Friday, November 30, 2007


The new installment of the Badael page in al akhbar: my opinion piece about the duties of the state and those of NGOs. An article by Nader Fawz who is asking what happened to spontaneous civil society groups who emerged in July 2006 to help the refugees from the Israeli attack, and who also asks: where were they during the Nahr el Bared crisis? Plus the usual stuff about traditional foods (rose water) and medicinal herbs (cannabis, yes it is medicinal).

Organic Lebanon

"The organic movement has gained remarkable momentum in Europe and the United States in the last decade, but in Lebanon the sector has become sluggish. "Certified organic foods make up 7 percent of Italian agricultural production, and 10 percent in Switzerland," Andrea Tamburini, the project coordinator for UCODEP, told The Daily Star. "In Lebanon the percentage is 0.2."

"The sector is completely stagnant," he added."

Yes it is stagnant Andrea, and you know why, of course, it is because we have entirely fabricated this sector. Farmers did not request it, it did not even come from consumer demand. It came from the project proposals of a group of well meaning, perhaps, but certainly project-eager development "specialists", people whose main task is to think: where can we go next, because there is money (and in this case mostly from USAID) to fund projects in the agricultural sector, especially projects that would result in produce of an exportable nature. I know what I'm talking about because i was among the first people to write such a proposal and obtain funding, first from an IFAD/WB/Lebanese government and then from USAID to implement it. My funds were relatively limited, but USAID gave millions to the organic sector in Lebanon through World Vision.

In spite of the $millions spent, organic never really picked up. In spite of our marketing acrobatics, and the creation of a community supported agriculture program tailored to lebanese demand (meaning you have to give subscribers all kinds of fruits and vegetables year round, which goes contrary to the essence of CSA, but then again Lebanon is a country where McDonalds have valet parking), in spite of that, I would estimate that the organic market in lebanon is in the order of $500,000 a year, and, worse, that it has not grown for at least 2 years.

There are many problems with the organic sector, and I could go on for a while, but there is one good thing: Most of the organic produce from Lebanon is sold locally. We have sent
small consignmentsto Dubai and Bahrain , World Vision is also doing that, but it is only economically feasible if it is heavily subsidized by development money. Subsidies take many forms, some farmers get direct subsidies in the form of inputs like drip systems, others get their certification paid for, etc... In Egypt and Tunisia and Morocco, organic production is much more important than Lebanon, but the produce is immediately exported to the UK or France, and the farms are industrial production systems. This is one of the great issues in organic today: should you plant for export, when the people cannot access clean food? How organic is it if you account for the food miles? How accessible is international organic certification to small farmers? Who is eating the organic food? Is organic monoculture (strawberries in egypt) acceptable? and many many other questions.

Organic farming, whether one takes it seriously or not, was initiated primarily as a philosophical movement, based on the respect of natural cycles in order to conserve the land. It was NOT created to provide pesticide free foods to those who can afford it. Let this be known.

PS: I ran a survey a few years back on why did people buy organic food in Lebanon. The options were: 1. to protect your health, 2. To protect the environment and 3. to help small farmers 9who were the target group of our program). 85% said for own health, 14% said environment and 1% said help to small farmers.


"Lebanese cucumbers – with their small, sweet fruit encased in a thin, edible skin – have become increasingly popular. Their versatility, tender flavour and burpless qualities have made them summer salad favourites.

Sadly, for lovers of this cucumber variety, crop failures in recent years have led to a shortage of seed. But at last there’s good news: the supply hiccup has been resolved, there’s stock available and, hence, Lebanese Cucumber has been selected as Yates Seed of the Month for November 2007."(Thanks Barbara)

From an advert by a seed company. Why do they call them Lebanese cucumbers? Were they selected by Lebanese farmers? Did Yates (the company) pay royalties? Or is it going to sell them back to the Lebanese farmers?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Serious oil

Excellent series of peer reviewed articles on the health benefits of olive oil and Mediterranean diet, from a special issue of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research (Wiley InterScience). Check it, it's a very rich, reliable source for all those seriously interested in the nutritional aspects of olive oil. Thanks Loubna

Next pope: Al Gore

"Pope Benedict XVI has called for the upholding of ‘green culture’, and the Vatican has announced that it will soon become the world’s first carbon neutral state. A Hungarian entrepreneur plans to plant trees on a denuded island in the Tisza River to offset the Papal carbon emissions. The newly planted 37 acres of holy land, to be renamed the Vatican Climate Forest, is supposed to absorb as much carbon dioxide as the Vatican emits. At a ceremony publicising the initiative, Cardinal Paul Poupard, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, noted that ‘the book of Genesis tells us of a beginning in which God placed man as guardian over the earth to make it fruitful’ (4). As far as some Vatican leaders are concerned, offsetting carbon emissions plays a role analogous to that of fasting or self-mortification in previous times. Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca Alameda, an official at the Council for Culture, argues that ‘one can emit less CO2 by not using heating and not driving a car, or one can do penance by intervening to offset emissions, in this case by planting trees’." (thanks D.)

After Islam, now a Catholic fatwawawa (courtesy of angry arab). I don't have time today, but this is a gold mine for facile humour. Can i plant trees for next ramadan?

Conspiracy DeNile

"The "Israeli" policy aims at threatening Arab security including of course that of Egypt through increasing "Israel's" influence in the States controlling the Nile waters at its sources, by concentrating on agricultural projects that rely on pumping its water requirements from Lake Victoria. To reach this goal "Israeli" policy aims at increasing tension between Arab and African States, which shall distract Egypt's attention away from the Palestinian cause. "Israel" also aims at obtaining facilities for establishing military bases in the Nile basin States and the use of their air and maritime bases, as it got facilities in Ethiopia during its 1967 aggression, and the intend upon using these States as bases for espionage against Arab States and also as markets for its military industrial products, creating local military cadres loyal to it.

Besides these goals, "Israel" had always been interested in solving the problem of getting new water supplies, and diverting part of the Nile waters through the Sinai Peninsula to the Negev Desert. This is an old project, it was first presented by to the British government Herzl in 1903, and these "Israeli" intensive trials were repeated since the 1970s. In spite of the Egyptian governmental and popular rejection of the project, the Zionist State never gave up hope, it is a Zionist dream, awaiting the right occasion for it to come true, and to propose it anew and importune for its fulfillment when the political and economic occasion in the region permits."

Long, good article about israel's efforts to control the sources of the Nile.through intelligence, military, politics and trade. None of these approaches are new to the zionists.Translated fro Arabic, so kindly replace all instances of "international bank" with "world bank". I post this for my friend Kirsten who does not believe
(while i do) in the israeli conspiracy to foment trouble and use existing tension to get a hold on the nile waters. (thanks maysoun) GMO

"This resistance to GM crops could be a setback for an industry struggling to get off the ground in Europe. European GM growers reported 77 percent growth (CORDIS) last year, in terms of total area planted. Yet even with these gains, only about one percent of the world’s genetically modified corn is grown in Europe, and sixty varieties of crops remain backlogged for approval. EuropaBio, a European biotech lobby group, called for automatic approval of GM foods that pass their risk assessments. The United States, Argentina, Canada, and Brazil pick up the slack, accounting for 94 percent (PDF) of global GMO plantings, according to a 2006 paper published by Harvard’s Belfer Center. The paper notes that the environmental effects from GM crops planted in these countries have been “strongly positive to date.”" (thanks D.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eat more, talk less

Do you know why Lebanese olive farmers (sometimes) have a problem selling their produce? Because the Lebanese don't eat enough olive oil! According the World Olive Oil Council, the per capita consumption of olive oil in Lebanon is a measly 2.4 kg per year. Compare to Syria (5.3 kg), Spain (11.2 kg) and Greece (an unbelievable 20.7). Instead of singing its praise, go buy some of your own olive oil. And stop cooking with soy oil.

How to beet GMOs

"Seven years ago, beet breeders were on the verge of introducing Roundup-resistant seeds. But they had to pull back after sugar-using food companies like Hershey and Mars, fearing consumer resistance, balked at the idea of biotech beets. Now, though, sensing that those concerns have subsided, many processors have cleared their growers to plant the Roundup-resistant beets next spring.

A Kellogg spokeswoman, Kris Charles, said her company “would not have any issues” buying such sugar for products sold in the United States, where she said “most consumers are not concerned about biotech.”

