Friday, October 31, 2008


"On the occasion of my visit with my carob gift, Juma’a waxed nostalgic about “the good old days before the Zionists raped the wilderness with their settlements, barbed-wire fences, and cypress forests.” About his preference for the unripe carob he went on to explain: “The way we used to savor the early sweetness of the carob was to pick a few pods just as their green color faded into brown. The mountains were full of wild carob and we would be desperate for something sweet. Those were not days of toffee and chocolate and we would be hungry by the end of the long summer day. Early in the morning we would pick few unripe but sweet carobs and pound them with a clean stone on the rocks. We would put them in a container and milk a goat directly over the pulp, hide it in the shade of a bush, come back in the late afternoon tired and hungry, strain the milk with the corner of our shouras (gauzelike white head covers) and drink it with a piece of bread. You guys fret over your milk and cornflakes for breakfast. But you can’t imagine the taste of mqiqa with a piece of dry bread to the palate of a hungry shepherd.”"

Beautiful, moving account by Hatem Kanaaneh, writing for the Palestinian Chronicle.

My student Jeanne introduced me to mqiqa last year. She is from a small village in the Shuf mountains and her uncle told her about it. They still ate regularly it until they were displaced from the Shuf in 1983.


"Conclusion: In spite of the overall low prevalence of overweight and obesity in the studied sample, results indicate that university students would possibly benefit from a nutrition and health promotion program to reduce the tendency of overweight and obesity, especially among male students, and to improve students' eating habits."

I don't get it: They're OK but they still need to get on a diet?


In Al Akhbar today, I wrote about the sorry state of revolutions in the Arab World. Rana Hayeck reminded us that the rich countries too were affected by the food crisis and Muhammad muhsin wrote about the Ardi exposition of produits du terroir organized in the southern suburbs by none other than your favorite party of God. A truly mega event!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I think it’s kind of a middle-age thing, counting calories,” she said.

The limits of social business

I will be talking about Social Business in Cairo later in November. I post this as areminder to myself. (Thanks Muna)

Social business enterprises - maximising social benefits or maximising profits? The case of Grameen-Danone Foods Limited

Authors: Ghalib,A.K.; Hossain,F.
Produced by: Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester (2008)

In a deeply unequal and increasingly fragile world, some people are calling for a more socially responsive form of capitalism. Others are already exploring ways of operatationalising such a concept. One such experiment has just taken off in Bangladesh involving the local Grameen Bank and Groupe Danone, a leading French multinational. A new paper brought out by the Brooks World Poverty Institute at the University of Manchester examines how this initiative is different from traditional joint ventures and what its future plans are.

While delivering the Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in 2006, Muhammed Yunus defined a social business enterprise (SBE) as a business with primarily social objectives, whose surpluses are principally reinvested in the business or in the community rather than just accumulated as profits.

The basic features of a SBE are that it:

* adopts the principle of benefit maximization rather than profit maximisation
* operates without incurring losses while serving disadvantaged people and the planet
* is nonetheless serious about investing in expansion, innovation and increasing productivity
* competes with profit maximising enterprises as well as other SBEs for market efficiency
* generates enough surplus to pay back the invested capital to the investors as early as possible

In April 2007, Grameen-Danone Foods Limited (GDFL), a milk-processing SBE that produces fortified yoghurt, began operating out of Betgari, an area 220 km northwest of Dhaka. GDFL is currently:

* providing nutrition at affordable prices to the rural population
* helping to create independent businesses and several hundred local jobs in farming, food processing, sales, marketing and distribution
* using environmentally clean technology

At the same time, some of the challenges faced include the fact that:

* profit margins are low
* yoghurt is difficult to distribute and market due to its perishable nature
* customer outreach is still narrow
* trained local human resources to run operations are scarce
* the yoghurt's exact health benefits still need to be verified

Some of the challenges are likely to be addressed by GDFL's future plans. These include:

* breaking into the urban market
* setting up two more facilities by the end of 2008 and at least 50 more in the next 10 years

In the meantime, the Grameen Bank has also just launched two SBEs outside Bangladesh: Grameen Capital India in partnership with Citibank and the ICICI Bank and Grameen-Jameel Pan Arab Microfinance in partnership with the Abdul Jameel Latif Jameel Group of Saudi Arabia.

Available online at:⊂=pov

Oufff...for now

I am finally resurfacing, out of Berlin for a couple of days before going to Cairo. I have never had such poor access to the internet as during the last week! But will now resume blogging as usual. I trust the Cairo hotel will have a connection in the room.

The past few days have been very intense. Terra Madre was interesting but a bit too similar to last time, in 2006. Except that this time, I gave a presentation, and then chaired a session, and had an article in the Slow Food almanac that came out at the same time.

In Berlin I gave a paper on food security and conflict with special focus on the Arab Middle East to a small group of German development experts from GTZ, the Green Party, the World Food Program, etc... I have a powerpoint presentation but to cut a long story short, the outcomes of the discussions were that while conflicts cause food insecurity, the reverse is not necessarily true. To rebell in a sustained way groups must have the capacity to organise and the necessary minimal political freedom to do so. Yes riots may emerge spontaneously, but they will be quickly put down: the Arab regimes have created a repressive military apparatus uniquely for this purpose. I will write about this in my forthcoming Badael editorial.

Monday, October 27, 2008


"The movement has grown worldwide - slowly, obviously - and has become a huge, complex organization - 85,000 members in 132 countries according to their website - but even though it very much represents the interests of the new generation of quality farmers and producers, it hasn't caught on so well in the UK.

Is it seen as too specialist or elitist? Is it because of the growth in farmers markets; because we have so many food based TV programmes that there is already plenty of exposure for artisan producers without Slow Food? Many of the suppliers we use at Boxwood Café are small producers who hand-grow everything but aren't members of Slow Food: others are members and attend the event in Turin." (Thanks Rania)

Free minds for a free Palestine

Check this site


"With prices continuing to rise, cheap, filling foods such as bread, rice and lentils continue to be the primary sources of nutrition for millions of Egyptians. They turn to dishes like kushari for its taste, filling ingredients and affordability.

As one employee at Kushari Tahrir explained, kushari is an authentic street food for the people. "It's as Egyptian as you can get," he said."

The next "Israeli food"?

Settlers are part of zionist policy

"Settlers destroy the homes in which Palestinians live, the olive and other trees on which their agrarian economy is based, and the infrastructure on which they rely for water, sanitation, roads, transportation, and telecommunications. This, the bank says, has created a ''permanent state of insecurity'' that discourages investment. " (Thanks Marcy)

IPS article on the World Bank report.


I have not had access to the net for too long, so I missed linking Badael from al Akhbar last Friday. Here's my editorial: "The olive season", Rana Hayeck's article on pine forests and Muhammad Muhsin on camel meat butchers in Beirut's Souther suburbs.

Terra madre 2

Terra Madre (finally) ended. I say finally because while the meeting has been very useful, the organization has been so poor that I'm still expecting some last minute screw up. There has been something wrong with the logistics every single day. I will one day tell the story of the devout shi'a farmer who was brought at 2 AM, straight from South Lebanon, to his room in the Basilica of Superga, superba indeed, but isolated on a hilltop. He stayed there alone (there was not even any staff) in the huge church-convent, in a room you can only access after going through long, dark corridors, and passing all the paintings representing the torture of Christ. And that's not even half of the story.

