Wednesday, April 30, 2008

(Thanks Marcy)
"This is a Gestapo raid," Jonas Stotlzfus said, "complete with state troopers, raiding a hard-working farmer selling milk to friends and customers. And his customers ARE his friends." (Thanks Daniel)

Fiat lux

"How do we pay farmers to not only produce food, but to value the environmental services?

"Agriculture is far more than just production of food, and that is what we have to recognise."

Now big shots are starting to say what many of us have been trying to convey for years. This is a good omen: in a few decades, the big wigs may see the light on the Palestine issue.

Dans les campagnes

I'm also posting this appeal from avaaz. everybody's onto the food crisis. Check the articles linked in the "sources" section below.

Dear friends,

Rocketing prices threaten to starve millions and make us all less secure -- sign the emergency petition for action to stop the world food crisis

Have you noticed food costing more when you shop? Here's why -- we're plunging headlong into a world food crisis. Rocketing prices are squeezing billions and triggering food riots from Bangladesh to South Africa. Aid agencies say 100 million more people are at risk of starvation right now[1]. In Sierra Leone alone the price of a bag of rice has doubled, becoming unaffordable for 90% of citizens[2]. Fears of inflation stalk the whole world, and the worst could be yet to come.

We need to act now -- before it's too late. As Ban Ki-Moon holds a high-level UN meeting on the crisis, we're launching an urgent campaign with African foreign minister and human rights campaigner Zainab Bangura. Click below to see Zainab's video message and add your name to the food crisis petition -- we need to raise 200,000 signatures by the end of this week to deliver a massive global outcry to leaders at the UN, G8 and EU:

The prices of staple foods like wheat, corn and rice have almost doubled, and the crisis is slipping out of control -- so we're calling for immediate action on emergency food aid, speculation and biofuels policy, while asking forthcoming summits to tackle deeper problems of investment and trade.[3]

The global food crisis touches and connects us all, creating a tsunami of hunger for the poor and damaging economies and squeezing citizens in the rich world too. But solutions are on the horizon if leaders act fast [4] -- sign the petition at the link below now, then forward this email and ask friends and family to do the same:

With hope,

Paul, Galit, Ricken, Graziela, Iain, Mark, Pascal and the whole Avaaz team


1. BBC: "How to stop the global food crisis":

"The New Economics of Hunger", Washington Post, 27 April 2008

2. Zainab Bangura, Foreign Minister of Sierra Leone, video message to Avaaz members

3. Chinese news citing World Bank figures:

Reuters: "Rising food prices to top UN agenda"

4. See BBC article above, and "Rising Food Prices" by Alex Evans (Chatham House report)

UN scientific report on fixing the world food system:

The Guardian: "Credit crunch? The real crisis is global hunger", George Monbiot


ABOUT AVAAZ is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.) Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Paris, Washington DC, and Geneva.

Solving the food crisis: La Via Campesina

Is there still a place for us in the cut-throat world? Here's La Via Campesina's response to the food crisis: concrete measures,

Mr Jacques Diouf Secretary General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Mr. Yasuo Fukuda, Prime Minister of Japan, President of the G8, Mr. John W. Ashe, Permanent UN representative, Antigua and Barbuda's Permanent and Chairman of the Group of 77

From: Henry Saragih, International Coordinator for La Via Campesina

Jakarta, April 28, 2008

Concrete measures are needed to strengthen peasant and farmer-based food production;
the food price crisis exposes the instability of liberalized agricultural markets.

Dear Mr. Diouf, Mr. Fukuda, and Mr. Ashe,

Our movement, La Via Campesina, consists of millions of small farmers and landless workers in more than 60 countries around the world. Although we are the ones producing food for our families and communities, many of us are hungry or living in poverty. Over the last months, the situation has worsened due to the sudden rise in food prices. We are also severely hit by the crisis because many of us do not have enough land to feed our families, and because most producers do not benefit from those high prices. Large traders, speculators, supermarkets and industrial farms are cashing in on and benefitting from this crisis.

This current food crisis is the result of many years of deregulation of agricultural markets, the privatization of state regulatory bodies and the dumping of agricultural products on the markets of developing countries. According to the FAO, liberalized markets have attracted huge cash flows that seek to speculate on agricultural products on the “futures” markets and other financial instruments.

The corporate expansion of agrofuels and the initially enthusiastic support for agrofuels in countries such as the US, EU and Brazil have added to the expectation that land for food will become more and more scarce. On top of this in many southern countries hundreds of thousands of hectares are converted from agricultural uses in an uncontrolled way for so-called economic development zones, urbanization and infrastructure. The ongoing land grabbing by Transnational Companies (TNCs) and other speculators will expel millions more peasants who will end up in the mega cities where they will be added to the ranks of the hungry and poor in the slums. Besides this, we may expect especially in Africa and South Asia more severe droughts and floods caused by global climate change. These are severe threats for the rural as well as for the urban areas.

These are highly worrying developments that need active and urgent action! We need a fundamental change in the approach to food production and agricultural markets!

Time to rebuild national food economies!

Rebuilding national food economies will require immediate and long-term political commitments from governments. An absolute priority has to be given to domestic food production in order to decrease dependency on the international market. Peasants and small farmers should be encouraged through better prices for their farm products and stable markets to produce food for themselves and their communities. Landless families from rural and urban areas have to get access to land, seeds and water to produce their own food. This means increased investment in peasant and farmer-based food production for domestic markets.

Governments have to provide financial support for the poorest consumers to allow them to eat. Speculation and extremely high prices forced upon consumers by traders and retailers have to be controlled. Peasants and small farmers need better access to their domestic markets so that they can sell food at fair prices for themselves and for consumers.

Countries need to set up intervention mechanisms aimed at stabilizing market prices. In order to achieve this, import controls with taxes and quotas are needed to avoid low-priced imports which undermine domestic production. National buffer stocks managed by the state have to be built up to stabilize domestic markets: in times of surplus, cereals can be taken from the market to build up the reserve stocks and in case of shortages, cereals can be released.

Regulating international markets and supporting countries to strengthen their food production

At the international level, stabilization measures also have to be undertaken. International buffer stocks have to be built up and an intervention mechanism put in place to stabilize prices on international markets at a reasonable level. Exporting countries have to accept international rules to control the quantities they can bring to the market, in order to stop dumping. The right to implement import controls, set up programs to support the poorest consumers, implement agrarian reform and invest in domestic, farmer peasant-based food production has to be fully respected and supported at the international level.

We ask the FAO, based on its mandate, to take the initiative and create the political environment for a fundamental change in food policies. In the International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ICARRD) a broad majority of governments recognized and agreed on the importance of rural development and agrarian reform to combat poverty and hunger in the rural areas. The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), an assessment of the agricultural sector that involved Civil Society organizations, the private sector, and governments as well as the FAO and the World Bank came to the conclusion that corporate-led agriculture and the increasing dependence of peasants and small farmers is at the heart of the problem. They also concluded that peasant, and farmer-based sustainable agriculture has to be supported and strengthened. The International Fund on Agricultural Development (IFAD) also recognizes the key role of peasants and small farmers in the production of food.

We request that G8 governments allow these initiatives to be taken. They should stop the promotion of agrofuels as these are no solution for the climate crisis and add to the destruction of forests. Especially in the southern countries, agrofuels occupy millions of hectares that should remain available for food production.

We also demand that the G8 analyze critically their own agricultural policies, take initiatives to stop the ongoing volatility of the international markets and shift their financial support away from industrial agriculture towards sustainable family farmer-based food production.

We also demand that the G8 stop and cancel any free trade agreements that will only contribute to the destruction of food production in developing countries and block any possibility of autonomous industrial development.

