Thursday, July 31, 2008

Arabia Felix: pas de quoi etre heureux

"The Republic of Yemen is one of the driest, poorest and least developed countries in the world. It ranks 150 out of 177 countries on the UNDP Human Development Index (2006). An estimated 42 percent of the people are poor, and one Yemeni in five is malnourished. Poverty is endemic, particularly in more remote and less accessible areas.

About two thirds of the population, including 80 percent of the country’s poor people, live in rural areas and most of them depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Agriculture is a vital economic sector, providing jobs and income in a country with an unemployment rate of 37 percent and averting migration to urban areas. But the country’s poor natural resource base cannot meet the needs of a population that is increasing by more than 3 percent annually. Yemen has the world’s fourth fastest growing population, according to a recent UNICEF report."

Yemen is also a country that has oil. Not in large quantities, but in sufficient amounts to invest in infrastructure. Where does the oil money go? Where does it go in Syria? or even in Saudi?

Mediterranean nutrition: the challenges lie ahead

According to Martine Padilla, one of the senior researchers in Food economics in the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies in Montpellier, there is no “Mediterranean nutrition”, but there are common characteristics to the nutrition of the people of the Mediterranean. These include an availability of calories ranging between 3130 Kcal and 3560 Kcal per person per day, a common palette of tastes, structured meals constituted of small dishes including drinks and fresh and seasonal products, as well as similarities in the techniques of food preparation. These similarities result in food products that are generally healthy, tasty, enjoyable, and which are linked to a culinary tradition. However, in recent times, ambivalence has prevailed, as nutrition in the Mediterranean is drawn between the two forces of tradition and modernity. In the north of the Mediterranean, these two forces have resulted in a drift towards an increase in the consumption of meat, while the south has witnessed a higher consumption of grain-based products, but also and especially, of sugar. These trends raise a number of concerns, related to the increased consumption of fats, especially of the saturated kind, and of sugar; but also of hidden hunger due to the deficiency of micro nutrients.

These trends reflect a change in lifestyles, which are today shaped by urbanization. Urban people have become distant from food sources, working couples have less time to prepare complex meals, and school canteens expose children to rapidly prepared and conveniently packaged meals. This influences the formation and development of taste in young people. The market is responding to these changes, with an intensification of the industrial production of products with high calorific content, rich in sugars, such as soft drinks, or in both sugar and fats such as biscuits, cookies and chocolates.

As a result, the Mediterranean basin is witnessing a decrease in the consumption of fresh products in the poorer countries of the south, while the import of fresh products by the countries of the north is increasing. These products usually originate from the countries of the south, the policies of which are plagued by the “culture of export”. Thus, while the nutritional security has been achieved for most of the people in quantitative terms, there is a degradation of the qualitative aspect of nutritional security. This leads to a paradoxical situation in which the poor countries which until recently were still food deficient now count obesity and overweight among their main problems. The illnesses of the rich have now become illnesses of the poor. Egypt, for instance, counts 23% obesity and 63% overweight. Youth obesity is also growing fast. As a result, type-2 diabetes is on the increase, facilitated by the genetic pre-disposition of the people of the region.

In order to correct this situation, the countries concerned must confront a number of challenges:

  1. Governments must establish, promote and support a food system respectful of health.
  2. The trade in traditional food products needs to be revived, organized and enhanced as these products are essential ingredients for healthy cooking.
  3. Food wastage must be reduced. Research in France shows that out of every 10 calories produced, only 1 is consumed.
  4. Agricultural policies must focus, foster and support nutritional and alimentary security.
  5. Sanitary quality of products must be controlled, along with the nutritional quality. There is no point ensuring that a product is clean if it is not nutritious. In both cases, illness awaits the consumer.
  6. Money is not the only determinant of consumers’ choices when it comes to purchasing food. Image and representation are at least as important. Image building of nutritious food must start at school.

Iran wheat

"Drought is expected to reduce Iran's wheat crop by 20 percent to about 12.0 million tonnes -- its lowest level in six years, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

It's unlikely Iran will buy more wheat from the United States until late 2008 or early 2009, traders said.
"Whatever buying is being done is being done selectively," said a U.S. wheat trader. "They're doing it at the right time with new crops coming on stream. They're not overly aggressive with it so prices continue to decline as more wheat comes off the field.""

Water and the rural poor

2. Water and the rural poor: interventions for improving livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa

Authors: Faurés,J.; Santini,G.
Produced by: Land and Water Development Division, FAO (2008)

Insecure access to water for consumption and productive uses is a major constraint on poverty reduction in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. This publication addresses the linkage between water and rural poverty in the region, in order to help decision-makers make informed choices on where and how to invest. Drawing on past experiences, it demonstrates that there are many opportunities to invest in water in support of rural livelihoods. It discusses conditions for success and proposes water-based, context-specific, and livelihood-centred approaches to poverty reduction in rural areas.

The report argues that the likelihood of implementing successful interventions in the water sector varies according to the main sources of livelihood of rural populations, dictated in large part by the predominant farming systems, themselves closely related to agro-ecological conditions. Understanding the geographical distribution of the rural poor and their relation to livelihood zones therefore helps in designing intervention strategies to improve water management and increase both the resilience and productivity of agriculture, as well as agricultural incomes.

To this end, the report proposes a method for identifying the locations where water constraints are a major factor in determining poverty and where interventions can be made that would take large numbers of poor farmers out of poverty. It identifies and maps 13 major "livelihood zones" in SSA, each of which offers distinct opportunities for livelihood sustenance and development, has different agro-ecological conditions, and shows different angles for water-related investments for poverty reduction.

The report also identifies four main categories of rural people and analyses their specific water-related requirements. The four groups are: (i) the extremely vulnerable; (ii) traditional smallholders, livestock keepers and nomads; (iii) emerging market-oriented smallholders; and (iv) large commercial farmers. It is emphasised throughout that the choice of interventions at different scales should be taken from a non-prescriptive menu of appropriate options and based on an understanding of the particular context and target group.

The report concludes by discussing a set of typical water intervention options, and analyses their range of application and potential for poverty reduction according to the various livelihood zones. Six categories of possible interventions are discussed in view of their poverty-reduction potential:
  • better management of soil moisture in rainfed areas
  • investment in water harvesting and small storage
  • small-scale community-based irrigation schemes
  • improved water access and control for peri-urban agriculture
  • development of water supply to meet multiple water uses
  • an environmentally-aware system of improved water access for livestock in arid and semi-arid areas.
Available online at:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The crunch

Credibility crunch: food, poverty, and climate change: an agenda for rich-country leaders

Authors: Lawson,M.
Produced by: Oxfam (2008)

The year 2008 is halfway to the deadline for reaching the Millennium Development Goals. Despite some progress, this article argues that they will not be achieved if current trends continue. It is argues that, starting with the G8 meeting in Japan, rich countries must use a series of high-profile summits in 2008 to make sure the MDGs are met, and to tackle both climate change and the current food crisis.

Oxfam proposes an agenda into the G8 this year that includes action on the following areas:

  • Stop burning food and start supporting poor farmers
  • Mend broken aid promises
  • Support health, education, water and sanitation for all
  • Climate change - stop harming and start helping
  • Put women and girls first
  • Prioiritise security for sustainable development
On the food crisis, the report urges G8 leaders to commit financial assistance and ensure that all the money - including the US$6 billion pledged at the Rome summit - comes on top of existing aid commitments.

The report points to a similar situation for climate change, where it argues that a lot of the money pledged to help poor communities cope with the effects of changing weather patterns is simply being taken from existing aid budgets or instead being made in loans.

(Thanks Muna)

Available online at:

Bon debarras

"Trade officials said Tuesday that a high-level summit to salvage a global trade pact collapsed, after the United States, China and India failed to compromise on farm import rules.

The dispute over the current proposals concerns the threshold for when developing nations could sharply raise their tariffs, and how high those taxes could rise.

The United States had accused the two emerging powers of insisting on allowances to raise farm tariffs above even their current levels. That violates the spirit of the trade round, the U.S. and other agricultural exporters argued, because it is supposed to help poorer countries develop their economies by boosting their exports of farm produce."

A brief history of trade

"18th-19th centuries:

Agricultural and industrial revolutions in Europe give the continent, and notably Britain, a huge advantage.

Economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo suggest that unrestricted, or free, trade can benefit both partners. This idea is gradually accepted.

However the building of empires, notably in south Asia and Africa, also entails the destruction of many local industries.

Both trade and economic growth are cyclical, with crises coming on the heels of periods of expansion."

