Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Organic efficiency

"Switching to organic is tough for many families who don’t want to pay higher prices or give up their favorite foods. But by choosing organic versions of just a few foods that you eat often, you can increase the percentage of organic food in your diet without big changes to your shopping cart or your spending.

The key is to be strategic in your organic purchases. Opting for organic produce, for instance, doesn’t necessarily have a big impact, depending on what you eat. According to the Environmental Working Group, commercially-farmed fruits and vegetables vary in their levels of pesticide residue. Some vegetables, like broccoli, asparagus and onions, as well as foods with peels, such as avocados, bananas and oranges, have relatively low levels compared to other fruits and vegetables." (Thanks Ayman)

The worst products according to the study: Milk, potatoes, peanut butter, ketchup, apples. For those interested: Healthy Basket has daily supplies (almost daily) of organic, certified apples, potatoes, and home-made ketchup. Alas no milk.


"“It will be a place people visit like Bilbao or Stonehenge, an international destination,” said Laura Starr, a New York landscape architect and former design chief for Central Park who has been an adviser on this park from the start.

Hiriya took its name from a neighboring Arab village that was abandoned in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, in which Mr. Sharon, then 20, commanded a brigade. Mr. Weyl recalls how he first took Mr. Sharon up the mountain to get his support, and how Mr. Sharon’s face lit up. Surveying the landscape, Mr. Weyl says, Mr. Sharon waxed nostalgic about having “fought here and fought there.”

The site was earmarked as the Tel Aviv area dump in 1952. It grew to monstrous proportions — more than half a mile long and rising more than 87 yards above sea level — until the huge flocks of birds scavenging for food began to endanger the planes flying in and out of the airport.""

I especially like the reference to an Arab village that was "abandoned" by the Arabs and where young Sharon (aka the butcher of Sabra and Chatila) fought. "Abandoned"? Ethnically cleansed villages are "abandoned"? Then again, its the NYT...


"The legacy of American banana corporations is a dark one. Earlier this year, Chiquita admitted to paying $1.7 million to a rightwing Colombian paramilitary group that is considered a terrorist organization by the US government. Chiquita is one of five major multinationals that dominate the US banana industry, controlling over 95% of the business.

However, there is an alternative to these corporate-controlled bananas that is growing in both producing and consuming countries.

In Costa Rica, Chiquita used to rule the banana trade until it pulled out in 1980 following a devastating hurricane. Some of its ex-workers joined together to form the Coopetrabasur cooperative. Together they purchased the Chiquita plantation, and now each of its 70 members own a piece of the land. As a Fair Trade banana producer, Coopetrabasur has developed measures to protect the environment, expand business, and improve the quality of life for its members." (Thanks Marcita)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Eat this!

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is poised to end a voluntary moratorium on the sale of dairy and meat from cloned cattle, goats, pigs and sheep, after it ruled last year that the food is safe for humans. The agency published a health risk assessment in December that noted high death rates among cloned animals and host mothers, partly because of incidents of ‘large animal syndrome’ in cloned cattle and sheep." (Thanks D.)

Just a small note for those USDA prime beef lovers. Remember Lebanon does not have a ruling on GMOs or on cloned meat. And even if it had, it would never be able to control. Not that the government would want to curtail imports from the US...

Tolstoy and land

Tolstoy and land The full text of the letter (see previous post) (Thanks Thaer Daem)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Land and Tolstoy

From a letter of Tolstoy to the Federation of Single Tax Leagues in Austria, October 20, 1908:

"The supposed right of landed property now lies at the foundation not only of economic misery, but also of political disorder, and, above all, the deprivation of the people. The wealthy ruling classes, foreseeing the loss of the advantages of their position inevitable with the solution of the problem, are endeavouring, with all their power, to postpone as long as possible its solution. But as 50 years ago the time came for the abolition of man's supposed right of property over man, so the time has come for the abolition of the supposed right of property in land, which affords the possibility of appropriating other people's labour."

If you can find the whole text of the letter, please point me to it.

India, Brazil, Lebanon: meme combat

Read the full article, well worth it

""I haven't got any rights on my land," said Prem Bai from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. "I have got four boys and can hardly manage the family with few days' work labouring on other's fields. If we go to forests then the forest department arrests us. Our life is very difficult."

Others say their land is being grabbed by local mafias and corrupt officials. Shikari Baiga, 25, says land his family was cultivating was grabbed by local officials to grow biofuels on. Hailing from the Baiga tribe, a people with a distinctive language and culture in India's Chhattisgarh state, progress - and land rights - have eluded his community for hundreds of years. "I was put in jail for one year for demanding our land back. Fourteen families lost 75 acres [30 hectares]. But they tell us: where are your [patta]?. We can do nothing. That is why we are going to Delhi to get justice."

Land is an important and sensitive issue in most developing countries and growing numbers of poor people are demanding reform of its ownership and use after centuries of inequitable distribution.

The Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) in Brazil has an estimated 1 .5 million members who have occupied and farmed many millions of acres of unproductive land in the past 20 years.

The MST is now mirrored across Latin America with growing peasant and indigenous groups in Ecuador and Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile taking back land. They are supported by powerful international peasant groups such as Via Campesina which now works in 87 countries where land reform is recognised as a major problem.

Land reform in Africa is led by the Landless People's Movement in South Africa which argues that the official redistribution process is not fast enough for landless rural people. As in Brazil, land reform in Africa is seen as critical in redressing centuries of dispossession.

Many land reform groups are now linked and an international political movement is emerging. Almost all landless movements lobby for the right to grow food for themselves and not for export, ecological agriculture and an end to GM farming." (Thanks D.)

Many Lebanese do not have deeds to their lands. Many in my village of the south have been cultivating as share croppers for hundred years land that belongs to rich absentee landlords without any-any- rights, meaning they can be kicked out any time.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Flab grab

I'm blogging in full Felicity Lawrence's review of Raj Patel's book: Stuffed and Starved. Read the first paragraph and you'll understand why. Patel used to work at the World Bank. It's amazing how much death bed conversions you see these days. Both ways: look at Sarkozy's lefty team: Kushner for foreign affairs and Strauss-Khannat the IMF...

"Unless you are a corporate food executive, the food system isn't working for you. If you are one of the world's rural poor dependent on agriculture for your livelihood - and roughly half the global population of 6 billion fall into this category - you are likely to be one of the starved. If you are an urban consumer, whether an affluent metropolitan or slum-dwelling industrial labourer, you are likely to be one of the stuffed, suffering from obesity or other diet-related ills.

Raj Patel's fascinating first book examines this apparent paradox. His thesis is that the simultaneous existence of nearly 1 billion who are malnourished and nearly 1 billion who are overweight is in fact the inevitable corollary of a system in which a handful of corporations have been allowed to capture the value of the food chain. Moreover, government policies through history have been designed to control our food. Their aim has been to provide cheap food for the urban masses and so prevent dissent at home. The instruments of colonial command may have been replaced with newer mechanisms that give a greater role to the private sector, but control our food they still do with disastrous social consequences, despite all the neo-liberal rhetoric of free trade and choice.

Patel's range is impressive, taking us from the soaring suicide rates among Indian farmers faced with a 20% fall in rural income after liberalisation of agriculture and trade, to the emergence of social movements among the landless in Brazil and Africa, and the sophisticated manipulation of consumers in the rich north.

