Monday, March 31, 2008

Missing markets

Organic marketing and export makes it into the Harvard Business School: A very interesting paper by Ashraf et al. (Thanks D.)

Finding Missing Markets (and a disturbing epilogue): Evidence from an Export Crop Adoption and Marketing Intervention in Kenya

January 2008


In much of the developing world, many farmers grow crops for local or personal consumption despite export options which appear to be more profitable. Thus many conjecture that one or several markets are missing. We report here on a randomized controlled trial conducted by DrumNet in Kenya that attempts to help farmers adopt and market export crops. DrumNet provides smallholder farmers with information about how to switch to export crops, makes in-kind loans for the purchase of the agricultural inputs, and provides marketing services by facilitating the transaction with exporters. The experimental evaluation design randomly assigns pre-existing farmer self-help groups to one of three groups: (1) a treatment group that receives all DrumNet services, (2) a treatment group that receives all DrumNet services except credit, or (3) a control group. After one year, DrumNet services led to an increase in production of export oriented crops and lower marketing costs; this translated into household income gains for new adopters. However, one year after the study ended, the exporter refused to continue buying the cash crops from the farmers because the conditions of the farms did not satisfy European export requirements. DrumNet collapsed in this region as farmers were forced to sell to middlemen and defaulted on their loans. The risk of such events may explain, at least partly, why many seemingly more profitable export crops are not adopted.

World Food Politics

"It noted that there were two "entirely separate food pipelines" in Zimbabwe: that in which the government supplied subsidised food for sale through the country's Grain Marketing Board; and the free food supplies which the WFP and its partners handed out to "the most vulnerable people based solely on need."

This second progamme, the WFP said, was operated under "a rigorous set of controls and procedures to ensure that there is no political interference."

It added: "WFP does not tolerate any political interference in the distribution of its food assistance, which is provided strictly according to need and without regard to political affiliation...""

But isn't this in itself a political program?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mark this date

Egypt's protesters are using, among others, Facebook for prepare for a general protest on April 6. Most are in their 20's. Egypt will not be the same after April 6, they say. The older generation is saying: "here are the times of crisis coming back to us without wars" in reference to the wars of 1967 and 1973 which also saw dire economic conditions. No war? Are you sure?

Some numbers

On the occasion of the Arab summit in Damascus, Al-Akhbar reminds us of a few figures:
  • 26.5%: Arab unemployment
  • 30.1%: Arab adult illiteracy
  • 70%: Arab workers not covered by retirement salaries
  • 3.4%: Arab share of world foreign investment
But the king is in good health. And Dubai has the tallest tower of all.

The industry

Ayman Fadel reports in Al Akhbar on a meeting organized to discuss the sorry state of Lebanese industry.
  • Lebanese industry contributes to about 18% of GDP, industry exports $ 2.8 billion a year.
  • The extra cost to the industry due to the hindrances created by working in Lebanon (costs, bureaucracy, etc) is estimated at 60% of the value added, or $668 millions. How can one be competitive?
  • The speakers (liberals to very liberals) blamed the contradiction between the ultraliberalism of the government on the one hand, and its control over the exchange price of the Lebanese pound which is locked onto the US dollar at 1,500 LBP for one US$. This contradiction creates mayhem in the economy.
  • Most of the importing countries are closing their doors to Lebanese products on the basis of quality, health and environmental issues.
It looks like the share of GDP in the economy is going to continue to drop, as the current government has shown no intention of changing its anti-productive economy course. Service economy and remittances (Lebanon is one of the 10 top countries for remittances) will continue to be the mainstay. Tourism remains the great hope. But last year, there were 900 million tourists in the world, 45 millions in the Middle East, and one million in Lebanon. We will need to make some serious effort if we want tourism to plug the hole in the Lebanese economy. Maybe make belly dancing compulsory?


Rasha abu Zaki is persistent: why should the Lebanese government subsidize 17,000 tons of wheat when what is needed is just 14,000? Is it because it becomes easier to sell them if you buy them so cheaply?

Price rice

"Rising prices and a growing fear of scarcity have prompted some of the world's largest rice producers to announce drastic limits on the amount of rice they export.

The price of rice, a staple in the diets of nearly half the world's population, has almost doubled on international markets in the last three months. That has pinched the budgets of millions of poor Asians and raised fears of civil unrest.

Shortages and high prices for all kinds of food have caused tensions and even violence around the world in recent months. Since January, thousands of troops have been deployed in Pakistan to guard trucks carrying wheat and flour. Protests have erupted in Indonesia over soybean shortages, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

Food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen. But the moves by rice-exporting nations over the last two days — meant to ensure scarce supplies will meet domestic needs — drove prices on the world market even higher this week.

This has fed the insecurity of rice-importing nations, already increasingly desperate to secure supplies. On Tuesday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines, afraid of increasing rice scarcity, ordered government investigators to track down hoarders." (Thanks D.) sources in the commodities trading world of rice tell me they are convinced there is no shortage of rice, and that it is available, hoarded somewhere. It is just not on the market, and many among the importers have lost millions in the price difference between selling price and replacement costs. Expect it to go higher, especially as countries that are self sufficient have blocked exports.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Management is broken

"What do the following have in common: sub-prime mortgages; collateralised debt obligations and other instruments by which those mortgages are sliced, diced and sold on; and excessive leverage, whether by banks, private equity or hedge funds? They are all reckless and conscious mis-selling, the product of an amoral, deterministic system that expects and gives individuals the incentive to maximise their gains, while barring them from taking into account the costs their profit-making imposes on society as a whole.

