Archive for June 29th, 2011

Communication From The Movement 10 Of April Concerning Rio Tabasara And Barro Blanco Dam Project

Communication From The Movement 10 Of April Concerning Rio Tabasara And Barro Blanco Dam Project



Translated from Spanish, Original Below


Posted 28 June 2011, by Staff, Indigenous Peoples, Issues & Resources,

The Movement 10 of April by this means communicates to all the face of the country that solidary organizations reunited today 26 of June of 2011 in Santiago Veraguas made the following decisions. We contemplate the date of 18 of July in a call to solidary organizations to meet in the Working Jesus missionary center in the population of Tole.

That in view of the following events as a result of the failure of the dialog with the National Government on the day 18 of May of 2011 fateful date in which the Government betrayed the good faith of our organization and in the person of vice-minister Luis Ernesto Carles in an action previously rehearsed took militarily the entrance of the thoroughfare of the hydroelectric project Barro Blanco by units of the public force, that our group after almost two months of protest had voluntarily evacuated one week before in token of good will.

That located crowd control units were placed in specific areas like bridge of the Tabasará, town of Viguí and others to avoid our expressions of rejection to this project. That later 250 frontier units were located that with the already existing ones added up to almost 400 units in this calm town of Tole in clear action of intimidation.

That the project Barro Blanco in spite of having pending administrative processes with the ANAM which stopped the project provisionally, realised in illegal and arbitrary form, despite came to resume its work in the site of the project in effect previously militarized.

That on the day 8 of June of 2011 the Movement realized a manifestation and a symbolic closing of the Inter-American of half an hour protesting its repudiation of the illegal advance of the project under the threatening glance of crowd control units.

That it is obvious that the project breaks the laws (Law 10 of March 7 of 1997 in its article 17 that created the Ngobe Bugle Region) that says clearly that the territory of the region cannot “be alienated” for private use and the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama, amended in 2004 that “establishes the right of the collective property and prohibits the private appropriation of indigenous lands”.

But in addition it suffers from other series of illegalities (like expired EIA) which dates from May of 2008 and only has validity of 2 years. Therefore the works done by company GENISA as of May of 2010 are outside the law. For this effect an administrative action had been interposed before the ANAM to stop this project done that has not been fulfilled. We ask then perhaps if the reservoir created by the dam “does not alienate” numerous hectares of Ngobe cultivation plots, houses, schools and churches, for “the private” use of electrical generation of the company GENISA?

That the true interest of this macabre project once installed is the one to continue flooding the river basin until the 6000 hectares raising its level until 165 meters to produce up to 220 MW. That in the area (besides the infamous Cerro Colorado are the Cerro Caballo deposits and in addition those of Cerro Pelado, future projects which will be clients of the energy produced by these ominous hydroelectric projects (Barro Blanco, Tabasará 2 and others that will get to be constructed) besides the System of Electrical Interconnection of the Countries of Central America (SIEPAC).

That the movement interposed through its lawyers pertinent legal action the 31 of May before the Third Chapter of the Contentious Administrative of the Supreme Court of Justice to the denominated Project Barro Blanco.

That the day 6 of June of 2011 the Project Barro Blanco imposed illegally violating all the principles of human rights and free, prior and informed consent,of the indigenous people and peasants and the population in general was certified by the Clean Development Mechanism of the United Nations in conspiracy with the Spanish consulting company AENOR in express complicity with the promoting company GENISA and the National Government.

That the movement has not signed any agreement of understanding with company GENISA, nor with the National Government in approval of the denominated Project Barro Blanco and that any assumed agreement signed by our leaders and presented by the company before the international banks or any other institution is completely false and out of context.

That the Movement expressed its rejection to the recent manifestations of the President, and ministers in favor of this inconsult and illegal project and in violation of all legal, social, and environmental dispositions, even including expressing that if the international banks are not able to fund this work, the state bank would do so.

That the Regional Ngobe Congress represented under its president Ercilia Mendoza met Saturday 18 of June of 2011 with the company GENISA in Pyramidal center of Santiago of Veraguas, nevertheless the entrance was refused to our representatives of the movement and according to some commentaries the Congress had extended its approval to the project, giving the impression of a monetary agreement (or of another nature) between the company and the Congress.


Solicit the immediate withdrawal of the police contingents that allow that the project be continued in illegal form and that the right of protest of the ngobe bugle people and the citizenship be respected.

Solicit the immediate withdrawal of the machinery and equipment of the project and their total and definitive paralyzation in violation of national and international laws, and precepts of human rights and rights of the indigenous people.

Request the immediate intervention and mediation of the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People of the UN the distinguished Mr. James Anaya en URGENT manner.

Solicit to the “due diligence” team of financing banks FMO of Holland and DEG of Germany to take into account this new situation and not to lend itself to the game that company GENISA wants to mount by means of falsehoods and deceit.

