Saturday, February 28, 2009

Grains and pulses blog

Take a look at this great blog: (Thanks Barbara)

The minister of duh

The minister of Economy and Trade is in Geneva trying desperately to get Lebanon into the WTO. How can you do that? asks Rasha Abu Zeki in this opinion piece, when all the rich countries are trying to protect their economy? How can you want to open more, when you have nothing to sell and you export everything? How can you destroy cold-blodedly the little that is left of your productive sectors?

Bedouin women speak

" I don't want a car and I don't want to live in a villa. All I want is a modest job to support myself." This is how Nour, 19, a Bedouin woman from the Wazzani area in South Lebanon, and a casual farm worker who earns 7,000 LBP per day (US$4.5) describes her expectations. Unlike most Bedouins in Lebanon who have now become settled, the Wazzani Arabs are still semi-nomadic, but they now move in search of jobs instead of green pastures. And they still live in tents. Excellent short article by Assaf Abu Rahhal in Al Akhbar on the lives of the Bedouins of the Wazzani through the eyes of the women.

"They called me Nour (light), she said, and I wish they had called me zalam (darkness)..."

Aaaah...the Orient...

"Despite being British to the core, I've always felt that the Arabic world was my spiritual foodie home. Mezze is probably my favourite way of eating: I love having little bits of this and that, mixing it up, clearing your palate with some pickles, then diving in for another little trundle round the beautiful bowls. Over the years my passion for mezze has taken me to Israel, Turkey and Morocco in search of new recipes and ingredients, but it was in Lebanon, widely believed to be the country that invented mezze and the jewel in the Middle Eastern culinary crown, that I felt I would find authenticity." (Thanks Rania)

This must be one of the most cliche-ridden articles I have ever read.


"Il se trouve aussi qu'il a d'autres rapports au monde, d'autres façons d'accomplir son existence que dans la recherche de profit, la comparaison avec autrui. Les chercheurs n'ont pas l'obsession du bling-bling. Ils ont choisi le temps de la réflexion et de l'analyse, l'échange et le partage de la connaissance, la liberté de suivre les chemins de recherche qui leur semblent pertinents. Cette liberté qu'on leur reproche est l'essence même de leur activité. Ne pas le comprendre, c'est ne pas comprendre ce que sont la recherche et la science.

J'ajouterai que la crise économique actuelle entame sérieusement la crédibilité d'un modèle fondé sur une obsession mortifère de la compétition et du gain. Que cette atmosphère générale de pression permanente nourrit un malaise sourd et une violence sociale. C'est là qu'on attendrait une vision, un souffle, une énergie véritablement positive, et non des décharges d'agressivité. Notre pays n'a pas besoin d'un chef d'entreprise vindicatif à sa tête, mais d'un homme de rassemblement qui se soucie de la paix sociale, d'un vivre-ensemble harmonieux et de la poursuite du bonheur - utopie qui est au fondement de notre modernité politique (cf. le préambule de la Déclaration de 1789).

Au fond, tout cela demande une certaine hauteur de vue. C'est un problème de... politique de civilisation ! Tiens, tiens, on n'en entend plus parler de celle-là."

Alexandre Duperix criticises Sarkozy's Jan 22 speech on research (in Le Monde)

Sustainability review

"The priority of the new Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Roundtable is to reduce the confusing array of different labels and statements appearing on food packages but fostering agreement on scientific assessment of environmental impact.


“We want to put an end to consumers seeing inconsistent environmental information on products,” said Pekka Pesonsen, secretary general of Copa-Cogeca, one of the organisations currently participating.

“Our new cooperation will bring together initiatives from across the food chain, promote their foundation on sound scientific evidence and translate into real progress in moving towards a coherent approach across the EU.”

At present labels, statements and declarations tend to assess different environmental impacts with different methodologies – such as carbon footprint, agricultural practices, transport, packaging, etc.

But the partners believe the information can be confusing, especially when it is over-simplified, scientifically unreliable, or based on inconsistent methodologies in different EU member states.

The effect can be to undermine consumer trust, lead to accusations of greenwashing, and even stand in the way of aiding real environmental improvement."

Friday, February 27, 2009


The new issue of Badael. My editorial: "Terror crops", on the role of the corporations pushing their GMO seeds. Kamel Jaber on zaatar growing in the South and some of the potential problems associated with it. Rana Hayek writes in aleph baa al gizaa on Poultry (da, dawagen)

Slow Water

"As the ball got rolling, this was not the case at all: first, a farmer from Mexico stood up and began to talk about water access issues and the perils of privatisation. He talked about how his farm was affected, the everyday issues of not having enough water to grow crops and what his preoccupations for a very dry-looking future. Next, a strikingly graceful woman raised her hand. She stood and explained that she was from the Tuareg tribe of the Sahara desert in Africa. The Tuareg are primarily nomadic pastoralists and their main livelihood is livestock breeding and trading. The woman who spoke during the workshop talked about the challenges faced by her people due to long periods of drought: she explained that when no water can be found, her people must slaughter their animals and drink the water found in their stomachs. To a Tuareg this is an action taken out of desperation, when there are really no other options. This is a form of killing off your long-term source of life to save you in the short run from thirst. Drought and water access issues reach far beyond agriculture and perhaps hit those practicing other forms of subsistence the worst. This story was particularly moving but there were many others throughout the session.

You might be asking yourself how all of this talk of water fits in with Terra Madre and Slow Food? Well, without water there would not be any food. That is why water is perhaps one of the most pressing issues that Slow Food and the Terra Madre network need to address. In the face of climate change and raging issues of environmental pollution, the participants of the water and agriculture workshop agreed that it was time to take action. We all felt it was not enough to just talk once and then return to our own isolated realities. As the session was wrapping up, Rami Zurayk could feel the energy in the air and he proposed that we not end here. He could tell that this discussion was far from over so he moved to take a few minutes at the end of the workshop to define the goals for a new network focused on water."

Rachel Black writes about Slow Water

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Agriculture makes it

"KIGALI, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Rwanda's economy should grow by 7-8 percent this year, after expanding by 11.2 percent in 2008, the fastest pace in five years, the country's central bank governor said on Wednesday.

Francois Kanimba, governor of the National Bank of Rwanda, said the economy had been bolstered by a booming agricultural sector, which constitutes around 38 percent of the economy, and that public investment would help maintain growth momentum." (Thanks Yaz)

Great deals

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said today it is awarding $48-million to help poor cocoa and cashew farmers in Africa improve the quality of their crops and increase the opportunities to sell their product on the global market.

A dozen or so major agriculture and food companies, including Archer Daniels Midland, Kraft, and Starbucks, will contribute cash, products, and technical assistance, valued at a total of $42-million.

The foundation is giving $23-million to the World Cocoa Foundation, in Washington, and $25-million for the cashew project to a German development agency, known as GTZ, which is based in Eschborn.

“When you think about $1-a-day poverty, the bulk of the extreme poor people in the world — 70-plus percent — live in rural areas and are dependent on farms for food and income,” Rajiv Shah, Gates’s director of agricultural programs, said in an interview. “The goal is to help improve their production and sell their crops at an increased value so they can earn higher incomes and over time send their kids to school and pull themselves out of poverty.”" (Thanks D.)

Translate: Donations in kind from mega companies already controlling the food system. Small farmers produce export crops at the expense of their own food production. Small farmers sell raw commodities (cocoa) and eat imported processed food. Guess who wins the added value both ways.

Ghosts in the machine

The Lebanese minister of Social Affairs: There is a mafia in my ministry and 80% of the registered NGOs don't actually exist.