Together, markets and companies have in the past been a formidable driver of economic welfare. Without the dynamic of organisations and markets - the company proposes, the market disposes - no country has, or could, aspire to the levels of wealth achieved by the economies of the West. Indeed, the centrally planned economies broke in the attempt.

However, this is not the result of some immutable, pure, 'free-market' design, as the fundamentalists would have it (for real free markets, try Haiti, Nigeria or early post-Soviet Russia), but of man-made rules that foster creative interplay between the economic actors. So far, the rules have, just about, kept the balance sheet positive. No longer. As a former senior Esso executive, Øystein Dahle, predicted, while 'socialism collapsed because it did not allow prices to tell the economic truth ... capitalism may collapse because it does not allow prices to tell the ecological truth'."

Simon Caulkin on Capitalism

At war with capitalism

"Indeed, Tibet's economy has surpassed China's average growth rate, helped by generous subsidies from Beijing and more than a million tourists a year. The vast rural hinterland shows few signs of this growth, but Lhasa, with its shopping malls, glass-and-steel office buildings, massage parlours and hair saloons, resembles a Chinese provincial city on the make. Beijing hopes that the new rail link to Lhasa, which makes possible the cheap extraction of Tibet's uranium and copper, will bring about kuayueshi fazhan ("leapfrog development") - economic, social and cultural.

For one, the Chinese failed to consult Tibetans about the kind of economic growth they wanted. In this sense, at least, Tibetans are not much more politically impotent than the hundreds of millions of hapless Chinese uprooted by China's Faustian pact with consumer capitalism. The Tibetans share their frustration with farmers and tribal peoples in the Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa, who, though apparently inhabiting the world's largest democracy, confront a murderous axis of politicians, businessmen, and militias determined to corral their ancestral lands into a global network of profit."

Pankaj Mishra offers another view on Tibet.


"The people of Mizoram, a tiny, remote state of north-east India squeezed between Burma and Bangladesh, have known for the past 48 years that they would face famine in 2008. Confirmation came last November when the local species of bamboo that dominates the state's landscape began to burst into flower - a peculiar ecological phenomenon that happens about twice a century.

A plague of rats rapidly followed, feasting on the bamboo's protein-richavocado-like fruit, before swarming to consume the farmers' rice paddies, grain harvests and food stockpiles. Now up to a million people are facing hunger, according to aid agencies.

Mrinal Gohain, of charity Action Aid, said: 'There were rats all over the fields. Farmers would go to harvest their crops and find that the entire field had been eaten overnight.'"

...and famine is happening. People have known about this for half a century, but it still struck and India was unprepared. I had blogged about it earlier, but this whole process is terrifying.

No rain

I just got back from 2 days in South Lebanon. I write this as a reminder: It hasn't rained since February 25. In places where wheat should be at least 1 m high it is still less than 30 cm. If rain doesn't come soon, yields will be very low. Even if it comes soon, yields will still be low. Read this in context with the several folds increase in the international prices of wheat.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


"The threat of a calamitous 1990s-style famine has fallen substantially because of the emergence of grass-roots private markets across North Korea and a U.N. system for nutrition monitoring. Still, large numbers of people stand to suffer severe hardship, although probably not death, joining the ranks of the millions of North Koreans who go hungry even when harvests are good and food aid arrives.

Roughly a third of children and mothers are malnourished, according to a recent U.N. study. The average 8-year-old in the North is seven inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than a South Korean child of the same age.

This year is anything but good. Floods last August ruined part of the main yearly harvest, creating a 25 percent shortfall in the food supply and putting 6 million people in need, according to the U.N. World Food Program.

Over the winter, drought damaged the wheat and barley crop, according to a recent report in the official North Korean media. That crop normally tides people over during the summer "lean season" until the fall harvest.

North Korea's ability to buy food, meanwhile, has plunged, as the cost of rice and wheat on the global market has jumped to record highs, up 50 percent in the past six months."

Oil spill on the historic salt drying flats of Enfeh (les salines de Enfeh). The source? The cement factory Holcim. IndyAct and Al Akhbar are making a fuss. Who owns Holcim?

Tea time

It hasn't rained in over a month and this promises to be one of the driest years on record. Is this why Israel has destroyed the barbed wires on the border and advanced towards the Wazzani springs, in full view of the UNIFIL and of the Lebanese Army? Who's going to stop the Israelis? Lets see.

Climate change and farming in the near east

Here's the report of the Cairo meeting of March 1-5 of the FAO. The theme was "Climate Change, implications for agriculture in the Near East". And here's a critique in Al Akhbar's economic page today: "The language of the report is fatalistic. It does not address the causes of global warming, and gives partial solutions of the symptoms not the causes. It recommends reducing losses through better use of fertilizers and improving water use and improving productivity and water harvesting, and reducing methane emissions from rice and planting more perennials and "substitution of bioenergy and fossil fuel – although a possible option, FAO stresses that adverse effects on food security and the environment should be carefully assessed before embarking on any large-scale developments in this area."
In Gaza, the bakeries are on strike and there is no bread. In Egypt people were killed in the rush for subsidized bread. And in Lebanon, there may be no bread tomorrow.