The influence of transnational corporations and financial speculative interests has to be controlled as much as possible and kept away from the the international food market. Food is too important to be left to business alone.

A possible WTO agreement in the Doha Round will mean another blow for peasant-based food production. We demand that the governments of the G77 assess again the WTO negotiations on agriculture in the Doha round and reject any agreement that has negative implications for domestic food production and does not allow the taking of all necessary measures to strengthen food production and increase national self sufficiency.

Peasants and small farmers are the main food producers

La Via Campesina is convinced that peasants and small farmers can feed the world. They have to be the key part of the solution. With sufficient political will and the implementation of adequate policies, more peasants and small farmers, men and women, will easily produce sufficient food to feed the growing population. The current situation shows that changes are needed!

The time for Food Sovereignty has come!

Yours sincerely,

Henry Saragih
International Coordinator for La Via Campesina

Monday, April 28, 2008

Challenges and promises

I forgot to add to my post of yesterday that one of the strategies the Jordanian government seems to be favoring is to encourage the Jordanian private sector to invest in wheat production in the Sudan. This is inline with what I had heard from a colleague about Saudi plans (see post of March 3) and revives a long lost dream of Arab food security. The minister of agriculture gave a speech yesterday on the occasion of the the oath-taking ceremony of the new agricultural engineers (why an oath?). He called for a strategy to address the increase in food prices. He also requested the passing of the legislation for the establishment of a Chamber of Agriculture, and of an agricultural marketing company and of an agricultural-risk management fund (all three are great ideas, but governments bulk at them, in Lebanon as in Jordan). He promised that the government will renew its vows to care for the farm sector, "the safety valve of food security". Promises, promises.

Al Hayat is a pan-arab, Saudi-funded newspaper. I don't often read it, but I made an exception today. The economy page is usually quite good, and it was today almost totally devoted to the food crisis. The economic analysis article was about GMOs in agriculture ("A solution or a problem?"), written by Michel Morcos. Nothing really new there, except perhaps a startling conclusion: "Did America create the food crisis to control world food supplies or to market the products of its industries?" I wouldn't have thought Al Hayat's editors would allow that.

There is also a report on the 30th General Assembly of the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development. I have never had much faith in the ability of Arab League-styled organizations to promote significant change, and any observer of Arab politics will know why. The first day of the assembly was the occasion for lots of good-will speeches, which -once again- identified the challenges facing Arab Agriculture: lack of data and information, no encouragement for investments in agriculture, limited water resources, delay in access to modern technologies, absence of integration between national and pan-Arab policies and plans (this is an important one), inefficiency of small farmer's organizations in supporting production and marketing initiatives, low competitiveness of Arab produce on international markets, poor rural livelihoods, limited arable land area, decline in the productivity of rainfed areas (related to climatic changes), fragmentation of holdings, poor animal-crop integration, limited access to locally produced animal feed, difficulties in obtaining financing, and limited marketing opportunities for small producers.

How do you want to work in these conditions? The Arab World is one of the most food insecure regions in the world, with the least biophysical and human potential. I believe it will be the hardest hit from the food crisis. Oil producing countries will be able to buy food, but what about the others?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jordan -take 2

In the Jordanian newspapers today, the outline of Jordan's response to the food crisis, and some info about the current farming situation. Strategic grain reserves will be buil for six months, and the subsidies will remain. They appear to be quite large: the market price of the popular Arabic bread (pitta type) is less than 1/3 of its production costs. The government has also lifted import duties on many imported foods, especially meats and fish. News about the current ceral season confirm my impressions of yesterday: In the North, near the region of Irbid, most of the crop will not bear, and will have to be sold as pastures. The reason: rainfall this year has been just over 50% of the annual average, and this is the highest raifall area of Jordan. Barley and wheat farmers have lost their crop, and will rent the cropped land to herders who will graze their flocks, for the meagre sum of $200 per hectare, when the cost of planting is nearly $300 per hectare. Besides the financial losses, there is another danger: next year, the farmers will not have seeds to plant their fields. The government will probably provide seeds, but the traditional varieties, selected by farmers over decades and centuries will slowly erode, to be replaced by commercial varieties provided by the state.

Elsewhere in the newspapers, a large number of ads for a "Stop Hunger Campaign" organized by one of the members of the royal family. This is very common here, many NGOs and practically all the large ones, operate under the auspices of one of the royals. It's not the Syrian GONGOs (Governmental non-governmental organizations), but we're not too far. The Campaign is also widely advertized on billboards throughout the city.

Two other pieces of news that appeared to be of interest: Jordan will soon start extracting uranium from its phosphate ore mines, and the Arab Human Right's Organization is unhappy about the situation in Jordan. Its recent annual report, documents 122 cases of violence by the security forces on prisoners.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

News from Syria and Jordan

I've been in Amman, Jordan for two days. On my way here, I drove from Beirut across Mount Lebanon's Dahr el Baidar pass (1,500m) then through the Biqa` plain to the other mountain pass of Masna` into Syria. Between Syria and Lebanon, ther is a no man's land of several kilometers. This is a reminder that the borders between Lebanon and Syria have not yet been fully traced. Who uses these lands? They are very nice ranges with oaks and some conifers at 1,200m and there are a few orchards and some fields.

The heat was unseasonal: near 40 celcius. Between Syria and Jordan one drives through 100 km of basaltic plain between the foothills of the Golan and the Jebel al Arab, the Druze Mountain also known as the Hawran. The red soils are very fertile, but there is no water except from the deep wells tapping the water table. There are many olive orchards, but the area is mostly planted in extensive cultures. It hasn't rained enough this year, and the wheat fields are doing very poorly: the plants are stunted, and it is clear that the grains will not fill. I'm not sure that even if they get some rain now it will change much. The Hawran was a great wheat producing zone, and Lebanon used to import Hawrani wheat since the 17th century. One of the old traditional varieties of wheat is called "Hawrani". Today, yields have dramatically dropped, and one of the reasons is that there is not enough rainfal, but also that the cultivation of wheat has moved from the terraced hills where the fields are small, but rainfall is slightly higher, to the vast plain where there is less rain. Economies of scale.

Jordan is as always during this season, parched. Flocks of sheep and a few goats graze on the rubble. One wonders what they find. There is no doubt that these animals are all hand-fed, from imported feed. Grazing is to take them out, and to supplement the feeding.

Yeterday's newspaper had a front page article addressing the food crisis. The prime minister was reported to have made a declaration about the intention of the government (under the wise guidance of his majesty) to continue supporting the poor. The prices of bread and animal feed will not liberated. This explains how the sheep farmers can still make a living. The PM also promised salary adjustments. Elsewhere in the paper, the farmers from the Karak area in central Jordan were praying for April's rain which, according to the proverb, "revives the human". No rain, no crop, they said

Later that day I met with an old friend of mine who is in the agribusiness sector. I asked him about the impact of the food crisis. He said he thought it was a bit hyped, and that there is no food crisis, just an oil crisis. All prices have increased due to the increase in the price of oil, and this was affecting food prices. In fact, he told me, Jordanian farmers did well this year: their main product is vegetables and some fruits, and the season was poor in Lebanon and Syria due to a cold spell, so they exported at good prices, eventhough their production was low. However, this is a very small success: the current season appears to be bad, and the production costs are higher than ever: labour is becoming scarce, as many workers are drifting into the better paid construction sector. The increase in oil prices is making irrigation (reliant on water pumping) too expensive. The increase in price of agrochemicals and its volatility (especially fertilizers) has made it impossible for companies to offer credit as was usually the case. Cash is king, and prices have tripled. Farmers are resorting to applying less fertilizers, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on whether they adopt organic manuring and recycling of farm waste. Of course, there may not be enough farm wastes to start with.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Badeal in Al-Akhbar. My editorial "The customer is king" on how the Lebanese government does not provide the citizen or the farworkers any form of legal protection against the overuse of pesticides, while exports are subjected to strict quality control. The Lebanese state cares about its customers, as long as they live outside Lebanon. Iman Nuwayhid's article on the health hazards faced by workers, and the absence of appropriate policies. Rana Hayek on the ills of fast food, and on the abuse of vitamins. Soy is the plant of the week.
Zuhai Berro, the head of the consumers association of Lebanon appeals to the World Bank to stop showering the government with praise and to offer help in resolving the problems of the Lebanese consumer. Praising the government, he says, will only encourage it to continue doing what it does best: NOT caring about citizen. Elsewhere, we are reminded that the trade deficit up till March was $2.6 billions.


