Friday, December 31, 2010

The necessity of rebellion

A translation of my end of the year editorial in Al Akhbar is posted on How To Live. It is called "The Necessity of Rebellion. Read it here

Badael بدائل

Badael this week: hope, chocolate and pesticides. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Suiciding India

"It means over a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995. It means the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history has occurred in this country in the past 16 years. It means one-and-a-half million human beings, family members of those killing themselves, have been tormented by the tragedy. While millions more face the very problems that drove so many to suicide. It means farmers in thousands of villages have seen their neighbours take this incredibly sad way out. A way out that more and more will consider as despair grows and policies don't change. It means the heartlessness of the Indian elite is impossible to imagine, leave alone measure." (Thanks Daniel)

Please read this عشائر «الملحم» لجعجع: لا تقلل من شأن البدو الرحل

عشائر «الملحم» لجعجع: لا تقلل من شأن البدو الرحل
شتورة ـ «السفير» 
استهجنت عشائر الشيخ عبد العزيز طراد الملحم الكلام الاخير لرئيس الهيئة التنفيذية في القوات اللبنانية سمير جعجع الذي «قلل من شأن البدو الرحل وكأنهم ليسوا من بني البشر». 
وقال بيان حمل توقيع عشائر الشيخ عبد العزيز طراد الملحم: «نحن أحفاد الذين كان لهم الجندية والقيادة في الجيوش الإسلامية بالفتوحات لبلاد الشام، وعندما حرّرت من الروم أصبحت كلها بلادنا من البحر إلى البحر، ونرتحل من مكان لمكان في وطننا العربي الكبير الذي قسّمه الاحتلال، وجزّأنا إلى أقطار هو صانعها وواضع قوانينها ودساتيرها، وبرغم ذلك كان لنا قانوننا العشائري الموحّد الذي يحكمنا ونحتكم له بما لا يخالف شريعتنا الإسلامية، وهو الرادع بكل مـن يخل بالقيم والاخلاق وما زال سارياً بيننا عندما كان دستورك يا جعجع الذي تتغنى به حرمنا لسبعة عقود أقل حقوقنا الوطنية وهي «هويتنا اللبنانية». وقانون البدو الرحل رد عنا دهاليز فتنة الحرب الأهلية والطائفية التي غرق بها جعجع. وقانون البدو الرحل منعنا من العمالة وخيانة الوطن والتعامل مع الأعداء». 
أضاف البيان: «قانون البدو الرحل يتطوّر ويتحدّث مع تطور الحياة وظروفها، والقوانين المدنية لا تعرف التحديث، البدو الرحل أسسوا دولاً ووحّدوا بلداناً وأصبحوا قادة على رؤوس الأشهاد. وحملوا أعلى الشهادات واستلموا أرفع المواقع السياسية والقيادية في بلادنا العربية. البدو الرحل في الأمس القريب كنت في ضيافتهم في المملكة العربية السعودية، لتستنجد بحلولهم لإنقاذ نفسك.

The Lebanese bedouins respond to racist war criminal Samir Geagea: a must read. The 'ashaer of Abdel 'Aziz Trad el Melhem include the Abu 'Eid, my brothers from the Bekaa. Don't mess with us Geagea. 

Cracking at the seams

Don't you just love america and its freedom?

"Four activists were forced to leave an art gallery in New York this month for wearing T-shirts promoting an effort to include an American boat in the next blockade-challenging Gaza flotilla."

I'm proud to write in Al Akhbar

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Ibrahim al-Amine, the hawk-eyed editorial chairman of Al Akhbar, describes his newspaper’s founding ambitions this way: “We wanted the U.S. ambassador to wake up in the morning, read it and get upset.” (Thanks Deborah)

Worth in the NYT on Al Akhbar.

Multinationals and biofuel: major drivers of land grab

This is the best article I have seen on the global land grab. 

"The land grabbing statistics in Africa is not only overwhelming but is also extraordinary shocking. The past five years has seen more African rich agricultural lands being taken over by food insecure but rich countries in the Middle East and rich multinational firms in Europe, US, and Asia particularly China, Korea and India. Some of the land acquisitions have occurred under bizarre and non-transparent circumstances. In Mozambique for example China has US$800 million investment to expand 100,000 to 500,000 metric tons of rice production in the country and Skebab (Sweden) and Sun Biofuels (UK) have acquired more than 100, 000 hectares of land for biofuel production. In Ethiopia Flora EcoPower (Germany) has acquired 13,000 hectares for bio-crop production while India is investing US$4 billion in agriculture, flower growing and sugar estates in the country. In Tanzania Sun Biofuels (UK) has acquired 5,500 hectares of land for sorghum (biofuel) production while the Chinese firm Chongqing See Corp has secured 300 hectares of farm lands for rice production. In the same Tanzania the Gulf State of Saudi Arabia has requested a lease of 500,000 hectares of land. In Southern Sudan Jarch Capital (USA) has signed a 400, 000 hectare deal with a local army commander while the Middle East and Gulf States of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Kuwait and Egypt together have about 1.045m hectares under their thumb in that country. In the same Sudan, South Korea is running away with 690,000 hectares of farmland secured for wheat production. In Nigeria, Trans4mation Agrictech Ltd (UK) has secured 10,000 hectares of land. In Angola, Lornho (UK) has 25,000 hectares leased to her for rice cultivation and is negotiating for a further 125,000 hectares in Malawi andMali. China has requested 2 million hectares for jetropha production in Zambia; and in Democratic Republic of Congo the Chinese firm ZTE International has secured 2.8 million hectares for biofuel oil palm plantation, von Braun and Meinzen-Dick (2009).

These figures do not only reflect the unequal power relations between rich multinational corporations and governments of rich countries on one hand and poor African countries on the other, but it also reflects the vulnerability of poor African countries to the predatory activities of rich multinational corporations and governments of these rich countries. This global assault on Africa has the tendency to produce the same negative effects that colonialism has had on the continent."