Patel uses the Mexican experience as one among several telling examples of what has gone wrong. The North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) in 1994 was the first to unite the economies of two rich countries and a poor one. Some 60% of cultivated land in Mexico at the time was used to grow corn, the key staple of the population. One of the arguments for free trade is that by forcing producers to compete with each other, prices fall, helping the mass of urban poor. The price of corn on the Mexican market indeed collapsed as US imports flowed in. US corn farmers are heavily subsidised by their government, and small Mexican producers were never going to be able to compete. The livelihoods of 3 million farmers, 8% of the population, were decimated. But the urban poor didn't benefit. Most Mexicans eat their corn in the form of tortillas, made from corn flour. The price of tortillas didn't fall as free market logic would lead you to expect; instead it went up seven-fold. As part of liberalisation the Mexican government removed some of the supports that kept tortillas cheap in government stores. But just two processors control 97% of the Mexican industrial cornflour market; so it was they who captured the value of the fall in corn prices. Nafta is said to have forced 1.3 million Mexicans off their land, swelling the numbers of urban poor, leading to a fall in urban industrial wages, and an increased flow of illegal workers to the US. Poverty rates overall increased 50%. Meanwhile, Mexicans have become fat. A spike in obesity levels has followed the changes in diet that accompanied urbanisation. International retail has arrived too with Wal-Mart in its Mexican Wal-Mex incarnation taking three out of every 10 pesos spent on food in the country. It is a pattern repeated around the world and through history.

Britain as imperial power pioneered the grain trade, encouraging India and others to sell their wheat stocks, bringing famine back to Asia, but providing cheap food for its factory workers and keeping insurrection at home at bay. After the second world war the US used its agricultural surpluses as food aid to head off the communist threat.

More recently, international financial institutions and debt have been used to make countries cede decisions about their food production to their creditors. Patel used to work for the World Bank and is excellent on all this.

Now 40% of world trade in food is controlled by transnational agricultural corporations in strategic partnerships with biotech seed and pesticide companies such as Monsanto, and they pull the levers.

Fighting back against this is the movement to regain "food sovereignty" or the people's right to define their own agriculture and food policies. The idea originated with the global network of peasant farmer organisations, Via Campesina, and has been honed through the early 2000s. Patel sees it as the hope for the future and ends with an impassioned call to action. The "honey trap" of ethical consumerism will not do it, he says; we must organise and reclaim our control of the food system, just as the landless in Brazil and cooperatives in America and Europe have done. Some of this is familiar territory. Aid agencies such as Oxfam, ActionAid and Christian Aid have argued the case on free trade agreements. Sidney Mintz has described the relationship between patterns of consumption and patterns of trade between empire and slave colony in his brilliant history of sugar. But Patel puts all these threads together compellingly, and there is much that is original.

The debate on food sovereignty will become more clamorous, though questions remain. The models Patel holds up for a new sustainable food system are Cuba and the Landless Movement of Brazil. The former was forced to reinvent its agriculture after the collapse of Soviet Union deprived it of its oil and the US embargo prevented it buying stocks elsewhere, but it has depended on a totalitarian ability to impose on consumers and producers. The landless of Brazil, educated first in the ways of cooperative action in tough land occupations, find, as Patel says, that their children are drawn away to the material pleasures of the city. Will soaring commodity prices change the picture?

This is a book full of insight, that makes an important contribution to understanding that the politics of food is not a narrow matter of shopping, ethical or otherwise. It involves the urgent study of globalisation and social justice, and the politics of modern capitalism itself.

· Felicity Lawrence's Eat Your Heart Out: Who Really Decides What Ends Up on Your Plate, will be published by Viking next spring

Corporate killers

"Marketing junk food to children has to become socially unacceptable, a leading obesity expert will say today, warning that the food industry has done too little voluntarily to help avert what a major report this week will show is a "far worse scenario than even our gloomiest predictions". "Our diet-related health should no longer be a casualty in a battleground where every advance is resisted to defend short-term market share and profit. The food business will do best with clearly agreed goals on changes to our foods," he will say.

Banning the advertising of junk food during children's television programmes is not enough, he will say. All kinds of marketing must be addressed. "We must go much further in protecting children ... we need to make it socially unacceptable to peddle to children and that means big supermarkets and small retailers really changing their approach.""

Child obesity

"The number of six- to 10-year-olds who become obese will keep rising relentlessly until the late 2040s, with as many as half of all primary school-age boys and one in five girls dangerously overweight by 2050, according to the document."

Meat your fate

"Eating red meat and drinking alcohol in even small quantities increases the risk of developing cancer, a group of world renowned scientists will warn this week."

Nile food

"I stumbled on a fairly recent (2006) summary of aquaculture in Africa which at first sight suggests an incredibly impressive expansion in the use of aquatic agrobiodiversity — something like a five-fold increase in tonnage in the past ten years or so.1 A closer look, however, shows that most of that increase has occurred in a single country: Egypt accounted for 83% of African aquaculture production in 2004, and 42% of that was Nile tilapia. The industry does seem to be diversifying a bit in terms of species, but not much, judging by the graphs. I hope there isn’t a bust coming after this boom…"

Saturday, October 27, 2007


"He was shocked by what he was told about conditions in Hebron and diplomats say he was genuinely taken aback by his trip to the West Bank sector of the Jordan Valley – where Palestinians are allowed to dig wells only a third as deep as Israelis – at the exploitation of resources by the rich Jewish agricultural settlements at the expense of closed in Palestinian farmers."


"In the United Arab Emirates a sheep is trussed and tipped onto the floor of an abattoir from a wheelbarrow. In Kuwait a sheep lands on its back after being pushed from a truck. In Jordan, a bull is whacked with a metal pole and then stabbed to death. This is the evidence from the latest investigation by Animals Australia."

Meat again


"Some people live lightly on the land: Bedouin clans roam the deserts of the Middle East and North Africa; small groups of indigenous people follow reindeer herds across frigid Arctic terrain; and tribes of hunter-gatherers forage the plains of southern Africa and the forests of Amazonia and Papua New Guinea.

Overall, nearly one-quarter of Earth's land-based biological productivity ends up in people's hands and bellies, Erb and his colleagues estimate. Other research suggests that people appropriate a comparable, but slightly smaller, share of the ocean's productivity—defined as the mass of photosynthetic organisms at the base of the sea's food chain."

Da soulution

"The farmers are happy. "This has really been an exceptional year," one farmer told AFP as he surveyed his crop near a village high in the Bekaa Valley. "If the state leaves us in peace for the next three years, our agricultural crisis will be over and we should be out of the woods," he added."

Guess who's next?

"In January 2006, the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the United
States and Morocco went into effect. The FTA represents an important step
towards President Bush's vision of a Middle East Free Trade Area and is the
first in Africa. The U.S.-Morocco FTA eliminated tariffs on 95% of bilateral
trade in consumer and industrial products with all remaining tariffs to be
eliminated within nine years. The negotiations produced a comprehensive
agreement covering not only market access but also intellectual property
rights protection, transparency in government procurement, investments,
services, and e-commerce. The FTA provides new trade and investment
opportunities for both countries and will encourage economic reforms and
liberalization already underway."

Socialist worker

Jordan's Baduw and Lebanon food prices find their way into Socialist Worker

India water

"The Sukinda valley is one of two parts of India named 2007’s ten most polluted places (PDF) in the world by an international environmental group. With 16 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of the freshwater, India wallows in water problems caused by rapid economic expansion, inadequate response to population changes, and other environmental challenges. Most rivers in the country, even the Ganges, “the most sacred of rivers (,” choke with pollution, especially untreated urban sewage (Spiegel) from ever growing cities—making water unfit for drinking, bathing, and in some cases, irrigation." (thanks D.)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Steak trop tard

"According to a 2005 University of Chicago study, a lacto-ovo vegetarian emits far less greenhouse gas than a counterpart adhering to the standard, meat-rich American diet—the difference is equivalent to around 1.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, assuming the same daily caloric intake. (The study's authors thus claim that going vegetarian has the same effect on carbon dioxide emissions as switching from a Chevrolet Suburban to a Toyota Camry.) The savings mostly come about because of the disparity between the fossil fuel required to produce a calorie's worth of grain vs. that needed to make a calorie's worth of beef; grain is nearly a dozen times more efficient in this regard. Cattle are also a huge source of methane, a particularly noxious greenhouse gas; it's estimated that bovines are responsible for roughly triple the methane emissions of the American coal industry.