What happened in Egypt on April 6? The role of the workers in the new class war. And Facebook. Read also the full detailed story here.

The New Middle East

Fertile crescent to disappear (Thanks Steve).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Bien dit!

VIENNA (Reuters) - Global food price rises are leading to "silent mass murder" and commodities markets have brought "horror" to the world, the United Nations' food envoy told an Austrian newspaper on Sunday.
Jean Ziegler, UN special rapporteur on the right to food, told Kurier am Sonntag that growth in biofuels, speculation on commodities markets and European Union export subsidies mean the West is responsible for mass starvation in poorer countries. Ziegler said he was bound to highlight the "madness" of people who think that hunger is down to fate."Hunger has not been down to fate for a long time -- just as (Karl) Marx thought. It is rather that a murder is behind every victim. This is silent mass murder," he said in an interview.Ziegler blamed globalization for "monopolizing the riches of the earth" and said multinationals were responsible for a type of "structural violence.""And we have a herd of market traders, speculators and financial bandits who have turned wild and constructed a world of inequality and horror. We have to put a stop to this," he said.Ziegler said he believed that one day starving people could rise up against their persecutors. "It's just as possible as the French Revolution was," he said.(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Asian tigers

"By then almost 500 villages occupied by a total of 300,000 families around India had experienced similar forced relocation to protect the habitat of tigers, rhinos and Asiatic lions residing in the 580 national parks and sanctuaries that have been created in India since the colonial period.

The fig leaf of conservation was eventually spread to cover a World Bank-funded eco-tourism lodge proposed by the Taj Hotel Group. In December of 1996 Adivasis filed for an injunction with the Indian High Court and called for a general strike in the Nagar Hole to stop the Taj project. A month later the High Court found the Taj Group in violation of conservation laws, a ruling that was upheld on appeal. The half-finished, abandoned structures of the Taj in the Nagar Hole represent one of the very few Adivasi victories anywhere in India." (Thanks D.)

Very good article in a very nice magazine: Guernica.

Political rice

""Rice is a political commodity," said Kwanchai Gomez, the executive director of the Thai Rice Foundation, a research center. "It's not only an economic one."

Arroyo, the Philippines' president, and many other leaders across the region have blamed hoarding by traders and millers for the price increases. Thai Grade B rice, a widely traded variety, reached $854 per ton last week from $322 a year ago, a rise that appears speculative as much as driven by market fundamentals." (Thanks Yaz)
The website of the soil association, rich in all sorts of info promoting organic farming, some of which is useful like the one on GMO.

WTO in Africa

"African countries have always struggled to participate fully in this organisation. They are unable to influence its decisions, running the risk of not having their concerns heard and having inadequate multilateral rules on public policy elaboration imposed upon them. They have many obstacles before them. In addition to their under-representation at WTO headquarters because of insufficient economic and human resources, there is the complexity of WTO bodies, rules and procedures, and the difficulty understanding the stakes behind development choices." (Thanks Muna)

And they're not alone: I'm struggling with WTO and food too. Maybe this can help.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

20% of the wheat from the Bekaa has been sold before harvest to Iraqi and Jordanian traders. "Why does the government subsidize wheat purchases from foreign sources and not buy our wheat?" ask the farmers. The traders get to keep the hay too, so Lebanon will have to import more feed for its ailing dairy industry.

Poverty in the Phoenicia

The European Union brought together the main political forces of Lebanon to address the issue of economic and social equity. It took place in the Phoenicia hotel which is the most appropriate place to focus on the "poor, the excluded and the marginalized", as the conference aimed to do. You can read all about it here (in Arabic). I expect this to lead nowhere, but this is not why I blogged it. Its for the picture of Nayla Moawad, Ali Bazzi and Anwar al Khalil. Nayla Moawad, a leading figure in the March 14 pats the shoulder of Ali Bazzi, an very vocal MP from Amal and the March 8 movement. If one is to believe their political discourse and inflammatory statements and mutual accusations over the past 3 years, these two should despise each others and be worst enemies.


I have blogged earlier on the position paper by the Maronite Church in support of a more humane form of economic regime in Lebanon. Here George Corm, a former minister of finance, brings up the issue again and asks for its implementation. The current minister of finance (who's program comes under fire in the document) appears to love the Maronite position paper, and siezes the opportunity to remind us that "that Christians were at the heart of the basis on which Lebanon was built". Amen.


Tahini and sesame prices reach an all time high in Lebanon, due to increased demand from China. Where have I heard this one before? What puzzles me is that all the local tahini and halawa is made from imported sesame while there is some sesame production in Lebanon especially the south where it is produced as a rainfed crop. It is very prized and used to make the zaatar mix, but I ws told it is not good for tahini production.
Dairy workers on strike in Egypt. (thanks Daniel)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Off to Berlin tonight for a UNESCO conference on education for sustainable development. Back Wednesday morning. Not sure I'll be able to blog from there.

Friday, April 18, 2008

No scripts

"There are no scripts on how to handle the crisis, either. In Asia, governments are putting in place measures to limit hoarding of rice after some shoppers panicked at price increases and bought up everything they could.

Even in Thailand, which produces 10 million more tons of rice than it consumes and is the world’s largest rice exporter, supermarkets have placed signs limiting the amount of rice shoppers are allowed to purchase.

But there is also plenty of nervousness and confusion about how best to proceed and just how bad the impact may ultimately be, particularly as already strapped governments struggle to keep up their food subsidies."

This is the situation: everybody is observing and no one knows what to do about it. All the article we read are descriptive: "this is what's happening: hunger, riots, droughts, biofuels" but no one has anything tangible to add about how to address the food crisis except band aid solutions: raise $500 millions for food aid.

“Rice is a staple food,” said Graeme J. Haley, the general manager of the town of Deniliquin. “Chardonnay is not.”

"The world’s economic ministers declared on Sunday that shortages and skyrocketing prices for food posed a potentially greater threat to economic and political stability than the turmoil in capital markets."

Hidden hunger

"With the price of food skyrocketing around the world, desperately poor and overpopulated Bangladesh is considered one of the world's most vulnerable nations.

An adviser to the country's Ministry of Food, A.M.M. Shawkat Ali, warned of a ''hidden hunger'' in Bangladesh and economists estimate 30 million of the country's 150 million people could go hungry -- a crisis that could become a serious political problem for the military-backed government.

''We fear some 30 million of the ultra poor will not be able to afford three meals a day'' said Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, a leading economist in Dhaka, the capital."

Organic rise and fall

"Rising prices for organic groceries are prompting some consumers to question their devotion to food produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or antibiotics. In some parts of the country, a loaf of organic bread can cost $4.50, a pound of pasta has hit $3, and organic milk is closing in on $7 a gallon.

“The prices have gotten ridiculous,” said Brenda Czarnik, who was shopping recently at a food cooperative in St. Paul."

