Monday, August 31, 2009

The empty breadbasket: fill it from the supermarket

"Iraq, once known as the “breadbasket of the Middle East” for the vast tracts of fertile land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is expected to import 80 per cent of its wheat this year at a cost of more than US$1.4 billion (Dh5.14bn).

Devastated by decades of wars, sanctions and neglect, Iraq’s once abundant farms, pastures and date palm groves produce just a fraction of the needs of the country’s more than 28 million people. Billions of dollars are spent each year on tomatoes, milk and other products from the neighbouring countries of Iran, Turkey and Syria.

But as the country’s security situation begins to stabilise, government officials and private investors are beginning to focus on rebuilding Iraq into a major agricultural producer.

At the forefront of these efforts is the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan in the north of the country. Officials there announced an ambitious plan in January to spend $10.5bn to expand farming during the next five years."

Falafel take over

"The number of Middle Eastern restaurants is catching up with the number of Indian restaurants," said McEvoy, who has been tracking Manchester's shifting immigrant population since the 1960s. "At this rate, some time in the next 20 years, we might see a majority of Middle Eastern restaurants on Curry Mile."

The new influx of Middle Eastern restaurants are larger than their Indian rivals. Beirut, a new falafel restaurant in Manchester, can seat more than 100 diners, whereas many of the Indian outlets cater for fewer than 40 people.

Manchester appears to be leading the trend. The first falafel restaurant has recently opened on London's Brick Lane, for decades a redoubt of curry lovers. Elsewhere in the capital, Hummus Bros, a putative chain of fast-food restaurants, has opened two outlets.

McEvoy said he believed Middle Eastern restaurateurs, from countries such as Lebanon and Egypt, had learned from the examples of previous immigrant groups, such as the Chinese, who were keen to be self-employed. "They might not have British qualifications and their English might not be perfect, so they set up in self-employment in the hope that will give them a better life than low-paid jobs in the mainstream economy," he said.

But why always use the word "Middle Eastern"? To avoid excluding the Israeli falafel grabbers?

Yemen: herders in trouble

"SANAA, 30 August 2009 (IRIN) - Severe drought in Khawlan District, 70km east of the capital Sanaa, since mid-2007 has forced local herders to sell some of their sheep to buy fodder for the rest.

“Now we use grain as animal fodder to complement grazing but fodder prices have increased threefold over the past two years,” said Ali al-Qanis, aged 74, a local herder with 50 sheep. “These steep price hikes mean a sheep or goat is becoming a financial liability.” "

Water shortages Iraq, Yemen

News coverage examines water shortages in Iraq and Yemen

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Yemeni water

""Saada has a huge water problem, but they can't think about the future because they are thinking about today," he added.

Despite the afternoon downpours in Sanaa, Yemen's northern highlands have been suffering a two-year drought.

"The rains this year have been poor and late," said Ramon Scoble, a water expert for the German development agency GTZ who works in Amran province, just north of the capital.

"Rural sectors of north Yemen may face famine," he said, echoing a warning sounded in June by Abdul-Karim al-Iryani, senior political adviser to President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

"They won't be producing their own foodstuffs for another year and they won't have harvested enough seed to be able to grow again next year," Scoble said."

The Khudarji Report 13: 29/08/09

`Innab (jujube) mottled bright green and brown have started to come in; they are at 5,000 LL for a half-kilo bag.

Guava have started to appear.

Extra amounts of hashaysh--za'tar, beqleh (purslain), na'na' (mint), kazbarah (coriander), baqdunis (parsley), khas (Romaine lettuce), and rocca (rocket)--are brought in for Ramadan.

Iftar in the mahal is a pot-luck affair since the shop cannot afford to close down like other stores on the street. Neighbors bring down food most every night to add to what is prepared in the shop. The televised muezzin is preferred to the one down the street.

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.

The Khudarji Report 12: 22/08/09

Rumman (pomegranates) have appeared in the market; they are "helou" (sweet) and not "hamoud" (sour).

Fresh dates have started to arrive.

Pre-Ramadan questions often concern availability of warqat al-'anab, grape leaves. No spinach, hindbeh (dandelion), siliq (Swiss chard), or grape leaves are coming in because they aren't "ndiif" (clean) in the sooq and they don't last in the summer heat.

The pods of fassoulieh (navy beans) tend to rot quickly in the summer, at which point every available hand is employed to shell them. Half-kilo bags of fassoulieh are at 3,000 LL.

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.

The Khudarji Report 11: 15/08/09

All plums are gone except some large black plums with clear greenish flesh from Turkey. Cherries, toot, and mishmush are likewise gone. At the end of mishmush season, mishmush 'ajameh (unripe) were at 15,000 LL a kilo. Lawz (almonds) are gone.

'anab ahmar (red grapes) have started to appear; there are now two types of white grapes, two types of black, and red grapes in the market. Grape conversations in the mahal often discuss Kefraya as a growing region.

Deliveries to peoples' homes are complicated by the increasingly random nature of electricity outages; elevators and interphones are less and less relied on.

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.

