Tuesday, September 30, 2008


"President Yoweri Museveni initiated talks with Egyptian officials over the possibility of growing wheat and corn for the north African state in Uganda but no firm offer of land was made, Egypt and State House sources have separately said.

In an exclusive interview with Daily Monitor on Friday Egyptian Ambassador Reda Abd el Rahman Bebars denied claims attributed to Cairo’s Agriculture minister that Uganda had offered over 2 million acres of land to his country, insisting that no figures were agreed upon."

Elsewhere in Egypt:

“The regime is still pursuing an aggressive economic neoliberal capitalist approach but still upholds an absolute absence of the necessary political liberalization and democratization that provides for the necessary checks and balances, transparency and accountability.”

Looking forward to hearing more about this very promising African partnership.


"However, it is likely that one grape stands out as a likely candidate: the Kish Mish, also known as Pusa seedless, Cekirdecsis, Sultanina, Wu he hei and dozens of other synonyms for the grape we know as good old Thompson seedless, a grape we use mainly as raisins or for eating fresh. As it is a variety of Middle Eastern origins, it is likely that some portion of the millions of acres planted in the Middle East and surrounding areas (the “stans”, north Africa, Iran, Iraq, Greece,Turkey, China, etc.) are planted to Thompson."

Also called Qashlamish over here. Used for raisins.

Aid perspective

"Sadly this is part of a pattern. Luxembourg donates more than any Arab government to UNRWA's regular budget, while Norway gives more to the same budget annually than all Arab governments combined."

Leila Shahid gives perspective to Arab aid to Palestinians. Arab rulers: always ready to fund sectarian militias or internal power struggles.

So humane

"The officials said Israel has since begun switching to the M85 cluster bomb made by Israel Military Industries' (IMI), which says its weapon includes a self-destruct fuse designed to blow up unexploded ordnance."

This is going to make my world so much safer.

Kill the people-destroy the land

"The Israeli governmental agencies did not openly state that the wastewater is coming from Israeli settlements, but ARIJ did and the fact has already been documented by several other sources, including by the naked eye that can see sewage flowing out of some settlements and into neighboring Palestinian towns and agricultural lands. The environmental threat posed by Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is as brutal as the physical threat posed by the settlers themselves to the land and population.

The Institute points out that the West Bank, save for the colonized blocks, is being transformed into a garbage dump while a significant degradation of soil quality and depletion of natural resources are both noted." (Thanks Marcy)


Russia's bumper wheat harvest has allowed it to open a new front in the re-emerging Cold War as it uses food to expand its influence in the Middle East and Africa.

"Now thanks to rising world food prices and a new law allowing foreigners to own land, Russia is once again exporting. With the proximity of Black Sea ports to wheat-deficient Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Russian wheat has a competitive edge.

Experts believe that Russia has huge potential for growth – millions of acres of farmland lie fallow and vast expanses of fertile land have never been farmed at all.

“Russia is replacing the EU as a supplier in North Africa and also in parts of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa,” said Mr Abbassian. “This was not expected in such a short space of time.”" (Thanks Rania)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Are you kidding me?

"Other indicators show the Egyptian economy is performing well. Reforms have helped push the overall growth rate above 7% and exports and foreign investment have soared.

However benefits are not yet trickling down to the poor." (Thanks Rania and Karin)

BBC article on the food crisis in Ramadan in Egypt.

Israeli settlers kill Yahya

"Nablus - Ma'an - Israeli settlers executed an 18-year-old shepherd boy in the fields outside Aqraba, a town in the Nablus district of the northern West Bank.

Village municipal affairs representative Ghassan Douglas identified the young man as Yahya Atta Rayahin Bani Minnah. Douglas said that a gang of Israeli settlers from Itamar settlement shot the boy at least 20 times at close range.

Yahya did not return home with his sheep for the fast-breaking meal, Iftar. His family alerted the neighbors and the whole village organized a search party to look for the missing boy.

His body was found in fields between the illegal Israeli settlement of Itamar and the villages of Aqraba and Awarta.

According to Douglas, eyewitnesses reported seeing a white vehicle driven by Israeli settlers stop, chase down the boy and shot him directly." (Thanks Marcy)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Local food and sustainable farming reaches academia

I have not blogged properly in ages. There are many reasons for that: we've moved houses and I'm still not fully settled. I'm also finishing my book on traditional Lebanese foods which will be launched in Terra Madre, the meeting of the world food communities, organized by Slow Food in Turin, Italy from 22-27 October. I'm trying to meet the printers deadlines, and the book still needs work. But most importantly, I have taken on a new job, kind of a promotion, but this one comes with a tall order: to breathe life into the research center cum farm cum education center located in the Bekaa. I now live there 2-3 days a week. The new mission of the center will be: "Advancing Research, Enabling Communities". It will act like a multifunctional center addressing issues of special relevance to the drylands, such as sustainable farming, hands-on education, applied and adaptive research, community development, drylandscaping, and drylands biodiversity. The community development component is of special importance: the Land and People program, which has been so successful in South Lebanon after the 2006 war, will be relocated there, while keeping the South Lebanon program operational. We will organize continuing education programs for neighboring community, and we are looking towards a partnership with a responsible tourism operator to use the facilities as a base for activities in the regions. I am also transforming the restaurant (typical campus cafeteria) into a traditional Bekaa food place: last week I had them cook a fabulous pumpkin kibbeh with walnuts and raisins, and a lentils-based dish called "rashta". Much better than the fat-soaked lasagna they usually serve. Also, all the ingredients were produced within a 50 km radius.

We're starting the responsible tourism activities on October 11, with a hike and a trip organized by Cyclamen, a local tour operator.

Meanwhile, D., for encouragement no doubt, sent me these 2 links from the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is to academia what The Wall Street Journal is to whatever is left from Wall Street.

"She and some of her colleagues at Emory are trying to change farming and food in the state, one meal at a time. Community gardens and farmers' markets have been set up on the campus to get people talking about seasonal food and regional farming. But the centerpiece of the university's sustainable-foods program is an ambitious — some might say unachievable — goal: by 2015, to have 75 percent of the 25,000 meals served each day at Emory feature regional or sustainable sources of food."

"A $2.5-million gift to Bates College will give its students plenty of food for thought this year. The private college, in Lewiston, Me., plans to use the money to spur a yearlong examination of how Americans get their food and the social and economic implications of the food-distribution system.

The donation, given anonymously by an alumnus, established an endowment to buy and serve more local, organic, and natural food. The donor gave Bates the gift (plus another $2.5-million for unrestricted use) about two years ago, but the college waited until this month to announce it. Along with the opening of a sustainable dining facility last spring, the gift is being used to start the campuswide exploration, called "Nourishing Body and Mind: Bates Contemplates Food.""