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wikileaks food: pushing GMOs in the Vatican

Wiki of the “Moral Imperative” by Ann Gough (special to Land and People)

Another infamous cable from the Wikileaks collection has received a fair amount of attention in the past few weeks, this one concerning the Vatican. It illustrates just how entrenched the pro-biotech food industry is in dictating U.S. policy. The support for genetically modified food is not even a discussion within U.S. diplomatic circles. It is an assumption as evidenced by this cable in which diplomats refer to their strategy of selling Vatican officials on the “moral imperative” of biotech food (05VATICAN514, http:/ / The phrase is actually written in quotes, as if to emphasize its strategic importance. In fact the seeds had been planted a year earlier, in 2004, when the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences co-sponsored a conference at the Vatican extolling the virtues of GMO crops. One priest used the book of genesis to lobby people, stating that mankind is the “gardener of creation” ( Biotech then seems like a direct commandment from God.

Insinuated in the Wikileaks document is a possible split in the Catholic Church on GMOs. This specific cable documents two separate meetings with priests in Rome, one of whom serves on the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace. Both priests state that the Holy See is not concerned with health effects of GMOs and that it the genetic modification of plants is not a moral issue for them. Yet a recent position paper from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine summarizes numerous recent studies that have documented startling health results from animal studies on the long-term effects of GMOs. Specific ailments include significant immune dysregulation, altered structure and function of the liver, altered lipid and carbohydrate metabolism as well as cellular changes that could lead to accelerated aging. Infertility, intestinal immune system damage and changes to the

genes that control protein synthesis and modification, cell signaling, cholesterol synthesis, and insulin regulation were also part of the findings ( The AAEM also raised the issue of plausibility; the fact that negative health impacts from biotech foods are even plausible should be enough to curb their usage. Yet officials at the Vatican, those working for justice and peace no less, seem to be willing to hold the hands of the U.S. government and force GMOs onto their followers.

The two Vatican officials quoted in the cable state the concerns of many other church officials that GMO foods make farmers in the developing world more dependent on agricultural inputs that benefit multi-national corporations. In addition to deteriorated health, GMO crops cause a host of problems when biotech seeds are blown by the wind into the fields of organic and non-GMO farmers. In addition multi-national companies like Monsanto refuse to allow farmers to save their seed and will take individual farmers to court over seed saving that could infringe on Monsanto’s biotech seeds. Monsanto, as documented by the film Food Inc, is shutting down the generations old local seed-cleaners in the Midwest of the United States. Hardly a harbinger of a bright future for farmers in the developing world if they are forced to accept GMOs.

Yet the pro-GMO voices in the Vatican seem to think that priests with these same concerns can be satiated with this strategy, “in several communities in various parts of the developing world, the advent of biotech crops had brought significant economic benefits for developing-world farmers. While seed companies had made some profits, the big losers appeared to have been multi-national pesticide companies.” This is simply not true and of course the seed companies (Monsanto) and the pesticide companies (Monsanto) are often one in the same. The issue of an entire population eating crops heavily sprayed by the pesticide Roundup is not even mentioned in the cable or the damage such pesticides do to soils and the surrounding agricultural environment.

Interestingly the U.S. government position sees these conversations with the Vatican as a “a chance to influence a wide segment of the population in Europe and the developing world”. Who knew the Vatican would be a way into the elusive European market and around the GMO labeling restrictions. The issue of access to markets for GMO products from the United States has also crept into conversations between the U.S. and India. Cable 10NEWDELHI287 outlines the U.S. / India policy relationship in preparation for a U.S. diplomatic visit and states, “The recently released Senate Finance Committee Report on Indian agricultural trade barriers -- highlighted the essentially defensive agricultural trade policy long promoted by the Indian government. The United States is particularly interested in gaining marketing access for U.S. dairy products, which are blocked. Discussions are ongoing, but the effort to resolve long-standing agricultural trade issues is a Mission priority” ( What is not stated is that U.S. dairy products often include Bovine Growth Hormone (rGBH), also developed by Monsanto. Cows given rGBH to increase their milk production are also given a huge amount of antibiotics to counter the painful bacterial infection of the cow’s utters caused by rGBH. Of course this is most likely not the main reason that India is blocking U.S. products, but the biotech industry definitely wants access to India’s growing consumer market. And the effort of India to protect its local industry, which also may include rGBH cows, is viewed as a challenge to overcome. The moral imperative then is really nothing but a strategy.

Christmas in Betlehem

I love this picture. My friend Nadera buying Christmas sweets in Manger square in Betlehem. All made in Al Khalil.

Water strategy in Lebanon

In al akhbar today: Hassan Chaqrani on the new water strategy of the ministry of electricity and water.

Nawar in Lebanon: stories of social exclusion

Al Akhbar ran today a full 2 pages story about the social exclusion of Roma people, Nawar, Domari in Lebanon. Kudos.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Coexistence with GMOs?

"There can be no such thing as “coexistence” with a reckless and monopolistic industry that harms human health, destroys biodiversity, damages the environment, tortures and poisons animals, destabilizes the climate, and economically devastates the world’s 1.5 billion seed-saving small farmers. Enough talk of coexistence. We need a new regime that empowers consumers, small farmers, and the organic community. We need a new set of rules, based on “truth-in-labeling” and the “precautionary principle” –- consumer and farmer-friendly regulations that are basically already in place in the European Union—so that “we the people” can regain control over Monsanto, indentured politicians, and the presently out-of-control technology of genetic engineering." (Thanks Daniel)

EU to import duty-free fruit, fish oil from Gaza | AHN

EU to import duty-free fruit, fish oil from Gaza | AHN

US: retaliations against those who resist...GMOs

"The cable reveals the words of Craig Stapleton, the US ambassador to France, who was pushing the commercial interests of the biotech industry by attempting to force GMOs into France. In his own words (below), he expresses his frustration with the idea that France might pass environmental laws that would hamper the expansion of GMOs:

"Europe is moving backwards not forwards on this issue with France playing a leading role, along with Austria, Italy and even the [European] Commission... Moving to retaliation will make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voice."

