Thursday, April 30, 2009

Capitalism and the flu

"There should be no excuses. This is not a “black swan” flapping its wings. Indeed, the central paradox of this swine flu panic is that while totally unexpected, it was accurately predicted.
Six years ago, Science dedicated a major story (reported by the admirable Bernice Wuethrich) to evidence that “after years of stability, the North American swine flu virus has jumped onto an evolutionary fast track.”
But what caused this acceleration of swine flu evolution? Probably the same thing that has favored the reproduction of avian flu.
Virologists have long believed that the intensive agricultural system of southern China — an immensely productive ecology of rice, fish, pigs, and domestic and wild birds — is the principal engine of influenza mutation: both seasonal “drift” and episodic genomic “shift.” (More rarely, there may occur a direct leap from birds to pigs and/or humans, as with H5N1 in 1997.)
But the corporate industrialization of livestock production has broken China’s natural monopoly on influenza evolution. As many writers have pointed out, animal husbandry in recent decades has been transformed into something that more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in schoolbooks." (Thanks Marcy)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Six steps

  1. "Keep tabs on respiratory symptoms. If you or someone in your family develops symptoms suggesting a cold or the flu, be alert for persistent or worsening symptoms, particularly a high fever.
  2. Stay home if you're sick. If you do have swine flu, you can give it to others starting about 24 hours before you develop symptoms and ending about seven days later.
  3. Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently. Flu viruses can survive for two hours or longer on surfaces, such as doorknobs and countertops.
  4. Take extra precautionary measures if you visit or live in an affected area. Travel to Mexico has not been restricted, but some airlines are waiving fees for changing your travel plans.
  5. If you have a chronic condition, such as asthma or heart disease, it's a good idea to wear a breathing mask when you're out in public in affected areas.
  6. Be prepared. Ask your health care provider or county health department about infection-control plans in case of a serious swine flu outbreak. The antiviral drugs oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) reduce the severity of symptoms. "


"The plains area of central and southern Iraq, renowned for its fertility in the 1970s, had turned into salinised land. It is estimated that about 25,000 hectares annually are affected by salinisation and becoming too saline for major agricrops to grow." (Thanks Marcy)

Monday, April 27, 2009

So are they or are they not????

"Watzl and his co-workers compared the polyphenol content and antioxidant capacity of Golden Delicious apples grown under organic and conventional conditions over a three year period (2004-2006).

According to their findings, in 2005 and 2006 the antioxidant capacity was 15 per cent higher in the organic fruit than the conventionally produced fruits. Organic apples grown in 2005 also had a higher polyphenol concentration, said the researchers.

On the other hand, no differences between the organic and conventional fruit were observed when the researchers compared fruit from 2004 and 2006."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swine flu

"MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Governments around the world rushed on Sunday to check the spread of a new type of swine flu that has killed up to 81 people in Mexico and infected around a dozen in the United States. "

Further hardship for the poor

"April 2009, Rome - High food prices persist in developing countries despite an improved global cereal supply situation and a sharp decline in international food prices, FAO warned today in its latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report. This is creating further hardship for millions of poor people already suffering from hunger and undernourishment.This year's world cereal production is forecast to decline by 3 percent from the 2008 record, but it would still be the second largest crop ever, according to FAO's first 2009 forecast. Most of the decrease is expected to be in wheat, mainly due to a significant reduction in plantings in developed countries in response to lower international prices. In developing countries, cereal output could remain close to last year's good level."


"In an April 21, 2008, New Yorker story, "Vengeance Is Ours," Pulitzer Prize-winning geography scholar Jared Diamond describes blood feuds that rage for decades among tribes in the Highlands of New Guinea. Diamond tells the story using a central protagonist: Daniel Wemp, member of the Handa clan, a blood-thirsty warrior bent on avenging his uncle's death. That quest, writes Diamond, touched off six years of warfare leading to the slaughter of 47 people and the theft of 300 pigs.

Now Diamond's protagonist is fighting Diamond. A two-page complaint filed in New York State Supreme Court on April 20 seeks $10 million from the New Yorker's publisher, Advance Publications, claiming Diamond's story falsely accused Wemp and fellow tribesman Isum Mandigo of "serious criminal activity" and "murder." "

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Auto critique?