The limits of empire

"Insurrection in the cities of Iraq. Mass resistance across Palestine. Foreign troops bogged down and facing defeat. A crisis for western imperialism in the Middle East.

This may sound like a description of the world today. But the date was 117 AD and the policies of bull-headed Roman emperor Trajan (98-117 AD) had set the region alight."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Colonial development

A very interesting article from the front page of Al Akhbar on the creation by the US occupation forces in Iraq of a socio-economic group dependent on development aid. It goes like this: around its bases, the US army encourages (by funding them) the initiation of small artisanal enterprises for food and handicrafts. The army then makes purchases in order to keep the small traders alive. Small settlements are created around the bases. These provide a good buffer of people who have vested interest in protecting the US army and who act as informers. According to the article, the US army is claiming these activities as part of its social development and poverty alleviation program, and the authors point to the obvious: that Iraq is a rich country and does not need charity. It only needs to be freed from occupation and to have governance over its own resources. In another section of the same article, the US army has encouraged the Iraqi tribes to organize a transportation mafia, each tribe providing safe passage on its territory to US military and other goods. The mafia is organized, like all mafias, as a corporation. This is how Iraq is being liberated and modernized: by blending tribalism with the mob.

Organic exports from Egypt

"It was four years before Sekem began exporting medicinal herbs and spices and two more years before its organic food came to market. It’s been expanding and developing its range of products ever since, with annual growth over the last few years of between 20 and 25 per cent.

In 2007 Sekem, working with a regional network of 800 farmers, had sales of over 200 million Egyptian pounds (Dh138 million) and a net profit of over 12 million pounds. It could have made a lot more profit but that’s the key to the Sekem enterprise – it has never been just about the produce.

From the start, Sekem was meant to be different. It was one of the first proponents of fair trade, making sure, as Ibrahim puts it, that “the whole supply chain from the poor farmer to the consumer in London is transparent. Every participant in the chain should know what the next in line is doing and the end result of this transparent chain is the farmer gets the fair price for his product…"

In praise of Egyptian organic export farming. Does anyone know about this company, SEKEM?


"The texts presented so far by the WTO and by Lamy only serve the interests of the rich countries and agribusiness companies, he added.

Khan said that Lamy’s proposal on the subsidies that the United States and the European Union pay their farmers would allow these countries to double what they already shell out.

In the case of the United States, which grants agricultural subsidies of between seven and eight billion dollars a year, the draft text would authorise it to spend 14.5 billion dollars, close to double the amount it now pays. The EU, which it is estimated will cut its subsidies to 12 billion dollars a year by 2014, would be allowed under Lamy’s proposal to spend 22 billion dollars a year, Khan said.

And those government funds to support farmers "do not include an untouchable box of agricultural subsidies, the Green Box," which includes forms of support for farmers that the WTO does not consider as distorting free trade, he said." (Thanks Marcy)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Body on the line

Dear Marcy updates us on the situation of farmers in Nahr el Bared. In the same post, Marcy relates the film Massaker in which Lebanese Forces militias brag about the Sabra and Chatila massacre. Today the LF are in charge of the Ministry of Justice in Lebanon. Read also the next post about the Al Jazira English program "Street Food" which looks at oppressed and oppressor through the same lens. Sometimes I hate all this "food as culture" business.

Ahlan! Welcome!

From an interesting article in Scoop by Dan Lieberman.

"In 1920, after the Jewish population had grown to 60,000 in a Palestine composed of 585,000 Arabs, a reporter noted that earlier settlers felt uncomfortable with the later immigrants. They were less willing to work at agriculture and had no capability to live off the available land.
“It may not be generally known, but a goodly number of the Jewish dwellers in the land are not anxious to see a large immigration into the country. This is partly due to the fear that the result of such immigration would be an overcrowding of the industrial and agricultural market; but a number of the more respectable older settlers have been disgusted by the recent arrivals in Palestine of their coreligionists, unhappy individuals from Russia and Romania brought in under the auspices of the Zionist Commission from the cities of Southeastern Europe, and neither able nor willing to work at agriculture or fruit-farming.

…the whole population will resist the Zionist Commission's plan of wholesale immigration of Jews into Palestine at the rate of one hundred thousand a year, until a total of three millions has been reached, which number they claim the country can support if cultivated to its utmost.

The existing Jewish colonists would protest at such an experiment; but the Mohammedan and Christian Arabs would do more than protest. They would, if able, prevent by force the wholesale flooding of their country by Jewish settlers whom they consider strangers and Europeans.” Zionist Aspirations in Palestine by Anstruther Mackay, as originally published in The Atlantic Monthly, July 1920."

The limits of the local

"SG: Those kinds of initiatives are good. I’m all for re-localizing the economy. For instance, it’s great if you can buy your food locally. But I think it’s an illusion, and a pernicious one at that, to think that if we change our behavior, everything will change. This is simply not true. It’s a question of scale. If you could get all Europeans to change their light bulbs, which is already a mammoth task, it really wouldn’t make that much difference. We must not allow people to think that by consuming different things, they can change the world. I’m all for fair trade, but everything is a question of scale now. Local change is one of the scales, and sometimes these things can be scaled up, but we really need to be thinking in terms of the large flows.

But if we are thinking seriously about the scale of these problems, we really have to take a much broader point of view, from Jupiter or something. It has to be done through law, through something that is binding. And of course economic incentives will be part of that, but how do you get economic incentives? You get them through law, through government saying, at least at the beginning, that we’ll subsidize solar, wave, biopower, etcetera.

People ask all the time, “are you optimistic or pessimistic,” it’s standard. I explain that I just don’t deal with the categories of optimism and pessimism, except maybe for the famous Gramsci quotation, “optimism of the will, pessimism of the mind.”"

Thought provoking interview with the brilliant Susan George. She puts "local activism" inti its right context.


"A debilitating muscular disorder prevents the teen from raising his arms more than few inches above his lap. Doctors say he suffers from too much urea in his bloodstream - a chemical fertilizer used in the wheat, rice and cotton fields that surround this village of 3,300 inhabitants in
northwestern Punjab state. Three other children in nearby villages have a similar malady, residents say.

"What are you achieving by feeding people at the cost of their health?" said G.P.I. Singh" (Thanks Leila)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Lebanon cluster bomb: a documentary

Screening and Discussion: Sneak Preview Screening of Jawad Metni's "Lebanon Cluster Bomb"

Alwan for the Arts Presents:

Screening and Discussion: Sneak Preview Screening of Jawad Metni's "Lebanon Cluster Bomb"

To mark the 2nd anniversary of Israel's brutal war on the people of Lebanon, Alwan for the Arts and Deep Dish TV present four evenings of films from Deep Dish TV's new eight part television series NOTHING IS SAFE. The screenings are on consecutive Wednesdays July 23, July 30, Aug 6, and Aug 13.

July 30, 2008 Program
Free and Open to the Public
A sneak preview of Jawad Metni's new feature documentary "Lebanon Cluster Bomb"

Sneak preview (2008, Jawad Metni, 90 min)

LEBANON CLUSTER BOMB follows the men and women of South Lebanon who were hired and trained to clear unexploded cluster munitions after the July 2006 war. The Israeli Defense Forces dropped nearly 1 million of these dangerous weapons across 40 million square meters of South Lebanon. Hundreds of thousands failed to explode, and continue to kill and maim civilians 2 years after the war. The film is a primer on the cluster munition problem in Lebanon, but much more so an intimate portrait of those struggling to rebuild their lives after the devastating 2006 war. The under-represented of South Lebanon are given voice here, as they work shoulder to shoulder to return the land back to their fellow Lebanese.
For more info visit:

16 Beaver (between Broad and Broadway) 4th Floor New York, NY 10004
Tel.: 646 732 3261 Fax: 212 967 4326

TRAINS: 4, 5 to Bowling Green J/M/Z to Broad St. R,W to Whitehall St.1 to Rector St. or South Ferry 2, 3 to Wall St. A, C line to Broadway-Nassau

BUSES: M1, M6, M9, M16, M20.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

"Colonizing Iraqi Cuisine by Omar Dewachi"

Cultural struggle

"I then remembered that in the cuisine of Sephardim from Lebanon yogurt-cucumber sauce is a traditional accompaniment for majadrah - lentils with rice."

As if the other people of Lebanon do not eat yogurt-cucumber sauce with majadrah (mujaddarah, an ARABIC word!)? Only the Sephardim do? Then I must be a Sephardim. Can I claim the right of return now?

