Friday, July 31, 2009

Hybrid research

"In India Monsanto has started country-wide campaign to attract research talent into the development of hybrid rice and wheat. For this, it has linked with some of the country’s premier universities and research institutes. In 2009 Monsanto announced $10 million grant to establish Monsanto’s Beachell-Borlaug International Scholars Program (MBBISP) to improve research on breeding techniques for rice and wheat. The program will be administered by Texas AgriLife Research, and agency of the Texas A&M University system, for the next five years. What is alarming is not that agribusiness giant Monsanto is seeking answers from the Indian public funded universities and research institutions. It is that Monsanto is the one asking the questions at Indian public funded institutions. As Andrew Neighbour, former administrator at Washington University in St. Louis, who managed the university’s multiyear and multimillion dollar relationship with Monsanto, admits, “There’s no question that industry money comes with strings. It limits what you can do, when you can do it, who it has to be approved by.”7 This raises the question: if Agribusiness giant Monsanto is funding the research, will Indian agricultural researchers pursue such lines of scientific inquiry as “How will this new rice or wheat variety impact the Indian farmer, or health of Indian public?” The reality is, Monsanto is funding the research not for the benefit of either Indian farmer or public, but for its profit. It is paying researchers to ask questions that it is most interested in having answered." (Thanks Marcy)

It's a conspiracy!

Sarko interferes with the Syrian government to allow a shipment of French wheat that does not meet quality requirement to be unloaded in the Tartous port.

Mind your own occupation - I'll mind my own development

"In accordance with its mission, Menassat reported on the publishing of the 2009 Arab Human Development report (AHDR) commissioned by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the ensuing objections by participating researchers, including leading consultant for the report Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed. Criticism of the report focused mainly on the relegation of the impact of foreign military occupations on Arab development throughout the report. Scholars withdrew from the AHDR, accusing UNDP staff of tampering with the studies in unprofessional and unethical manners. The Jerusalem Post objected."

When my friend Jax told me a couple of yers ago that he was working for Menassat, I asked who the funders where, and I showed disbelief that Menassat would be able to free itself from the autocensorship common to aid recipients. He defended Menassat and assured me that they have editorial freedom. Since then, Menassat has been publishing good stuff, not ultra radical, but radical enough. Here, they are at the center of a controversy for a report they collated from the Lebanese Press criticizing the Arab Human Development Report. The Jerusalem Post did not like the way the report was written, and is putting pressure on the Dutch government, Menassat's funders. Menassat courageously responded with this article carrying a great title. By Saseen Kawzally

Thursday, July 30, 2009


In Badael this week: my editorial "Desertifying the Green" on the Israeli hoax of "Greening the (Palestine) Desert". Robert Abdallah on the organic farmers of `Akkar, and Muhammad Muhsin on the evolution of the Lebanese kaakeh.

A story of cacao

"Then, in the 20th century, there was oil. Dictators came and went. Venezuela, despite its vast fertile lands, became a net food importer. The legendary strongman Juan Vicente Gómez seized cacao plantations in this forest and made them part of his personal empire." (Thanks D.)

A story of cacao in Venezuela fom the NYT. So the Chavez goverment does not make the life of the big producers easy. So it prefers supporting the production of food for local consumption rather than that of specialty cacao destined for the delicate palates of the European gourmets. So it goes lightly on those landless people who squat on rich people's lands. So what?

But the earth feels it

"There is little difference in nutritional value and no evidence of any extra health benefits from eating organic produce, UK researchers found.

The Food Standards Agency who commissioned the report said the findings would help people make an "informed choice".

But the Soil Association criticised the study and called for better research.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at all the evidence on nutrition and health benefits from the past 50 years." (Thanks Muna)

People tend to forget that the reason for going organic was initially not human health, it was ecosystem health, and so it should remain.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


After archeology day (see earlier post) came souk day. We entered the souk from the butcher's end: to be avoided on future trips: it is a real abattoir. Right at the entrance of the souk, a young man sat in the sun selling what looked like inflated party balloons: sheep's intestines. He refused to be photographed (who wouldn't?). A few meters away, but much prouder, stood this cake vendor. The cakes looked really interesting, but I did'nt dare try.

The souk is magical. There is everything, and one can spend hours there, and that's exactly what we did. Below is a picture of a shop selling the famous Aleppo laurel soap (nowhere near as nice as the Aita al Shaab soap, let it be known)

But the part of the souk I liked most was the textile shops: look at these colors! And it is all for real. People wear these as evidenced by the fashionable clothes in this shop window in `Aziziyeh. So much joy!

We had lunch at Ali's juice cocktail and sandwiches, behind the great mosque. Ali makes minuscule melted white cheese sandwiches and a fabulous juice mix: orange, mango, peach, banana and Damascus mulberries. A whole meal for 3 for less than $4 (for the 3 of us).

The Aleppo castle is of course not to be missed, but do't get fooled into the museum: it has very little and there is an entry charge. But the throne room is sublime.