"Saudi Arabia, for example, has already secured 1.6 million hectares of agricultural land in Indonesia. As it is phasing out its own wheat production to conserve finite water resources, it is planning to invest heavily in agricultural projects abroad. A state-owned organization – the Saudi Company for Agricultural Investment and Animal Production, with an initial capital of $800m – is trying to interest private Saudi investors in foreign farm projects by providing credit and by negotiating deals with Australia and Argentina, as well as with countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.
One of the problems of these new semi-colonial plantations is that much of the food produced there will naturally be exported to the countries that put up the money – to China, South Korea and the Arab world – rather than consumed where the food is produced. This might actually lead to increased food scarcity in the host countries where the projects are located. Large-scale foreign-owned farms could also threaten the lives of native farmers, now working the land. Often without title to ownership, they face the threat of expulsion by the newcomers.Feeding the rich might end up starving the poor. "

Patrick Seale in the Saudi Gazette

Orange Contra

"Several news sites and blogs reported that Israeli oranges in Tehran's shops made many people surprised. Ilna, a semi official news agency, reported [fa] the Iranian authorities will stop the distribution of these oranges."

Between rethoric and practice From Global Voices Online

Permaculture as Necessity, Not Choice, in Palestine

"On Earth Day in Palestine, I wrote this piece for the Huffington Post. It’s about the Bustan Qaraaqa farm in northern Beit Sahour, where Palestinians and international volunteers are starting an ambitious re-greening project — to counteract the Israeli land-steal by settlement colonies, the expanding food crisis and the desertification via global climate change.
It was cut for content and word count; below is my longer version." (Thanks Marcy)

Friday, April 24, 2009


We come back after a two-weeks interruption. Today's Badael page is great: Muhammad muhsin wrote a big article on the "orchards of Dahiyeh" (the southern suburbs) which have been eaten by cement and asphalt, and another on the street names of Dahiyeh and their agricultural connotations. My editorial "'saving face" is about the water allocation between the Palestinians and the usurpers in occupied Palestine. And a small article on tayyoun, a wild plant from Lebanon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Malnutrition worsens in Gaza

"GAZA CITY, occupied Gaza Strip (IRIN) - Rising poverty, unemployment and food insecurity in Gaza, compounded by the recent 23-day Israeli offensive, have increased the threat of child malnutrition, say UN agencies, health ministry officials and healthcare non-governmental organizations in Gaza."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Beautiful pictures of Lebanese Bedouins by my talented friend and co-worker Hussam Hawwa

The Caring Bank

I usually start to worry when I find myself agreeing with the World Bank. A couple of days ago, they exposed again the blatant Israeli discrimination in access to water between Palestinians and Israelis, right in time for Durban 2. Today I found a very good interview with the lead of rural development in the Bank. He makes a couple of excellent points, for example:

"There is significant danger of focusing only on agriculture rather than a more integrated rural development that enables people to secure good productive jobs in agriculture as well as in other sectors. Ironically, part of the key to developing a vibrant agriculture sector will be making investments that help people do things other than agriculture. This way labor productivity increases in agriculture and standards of living in rural space improve. The other key concern that needs to be addressed is exposure to volatile food prices on international markets. There is no way around the reality that MENA countries will need to buy a significant – and increasing – share of their food on international markets. The key is to manage this exposure in new and innovative ways to reduce the potential for food prices shocks without going bankrupt in the process."

and this:

"Where markets are not working or too small, there may be strong arguments for public intervention. A good example is the grain storage business. There are strong arguments for this being in the hands of either the public or the private sector. But what’s important is to look at the full picture. If there’s enough competition in the private sector, then it probably makes sense to put it there. If it’s in the hands of the public sector, then the thing to focus on is the efficiency of operations and governance."

The web page also contains links to good articles on Food security in MENA.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I knew there was a Jordanian Men's Magazine called Nox, and that it covered issues usually covered in Men's magazine: Hollywood movied, lightly clad girls, fast cars, and other consumer-oriented stuff. My friend Jackson, who has written articles in Nox had told me they were "right on". I didn't really get it and filed it under "silly stuff". But then I found a copy yesterday in the Amman airport. The politics of the magazine kick ass, look at this article:

Top 10 Lies of the Iraq War
Remembering the biggest collection of untruths in diplomatic history which has helped perpetuate a tragic war.

or this:

"In the democratic Western world, where free speech is as sacrosanct as eating disproportionate amounts of junk food, it is still difficult to find a film that truthfully depicts Arabs in their own territory, never mind Arabs living in someone else’s – particularly when that territory is as self-congratulatory as the United States or Australia. In both countries, self-examination tends to be an exercise in historic revision, a cleanse of the memory as opposed to the admission of a present injustice. "

And their line on Palestine is excellent: they call Israel "the zionist entity" and the latest issue has an article denouncing normalization.

Faire trade

"There was a conference in December 2008 with Gordon Brown and [Envoy of the Quartet on the Middle East] Tony Blair and all this talk of private sector investment saving the Palestinian economy. But these dialogues go on in a vacuum where no one talks about the occupation and the fact that Israel is pretty much intentionally destroying the Palestinian economy," she said."If you look at ethical trade initiatives they are driven by awareness of what Israel is doing, so these small-scale projects have a real place in addressing that. The large-scale negotiations are just talking in another world where we don't have checkpoints and Israel controlling all the sea, land [and] air borders." (Thanks Marcy)

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Wherever I have travelled in the Middle East, I always found restaurants, beauty parlors or barber shops called "Lebanon" (Lubnan). This is in the lower middle class district of Hay Nowrouz in the Erbil suburb. The leg of beef depicted near the bride indicates the butcher shop.