Solicit the support of civil society, national and international organisms of human rights, the environmental associations of the country, the indigenous ngobe groups, the General Ngobe Bugle Congress, the Coordinator on the Natural Resources of the Comarca and Peasants, the support of all the other indigenous ethnic groups of the country and the outside in this unequal struggle against these vested interests, foreign and national.

Exhortar the General Ngobe Bugle Congress not to let itself be deceived with the false promises done by company GENISA.

Request that the agreements signed by the National Government with the Coordinator on Natural and Mineral Resources of the Comarca be fulfilled that in effect put a cease of the mining activity, besides all hydroelectric activity in the region.

Condemn energetically the inconsult registry of the inconsult project Barro Blanco as clean energy project in violation of all rules of Human Rights and environmental norms and to also condemn the conspiracy of the consulting company Spanish AENOR with company GENISA for its approval.

Exhort the international banks specifically to its due diligence mission not to lend itself to this deceptive game that company GENISA wants to mounts them without the due approval of their affected the Ngobe Bugle indigenous people and peasants resident on the banks of the Tabasará River that will be displaced by the flooding of their lands, crops, communities, schools and churches by this inconsult project.


Movement 10 of April in Defense of the Tabasara River M10

Given on the 27 of June 2011

City of Santiago , Province de Veraguas, Republic of Panamá.



President, Movement 10 of April in Defense of the Tabasara River M10

(cell. [507]6482-4051)

Cc: News media national e international

Banking Entities.

CDM United Nations

Special Rapporteur for the Indigenous People of the United Nations

Source: Panama Profundo

Spanish Original

El Movimiento 10 de Abril por este medio comunica a toda la faz del país que organizaciones solidarias reunidos el día 26 de junio de 2011 en Santiago Veraguas se tomaron la siguientes decisiones. Contemplamos la fecha de 18 de julio en un llamado a organizaciones solidarias para reunirse en el Centro misionero Jesús Obrero en la población de Tole. Ademas:

Que en vista de los siguientes sucesos a raíz del fracaso del dialogo con el Gobierno Nacional el día 18 de mayo de 2011 fecha fatídica en que el Gobierno traiciono la buena fe de nuestra organización y en persona del viceministro Luis Ernesto Carles en una acción previamente ensayada se toma militarmente la entrada de la servidumbre del proyecto hidroeléctrico Barro Blanco por unidades de la fuerza publica, que nuestro grupo después de casi dos meses de protesta habían voluntariamente desalojado una semana antes en señal de buena voluntad.

Que ubicaron unidades de control de multitudes en áreas especificas como puente del Tabasará, poblado de Viguí y otros para evitar nuestras expresiones de rechazo a este proyecto.

Que posteriormente se ubicaron 250 unidades de frontera que con los ya existentes sumaban casi 400 unidades en este tranquilo poblado de Tole en clara acción de intimidación.

Que el proyecto Barro Blanco a pesar de tener pendiente proceso administrativo de la ANAM que detenía provisionalmente el proyecto, realizado en forma ilegal y arbitraria, no obstante procedió a reanudar su labores en el sitio del proyecto en efecto previamente militarizado.

Que el día 8 de junio de 2011 el Movimiento realizó una manifestación y un cierre simbólico de la Interamericana de media hora para protestar su repudio al avance ilegal del proyecto bajo mirada amenazante de unidades de control de multitudes.

Que es obvio que el proyecto viola las leyes (Ley 10 de marzo 7 de 1997 en su artículo 17 que creó la Comarca Ngobe Bugle) que dice claramente que el territorio de la comarca no se puede “enajenar” para uso privado y la Constitución Política de la Republica de Panamá, enmendada en 2004 que “establece el derecho de la propiedad colectiva y prohíbe la apropiación privada de tierras indígenas”.

Pero además adolece de otras series de ilegalidades (como EIA vencido) el cual data de mayo del 2008 y solo tiene validez de 2 años. Por lo tanto los trabajos hechos por la empresa GENISA a partir de mayo del 2010 se hallan fuera de la ley. Para este efecto se había interpuesto acción administrativa ante el ANAM para detener este proyecto hecho que no se ha cumplido.¿Preguntamos entonces si el embalse creado por la represa acaso no “enajena” numerosas hectáreas de tierras de cultivos, viviendas, escuelas é iglesias ngobes, para el uso “privado” de generación eléctrica de la empresa GENISA?

Que el verdadero interés de este macabro proyecto una vez instalada es la de seguir inundando la cuenca hasta los 6000 hectáreas subiendo su cota hasta los 165 metros para producir hasta 220 MW. Que en el área (además del infame Cerro Colorado se encuentran los yacimientos de Cerro Caballo y además los de Cerro Pelado, futuros proyectos los cuales les serán clientes de la energía producida por estos nefastos proyectos hidroeléctricos (Barro Blanco, Tabasará 2 y otros que se lleguen a construir) además del Sistema de Interconexión Eléctrica de los Países de América Central (SIEPAC).