But Eshel hastens to add...that your vegan acquaintance isn't necessarily some environmental saint. That's because direct carbon dioxide emissions are only part of the story when it comes to food's eco-impact. You also have to look at the issue of land use—specifically how much and what sort of land is required to sustain an agricultural enterprise. In a region with poor-to-mediocre soil, for example, it may be more efficient to operate a well-managed egg farm than to try growing vegetables that can't flourish under such conditions. And animals are handy at consuming low-quality grain that isn't necessarily fit for human consumption. (Rather than going to waste, that grain can help create nutrient-rich dairy products.) In fact, a recent Cornell University study concluded that modest carnivorousness may actually be better for the environment than outright vegetarianism, since cattle can graze on inferior land not suitable for crops. Squeezing more calories out of the land means that less food needs be imported from elsewhere, thereby reducing the burning of fossil fuels."

My friend who sent me this article added: "I ate steak tartare for supper last night and the night before."

Disclaimer: I am not a vegetarian


"Why are so many kids dying? Because they can't get the milk, vitamins and minerals their young bodies need. Mothers in these villages can't produce enough milk themselves and can't afford to buy it. Even if they could, they can't store it -- there’s no electricity, so no refrigeration. Powdered milk is useless because most villagers don't have clean water. Plumpynut was designed to overcome all these obstacles.

Plumpynut is a remarkably simple concoction: it is basically made of peanut butter, powdered milk, powdered sugar, and enriched with vitamins and minerals. It tastes like a peanut butter paste. It is very sweet, and because of that kids cannot get enough of it."(Thanks Marcy)

Put your housing loans in orders

"With hundreds of officials and experts convening here over the weekend, the theme this year has not been fear of protesters but of the global impact of the collapse in the American housing sector, which many delegates blame on lax regulations and sleepy regulators in Europe and the United States.

"Allow me to point out the irony of this situation," Finance Minister Guido Mantega of Brazil said, noting that "countries that were references of good governance, of standards and codes for the financial systems" were now "the very countries" whose financial problems threatened global prosperity.

In an interview, Trevor Manuel, the finance minister of South Africa, said: "If one looks at the impact of the subprime crisis in the U.S., the losers are poor citizens who tend to be black and Hispanic. But it is also the large banks with an international profile in Europe and the United States that have taken a beating."" (thanks Yaz)


A friend sent me this, it was circulated in the ministry in which she works.

يها الزملاء الأعزاء:

نود أن نعلمكم بورود مؤشر أسعار الاستهلاك للفصل الثالث من عام 2007،

وقد سجلت الأسعار إرتفاعاً بـ :

المواد الغذائية +10.4%

صيانة مياه وكهرباء وغاز +8.4%

مفروشات +1.1%

التعليم +2.8%

الترفيه +2%

Increase in prices, third trimester 2007: Food: 10.4%, Water, electricity, gas: 8.4%. Furniture: 1.1%, education: 2.8%, entertainment: 2%

Failures of donor's agendas

"Despite the growing interest in water issues among private donors, charity leaders say they still face an uphill struggle to meet all the needs. They say the issue has been a problem for such a long time that donors do not see an urgency. Plus, they must confront other challenges, like the complexity of dealing with water issues, the high failure rate of past water projects, and the ability of other international causes, such as AIDS, to more effectively place themselves on donors' radar screens."

It's a business.

Food fight

Land and People in Ode magazine. (Thanks D.)


The contradictions of relief work. My editorial in the Alternatives page of Al Akhbar. Look also at the article on Shankleesh cheese, a mold-ripened cheese from Lebanon containing 5% fat only. And excellent. (both in Arabic)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Oil and food: Lebanon's trials

The two most important challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century are climate change and peak oil. Both strengthen the argument for enhancing local food production and reducing trade: if regulations are implemented in order to reduce CO2 emissions, then the price of imported food would climb. Similarly, it goes without saying that if oil production starts to decline, then oil will become more expensive and transport costs will rise, biofuel or no biofuel. I short, the expected developments in oil production, trade and use in the next decades will put the whole issue of trade (and fair trade too) under test.

What we are experiencing these days with the vertiginous ascension of oil prices may be a sort of a dry run for what is to come (although some experts seem to believe that this is It, and that the prices will not come down).

How are we dealing with this in Lebanon? Our current response may be an indication of what will happen when oil hits the fan.

Well, the increase in the oil prices is being felt. In today's oped in al safir, Houssam Itani indicates that the increase in fuel prices will cost the government an extra $300 million in electricity. No wonder power cuts are so frequent, especially in the rural areas. In my village, we haven't had electricity for a full 24 hours for years. Now it's 6 hours on-6hours off.

What are the implications on agriculture? I had mentioned earlier that harvests this year were exceptional, and that exports had increased. The bubble seems to have burst, because this report indicates that news are bad for the grape harvest. Grapes from the Bekaa are of course consumed locally, but they are also stored in refrigerated environments and then sold throughout the year on the local market or exported. The problem appears to be that the costs of transport (oil) and of refrigeration (oil again) are too high for export, and that the meager government's electricity supply is not sufficient to cover the needs. Moreover, this year's costs of production were high as the costs of pumping water for irrigation were very high (oil again). By the way, if you read the report i referred to above, note how the farmer who complains about not having received the government's compensation money after the July 2006 war gets told by a government official: "Hizbullah will compensate you don't worry".

Further North in the Bekaa, in the Hermel area, one of the poorest in the country, a milk collection center has stopped operating, in spite of the tremendous hike in world milk prices (which would make it really worthwhile to organize milk production). One reason: the increase in the price of fuel to operate the fridges and the collection vehicles (oil again). But note here the pernicious role of the private sector which creates unregulated cartels, imposes prices and corrupts cooperatives.

In summary, we are locally starting to feel the impact of the rise of oil prices on the food production sector. It does not look good. What is the response of the government? Nothing. The eternal laissez-faire. Not surprisingly, development organizations, with one agenda or the other are moving in to fill the gap.

There are a couple of things to be concluded from this not-so-dry run:

1. The government does nothing for many reasons, one of them is that its core belief is in the free market. It takes it for granted that the market will readjust itself. At what price? Look at the housing loans crash in the US. But if the farm sector crashes, this is not really the concern of this neolib government: its minister of economy and trade said it very clearly.

2. The government has also taken another option: to farm-out the agricultural sector to international NGOs. These NGOs operate independently from each other, and each has its own set of belief, policies and strategies. Some of them, especially (but not exclusively) those funded with USAID money, are here to promote Free Trade as cure-all magic bullet. They are happy to take the role of the state, and the state is happy to have its role taken. However, their goals are narrow, and not integrative. They can only scratch the surface, and suffer from a scaling-up problem. They contend (as I do) that their work provides examples and pilots for replication. Replication by who? Copy-cat development is not a familiar sight in Lebanon, in spite of the tens of millions of dollars that have been spent. Projects unfold and then fold, leaving behind them a trail of reports and few beneficiaries.