When genetically engineered versions of soybeans and corn — as well as cotton and canola — were introduced in the mid-1990s, farmers quickly adopted them. But opposition to genetically engineered crops then took hold, particularly in Europe. Food companies, fearing protests or loss of customers, pressured farmers not to grow the crops." (Thanks D.)

Let me list them for you to make things easier: Genetically modified crops on the global commodities market include today:

Corn, soybean, sugar beet, canola (rape seed), wheat, cotton. Most of the feed animals eat to make meat and dairy, the flour we bake, the oil we cook with, the clothes we wear. And the pop corn at the movies.

I dont eat pop corn, I use olive oil whenever I can, and sunflower oil when I can't. I've still got to replace sugar with grape molasses or honey, and wear Syria cotton (Syria is one of the world's largest cotton producer) and then I can avoid GMOs. Alternatively, buy everything marked organic, but that is becoming corporatized too. Que faire?

Toum and Jerry

"“People have known garlic was important and has health benefits for centuries,'’ said Dr. David W. Kraus, associate professor of environmental science and biology at the University of Alabama. “Even the Greeks would feed garlic to their athletes before they competed in the Olympic games.'’

The power to boost hydrogen sulfide production may help explain why a garlic-rich diet appears to protect against various cancers, including breast, prostate and colon cancer, say the study authors. Higher hydrogen sulfide might also protect the heart, according to other experts. Although garlic has not consistently been shown to lower cholesterol levels, researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine earlier this year found that injecting hydrogen sulfide into mice almost completely prevented the damage to heart muscle caused by a heart attack.

Many home chefs mistakenly cook garlic immediately after crushing or chopping it, added Dr. Kraus. To maximize the health benefits, you should crush the garlic at room temperature and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes. That triggers an enzyme reaction that boosts the healthy compounds in garlic."

Toilet to tap

“It is one of the most expensive kinds of water you can create,” said Fred Sainz, a spokesman for the mayor. “It is a large investment for a very small return.”


Pemba, Zanzibar - For years, Salim Haji was told by government officials and international group that his methods of fishing were destroying the coral and weren't sustainable. But few fishermen on this small island off Tanzania's coast paid much heed.

Then, the local imam told him that using dragnets to fish and spears to catch octopuses was wrong.

As a devout Muslim, he listened.

"I've learned that the way I fished was destructive to the environment," says Mr. Haji, "This side of conservation isn't from the mzungu," he says, using the Swahili word for white man, "it's from the Koran." (Thanks D.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Imported cultures

"The global food market experiences an increasing demand for dairy products with low fat or low sugar claims. During the last year more than 30% of new dairy/food products globally came with a low fat claim and 7% with a low sugar claim (Mintel GNPD). And the trend shows no sign of cessation.

“We develop high quality solutions that meet the global health trend, which in yoghurt often translates into low fat and/or low sugar. With our Yo-Flex® range, which we launched last year, we have succeeded in creating a series of cultures for low fat yoghurt with high texture and mild flavor. And we have taken the range one step further with our freeze-dried line extension that also provides new flavor characteristics, “explains Morten Boesen, Marketing Manager, Yoghurt Cultures, Chr. Hansen."

Here's the deal: like with plant varieties, globalization of taste is leading to the reduction in the genetic variability of yoghurt cultures. Ever wondered why different kinds of laban and labneh taste differently? and why yoghurt in Europe (yaourt in France) tastes differently from the laban from Lebanon? and why suddenly the taste of factory-made laban has changed and is now less acidic? and why the yoghurt (laban) from the village (dai3a) tastes differently, and is more acidic than the shop-bought laban? It's all in the culture. In villages and in some homes in beirut (although much less now) people make laban at home using a starter culture called "rawbeh" from the previous laban batch, or from the neighbour's laban. Over time, this culture becomes specific to people and to environments, and produces a typical taste that varies from home to home and from village to village. This is the essence of food biodiversity. Enter corporations and industries: They identified strains with "desirable qualities" and commercialized them. The danger: Most yoghurt is made from the same culture, with similar taste: bye bye diversity of tastes, now we all eat the same thing. And it is so much easier for corporations to make only one "taste" while varying other ingredients like colors and sugar content, and to drop the "special" yoghurts (which were the run of the mill originally). But the corporations and the industry are not solely responsible for that: consumers who accept without questioning or demanding something else, share part of this blame, although it is understandable that they should prefer the cheapest, mass-produced product that is dumped on them instead of looking for that "special taste". People are too busy making a living and trying to make ends meet to go "discern" from shop to shop. Policies are needed for that, strong food policies promoting food biodiversity.

I wrote earlier about wheat and how Lebanon, the place of origin of wheat, now eats bread exclusively made from imported wheat, bred for different climes, and how we are about to lose our local races of bread wheat, and become totally dependent on Australian and Canadian and US wheat. How ridiculous. How outrageous. Now for laban: when I was little, my teachers told me that Lebanon (in arabic lubnan) was called this way because its snowy peaks looked white like laban and also because it is the country of laban and asal (milk or yoghurt and honey). Well, now we have to import the starter cultures to make the food that gave Lebanon its name. How befitting.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Where I live," she said. "I want to have an olive tree living with me."

They don't want Iran's nuts, just its nukes

"Israel has asked the United States for help in cracking down on illegal pistachio nut imports from Iran, an official said, after Washington warned that the trade was hurting efforts to curb Tehran’s nuclear program. Israel imports pistachios worth $26 million annually, mostly from Turkey. But Washington says nuts from Iran are mixed in with the shipments, undermining economic sanctions meant to force Iran to stop developing its nuclear abilities. An Agriculture Ministry official said Israel was willing to help but, as in the past, the problem was how to figure out the nuts’ origin."

Inverted sugar

"Sugar prices, already depressed by a global glut, have further room to fall in the coming months due to the weight of exports from India as the country becomes the world's top supplier of the sweetener.
India is set to overtake Brazil as the world's leading sugar producer in the current crop year, and is forecast to harvest a second consecutive record crop of 32-33 million tonnes.

A key question was how much of this tonnage will be sold to the huge al-Khaleej refinery in Dubai."

So while the price of all other commodities is rising due (in part) to the increase in oil price, sugar price is decreasing, and this in spite of the shift in the use of sugarcane in Brazil from sugar production to ethanol?

soy ultrajado

"The big soya farmers also use debt to get their hands on our land. To grow soya these days requires expensive machinery, and there’s a private credit agency that gives loans to small farmers around here. Because they have no capital, the agency asks for their land as a guarantee. The small farmers all believe that next year they’ll be able to pay it off, but they never do. Growing soya is only profitable on a big scale. Most local farmers have 30 or 40 hectares at most, and you need at least 1,000 hectares to make money. When they default, the agency seizes their land and sells it on at a profit to the Brazilians.

As well as gradually driving rural families off their land, the expansion of soya is also immensely destructive in environmental terms. Since around the year 2000, the big soya growers have all been using genetically-modified seeds. They are made by Monsanto, a huge company in the US. The seeds are designed to be resistant to toxic herbicides, so the soya farmers just pour as much veneno [poison] on them as they like.

The land is ruined now. The trees don’t bare fruit, for example, and the animals die from the contamination in the water. Last year one of my neighbours saw 18 of his cows die in the space of just two months. The pressure to expand into new areas is also causing woods and forests to be cut down across Paraguay. Deforestation rates were so high that the government recently put a temporary ban on cutting down more trees, but the big soya farmers carry on just the same. "

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Perennial garden

More on perennial plants, this time a list of vegetables to chose from and addresses to purchase to obtain them from (if you live in california). Also sent by Leila.

Perennial problem

"Perennial crops have great potential. Yet they hardly figure in the world's calorie consumption.

The world's major grains, food legumes and oilseeds - including all of its wheat, rice, corn, barley, soybeans, cottonseed and dry beans - are annuals. These crops covered 80 percent of harvested cropland in 2004.

A food system based upon plants that start each growing season anew from seeds is inherently risky.