Before we knew, it was time for dinner: we had been to Wannes the previous night. It is a famous restaurant in `Aziziyeh which I found to be overpriced and mediocre (I had the cherry kebab: the sauce was good, but the kebab were so so). So this time we had a beer on the terrace of Wannes and then we went to Abu Hagop, just round the corner: excellent small sandwiches with sujuk and maqanek, and good hommos. Dont miss it.

Next morning it was time to drive back to Lebanon. We took the (very) long road, towards Lattakiyeh, down into the Orontes (`Assi) valley, where I saw a field of millet, a culture that has disappeared from Lebanon. We also bought some excellent baladi figs: they are very large, hard, green outside and red inside, and they come very early. Then we climbed the mountain towards the town of Slonfeh, To get there, we passed through a very thick forest at 1,100m with firs, junipers, and really tall deciduous oaks. I haven't seen forests of this density and size in Lebanon, and I know my country pretty well. Below is a view of the `Assi valley from the mountain, and the forest below.
Slonfeh looks like any touristic mountain town in Lebanon, complete with restaurants, poor architecture and khaleeji tourists. It seems to be a very popular summer destination: look below at the huge real estate development specially meant for Gulf Arabs.
The rest of the road took us to Qurdaha, the town of the Assad family, then Tartous, the port city of no great interest, and then back to Lebanon...

The infertile crescent

"Is it the final curtain for the Fertile Crescent? This summer, as Turkish dams reduce the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to a trickle, farmers abandon their desiccated fields across Iraq and Syria, and efforts to revive the Mesopotamian marshes appear to be abandoned, climate modellers are warning that the current drought is likely to become permanent. The Mesopotamian cradle of civilisation seems to be returning to desert." (Thanks Steve)

Some deaths are easier than others

Fadi Abboud, the president of the Lebanese Association of Industrialist calls for the implementation of WTO rules on imports in Lebanon: anything is better that the government's policy of unlimited support to merchants and traders.

Monday, July 27, 2009


I was away and could not post the link to Badael. My editorial: Who cares about the farmworkers? Rameh Hamiyyeh on the use of banned pesticides to control bird pests on grapes and on the hakoura, the backyard gardens of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.

In Aleppo-1

Back from a wonderful trip to one of my favorite cities- Aleppo- in one of my favorite countries: Syria. Many years ago, when I started teaching agriculture, I used to go quite often to Aleppo, which is where ICARDA, the CGIAR center devoted to dryland farming, is located. This is the 3rd time I have been to Aleppo this year, but this time it was purely for pleasure, a 4-days family trip. We stayed in the neighborhood of Al-Jdeida, which is an old part of the city (picture below), ideally located, mid way between Al`Aziziah and the old souks. It has been renovated recently by the Germans, so does my (half German and half Syrian) friend L. tell me- and she should know. The hotel we stayed in is called Beit al Wakil. It is an old house with a beautiful courtyard (see photo below) where I had coffee every morning while reading my novel (Steig Larsson- great novelist, RIP) before heading out vers l'aventure.

We got into Aleppo on Thursday, a bit late after 7 hours on the road, of which one and a half hour were spent between Beirut and Jounieh and another hour at the borders. The driving was OK: nothing new, the Syrians drive just as bad as the Lebanese. After checking in, we still had time for a short stroll in the old quarter. The first monument we came across was the Maronite church: very old and stunning, a reminder that there were Maronites in Syria before there were in Lebanon. This would become clearer on the next day, when we visited the small village north of Aleppo where Mar Maroun (St. Maroun) is saidto be buried, in a very modest, unmarked grave (see pic below) . I loved the inside of the church, but what I liked most was the statue of St. Elie, in the courtyard, where a number of youth were socializing. St Elie is slaying something that was not represented, I assume it is the Dragon.

Next morning, after an excellent breakfast of local cheeses, local preserves and local fruits in syrup (all highly recommended), we headed towards the cathedral of St. Simeon, the hermit who in the 5th century AD spent 37 years on a pillar. There isn't much remaining from the pillar apparently because everybody who has visited since AD 600 has wanted to take a piece as a souvenir. Look at the center of the second picture below. If you enlarge you should be able to see the boulder, which all all that remains from the 15m column. But the ruins are fabulous, and well worth a visit, and the view on the plain below is breathtaking.

On the way to St. Simeon, we visited a couple of other locations, all part of the same ruins "complex": Qatoura (a village where people live between the ruins, or rather inside the ruins), Sitt el Roum and Refadeh. In Sitt el Roum we encountered two young men who had come to give water to their horses from a rainwater collection well, probably a couple of millenia old.
In Refadeh, the ruins are wonderful and the village plan is still intact. A family of farmers and shepherds lives there, in a house they have reclaimed from what appears to be a colonnade.
The area around St. Simeon is beautiful. It is hilly, and although it is a dryland, nearly all the land is under farming: olives, grapes, figs, and wheat and barley. The hard limestone rocks give the beautiful deeply red soil typical to our region, called Terra Rossa or Red Mediterranean Soil. It is my favorite soil, although it is often discontinuous, interspersed with rock outcrops and therefore difficult to farm. The Syrian government clearly gives a lot of importance to agriculture and to the maintenance of the vegetative cover: wherever the slopes are too steep for farming, they have reafforested using cypress trees, which are drought tolerant and indigenous.