And yesterday I had to wait, along with a hundred people, till past midnight in the car park because the busses for the hotels (way out of Turin) had not come. It was cold. But to their cradit, all the Slow Food staff, including those in the upper management, waited in the car park until everyone left.

But it was important to bring 25 people, many of whom had never left Lebanon, and who could not speak any language, to see TM and the Salone del Gusto. There must have been 100,000's people everyday, and 1000's of people exposing their products. A young chef among us was walking wide-eyed the first 2 days, saying: I cannot believe it, it's like in the movies. Many among the producers also got new ideas. Usually only the rich make it to the trade shows: this gives an opportunity to the poorer.

I leave for Berlin is a few hours. But will the taxi come? That is the question.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

GM Brown

"Gordon Brown and other European leaders are secretly preparing an unprecedented campaign to spread GM crops and foods in Britain and throughout the continent, confidential documents obtained by The Independent on Sunday reveal." (Thanks Marcy)

While everyone in the anti GMO movement is in Turin, GB sells out to the GM vendors...

Terra Madre 1

I have finally a connection but only for the next 15 minutes, and I cannot tell when I'll have one next.

Here's my short report on Terra Madre

Day 1: we reached Turin Airport after a red eye flight and we were all very tired. The great stadium where the opening was taking place started to fill up with people from all 4 corners of the world. After pottering about for 4 or 5 hours, we finally got into the opening ceremony. The speeches were gentle and brought nothing new (at least to me) on the themes of gender, civil society, local food, corporations and now youth. Among the speakers: Vandana Shiva and the mayor of Turin (who launched an attack on corporations. I can’t really understand that: his city practically lives off industrial corporate giants), a young American student. By the time we got to Carlo Petrini, who has achieved demi god status, I had dropped the wireless translation set. A friend who was there for the first time asked me: who is Petrini? I said: SF people worship him, like HA people worship Hassan Nasrallah. She asked: but can he deliver, like Nasrallah, or is it just talk? I didn’t have a convincing answer.I guess it depends what you want to deliver.

The Spanish youth choir was really good. My daughter Thurayya would have loved them.

The organizational weakness showed up when we were to be directed to the hotels: hundreds of stranded people waiting to be directed to their coaches and then to their hotels. I had to walk carting my luggage with a large group of people, and our guide unable to find the navetta to take us and give us some dinner and take us to the hotel, when all we wanted was a bed: we had been up for 36 hours. At the end I took a taxi to the hotel and slept without dinner. They should have subcontracted HA for the organization.

Day 2: this I spent mostly at the Lebanon Earth Markets stall. I attended the launch of the Manifesto on the future of agriculture and climate change, and Vandana also was the main speaker here. I'll blog more about this later.

Day 3: Many interesting things happened, but more later, I have to catch the only bus available from the hotel where I'm staying, some 40 k out of Turin...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I am getting ready to leave for Turin to participate in Terra Madre and then to Berlin for my talk at the Henrich Boell Foundation. I'll try to blog from Turing, there should be wifi access in Terra Madre...Back October 29


"No sooner had control of Oslo's economic development programs shifted to the World Bank, than the basic infrastructure that was supposed to have been built was reported as "repairs" to infrastructure when none in fact existed, while the building of a casino in Jericho took precedence over essential ports, roads, and canals. Those who were involved in the corrupt casino project read like a who's who of the Israeli political establishment -- Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, former primer ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Sharon's advisor Dov Weissglas in concert with an Austrian-Jewish businessman Martin Schlaff who is now being investigated for giving millions of dollars in bribes to Lieberman and Sharon.

The "Gaza and Jericho First" stage of the Oslo Accords provided the perfect opportunity for gambling tycoons to bypass Israel where gambling is illegal. The casino took in around a million dollars a day from Israelis streaming into occupied Jericho for the pleasure of gambling while many Palestinians were barely able to put food on the table. When the Gaza airport and seaport were finally built thanks to European Union efforts along with roads, waterways and the Palestinian broadcasting station, Israel set about destroying each of them, citing security reasons. Conservatively, Israel's destruction of infrastructure has been estimated at $3.5 billion, while lost potential income for the Palestinian economy has been estimated at around $6.4 billion, the total loss far exceeding the overall international assistance received from 1994-1999 (UN General Assembly, Report of the Secretary General A/ 60/90, (d) Assistance to the Palestinian people - Mr Mansour (Palestine), 14 November 2005)." (Thanks Marcy)

Excellent article by Sonja Karkar in Electronic Intifada

Organic Africa

"New evidence suggests that organic practices – derided by some as a Western lifestyle fad – are delivering sharp increases in yields, improvements in the soil and a boost in the income of Africa's small farmers who remain among the poorest people on earth. The head of the UN's Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said the report "indicates that the potential contribution of organic farming to feeding the world maybe far higher than many had supposed"." (Thanks Rania)

Grave new world

"The report found that the income of the richest 10% of people was, on average, nearly nine times that of the poorest 10%." (Thanks Rania)

L'Orange d'Arabie

"Palestinians in South Lebanon's camps are very involved in farming, much more than in the North or in the Bekaa. Here, a film about the orange harvest by workers from the camp of Burj al Shamali, near Sour.

early in the morning, between 5 and 6am, a wave of footsteps and whispering voices can be heard in the narrow alleys of bourj ash-shamali refugee camp in south lebanon. it is in the darkness of the early morning hours that hundreds of palestinian day laborers leave their homes, gather in the streets and then head to their work in the fields and plantations of the region. more than two-thirds of the camp's labor force work at least part-time in agriculture.

lebanese law treats the more than 400,000 palestinian refugees in the country as foreigners. therefore they are not allowed to own land, they are forbidden to work in dozens of jobs, they aren't guaranteed a minimum wage and they aren't integrated into the lebanese social and medical insurance system. these various forms of exclusion make them vulnerable and exploitable in many ways.

this 17-minute film is the result of a video workshop in bourj ash-shamali camp. it deals with various aspects of the work and life of palestinian day laborers in the plantations of south lebanon.
the film can be downloaded here (.mpeg/587mb) and here (.mov/231mb) in good quality. also, it can be watched here (part 1/2) on youtube or below." (Thanks Marcy)

Message in a battle

A letter

The shocking increase in the scourge of hunger (Billion go hungry as rich countries fail to pay up, Oxfam says, October 16) has led many organisations in developing countries to rename October 16 as World Foodless Day. We support them and want to point out that the situation is even worse than your report suggests: many of the hungry are farmers forced off their lands. The millennium development goal of halving hunger is fading.

Governments have not accepted responsibility for this failure to ensure their citizens' right to food, nor are they prepared to call to account those who caused and have profited from the food crisis. While bankers wallow in trillions of dollars of state aid, the hungry are being forgotten, yet the causes and impacts are similar: irresponsible speculation and unfair global trading for which the poor pay the final price. Hunger, it seems, is the inconvenient fallout of our globalised food system.

We need deep-rooted changes in how agriculture is practised, commodities are traded, and the food system is organised and regulated. The necessary changes, towards localised food sovereignty through sustainable production, were highlighted by the UN/World Bank international agricultural assessment, which our government approved in June. With hunger such a scar on humanity, why does the government remain silent about implementing its findings?
Belinda Calaguas ActionAid UK, Linda Craig PAN-UK, John Hilary War on Want, Vicki Hird Friends of the Earth, Robin Maynard Soil Association, Daleep Mukarji Christian Aid, Patrick Mulvany Practical Action, Helena Paul Econexus, Pete Riley GM Freeze, Dan Taylor Find Your Feet, Julia Wright Garden Organic

Open season

"Three Israelis at the olive grove to help Palestinians with the harvest were later held for questioning after they refused police orders to leave the area, Poleg said.