3. It is clear from the relationship between oil and food production that issues of agricultural development cannot be addressed piece meal, neither by ministries nor by specialist NGOs. Without an effective state structure, I don't think it is possible to have positive change. This is the only good reason to ask for a consensual government willing to invest time and effort in development. Unfortunately I don't think any of the current players is up to it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

International Potato year

It's the international Year of the Potato, and it's been a great harvest in the Bekaa plain of Lebanon. Sure enough, neighbors have been closing their borders in order to protect their own farmers: Syria has closed its borders to Lebanese potatoes for 18 days and the (resigned) minister of agriculture has been expanding lots of energy trying to reopen them. Syria is however letting transit potatoes in, on their way to the Gulf. The reason? Like each year, Syria is hiding behind the potential threat of potato brown rot, a terrible disease, to prevent the implementation of the Arab Free Trade agreement that would normally keep borders open. But where did Syria get this idea from? Oh from none other than our other neighbors, political allies of the government, free trade aficionados, signatories of the EU free trade agreement and creators of the concept of non-tariff trade barriers: the European Union, which is expanding at least as much political efforts as Syria to make Lebanon a free and sovereign country. Apparently (and I am quoting the minister here) the origin of the brown rot excuse is an incorrect, false, erroneous European report which has been used for years to block entry of Lebanese potatoes to the EU, our friendly neighbors.

Lebanese wine

The wine industry of Lebanon: $25 million a year, of which $10 million are from exports. 7 million bottles a year, of which 3 million are exported.

I like Lebanese wine. 320 sunshine days per year make a difference. And I like the ratio between locally consumed and exported: the Lebanese drink their wine, they don't just produce it for export, and this is a great thing.

Urban Farming

Urban agriculture in Lebanon: the Chweifat plain near Beirut, which people from the Bekaa and the South have been farming for decades. Urban encroachment reduced its size from 7 million m2 to 700,000 m2. This is an interesting place as it is the buffer area between the ever expanding Hayy el Sullum and Amrousiyyeh in the southern suburbs (Shi'a mostly from the Bekaa) and the Druze of Chwiefat. I am told that clashes occur frequently there between youth and not so young, especially that they now belong to politically opposite sides. I am also told that Walid Jumblat is preserving these last hectares of agricultural land in order to block the expansion of the housing from the southern suburbs towards Chweifat, so that this does not pose a danger to his Progressive Socialist Party (sic) in Chweifat. Jumblat is obsessed with the Shi'a expansion towards the druze emirate, but this is another story...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Cotton and hemp

I learned two things in Al Hayat today, but I cant find the links (it has the worst website ever):

One is that Syria produces 55% of the cotton textile it consumes. Apparently cotton is the main Syrian export (and main source of foreign currency) after oil. Syria used to export 70% of its production and manufacture 30%, but this percentage has risen to 55% that is manufactured locally. I read somewhere else (Icarda, I think) that Syria has the highest cotton yields in the world. This year's production was 750,000 tons. I wonder how much better it would do if the US eased its cotton farming subsidies and world prices increased. The latest WTO round on agriculture is being blocked partly because of US cotton subsidies.

The other thing I got from al hayat was the confirmation the the cannabis harvest went on unimpeded in Lebanon this year, the largest harvest since 1992. The Internal Security forces, responsible for eradicating the crop, said: "we wanted to eradicate it, but they threatened us with heavy weapons." The truth is that the government is hanging by a (sectarian) thread and it cannot afford to fight over a livelihoods issue with the Shi'a of the North Bekaa, where most of the hashish is grown. Many maronites also grow it in the area of deir el ahmar in the Bekaa. Estimated value of this years crop: $225 millions. This reminds me that the Lebanese National Center for Scientific Research has re-engaged in the favorite periodic game of the Lebanese government, development organizations and the silly UN. They have formed a committee that is looking for "alternatives" to hashish in the Bekaa. No new ideas here: safflower, sunflower, saffron crops. These formulas have been tried and have dismally failed since the 1960's and I participated in the last trial, in the late 90's early 2000. That's how we created Lebanon's organic sector, a sector that counts 200 farmers tops after 10 years of work. Not to speak of the debacle of the UN Illicit crops replacement program, which was reported to be at best inefficient and at worst profoundly corrupt. Like the farmers of the Bekaa, I tell the LNCSR and the development world: stop wasting taxpayers money-the only alternative to illicit cannabis farming in the Bekaa is to legalize it for medicinal uses, as Turkey has done.

Une bouchee de pain

The price of Yemen? $800 million.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Last, but who cares?

"The United States ranks last of 21 rich countries on the environment component of the 2007 Commitment to Development Index (CDI). Norway ranks first on the environment component, followed by Ireland, Finland, and the United Kingdom. Spain had the second worst ranking on the environment policy component, followed by Australia and Canada."

Trade deal for New Middle East

"Article summary:
A trade deal that allows Egyptian textile products to be exported duty-free to the US as long as they include some components from Israel, has been amended so that a lower Israeli input is required."

Two things here:1. these industrial free zones deals with israel came in the wake of the great peace plan. They are facing the same problems in Jordana nd Egypt: The plan was to make the arab cheap labor work with the israeli products and create a joint industry for export to the US. The arabs did not want to work and eventually the labor force ended up being asians kept in semi slavery. The products were still too expensive (israeli raw material i guess from the summary above), and the projects flopped.

2. I cant help thinking that's what would be in store for Lebanon if the US gets its way. Chilling.

Water rights

"The report also notes that although "pricing mechanisms can be effective at reducing urban demand (they) do not work in irrigation." (Across MENA most of a typical country's water consumption goes to agriculture. Typically, domestic use account's for less than 10 per cent of a country's water consumption). The solution is to establish stable and well-specified access rights to water, "in combination with institutions that have the capacity to manage the water access regime, and cost recovery sufficient to ensure the long-term operation of the infrastructure". Furthermore, the report continues, " establishing clear, equitable and environmentally sustainable water rights is fundamental to improving water management, whether water rights are traded or not".

The problem in the MENA region, however, is that the systems for allocating water rights are not leading to sustainable and peaceful outcomes. According to the World Bank: "The sum total of all implicit and explicit rights that users have or believe they have is larger than the water available within safe environmental limits. This leads to economic hardship and conflict.""


I found this World Bank document dating back to 1997. It's nice to read old stuff, you understand the present better...

"Abstract: Despite petroleum's prominence in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), agriculture remains important to most to the region's economies. And more robust and more dynamic agricultural growth could significantly boost sustainable economic growth and rural development in those countries. An appropriate avenue for improving agricultural growth is to expand agricultural exports in MENA countries with appreciable-to-large agricultural sectors and comparative advantage in cereal grains, agricultural raw materials, fruits and vegetables, and many categories of livestock and dairy products. But high levels of protection in many MENA countries, especially for manufactures and some food products, contribute to overvalued exchange rates and a significant bias against agriculture. Trade liberalization and other economic reforms to promote agriculture and improve rural welfare in MENA might be pursued through regional economic cooperation, but should be guided as much as possible by the principles of "open regionalism" - under which trade concessions negotiated between regional trading partners could be extended unconditionally to all trading partners, including trading partners outside the region."

Alternatives 2

My editorial in al akhbar's "alternatives" page: Climate change. Read also the main article by Nader Fawz on Climate Change: the other face of (corporate) terrorism. There are also interesting things in the page on Labneh Qambarees, UV and sun blocks and the wild halophyte Inula crithmoides which is pickled and consumed in Lebanon.


"That's because Mandy2 is a clone. She was conceived in a laboratory seven years ago and purchased last summer from a farmer in Illinois. Because creameries were creeped out by her mad-science heritage, Indianhead was able to pick her up on the cheap for $2,800 — about $1,000 less than a non-clone adult cow of the same age (calves cost much more — older animals depreciate like cars)." (thanks D.)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

It's the olive season

"As olives ripen, from green to brown to purple-black, their bitterness is reduced naturally, if slowly. “I’ve tasted olives that we picked ripe in November and left alone until the following June,” said Maurice Penna, who farms 100 acres of olive trees in Orland, Calif. “They taste smooth as silk, with just a trace of bitterness that I think is delicious.” Black olives can be brined like green olives; or they can be dried, salted and oil-cured. That process results in black, wrinkled, velvety olives, but is more challenging for home cooks."