Farmers' efforts to reduce the risk often degrade soil and water and accelerate the buildup of greenhouse gasses." (thanks Leila)

My friend Leila sent me this article from the SF Chronicle. This reads like a simple summary of a longer article that has appeared in scientific american a few months ago, and was sent to me by Rania, but I've lost the link. The point it makes is clear and very interesting: instead of relying on annual crops for most of our food and feed (wheat, rice, corn, soybean, cotton, and common vegetables), one should look at using perennials (plants that do not die every year). They are more efficient in capturing all moisture, they do not need as much soil preparation and therefore reduce erosion risks, and they use soil nutrient more efficiently. This is why, in the Land and People program, we try to promote as many perennials as we can; zaatar (thyme), olive, carob, grapes, sumac are central elements of our agricultural extension program. Next, we will be looking at pomegranate (if my friend Nayla gets her act together), almonds and cherries. in brief, native, dryland perennial plants. They save on energy costs (for plowing), fertilizers, water and labor. Only issue is that they need extensive cultivation, and more access to land by farmers. The problem in Lebanon is that those who want to plant do not have free access to land, and those who own land (1% of the lebanese own 50% of the land) do not want to grow crops. They just want to feel powerful because they own so many hectares, and, from time to time, sell it in small parcels to those who want to construct architectural monstrosities. I tell them: 1) no one owns the land, 2) those who work it have a right to it, and 3) neither the constitution made by the rich for the rich nor the corrupt legal system that favors the plutocracy will protect you from land reforms. That said, I'll be happy with a good land use planning legislation and adequate zoning, and a penalty on those owning farmland and who do not work it. Just as a start.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Rigged commerce or free trade?

"These new trade agreements, known as Economic Partnership Agreements, (EPAs), between ACP countries, on the one hand, and the EU on the other, will replace the current preferential trading arrangements. Under these preferential trading arrangements, ACP countries enjoy duty free access for some of their exports to the EU.

First, that EPAs would open up European markets to agricultural products from ACP countries in the same way that ACP countries would open their economies up to those trade items that the EU has a comparative advantage over ACP countries.

This was a necessary assumption since for more than the last 50 years, trade liberalisation in industrial products far out paced liberalisation in agriculture.

In other words, global trade was rigged in favour of industrial products and against agriculture. Industrialised economies like the EU benefited both from their comparative advantage in industrial products and for their agricultural produce - a feat that these countries achieved by highly protecting their agricultural sectors from low cost producers in developing countries."

The Economic Partnership Agreements I blogged about earlier now seen from an African perspective. Remember that Lebanon has signed these agreements with the EU and the EFTA (non-EU Europeen countries)

Baron Gore

"Al Gore no longer needs to make claims about creating the Internet, because the former Vice President deserves much of the credit for creating an entire new industry -- the global warming business.

And like the energy barons of an earlier age, Mr. Gore has the chance to achieve enormous wealth after being named last week as a new partner at the famously successful venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. No fewer than three of his new colleagues sit on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans. If Mr. Gore can develop market-based solutions to environmental challenges, we will cheer the well-deserved riches flowing his way. On the other hand, if he monetizes his Nobel Peace Prize by securing permanent government subsidies for nonmarket science projects, he'll have earned a different judgment." (Thanks D. who tells me that Bono is a partner too)


"Flowering of a ubiquitous bamboo, Melocanna baccifera, in the Indian state of Mizoram occurs in roughly fifty year cycles. This mass flowering event results in the production of innumerable bamboo seeds and, subsequently, a boom in the population of rats. The mass population of rats eat more than the bamboo seeds, however — food crops are devastated causing famine and political unrest." (thanks D. who found the title too)

How do you become a neo-lib?

"Neoliberal Ascendancy

This leads us to the question of how the neoliberals came to power. This was not simply a matter of the elite using the military or manipulating democracy to impose a neoliberal program on a recalcitrant but stunned population, which is the image that Klein's account—wittingly or unwittingly—projects. This was not the case even in Klein's paradigmatic example, Chile. Neoliberalism's coming to ascendancy there involved the elite and the military acting in concert with a counterrevolutionary middle-class mass base that controlled the streets, with Christian Democratic youth joining their more fascist brethren, Fatherland and Liberty, in intimidating and beating up partisans of the left.

In other words, in practically every instance, neoliberalism found a middle class that was disenchanted with the Keynesian or developmental state or felt threatened by the left, or both.

The Construction of Hegemony

This is why to counter Stiglitz's suggestion that she operates with a conspiracy paradigm, Klein's instrumentalist account must be supplemented with David Harvey's notion of the "construction of hegemony," a process by which the elite creates a consensus among the subordinate classes in support of a neoliberal project that principally serves its interests. (David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005])

In the case of the UK, it was not so much the jingoistic atmosphere of the Falklands War as the ideological captivation of the middle class by a conservative leader adept at evoking the themes of freedom, the individual, and property that was the tipping point toward neoliberal reform. Thatcher was an expert at promoting what Harvey calls a "seductive possessive individualism" and she "forged consent through the cultivation of a middle class that relished the joys of homeownership, private property, individualism, and the liberation of entrepreneurial opportunities."

The construction of consent was the main avenue to hegemony in the United States, where neoliberals deftly connected their free market program to the agenda of a middle class-based coalition that was propelled by resentment against minorities that were allegedly coddled by liberal democrats and by an inflamed attachment to religious values that were seen as being under attack from the left. "Not for the first time," says Harvey, speaking of the ascendancy of the Republicans under Reagan, "nor, it is feared, for the last time in history has a social group voted against its material, economic, and class interests for cultural, nationalist, and religious reasons."

Even some blue-collar workers were in danger of being co-opted: "Greater freedom and liberty of action in the labor market could be touted as a virtue for capital and labor alike, and here, too, it was not hard to integrate neoliberal values into the 'common sense' of the work force."

Neoliberalism, in fact, became so "commonsensical" that even where social democratic parties have come to power, displacing the traditional conservative parties of neoliberalism, as they have in Britain, Chile, and the United States, they have not dared to reassemble the interventionist liberal state and have made it a point to pay homage to the "magic of the market." Indeed, it has not been conservatives but social democrats such as the Blairites in Britain, the Clintonites in the United States, and the Socialist-led Concertacion government in Chile, with their rhetoric about "market-oriented social policies," that have consolidated the neoliberal economic regime."

Excellent review of Klein's Disaster capitalism book, raises interesting issues, and makes me wonder whether anyone ever asked: How did Lebanon become a neo-liberal country avant la lettre?

Friday, November 23, 2007

EU-WTO-EPA: killer acronyms

"The basis of the present mess is that 76 former colonies of European countries have for more than 40 years benefited from a system of preferential, lower tariffs on their exports to the EU: it was a small gesture of colonial guilt. By the mid-1990s, other developing countries which didn't have access to the system challenged it, and the WTO ruled it as discriminatory. The hunt was launched to replace it with a system that still benefited these former colonies but wasn't going to land the EU in breach of WTO rules. The WTO gave the EU until December 2007 to sort it out. Without a deal, these countries would be subject to tariffs on their exports.

Fair enough, but the sting was that the new system - Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) - had to meet the WTO requirement for reciprocity: what had started out as the EU doing some poor countries a favour became a trade deal in which the EU was given duty-free access to the markets of developing countries. In return for its generosity, the EU would get a handsome dose of trade liberalisation.

There are three big concerns on EPAs. First, every developed country has used tariff protection in its history to develop industry, but EPAs restrict that capability and could unleash a surge in European imports that could wipe out fledgling industries such as Kenya's dairy sector, as well as undercut prices of agricultural products. Second, governments themselves stand to lose a major chunk of their revenue that comes from tariffs; for instance, Zambia would lose $15.8m - the equivalent of its annual HIV/Aids budget. EU assurances that there would be aid to compensate only underline how this would increase dependency on aid. Third, the most complex and most important issue of all is how EPAs will affect regional trade. If you can get cheap widgets from the EU, why bother importing from your neighbour in Africa or the Pacific? UN studies have indicated that EPAs could lead to contraction in exactly those low and medium technology industries that are the basis for successful industrialisation."