After St. Simeon, we drove East, crossed the river and the agricultural plain and bought our lunch from a bakery and a small shop in the Kurdish town of `Afrin. The town has a nice feel to it, and everybody speaks Kurdish AND Arabic, unlike in Iraqi Kurdistan. We bought mana'ish and fatayer and a really nice pastry called Kurdi Panir (Kurdish cheese) which has white cheese and lots of hot peppers in it. We also bought apricot and cherry preserve made by the aunt of the young man who keeps the shop. I made him swear they were made at home by his aunt both in Arabic and Kurdish. We drove a few kilometers into the plain to the ruins of Ayn Dara, where a Hittite site was recently discovered, and had lunch there. Look at this basalt beast. The one in pink is my daughter.

More tomorrow.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Marcy's Bedouin bed spread from Nawf

Middle East tension rises

"Looking at the salt content for Kellogg's Cornflakes, the survey found that the Middle East is served the highest dose at 2.8g per 100g. The lowest salt Kellogg's Cornflakes surveyed were in Spain, with 1.75g, a gram less than the Middle East's level of 2.8g. In the UK, Kellogg's Cornflakes have 1.8g of salt per 100g."

More Arab HDR

An update on the controversy raised by the UNDP HDR: See this aarabic article about a response from a Lebanese civil society group (the Beirut Dialogue) in Al Akhbar, and Khaled Saghieh's (always) excellent oped: "A report no one would adopt". Check also the comments section in the previous post for input from Egypt and Palestine by Anonymous (with thanks)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Off to Aleppo and northern Syria for family vacation. Will be back on Monday, and will not have internet access during my stay. But I will bring back pictures.

Arab HDR

I have not read the latest UNDP Human Development Report. One of my colleaugues attended the launch yesterday and he told me that it was pretty bad. Al Akhbar reports here on the launch and the always excellent rasha Abu Zeki tear the report it apart on charges of forgetting about class relations, adopting a vocabulary that equates the opressor with the victim and backstabbing the resistance (which resistance? All resistance!). many authors complained that their contributions were edited to make them more "moderate" and same, like Samir Amin's were completely removed. The Lebanese HDR was equally well received a few weeks ago. I can sense a movement of resistance to the UNDP rising up. Strange...

A nation of travelers

Our specialy produce? Exportable labor.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Check this and circulate

Guidelines for Applying the International Cultural Boycott of Israel

Iraq: what the war and the sanctions did

"However, their efforts haven't helped Iraqi agriculture overcome the twin disasters of war and sanctions, which have transformed the country from one of the world's premier sources of aromatic rice and nearly 500 kinds of dates 30 years ago into a net importer of food.

Iraq now imports nearly all the food its people eat: California rice, Washington apples, Australian wheat, fruits and vegetables from its neighbors. All are staples in Iraqi groceries and on the dinner table.

The decline of the farming sector creates other problems. Agriculture accounts for half or more of Iraqi jobs and is the second-largest contributor to the gross domestic product. The prices that people and the government pay for shortfalls in what they used to grow weaken the country's economy." (Thanks Rania)


"Malnutrition rates in the northeastern governorates are higher than the Syrian average," Ali Adbul Hussain, nutrition consultant for UNICEF Syria, told IRIN. "This is due to poor infrastructure and is one of the major effects of the drought in the region." A three-year drought has decimated Syria's agricultural sector. UNICEF says malnutrition is just one issue of concern. "The indications for the northeast are all below the averages for the country, but especially on malnutrition where the figures are alarming," Razan Rashidi, a UNICEF communications assistant, said. " (Thanks Rania)

It's coming!

"Monsanto’s announcement of increased research into genetically modified wheat has been welcomed by major US wheat industry players, adding fuel to the ongoing debate about the crop’s commercialization.

The agricultural giant announced it would seek to introduce its drought and pest-resistant technologies for wheat when it bought out WestBred last week – a company that specializes in wheat germoplasm, the crop’s genetic material.

Currently there are no varieties of GM wheat commercially available anywhere in the world."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Barbarism with a human face

He may not be the best on Iran, and his tacit acceptance of Zionism and of a two-state solution in Palestine infuriates me but I still like Zizek. When he is readable.

From his latest in the LRB: Berlusconi in Tehran, in which he uses the Iranian events as an entry point to castigate the European hypocrits. While most readers will probably note the Iran bits (which are not particularily bright or innovative), I prefer this:

"Our governments righteously reject populist racism as ‘unreasonable’ by our democratic standards, and instead endorse ‘reasonably’ racist protective measures. ‘We grant ourselves permission to applaud African and Eastern European sportsmen, Asian doctors, Indian software programmers,’ today’s Brasillachs, some of them social democrats, are telling us. ‘We don’t want to kill anyone, we don’t want to organise any pogroms. But we also think that the best way to hinder the always unpredictable, violent actions of the instinctual anti-immigrant is to organise reasonable anti-immigrant protection.’ A clear passage from direct barbarism to Berlusconian barbarism with a human face."