Got that so far? His own words: "Retaliation" as a way to "make [it] clear" that resisting GMOs will have a price.

Stapleton goes on to say something rather incredible:

"Country team Paris recommends that we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits. The list should be measured rather than vicious and must be sustainable over the long term, since we should not expect an early victory..."" (Thanks Rania)

Learn more:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Badael بدائل

In Badael today in al akhbar I wrote about wikileaks food

Thursday, December 23, 2010

برامج مساعدة الفقراء كي يظلوا فقراء

ي النهاية، ما تسوق له معظم الجهود الرامية الى تشجيع مشاريع النساء هو الوصول الى مجتمع من رجال وسيدات أعمال يصارعون لاستمرار أعمالهم الهشة ذات الطابع البقائي، أي لا ترقى الى مستوى تأمين معيشة لائقة. وهنا يحق لنا أن نتساءل لماذا هذه المفاهيم ليست سارية في الدول الصناعية والمتقدمة؟ هلى هذه الدول وصلت الى مستوى الرفاه الاقتصادي لأن كل مواطن فيها هو صاحب عمل؟ طبعًا لا، فالقطاع غير المنظم أقل حضورًا في تلك المجتمعات، واقتصاداتها تتميّز بحضور المشاريع المتوسطة والكبيرة التي توظف العمال الذين يتمتعون بحقوق اقتصادية واجتماعية كالضمان الاجتماعي والحد الأدنى للأجور وضمان الشيخوخة، الخ. وتتميز هذه الاقتصادات بالشركات التي يملكها عدة أفراد، وفي التعاونيات الكبيرة وفي قطاعات منتجة ليست تحت رحمة الخدمات.
الواقع في لبنان يختلف كليًا. فبدل العمل على نقل النساء والعمال في شكل عام الى الاقتصاد المنظّم حيث سيتمتعون بالحماية الاجتماعية، تعمل المنظمات غير الحكومية على تعزيز هذا القطاع والمفاخرة به وأسر العاملين به في دوامة فقر وهشاشة وانكشاف تكاد لا تنتهي.
كارول كرباج ونبيل عبدو 


"Its overly strong reaction to Israel over this issue suggests the [government of New Zealand] sees this flap as an opportunity to bolster its credibility with the Arab community, and by doing so, perhaps, help NZ lamb and other products gain greater access to a larger and more lucrative market."

The delicate dance of Evo Morales

The Delicate Dance of Evo Morales by Ann Gough (special to Land and People)

Morales thanked Ambassador Tobias for USAID assistance, highlighting alternative development and infrastructure programs in particular. Ambassador Tobias noted both countries' interest in close counternarcotics cooperation and acknowledged the GOB's interdiction efforts; Morales responded by saying his government is serious about fighting narcotics trafficking. Morales spoke in terms of a net reduction of coca and said his government plans to work harder in the Yungas; he also stressed the GOB's desire for closer counternarcotics cooperation with the United States.

In a 2007 U.S. Government cable (07LAPAZ597, 07LAPAZ597.html) part of the Wikileaks collection, Bolivian president Evo Morales engages USAID administrator Randall Tobias in a conversation on coca production and eradication. Morales has publicly voiced his opposition to the U.S. scorched earth intervention in Columbia’s coca eradication program, known as Plan Columbia. For a detailed account of the program and its damaging effects look at Doug Stokes’ book America’s Other War: Terrorizing Columbia.

In reading the above passage it would appear that Morales was beginning to give in to U.S. pressure to take a hard line stance on coca eradication. But perhaps his is a nuanced stance, based on dealing with the reality of U.S. ideology in the region. It would not be the first time. In 2006, another Wikileaks memo documents a meeting between the Bolivian Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramos de la Quintana and the U.S. Ambassador to Boilivia (06LAPAZ417, Quintana praises US efforts in coca eradication and tells the Ambassador that U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officials may continue to operate out of the province of Chapare, yet two years later Morales kicked the DEA out of this area (

The 2007 conversation revels a delicate choreography in which Morales praises the U.S. and then gently critiques their policies. He states that he wants an “excellent relationship” with the U.S., perhaps because USAID sent two planes of food aid to Bolivian when flooding damages many of the poorer areas of the country. It is difficult to extrapolate Morales’ intentions from the U.S. cable. After he states that he wants the maximum level of cooperation with the U.S. government, he acknowledges that the U.S. is the most developed country in the world. But he goes on, they have a host of environmental problems and that perhaps the U.S. could learn from Bolivia about how to live in harmony with nature. In statements like this Morales seems to be demonstrating his independence from the omnipresent role of the U.S. in Latin America. So omnipresent the 2006 memo revealed that Quintana knew the DEA had substantial control of Bolivia’s intelligence services. The USAID representative chides him saying that the U.S. would prefer to see no increase in the rates of coca cultivation in Bolivia.

The coca plant is a flowering bush that is usually grown in the lowlands of the Andean mountain range. The leaves are harvested, dried and traditionally chewed with lime as a remedy against altitude sickness, fatigue and hunger. Cocaine the drug is made by a toxic combination of the coca leaves, powdered cement, battery acid and gasoline in process that bears no resemblance to the original edible leaf. Extensive coca eradication projects, like those advocated by the U.S. under Plan Columbia, involve aerial spraying of suspected coca production groves with highly concentrated Monsanto herbicides like Roundup. Bolivia has managed to resist these forced aerial spray campaigns that destroy the land and livelihoods of poor campesinos in Columbia.