This morning, Rania the director of Healthy Basket, the organic shop in my neighborhood told me that their profit margin was declining because the farmers had increased their prices and that they could not raise retail prices too much. Between this and the increasing poverty and the increase in conventional food prices, organic may witness a decline in Lebanon as well.

Subsidies, drought and almonds

Kudos to Al-Akhbar for making the issue of wheat subsidies their main story today written by Rasha Abu Zeki. The economics page also had a couple of nice article, one on the drought we are experiencing this year in Lebanon and its impact on farming, and another on the tastiest almonds in the world, the Akkar almonds.


From the new page of Badael in Al Akhbar celebrated imprisoned freedom fighters: my editorial "300 slaps in the faces of Arab hypocrites", a beautiful article by Maha Zaraket on life inside the prison. There was also an article on anorexia by Rana Hayek.

'Contrôlez le pétrole, et vous contrôlez des nations entières ;

contrôlez le système alimentaire, et vous contrôlez les populations. »

Henry Kissinger

(Sent by A.)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Stuffed and Starved

"AMY GOODMAN: Raj Patel, in the last thirty seconds—and then we will bring our listeners and viewers part two of this conversation—but in our last thirty seconds, how devastating are the hike in food prices for those living on the edge?

RAJ PATEL: I mean, they’re absolutely devastating. It’s important to remember, of course, that living on the edge is also devastating, but what we have now is a situation where the food prices are really just toppling people into straightforward hunger and famine. I mean, in Haiti, people are eating mud cakes in order to keep hunger pangs at bay. Things are pretty dire.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll bring part two of this conversation to our listeners and viewers within the next few days. Raj Patel is our guest. His new book is Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System."

Relevant research

"Scientists at the IITA argue that their work demonstrates the importance of doing research close to the lives of those affected.

Researcher Busi Maziya cites the example of a paper she read which suggested Tanzanians could absorb more iron from beans if they added an enzyme.

She collapses in fits of laughter when describing the idea.

"It's not practical," she says. "It just wouldn't work. Where will they get enzymes? Who will make it?"

More practical, she argues, would be to exploit a familiar local technique like fermentation.

Like Hartmann, she is a strong believer that African science has to be directly relevant to the continent's needs.

"Africa as a continent, has HIV, malaria, food insecurity, civil wars," she says.

"If I sit here and conduct abstract research, by the time I have come up with the answer I am not sure how many people will have died.""


The reason why I haven't been blogging about Lebanon is that not much is happening. My friend Zaynab Ghosn who writes for the excellent science page of Al Safir and who lives in Egypt wrote today a long review article about the global increase in food prices. She drew on the new report by the International Food Policy Institute and on World bank and other similar publications. I do not need to talk again about this issue, as the piece contains nothing that has not been already discussed on the blog, but we exchanged emails. She asked me why had there been no public discussion of the issue in Lebanon, while in Egypt a number of conferences and seminars had already been organized. Of course, the fact that there has been bread riots in Egypt has to be factored in, and I expect public discussions to be held in Lebanon very soon. I'm not sure about the level of discussions in the rest of the Arab World, but my feeling is that they are probably not too deep. I have one question to policy makers: are the Arab food systems ready to absorb the shock? In ecology (and we are dealing here with ecological systems) the capacity to absorb shocks is termed resilience: "the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future."

Ar our food systems resilient? Because we sure are going through a shock.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Harvest of Fear

When do you know you're famous? When you get exposed in a long article in Vanity Fair's Special Green Issue. And the award goes to...Monsanto.

"Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination."

Black stem rust and Monsanto

"Ug99 is a race of stem rust that blocks the vascular tissues in cereal grains including wheat, oats and barley. Unlike other rusts that may reduce crop yields, Ug99-infected plants may suffer up to 100 percent loss.

A plan to spread GMO?

One of the consequences of the spread of Ug99 is a campaign by Monsanto Corporation and other major producers of genetically manipulated plant seeds to promote wholesale introduction of GMO wheat varieties said to be resistant to the Ug99 fungus. Biologists at Monsanto and at the various GMO laboratories around the world are working to patent such strains.

Norman Borlaug, the former Rockefeller Foundation head of the Green Revolution is active in funding the research to develop a fungus resistant variety against Ug99 working with his former center in Mexico, the CIMMYT and ICARDA in Kenya, where the pathogen is now endemic. So far, about 90% of the 12,000 lines tested are susceptible to Ug99. That includes all the major wheat cultivars of the Middle East and west Asia. At least 80% of the 200 varieties sent from the United States can't cope with infection. The situation is even more dire for Egypt, Iran, and other countries in immediate peril.

Even if a new resistant variety was ready to be released today it would take two or three years' seed increase in order to have just enough wheat seed for 20 percent of the acres planted to wheat in the world." (Thanks Nelly)

I'm blogging this post from "Global Research" as an update on the posts on black stem rust, because I haven't seen much on it from other sources. I hope-really- that an effective policy will be enacted at global level to prevent the patenting of Ug99 resistant wheat. This will be dramatic for poor farmers who cannot afford patented seeds.

Arm chair policy

"Oops. It turns out now that we've had a few years to study things, and worldwide investment in biofuels has risen from $5 billion in 1995 to $38 billion in 2005, everybody's wrong, and we're all fucked. The biofuel boom is actually accelerating global warming. Time has an excellent cover story this week, The Clean Energy Scam, with all the details, but the basic problem is simple: "using land to grow fuel leads to the destruction of forests, wetlands, and grasslands that store huge amounts of carbon."

I'm only posting this as a lead to my comment: I did a tv interview yesterday on ANB, an Arab satellite network. The topic was the global increase in food prices. I was on a small panel with a person from the FAO office in Lebanon. I mentionned that biofuels, among others are one of the causes of the price increase. I was asked to give more details, so I spoke about what everyone now knows and what Time magazine called the clean energy scam (above). I also mentionned the US subsidies to ethanol growers, and the destruction of the Amazonian forest, and the terrible, slave-like conditions of the Brazilian workers in mega plantations. I think I also said something about the insanity of growing non-food products in countries where there is not enough food for people, in a situation where world food supply is limiting. The FAO woman disagreed with me, and said that biofuels may be good crops sometimes, and for some countries. She did not say which ones. But she impressed everybody by declaring that FAO has developed a model in which you input your country's characteristics and it tells you whether biofuels are good for you or not.

Value Chain Development

"Rural livelihoods in low-income countries are being challenged by the globalization and liberalization of the world economy. Open market structures are being transformed into tightly coordinated supply chains between preferred business partners, often dominated by large retailers or food processors. Developing countries are increasingly affected by this process of inclusion-exclusion, as export markets, regional markets and national urban markets become organized along value chain structures. This is having a serious effect on rural economies in the South, where 70% of the world‘s poor live, and where access to these semi-closed networks is creating ”winners" and ”losers". Maximizing the number of ”winners" and reducing poverty requires smallholder participation in supply chains." (Thanks Ramla)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Top 12

If you cant have it all, here are the top 12 foods that should be eaten organic. According to MSN and Wal-Mart. They all make sense, although meat and milk are difficult to obtain (impossible in Lebanon). (Thanks Muna)

The World According to Monsanto

This is a link to the ARTE documentary on Monsanto everyone's been talking about. Essential viewing (Thanks A.)

How does it work?

"Quite simply: The Bank finances a fossil fuel project, involving oil, natural gas, or coal, in Poor Country A. Rich Country B asks the Bank to help arrange carbon credits so Country B can tell its carbon counters it's taking serious action on climate change. The World Bank kindly obliges, offering carbon credits for a price far lower than Country B would have to pay if Country B made those cuts at home. Country A gets a share of the cash to invest in equipment to make fossil fuel project slightly more efficient, the World Bank takes its 13% cut, and everyone is happy.