Dwindling river

"The Euphrates, once broad and endlessly green, is now narrow and drab. In parts it is a slick black ooze, fit only for scores of bathing water buffalo. Giant pumps lay metres out of reach. Some are rusting. "Not long ago, the level of the Euphrates was at this rust line," said Awda Khasaf, a local leader in the al-Akerya marshlands, as he pointed at the dwindling river.

"It has now dropped more than 1.5m. This river feeds all the agriculture lands and marsh lands in Nasiriyah. It smells like this because it is stagnant," he said. "We turned to agriculture in 1991 after Saddam's rampage, but now the government has ordered us to stop rice farming."

Friday, August 28, 2009

There is always something,,,

"Currently there is a potentially catastrophic imbalance between the world's people and the food they need. Roughly 50% of the population lives in areas where there is only 30% of the arable land.

One technique that has transformed productivity is the breeding of so-called "dwarf" varieties - traditionally most of a wheat plant's energy goes into growing a long stem rather than nurturing the vital grains that are needed.

Following dwarf wheat out of the lab and into the field are plants that are better at resisting drought or more efficient at using scarce nutrients.

Does Professor Peter Shewry, acting director of Rothamsted, think it's possible that a global population of 8 billion could be fed, in just 21 years' time?

"Yes", he says, "it is definitely doable".

But though many of the technologies exist now, much depends on finding ways of transferring them.

Local conditions, a lack of finance, and regional cultures could all have an impact on how readily the modern techniques are exploited."

This is perfectly fine, but one has also to note that the introduction of dwarf varieties reduced the quantities of available hay, a by-product of cereal farming. This caused the decline of livestock production and increased reliance on imported feed. The problem is not as important in places such as the UK where there are green pastures.

Behave yourself

Do I see the emergence of a new business opportunity?

"At World Water Week, a group of leading business, social development and conservation organisations will gather as the "Alliance for Water Stewardship" to advance a new voluntary global water certification program that will recognize and reward responsible corporations, farming operations, cities, and other water users for their sustainable use of water resources.

By developing best practice standards for managing water in a way that enables economic development in an environmentally friendly and socially responsible manner, the Alliance aims to certify "water users" who are taking major steps to minimise their water footprint and protect healthy watersheds." (Thanks Muna)


Who will protect the opressed Syrian workers in Lebanon? Bissan Tay in Al Akhbar asks the right questions.


In this weeks Badael, my editorial about the need to widen the resistance discourse to include human liberation from exploitative and oppressive economic and social regimes in addition to the liberation of the land. Incidentally, in the opinion page, there is a good article today by Qasem Izzuddeen on the relationship between the resistance and social agendas. Muhammad Muhsin wrote about Ramadan and the restaurant iftar and asks: what happens to the huge quantity of leftovers? This is supposed to be a charitable month after all. Kamel Jaber wrote about the typical foods of South Lebanon, frakeh and sfiha and other mouth watering stuff.

Colonial exploitation-2

I was wrong in my previous post: the worst form of colonial exploitation must be forcing people to demolish their own homes so that the land might be taken over by the zionist colonialist invaders.

Jerusalem – Ma’an – Two Palestinian families in Jerusalem’s Old City have been forced to demolish their own house after Israeli authorities threatened him with heavy fines if he did not.

One resident, Muhammad Faysal Jabir lived with his family of five in a 28 square meter house in the Aqbat Al-Khalidiyya neighborhood of the Old City. Jabir told Ma’an that the apartment used to be just 12 square meters, and that he added an extension apparently without permission from the Jerusalem Municipality.

The Israeli controlled Jerusalem Municipality frequently refuses Palestinian requests for construction permits, using this as a pretext for house demolitions. Self-demolition is often the least expensive route for Palestinians facing the destruction of their homes.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Olive and let die

"Syria's huge olive oil industry is leaving its mark on the environment. Waste products from olive oil processing mills which are not properly disposed of are causing soil and water pollution, and killing plant and animal life." (Thanks Rania)

Coke is it

Great post by Marcy on Coca cola and other corporatized foods

"coca-cola is a metaphor for colonialism, corruption, and consumption in the novel. and he shows precisely how deviously coca-cola (like all foreign franchises of american products) works to make people think that it is somehow “indigenous” because the product is produced locally. even though that product always has to send proceeds home to the u.s., and then, of course, they send them directly back to the zionist entity for investment (see post i linked to earlier on this). ibrahim shows how coca-cola came to invade egypt later in the novel"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Colonial exploitation

What is the worst form of colonial exploitation? Forcing Palestinians to build settlements for Zionist occupiers.

""I feel like a slave," says 21-year-old Palestinian Musanna Khalil Mohammed Rabbaye.

"But I have no alternative," he says, as he waits among a group of sun-beaten men in dusty work boots outside the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim.

The phrase comes up again and again as the labourers try to explain why they spend their days hammering and shovelling to help build the Jewish settlements eating into the land they want for a future state of Palestine.

Mr Rabbaye wants to be a journalist and is trying to fund his studies.