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ten percent

It's the same everywhere: In South Lebanon, 10% of the subsidized tobacco growers control 70% of the tobacco growing licenses. And the program was created to help the small, poor producer...


In Al Akhbar: My editorial on agricultural labor. Rana Hayek on meat and meat subsititutes and Mohammad Muhsin on industrial Mouneh...

Stealing Ethiopia's birthright

"To combat this destitution, the Ethiopian government decided in early 2005 to pursue an innovative strategy: it wanted to trademark, or brand, the names Harar/Harrar, Sidamo, and Yirgacheffe to command a greater share of the prices that its best coffees fetched at the retail end in the global north. With trademarks, the country could charge distributors a licensing fee for their use. The European Union, Japan, and Canada all approved this trademark scheme. But when the Ethiopian intellectual property office approached the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to register Sidamo, they were surprised to discover that something called Shirkina Sun-Dried Sidamo was already in the pipeline. Starbucks had gotten there ahead of Ethiopia, and the patent office refused to consider another trademark that included Sidamo." (Thanks Marcy)

Read this long article, it is fascinating

Growing power

“I am a farmer first, and I love to grow food for people,” Mr. Allen said. “But it’s also about growing power. We grow relationships first; otherwise, nothing else makes sense.

“The movement I am part of is growing food and justice, and to make sure that everyone in the world has access to healthy food.” (Thanks D.)

The scam: market-based environmental solutions

"Yet wind farms off the coast of Scotland are not the same as wind farms in Maharastra, India – where large-scale renewable investments have already resulted in the appropriation of common land used for farming, without even providing local residents with electricity. Counting investment in such projects towards domestic targets is another form of offsetting – making the global South pay for over-consumption in the North."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Water privatisation is good...euh..bad...euh...good

"At Water Week in Washington in May, Bank vice president Kathy Sierra asserted that privatisation was not "the only answer"-- there was the full spectrum of public-private mix of investments instead. Only a few days earlier, a senior World Bank official, Shekhar Shah, reported in New Delhi how the Bank had "learned the hard way" that it was not correct to leave it to the private sector.

Currently the IFC's focus is on creating the right conditions for private investors, including a $100 million fund, called IFC Infraventures, to "provide risk capital for early stage development of infrastructure projects in the poorest countries, but also to encourage more public-private partnerships." Thunell also claimed: "The debate is shifting. Instead of 'should the private sector be involved in water?' the question is 'how can we work together for sensible and fair solutions?'"

A fair solution has still not been reached in Tanzania, where the Bank-supported privatisation of water services resulted in sharply higher water prices, little improvement in supply and the eventual termination of the contract with UK-based multinational Biwater in 2005."

Aid politics

"Though North Koreans are already reported to be dying of hunger, a vast famine remains improbable. Localities have learnt not to depend on the central government for food, and this time appear better prepared. Meanwhile, the emergence of informal markets since the last famine underlines how much better North Koreans’ coping mechanisms have become. Still, the outside world again faces the uncomfortable problem of rewarding a regime’s bad behaviour with aid. That is the price of caring more for North Koreans’ welfare than their government does."

Good deal

"According to the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, the extent of trade between Israel and Jordan during the period of January until July 2008, including both export and import, was $247 million. This marked an increase of 59 percent compared to the same period last year.

Exports from Jordan amounted to $51 million from January to July 2008, which is 92% more than for the same period last year."

So basically, Jordan imports from Israel 4 times more than it exports to it. That's a really good deal.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Land reforms repackaged: great news

"The change of land tenure has created five myths, the paper noted: Land reform has been a total failure; the beneficiaries of land reform has largely been political cronies; there is no investment in the new resettlements; agriculture is in complete ruins and the rural economy has collapsed.

Despite low capital investment, small-holder farmers have done "reasonably well, particularly in wetter parts of the province. Households have cleared land, planted crops and invested in new assets, many hiring in labour from nearby communal land."

A2 schemes, or small-scale commercial farms, have felt the constraints of the economic meltdown, but there were "notable exceptions" where new farming enterprises have emerged "against all the odds".

While not denying that political patronage was at play in the allocation of "high value" farms close to the capital, Harare, 60 percent of beneficiaries in Masvingo were "ordinary farmers" originating from nearby communal lands.

"This was not a rich, politically-connected elite but poor, rural people in need of land and keen to finally gain the fruits of independence," the report said. "

Twice as much

"Up to 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank produce an estimated 56 million cubic metres of sewage per year, compared with 17.5 million by the 400,000 settlers – almost double the volume of sewage per head that Palestinians produce.

Human rights groups have warned about unfair water distribution in the West Bank, saying the existing policy favoured the settlers over the Palestinians.

The report was the second by the Israeli authorities on stream monitoring, but, said experts, was far more comprehensive than the one released last year.

The main problem was a lack of infrastructure for treating sewage in the West Bank, the report found.

Palestinians have long complained that the options presented to them by the Israelis for building treatment plants would tie Palestinian cities and villages to the settlements. " (Thanks Marcy)

A diet dies

"A generation ago, the typical diet in all Mediterranean countries complied with nutritional recommendations by the World Health Organization that less than 10 percent of calories come from saturated fats and that less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol be consumed per day.

Today, the typical diet in all of the countries exceeds those limits significantly, Dr. Schmidhuber said. In Greece, average daily cholesterol consumption has risen to 400 milligrams from 190 in 1963. Germany’s is similar. In Portugal, consumption went to 460 milligrams from 155.

In 2002, a British study found that 31 percent to 34 percent of 12-year-olds in Greece were overweight — a 212 percent increase since 1982 — and “it has gotten worse, much worse, since then,” Dr. Stagourakis said. One-quarter of all children on Crete have cholesterol problems, he said, and seeing children with diabetes and high blood pressure is no longer uncommon.

Unlike in the United States, where obesity is more pronounced in adults than in children, in the Mediterranean region the rise in weight problems has been more common among the young. Parents’ taste buds still tend to hew to a more traditional diet." (Thanks Toufic)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Yes but does it work?

"Cru Investment Management, the UK-based $800 million absolute return investment company, yesterday announced targeting the region and unveiled its plans to offer its new Africa Agriculture Fund in the Middle East early next year.

This fund will invest in commercial agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the aim of helping to alleviate poverty in the region, while not compromising returns for investors.

Cru, which has significant exposure in commercial agriculture in Malawi with over 2,500 hectares of land under its own control and another 4,000 hectares in outgrower schemes, said its Fund would offer investors a unique opportunity to be part of a philanthropic gesture of helping the vulnerable communities of Africa ravaged by poverty as well as earn excellent ROI in the range of 30 to 40 per cent per annum."

I'm dying to see how this works.


"World Vision and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) celebrated on Friday the achievements of a three-year project that helped hundreds of Lebanon's farmers by growing organic agriculture in Lebanon. "We are proud for having created, and not just enhanced, the organic agriculture sector in Lebanon, which has positive impact on the environment, the economy and the health of the consumer," said project manager Nabil Maalouf."