Que el movimiento interpuso a través de sus abogados acción legal pertinente el 31 de mayo ante la Sala Tercera Contencioso Administrativa de la Corte Suprema de Justicia al denominado Proyecto Barro Blanco.

Que el dia 6 de junio de 2011 el Proyecto Barro Blanco impuesto ilegalmente violando todos los principios de derechos humanos y consentimiento previo, libre e informado de los pueblos indígenas y campesina y la población en general fue certificado por el Mecanismo de Desarrollo Limpio de las Naciones Unidas en contubernio con la empresa consultora española AENOR en complicidad expresa con la empresa promotora GENISA y el Gobierno Nacional.

Que el movimiento no ha firmado ningún acuerdo de entendimiento con la empresa GENISA, ni con el Gobierno Nacional en aprobación del denominado Proyecto Barro Blanco y que cualquier supuesto acuerdo firmado por nuestros dirigentes y presentado por la empresa ante las entidades bancarias internacionales o cualquier otra institución es completamente falso y sacado de contexto.

Que el movimiento expresó su rechazo a las manifestaciones recientes del presidente, y de ministros a favor de este proyecto inconsulto e ilegal en violación de todas las disposiciones legales, sociales, y ambientales, incluyendo la expresión de que si los bancos internacionales no pueden financiar este proyecto, la Banca Estatal lo haría.

Que el congreso regional Ngobe representado bajo su presidente Ercilia Mendoza se reunió el sábado 18 de junio de 2011 con la compañía GENISA en el centro piramidal de Santiago de Veraguas, sin embargo la entrada le fue negado a nuestros representantes del movimiento y según algunos comentarios el congreso había brindado su aprobación al proyecto, dando la impresión de un acuerdo monetario (o de otra naturaleza) entre la compañía y el congreso.


Solicitar el retiro inmediato de los contingentes policiales que permiten que se siga el proyecto en forma ilegal y que se respete el derecho de protesta de la ciudadanía y del pueblo ngobe bugle.

Solicitar el retiro inmediato de la maquinaria y enseres del proyecto y su paralización total y definitiva por violatoria a la constitución, las leyes nacionales e internacionales y los preceptos de derechos humanos y derechos de los pueblos indígenas.

Pedir la inmediata intervención y mediación del Relator Especial de los Pueblos indígenas de las NNUU el distinguido Sr. James Anaya en forma URGENTE.

Solicitar al equipo “debida diligencia” de los bancos prestatarios FMO de Holanda y DEG de Alemania para tomar en cuenta esta nueva situación y no prestarse al juego que le quiere montar la empresa GENISA mediante falsedades y engaños.

Solicitar el apoyo de la sociedad civil, los organismos de derechos humanos nacionales e internacionales, los asociaciones ambientales del país, los grupos indígenas ngobe, el Congreso General Ngobe Bugle, la Coordinadora sobre los Recursos Naturales de la Comarca y Campesinas, el apoyo de todas las demás etnias indígenas del país y del exterior en esta lucha desigual contra estos intereses creados, nacionales y foráneos.

Exhortar al Congreso General Ngobe no dejarse engañar con las falsas promesas hechas por la empresa GENISA

Pedir que se cumpla los acuerdos firmados del Gobierno Nacional con la Coordinadora sobre los Recursos Minerales y Naturales de la Comarca que efectivamente ponía un cese de la actividad minera, además de toda actividad hidroeléctrica en la comarca.

Condenar enérgicamente el registro inconsulto del proyecto inconsulto Barro Blanco como proyecto de energía limpia en violación de todo precepto de Derechos Humanos y normas ambientales y condenar igualmente el contubernio de la empresa consultora española AENOR con la empresa GENISA para su aprobación.

Exhortar a las entidades bancarias internacionales específicamente a su misión debida diligencia a no prestarse a este juego engañoso que le quiere montar la empresa GENISA sin la debida aprobación de sus afectados los pueblos indígenas Ngobe Bugle y campesinas residentes en la riberas del Río Tabasará quienes se verán desplazados por la inundación de sus tierras, cultivos, comunidades , escuelas e iglesias por este proyecto inconsulto.


El Movimiento 10 de Abril en Defensa del Río Tabasará M10

Dado el 27 de junio de 2011

Ciudad de Santiago , Provincia de Veraguas, República de Panamá.


Presidente Movimiento 10 de Abril en Defensa del Río Tabasará M10

(cel. [507]6482-4051)

Cc: Medios de comunicación nacional e internacional

Entidades bancarias.

MDL Naciones Unidas

Relator Especial sobre los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas de las Naciones Unidas

Judge rules in favor of Monhegan Island wind site


Judge rules in favor of Monhegan Island wind site


Posted 28 June 2011, by Stephen Betts, Knox Village Soup (Herald Gazette),

There was substantial and competent evidence to support the state’s decision to select a site off Monhegan Island for one of the demonstration wind power projects, a state judge has ruled.