Palestinian food rights

Restoring Ancient Wheat
November 29, 2007, Israel Genebank
For Further Information Contact: Eli Rogosa, Email:
Ph: 011 972 2 9962849, Mobile: 054 8045 238
Registration Form
Nov 29 Donation at Door: 100 NIS
Farmers welcome for free.
Join generations of farmers who saved their own seed and developed the foodcrops we eat today.
Conserve the biodiversity that nourishes healthy communities

Presenters:From Israel, Jordan and Palestine
(I have erased their names)

Someone sent me this from Europe today and asked me if in my opinion, this was a good activity they could support. It looked pretty benign to them. Here's my answer:

This activity brings together Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians. Jordan has signed a peace agreement with Israel under US pressure. While the Jordanian people are still strongly opposed to Israel, some (but not many) academics, especially those working with foreign funds or government, have established joint research efforts with Israeli counterparts. Israel desperately needs this as it gives it credibility in the region and allows to divert attention from its daily abuses of human rights.

There are also few Palestinian who are willing to enter into partnerships with Zionist Israelis.

I appreciate the fact that this conference in Israel is bringing together some Palestinians, some Jordanians and some Israelis. However, let us not be fooled by thinking that this is a symbolic act of peace, or an act that puts Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians at the same levels, as equal partners. The Palestinians are denied basic rights in their homeland and they have been oppressed for decades by one of the strongest nations in the world. Conserving wheat together will not change that. The important thing is that it should not cause more harm.

Here, questions have to be posed: Why this activity? Is there a program of seed conservation and use at the core? Can some of this lead to a commercialization of seeds? Will there be property rights? Who will own them? Who will effectively control them? Israel is a major player in the world seed industry, and I see that the Israeli government is involved (the workshop is taking place in a governmental location). Israel is technologically vastly superior to all the Arab countries, and it is unlikely that they will ever be equal.

There is also the issue of rights: When they say on the conference site that "Indigenous landrace (Baladi) foodcrops have been selected by generations of traditional farmers ..." one must realize that we are talking here about Palestinian farmers, as Israel is less than 60 years old, and the vast majority of its inhabitants came from outside Israel. This genetic material is the property of the Palestinian farmers, who have been forcibly evicted from their lands, turned into refugees, oppressed, cornered into a tiny apartheid zone, who are prevented from harvesting their crops by settlers, and who now have to share their indigenous knowledge "as equal partners" with the perpetrators.

These are of course my personal opinions. I see your organization as a defender of the oppressed, at all levels, but especially in issues related to poor farmers struggling in the neo-liberal world. The appropriation of Palestinian indigenous knowledge related to food by the Israelis is a major issue, one that is never addressed in the West, for fear of sounding like a critic of Israel and be branded as an antisemite. This is not an issue of race, this is an issue of oppression and of rights.


"The arrangement at Maverick Farms is simple: vacationers pay $120 a night to stay in a room in the hosts’ beautiful two-story, 125-year-old farmhouse, and they are also invited to work at harvesting, seeding and other chores. For each hour of labor, $7 is deducted from the bill. Up to 25 percent of the bill can be worked off. At night, the farmers cook dinner from food they grew, and the guests/laborers are encouraged to join them. At the end of the stay, visitors can, if they like, leave a donation for the food they’ve eaten." (thanks D.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Fish au roummane

"Pomegranates are one of the top 10 best foods you can eat. Why? It is super-charged with antioxidants (the natural substance that slows and prevents the cell damage that is linked to many diseases, as well as boosts the body's immune system). According to the United States Department of Agriculture, pomegranate is the only fruit to contain all three major antioxidants: tannins, anthocyanins and ellagic acid.

In addition to the rich antioxidants, pomegranates are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, folic acid (beneficial to pregnant women), niacin, iron, calcium, and are a rich source of fiber.

The most popular way to eat them is right out of your red-stained hands, but I would like to share some recipes that put a nice seasonal spin on your fall dinner table, and hopefully get you thinking of some new ways to integrate this fantastic fruit into more of your family's meals.

The first recipe is a Poma-Granité. I use this as a fall intermezzo to cleanse the palate between the appetizer and the entrée. You can also use it as a light dessert or as a complement to another dish (such as smoked shellfish, or smoked trout, if you are feeling adventurous).

The second is another seasonal dish that you can apply to seafood, or poultry. The method I selected is with halibut, but you can easily use a chicken breast instead. The recipe is from my contribution to the Delaware North Parks and Resorts Cookbook "Pathways to Plate." It's called pumpkin seed-crusted halibut with pomegranate-citrus relish."

For full recipes follow the link. The one with fish sounds very interesting (but so complicated). I'm going spearfishing tomorrow, wish I could cook...Abu sinn au roummane, what a concept

I had a farm in Africaa

"Bill & Melinda Gates and the Rockefeller Foundation announced a joint $150 million Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) on the grounds that the Green Revolution had bypassed Africa. But as the Food First Institute points out, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which brings together the key Green Revolution research institutions, has invested 40 to 45 percent of their £350 million annual budget in Africa; which shows that the Green Revolution must have failed Africa, not bypassed it. The Green Revolution failed Africa for the same reasons it failed Asia and Latin America: it did not address the causes of poverty and hunger. On the contrary it contributed to increasing hunger and poverty in the midst of plenty.

Rural Africa has been devastated by 25 years of ‘free trade’ policies imposed by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation, the US and EU. The forced privatization of food crop marketing boards - which once guaranteed African farmers minimum prices and held food reserves for emergencies - and rural development banks - which gave farmers credit to produce food - left farmers without financing to grow food and without buyers for their produce. Free trade agreements have made it easier for private traders to import subsidized food from the US and EU than to negotiate with thousands of local farmers. This effective dumping drives local farm prices below the costs of production and puts local farmers out of business.

Introducing GM monoculture crops will further narrow the genetic base of indigenous agriculture, increase farmers’ indebtedness in paying for patented seeds, and bring extra environmental and health risks (see GM Science Exposed., ISIS CD book).

Given appropriate land reform and institutional support in finance and marketing, there is no doubt that farmers in Africa, India and elsewhere can free themselves from the cycle of indebtedness, increasing poverty, hunger, malnutrition and ill-health, especially with zero-input organic farming methods based on indigenous crops and livestocks (see How to Beat Climate Change & Be Food and Energy Rich - Dream Farm 2 also Organic Now series, SiS 36). The really green revolution has started in Ethiopia a few years ago, when the government adopted organic agriculture as a national strategy for food security. Crops yields have doubled and tripled while reversing the damages of the failed Green Revolution (see Greening Ethiopia for Self-sufficiency series, SiS 23)" (thanks Rania)

A refresher on the green revolution, as always, very useful.

Litani again

An article sent to me by Bech on the pollution of the Litani river and the dangers posed by the use of its heavily polluted water (little more than raw sewage discharge). While the article adresses a number of real issues, it tends to over state the danger due to the use of wastewater in irrigation. Treated (even just at secondary level) wastewater effluent is a potential source of irrigation water we should not dismiss. But the Litani water in summer and fall can really be foul, I have blogged on this topic here (effect of pollution) and here. A couple of points here:

1. The section of the Litani river addressed in the article is that close to the sources, before it meets the Berdawni (another sewage outlet) and before it crosses the Zahleh industrial area (where it gets even more polluted, this time with nasty stuff) and before it crosses the west Bekaa (more discharge, especially from the sugar beet factory and from domestic sewage). The real picture is probably worse. There has been a number of studies on the Litani water quality, for some reason, it is a favorite with USAID and other foreign donors. There is in Lebanon a special body vested with the management of the Litani, aptly named the Litani Water Authority. Just google Litani river authority to know more about it and about the results of the monitoring of the water quality. One of the problems with the projects is that they often only monitor for a short period of time and make generalizations. another problem is that their results are often contradictory.

2. The problems of irrigating with wastewater or even with raw sewage are most relevant when dealing with vegetables eaten raw. There are clear guidelines on the use grey water or even raw sewage for irrigation. Check these for instance, you will see that most of the problem is with microbial contamination. Especially when dealing with diluted domestic sewage (polluted water) and with tree crops, the problem is not as dramatic as with vegetables eaten raw. Most of the problem is microbial contamination of the external surface of the crop and danger to workers. Not that this is a small thing mind you, look at this study: "According to the authors’ estimates, the annual risk of contracting infectious diseases including typhoid fever, rotavirus infection, cholera and hepatitis A from eating raw vegetables irrigated with untreated wastewater is in the range of 1.5 × 10-1 to 5 × 10-2, or 5–15% of consumers eating such vegetables will develop a case of disease compared to 10-6 (0.0001%) of those eating vegetables irrigated with treated wastewater effluent that meets the WHO guideline of 1000 faecal coliforms (FC)/100 ml." Remember also that China's agricultural revolution grew from night soil.

