Friday, August 29, 2008


New in Badael: My editorial: "So that Akkar does not become the new South" on the failures of international development in South Lebanon. Rana Hayek on irrigation with wastewater and pollution. A review of Ahmad Houri's book on the flowers of Lebanon, and a short article on growing off-season lemon.
Am off for the last weekend of the year: Sour and its incomparable sandy beach. Will bring photos.

Why aren't you revolted yet?

Everybody should watch this Utube video from Al Jazeera's Inside USA. And note that the farm workers conditions elsewhere (Poles in the UK, Brazilians in Brazil, Syrians in Lebanon, Egyptians in Jordan) are no better but, while we know some about the UK and Brazil (mostly through NGOs work) nobody talks about the ones in the Arab World. Farm workers in Lebanon are not unionized, and there are very few studies on their condition. Why? Simple, they are not Lebanese, and they are not urban, so how could researchers and NGOs notice them?

From tap to bin

"In the United States, as much as 30 percent of food products, worth some 48.3 billion dollars, is thrown away annually just by households alone.

"That's like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion litres of water into the garbage can -- enough water to meet the household needs of 500 million people," says the report co-authored by SIWI, along with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome and the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) in Sri Lanka." (Thanks Marcy)

The toughest choice

"Mulu calculated that she could afford to care for one more child back in Addis Ababa, but which to choose.

"They were all so skinny; they were all the same," Mulu said, seated in her living room.

She chose the youngest, not necessarily the sickest, but her favourite. With a drought and a scarcity of food from the global food crisis leaving millions destitute and even starving, Ethiopia is faced with similar dilemma.

"Life is terrible there, but I have no choice," she said. " (Thanks Marcy)

Backlash: farmers will pay

"Global trends show that food prices will decline next year, leaving South Africa's farmers little room to pass on increased costs to the consumer, said Abdolreza Abbassian, secretary of the Intergovernmental Group on Grains Trade and Markets Division at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. "The vulnerability of farmers will be increased.""


"This month, an Indian official said eating rats was a way to beat rising global food prices. Vijay Prakash, the secretary of Bihar's welfare department, said regular rat snacks would also translate into fewer rodents eating precious grain stocks, 50% of which are lost in the north-eastern Indian state every year to the creatures.

Prakash wants to promote consumption of rat meat in homes, street stalls, restaurants and even five-star hotels. He said he was holding talks with prestigious hotels outside India to encourage them to put rat meat on their menus, but admitted his scheme had to overcome public prejudice.

"Some socially deprived people in Bihar have always consumed rat meat. If they can eat rats, why can't the rest of the people?" he said. "This will help in mitigating the global food crisis. We are sure that it will work wonders."" (Thanks Anna)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Around Lebanon: the Cedars

This is the last leg of the mini-tour of Lebanon my family and I just completed. It took almost as many days to write than to do it...Check the 2 previous posts for more details.

After leaving Aynata we climbed for more than an another 1000m to reach the pass that will take us to the other side of the mountain, on to the western side of Mount Lebanon. The road is pretty good and half of it has recently been re-asphalted. But it is closed by the snows during winter and early spring. A few turns before crossing over, we stopped for mana'eesh (thyme and oil pies) at a small roadside shack in which 2 young women were operating a saj (inverted wok used for cooking flat bread). They told me they came from Harbata, a village in the Biqa` plain, not far from Labweh, where the`Assi river starts. They move to the mountain summit during summer with their family, their goats and sheep flocks and camp by the roadside in the traditional Bedouin tents, bayt al sha`ar (the house of hair, because it is made from camel or goat hair). The men tend the flocks and the young women sell food to the passers-by. This practice of transhumance during summer is common to many of the people of the Biqa`, and indicates the closeness of their links to the Bedouin culture. See below the tents and the Range Rovers of the modern day semi-nomads. Note also the juniper tree (Juniperus excelsa) near the car.
The view from this part of the mountain is breathtaking: one can see the Yammouneh plain, the hills beyond it, the Biqa` plain and the Anti-Lebanon in one single shot! The village you see in the valley is Aynata.

As we crossed to the western side of Mount Lebanon, the first settlement we encountered is the touristic village known as "The Cedars". This is the site of the famous cedars of Lebanon grove, also known as Arz al Rabb or The Cedars of the Lord. Although there are many other cedar forests in Lebanon (and this grove is probably the smallest in size), it contains some of the oldest trees, and it has become the (much disputed) patriotic emblem of Lebanon. The Cedars is principally a touristic area, with grand and not so grand villas and buildings disguised as Swiss chalets. It is a great winter sports location, but the slopes are not as developed as those of Faraya, in Kesrwan. Unlike Faraya, however, this is a very provincial place, almost a summer resort for the inhabitants of Bsharreh, the home town of writer, poet and artist Jibran Khalil Jibran of "Prophet" fame. Bsharreh is also the home town of Samir Geagea, the leader of the Lebanese Forces (see previous post), who was convicted of multiple murders and jailed for 10 years before receiving presidential pardon. The people of Bsharreh are reputed for being tough and hard-headed, and Geagea is a local icon. To prove it, the owner of a souvenir shop in the Cedar has 3 mega sized poster of Geagea, all saying the same thing: "Welcome to the Lord of your Lord" Ahlan bi Rabb Rabbak. I dedicate this picture to my dear friend MM.

But there is more to see in Bsharreh and the Cedars than Geagea posters: The cedars grove has some very fine tree specimen, but I will not post photos because there are so many of them on the net. But if you ever get to spend the night in the cedars (we stayed with a friend who owns a chalet that was originally a French army barrack), do not miss sunset over the legendary Kadisha valley.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Around Lebanon: To the Biqa'

This is the second part of the mini-tour of Lebanon trip. Read the previous post first...

Sunday August 24: The trip from Rashayya al Fukhar to the AUB farm (also known as AREC, the Agricultural Research and Education Center) takes about 2 hours. The road is very scenic, and passes through a region of Lebanon that is very seldom visited, the West Biqa`. This part of Lebanon has tremendously suffered from the Israeli invasion, but was not recognized by name until the mid 90's. Before that, it was lumped indiscriminately with "The South". It includes towns such as Rashayya al Wadi, and smaller villages such as Kfarmeshki and Libbaya. Agriculture is the main source of income (after remittances, of course) for most of the local inhabitants.

The Damascus road forms a sort of demarcation line between the "West" Biqa`, inhabited mainly by Sunnis and Christians, and the Central and North Biqa`, where the population is mainly Shi`a, and tribal (as opposed to the Shi`a of Jabal `Amel, who are organized into villages rather than tribes (`ashira). Of course, not all the Shi`a of the Biqa` are tribal, and there are large families, such as Hajj Hassan, who probably count more members than a`ashira, such as the `Allaw.

The Biqa` is the main agricultural area of Lebanon, and the Lebanese love to tell how it once was "the granary of Rome". The legend is that Rome used to import its grains from the Biqa`. I believe that the reality is probably that the Roman legions in Palestine and Lebanon used to confiscate the grain produced in the Biqa` to feed the army. Today, most of the production of crops is irrigated, and wells can go as deep as 700m. Of course, this is totally unsustainable, and the water table has dropped to below economic water yield, if one takes into account the increase in the price of fuel. A strange equilibrium has been reached, in which the price of oil has become the most effective tool to limit water pumping. However, many fields have been turned into cash crops and are still irrigated. Below is a picture of a cabbage field under sprinkler irrigation. Just look at those rich red soils! In the background you can (barely) see Mount Lebanon.

A bit further down, we encountered Bedouins milking their sheep. This is a unique sight that is not to be missed. Twice a day, when it is time for milking, the shepherd (or shepherdess in this case) calls the flock by shouting: "haleeb t`ae" meaning "come get milked". The sheep align themselves in a long line, two by two, opposite each others. The shepherdess ties them together by the neck with a long ribbon to prevent them from moving, and milks them in turn. The milk is then poured into 20 liters containers and taken to the market by pick-up truck. The sheep of this particular family were grazing on wheat stubble on these deeply red soils, hence their henna coat.

We reached The AUB farm a few moments later, and spent the night there in the guest house (recommended) .