Life changes of the Bedouins

"And herein is the crux and tragedy of the Bedouin's present situation. For generations, Arabs in the North Arabian Desert have moved back-andforth between Bedouinism and the settled life. In good times Bedouin took to life on the farm and in the village. In hard times, be they environmental, social, political or economic, they took to the arid lands and the pastoral life. About 1893, international events shifted toward favoring the settled life over that of the pastoralist and the process of de-Bedouinization has accelerated since. By about 1990, the process of de-Bedouinization, precipitated by the enthusiasm for international capitalism, changed substantially and brutally. It is one thing to dismiss those who raise sheep in Jordan's Badia, sheep whose production costs are greater than sheep raised in central Australia, as simply unfortunate but subject like everyone else to inevitable competitive laws. It is quite something else to relegate these people and their children, who have few alternatives and little by way of safety net, to an economic and social dustbin. While noncompetitive and anachronistic, the present Bedouin's only alternative to Bedouinism is a life of crime, smuggling and banditry, and all the chaos and expense that accompanies such a life. As one of our interviewees put it, "I cannot see my children starve. The government is forcing me to do illegal things. If I lose my herd, I will have to steal to feed my family.""

Excellent article (if a bit old) by Burnett et al in the Journal of Third World Studies on the changes in the lives of the Jordanian Bedouins. (MM you'll enjoy this one)

Woman of Arsal

I've always liked this picture I took in `Arsal in December 2002.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Assi dam

Interesting article in Al Safir on the planned dam on the Assi river. The river is shared with Syria, and my understanding is that the Syrians have always objected to the dam as it may give Lebanon its fair share of water.

Up in smoke

Lebanese tobacco farmers will find it more difficult to sell their production: the main buyer, Philip Morris, is imposing tougher quality requirements, but most farmers are small and agricultural extension is inexistent. I have blogged on tobacco before, read it in context.
Trade deficit till February 2008: $1,745 millions. Summary data in post below.

Lebanon Is Not For Sale

In yesterday's al akhbar, a report on the anti globalization/ anti WTO group of 17 NGOs called: "Lebanon Is Not For Sale". No departure from the global anti globalization discourse, but comforting to see political-non sectarian action.

Sweet deal

Al Akhbar reported yesterday of an embezzlement operation of nearly $1 million on the subsidies for sugar beet. Apparently, big political figures are implicated. It happened this way: The government wanted to stop subsidies on sugar beet, so it gave compensation to farmers who had planted sugar beet. Big farmers and influential local figures had known about the plan and had rented lands and seeded them with sugar beet without any intention of growing beet. They did not invest in fertilizers or any input other than the seeds. Once they got the compensation, they turned the crop under and planted something else.

Lebanon trade statistics

I have received this from the Ministry of Finances. For more trade stats, check out the customs site, very useful.

Trade and customs revenues data for February 2008 have been published by the Ministry of Finance, Customs Directorate

Table 1: Trade activity by value

(US$ millions)





% Change

% Change



Jan - Feb

Jan - Feb

Feb 07 – Feb 08

Jan-Feb 07 - Jan-Feb 08















Trade Balance







Table 2: Trade activity by volume

(Thousand tons)





% Change

% Change



Jan - Feb

Jan - Feb

Feb 07 – Feb 08

Jan-Feb 07 - Jan-Feb 08















Trade Balance







Source: Directorate General of Customs, Ministry of Finance

Kindly find a summary of data attached. The document can also be accessed at the Ministry of Finance's website at with the full data set available at

For more information, kindly contact:

Office of the Minister

Ministry of Finance

Tel: 961-1-981057/8

Fax: 961-1-981059


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mazaher from Maghdousheh

This is the season of mazaher (orange blossom water) in Lebanon. Mazaher is made by distilling the flowers of the bitter orange (Citrus aurentium) , and is very popular in Lebanon where it is used for perfuming sweets and in drinks. The season is very short (mid March to early April) and this year it has been shortened even more by two khamseen events which brought temperatures up to 33 celcius with hot dry winds.

One of the most famous mazaher in Lebanon is made in the Southern village of Maghdousheh, right above the city of Saida. In spring, Maghdousheh smells like paradise because of the thousands of bitter orange trees that come into flower at the same time. This is where I went today to take pictures for a forthcoming website (and book) on traditional Lebanese foods. Above is a photo of a man harvesting the orange blossoms in a sea of trees.

Here's a close up of the fragrant orange blossom.

And here's a proud producer showing his precious mazaher, with behind him the wood-fired alembic.

Borshch carrera

"What happens to the food that defines a world when that world vanishes? What happened, in particular, to the dish that was once the common denominator of the Soviet kitchen, the dish that tied together the peasant and the cosmonaut, the high table of the Kremlin and the meanest canteen in the boondocks of the Urals? What happened to the beetroot soup that pumped like a main artery through the kitchens of the east Slav lands? What happened to borshch?"