Everyone, that is, who is cashing in on this deal. If you're after a real solution to the climate crisis, these shenanigans can and should make you unhappy."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Deck chairs

"That history is one that is erased. The fact that Haiti produced more rice in 1984 than it does now isn’t an accident. The fact that the bags of rice to be found in Haiti have US flags stamped on them is no accident. As former secretary of state for Agriculture, Earl Butz, put it: ‘Hungry men listen only to those who have a piece of bread. Food is a tool. It is a weapon in the US negotiating kit.’

And that’s also one of the ironies behind the complaints of institutions like the IMF and World Bank. At the same time as they bemoan the food crisis, they are its architects. They have aggressively prohibited the kinds of policy that might have mitigated the price shock. No grain reserves. No support for domestic agriculture. No tariff barriers. All so that weapon in the US toolkit could be honed a little sharper.

These are also the options open to almost every government in the Global South that wants to do something to tackle the food crisis. The policies that could help have been prohibited by the international financial institutions. They have the options of rearranging the deck chairs, but they’ve already hit the iceberg." (Thanks Leila)

More on Haiti from the excellent Stuffed and Starved blog.

What is to be done?

"This brings me to the final thing that could stop runaway biofuel growth: public policy. So far, there has been a fairly broad coalition in favor of increasing ethanol production. This encompasses agricultural interests, environmentalists hoping to reduce carbon emissions and rely on a renewable fuel, and many citizens concerned about reliance on Middle Eastern oil supplies. The Renewable Fuels Association reported recently that 3/4 of Americans believe we should increase our reliance on ethanol. This kind of thinking has led to subsidies and mandates for biofuel production in the US, in Europe, and even in a number of developing countries.

My conclusion in this analysis is that this broad agreement is in fact mistaken. It is based on a failure to appreciate the speed with which high oil prices and profitable biofuel operations can fuel a very rapid growth of the industry up to the point that it consumes a sizeable fraction of global food production. This will have only modest benefits for global fuel supply, but will cause massive abrupt global hardship in poor countries. Many unforseeable consequences may follow from that."


D. sent me this this morning. I replied:

The issue of biofuels has been totally debunked. Even the WB and the IMF and the UN are now opposed, but they voice it mildly in order to avoid the wrath of the US. Yet the US continues unabated. Blame it on my conspirational mind, but I cant help thinking that this reeks of black mail: if the world wants food, then oil prices will have to remain low. Otherwise, biofuels will replace food crops and countries that produce oil but not food (the ME), will have to spend the oil
dividends on food or beg. It is also handy for political control through food aid: look at the begging by the WFP for money to by food for relief. I'm trying in my head to crystallize the situation but I find it remains nebulous. My big question to myself is: what do we want? A global food production world based on trade in which food is a commons and gets redistributed? Local food production to cater for own needs? The way it was until recently: demand driven unregulated global food market. But with the decline in food availability, it is increasingly becoming supply-controlled. To put it simply: the increase in food prices is due to a generalized food inflation: there is money, but the food supply is limiting so food prices go up. But as money is not evenly distributed, there will be lots of people who wont be able to afford food from the market. So the Saudis will be able to buy food, but not the Yemenis. What are they to do?

I need to think this through better, but I have to correct midterms.

Over the edge

"Today, and especially for the last few weeks, the starving people in Haiti have been trying to get the world to listen to their anguish and misery. Along with some other poor people in other countries the Haitians have been driven to desperation and the edge of starvation by the rapidly increasing price of food. Unlike all the others the Haitians are over the edge, they are starving, refugees in their own proud country, many forced to eat dirt to survive, however tenuously.

Only the Cubans, the Venezuelans and the Vietnamese appear to care about what is happening in Haiti. The rest of us are too concerned with ‘wealth management’ and the prospects of foreign investors with bursting wallets floating down from the sky to make us all rich." (Thanks Marcy)

We don't know what to do

New poverty economics: bee stings and car dents

"To an economist, this is irrational behavior. It might make sense for a wealthy person to quit his job, or to eschew education or develop a costly drug habit. But a poor person, having little money, would seem to have the strongest incentive to subscribe to the Puritan work ethic, since each dollar earned would be worth more to him than to someone higher on the income scale. Social conservatives have tended to argue that poor people lack the smarts or willpower to make the right choices. Social liberals have countered by blaming racial prejudice and the crippling conditions of the ghetto for denying the poor any choice in their fate. Neoconservatives have argued that antipoverty programs themselves are to blame for essentially bribing people to stay poor.

Karelis, a professor at George Washington University, has a simpler but far more radical argument to make: traditional economics just doesn't apply to the poor. When we're poor, Karelis argues, our economic worldview is shaped by deprivation, and we see the world around us not in terms of goods to be consumed but as problems to be alleviated. This is where the bee stings come in: A person with one bee sting is highly motivated to get it treated. But a person with multiple bee stings does not have much incentive to get one sting treated, because the others will still throb. The more of a painful or undesirable thing one has (i.e. the poorer one is) the less likely one is to do anything about any one problem. Poverty is less a matter of having few goods than having lots of problems.

Reducing the number of economic hardships that the poor have to deal with actually make them more, not less, likely to work, just as repairing most of the dents on a car makes the owner more likely to fix the last couple on his own. Simply giving the poor money with no strings attached, rather than using it, as federal and state governments do now, to try to encourage specific behaviors - food stamps to make sure money doesn't get spent on drugs or non-necessities, education grants to encourage schooling, time limits on benefits to encourage recipients to look for work - would be just as effective, and with far less bureaucracy. (One federal measure Karelis particularly likes is the Earned Income Tax Credit, which, by subsidizing work, helps strengthen the "reliever" effect he identifies.)" (Thanks D.)

This is a really interesting article. It makes intuitive sense to me, and the car dents analogy (read it) certainly sounds correct. I was arguing the bit about giving money a couple of days ago with MM. Here's an earlier post in which the argument is made for cash donations rather than "capacity building" or in-kind donations (as I do, for full disclosure)

The China Syndrome

"Hungry for trade with mineral- and agriculture-rich Latin America, the Chinese are binding themselves closer with the continent, snapping up commodities such as Brazilian soy and Chilean copper in record amounts.

In Brazil, the soy bonanza is changing the fortunes of soy farmers, as well as the landscape.

Because of the growing demand for soy, which is a key nutrient for poultry, swine and cattle, the price has risen from $150 a ton to $300 a ton. But China keeps buying because it has to provide nourishment for its increasingly prosperous middle class."

Melting glaciers

"The world is now facing a climate-driven shrinkage of river-based irrigation water supplies. Mountain glaciers in the Himalayas and on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau are melting and could soon deprive the major rivers of India and China of the ice melt needed to sustain them during the dry season. In the Ganges, the Yellow, and the Yangtze river basins, where irrigated agriculture depends heavily on rivers, this loss of dry-season flow will shrink harvests."

Lester Brown on the crisis.
Researchers from the University of Wisconsin compared the productivity of organic and conventional systems over 8 and 13 years. They found that the yields of the 2 systems are comparable. Their results were published in the (prestigious) Agronomy Journal.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


The meltdown of the small and medium scale livestock and dairy industries in Lebanon: 75% of the farms of the Biqa` in Lebanon are bankrupt. The reason: increase in world feed prices, in vet services, and a non-commensurate increase in bulk milk prices. Why? Because of monopsony: one or two big buyers control all the buying market and can impose low purchasing prices. Another reason: mega investments by a couple of companies who have created large scale dairy farms (one of them owned by a loyalist MP. A nobleman: he is a marquis). These have driven the small and medium farms out of business. Unlike in Argentina (see below), they are not taxed.