On the morning of Monday 25 we were lucky to witness the first rain of the season while still on the farm. This is very unseasonal, and local farmers took it as a good presage: winter will come early this year, and it might even bring sufficient rain to replenish the wells and produce a good crop. Last year's drought was disastrous for many. I took this picture as a souvenir, from the window of our room in the guest house. It is a bit dark, because of the clouds, but you can clearly see, in the background, a triangle of blue sky over Mount Lebanon. A couple of hours later, the clouds had disappear and the day turned bright and sunny. We left the AUB farm as soon as it stopped raining. The next part of the trip consisted of crossing the plain at the level of Baalbak (Heliopolis) and taking the road up the mountain to the roof of Lebanon: Qornet al Sawdah, at 3080m altitude. The road crosses the charming village of Aynata, at the extreme northern edge of the Yammouneh plain. To get there, you have to pass through Dayr al Ahmar, a Maronite Christian village sitting at the edge of the Lebanon range. There is a Lebanese army check point right at the entrance of Dayr el Ahmar, because its population is strongly pro-Lebanese Forces, the right wing Christian militia headed by Samir Geagea, and much of the rest of the Biqa` is pro-Hizbullah. I took the picture of a cannabis field less than 500m away from the army check point. When it comes to growing dope, there are no religions, militias or armies: there are only people trying to make a living. Read this article (in Arabic from Tuesday's newspaper) for more information about the hash season in Lebanon.

This picture is also interesting because it clearly shows the tree line on Mount Lebanon in the background. The dark area represents the zone of growth of the oak trees (Quercus calliprinos), which stops abruptly at 1500m. Beyond this altitude, only sparse juniper trees can be found on the eastern side of the mountain, while cedars and sometimes fir grow beyond 1500m on the wetter western mountain slopes.

The Yammouneh geological fault is a zone of seismic activity that runs parallel to the Mediterranean shore, from the Red sea all the way into Turkey. In Yammouneh, the fault widens to create a mountain-locked elevated plain. The area is rich in springs emanating from the cracks in the mountain side, and channeling the water from the snow melt accumulated in the karstic craters of the summits. This is apple country: on the terraces carved in the hillsides, on the plain itself, thousands of apple trees produce some of the best fruits of the country. Recently, a project funded by the French aid agency has introduced wine grapes into the area: farmers receive a few hundred seedlings of modern grape varieties. They plant them and tend them and enter into a contract with one of the main Lebanese wine producers who purchases their produce. With the money, they pay for the seedlings they have received. The project appears to be working very well, and I was told that this year, "Warde" wine makers bought the produce. The picture below shows, on the right hand side, the village if Aynata, and on the left hand side the summit of Lebanon: Dahr el Qadeeb, the formation that includes the famous Qornet el Sawdah. In the middle, the apple and grape orchards.

Tomorrow: To the Cedars...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Around Lebanon: Jabal `Amel and Wadi al Taym

I'm back from my mini-tour of Lebanon trip. We visited fabulous places, met great people and took loads of pictures. Below is an approximate route. In yellow, Sinay, our first stop. In blue, Rashayya al Fukhar (not to be confused with Rashayya, a large town 20 km north). In turquoise, the AUB farm in Hawsh Sneid, and in green our last stop, The Cedars.

Day one, Friday August 22: we reached Sinay, our village in Jabal `Amel (South Lebanon) in the early afternoon. I have posted many pictures of Sinay (which I used to spell Sinai, but I'm tired of the confusion with the desert) before on the blog (use "search blog"), but I think I have never shown pics of the tiny house which I literally built with my hands with the help of my mason-carpenter cousin. It's only 2 large rooms on 2 floors. Here's one photo of the top floor room taken by my talented photographer friend Tanya Traboulsi.

We didn't do much on this first day, except that I taught my kids how to pick prickly pears without getting thorns in their hands. We used a special tool: a horizontal T-shaped tube at the end of a long pole. The end tube is placed over the fruit, and the pole is twisted which has the effect of detaching the fruit and of making the apparatus vertical, in order to keep the fruit inside. The fruit is then peeled, chilled and eaten. Delicious. Below is a photo of my daughter Thurayya picking what the French call "figues de Barbarie" or Barbary figs. This plant (Opuntia) is often associated with deserts and arid areas and specially with Arab desert villages. It is, however, native to South America, where they make a much better use of it: while we only eat the fruits, which don't have the prestige of peaches, cherries and apples, the people of Latin America consume the green part of the plant, which looks like a large succulent leaf, but in fact is a modified stem (the leaves are the thorns). But in Jabal `Amel, this part, called "mushut" or comb, is used sometimes when transplanting trees into marginal lands where irrigation water is not available: farmers bury a "mushut" near the roots of the seedling, where it serves as a water reserve for when the soil dries up. The tree seedling extends its roots into the decaying plant tissue, and can use some of the water that is released as the cells breakdown. On Saturday August 23 we left Jabal `Amel for Wadi al Taym and the `Arkub, both also regions of South Lebanon. We passed Nabatiyyah, the "capital" of this part of the south, through the famous Kfartebneet check point. This is where the Israelis and their Lebanese allies, the South Lebanon Army (also known as the Lahad Army) , used to terrorize those who were passing on their way to their villages. In May 2000, the liberation of the South at the hands of the Lebanese Resistance brought all of that to an end. There are no check points on this road anymore except one manned by the Lebanese Army on the Khardali river. From the Khardali valley, one gets a unique view of the Beaufort castle, a crusaders fort that has been repeatedly bombed by the Israelis over the years, but is still standing proud. The road continues to Marjeyoun and then Al Khiyam, where the Israeli had established a large torture camp. The camp was bombed to the ground by the Israeli air force during the summer of 2006 in an attempt to destroy this evidence to the atrocities they committed in Lebanon. You should really visit and hear the horrific stories from the mouths of the survivors who are now employed as guides. You will learn that it was rarely Israelis who did the torturing: it was the job of the South Lebanon Army men, many of whom still live freely in South Lebanon, while a large number has sought refuge in Israel. A man who spent time in the Khiyam prison once told me how they used to abuse his wife and his mother in front of him to make him speak, and how a few years later, after the liberation, he met one of the torturers in a shop in Khiyam. I asked him: "what did you do?". He said: "nothing, Sayyed Hassan (Nasrallah) had given orders not to seek revenge".

Jabal `Amel's ends right after Khiyam, and we enter Wadi al Taym. While Jabal `Amel is mostly Shi`a (but with a significant Christian population and a few Sunni villages, of Bedouin origin, I suspect) Wadi al Taym is Druze-Christian, with a significant Sunni presence. The capital of Wadi al Taym is Hasbayya, from which the Shihab, the emirs of Mount Lebanon, originated. They came from a Sunni family, but Emir Beshir II Shihab (1788-1840) converted to Christianity when he became the ruler of the Maronites and the Druze of Mount Lebanon. A large part of the Shihab family is still Sunni, and their identity cards still show the title "emir". Wadi al Taym is also known as the Hasbani valley, in reference to this much disputed river that starts in Lebanon and runs into Palestine to feed the Houla lake.

Rashayya al Fukhar is a tiny village tucked in the foothills of the Lebanese side of the Golan, an area also known as Al `Arkub. It has a beautiful and vast pine forest which is unfortunately inaccessible due to the thousands of cluster bombs that remain there courtesy of the Israeli war ethics. Pine forests grow on sandy soils, which originate from the early cretaceous era, and these soils are often layered with non-swelling clays, which are ideal for pottery (or fukhar), hence the name of the village. It has also an ancient church with beautiful vaults, which was severely damaged by the Israeli bombings of summer 2006, but has been rebuilt since. We stayed in a guest house recommended by an NGO called ANERA which promotes responsible tourism in Lebanon. The facilities were beautiful and the breakfast excellent and generous. Our host, Esber Esber, is a very welcoming, gentle and hospitable young man, whom the kids playfully nicknamed Esber the friendly host.