Jaffar Khalil Kawazba, 24, says he is supporting his 10 brothers and sisters as his father is too ill to work. Fahd Sayara, 40, is trying to fund treatment for his disabled child." (Thanks Muna)

I keep telling them that

Excellent article, a must read

"The presumption that dialogue is needed in order to achieve peace completely ignores the historical context of the situation in Palestine. It assumes that both sides have committed, more or less, an equal amount of atrocities against one another, and are equally culpable for the wrongs that have been done. It is assumed that not one side is either completely right or completely wrong, but that both sides have legitimate claims that should be addressed, and certain blind spots that must be overcome. Therefore, both sides must listen to the "other" point of view, in order to foster understanding and communication, which would presumably lead to "coexistence" or "reconciliation.""

Stolen lands, stolen goods

From the very excellent BDS site. I am reposting this article entirely because it is extremenly important that some parts of the food movement take a strong position on Palestine. Of course I would consider anthing produced by Israeli Zionists in historical Palestine to be stolen goods. (Thanks Marcy)

Second Opinion: The crops stolen from Palestine

Posted by RORCoalition on Tue, 08/25/2009 - 06:53

Joanna Blythman, The Grocer 15/08/2009
Produce grown by Israel on illegally occupied territory should be shunned, says Joanna Blythman

Herbs, citrus, Medjoul dates, cherry tomatoes ... lawyers from Defra, the FSA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are currently drafting regulations on the labelling of foods such as these from 'Israel'.

Most of it comes from the fertile Jordan Valley of the West Bank, a great place to grow food - but the problem for legal minds, and indeed anyone with a sense of justice, is that they are grown in Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. The way the Palestinians, and many international commentators, see it, the Israeli-occupied West Bank is stolen land, so the fruit and veg grown there amount to stolen goods.

Under international law, these settlements are illegal because the West Bank does not belong to Israel. (The Geneva Convention states the transfer of a civilian population into an occupied territory is unlawful.) The West Bank lies on the Palestinian side of the 'green line' marking the internationally recognised border but has been under illegal occupation since Israel took it by force in 1967, confiscating land and water rights from Palestinians.

Wide-ranging global campaigns to boycott Israel continue to grow apace and since Israel's Operation Cast Lead bombardment of the Gaza Strip in January, UK public opinion has hardened. It sticks in the throat to buy settlement produce, whether labelled from 'Israel' or 'West Bank'. The latter wording encourages concerned consumers to believe they are helping Palestinian farmers when the opposite is the case. Both labels allow Israel to take advantage of the EU-Israel preferential trade agreement, so depriving the British taxpayer of trade tariff revenue. The only clear and honest wording appropriate is 'from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank'.

While legal eagles deliberate, retailers and importers should be actively looking for alternatives to so-called Israeli produce. Retailers tell us that they are apolitical and believe in giving consumers a choice. But for months at a time, their shelves are stocked wall-to-wall with Israeli produce while alternative sources, such as Egypt, Spain and Italy, are largely ignored. What kind of choice is this ?

Unfortunately, our retailers have become lazily dependent on their 'category captains' who deal in Jordan Valley produce. They may yet get a bitter taste of the consumer boycott that proved so effective against apartheid in South Africa.

Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of
Bad Food Britain.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ironies? I would say inherent contradictions

"It’s one of the ironies of the sustainability movement. In their push for everything from biofuel to ecofriendly shampoo, humans are killing Earth’s great “lungs” and the habitat of endangered animals.

The reason is palm oil. Companies can’t get enough of the “golden plant” grown in Indonesia and Malaysia to keep up with demand. So plantations are burning and clearing rain forests – often illegally, especially in this peat swamp in Aceh Province – to plant more palm trees." (Thanks Daniel)

Protect the environment but oppress the meek

"Agricultural firm Katif Venture and Development Ltd. may grow environmentally friendly produce, but when it comes to their treatment of workers, their practices, it appears, are anything but friendly. Last week, the company and two of its managers were charged with severe maltreatment of 12 foreign workers from Thailand that they employed.

The indictment, filed in the Beersheba Magistrate's Court against Katif Ventures work site manager Amir Ben-Shlomo and fieldwork manager Ronen Cohen, says that the company, which specializes in growing pesticide-free vegetables, employed the workers in degrading and inhumane conditions, did not provide them with reasonable housing or food and applied pressure against them in the form of punishments and threats."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Syrian food, 2 centuries ago

"The inhabitants of Syria are very abstemious in their diet, which is simple in the extreme. It consists chiefly of salted olives, cheese of a poor and indigestible quality, a coarse bread badly baked, and formed into flat cakes, and rancid butter, or perhaps oil. They rarely indulge themselves in the use of animal food; but on these occasions prepare a wholesome, and to many a palatable dish called pilaw, by stewing the flesh with the rice. Notwithstanding their common beverage is water, a spiritous compound, called racky, made from the fermented husks and stalks of grapes, distilled with aniseeds, is imported into Syria from Turkey and Asia."

Excerpt from William Wittman, Travels in Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. London: Richard Phillips, 1803, pp. 213-215, 217.