Rain on the paradox

The capitalism paradox: food prices are higher, but farmers earn less. (Thanks Rania)

Fair le couscous

"Everything down to the bare bones of the co-op is based on principles of justice -- even the wheat acquired to make the couscous comes from the organic, fair trade wheat co-op in Jenin. The concept of solidarity is very important for the women, made clear by Abu al-Haija's confession that "if it weren't for the fair trade farmers, we wouldn't have this job." There is also the groundswell of solidarity and cooperation between the co-op and the international organizations that support their work by buying their high-quality couscous. "We feel the solidarity and we know our work is appreciated," Abu al-Haija explained, smiling proudly." (Thanks Marcy)


"The Agriculture Show is opening in Paris, and organic farming is the star.... Well, the star, let's not exaggerate anything. Only 44 percent of French people eat at least one organic product in a month. Organic agriculture still remains marginal, despised as limited to Parisians and the Yuppie Bourgeoisie, to those who can afford it..." (Thanks Tima)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


"OMG everybody! We won! We did it! Obama announced today that he will nominate Kathleen A. Merrigan for Deputy Secretary of the USDA. She was among the Sustainable Dozen requested as high level USDA appointees by the Food Democracy Now campaign. I just dug through some of her past publications (detailed below) and she's a dream come true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

  • Most recently, Merrigan was an Assistant Professor and Director of the Agriculture, Food and Environment MS and PhD Program at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
  • Previously, she was Administrator of Agricultural Marketing Service of the USDA (1999-2001).
  • From 1994-1999, she worked at the Wallace Institute for Alternative Agriculture, and served as an expert consultant at the Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

  • (Thanks John)

    OrangeClouds115's diary

    Does plastic pricing work both ways?

    "The increase in food prices around the globe will ease later rather than sooner, as benefits of falling commodity prices take time to trickle through the chain.


    “Agricultural commodity costs have fallen, plastics pricing has started to ease and distribution costs will fall in line with fuel prices. Weak demand conditions will also encourage retailers and processors to reduce prices to keep product moving,” added the report."

    Monday, February 23, 2009

    Last year's drought in Syria

    "Herders have also been affected. With reduced pasture, there is less space for their animals to graze. The cost of animal feed has soared. Some 59,000 small herders (those with less than 100 animals) lost almost all their livestock. This has led to drastic measures.

    “Herders and farmers have sold off their assets: land, animals, houses, furniture, jewellery - all for low prices,” Bin Yehia said. “The poorest are affected most. These include many women-headed households.”

    Many of those affected have migrated to urban areas, causing rural school dropout rates to rise. According to the UN, migration rates from rural to urban areas have increased by 20 to 30 percent year-on-year from 2007 to 2008" (Thanks Marcy)

    Sunday, February 22, 2009

    Alice in Gaza

    From Pink Tank

    "During the recent ruthless assault on the people of Gaza when so many people were injured or murdered, I lost my own sister; she had been ill for many years. The loss of this one person, whose death was anticipated, was such a blow, that when I considered the losses to the people of Gaza – of mothers, children, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, and friends, I wondered how the anguish of so much tragic loss could be sustained. Housing, hospitals, nurseries, libraries, schools, were also lost. Surely the blow to the human spirit would be intolerable for many, and there would seem little reason for continuing to live.

    Going to Gaza is our opportunity (my partner Garrett Larson’s and mine) to express solidarity with the people there. To demonstrate the concern we feel each day for the suffering endured. To remind the people of Gaza and ourselves that we belong to the same world: the world where grief is not only acknowledged, but shared; where we see injustice and call it by its name; where we see suffering and know the one who stands and sees is also harmed, but not nearly so much as the one who stands and sees and says and does nothing. We can bring our witness, one of life’s strongest gifts, as others have come to our side, witnessing our struggle, when life appeared impossible to bear. When all is lost, or nearly lost, tenderness remains, or could. We can offer what we are.

    Alice WALKER
    February 19, 2009" (Thanks Muna)


    "Cooking is a human universal. No society is without it. No one other than a few faddists tries to survive on raw food alone. And the consumption of a cooked meal in the evening, usually in the company of family and friends, is normal in every known society. Moreover, without cooking, the human brain (which consumes 20-25% of the body’s energy) could not keep running. Dr Wrangham thus believes that cooking and humanity are coeval.

    In fact, as he outlined to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), in Chicago, he thinks that cooking and other forms of preparing food are humanity’s “killer app”: the evolutionary change that underpins all of the other—and subsequent—changes that have made people such unusual animals." (Thanks D.)

    Saturday, February 21, 2009

    Heat Wave

    "The severe drought and searing heat will oppress wide swathes of the earth with increasing frequency this century, according to a forecast by scientists who met this week in Beijing, the UN weather agency said today. "The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to ten years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change,' according to a statement endorsed by the scientists at the meeting co-sponsored by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

    The statement was also released at UN Headquarters in New York.

    The continental United States and Mexico, the Mediterranean basin, parts of northern China, southern Africa and Australia and parts of South America were cited as particularly prone to harsh drought, WMO said in a press release relaying the results of the International Workshop on Drought and Extreme Temperatures.

    In addition, severe heat waves are expected to increase everywhere, especially in the continental western US, northern Africa, the Middle East, central Asia, southern Africa and Australia, the agency added."

    Laurent d'Arabie

    Daily Star, BEIRUT: There is no real economic policy in the field of agriculture in Lebanon, the head of the European Commission Delegation in Beirut said Friday. "We have to start with the basics by giving farmers a legal and administrative status, meaning a system should be set up to created to define the needs of the farmers and then establish a mechanism of general registration for farmers, clarifying the benefits and obligations associated with this registration," Patrick Laurent told The Daily Star.

    These remarks came during a press conference held at the Radisson SAS Martinez hotel in Beirut and organized by the Delegation of the European Commission in Lebanon.

    The conference was attended by representatives of parliamentary blocs, trade associations and the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers with an aim to discuss the necessary changes that should be undertaken to encourage the development of the Lebanese agricultural sector.

    Laurent believes that among the basics that should be created in this sector is to give farmers access to economic advice as to the choice of the production they should develop, in addition to a structure of advice for technical production. He added that farmers should also be given access to classic social benefits like health insurance and education, benefits that are not available now.

    "They have to create the basics first and then establish a cooperative network with a good management system, well-trained managers and technicians as well as providing an infrastructure for a modern agriculture," said Laurent.

    To maximize the contribution of the agriculture sector and to help farmers, participants in the conference supported the adoption of a new strategy for the sector, backed by a strong political will. The new strategy aims to upgrade sustainable agricultural activities to be profitable and competitive. It also aims at giving attention to the environment and scarce water resources.

    Moreover, to ensure agricultural products are competitive and that farmers face fair competition at home, participants endorsed the need to update and enforce safeguarding measures such as anti-dumping especially after the bilateral agreements that Lebanon has signed as a preparation for its accession to the World Trade Organization.

    Antoine Hwayek, head of the Lebanese farmers association, stressed on the importance of improving access to credit by reactivating the law stipulating the establishment of an agricultural bank while improving the system KAFALAT.

    Hwayek highlighted also the necessity of separating the chamber of agriculture from the chambers of commerce and industry, provided the latter will have the skills and resources to carry out its functions."

    Export averse

    A couple of days ago a Western agricultural expert commented in front of me that the agricultural sector of Lebanon was "export averse". Apparently the Lebanese prefer to consume their products rather than export them. There are still good news in this world.

    Friday, February 20, 2009

    Cropping academic freedom

    "Biotechnology companies are keeping university scientists from fully researching the effectiveness and environmental impact of the industry’s genetically modified crops, according to an unusual complaint issued by a group of those scientists." (Thanks Bassam)


    The new issue of Badael in Al Akhbar: My editorial: The slaves of the sea on the poor status of fisher folk everywhere. Still eating sushi? asks Rama Hayek. Vegetables (khudaar) and fruits for the letter kha in the ABC of food (also by Rana).