From Rashayya al Fukhar, one MUST absolutely take a trip into the `Arkub. This is an area that has tremendously suffered since the 1960's when it used to be known as "Fateh land", as the PLO had established a very strong (and often oppressive) military presence in the area. The Israeli occupation was very harsh on this region, which counts a very large number of patriots from the left (essentially communists) or from the SSNP (Syrian Social National Party), and from other anti-zionist religious groups. Unlike other areas of South Lebanon, the `Arkub has a very limited Hizbullah presence, as there are few Shi'a in the area. The difference with the rest of the South is clear: while the signs of destruction are less pronounced than in Jabal `Amel, the absence of an organizing structure (Hizbullah) means that the services are very minimal. The feeling one gets is that this is a land that has been forgotten by state, parties, sects and confessions. The people there have little electoral weight and an even lighter political role. Economically, the small villages are at a standstill, while in the other border villages of Jabal `Amel, reconstruction and money flow appears to be much more intense.

The trip through the `Arkub inevitably takes one to the regions of Sheb`a and Kfarshuba. The extensions to these border towns, known as the Sheb`a farms and the Kfarshuba hills, are still under Israeli occupation. They are one of the main causes-excuses-reasons for the Resistance to continue arming and preparing. Sheb`a is reached after a seemingly endless climb to over 1500m. The landscape is parched, with a sparse land cover consisting essentially of thorny and aromatic plants. This is goats country (the little black dots in the picture below).

Sheb`a appears suddenly, as one reaches the mountain top. It is a surprisingly large and green town located in an otherwise barren mountain. Situated near the summit zone, it is fed by a powerful and generous spring, Nabe` `Ayn al Jawz. This water allows local people to produce excellent quality fruits and vegetables and to operate noisy waterside restaurants serving barbecue, mezze, fruits, argeeleh and cheap Arabic music. No alcohol there.

Sheb`a is literally a stone-throw away from the Syrian towns of Banias, Majdel Shams in the Syrian Golan and from other Israeli-occupied Golan areas. The main activity of the village was, for the longest time, smuggling between Syria and Lebanon. Sheb'a donkeys were reputed for knowing the way in the mountains without the need for a conductor, and they fetched prices only slightly lower than those of pick up trucks. Today smuggling has receded as Syria has opened its economy.

The drive back to Rashayya al Fukhar took us through Hasbayya. This is a major town, in the center of an area that produces one of the best olive oils in Lebanon. Last year, I worked as a consultant for a Swiss organization funded by the Swiss Embassy to prepare the study and the application file for the registration of the Hasbayya olive oil as a Geographic Indication of Origin or, as the French say, "une appelation d'origine controlee". I visited many of the coops and of the mills in the 40 or so villages of Hasbayya, where 20,000 small and medium olive producers mill some of the finest oil in the world, not to be missed. If you are in the region and you don't know where to go for olive oil, ask for directions to the press (ma`sara) of Sheikh Mahmood Derbiyyeh in `Ayn Jarfa. His oil is incomparable.

In Hasbayya, we visited what is left of the Shihab Palace, where the poor relatives of this once powerful family continue to live very modestly. The palace is run down and needs serious rehabilitation, but it is still impressive. Below is a photo of the main wooden gate taken from inside the palace, showing the vaulted ceiling of the entrance hall and the minaret of the town's mosque right at the palace's gate.
The Shihab's palace has, unfortunately, a dark spot in its history. It is said that, during the sectarian war between the Christians and the Druze in 1860, thousands of Christians who had sought refuge in the palace were massacred in the main courtyard by Druze fighters allied with the Ottoman forces. The Druze also sacked the town and killed 17 Shihab princes to punish them for sheltering the Christians.

For such is Lebanon: a veneer of beauty and culture barely covering a terrifying reality.

Tomorrow: The Biqa` and the Cedars.

Friday, August 22, 2008

From Sinai

Am testing blogging using the phone on gprs: lousy.

Mini tour

Am off till next Wednesday. I'm taking my kids on a mini tour of Lebanon. First Sinai in the South, then Rachayya al Fokkhar on the foot hills of Mount Hermon, then Baalbak, and then the Cedars. We'll be staying in our southern house (Sinai), in Bed and Breakfasts (Rachayya and Baalbak) and with friends (Cedars). I will try to blog and post some pictures, but I'm not sure I'll be able to find a connection.

Badael-Alternatives, and other

Badael in al Akhbar: My editorial: The Bedouins of Phoenicia, or how the Lebanese states only recognizes sects, and never social groups. The ABC of food continues with the letter B: The Bedouins without the Badia. An adaptation of my post on olympic food by Rana Hayek. Check also the very good article by Rana Hayek on migrant workers in Lebanon who get routinely abused but who decide to accept it because they need the job; and how the Lebanese refuse what they consider to be "menial" employment, while they have no problem with it when they become themselves migrant laborers in Europe.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Lost in space

"Why can't we just all be friends? I am banking on Israeli Muslims to pass on the "green" message to their communities. They will be our Middle East peace brokers when it comes to environmental issues."

Some stuff I read is so outlandish that I don't even know where to start, or if it is worth starting at all. How do you explain geopolitics, ecopolitics, apartheid, colonialism and the relationship between victim and tormentor to people who live in a different dimension?

In Gaza

Palestinian children raise bread and empty dishes during a demonstration in Gaza City demanding job opportunities for their families. (Wissam Nassar,Maan Images) From IMEU
(Thanks Marcy)

US policy in the ME

"Despite Mosaddeq's popularity among the low- and middle-income classes, trouble loomed in the horizon. His plans for agrarian reforms antagonised the powerful landowners and their allies in the clergy. The superpowers of the day were also determined to put a stop to his actions. The UK filed a case with the International Court of Justice, claiming that Mosaddeq violated contractual agreements. Mosaddeq travelled to The Hague, where he delivered a fiery speech, denouncing Britain for stealing from the Iranians."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Looking for the masked cucumber

"Israeli army troops attacked a number of shops selling fertilizer and agricultural materials in Tulkarem on Monday mid-afternoon.

Eye witnesses reported that Israeli troops entered the city and focussed their force on farm lands and fertilizer shops.

Troops confiscated a agricultural equipment and crops at an estimated worth of 35,000 shekels." (Thanks Marcy)

Native land rights

"They should not be seen as inferior because of their attempt to block the influx of private investment into their territories," said Espinosa. "The problem is that Peru has a hard time seeing cultural differences as something positive, as part of the country’s wealth. Peruvian society sees them instead as an obstacle." (Thanks Marcy)

Mix n' match

Al-Akhbar's front page article today was about the launch of the new Lebanese Green Party. They titled the article: "Armchair environmentalism". I don't have time to translate it, but if you read Arabic, its worth having a look. The political structure of the party is especially fascinating: it is closely "overseen" by Akram Chuhayyeb, a Jumblati politician; and while Chuhayyeb does not hold any official function in the Green party, some of his close aides do. The article also mentions that Ghassan Mukhaiber, a Metn MP and a member of the Aouni coalition, is also a member. The party wishes to be non-sectarian. But it also accepts (and apparently encourages) cross memberships, meaning that you can be a member of the Green party and of other (usually sectarian-this is Lebanon, remember) parties.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


"Ethiopia, perennially one of the world's hungriest nations, now faces what Oxfam, one of dozens of international aid organizations responding to the crisis, calls "a toxic cocktail."" (Thanks Anna)

birds do it, bees do it, even the rich do it

"It is these people -- policy makers and opinion leaders -- that have never suffered the lack of adequate sanitation, and if they have, it is too long ago to remember the undignified, inhumane circumstances, he added.

"These people use a fancy toilet, which is connected to an effective sewer system. And they are probably unaware that this toilet and its flushing system are critical to a healthy life.""

Apartheid wall

"It has been called a 'wall', a 'security fence' and an 'obstacle' to terrorists. When it is finished it will run 450 miles and will have cost Israel around $4bn.

For some it means security, for others it is a means of undoing their future.

Four years ago this week the international court of justice said Israel's West Bank barrier was illegal where it crossed into Palestinian territory.

We explore the lives of the people on either side of the barrier and examine its implications for a settlement in the Middle East's most intractable conflict."

The Guardian has a special section on the apartheid wall. I really like their correspondent Rory McCarthy. One of his recent articles was picked up by Fateh's electronic voice. Sloppy as ever, they managed a typo in the title.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Beirut tummy

"At least 200 million people around the world risk their health daily by eating food grown using untreated waste water, some of which may be contaminated with heavy metals and raw sewage, according to major study of 53 world cities.