Irony aside, the sauce is common to many cuisines, it is called cucumber raita in Indian cuisine. And rice with yogurt is the most common thing you eat in Lebanon when you have a bad stomach or when your parents can think of anything to feed you. And I love it how labaneh (LABNEH!) became euphemistically a "Middle Eastern" food. A few years ago I was at a conference on traditional foods and an Israeli delegate stood up and starting telling the audience about Labneh, the Israeli traditional dish which, like the Greek Feta cheese, needed intellectual protection because it was being imitated. I did not have to say anything, the Greeks were quicker than me.

As the joke goes: They took Haifa, we didn't say anything, they took Jaffa, we didn't say anything, they took Al Quds, we didn't say anything. But that they take the falafel!!?? This is where we draw the line.

This joke used to be told in Lebanon by the anti-Palestinians as an example of powerlessness of the Palestinians and of the futility of their struggle. But think about its symbolism, it is not so silly: this is about a whole culture, that of the Palestinians, being denied, usurped, swallowed and dissolved in order to deny the existence of a people (the Palestinians); while they are being decimated and ethnically cleansed. Keeping culture and identity alive and associated with their rightful owners is worth struggling for, perhaps even more than for lands or cities. And I don't care whether falafel is Arab or Palestinian, this is not about falafel, it is about the principle. In fact I think I have read somewhere that falafel originated in India, so there.

Genie out of the bottle

"In 2006, some 8 billion gallons of bottled water were sold in America, and the $11 billion market welcomed 140 new products to the shelves. The year before, the bottled water industry spent $158 million on advertising in the United States alone.

Royte uses the story of a faceoff between the small town of Fryeburg, Maine, and the giant Swiss food conglomerate Nestle, which, as the owner of Poland Spring water, sucked more than 168 million gallons of water out of Fryeburg in 2005 alone, as a prism through which to look at the many issues at stake in these water wars: "Is it right to trade water at all, to move it from its home watershed to other states, or even countries? Should the taxpayers who protect land and water share the profits of those who pump and sell that resource? How is water different from such resources as oil, trees or lobsters?''"
How Water
Went on Sale and
Why We Bought It
By Elizabeth Royte
Bloomsbury, 248 pages,


"Goldman Sachs sees great opportunities as well as dangers in changing water supply and demand. Pension funds find refuge in the new "blue gold" international water companies. The bank says replacing wasteful water systems in developed economies, new technologies for filtration, desalination and water metering all offer scope for profitable investment. So do privatised supply systems in developing economies."

Syrian bread

"DAMASCUS, 30 June 2008 (IRIN) - Basil the baker is not a happy bread maker.

“Everything is more difficult to afford now, and it will get worse,” he said, amid the dough and ovens of his bakery in the middle class district of Shalan in Damascus.

The availability of cheap food has been a cornerstone Syrian domestic economic policy.

However, there are growing doubts among ordinary people and analysts as to how much longer the country can remain relatively insulated from the global food crisis which has sparked riots in over 30 countries, including Egypt, where a similar authoritarian socialist government is in place.

The government exerts significant control over food prices through its control of the marketing, import and export of agricultural produce, but the agricultural sector has been partially liberalised, and food prices have risen 20 percent in the last six months, according to the World Food Programme (WFP)."

So now Syria and Egypt have socialist governments?

Friday, July 25, 2008

With the goat herders

I went to a place close to paradise today. You access it through the Ehden Nature Reserve in North Lebanon, but it is effectively part of the Dinniyyeh area. It is just below the Qornet al Sawda, Lebanon's highest peak. To et there, you have to drive towards the nature reserve in Ehden, and then go into the "Aden" restaurant and drive through its parking for an hour off road before you get to Youssef al Doueihi's house, located at 2,200m altitude.

Youssef owns vast expanses of land in the area, and he keeps many many goats. So many that he doesn't know the exact number. Youssef makes the famous Darfieh goat cheese, which is maturated for a month in a goat skin. I will not talk anymore about the Darfieh cheese because you can check it out in my other blog "Traditional Lebanese Food" which links you to the Slow Food Beirut "Our Terroir" documents.

I want to use the space here to show some pictures of the area and of the Metwali family who help the Duwayhis and who share the house with them. They are from the Nasreddine famili, a very large tribe from the Hermel area, and according to Duwayhi, they have been his partners for over 25 years. "We tried to get rid of our Metwali", Duwayhi's wife told me jokingly, but she would not leave. "We are tied together", she continued.

Two things are interesting here. One is that "Metwali" is a name given in Lebanon to the Shi`a. The Emir Harfush who fought with and then against Emir Fakhreddine who ruled Mount Lebanon in the 17th century. Harfush, who was later routed out of Lebanon, was called "The Emir of the Matawila" (plural of Metwali). The term later on fell into pejorative use as the Shi`a became the downtrodden low class of the country (which they are not anymore, but this is another story). As a result, the Shi`a from the Biqa` rejected the appellation and the term became almost exclusively used to denote the Shi`a of South Lebanon (Jabal `Amel) who were more placid. Today the term is still used pejoratively, although by far fewer people after the Resistance and Hizbullah.

The other interesting thing is related to the business relationship between the two families. On my way there, I stopped at a crossroad to ask for my way. A teen ager guarding a large flock of goats gave me directions. I asked him if he was Duwayhi's son and he said he was Nasreddine's son. The two families are linked through the goat herd. Duwayhi probably bought the initial flock many years ago and hired the Nasreddine family to herd it. Usually, this means that the Nasreddine automatically acquire ownership of 50% of the goats, and of 50% of the revenues. They have to tend them and care for them and protect them from wild beasts and sickness, and milk them and provide them with extra forage when the pastures become poor. I did not ask about the specific relationship here, but Duwayhi kept referring to Nasreddine as "his partner". The Nasreddine granddaughter (photo) was helping around the house of Duwayhi, preparing the darfieh cheese and the apricot jam for the winter reserves (mouneh).

Wild recycling

"Privatization" of solid waste recycling in Lebanon. This little truck passes through my street every morning at around 6 AM. It stops at every bin, and 2 young men (almost kids) open all the garbage bags and empty them of their content. They then sort the plastic bottles and the aluminum cans, place them in the back of the truck and move to another set of bins. This leaves all the garbage in the bins is bag less. Great for flies. And smells. But they do a great service in recycling and reducing the amount that goes to the land fills. Is it really so difficult to organize this sector? Like to sort at home? It will facilitate the job of the collectors, reduce exposure hazard on the kids and environmental contamination. A few years ago Sukleen, the private company in charge of cleaning up Beirut introduced huge green mushrooms marked "bottles only". I have never seen anyone use them, and they just sit there, on sidewalks, monuments to failure.


The new issue of Badael-Alternatives in Al-Akhbar: My editorial "on land tenure in Lebanon" or how the real problem of agriculture is not land fragmentation, it is inequality in land distribution.. Rana Hayek: "Control food and you control the people", and Mufeed Mustafa on the organic sector in Lebanon.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Beirut: its coast line, its bars, its hezeb...

Note the last touristic destination. How about that as an option for the reconversion of the resistance?

Poor, oppressed and forgotten

"Over 24,000 people, mainly Palestine refugees and a small number of Lebanese remain dis-placed from Nahr el-Bared camp in northern Lebanon following three months of fighting there in 2007 between Fatah al-Islam and the Lebanese army. To date, small numbers of refugees have been able to return to their homes in areas adjacent to the camp also affected by the fighting. A full return is expected to take two years or longer because of the complete destruction of homes and infrastructure. Among the most pressing concerns is to ensure adequate temporary accommodation for refugee families, as well as addressing their loss of livelihoods. Many refugees and host families continue to rely on humanitarian agencies to provide them with shelter and food assistance."

Just in case you had forgotten. The Lebanese army is still controlling the entry and exit to the camp and people still need a permit. It is difficult to get food in and out of the camp.

Right to Protection

"According to the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations 1% of the richest adults in the world own 40% of the world’s wealth – together it totals $125 trillion globally. The richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world’s total global assets (those in the financial services & internet sectors enjoying super rich status). Half of the world’s adult population barely owned 1% of global wealth.More than a third of the world’s rich lived in the US.

Taking the example of disparity further is seafood that comes in from low-income country waters which are ultimately consumed by almost 85% of rich nations (only 15% are consumed by the world’s poor)

"The excess consumption by the world's obese costs $20 billion annually, to which must be added indirect costs of $100 billion resulting from premature death and related diseases,"

* To satisfy the world's sanitation and food requirements would cost only US$13 billion- what the people of the United States and the European Union spend on perfume each year.

