815 Amman - 11181 Jordan

Bank Account for the trees planting campaign JD 0128/258383-6/500

$ 0128/258383-6/510

? 0128/258383-6/598

Swift code: ARABJOAX128
Arab Bank, Gardens Branch/ Amman

This is a message I have received from Gaza.