The (long) story of borshch by James Meek from The Guardian.

Lebanese wine. But for how long?

"De Bustros started selling wine here in 1979, in the middle of the civil war.

"I fulfilled a dream for myself," the 79year-old businessman says.

The castle's salonis covered with awards for the best Kefraya wines. Just last year, the "Château Kefraya 2002" won the gold medal at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles. Years ago, wine-pope Robert Parker in The Advocate rated Kefraya's Cuvée Prestige "Comte de M," 91 out of 100 points.

A quarter century ago, in June 1982, IDF troops moved into the Bekaa Valley just after Syrian positions north of Kefraya had been bombed. De Bustros remembers those stormy days well.

"The Israeli soldiers erected four camps on our vineyards, and the battles against the Syrians took place just around it," he recalls.

The quality of the wines apparently didn't suffer: the vintage of 1982 won the silver medal at the competition of BlayeBourg in Bordeaux - the first of 200 awards over the decades to follow.

"Nothing can stop the Lebanese," de Bustros says with a smile, as we sit in the restaurant Dionysos, which belongs to the property.

In 1987, only eight years after having founded the estate, he started exporting, despite all the difficulties of a land at war.

During Israel's siege on Beirut in 1982, for example, when transport from the capital to the Bekaa Valley was not possible, he shipped corks and bottles via boat from Jounieh to Saida, from where they could be brought over the Shouf Mountains to Kefraya. This was an art of improvisation, making the export of 15,000 bottles possible.

Today, it's one million bottles a year to 35 countries worldwide." (Thanks D.)

Not an exceptionally interesting article until you realize that it was published in the Jerusalem Post.

Subprime potato

"Americans may think of the disease that destroyed Ireland’s potato crops, late blight, as a European phenomenon, but its devastations actually started with them. The origin of the fungal organism responsible, Phytophthora infestans, has been traced to a valley in the highlands of central Mexico, and the first recorded instances of the disease are in the United States, with the sudden and mysterious destruction of potato crops around Philadelphia and New York in early 1843. Within months, winds spread the rapidly reproducing airborne spores of the disease, and by 1845 it had destroyed potato crops from Illinois east to Nova Scotia, and from Virginia north to Ontario.
Not since the 1840s have we seen anything like this, they declared as the Bank of England stepped in last year to save the Northern Rock bank from a collapse caused by the subprime mortgage debacle — another American-born infection. At least our potatoes are safe." (Thanks D.)

The potato famine and subprime mortgages. Read all about it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Suha's manoucheh

My daughter Suha making manoucheh in the village bakery.

Bottle battle

"First San Francisco banned it. Then Chicago started taxing it. Now, the city of Seattle is taking action against bottled water; last week, Mayor Greg Nickels signed an executive order to stop the city from buying bottled water. That means no more bottled water at city facilities and events, which may sound like a small step, but it'll make a big difference; last year, the city spent $58,000 on the stuff (and that's not including the true cost and carbon footprint of bottled water). We're willing to bet that the city's taxpayers can probably think of about 58,000 ways to better spend that money." (Thanks D.)

Virtual water

"Stockholm, March 19, 2008 – Professor John Anthony Allan from King’s College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies has been named the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate. Professor Allan pioneered the development of key concepts in the understanding and communication of water issues and how they are linked to agriculture, climate change, economics and politics.

People do not only consume water when they drink it or take a shower. In 1993, Professor Allan, 71, strikingly demonstrated this by introducing the “virtual water” concept, which measures how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products. Behind that morning cup of coffee are 140 litres of water used to grow, produce, package and ship the beans. That is roughly the same amount of water used by an average person daily in England for drinking and household needs. The ubiquitous hamburger needs an estimated 2,400 litres of water. Per capita, Americans consume around 6,800 litres of virtual water every day, over triple that of a Chinese person." From SIWI website. (Thanks Dave)

Biotech salvation

"Africa's traditional rural food systems are definitely "slow." To serve maize meal (called nsima) to her family, an African woman must first spend a season planting, weeding, harvesting and storing her corn, then she must strip it, winnow it, soak it, lay it out to dry, carry it to a grinder or pound it by hand, dry it again, and finally - after walking to gather enough fuel wood - cook it over a fire.

Nearly all of Africa's farms are thus de facto "organic." Poor and non-productive, but organic.

In Europe, meanwhile, some official donors and nongovernmental agencies are working to block farm modernization in Africa. Despite Africa's worsening soil nutrient deficits, European donors like to promote costly organic farming techniques as the alternative to chemical fertilizer use. This is not how European farmers escaped poverty. Only 4 percent of cropland in Europe is currently being farmed organically (and less than 1 percent in America), but European NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace tell Africa's poor this is the path they should follow.

European governments and NGOs also promote regulatory systems that block the use of genetically engineered crops, including crops capable of resisting insects without pesticide sprays. Europe's own science academies have found no new risks to human health or the environment from any of the genetically engineered crops placed on the market so far, but since overfed Europe can do without this technology, underfed Africa is told to do the same.

In this fashion, and perhaps without realizing it, wealthy countries are imposing the richest of tastes on the poorest of people. The rich are, in effect, telling Africa's farmers they should just as well remain poor." (Thanks D.)