AUB's Healthy Basket program was operating and certified way before the World Vision program. USAID funded Healthy Basket too, but with less than 20 times what it gave World Vision. Healthy Basket is doing very well, thank you.

The end of the end of history

"Nevertheless, developing countries have been falling over each other to establish export zones and subsidize assembly operations of multinational enterprises. The lesson is clear: export-led growth is the way to go.

But for how long? While reading the economic tea leaves is always risky, there are signs that we are at the cusp of a transition to a new regime in which the rules of the game will not be nearly as accommodating for export-led strategies.

The most immediate threat is the slowdown in the advanced economies. Europe and the United States are both entering recession, and fears are mounting that the financial meltdown accompanying the sub-prime mortgage debacle has not worked itself out. All this is happening at a time when inflationary pressures hamper the usual monetary and fiscal remedies. The European Central Bank, tightly focused on price stability, has been raising interest rates, and the US Federal Reserve may soon follow suit. So the advanced economies will suffer for a while, with obvious implications for the demand for exports from emerging markets." (Thanks Rania)

They even fear our cows

"Israeli forces confiscated a herd of cows in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley yesterday under the pretext that that they were near a military camp.

Resident Zamil Hijaj commented that the “occupation authorities exceeded all reasonable limits by arresting cows.” He added that Israeli forces have pursued the policy of stealing Palestinian farm animals in the area since 1991."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Israel invents water apartheid

"Israeli officials say Palestinians aren’t the only ones facing water shortages. Underscoring its concerns, Israel’s government has launched a public campaign to discourage residents and businesses from wasting limited supplies.

Abdel-Rahman Tamimi, head of the Palestinian Hydrology Group, said there was no comparison between the shortages facing Israelis and those facing Palestinians in the West Bank because some areas do not even have piped water and other areas suffer from irregular access to drinkable water.

He described the West Bank water crisis as "suffocating" because it affects both families and businesses, "whereas Israel is talking about reducing water for recreational purposes, such as ... swimming pools and lawns"." (Thanks Marcy for this and the next few links)

Israel destroys Palestinian lands

"Israeli settlers, living illegally on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, burned a number of olive groves belonging to Palestinian families in the villages of Madameh, Burin and Asira al-Kabaliya. In addition, settlers burned a field of crops near the Israeli settlement of Yitzhar, south of the northern West Bank city of Nablus."

Israel destroys Palestinain homes

"The Israeli military commonly issues demolition orders for the Palestinian homes that stand in the way of areas they wish to expand the illegal Israeli colonies. Tubas, located in the northeastern West Bank, is a village that has faced hundreds of such orders in the past several years, as Israeli officials have publicly stated that they wish to empty the village to expand their bases onto that land."

Israel destroys Palestinian economy

"The World Bank warned today that continued Israeli economic restrictions are severely limiting the potential of the Palestinian economy and leaving Palestinians more dependent on foreign aid than ever.

In a report to be delivered to international donor governments this month, the World Bank acknowledges that Israel has lifted some roadblocks in the occupied West Bank but it says the impact is limited. It says continued discussions about removing individual checkpoints and roadblocks have become a "distraction" from the bigger issues.

The International Monetary Fund says the Palestinian economy shrunk by 0.5% last year and will grow by only 0.8% in 2008, a long way short of the Palestinian Authority's own forecast. It says there was a clear lack of investment and some industries have been badly hit: the construction industry is now less than a fifth the size it was in 1999. Foreign aid has become ever more important: this year the Palestinians will require around $1.9bn in budget support, equivalent to nearly a third of their gross domestic product."

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bad news

Prices of basic food staples remain at exceptionally high levels in Low-Income Food-Deficit Countries. (Thanks Rania)

I hate sugar and sugar cane

"In spite of overwhelming criticism of agrofuels as a 'solution' to climate change, sugarcane ethanol is often seen as the one more positive exception. The Brazilian government is lobbying hard in Brussels in favour of high EU agrofuel targets and for better market access for sugarcane ethanol. However, sugarcane is far from a sustainable source of energy. Certification initiatives such as the 'Better Sugarcane Initiative' are top down approaches that lack support from small producers or affected communities."

Sugar cane, what a crop: a history tainted by the slave trade, environmental destruction, near slavery labor practices, and obesity and diabetes. And now biofuels.

Land and agrarian reforms

"Could the FAO provide space for an alternative approach to the issue of land and agrarian reform? Sofie Monsalve Suárez examines this possibility. She shows that the FAO, unlike the World Bank, has the potential to deal with agrarian reform in a multi-dimensional rather than a purely economic way. Such a course is by no means assured, since the FAO is a battle ground where conflicting perceptions and interests meet, but some cause for optimism can be found. In particular, the positive example of the International Conference on Agricultural Reform and Rural Development in Brazil in 2006, a victory for civil society after decades of neoliberal hegemony in land and rural development policies, offers new political opportunities."

Colonialism is alive and kicking

"A gold rush mentality has taken hold -- not just in East Africa but across the entire continent. In Ghana, the Norwegian firm Biofuel Africa has secured farming rights for 38,000 hectares (93,860 acres), and Sun Biofuels is also doing business in Ethiopia and Mozambique.

The consequences of this boom are dramatic. Experts agree that the worldwide push to grow energy plants is on overwhelming factor in the global explosion of food prices. According to one study by the World Bank, as much as 75 percent of the increase could be attributable to this change in the types of crops being farmed.

Africa offers oil farmers virtually ideal conditions for their purposes: underused land in many places, low land prices, ownership that is often unclear and, most of all, regimes capable of being influenced." (Thanks Daniel)

Landfill to replace Roman cistern

"Israeli occupying authorities issue permits to their own citizens to construct Israeli-only settlements, factories and other enterprises on land seized illegally (under international law) from the indigenous Palestinian population.

Now, in what locals say is a blatant example of the Israeli abuse of their occupying authority, they have issued a permit for an Israeli contractor to dump Israeli garbage on a historically rich and archaeologically valuable area of Palestinian land." (Thanks Marcy)

Racism and theft: the pillars of Zionism.

Alternative fisheries

"It's no secret that our current management practices for marine fisheries leave a lot to be desired. Typically, a quota is given for a type of fish, and every member of the fishing fleet is given the opportunity to compete for as much of the quota as possible, creating a tragedy of the commons situation. With no guarantee that they'll be able to catch any fish the following year, each boat in the fleet has an incentive to maximize its catch and, if possible, violate the quota. A paper in Science looks at an alternate method that acts a bit like a cap-and-trade system for fish, and finds that it could help stave off further collapses." (Thanks Daniel)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Poseidon Corleone

Hundreds of fishermen in the historic city of Sour are complaining: the fish are disappearing due to overfishing using explosives, poisons and scuba gear. The coast guards do not have a boat. And all those caught in the act are freed within the day. Someone must be protecting them. A Mafia don. Poseidon?