My hotel is opposite the Francois Hariri stadium. He was a former governor of Erbil and was assassinated on 18 February 2001.

Erbil: kebbeh, kebab

Lunch time in the souk is the opportunity to taste new foods. There was a big queue at the kibbeh place, where an old man and his apprentice were frying the large flat Mosul kibbeh (kibbet al mousil). Like most kibbeh, it is made with burghul and minced meat. But here, a pouch is made with burghul only (unlike the Lebanese-Syrian-Palestinian kibbeh which is made from a blend of meat and burghul) and then filled with fried mince meat with onions and spices and raisins and then the whole thing is deep fried. On top is a picture of the ingredients in the small street shop, and below is a picture of the Mosul kibbeh. I bought some and ate it while strolling in the narrow streets of the old city.

I stopped where I found a queue of people waiting: always a good sign. Next was this tannour where there were making bread in fast forward motion. Excellent stuff. People buy it and step in the next door tiny shop where they order tashreeb lahm, literally "imbibing meat". It is a stew made by boiling pieces of meat with onions, tomatoes, dried lime and sometimes with peppers. Pieces of bread are torn from the loaf and layered in a deep plate and the stew is poured on them. Excellent.

Later in the souk I stopped for kebab at the most famous place: Yasseen Kebab. There are 2 places, distant a few meters from each others, one seems to be exclusively for men and the others for "families". The kebabs are made from a mixture that must contain at least 60% fat and the rest is meat. They are heavy, but very good. They are served with onions, grilled tomatoes and a special bread that looks like tannour bread but I was told is made by a semi-automated process. It is accompanied by a smoked, diluted sheep milk yoghurt with a very interesting taste. I liked it but the other people who were with me didn't. Below: Yasseen Kebab in the making.

Erbil: say cheese

Erbil is a bit like a mini Sanaa (the capital of Yemen) that would have suddenly gotten rich. In a few years they have reconstructed, and in most cases just constructed, a reasonably efficien infrastructure with a very decent road network. There are houses and housing estate projects sprouting everywhere, but the architecture is not very nice. The rich businesses are located in "villages" near the ring road. These are really compounds with armed guards at the gate, and dozens of exactly similar houses, complete with large avenues and gardens. A few people live there too. Erbil has a flat topography and is built concentrically around the beautiful Erbil citadel, which is constructed with adobe bricks. The old quarter and the souk are located at the foot of the citadel. The mountains start a few km East of Erbil, and the foothills are gorgeous especially after the rain of the past few days. Below is a picture of the hills East of the city.

I tasted many foods, some of which were totally new, such as qaimach, which is kind of solid cream rolled into cylindrical shapes and eaten with bread and preferably covered with the syrupy purple mulberry jam they make locally. Qaimach is made by heating buffalo milk and shaving off the solid film that accumulates at the surface. It is served with milk around it and the taste is reminiscent of the immature buffalo mozarella that is still milky and oozes milk when cut open. The photo below is of qaimach. The same process is used to make sartou from sheep milk, but it comes as flat layers rather than rolls. Qaimach seems to be preferred by most.

Below: sartou

I also had many other cheeses, especially the jaji cheese, which I talked about yesterday and which is made very much like we make darfieh in Lebanon but with sheep milk. It is excellent, in fact better than darfieh. I took the picture below in the cheese market of the old souk. There are many jaji vendors, but connaisseurs told me this is the best one. He is holding the sheep skin, and the jaji cheese is at the bottom of the picture. They also sell kishk, which is dried yoghurt. It comes in balls, and the one they sell is made without burghul, unlike the one we make in Lebanon, but the trader told me they make the one with burghul for home consumption.

The cheese souk is fabulous, and one can buy plenty of cheeses and dairy products: whey, locally called laur, white cheese (Kurdi panir). Yoghurt (mast) is sold in metallic containers covered with cheese cloth. Below: kishk balls, next to US imported almonds. The imported almonds cost half as much as the local, small almonds which have a strong taste of cyanide. Good for the heart, the vendor told me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Fair trade in demand

"Consumers don’t just expect companies to do no harm in communities they source from, but to actually contribute to development, a major international survey commissioned by FLO International indicates – and they appear to be sticking by their principles despite the economic woes.

In recent weeks two major manufacturers, Cadbury and Mars, have both made pledges to make ethical sourcing a core part of their strategy in the coming years (although Mars' is geared towards sustainable production rather than Fairtrade). Some commentators have expressed surprise at the timing of these pledges, since the recession is causing great attention to spending, especially on treats and luxury goods.