3. A tiny little funny info: The author quotes someone saying that the sewage is used for irrigation in the village of Ksarnaba. This is where most of the damascus roses (Rosa damascena, ward jouri) are planted in Lebanon, and then distilled to make the best, most pungent rose water, used in sweets and in perfumes and as a skin remedy. Just thought I'd let you know.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


"Monopoly happens when there is only one seller for a certain product. Monopsony, this week’s new word, happens when there is only one buyer. And when this happens, it is also likely that this single buyer will impose some rigid standards. And then the industrial buyer makes fake diversity by making slightly different mixes of standard components:

One technique retail oligopolies use is flood the shelves with a pseudo variety of similar products made in almost exactly the same way, so that minor vendors that offer real variety can be elbowed out. The beer industry is a great example of this trend.

In other words, agricultural biodiversity is being replaced with industrial diversity. Monopsony is growing in the US wine market. If climate change will push wine production to the north, will Canadian and Swedish vineyards become planted only to the few grape varieties demanded by the monopsonists1?

The role that markets play in biodiversity conservation as well as local food provision is also the subject of a recent article, published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. The article is behind a pay-wall, but the PhD dissertation (in Spanish) on which it based and a colorful brochure are available for free.

Neus Martí and Michel Pimbert explain that in the Peruvian Andes, local communities organized barter markets to exchange local food products, while the economy of the region was pushed towards commercial agriculture. The barter markets permit a commercial exchange of agricultural products that is economically horizontal (between equals) and ecologically vertical (between ecological floors in the mountain landscape), whereas neo-liberal policy promote something that is the other way around.

The barter markets also happen to be good for biodiversity. All crops that are sold for money may also be bartered, but the reverse is not true. Many crop landraces and wild foods exchanged in barter markets are never sold in money-based markets.

So, don’t blame the market. Blame the monopsonists."

...and this one is for Bech who introduced me to monopsony. This article was written by Jacob van Etten and I have taken it from the blog Agricultural Biodiversity for Bech's and my enlightenment.


"Meeting the shipment deadline was critical to the fledgling project, in which hundreds of tonnes of Kandahar's pomegranates are packed into boxes and flown to supermarkets around the world. It's the first time since the collapse of the Taliban regime that the region's farmers have sold their fruit overseas, and as harvest season finishes up this week, the people involved with the effort are quietly celebrating...

"This is the first time in the history of Afghanistan that our fresh fruit has reached Europe, North America, and the Middle East," said Mustafa Sadiq, owner of Omaid Bahar Ltd., one of the distributors involved in the project."

This one is for my friend Nayla who's looking for something nice to do in her village to promote local development. Why not Roummane Kfar Roummane Nayla?


"It's true that India has progressed. It's true that in 1947, when Colonialism formally ended, India was food-deficit. In 1950 we produced 51 million tonnes of food grain. Today we produce close to 200 million tonnes.

It's true that in 1995 the state granaries were overflowing with 30 million tonnes of unsold grain. It's also true that at the same time, 40 per cent of India's population - more than 350 million people - were living below the

poverty line. That's more than the country's population in 1947.

Indians are too poor to buy the food their country produces. Indians are being forced to grow the kinds of food they can't afford to eat themselves. Look at what happened in Kalahandi District in Western Orissa, best known for its starvation deaths. In the drought of '96, people died of starvation (16 according to the Government, over a 100 according to the press). Yet that same year rice production in Kalahandi was higher than the national average! Rice was exported from Kalahandi District to the Centre.

Certainly India has progressed but most of its people haven't."

From Arundhati Roy's blog. I love her, totally. But her blog has too many ads that do not fit with what she says, detract the reader and generally cast a shadow of doubt on the whole discourse.

In any case it is essential reading. She is so passionate, and she writes so well, and she is so engaged. Many other pieces on the blog, all very beautifully written pieces of political and environmental activism.

In the eye of the beholder

Lebanon seen by the US State department, November 2007.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cow and chicken

Another chapter of the poultry sector saga: 60% of the national production is at risk. There are no simple solutions, the state must decide, on the basis of rigorous research, how and what to support the sector and the consumer. I will only elect a president who will implement a pro-poor agricultural reform policy. But it will have to be a maronite.


With the price increase in heating fuel, the poor in Lebanon are reverting to wood: bad news for the forests.

Water hyacinth in lebanon

In al safir today, a brief story about how water hyacinth is invading the estuary of Nahr al kabir, the river delineating the border between Lebanon and Syria in North Lebanon. This is very interesting (in a sad way) because:

1) Water hyacinth is a tropical aquatic weed that is not native to Lebanon or to the Middle East. The nearest place where it is found would be the Nile. We are in presence of an invasive aquatic weed species, one that is quite damaging, and has been called "a floating nightmare": it blocks navigation, but also sunlight and oxygenation and can cause the death of aquatic organisms. There are world programs for the eradication of water hyacinth.

2) I really wonder where it has come from. Fifteen years ago, i became interested in natural wate water treatment systems (constructed wetlands). These are basically long trenches into which aquatic weeds are grown and where sewage enters at one end, and rellatively clean water exits at the other end. Water hyacinth is commonly used for this purpose because it is nutrient guzzler. I constructed pilot scale systems and looked for indigenous aquatic plants and used water hyacinth as a benchmark. The MSc Student working on the project (Charbel Rizk, his thesis is available through AUB library) obtained water hyacinth from somewhere near Jbeil, in a private garden where it was used for decoration (the blue flowers are very pretty). The systems worked decently with the local plants, and we avoided using WH because we were worried about the introduction of foreign species into the wild, and also because they were unable to survive winter: lebanon is not their natural habitat, and it is too cold for them, they all died in the AUB greenhouse. It looks now that they have evaded from somewhere, and that they have become more tolerant to cold, or that the weather has generally been warmer in the past few years. Are we witnessing some of the impacts of climate change?

3. Water hyacinth can only survive in nutrient rich environments. It shows very quickly signs of phosphorus deficiency. The best way of getting rid of it would be to stop using the river as a big sewer.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Anti poverty or anti poor?

I haven't yet had time to read the Bank's World Development Report on agriculture, so i will refrain from commenting, but here's one of the outcomes of the Bank's practice in the Philippines. read the article, very interesting.

"After seven years of implementation, the results are in: the World Bank's experiment in market-led agrarian reform in the Philippines has resulted in anti-poor outcomes. The evidence shows that wealth and power transfers in the project sites have followed four broad patterns - all flowing in one basic direction: intra-elite/elite-to-elite, state-to-elite, foreign donor-to-elite and poor-to-elite. Alongside its clear failure in this specific sense, the experiment has been a boon for the cause of anti-reform, strengthening the manoeuvres of anti-reform forces, while undermining the redistributive potentials not only of the present, but also of any future state land reform law in the country."

Rural development and Agrarian Reforms

"Market-led agrarian reform (mlar) has gained prominence worldwide since the early 1990s as an alternative to the state-led approaches widely implemented over the course of the 20th century. This neoliberal policy framework advocates voluntary transactions between 'willing sellers' and 'willing buyers' and the removal of various 'distortions' from land and agricultural markets. Related policies aim to secure and formalise private property rights.

Emerging evidence from across the developing world suggests that such policies are incapable of challenging the political and economic power of large landowners and are unlikely to meet the land needs of the rural poor and landless. In key areas such as land transfer, farmer development and programme financing, mlar is shown to be falling far short of its objectives. Meanwhile, it is being actively challenged by national and international peasant movements that are calling for more direct intervention by the state in order to restructure patterns of landholding and provide the necessary support for small-scale farmers, many of whom produce primarily for their own consumption.

The future of agrarian reform, it is argued, lies not in a return to the top-down, statist models of the past but in new forms of partnerships between progressive political forces and peasant movements that go beyond the confines of the market to redistribute land and create sustainable livelihood opportunities for the rural poor and landless."