Robert Paarlberg a professor of political science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and the author of "Starved for Science: How Biotechnology is Being Kept Out of Africa" wrote the article from which these excerpts were obtained for the IHT.

The article ridicules Boston students (liberals?) who want to keep the African farmer in poverty in order to satisfy their conscience. The alternative, he says, is agribusinesses and genetic engineering. This great combination has had unmitigated success in India, where thousands of small farmers commit suicide every year, but where the lumped figures for growth are a source of pride to simplistic economics.

The author also denigrates organic farming. I am not a fundamentalist believer in organic farming, but I know, because I practice it and I teach it, that for most crops, yields can be just as high as conventional farming, and that organic farming does not mean "no-inputs, backwards, and subsistence farming". Organic farming involves a lot of serious science, and requires significant know-how and technology transfer. And soil enrichment is one of the most crucial steps in organic farming.

The article has other inaccuracies, such as the reasons underlying the decline in aid funding for agriculture, which has to do with a belief that was dominant in the last decade that investing in agriculture was not a good use for development money. This idea has changed now, with the increase in world food prices.

I guess the biotech industry also needs supporters who can also stir emotions and use moral arguments for leverage.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hreeseh in pictures

I have blogged about hreeseh a couple of times already, latest here. Today, the women from my extended family (cousins of my father) were making hreeseh in my village of Jabal `Amel in South Lebanon. They woke up at 2 am and set the wood fire under the brass cauldrons, and they took turns cooking the wheat and the chicken. This is how they make hreeseh:


Chicken: 50 kg
Wheat (white): 33 kg
Water: as needed to fill the cauldron (about 50 liters)
Ghee: 3 kg
Butter: 1.5 kg

The wheat and the chicken are cooked in 2 separate cauldrons. The women (it is almost exclusively made by women) start cooking about 14 hours before the hreeseh is to be eaten. First, the wheat is cooked until it becomes tender. The chicken is cooked at the same time (but only for a couple of hours) and the chicken stock is added to the wheat as the water evaporates. After around 6 hours, the wheat is soft enough to be mashed by 1 or 2 women, while the other 3 or 4 are still stirring (see below).

12 hours (and a couple of mature trees) later (around 2 pm), the (over) cooked chicken meat is added with the melted ghee and butter mixture. Some more mashing takes place, and the hreeseh is ready to be consumed and distributed. But before that, the majlis `aza has to take place.

Hreeseh is cooked in special occasions, usually religious ones. In Shi'a South Lebanon, it is in remembrance of the martyrdom of Hussein in Karbala, usually during the `Ashura, the first 10 days of the month of Muharram according to the Muslim calendar. During `Ashura, people organise a majlis `aza (a reception for condolences), during which prayers are read and the stories of the death of Hussein is recounted in chants. But people can also decide to have a majlis `aza anytime they wish. There was no special occasion today, my extended family just decided to remember 'ahl al bayt (the family of the Muhammad, but meaning mainly Ali, Hussein and Zaynab). So they cooked large quantities of hreeseh, had the majlis `aza, and when it was over they distributed hreeseh to the whole village.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I'm off to the South of Lebanon tomorrow for a 3-days break. Tomorrow, I will check out with Slow Food Beirut the location of the new farmer's market in Saida, in the old caravanserail, Khan al Franj. Not sure I'll be able to blog for the next few days.

Development or impoverishment? The World Bank in Africa

"Beneath these entirely business-as-usual policies, there are starkly contradictory objectives: the humanitarian concerns of poverty alleviation clash with a Darwinian market fundamentalism. ‘Market fundamentalism’ is defined here as the unshakeable belief in the innate nature of the market as a prime mover of exchange and optimizer of production without regard for the political imbalances and social biases of markets as historical institutions. States are seen as potential concentrations of vested interests and power in stark contrast to markets as neutral forums of exchange.

Will African peasant farmers’ lot improve or decline further? The report has a casual way of not distinguishing the radically different policy needs of small as opposed to large-scale agriculture. In global agricultural commodity markets, African smallholder producers have been losing market share continually over the last three decades. Africa’s traditional export crops, the beverage crops: coffee, cocoa, tea, as well as cotton, tobacco, cashew, etc. have steadily declined to now quite negligible export levels. The comparative advantage that African smallholders held in these crops has been undermined by far more efficient producers elsewhere. There is no evidence provided to suggest that the broad masses of African small-scale peasant farmers will experience anything other than continuing difficulties in meeting the rigours of global commodity market chains with their highly regulated standards and time schedules.

At present hundreds of millions of African peasant smallholders are not competing successfully in global commodity markets. The World Bank adopts a matter-of-fact position that they will relinquish their autonomy as agricultural producers and work as contract farmers or wage labours in large-scale agribusiness or alternatively leave agriculture to seek their livelihood elsewhere. Their sanguine attitude towards peasant labour redundancy does not tally with their professed concern for the African rural poor. Beneath the WDR 2008’s public relations spin about poverty alleviation, they are conferring carte blanche support to a ‘survival of the fittest’ economic trajectory in which the grossly imbalanced commercial interests of large-scale OECD subsidized farmers, supermarket chains and agribusiness have full scope to compete against unsubsidized peasant farmers engaged in rural ways of life that that have managed hitherto to endure for millennia."