    Bedouins in the elections

    Saad Hariri leader of the Future Movement in Lebanon addressing representatives of the Bedouin tribes from all over Lebanon in preparation for the June elections. I need a list of participants and their contacts for my Bedouin research project.

    Thursday, February 19, 2009


    "We salute the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) in Durban, and Western Australian dock worker members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), for refusing to handle Israeli cargo."


    "In an unprecedented action, the first following the recent Israeli war on Gaza, workers of an Egyptian Fertilizers Company in Suez protested on Saturday February 7th against the export of fertilizers to Israel.

    The Fertilizers Egyptian Company is owned by Sawiris family, Naguib Sawiris ranks 62 in Forbes’ world’s richest list, while his father Onsi ranks 96 and his brother Nassif ranks 226, under the name Orascom construction company. Fertilizers Egyptian Company signed an agreement to export 1000 tons of phosphate fertilizer to Israel, at a rate of 100 tons per week. An estimated 800 Egyptians work at this factory." (Thanks Marcy)

    Orascom just made a major investment in telecom in Lebanon

    This is not what was meant by: "open the Golan front"

    "Israel resumed its export of Golan Heights-grown apples to Syria on Tuesday, after it last year halted the annual project due to a shortage in produce."


    "Muharram said 45 percent of Yemen's population lived on less than US$2 a day, and 15 percent on less than $1 a day.

    "The money they get every day is enough to provide for only one meal. How can they get enough food every day?” he asked."

    Wednesday, February 18, 2009

    Conventional talk

    Agriculture in the 4th European convention in Lebanon: Same talk as the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd "conventions". No action to be expected.


    Droughts cause migration from the village of Nahleh in the North Bekaa...

    Food and Sects

    In Al Safir today, a long dossier on the inability of the government to agree on the new Food Safety law. (See also this article and this one).

    The country does not have a food safety law, and I have repeatedly posted items on this blog to that effect. But what is preventing the FSL? As usual, conflicts about authority, between the Office of the Prime Minister, who wants to create a board that has advisory as well as implementative powers under its direct authority. This is clashing with the authority of the ministries of Industry, Health and Agriculture. The sectarian politics are at play here to: this will concentrate more power in the Prime Minister's office. This is not helped by the fact that the 3 ministries above are currently in the hand of the opposition...

    Tuesday, February 17, 2009

    Export minus

    Lebanese farm exports through Export plus decline by 5%


    "Palestine solidarity activists in Sydney have launched a campaign targeting Max Brenner Chocolates, a 100% Israeli-owned company belonging to the Strauss Group, as part of the growing international boycott Israel movement."

    Monday, February 16, 2009

    The things we do for food

    Palestinian Authority security forces arrested overnight Saturday an Israeli man who had entered Bethlehem without permission, Army Radio reported.

    According to the report, the 26-year-old man told the PA officers that he had gone into the city to buy his favorite falafel.

    The man was transferred to the civil authorities pending further action.(Thanks Marcy)


    Farmers and plant breeders around the globe are planting thousands of endangered seeds as part of an effort to save 100,000 varieties of food crops from extinction.

    Grapes to olives

    Lebanon: Farmers in the Bekaa shift from vineyards to olives to escape difficult market.

    Saturday, February 14, 2009

    Valentine: sects have a ball

    The big demonstration organized by the March 14 coalition to mark the assassination of Rafiq Hariri took place today in Martyr square, in central Beirut. I saw tens of cars and buses on the Corniche near Rawsheh this morning, whith flag waving youth hanging out of the windows. The predominant flags were the Future Movement's (Hariri's Party, Sunni Muslim) and the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP, Druze, Jumblat). There was a car with flags of the PSP and the Lebanese Forces (Maronite Christians, Geagea) something that would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago when they were massacring each others in the Mountains. The PSP buses were all congregated near the Druze Religious Center (Dar al Ta'ifah) in Verdun Street. Later, I saw from my in-laws' balcony in Hamra a group of youth walking towards a Future Movement center shouting loudly slogans like: "There is no God but God, Sheikh Saad (Hariri) is loved by God" and "To Dahiyeh, To Dahiyeh" (Beirut's predominantly Shi`a Southern suburb).

    Israel still occupies Lebanese farm land

    Eight years after liberation, Southern farmers are still unable to access their lands

    Bint Jbeil, Dany al Ameen, Al Akhbar

    Eight years after liberation, a large number of southern farmers are still unable to exploit their lands located close to the border. Thousands of liberated dunums (1 dunum= 1/10 hectare or 1/5 acre) are not under the sovereignty of their owners who can only look at them from afar. They can only remind their children that this land is theirs, that they used to cultivate it and earn their living from it.Hassan Baalbaki, from the town of Aytaroun talks about the intention of the townspeople to "send an open letter to prime minister Sanioura to make him take responsibility for the government's failure to preserve the rights of the farmers since liberation. We are a rural society and our land is liberated, it is our right to plant it and use it". Muhammad Nasser confirms this: "more than 5000 dunums outside the border line belong to the people of Aytaroun. We cannot use it because of the mines and the Israeli threats, and because of the UNIFIL interference if we get close to the land. The situation is similar in all frontier villages. In Markaba, farmer Muhammad Atweh says: there are thousands of dunums belonging to the villagers which we cannot access anymore although we used to plant them before the occuppation, because of the mines and the Israeli threats. The UNIFIL forces prevent us from getting close to our land. The Israelis on the other side can plant the lands all the way to the border, why are we prevented from doing that?

    مزارعو القرى الحدودية ممنوعون من أراضيهم

    بنت جبيل ــ داني الأمين
    بعد 8 أعوام على التحرير، ما زال الكثير من أبناء القرى الحدودية لا يستطيعون استثمار أراضيهم المحاذية للحدود. آلاف الدونمات المحرّرة لا تخضع لسيادة أصحابها الذين ينظرون إليها عن بعد. فقط يذكّرون أبناءهم بأن هذه الأرض ملكهم، وكانوا يزرعونها، ويكسبون رزقهم منها. يتحدّث حسين بعلبكي، من بلدة عيترون، عن نية أبناء القرية «توجيه كتاب مفتوح إلى (رئيس الحكومة فؤاد) السنيورة، لوضعه أمام المسؤولية عن تقصير الحكومة، منذ التحرير، في حماية حقوق المزارعين. فمجتمعنا زراعي، وأرضنا محررة، ومن حقنا أن نزرعها ونستخدمها». ويؤكد ذلك محمد ناصر، الذي يقول إن «أكثر من 5000 دونم خارج الشريط الحدودي، لأبناء عيترون، لا يمكن استغلالها بسبب الألغام والتهديدات الإسرائيلية، وتدخّل قوات اليونيفيل إذا اقترب أحدنا منها». الأمر مشابه في جميع القرى الحدودية. ففي مركبا، يقول المزارع محمد عطوي إن «آلاف الدونمات لأبناء البلدة لا يمكن الوصول إليها، رغم أننا كنا نزرعها قبل الاحتلال، بسبب الألغام والتهديدات الإسرائيلية. حتى إن قوات اليونيفيل تمنع أيّ تقدم للأهالي إلى هذه الأراضي». ويسأل الرجل «لمَ للإسرائيليين الحق في زراعة الأراضي المحتلة الملاصقة للحدود، بينما يمنع علينا أن ذلك؟».
    بالقرب من مركبا، يطلّ موقع «عرض البير» الإسرائيلي المحصّن والمشرف على المنطقة. الأراضي اللبنانية القريبة منه خالية وجرداء. يملك أحمد عطوي منها 22 دونماً، لكنه لا يستطيع الوصول إليها. ويقول «لو سُمح لأبناء مركبا بزراعة أراضيهم الواقعة على الحدود، لتمكّن الجميع من توفير معيشتهم». ويؤكد أن «الإسرائيليين جرفوا الأرض وأزالو الحدود الفاصلة بين المالكين أثناء الاحتلال، لكنني ما زلت أعرف حدود أرضي، وسأذهب إليها يوماً ما وأعيد تحديدها». ويذهب بعض كبار السنّ في عيترون إلى أن «هذه الأراضي يزرعها أهالي عيترون منذ زمن بعيد، وأنها ملك لهم، وهي على الحدود مع بلدة «المالكية» (إحدى القرى السبع) التي فيها أكثر من 300 ألف متر مربع لأبناء عيترون صادرها الاحتلال الإسرائيلي أثناء احتلاله فلسطين». ويؤكد ذلك ما ذهب إليه أحد أصحاب الأرض، الحاج محمد علي السيد، «أنا ووالدي نزرع الأرض منذ أكثر من 60 عاماً، وهي أرض موروثة، وقد وضع الانتداب آنذاك إشارات، ما زال بعضها ظاهراً حتى الآن، تشير إلى أن الحدود (الدولية) خارج أرضنا وموازية للموقع الإسرائيلي «عريض الهوا». ويتابع السيد أنه في بداية الثمانينيات «شقّ الإسرائيليون خندقاً وسط أرضنا الزراعية كإشارة إلى الحدود الجديدة، وبرغم ذلك استمررنا في زراعتها بعد أن سمح لنا الضابط الإسرائيلي وقتذاك». كما يقول إنه يملك وعلي عبد الحسين فقيه وخليل فقيه وعبد الله عبد الله أوراقاً ثبوتية تثبت ملكيتهم للأرض، مطالباً قوات اليونيفيل بالعمل على استرجاعها سريعاً. ويشير مصدر في بلدية مارون الراس إلى أنه «ما زالت إحدى النقاط المحددة من قبل اليونيفيل داخل أراضي البلدة، ومن شأن ذلك تسهيل استيلاء العدو على نحو 20 ألف متر مربع، ونحن بانتظار إعادة ترسيم الحدود بالتنسيق مع الجيش اللبناني».