Later on Saturday, Hebron settlers urged the police to prevent "provocations" by left-wing activists and anarchists.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday urged his people to plant a million trees across the West Bank in response to "attacks by settlers" on Palestinian farmers during an olive harvest."

(Thanks Akhuy fil-mahjar)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Grape fuel

Table grapes producers in the Bekaa are uprooting their vines and burning them for fuel: It is not worth harvesting, they say. Someone should explain to me why I pay $2 for a kilo of grapes at the supermarket when the small farmers sell it for 15 cents. Maybe the fact that there are few buyers and lots of vendors in a totally unregulated market has something to do with it?

Monday, October 20, 2008

My book is out!!!!!!

I have a copy saved for: D., MM, Marcy, Rania, Leila, Anna and Yaz. Will mail asap! Meanwhile, you can click to enlarge.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I love the law

An excellent article in Al Akhbar (3 articles in fact) on how some branches of foreign universities in the Gulf are acting as Trojan horses for normalizing with Israel by inviting Israeli students and Academic. The writers, founders of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israeli (PACBI) make an excellent case. Please visit their excellent website. But what a terrible situation we find ourselves in: we have to fight inside the Arab World for boycotting Israel, and the most important victories of PACBI are with non Arab institutions rather than with Arab ones. This makes me so glad to be living in Lebanon: we subscribe to the boycott BY LAW. I love the law.


Rasha Abu Zeki (my favorite journalist ever in the best newspaper there is, Al Akhbar) reaches new heights (after the lamentable falafel fiasco). I noticed this piece of news yesterday, but decided it was not worth blogging, but today's events have made a difference. Listen to this: The European Commission has organized a sort of economic forum for Lebanese NGOs and Trade Unions and Private Sector and Parliamentarians from what I can see. They discussed the fate of small and medium enterprises in Lebanon (most of the economic sector is SME). Yesterday, Rasha reported that the forum adopted, in its recommendations, a motion to request government to hasten Lebanon's accession to WTO, in spite of the objection of the worker's unions. She also stressed the fact that the Progressive Socialist Party's (PSP) representative was adamant on including the WTO clause.

In todays "suite" to yesterday's article, Rasha tells us that Waleed Jumblat, the head of the (Druze) PSP called Patrick Laurent, the EC representative in Lebanon and informed him that the PSP's official position as a Socialist party is against Lebanon's accession to WTO, and asked for the withdrawal of the motion from the Forum's recommendations. Apparently, WJ read the news in Al Akhbar, and called Laurent immediately.

It looks like (according to Rasha) Laurent did not appreciate it, as he really wanted the recommendations to include the WTO bit, and he was unhappy and upset, and he told her: you should not report the outcomes of the Forum, this is internal business, to which Rasha answered: I am a journalist and my duty is to inform the Lebanese people of what their representatives are preparing for them. And she goes on, in this little side editorial, railing Laurent (who, I hear, is a very nice man, but I don't know him) and accusing him of double standards, calling for transparency in Lebanon and not practicing it himself. Laurent has become Lebanese, she tells us.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hunger retreats

"Chronic malnutrition in children under five years of age fell from 13 percent in 1996 to seven percent in 2006, according to a Health Ministry study released in July. And in the northeast, the country’s poorest region, the rate plunged from 22.1 to 5.9 percent.

As a result, the infant mortality rate also dropped in that same 10-year period, from 39 to 22 deaths per 1,000 live births in this country of more than 185 million people.

The downtrend was confirmed by the International Food Policy Research Institute in its 2008 Global Hunger Index (a tool that tracks the state of global hunger and malnutrition), which was published Tuesday Oct. 14, ahead of World Food Day (Oct. 16) and shows similar indicators for Brazil.

Efforts to reduce hunger in Brazil have been stepped up under the leftist administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who shortly after coming into office in 2003 implemented the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) Programme, a strategy that encompasses more than 50 different actions, ranging from measures to strengthen family farming and provide school meals, to the Family Grant mechanism, which aids 11 million poor households." (Thanks Marcy)

Good policies make a difference.

The Globalization Equation

I like this Arabic article by Tony Saghbini: The Globalization Equation: Unemployment + Leisure = No Revolution; or why the masses will not rise in response to increased food prices and unemployment.


My editorial in Badael: The "Land for Falafel" Deal. Rana Hayeck writes about World Food Day in Lebanon (with a great cartoon by Kris) and Amer Malaeb about "escargots" a traditional Lebanese dish, and we're going to sue the hell out of the French for robbing us.

Hash for cash

Hashish growers have finished harvesting in the Bekaa and they are drying the crops and preparing to extract the resin. The army looked the other way, but the government promised a crackdown on hashish vendors.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Classes, not communities

"The liberal approach emphasizes ‘universal responsibility” for the destruction of the environment – rich and poor, mining companies and miners, factory owners and factory workers, auto manufacturers and drivers, governments and citizens, real estate speculators and slum dwellers. The liberal ecologists claim the negative consequences adversely affect everyone: “We all suffer from the destruction of the environment.”

The liberal approach to the development of Indian movements and politics follows a similar approach, using the non-class categories of ‘community’, ‘culture’ and religion, to discuss Indian social structure as a ‘homogeneous’ social phenomenon.

The Marxist approach to ecological destruction and Indian social movements focuses on the inequality of power and control over the means of production and destruction, unequal exposure to contamination in the workplace and neighborhoods, inequality in access to land and use of chemical fertilizers and herbicides and other contaminants and unequal access to state power. Marxists focus on the class structure, class inequalities and the class nature of the environmental disasters which take place."

Excellent class analysis of ecology and Indian movements in Latin America. Glad you sent this one Marcy!

That's right: half a million acres of inedible plants

"With a lease on half a million acres of land in Ghana, Galten's founders - Levi and his partner Shlomi Jonas, now the CEO of Galten - have big plans for jatropha seeds as biofuel. Although the extraction method is secret, Levi says, experts do already know that the jatropha plant, which lives about 30 to 40 years, is a rich source of biofuel. Its seeds contain an oil content of about 35 percent, but there have been industry limitations extracting it, says Levi."

Selling pure Israeli technology to the world. This is going to be a new jojoba fiasco, but they will make money on it, no doubt.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mr. President

"The impact of the American food system on the rest of the world will have implications for your foreign and trade policies as well. In the past several months more than 30 nations have experienced food riots, and so far one government has fallen. Should high grain prices persist and shortages develop, you can expect to see the pendulum shift decisively away from free trade, at least in food. Nations that opened their markets to the global flood of cheap grain (under pressure from previous administrations as well as the World Bank and the I.M.F.) lost so many farmers that they now find their ability to feed their own populations hinges on decisions made in Washington (like your predecessor’s precipitous embrace of biofuels) and on Wall Street. They will now rush to rebuild their own agricultural sectors and then seek to protect them by erecting trade barriers. Expect to hear the phrases “food sovereignty” and “food security” on the lips of every foreign leader you meet. Not only the Doha round, but the whole cause of free trade in agriculture is probably dead, the casualty of a cheap food policy that a scant two years ago seemed like a boon for everyone. It is one of the larger paradoxes of our time that the very same food policies that have contributed to overnutrition in the first world are now contributing to undernutrition in the third. But it turns out that too much food can be nearly as big a problem as too little — a lesson we should keep in mind as we set about designing a new approach to food policy."