Urban farmers in 80% of the cities surveyed were found to be using untreated waste water, but the study said they also provided vital food for burgeoning cities at a time of unprecedented water scarcity and the worst food crisis in 30 years." (Thanks Anna)

Now that's a subject I can relate to...You may (or not) know that wastewater treatment is virtually inexistent in Lebanon. There are 2 ways to deal with waste water in my beautiful country, the land of milk and honey: 1. by digging permeable tanks under the houses (in the mountain) or 2. by linking to the primitive wastewater grid which discharges in the valleys (rivers), in irrigation canals, or in the sea. There have been attempts financed by international development monies (especially USAID) to install small scale wastewater treatment facilities, but there are very few success stories. In any case, and because of economies of scale, small, in this particular case, is rather smelly.

As a result, the sea is polluted in most locations around urban concentrations and most, if not all of the rivers are polluted. The Litani and the Qaraoun dam are the best known examples, but other rivers are also very bad. Moreover, studies by UNICEF 18 years ago have shown that most village springs were polluted with domestic wastewater due to seepage originating from the underground tanks (these tanks often overflow in the streets and when neighbors complain, a tanker is called, and the man comes (it is always a man) and he empties the tank in his vehicle and then dumps it into the nearest valley). I think have just unveiled the secret of the fabulous taste of `ayn al day`a (the village spring) water.

Because most rivers are dry during summer, the concentration of waste water increases at the same time as crops are more intensively irrigated. The end results is that fruits and vegetables, the pride of Lebanon, can often get their food and water from the same source. This reduces the fertilizers needs of crops. Farmers are very aware of that, and defend their right to use polluted water: nearly 20 years ago I was trying to install a natural wastewater treatment system (constructed wetlands) in the poor village of Bebnine in `Akkar. The project, for which I had been promised international funding, collapsed as local farmers complained loudly when they learned that the waste water would be diverted into a treatment facility. This, in their opinion, would deprive them from water and nutrients, and increase their fertilizer bill. The project was shelved.

But the question as the government-which is reticent to invest in public services- probably poses it is: so what? In spite of all we know about water pollution and the use of waste water at various concentrations in the irrigation of crops, there are few cases of epidemics directly attributable to the consumption of fruits and vegetables irrigated with dirty water in Lebanon. The cases of diarrhea increase in most locations during summer, but it is difficult to attribute this unequivocally to irrigation with wastewater. Most people think it is "the heat". Every Sunday thousand of poor people swim at the Beirut Public Beach in Ramlet el Baida, which is located between 2 enormous sewage outlets. Most of them can't swim and ingest large quantities of tainted brine, but large scale outbreaks of water-borne diseases have yet to be reported. But then again, they are poor, and most of their ills go unreported. Many people (but especially the poor) drink water that is bottled, but potentially unclean as there exists no quality inspection in the country. And of course, most foreign visitors get the runs (termed Beirut tummy) at one time or another during their stay but it is unclear whether this is due to consuming unwashed vegetables or to the always volatile security situation.

Clearly, there is no need to do anything about waste water in Lebanon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Food of Olympia

Sports people, and especially Olympic athletes are very particular about the food they eat. While most people who are moderately active require around 2000 calories per day depending on their weight and their gender, Olympic athletes require a much larger quantity. Experts estimate that most female athletes should get between 2,000 and 3,000 calories daily, while male athletes should get 3,000 to 5,000. However, recent interviews with 8-times medalist Michael Phelps showed that he consumes up to 10,000 calories per day. This sounds extreme, even to some dietitians. But Olympic athletes' nutritional needs do vary widely according to their sports and body sizes, and swimming for long periods of time will naturally burn a lot of calories. Moreover, Phelps, as well as fellow US swimmer Ryan Lochte who won 2 gold medals both admit to be somehow careless about the food quality they eat, and to stock up on fat-rich fast food. Still, many athletes are extra conscious about the quality of their food. This must have posed tremendous problems to the organizers of the Olympics who had to deal with the practical and logistical difficulties in feeding over 10,000 high level athletes during the Beijing games.

The diet the athletes ate in Beijing was, we are told, designed with sports nutrition principles in mind. The company in charge of catering for the Olympics in Beijing apparently developed a menu based on resources provided by the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine.

Since the Olympics were held in China, some traditional Chinese dishes and other Asian-influenced foods were served, including Peking duck and a variety of noodles.

But the menu also featured food from the Mediterranean, the Americas, the Caribbean, and Europe - a total of over 800 recipes - with a focus on lean meats and fish for protein, and a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

It's not just athletes who ate in the athletes' village. In fact, more than 28,000 athletes, coaches, and staff from all over the world ate the Olympics diet in a dining room the size of three football fields that seats 6,000 at a time.

These required huge quantities of food. Here’s an approximate breakdown of the food needed, as estimated by the catering company: 42,000 kilos of seafood and 243,000 kilos of meat. Approximately 17,000 kilos of pasta and 61,000 kilos of rice. 743,000 potatoes. More than 800,000 eggs. More than 1 million apples, 936,000 bananas, and 312,000 oranges. 684,000 carrots, 20,000 heads of lettuce, nearly 21,000 kilos of onions, and 22,000 kilos of mushrooms. More than 26,000 kilos of cheese. 190,000 loaves of bread and 2,500 kilos of butter.

Producing this large amount of food required planning at least a year ahead. As of 2007, pigs were specially raised in China to feed the athletes at the Beijing Olympics. The pigs were reportedly fed an organic diet and getting daily exercise, which triggered criticism by members of the Chinese civil society.

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

These words reflect a growing frustration among ordinary Chinese with poor quality food and dangerous or inhumane work environments a frustration that is being expressed with increasing frequency. Many were revolted at the discrimination they perceived as they have to eat dangerous food while the Olympic guests enjoy special treatment.

But things look set to be different in the next Olympics which will take place in London in 2012 where the benefits of local, seasonal and organic food could be showcased while imported food should meet Fairtrade standards. A member of the British organic movement said that in the face of the current obesity crisis organizers "must promote healthy as well as sustainable food". London 2012 said it was committed to a "sustainable food strategy". A report by concerned civil society groups also noted that the Games could help promote sustainable fish consumption. It called on 2012 sponsors Coca-Cola and McDonald's to serve 75% unprocessed, 50% locally sourced and 30% organic food and drink.

The Olympic organizers appear to be committed to delivering “the Greenest Games Ever”, but it remains to be seen whether good will, practicality and financial feasibility will be able to coexist.

This post was compiled from the sources below. Note that the text contains copy-pasted material from the articles below, for which this blogger does NOT claim authorship.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Buy Africa

"Investors have started to take notice. Cru, a small specialist fund management firm, recently launched a Malawi-based fund called Africa Invest. The retail-orientated (and capital protected) variant of the fund can be accessed for as little as £4,000. The fund has made an initial investment of £2m in 2,000 hectares of land that's producing paprika for western supermarkets. With land prices starting at £800 per hectare (compared to £10,000 in the UK) it's relatively easy to amass large farms that can be upgraded with new technology, mechanisation and better production methods. According to Cru, annual returns on capital should exceed 30 to 40 per cent.

A much larger version of this scheme is being marketed by hedge fund Emergent. It's targeting a total return of 400 per cent over the next five years, partly off the back of rising land values, investment in better technology to improve productivity and the introduction of a new form of farming called no till agriculture.

To demonstrate the potential, it's been running a trial 7,200 acre project over the last three years that's showed an average 33 per cent annual gain in output from soft agricultural products and a total return of 120 per cent. Emergent points out that the return was based on much lower historic soft commodities prices, which have nearly doubled in recent years. This new fund believes that returns on equity for maize should be 35 per cent a year, and 25 per cent for soybeans."

A must-read from Investors Chronicle: how to buy Africa

Water and drought, again

"Drought in northeastern Syria over the past two years has devastated wheat production in the region. In 2008 Syria was forced to import wheat for the first time in fifteen years to compensate. Crops were also wiped out in Turkey this year after drought affected 35 out of 81 provinces. Iran is another nation importing extra wheat this season after a 20 percent decline in annual yield.

Palestine and Israel have been in a "regional drought" for over half a decade. Palestinians in the West Bank, enduring especially difficult circumstances, are without water for hours or days at a time this summer. Israel controls 90 percent of the water distribution system for the West Bank, but claims to be unable to provide additional water to those in the West Bank."