The dry crescent: not good

"The Middle East and Central Asia regions are currently in the grip of one of the worst droughts in recent history. Widespread failure of rain-fed grain crops occurred in 2008/09, as well as sizable declines in irrigated crop area and yield. Food grain production dropped to some of the lowest levels in decades, spurring governments to enact grain export bans and resulting in abnormally large region-wide grain imports. Should drought continue into the 2009/10 growing season which begins in October, even greater declines in grain production will occur as planted area for both rain-fed and irrigated crops will be severely restricted. A second year of severely reduced grain harvests would imply significantly increased regional grain import requirements as well as posing substantial threats to internal security in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Afghanistan is the most vulnerable, owing to its lack of financial resources for large-scale grain imports and lack of institutional expertise to plan and execute such imports."

From the USDA Commodity Intelligence Report

Migrant laborers in Israel: exploited like everyone else

"Most migrant laborers in Israel today are Thais, working primarily in agriculture, and Filipinos, working primarily as caregivers. Many arrive with huge debts after paying middlemen between $6,000 and $9,000 in mediation fees (through arrangements that are mostly illegal). However, their wages in Israel amount to less than the legal minimum because some of the long hours they work are not remunerated.

Their employers save money also by not paying any peripheral benefits such as pension fund payments, sick pay, annual leave or maternity leave. Migrant workers rarely receive dismissal compensation, seniority-based wage increases, or overtime pay. In addition, wages are often paid in arrears, obliging the worker to remain with the same employer for fear of losing earnings."

Read more in the article on the situation of the Palestinian laborers

Where all computers (and many humans) go to die

"Kids can make a lot of money from this scrap because it's loaded with copper. To get to it, the surrounding parts have to be burned. We're told that a small bundle can bring in the equivalent of five dollars, pretty good when many Ghanaians exist on about two dollars a day.

But the cost is high. Computers release a cocktail of toxins when they are burned or smashed. There is lead, dioxin, and mercury, and many others toxic substances. Goats feed on the trash. Children seem unaware of the danger." (Thanks Daniel)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The poor have money: lets take it

"Yunus and de Soto offer us real insights into how the poor can, finally, work themselves out of poverty: Yunus shows they need credit and de Soto shows they need to join the formal economy. But we must build on their ideas and combine them in order to develop a more viable way to realize their inherent promise. If the world's poor can gain access to private capital via their formal titles, then we will have a real solution to a $9 trillion problem." (Thanks D.)

This is a fascinating article: the poor own $9 trillion informally. Here's a way to take it from them.

Back to plants

"Field trials are set to begin for a medicinal plant bred to help combat malaria.

Artemisia annua contains the anti-malarial drug artemisinin, but only in low levels.

So researchers at the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at York University, UK, have been using fast-track breeding methods to create a plant that contains much higher levels of the compound." (Thansk Muna)

We've got plenty of Artemisia herba-alpa (sheeh) in the badia, and it is used for medicinal purpose. I wonder if it has high levels of artemisinin.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some land grabs are more equal than others

A few days ago, Marcy sent me a link to a post by the farmland grab blog. It was a press release (English and French) taken from AFP talking about Gulf Arabs buying land in Palestine, and somehow presenting it as land grab.

I support the land grab cause. I have posted several times on the issue (just search "land grab" on this blog) and I have written about it in Arabic in Al-Akhbar. Until this incident, I had a link to the Land Grab site on this site. I had been approached by one of the administrators who had sent me the logo and the hyperlink and I had agreed to link (which I rarely do). It sounded like the thing to do: the blog, according to its own documentation
"contains mainly news reports about the global rush to buy up or lease farmlands abroad as a strategy to secure basic food supplies or simply for profit. Its purpose is to serve as a resource for those monitoring or researching the issue, particularly social activists, non-government organisations and journalists."

It was set up by Grain,
GRAIN is a small international non-profit organisation that works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.
I have been following Grain and used to receive their newsletter in the mid nineties. Clearly, we have a lot in common, as I also support small farmers (but I'm not sure what social movements are. I would rather support political movements working for social and economic justice, because "social movements" tends to be like "civil society" which is a bit of a hold-all. More about this later). And of course I'm all for struggles for community control and biodiversity-based food syestems. For me they are comrades. In principle.

The farm land grab movement is important, because it documents large scale purchases of land in poorer nations by rich food insecure nations. This is dangerous because it can lead to the neo-colonization of poor countries, and to the production of export food by poor people who will remain hungry because they will not have access to the food they produce. After the 2006-2007 food crisis (which continues to evolve), oil-rich Gulf nations started to look at this type of investments in order to ensure that they will have access to food in an ever thinning world commodities market.

The post I am talking on the farmland grab blog was their first ever on Palestine. This in itself is surprising because Israel is the uncontested world champion all categories in land grabbing. This selective blindness when it comes to Palestine is a common problem with activists especially from the liberal left who hesitate before taking position on Palestine. So Palestine becomes this big black hole that is off the radar. I am NOT referring here to the motives of GRAIN or the land grab site, because I have not discussed them with them, I am just noticing. I blogged on this issue before when posting something from New Internationalist

I used to like this magazine and subscribe to it-20 years ago- in the UK. Then I found out that they were so wishy-washy about Palestine, and that their radicalism when it came to economic issue turned into mushy pea soup when it came to Zionism. They once had a special issue on refugees in the late 1980's without a mention of the Palestinians. I wrote a letter that was never published.
And I have faced the same problem with Slow Food, of which I am a member.