From Michael Pollan's excellent address to the next US president. An excellent summary of the global state of the food system. (Thanks Anna)

Soil not oil

Vandana Shiva's new book. Couldn't have said it better myself although I trained as a soil scientist.

Fighting poverty with bananas?

‘‘We must take this pain and turn it around into a positive outcome,’’ Hartmann told the conference, adding that, ‘‘what this crisis means is that the current food system which has served us very well for decades is reaching its optimum limit. I do not see a poverty-free world. However, we can reduce levels of extreme poverty. Bananas will not solve it but can contribute substantially.’’

Marcy sent me this IPS story about how growing more export bananas will help fight poverty in Africa. This reminded me that I once posted something about the terrible working conditions of banana farmers in Africa, here it is (in French)

And another one, in French about banana growing in Cameroun:

"Le salaire n'est pas bon, confirme Elysée Mbelle, un autre jeune planteur. Ce n'est pas normal que ce soit la famine ici alors que nous faisons manger les Français." Depuis les émeutes, les salaires ont d'ailleurs reçu un net coup de pouce, le salaire minimum passant à 31 000 francs CFA (46,50 euros) sans les primes, qui le portent à 45 000 francs CFA (67,50 euros), selon la direction de SPM."

"Beaucoup d'employés se font virer parce qu'ils volent des bananes. La direction ne t'en donne pas. Seuls les rebuts sont vendus sur les marchés. Ces gens-là ont voulu se venger." Les conditions de travail (douze heures payées huit selon certains), la rémunération à la tâche, sans considération du temps passé, et la discipline de fer alimentent les frustrations. "Si tu demandes une pause à cause de la chaleur, le chef te dit : "Ou tu y retournes, ou je t'inscris en refus de travail"", rapporte un intérimaire.

Not all bananas are equal.

Chinese farmland

"Land will continue to belong to the state, but "leases" introduced by reformers in 1978 could now be lengthened to 70 years, giving farmers far greater freedom over what to do with their land.

The household responsibility system, also launched in 1978, allocated plots of collectively-owned land to individual families for as long as 30 years, allowing them to make production decisions and reap the profits.

Experts say the development will mark a full break from the country's "semi-feudal" past by liberating farmers from grassroots party committees, which have remained responsible for allocating land use rights."

Thanks Marcy and Rania who asked: how will this affect the farmers? I say: it's all good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

They're nuts

The Lebanese government has removed import tariffs on...pine nuts. Apparently, imports from Turkey and China are flooding the market, endangering the livelihoods of thousands of pine growers. This is a really silly move, one that can potentially have tremendous impacts on land and people in the mountain. Let me explain why.

The pine trees from which we obtain the delicious pine nuts (snawbar) is called Pinus pinea. In Lebanon it only grows on the red sandy soils of the mountain, soils formed on a geological strata called the Basal Cretaceous. Unlike the vast majority of all other geological formations of Lebanon, this one is not calcareous, and it provides the neutral pH necessary for the growth and survival of pine seedlings. The people of the mountains quickly realized the economic potential of the snawbar pine, and they planted it wherever they found red sandy soils, and where there is enough rainfall to allow trees to grow. The snawbar pine forest almost perfectly match the patches of red sandy soils, and their dense and lush growth makes them look like turf carpets covering the slopes of Mount Lebanon. They're found in the Metn, in the Gharb (Aley) in the Shuf, and in one of the biggest forests is in the south, Bkassine near Jezzine.

Their contribution to rural life is unquestionable: Their cones are harvested and emptied of the nuts which are then sold for a very good price, and sometimes exported. At one time in recent years, pine nuts were one of the most profitable exports from Lebanon. The empty cones are burned for heating in the summer, and the wood of the dead trees and of the pruned branches is also used at home, for building or for heating. The dead needles are also picked and used to light fires.

The cultivation of pine trees is also very important for protecting forested areas. The trees are pruned yearly in a very specific fashion, as an umbrella, hence the name they are sometimes given: umbrella pine, or in French: pin parasol. Pruning is essential to have good sun penetration and good yield of cones. To harvest, one must climb the trees using ropes. The need to circulate in the forest for cultivation, and the pruning of the trees makes it such that forest fires are less likely to occur: there is less fuel, as the undergrowth is cleared; and the branches are kept very high, so they cannot easily catch fire. This is lucky because pine, unlike oak, cannot sprout from a burnt stump. In places where the pine forests have been abandoned, forest fires have been more frequent and more murderous. This is usually followed with landslides as the sandy slopes do not hold well in place. The damage is often irreversible and the end result is what we know as badlands: a desolate, dry, desertified landscape where barely anything grows.

Back to the unwise governmental decree. I'm not sure what drove the government to take this measure, but I'll stake my money on lobbying by the Party of Wealth and Power, otherwise known and the rich merchants. I'm not totally against easing out tariffs when it comes to basic commodities needed by the poor, unavailable on local markets and cheaply available elsewhere, if accompanied with clear agricultural development programs to support import substitution when possible. But pine nuts? I mean that's really NOT a basic staple. The sweets industry uses them in large quantities, but that's about it. The rest of the population uses it very parsimoniously to decorate rice dishes and other foods. So we deduce that the baqlawa makers of Lebanon constitute an influential lobby. Incidentally, the large ones are concentrated in Beirut, Saida and Tripoli.

The problem of course is that pine culture is one of the last profitable farming systems of Mount Lebanon. It is also one of the systems that is in symbiosis with the forest: destroy it and you destroy the forest. If farmers stop maintaining the pine forests, they (both farmers and forest) will soon be gone, replaced by sliding badlands and rural poor. Great for real estate speculators, but really bad for everyone else.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Haven't been able to blog for 2 days. My work is draining me. My life has become a long trip between Beirut and Baalbeck. This road is so dangerous I'm glad every time I walk out of the car. Haven't been to my village in weeks, almost months, and haven't seen my kids properly for days.

The preparations for my coming trips are taking all my time: first to Terra Madre in Turin where I will launch my new book with Sami Abdel Rahman, photography by Tanya Traboulsi. The book is called: From `Akkar to `Amel, Lebanon's Slow Food Trail. In Terra Madre I will also chair a workshop on water and agriculture. Then to Berlin to talk about food security and conflicts, then to Egypt to talk about Environmental change and the fate of vulnerable communities: the Bedouins of Jordan and Lebanon.

Oh, and I'm also speaking in Beirut on Thursday for the launch of the new OXFAM report on the food crisis and the poor. I have to go work on my talk.

And that's only half of it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Tibetan nomads

Bedouins in the Arab World, nomads in Tibet. Everywhere, everyday we witness the triumph of the settled on the nomads. Often a mixed blessing.

"Settlement policies vary, and their effect on the social fabric of nomadic communities is complex. In many places, nomads have been encouraged to give up their animals, leading to reduced incomes, a rise in alcoholism and other social costs. A lack of planning has resulted in some settlements lacking water or power, officials admit. In many cases, nomads are ill-equipped to compete with Chinese migrant workers for jobs in nearby cities, and there has been insufficient retraining, experts said.

By settling nomads into towns, officials also risk losing valuable ecological knowledge and animal husbandry skills, said Liu Shurun, a former professor at Inner Mongolia Normal University who continues to study nomadism.