Short and sweet (if a bit dry) from alternet

All of a Sudan

...everybody is interested in Sudan

"Sudan is seeking to attract at least $1 billion of capital for its agricultural sector from Arab and Asian investment groups, which are turning to Africa in search of new food supplies as their governments try to manage the impact of commodity price inflation.

The investment ministry is marketing a portfolio of 17 large-scale projects that would cover 880,000 hectares, one of its officials told the Financial Times.

Khartoum is insisting that investors agree to terms that will yield clear benefits for Sudan.

"It's not only to take back to their country. Local people will not accept that," Mohammad said. "It should be very clear in the agreements what proportion of food will remain in Sudan, what other social services they will provide, what new technology they will introduce, the employment they will create and the training for local people.""


Rwanda: "At least 2,000 MT of high-yielding seed varieties were distributed to farmers in various provinces, an official in the ministry of agriculture and animal resources, who declined to be named, told IRIN. "Improved seeds have propelled food crop production recovery," he said." (Thanks Marcy)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tough choices

"Qat contributes about 5 percent of GDP, some 29 percent of the total agricultural value added. It absorbs 1/4 of agricultural workforce. However, it is one of the key reasons for the speedy depletion of water resources."

No doubt the Arab World faces difficult choices between water or food...especially in Yemen, one of the world's poorest countries.

Badael -Alternatives

In Al Akhbar today: Badael-Alternatives. My editorial on urban planning (or lack thereof) in Lebanon. Rana Hayek's article on over-consumption and the resource crisis. Mohammad Muhsin writes on the basta: the street vendors, supermarket of the poor.

Resident weevil

Safadi, the new minister of economy and trade in the electoral government, reinstated the agricultural calendar that was canceled by free trade fundamentalist, the ex-minister Sami Haddad. But, according to Rasha Abu Zeki, Safadi is still scared to fully engage in reforms: apparently, the howling ghost of Haddad still haunts the ministry's corridors.

The article, in Arabic, contains useful information about Lebanese agriculture.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Export flowers, they said...

"Tens of thousands of people are facing food scarcity in the areas of Baringo and East Pokot in Kenya's north Rift, a humanitarian official said.

"There is an acute food shortage and the situation has been rated as alarming," Anthony Mwangi, public relations manager with the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), said." This from a recent IRIN report (Thanks Marcy)

Elsewhere in Kenya (Feb. 2008 article)

The Kenyan flower growers and traders are optimistic in meeting their export targets of the upcoming Valentine's Day and Mother's Day, despite the devastating post-election chaos last month, an officer of Kenya Flower Council said on Tuesday."

But where is the NYT?

Power and control

The brilliant Frances Moore Lappe (Thanks Toufic)

"In the broadcast, we hear that Wal-Mart is a solution because it provides a market for poor Honduran farmers who otherwise would have no way to sell their produce. But if access to a market is, in itself, farmers' salvation, here at home each year more than 10,000 farmers would not be going under. The question is who controls a market: Where the answer is a few monopsony buyers -- what Wal-Mart represents in the NPR case study -- power remains with them. They set the terms and they decide whether to stay or to leave."

Critical review

Bouteflika (Boutef comme on l'appelle) is reviewing his economic policies: he has become disillusioned with foreign investments in Algeria. After inviting mega companies such as the Egyptian Orascom, Boutef realized that these companies are not spending their revenues in Algeria. They are just pumping Algerian money out. "You have failed to pick the right policies", he told the Algerian people. He is eyeing his 3rd term as democratically elected president

Take a wild guess

Lebanon is this year the second ranking Arab country, after Saudi Arabia, in terms of Arab investments: it has attracted 23.8% of all Arab investments made in Arab countries (which were not very high to start , see this article). This amounts to nearly $3.5 billions. But where it gets really really interesting is here: 60% of this investment was in real estate i.e. land and houses. This is what has driven the prices of real estate so high that I have to move houses because I cannot afford to pay my rent. I have been living in my house for 12 years, and this year the landlords asked for a 30% increase. House prices have increased by more than 50% over the last year.

Agriculture got 1.4% of the total investments and industry 3%. Tourism got 13% and "services" the balance.

This is the Lebanese economy, as promised: an economy mostly based on selling capital assets, with some reliance on services, a little tourism, and total neglect for the productive sectors. The Arab investors mirror the government's economic priorities. Guess why?

Remainder of a Life

A friend of mine sent me this poem.

* * *

To life,
I say go slow,
Wait for me,
pour wine in two glasses: one for me,
and one for the one who will come without appointment,
then I'd take a nap between two dreams,
until the drunkenness has dried in my glass.

I have no role in what I was or who I would be
to the others, but I wouldn't ask who
would fill what's missing in it.
I'd sit until noon alive at my desk
see the trace of color in the words,
This is chance and chance has no name,
see how my life goes before me,
In the memory of us.

"Re-interpreted M. Darwish's 'Remainder of a Life' and his own words for this piece in memory."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Laqluq and `Aqura

My friend Philippe and I hiked around the region of Laqluq yesterday, in the Qada of Jubayl. We walked the summit zone, which, at 2.200m, overlooks the jurd (wilderness) of Aqura as well as the `Aqura plain. There are very few signs that other people walk these lands: the empty cartridge shells of the hunters stop way before the point where we started the walk. There were goat droppings though, because these lands are grazed by the goat herds of the Bedouins who, I was told, have been in the region for 300 years. They are transhumant and overwinter in Chekka, near the coast. The region is breathtakingly beautiful, way above the tree line, except for the occasional Juniper, the only tree that can survive at these altitudes. The photo above shows a general view, with the Bedouin encampment and the circular goats pen several hundred meters below.

The geology of the area is tormented: like most of Lebanon, it is sedimentary and mostly made out of various types of limestone. But the tectonic forces have squeezed the sedimentary layers into mountains several tens of millions of years ago, creating fantastically striated scenery.

The `Aqura plain is in fact a circular depression lying to the west-across the summit- of the Yammouneh depression, another elevated fertile plain created by the Yammouneh fault that runs from the border between Asia and Africa all the way into Turkey. `Aqura is where what are probably the best apples of Lebanon are grown, along with late summer vegetables irrigated from snow melt stored into large earthen ponds. This method of water storage is extremely effective but I haven't seen it implemented on a large scale except in `Aqura and in the High Metn, in the region of Kfarselwan.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

You're asking why?

"Here in the bone-dry desert, where desiccated donkey carcasses line the road, huge green fields suddenly materialize. Beans. Wheat. Sorghum. Melons. Peanuts. Pumpkins. Eggplant. It is all grown here, part of an ambitious government plan for Sudanese self-sufficiency, creating giant mechanized farms that rise out of the sand like mirages.

But how much of this bonanza is getting back to the hungry Sudanese, like the 2.5 million driven into camps in Darfur? And why is a country that exports so many of its own crops receiving more free food than anywhere else in the world, especially when the Sudanese government is blamed for creating the crisis in the first place?" (Thanks Leila and Yaz)

Why? Do you really want to know why? Try capitalism, wealth accumulation, worship of money, free trade: all values aggressively promoted by liberal economists, who find a very good platform in the NYT (remember the world is flat?). Only when it comes to Darfur do they wake up. Darfur is a humanitarian disaster and the Sudanese government bears a great part of the responsibility. But there are many other such disasters too (look at Somalia and the role of the Ethiopian forces). In Ethiopia itself (a US ally), a famine is unfolding. In Egypt, export-oriented, capital intensive organic farming destined for European markets occupies thousands of hectares while the poor battle and die for the daily bread. Read this sentence from the same NYT article:

"It was emblematic, he said, of the Sudanese government’s strategy to manipulate “national wealth and power to further enrich itself and its cronies, while the marginalized regions of the country suffer from terrible poverty.”"

I mean really, doesn't this also apply to Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and many, many others? This is what needs to be addressed, in Sudan as well as elsewhere.

I wont be able to blog for the next 2 days: I'm off on a hiking trip in northern Mount Lebanon.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Don't you just love development aid?

International development against Palestine: this article tells the US is now directing its "development aid" through a special Washington-based outfit, managed by a Palestinian contractor living in the US and known for his anti-anti occupation stance. Apparently the US does not trust the Palestinian authority. Neither do I.