From an excellent article on the World Bank's Development Report of 2008 on Agriculture, by:

Kjell Havnevik, Senior Researcher with the Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala
Deborah Fahy Bryceson, Research Associate at the African Studies Centre, Oxford University
Atakilte Beyene, PhD in Development Studies, affiliated with The Stockholm Environment
Institute, Stockholm, Sweden
Prosper Matondi, Centre for Rural Development, University of Zimbabwe

The website on which the article is posted, Pambazuka News, is also great, check it out. (Thanks Daniel)

Wild edible plants

I have written and blogged a couple of articles in Al-Akhbar's Badael page on the wild plants harvested in Lebanon (sleeqa), and their nutritional and economic importance. Today, Al Safir ran an article on the same topic, but it listed the plants names. Here they are:
وإلى جانب بيع الأعشاب البرية، تحولت الدردار ـ المشي ـ العكوب ـ الرشاد ـ الزويتي ـ العلت ـ كف الدب ـ لسان الثور ـ كف العروس ـ الكراث ـ الشمرة ـ القرقميش ـ السبينخة ـ القرة ـ الجرجير ـ البقلة ـ السنينير ـ الزعتر ـ القصعين ـ اكليل الجبل ـ الهليون ـ الزوفا ـ رعي الحمام ـ الخباز ـ رجل الدب ـ عصا الذهب ـ كيس الراعي ـ المردقوش ـ الأقحوان ـ الحندوق ـ الشمار
Apologies to those who cannot read Arabic.

Bread in Egypt

Dina Hashmat offers from Egypt her views on the explosive situation caused by the increase in wheat prices and what she sees as the imminent bread revolts (arabic).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Land and People on radio

"Rami Zurayk, a professor at the American University of Beirut, is part of the group Land and People which provides strategic marketing and technical services to Lebanese farmers, helping them carve out a niche, effectively brand their unique farm products and
earn more money, whilst sustaining natural resources and strengthening Lebanon's rural social fabric.

One of the projects that the organisation heads is to help farmers wean themselves off chemical fertilizers which are both expensive and environmentally hazardous. Instead, they split the cost of a mechanical shredder with a farmer who then uses it to compost banana leaves - by paying half the price, the farmer is also more inclined to maintain the machine better than if it had simply been provided free.

Land and People has helped a women's co-operative launch a millet bread bakery that is becoming increasingly successful.

It's also helped farmers who saw their land and crops destroyed by Israeli bombing in 2006 by encouraging them to harvest wild laurel for the production of expensive boutique soap that Land and People help market in Europe.

For Rami Zurayk, each of these projects is a small step towards a much larger goal: "My goal is to change the world! [...] It's to change the way trade operates in the world; trade relations; not only between developing countries and developed countries ... between people."

Dave Kattenburg follows Land and People mobile clinics for Radio Netherlands Worldwide. Listen to the program here. The Land and People segment is in the second half of the program.

Why organic works and GMOs dont

"1. 10 Reasons Why Organic Can Feed the World
2. And 10 reasons GM won't

NOTE: The following articles come from the SPECIAL REPORT: 'The death of food as we know it' in the current issue of The Ecologist magazine.

The premise of 'The death of food...' is that an entire culture of cheap mass-produced food is about to be brought to a grinding halt. Various contributors, including Vandana Shiva, Joanna Blythman and Tim Lang, explore what will take its place. More information at

This is a very important reminder and checklist from Read it and keep it in mind. We can feed the world sustainably, but we have to change the way we farm and eat. (Thanks D.)

Water asset

"Investors are mobilising funds to buy the assets that control water and improve supplies, especially in developing countries such as China where urban populations are booming, further tightening supply.

Parts of Africa are especially dry, both of clean water and cash, at a time when prices are rising for the steel and concrete raw materials for treatment plants. A combination of unsafe water and poor sanitation kills about 1.8 million children annually, a Merrill report estimates.

The FourWinds Capital Management investment approach is to go after projects in water treatment and desalination and companies which make meters, pipes and pumps." (Thanks D.)

Seasons of migration to the North

"Citing the EU document, the International Herald Tribune reports that because of Europe’s close proximity to North Africa and the Middle East, both of which are vulnerable to the pressures caused by climate change, “migratory pressure at the EU’s borders and political instability and conflict could increase.”" (Thanks Sabina)

And a great book too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Trade route

By Carlos Lattuf, the gifted Brazilian caricaturist.

Rasha "sleuth" Abu Zeki investigates rumors that the Lebanese government may allow imports from Palestine to enter Lebanon, and asks: is this the first step towards the economic normalization with Israel? Apparently, there is hardly anything made in the West Bank and Gaza that does not involve some Israeli products, even if in the form of fuel or packaging. I also learned from the insert that the trade between Israel and the Arab countries between 1953 and 1993 amounted to $93 billions. The article also says that a lot of Jordanian products contain Israeli raw material, according to the agreement on the Industrial Zones of Jordan.


A nice article today in Al Akhbar on the Turkmene of Akkar, who still speak a Turkish patois and have Turkish flags in their homes alongside the Lebanese flag. (For you MM).