The real issue, of course, is not the levels of coca production in Latin America. It is the role of economic integration like the Free Trade Area of the Americas that often force countries like Bolivia to open their markets to an influx of cheaper agricultural products, undercutting already impoverished farmers. Nor does it address the parallel issues of land reform for landless tenant farmers or indigenous rights for Bolivia’s indigenous farmers. Morales actually tried to educate the USAID official on this continuum. “His family, he said, focused on rice production but also grew a few catos of coca on the side. Because of globalization and increased international trade in the 1980's, Brazilian rice became cheaper than Bolivian rice, thus damaging his family's business. He recounted that in those years of hyperinflation, people had to sell large bundles of bananas to buy a coke or a beer.” He concludes stating that if the union of coca growers do not do a better job monitoring cocaine production, than he will have to return to the days of militarized eradication programs. Financed and administered by the Bolivian government.

So is Morales a pragmatic manouverer, dodging and cajoling U.S. manipulations? Or is he seeking U.S. favor to consolidate his power. Or both?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Malek el Battikh

"Desertification and land degradation is "the greatest environmental challenge of our time" and "a threat to global wellbeing", according to the UN's top drylands official, Luc Gnacadja, who says people must be paid via global carbon markets for preserving the soil. The executive secretary of UN's Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), will today launch the UN decade for the fight against desertification in London.
"The top 20cm of soil is all that stands between us and extinction," he told the Guardian. Conflicts and food price crises all stem from the degradation of land, he added." (Thanks Laila)
That's pushing it a bit too far. The greatest environmental challenge of our time is global capitalism and this isn't going to improve with global carbon markets, quite the opposite. And I wish, I really do wish all conflicts and food crises were caused by the degradation of land. At least we know how to deal with that. In what world does this guy live? In what world does all the UN staff live, anyway? 

The wiki of biofuels and food crises which are not to be called crises

Another wiki leaks piece by Anne Gough on biofuels and food shortages

Wikileaks: Biofuels and Food Shortages.

Thanks to Yann.

The Wikileaks U.S. Government Cables have also revealed international complicity
in the land grab for biofuel production.

In a cable from 2008, a US government diplomat writes reports on a UK Food
Summit hosted by Gordon Brown (08LONDON1176,
2008/04/08LONDON1176.html). The participants discussed rising food prices, and
while they referred to it as a “crisis”, they agreed not to refer to it as a “crisis” in
public. Representatives from the OECD Trade & Agriculture Directorate and from
the Inter Food Policy Institute Research (IFPRI) said that maize prices would be
60% higher over the next ten years and advocated for a complete moratorium on
the use of maize for biofuel production.

At the same time representatives from the UK Environment Ministry, Agricultural
Industry giants Cargill and Sygenta and the Overseas Development Institute all
argued against “demonizing” biofuels and stated their belief that wheat and maize
prices would soon decrease. Oxford University professor Peter Collier, also in
attendance, took things a step further by scolding the European Union for not being
more open to Genetically Modified crops and advocated for large-scale biofuel farm
production in Africa, similar to Brazil.

Two years later, and we are facing a major global food crisis in 2011, as predicted by
the FAO, and wheat prices have risen by nearly two-thirds. Newspaper articles are
routinely documenting food prices. Without a moratorium on crops used for biofuel
production, what kind of food crises are we facing?

The wiki of Goldstone

My friend and co-researcher Anne Gough is combing the wiki leaks for matters related to Palestine and to food. I will post her findings here. Her latest piece is about Goldstone and US pressure.

Greenwashing the United Nations

It is assumed that the U.S. monitors and pressures the United Nations to due its bidding, depending on its international goals. The Wikileaks cables have affirmed this assumption. One specific cable by a U.S. diplomat reports on the behavior of the European Union member states , how they voted in the 2009 UN General Assembly and how these votes aligned or did not align with U.S. policy. The U.S. was trying to bury the Goldstone Report by encouraging the EU to vote against ratification of the report. When the EU did not unanimously align with the U.S., it is described as a failure on their part. “Although the EU succeeded in moderating some of these draft resolutions, the overall voting outcomes remained overwhelmingly against the U.S. position” (09USUNNEWYORK1141, This is in reference to members of the EU voting either for, against or to abstain on the Goldstone Report. Of course, some EU member states are willing to join with the U.S. in manipulating the UN. The report goes on to laud the Dutch for their ‘insistence of a strongly-worded EU explanation of vote against the inclusion of politicized terms like “blockade” and “collective punishment” (same cable). The purposeful exclusion of words that most accurately describe the situation of the Israeli siege on Gaza would be laughably absurd if the repercussions were not so alarming. By striking these words from the international discussion, then the discussion moves farther away from describing actual life in Gaza.

Many elements in the Goldstone Report, point to the systematic breakdown of Gaza’s food system by the Israeli military in Operation Cast Lead. Ironically this same cable mentions an Israeli sponsored technical agricultural resolution submitted to the UN. This most likely refers to the follow-up of an Israeli sponsored resolution from 2007. The Israeli government statement primarily celebrates Israel receiving attention from the UN for something other than the “Israeli – Palestinian conflict” and that this fact “represents a great diplomatic achievement for Israel” ). 

The actual resolution calls on Israel to share its “know-how” in the areas of “agriculture, fighting desertification, rural development, irrigation, medical development, computers and the empowerment of women, as reflected for many years in Israel's contribution to developing nations, particularly in Africa” (same site). This list of Israeli “know-how” is exactly what they have destroyed in Gaza, from agriculture to medical development  - as the recent increases in malnutrition, documented by the World Health Organization, have illustrated (Report of the Specialized Health Mission to the Gaza strip, May 2009). Seems like a case of greenwashing to me, albeit a very effective one.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

ترجم إن كان أحد يستطيع أن يسبقك على الترجمة

وعليك أن تقطع حبل السرّة بين النفط والتنمية. إلا أذا كنت من أولئك المتخلّفين يتحدثون عن «نفط العرب للعرب». لقد حرّرتك وكالات التنمية الدولية من التنمية السلطوية الفاشلة الموجهة شطر «التقدم». عُد «إلى وراء» إلى رحاب جنات «التنمية البشرية» تجري تحتها أنهار «مجتمع المعرفة» وتعلّم الريادة ـ في الأعمال ـ وتمكين المرأة ـ لا تمكّنها ـ و«الحكم الرشيد» تصوغه لك برامج تعليم أميركية «معدّلة جينياً» لتعلّمك «الإسلام المعتدل» إلى أن تستكمل ردم «الهوة الحضارية» بينك وبين الغرب عن طريق... الترجمة. و«ترجم» إن كان أحد يستطيع أن يسبقك على الترجمة

فواز طرابلسي

Securite alimentaire en mediterrannee?