Green is the new red

"Across central Washington's fruit bowl, farmers are buying vineyards, hoping to establish roots in the area and capitalize on the booming wine industry.

Authorities believe some of the buyers are living in Mexico and their vineyards are producing tens of thousands of illegal marijuana plants — a crop that could easily surpass grapes in value this year." (Thanks Leila)

Someone's just discovered what the Bekaa farmers have known for a looong time: Hash pays better than plonk.


"The toughest part of the West Bank just got a bit sweeter, with an influx of beehives, helping farmers cope with the decline in their economic situation...

The ICRC said it gave five beehives each to 74 West Bank families. " (Thanks Marcy and Rania)

Is that what the ICRC has been reduced to? 370 beehives, and this deserves an article? That's less than $5000 worth of aid. Symbolic development aid is a practical joke used to avoid addressing real issues.

In Memoriam

Remainder of a Life
by Mahmoud Darwish

If I were told:
By evening you will die,
so what will you do until then?
I would look at my wristwatch,
I’d drink a glass of juice,
bite an apple,
contemplate at length an ant that has found its food,
then look at my wristwatch.
There’d be time left to shave my beard
and dive in a bath, obsess:
“There must be an adornment for writing,
so let it be a blue garment.”
I’d sit until noon alive at my desk
but wouldn’t see the trace of color in the words,
white, white, white . . .
I’d prepare my last lunch,
pour wine in two glasses: one for me
and one for the one who will come without appointment,
then I’d take a nap between two dreams.
But my snoring would wake me . . .
so I’d look at my wristwatch:
and there’d be time left for reading.
I’d read a chapter in Dante and half of a mu’allaqah
and see how my life goes from me
to the others, but I wouldn’t ask who
would fill what’s missing in it.
That’s it, then?
That’s it, that’s it.
Then what?
Then I’d comb my hair and throw away the poem . . .
this poem, in the trash,
and put on the latest fashion in Italian shirts,
parade myself in an entourage of Spanish violins,
and walk to the grave!

Translated, from the Arabic, by Fady Joudah.)

وإن قيل لي ثانيةً: ستموت اليوم،
فماذا تفعل؟ لن أَحتاج الى مهلة للرد:
إذا غلبني الوَسَنُ نمتُ. وإذا كنتُ
ظمآنَ شربتُ. وإذا كنتُ أكتب، فقد
يعجبني ما أكتب وأتجاهل السؤال. وإذا
كنت أتناول طعام الغداء، أضفتُ إلى
شريحة اللحم المشويّة قليلاً من الخردل
والفلفل. وإذا كنتُ أُحلق، فقد أجرح
شحمة أذني. وإذا كنتُ أقبِّل صديقتي،
التهمتُ شفتيها كحبة تين. وإذا كنت
أقرأ قفزت عن بعض الصفحات. وإذا
كنتُ أقشِّر البصل ذرفتُ بعض الدموع.
وإذا كنتُ أمشي واصلتُ المشي بإيقاع
أبطأ. وإذا كنتُ موجوداً، كما أنا الآن،
فلن أفكِّر بالعدم. وإذا لم أكن موجوداً،
فلن يعنيني الأمر. وإذا كنتُ أستمع الى
موسيقى موزارت، اقتربتُ من حيِّز
الملائكة. وإذا كنتُ نائماً بقيتُ نائماً
وحالماً وهائماً بالغاردينيا. وإذا كنتُ
أضحك اختصرتُ ضحكتي الى النصف احتراماً
للخبر. فماذا بوسعي أن أفعل؟ ماذا
بوسعي أن أفعل غير ذلك، حتى لو
كنتُ أشجع من أحمق، وأقوى من

(من «أثر الفراشة» ــــ «دار الريّس»، بيروت 2008)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Stop press. Iraq to get $300 millions in loans to rebuild its agricultural sector. The money will be entrusted to the United Nations. So there it is: select an oil-rich food producing nation, destroy its infrastructure, rob it, then lend it money to rebuild itself, but entrust the money to the most incompetent and inefficient party you can find, to make sure the country will never stand up again. Meanwhile, keep stealing its oil and its money and its riches. Sounds like a good plan.

Crashing the party

"Reading through the recent food-politics bookshelf, it's too easy to take away an "industrial food bad, local food good" attitude. But how many modern-day locavores would readily embrace the life of, say, a 19th-century prairie farmer, tending to livestock, grain crops, and a vegetable patch without electricity or machine power? Shopping at farmers markets and joining CSAs -- activities I wholeheartedly support -- present a necessary challenge to a global food system gone mad, but are unlikely to prove sufficient for transforming it. To mount a real challenge, we'll need a clear-eyed grounding in the history and economics of food production, in addition to locavore zeal. And that's were Roberts makes an important contribution.
But Robert's historical frame drives home a key point that his predecessors didn't quite nail down: In many ways, modern food production is an attractive response to centuries of chronic food insecurity. Who wants to spend nearly all of one's income on food, and rely on sugared tea as a key source of calories, as did the 19th-century British working class? Who wants to spend hours a day preparing food as peasant women did, not by choice but for survival? By the dawn of the 20th century, people quite understandably longed for food security and freedom from drudgery. The modern food system -- for all of the new problems it created -- largely met those desires, at least in the United States and Europe. The locavore movement will eventually have to confront them head on."

Very true, realistic and pragmatic. A review of Paul Robert's important book: The End of Food.

Friday, August 8, 2008

United we stand...

"People often say when Africans argue for an integrated national African economy, they are self-indulgent entertaining nothing but a futile illusion. They claim that to argue that Africa must unite economically, ‘knowledge-ically’, politically, and ’society-ically’ is to day-dream and to give in to fantasy. They assert that Africa does not exist in anything, form or shape other than as a geographical accident.

Of course, they would hardly say this of the USA, for example, where 'the tribes of the whole world’, and people have united under one constitution and national flag...

It is no exaggeration to state that African political and economic arrangements today are characterized by pervasive internal and schizophrenic disconnections, mismatches, fragmentations and external dependence. Nearly 70 % of Africa’s overall population exist in subsistence and primary resource and agrarian condition. Where a region has the overwhelming portion of its production as agricultural, that region invariably remains vulnerable even in being able to feed itself.
Africa’s current pattern of insertion in the world economy comes at the cost of fragmenting the African economic, knowledge and political space. " (Thanks Marcy)

And while we're on the topic, here's the latest on Arab integration: a new UN-ESCWA study reports that we're losing ground to Globalization. The Arab World has attracted in 2006 $62 billions in investments, of which only $4.8 billions were from other Arab countries.

Planting away

The UAE are investing heavily in food production (destined towards the UAE) in Asia and in Africa, and have started buying land in Sudan, Egypt, India and Pakistan: 900,000 feddans in Sudan with 40,000 of them planted with corn and wheat.

For complaints write to: IMF, Washington

Do you want to know what he economic policy of the new government is? See the IMF says the new Lebanese Minister of Finance.


The organization of Lebanese farmers complains about the new ministerial statement.
250 new restaurants in Beirut in the past 2 years, a total investment of $88 millions.


The new issue of Badael in Al-Akhbar: My editorial on the Resistance and poverty. Usama al Khalidi writes on human nutrition . A new series: "The ABC of Food", weekly articles on food and farming, organized in alphabetical order. I wrote this week about The Food Crisis ('azamat al giza', which starts with an aleph).

Zebra chip

"POTATO crisps—or chips, to those ignorant of the pleasures of a bag of real chips, with lashings of salt and vinegar, after a night in the pub—are the world’s most-nibbled snacks. But that may change if a bizarre, new disease becomes widespread. “Zebra chip”, as this disease is known, causes crisps to develop stripes, and growers and crisp-makers alike are worried. The pattern renders chipping potatoes unsaleable and some farmers have lost much of their crop as a result." (Thanks Rania)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pomegranate potential

"After a handful of farmers toyed with the idea of exporting pomegranates to Europe and Middle East last year, this season a significant number of them are exploring the overseas market.

Farmers from Pune, Sangli and Solapur districts are the ones who initiated pomegranate farming, a shift from the conventional crop pattern. Last year, 12 farmers had obtained the ‘global gap’ certificate while this year 54 have got it and there are more in the pipeline.