However the new report, commissioned by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) and conducted by Globescan, indicates that huge increases in sales of Fairtrade products in a number of European countries in 2008, compared to 2007."


I reached Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, around 10 AM today. The weather was overcast, which is apparently totally out of season, and it started raining soon after. I was told there has been very little rain or snow this year, and that the seasons are changing.

I am here to look at the planning of the sustainable agriculture component of the Erbil Green belt, which is a 2 km wide ring circling the city, 12 km from the center. The city on a loess plain is at the foot of a mountainous area. It is framed to the North by the Great Zeb river and to the South East by the Small Zeb river. Both rivers meet south of the city and feed into the Tigris.

I had a meeting with a couple of people who work in the city and asked them about food. This is what I learned:

What they eat:

Breakfast: Yoghurt and cheeses, bread, eggs. Yoghurt and cheeses can be made from either cow or sheep milk.

Lunch: Rice and meat based, with stews or soups. Salad. Sometimes fruits. Meat is most often sheep, followed by beef. There are goats in the mountains but their meat is not appreciated. Poultry is often used. Once a week or so burghul replaces rice.

Dinner: Can be left overs from the lunch or like the breakfast.

Bread accompanies all meals. There are at least 6 kinds of breads:
1. Baladi, made in the tannour with local wheat flour.
2. K0leray baroun (local wheat flour)
3. Nani Hawrami (local wheat flour)
4. Samoun which is like small baguettes and is made with imported flour either on stone (hajari) or "automatic".
5. Ruqaq or Nani Tiri, which is like the lebanese marquq and is made from local wheat flour
6. `Aysh which is like Arabic bread (pitta) and is made with imported flour.

I will try to taste them all.

I also asked about cheeses and was told of the while baladi cheese, and of the jaji cheese which is like the darfieh cheese, but is matured in a lambskin skin instead of goat skin, and to which a special herb added for flavour. There is also the Leur, another white cheese.

I also asked about the origin of food:

Bread wheat: A lot is imported but people prefer the local wheat to make bread and burghul. But local sources do not appear to be sufficient.
Dairy: Can be imported from Turkey, Syria or Iran, but is also produced locally although quantities are insufficient. People might prefer the local or the imported depending on their taste and on their concern for hygiene. The people i talked to said that people believe Turkish products are better "controlled" for sanitary quality. Local products are made in small scale back kitchen factories.
Meat: Can be imported from Syria, Turkey or Iran or local. Local is preferred but insufficient.
Fruits and vegetable: as above.

Basically people prefer local sources but there are not enough of them.

People purchase food from 3 sources: the neighborhood souks, shops, or from itenerant vendors who sell fruits and vegs on pushcarts. There is a central wholesale food market called I think "gumruk" or al `alwa.

We discussed foods and recipes and I was told that one very traditional food is stuffed sheep tripes and intestines and hooves and brains and heads and tongue. I thing the name is Patcha, but I'll check again. Men wake up at 5 AM, go to the hamam till 6 and then go for a Patcha breakfast before setting off for work. I decided to try it, so we went to a restaurant that makes it. It was good. A bit heavy, but good.

On the field trip to visit the area of the Green Belt, I saw lots of wheat that had remained dwarf because of the lack of rain. I met Delshad, a farmer in his 40's from a tiny village called Bar `oshter and asked him about farming around Erbil. He plants 65 dunums, but in Kurdistan a dunum is 2,500m2 (in Lebanon it is 1,000m2). He also has 500 heads of sheep and a large poultry (broiler) production unit that looked artisanal. He complained about the absence of rain and told me about his rotation of wheat or barley then fallow then chickpea. He sells the ton of wheat to the government for $500. He gets the sheep feed from the government and sells the milk (manual milking) in the surrounding villages and the meet at the central Erbil food market. He buys the poultry feed and has a new generation every 2 months. He seemed content and showed me with prode his tractor that cost $50,000. He also plants vegetables which he irrigates from an artesian well by furrow irrigation. I couldn't learn more because he spoke very little Arabic and we had to communicate through the driver.

On the way I saw more dwarfed wheat and very few fruit trees. The few small orchards I saw looked like they were apricots.

More bandora

Helena (see her comment on the post) tells me that the bandora story is not a joke nor is it an urban legend, and that it actually happened, in which case please read "killed" for "pureed" and forgive the upset. And remember that there was no need for tomatoes to kill Palestinians or Lebanese or other nationalities or sects at the check points of the Lebanese Civil War.