* The assets of the world's three richest men are more than the combined GNP of all the least developed countries on the planet."

Read this excellent article by Shenali Waduge in the Asian Tribune. After listing very interesting stats, there is a very decent analysis, which ends up requesting a Right to Protection of the poor from the rich.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oppress people, export food

"Punjab Chief Minister Mian Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif has said that huge foreign exchange could be earned by exporting fruits and vegetables to Middle East from Punjab and Pakistan could become Green Basket for this region."

Quick question: exactly who would be earning the huge foreign exchange?

Lets dance!

Another economic genius analyzes Lebanon:

"Investing in other sectors, such as industry, agriculture or any other field where raw materials are imported, proves costly and does not achieve a high added value. This excludes the fields that rely on innovation, such as fashion design.
The efforts currently underway to direct Arab investments towards various regions in the world, as a means to secure the basic crops and grains, can also include Lebanon. With its remaining agricultural areas, Lebanon can shift to new crops that partly supply Gulf countries with their needs".

This is about a country that imports 80% of its food needs.


"Trade restrictiveness of agricultural tariffs is among the highest in the Middle East and North Africa (equating to tariffs of 21%) and South Asia (21%), followed by wealthy areas and countries such as the European Union and Japan."

Is this all that remains of the Bedouins? Syrian TV drama?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Aid ache

"A senior Palestinian official said British Prime Minister Gordon Brown can keep the 60-million euros he promised to the Palestinian Authority when he appeared in Bethlehem Sunday.
Yesterday, Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian Authority's representative in Jerusalem, held a packed press conference for the international media, where he said further foreign aid should be curtailed until Israel's presence in the disputed territories end.
Mr. Nusseibeh said life becomes "too complacent for the Palestinians" when they accept foreign aid. The removal of foreign aid would place the burden of supporting the Palestinian entity entirely on Israel's shoulders in his opinion."

The food we eat

"Other factors attributed to the rise in cancer rates are changes in diet. The Mediterranean diet, traditionally rich in fibre, greens and fruits, has been slowly replaced by one high in calories and low in fibre, which may increase the occurrence of cancer. "Exposure to environmental pollutants is extremely high in Lebanon; they may be present in the air we breathe, the processed food we eat, or the toiletry products we use, such as the chemical Bisfenol, which can be found in certain plastic baby bottles," Adib says.

Other pollutants are used in agriculture. Rima, owner of a large orchard in the mountains, recently discovered that her gardener was using, without her knowledge, pesticides that had been phased out 10 years ago in the U.S. because of their link to cancer. "They are often used by farmers in spite of the existence of laws, that are rarely enforced," explains Adib."

Bedouins denied lands and water

""Herders have less and less access to grazing land for their livestock," said Katharina Ritz, head of the ICRC's mission in Jerusalem, in a 10 July statement. "And the land to which they do have access just isn't enough because it's overgrazed and there have been frequent droughts."

The access problems were caused by Israeli settlements, ring-roads, nature reserves and expanding military zones which, taken together, are preventing Palestinian herders from moving their herds from place to place in search of grazing land and water, the ICRC said."

Bedouins unrecognized

"The problem was especially difficult in the "unrecognised villages" - ones that were not officially on Israel's map, as the state sees their existence as illegal.

The Bedouin say their villages either existed before Israel was founded, or during the first years of the nascent state by internally displaced persons (IDPs) in need of a new place to live following the migrations - sometimes forced - during and just after the 1948 Middle East war."

Crippling growth

Jordan: how "growth" is crippling the poor. This must be one of the few places in the world where students demonstrated to...raise the fees so that the poor cannot access the same university.

Property bubble

Inside Lebanon's property crisis by Rasha Abu Zeki in Al Akhbar. This was the newspaper's front page article today, while all other dailies had the same stuff about national sectarian politics. Couple of days ago, the front page was about islamists in Egypt. Great newspaper!

Monday, July 21, 2008

This is what my friend Leila had to say about the NYT article on water and food in the Middle East in my previous post. (I post with her permission):

"Of course they have to portray the Israeli with his high tech saying "you have to farm like an engineer, not like a peasant." Typical.

My late friend Karl Linn, trained at that elite Zionist agriculture school in Palestine who at the end of his life was a complete anti-Zionist - Karl Linn told me that he had reconsidered all of the principles of Israeli agriculture. He felt they had completely ignored the traditional, sustainable wisdom of Palestinian farmers, to their detriment. He was an urban gardening grand master and devoted to sustainability and social justice, even though it meant rejecting Zionism which had saved his life when he fled the Nazis as a child. I once referred to him as an Israeli and he corrected me. He left Palestine in '47 and he never believed he was an Israeli.

Yes they will farm like engineers and destroy their soil and their water table like stupid engineers. Viva los campesinos!

God help all the people of the Middle East."

Karl Linn's homepage is:

Leila blogs as Dove's Eye View - An Arab-American woman sees signs of hope on

Water, food and social justice

I have received this link to the NYT article on food and water and the Middle East from 3 different sources. Thanks (in this order to D., Leila and Rami).

"CAIRO — Global food shortages have placed the Middle East and North Africa in a quandary, as they are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water."

There is a problem of water in the Middle East. It is an ancient problem that is now being revived because of the food crisis, and because, clearly, strategic choices have to be made regarding the future of food systems in the region.

But the food-water crisis is also an opportunity to underscore Israeli achievements and supremacy and contrast it to Arab underdevelopment.

"For example, Doron Ovits, a confident 39-year-old with sunglasses pushed over his forehead and a deep tan, runs a 150-acre tomato and pepper empire in the Negev Desert of Israel. His plants, grown in greenhouses with elaborate trellises and then exported to Europe, are irrigated with treated sewer water that he says is so pure he has to add minerals back. The water is pumped through drip irrigation lines covered tightly with black plastic to prevent evaporation."

Of course, you can be impressed with that, in the same way as you can be impressed with the fact that Israel owns hundreds of nuclear weapons (all products of its advanced technologies) when the neighboring countries do not.

Israel is ahead in modern technologies. This is for sure. Whether these technologies can serve humanity and sustainability is a different matter all together.

The food crisis is also an opportunity for many regional or international actors who suffer from political autism, self delusion, amnesia, intellectual laziness or who are just callous, to try to push forward a "technology for peace" deal between Israel and the Arabs. This is a long way from the "land for peace" deals which were all stillborn- why should Israel give something it can keep?.

Israeli technology is for sale- to anyone. Israel sells mostly military and repressive technologies to third world tyrants, but agricultural technologies are also on offer. And now is the time to try to capture some of the dividends of the oil prices. This is why we are increasingly hearing about Israel's water technologies achievements, from sources as various as the (corrupt) prime minister Olmert in the Med forum to this article in the NYT. One might admire Israeli agriculture and water saving technology, but one should keep in mind the tremendous human and material investments that were available to Israel when most of the Arab countries were still emerging from centuries of colonial rule (and going straight into autocratic rule, courtesy of former colonial rulers). One must also remember that Israeli agriculture is heavily subsidized and that the reason why Israel still supports its agriculture is purely political: to be able to control the land. Israeli agriculture is a colonial occupation tool. Look at the settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. And remember that Israel does not lift a finger for the Palestinian farmers except to shoot their children, beat them, humiliate them at checkpoints, rob them of their water and land and destroy their crops (please do not send me info about token gestures).

But the discussion about food and water is also the opportunity to brandish the (now much discredited, but the writers do not seem to know) "comparative advantage" argument:
"Economists say that rather than seeking to become self-sufficient with food, countries in this region should grow crops for which they have a competitive advantage, like produce or flowers, which do not require much water and can be exported for top dollar."
This is a classic argument of the liberal tool box, which sounds a bit like a line in a poem by Abou Nawwas, the Abbaside poet who sang in praise of wine: "wa dawiha billati kanat hiya al da'ou" which translates approximately as: "cure the disease with its cause". Specialization of agriculture for trade purposes caused the destruction of local food systems and the demise of farming and rural society in the developing world. What the Egyptians are being told today by the author (and by most international institutions) is: "use your water to plant luxury items so that the rich can decorate their houses and eat off season tropical fruits when it is snowing in Paris (or London, or...). For your daily food, just get what is dumped on the market, that is if you can afford it." And of course, they are being duped: it is NOT TRUE that "produce" (what produce?) or flowers do not require much water. Flowers and vegetables actually require more water than field crops.

I will spare you the spiel about the way to go. Just look up anything by La Via Campesina on the role of the small farmers. And remember: this is about social justice. It is indivisible. Oppressive states, colonizers and occupiers cannot be part of social justice movements.