    Health situation in gaza remains fragile- New lancet article

    "Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are recovering from the 3-week Israeli assault on the isolated enclave, which injured thousands of civilians and damaged key medical facilities. Jan McGirk reports.

    The medical system inside the besieged Gaza Strip has managed to avoid total collapse, although casualty units underwent enormous strain last month during the Israeli military assault." (Thanks Faysal)

    From The Lancet

    High food prices to continue

    Early indications hint at smaller 2009 cereal crop 12-02-2009 Despite bumper 2008 harvests, high prices persist in many poor countries

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Let them drink milk

    Two articles saying the same thing about California and Lebanon: we may not be able to have agriculture if droughts continue. No more water.

    Arab unemployment

    The latest report by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has painted a sad and scary picture for the status of employment in the world including the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region in 2009. A situation that, if not rescued, many Arab experts warn, will lead to a combination of social, political and economic problems.

    In short, global unemployment in 2009 is expected to increase over 2007 by 18 million to 30 million workers and more than 50 million if the situation continues to deteriorate because of the international financial crisis.

    Lebanese economy

    BEIRUT: The United States Department of Commerce's 2009 Country Commercial Guide for Lebanon highlighted the country's favorable investment climate and its liberal economic system, but said that red tape and an unpredictable operating environment are some of the issues hurting Lebanon's image as a country open for investment, as reported by Lebanon This Week, the economic publication of the Byblos Bank Group. It said the country has very few restrictions on the movement of capital across its borders, foreign investors are allowed to manage and hold business and private assets without any restrictions, and the government does not require investors to engage in any particular sector or project. The guide indicated that starting a new business in Lebanon is relatively simple and open to all. It said petty corruption remains an issue, adding that corruption is more extensive in government contracts, taxation and real estate registration than in private sector deals and that Lebanon is not a signatory of the OECD convention on combating bribery.

    The U.S. Department of Commerce said Lebanon is the 68th largest market for U.S. exports, adding that the U.S. exported $1.1 billion worth of goods to Lebanon, representing an 81 percent increase year-on-year.

    The top 5 U.S. exports to Lebanon in 2008 were vehicles, mineral fuel and oil, machinery, agricultural commodities, and medical equipment. It noted that major competitors of U.S. companies in Lebanon include French, Italian, German, British, Korean, and Chinese firms. The Guide said leading Lebanese sectors for U.S. exports and investment include the automobile sector, air conditioning & refrigeration equipment, drugs & pharmaceuticals, medical equipment, apparel, education services, and agriculture.

    The US Department of Commerce expected the U.S. share of the local auto market to reach 17 percent in 2008, adding that demand for U.S. automotive products such as brakes, clutches, engine lubricants, and safety accessories are increasing because of their quality advantage over foreign competitors. Also, U.S. air conditioning and refrigeration exports to Lebanon reached $111m in first 8 months of last year, with a projected market share of 10 percent in 2008. Further, U.S. pharmaceuticals accounted for about 6 percent of total pharmaceutical drugs imports in the first 8 months of 2008. It said Lebanon is the leading importer of pharmaceuticals in the Levant, as 95 percent of the $545m market consists of imported medicine. Also, U.S. exports of medical equipment reached $34m in the first 8 months of 2008, and U.S. market share was expected to reach 27 percent in 2008. It noted that Lebanon is an ideal location for establishing a regional office to cover the Levant, including Iraq.

    U.S. apparel exports to Lebanon reached around $7 million; constituting around 3 percent of total apparel imports to Lebanon, while US agricultural exports totaled $148m, equivalent to 8.7 percent of agricultural imports. Major U.S. agricultural exports to Lebanon include dairy products, cereals, beverages and spirits and tobacco. Finally, it noted that Lebanon has one of the best educational systems in the Middle East with 125,000 students enrolled in universities throughout Lebanon and over 2,100 Lebanese students studying in the U.S.

    In parallel, the US Department of Commerce considered the Information & Communication Technology (ICT), pharmaceuticals and insurance sectors as offering the best prospects. It said Lebanon has the fundamental building blocks needed to become a regional center for technology that include a highly-educated and multilingual workforce, a strong private sector, world-class advertising firms, and multi-lingual media content providers and web portals. Additionally, Lebanon is the leading importer of pharmaceutical drugs in the Levant region and has over 50 pharmaceutical importing firms. - Lebanon This Week

    From The Daily Star

    Thursday, February 12, 2009

    Green Revolution turns brown

    The UN agencies have finally admitted that the traditional agricultural knowledge and practices were sustainable as well as environment and farmers friendly. According to the below mentioned UN report, often argued need to follow the agro-industrial “Green Revolution” model using crops that require chemical fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation for increased yields have actually damaged the environment, caused dramatic loss of agrobiodiversity and associated traditional knowledge, favored wealthier farmers and left some poorer ones deeper in debt.

    Please find below a link to a new policy brief by UNCTAD which is quite vocal against the “Green revolution” rhetoric and advocates in favor of organic agriculture. It is also attached for your assistance:

    Policy Brief No. 6 - "Sustaining African Agriculture - Organic Production"

    Hampshire College: better than many universities in the Arab World

    Hampshire College becomes first college in U.S. to divest from Israeli Occupation!

    Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, has become the first of any college or university in the U.S. to divest from companies on the grounds of their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    This landmark move is a direct result of a two-year intensive campaign by the campus group, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). The group pressured Hampshire College's Board of Trustees to divest from six specific companies due to human rights concerns in occupied Palestine. Over 800 students, professors, and alumni have signed SJP's "institutional statement" calling for the divestment.

    The proposal put forth by SJP was approved on Saturday, 7 Feb 2009 by the Board. By divesting from these companies, SJP believes that Hampshire has distanced itself from complicity in the illegal occupation and war crimes of Israel.