Savage sewage

In spite of all we hear about concerning sanitation projects, the poor areas of the Bekaa are creating new rivers, where sewage runs free.


New in Badael: My editorial: Do you remember Jenin? Rana Hayek: Food crisis or water crisis?, and I wrote this article on Food and Trade for the series on the ABC of Food.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The deprived and the depraved

"Barely a month before Tata, one of India’s most powerful conglomerates, was due to roll out the world’s cheapest car from a new factory on these former potato and rice fields, a peasant uprising has forced the company to suspend work on the plant and consider pulling out altogether.

The standoff is just the most prominent example of a dark cloud looming over India’s economic transition: How to divert scarce fertile farmland to industry in a country where more than half the people still live off the land.

For Tata, it is ideally located along a new national highway that heads north to New Delhi, the capital, and intersects an important east-west artery.

For farmers, it is ideally located on the fertile delta plains of the Ganges River and fed by irrigation canals, making the earth so rich and red that it yields two rice harvests a year, in addition to potatoes, cucumbers and squash." (Thanks Toufic)

Who will prevail? This is the dilemma of all emerging economies: they are entering a system in which there is no place for the poor, and where the rich accummulate wealth and call it "growth". Look at Jordan, proud of its growth: millions are poor and deprived, and a few thousands rich and depraved (according to my cousin who spent a couple of very intersting years among the rich and famous of the Kingdom).


"I go out into the fields and collect Kable and Bukurey [wild foliage] to cook for the children. It is not food but when you are hungry you will eat anything that does not eat you"

Didn't the US give its blessings to the "liberation" of Somalia by Ethiopia?


This is one of the best stencils I have seen in Beirut: Um Kulthum singing a Haifa Wehbeh song

Breathing again

OK, I'm just starting to breathe. But this is really unbelievable: we have invented the incredible shrinking machine. Otherwise, how can one explain how so much stuff was able to fit in the (much smaller) house we now live in? But wait until it is unpacked...We live now in a jungle of cardboard boxes smelling of cheap detergent. And I'm still not connected to the internet.

The thing that keeps me going: this hilarious clip by George Carlin about "stuff" sent to me by Toufic (Thanks Toufic).

Sunday, September 14, 2008

I feel the earth move...

We will be moving into our new house staring tomorrow, but the move is expected to take 48 hours. We have been living in a cardboard boxes jungle for the past 3 days. The amount of stuff and junk a family of 5 accumulates in 12 years is just unbelievable. I think we kept collecting things and not throwing old stuff until we filled the house. And as our new house is 25% small than the old one, we have to get rid of a lot of things we are very attached to. Luckily, I have my little house in Sinay (my village in the south) where I can keep my: mountain bikes, rock climbing gear, windsurfers, free diving equipment, skis and snow boards. A full truck load. My cousin came to pick it up today as I'm too busy packing to leave the house. He had a look at the mountain of air brushed steel and chrome gear, asked a bit about prices and then said: "now I understand why you were never able to save enough to buy a house. You spent it all on toys."

I will not have internet access in the new house, until OGERO, the phone company connects us again. I'm not sure when. But they said they will cut our old line tomorrow. I'm not sure when I'll be able to blog again.


Food inflation reportedly increased to a record 32 percent, the highest in the region.

Gaza: this land is my blood

On a hot afternoon during the month of Ramadan, there are few better places to be than resting beneath the shade of an orchard of guava trees, with the scent of fresh ripening fruit wafting around you. Farmer Sa'id al-Agha sits quietly, his eyes resting on his fruit trees. "My father and my grandfather both grew up here, farming guavas, and I've lived here all my life" he says. "This land is in my blood." (Thanks Marcy)

Rural poverty

The status of rural poverty in the Near East and North Africa
Authors: I. Christensen; B. Veillerette; S. Andricopulos; Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
Publisher: International Fund for Agricultural Development, 2007

Poverty in the Near East and North Africa region (NENA) is mainly a rural phenomenon. Almost half (48 percent) of the area's population live in rural areas. This report focuses on key rural poverty issues in 13 diverse countries in the region, Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, and Yemen, without attempting to propose policy or programme actions at national or local levels.

Overall, the rural poor still face traditional constraints such as water scarcity, inadequate rural infrastructure, inappropriate policies and institutions, weak local-level organisations and gender inequity. They are also affected by new trends in migration, globalisation, changing trade patterns and increasing unemployment amongst young men and women. (Thanks Muna)

Available online at: http://www.eldis.org/go/topics/resource-guides/health&id=39430&type=Document

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Resistance is organically farmed

"In 2002, in response to a wave of suicide bombers from Jenin, Israeli tanks leveled entire neighborhoods. From that rubble, now newly trained and equipped Palestinian security officials have restored order. Civilians are planning economic cooperation — an industrial zone to provide thousands of jobs, mostly to Palestinians, and another involving organic produce grown by Palestinians and marketed in Europe by Israelis.

“We got a clear American message that the Palestinian state will start from Jenin,” asserted Col. Radi Asideh, the deputy commander of the Palestinian security forces here who have recently received new Land Rovers and AK-47 assault rifles. “The plan is to have a security model that can then be implemented all over Palestine.”

Those may sound like the hopeful words of a credulous officer. But here is Gen. James L. Jones, special American envoy to the region in an interview this week after visiting Jenin: “I see this as a kind of dress rehearsal for statehood, a crucible where the two sides can prove things to each other.”" (Thanks Toufic)

This is a fabulously candid account of how the NYT and many "liberals" in the US and Israel and the rest of the world perceive the various stages of the creation of a Palestinian state:

1. Raze everything to the ground and kill all living creature to eliminate all traces of resistance.

2. Put an oppressive security regime in place on condition that this regime be subservient to the Israeli military.

3. Encourage Palestinians to grow food for export. Three birds with one stone: a. they remain reliant on Israeli food imports; b. they support the Israeli economy as the middle men (Israelis) stand to make the most money; c. the traders (and the Israeli government) will be able to control the local economy and therefore the local people, and keep them docile.

4. Get the US blessings for the whole operation.

Well I have news: no chance this will happen. Mark my words. Resistance is organically farmed.

It's good, it's clean, but it is fair?