Fool crisis

Carlo Morellin in International Socialism

"As we have seen, trade liberalisation was meant to increase food prices, not decrease them. It also sought to encourage increased investment through increased farm size, as large producers captured the “gains from trade” that comparative advantage was supposed to bring. The liberalisation approach assumes that the numbers of rural poor can only be reduced by transferring most of them out of agriculture and into urban manufacturing. The real goal, then, is the destruction of rural communities and the development of large-scale capitalist agriculture.
What seems clear is that the current reliance on large-scale agriculture, the use of monocultures, oil based fertilisers and intensive use of fresh water to expand food output is increasingly unsustainable. The World Bank and IAASTD reports both half accept this. They point to the need for more agricultural investment directed towards the hundreds of millions of small labour-intensive farms, paying attention to water management, organic complements to mineral fertilisers and preventing further degradation of the soil. And they bemoan the failure of governments to direct funds in this direction. Yet their commitment to capitalism means they turn their back on their own insights, and continue to stress high value crops and the growth of large-scale capitalist farming at the expense of the rural poor and the provision of basic foodstuffs." (Thanks Karin)

Sunday, July 20, 2008


A view on the food crisis from Nepal (Anku Chalise in The Rising Nepal)

"Migration of farmers to the urban areas or growing foreign employment, change in the land use pattern after migration of the rural youth, increasing demand for foodgrains as rural youths convert into consumers from producers and the culture of storing food are the causes affecting the demand and supply of foodgrains. It is still not too late, and the problem could be solved if acted upon right now. Therefore, we need to prepare ourselves carefully before adopting a liberal economic policy. We need to consider the shifting employment pattern and its negative impact on total productivity prior to adopting any economic policy.

As labourers are both the primary producer and ultimate consumer, they could always remain a loser if not looked after by the government. Because of their weakness, they cannot participate in any organised protest against the group making profit. So if the loss keeps on accumulating and reaches an intolerable limit, this group will leave their original occupation and also their place of residence. Migration of inhabitants and the population pressure on the cities are examples of shifting employment from occupations based on agro-forestry to service-based ones."

The plot thickens

"I prefer Mediterraneanism to Arabism".


"A high-powered Zimbabwean business delegation leaves for Israel this week to explore new trade opportunities as well as learn from the Middle East nation on developing the economy.

Companies involved in agriculture, telecommunications, cosmetic and energy will make the week-long trip set for 19-25 July." More

Beware of the afterdrought

"DAMASCUS - A severe drought is threatening Syrian agriculture and reducing the country’s wheat reserves, according to farmers and agricultural experts.

The agriculture ministry now predicts that the country will produce only three million tons of wheat this year, a sharp fall on the 4.7 million tons initially projected.

Experts blame a ten-month-long drought, the worst the country has faced since a devastating drought in 1990-91.

The drought has primarily affected northeastern Syria, the main agricultural area. Al-Hasaka, a key farming province, received only 20 to 25 per cent of its average rainfall in 2007 and 2008, the state-run newspaper Al-Thawra said in May.

In the prime wheat-growing areas, rainfall has averaged between 15 and 30 per cent of normal levels, according to a report by the United States Department of Agriculture. Wheat accounts for over 80 per cent of Syrian cereal crops, according to the US agency, with 75 per cent of the production concentrated in the northeast.

The ongoing drought, coupled with a heat wave last spring, have devastated not only agriculture but also livestock, which are heavily dependent on grain fodder.

Nearly 30 per cent of the Syrian population is employed in farming." Read more here.

Beware: droughts in the middle east are often followed with political violence.

BURghul not bulgur!


What it is: Bulgur is not actually a plant — it's a Middle Eastern way of preparing wheat that maintains almost all the bran and germ of the wheat kernel, which is why it's considered a whole grain.

Texture: Pleasant. Soft without being mushy.

Tastes like: Bulgur has a mild, nutty flavor somewhat between white rice and brown rice. It's a great "starter grain" for people just branching out beyond refined grains.

Nutritional information: (1 cup cooked) 151 calories, 0.44g fat, 33.82g carbs, 8.2g dietary fiber, 5.61g protein.

Health perks: The fiber is off the charts: 33 percent of the daily value, making it an excellent source. There are also 98 micrograms of lutein, plus zeaxanthin (important for eye health).

Best served or cooked with: "Fine grains are used in such dishes as kibbe, which is a mixture of bulgur and meat or poultry. The fine grains do well in dishes with meats because they adhere well to the meat. Medium-size grains are used for various salads and in making tabbouleh. The third size, which is coarser and larger, is best used in pilafs," says Dr. Michael D. Ozner, author of "The Miami Mediterranean Diet" (BenBella Books, 2008)." (Seatle Times)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Drought, Israel and Arab water

Drought and Israeli Policy Threaten West Bank Water Security - by Stephen Lendman

Read this excellent piece on Israel and Arab water. Note that a significant part of Olmert's speech at the Med Summit was about water.

"Since the 1990s, water and other environmental issues were among the most important in Israeli bilateral relations. Its October 1994 peace treaty with Jordan included five annexes. Two addressed water and environmental concerns.

The water rich Golan has been a stumbling block toward a similar deal with Syria. It's much the same in bilateral Palestinian talks. The Territories' water resources have been over-exploited for years, but precious little of it for Palestinian use. It's a major destabilizing factor and obstacle to real peace and security. So many issues are at stake. One rarely discussed is the inequitable distribution of scarce and valued water resources.

Summer 2008 Drought Compounds the Problem

Israelis nearly always have enough water for their needs - agricultural, drinking, bathing, watering lawns, washing cars, and filling swimming pools for those who have them. In contrast, Palestinians have precious little. In summer it's always worse, but this year the most severe draught in a decade made it grave. In the northern West Bank, consumption is at about one-third the minimum required. It's because rainfall this year has been less than two-thirds normal. In southern areas, it's barely over half. Cities like Tubas, Jenin, Nablus and the Southern Hebron hills have been especially impacted.

According to Palestinian Water Authority estimates, the West Bank's water shortfall is from 42 to 69 mcm. Its consumption is 79 mcm making emergency supplies needed. Throughout the West Bank, per capita consumption is about 66 liters (for domestic, urban, rural and industrial use), far below the World Health Organization's 100 liter minimum for personal needs.

Making matters worse is the price of privately purchased water that constitutes 50% of West Bank supply - from 15 to 30 shekels or three to six times higher that Israelis pay. Because of this year's shortfall, it's heading higher and putting an impossible burden on impoverished Palestinians to buy enough of it. The alternative is drinking from questionable sources after amounts collected in cisterns run dry - stagnant water or from dirty springs that may expose users to frequent and serious illnesses."

Read also the part about desalination for the Palestinians and how the Israelis are trying to get the International Community to pay for a desalination plant that allow it to sell water to the Palestinians at $1 per m3 (while its cost of production in Israel is closer to 50 cents).


Badael-Alternatives in Al Akhbar. My editorial: What Olmert (really) said in his speech in the Mediterranean meeting in Paris. Rana Hayeck: Exporting water in the form of food. Marjoram, which the southern Lebanese eat in the raw kibbeh (called frakeh or malseh) and Mohammad Muhsin on the ready-prepared vegetables for Lebanese cooking.

Where does the money go?

Daily Star-BEIRUT: "The European Commission will continue to provide financial aid to Lebanon under the European Neighborhood Policy with a grant of 42 million euros ($66.6 million) during the upcoming year, a statement issued by the commission said on Thursday. As part of the 2008 Action Program, the European Commission is allocating money among the private sector, local development in North Lebanon and the Lebanese justice system.

The 2008 Action Program aims to target the money at specific priorities in the three sectors in hopes of providing sustainable development. A grant of 14 million euros will aim to strengthen the competitiveness of the private sector through improved financial instruments in order to encourage innovation and strengthen the national quality management system.

The Commission is allocating 18 million euros for sustainable development in northern Lebanon. This will include developing agriculture and environment sectors and the infrastructure, as well as improving the economic situation of Palestinian refugees. Finally, 10 million euros will be directed toward improving the Lebanese justice system through information technology and training from the Judiciary Studies Institute."

Eighteen million Euros from here, 14 millions from there, and no one to ask the question: where does all the money go? How is it spent? Are there any significant changes resulting from similar previous investments? Is the money recouped? What is the basis for the investment? And who are the middle men? Let me ask an even simpler question: What was the rate of return of the (now ending) Agriculture Development Project, also EU funded to the tune of 15 million Euros? 15 millions!!! Did it generate 15 million Euros in revenue for the agriculture sector? Did it generate 1 million Euros? The project was supposed to enhance exports to Europe as part of the Eurotrade deal, did it?