It's the olive season in Lebanon, and I've started to harvest the few trees we own. My family and I spent most of last weekend picking olives, green and black. The greens and black are pickled differently.

The green olives: We washed them and left them overnight in water. Then we slit them with a knife and pickled most of them in brine, with lemon slices and hot pepers (they last longer than when you crush them). I use salt from the salines of Enfeh in North Lebanon, nice, coarse unrefined, wild Lebanese salt. I kept a few handfuls of olives aside to cure with salt only: easy: just slit them, sprinkle wild salt, wait a couple of days, and eat while still bitter. I will be doing this everyweek till December.

The black olives I treated differently: I dried them and mixed them with salt but without crushing or slicing. I mixed them everyday until they started to ooze black juice. I wanted to pickle them in olive oil after one week of curing, but my wife found worms in the juice, and I had to thrown them. Some people do not like worms in their olives.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


"Sainsbury's, "keen to accommodate the religious beliefs of all staff", now allows Muslim workers who object to alcohol on religious grounds to have a colleague take their place. The company didn't see that such cack-handed posturing does Islam no favours, reinforcing a perception of an intolerant and unbending religion, which is not, I believe, where the majority of British Muslims are.

Worse still is the atmosphere it creates within its own workforce. The craven attitude of Sainsbury's creates a space the religious fanatics will use to bully their mostly female fellow workers, arguing they are not good Muslims if they choose to serve alcohol when they have the option not to.

Most Islamic organisations are as baffled by the move as I was, saying Muslims who refuse to sell alcohol are reneging on their employment agreements. I mean, where does the logic stop? Should I hesitate to approach checkouts with a pork pie or products containing gelatin? Does the absurdity extend to Mr Hothead not handling CDs with semi-clad female singers on the cover, or is it just the more morally ambiguous devil's own drink I should keep away from him? What will it mean when Sainsbury's is eventually taken over by new Muslim owners? Interests connected with the royal family of Qatar have spent more than £2 billion buying a25% stake in the company, which they hope to control.

Having an entire culture hijacked and caricatured by zealots is not something unique to the British Muslim community. I remember a time when it was difficult to buy condoms on the predominantly Catholic island of Barra or sweets on a Sunday on the mainly Presbyterian island of Lewis."

The next level

"The attempt to redefine the World Bank's role as an anti-poverty fighter is also problematic. As a pre-condition for financing, the World Bank requires a poverty reduction strategy paper. Too often these papers appear to be little more than a repackaging of the market liberalization strategies of the past. Venezuela has directly financed ambitious programs of adult literacy, primary education expansion, health clinics manned by Cuban doctors and nurses in poor communities, obviating the need for long journeys to hospitals designed for the middle and upper classes. (In Bolivia, similar initiatives are financed by Venezuela.)

In Brazil, Mexico, and Chile, governments have designed and implemented a "bolsa familiar" subsidy program for poor families with the condition that they keep their children in school and are properly vaccinated. None of these programs have poverty reduction strategy papers required by the World Bank. Whether these initiatives could survive a downturn in the international economy and a consequent fall in commodity prices remains to be seen. And in the case of Venezuela, whether Chavez would accept an unfavorable outcome of an electoral contest has yet to be tested. What is certain is that priorities have changed from those set forth in the Washington Consensus. Equity is of far more concern. There is more than one source for development financing. The challenge for the IFIs is how they adapt to these changed circumstances.

It is not too much to say that both in the case of the WTO and IFIs there is a genuine crisis of identity. These two pillars of the American strategy of the previous decades are in disarray. We are going to see a much more diverse world of economic policies and development strategies. The true failure of Paul Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank not only was the scandal surrounding his personal life; it was his failure to articulate a convincing rationale for the future of the IFIs. That intellectual vacuum continues to this day. The one thing that is certain is that these institutions are no longer capable of implementing the Baker strategy of economic reform along American free-market lines."

Monday, October 15, 2007

Hall of shame

"Put this one up on the shelf of shame, right next to Henry Kissinger's, or the peace prize they gave to Kofi Annan and the entire UN in 2001, sandwiched between the UN's okay for the bombing of Serbia, the killing of untold numbers of Iraqis, many of them babies and children in the years of sanctions, and its greenlight for the bombing of Baghdad in 2003. In 1998 the Nobel crowd gave the prize to Medecins Sans Frontieres, whose co-founder Bernard Kouchner is now France's foreign secretary urging the bombing of Iran. Like Gore, Kouchner was a rabid advocate of the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia and onslaughts on Serbia.

The UN often has an inside track on the "Peace" prize. The UN Peace-Keeping Forces got it in 1988. In 1986 another enthusiast for attacking Iraq and Iran, Elie Wiesel, carried off the trophy. Aside from Kissinger, probably the biggest killer of all to have got the peace prize was Norman Borlaug, whose "green revolution" wheat strains led to the death of peasants by the million."

I'm not sure I agree with his conspirational anti-climate change theory, but the punches he gives Gore and the UN and the Nobel apparatus, they're Tysonesque...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Feats and Famine

Check out the September issue of Scientific American: Feast and Famine. The twin killers: obesity and hunger side by side.


"Security forces were destroying cannabis crops this season, as in previous years, he said. But farmers would continue to farm the plant as long as it is profitable and there are few alternatives.

"People will keep the view that 'whenever I get the chance and I can escape the state, I will grow this crop.'""

It's been a while since we've heard about the cannabis eradication program. It's harvest time in the Bekaa...

Corporate social responsibility...again

"For Green Beans Coffee, the war has also been good for business. The California-based company now ranks among Inc. magazine's top 500 fastest-growing private companies in America. Since Sept. 11, 2001, its growth rate has exceeded an astonishing 1,400 percent.

The company has a virtual monopoly on quality coffee at the more than 55 U.S. military installations across the Middle East, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Green Beans Coffee prides itself on "sustainability." In press releases, the company boasts about annual contributions it has made to charities such as the Pat Tillman fund.

Earlier this year, Ernst & Young awarded the company an award for "corporate social responsibility.""

See also earlier post on cheats in CSR.

Saturday, October 13, 2007 Alternatives

Its' the Eid el Fitr holiday in the Muslim world, and I'm on a break. Beyond its religious significance, this is a celebration of eating. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, and in the Eid, they revert back to normal eating schedule. Families meet to have BIG lunches, and the street food shops operate at full capacity: sweets, savory, fruit drinks. When I was a kid, itinerant vendors used to sell small plates of pickles for a few cents of a Lira. So I'm indulging.

Meanwhile, check the new page in Al Akhbar newspaper: Bada2el- Alternatives. Al Akhbar is a leftist opposition newspaper in Lebanon. In good leftist spirit, it addresses economic and social issues, and is disliked by Lebanese sectarian parties. It has stopped distributing in Syria because of the difficulties imposed by the Syrian authorities.

The Bada2el page starts with an editorial on Development and politics, which says somewhere: "Development is a deeply political action. How can we combat poverty if we rely on our financing on money donated by those who create poverty?"

Check also the main article: Food sovereignty before national sovereignty. The article goes to the roots of the current wheat prices crisis in Lebanon and points to the over dependence on exports and its role in shaping national politics.

There are also articles on millet el smeed, a traditional bread from south Lebanon that is being revived, and another on dietary fibers and the difficulty of ensuring that the content matches the product description when purchasing locally-made high fibers products (less expensive).

And nice photo by gifted artist Tania Traboulsi.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


A friend of mine told me that one of the advisers of Lebanon's Minister of (neo-liberal) Economy and (free) Trade, Sami Haddad, took him aside during a meeting and asked him if he knew me. He said that he did. She then asked him: "What's wrong with him? OK the minister made a couple of strong statements, so what? Why the sarcastic commentaries on his blog?"