I found the landgrab post to be so outrageous that I went to the site to leave a comment. Marcy had beaten me to it, and expressed clearly her disappointment and upset. There were two long comments on the site, clearly drawing on historical facts and explaining that if "Gulf Arabs" (probably Palestinians settled in the Gulf) were purchasing land in Palestine, they were just buying back their land from the Zionists who had stolen them. In any case, this issue would not fall under the land grab category as described in the site, as the purpose is not "to secure food supplies": the areas we are talking about are minuscule, and certainly not destined to farming.

I wrote an email to the person from who had contacted me telling him about the issue and informing him that I was going to remove the link to the farmlandgrab site from my blog. I got an automatic reply telling me that he is on vacation. I went back to the site to check for more comments, and both the English and French posts had been removed without explanation. Check for yourself

So Marcy and I decided to start a new blog to document Zionist Land Grab, a daily phenomenon in Palestine. Here's the address:

Contributions are welcome.

Friday, August 21, 2009


My editorial in Badael this week: Hash in Lebanon. Muhammad Muhsin wrote about the newest Slow Food Presidium: Freekeh of Jabal Amel, and Maha Issa on the poor management of the sacred landscapes of Mount Hermon

Thursday, August 20, 2009


"The genes, called SNORKEL genes, help rice grow longer stems to deal with higher water levels. Deep-water rice generally produces lower-yield rice plants. But the researchers report they have succeeded in introducing the genes to rice varieties that are higher-yield." (Thanks D.)

The NYT focuses on women in the developing world

"There are many metaphors for the role of foreign assistance. For our part, we like to think of aid as a kind of lubricant, a few drops of oil in the crankcase of the developing world, so that gears move freely again on their own. That is what the assistance to Tererai amounted to: a bit of help where and when it counts most, which often means focusing on women like her. And now Tererai is gliding along freely on her own — truly able to hold up half the sky."

The women in the global North are of course all free and emancipated.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Makes sense

"Poor farmers in the heart of Bolivia's Amazon are being encouraged to embrace the annual floods - by using a centuries-old irrigation system for their crops.

They are experimenting with a sustainable way of growing food crops that their ancestors used.

It could provide them with better protection against the extremes of climate change, reduce deforestation, improve food security and even promise a better diet."

Asia in trouble

"The water experts are meeting at a UN-sponsored conference in Sweden.

They say countries in south and east Asia must spend billions of dollars to improve antiquated crop irrigation to cope with rapid population increases.

That estimate does not yet take into account the possible impact of global warming on water supplies, they said.

Asia's population is forecast to increase by 1.5bn people over the next 40 years." (Thanks Muna)

To all those who doubt the effectiveness of boycott

Zizek on Palestine

"The dream underlying Israel's plans is encapsulated by a wall that separates a settler's town from the Palestinian town on a nearby West Bank hill. The Israeli side of the wall is painted with the image of the countryside beyond the wall – but without the Palestinian town, depicting just nature, grass and trees. Is this not ethnic cleansing at its purest, imagining the outside beyond the wall as empty, virginal and waiting to be settled?"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Taylor made

"Michael R. Taylor’s appointment by the Obama administration to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on July 7th sparked immediate debate and even outrage among many food and agriculture researchers, NGOs and activists. The Vice President for Public Policy at Monsanto Corp. from 1998 until 2001, Taylor exemplifies the revolving door between the food industry and the government agencies that regulate it. He is reviled for shaping and implementing the government’s favorable agricultural biotechnology policies during the Clinton administration.


One has to ask: given its support for Taylor, Monsanto and a new Green Revolution in Africa, does the Obama administration’s foreign agricultural aid program truly represent ‘change we can believe in’?

As Ben Burkett, president of the National Family Farm Coalition, a U.S. member of La Via Campesina, cautioned, “As an African American farmer who has visited farmers in Africa many times, I am deeply concerned that much of the Obama Administration’s pledge to spend $1 billion on agriculture research will be wasted on biotech research that benefits Monsanto more than it does small-scale farmers.”" (Thanks Daniel)


"The Middle East is the leading import and export region, accounting for 35 percent of the world's rice imports and about 75 percent of total exports. "

Saturday, August 15, 2009


"It is the year 2084 and an impoverished Saudi Arabia has run out of oil. After a period of reversion to decentralised Bedouin tribalism, a group of women has unlocked the secret to harnessing solar power and is winning back areas of the country by negotiating for land in exchange for solar energy, running their state in hippy-like communes.

The US government attempts to strike a deal with the burgeoning female authority by offering protection and security, asking only for a pipeline of cheap energy in payment. When rejected, the US identifies embittered descendants of the Saudi ex-royal family and with their help, gives its support for a male counter-revolution in order to gain control of the new-found technology."

Nesrine Malik on Arab science fiction

The secret behind Lebanon's laissez faire?