SAMAQQ - Peut-on extraire la Méditerranée de la globalité du monde ?Rami Zurayk from agropolis International on Vimeo.

Two things: The sound turns into static for a few seconds between second 22 and second 28. But then the video becomes normal again. And the second thing is that my final statement was edited out! I said: "when I say this, people ask me: what do you want, a revolution? And I answer: why not?" ("Quand je dit ca, les gens me demandent: que veux tu? Une revolution? Et je repond: Pourquoi pas?"). Shame on the censors!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Israel continues to undermine food security in Gaza

"The Israeli authorities have reduced the amounts of wheat allowed into the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), lower quantities of wheat grain and animal feed have been allowed to enter Gaza during the past few months. Between January and May 2010 the 64,237 tons were allowed to enter Gaza through a special conveyer belt at Karni Crossing. Since June 2010, the Israeli authorities allowed only 48,609 tons into Gaza."

Aid, "terrorism", politics and free markets

The site of al akhbar is still down after having been hacked following its release of wikileaks. But you can access a pdf version here

There are many excellent articles these days, but two entries attracted my attention today as they relate strongly to what I write on this blog. The first article by Bassam al Kuntar, on page 8, accompanied by a terrible photo of Frances Guy the British ambassador in Lebanon (who is a very nice lady and a great runner) is about a seminar organized by the Arab NGOs Network on the relationship between aid and "security"(what's that?) after 9/11. There were 3 speakers from LSE and Sussex. "Aid has always been linked to politics", "citizenship, democracy and accountability" are key words to be able to obtain funding. Among the recommendations of the seminar: the need for a broad study on the relationship between aid and the political dynamics of the post 2005 era, and the impact of the US definition of "terrorism" on aid in the zones of influence of Hizbullah. Nothing new of course, but it is a bit like wikileaks: we knew this is how it works, but it's nice to get a confirmation.

On page 12 we learn that USAID promotes the opening of markets and accession to WTO in Lebanon.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Slow Food getting its act together

Terra Madre Day in Palestine: Rediscovering Gastronomic Traditions

The transmission of knowledge linked to the food preparation and local traditions will be at the heart of a series of events organized in Palestine for Terra Madre Day. The celebration of local food, to be held on December 10, will see the involvement of farmers, food producers, schools, cooks and association members from the Slow Food network, coordinating 1000 events in over 100 countries.

In Gaza, Terra Madre Day will be celebrated with an event promoting the gastronomic traditions and local products that risk disappearing because of occupation the spread of cheap Israeli products. Paradoxically, the Palestinians consume few products from their own fields; imported goods have instead taken their place.
Gaza Strip women’s clubs will organize a lunch based on maftoul (Palestinian couscous), prepared according to ancient recipes, at their headquarters in Rafah. They will use many ingredients from 150 small vegetable plots in the courtyards of houses in the Strip. These gardens, created by an initiative launched by the NGOs ACS (Associazione per la cooperazione e lo sviluppo – Association for cooperation and development) and PARC (Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees), give the Strip’s women a way of coping with food shortages and earning a small income.

A similar initiative is also being organized in Jericho in the West Bank. The elderly women of the community, the true guardians of Palestine’s gastronomic heritage, will work with young students to prepare two dishes: couscous and freekeh (toasted green wheat).
Around 150 people from the women’s clubs and the groups coordinated by PARC will participate in the two events, with the support of the Terra Madre food communities of Jericho and Gaza couscous producers and Nablus freekeh producers.

In the villages of Beit Dajan and Sabastia, in the northern West Bank district of Nablus, women from the local communities will be cooking and explaining traditional recipes. The event is organized by the YDA (Youth Development Association), a Palestinian NGO working with young people and volunteers in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Representatives from the YDA took part in the last edition of Terra Madre, held in Turin in October, because of their work with young Palestinians.

Members of the YDA will recount their experiences at the Turin meeting of food communities to students from the villages of Ithna (Hebron district) and Wadi Fokeen (Bethlehem district) in the southern West Bank. Simultaneously, a day of meetings about Slow Food and Terra Madre, with tastings of traditional foods, will be held with the local women’s clubs and the inhabitants of nearby villages.

On Saturday December 11, in Al-Bireh, a small town near Ramallah, a special edition of the weekly farmers’ market will be held in the Al Kaykab botanical gardens to celebrate Terra Madre Day. Alongside the small-scale producers will be students from a local school who cultivate their own organic garden and women from nearby village cooperatives selling jams and marmalades. This will be a unique opportunity to get to know and taste quality artisanal food made in the Ramallah area: bread, dairy products, honey, olive oil and more. The farmers’ market and the special Terra Madre Day event are organized by Sharaka, a group of volunteers who support small-scale food producers by shortening the distribution chain between producer and consumer.

Mac Donalds in Tunisia

I'm writing this during a meeting on food security. I shared the Tunisia cable with colleagues from Tunisia and I learned that the businessman is the brother in law (or a close relative) of the tunisian president and that Tunisia is still resisting Mac Donalds. As my colleague put it: "In Tunisia, our fast food is local".

Wikileaks food: US ambassador pushes Mac Donalds in Tunisia

"The Ambassador raised economic liberalization, noting the importance of opening up to franchising. El Materi agreed, noting that he would be pleased to assist McDonald’s to enter Tunisia, suggesting they begin at the new cruise port in La Goulette. He complained about the unhealthy food served by McDonald’s, however, adding it is making Americans fat.