Farm strike

"South America's second-largest economy — a leading exporter of soybeans, beef and wheat — is in full farmbelt rebellion over a new sliding-scale increase in export taxes. Soybean taxes are being hiked from 35 percent to 45 percent, with smaller increases on corn and other farm products.

But Fernandez appeared undeterred as she delivered a televised address later in the evening. Vowing not to "give in to extortion," the new president declared that her government will not grant any concessions to the striking farm and ranch workers.

Fernandez said farm producers have profited from a boom in commodity prices and it is only fair to tax them more to redistribute wealth to poorer parts of society. "This seems like ... comedy," she said." (Thanks D.)

The news is a bit old (March 25), but I had missed it then. It is still very interesting and helps to understand the global working of the food export economy. Farming is an industry in some parts of Argentina, and often a very environmentally damaging one and taxation for wealth redistribution comes naturally.

Urban farming

I'm blogging this link sent to me by Muna because my team is very involved in Urban Agriculture and we are the local branch of RUAF for the Arab Countries. I always thought that Urban Agriculture was an oxymoron, but then I started working more on it and it can be really interesting. It wont resolve the world food crisis, but there is something to be said for the fact that 50% of humanity is now urban and that this is expected to rise to 70% in a couple of decades. Who will produce for all those people? What infrastructure is needed for producing their food, for getting rid of their wastes?

Stimulating innovation in urban agriculture

Authors: van Veenhuizen,R.
Produced by: RUAF Urban Agriculture Magazine (2008)

Urban farming systems are in constant development as urban farmers adapt their existing practices or come up with new ones, yet are rarely given formal support for their innovations. This issue of looks at how urban farmers can be supported in their efforts to improve their livelihoods.

The issue is a collaborative effort of the RUAF, the Prolinnova (Promoting Local Innovation) network and Urban Harvest, an initiative of CGIAR and draws on experiences of urban farming from around the world. Some articles merely promote innovations, while others discuss ways to stimulate the innovation capacity of the farmers themselves. Titles include the following:

  • Promoting Local Innovation in Rural Agriculture: experience and lessons for urban settings
  • Innovative Wastewater Recycling in an Indian Village: linking the rural with the urban
  • Innovations in Greenhouse Rainwater Harvesting system in Beijing, China
  • Cleaning, Greening and Feeding Cities: Local initiatives in recycling waste in Kampala, Uganda
  • Urban Agriculture in Msunduzi Municipality, South Africa
  • Innovations in Producer-Market Linkages: Urban field schools and organic markets in Lima
  • Urban Agriculture as Social Justice Change Agent and Economic Engine
  • Innovations in Urban Livestock Keeping in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Available online at:

Can poverty alleviation and environment coexist?

Can payments for environmental services help reduce poverty? An exploration of the issues and the evidence to date from Latin America

Authors: Pagiola,S; Arcenas,A; Platais,G
Produced by: Science Direct (2005)

Recent years have seen considerable interest in using Payments for Environmental Services (PES) as an incentive to enhance conservation efforts. Latin America has been particularly receptive to this approach with programmes in operation in Costa Rica, Columbia, Ecuador and Mexico, amongst others. This paper examines the possible linkages between PES programmes and poverty, drawing on the experience of the main on-going PES programmes in Latin America.

Although PES programmes are not designed for poverty reduction, there can be important synergies when program design is well thought out and local conditions are favourable. As such, the impact of PES programmes on the lives of poor participants remains a critical dimension and one that has been largely under-researched.

The authors observe that the extent of impact the programme has on poverty within the area depends on:

  • the level of poverty amongst participants
  • the poor's ability to participate in the programme
  • the monetary amounts paid out.

The paper asserts that a broader understanding of the potential linkages between PES and poverty leads to specific policy questions:

  • How can PES programmes be designed to maximise poverty reduction and minimize possible negative effects (for example, PES-promoted land use practices are much less labour intensive which could result in a loss of jobs for farmers)
  • What are the trade-offs between generating environmental services as efficiently as possible and meeting poverty reduction objectives?

The authors argue that it is too early to arrive at conclusive results on the likely poverty impacts of PES programmes. They conclude that whilst making poverty reduction objectives predominate is undoubtedly attractive, it would ultimately prove self-defeating. Subordinating the objective of generating services to that of poverty reduction risks failing to deliver on the services which are being paid for, and thus undermines the very basis of the program. Once service users cease paying, neither poverty reduction nor resource management objectives will be reached.

Available online at:

Arab Unemployment

"Unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is currently at a historical high, which may appear puzzling given economic growth in the region. The authors of this conference paper stress the need to look at labour market developments, demographic changes and macro policy frameworks in the region to understand the underlying causes of these high levels of unemployment.

The paper uses a sample of five Arab countries (namely Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia) in a dataset that covers the period from 1990 to 2006.

The study's observations and policy recommendations include:

  • Despite healthy economic growth, unemployment has not decreased. Recommendation: enabling an environment where growth is more predictable through state development of a macro policy framework which allows financial markets to function independently albeit within a credible regulatory framework
  • The labour market appears to strongly discriminate against women's skills. Recommendation: the mismatch between women's schooling and job skills (especially where these relate to the private sector) needs to be addressed.
  • The continuous rise in life expectancy is likely to have serious labour market implications, particularly for men. Recommendation: faster and stable labour-intensive growth strategy which encourages small enterprise growth and diversifies the product base of the economy
  • The high trade-GDP ratio has had little impact on growth, employment and educational attainment.
    Recommendation: engage with globalisation and search for comparative advantages and/or hindrances."
Available online at:

(Thanks Muna)

Opting out

"Romania, which has been one of the most receptive markets on a skeptical Continent for genetically modified crops, is moving toward a reversal of its stance, in what would be another setback for the beleaguered biotechnology industry in Europe.

Over the past decade, Romania became the largest producer of gene-altered crops in Europe because of large amounts of modified soy, mostly produced by Monsanto and Pioneer, a unit of DuPont. That crop was approved for use by farmers in Romania but not in the EU, and the government had to pledge to stop growing the crop when Romania joined the bloc in 2007.

In the future, Korodi said, farmers - particularly those with small plots in mountainous areas - could prosper from selling smaller quantities of unmodified produce, as it would command higher prices on local and international markets.

"GMOs mean crops are cheaper to produce," Korodi said. "But if we look at the market price that GMO-free crops earn, and we look at the costs to biodiversity of using GMOs, then non-GMO crops are better," he said." (Thanks Yaz)

Read also the latest Vanity Fair for an extensive article on Monsanto.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Have mercy

"Aish! Aish!" -- Bread! Bread! -- the stubble-faced men yelled, shouting through the grillwork at bakers laboring over a dented, gas-fired oven. Cursing and pushing, the men thrust crumpled currency through the spaces in the grille.

"Have mercy! Have mercy on us!" a woman in a dusty black head scarf and abaya yelled.

Egypt's economy is expected to grow by 7 percent this fiscal year and is attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment. BMW, one of many luxury carmakers active in Egypt, reported a 20 percent annual growth in sales here last year.

But the percentage of Egyptians living below the poverty line -- meaning they make less than $2 a day -- rose from 16.7 percent in 2000 to 19.6 percent in 2005, according to the World Bank. In all, about 40 percent of Egypt's population lives in poverty, the World Bank said. Strikes by workers demanding higher wages have spiked since last summer.

Ellen Knickmeyer on the inequalities of Egypt

The caring Bank

""In Bangladesh a 2kg bag of rice now consumes almost half of the daily income of a poor family. With little margin for survival, rising prices too often means fewer meals," he said. Poor people in Yemen were now spending more than a quarter of their income on bread. "This is not just about meals forgone today, or about increasing social unrest, it is about lost learning potential for children and adults in the future, stunted intellectual and physical growth. Even more, we estimate that the effect of this food crisis on poverty reduction worldwide is in the order of seven lost years.""
Regine Szewzyk, a microbiologist at Berlin's environmental agency, said: "Basically it should be left to healthy people to take the rubbish out."