Pomegranate is apparently turning out to be the second most popular export fruit after mango. At present, Maharashtra has two export processing centres at Indapur and Baramati, both in Pune district. The export season began in July and will last till September and so far 72 tonnes of the fruit has been dispatched to middle east and Europe. Another container from Indapur would be sent in the next week, said Santosh Patil, deputy general manager of Maharashtra State Agriculture Marketing Board (MSAMB).

“Farmers are getting rates ranging from Rs 35 to Rs 52 per kg. The next season is from November to March when farmers are likely to get up to Rs 75 per kg. Most of the farmers use ‘Bhagva’ variety of pomegranate,” Patil said.

The state bears 50 per cent of the expenditure in getting the export certificate. The government wants to promote more and more farmers venture into such businesses, hence it is offering such benefits."

From The Times of India. Rs 50 is equal to $ 1.2 or 1,800 LBP. And think about it: minimal post harvest losses as the product can be stored and shipped more easily than apples or stone fruits

Meat is dead

"But there's also a need to break the silence around the role of American eating habits in global warming and global hunger. Reducing our addiction to meat may not be popular, but we need to view our love affair with burgers and barbecue in the same frame as gas-guzzling SUVs." (Thanks Marcy)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Gaza update

"Here's a brief snapshot of Gaza. It measures 360 square kilometers in area or about half the size of Chicago for its 1.5 million residents - in the world's largest and most congested open-air prison. Over 40% of them live in eight densely overcrowded refugee camps, and in the best of times, their conditions are inadequate, adverse and sometimes grim. Under siege, they're intolerable."

Recent update by Stephen Lendman

Organic Uighurs

"Because Chinese cotton is protected, it needs to sell overseas as a premium product, which adds to the importance of certification according to organic and decent workplace standards. The project provides technical assistance for conversion to organic production, workplace certification and ethical trading. It also offers the farmers a market analysis. In the meantime the project is seeking to show the workers that it can deliver for them by working immediately on compliance with decent workplace standards. It is obtaining social insurance for farm workers and is making basic improvements such as installing running water and toilets, and providing daycare assistance for women who would otherwise bring their infant children to work with them in the fields."


The great potato debacle: 8000 ha of potato crops being currently harvested in the north, central and west Biqa`, at a loss of $2,500 per ha. Large traders are buying cheap and stocking for the Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, when food consumption increases dramatically (don't ask how fasting increases food consumption, please). In the West Biqa`, however, Sunni leader Saad Hariri has promised the Sunni constituency a compensation of $2,500 per ha for potato farmers. Shi`a and Christian farmers are waiting for a rich benefactor to follow suit. Lebanon has found in its sectarian system the perfect alternative to state subsidies. Pity parliamentary elections only come once every 4 years.

Confused and corrupt

From M. Zbib in Al Akhbar: Lebanon's economy is floated by remittances from migrant workers ($5.5 billions in 2007). This may be true, and Lebanon is in the "club" of the countries that receive the largest remittances in relation to their economy along with Tajikistan and Honduras, BUT:

1. Lebanon is also one of the countries from which remittances are most sent ($4.1 billions in 2007). here it is in the same club as many European nations.

2. A recent IMF study showed that the larger the share of remittances in the national economy the more the incidence of state corruption and the higher the chances of state failures.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

On comparative advantages and export farming: Gaza

During the short period of precarious quiet in Gaza and the West Bank, farmers in these 2 regions of Palestine rode the market wave. They identified their comparative advantage and they produced export crops destined for foreign markets. Their main comparative advantages are similar to those of ex-colonies such as Egypt, Kenya and many other African countries, where export crops are being promoted as a road to growth. These consist essentially of: 1. cheap labor due to poverty, 2. non-existent labor regulations i.e. the ability to exploit the poorest; 3. the absence of control over ground water use i.e. unsustainable use of precious fresh water and 4. lacking environmental and public health regulations and of limits on the use of agrochemicals. Encouraged by international development organizations and by private capital, Gaza farmers produced strawberries and cut flowers destined for export to Israeli and from there probably re-export to European markets. Meanwhile, food and agricultural inputs were imported from Israel.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a certain level of trade in food and agricultural products. Not all countries can reach self sufficiency, and the world's economy is, whether we like it or not, still largely based on exchange. But the problem with a trade-based agricultural sector is that nations become totally dependent on the kindness of the market for imports as well as for exports. The market may be invisible, but it is not kind. In the Middle East and in countries in conflict in general, this is compounded by the power relations that can be exerted by the local bullies over those who are weaker. The Israeli blockade on Lebanon after the 2006 aggression (and everybody seem to have forgotten that there was an effective blockade), is an example. The closure of the Syrian borders, which is always a looming threat and which was used on Lebanon by Damascus during the Nahr el Bared crisis in May 2007 is another one.

So, while it makes sense to seek and obtain larger profits from specializing and exporting farm products, this process, once analyzed, shows its flaws: the "comparative advantage" is often unfair or unsustainable, and in any case unacceptable; and the process increases the vulnerability of the farm sector. The hardest hit are, as usual, the capital-poor and the wage laborers.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has released in March 2008 a very informative (if sad) report about the impact of the Israeli border closure on the strawberry and cut flowers export from Gaza. (Thanks Marcy for forwarding)
"Another farmer, Nathir Rajab El-Attar, has been a strawberry farmer for 12 years. He owns a 15-dunum strawberry farm in Beit Lahia. His losses for last season only amount to about 150,000 NIS due to the closure of crossing and ban on exports. He informed PCHR’s fieldworker, “The Israeli government is waging war against the Palestinian economy. The aim of the siege is to destroy what remains of the Palestinian agricultural sector in order to increase the dependence of the Gaza Strip on Israeli products.” He added, “The permission to allow the export of limited quantities of strawberries was a smoke screen. At best, we exported less than 9% of our produce. And part of this allowed export expired at the Karm Abu Salem Crossing due to the prolonged wait of the produce directly under the sun … Our lives have been poisoned. We farm the land; then we destroy the crop or sell it dirt cheap. I do not know if I will farm my land again. I own 50 dunums of land planted with potatoes. Most probably, I won’t be able to spray it with insecticides that are not available. Insects and disease will, undoubtedly, destroy the crop.”

In the absence of planning and strategic thinking (and this is NOT expected from individuals, this is a state's duty) this is the situation that has developed: Gaza is hungry as it became dependent on Israeli food imports, now blocked. Cut flowers produced in Gaza cannot be eaten, and strawberries won't do either. Intensive farming has become the norm, which also allows control over agricultural inputs. Farmers and farm workers are desperate and joining the ranks of the unemployed.


"Israeli produce marketing company Otzar Ha'aretz (treasure of the earth) announced on Monday that it will not market produce grown by Arab farmers, and will from now on only sell only Jewish-grown products.

The company, which has been marketing fruits and vegetables to the ultra-Orthodox community during the shmita (sabbatical) year, announced that it will continue to operate once the year is over in effort to "support Jewish agriculture in Israel."" (Thanks Marcy)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Transnational corporations

They've been tried and indicted by the Permanent Peoples Tribunal:

"In total the Tribunal considered 21 cases of transnational companies from 12 sectors (mining, oil, the logging and pharmaceutical industries, telecommunications, agro-foods, the iron and steel industry, electricity, water, agro-chemicals, banking and financial instruments, and genetically modified seeds) operating in Latin American countries. These companies seem to behave according to similar patterns and conducts that have a significantly negative impact, particularly in areas such as:

  1. Labour relations: through the casualisation and exploitation of labour, the criminalization of social protest, characterised by violent repression that has reached the extreme of causing numerous violations of the individual's right to life and liberty, as well as criminal charges ranging from crimes of association to terrorism. The persecution of trades unions with unjust mass dismissals was made particularly evident in the case of the agro-foods company CAMPOSOL, through actions that constitute regular practice, including the mass dismissal in December 2007 of 385 workers, 80 per cent of whom were unionised.

  2. The Environment: particularly, although not exclusively, the mining and oil industries, that continue to contaminate water supplies, and cause soil degradation, deforestation and in some cases even desertification, with an enormous and irreversible impact on biodiversity in many of the regions in which they operate. An emblematic case is that of the Mining Company MAJAZ, which, if it continues to expand, would affect the Amazon Basin. Many cases have also dramatically documented the impact of environmental crimes on food security, access to water, and forced displacement from living spaces. Here we must cite THYSSEN KRUPP, paradigm of the model of investment that pollutes and excludes, made possible thanks to the indifference and absence of the Brazilian State.