Of course, the reports and evaluations of these project will indicate overwhelmingly that these initiatives have been successful. How come then poverty is increasing in rural areas? How come small farmers find it increasingly difficult to continue practicing agriculture?

The Lebanese state has a long history of relying on foreign aid to develop the farm sector. It does not work. Simply because the quantity of foreign aid available, in spite of sounding very large, is in reality tiny compared to the needs: 15 million Euros, at the end of the day, amount to about 4 Euro per Lebanese citizen or to 75 Euros per Lebanese farmer. And that is before you discount operational costs, staff and overheads, which will easily eat up 50-70% of the total sum. Moreover, in the absence of clear agriculture policies by the Lebanese state and of a strategic direction and of a detailed plan of action, foreign aid happens according to the whims of the donors and is dependent on the vagaries of their political agendas.

Incidentally, on the same day as the EU was announcing its generous financing plans, George Inati, the head of the agriculture section of the General Labor Union asked the newly formed government to take into account the following issues in the new governmental plans: 1. Consider agriculture as an important productive sector and to increase the ministry's budget share from the current 0.3% to 10% noting that the share of the budget in many countries of the neighborhood is 20%. 2. Ensure that aid is received directly by the farmer and is not hijacked by middle men. 3. Fight corruption first in the government's offices. 4. Develop a strategic plan for water use, and construct small dams and mountain lakes. 5. Protect national production. 6. Implement the anti-dumping law. 7. Create farmers markets where the producers can sell directly to the consumers. 8. Protect Lebanon's forests from felling, fire and urban sprawl.

Could work as a starting point for a rebirth of agriculture, environment and rural society.


Reuters-"Carin Smaller of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said these factors explained much of the hesitation around Geneva negotiating tables about a deal, especially in light of recent global economic pressures and commodity spikes.

"The Middle East and Africa are going to be the biggest losers if the Doha round is agreed. I think that is quite alarming given the impact of the food crisis on these regions," she said.

Politically powerful farmers in the United States, Europe, Japan and other rich markets may also lose income under a deal, although in theory wealthy-nation manufacturing exporters would gain better access to emerging markets in return.

The new research by Tuft University's Wise and trade experts Mamerto Perez and Sergio Schlesinger, entitled "The Promise and the Perils of Agricultural Trade Liberalisation," said that only Brazilian and Argentinian agro-exporters stand to be clear emerging-nation winners from a Doha deal on farming."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yemen farming

"It's clear early farmers in Yemen faced unique environmental and social opportunities and challenges. Our findings show farming in southern Yemen required runoff diversion technologies that were adapted to harness monsoon (summer) runoff from the rugged terrain along with new understandings of social landscapes and rights to scarce water resources."

The researchers used computer Geographic Information Systems (GIS) mapping to determine that ancient forager-herders developed expert knowledge of hydrology and targeted particular small watersheds and landforms for irrigation. Studies of contemporary land and water rights, including principles enshrined in Islamic law, suggest their origins lie at the very beginnings of water management as tribal principles of water equity intertwined with changing ideologies and culture."

You should see the Marib dam, right in the middle of the desert...


How to feed the cities? simple:

"Dr. Despommier estimates that it would cost $20 million to $30 million to make a prototype of a vertical farm, but hundreds of millions to build one of the 30-story towers that he suggests could feed 50,000 people. “I’m viewed as kind of an outlier because it’s kind of a crazy idea,” Dr. Despommier, 68, said with a chuckle. “You’d think these are mythological creatures.”" (Thanks D.)
Atmospheric CO2 prevents bread from rising. (Thank Rania)

Who's the hoarder now?

"But where does responsible government action end and hoarding begin? (If the Irish government had begun a little hoarding instead of exporting grain in 1845, many deaths could have been avoided in the Irish potato famine.) It's not an easy question to answer, which suggests that it might be a perfect time to ask how countries got into this no-win, export-or-not quandary to begin with.

Understanding hunger begins here: In our world where the bottom 40 percent of us have to survive on just over three percent of world income and eight in ten live in societies where inequalities are worsening, the real "hoarding" is done by those with vastly disproportional income: Their market demand diverts 37 percent of the world's grain and about a third of the world fish catch to livestock, and now almost a third of U.S. corn to ethanol.

Thus, our hunger crisis is actually a democracy crisis. Hunger can be eliminated only as we remove the influence of concentrated wealth over public choices and ensure the ongoing, healthy distribution of power. The sooner we start recasting the crisis thusly, the sooner we'll all be able to thrive." (Thanks Toufic)

Frances Moore Lappé in the Huff

Finish your peas!

"The official "price index" for foods that poor people eat the most -- grains and oils -- has climbed more than threefold so far this decade. This is a catastrophe, but there's no way that changes in eating habits of northerners could be the cause or cure of this radical jump. A recent leaked World Bank report says agrofuel production alone has caused food prices to rise 75 percent between 2002 and February of this year. I like the term "agrofuel," because it reminds us that we're talking about using agricultural resources, instead of "biofuel" that could be made from non-food materials. (It should be noted that The Wall Street Journal has posted a new piece in which Donald Mitchell, author of the draft of the "leaked report," says it was a work in progress and "doesn't reflect the official position of the World Bank.")

Today's hunger crisis results from anti-democratic power that chose to put agribusiness interests in agrofuel production ahead of citizens' interest in eating. It takes no PhD in economics to predict a big price impact from significant farmland diversion from food to fuel. The doubling of the real price of oil in two years, also driven by an industry unaccountable to democratic interests, plays a huge role as well." (Thanks Toufic)

Frances Moore Lappé in the Huff.

Gaza: only the poor are under siege

In Gaza, only the poor are under siege. Hamas controls the smuggling of goods through the hundreds of tunnels dug under the Egyptian borders, and Fateh controls the Israeli-Palestinian check points. If you are rich and well connected, you need not worry, you can leave and come back as you please and acquire anything you fancy.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The desertification of Iraq

How the Turkish dams and the Iranian agricultural projects are causing desertification in Iraq (in Arabic)

Above the law

Fadi Abboud, the head of the Union of Industrialists explains the Law for the Protection of National Production. The law is is a WTO requirement, it was passed by parliament, decreed by the Ministry of Economy and Trade, but the previous minister Sami Haddad refused to implement. The law is effectively an anti-dumping and distortion correcting law, but the previous government refused to implement it. A government to the right of the WTO has been replaced by a government to the right of the right of WTO, while the Lebanese opposition politicians bicker for political posts and make populist declarations about sovereignty and independence.

Development ethics

"As this impoverished country climbs its way back from 13 years of civil war with the tiniest of steps, a boom is underway in the industries that cater to the rarified tastes of thousands of mostly European and U.S. expatriates who have come to help since peace arrived in 2003. The increasingly visible splendors available to this relatively wealthy group have left some Liberians wondering whether the foreigners are here to serve the nation or themselves."

The end of food

"The figures are staggering. Wal-Mart currently dominates the global grocery trade with profits reckoned by the UN at the start of the century to be 'bigger than the gross domestic product of three quarters of the world's economies'. Today those profits have doubled. Five companies control 90 per cent of the global grain supply. The world tea market is in the hands of three. Eighty-one per cent of American beef belongs to four giant processing companies. None of these companies is answerable for what they do to anyone but themselves. They are ruthlessly anti-competitive, largely above the law, and more than able to impose their own, often ruinous conditions on the countries that supply them.

Commerce permits no deviation from corporately determined norms. Ninety per cent of milk in the US now comes from a single breed of cow, and the same proportion of commercial eggs from a single breed of hen. British supermarkets have reduced well over 2,000 varieties of locally grown apple for all practical purposes to two (Bramley and Cox). This kind of industrial concentration makes the food chain permanently vulnerable to contamination, disease or terrorism ('I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply,' said the former US Health Secretary in 2006, 'because it would be so easy to do'). It also means that whole species of animals and plants face imminent extinction."

Good book review by Hilary spurling

Arab Agriculture

From a recent report by the Arab Authority for Agricultural Investment and Development Annual Report (2007). (Thanks Rania)

The Arab region is endowed by agricultural resources; such as land, water,
a variety of agricultural environments, and farm labor; which provide a
base for a vast agricultural development that would be capable of meeting
the food needs in the Arab region. These resources are as follows:

The total area of arable land in the Arab region was estimated as 198
million hectares, whereas the area under agricultural production was
estimated as 71 million hectares, representing only 36% of the total
arable land. This indicates the availability of agricultural areas which
can be utilized.