It's a surge!

"As well as this week's violence in Egypt, the rising cost and scarcity of food has been blamed for:

· Riots in Haiti last week that killed four people

· Violent protests in Ivory Coast

· Price riots in Cameroon in February that left 40 people dead

· Heated demonstrations in Mauritania, Mozambique and Senegal

· Protests in Uzbekistan, Yemen, Bolivia and Indonesia

UN staff in Jordan also went on strike for a day this week to demand a pay rise in the face of a 50% hike in prices, while Asian countries such as Cambodia, China, Vietnam, India and Pakistan have curbed rice exports to ensure supplies for their own residents."

See this link too for similar (bad) news.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

India's farmers debts

"CONTRARY to media hype, Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s latest budget does not set a new direction. Nor does it address the huge imbalances in India’s recent growth pattern. The decision to write off farmers’ loans worth Rs60,000 crores is a belated acknowledgement of the grave agrarian crisis, which has driven 150,000 farmers to suicide in a decade. The write-off is welcome. But it’s not enough.

Sounds uncharitable? Consider that the recent problem with the Indian economy hasn’t been lack of growth. It’s lack of equity — income inequalities, and sectoral and regional disparities. The United Progressive Alliance’s last full budget was to correct this. It has failed to do so."

Praful Bidwai debunks India's debt write off. My biggest concern with the increasing food prices is that the agribusinesses capture the opportunity and that it ends creating even more disparities and inequalities.

Lebanon Social Watch

2007 report
Gaps and efforts in social protection
Sawsan El Masri
Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)

"Lebanon lacks a coherent and comprehensive system for social protection. Over half the population is not covered by any form of health insurance, and retirement schemes exclude the most vulnerable and poor. NGOs play a major role in providing social assistance to those cut off from formal protection systems. Meanwhile, Palestine refugees, who comprise 10% of the population, face severe discrimination in the right to social security, to work, and to own property, resulting in high rates of abject poverty."

Read more with data here. (Thanks Muna)

Land in China

"The movement for private ownership is not without its critics. Wen Tiejun, dean of the school of agriculture and rural development at People’s University in Beijing, told the Financial Times that it is only due to the current system of state ownership that China has “virtually no rural landless poor, in contrast with most large developing countries.” But in a testimony (PDF) to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission in 2006, China expert Joshua Muldavin puts official estimate of landless peasants in China at 70 million, with the number growing by 3 million each year."

Make it a double

"Yet opinion in Washington remains starkly divided. One trade expert and one representative from the American Farm Bureau discuss whether the United States should cut its farm subsidies in a recent Online Debate. More basically, discussion of the merits of free trade itself remains highly politicized on Capitol Hill, and the recent expiration of President Bush’s “fast-track” trade promotion authority means any potential multilateral trade deal would be subject to congressional markups. None of this would prevent trade deals from proliferating in the developing world. The question raised by experts like CFR’s Jagdish Bhagwati is whether the United States will be a part of these deals."

Protectionism for us, free trade for them: that's the motto.

Privatising biodiversity

"There have been concerted efforts from certain quarters to promote the use of hybrid seeds in Uganda. Early last year, a grant of 150 million dollars was provided to the country and its neighbours by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to launch the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

The money is to pay for more research into hybrid seeds, the provision of inorganic fertilizers, water management and extension services to facilitate the propagation of these seeds.

According to the government source, the US Agency for International Development's project, known as the Uganda Agricultural Productivity Enhancement Program (APEP), has also been actively advocating the adoption of stronger intellectual property rules, including the use of biotechnology.

Tukundane Cuthbert is an extension worker, someone who helps farmers improve their productivity. He outlined the promises and pitfalls of hybrid seeds as follows: "The hybrid cabbage takes only three months and then you can harvest it.

"Our traditional variety takes six months and there is no time for leaving the land fallow before you have to replant. With the hybrid cabbage, we can have more harvests per year.

"But the seed can only be used once and that is all. We could use our traditional seeds over and over again. This means that at the end of the season (when we have used hybrid seeds), we have to buy new seeds. Those of us who are poor and can't go to the market then cannot eat. Or we have to borrow and it is difficult to get collateral.

"The hybrid seeds are high yielding, but we cannot afford to buy the technology and maintain it. I wish the government would empower the local researchers to own the technology," Cuthbert said.

Another extension worker, John Kisembo, who works with Caritas in Uganda, was even more sceptical about the wonders of hybrid seeds. Caritas is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service organisations." (Thanks Kirsten)

From Global Research. The site has got excellent articles on food systems and agribusinesses

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

If American Knew

One of my exceptional posts not on food and farming: a site called "If Americans Knew", what every American (and Arab, considering the current state of affairs) should know about Israel/Palestine.

Slow Food Beirut

À l’instar de tous les conviviums dans le monde, Slow Food Beirut fait partie du réseau des associations de Slow Food International et partage de ce fait même la philosophie et la mission du mouvement. Les membres de l’ONG s’engagent ainsi à défendre la biodiversité et à consommer « bon, propre et juste ».

Les produits doivent donc avoir « bon goût, ce qui est important sur le plan gastronomique », explique Rami Zurayk, directeur du programme des sciences de l’environnement à l’Université américaine de Beyrouth. « C’est un moyen de permettre aux petits producteurs de concurrencer les grands producteurs, poursuit-il, puisqu’ils offrent des produits au goût différent, au moment où les produits offerts par les gros producteurs ont un goût standardisé. »

Les produits Slow Food doivent également être propres, « c’est-à-dire générés de manière à préserver l’environnement, les espèces animales et la santé ». « L’agriculture est l’un des plus grands pollueurs mondiaux, souligne Rami Zurayk. Selon la philosophie de Slow Food, les agriculteurs doivent donc, à titre d’exemple, appliquer la gestion intégrée des produits nuisibles, recourir à des méthodes de labour qui conservent le sol, etc. Il faudrait aussi que le produit lui-même soit propre, c’est-à-dire qu’il ne contienne pas de pesticides ou qu’il ne soit pas contaminé. »

Célébrer le « juste », enfin, « c’est veiller à ce que les producteurs alimentaires reçoivent une compensation juste pour leur travail ». « Les producteurs locaux pourront pourvoir à leurs besoins, les campagnes et les zones rurales pourront aussi revivre », insiste Rami Zurayk. Le consommateur Slow Food devient ainsi un partenaire actif du processus de production.