Wonders of the world

Jamal Mubarak to lead anti-poverty strategy in Egypt. One wonders...

Investment or grab?

In Arabic, the Gulf countries justify their overseas farmland purchases.

Friday, July 17, 2009

In servage

"Le boulot dans les serres, Abdellatif le connait bien : « Le matin on va au travail à pied. Il faut marcher 10 à 15 km. Dans la serre, on étouffe à cause de la chaleur. 10 à 15° de plus que dehors. À El Ejido l’an dernier, un Marocain est mort à cause de ça. Et puis, l’atmosphère est suffocante avec l’humidité et les "venenos" [poisons]. Je ne pourrais pas dire avec quels produits je traite parce que c’est le patron qui fait la préparation et qu’il en utilise beaucoup. Ce n’est pas un agriculteur, plutôt un pharmacien. On traite sans aucune protection. Avec un pulvérisateur qu’on charge sur notre dos. Le patron ne donne ni combinaison, ni masque, ni gants… Rien ! Si tu en demandes, il t’envoie balader. Il ne veut rien dépenser pour ça. Il dit qu’il n’a pas d’argent pour en acheter. Pas de savon pour se laver non plus, pas d’eau pour boire, pas de local pour manger. On est des esclaves. On nous traite comme des animaux. Le soir, j’ai mal à la tête, ça tourne. Mes yeux et mon nez coulent. La gorge me pique. J’éternue et j’ai du mal à respirer. Des fois, j’ai la diarrhée, je vomis. Ça dépend du produit. " (Thanks Daniel)

Local food? Ethical food? This is a very important article about a topic that has been grossly understudied in the whole "Local Food" phenomenon. Farm labor is my next big rsearch subject.

Farm subsidies in the EU. What about the US?

"It is also a beneficiary of €1.59 million in farm subsidies from the European Union, which last year doled out more than €50 billion, $71 billion, from the largest agricultural aid program in the world, one that provides financing to a wide variety of recipients beyond the farmers who plow the soil — German gummy bear manufacturers, luxury cruise ship caterers and wealthy landowners ranging from Queen Elizabeth II of England to Prince Albert II of Monaco." (Thanks D.)

Long article on EU the aberration of agricultural subsidies in the NYT. Read it but note that the NYT should have included in the same article an concurrent analysis of the US farm bill which operates along similar principles.


The Shrinking Euphrates (Thanks D.)


Ferial remembers the 2006 war on Lebanon in my editorial in this week's Badael. Rameh Hamiyyeh on cherry cultivation in the `Arsal highlands. Baalbek gastronomy: not exactly light, but so good!

I am proud to be your friend Carol

Forward Film Production
is proud to announce “a summer not to forget” by Carol Mansour
won the “Jury’s Award” in the Sole Luna Documentary Festival

Speech given at the closing ceremony by Carol (Please read)

Good evening everybody,

I would like to thank you all for giving my documentary a chance to be seen here in Palermo.
“A summer not to forget” is a documentary on the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006. Israel bombarded Lebanon for 34 consecutive days; 1,200 civilians were killed and 4,036 injured, more than one million people displaced, 78 bridges destroyed, 30,000 homes damaged, 57 collective massacres carried out and many more atrocities; while the international community of politicians, the so-called leaders, was watching and while we were waiting for the Israelis to put an end to this horrific war.

The western media failed to tell the story the way it happened so it was the anger of not seeing the truth that pushed me to make this film. It was my way of resisting and protesting the condition of war that was imposed on us.

I am not involved in any political party; I am just a human being who wanted, through this documentary, to show the world the horror of the Israeli war on Lebanon.

What happened in Lebanon in 2006 has been happening everyday for decades in Palestine. It is difficult to accept that despite all the advancement in science and technology, everyday, somewhere, the most cruel brutality is committed. It is not acceptable that in 2009, we are allowing all those crimes of war to happen in front of our own eyes.

I want to thank the festival to have had the courage to show such a documentary. I want to thank the jury for giving it an award and I thank you all for being here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Whatever happened to...All of the heroes...All the Shakespearoes...They watched their Rome burn...No more heroes any more

Want to know what Big Business think about sustainability? Here it is:

"Sustainability is no longer an optional add-on for food manufacturers and their suppliers. Climate change and shrinking resources mean a responsible approach is called for – and shareholders and customers want to know what is being done to safeguard food supplie and the interests of future generations."

and more...

What's the English word for recuperé?

They're concerned, are you happier now?

"On Tuesday, Exxon plans to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.

The agreement could plug a major gap in the strategy of Exxon, the world’s largest and richest publicly traded oil company, which has been criticized by environmental groups for dismissing concerns about global warming in the past and its reluctance to develop renewable fuels." (Thanks Daniel)

The Khudarji Report 06

The Khudarji Report 06: 11/07/09

Immature apples have arrived, as have pears; the Lebanese fig crop has started to appear. The new lemon crop has arrived as well.