This is an extract from a wikileaked diplomatic cable by US Ambassador to Tunisia Robert F. Godec reporting on a dinner with a wealthy Tunisian businessman.

US diplomacy serves the corporations. That we always knew. It is part and parcel of the imperial system of cultural and economic domination and that is why it is so important. The businessman whose knows about the impacts of Mac Do on health but proceeds anyways: this is the private sector at work.

Does anyone remember that the late King Hussein came personally to open the first Mac Donald in Amman?

The wiki of food

Anne sent me this: "The wikileaks cable to illustrate the ways in which food is often used by the U.S. government as a tool for the advancement of a neo-liberal economic agenda that serves their goals. While this may not be surprising, the cables are an interesting collection of proof without the usual diplomatic artfulness and rhetoric reserved for public consumption. Because of the leak of secret and classified material we have a clearer picture of the machinations of the U.S. government and punitive measures they employ to achieve that agenda.

Much of the language used seems to be a hold over of the cold war; the word “socialism” is thrown about to describe most places that don’t subscribe to an open market ideology. Parts of Spain are described as “socialist heartland” (04MADRID2164, Evo Morales’ cabinet is composed of “socialist intellectuals” (06LAPAZ906, Venezuela is described as “on a march towards socialism” because they have nationalized modes of food and energy production which according to U.S. diplomats means that “The mostly negative economic consequences of nationalizations across key sectors and other instances of state intervention will continue to play out in 2010”(10CARACAS69, In examining this quote one sees what the cables don’t tell us. Are the economic figures mostly negative? Who is measuring? What nation did not have mostly negative economic figures in 2009 and 2010? Certainly domestic economic figures for the U.S. were far from positive and the only sector they subsidized were the banks.

Food is also used to identify actions the U.S. government perceives as radical. One cable describes Nicaragua’s president Manuel Ortega’s “radical” approach to Nicaragua’s food system because he was hosting a food sovereignty conference in Managua (08MANAGUA573,

The bottom line is that the U.S. subsidizes as many sectors – Commodity agriculture, primarily corn, and energy as well through subsidies to private companies. So if other nations resist the intervention of these private companies in their mode of production, this makes them somehow evil."

The EU's billions: States at the service of corporations

Wikileaks showed how much the US diplomats serve the financial interests of corporations. Europe has the EU to do that. It has allocated 347 billion euros for flagship funds. How is it used? (from the financial times)

"●Some of the world’s biggest multinational companies, including IBM, Nokia Siemens, and Coca-Cola, have been allocated subsidies from the programme, which is primarily intended to support small and medium-sized enterprises.

●Other companies are using EU funds to help them move factories to countries with cheaper workforces in spite of rules specifically prohibiting this practice."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

From an important site: Global Food Security Crisis

Investing in agriculture key to reducing Near East’s reliance on food imports – UN official

7 December 2010 – Countries in the Near East have become increasingly dependent on food imports as their rapid population growth has outpaced agricultural production, a senior United Nations official said today, stressing the need to boost investment in farming in the region.
“On average, cereal yields in the Near East are currently about half the world average, and the gap is widening,”said Jacques Diouf, the Director-General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in an address to the 30th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
“It is projected that the deficit in cereals will more than double between 2000 and 2030. This growing food deficit makes the majority of Near Eastern countries more dependent on imports and, therefore, vulnerable to shocks in international and domestic markets,” Mr. Diouf said.
The region also suffers limited water and land resources, a fact that aggravates its vulnerability to food insecurity, he told the meeting, which began on Sunday and is due to end tomorrow.
Per capita availability of renewable water resources in the Near East is currently around 1,050 cubic meters per year, compared to a global annual average of 8,900 cubic meters per person. That amount is projected to drop by half by the year 2050, according to FAO.
“Contrary to the period between the 1970s and 1980s, public expenditures on agriculture in the Near East have been very low in the past few years, particularly in relation to the contribution of agriculture to gross domestic product (GDP),” Mr. Diouf said. “While the share of agriculture in GDP is about 12 per cent for the region, its share in national public expenditure does not exceed 5 per cent.”
He said solutions to food deficits in the region lay in increased investment in agriculture and trade. “Increased intra-regional cooperation, through increased trade and investment, continues to generate a great interest in the Near East,” he said.
Countries falling under FAO’s Near East region represent a diverse mosaic of some 30 States in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa with different levels of endowment in terms of natural resources and socio-economic conditions.
Serious food security concerns exist in conflict zones, notably Afghanistan, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, Mr. Diouf said.
Overall, the number of hungry and undernourished people in the Near East region is currently estimated at 37 million, according to FAO’s latest figures – an increase of 17 million people from 1996 levels, but 5 million fewer hungry people than in 2009.

Will small farmers pay the price?

"ABU DHABI — Pakistan has the potential to be the green basket for the UAE and the Middle East through the establishment of joint cooperation projects in Pakistan and the export of their produce to the region.

This was stated by Mohammad Shahbaz Sharif, Chief Minister of the Punjab province of Pakistan, in an exclusive interview withKhaleej Times in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.

He is leading a 100 CEO delegation to the UAE to strengthen trade and investment relations between the two countries. On Monday, he will address the Pakistan Business and Investment Conference 2010 in Dubai during which 10 MoUs are expected to be signed."

Friday, December 10, 2010


Nestle SA, the world’s largest food company, plans to double its sales from the Middle East in the next seven years as it invests in new plants to tap the region’s growing spending power, its chief executive officer said.

It ain't over till...

"A report released last week by 21 international organizations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, said that little has changed on the ground in Gaza since Israel announced in June that it would ease its blockade of the territory. While Israel said it would allow more construction materials into Gaza under the new policy, the reality has been an increase in food and consumer goods coming into Gaza, but little increase in construction materials."