Water resources in the Arab region were comprised of surface water
and underground water. The quantity of surface water was estimated as
about 296 billion cubic meters. Underground water reserve was
estimated as 7,734 billion cubic meters. The annual average quantity of
water resources, from surface and underground resources, used in
agriculture was estimated as 203 billion cubic meters. This indicates the
existence of unutilized quantity of water, in addition to the possibility of
applying modern irrigation systems to raise the efficiency of irrigation
and conservation of water resources.

The Arab region is endowed by a diverse mix of climates, the thing
which allows the cultivation of different grain, vegetable, fruit, forage,
sugar and edible oil crops all around the year, as well as animal, poultry
and fish production.

The agricultural labor force in the Arab region was estimated as about
33 million in the year 2005, representing about 28% of the total labor
force which was estimated as 118 million. This means that developing
the agricultural sector is vital for enhancing the standard of living,
alleviating poverty, and decreasing migration from rural areas to cities.

The total gross domestic product (GDP) of the Arab region was about $79
billion in the year 2006, with an increase of 13% over the year 2005.
However, it represented only 6% of the total GDP in the Arab region, the
thing which indicated the possibility of increasing the percentage
contribution of the agricultural product in the total GDP in the Arab

The total amount of imports of the main food products into Arab countries
was estimated as $ 23 billion in 2005. The amount of the food gap in the
main food commodities in the year 2005 was estimated as $18 billion, in
which cereals and floor represent 51%, compared to $16.8 billion in the
year 2004.

Agricultural investments in the Arab region have remained very low and
not exceeding 5% of the total amount of investments, compared to
investments in the other sectors in the region.

The information on the agricultural sector shows that it possesses ample
agricultural resources which are – if efficiently utilized – capable of
meeting the food needs of the Arab region.

The experience of AAAID throughout its past years of operation
indicates that the development of the agricultural sector requires
mobilization of large financial resources to enable farmers and investors
apply modern agricultural technologies to contribute in raising
productivity in the sector and enhancing its competitive advantage in
local markets as well as export markets.

The mobilization of financial resources, whether from private investors
or from financial institutions, requires prompt efforts to provide an
attractive investment environment.

In the top priority of that comes the construction of roads to link
agricultural areas with consumption areas and export markets.

There is also a pressing need for boosting up the economic restructuring
movement through following up the execution of the legislations for
abolishing the fees and taxes on agricultural inputs and means of

Revising the import agency system in the area of agricultural imports.

Revising the agricultural land rental system as rents constitute
additional costs to agricultural products and lessen their competitive

Adoption of financial and monetary policies to facilitate the flow of
financial resources to farmers and investors.

Supporting research activities and agricultural experiments for the
introduction of new farming technologies and adapting them to the
conditions and needs of the agricultural sector.

Allocating special financial amounts to support research in
biotechnology and genetic engineering in order to provide a foundation
for an Arab industry in agriculture.

- The Arab Unified Economic Report 2007.
- Arab Agricultural Statistics Yearbook, Arab Organization for Agricultural Development, 2007.
- FAO Website, 2008.
- AAAID Experts Reports.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Government of National Unity

We're not in a time of crisis (yet), but I shall allow myself this small exception: this editorial by Khaled Saghieh is just too funny and too true (my rapid translation):

"We're eagerly looking forward to the souvenir picture of the new Government of National Unity, for which we occupied the the city center and we created songs and anthems, for which meetings and conferences were organized and were attended by representatives of the whole world. But as we wait for the picture, we can congratulate them all:

Congratulations to Hizbullah for having used its weapons internally to end up forming a government headed by the person who tried to use the Israeli attack on Lebanon in order to disarm the resistance.

Congratulations to the Prime Minister for having managed to impose his smurfs as ministers, demonstrating yet again his strategic importance to the "moderate Arab camp".

Congratulations to all the ministers whose previous performance was so successful that their appointment was renewed without this raising a single eyebrow.

Congratulations to Waleed Beik Jumblat who discovered just before the parliamentary elections that the Lebanese Forces are trying to play a role bigger than their size when he himself, and for the past 3 years, has been inflating them.

Congratulations to the Lebanese Forces who were very appropriately granted the Ministry of Justice.

Congratulations to the President of the Republic for his choice of Elias el Murr as Minister of Defense after his excellent political management of the Nahr el Bared battles.

Congratulations to all the Lebanese for the Ministry of Finance which has moved from the hand of the right to that of the extreme right, both hands being under the authority of "The Statesman" to whom we owe the debt and the taxes.

Congratulations for offering the Ministry of Agriculture to the scion of a feudal family.

Congratulations to Ali Kanso to whom they should have given the Ministry of Labor so that he can complete the dismantling of the Labor Unions.

Congratulations for the ministry of Bank Audi.

Congratulations for the ministry granted to the supporters of the Shi`a enlightenment. We are so completely dazzled. Switch off some lights please so we can sleep."

Change the hardware

"If humans are to have any good prospects well beyond this century, more than 90 percent of the planet's landscapes must be returned to diverse, perennial vegetation [9], and that entails the replacement of annual grain monocultures with polycultures of perennial grains and oilseeds. With deep, permanent root structures, those new constellations of plants, like natural plant communities, would foster vast, diverse communities of soil organisms that can micromanage ecological processes – processes we currently attempts to macro-manage with big, blunt instruments like machinery, chemicals, or truckloads of manure and mulch [10].

By developing perennial grain crops, plant breeders could help dramatically enlarge that portion of the agricultural landscape that is kept intact by perennial roots. With a few very small-scale exceptions, no perennial cereal, pulse, or oilseed crops currently exist. Through a well-coordinated, long-term plant breeding effort, that hole in humanity’s crop inventory can be filled." (Thanks Daniel)

Ethical trade moves into supermarkets. Or does it?

Kudos to Paul Gallagher who writes in the British "Observer" for exposing this scam by major supermarkets. Says a lot about "ethical trade" as perceived by mega corporations. Read below:

"Food grown on illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied territories is being sold in Britain, often to customers who assume they are buying goods from Palestinian-owned farms.

Tesco, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Somerfield have all admitted sourcing produce from Israeli-owned farms on Palestinian territory but claimed that labeling the goods 'origin: West Bank' gave enough information for the customer to make an informed choice.

British policy is clear, with the government's website stating the UN Security Council resolution that 'settlements are illegal under international law and settlement construction is an obstacle to peace'.

Ruth Tenne, an Israeli peace activist and member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, said: 'Ethical consumers of all faiths ought to boycott Israeli goods, especially those produced by the Jewish illegal settlements in the West Bank as well as campaigning for divestment from companies which profit from Israel's illegal occupation and for suspending the EU Association Agreement which grants Israel a privileged access to the European market.'"

Water hogs

"From its beginnings feeding newly arrived Chinese miners and railroad workers, California's rice-growing industry evolved into a powerful and much-maligned part of the state's agricultural economy.

Rice farmers were criticized as water hogs for relying on millions of dollars in federal subsidies to grow a low-value, water-intensive crop. In autumn, they choked the air around the state capital with smoke from burning piles of harvest debris and made Sacramento's drinking water taste funny.

Today, about 2 million tons are produced each year in the Sacramento Valley, making California the nation's No. 2 rice producer behind Arkansas. California rice winds up in sushi, Budweiser beer, breakfast cereal and pet food.

About 60 percent of the state's crop is used domestically. The rest is exported to Japan, Canada, Turkey, Jordan, Liberia and other countries.

The industry is propped up by federal farm subsidies, more than any other crop in California. The government paid $1.5 billion to California rice growers over the past seven years, according to the Environmental Working Group." (Thanks Leila)

Environment Workshop

"Leading the initiative at AUB, Dr. Rami Zurayk said: 'This workshop embodies IFI's mission to bridge the activities of academia and policymaking to promote better policies. AUB is particularly well-placed to host such a meeting, as it has been consistently active in promoting environmentally-conscious policies, on its campus and beyond.'

He added: 'The workshop is an important step in identifying the work that has been done across the board to address the environmental issues that face this region, and to see how it can be more effectively brought together for a greater impact on public policy.' "

Monday, July 14, 2008


"According to George Nasrawi, head of the syndicate of Lebanese food industries, exports have been hit by rising health and safety standards. While there was potential for the Lebanon's agriculture sector to expand, the EU in particular should take more responsibility about the standards it sets, Nasrawi told an agribusiness conference in Beirut on June 26. It is costly to implement EU production requirements and in many cases Lebanese food industries cannot afford to meet them, he was reported as saying.