Bandora's box

Annia, who's writing a memoir about food and war, sent me this (I quote with her permission):

"It's from Clifford Wright's "Mediterranean Feast." The legend is that in 1282, when the French ruled Sicily, a group of French soldiers disrupted a Sicilian Easter celebration, harassing the Sicilian women and "molesting" one of them. (The background is that the French were commandeering food from Sicilian peasants for their impending attack on Constantinople, while the Aragonians and the Byzantines were both trying to stir up popular revolts against them.) Within minutes, writes Wright, all the French soldiers were dead. Soon the uprising spread to monasteries and convents, and "foreign friars" were required to say the word ciciri, Sicilian for chickpea, a word that French people supposedly could not pronounce. Those who could not say the word were killed.
--paraphrased from p. 495, Mediterranean Feast, cites Steven Runciman's The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later 13th Century."

This came about because during a recent discussion we remembered that, in the early years of the Lebanese Civil War in the 1970's, there was a joke (in poor taste) circulating in Lebanon about how the Kataeb (and their allies) used to stop cars on their check points looking for Palestinians and that they would recognize them by showing them a tomato and asking them to name the fruit. The Lebanese say "Banadoura" while the Palestinians say "Bandora". Those who pronounced wrong were pureed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

I'm off to Erbil, Kurdistan tomorrow till Tuesday. I'm not sure I'll be able to blog from there.

How sweet!

Financial Times April 14

"Saudi Arabia is putting $800m into a new public company that will invest in overseas agricultural projects.

The move signals a large step-up in Riyadh’s efforts to outsource supply for the kingdom’s food needs.


The plans have raised concerns about Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states exporting from poor countries in Africa which suffer from chronic food shortages. Mr Obaid tried to dispel those fears saying that although a “big portion” of the crops would be exported back to Saudi Arabia, the kingdom would leave some of the food it produced overseas for the local market."

But...Financial Times March 4

"Saudi Arabia has announced the arrival of the first food crop harvested in Saudi-owned farms abroad, in a sign that the kingdom is moving faster than expected to outsource agricultural production.

Rice, harvested in famine-hit Ethiopia by a group of Saudi investors, was presented to King Abdullah recently and comes as other countries are still in the early stages of investing in overseas farms."


"According to Marie-Christine Daunay, who is in charge of eggplant studies at the French agronomic research institute INRA, eggplant is somewhat of a mystery even to those who work with it daily. But at least we know a little about its propensity to drink. It is due partly to the spongy texture, of course, but Daunay tells me that the eggplant also contains compounds called saponins "that have a natural affinity for lipids." They love fat, in other words, and work as hard as they can to soak up as much of it as possible. Saponins are also responsible for the bitter flavors that in small quantities can be nice but in older or undercooked eggplant can be overwhelming. Although it's not yet scientifically proven, saponins are believed to help lower cholesterol and, if not satisfied in their craving for fat, to absorb fats present in our digestive system."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cardamom please!

"The poets say, 'Gahwa without cloves or cardamom is like an old lady with bad breath'.

How can we just accept this as a mere news item?????

"Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure, it was reported today.
Over 1,500 farmers in an Indian state committed suicide after being driven to debt by crop failure, it was reported today. " (Thanks Marcy)

The genie

"The Israeli Anti-Drug Authority launched an ad campaign linking smoking marijuana with support for Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

In one poster, Nasrallah’s head appears rising like a genie on smoke from a bong.

The poster reads: (In red) “Nasrallah aims at destroying Israel entirely.” The campaign is based on the allegation that Hizbullah funds its activities in Lebanon and alleged activities in Palestinian areas through drug trafficking.

In white font the poster reads: "Hizbullah has the obvious purpose of flooding Israel with venom which forms a strategic danger against Israel. We should not give him the chance to destroy Israel and we should counter drugs internally and externally.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


"Another recommends that the wasted water could be “sold” to Jordan and the West Bank in a peace deal. Apart from the irony that Israel would be selling illegally confiscated water back to its rightful owners, the fact is that Israel’s enormous water and land resources are exploited by so few to produce so little. If this land and water were turned over to the lawful owners, there would be little loss to Israel — despite common claims to the contrary — and tremendous gain in peace prospects."

Bayt al siyaseh

It's elections time and suddenly the politicians start noticing the peasantry: Gibran Baseel, the minister of communications and MP-hopeful in Batroun and son in law of Michel `Awn (who does not believe in hereditary political leaderships, let this be known), opens "Bayt al Mouneh" (house of traditional food) in Batroun and gives a speech on the need to preserve culture and traditions. This discourse, which I endorse when properly contextualized, sometimes gives me the creeps. I always expect a Phoenician to grab me by the throat and ask me for my ID. (Thanks Muna)

Big Food Kills Babies (and other humans as well)

"Recently, Brownell and Kenneth E. Warner -- a prominent tobacco researcher who is Dean of the University of Michigan's School of Public Health -- met at a conference and began discussing the similar legal, political, and business strategies traditionally employed by "Big Tobacco" and the tactics now being used by "Big Food." Struck by the common playbook that both industries have used and concerned about the public health impacts of industry actions, Brownell and Warner decided to explore the topic more deeply. The result was a paper published earlier this year in the health policy journal, the Milbank Quarterly: "The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food?"
KB: Well, one is distorting the science and denying the health effects of their products. (Recently) a study was done showing that how close people lived to fast food restaurants predicted their likelihood of obesity. The study was really quite well done. So the National Restaurant Association then came out with their own statement that basically trashed the study and more or less called it junk science.