Diseases are also spreading among both animals and people, because there are fewer nomads to clean up livestock waste and animals have less access to nutritious grassland, Liu said. "The grass and the animals are like a couple, you cannot separate them," Liu said. "Before, nomads were quite selfless. It was very important to help each other when they moved around and in groups. But now each family settles in one place with their own plots of land, and they don't rely on each other as much.""

Was farming man's first big mistake?

"J.-P. D. Au néolithique, on assiste à l'émergence de la violence entre riches et pauvres et entre communautés. On constate l'existence, vers - 3 500, au Proche-Orient de traces de stress, de maladies, d'épidémies, ainsi que des problèmes de ravitaillement. Progressivement, les villages s'installent sur les hauteurs et se fortifient. Vers la fin du néolithique, que l'on situe vers - 3 000 au Proche-Orient et en Europe à partir de l'âge du bronze vers - 2 000, on assiste à la maîtrise progressive du bronze, qui résulte de l'association du cuivre et de l'étain. Ce qui permet de réaliser des armes, des épées et des haches. On va entamer une course aux armements, car on va aussi inventer le casque et la cuirasse.

Faut-il regretter la néolithisation ?

J. G. Non, car ce processus a apporté la sécurité alimentaire, créé des surplus, transformé la nature vivante. Mais l'homme a dévoyé le message du néolithique. Il est devenu un loup pour sa propre espèce, alors qu'il aurait pu créer un monde plus équitable. Je n'accuse par le néolithique, mais je pense que c'est l'homme qui a mal tourné.

Le constat est sévère...

J.-P. D. De nos jours, on le voit bien, les inégalités sont considérables. Et aujourd'hui, alors que les capacités agricoles pourraient nourrir tout le monde sur la planète, près d'un milliard de Terriens sont en état de sous-nutrition et dix mille enfants meurent chaque jour par manque d'hygiène et malnutrition."

From Le Monde. Could not find a link to the English translation that appeared in the Guardian Weekly as: "Was farming man's first big mistake?"


"We are now learning what countries across the developing world have experienced over three decades: unstable and inequitable neoliberal economics leads to unacceptable levels of social disruption and hardship that can only be contained by brutal repression. Add that to the two other central charges against deregulated capitalism: first, it may create wealth but it does not distribute it effectively; and second, that it takes no account of what it cannot commodify - neither the social relationships of family and community nor the environment, which are vital to human wellbeing, and indeed to the functioning of the market itself. Ultimately, neoliberal capitalism is self-destructive.

We are now witnessing the collapse of this absurd economic orthodoxy that has dominated politics for nearly 30 years. Its triumphalist arrogance, its insistence on orthodoxy, has been comparable to Soviet communism in its scale. For two decades, we've been told "Tina" - "There is no alternative".

Now, as it all totters, we can take stock. We can ask how and why the critique - of which Frank was a part and Polanyi the bible - which was emerging in the late 90s was crippled. The anti-globalisation movement argued that neoliberal capitalism was unjust, unstable and destructive to human and environmental wellbeing. Sounds sensible now, but at the time it mysteriously got smeared by association with anarchists with a penchant for smashing Starbucks' windows. The broad network of social grassroots movements - US unions, Mexican peasants, Indian farmers - were misnamed, misunderstood, ridiculed and ignored. There is no alternative, the politicians intoned mantra-like.

Then 9/11 and for the next seven years a sideshow was offered as a distraction with caricature villains and thriller drama. While eyes were on the absurd charade of the "threat of Islamist terrorism to western civilisation", the real doomsday scenario that poses a far greater threat to western civilisation (whatever that is) was gathering pace right next to Ground Zero, in Wall Street.

From an excellent article by Madeleine Bunting writing for the Guardian.

The Grapes of Wrath and other classics

"'The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It's the monster. Men made it, but they can't control it ... Fella in business got to lie an' cheat, but he calls it somepin else ... You go steal that tire an' you're a thief, but he tried to steal your four dollars for a busted tire. They call that sound business.'

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck's classic, published in 1939, chronicles the plight of the Midwest's working classes during the Depression

'The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms: greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge, has marked the upward surge of mankind.' Gordon Gekko

• Gekko was the main character in Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street."

From Will Huttons short primer " Capitalism's rise and fall".

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Protest in Jordan

""We are protesting because these fruits are planted in our Arab land that was taken by Zionist settlers by forces," said Badi Al-Rafiah, head of a committee against normalization in the 14-member Professional Associations Union.

"Buying Israeli products helps support Israeli farmers who were paying taxes to the military effort to crush and oppress Palestinians," said Abdullah Yusef, a protester.

Jordanian trade figures show bilateral trade is in fact on the rise, with the volume of exchange jumping from $1.6 million in 2003 to $14 million in 2007, representing a nine-fold increase."

Marcy sent me this link and titled it "good news". I don't agree that this is good news; this is just a painful reminder of reality! Could you have imagined in the 1970's that one day Arabs would be protesting against imports of Israeli goods? Imports sanctioned by their own rulers? Imports worth $14 millions? Imports that triple every year? This would have been unthinkable! In Lebanon, normalization is still a long way, although many have been pushing for it, for the sake of sectarian agendas rather than by conviction, it must be said. At one point, they actually believed they had it made. But the Resistance turned the tables in July 2006. And the normalizers became irrelevant.

Oil 4 soil

"Last month, two high-level Kuwaiti delegations toured Southeast Asia's food-producing countryside, looking to invest in agricultural lands and agro-business partnerships on a contract farming basis. Those visits came amid similar regional overtures from other Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

During the visit of the al-Shatti delegation on August 21, Kuwait announced it would provide Cambodia with more than $546 million in soft loans for a variety of infrastructure projects, largely in the agricultural sector.

Even bigger Qatari investments are in store for Vietnam. Qatar and Vietnam have established a $1 billion investment fund of which a portion would be dedicated to agriculture, the Qatar-based Gulf Times reported on September 2. An estimated 90% of the fund's equity will be provided by the Qatar Investment Authority, a national sovereign wealth fund.

There is, of course, a political risk attached to investments that in certain instances could act to create a new class of global landlords. The Gulf state overtures also come against the backdrop of rampant official land-grabbing in countries like Cambodia and Vietnam, where private ownership rights are not firmly established as their economies transition from communist to capitalist systems.

A group of potential Saudi investors were taken to survey rice farming areas in Thailand's central Suphanburi province in May, led by deposed Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra. The proposal involved renting, not selling, the land, which foreigners are barred from owning in Thailand, and the creation of a joint rice-exporting venture.

The surveyed land was apparently owned by a ruling coalition politician with the Chat Thai party. Nonetheless Agriculture Minister Somsak Prissnanantakul and the Thai Farmers Association came out strongly against the idea, accusing the plan's proponents of selling off the country to foreigners and jeopardizing Thai farmers' unique way of life." (Thanks Marcy for the link and the title too)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Food aid to schools

"Jordanian authorities will start distributing food rations to Palestinian refugee children at schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) on 12 October. This is part of a programme to help cushion pupils from soaring food prices.

UNRWA spokesman Matter Saqer in Amman told IRIN the move would have a positive impact on children’s educational achievement in poverty-stricken areas.

Each school will get food twice a week - enough for all the children. No students will be allowed to take any of the food home after school."

When I was little, the school used to give us "chocolat vitamine", small tablets of while chocolate with vitamins and minerals.