"The first Slow Food Nation partly fulfilled Waters's broad agenda. It earned high marks for the good and the clean but next time could do a hell of a lot better with the fair. At the moment, the majority of Americans--ordinary working people, the poor, people of color--do not have a seat at this table. The movement for sustainable agriculture has to reckon with the simple fact that it will never be sustainable without these people. Indeed, without them it runs the risk of degenerating into a hedonistic narcissism for the few. Wendell Berry--the great poet and novelist whose book The Unsettling of America, more than any other, inspired the current assault on the fast food mentality--says that "eating is an agricultural act." That means we are all co-producers, choosing a certain set of values with every bite. Does it matter whether an heirloom tomato is local and organic if it was harvested with slave labor? That was the question I asked the audience at Slow Food Nation. The answer is obvious, and it's one that this movement needs to address." (Thanks Marcy)

And this, in a nutshell, is Slow Food biggest problem. It is an issue they have been trying to address and they are still struggling with. I think Slow Food may not be radical enough to be able to do that, and their political "prise de position" is weak and at times simplistic. There is also a lot of ignorance of the complexities of politics in certain regions. Look for example at their "neutrality" around the Palestinian-Israeli issue: they have no position on Zionism, and they seem at times to believe that getting people together around a big dinner table or in a farmers' market will result in peace, while the struggle is basically one of justice and rights of the Palestinians. In this conflicts, there are no equals: Zionists are the aggressors and the oppressors and the Palestinians are the victims. Gaza is not like Sderot. There is no equivalence between the rockets on Sderot and 60 years of oppression and massacre of people parked as sheep in a refugee camp and dehumanized and murdered at will by a Zionist ideology that has the full support of the vast majority of the Israeli people. Slow Food does not appear to perceive this, while, at the same time, much less "engaged" organizations (like British academics) are calling for boycott of Israeli produce and divestment. But Slow Food will not take position on Israeli crimes: it is too "liberal" for that. Slow Food has to ralize that "fair" does not mean "equal distribution of responsibility", but that it means siding with the oppressed against the oppressor.

Full disclosure: I am a member of Slow Food Beirut and therefore of the Slow Food movement.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More Bedouin series drama

"Dr Habib Ghuloom, an Emirati artiste, said that TV drama should respect the traditions of the Arabian Gulf. "These works should respect privacy and not cross any red lines in politics, religion and social life," he said."

My kind of artists. What else should art be for? I know: praising the emir.

For those who want to know more about the Bedouin TV drama drama (see post below) an article, in English this time from the excellent Menassat site (my friend Jax works there)

Once a week

"People should have one meat-free day a week if they want to make a personal and effective sacrifice that would help tackle climate change, the world's leading authority on global warming has told The Observer."

We should do as the Bedouins did: eat meat occasionally. Lebanon imports 90% of the meat it eats, and this figure is similar to that in other Arab countries. The oddest thing is that we import a lot of slaughtered beef from...India.

Drought, hunger and violence

I am fond of Bedouin culture. Not really by romanticism, but because I see Bedouins as a disappearing socio-economic and cultural system, a system that was able to colonize very dry environments and live off extremely scarce resources. This disappearance comes after a struggle between the "rigidists" and the "fluidists" (in reference to the relative properties of the governance systems of the settled and the Bedouins) that has gone on since time immemorial. And as I have been trained to think in terms of preservation of ecosystems and of endangered species, my gut reaction is to try to understand why and to find out if anything can be done to preserve culture alive, rather than deploring its disappearance and filling museums with decontextualized artifacts. I hate museums anyway.

I have been keenly following the controversy surrounding the canceling of 2 TV dramas based on the lives of the Bedouins. These TV series have become popular after the first one was shown in 1973. They build on notions of honor and strength and power and love, all common themes in Bedouin poetry. But the 2 TV series were canceled apparently for political reasons: one of them, Saadun al `Awaji tells the story of a Bedouin leader and of his fights and ghazu (raids) of other tribes. It was apparently canceled after showing a few episodes because it was feared that the way the events were presented might raise some tribal sensitivities and create conflict. This might have been a wise decision, if the events recounted were not taking place in 1750 AD!

In any case, here's an article (Arabic) relating the controversy. What I like particularly is this part:

"The region suffered from drought, and the tribes went hungry, so the raids increased. These raids turned some people into legendary heroes. The time was 1750, and the period went on for 65 years".

Drought, hunger and violence: never to be separated in our drylands.


From Al-Akhbar, the new Badael. My editorial: "The silence of the lambs" on how little the Lebanese government has complained about Israel's cluster bombs. Fasting and nutrition by Rana Hayek, and dried fruits in season, by Muhammad Muhsin.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Whet Christmas?

"A coalition of Palestinian and international NGOs issued a statement on Friday calling the water shortage across the West Bank a “humanitarian crisis” and said they were “gravely concerned.”

The coalition said that there was a reduction in water supplies from rainfall averaging 45% across the West Bank, which has left 200 communities not served by the municipal water sources at a loss. There is not enough water for cooking, cleaning, agricultural irrigation, or basic food-producing plant watering."

Things will stay bad until December. That's if it rains in December. Am dreamin' of a whet Christmas...
Boycott Israeli dates during Ramadan campaign (and outside Ramadan too!)

Refugees hunger riot

"One person was killed and six others were injured during a food riot inside a camp that houses Chadian refugees in the Sudanese region of Darfur, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports.

The agency said the incident occurred on Tuesday morning at the camp in Um Shalaya, about 70 kilometres southeast of El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state.

Hundreds of stick-bearing women demonstrated noisily against a temporary reduction in the availability of sorghum, which is widely consumed in both Chad and Sudan, because of logistical problems. Continued insecurity has made it difficult to safely transport food from El Geneina to the camp at Um Shalaya."

Land and women's rights

"Ngubane contends that traditional laws maintain male dominance in our strongly patriarchal rural communities. She would rather see a stronger move towards realising the constitutional rights of women in rural South Africa because of their emphasis on gender equality. But the South African government's vague stance on enforcing our constitutional democracy in former homeland areas continues to undermine women's rights."
I am so grateful to Marcy for forwarding most of the great articles I have been posting. It comes at a really opportune time: I'm in the middle of moving houses and taking on a new job, and I am overwhelmed. Hopefully all will settle by the end of September.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

War and aid

"In addition to these new military measures, we're stepping up efforts on the civilian side. We're increasing our civilian presence with new personnel from USAID, and the Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as the Foreign Service. We're using Provincial Reconstruction Teams of military and civilian experts to help local communities fight corruption, improve governance, and jumpstart their economies. We're using Agricultural Development Teams to help Afghan farmers feed their people and become more self-sufficient. We're supporting Afghanistan's National Development Strategy, which helps the democratic government in Kabul offer greater support for the provinces in areas like health and infrastructure."

GW on heavy handed development. (Thanks Marcy)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Illegal everywhere

The take over of Palestine by the Zionists must really be the biggest robbery in modern times. Still going on...

"In recent weeks, the settlers constructed two homes in an illegal outpost north of Beit El settlement. Several settlers are currently living in those homes and the so-called Civil Administration Office, which belongs to the Israeli Army, issued orders annexing the lands in question.