Now, this is a perfect repeat of what tobacco did for many years. They said smoking doesn't cause lung cancer. There is not definitive evidence. There aren't good-enough studies. It's junk science. It's just the advocates out to get us. And then they denied that second-hand smoke was killing people. They denied that nicotine was addictive. You can go on and on and on. Well, so here comes a (food) study that's pretty persuasive. It certainly supports other studies showing a link between fast food consumption and obesity, and what did they do? They trashed the science. They deny it's the case. In all likelihood, they will pay scientists who they know to produce results favorable to them to disprove this finding. It's all part of the same script."

Gaza farm losses

"The deposed Palestinian Agricultural Minister in Gaza, Mohamed Al Aghaa, announced that the direct losses of the Agricultural sector in the Strip due to the Israeli Cast lead offensive totals 147 million USD. He added that the indirect losses have also reached 419 million USD due to the latest attack. Al Aghaa during a conference in Gaza City on Sunday." (Thanks Marcy)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Spring break

I have been in South Lebanon since Friday and I came to the Bekaa a few hours ago. Spring this year is fabulous and my aunt told me that there are plants that are blooming she had not seen for many years. I took long walks with Bella who is the nicest red setter in the world. I was lucky to witness the change of seasons. When I arrived on Friday, there was still a bit of winter in the air. When I left today, summer was here...

To go to the North Bekaa I took the road from Sinay to Nabatiyyeh, then to Jubay`, then to Jezzine, then Kfarhouneh where I vivited the Monastery of Mzayr`a where I used to spend my summers as a child and where I left half my front tooth. It is one of the most beautiful spots in Lebanon.

From there I went to Mashghara which overlooks the Qaraoun dam in the West Bekaa, then to Chtaura, Zahleh, and then to the AUB farm. Right before Chtaura I received a phone call informing me that the road between Zahleh and Rayak was closed following an attack on the Lebanese army by gang members. The attack left 5 dead from the army. Things are a bit tense in the bekaa tonight, and there were gazelle helicopters flying around this evening. I also encountered several army trucks carrying troups going North.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Say grace

"The Middle East's most ultra-affluent business-owning families will be gracing the shores of Qatar next month to meet and address the transitional processes and key strategies for transforming their family business."

What is this?????

Dubai to deliver waste

"Dubai is taking the initiative to address the urgent need to deliver waste management and recycling solutions to the Middle East."

No wonder: they will have to deal with the hundreds of abandonned cars in the airport car park.

Private sewage

"Saudi Arabia’s water and sewage sector is estimated to be worth SR 2.8 billion in 2009, Saudi Arabia’s National Water Company said recently. The company leads an extensive privatization program in the sector."

Farm workers rights

"The boycott transformed a local union struggle into a nationwide social justice movement that engaged hundreds of activists and millions of supporters. An estimated 17 million Americans refused to buy grapes between 1966 and 1972, creating economic pressure that helped the UFW to win over 200 grape contracts covering 70,000 workers.
Another brilliant strategy of the UFW was its campaign against pesticides. Farmworker illness and death from exposure to DDT and other toxic insecticides were commonplace, yet the only federal regulations were those that protected the growers from being "wrongly accused of causing harm." Through a nationwide publicity campaign, the UFW convincingly showed that a union contract was the only way to limit growers' use of pesticides, which would protect the health of consumers as well as farmworkers. This campaign provides a model for connecting the issues of environmental and social justice." (Thanks Marcy)

I want to work on the rights of farm workers in Lebanon, especially women and marginalized groups such as Bedouins and migrant labor.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Boycott Zionism

Rania and Marcy who are tireless (unlike me) have started this essential campaign for the academic boycott of Zionists. Please check the website of the Lebanese Campaign for the Boycott of Zionism, and join the campaign if you haven't already done that.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions are peaceful means of civil resistance to oppressors. Support the Palestinian and Lebanese people in resisting occupation and oppression.

alf shukran as Marcy would say.

This is apartheid

“That’s my land that was confiscated and now it lies behind the separation wall and I’m prevented from reaching it; it was confiscated forever,” he explains.