"The Bill & Melinda Gates and the Howard G. Buffett Foundations last week pledged a total of $75-million to help farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and other impoverished areas sell their surplus crops to support anti-hunger efforts.

The program, called Purchase for Progress, is designed to improve the World Food Programme's ability to purchase food from small or subsistence farmers." (Thanks D.)

It's everywhere!

The international press picked up the "falafel war". Here, the Guardian in a small piece of news. Sami Zubaida, during his talk Wednesday said he had been interviewed about it by Reuters, and yesterday The Guardian called me for an interview about the topic.

"A new war has broken out between Lebanon and Israel – but this time it is over chickpeas and fava beans rather than guns and territory.

A Lebanese official says Lebanon is preparing to file an international lawsuit against Israel for claiming ownership of traditional dishes it believes are originally Lebanese.

The president of the Lebanese Industrialists' Association, Fadi Abboud, accuses Israel of "stealing" Lebanon's cuisine by marketing dishes such as hummus as its own." (Thanks Marcy)


For those who can read Arabic, Rana Hayek requests NGOs to develop themselves. I love the caricature by Kris (the writing on the arm says: Development Organizations). My editorial: The Fatalistic State on food safety in Lebanon and another part of the ABC of Food: The Green Revolution (al thawrah al khadra', start with "th").

The Revolution will not be funded!

"The contributors to The Revolution Will Not Be Funded coin the term “non-profit industrial complex” (NPIC) to suggest the penetration of the non-profit sector by big business and the state. Unfortunately, they do not do too well in defining the scope and shape of the NPIC itself. Dylan Rodríguez defines the NPIC as “the set of symbiotic relationships that link together political and financial technologies of state and owning-class proctorship and surveillance over public political intercourse,” which Andrea Smith accepts as a working definition in her Introduction.(21-22, 8)" (Thanks Daniel)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Whose food is it anyway?

You know the Peter's principle, in which each employee tends to rise to his or her level on incompetence? Well, here's dear Rasha abu Zeki from Al Akhbar rising to that level, and dragging with her my favorite newspaper.

On today's front page of Al Akhbar, an "investigation" by Rasha about the intellectual property of "Lebanese food" and Israeli attempts to appropriate local food culture. I have written about this repeatedly, most recently here, and here and here and here

And here's a link to the blog on Traditional Lebanese Food

I have little to add to what I ave already said above, except to paraphrase what Sami Zubaida told the audience yesterday when answering a question after his talk about Ottoman cuisine: Of course these (hummus, tabbouleh, falafel, etc...) are not Israeli foods, but they certainly are not Lebanese foods either. And when someone in the room shouted "tabbouleh", he said: try convincing someone from Aleppo that Tabbouleh is Lebanese.

The foods of the region (Levant) share many similarities. They have all been influenced by the geography, and by the social and political history of the region. There MAY be "Levantine foods" although even this is arguable. Israel is NOT part of that Levant. But the Levant does certainly NOT limit itself to Lebanon. Drop the chauvinism. And don't be silly please: Tabbouleh does NOT become Lebanese because a few people with a lot of time on their hand and parsley in their garden made "the largest tabbouleh plate in the world, according to the Guinness book of records!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Every year more land: Zionist peace

"As the olive harvest gets under way in the West Bank, residents of the Palestinian town of Ni'lin say much of their land, where their trees are, is off limits because of Israel's Barrier.

According to estimates by residents, some 5,000 olive trees sit on 270 hectares between the path of the Barrier and the border of the West Bank with Israel, known as the Green Line.

"People depend on this land, especially because they have already lost so much," said Hindi Misleh, an activist in the village.

The village, Misleh said, lost over 4,000 hectares of land to Israel in the 1948 war and then another 800 to Israeli settlements which started to pop up around Ni'lin in the 1980s.

"Every year the settlers took more land," he said."

In summary...

The challenges of the food crisis

"The Chatham House study concludes that the British government does not yet fully understand the challenges it faces over food in the 10 years. It identifies serious challenges to world agriculture:

• UK consumers use food at a rate that represents six times more land and sea than is available to them.

• Developed countries face a chronic shortage of migrant workers, leading to the loss of seasonal crops. In Scotland up to a fifth of the soft fruit crop, worth £5.2m, could be lost in 2008.

• The equivalent of 20 Nile rivers move annually from developing to developed countries, but much of agriculture's use of water is unsustainable.

• Modern food production is energy-intensive and vulnerable to oil and gas price rises.

• Rising prices of agricultural commodities have already produced pressure for more protectionism. Russia plans to form a state grain trading company to control up to half of its cereal exports.

• Falling yields due to climate change will inflate food prices further.

• The rapid rise in world population will continue to push up demand.

• Emerging economies such as China and India are shifting to more meat and dairy products. This will cause greater pressure on food and feed prices, and exacerbate environmental and health problems."

Can you blame them?

"The reason the Palestinians avoid the water from a station in the nearby village of Al-Jalameh is that it smells of chlorine. So deep is the mistrust of Israelis that they fear it might have been contaminated, and would damage their children's health.

"We assured them that water from the Al-Jalameh station is being constantly tested and that its quality is definitely better than that of the water from the agricultural wells," says Mizyed. "But they would not believe us. They said the water could be contaminated in the time gaps between one quality test and another. They would ask us to guarantee water provided by the Israeli company was safe. But of course we could not guarantee."" (Thanks Marcy)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Monopoly in Lebanon

While all Lebanese newspaper are front paging with boring sectarian politics news (except al safir, where the front page was just boring) Al Akhbar, the newspaper with a social agenda, had the issue monopoly on its front page: Lebanon's only mainstay: the empire of monopoly. In the article (aptly titled "monopoly is legally protected in Lebanon") Rasha Abu Zeki reports on a study of markets in Lebanon and how a few companies monopolize all the souk. Not to be missed if you speak Arabic.

In the same page: Lebanon imports 3% of its milk from China, 380 tons which could contain unacceptable levels of cancer-causing melamin. But Lebanon has taken action: samples have been obtained and sent to the lab. Except that the lab admitted it does not have the facilities to carry out the analysis.

Sous les pavés les champs

"The English have their allotments; in Sydney we use the streets. In a variation on guerilla gardening, Sydneysiders are moving veggie plots from the backyard to the street verge, and converting formerly fallow public land into mini-market gardens.

"We want to show people that they can grow food where they live and return to simpler, lower-impact lifestyle," says Mr Mobbs, who received support from the City of Sydney, which provided some labour and plants. Other councils are following suit.

"North Sydney Council has established a permaculture garden with vegetable beds at the coal loader site, next to Balls Head, Waverton," says the Mayor of North Sydney, Genia McCaffery. "We would certainly be very supportive if communities wanted to grow veggies in their street, as long as it's a community initiative."" (Thanks Maha)

During the May 1968 strike and riots in Paris, the students used to dig out the cobblestone (pavés) from the street to throw at the police. They painted the walls with their slogan: Sous les pavés la plage (under the cobblestones the beach).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Hungry Arab

[""Lebanon is planning on filing an international law suit against Israel for violating a food copyright, Fadi Abboud, president of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, told the al-Arabiya network. The Lebanese claim is that Israel markets original Lebanese food like tabouleh, kubbeh, hummus, falafel and fattoush which the Lebanese considered their trademarks prior to the establishment of the Jewish state." While at it, maybe Lebanon can remember that Israel also still occupies Lebanese territories. (thanks Olivia)".]