The successful completion of the baccalaureate is marked by fireworks. A customer laments: "Can't they just kiss each other on the cheek instead?" A worker states: "In Syria, we exchange sweets, that's it."

The local banana season is over. Somalian bananas are currently from Ecuador and carry the Avanti label. Mangoes are from Ghana and are at 10,000 LL/kilo.

A meal: watermelon, halloum cheese, khibz.

Fruits and vegetables set aside as unsellable are negotiable; for the most part this means that those who ask may take what they need.

The Khudarji Report, by Zayd, reflects conditions unique to a neighborhood in central Beirut; the status at your local mahal al-khudra will most likely vary.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

More crises

Regional food crises unfolding:

"Kenya will still have to pull out its begging bowl next year. Weather experts predict a low harvest due to poor rains. Farmers have been grappling with irregular patterns of rain, even as several million people continue facing starvation.

According to the Kenya Meteorological Department’s July report, the situation could get worse because the cold season is likely to continue throughout the month with no rains."

And Madagascar

"In Madagascar, where more than 70 percent of its 20 million population lives below the poverty line, food insecurity has reached alarming levels. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), chronic food insecurity affects 65 percent of the population, in addition to another eight percent during the annual lean season. Nearly one of every two children in this Indian Ocean nation suffers from nutritional stunting, while another 42 percent are underweight."

(Thanks Rania)

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Since January 2008, the G8 has committed over $10 billion to short-, medium- and long-term support of food aid, nutrition interventions, social protection activities and boosting agricultural output. The G8 have affirmed their commitment to support agriculture in developing countries and said $13 billion of the pledged funds had been disbursed.

However, Gawain Kripke, spokesman for the UK-based development agency, Oxfam, said: "We already know that around nine of the $13 billion they disbursed since January 2008 to tackle the food crisis was nothing more than recycled cash. This is unacceptable when more than 1 billion people are going hungry. This G8 must not be 'business as usual', and take urgent action." (Thanks Marcy)


Jasmine from Tunisia to perfume the Champs Elyses

Keep the pressure

The UK has revoked five export licences for equipment to the Israeli navy because of actions during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza this year.

The British Foreign office said the exports would now contravene its criteria for arms sales, but denied that it had imposed a partial embargo.

The UK says it does not sell weapons which might be used for internal repression or external aggression.

Israel says its troops complied fully with international law during missions.


The British government has been challenged by human rights groups and members of the UK parliament (Thanks Muna)

Salzburg: note

This is where I have been since last Saturday. There are about 50 other people. About half are from the US and the other half from Asia and Africa. It is nice, but I didn't learn much. I made new friends though. I'm looking forward to visiting New Hampshire and to receiving them in Beirut.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Almost Organic...

"Walk down the aisles of any Whole Foods Market (WFM) or browse the wholesale catalogue of industry giant United Natural Foods (UNFI) and look closely. What do you see? Row after row of attractively displayed, but mostly non-organic “natural” (i.e. conventional) foods and products. By marketing sleight of hand, these conventional foods, vitamins, private label “365” items, and personal care products become “natural” or “almost organic” (and overpriced) in the Whole Foods setting. The overwhelming majority of WFM products, even their best-selling private label, “365” house brand, are not organic, but rather the products of chemical-intensive and energy-intensive farm and food production factories. Test these so-called natural products in a lab and what will you find: pesticide residues, Genetically Modified Organisms, and a long list of problematic and/or carcinogenic synthetic chemicals and additives. Trace these products back to the farm or factory and what will you find: climate destabilizing chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and sewage sludge—not to mention exploited farm workers and workers in the food processing industry. Of course there are many products in WFM (and in UNFI’s catalogue} that bear the label “USDA Organic.” But the overwhelming majority of their products, even their best selling private label, “365,” are not. " (Thanks Daniel)

Rich food

"After much food for thought, the documentary closes with prescriptions ranging from buying produce in season and eating organic to changing school meals and writing to political representatives. While good in intention, the list falls short of addressing the main problem of the working class: that of getting a head of broccoli on the dinner plate in an affordable way. In lacking this dimension it falls prey to the prevailing criticism it set out to defeat: that the food debate is open only to the better-off. "


"In its free trade agreement with the United States, Peru ignores the Andean Community trade bloc agreement regarding the protection of traditional knowledge, said Argumedo. This bilateral agreement opens the door to bioprospecting by U.S. companies and the growing of genetically engineered crops, which Argumedo says have the potential to "destroy the richness of our landscapes." According to Pimbert, even if WIPO were to establish rules favourable to indigenous knowledge, the United States, Canada and European Union will happily bypass them. At the same time, traditional knowledge and customary rules are not frozen in time, but are highly dynamic and incorporate new ideas and concepts such as human rights on their own terms, he said. "What we have here (at WIPO) is a huge clash of values," Pimbert said. "