    Meeting minutes from a committee of Hampshire's Board of Trustees confirm that "President Hexter acknowledged that it was the good work of SJP that brought this issue to the attention of the committee." This groundbreaking decision follows in Hampshire's history of being the first college in the country to divest from apartheid South Africa thirty-two years ago, a decision based on similar human rights concerns. This divestment was also a direct result of student pressure.

    The divestment has so far been endorsed by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Rashid Khalidi, Vice President of the EU Parliament Luisa Morganitini, Cynthia McKinney, former member of the African National Congress Ronnie Kasrils, Mustafa Barghouti, Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, John Berger, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, and Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, among others.

    The six corporations, all of which provide the Israeli military with equipment and services in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza are: Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola, and Terex (see attached info sheet for more information on these corporations.) Furthermore, our policy prevents the reinvestment in any company involved in the illegal occupation.

    SJP is responding to a call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as a way of bringing non-violent pressure to bear on the state of Israel to end its violations of international law. SJP is following in the footsteps of many noted groups and institutions such as the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education in the UK, the Israeli group Gush Shalom, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, and the American Friends Service Committee.

    As well as voicing our opposition to the illegal occupation and the consistent human rights violations of the Palestinian people, we as members of an institute of higher education see it as our moral responsibility to express our solidarity with Palestinian students whose access to education is severely inhibited by the Israeli occupation.

    SJP has proven that student groups can organize, rally and pressure their schools to divest from the illegal occupation. The group hopes that this decision will pave the way for other institutions of higher learning in the U.S. to take similar stands.

    Please email to schedule a phone interview.

    (Thanks Ramla)

    Wednesday, February 11, 2009

    Managing water

    "There is no doubt that we need to rethink how we use water, especially with the human population growing rapidly, and global warming likely to produce unpredictable patterns of rainfall and drought. Nevertheless, my own research suggests that the situation may not be as dire as many are suggesting. Nations can thrive on surprisingly meagre quantities of fresh water - provided they adopt water-efficient technologies and encourage economic activity that doesn't guzzle water. I believe the looming water crisis is primarily a problem of distribution and management rather than supply. And we can solve it with existing technologies, increased investment and political will."

    Certainly true: Agriculture consumes more than 80% of water resources in dry countries. The efficiency of irrigation averages at around 50%. Increasing the efficiency to 75% (very possible) will be akin to providing 50% more water.

    Tuesday, February 10, 2009

    Niha under the snow

    I could not get back to Beirut from the Bekaa because of the snow. I got half way to Dahr el Baidar and had to turn back because the road was blocked by an overturned lorry. On my way back to AREC, I took these pictures of Niha under the snow. You can see the big cross on top of the hill in the distance. It was already almost dark, I hope to get better ones tomorrow.

    GM not good

    "Release of Bt brinjal into the environment for food, feed and cultivation may present a serious risk for human and animal health; the GM aubergine is unfit for consumption [1] . That's the verdict of French scientist Professor Gilles-Eric Seralini of the Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering (CRIIGEN), who carried out the first ever independent assessment of Monsanto-Mahyco's dossier on toxicity tests submitted to the Indian regulatory authorities.

    Professor Seralini, commissioned by Greenpeace India to undertake the assessment, said his key findings were statistically significant differences between groups of animals fed GM and non-GM brinjal in the raw data, which were discounted rather than used to raise food safety concerns and to call for further investigation [2]. Although the differences were not reported in the dossier summaries, they remained visible in the raw experimental data. These differences, seen by Monsanto-Mahyco, were deemed biologically irrelevant, and disregarded on the grounds that they were within a wide ‘reference' group of brinjal types."

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    Post Gaza round up



    The financial crisis is possibly the most significant global event, and it doesn’t look like there will be a band-aid solution. According to the most optimistic estimates, this might be a 5 years recession. The Davos meeting produced nothing of note except for the Erdogan coup de theatre, which might improve his national ratings but probably not the Turkish economy.

    Confidence and trust in the world of finance is at its lowest. “Confidence grows at the rate a coconut tree grows and falls at the rate a coconut falls”. This is how Montek Ahluwalia, an Indian policymaker, summed up the 2009 gathering of the World Economic Forum. As long as confidence is not restored, the crisis will continue to evolve. And as dumb as we might be, it is going to take a while before we forget the deeds of the Wall Street pirates.

    As much as I love to see free market and capitalism fail, I cannot help fearing that the poor will end up paying the price. True, a few CEOs may get the axe, but they’ve made tons of money, and they have their stash and they will not fall into poverty. And while the workers of Europe are taking to the streets in what is a breath of hope in a possible change, it is far too early to declare the death of capitalism, or even of neo-liberalism; especially that the alternatives have not yet fully evolved, and are not tested and tried. Countries like Venezuela and Iran are mining their natural resources capital to finance a social system of sorts. And countries like Syria and Lebanon, who pride themselves for having avoided the global crash, can only do that because they do not have a real economy. Chindia and Latin America may eventually bear the brunt of the crisis because they are in the middle of their growth spurt. In any case, the amendments that are currently being developed aim at making the capitalist financial system more secure for the major players, and not at creating a more equitable system based on redistributive justice. In other words, global capitalism is drawing lessons on how to create a more resilient capitalist system.


    The dynamics global food issues closely follow that of the global finances. Although food prices have decreased from last year’s spike, they are expected to remain high and therefore an increase in the number of those who are food insecure is to be expected. Meanwhile, the patterns of consumption of the rich and of the would-be-rich in the US, in Europe but also in parts of Chindia continue to evolve towards lower sustainability: more meat, more refined products.

    Regardless of the reasons underlying the food crisis, which include biofuels, droughts, low agricultural productivity in Africa and speculations by traders, there appears to be two philosophies in addressing the food issue. One is to throw money at it, through raising large amounts of development aid, and funding the existing international research institutes and development agencies to come up with new technologies and spread them in Africa, where productivity gains can certainly be made. This increase in production will then form the basis of a lucrative global trade in commodities. This is what has been dubbed “The Second Green Revolution”, and it is championed by the governments of rich countries, the Bretton Woods institutions, the UN and multinational corporations.

    The other approach is based on the premise that the problem is not technological, but political. According to its proponents, trade policies inherited from colonial times have destroyed the food security of communities in the developing world and disempowered small and medium farmers. Therefore, trade policies need to be corrected and countries and communities ought to regain sovereignty over their food. This will enable the rebuilding of local food systems and their sustainable evolution.

    The Madrid high level conference brought together these two groups on 26-27 January . The food sovereignty militants were in the fringes, and the rich ran the debates, Davos style. Needless to say, they did not see eye to eye on anything, except the diagnosis of the problem. So we haven’t advanced very much. One must remember, however, that the WTO Doha round on agriculture has been derailed because of the joint efforts of the rich and the poor. Paradoxically, both the rich countries, headed by the US and the EU, and the food rights militants headed by pressure groups such as the IPC want the Doha Rounds dead: the rich because they want to retain their subsidies and the poor because they do not want a free trade agenda that applies only to them.

    In all this, the Arab Countries are not players. They are net food importers and technologically retarded. The rich among them are looking towards buying colonies in Africa and South East Asia to produce their foods, forgetting that colonial powers were only able to retain their colonies because they had military power. The individual wealth of their rulers may be used to temporarily plug the holes of the financial system, but they are not playing any significant role. They do not control the price of their oil; it is the price of their oil that controls them. They are inert bodies bobbing in the turbulence.



    The Israeli elections represent probably the most critical regional event. The Gaza massacre was one of the activities of the electoral campaign, even though it does not seem to have helped the Kadima party. Netanyahu will probably make it, in spite of the fact that both Likud and Kadima are closer than ever on all important issues. At the end of the day, it won’t make much difference. As someone put it, the murderers are fighting the fascists in the polls. The peace process is dead and buried, under the rubbles of Gaza.