I lifted the blog entry below from Angry Arab, you can follow the link for the original article. Of course, Abboud is totally wrong, in this chauvinistic and arrogant way that characterizes many Lebanese. None of these foods are Lebanese, because Lebanon (the country) only came to life less than 100 years ago. Mount Lebanon of course existed, and its people cooked foods that were not different from those of Syria and Palestine where kebbeh, for instance is also part of the culinary traditions. You know why there is burghul in kebbeh right? To make the meat last longer and feed more people. In the old times (like when I was born) they used to make kebbeh it with lots of burghul and very little meat and it felt like everyone in the house had eaten meat. Many people in my village still prefer their "frakeh" (raw kebbeh) very rich in burghul. Not the young ones unfortunately.

And falafel are definitely not from the region: it is said that falafel is originally an Indian dish.

Exploiting Palestinians? No way!

:So far, Royalnight has gone unpunished for its profitable exploitation of Palestinian workers in its settlement manufacturing plant. The goods it exports are likely marked as "Made in Israel" even though the Barkan Industrial Park where its sewing factory is located is built in violation of international law on stolen Palestinian land. However, there is a growing movement to hold companies like Royalife accountable. Earlier this year Barkan Wineries terminated its lease at the Barkan Industrial Park and moved its operations inside the internationally-recognized boundary between the West Bank and Israel, following a campaign against the company's settlement operations that tarnished its image (the company, however, still owns a vineyard in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights). As the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel's rights violations increasingly gains momentum, the exploitation of Palestinian labor by Israeli companies operating on occupied land will surely come under further scrutiny." (Thanks Marcy)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The end of Development?

"The meaning of development exploded, increasingly covering a host of contradictory practices. The development business became self-propelling: whatever new crisis arose, a new strategy to resolve it could be devised. Furthermore, the background motive for development slowly shifted. A rising environmental chorus noted that development was not meant to promote growth, but to protect against it. Thus the semantic chaos was complete, and the concept torn to shreds."

From the latest issue of New Internationalist. I used to like this magazine and subscribe to it-20 years ago- in the UK. Then I found out that they were so wishy-washy about Palestine, and that their radicalism when it came to economic issue turned into mushy pea soup when it came to Zionism. They onece had a special issue on refugees in the late 1980's without a mention of the Palestinians. I wrote a letter that was never published.

But am afraid this article has triggered one of my rants about NGOs and Development. You see, Lebanon has been a recipient of development aid since its creation. But aid to Lebanon only became a priority on donors agendas since the beginning of the Lebanese wars, in 1975. I remember being interviewed by a British NGO in the late 80's for a job in Yemen. One interviewer asked me if I had previous experience of development. I answered: Of course I do, you've been developing me for as long as I can remember, the least I can do is be an expert. I got the job. Anyway, the mid 70's also coincided with period during which Development became an international business. Like all international businesses, development has ramifications deep inside governments. The largest donors are governments, who can donate directly, through their embassies, or indirectly, through the UN system and other (seemingly independent) donors. It therefore comes as no great surprise that development money is often linked to politics.

There are hundreds of development organizations working in Lebanon today, in a big community that brings together Lebanese non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with large international players. To get an idea of the size of the operation, one just has to log into, a web site that was created during the Israeli attack on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, and which attempts to gather information about development work. No doubt that the site misses a number of agencies, such as village-based civil society organizations (jam3iyyat) or cooperatives, along with parties who may have elected not to register into the site, but it gives a pretty good idea of the huge numbers of organizations active on the Lebanese scene. These NGOs live off a significant amount of funding that is poured yearly in the Lebanese aid market from a variety of sources. There are no valid estimates of the amount of development money that is spent on development, but it is in the order of tens of millions of US$.

Most, if not all, development organizations, share a set of core values. Chief among these values are democracy and transparency and the respect of all partners. These values are highly commendable, and all citizens should struggle to see them implemented at every level of their lives, especially in the relationship between state and citizen. Short of achieving this in today’s Lebanon, these core values: democracy, transparency and respect; must form the basis of all interactions between the development organizations and the communities they purport to serve.

We hear and read and watch regularly reports about the achievements of the development organizations in the projects they have implemented. We read about workshops, meetings, launch ceremonies and stories of achievements and successes without being able to really judge the validity of these claims. Moreover, as the leadership of development NGOs are usually not elected by the people they serve, but by the people who work in them, it is very difficult to enforce accountability. Many development NGOs (but far from all) publish their accounts on the internet, and share them during their annual general meetings during (which mostly re-elect the same leadership, or clones of this leadership). However, the “partners” (as we call the people who are the recipients of the NGO help), are generally not part of these meetings and do not know enough English to be able check the accounts of the NGOs online! In reality, budgetary issues in most development organizations worldwide are decided by a small group of people who sit at the top of the management pyramid. Very little is debated outside this core group, let alone with the community that is supposed to be served and respected. Communities are usually the passive recipients of the plans that were formulated in agreement between donors and implementing agency. So much for democracy, transparency and respect.

It is against this background that many voices are starting to be heard throughout the country. Voices that ask disturbing questions such as: “If tens of millions of $ in development aid money have been invested in fighting poverty in Baalbak, Hermel, Akkar, the South and in Bab el Tebbaneh and in the Palestinian camps, then how come people are still so poor and how come people are getting poorer? How come millions of aid $ are being spent on agriculture but the status of agriculture is still declining, and farmers are still leaving their lands and emigrating? How come there is still no water, no jobs, no shelter, no schooling, no rights available in Nahr el Bared, one and a half year after it was destroyed and while scores of agencies, headed by UNRWA, claim to be working there to help the poor.

Whoever cares to listen can hear these angry complaints. But hearing is not sufficient. Civil society and development NGOs and donors must engage in a total rethink of the way they do their work. They must assess the real impact of the projects they implement. And if they have the courage to say out loud what they say in private, and to acknowledge the limitation and sometimes futility of their work, then the best option might be for them to dissolve their structures and distribute the project money in cash to the poor who will surely find a better use for it.

Chinese milk: farmers vs industry

""We've lost everything, but look at the nice car you have," one dairy farmer said, pointing at a government official they called Mr. Wang, who stood uncomfortably by a shiny Volkswagen in Nantongyi Village.

"You know everything but you won't talk. You have no conscience!" another man shouted.

China's dairy farmers stand accused of adulterating their milk for profit in China's worst food safety crisis in decades. But farmers say they, too, are the victims of a widening scandal that has sickened 53,000 babies, caused at least four deaths and triggered a massive recall of dairy products."

Chinese farmers victims of milk scandal?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Syrian drought in figures

"“According to the Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), Syria’s current drought is, by far, the worst it has experienced in four decades,” said Michelle Montas, the spokeswoman for Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief.

“The vast majority of funds requested in the appeal will go towards agriculture, livelihoods and food. Nearly $2 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has already been put towards the appeal.”

Poor and erratic rains in the season beginning in Oct 2007 resulted in crop yields plummeting across north-east Syria, while the subsequent lack of fodder has seen 59,000 owners of small herds lose all of their livestock.

Officials have assisted 29,000 drought-struck families and offered free cattle medicine and feed on loan, but the UN says in a report the affected population’s need “is beyond the government’s capacity and resources”.

Syrians living in the drought-affected region are being doubly impacted by the global rise in food costs, which is seeing prices outstripping the average household income.