Read this excellent article from Third World Quarterly. The people who drafted the very classical rural development plan to address illicit crops in the Bekaa should read a little more.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

World Bank boss

"Q: Your emphasis on agriculture seems to be the way out for the developing world but there is no mention of the damage subsidies are doing to the developing world. Does your new job put you in a very different role since you argued to protect the developed world's interest as the US Trade Representative? "

"We got agriculture to the forefront since growth in agriculture has four times poverty reduction effect for people living under a dollar a day. When you look at some economies, investment in public sector infrastructure for agriculture was 13% of budgets and it has slipped to 4%. There is another aspect, which is in part driven by bio-fuels and in part due to higher incomes in India and China resulting in people changing their diets. So, you are seeing higher food prices. It's an opportunity for farmers and a risk in terms of higher food prices."

This is from an interview with Zoellick, the World Bank boss. Mind you, the world bank a few years ago published an article (i'll find the link) stating that investment in farming was a bad idea and ad poor poverty reduction potential, because it benefits mostly the rich. I say it really depends on how you invest. Read this short article, it is worth it.

Banking the poor

"As the chairman of Standard Chartered, I am fortunate enough to travel frequently. I have seen the catastrophic effects of poverty. No individual, global company or national government is insulated from the devastating impact of poverty.

There is one issue that we all need to focus on with great urgency and that is financial inclusion. By this I mean the provision of financial services to poor people who would not normally have access to finance."

Yep: the poor are bankable, and there are many of them: Lets lend them money and make a clean buck.

The chairman preempted me by saying a bit further down in the same article:

"I’m always frustrated by the criticism levelled at international companies operating in developing countries simply because they make a profit. You can today make profit with principles. Profit can equate to sustainability, and part of being a sustainable business is making profit."

Food history

"Parsley is native to the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe. While it has been cultivated for more than 2,000 years, parsley was used medicinally prior to being consumed as a food. The ancient Greeks held parsley to be sacred, using it to not only adorn victors of athletic contests, but also for decorating the tombs of the deceased. The practice of using parsley as a garnish actually has a long history that can be traced back to the civilization of the ancient Romans."

I found this nice blog on food history.

You are what you eat

"FBI Monitored Sales At Middle Eastern Grocery Stores
Congressional Quarterly is reporting that the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian secret agents. The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian agents in the region. The program was the brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism officials Phil Mudd and Willie Hulon. The datamining operation was eventually stopped after FBI officials determined it was possibly illegal to place someone on a terrorist list because of what they ate." (Thanks Marcy).

I hurriedly blogged this post sent to me by my dear friend Marcy. To my readers in the US: please take care when you buy falafel, you don't want to be mistaken for Iranian agents, who, as we all know, can only operate their spying rings if they are fueled with falafel. Buy the ingredients and make falafel at home. You can find the recipe on the net, I presume under the rubric IED (Improvised Eating Devices).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Last hash

The fourth and last installment of al akhbar's translation of the report on the elimination of illicit crops. The editor's comments are interesting (and good)

The real pirates

"The epidemic of biopiracy is an assault on our living heritage of biodiversity and cumulative innovation embodied in the traditional knowledge of agriculture and medicine. In the long run, it determines livelihoods and economic sovereignty because what is commonly available becomes an "intellectual property" of a company for which royalty must be paid.

It is the governments duty to protect the resources and heritage of the country and prevent its usurpation by foreign interests and commercial corporations. The governments affidavit is in effect arguing that the government will allow the theft of our heritage and the public good that belongs to the Indian people.

The moment a patent is taken on plants and seeds derived from Indian biological resources, biopiracy have occurred. Challenging and stopping such biopiracy is the duty of government. The governments repeated failure to legally challenge biopiracy has forced the petitioner to take up such challenges on behalf of the Indian people, and to protect the public interest and the national interest." (thanks Rania)

Vandana Shiva on who the real pirates of the world are. I love this woman. I want to invite her to come to Lebanon give a series of talks.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Safe from us

"Engineers last week finished work on one of the world's most ambitious conservation projects: a doomsday vault carved into a frozen mountainside in the archipelago of Svalbard, a few hundred miles from the North Pole.

Over the next few weeks, the huge cavern - backed by the Norwegian government and the Gates Foundation - will be filled with more than a million types of seed and will be officially opened in February next year.

'This will be the last refuge for the world's crops,' said Cary Fowler, of the Rome-based Global Crop Diversity Trust, which is building the vault. 'There are seed banks in various countries round the globe, but several have been destroyed or badly damaged in recent years. We need a place that is politically and environmentally safe if we are going to feed the planet as it gets hotter.'" (Thanks Yaz)

Like the northernmost tip of Europe is a politically neutral place! Like the Africans (or others) will be able to access the seeds? It is "safe" precisely because the rest of the world cannot access it.

Global warming: Simmering

"Somehow I doubt that the game designers at Electronic Arts are going to be in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize any time soon. But given how popular the SimCity series has been, there’s a decent chance that the new SimCity Societies game I just wrote about will engage more people with the realities of climate risks and responses than all the yelling about Bjorn Lomborg or Newt Gingrich. It could even have more impact on the American public (those not reading the Huffington Post or National Review) than “An Inconvenient Truth.”

One reason is that the game, while very much entertainment, forces players (at least the demo I saw) to make choices, to understand that forswearing coal means installing an amazing number of much more expensive wind turbines and solar panels." (Thanks D.)


The new issue of the Badael page in al-Akhbar: My editorial on water privatization: the new apartheid, the main article on water privatization and water rights by Rania Masri, a small article on bottled water and another on orange blossom water plus a small note on mint.


The Ashira of the Huruk (عشيرة عرب الحروك). One of the remaining bedouin tribes of Lebanon, demands recognition. There are in the Bekaa two kinds of Ashaer (tribes) the shi'a of the North Bekaa, who have been settled for a long time, and the sunni of the west bekaa and the south (also called "arab" to mean "tribal"). There are 12 shi'a ashira, and the Hamadeh, who ruled Kesrwan, are the "head" of the Ashaer. Among the Shi'a ashaer: Jaafar, Nasreddine, Amhaz.

The sunni ashaer are different: they were nomadic or semi nomadic until 50 years ago, and have settled in the south (like the village of Ghajar, still occupied by Israel) or in other villages along the border. They are also present in the West Bekaa, and can sometimes be confused for Roma people. They were present in all Lebanon in the early 20th century, and raided villages in the suburbs of Beirut.

I don't know much more, if someone can point me to info, I'd be grateful. That's a job for Mustapha Mond.

Hash fatwa

Part 3 of the report of the special commission of the eradication of illicit crops to the seigneur of the serail: sanioura. Now they're considering issuing a fatwa to ban illicit crops. Next: a fatwa to control climate change. Stay tuned

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Philippe sent me this: A guy I am in contact with started a new search engine where you type in roman letters and search in arabic. Check it out, it is pretty good.

I checked it out, it is pretty good.


"John Negroponte was defending ongoing subsidies on US cotton growers during a visit to Burkina Faso, in west Africa.

He defended his government's refusal to withdraw subsidies.

"We have clearly indicated that we are ready to reduce our farms subsidies on the condition that our European Union partners can equally make the same gesture so we can work together in this direction," he said, according to Reuters news agency."

Ambassador to Honduras (Further information: The Torture Manuals), ambassador to the free car bomb Iraq, director of National Intelligence: just the man you need to defend the US cotton subsidies that are breaking the back of the African farmers

Legalize it!

The second installment of al-Akhbar's dossier on Hasish in Lebanon. interesting stuff: revenue per hectare: $10,000 if irrigated, $4,500 if not. And for opium poppies: $20,000 per irrigated hectare. They also list a number of crops that can be used, not to replace hashish, but to diversify agriculture in the bekaa. some of the options are quite good, like cherries or aromatic plants. problem is these things do not just materialize out of thin air. They have first to be made into policy and then to be part of a systematic development program focusing on the small holder, and including various aspects starting with access to land and water and ending with quality control, markets and branding. Who has time for that now? who will have time for that tomorrow?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


"The governor of Georgia held a public prayer vigil and asked God for rain to relieve the state's drought. This is at least the third time a Georgia governor has tried it. Governor's quotes: 1) Georgians haven't conserved water enough, so the drought is God's attempt to "get our attention." 2) "We come here very reverently and respectfully to pray up a storm." 3) "God, we need you. We need rain." 4) "God can make it rain tomorrow, he can make it rain next week or next month." Ministers' quotes: 1) "Oh God, let rain fall on this land of Georgia." 2) "We are entrepreneurs for you, dear God." Results: 1) The vigil "ended with the sun shining through what had been a somewhat cloudy morning." However, 2) Wednesday's forecast calls for a 60 percent chance of showers. Critiques: 1) "Hail Priest-King Perdue." 2) "God is not an ATM machine." 3) God is not an extortionist. 4) God is already aware of the drought. 5) "You can't make up for years of water mismanagement with a prayer session." 6) Less faith, more works. Defenses: 1) It's "worth a shot." 2) It worked last time. Human Nature's view: Intercessory prayer is an experimental failure." (Thanks D.)