    The polls conducted during the Gaza massacres have shown overwhelming support by Israelis for the murders, in spite of the mounting international pressure. But one has to note that while pressure might have come from the international grassroots, from Nepal to Chile, the rulers of the world except for Venezuela and Bolivia have unanimously sided with Israel. The Israeli terrorist army was cheered by world leaders as it destroyed buildings over the families that inhabited them, using new age weaponry. As Bechir put it in this post, the Gaza massacre was the consecration of a new era in which the ruling world elite states can now commit any kind of crime in the name of their “security” and their “protection”. This is the natural outcome of the Afganistan and Iraq wars. Expect to see more of that, not least from Israel.


    Regionally again, the Iranian nuclear empowerment will continue to occupy the minds of the rulers of the world. Obama appears to want to give it some time, maybe a year. He is too busy with the other dossiers at hand, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and of course the monstrous US economy. He can afford to do that, as Iran is still years away from an atomic bomb. Whoever gets elected in Israel will probably respect the double honeymoon of a new Israeli government and a new US president, but this does not mean that they will not put pressure on Iran via Syria and Lebanon. Something might be cooking.

    Arab regimes are also absent from their own regional geo-politics.


    Meanwhile in Lebanon, all are immersed in the upcoming elections. Sectarian agendas are intersecting with regional agendas: the “moderates” align with the US and Israeli vision for the region, and the “extremists” with the Iranian and Syrian plans. Of course, the moderates are pretty extreme in their moderation, and the extremists are quite nicely moderated by Iran and Syria. Each side is trying to strengthen their position, but there is really not much they can do. Lebanon will continue to be a failed state. This does not mean that one cannot die from a stray bullet or an inadvertent car bomb. All it means is that the sectarian parties fighting it in Lebanon today will not -cannot- bring the much longed for social justice. Unfortunately, these parties enjoy broad popular support, which they obtain through a combination of money and fear.

    However, one must keep in mind that any agenda that intersects with the Israeli agenda must be opposed by any means. This is not only because Israel is racist entity established on land stolen from Palestinians, following their massacre and mass displacement. This is not only because Israel still occupies large parts of South Lebanon, including 7 villages from Jabal `Amel it has annexed in 1948. This is not only because Israel has repeatedly destroyed Lebanon and cold bloodedly killed and maimed thousands of civilians over the past 60 years. It is also because we have a moral and ethical duty to fight racism and discrimination and injustice wherever they exist. If our greater goal is social justice and equity, then this goal is incompatible with the existence of entities where racism, discrimination and injustice are institutionalized.

    The struggle against Zionism takes many forms. Arab states have dismally failed in their attempts to oppose the 5th largest army of the world with conventional military means. Israel has consistently shown utter disrespect for any international convention, resolution or agreement, and its roguishness has been encouraged by its western protectors. The UN and the “International Community” clearly do not constitute effective platform to confront Israel. The Resistance has been able to advance the cause much more than all the Arab armies and diplomacies together. If it wasn’t for the operations of the PLO between 1963 and 1982 (with all the criticism one can have about these operations), the Palestinians would have met the same fate as the Native Americans, and would be parked in reservations throughout the Arab World. The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon has, in 2000 and again in 2006, shown that Israel could be defeated. Most recently, Hamas’s ability to withstand the blows without bowing made this small, ill equipped, disorganized group claim victory over its historical oppressors.

    However, these “victories” are coming at great costs, and reflect the state of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness in which the Arabs, especially the Palestinians and the Lebanese are. What else can you call the fact that we feel victorious because not all of us have been killed?

    The struggle

    The Gaza massacre has created a wave of international popular outrage against Israel. There were demonstrations in most countries of the world and some are still taking place to this date. Internet communication has facilitated the organization and the linkages between activists in the whole world. However, one has to read the event very objectively.

    There are few newcomers to these demonstrations. There are few new supporters. The power of the existing supporters from civil society, in the Arab World and worldwide is still very limited and their numbers are very small: we are talking of thousands when we need millions, tens of millions. The few who are committed are dispersed, atomized, and often in disagreement over core issues. In the Arab world, they are severely repressed and have to be acceptable to the State in order to demonstrate, which paralyzes their discourse. This is why, in spite of the great efforts made by civil society movements in the Arab World and elsewhere, and in spite of the tremendous facilities offered by web-based communications, I disagree with Sate` Noureddeene’s statement in this recent op-ed in Al Safir, in which he predicts that armed struggle will soon be replaced by civil society struggle, as desirable as this might be. In the wake of Gaza and considering the current dynamics of Israeli politics and the endless subservience of Arab leadership, it looks like armed struggle by highly trained and well armed guerilla groups will continue to be the Resistance’s approach to confronting Zionist aggression. As my friend K put it: "not until the Mossad starts assassinating civil society activist will I start to believe in the superiority of vigils and banner-waving over Grad rockets and kornet anti-tank missiles."

    However, the Resistance needs political and financial support from at least one international pole. It cannot exist and operate in a political vacuum, or without money. This, of course, brings us back to the financial crisis and to regional geopolitics.

    How cute

    "Ynet, February 2, 2009 - An initiative of "Let the Animals Live" brought the minister of defense to allow the entry of trucks, loaded with food and medicine, into Gaza, in order to take care of sick and needy animals in distress.

    "Let the Animals Live Israel" together with a Palestinian animals welfare organization with the Coordination and Liaison office in Gaza, and other international organizations, has arranged for a delivery of food and medicine supplies to benefit the animals in Gaza in general and specifically the Gaza Zoo...."

    The US did a similar stunt in Lebanon during the July 2006 Israeli aggression. They took away animals form the shelters, while they gave Israel intelligent bombs to destroy buildings over their inhabitants. Zionist doctrine: Arabs are lower than animals, except subservient Arabs, who are like domestic animals.

    Bloody parsley

    Parsley harvesting under fire: you have to see this youtube video from Gaza.

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    Class Struggle Not Over

    "Une classe dominante mondialisée ne pourra être contestée que par des classes dominées elles-mêmes mondialisées, ou en voie de l'être."

    "A global ruling class can only be countered by an underclass that is globalised"

    Simultaneous vigil: Mothers across the world for Gaza

    T O D A Y

    Please join us on the global vigil for the children and families of Gaza.
    So far groups from 13 different cities across the Arab World, Africa, Europe and North America have come together to offer sympathy and solidarity.
    Come and join us on the Beirut vigil. Details below.

    أيها الأصدقاء -

    تضامنا مع الشعب الفلسطيني وتعزية لأمهات وعائلات غزة، ستقام تجمّعات في ثلاثة عشر مدينة على الأقل من حول العالم لتذكر الشهداء والوقوف بجانب الأمهات والعائلات، يوم الأحد 8 شباط 2009 والذي يصادف ذكرى "الأربعين" على استشهاد أول طفل في غزة.

    ستقام التجمّعات بأوقات متزامنة في بيروت وعمان و نابلس و دبي و ديري و بالو ألتو و أدمونتون و هلسنكي و باليبوفي و بويزي و كايب تاون و مانشستر و إيست لانسنغ و ... حيث ستُتلى اسماء الأطفال الشهداء تذكيرا وتأكيدا على أن الأطفال والنساء والرجال الذين قتلوا خلال الحرب الإسرائيلية على غزة هم أشخاص سلبوا من حياتهم فردا فردا.

    اليوم، وبالرغم من وقف إطلاق النار، لا يزال الحصار مستمراً على غزة، والحرب على الأراضي الفلسطينية المحتلّة لم تنته، وفلسطين لا زالت رهينة.

    هدفنا أن نلتقي لنعبّر عن تضامننا مع أهل غزة، ولنؤكّد بأننا لم ننسى المئات من الأطفال الذين استشهدوا ولن نتجاهل الحصار الوحشي المستمر على غزة.