The ruling by Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm rejected arguments by environmental activist Ron Huber of Rockland that the state had failed to meet state laws and guidelines.

Huber filed a lawsuit in January 2010 against the selection of a site two miles to the east of Monhegan for the test site. The Rockland man claimed that the demonstration wind power site known as the Maine Offshore Wind Energy Research Center could harm birds and the environment.

Justice Hjelm, however, issued an order that detailed the process used by the Maine Department of Conservation to consider the impact of the project on the environment including on birds and on the views of people on the island.

The state’s decision to select the site off Monhegan was not arbitrary or capricious, the judge stated in his order filed June 27 in Knox County Superior Court.

The test offshore wind power facility would be two miles off the island and not be visible to the majority of visitors and residents, the judge found.

Justice Hjelm ruled that Huber had standing to appeal the state’s selection to the courts. The University of Maine, which operates the DeepCWind Consortium, had argued that Huber had no standing to appeal the selection.

In his initial lawsuit, Huber said the designation of waters off Monhegan as a test site violates his constitutional rights to practice his religious stewardship of Penobscot Bay.

According to the Wind Consortium website, led by University of Maine researchers, the state is poised to test a scale model of a floating offshore wind turbine next summer near Monhegan. The prototype is meant to test technology ahead of a pilot wind farm in 2017.

Lettuce plants grow in new climate chamber; harbinger of ‘cityfarm’ concept

Lettuce plants grow in new climate chamber; harbinger of ‘cityfarm’ concept

Philips and horticulture company Deliscious have developed a new concept for lettuce by using LED lighting. In a special climate chamber small lettuce plants grow above each other in layers under LED’s whose light spectrum has been adjusted to make the plants grow better. Optimising the growing process ensures rising yields for the grower and a consistent quality of the vegetable. With the correct lighting Deliscious can produce perfect crops of lettuce with roots throughout the year.

“This is the first real harbinger of ‘cityfarming’, a new and sustainable concept that’s being used in more and more densely populated areas to grow food in unusual places, such as on terraces and roofs. Taking into account the increasing urbanisation and the need to provide food, this innovation ensures optimal use of the growing surface”, says Udo van Slooten. Director of LED Horticulture at Philips. “Space, water and energy are growing scarcer and that’s why we’re working on sustainable growing methods. The multiple layer cultivation, such as is used at Deliscious, is ground breaking and an example for the future.”

From seed to plant under LED lights

In the spring of 2012 the first plantable lettuce plants from the new growing chamber will appear. During the first phase – from seed to plantable plant – the lettuce is grown in a special climate chamber that’s 8 metres high, in stacked in seven layers, lit by GreenPower LED lights form Philips.

After over a year of testing in a single growing layer with different light levels and spectrum, the right light recipe was found for the propagation of clod lettuce without daylight. This doesn’t only considerably reduce the propagation phase, the quality of the lettuce is also more constant during the various seasons. In the still to be built multiple layer climate cell, internal logistic and climate control will be developed further.

By using this new light formula, Deliscious can control the complete production from lettuce seed to fully formed lettuce and negative external influences on quality and origin can be kept to a minimum. This makes a more efficient production possible and enables the company to supply lettuce throughout the year with a constant quality and reliability.

The new building

Besides the LED lighting Philips has also taken the operational financing in its hands through Philips Lighting Capital. With this Philips wants to give horticulture companies the opportunity to switch to innovative solutions with LED lighting quickly. This means horticulturists can pay back the lighting eventually from the increased proceeds.

The other parties involved with the new building are Light Interaction for supplying the LED lighting, Wilk van de Sande and B-E de Lier supplied the technical installation, CODEMA Systems Group did the internal transport and Maurice Kassenbouw built the greenhouses, screen installation and company area with all the concrete works. Horiplan did the mobile gutter system (MGS system), Demtec did the plantrobots and Press Line and Sercom did the climate computers.

One small step for man in bamboo socks

One small step for man in bamboo socks

Posted 28 June 2011, by Mike Freedman, BizCommunity,

I’ve been reading about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area larger than the US, where abandoned fishing nets, plastic bath toys, computers and plastic pellets wash around endlessly, and wondered if I would find my odd socks and lost pens there.

Or perhaps Steve Jobs had charitably combined the talents of Apple and Pixar Studios with global MacBooks animating socks and pens in the dead of night, then directing them to march off and find the one-legged penless of the world.These thoughts propelled me around the socks section of a Cape Waterfront clothing store, grumpily looking for replacement pairs. Cotton-rich socks (unspecified percentage) with multi-coloured toes momentarily appealed to my hidden hippy, until I came across bamboo socks.

I knew that bamboo was eco-friendlier than most wood, so it had to be better for the future of humanity than water-gulping cotton. They were in plain black or caramel – but fashion be damned, I was flashing my green credentials.