Assuming that my friend is accurately reporting the conversation, can I be blamed? Hear this:

وأشار قرطباوي الى أنه زار حداد «شارحين لكم أوضاع المزارع المنكوبة، وخصوصاً بعد نكستي أنفلونزا الطيور التي لم تظهر أي حالة منها في لبنان، وحرب تموز وما رافقها من انقطاع للطرق وعدم إمكان إيصال الأعلاف للمزارع الذي دمر بعضها القصف الإسرائيلي. وفي كلا الحالتين لم يعوض على المزارع رغم المراجعات المتعددة والمطالبات المتكررة». وتابع «في تلك الزيارة كان جوابكم صاعقاً بل ومخيّباً للآمال حيث قلتم لنا وباقتناع تام إنك لو كنت مكان المنتجين لأقفلت المزارع وفتحت ابواب الاستيراد وألغيت الرسوم الجمركية عن الفروج المجلد، ونصحت المزارعين بأن يسعوا لأعمال أخرى
Translation: During a meeting with the secretary of the Lebanese Union of Poultry Farmers, Samir Quortbawi, who came to him asking for support to farmers in the wake of the avian flu crisis and of the summer 2006 war, Haddad apparently made the following remark: "If I was in the place of the producers, I would close down the farms and open wide the gates to imports, canceled all duties on imports of frozen poultry, and advised the farmers to find jobs elsewhere."

Earlier Quortbawi had estimated the number of families involved in the poultry production sector at 30,000. That's at least 30,000 jobs.

Sarcasm? I was being nice.


How are seeds cultivated and saved?
How far must food travel before reaching our plate?
Who gets paid for the food we eat?
Why does our food taste like this?

Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed lays out, with practical steps and far reaching concepts, a program to ensure food and agriculture become more socially and ecologically sustainable.

Pick local

"A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran a poignant article (subscription required) about anguished fruit farmers in California. Because of a crackdown on illegal immigrants, they couldn't find workers willing to pick their pears, even at $150 per day. And as a result, perfectly good fruit rotted in the fields.

Perhaps the California farmers, who depend on migrant Mexican labor, have got the wrong business model. Instead of paying workers to pick their fruit, they should try another strategy: making customers pay to pick the fruit themselves. Savvy farmers all over the country have discovered a practice that might not work as a nationwide agricultural policy, but that has allowed some economically inefficient orchards to thrive: Encourage yuppies and their progeny to come pick your fruit—they'll pay handsomely for the privilege, buy more than they'd ordinarily consume, and then shell out for all sorts of other value-added products. It's the best use of child labor since Manchester's early 19th century textile mills." (Thanks D.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Forgotten land

"Once known as the bread basket of Somalia, the central regions of Lower and Middle Shabelle are today gripped by the worst malnutrition emergency seen in this part of the country for many years.

"People have not been able to plant their fields, feed their children," says Christian Balslev-Olesen, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) country representative for Somalia."

Just remember who's invaded Somalia and on who's behalf.

Date rape

"Islam Online reports that a "flood" of Israeli dates has swamped Morocco's souk during the "holy fasting month of Ramadan," perhaps insinuating that the Israel is trying to palm off illicit temptations to unwitting fasters."

It's there but you can't have it

"The seeds are a marvel, producing bountiful, aromatic rice crops resistant to drought, pests and disease. But a decade after their introduction, they have spread to only a tiny fraction of the land here in West Africa where they could help millions of farming families escape poverty.

Developed with financing from wealthy countries and private foundations, the New Rices for Africa, or Nericas, are unpatented and may be grown by anyone. Yet there is a severe shortage of them in a region where both the private and the agricultural sectors are woefully undeveloped.

“You have farmers who are very willing adopters of new technologies and want to raise yields,” he added, “but are not getting access to seed, fertilizer and small-scale irrigation.” Finding a sustainable way to supply them with seed, he said, “is emerging as the holy grail for agricultural development.”"
(thanks D.)

Infrastructure and communication are indeed the 2 missing ingredients in agricultural development. In Lebanon, while the National Center for Agricultural Research continues to run trial on the most appropriate wheat varieties for specific ecological conditions, farmers have no access to the results of the trials or to the selected seeds. I have tried to contact the center to obtain seeds from them for the Land and People mobile clinics about a year ago and I'm still waiting for them to call back. We have the same situation with respect to fruit tree varieties. It is totally incomprehensible to me, and I have been in this business 20 years. I still cannot understand the reason for the near total absence of communication between the research institutions and the bulk of the farmers. I mean Lebanon has got roads, cars, and there is a phone and a TV dish or a cable in most rural homes. While the private sector works very hard on the transfer of technologies aimed at capital intensive agriculture, very little permeates from the national research institutes that is aimed at marginal farmlands.


"Rice used by Anheuser-Busch Cos. to brew Budweiser beer is tainted with an experimental, genetically engineered rice strain, according to an analysis released yesterday by the environmental organization Greenpeace. Three of four samples of unprocessed rice from the beer maker's mill in Arkansas showed the presence of the strain, Bayer LL601, Greenpeace said.

Jason Alström, founder of the Boston-based website, predicted that a "small, vocal minority" would "make a fuss" if details about genetically modified ingredients were widely publicized.

"Mostly people that don't drink Budweiser, yet are against g-e foods," Alström said in an e-mail. "As for your typical Bud drinker, I doubt they would care or even know what g-e food actually is.""

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


"Rapeseed and maize biodiesels were calculated to produce up to 70 per cent and 50 per cent more greenhouse gases respectively than fossil fuels. The concerns were raised over the levels of emissions of nitrous oxide, which is 296 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Scientists found that the use of biofuels released twice as much as nitrous oxide as previously realised. The research team found that 3 to 5 per cent of the nitrogen in fertiliser was converted and emitted. In contrast, the figure used by the International Panel on Climate Change, which assesses the extent and impact of man-made global warming, was 2 per cent. The findings illustrated the importance, the researchers said, of ensuring that measures designed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions are assessed thoroughly before being hailed as a solution."

Thus spoke the ex-CIA chief

""The first thing we have to do is destroy oil as a strategic commodity," Woolsey said."

Counting the cost

A great BBC article about the implications of the wheat price hike on Central Asia, China, Australia, Italy and Russia.

Monday, October 8, 2007


"Despite the U.S. trade embargo, the United States is still one of the largest exporters to Cuba, though its exports -- largely food and agricultural products -- reach only about $350 million a year and have fallen slightly as Cuba has turned to other countries for food imports."

Put this piece of news in context: see in this previous post how the US exports food to Venezuela, Iran and Syria, in spite of the very very tense political situation with these countries (Iranians chant "Death to the USA" every morning before breakfast, and again after lunch to facilitate digestion). Some would say this is a calculated move to keep "unfriendly" countries dependent on cheap food, so that it hurts more when a food embargo is implemented (as in Iraq before the invasion). But then they would be conspiracy theorists.

State of the union

"An appalling total of 144 trade unionists were murdered for defending workers' rights in 2006, while more than 800 suffered beatings or torture, according to the Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights Violations, published by the 168-million member International Trade Union Confederation. The 379-page report details nearly 5,000 arrests and more than 8,000 dismissals of workers due to their trade union activities. 484 new cases of trade unionists held in detention by governments are also documented in the report.

The anti-union activities of a number of multinational companies, including repeat offenders such as Coca Cola subsidiaries and suppliers, Wal-Mart, Goodyear, Nestlé and Bouygues come under the spotlight. Heavy repression by suppliers to well-known global brand names, especially in the textiles and agriculture sectors, is also described.

Public service and education workers faced anti-union discrimination in Algeria, Benin and Ethiopia, where the government continued its harassment of the Teachers Association. The Djibouti union centre UDT was subjected to heavy government harassment, and one of its senior officials had to flee the country in fear for his life. The Libyan and Sudanese governments also maintain heavy restrictions on freedom of association, while Egypt also imposes limits on union rights.