"Thirdly, it's not just government cash that is unlikely to flow into low income countries in such volumes in the coming months and years – private sector capital, too, will be much harder to secure.

Attracting foreign investment has been at the heart of many governments' recipes for economic success in recent years. The World Bank's closely watched "Doing Business" report encourages countries to compete on how welcoming they are to cash-rich foreign suitors shopping for local firms, or multinationals pondering where to site their next factory.

Onerous regulation or strict limits on the powers of foreign capitalists get governments relegated; those most successful in reducing local rules and regulations are invited to join the "Doing Business Reformers' Club"."

Blame it on the weather

"But here in Iraq, one of the places where agriculture was developed more than 7,000 years ago, there are increasing doubts about whether it makes much sense to grow dates — or much of anything for that matter.
As recently as the 1980s, Iraq was self-sufficient in producing wheat, rice, fruits, vegetables, and sheep and poultry products. Its industrial sector exported textiles and leather goods, including purses and shoes, as well as steel and cement. But wars, sanctions, poor management, international competition and disinvestment have left each industry a shadow of its former self." (Thanks D)

When more is less

"Recent analysis of 160 years of crop samples from Rothamsted Research Station near London discovered that levels of essential micronutrients remained consistent in wheat grain from 1844 to the late 1960s, but then began a decline that continues to this day.

The nutrient decline began when traditional long-straw wheat varieties where phased out in favour of higher-yielding semi-dwarf varieties.

As wheat plants have grown smaller since the 1960s, grain nutrient density has continued to decrease." (Thanks D)

Note that Zn is chronically deficient in our dryland calcareous soils.

Friday, August 14, 2009


"On this day we remember the massacre of Tall el Zaatar and we do not forget its perpetrators, just as we remember the victory of August 2006 and its heroes". This was the ending sentence of my editorial: "O Tall el Zaatar". Rana Hayek prepared a review of malnutrition in the Mediterranean basin, and Ahmad Muhsin covered the opening of the new traditional products shop in the Musharrafieh district in al Dahieh.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


"Surveys by Wajdi Najem, director of the Regional Water and Environment (ESIB) in Lebanon, predict that water from snow will decrease from 1,200 mcm under current conditions to 700 mcm with a two degree rise in temperature, and reduce further to 350 mcm with a rise of four degrees.

The snowline that is today at 1500m will creep up to 1,700m with a two degree increase, and 1,900m with a four degree increase, ESIB predicts, reducing the country’s lucrative ski season from three months to just one week by the end of the century.

Snow is also vital to the survival of Lebanon’s ancient cedar trees, the national symbol, which are now listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's "Red List" as a "heavily threatened" species."

I had a farm in Afrikaa

"Much of the world’s arable land is being farmed already, so the lion’s share of the increase will need to come through higher yields. In many places, yields can increase—if prices rise high enough to make investment in more-intensive agriculture worthwhile. Still, much of the developed world is approaching the ceiling of what is cheaply possible. Sub-Saharan Africa, despite its long history of food insecurity, is one place where yields could increase dramatically; agricultural basics such as good seed and fertilizer would go far in a region that the green revolution bypassed. “We could increase yields in sub-Saharan Africa threefold tomorrow with off-the-shelf technology,” says Kenneth Cassman, a well-regarded agronomist who researches potential yields. The problem is the continent’s long history of corruption, poor infrastructure, and lack of market access." (Thanks Anna)

Attack on the Campesinos

"Last night at 11:23 pm, during curfew which began at 10pm, unknown individuals driving a cream colour Toyota Turismo with the license plate PCA1981 fired bullets at the office of Vía Campesina located in the Alameda neighbourhood of Tegucigalpa, Honduras which is coordinated by Rafael Alegría. The act was a clear attack against our social organizations and leaders who are part of the National Front Against the Coup. In addition to the recent attack on Vía Campesina, a bomb capable of killing 15 people went off in the building of the Beverage Workers Union (STIBYS, by its Spanish initials) on July 26th 2009. Both organizations are part of the National Front Against the Coup."

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I had to read this twice

"Clinton acknowledged the need to diversify Angola's economy, which is overly dependent on oil, as she participated in the August 9 signing of an initial agreement in Luanda between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Chevron Corporation and the Cooperative League of the United States of America (an agriculture-related nongovernmental organization [NGO]) to help develop Angola's agricultural sector.
With the partnership agreement, she said, "we are making a down payment on the future, the revitalization of small and medium holder farming in Angola. This $6 million investment will help raise the income of Angolans, turn back hunger and drive sustainable development. It will bolster Angola's efforts to rebuild a once vital agricultural sector destroyed by war, which again can be a source of broad-based prosperity."
Clinton also touched on the importance of the Chevron Corporation to Angola's development, saying, "Let me especially thank Chevron for recognizing that it is important to give back to the countries where the natural resources come from.""

$ 6 millions?????????? to turn back hunger and drive sustainable development??? In a country that exports half a million barrels of oil a day?????? where "a good part of the population still lives in a countryside devastated by a 27-year-long civil war that killed 500,000 people and wrecked the agricultural sector, on which many are still dependent." What kind of a cruel joke is that?