The Civil Administration Office admitted recently that it made a mistake after annexing a land, privately owned by a Palestinian elderly woman, identified as Mahbooba Yassin Abdullah. The army said that this land was not included in the military orders; the settlers forced the woman out of her land and installed their illegal outpost." (Thanks Marcy)

From gunboats to FTA

Great, classic Monbiot.

"None of this is to suggest that the poor nations should not sell food to the rich. To escape from famine, countries must enhance their purchasing power. This often means selling farm products, and increasing their value by processing them locally. But there is nothing fair about the deals I have described. Where once they used gunboats and sepoys, the rich nations now use chequebooks and lawyers to seize food from the hungry."


""The classical approach to this is to let prices and the consumer decide. But health and environment, justice and equity are all surely reasonable and decent aspirations," Lang told the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool, "We need a food system to improve standards across a variety of equally important fronts."
Similarly, green beans from Kenya are good for you and if they are Fair Trade they may help the local economy where they are grown. However, he said each green bean stem has 4 litres of embedded water and they must be transported thousands of miles." (Thanks Rania)

The price of organic food

From the guardian weekly but I can't find the link: Shoppers are losing their enthusiasm for environmentally friendly produce, mainly due to the recession. In the UK, sales have fallen by 20%, which is about as much as it has fallen in Lebanon according to Healthy Basket, AUB's organic company.
Been trying to blog since yesterday, but I wasn't in Beirut, and my browser wouldn't allow me to post!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Rami K. sent me a link to this extremely interesting document about the potentials for the Gulf countries agro-investments in Africa and Central Asia. Very relevant!

Israel gives new meaning to the virtual water concept

"" I am the minister for "virtual" water," says Mr Attili, without a hint of a smile. On a map of the West Bank he shows that the Mountain Aquifer lies largely under Palestinian territory, but says his department is prevented by Israel from sinking wells to extract water.

"All I do is crisis management. I can't even put two ends of a pipe together without Israel's permission", he says, somewhat sarcastically." (Thanks Marcy)

The Limited Promise of Agricultural Trade Liberalization

It has become an article of faith in international trade negotiations that farmers in developing countries have much to gain from agricultural trade liberalization. This paper, written as a framework analysis for the recently published report, The Promise and the Perils of Agricultural Trade Liberalization: Lessons from Latin America, assesses the evidence for such claims. It concludes that the promise of agricultural trade liberalization is overstated, while the costs to small-scale farmers in developing countries are often high.
Relying on World Bank data and analyses, United Nations trade data, and other economic modeling carried out to inform the current round of World Trade Organization negotiations, this paper shows that:

  • Rich countries are the main beneficiaries of agricultural trade liberalization, gaining markets in both the global North and South.
  • Only a limited number of developing countries – for example, Argentina and Brazil – can compete effectively in global markets.
  • Most developing countries are left out of the export boom but their small-scale farmers suffer the negative effects of rising imports, as tariffs and farm supports are removed.
  • Farm prices do not remain high for long after liberalization, as supplies, fed by rising yields and new land under cultivation, catch up to rising demand.
  • While the current commodity boom, fueled in part by the demand for agro-fuels, may keep prices high for a few years, it is unlikely to fundamentally alter the structure of global agriculture and the long-term trends toward lower prices.
The paper, along with other background papers for the report, is available at:

The full report, in English with separate executive summaries in Spanish and Portuguese, is available at:

Other reports from the Working Group on Development and Environment in the Americas:
For more on GDAE’s Globalization and Sustainable Development Program:

Thanks Rania!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Oyoun Orghosh and Nabha: water feud in the making

In the shadow of the great wall of Dahr el Qadeeb, on the eastern side of Lebanon's highest range, sit the ponds of Oyoun Orghosh. They accumulate the water of the springs (oyoun) emerging from the foot of the steep hill, at 2000m altitude. They are located north of the Yammouneh region, very close to Aynata, along the Yammouneh fault. As in Yammouneh, the Orghosh springs are fed by snowmelt percolating from the huge karstic cuvettes of the hilly summit plateau that include the peaks of Jabal al Mekmel and Qornet al Sawda, both above 3000m.

Oyoun Orghosh is extremely beautiful, or at least it was beautiful 20 years ago. I don't have any photo, but I found this thumb print on the net. I used to go there with my friends and distant relatives, members of the Amhaz `ashira (clan or tribe), who live in the village of Nabha, 1000m downslope, at the limit between the mountain and the Biqa` plain. We used to spend days among the juniper trees, fishing wild trout from the ice cold water. Oyoun Orghosh was uninhabited most of the year, as the snow prevented access for at least 6 months. There were no asphalted roads, and the few people who made it there were either herders and beekeepers from Nabha and the surrounding villages, or pilgrims coming to visit the small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The water from the ponds was diverted downstream into canals and provided drinking and irrigation water to the villages around Nabha, all the way into the plain, near Harbata. Although located at some distance from Nabha, the region of the Oyoun was considered as part of the masha` of the village, its public grazing lands. However, the church was maintained by people from Bsharreh, on the other side of the mountain. They also considered the Oyoun to be part of their masha`. Usually, this is a recipe for deadly conflicts. Every now and then, the Amhaz and the Tawk, (a big family from Bsharreh), both supported by their allies, would fight in the mountains. A few people would be killed, then a reconciliation would be called and the dead buried. The last feud happened in the early 90's, when the Tawk and the Amhaz shot at each others in the mountains using long range sniper guns. One person was killed from each side, and the local elders called for a truce and obtained it with the help of the Syrian army. Pax Syriana kept things quiet for many years, and the Tawk established their hold on the Oyoun, where they built a number of little restaurants, serving hatchery trout, bad chicken and gunpowder arak, the whole seasoned with loud, distorted Arabic pop. The Tawk also planted apple orchards around the region of the Oyoun and diverted the water to irrigated them. The Nabha lands became dry, and the local people had to truck drinking water in from the deep wells of the plain. As agriculture was dying, and the price of a water truckload was still affordable, things did not evolve beyond the occasional insult match between the Tawk and the Amhaz around a diverted canal or a blocked weir.

Nahbha is a mixed village: the majority of its inhabitants belong to the Shi`a Amhaz `ashira, but there was a significant number of Maronite christians, many of whom belong to the Keyrouz family, which is established in Bsharreh. Around Nabha, there are also a number of small Christian villages, such as Harfoush, which was almost exclusively inhabited by members of the Maronite Tawk family, originally from Bshareh. Incidentally, Harfoush was the name of the Shi`a tribal princes of Baalback, who were defeated and exiled in the 17th century. I guess the Tawk arrived after that and too their place. During the 1975-1991 episode of the Lebanon wars, I think in 1976, most the Keyrouz and the Tawk of Nabha and its surroundings villages who belonged to the Phalanges (right wing Christian party) were attacked and banished from the area, and one village (I think it was Harfoush) was pillaged and many houses burned. The political limits between the warring factions were drawn around the Oyoun, which gave a politico-sectarian dimension to the tribal water war.