  3. Transgenic seeds: the case of SYNGENTA, presented to the PPT by Via Campesina and Terra de Direitos, clearly documents how the 'old' mechanisms of massive contamination, violent repression by paramilitary forces, the assassination of workers, and the absence and even complicity of the State, and the criminalization of opponents, remain unchanged in the mechanisms that are presented as the 'future'.

  4. People's health: the PPT has received convincing evidence of direct damage caused by contamination of aquifers and poisoning by insecticides. Two cases are particularly exemplary: a) the poisoning of 44 children from the Tauccamarca community by the German company BAYER's Paration, and the resulting deaths of 24 indigenous children; b) the poisoning caused by the pesticide Nemagon, widely distributed by the SHELL OIL COMPANY, in open violation of market regulations, particularly in Honduras and Nicaragua, with dramatic consequences including illness and deaths (which are yet to be adequately recognised, at least in terms of financial compensation). The Tribunal also received accusations against ROCHE for their corporate conduct in Brazil. Witnesses denounced the violation of citizens' rights to health and access to generic pharmaceuticals resulting from the application of intellectual property rights by transnationals. They also highlighted how the conduct of ROCHE is attacking (using judicial actions, among others) the sustainability of the programme for universal access to medical treatment in Brazil and the rights recognised in the country's federal Constitution.

  5. Corruption, which has become an almost common mode of operation in all these processes, in which the different actors are implicated through the granting of concessions to explore and exploit, and the privatisations imposed as a requirement of agreements with other countries or by the international financial organisms. Particularly clear examples can be found in the cases of UNIÓN FENOSA, in their process of privatization of energy distribution in Nicaragua, and of the Swedish construction company SKANSKA, accused of being involved in acts of corruption and the payment of surcharges in Peru, in the plan to widen the Camisea Gas Pipeline.

  6. The Financial System: the general mechanisms and specific cases relating to this sector, which has an increasingly significant impact on the global economic situation, have been documented through the analysis of three cases, of which one in particular (that of HSBC) has given the PPT a clear view of the complexity of the conflicts of interests between private and public actors, individuals and collectives, that have been present over long periods in the history of a country such as Peru. It is clear that processes of this kind affect democracy and the sovereignty of States: those responsible for government become the accomplices of the private actors, be they national or international, and in this way, they tacitly renounce their duty to apply the internal legislation that ought to protect their inhabitants. When the opposite is the case, and national governments decide to demand their own economic sovereignty and public control of strategic sectors, the transnational companies have other options ways to protect their own interests. "

Speaking freely

Neoliberalism, or market-led globalisation, predominates today. Since it became institutionalised during the Reagan-Thatcher era in the 1980s, the gap between poor and rich has increased, both within countries as well as between the North and South.

Institutions such as International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have forced structural adjustment measures on poor countries, forcing market openings that have allowed for the extraction of their resources for the benefit or northern banks and governments.

As a result of this extraction of wealth and resources, these countries have been re-colonised through debt. The debt of the African countries, so onerous upon them, amounts to a small proportion of the wealth of the north. It could be cancelled tomorrow, but that would mean losing the leverage over those countries that can be used to pressure them to vote the right way at the UN, or privatise key sectors of their economies.

2.The debt boomerang
5.Western ideas
6.Understanding international relations

Production: Cinema Libre Studio
50 min

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Land and the landless

HAve you noticed how the government of most countries skillfully avoids addressing land tenure issues? It is as if land and access to it is not a limiting factor in land-labor-capital triad. Here are some ideas:

In order for the original equitable objectives of India's land reform legislation to be achieved, the authors call for a fresh approach to land legislation which involves selected revision to existing legislation and adoption of new methods of increasing land access. The authors suggest the following measures as part of this approach:
  • revitalise tenancy reform by (1) solidifying the gains of past tenancy reform by converting protected tenants into owners; and (2) selectively liberalising excessive tenancy regulation and restrictions
  • assist beneficiaries of ceiling legislation in realising the benefits by removing obstacles to land distribution and relaxing moratoriums on the transfer of ceiling-surplus land
  • consider adopting the decentralised Indira Kranthi Patham (formerly Velugu) project approach in Andhra Pradesh as a model for solidifying the gains of past wasteland allocation and otherwise providing secure land rights to the poor
  • explore using land purchase and existing government land to create new colonies of one-tenth acre house-and-garden plots for distribution to landless labourers

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Number 10 Drowning Street

According to "Foreign Policy" says this Akhbar article, Lebanon is number 10 from the bottom on the list of failed states. The list includes (in reverse order) Soomalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Tchad, Iraq, Congo, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Centre Afrique, Guinea, Bengladesh, North Korea, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Indonesia. The countries were ranked on the basis of indicators reflecting demographic pressure, unbalanced development, economy, public services, external interference.

The Ministerial statement: who are we resisting?

The new Lebanese government of "national unity", basically a patchwork of all the sectarian parties of the country, has finally delivered its ministerial statement (somehow the French verb "accoucher" would have rung better, so laborious was the process). Those who are (only) interested in the right of the resistance to defend Lebanon will be thrilled: the statement makes this right very clear. This was the main (and I believe the only) bone of contention between all the parties, and the opposition can now congratulate itself for having imposed its might and its will.

This resolves the Hizbullah's weapons issues, for the time being at least.

But I looked at other passages of the Statement. I found these paragraphs particularly interesting (my rapid translation, my notes in italics):

"To commit to the policy of economic reform that was presented by Lebanon to the Paris-3 donors conference and to work towards its implementation in the form of policies and sectoral reforms taking into consideration the economic as well as the financial transformation that have taken place on the local and international scenes..."

The Paris-3 plan was drafted by World Bank and IMF consultants and is widely recognized to be a neo-liberal profession of faith which also doubles up as an official begging manifesto.
"The adoption of effective policies for balanced and sustainable development and the implementation of social policies that protect the socially marginalized groups and to fight poverty, ignorance and illness."

General statement about social agendas. Note the use of the very derogatory term "ignorance" الجهل and the poor use of "illness" to reflect health issues. Health, as has been understood a loooong time ago is NOT the absence of illness. This only reflects how ill prepared and ill informed and ill advised (a lot of illness here) the members of the government are.

"To work with the private sector on building a modern economy centered on productive sectors which are adaptable to the international technological and economic evolution, and which are competitive."

How could a Lebanese ministerial statement ever see the light without a clear mention of the private sector and of its role in the economy? The private sector IS the government...
"Continue to cooperate with the IMF in its plan for post conflict rapid assistance."
Read: Our economic reform policy will be designed by the IMF, strong of its successes in other poor countries.

"Continue the dialog with the international community and the international organizations and the friendly nations in order to obtain continuous support for Lebanon and its economy."
Does this mean Hizbullah can continue to get $ millions from Iran to implement its social and not-so-social program? Does it mean that March 14 can still get Saudi and US $ millions in order to strengthen its (hopeless) position? Or is this only a reinforcement of the mendicity act of Paris-3?
"To work to consolidate the cooperation of Lebanon with the European Union and to deepen the economic integration and strengthen the political and cultural links, in the context of the Barcelona agreement and the EU partnership through effective participation in the Barcelona-Mediterranean Partnership Agreement."
Ahhhh Barcelona, its barrios, its Gaudi, its Mediterranean, its normalization...

"The government will also work to accelerate the process of Lebanon's joining the WTO and to apply the laws protecting intellectual property and fighting piracy."
At least this bit is clear: no more nebulous statements like "balanced and sustainable development". While the Developing nations (rightly) fail to agree on the Doha round, and when the WTO looks more than ever like a tool to preserve the privileges of the rich and colonial, here's the Lebanese government clearly stating its allegiance and its concern for the poor.

So in summary, the Opposition fought for a sentence giving "the Lebanese people the right to its resistance" while endorsing Lebanon's ultra-liberal identity. This formalizes Lebanon's membership of the league of failed states where a few rich people dominate and manipulate a huge number of impoverished citizen in order to achieve their economic and political ambitions. Wait, I think I've just defined "sectarian party".