Always good to remember

Weekly Report On Israeli Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (02 – 08 December. 2010)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Every inch of land, every grain of sand

"It isn’t just Syria that is suddenly importing grains and relying upon aid agencies to help feed its population. Climate scientists say that the entire Fertile Crescent – which encompasses all of Syria and much of neighbor Iraq – might be turning barren. Such a permanent, drastic decline in agriculture in the face of diminishing oil reserves and declining foreign investments would spell disaster for Syria. Iraq faces a similarly tenuous future: agriculture there has been all but decimated by years of warfare and drought. The collapse of farming is presenting extreme economic challenges as well as safety concerns: both Syria and Iraq are becoming increasingly dependent on imported food and water, and both face growing numbers of displaced migrants no longer able to glean profit or sustenance from farming."

This is an extract from a blog called Water Matters maintained by Columbia University's Water Center. I have a few of things to tell them:

1. Please STOP talking about the war in Iraq as if the US had nothing to do with it and it is the Iraqis fighting each others for fun. You have a duty to keep reminding readers that Iraq is under US occupation and that it is US occupation that has destroyed the infrastructure and turned millions into refugees. There are "water refugees" because the US has devastated Iraq. 

2. What the heck does the title mean? That peace in the fertile crescent is prevented by water scarcity? The obstacle to peace in the region is zionist colonization and unconditional US support. Point final. 

3. I have gotten used to the vocabulary used in the west, but I can't help noticing it: dont you just love this bit: "previous water shortages contributed to disputes between Syria and Israel regarding the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered in 1967 and which Syria now wants back." Bad Syria, how unreasonable of you, to want back what was taken from you and annexed. Look at the use of the term "conquered" which carries victorious, almost admirable undertones. Invaded, occupied, yes, these are the words that must be used. But let me break the news to you. We do not only want the Golan back, we want every inch of land, every grain of sand from Palestine...And the disputes are not about water, they are about the colonization of Palestine by the zionists. And they will not end until the usurping entity ends even if there were years of rainfall and water aplenty.

No problems...

"Senegal is in talks with Saudi Arabia to lease farmland to grow food of an area nearly four times the size of Manhattan, an official in Senegal involved in the deal told Reuters.

Like other wealthy Gulf states Saudi Arabia has been buying farmland in Asia and Africa to secure food supplies after inflation had nearly doubled the price of food in 2008.

“We are in talks with Saudi Arabia now and we are offering them 400,000 hectares of farmland to lease on long term basis in Senegal,” said the official, who declined to be named.

“Some of the land is already producing food and other parts are not and the farmers have no problems with these lease deals,” he added, declining to give the value of deal or details of its location.

Buying land in countries that can barely feed themselves and exporting produce from them has exposed investors to popular unrest and political disapproval in their target countries in the developing world."

Food as a weapon

“I’d cut off all food aid; that’s turning up the pressure,” Mr. Bolton said. “What Obama’s doing right now is just rhetoric.”

Wkileaks food: keeping a close watch on Nicaragua

Ortega's Faltering Economy 
- - - - - - - - - - - - 

2. (SBU) In 2007, the Ortega Administration coasted on the 
achievements of the Bolanos government, but that ride is 
about to end. The government essentially adopted Bolanos' 
2007 and 2008 budgets, and used them as the basis for 
negotiating a new Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility 
Agreement with the IMF. Foreign investment remained stable 
in 2007 thanks to commitments made during the Bolanos years. 
Exports are up this year by 21% over 2007 levels. In most 
other respects, however, the Ortega government is not faring 
well. Growth expectations have fallen while inflation 
expectations have risen. In 2007, inflation reached 17% and 
annualized inflation is running at 22% for 2008, the second 
highest rate in Latin America. The lack of a strong policy 
response to rising oil and food prices worries independent 
economists, some of whom suspect that hidden foreign 
assistance from Hugo Chavez has created excess liquidity. 
Minimum wages rose 30% in the last year, but still do not 
cover the soaring cost of food and transportation. To quell 
demand and keep prices down, the government removed import 
tariffs on basic food items through December 2008, made 
documenting export shipments more difficult, and instructed 
the state-owned grain storage company to intervene in local 
markets. So far in 2008, the Agricultural Ministry has 
failed to deliver needed seeds to farmers in time for 
planting, although it has become aware of the urgency need to 
do so. More radical measures related to food supply may be 
coming, as President Ortega has just concluded a regional "food sovereignty" summit in Managua on May 7.

MANAGUA 00000573 002 OF 008 


(Thanks Ann)

Wikileaks food: Pakistan wants GMOs says xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Agricultural cooperation
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

17. (SBU) Finance Minister Qamar described increasing
agricultural production as low hanging fruit, pledging that
agricultural development will be the "main thrust of economic
growth in the short term" as the income stays in the rural
areas, which serves to alleviate poverty. He advocated
strengthening the U.S.-Pakistan agricultural relationship.
Qamar reported that water utilization remains a constraint
for increased agricultural capacity; 60 percent of Pakistan's
irrigation water never reaches crops due to inadequate
irrigation systems and technology. Due to water constraints
that prevent more planting, xxxxxxxxxxxx opined that the integration of
genetically modified seeds is critical to increasing
agricultural productivity. He requested enhanced
U.S.-Pakistan collaboration on biotechnology research,
cooperative biosecurity training and assistance in improving
Pakistan agricultural value chains, particularly the use of
cold storage and cool chain techno
logies and methods. Finance Secretary Qayyum also discussed
more access to U.S. markets, noting their twelve year effort
to ship mangoes to the U.S. The Agricultural Counselor
replied that once the Cobalt 60 arrives and the irradiation

Islamabad 00003010 005 of 008

facility is operating, USDA will restart the mango
pre-shipment protocol. Also discussed were the ongoing
negotiations to resolve differences over wheat import permit
conditions so that U.S. commercial and food assistance wheat
shipments to Pakistan could resume.