Link is here.

I love this, D. sent it to me and she always has cool stuff. They do this prayer thing throughout the Muslim world and it is called "Salat al Istisqa'", the watering (?) prayer. It is frowned upon by local euroamericanized intellectuals who consider it a sign of backwardness and obscurantism. I don't think it is a sign of anything other than religion and faith, and I share Richard Dawkin's views on that matter: delusions. But I still think we should send the euroamericanized intellectuals to live in Georgia. Then salat al istisqa' will suddenly become the ultimate sign of wisdom and modernity.


“No, no, no, we’re not against ethanol production whatsoever,” said Lonnie Nation, who lives near New Castle, Ind., where he and others have posted signs, filed a lawsuit and were going door to door this month to stop a new plant. “But if you put it where they want to, you’re going to be squeezing all our homes between an ethanol plant and a prison. What will that do to home values?”


They ask me why I like Al-Akhbar. Here's the reason: in addition to its politics (it is a leftist daily newspaper that is not under the control of the House of Saud as Angry Arab would put it), on top of its support for the resistance against Israel, of its campaigning for the rights of the Palestinian people, of its innovativeness in addressing local and regional issues; its policy is to systematically highlight the plight of the exploited, the oppressed and the underserved, while avoiding the oversimplification trap. It is also one of the few to address seriously the productive sectors, especially agriculture. Look at today's issue: In the economics page, an excellent analysis of the Export Plus program initiated under Hariri to subsidize agricultural exports. The article points at the not-so-subtle difference between subsidizing agriculture and subsidizing long distance trade and export. It reveals that the program did not result in the revitalization of agriculture, but in enriching the big exporters, who buy the produce at the lowest prices, store it and then export it. It addresses the issue of triangular trade, the re-export of cheap farm imports. It shows that the program has encouraged export mostly to Syria and Egypt and not to new markets because Syria and Egypt is where money from the transport subsidies can be easily made. Farmers are asking for this subsidy to be limited to periods where there is excess production (and I agree with them) rather than being a blanket subsidy, and to be specific to certain crops.

A bit further, what promises to be a long reportage on the issue of drug crops in the Bekaa and Hermel. This is part 1 of 4 and I will be blogging the others as they are published. This is the report of the special committee appointed by Sanioura to deal with the issue of illicit crops in the Bekaa. The report states the conclusion of the committee early on: nothing can replace illicit crops (have you ever tried smoking sugar beet? yuckkk). There is also what appears to be decent situational analysis.

Al Akhbar, unlike what people say, is no unconditional supporter of the opposition: read this serious criticism by one of the editors (Khaled Saghiyyah) about Hizbullah's social policies. I like Saghiyyah: today he called Kushner a buffoon.

But that's not why I like Al-Akhbar. I like it is because it is not afraid to take risks, and to step outside the box. For 4 days now, it has published a series of cartoons drawn jointly by the talented Mazen Kerbaj and two Danish cartoonists, Jenz Koudahl and Ib Kjeldsmark (I have a soft spot for Danish cartoons: they move the Muslims more than any amount of Israeli and US bombing, more than the invasion of Iraq, more than thousand children deaths, more than 60 years of occupation of Palestine. Those Danes pack some punch). The first one was hilarious. The others are also very good. I tried copying them, but it comes out too small. here's the link for the first one, they're all on the last pages. It's called "Two blonds and an arab". Today's was about jazz and even had the word "fuck" in it. One wonders what the editors are doing.

And of course the fact that I write in Al-Akhbar does not at all affect my objective analysis.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


"The 2007 Word of the Year is (drum-roll please) locavore.

The past year saw the popularization of a trend in using locally grown ingredients, taking advantage of seasonally available foodstuffs that can be bought and prepared without the need for extra preservatives." (Thanks Aiman)

Se faire baser par les USA

"U.S. military and economic might in South Korea are being called into question this week as villagers launched a hunger strike to protest a U.S. military base expansion that would force them from their lands and farmers' unions demonstrated in Seoul against a proposed free trade agreement.

In addition to an eight-lane, 25-meter indoor swimming pool, the center will feature a 626-foot indoor running track; separate rooms for cardio fitness, circuit training, free weights, and group exercise; basketball and racquetball courts; a martial arts training room; and climbing walls, the newspaper added.

But Korean farmers chafe at the idea their land will be taken away so foreign soldiers can feel more comfortable. " (Thanks D.)

Didn't we hear about US interest in establishing bases in Lebanon? In the North?'s a crime

Habib Maalouf on the incestuous relationship between government and NGOs in Lebanon.


It's official: a recent study shows that 66.6% of trade in Lebanon is monopolistic, and that it affects 50% of all sales. These monopolies are not only "sole agents of foreign companies" protected by the state, but political cartels protected by warlords.

Wheat again

Another act of the Lebanese wheat subsidies saga, or how to rob the people and make them feel grateful, by the excellent Rasha abu Zaki.


Khalid Sagiyyah on Hizbullah's belated realization of the importance of social justice issues. "Both Hizbullah and the opposition rush to open economic and social dossiers whenever they are in a tight corner. For years, they have stood by as the country was being carved among a few. If Hizbullah is raising these issues as part of its political build up, then this build up can take place without further mistakes on the social scene. But if it has taken the decision to oppose the systematic pillage of Lebanon by the neoliberals, then it knows which doors to knock" (My rapid and bad translation but I think the gist is there).

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fried Green Tomatoes

"This program which at the beginning was headed by Shai Leviatov the current Zeraim Gedera tomato development manager and is today headed by Raviv Ozeri, focuses on the development of new high yielding varieties that include properties such as high TYLCV tolerance, high fruit setting capacity in hot temperatures and superior quality fruit.

The key target market chosen for the program is Egypt. Egypt, with a population of over 70 million, is one of the largest potential markets for open field tomatoes in the world. The produce is primarily for supplying the local market with a small amount for export mainly to the Arabian Peninsula and Gulf countries.

The chief development takes place in the suitable growing areas in Israel while simultaneously new selected varieties are tested and acclimatized in Egypt every year with the active collaboration of Technogreen (Zeraim Gedera’s sole distributor in Egypt). The program has been running for over ten years and its first commercial varieties are Rosario followed by the current most widespread variety, Soave."

1. Businesses will always find a way to collaborate in order to accumulate wealth, regardless of wars, politics or ethics. Isn't this a central tenet of the neoliberal doctrine?

2. The Israeli agronomists have found their niche: Identify problems in the Arab World, develop technologies, sell them through monopolistic structures (sole distributors) to the farmers. I wonder how many of those farmers know that their seeds are in fact Israeli seeds. I wonder how many care.

3. Shame on the Egyptians and the rest of the Arab world for not developing their own seeds and making them available freely, as they should. Egypt graduates more PhDs in Agriculture at the expense of the state than the rest of the Arab World together. What are they doing?

4. Do we get these seeds in Lebanon? I wonder...


"We are what we buy — a glib adage to be sure, but it prompts an interesting question: Is our consumer society sustainable? Marketplace and American Public Media take on that question in this special series. We follow consumerism from its origins to its dominance in the world's economy and, arguably, its culture. And we examine how, and if, it might be adapted to reduce its destructive consequences while keeping store shelves stocked."

My friend D. sent me this link to a series of articles on consumerism published by Marketplace, an American public media project. It is fascinating, and even though it addresses US issues, economic and cultural globalization have made sure that many topics are very relevant to Lebanon. Here are some of the titles of the articles:

How much longer can we 'overshoot'?