Green – from the feet up

I came away from the store with a good impression and a shopping bag in which socks took up a corner. They cost the same as the cotton-rich versions, they are very comfortable and I am a tiny bit greener. Not enough to solve our problems, but enough to raise my consciousness – and that leads to solutions.

As far as bamboo socks go, I am in the early majority. Certainly not amongst the originators who probably wore bamboo stalks on their feet, nor the early adopters who seek out alternative stores and endure moderate itchiness for the cause. I came along once a Chinese manufacturer patented a way to make bamboo comfortable (chemicals involved, Wikipedia says not hectic, but who knows?) and prime outlets of a major chain started stocking them, albeit at about 5% of the cotton-rich inventory.

If the word spreads, seven things will happen:

  1. More people will go there for bamboo socks and a good percentage will come out with big bags
  2. More people will like the store (and give themselves a small pat)
  3. The store will extend the bamboo experiment to more branches
  4. Other chains will watch and some will attempt to raise the bamboo bet
  5. We will be seeing bamboo scarves, jeans and suits – some by local designers
  6. The world will have less CO2 and more water
  7. The more eco-conscious purchase decisions are made, the more retailers will take notice and an early majority will swell

Little by little, more and more of us are going green.

Changing the IPAT equation

After a decade of debate, scientists in the 1970s developed the IPAT equation:

Impact = population x affluence x technology
This explains why most of them are so gloomy.

There were three billion of us humans on Planet Earth in 1960, seven billion today with most projections saying nine billion plus by 2050. No government is putting itself on the line to curb population growth – some in Africa urge for more children. Have-nots aspire to have, while haves search for ways to have more; mass affluence is on the rise.

We’d like technology to be our saviour, but so far things haven’t worked out that way.

A study in the States shows that, while cars have become far more fuel efficient in the past 30 years, fuel use has increased from 391 gallons per person in 1970 to 453 gallons in 2006. More fuel-efficient cars encourage more use. It is the same with microprocessors and domestic appliances – whether we are video streaming or buying a second refrigerator for beer and cokes.

Technology creates new demand – everyone under 15 believes a cellphone is a constitutional right, likewise an MP3 player, while my own resistance to the iPad crumbles by.

The equation spells gloom and doom – but it omits a vital variable, consciousness, which changes IPAT to IPACT:

Impact = population x affluence x consciousness x technology

  • Population (with consciousness):As the girl-child is educated, she marries later and has fewer children. A global campaign to educate the girl-child in poor communities will radically change the equation.However, fewer children equal more affluence and the bigger problem becomes more consumers, not more people. Unless consciousness also changes amongst the haves.
  • Affluence (with consciousness):If only to go warm were gorgeous,Why nature needs not what thou gorgeous wear’st
    Shakespeare, King Lear.From the time that Darwinian fish flopped onto the land, we have always aspired for something better and it is easy to imagine cavemen (and women) flaunting their fanciest pelts. The industrial revolution brought mass production – then the challenge to build demand that keeps up with ever-expanding supply was met by the birth of the ad agency and the consequent consumer, brand-wise society.The essence of marketing is to influence mass beliefs and behaviour. It has been stunningly successful. It is not enough for clothes to keep us warm and looking good, for transport to move us, for watches to tell the time. Labels define us – they are the badges of outward success and inner esteem.

    While our march to the drumbeat of more continues, we now hear a growing chorus warning we cannot go on this way. Can marketing once again influence us, this time in a different direction?

    The more simple eco-friendly purchase decisions are offered, the more they are marketed, and the more the feeling of eco-gratification builds amongst that early majority. Bamboo socks today, organic chocolate tomorrow, recycling the day after – then a worm-farm, a solar-water heater and electric car – actions and beliefs create a virtuous spiral.

  • Technology (with consciousness):The joy of a developing economy is that we can still make choices, aligning our technology efforts to growing needs. – from itch-free hemp shirts to low-cost solar water heaters.We already have a competence in biomimicry – and enough to inspire us, such as the termite mounds that became passively cooled buildings, the Namib beetle that introduced a new way of water harvesting and the bumps on humpback whale flippers that inspired quieter, more efficient wind turbines.Green technology will be the fuel of the green economy.

The conscious economyNew consciousness is growing around us. In South Africa, Woolworths does a good job; Pick n Pay shows up on the eco-radar. Wal-Mart will make suppliers display their environmental credentials. Global brands such as Levi’s and Timberland are powered by people and planet credentials. Corporates such as Unilever (with a focus on sustainability), GE (growing its eco-business while reducing its carbon footprint) and Nestlé (Creating Shared Value) believe it is good business to raise the eco-agenda.

HSBC analysts predict that the growth of electric and hybrid cars will race to almost 18 million per annum in 2020, from 660 000 in 2009. China aims to become the world leaders in the new technology, spurred by significant rebates and the unpleasant fact that only 1% of China’s city population breathe air considered safe by the European Union.