Part of the issue is that, while the EU has lowered tariff barriers on many Lebanese goods, as a result of the EU-Lebanon Association Agreement that was ratified in February 2006, it has also ramped up quality requirements, setting control and monitoring standards that the country's agriculture sector cannot meet, especially on pesticide levels."

This used to be called non-tariff trade barriers.

New record

"One of Australia's worst droughts on record is hurting wheat farming just as the world needs it most. Australia is usually the world's third or fourth-largest exporter of wheat. But exports dropped 46 percent from 2005 to 2006, then fell 24 percent last year.

Most of its exports go to the Middle East and Southeast Asia to make bread and cereals, but the fall in supply has led to a spike in prices. A ton of Australian wheat now costs $367, compared with $258 in early 2007, an increase poor countries can ill afford.

"When they pay high prices, they pass on an increase to their poorest people, who can no longer afford it," says Kunhamboo Kannan, director of agriculture, environment and natural resources at the Asian Development Bank. "Just look at Egypt." Riots over rising bread prices and shortages have led to at least 10 deaths in Egypt this year."

Unnecessary tensions

Excerpt from Olmert's speech at the Mediterranean summit in Paris 2 days ago. Read in context with my previous post "Leaking faucets". I hadn't seen this when I wrote my post. But look at how much "water" is featured in this speech. And what a poor excuse for normalization: technologies that are widely available on the market, technologies that Arab countries should be ashamed of not possessing. Oil-rich Arab countries should be ashamed of not having developed new materials for semi-permeable membranes used for reverse osmosis desalination, when their survival depends on these membranes. They should be ashamed for not having adapted and domesticated water desalination technologies, more essential to their survival than oil (although the rates of reuse of waste water and the cost of desalination in the UAE-using imported technologies- are equivalent if not better to those Olmert quotes for Israel). Countries such as Egypt, Sudan and Syria should be ashamed for having tens of thousands of researchers who do not advance local knowledge and who cannot develop water saving agriculture or transfer them to the farmers. They should be ashamed because the technologies practiced by their small farmers are way behind what is widely available on the market. But all of them should be even more ashamed because the state that has expropriated and oppressed millions of Palestinians and destroyed Lebanon many times over and hijacked Jordanian, Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian water is throwing at them a bone like this one. But then again, Arab leaders know no shame.

"The global crises in the fields of energy, the climate and food threaten us all. However, in addition to these, the Middle East faces additional problems such as water scarcity and an expansion of its deserts. Israel, like its neighbors, which must deal with these challenges on a daily basis, encouraged the finest Israeli researchers to conduct intensive research & development in the field of water technology.

Thanks to this experience, Israel currently has unique experience in managing a limited water economy, reclamation of sewage for agricultural irrigation, desalinization, and in advanced agricultural irrigation technologies. The State of Israel is successful in reusing sewage at the highest rate in the world - 75%.

We pay special attention to desalination technologies, and by 2012, approximately two-thirds of the amount of water for domestic use (600 million cubic meters) will be derived from desalination. In Israel, the largest, most advanced and cheapest reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world operates, and in one year an additional plant will be established - one even larger. The cost of desalination, which has become highly attractive at less than 70 cents per cubic meter of desalinated water, led to the solution of desalination becoming the most concrete and attainable solution.

Agricultural development in the Negev, the "Israeli desert," presented us with difficult challenges. Drip irrigation, a revolutionary Israeli invention which only grows more sophisticated over time, contributes to the maximal utilization of irrigation water - 70% to 80%, as opposed to 40% with regular irrigation - around the world.

I do not list these accomplishments in order to tell you of our successes.

These achievements and others can significantly reduce the water problem and the increased desertification of the Middle East, as well as in other areas in the world; improve agricultural production; and reduce poverty around the globe.

To this end, we must create partnerships and cooperate with our neighbors on matters of water technology; we must integrate Israeli inventions which are used in many countries around the world, including in the European Union - in the Middle Eastern countries as well.

Indeed, from the earliest times until today, the Middle East has been witness to tensions, conflicts and even wars waged over water distress.

However, today we have the technological solutions to water shortages and desertification in our hands, and we must discover a way to cooperate and work together - governments, academia and businesspeople - so that we can take full advantage of the accumulated knowledge to improve the use of water for the benefit of our citizens, and primarily - in order to prevent unnecessary tensions."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Leaking faucets

Water is the most limiting factor for food production in many countries of the world. Nearly half of the “water-poor” world population is concentrated in the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, in countries where poverty and inequality are endemic. Other “water-poor” regions include some of the poorest countries in the world such as Yemen, Mali, Niger, Chad, Ethiopia and Somalia. Moreover, most of these countries suffer from deficient governance systems.

Throughout history, farmers in the drylands have relied on a variety of water-saving techniques and of hydraulic engineering approaches to use the renewable water resources available to them. Examples include terracing for water harvesting and soil conservation in the mountains of Lebanon as well as water transport through the elaborate qanat systems of Iran and Iraq. There are also reports of early drip irrigation technology using reed and clay vessels for the production of vegetables in semi-desert. Moreover, the steppe-based agro-pastoral systems which associated the seasonal cropping of drought-tolerant cereals with small ruminant production allowed the nomads and semi-settled populations to maximize the use of the sparse and variable rainfall that characterizes these regions.

Since the Green Revolution of the 1960’s, water-starved countries have- paradoxically-adopted policies favoring intensive, irrigated agriculture in order to address demand for food and to encourage an export-oriented agriculture which was expected to be a major source of hard currency. “Dry” countries have endeavored to build more dams, sink more wells and construct water supply infrastructure, in order to address the supply side of water management. Today, the agriculture sector accounts for over 85% of total water consumption in many of these countries, including Lebanon, where irrigation is often practiced with low efficiency, sometimes below 50%.This means that half the water that is drawn from a well or a canal is actually used by the plant for growth. The rest of the water goes to waste. More over, water that is drawn from various sources for use in irrigated agriculture often goes to irrigate high-value, export crops that are not consumed by local people, while the poor, in rural or urban regions, lack access to clean water for drinking and domestic use. This situation is especially dramatic in Egypt where many middle class and poor neighborhoods lack access to clean water while export goods and golf courses, exclusively made for the rich and the tourists, are irrigated around the clock.

Most of the countries in the dry part of the world are today considered to have exhausted their water resources and to largely depend on trade to import water primarily in the form of food. This is the case of the Gulf countries. In Lebanon, we exploit the groundwater in a manner that is totally unsustainable, and export the water that is not renewable, in the form of potatoes or animal feed. As a result, the water table in the Biqa` plain has dropped by several hundred meters in a few decades, and, in a few years, the cost of pumping water for drinking and domestic use may become prohibitive.

However, as the food crisis continues to unfold, food production is once again becoming a priority goal, and it is expected that farming will become a strategic economic activity. If Lebanon adopts this approach, (BIG "if" here) we will have to look very closely at what we are planting and at the volumes of water we are using for producing, for example, a ton of potato versus a ton of wheat, and how much of the precious water we are effectively exporting. We will need a strategy for water conservation, and for ensuring that we make best use of the available water, especially when it comes to irrigating export crops. We must realize that every ton of produce shipped is equivalent to tens (sometimes hundreds) of tons of water used for growing it. We must also be aware that as occupied Palestine continues to dry up after the zionist settlers have exhausted the Palestinian aquifers and the Jordan River, their eyes will, once again, turn towards the Lebanese water. And that our resistance must not be limited to a national military defense strategy, but must also include a national water conservation strategy. We need to use every drop of water with care in order to produce and live well and stay rooted in our lands. We need this in order to eliminate the poor excuse often used by Israel and its friends, which is that "if the Lebanese cannot use their water efficiently in farming, then they should "sell" it to Israel which will know how use it well. They can then import their food from Israel".

In the wake of the July 2006 war, I was in South Lebanon and a Spanish reporter interviewed me for Spanish TV about the war and its impact. Somehow, we got talking about water and the South and Israel's views on the water of South Lebanon, and he gave me the "if you waste it then you deserve to lose it" argument. I answered him: "Juan, you told me that you live in an old charming house in Madrid, right?" He said: "yes". I said: "you have a leaking faucet in your house, and you are not using a small toilet flush when you urinate. So I'm going to take your water away and give it to your neighbors and when you need to pee or wash your hands, you'll just have to use their toilet." I think he got the point. But I also think that living in an old charming house is no excuse for neglecting leaking faucets.