"The Jordanian government said Sunday that a sit-in against the import of Israeli agricultural products was forceably dispersed because had not obtained a proper protest license. "The sit-in was illegal because the participants did not obtain a prior license in compliance with the law," Minister of State for Information Affairs and Communication Nabil Sharif said in a statement. "

Diet siege

"The security company also dictates the quantity of items allowed:
Five pitas,
one container of hummus and canned tuna,
one small bottle or can of beverage,
one or two slices of cheese,
a few spoonfuls of sugar,
and 5 to 10 olives. The exact amount depends on the mood of the Israeli guard, but its important that the Palestinian not try to cross with less than 5 olives.
Workers are also not allowed to carry cooking utensils and work tools.This is just cultural sensitivity, because Arabs like to eat with their hands. "

From the indispensable Kabobfest (Thanks Marcy)

Friday, July 10, 2009


Off for rainy Salzburg to attend a seminar. Back on the 16th, but I'll try to blog from there...


"The association Land and People aids in managing field crops in a scientific and practical manner, to minimize the production cost without changing the quality of the crop. They work with farmers in citrus, banana or vegetable production, or even alternative crops such as thyme.

“We are working on finding alternative crops for tobacco, in order to help Lebanese farmers who are struggling due to the increase of input cost, decrease in water availability, labor and absence of markets,” says local engineer and farmer Khalil Oleik who created the Land and People Association along with Dr. Rami Zurayk after the 2006 July war.

“We help the farmers by allowing them to use these facilities, providing them markets and advertising to sell their products.”

In addition, they fund alternative crops to tobacco, in order to help Lebanese farmers struggling to survive the increase of the input cost, decrease in water availability and labor and absence of markets.

Thyme is one of the crops Land and People works to support to ensure its cultivation. "

By Simba Russeau for Menassat


Plans to enhance Arab food security are good because they allow local people to liberate themselves from the control of the 4 mega corporation that deal with food trade. But if this means that they will need to purchase seeds and agrochemical from the 5 mega corporations that deal with agribusiness, I'm not sure they're going to be better off. This was the message of my editorial today in al akhbar. Rameh Hamiyyeh wrote about the watermelon farmers of the North Bekaa who have to buy improved varieties at high cost, which means that small farmers have gone out of business and only large operators have prevailed. And Muhammad Muhsin wrote about the lure of summer fruits and the misconception that eating fruits make you thin.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

I love this article by Madeleine Bunting

"There is one school of thought which claims that it's best to forget Westminster, given its miserable failures to regulate itself or the City. Political parties are charades operating antediluvian parliamentary systems; the best chance of renewal is in the myriad of community organising across the country. It's become almost de rigueur to genuflect at the potential of the grassroots. The argument runs that this will gather strength and organisational capacity, and eventually feed back a reformed politics to the centre.

It sounds authentic and impeccably democratic, but the communitarianism cited, while admirable and transformational to those involved, offers frail green shoots. Compass, London Citizens or Transition are all inspirational initiatives, but they are tiny. Their growth is hard won and vulnerable to setbacks. Though I would be happy to be proved wrong, they seem to be more a measure of our desperation with mainstream politics than a credible politics of renewal."

Obama to help poor farmers (and maybe some mega-agribusinesses?)

"This aid package effectively recognizes the growing consensus among philanthropists, economists and African governments that efforts to reduce poverty on the continent are probably doomed without far greater investment in agriculture. While aid to educate the poor and keep them healthy is critical, so is helping millions of farmers grow more food and earn some income.

Mr. Obama, who has made improving the productivity of farmers in the developing world a top priority since taking office, lobbied other world leaders to join him in backing this venture during telephone conversations in recent weeks. Leaders from Italy and Japan, among others, also took the lead in forging a consensus. The resulting commitments, to be unveiled Friday, may be among the most tangible achievements of his first summit meeting with the Group of 8 powers, here in L’Aquila."

My concern is that these ventures may rely on the introduction of new agricultural technologies produced by big agribusinesses. What a market! 15 Billion $!

I'm in cafe Younes

"Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease, US scientists say." (Thanks Muna)

Organic classroom

"While other college students are in stuffy classrooms, about a dozen are earning credit tending a Vermont farm. For 13 weeks, 12 credits and about $12,500, the Green Mountain College students plow fields with oxen or horses, milk cows, weed crops and grow and make their own food, part of an intensive course in sustainable agriculture using the least amount of fossil fuels."

Street farmer

"Like others in the so-called good-food movement, Allen, who is 60, asserts that our industrial food system is depleting soil, poisoning water, gobbling fossil fuels and stuffing us with bad calories. Like others, he advocates eating locally grown food. But to Allen, local doesn’t mean a rolling pasture or even a suburban garden: it means 14 greenhouses crammed onto two acres in a working-class neighborhood on Milwaukee’s northwest side, less than half a mile from the city’s largest public-housing project." Thanks D. and Bessma

My friend Istfan does even better: he plants the streets and the side walks.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Land grab

Land Grab conference in the Wilson Institute (Thanks Nadim)

Joyeux Bordel

An article by my friend Dima Sharif in Al Akhbar about Pierre Bourdieu, who wrote a lot about food, farming and rural society in Algeria (among many many other things).