By 2013, the stylish electric Joule, SA’s first home-born car, will be rolling off the production lines at the rate of 50 000 a year, bringing needed employment to East London. (The original business plan was for 4000 a year; the tie is rising.)

Money-saver, job-maker

Reduce, reuse are money-savers, while recycle is a job-maker. Upcycling (the part of recycling that improves the original) is early adopters’ eco-chic – whether it’s stationery upcycled from plastic cups by Remarkable in the UK, or collectible furniture, home accessories and lighting recreated from junk for the aptly named Recreate in Cape Town.

All these points of light are joining. That small step for man in bamboo socks may just herald a giant leap for humankind.

Farmer Payments Face Budget Diet

Farmer Payments Face Budget Diet

With ethanol and defense spending on the table, crop subsidies may finally get the ax. In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast’s Eve Conant, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack details plans to rope the once-sacred cow.

Posted 27 June 2011, by , The Daily Beast,

With Congress and the White House struggling to save every tax dollar possible to stave off a debt crisis this summer, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he expects a once-sacred cow of political spending—government subsidy payments to American farmers—to face cuts.

But he told Newsweek and The Daily Beast he hopes to create a “safety net” to ease the blow for farmers who have counted on the aid for decades.

“I think, frankly, many farmers understand and appreciate that there has to be change,” Vilsack said in an interview Monday.

The mere fact that Vilsack, a former governor of farm-rich Iowa, is resigned to seeing the farm payment system change illustrates just how far the government-spending debate has shifted as the nation hurtles toward an August 2 deadline, when the U.S. could default on its debt.

To avoid the crisis, lawmakers and presidential aides must reach a deal to trim hundreds of billions of dollars in future spending and also raise the government’s borrowing limit. And that has put many once-untouchable programs on the chopping block, even including some surprising recent GOP suggestions to cut defense spending.

After weeks of deferring to Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama got involved in the negotiations in recent days. On Monday, Obama discussed possible ideas with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

According to at the Center for Responsive Politics, Big Ag contributed some $10.4 million to federal candidates in 2008, and $9.3 million in 2010.

In the past, it would have been unthinkable for politicians—especially a  farm-state governor at the Agriculture Department—to discuss cutting farm subsidies the year before a presidential election, which traditionally kicks off in Iowa with that state’s caucuses.

But 2011 has posed new challenges—and the GOP contenders for the White House have begun to concede that even politically popular programs inevitably will face cuts.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who visits Iowa on Tuesday, acknowledged recently that tax breaks for oil companies—which play a big role in her home state economy—need to be cut as part of spending reform.

And former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty kicked off his presidential campaign with a bang, proposing in Iowa of all places that tax breaks for ethanol—the fuel created from corn—also needed to be cut. The Senate followed shortly after by voting to end the key ethanol subsidy.

Every year, the U.S. government pays farmers between $5 billion and $6 billion in direct payments to subsidize their sales of products ranging from peanuts to cotton and corn. The payments have become a staple of the American farm business, and powerful members of Congress have long sought to protect them, particularly from fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party.

In better economic times, the farm payments have survived mostly intact.

But Vilsack acknowledged in the interview Monday that those subsidies are now on the table in negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. “It’s no secret that they’re talking about that, absolutely. And what they’re talking about I think is a change in the direct-payments system,” he said.


The Obama administration has been on record for two and half years that the direct-payment system has to be changed. And we finally have the rest of the country catching up to where the president was in 2009,” Vilsack said.

The key will be to be to create protections so that vulnerable farmers can withstand the cutbacks and not be driven out of business. Vilsack suggested payments could be rationed and targeted to the most needy farmers and that others could rely on other forms of help, such as crop insurance.


If you’re a farmer who owns land along the Missouri River and the [Army] Corps of Engineers makes a decision to let water out of a dam at a fairly rapid rate and it comes down the Missouri and it overflows the banks and wipes out your crop, what do you do?” he asked. “You have to have some kind of mechanism to help people.”

Who would be eligible?


The president suggested that there be limitations on who receives this, that the help should go to folks who need it the most. It doesn’t necessarily need to go to people who have off-farm income of a half a million dollars, they’re going to be able to probably weather the storm. Or folks who have fairly large operations who’ve diversified and have farm income that is substantially higher than what most Americans experience. They may not need the help, so you target it,” he explained.


And you create for those other operations, those larger operations, a risk-management tool, crop insurance for example, that allows them to essentially purchase the coverage, purchase the protection. So there are going to be changes in the structure, there’s no question about that,”Vilsack said.

Robert Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to examining federal budget deficits, says the need for change is long overdue.


In this time of heightened deficits, everything needs to get scrutiny. Farm subsidies have long been a target of deficit hawks and clearly they are on the table now, as they should be.” But he said other industries, such as oil and gas, needed to come under scrutiny as well. “I’d like to see the debate broadened into subsidies to all industries. This goes beyond farm subsidies, we need to look at the whole panoply.” 