The history of water conflicts in this region of the Biqa`-Mount Lebanon is interesting, and repeats itself in different locations of the eastern slope: in Yammouneh and Dar al Wase`a and Bouday, and in Shlifa and Dayr al Ahmar, as well as in Oyoun Orghosh and Nabha. At the basis of the conflict lie the attempt by governing authorities to maximize water efficiency by using water to irrigate the best lands in the plain. I will tell first the story of Yammouneh, because it is better documented than that of Nabha and Orghosh.

In Yammouneh, the French invested, during the mandate in the early 20th century, in a tunnel and a canal network the would carry the water from the Yammouneh springs all the way to the better lands of the plain where annual crops like wheat could be produced. The decision to convey the water rather than use it for irrigating the mountain lands was sound from a regional planning perspective. The most profitable crops were cereals and grain legumes, with a bit of potatoes. These could be produced much more efficiently in the plain. Fruit trees of the mountain such as apples and pears were very rare, and their market limited. Moreover, the hilly lands were not reclaimed into terraced and therefore almost useless. To encourage investment, the French allocated irrigation water from the Yammouneh canals to each parcel in the plain, and included this allocation in the land records, so that people could purchase or rent water and land in one go.

Things worked until the 1960s and 70s when cereal culture declined due to the dumping of subsidized grain on the local market. Concurrently, the cultivation of fruit trees in the mountain lands picked up due to the specialization and export-orientation of the new Lebanese agriculture. So the water started being demanded upstream, nearer its source, while, legally, it still belonged to the downstream user. During the long wars of Lebanon and until the early 90s, things degenerated and there were many feuds between the Shreif family of Yammouneh (Shi`a), the Jaafar clan of Dayr al Wasea (Shi`a) and the families of the villages on the plain (Shi`a and Maronites). Eventually, as is always the case, the upstream parties prevailed and took most of the water by force.

In the 1990's the mood was for reconstruction. Lebanon borrowed many millions of $ from the World Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development and proceeded to rehabilitate the major irrigation schemes, including the Yammouneh scheme. They encouraged the creation of Water User Association as per the textbook, but the water still refused to flow. There was simply not enough water for everybody, and the rehabilitation project could not change the water rights of the people of the plain, it could just encourage them to give part of their water willingly to the upstream farmers. This is very difficult in the real world. While downstream has state law of their side, upstream has the birth law on theirs: where the water sees the light, they say, is where it must be used. The conflict continues, but it is better controlled because the laws are recent and the water rights are integrated into the current land records.

In Nabha and the area around it, the only available records of water rights go back to Ottoman times. It appears that, before the French, the Ottomans tried to organize and regulate land use and allocate water rights to land parcels. They included this information in the "tabu", the land records kept in Istambul. A copy was made for the local tribal chief, and it is kept in Nabha till this day, carefully preserved under a glass frame.

It is this manuscript that the people of Nabha were brandishing yesterday, under the Baalbak municipality, when they demonstrated demanding their share of water, for irrigation and for drinking. I suspect that part of the need is triggered by the fact that we are nearing the end of the cannabis season both in the plain and in the foothills; and that a good dose of water would certainly improve yields significantly. Of course, there is also the fact that people have gotten poorer and the price of fuel has caused the cost of bringing water to the houses to be doubled or tripled. The water is being controlled and blocked, they say, by the Tawk who have established orchards in the mountain and need to irrigate them, and who also must have a few hectares of cannabis tucked into the small flats between the hills. In response to the demands from the people of Nabha, the Tawk are asking for full return and indemnities for the village of Harfoush before they let the water flow. "You have been welcome to come back for many years, and we attend the church service with you in Harfoush" said the Nabha porte-parole according the the article, "but war indemnity, in Harfoush as elsewhere in Lebanon, is the responsibility of the government, not that of citizen". "If the water does not flow again soon after our peaceful demonstration, we will use other means to get what is our right".

Not good.


Badael in Al Akhbar this week. My editorial: Environmental action is morally (and ethically, same word in Arabic) neutral. It acquires its morality after evaluating its impacts. Rana Hayeck on the Hima, a pre-Islamic land conservation system. And Mohammad Muhsin on sous, licorice drink, which used to be a Ramadan staple and has now been replaced with cola drinks. Plus a beautiful picture of the Shuf cedar reserve by Tanya Traboulsi.

Ramadan in Nablus

"The pictures above show Rami making his hummus that so many men gather around waiting for every night, especially during Ramadan, it seems. The hummus is delicious and all the happy customers swear by it and say it’s the best in Nablus, if not in Palestine."

Great post from Marcy's blog: Body on the Line.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Occupation flavor

"In the Middle East and Egypt customers will also be able to enjoy especially bold tasting Ramadan coffee blends: Anniversary Blend and Arabian Mocha Timor. In addition, Starbucks will also be offering traditional Ramadan pastries such as: Fig and Coconut Bar, Pistachio Delight as well as the Date and Apricot loaf."

Reminder: Starbucks is on the boycott Israel list.

Trade is back

"Top food-exporting countries including India and Kazakhstan have relaxed their trade restrictions on agricultural commodities such as rice and wheat in a move that could help to ease a year-long food crisis.

The monthly FAO food index, a global benchmark for agricultural commodities wholesale prices, fell in August to 213 points, the lowest level since January but still up 37 per cent over the past 12 months.

New Delhi’s decision is likely to be welcomed by Middle East countries, traditional buyers of premium rice. India’s higher grade varieties of rice are usually exported, with the local market absorbing medium and low grades.

Thai medium-quality rice, the global benchmark, was on Thursday at about $730 a tonne, down from a record of more than $1,100 a tonne in May but still significantly higher than the $200-$300 range during 2000-07."


Cash back

"Many of the West Africans who are most vulnerable to high food prices live in urban areas such as Ouagadougou, Conakry and Douala, according to numerous assessments, and providing cash rather than food can work well in these settings.

“In cities agencies can use new mechanisms to get cash to people for instance through bank or post office accounts, or by using vouchers in local shops… this can sometimes be logistically easier than handing out food,” O’Donnell said.

Experts cite a number of other advantages to cash transfers over food. They allow people to make their own choices with no conditions, according to Rubin, giving recipients dignity. “We assume they know best and trust them to reduce their own vulnerability. We can step back and learn from them.”

I have been interested in this option for as long as I have been working in development, and that's a looong time. I have often made the point that if we had just distributed the money instead of implemented complex and complicated projects, the livelihood of the target populations would have probably been improved more than through development projects. But what about the livelihoods of the development specialists? I have an idea: give cash to the poor and in-kind payments to the consultants and development professional. See how they'll like it.


Bad news still coming from Ethiopia.