Tentative steps towards trade union rights in Oman and positive developments in Bahrain were overshadowed by continued severe restrictions or outright bans on union activity in much of the Middle East, notably in Saudi Arabia. Restrictions on freedom of association also continued in Jordan, Kuwait and Yemen, and the Syrian authorities exercised virtually total control of the official trade union organisation, the only one allowed. Many migrant workers throughout the Middle East faced hazardous and exploitative working conditions without any effective legal recourse. Iraqi trade unionists faced ongoing and targeted violence. Among the many attacks, one of the most appalling involved a health union leader who was abducted, tortured with an electric drill and then shot to death. Iran continued to deny basic rights to its workers, cracking down hard on independent trade union activity with mass arrests and detentions including that of a 12 year old girl who was beaten and thrown into a police van. Mansour Osanloo, head of the Tehran bus drivers' union, was held in solitary confinement for four months, and beaten and arrested a second time in November. Following his release on bail, he was once again arrested by the authorities in July 2007 and remains, along with several colleagues, in prison.

Continued violence in Palestine also affected the trade union movement. In one case, masked men threw a hand-grenade a union-run radio station and then set it on fire, injuring four people. Continued restrictions on movement of Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza by the Israeli authorities made trade union activities even more difficult. "


"With a nationwide farmworker shortage threatening to leave unharvested fruits and vegetables rotting in fields, the Bush administration has begun quietly rewriting federal regulations to eliminate barriers that restrict how foreign laborers can legally be brought into the country.

The effort, urgently underway at the departments of Homeland Security, State and Labor, is meant to rescue farm owners caught in a vise between a complex process to hire legal guest workers and stepped-up enforcement that has reduced the number of illegal planters, pickers and middle managers crossing the border." (thanks D.)

I love this cartoon

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Lebanon support

A portal and database on the relief and development efforts in Lebanon. Excellent, and a good starting point for my pet project to field check the real impact of all these projects.


"The country's leading agricultural forecaster has for the first time revealed the possible impact of climate change on Australia's farm sector.

According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, dairy, rice, cotton and horticulture will suffer significant declines in the next few decades because of rising temperatures and reduced rainfall."

I'm only blogging it to remind ourselves that Lebanon and the region import most of their wheat from Oz, and much of their meat.

Hungry planet

Beautiful photo essay: What the world eats. (Thanks Rania)


"In recent weeks, news that hogs are being specially raised to feed the athletes at the next year's Beijing Olympics has spurred an outcry on the Internet. The pigs are reportedly being fed an organic diet and getting daily exercise, treatment that has China's bloggers variously mocking, lamenting and raging online.

"I would rather be a pig for the Olympics than a human in a coal mine!" wrote a blogger who calls himself Shiniankanchai, referring to the reported deaths of thousands of workers in China's mines so far this year."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Disaster capitalism

"Klein believes that neo-liberalism belongs among "the closed, fundamentalist doctrines that cannot co-exist with other belief-systems ... The world as it is must be erased to make way for their purist invention. Rooted in biblical fantasies of great floods and great fires, it is a logic that leads ineluctably towards violence." As Klein sees it, the social breakdowns that have accompanied neo-liberal economic policies are not the result of incompetence or mismanagement. They are integral to the free-market project, which can only advance against a background of disasters."

From the Guardian review of Naomi Klein's new book: "The shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism"


"Organizations that receive grants from USAID (the federal agency responsible for international aid) are strongly opposing a proposed new procedure and database to collect and retain personal information on individuals working for grantee organizations and subcontractors. The stated goal was to implement an executive order prohibiting dealings with individuals designated as terrorists as well as a specific Congressional requirement that no USAID funds go to any organization in the West Bank & Gaza that "advocates, plans, sponsors, engages in, or has engaged in, terrorist activity."

Much of the opposition to the plan was coordinated by InterAction (EIN 13-3287064 Form 990), which represents 165 US-based NGOs involved in international relief & development, who understandably are concerned about the collection of data, and the indication that USAID would not disclose whether any individuals passed or failed screening, making it difficult to identify and challenge incorrect information in the database. "

Friday, October 5, 2007

US aid in Lebanon

"The aid is ostensibly earmarked for post-war reconstruction, declared Washington. But the release of the funds is conditional on the the Siniora government successfully implementing a bundle of economic "reforms." Indeed, even before Congress approved the aid package, Siniora declared his government's intention to cut social security programs, privatize the electricity and telecommunications sectors, increase value added tax by two percent, and implement other measures he claimed were aimed to reduce Lebanon's $40 billion national debt. Siniora's effort to push through these measures however were met with strong popular resistance inside Lebanon that led him to reconsider the timing and strategy of implementing the "reforms.""

Gobal market, but not for labour

"The publics of the world broadly embrace key tenets of economic globalization but fear the disruptions and downsides of participating in the global economy. In rich countries as well as poor ones, most people endorse free trade, multinational corporations and free markets. However, the latest Pew Global Attitudes survey of more than 45,000 people finds they are concerned about inequality, threats to their culture, threats to the environment and threats posed by immigration. Together, these results reveal an evolving world view on globalization that is nuanced, ambivalent, and sometimes inherently contradictory.

In both affluent countries in the West and in the developing world, people are concerned about immigration. Large majorities in nearly every country surveyed express the view that there should be greater restriction of immigration and tighter control of their country's borders." (thanks D.)

Read it in context: see previous post on PEW GA survey on globalization.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lebanese farm exports increase

From Saturday September 29- As-Safir. My translation from Arabic, my comments in italics at the end.

"Major increase in profits from agriculture in the Bekaa this year, for the first time in a nearly a decade.

Exports of farm produce from the Bekaa has increased by 100%, although farmers say the cost of production has also increased by 50%. This increase in exports has been attributed to favorable economic changes in the Arab countries, poor climatic conditions (cold in the beginning of the season, drought in the end) in Saudi Arabia and Syria which caused a decline in harvests, in addition to the opening of the Iraqi market, which is the largest in the Arab World. These conditions meant that Saudi Arabia was unable to export to the Gulf countries, while Syria was unable to cater for the domestic and the Iraqi markets. Supply and demand did the trick, and monetary gains were up to 3 times higher than last year.

In monetary terms, the Bekaa has exported this year $46 million worth of farm produce, compared to $24 million last year. Prices have increased throughout the Arab world, including Syria, and the Lebanese produce is reaching European and African markets. Cyprus imported last year 4 containers of cherry against 118 this year. Russia imported last year 6 containers of cherries against 127 this year. The poultry sector was also positively affected, and exports increased from $330, 000 last year to $1.3 million this year, mostly to the Iraqi market.

However, the head of the potato growers union warns of an expected decrease in the prices of potatoes (the main export) in the fall as most farmers have shifted to potato planting after this year's gains. He also demanded the Lebanese government to continue its export subsidies program expected to be reduced by 20% this year.

Another exporter indicated that this year's crops went as far as england and afganistan, but that the government was to blame for the total lack of agricultural extension and export advice and the absence of anti-dumping laws.

One of the agribusiness owners indicated that the price increase in prices of input is "mad" and that the profits this year was due to the fact that many farmers had gone out of business and that the area planted with potatoes had been reduced by 25%, which resulted in profits for those farmers who had stayed in business.

These mega profits from crop production come after many years of decline during which agricultural lands in the Bekaa turned into sheep farms."

There is plenty to learn about food and farming from this piece of news:

1. Saudi Arabia, in good years, is a competitor to Lebanon for the Gulf market (check this post). Saudi agriculture is heavily subsidized, and this is of course not a "free Arab market". Poor climatic conditions (climate change?) affected Saudi production negatively this year, but this may not be the case every year.