Vilsack said he did not expect changes to result in political fallout in the Midwest, even with a presidential election looming, arguing that people in small towns and in the Midwest grow up with the value that “you gotta tighten the belt when times are tough.”

But he stressed that farmers shouldn’t be under attack. “There’s a lot of pressure on these people and it’s just not well understood by very many people in this country. We take the farmer for granted in this country.”

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Eve Conant is a Newsweek staff reporter covering immigration, politics, social and culture issues.

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Alarming land losses

Alarming land losses

Posted 28 June 2011, by The Editor, The Egyptian Gazette,

The UN report on desertification shows that Egypt ranks first among  countries facing a serious desertification problem. It rings alarm bells about the high risk of losing the best fertile soil.

According to the report, Egypt is losing 3.5 feddans of arable land in the Nile Delta each and every hour due to urban expansion. This alarming rate should prompt harsh penalties, a close follow-up and monitoring of agricultural acreage.

Local experts dropped another bombshell when they said that in the last three months alone building on agricultural land increased to such an extent that five feddans were lost per hour on average.  If this rate were maintained, the waste of arable land would reach 43,000 feddans in one year.

The state of chaos and the absence of adequate supervision in the wake of the January 25 revolution have encouraged profiteering and personal greed at the expense of public interest.

The Government is urgently required to prioritise this issue and pass clear directives to governors and agricultural directorates, not only to pull down buildings constructed in the past few months but to force violators to restore barren land to its former condition.

This is not the time for accepting financial compensation as the case has usually been in the past few years. Decisiveness is the only way to deal with law breakers, no matter what justification violators come up with.

Officials concerned are expected to review agricultural maps across the country to make a comparison with available areas. Plenty of vast areas have already been lost in the past decade or so due to laxity and indifference.

It would be utterly disgraceful if a country whose ancient civilisation was based on agriculture lost its fertile land out of its own will and was forced to turn to desert reclamation for agricultural production.

Backyard Farm and Learning Center Opens to the Public


Backyard Farm and Learning Center Opens to the Public

A North Diamond Bar family has converted their home into a sustainable backyard farm that will now offer public classes in gardening, permaculture, and sustainable living classes.

Posted 28 June 2011, By Darren Fishell, DiamondBar Patch,

It’s not often that parents see eye to eye with their children.

A shared vision is, however, what brought Pearl Kumar and her sons Ro and Rishi together to build a backyard farm in Diamond Bar that Pearl said she had long dreamt of.

“I always had the vision,” Pearl said, “but I didn’t have the manpower.”

After six months of work dedicated to building the Growing Home, Pearl’s sons took the vision a step further by opening the home garden and learning center to the public on Friday.

Ro’s childhood friend Jeff Li, who attended South Pointe Middle School with the two brothers, said he remembers playing basketball on a paved portion of the backyard that abutted a generous lawn.

“They’re changing the mentality,” Li said. “If you’re going to water grass, why not water something providing some sustenance?”

Visitors to the garden’s opening learned about sustainable urban agriculture and Rishi and Ro announced a full lineup of instructional summer workshops on gardening and do-it-yourself sustainability projects hosted at the Growing Home.

“In this type of suburban environment, it’s great to see that it’s generating a lot of buzz,” Li said during Friday’s public opening of the garden.

Last week, Patch took a video tour of the Growing Home.

You can’t eat the dollar

Rishi is a computer scientist and graduated on a full ride scholarship from UC San Diego. Ro was accepted to law schools including Stanford, Yale, and Berkeley.

Given the potential to go on to live traditionally successful lives, Pearl said some might feel her sons’ choice to dedicate their energy to the Growing Home a waste.

“We (as a society) chase the dollar,” Pearl said, “but you can’t eat the dollar.”

Nurturing the soil

Pearl said the shift to farming is, in a way, a return to her family’s farming roots in India. However, the shift was not so much a decision to reach across continents and generations, but a shot at digging into the soil right at home, which was difficult at first.

“Diamond Bar soil is very hard,” Pearl said.

The yard was barren and stubbornly refused tilling when the family first arrived in Diamond Bar 22 years ago.

After being overwhelmed with thoughts of how she could make a difference in an ever-expanding world, Pearl said she turned her focus to the garden, starting small by burying kitchen scraps in the yard.

Before long, Pearl said the best crops were growing over those spots. A few years ago, after Rishi had taken to organic gardening in college, he returned one summer to pull out the rest of the backyard lawn and expand the garden.

Pearl and Rishi arranged for a load of plant clippings from local gardeners to be delivered and later added a truckload of manure from a local farm, which was covered and cared for as nutrients returned to the land.

“Even the soil is alive,” Pearl said. “It needs to be covered and protected — it needs water and food and air.”