"For the second consecutive day, the Israeli Lands Department and police forces continued on Monday to plough and demolish groves owned by residents of unrecognized Arab villages in the Negev.
The director general of the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, Atwah Abu Freih, said, “We are surprised at this frivolous behavior of the Israeli Lands Department, demolishing lands of people who owned that land before the creation of Israel."

I want his title.

No tap

150,000 Palestinians in Gaza (around 10 percent of the population) are struggling without tap water as a result of the damage caused to wells, pipes and waste water facilities during the recent 23-day Israeli offensive which ended on 18 January." (Thanks Marcy)

I wonder what the corporate organizers of the World Water Forum would make out of that? Maybe they'll call for privatizing reconstruction?

Fair trade for a wronged people

"This unique determination and resistance was most recently exhibited during the very successful and well-attended second national fair trade conference in Palestine, which coincided with the inauguration of the Palestinian Fair Trade Network, made up of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC), the Fair Trade Development Centre, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UWAC), the Palestinian Farmer's Union, and Holy Land Cooperative Society -- with Oxfam Great Britain as a supporter. From 16-18 March, representatives from Palestinian non-governmental organizations and cooperatives, farmers, academics and politicians, along with representatives from fair trade organizations and solidarity groups from Japan, Europe and North America, gathered amid the blossoming landscape of al-Zababdeh, Jenin, to discuss "Market Potentials for Palestinian Fair Trade Products.""

Palestine is our hope. In resistance, in steadfastness, in commitment, and even in agriculture and trade.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Time for an overhaul

"Systematic western aid, Moyo argues in Dead Aid, has essentially turned Africa into one giant welfare state. The unending stream of money has created a situation where governments aren’t accountable to their citizens: since they don’t depend on tax revenue, leaders don’t think they owe their people anything—and the people don’t expect anything from their leaders. Moreover, says Moyo, since the money flows virtually no matter what, tyrants like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe (three hundred million dollars in foreign aid was sent to Mugabe in 2006 alone, says Moyo) often pilfer it and buy foreign goods, or stow it in foreign bank accounts where it does nothing to help the country. Furthermore, aid stamps out entrepreneurship. Moyo offers the example of an African mosquito net maker. When aid arrives in the form of a hundred thousand mosquito nets, the net-maker is out of business, and one hundred and sixty people (employees and dependents) are now aid-dependent. This, she says, is not a sustainable model." (Thanks D.)

Review of Dambisa Moyo's book: Dead Aid

Guernica Magazine

Monday, April 6, 2009

So Unilever owns Ben and Jerry's? Never liked it anyway

"Ben & Jerry’s campaign to ensure produce from clones is detectable in the food chain shows that bundling biotech in with conventional produce remains unacceptable – but lessons from GM do not seem to have been learned.

Last week the Unilever-owned ice-cream brand revealed that a website purporting to sell ‘perfect milk from perfect [cloned] cows’ was an April Fools’ prank – but a prank with a serious message.

It was intended to raise awareness that produce from the progeny of cloned animals may be in the food chain – but no-one, manufacturer nor consumer, can tell it from conventional produce."


From Global Research (Thanks Rania)

"One of the most potentially dangerous bills we’ve ever heard of is trying to sneak its way through Congress right now, in the sheep’s clothing of so-called modernization” of food safety. HR 875 (text of bill) is a bill put up by Monsanto and other monolithic corporations trying to seize totalitarian control over all agriculture.

It was introduced by Rosa DeLauro, whose husband WORKS for Monsanto, and is ultimately about one thing, defining ONLY their own GMO products as “safe”. What makes the bill so dangerous is that it is heavy on penalties including prison time, while at the same time being incredibly vague about what would actually trigger those sanctions. HR 875 is nothing but a Trojan horse, with an invading army to be designated later, in the form of an bureaucratic administrator (most likely a corporate lobbyist shill) with draconian LAW MAKING POWER to make up their own definitions so that all competitors are either driven into bankruptcy or locked up. There are problems with food safety we can talk about, but HR 875 is not going to make us safer, any more than invading Iraq made us safer. It MUST be stopped. "

Stop HR 875 Action Page:


You MUST check this. (Thanks Marcy)

Farming under fire

Check out this blog about farming in Gaza

Dont' squeeze a Jaffa, crush the occupation

"Lawyers from the Department of the Environment, Foods and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are now drafting new guidelines on how goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories are imported, labeled and sold in the UK."