2. The Iraqi market is open again. This used to be the main export market for Lebanon, and there was a time before 1991 when it was impossible to eat a decent orange in Lebanon as they were all exported to Iraq.

3. While this is really good news for some farmers, the amounts we are talking about are still small (our food import bill is nearly $2 billion). This increase in exports can at least partly explain the tremendous hike in fresh food prices Lebanon has been recently witnessing. Supply and demand and market forces again.

4. The people who stand to make most of the money are the large farmers (industrial sized) and the exporters who benefit from strong support from the government export subsidy program. Yes our government does not subsidize agricultural extension, but it does subsidize the transport costs. Many exporters I meet tell me that they make their money only on the subsidies from the state, and they decide where to export to depending on the percent of the transport cost that is covered by the state. This allows them to sell cheaper (and therefore buy cheaper) and cash the subsidy.

5. I've always maintained that cherries are the best crops Lebanon can produce especially in the marginal lands at high altitudes. It is not because I am a clairvoyant, but because I have worked for 12 years in Irsaal, a village in the anti Lebanon where 5 million cherry trees have been planted in the last 50 years, in an environment that looks like a rock desert in the summer, and like Tibet in the winter. The trees grow without irrigation, on snow melt and need very little care. Cherries are also one of the most demanded food products worldwide, but it doesn't travel too well. The middle and high altitude zones of Mount Lebanon could produce a very good crop (some already do).

6. There is great fear that the whole edifice will collapse next year as many farmers produce the same crop. This is a classic situation in which profits entice more farmers to expand their cropping area by borrowing money and then find themselves confronted with a glut, and suffer heavy financial losses. Usually, governments step in to prevent this from happening. In this case, the government is just an observer, and will not use these exceptional circumstances in order to try to organize a little bit the farming sector through appropriate policies and legislations-and the provision of farm extension, of course. I had previously indicated that with the increases in world food prices, an excellent window of opportunity has opened in Lebanon to revive agriculture, and had hoped that a government (?) would seize this opportunity.

7. Finally, it is interesting to see that the alternative to crop production is sheep production. This usually happens where there is too little water for crops, and explains why desert nomads keep sheep and do not till and sow.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


"The overall Silver winner is Aqua Sciences whose proprietary technology harvests fresh drinking water from the sky--the last untapped aquifer--virtually anywhere on the planet even where there is no practical water infrastructure."


"Anyone curious to know how Brazil has become what the former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell calls an “agricultural superpower” — poised to overtake the United States as the world’s leading exporter of foodstuffs — would do well to start here in this busy network of government laboratories." (thanks D.)

Haddad fiddles while Lebanon burns

From today's al Safir, a small piece of news while everybody is busy with the burning forests. (my translation, comments in italics and bold typeface mine).

Sami Haddad, Lebanon's minister of neoliberal economy and free trade, signed yesterday 3 contracts with NGOs (Lebanese? US?) to implement agricultural (???) projects financed by the US government. The ceremony took place in the presence of US ambassador Jeffrey Feltman.

These contracts are usually awarded to corporate US NGOs. This neatly recycles a big chunk of the money back to the US. Moreover, all equipment purchased by the projects usually have to be US-made. But lets wait till we learn more about these projects.

Also as I write, I have learned that ACDI-VOCA, a US development NGO (in the business of development) has been awarded one of the grants. Incidentally, there has been a controversy among NGOs around wheat monetization in the US. Read this IHT article.

These contracts aim at using the wheat donations offered by the US to Lebanon in the wake of the July 2006 war, of a total value of 25,000 tons of bread wheat.

What was the tonnage of the ammunitions offered to Israel in order to implement the July 2006 war (without talking of the political coverage, or as the Israelis put it, the political bullying to engage into the war)? Will these projects be implemented in the areas that were most affected by the war?

After the signature, ambassador Feltman talked about the US wheat, a gift to the Lebanese people from the US people. He expressed his happiness at the US support to agriculture in Lebanon and indicated that the agriculture sector in Lebanon is an important sector in terms of job opportunities and rural income.

I agree with the last statement.

Minister Haddad added: The US wheat donation was sold by bidding at a price of $5 million. A joint US-Lebanese committee was then formed to study the project proposals. 15 proposals were submitted by NGOs. Following a thorough and transparent evaluation, 3 projects were selected. They include loans, donations, and technical assistance in various areas.

Now that's interesting: first, Haddad pays $1.5 million a month from public money to subsidize wheat, so that the poor from all confessions do not reject him and his government and his "majority". Then, he gets offered wheat, but he sells it and then gives the money to corporate NGOs to implement agricultural development projects over which the government will have no authority (not necessarily a bad thing). Considering the success of similar development initiatives, we can expect agriculture to witness a major boom in the next couple of years. Unfortunately these projects are only ever evaluated by...the donors or the NGOs themselves.

Another issue: The current price of wheat is between $300 and $400 a ton, and it has been like that for a few months. Taking $350 as an average figure, the wheat should have sold for $8,750,000. They must have sold it at $200 a ton to get $5 million.

A US donation of $10 million for the reconstruction of the Naher el Bared camp was recently added.

What does this piece of news have to do with NGOs, agriculture, development or Haddad? And in what form did the donation come? As corn flakes?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Bye o fuel

“The end of the ethanol boom is possibly in sight and may already be here,” said Neil E. Harl, an economics professor emeritus at Iowa Sate University who lectures on ethanol and is a consultant for producers. “This is a dangerous time for people who are making investments.”

All is fair in food and drink

Lots of talk about fair trade (lots of posts on this blog too) but D. just sent me this. My comments in italics.

"Rafael de Paiva was skeptical at first. If he wanted a “fair trade” certification for his coffee crop, the Brazilian farmer would have to adhere to a long list of rules on pesticides, farming techniques, recycling and other matters. He even had to show that his children were enrolled in school.

Very often, the conditions for certifications are too difficult and cannot be met by those in need. Farmers would want certification to put their kids in school, so imposing the condition on them before they make enough money to put their kids in school seems a bit odd.

Mr. Paiva’s beans will be in the store-brand coffee sold by Sam’s Club, the warehouse chain of wal mart Stores. Dunkin’ Donuts, Mc Donald's and Starbucks already sell some fair trade coffee.

A common criticism of FT: its use by mega corporations which exploit their own workers as a marketing tool to attract bourgeois liberals in need of conscience whitewash. but another argument goes: Isn't it better to latch on to these corporations as they provide volume of sale that benefit more farmers?

“We see a real momentum now with big companies and institutions switching to fair trade,” said Paul Rice, president and chief executive of TransFair USA, the only independent fair trade certifier in the United States.

What are the other certifiers? dependent? on who? Or is there only one certifier. This is another common complaint: certification has become a business: a cold, calculating business, in which clients are sought, and projections and business figures have to be met. Many farmers cannot afford it.

According to Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International, a group of fair trade certifiers, consumers spent approximately $2.2 billion on certified products in 2006, a 42 percent increase over the previous year, benefiting over seven million people in developing countries.

Interesting figure, which I assume is for the US only, but still a long way from the spending on natural foods and nutritional supplement expected to reach $87 billions in 2007. Expected as people are more interested in their own health than in helping others.

Fair trade produce remains a minuscule percentage of world trade, but it is growing. Only 3.3 percent of coffee sold in the United States in 2006 was certified fair trade, but that was more than eight times the level in 2001, according to TransFair USA.

Others argue that fair trade coffee is as exploitive as the conventional kind, especially in countries that produce the highest-quality beans — like Colombia, Ethiopia and Guatemala. Fair trade farmers there are barely paid more than their counterparts in Brazil, though their crops become gourmet brands, selling for a hefty markup, said Geoff Watts, vice president for coffee at Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, a coffee importer."