Liberez, messieurs, liberez...

The World protects its food production and Lebanon pushes towards more liberalization

Monday, July 6, 2009

La confiance regne

"Despite well-defined certification standards, organic products are among those that consumers distrust; 31 percent of respondents said ‘100 percent natural’ is the most desirable eco-friendly product label claim, compared to 14 percent who chose ‘100 percent organic’. "

The Khudarji Report 05: 4/07/09

'Inab ahmar (red grapes) have arrived, as have 'inab sghir (miniature green grapes); both are baladeh and are at 5,000 LL/kilo.

Somalian bananas are currently from Ecuador and carry the Chiquita label.

The mahal acts as a waystation for electric bills, mail, and cassette tapes shared by maids. It is also a reception area for the neighborhood, with most deliveries on motorbike stopping here first to ask directions.

Peas are at 3,000 LL/kilo. Baqleh (purslane) has gone up to 1,000 LL/bunch.
karaz ahmar (red cherries) are at 6,000 LL/kilo; karaz aswad (black cherries) are at 5,000 LL/kilo.

Valencia oranges are in the market.

Ideally three are required to run the shop; one to man the store, one to help in the store and make deliveries, and one to shop the souq. To get the best produce means going to the souq at 1:00 a.m. This shop manages to run with just two men.

The souq merchants give out stickers to place on fruit once in the market; the word "king" predominates, as in "King of Lebanese watermelon". This has become a standing joke in the neighborhood; I have been dubbed "King of onions" based on the task of removing excess peel, root, and sprouts when adding onions to the bin.

Red nectarines (with orange flesh) have replaced the red and yellow variety.

The Khudarji Report, by Zayd, reflects conditions unique to a neighborhood in central Beirut; the status at your local mahal al-khudra will most likely vary.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Marach ino

I went to Little Aleppo again yesterday (Marach Street in Burj Hammoud) and here's what I found:

A strange small vegetable, a cucurbit which seems to be a mix of watermelon and snake cucumber (mu'ti) called `ajour. There are 2 kinds in the picture, a dark green with lines (center) and a smaller, paler kind. They are eaten in salad like cucumbers or mu'ti. I tried them and they're good. In the back of the picture are clusters of unripe grapes called husrom, eaten sour or used to make a sour juice for salad dressing and cooking.

I also found these tiny sour tasting wild cherries. They are used for making a cherry sauce for the famous Halabi Kebab or for jams. I sampled the jam: that's how cherry jam should taste.

Both `ajour and the sour cherries are imported from Aleppo.

Environment without people

The wheat season has been dreadful this year in Lebanon: Lots of rains early on favored vegetative growth. Sudden heat and drought at the time of maturation meant that grain filling was poor. So many farmers have a lot of hay and no grain. Grain filling was also limited by fungal diseases that have accompanied the (too) wet season.

As if this was not enough, wild fires have come early this season: forest have started to burn and a state of emergency has been declared by the Government and by Environmental NGOs to protect the trees of Lebanon. But wheat fields are also burning in the Bekaa, due to a combination of dry winds and high quantity of hay. Unfortunately for the wheat farmers, the state of emergency does not address their fires. In this article, they shout: "We're all for the Environment, but what about our burning wheat fields????"

Citizen Cain

The National Human Development Report for Lebanon "Towards a Citizen's State" was launched a few days ago. The writers included Kamal Hamdan, who is considered to be a leftist economist. I didn't have time to go through the report yet, but Hamdan wrote an article about it in Al Akhbar, entitled "The Human Development Report: Social Rights and the Sectarian State", to press the to point that sectarianism needs to be abolished if social rights are to be gained by the Lebanese citizen. So far so good. But in this article, Abd el Halim Fadlallah, who is an economist close to HA writes a scathing critique of the report, basically accusing it of endorsing the anti-resistance discourse of March 14. Interesting.

No pasaran!

From La Via Campesina. I dream of a farmers' movement like La Via in the Arab World.

The social movements of Honduras, ready to fight to reestablish constitutional order in the country, demand the reinstatement of President Zelaya.

Popular and social movements agreed to meet in front of Universidad Pedagógica Francisco Morazán in Tegucigalpa at 8am. There, thousands of people from the different social movements that exist in the country, wearing red and black shirts, hats, caps and neckerchiefs and holding up banners, posters and flags, continue to protest on the streets of Honduras demanding the reinstatement of President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales, who has been expelled from power since the early hours of 28 June by power groups in the country with the involvement of the army, the police and other state powers who undertook the Coup d'Etat in Honduras.

The protestors have demonstated their decision to keep fighting and do all that is necessary to suceed in establishing constitutional order in the country. At the same time, a group of people, who claim to defend democracy and want peace in the country but who in reality are Micheletti's followers, protested in front of the governmental buildings but these people were highly protected by army elements and the national police and the media were broadcasting their protest live although actually these people had to be brought in from the centre of country and were paid to take part in the protest. However, the people from the social sectors are making a lot of sacrifices to continue in this struggle and each person is paying for their own expenses.