Water loo morne plaine

The environment page in Al Safir ran a couple of very interesting articles today: one was about the quality of bottled water in Lebanon. As we all know, there is no quality control of any sort in Lebanon and merchants can get away with murder (sometimes literally). But here, a consignment of 21,000 liters of Lebanese bottled water exported to Cyprus was found to contain Pseudomonas aeruginosa which causes inflammations and infections. The writer Habib Maalouf also asks: we heard there was a plan to sell water for domestic use to Cyprus at a time when the country is becoming increasingly dry. The government denies.

The second article was about Emile's Lahoud's immortal achievement, the Chabrouh dam. It's not exactly the High dam, but then again Lahoud is no Nasser. Still, this dam, in the region of Faraya, was supposed to fill up and irrigate the orchards of the Kesrwan and the Metn. It doesn't fill up (design fault, some say) and it doe not irrigate...because they did not build an irrigation network.

Korean food

"The Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it plans to establish a Korean version of the agricultural company Cargill to help facilitate mass production, processing and distribution of agricultural products.

`` There is no reason for us to fail in catching up with Denmark or the Netherlands,'' he said in Jeonju, the capital of North Jeolla Province, during a briefing on agricultural policy in the southwestern city Tuesday.

Lee said the Korean farming sector can become globally competitive like the shipbuilding, semiconductor, automobile industries." (Thanks D.)

...and I believe him. Brace yourself.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Before the flood

"In its half-century history, the EU has absorbed wave upon wave of immigrants. There were the millions of political migrants fleeing Russian-imposed communism to western Europe throughout the cold war, the post-colonial and "guest worker" migrants who poured into western Europe in the boom years of the 1950s and 60s, the hundreds of thousands who escaped the Balkan wars of the 90s and the millions of economic migrants of the past decade seeking a better life.

Now, according to the EU's two senior foreign policy officials, Europe needs to brace itself for a new wave of migration with a very different cause - global warming. The ravages already being inflicted on parts of the developing world by climate change are engendering a new type of refugee, the "environmental migrant".

Within a decade "there will be millions of environmental migrants, with climate change as one of the major drivers of this phenomenon," predict Javier Solana and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's chief foreign policy coordinator and the European commissioner for external relations. "Europe must expect substantially increased migratory pressure."

The main message is that the immediate and devastating effects of global warming will be felt far away from Europe, with the poor suffering disproportionately in south Asia, the Middle East, central Asia, Africa and Latin America, but that Europe will ultimately bear the consequences.

This could be in the form of mass migration, destabilisation of parts of the world vital to European security, radicalisation of politics and populations, north-south conflict because of the perceived injustice of the causes and effects of global warming, famines caused by arable land loss, wars over water, energy, and other natural resources."

The Guardian, Ian Traynor

Big social business

"Yunus is already involved in negotiations to set up social businesses with several multinationals, including the water firm Veolia, and an unnamed IT business, which he says will transform the lives of poor Bangladeshis. The prototype of his social business model is his venture with the European food multinational Danone. Grameen-Danone may be an unlikely coupling, but Yunus is eulogistic about how the two have collaborated to produce a cheap nutritional yoghurt that is to be sold by a network of low-income women in Bangladesh. It meets the social objective of improving the diet, particularly of poor children, and providing a livelihood for women, but it also meets Danone's objectives to extend its brand in developing countries and maintain its reputation for social responsibility. A win-win, then?"

My kind of art

"What was the most important thing I learned from Chomsky? That capitalism compels us to work ourselves to death in order to stuff our houses with things we don't need. Perhaps this is one thing art can do: create a new aesthetic, one of austerity."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Food prices in Lebanon continue to increase...
Lebanon's consumer's association starts a campaign against obesity in schools.

Bread revolution

On the bread revolution about to explode in Egypt (Arabic article).

Farming makes a comeback

"Steeped in years of talk around college campuses and in stylish urban enclaves about the evils of factory farms (see the E. coli spinach outbreaks), the perils of relying on petroleum to deliver food over long distances (see global warming) and the beauty of greenmarkets (see the four-times-weekly locavore cornucopia in Union Square), some young urbanites are starting to put their muscles where their pro-environment, antiglobalization mouths are. They are creating small-scale farms near urban areas hungry for quality produce and willing to pay a premium.
“Young farmers are an emerging social movement,” said Severine von Tscharner Fleming, 26, who is making a documentary called “The Greenhorns” about the trend." (Thanks Leila)

I'm waiting for this movement to start in Lebanon. I have studied agriculture and taught it for 20 years, and the number of young people who have graduated and have become farmers is no more than 10 (in 20 years).

Land in China

"China’s constitution lays down the principle of collective ownership of land as the basis for its socialist economic system. But thousands of farmers, in direct violation of this principle, are demanding privatization of rural land (CSMonitor) and are unilaterally dividing up collective holdings among themselves.

Discontent among peasants has become one of the major causes for protests in the country. All land in the rural areas is owned by village collectives; each household is allocated a share, which gives land-use rights under thirty-year contracts. To feed China’s economic boom, local officials—usually at the village level—requisition land for sale to manufacturers or property developers. Farmers allege that the process is rife with corruption, with local officials profiting from these development projects and farmers not given adequate compensation." (Thanks D.)