Pays basé sur l’inégalité

Qu’apporte cette ONG de plus sur le plan national ? « Le Liban est en chute libre sur le plan alimentaire, répond Rami Zurayk. La qualité des aliments est très médiocre parce qu’il n’y a ni certificat ni contrôle sur les produits consommés. L’agriculture libanaise est elle aussi en chute libre et ne fait que se rétrécir. Avec le coût des importations des denrées alimentaires qui s’est accru au cours des derniers mois, il faut vraiment mettre au point une politique qui puisse générer une activité du côté des producteurs locaux pour relancer ce secteur qui a été complètement détruit. »

Et Rami Zurayk d’insister : « Le Liban est un pays basé sur l’inégalité, qui est constatée au niveau social, financier, comme au niveau de l’accès à la terre et aux ressources. C’est l’un des pays les plus inégaux du monde et malheureusement, les personnes aisées ne le savent pas. Elles vivent en dehors de cette réalité et évitent d’y penser. Or, l’agriculture est l’un des moyens qui permettent de combattre la pauvreté. C’est ce qu’a souligné d’ailleurs la Banque mondiale dans son dernier rapport. “Bon, propre et juste” ne peut être donc que bénéfique pour le Liban d’un point de vue social, alimentaire et environnemental. J’ai été désigné à plusieurs reprises conseiller du ministre de l’Agriculture et je sais que le Liban n’a aucune politique agricole pour plusieurs raisons, la principale étant le clientélisme politique et le confessionnalisme qui prévalent dans ce pays. Il faudrait donc agir et essayer d’adopter à travers la société civile des politiques en ce sens. Il s’agit, par la suite, de faire du lobbying auprès des responsables et leur montrer que les alternatives existent et que celles-ci sont susceptibles de protéger l’environnement et la culture alimentaire du pays, qui fait partie de notre patrimoine, au même titre que la culture littéraire, etc. »

From a long article on Slow Food Beirut in today's L'Orient-Le Jour. Good, Clean and Fair should be the basis of the agricultural policy of Lebanon.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


"The headlong rush in many parts of the world to replace oil with biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel) illustrates how the best of intentions can run afoul of the law of unintended consequences. While positive effects have been elusive -- and, in fact, are unlikely with current policies -- starvation and malnourishment are becoming worse among the poorest of the poor.

The reality is that with current technology, almost all of this biofuel would have to come from corn because there is no other feasible, proven alternative. But because of the inefficiencies inherent in producing ethanol from corn and the relatively meager amount of energy yielded by burning ethanol, the demands on farmland would be staggering. An analysis by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development suggested that replacing even 10 percent of America's motor fuel with biofuels would require that about a third of all the nation's cropland be devoted to oilseeds, cereals and sugar crops. Achieving the 15 percent goal would require the entire current U.S. corn crop, which represents a whopping 40 percent of the world's corn supply."

I know this has been over-discussed, but every little bit helps.

Livestock in development

"The 2008 World Development Report on Agriculture surveyed 14 countries and noted that most rural households, and 40 percent of the poorest households, own livestock. The World Bank estimates that livestock are the main livelihood asset for up to 200 million pastoralists and agropastoralists in arid and semi-arid environments worldwide. Furthermore, 35 to 90 million of these people are extremely poor.

Policy and institutional changes in the livestock sector, and the growing demand for meat, milk and other livestock products, will affect poor livestock producers in many ways. This issue of id21 insights examines some of the implications and suggests how the livestock sector can focus on 'pro-poor' development."

An excellent issue of ID21 on livestock issues sent to me a while ago by D. Adresses many critical issue. Look up for example this article of pastoralism:

"There are currently academic debates about whether pastoralism is still a viable livelihood option in the Horn of Africa. Ian Scoones suggests greater commercialisation of herds is one way to strengthen pastoralist livelihoods. This seems logical, as there is a growing demand for milk and meat in the expanding urban centres of countries with pastoralist populations, as well as other countries.

However, policymakers often regard pastoralist areas as problematic, where many animals have serious diseases. This perception means that current international standards prevent trade with pastoral areas. These standards are based on the assumption that eradicating diseases from a given area or country is the only way to guarantee livestock products as safe for trade. But is this assumption correct?"

Il Duce must be doing somersaults

"In second place was L’Arcangelo, a restaurant with a head chef from India. The winner: Antico Forno Roscioli, a bakery and innovative restaurant whose chef, Nabil Hadj Hassen, arrived from Tunisia at 17 and washed dishes for a year and a half before he cooked his first pot of pasta.

“To cook is a passion,” said Mr. Hassen, now 43, who went on to train with some of Italy's top chefs. “Food is a beautiful thing.”

But Italians take their food very seriously, not just as nourishment and pleasure but also as the chief component of national and regional identity. Change is not taken lightly here, especially when the questions it raises are uncomfortable: Will Italy’s food change — and if so, for the worse or, even more disconcertingly, for the better? Most Italian food is defined by its good ingredients and simple preparation, but does it become less distinct — or less Italian — if anyone can prepare it to restaurant standards? Does that come at some cost to national pride?" (Thanks Leila)

The last of the Bedouins

""The government used force against us, they detained people, demolished houses, fined us and nothing helped," said Aqil al-Talalqah, 66, a retired headmaster who now lives in a tent in Twayil, only a few hundred yards from the demolished two-room building where he once went to school as a child. "They say we are invading state land. How are we invading state land? This is our land."

A leading international human rights group yesterday accused the Israeli government of discrimination against the bedouin, citing a sharp increase in housing demolitions and a "systematic violation" of their land and housing rights.

The detailed 126-page report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) comes as a new government-appointed commission begins a study on the long-running land ownership dispute. The Goldberg Commission, appointed by the housing ministry but without any representatives from the unrecognised villages, is due to report later this year.

Tens of thousands of bedouin - Arabs who have lived a semi-nomadic life on the land for many generations and who all carry full Israeli citizenship - live in 39 "unrecognised villages" in southern Israel where their homes are subject to frequent demolition." (Thanks Anna)

Everywhere in the Middle East, the Bedouins are marginalized and oppressed. They have lost their historical fight with the settled and their way of life is gone, probably forever. They have become tourist attractions, praetorian guards or slum dwellers. But only one country has a state policy to oppress the native: Israel.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Egypt in crisis

"But it is not just the price of bread that is stretching Egyptians’ meager budgets to the breaking point. An investigative report by al-Misri al-Yawm concluded that the price of basic foodstuffs rose at rates of at least 33 percent (for meat), and as much as 146 percent (for chicken), from 2005 to 2008. The official annual rate of inflation for January 2008 was over 11 percent and over 12 percent for February. The Mahalla workers have popularized the demand for a national minimum wage of 1,200 Egyptian pounds a month to cope with this inflation. This move has embarrassed the trade union federation into advocating increasing the minimum wage from 115 Egyptian pounds a month, which has been the rate since 1984, to 800 Egyptian pounds a month. A family of four would live just below the poverty line of $2 a day on 1,200 pounds a month."

Joel Beinin for the Middle East Report Online. Essential read at a time when the crisis deepens in Egypt. Yesterday's strike was not as successful as expected, I hear. Strongly worded article very critical of the regime by the director of Middle East Studies at the American University of Cairo. Good for AUC.


"An apocalyptic mood has seized the highest levels of global capital as the global financial system continues to implode. This implosion is but the latest financial crisis to wrack global capitalism. Financial crises are inevitable since capitalist growth has increasingly been driven by speculative bubbles such as the housing bubble in the United States. The increasingly uncontrolled financial gyrations stem from the increasing divergence between an expansive financial economy and a stagnant real economy. This "disconnect" stems from the persistent stagnationist trends in the real economy owing to overproduction or overcapacity. The search for profitability is capitalism's driving force, and increasingly, significant profits can only be obtained from financial speculation rather than investment in industry. This is, however, a volatile and unstable process since the divergence between momentary financial indicators like stock and real estate prices and real values can proceed only up to a point before reality bites back and enforces a "correction." The bursting of the US housing bubble is one such correction, and it is leading not only to a recession in the US but to a global downturn owing to the unprecedented level of integration fostered by corporate-led globalization. It will not be easy to restore dynamism by fostering another speculative bubble, for instance, by resorting to "military Keynesianism."

At the global elite's annual weeklong party at Davos in late January, George Soros sounded positively necrological, declaring to one and all that the world was witnessing "the end of an era." World Economic Forum host Klaus Schwab spoke of capitalism getting its just desserts, saying, "We have to pay for the sins of the past." "It's not that the pendulum is now swinging back to Marxist socialism," he told the press, "but people are asking themselves, ‘What are the boundaries of the capitalist system?' They think the market may not always be the best mechanism for providing solutions.""

That's more like it (see next post!). From the brilliant people at the TransNational Institute