UN officials say people are eating less, selling their assets or migrating, while conditions like anaemia, malnutrition and diarrhoea are on the rise – particularly among pregnant women and young children."

I wonder what this program will do. Will it be able to reach the Bedouin population which has been the most affected? It should really be targeted and this relief program should be accompanied with a livelihood stabilization program.

Bail out? what bail out?

"Old people sit on crates, children shuffle impatiently and adults avert their gaze. This happens every day of the year in Mott Haven, no matter the weather. That is because for too many years to count, hunger and want have been a constant in their lives.

The people who run this Bronx soup kitchen and an adjoining food pantry do not need economic analyses to tell them things are rough. The growing line and increased demand for food packages and hot meals — sometimes from people who thought they were middle class — is a sure-fire indicator.

And while politicians debate a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, they have long lived with the fact that there is no emergency rescue plan for East 139th Street.

This bleak little strip lies eight and a half miles from Wall Street. Emotionally, it is a parallel universe invisible to those titans of finance for whom fat bonuses used to mean bigger vacation homes, fancier toys and ever more exotic vacations."

Not outraged yet?

If you are not yet outraged, angry, livid, fuming at the condition of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation, see this youtube video (10 mins) about water in the West Bank posted by the Italian Aid Agency GVC. (Thanks Marcy)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Wild grass fights disease

"Ug99, the deadly stem rust which is spreading panic among wheat growers across the globe, may soon be tackled with the help of an obscure wild grass.

Researchers in the US are focusing on a wild grass as a standin for wheat to speed up the discovery of genes that will improve wheat’s resistance to diseases, including the Ug99.

According to reports, the grass, Brachypodium distachyon, is related to wheat, barley, and other small grains."

Ug99 is a killer and might wipe out the world's wheat supply. Glad for biodiversity...

Fire works

"Meanwhile, a nearby olive grove owned by Palestinians was set on fire, and the blaze began spreading toward an IDF base and a police station in Kadum. Firefighters dispatched to the scene extinguished the blaze. Two weeks ago Samaria Sub-District police arrested two Yitzhar settlers for suspicion of torching agricultural land belonging to Palestinians near the village of Ma'adama. Palestinians reported that settlers had set fields on fire near Nablus and Kedumim. " (Thanks Marcy)


Its Friday, the day of Badel-Allternatives in Al-Akhbar. My editorial on the slavery sugar boycott of 1791 and the inability of the Arab to boycott Israel today. And Rana Hayek wrote 2 articles: one on celebrations and food in the world, in which she asks how can one celebrate with unfairly produced food? (see the illustration by Kris. The big man is saying: Happy Eid). And another on food and the Eid el fitr...

Thursday, October 2, 2008


For the past 3 days, my neighborhood has been invaded by kids carrying guns, all styles of guns: there's the ubiquitous AK47 (a household favorite), silver pump action 12-gauge shot guns, M16's and even tiny Uzis, specially designed for summer shorts. The armed children patrol the street and give each others orders on the fake Motorola talkie-walkies. Sometimes, they engage each others: they take fighting stances, move cautiously from car to car, then roll across the street and light explosive devices that shake our windows. This is when I go out onto the balcony and shout at them, but without much effect. They continue shooting at each other, using real ammo, special spherical bullets that give you bruises.

It is the Eid el Fitr, a celebration of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Muslim countries. The tradition is that kids are given toys and light fireworks. This year, there are more toy guns than in any other year, and the kids must have been receiving serious street fighting training, because they look and act as if they just walked out of Playstation II. Or of the latest street battles of May 2008, in which Opposition and Loyalists forces fought each other over the control of Beirut.

The area in which I live was a battleground last May. The same kids who are now playing war with realistic weaponry witnessed it all. They looked and learned. They studied the moves on the cable TV action channels, practiced virtually on their computer game stations, and are now honing their skills through field practice. I saw the same scene everywhere I have been in Beirut, in both Loyalists and Opposition neighborhoods. I also saw the same guns-toting kids playing the same games in the villages of the South I visited yesterday.

Q: What do Lebanese children dream of?
A: An upgrade.

Go build a peace culture with that.


"I'm wondering if there is a closer link between coffee and bubble economies. First off, I must confess that every time I have a venti mocha frappucino, I feel a wave of irrational exuberance wash over me. I can just see those large plastic cups by the elbows of the managers of the hedge and private equity funds (the 50 most exuberant of which earned a certifiably irrational $588 million each in compensation last year).
Not convinced yet of the link between coffee and speculative bubbles? Here's one last connection. The day after a bubble economy bursts feels a lot like the day after you decide to kick that four-latte-a-day habit. Irrational exuberance is just a memory. All you have left is one whopper of a headache." (Thanks Toufic)

Food crisis or food prices crisis?

"The main difference today is in the parting of extremes, or the deepening polarization between alternative paradigms, narratives and solutions. On one side of the court stand the impassioned NGOs and hardened campaigners who have long opposed large-scale agribusiness in place of food sovereignty, bottom-up development, and the empowerment of small farmers through local and regional markets. The food price crisis, they say, has exposed the disaster of global agricultural production and the conclusive failure of a market fundamentalist ideology left unchecked for far too long.

On the other side of the court, supported by Gordon Brown, George W. Bush, Bill Gates’ pockets and the most powerful financial institutions in the world, stand the Green Revolutionaries led by chemical technologies and multinational corporations from the E.U and U.S.A. One path, say almost all of the NGOs, will lead to social justice, the strengthening of local communities and food security for all, while the current path is inherently unsustainable, responsible for continued hunger in a world of plenty, and incapable of ending poverty."

Adam Parsons tolls the bells for export-led agriculture and distinguishes between the food crisis and the food prices crisis. (Thansk Marcy)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The last straw

"High fodder prices, drought and government policies have caused a sharp drop in livestock numbers in Jordan in the past year, affecting livelihoods and meat prices, agriculture experts say.

"Many livestock breeders slaughtered their animals after the government's decision last year to slash fodder subsidies to livestock breeders," Ahmad al-Faour, president of the Jordan Farmers' Union (JFU), told IRIN.

"The abrupt decision left the farmers confused and many of them chose to slaughter their animals because they couldn't afford to buy animal feed at high global prices," he said.

"Jordan is a rural and Bedouin society. Many people rely on animal husbandry to make a living. It is a traditional way of life. It is difficult to abandon it and switch to something else," he said, adding that slaughtering the animals and selling them did not benefit livestock breeders who ended up being exploited by middlemen, according to al-Faour.
" (Thanks Rania)

It has been a bad year for people who keep small ruminants (sheep and goats) in full or semi grazing systems. Forage prices have been very high and the poor rainfall wasn't sufficient to enrich pastures. Straw prices have been exceptionally high this year all over Lebanon, as sheep and goats compete with the more capital intensive cow production. Bedouins suffer most because semi-nomadic sheep production is essentially the food system many rely on for their livelihoods. I have heard horror stories from Syria where one Bedouin flock-owner committed suicide because he could not afford to feed his 1,000 heads of sheep and they were emaciated and dying like flies. Historically, Bedouins have been the most affected social group in case of droughts. This has often led to violence. Check previous posts on this issue here and here and here and here. By the way this is evolving into a real research project. I presented a review of the impact of environmental change on the Bedouins of Jordan in Oxford
last April, and will be presenting a paper on the Bedouins of Lebanon and Jordan in Berlin in late October and in Cairo in early November.