The slogans that the social movements shout when passing the authorities and media buildings are the following: no somos cinco, no somos cien prensa vendida cuéntalos bien (There's not five of us, there's not one hundred of us, the sell out press should count us properly); traidores (traitors); golpistas, golpistas fuera de Honduras (coup supporters get out of Honduras); traidores a la patria el pueblo los repudia, pueblo que escuchas únete a la lucha (traitors to our country, the people condemn you, you can hear the people, unite in the struggle) amongst others.

Juan Barahona leader of the Popular Bloc in Honduras states “that popular resistence against the coup d'état will continue until whenever necessary. Today we have undertaken constant protests for six days now and at the moment we are meeting in front of the teaching university in order to move on towards the centre of Tegucigalpa city, then we'll head towards the headquarters of the Organisation of American States (OEA from it's intials in Spanish) where social and popular leaders will have a meeting with the Secretary of this organisation Miguel Insulsa at 3pm. In the meantime, our other supporters will remain outside the OEA buildings to show their backing of the organisation's decision. We will take a letter signed by all social movement representatives that we will hand to Mr Insulsa where we clearly demonstrate our support for President José Manuel Zelaya Rosales and state that we our grateful for the solidarity that the country has shown towards us. In addition, we call for the reinstatement of our President Zelaya.”

The social movement representatives state that this action will continue for the whole day across the whole country and that inicially this was just in Tegucigalpa, but as time has gone by this has spread to other departments in the country such as El Paraíso, Choluteca, Cortes, Olancho, Yoro etc. and will continue until constitutional order in Honduras is restored.

Today we've heard from San Pedro Sula that eight of our members who had been seized yesterday while they were protesting were released during the night.

By Mabel Marquez (Vía Campesina communications in Honduras)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Lebanese fisherfolk slip further into poverty

"We used to go and buy our clothes at 'Nouveautes Khater', an upscale department store," added Taha, 49, who has two children and is expecting a third. "Now even the cheapest place is expensive for us."


Badael marks World Cooperatives Day: My editorial: Coops are the mirror of society. Carol Kerbage writes about Cooperatives in Lebanon, their strength and weaknesses, and also about the Coop of Deir Qanoon Ras el `Ayn...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

On trial for malice

"One third of the production price of the average banana is used simply to cover the cost of pesticides. All over the world, banana plantation workers are suffering and dying from the effects of these pesticides. Juan Dominguez, a million-dollar personal injury lawyer in Los Angeles, is on his biggest case ever representing over 10,000 Nicaraguan banana workers claiming to be afflicted by a pesticide known as Nemagon. Dole Food and Dow Chemicals are on trial." (Thanks Anna)

Urban farms

The bewildered Iowan who converted his farm into a ballpark in “Field of Dreams” in 1989 might reverse the move today. From Vermont to central California, developers are creating subdivisions around organic farms to attract buyers. If you plant it, these developers believe, they will buy. (Thanks Bessma)

Nothing short of a Revolution

AGRA’s Ngongi said while he recognized the term “green revolution” recalls memories of failed agricultural investments, “Running away from the word does not solve productivity problems. We cannot tinker around the margins. Africa’s agricultural problems need massive investments – nothing short of a revolution.”

Solutions need to be tailored to small-scale producers’ needs, he added. If smaller packages of fertilizers, seeds and tools were available, people who can only afford smaller quantities are more likely to buy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Morrisons supermarket is set to open a 700 acre farm to research farming efficiency and sustainability in Scotland – and is seeking another site in England.


“Morrisons Farm at Dumfries House will be farming to a statement of principles that delivers efficiency and environmental sustainability and we will also be seeking to establish a similar venture in south east England to further apply farm research to benefit the long-term competitiveness of British farming.”

The dark future of Jordanian agriculture

"Canada on Sunday signed a deal with Jordan that lifts tariffs on the vast majority of its exports as part of a push for increased trade with the Middle East.


Key Canadian sectors that will benefit from this immediate duty-free access include forestry, manufacturing, and agriculture and agri-food, said Day.


Canadian exports to the region, mainly agri-food products, nearly doubled in recent years and topped $64 million in 2008. Imports from Jordan stood at $12.8 million, mainly apparel and agricultural goods.

Jordan was the first Arab country to sign a free-trade agreement with Washington, is a member of the WTO and has an association accord with the EU that paves the way for full lifting of tariffs and customs."


"Barring some kind of serious change (a huge sudden wave of farms coming online, or some miraculous breakthrough in technology), the economics predict some kind of good shortage is coming our way. A few dumb moves by the government would set prices even higher, resulting in all out social unrest. Sounds crazy, but it’s already happened in 30+ countries worldwide in the last two years. And it’s not like the US or other developed nations are immune to food shortages.

So how does one profit from this?

There are a number of ways. You could invest directly in an agricultural commodities ETF or ETN. There are a fair number of them already available:"