Our population is consuming about 30% more trees, fish and fossil fuels than the planet can regenerate. How big a hole can we dig before we can't get out of it? Kai Ryssdal talks with Jared Diamond, a geography professor at UCLA. (11/09/2007)

What hungry consumerism leaves behind

If a port is the mouth of America's consumer economy, the landfill is the other end. Tess Vigeland reports on the people and places wrestling with the question of what to do with all the waste. (11/09/2007)

Greed as a disease

America's consumer economy may be a symptom of a bigger illness -- and it could be killing us all. As a species, we simply don't know what to do with all this excess, says prominent UCLA researcher Dr. Peter Whybrow. (11/12/2007)

...and many others. You can download as MP3 or read the transcripts.


The latest on the biofuel scam (thanks Rania)

"At this point the biofuels industry starts shouting "jatropha!" It is not yet a swear word, but it soon will be. Jatropha is a tough weed with oily seeds that grows in the tropics. This summer Bob Geldof, who never misses an opportunity to promote simplistic solutions to complex problems, arrived in Swaziland in the role of "special adviser" to a biofuels firm. Because it can grow on marginal land, jatropha, he claimed, is a "life-changing" plant, which will offer jobs, cash crops and economic power to African smallholders.

Yes, it can grow on poor land and be cultivated by smallholders. But it can also grow on fertile land and be cultivated by largeholders. If there is one blindingly obvious fact about biofuel it's that it is not a smallholder crop. It is an internationally-traded commodity which travels well and can be stored indefinitely, with no premium for local or organic produce. Already the Indian government is planning 14m hectares of jatropha plantations. In August the first riots took place among the peasant farmers being driven off the land to make way for them."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Organize, educate, agitate

Essential reading

"In the social sciences I think 'scientific objectivity' or 'neutrality' is a vain hope and it is better to examine critically oneself and announce one's bias because there is bound to be one. It begins with your choice of subject and who it is going to be useful to. You can do research that will benefit the powerful. People used to assume that I was working on what we used to call the Third World and superficially it may have looked that way, but not in my mind. But the Third World did happen to be the place where the power relations played out most obviously and caused the most damage to human beings, whether it was US food aid, agribusiness corporations or IMF structural adjustment policies. I suppose the main thing is that the scholar-activist or public scholar has a popular, progressive, political constituency and considers him/herself in the service of this constituency. I find most academics -fortunately with a lot of exceptions-are not really interested in the power relations of any given topic in the social and political and economic sciences. Mainstream economists are probably the worst! I've never done anything but study power, that's what is both interesting and important to me.

Politics does not happen that way. Politics happens because people work very hard. True, it takes numbers, so there is this element of a multitude, but numbers are not enough. You have to have ideas which have to be generated and propagated. The right has done this so much better than people on the left. They do everything better: money, mission, myth-creation, management. They have a very clear idea of what they want, which is to take over the concepts and thought processes throughout the world so that everyone is thinking inside their box. Just as fish have no idea they are swimming in water, people have no idea they are swimming in neoliberalism - that's the victory of the right. Many things become believable and plausible (like Corporate Social Responsibility), because everyone is naturally a 'good citizen', and we will be kind and just to each other naturally, so there is no need for constraints or laws. Amazing!

I recently did a short analysis on Friedrich Hayek and his idea of economic freedom, which has nothing to do with genuine existential freedom. It is the freedom to use your money as you wish-including private yachts. The rich have no responsibility to pay for, say, the education of poor children. For the past 300 years, at least in the Anglo-Saxon philosophical tradition, we've been trying to separate this notion of freedom in the Hayekian sense from freedom of religion, of speech, personal freedoms, including the right to one's private life and to own property. Neoliberals have managed to conflate economic freedom, market freedom, with other kinds, which derive from the enlightenment.

They have been quite successful in creating coherent programmes based on market freedom. When practised abroad, it is called the 'Washington consensus' and at home it is 'Thatcherism' or 'Reaganism'. But it is the same thing. It aims at destroying trade unions; everyone must be free to fight for a job but not have compensation, not have welfare. If they could destroy the public health system, they would.You would be free to pay for private health insurance, but that is your choice. If you fall ill and don't have insurance, too bad, you had a choice. I looked into the right-wing secular and religious foundations which have spent billions of dollars to attain cultural hegemony. This is the subject of a forthcoming book; I call them the right-wing Gramscians, because they understood Gramsci's concepts of cultural hegemony and what he called the 'long march through the institutions', and they have been truly successful."

Read this excellent interview with Susan George. As usual, she draws in very simple terms, but without being simplistic, the current politico-economic map of the world. It frightens me how minimal this debate is in Lebanon and the Arab World, how much the local medias and academics are impervious to this approach. Note her take on the alternative globalization movement and on transnational activism: "True, there is a movement now, but at that level there is no machinery. If you don't have democratic machinery you cannot force the World Bank to behave in a different way." Organize, educate, agitate: isn't this what the Fabians used to say?

Carbon trading

"AMY GOODMAN: Daphne Wysham, what’s your problem with it?

DAPHNE WYSHAM: Well, you know, this is a nice abstraction, but what we should be looking at is how carbon trading is playing out in reality. If you look at the EU emissions trading system that was up and running -- has been up and running for several years, we see that emissions are actually up for greenhouse gas emissions, as are profits. Profits are up for the nuclear industry, for the coal industry, and the average consumer is paying more.

Now, the EU emissions trading system, they’ve begun to make changes in that system; however, essentially what carbon trading does is it turns the earth's carbon cycling capacity into property that is to be bought and sold in a global market. And by turning carbon into a commodity, we’re essentially taking the earth's ability to support a climate conducive to life and human societies and passing it into the same corporate hands that are destroying the climate.

So, you know, one of the problems with the parameters of the climate debate is that for too long NGOs have been sort of promoting solutions that have been operating in a vacuum of, you know, analysis of other issues, fundamental issues around who profits, who pays, democracy, power. All of these sorts of things are rarely debated. And as a result, we have a very narrow sort of political space in which we’re now discussing how we move forward on the issue of climate change."

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Agriculture in the Islamic Golden Age

I found this on an unknown blog. I don't usually blog from blog sources, but this seemed rigorous, if very long.

"The Islamic Golden Age from the 8th century to the 13th century witnessed a fundamental transformation in agriculture known as the Muslim Agricultural Revolution, Arab Agricultural Revolution or Green Revolution. Due to the global economy established by Muslim traders across the Old World, this enabled the diffusion of many plants and farming techniques between different parts of the Islamic world, as well as the adaptation of plants and techniques from beyond the Islamic world. Crops from Africa such as sorghum, crops from China such as citrus fruits, and numerous crops from India such as mangos, rice, and especially cotton and sugar cane, were distributed throughout Islamic lands which normally would not be able to grow these crops. Some have referred to the diffusion of numerous crops during this period as the "Globalisation of Crops", which, along with an increased mechanization of agriculture, led to major changes in economy, population distribution, vegetation cover. Agricultural production and income, population levels, urban growth, the distribution of the labour force, linked industries, cooking and diet, clothing, and numerous other aspects of life in the Islamic world."

Very interesting and very well referenced

Who done it

"Urbanization is a global trend. The move of workers from agriculture to the service sector is a global trend. Lifestyles are increasingly sedentary.

The food supply is globalized, as are its distribution channels. Energy-dense foods are cheap, convenient, and increasingly available, especially in urban settings. They are also extensively advertised.

These trends have had ominous results for health.

Chronic diseases, long considered the companions of affluent countries, have changed places. These diseases now impose their greatest burden on low- and middle-income countries.

This region is rightly concerned."

From WHO's director general address to the regional committee for the eastern mediterranean. Interesting.


"Oct 16 (Reuters) - Tuesday marks World Food Day, with aid workers warning that war, weather, disease and deepening poverty leave more people hungry and in need of food aid each year just as rising prices make feeding them more expensive.

Below are some global statistics on food shortages and aid and a summary of some of the world's current food crises.

-- 854 million people worldwide do not have enough to eat, more than the combined populations of the United States, Canada and the European Union.

-- In the 1990s, global poverty dropped by 20 percent, as the number of hungry people increased by 18 million.

-- Every five seconds a child dies because of hunger.

-- One in four children in developing countries is underweight."

A useful "facts box" follows