Floods in the drylands

"Relief and rescue operations are ongoing in Hadhramout and al-Mahra governorates in southeast Yemen after being hit hard by torrential rains and subsequent floods over the past few days, according to officials. "

Urban permaculture

"Alex has already made a head start to the Urban Dream Farm. Over the years, he has added to Alara’s eclectic environment by planting a permaculture forest garden where delicious looking lettuces, bee hives, broad beans and about one hundred fruit trees can flourish. The garden runs parallel with the railway tracks and is an urban green corridor stocked with blueberries, raspberries, elderberries, mulberries, passion fruit, pomegranate, kiwi, plums, pear and apple trees that are starting to fruit. Alex has also constructed a large pergola made of sweet chestnut and planted grapevines at each corner which will eventually entwine and climb with blackberries up the wooden framework. Beneath the pergola are stools and a table made of reclaimed marble where outdoor meetings can be held. A large metal cabin which is Alex’s garden shed is topped with a windmill to generate enough “live” electricity to read by. He and friends recently serenaded the trees with song, wine and good wishes at a traditional wassailing party." (Thanks Rania)
I have been neglecting my blog. So much work I can barely breathe.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Land day for the people of Palestine

"As farmer Jamal al-Bassyuni plucked a stalk of ripening wheat, a posse of young men danced in his field. The dancers were flanked by a lively crowd, many of them women wearing the traditional Palestinian embroidered thob dress. Despite the nearby rubble of destroyed houses, and tracts of land laid to waste by bulldozers and tanks, the mood was defiantly sunny. Local farmers and their supporters were celebrating Palestinian Land Day.

Land Day was launched in 1976, as a commemoration of the deaths of six Palestinian citizens of northern Israel killed by the Israeli military as they demonstrated against expropriation of their land. It has become an important symbolic day of action across the Occupied Palestinian Territories, highlighting the plight faced by farmers like Jamal al-Bassyuni and his family, who live in Ezbat Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip." (Thanks Marcy)


The Italian cooperation has offered Lebanon 4 million euros to improve olive production. The project will be implemented through the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture. Mamma mia.


Badael-Alternatives in al akhbar: My editorial: "Eat the asphalt", Beirut's answer to the "Eat the view" trend in city landscaping. Muhammad Muhsin on the daily life of a tobacco farmers in South lebanon, and Rana Hayek writes on asparagus in "The world of plants".

Thursday, April 2, 2009

International Seeds Day

Dear Rania sent me this:

We are writing to invite you to endorse April 26
as International
Seeds Day (ISD) to educate the public at your city about patent seeds, genetically modified food, agribusiness under globalization and
Order 81.
Please find the incomplete list of endorsers below.

People worldwide acknowledge the sixth anniversary of the Iraq War
on March 19/20. But many don't know of another war taken place
in Iraq. It is the war against Iraqi farmers
and the future of agriculture.
April 26
(2004) marks the fifth anniversary of the issuing and signing
of Order 81
(see full text below) by Paul Bremer, the administrator of the
Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) who was appointed in 2003.

Order 81 gives full rights to American agribusiness corporations such
as Monsanto to control the future of Iraqi seeds and agriculture, prohibits
Iraqi farmers from reusing their traditional seeds and forces them to buy
seeds and Agricultural material from USA companies.

Endorsers will participate in some or all of the following:

* publicize April 26 as an International Seeds Day (beginning on
March 23) on the Internet, via email, postage mail and/or in their events.

* organize teach-ins or any other event they see fit on April 26 to
educate about patent seeds, the future of agriculture, terminator seeds
technology and Order 81

* help publicize the International Seeds Day (ISD) through alternative and
mainstream media as well as post the list of events taken place on
April 26
worldwide beginning on March 31 through alternative and
mainstream media on Internet, distribute via emails and announce in
public events.

We greatly appreciate your help in making ISD a worldwide success.


Richard Sullivan
Institute of Near Eastern & African Studies (INEAS)
P.O. Box 425125
Cambridge, MA. 02142 USA
Tel: 1 (617) 86-INEAS (864-6327)

Food and tobacco

"A recent joint study from Yale University and the University of Michigan has compared the food industry’s marketing strategies to those of the tobacco industry in the 1950s.

“Because obesity is now a major global problem, the world cannot afford a repeat of the tobacco history, in which industry talks about the moral high ground but does not occupy it,” the authors wrote."


Mohammad Zbeeb in his op-ed of today in Al Akhbar about the social and economic situation in Lebanon (all from official governmental data):

28.6% of the Lebanese live below the poverty line with less the $4 a day.
51% of the citizen do not have access to constant health coverage.
75% of the work force does not have access to retirement funds.
40% of the workforce is illegal and not covered by the labor law.
45% of the economically active do not have a job in Lebanon.
0.05% of the inhabitants own 45% of the bank deposits ($34 billions).
66.66% of commodities and services are controlled by monopolies.

and much much more on what he calls "the outcome of 16 years of Harirism exerted with the full support of the traditional political players including the Amal movement and the Progressive Socialist Party (Jumblat)".

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Trekking Lebanon

Hana and her friends are trekking across Lebanon on the Lebanese Mountain Trail. You can follow their progress on