"“I did not have any other option but to eat the 25kg of haricot bean seed that I had saved from last year,” she said. “I readied my land to plant when the rain came again [but] I knew I would not be able to get any seeds.”

It was the first time in her life that she had eaten her seeds without planting them. Martne is, however, not alone. According to aid workers, many Ethiopian farmers resorted to eating their seeds after unprecedented heavy rains followed by drought last season."

When farmers start eating their seeds, this means that they are engaged in a spiral that is very difficult to exit.

Bad news from Zimbabwe too:

"During the nearly three months that nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in Zimbabwe were banned from operating by President Robert Mugabe's government, people desperate for food foraged for wild fruits to survive, in some cases with tragic consequences.

Janet Chagwiza, 70, who lives in Nharira village, about 40km south of the Mashonaland East town of Chivu, told IRIN that two of her grandchildren were thought to have died from eating too much of a wild fruit that grows abundantly during the dry season.

"This fruit has become our staple food. We don't have mealie-meal [maize-meal] and our vegetable gardens have been overwhelmed by the daily demand, leaving whole villages in this area to depend on wild fruits," Chagwiza told IRIN shortly after burying her grandchildren in a single pit "because people here no longer have the energy to dig graves." "

and from Niger ...

"An on-going desert conflict continues to ground agricultural activities in the mountainous desert, where more than 10,000 people have been displaced by sporadic fighting and landmine explosions.

Surrounded by dying gardens, residents in the Air Mountains must sometimes travel more than 100 kilometres to market towns to buy food, but when they do, many face mine explosions, military patrols and fighting. " (Thanks Marcy)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ramadan crunch

“What shall I do now?” he said, “the month has just started and I’m still waiting for the salary to buy things I need. I don’t think of buying more than that since my salary only covers basic needs, how would I, when Ramadan means higher prices than all other days?”

"Na’il Abdul-Jawwad is an average Palestinian. His monthly salary is 130 shekels, or about 35 dollars. He cares for a family of ten with his meager earnings. He said that his salary could never cover his family’s needs, especially what is required to send his children to school. He complained that prices have risen sharply. "

They're everywhere: news items about how the poor suffer from the high Ramadan prices.

Boycott fact sheet

"Last month, it was announced that the Los Angeles municipality would enter into joint research and development with Mekorot as well as a private Israeli research company. The Stop the Wall campaign has called for a boycott of this project, which legitimizes Israeli water practices at the expense of Palestinian communities across historic Palestine." (Thanks Marcy)

Download the fact sheet here

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting has started yesterday or today, depending the location and the politics. It is also the month of food: many people starve themselves all day and eat as much as they can at night. Prices of food also increase during Ramadan. Meat prices have increased by 15% in Lebanon over a 24 hours period because of increased demand. My cousin who works as a builder in my village of south Lebanon tells me Ramadan is the worst month for him. He cannot work as much as he should, because it is tiring to do heavy work without food or water, and he has to buy meat everyday for his household, because it is not considered proper nowadays to break the fast with rice and burghul and beans. By the end of Ramadan, he is much poorer than at the start. And to think that the clerics advertise fasting in Ramadan as a way to "feel with the poor"! But it is also a special celebrations month for those who can afford it: here are some pictures of Ramadan in the Muslim world from Al Safir.

In Kuwait
In Nablus, Palestine
In Baghdad, Iraq
In Kabul, Afghanistan
In Algiers, Algeria

Slavery revisited

"On an expanse of 18,000 acres of farmland, 59 miles northwest of Baton Rouge, long rows of men, mostly African-American, till the fields under the hot Louisiana sun. The men pick cotton, wheat, soybeans and corn. They work for pennies, literally. Armed guards, mostly white, ride up and down the rows on horseback, keeping watch. At the end of a long workweek, a bad disciplinary report from a guard - whether true or false - could mean a weekend toiling in the fields. The farm is called Angola, after the homeland of the slaves who first worked its soil.

This scene is not a glimpse of plantation days long gone by. It's the present-day reality of thousands of prisoners at the maximum security Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola. The block of land on which the prison sits is a composite of several slave plantations, bought up in the decades following the Civil War. Acre-wise, it is the largest prison in the United States. Eighty percent of its prisoners are African-American."(Thanks Marcy)

Terrorist parsley

"We are all farmers here" he says, "and we just want to farm." He suddenly gestures in the direction of the border. "I have forty dunams of good land up there" he says. "It is just 800 meters away, and I could walk there in ten minutes. But if anyone goes onto their land [near the border] they will be shot, even now. I haven't been able to farm those 40 dunams for more than four years."

Monday, September 1, 2008

Did anyone say "disillusionment"?

"The conclusion is unavoidable: under the pretext of making aid more effective the Paris Declaration project is a form of collective colonialism by Northern 'donors' of those countries in the South that (because of their weakness and vulnerability and psychology of 'dependency') may allow themselves to be subjected to it at the Accra September Conference," writes Tandon.

the list of lapses is rather long:

- Only one-fourth of the World Bank's aid to Mozambique is given as programme aid (the rest is through individual projects), and only one quarter uses the country's own financial and procurement systems.

- France finances aid to Mozambique by recycling Mozambique's debt service.

- The European Court of Auditors found that "only one-third of the European Commission's technical assistance projects have been or are likely to be successful."

- Spain has tied its debt relief to Honduras to implementation by Spanish companies, institutions, or organisations.

- In Malawi, donors have set up 69 project units parallel to government systems, and 30 of these are run by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

- Donor transparency is still poor -- both USAID and France were found not to be transparent about their aid in Sierra Leone and Mali respectively.

Article in IPS on the
Third High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF3) to be held in Accra tomorrow.

- In Mali, the World Bank conditions its aid on privatisation of the public sector (telephones, electricity, railways and cotton). This is turn influences other donors."

Not many are big

"Rising food prices mean many farmers around the world are reaping record profits. And South America's agricultural powerhouses, Brazil and Argentina, are responding to the farming windfall in opposite ways.

da Silva's government recently announced record farm credits, a form of indirect subsidy, to encourage Brazil's farmers to produce more while the price of their exports are high on world markets, a move that should improve Brazil's economy. But Argentina, Brazil's economic and political archrival, decided to share the agricultural windfall at home.

Worried about the wave of inflation rippling around the world, the government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina increased export taxes on some crops, a move meant to keep down domestic food prices by encouraging farmers flush from global profits to sell more at home." (Thanks Yaz)

Of course, the first sentence should read: big farmers are reaping...

Heavy horses

"it was easy for me to figure out what had worried Jethro Tull. Not Jethro Tull the 1970s rock band—Jethro Tull the agricultural reformer of the 18th century." (Thanks MM, who was also one of my music gurus)

A superb article on soils and farming from National Geographic. Have I ever told you that I trained as a soil scientist and still teach it?