Travels on a vineleaf

"The 60 teachers, who teach kindergarten through high school, were making dolmas as part of "It's a Matter of Taste," a course put on by UCLA's International Institute and the UCLA History Geography Project. Over 10 days, they took on subjects such as brain development and food, agriculture in medieval Europe, the spice trade, the role of rice in globalization, the politics of hunger, and McDonald's in the Middle East."

Yes but how much do they produce? And at what cost?

"Saudi Arabia remains the Middle East’s largest market for agricultural products and technologies, posting a steady eight per cent average annual growth. The Kingdom imported more than SAR 25.5 billion worth of agricultural products in 2008, an impressive increase of 42 per cent over the previous year. This year, agricultural projects are expected to account for 23 per cent of the country’s expected SAR 181 billion private sector investments, enhancing Saudi's status as major player in the regional agribusiness."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


More from Rasha on the economic vision of the ruling sectarian parties: vapid and general. Their plans for agriculture always focus on export promotion. No one talks about small farmers who constitute the vast majority of Lebanon's farmers and who cannot benefit from export oriented subsidies.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Seven villages

Israel (the usurping entity) annexed 7 Lebanese Shi`a villages in 1948. The largest one is Hounine (2,700 hectares). Most of the population of Hounine has emigrated, primarily to Germany (12,000 of which 4,000 in Berlin alone). Some have bought land in Sinai (my village) to have an anchor in the South. Yesterday, a large group of them met near the fence at the boder to claim their village back. And I claim the seven villages too.

Land dispute

Land dispute between Lebanese and Syrian villagers in the North Bekaa leave 2 dead. I have worked in `Arsal for 12 years, and the same disputes are still going on. A love-hate relationship.

Same same

Rasha Abu Zeki investigates the positions of the economists in the loyalist and opposition camps in Lebanon: no difference.


My Bedouin friend and co-worker on literacy work in her community. This is also a profile of her work.

The Khudarji Report 10: 08/08/09

The Khudarji Report 10: 08/08/09

Fistooq Halabi (pistachios) have started to come in; they are at 7,000 LL/kilo.

There is a post-season local banana coming in, but not in large quantities. Somalian bananas are from Ecuador.

Sukleen workers are often thanked with bags of assorted produce.

Prices are being driven up by pre-Ramadan bulk purchases in the souq.

Hashaysh need be bought first thing in the morning; the heat takes its toll by end of day.

The synchronized dance of airborne watermelon being offloaded at delivery time is something to see.

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.

The Khudarji Report 09: 01/08/09

The Khudarji Report 09: 01/08/09

Green grapes are now joined by black grapes. Green figs are likewise joined by black figs, though only in small quantities. Customers tend to prefer seedless grapes.

Gala apples ("the seed is from Italy") have started to appear.

Kiwi are from Greece.

A kahrabji and his assistant brought in a wire from a "moteur" now that the electricity is out upwards of six hours a day, with random outages added to the scheduled three-hour blackout. The monthly cost is 25 USD. When asked where the moteur is, the answer comes: "maa hadan byaarif"--no one knows.

With no apparent obvious irony, huge black plums from Syria come wrapped in lion wrapping paper.

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.

The Khudarji Report 08: 25/07/09

The Khudarji Report 08: 25/07/09

Baladeh bananas being done for the season does not prevent desperate customers, some in cars obviously on a quest, asking if there are any local mawz.

The season for peas is likewise finished, as is the local garlic.

There are two types of chaab who treat the market as an open buffet. The first announces everything taken, and makes an effort to pay; he is wished "SaHtein!" The second just takes; he is often cursed.

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.

The Khudarji Report 07: 18/07/09

The Khudarji Report 07: 18/07/09

Green apples have been joined by muwashah apples, so-called for their red streak.

There are four other khudarjiin each two or three streets away. There are men with carts selling apples; trucks with men manning microphones chanting "baTaTa, banadoura, khiyar, kiis Tum"; there are women gatherers crying, "yaa zataa'r!" If a loyal customer needs something that the shop is out of, a trip is made to a neighboring shop to procure it. The cart seller is provided with a calligraphied sign with name and price for his apples to slightly lessen his vocal burden.

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, August 9, 2009

Science and sustainability: the new farming

"Mountain Magic is an example of regionalized breeding. For years, this kind of breeding has fallen by the wayside — the result of a food movement wary of science and an industrialized food chain that eschews differentiation in favor of uniformity. (Why develop and sell 20 different tomato varieties for 20 different microclimates when you can simply sell one?)"

This is a very important article. It is true that a sustainable food system requires more science, not less. Science at the service of equity, not of capital. It is also true, as the write says, that "To many advocates of sustainability, science, when it’s applied to agriculture, is considered suspect, a violation of the slow food aesthetic."