    لنلتقي مجدداً...

    قدموا تعازيكم،

    شاركوا مع أطفالكم،

    مع شموعكم،

    مع يافطاتكم،

    باللباس السوداء،

    تضامنوا من أهل غزة

    المكان: كورنيش رملة البيضاء (مقابل مطعم العجمي- الواجهة البحرية) - بيروت

    التاريخ: الأحد 8 شباط 2009، 5- 6.30 بعد الظهر

    - أمهات حول العالم يعزّين أمهات غزّة ( منى، ألين، لبنى، مهى، رمله، ربى ,ريما، تسولين، ميساء، هبة، سونيا، آمال، نجوى ...)

    للمزيد من المعلومات و لمعرفة المزيد عن النشاطات في باقي المدن: فايس بوك:

    Dear Friends,

    On Sunday, February 8, 2009 mothers in at least THIRTEEN cities around the world will be gathering with their children, families and friends in solidarity with the Palestinian people, offering their support and condolences to the mothers and families in Gaza.

    Marking the 40th day anniversary of the death of the first child in Gaza, we are gathering in Beirut, in Amman, in Nablus, in Dubai, in Derry, in Palo Alto, in Edmonton, in Helsinki, in Manchester, in Ballybofey, in Boise, in East Lansing, and in Cape Town, ... These gatherings of mourning are called to fight the de-humanization of the children, women and men killed in the Israeli war on Gaza, by reciting out loud the name of each child killed.

    Today, despite the ceasefire, the siege on Gaza has not been lifted, the war on the occupied Palestinian territories has not ended, and Palestine remains hostage. We gather to show our solidarity with the people of Gaza, to show that we have not forgotten the deaths of hundreds of children and that we will not ignore the on-going blockade.

    Three weeks ago, on January 18, 2009 more than 500 women, children and men gathered at the Beirut shore at sunset to collectively express our outrage at the devastating Israeli war on Gaza, and to show our solidarity with Palestinians under siege.

    We will be doing it again, this time in global solidarity.

    Come with your children

    Hold a candle

    Make a banner

    Wear black

    Take a stand

    Place: Ralmet el-Bayda Corniche (Facing Al-Ajami on the sea front)

    Date: Sunday February 8th, 2009; 5-6:30pm.

    - Mothers Across the World for Gaza (Aline, Lubna, Maha, Ramla, Ruba, Rima, Tsolin, Maisaa, Hibah, Sonya, Amal, Najwa....)

    For more information visit and the related events in each city.

    Fair trade in an unfair world

    "Before the days of Israel's crippling siege of the Gaza Strip, six women's couscous processing cooperatives were in operation in Gaza, built on the foundation of the above criteria. Their products, however, did not bear a fair trade certification mark that made the product instantly and internationally recognized as being fair trade. They were, however, exported by the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), a member of the International Federation for Alternative Trade (IFAT, recently renamed the World Fair Trade Organization), so there is no question as to whether or not the products were actually fair trade. With the help of the Fair Trade department of PARC, which also provided their founding infrastructure, these co-ops exported more than 100 tons of couscous in 2006 to fair trade organizations all over Europe. That initiative had so much potential and seemed like a viable and promising avenue for economic development -- "had" being the pivotal word."

    Saturday, February 7, 2009

    Greeks against greed

    "On Feb. 2, about 1,000 Greek farmers and their supporters were prepared to drive tractors and agricultural vehicles through Athens to the Agriculture Ministry. Riot police fired tear gas to prevent the action, which had been organized against government policies that hurt small- and medium-sized farmers. Additional clashes took place the next day."

    Friday, February 6, 2009

    Development and security

    JMP - Human security or human rights -- this seems to be the question. Don't you think that the use of the expression 'human security' means a lower level of demand of social transformation than the one included in a human rights --centred approach?

    "DS - Yes, those pressures for social transformation will be lower, certainly if the narrow version of the human security paradigm (‘freedom from fear’, focused on individuals and open violence) continues to eclipse the broader version, which embraces whole social categories and their social and economic rights (‘freedom from want’). The latter, with their redistributive implications, are not on the agenda of major western powers. That can be seen for example in the US State Department’s annual reports on human rights in non- Western countries.

    Talk of human security, like talk about human rights in their restricted sense, helps frame power relations. It asserts a prerogative of the powerful to say whose rights are to be respected, whose not respected, and to say who shall be system of domination now in place -– a risky thing, given that “stabilisation” practices have a way of triggering a lot of instability. Look at Afghanistan and Pakistan today.

    JMP - With the so-called 'war on terrorism', it seems to have occurred a return to traditional security concepts and policies. Did human security lose intensity within the framework of the global war on terror?

    DS - Certainly. In European, and now even US military doctrine, we are witnessing ‘mission creep’ toward socio-economic engineering and ‘nation-building’. New rules of engagement are today both hard and ‘soft’. An announcement by the Pentagon two years ago seems to have escaped the notice of many: it proclaimed that “stability operations are a core US Military mission” that will henceforth enjoy “priority comparable to combat operations”. In Iraq, this has been translated into sub-doctrines like “Employ money as a weapons system”. The Obama administration is going to apply such “stabilisation” doctrines with greater intensity in places like Afghanistan . In Africa , where Western publics are told that both “energy security” and “terrorism” are at stake, the Pentagon is quietly assuming supreme command over American foreign aid and development designs. Given such trends, it is hard to imagine human security in its broad definition gaining any intensity, except for advertising and public relations purposes. Centre for Social Research, University of Coimbra"

    David Sogge interview in TNI


    In Badael today: my editorial "One sickle!" a call for Lebanese farmers to unite around a common agenda. Rana Hayek on the outcomes of the Madrid conference on the food crisis.

    Thursday, February 5, 2009

    Land of poverty and inequality

    31% of the Lebanese are poor and 3% are obscenely rich, says this UN report (Arabic article)
    in 2 parts

    Palestinians in Lebanon: new study

    "Although Palestinian refugees cannot legally contribute much to the Lebanese economy through employment, the sheer amount of them living in the country (more than 400,000) means they count for 10 per cent ($352 million) of all private consumption in Lebanon. Food, healthcare and rent constitute their top spending priorities.

    The report also found that despite a 60-year presence in Lebanon and extreme vulnerability as a group, Palestinian refugees "do not appear to have constituted a burden on the safety net system provided by the Lebanese welfare system." The report stated UNRWA, NGOs and faith-based organizations represented the primary safety net for the Palestinian refugee community.

    Palestinians also contributed to "invigorating" the areas surrounding their camps by creating low-cost markets for low-income and other marginalized communities in Lebanon. The "Sabra, Ein el-Hilweh and Nahr al-Bared camp markets are recognized as major informal economic hubs for the poor," said the report, adding that the destruction of Nahr al-Bared during the battles of 2007 had "resulted in a gap in the Akkar" region in northern Lebanon for such communities."

    Fish harm

    "The northern Egyptian governorate of Kafr Al-Sheikh is planning to establish fish farms in northern parts of Lake Burullus, but a local NGO says the farms would threaten the environment and the livelihoods of local fishermen." (Thanks Rania and Marcy)

    Parsley harvesting in Gaza

    "I was fairly certain that one of us would be shot today."

    Land Grab

    "Take Mali for example. Mali, like several other countries in West Africa,
    recently went from being a net rice exporter to being a major importer. Now
    the government has embarked on a multimillion-dollar national rice
    initiative that is supposed to restore self-sufficiency by helping the
    country's farmers to produce more. Why then has the government handed over
    an enormous tract of prime rice land to a Libyan investment fund and Chinese
    companies?" (Thanks Rania)

    Marsh Arabs

    "The water went and now look at us," said Marsh Arab Zuhair al-Haideri. "Our situation is terrible. We are of this water, the fish, the birds, the reeds and buffalo. Now the marsh is dried. Where's the help?"