Read the full article, it is short and very interesting (if you're interested in land tenure).

Friday, March 14, 2008


The new Badael page in Al-Akhbar: The main article by Ali Darwish of Green Line fame: The absence of political will to develop alternative energies. My editorial: Losing a golden opportunity, or how the reconstruction of the tens of thousands of houses in the South did not include installing solar water heaters on all roofs (could have been included for minimum cost and it would have provided hundreds of jobs). This is the season of "sleeqah", picking wild chicory and other plants. This article talks about how picking wild plants saves on vegetable purchases in the Bekaa and the South. Rajana Hamiyyeh, the latest addition to our team, writes about the new economical lamps.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shopping list

"The Abdulwahab family lives in Imbaba, a poor area of Cairo. Egypt is the world's largest importer of wheat, so they have been hit hard by international prices rises.

Aza Hedar (on the right of the photo wearing a blue scarf), says that instead of three meals a day, the family now eats just two.

"We never thought it would reach this level. The prices of some foods have doubled since the end of last year. One Egyptian pound used to feed the whole household now five Egyptian pounds barely covers it.""

Six families around the world share their shopping list and tell the BBC how the global rise in food prices has affected their eating habits. We will return to the families in the months ahead to see if prices have changed. (Thanks Karin)

Gaza tragedy

My dear friend Annie sent me this: I do not know Kinder USA but I trust Annie.

The Tragedy in Gaza

Kinder USA is deeply concerned by the high number of innocent civilians killed in the recent Israeli military incursion. Since the beginning of the violence carrying over five days thus far, over 120 people have been killed in Gaza, including 39 children. Human rights groups and medical officials indicated that more than a third of the victims were women and children. "Once again, children are bearing the brunt of this crisis while the world remains silent," said Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, Chairperson of Kinder USA. Of the 1.5 million people in Gaza, over half are children.

Hospitals are struggling with more than 370 children injured, whose care is exasperated further by a near total blockade on Gaza since June 2007 resulting in "85 essential drugs" for surgical procedures at zero level. Essential services, including water and sanitation, are close to breakdown and homes destroyed in the latest incursion will not be repaired as there are no building supplies 'allowed' into Gaza. Because of the combined lack of electricity, fuel and spare parts the water supply is moving towards rapid deterioration with current clean water supplies only sporadically available for much of the population.

Reports from the World Health Organization indicate that 30% of children under 5 suffer from stunted growth which is most likely attributed to malnutrition. Over 80% of the population are reported to be food insecure (cannot afford a balanced meal) compared to 63% in 2006. Out of 9000 commodities (including food items) that were entering Gaza over two years ago, only 20 are 'permitted' today further exasperating an already catastrophic situation.

Kinder USA, working in conjunction with our local partners Ard El Insan and Al Huda doing what we can to bring food to the children and their families during a very difficult time. We applaud our partners for continuing their work under the most severe of conditions. Al Huda is distributing to needy families fresh baked breads filled with spinach, cheese and zater and reports that more and more people are coming to them for food.

Ard El Inshan (AEI) is preparing 14,000 nutritional meals over a 3 month period for malnourished children aged 6-59 months. In addition, Kinder USA is providing vouchers for transport to and from AEI centers where 7000 meals are prepared for mothers to take home to their families. For both projects we are work closely with local farmers using only locally produced goods, inclusive of vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and chicken meat.

The situation in Gaza is dire. While some humanitarian organizations are able to provide services, they are unable to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of the population. Kinder USA is able to send your generous donations to local Palestinian organizations (with whom we have worked for several years) who use the funds to provide food to those most in need.

The humanitarian conditions will continue spiraling downward unless the crossings are open and the free flow of goods and medicines in and out of Gaza are resumed. Gaza's children are terrified and are paying the highest price in this conflict. We are working with our partners to develop a contingency plan for the children, whose fear remains immeasurable. We urge you support our efforts and those of all groups trying to help sustain the Palestinian people during this crisis. "All parties must put an end to the violence against civilians and to abide by their responsibility under international humanitarian law. How much more can these children endure?" Dr. Laila Al-Marayati.

Please join others bringing food to the children in Gaza by making an online donation today.

KinderUSA is a 501 ( c ) 3 tax-exempt organization


P.O. Box 224846

Dallas, TX 75222-9785


Kinder USA, working in conjunction with our local partners Ard El Insan and Al Huda doing what we can to bring food to the children and their families during a very difficult time. We applaud our partners for continuing their work under the most severe of conditions. Al Huda is distributing to needy families fresh baked breads filled with spinach, cheese and zater and reports that more and more people are coming to them for food.

Ard El Inshan (AEI) is preparing 14,000 nutritional meals over a 3 month period for malnourished children aged 6-59 months. In addition, Kinder USA is providing vouchers for transport to and from AEI centers where 7000 meals are prepared for mothers to take home to their families. For both projects we are work closely with local farmers using only locally produced goods, inclusive of vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and chicken meat.

About Kinder USA, Founded in 2002 by a group of physicians and humanitarian relief workers, KinderUSA believes in fostering creative solutions to long-standing problems believing that all children are born with fundamental freedoms and are entitled to the rights of survival, health, and education. KinderUSA puts into action programs to ensure these rights are not forgotten.