I thought it was a Lebanese invention

"The haggis, of course, has played an important role in the Scottish national psyche — not as food, but as an invention. Scots like to console themselves with the knowledge that even if today we are a small nation on the periphery of Europe, an adjunct to a defunct empire, and chronically unsuccessful at something we would love to be successful at (soccer), we nonetheless have a great past as inventors." (Thanks Yaz)

Farmers Take Action on Climate Change, Excessive Retail Power and Commodity Speculation

Farmers Take Action on Climate Change, Excessive Retail Power and Commodity Speculation

August 7, 2009, Paris, France From July 27-29 in Dublin Castle in Dublin, Ireland, the International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) held the IFAP Commodities Conference ‘Proactive Farmers and Resilient Pathways: Sustainable Markets and Safer Systems’ with meetings of the IFAP Committee of Women Farmers and the IFAP Young Farmers Committee. Over 100 farmer leaders from 40 countries participated, resulting in substantive recommendations from the committees and commodity groups to face price volatility, deal with climate change mitigation and adaptation, manage risk and improve the position of farmers in the food chain. The conferences were hosted by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA).

In his welcome address, IFA President Padraig Walshe, who is also the President of COPA, highlighted that 2009 has been a difficult year for commodity producers, with farm gate prices having fallen dramatically, an ensuing credit crisis and increased price volatility. Excessive retail power is a problem in Ireland and many countries as supermarkets push for ever more profit at the expense of the producers. “The low producer prices are unsustainable and are threatening to seriously damage our production base, crippling sound family farming enterprises with debt or driving them out of business altogether”, he said.

The President of IFAP, Ajay Vashee, said that “there is clearly a crisis of confidence in agriculture as farmers are shocked by the reality of volatile prices and costs that have left them to grapple with an unstable market”. Markets must work for farmers, and clearly this is not happening, he said. “Unless the viability of agriculture is maintained, the future for young people venturing into agriculture will not be bright and the food security of the majority of women will be threatened”. President Vashee highlighted the issues of climate change, price volatility, supermarket power, and investment in agriculture as common interests of all the commodity groups in IFAP. Video:

The IFAP Young Farmers’ Committee and the IFAP Committee of Women Farmers met on July 28, and the four Commodity Groups – Dairy, Meats and Feeds, Grains and Oilseeds and Tropical Products met in parallel on July 29. On July 30, each of the committee reported back to the plenary session with their respective declarations and recommendations.

In the Committee of Women Farmers, Committee Chair Karen Serres (France) announced the theme for World Rural Women’s Day 2009 “Rural Women at the heart of innovation” to be celebrated on October 15 by farmers’ and international organizations throughout the world. The committee issued ten key messages with the aim of empowering women in agriculture and promoting their contributions to rural livelihoods.
Video (French):

The Young Farmers’ Committee Chair Kati Partanen (Finland) presented the “IFAP Young Farmers’ Declaration” to the plenary, which stresses the importance for young farmers of having access to tools to deal with the problem of price volatility and other risks and also includes a seven-pillar action plan.

IFAP Dairy Group Chair Wesley Judd (Australia) presented seven recommendations made by the Group, which supports the “Global Sustainability Dairy Initiative” led by International Dairy Federation to showcase best practices of dairy farmers to deal with climate change.

IFAP Grains and Oilseeds Group Chair Xavier Beulin (France) said that the Group was concerned about the strong market price volatility in grains and oilseed markets, which is particularly difficult for farmers in developing countries who do not have access to social safety nets.
Video (French):

IFAP Meats and Feeds Group Chair Lourie Bosman (South Africa) reported that the Group has given a lot of attention to animal welfare issues, mainly through the OIE but also through FAO. The Group has also been working on Animal Identification and Traceability, which is important for maintaining consumer confidence in livestock products.

IFAP Group on Tropical Products, led by Vice-Chair Gerald SSendaula (Uganda), identified three issues of common interest to all producers of tropical products, which will form the core of the Group’s work program, namely: certification, product information, and marketing information.

The complete set of documents from the conferences can be found on the IFAP website at:

Photos may be found on Flickr at:

Videos of all plenary session speakers may be found at:


IFAP is the world farmers’ organization, representing 600 million family farmers grouped in 120 national organizations in 80 countries. It is a global network in which farmers from industrialized and developing countries exchange concerns and set common priorities. IFAP has been advocating farmers’ interests at the international level since 1946 and has General Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.

The Lancet on the nutritional value of organic food

"Those who have criticised the review perhaps do not know enough about what a systematic review is. Because the review set out to look at nutrient content only, it is wrong to point out that it did not include analysis of pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides. Nor did the review attempt to look at taste and freshness, food miles, animal welfare, biodiversity, or sustainability.
If one wants to buy organic food, do so because it might be fresher and taste better, contains far less chemical residues, and is kinder to farmed animals."

Friday, August 7, 2009

Food and debt

"People in financial debt are more likely to be obese, concludes a study from Germany that adds to concern that healthier foods cost more than energy-dense foods of low nutritional value.

The current financial squeeze has implications for household spending, and people may borrow more to make ends meet. In Germany, where the new study was conducted in 2006-7, 7.6 per cent of households (more than 6 million people) are over-indebted.

The researchers, led by Prof Eva Münster of the University of Mainz, noted that the link between socio-economic status, health and over-weight is well-documented but over-indebtedness has not been included in definitions of socio-economic status."