    Jack Sparrow says:

    "Quick question: Why are more than a dozen of the world's navies converging on Somalia to battle pirates there instead of sailing into New York to capture the Wall Street pirates?"

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    NGOs in the financial crisis

    “NGOs cannot be stand-alone actors,” says Zurayk. “They need a state behind them.”

    Monday, February 2, 2009

    Gaza food crisis

    "Van Nieuwenhuyse said: "Already, the price of meat has tripled since the Israeli operation began. What is more worrying is the situation over vegetables. Protein we can help with, but before this there were already deficiencies in the diet. Now they will have to rely on Israel."

    It was a view echoed by Hassan Abu Etah, the deputy agriculture minister in Gaza. "It has all been hugely damaged. And it affects all of Gaza, not simply the farmers. We produced some of what we needed. It makes you wonder whether they wanted to change Gaza from production to consumption."" (Thanks Marcy)

    Inside Al-Shifa Hospital

    "A Special Report by Dr's Erik Fosse and Mats Gilbert was published in The Lancet, Volume 373, Issue 9659, Pages 200 - 202, 17 January 2009. The report title is Inside Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital, and it is made available free of charge by The Lancet. The report is an objective description of what Fosse and Gilbert witnessed during their stay in Gaza in the beginning of January 2009. Descriptive statistics of Palestinian casualties including injured and dead women and children (figure to the right) are provided in the Special Report. A Panel with 3 paediatric cases seen by Dr Gilbert are also described. Downoad the Special Report from The Lancet here.

    The Lancet issue also contains an Editorial with the title The medical conditions in Gaza, and a Comment with the title Gaza - a symptom of an insufficiently acknowledged cause by Iain Chalmers. Finally, another Special Report with the title Medical facilities under intense pressure in Gaza by Jan McGirk is in the Lancet issue." (Thanks Muna)

    Rotten weather

    3 important news items in Al Safir today:

    1. The brown rot crisis: Potatoes allegedly produced in Lebanon and exported through Syria were found to be infected with brown rot. This is a very infectious soil-borne bacterial disease that can decimate whole harvests. Products from countries which are found to have brown rots are rejected in order to stop the spread of the infection. The brown rot crisis emerges every year, and Syria uses it to put pressure on Lebanon, but it looks like this time it is for real. The cause is most likely to be Egyptian potatoes and seed potatoes which are imported and re-exported (for potatoes) an imported illegally (for seed potatoes). This is what happens when you have no control, and rapid profits are more important than system building.

    2. The drought: in spite of the few days of rainfall we've recently had, we are still below the annual average: 238mm in the Bekaa, while the long term average for this time of the year is 355mm.

    3. The water crisis could turn nasty: More on the Oyoun Urghush springs and the local water conflicts.

    The politics of protection

    Read in full this brilliant post by Bech at Remarkz

    "A discourse of human rights sanctifies and makes it possible for this political Frankenstein to exist. The question to ask is when does the Palestinian question fall within a discourse on human right (which would then only make it a legitimate claim ‘respected’ by the West) and when does it fall outside of it? The politically dominant strives to push it outside of the ‘civilized’ discourse in order to legitimizes more killing while the world looks at it oblivious because it becomes ‘logical’ that Israel or someone else acts this way. You can kill much more recklessly when you are on the side of liberalism.

    One sad point here is that the Palestinian question will only acquire saliency when it fully complies with this discourse, something most western-educated Palestinians or pro-Palestinians strive to achieve. One will always look at Hamas with ‘reservation’ because at the end of the day Hamas is not inscribed in this discourse, neither through its claims (calling for the destruction of Israel) nor through its practices (hitting ‘civilian’ targets). That is the biggest tragedy. One cannot actually make a case that Israel as a political entity with the history it projects should be destroyed. Or maybe one can, but it will take a lot of other subverting strategies. And weapons, lots of them…"

    Simultaneous vigil for the Gaza victims

    Plans are beginning to take shape for the vigil for the victims of Gaza on Sunday the 8th of February. So far, several groups have come forward and are organizing simultaneous events across the Middle East, Europe and the US. The date was chosen because it approximately coincides with the 40th day commemoration of the first child killed. (The 40th day marks an important day of mourning in the Arab world.)

    There will be simultaneous vigils in Beirut, Amman, Nablus, Helsinki, Tokyo, Dubai, Dublin and San Jose (Ca). There me be more locations, but I don't have the full list. For more details on who and how, check this post on Marcy's blog

    Sunday, February 1, 2009

    Rice in Africa

    "Hoping to take advantage of high global food prices that brought many poor nations to the brink of chaos last year, farmers across West Africa are reaping what experts say is one of the best harvests in recent memory.

    But after investing and borrowing heavily to expand their production, these farmers also run the risk of being wiped out as global food prices plummet.

    The price of unprocessed rice in Senegal has steadily fallen from its peak early last year of more than $30 per 110-pound sack. The drop has not been as drastic as the ones experienced in corn and wheat markets across the world. But the price for rice needs to be at least $20 for farmers here to make a profit, and as the harvest approached late last year, the price was hovering at $22 a sack.

    “I am worried,” said Mrs. Diop, a 57-year-old trader and farmer. “I can double my money. Or I can lose everything.”" (Thanks D.)

    D. sent me this article from the NYT a while ago. But I was too immersed in the Gaza crisis to be able to post or comment. I asked my brother, who works in rice trading in Africa, to give me his opinion. He was sick with malaria and could not respond. But he is better now, and here is his take, from the expert's mouth:

    Sorry for being so late, was really sick, malaria, barely recovering now, still very dizzy..Here is my opinion regarding the subject, not sure usable in your blog but good for your info
    True, local farmers in African rice producing countries are investing in increasing acreage / yield because of a re-rise in international prices..They do risk a lot in this game: 1) This is expected to be short term, 2) this (price increase) affects mostly Thai rice for the time being, and 3) is expected to reverse upon re-entry of India in the export game, sometimes around April-May..4) local prices are not determined solely by international prices but by numerous parameters including local inventories in tonnes..this usually leads to conflicting price trends (international goes up and local goes down or vice versa)
    About rice prices and volatility:
    Rice prices are behaving unpredictably and all analysts went wrong in their forecasts
    After the super surge peaking at >750$/MT for the thai parboiled rice (as an example), previsions were that it would go down to 400$ Q1 09 then 300$ Q2-Q4 09.
    In reality, it went from 750 to 520$ then went up to 650$, after the intervention of thai government in price fixing / inventories hoarding (allegedly to protect local farmers) .
    No one knows which trend prices will follow but one thing is for sure: it is a global market and local players in Africa (importers and producers alike) do increase prices of local stocks / crops whenever international prices increase, creating short term opportunistic wealth .
    The thing about rice is that it is at the same time a) virtual, like a stock market, reacting to usual speculative actions and generating instant trading wealth, b) physical, since quantities are actually traded and moved along the supply chain down to consumption markets where physical supply (presence of rice stocks) and demand (willingness to consume) determine price equilibrium and commercial wealth generated and c) the basic commodity of 50% of humanity
    3 goods things about last year’s commodities prices crisis, which I witnessed myself

    - Production and consumption of local rice and rice-equivalent staple food (corn, millet, yam) increased a lot, responding to high rice prices by a consumption shift to local alternatives, making African population less imports-dependant

    - Increased profit prospects from high rice prices pushed farmers to increase planted area (Burkina, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Niger)

    - Big players, exporters, importers traders alike lost loads of money when prices crashed and will still lose a lot till they clear all their current inventories of very expensive rice

    Finally it is worth noting that no player along the supply chain, country or trader, has an interest in rice becoming cheap again