(Thanks Ann)

Wikileaks food

That's it, I'm starting a new series of posts on this blog dedicated to the information about food and food politics that have been and hopefully will continue to be leaked on Wikileaks. I have posted a couple of things below, such as the interest of the US in Arab food security and in enhancing its own trade, and also about the promotion of GMOs by US diplomats in Africa. My friend Ann is working with me on Wikileaks food, and she is doing most of the scanning. But contributions are welcome and will be duly acknowledged.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wikileaks on food: US pushes GMO for Africa

And you thought I was being conspiratorial??? Well think better. These two posts I took from GM watch were written by EIN and Grist

1. Wikileaks document pushes genetically modified food for African countries
World News Report, December 1 2010

Buried deep in the Wikileaks files is the U.S. government's objective to steer many African countries toward the use of genetically modified agriculture.

In a document outlining priorities for intelligence gathering in Burundi, Rwanda, the Republic of Congo and others in the region, one objective is "Government acceptance of genetically modified food and propagation of genetically modified crops."

The objective is included among information the U.S. State Department would like intelligence to discover about local government agricultural policies, yield statistics, infrastructure improvements, data on deforestation and desertification, water issues and invasive species.

The U.S. State Department has been advocating genetically modified foods as one of the responses to world hunger. 
2. Wikileaks: State Dept. wants intel on African acceptance of GMOs
by Tom Laskawy
GRIST, 29 Nov 2010

The Wikileaks release of U.S. State Department classified diplomatic cables may be problematic, but it has been quite a trove of information on the workings of our diplomatic corps. For the most part, the dump has confirmed things that we already knew about U.S. policy -- and that seems to be the case regarding the one mention of agricultural policy in these thousands of emails and documents (no doubt there are more) to which I was alerted.

Buried deep in a document that outlines priorities for intelligence gathering in the African "Great Lakes" countries of Burundi, the Republic of Congo, and Rwanda is a list (for the most part, very reasonable) of what the State Department would like to know about the region's agricultural policy. Things like government policies on food security and food safety top the list, for example, along with information on the impact of rising food prices in these countries. Agricultural yield statistics, infrastructure improvements, data on deforestation and desertification, water issues, and invasive species are included as priorities for "reporting" as well.

But also getting its own line item on the intel priority list is this:

"Government acceptance of genetically modified food and propagation of genetically modified crops."

The hydra strikes back: WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange Has Been Arrested on a Swedish Warrant

Google it, I'm not linking to anyone


Wikileaks and Arab food security: tool for control

Food is a powerful political control tool. This we knew. I was hoping to find something about it in wikileaks and Shadi beat me to it. He sent me the link to this cable with the following comment (quoted with his permission)

" the Americans touch upon food security for Qatar and the GCC generally. It moves away from land grab to avoid the same publicity you (Rami) highlight on your blog. Remains debatable, however, whether a binding agreement to supply in the future, come what may, is any different"





-- (SBU) Gulf countries can produce no more than 10-15 percent of their own food needs, and therefore regard food security as a national security issue. To that end, Qatar has established a National Food Security Program (NFSP) under the direction of the Crown Prince.

-- (SBU) The NFSP is tasked with developing a food security strategy for Qatar, and a strategy for leading the rest of the Arab world in developing new structures and partnerships for achieving food security for the entire region.

-- (C) We expect the NFSP and others seized with food security over the coming 36 months to diminish their interest in highly complicated and risky land purchases in developing countries and to shift toward establishing partnerships with producers in developed countries, such as the U.S. We expect to see growing interest in learning about sophisticated financial instruments that can be employed to smooth out prices and supply gaps, such as commodity futures and virtual stocking. We also expect Qatar to improve its stocking capabilities, both onshore and off.

In other words: Qatar and the Arabs are not to pursue food security through attempting to invest in other countries, even if these countries are Arab like Sudan, and even if it is with the goal of creating win-win situation based on pro-poor scenarios. No. This should be left to the multinational corporations who exploit land and people in connivance with local elites. Food "security" is to be based on markets and on purchasing food from the US and the use of "financial instruments and virtual stocking. The latest food and financial crises has of course shown that both are unreliable and can be manipulated and blocked. Russia stopped exporting wheat during its last crisis, and the US started to produce biofuels instead of selling corn in 2007. And purchases from the US will help subsidize the US farm bill and recapture the oil surplus. And of course, limit Brazil's rise to become the world's major food exporter. The cable makes it clear: only purchases from developed nations such as the US are safe. Laissez moi rire.

Monday, December 6, 2010


"In both California and Baja California, the vast majority of the people who harvest brussels sprouts, like those who pick other crops, are Mexican. In Baja they're migrants from the states of southern Mexico. In California, they're immigrant workers who've crossed the border to labor in these fields. On a cold November day, this crew of Mexican migrant workers picks brussels sprouts on a ranch outside of Watsonville." (Thanks Daniel)

The Foods that Make Billions

The Foods that Make Billions

Series which tells the story of how big business feeds us by transforming simple commodities into everyday necessities and highly profitable brands

BBC series. I haven't watched it but it sounds REALLY interesting. (Thanks Laila)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Everybody loves nestle

"Citizens in North Florida are gearing up for what many foresee as a drawn-out battle with Nestle Waters North America, the country’s largest water bottler, which recently completed test wells in Jefferson County as part of its process to determine whether to apply for a permit to begin withdrawing spring water from sites along the Wacissa River". (Thanks Toufic)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Badael بدائل

I nearly forgot to post this week's badael: my editorial was a challenge to green NGOs to address the real problems, even if this costs them their funding opportunities

Chapeau au Monde Diplo

Le Monde Diplomatique, the best monthly one can read took a very innovative and daring step: it is shifting to publication in bande dessinee. I bought this copy and fell in love, heads over heels. I have always been a BD lover, especially political BD, but this takes the first prize. Chapeau.