The garden

On the modestly-sized lot in a neighborhood near Peterson Park, Rishi has managed to find a place for 40 exotic and domestic fruit trees, vegetables from zucchini to squash and potatoes, and an array of flowers that he said are both decorative, but with a distinct purpose.

The flowers, Rishi said, bring in bees that are necessary for the garden to flourish.

At Friday’s opening, beekeeper was on hand with samples of fresh honey and information on his push for cities across Southern California to approve methods of urban beekeeping.

“Around 30 percent of all food you eat depends on (bee) pollination,” said Robin Theron, a beekeeper who was on hand at Friday’s opening of the garden. “So, every third bite you take is because of bees.”

Pearl said the garden has also allowed the family to cut their grocery bill down to nearly nothing. But the garden provides more than just food.

“Sometimes Ro and I pull up chairs in the garden and play music,” Ro’s friend Li said.

“We’re trying to create community here,” Pearl said. “We’re looking for teachers that can help get back to the basics.”


The Growing Home’s first class will be July 2 covering food fermentation from 10 a.m. to Noon. The second will be at the same time on July 9, covering natural building. Both lessons are $30.

Visit the Growing Home and register for classes online.

Related Topics: The Growing Home

To rise above


To rise above


Posted 27 June 2011, by Tom Carey, Seminole Voice,

It’s already the middle of June and we have not received the first of our expected summer rains. On the tail of weeks of dry spring weather, dry sandy soils are turning to dust as temperatures increase. Irrigation and mulch are as much a part of gardening as plants and bugs, but let us delve even deeper into the framework of our garden space.

Raised growing beds entered into our garden vocabulary about the same time as ‘Square Foot Gardening” or “Permaculture”. Taking advantage of a few of these design techniques get the garden growing before planting the first seeds.

The news is full of stories about flooding Mid-Western farm fields. Farmers cannot plow their land to plant their seeds, not to mention the existing crops drowning in flat acreages under tides of saturating storm waters. But in our gardens, we can rise above these concerns by lifting the level of our growing spaces. A raised growing bed both provides drainage from too much rain and it also gives us a depth of soil for increased root growth. By using the paths around the garden space as a drainage swale, flood damage can be diverted.

To lift the terrain of my garden, the first step I use is to deeply rototill the soil, essentially adding air spaces between the strata, substantially increasing the volume of the topography. Using a rake, I pull the center of my 4’-foot wide growing beds toward the edge, creating a lip of soil between the perimeter paths and planting area. A second pass with the rake to pull soil from the paths to the growing bed affirms this gradient difference. The lip between the bed and path holds irrigation water in the growing spaces, but any extreme excess of rain can drain onto the swaled path.

Other methods for creating a raised growing environment involve framing the garden area with lumber or concrete blocks. Lumber choices include standard framing boards, which are termite fodder, cedar or plastic boards for an expensive investment, but not pressure treated wood. A combination of swaled or raised beds and plants in containers provides numerous planting options.

Just be aware that the sand underlying most of Florida’s soils can become compacted, acting as an impervious membrane that retains excess waters, drowning the deep seeking roots. Well worth the effort, double dig the depth of dirt inside a framed garden bed. To augment the soil level, fill the raised enclosure with prodigious quantities of compost and mulch. Ride the rising tides in raised beds for successful gardening!

Tree-volution through a book in Bengaluru


Tree-volution through a book in Bengaluru


Posted 28 June 2011, by  Charumathi Supraja, Citizen Matters,

A gentle reminder to plant more trees through a children’s book that comes with seeds. Citizen Matters caught up with the author of this unique book on why he thinks children can be the change agents.

You must be having a ‘special’ tree in your life. Or at least a memory of – a mango tree you grew up climbing; the neighbour’s Jamun tree that stained your compound wall purple; Ajji‘s house Jackfruit tree and its profuse yield; the Pipal tree by the river in your ‘native’ village; the ‘haunted’ Tamarind tree on the edge of the school compound…

Tulika publishers’ latest – ‘Let’s plant trees’ by Vinod Lal Heera Eshwer, is a book for parents as much as children. It gets directly to the point – action, not theoretical discussions. It comes with real Pongam seeds. The book is a call to action and simply says, “Trees are fun and nice to be around with”.

Vinod is a much awarded copywriter, organic farmer, filmmaker and compulsive tree-planter, among other things. He plants trees in and around Bangalore. He recently launched his book ‘Let’s Plant Trees’ at the Mother Earth store in Bangalore. The “mad about trees” author chatted with Charumathi Supraja.

What was the impetus/ stimulus for this book?

While a kid can’t do much about stopping trees from being cut, a kid can sure plant trees. I didn’t want another book with a story and a moral/message. I wanted a book with less talk and more fun. I wanted the kids to do something after reading the book. And what better thing to do than plant trees to secure their future?

To put it simply: I love my little son. I love trees. I love to draw. Add them up and you know why I thought of this book.

How did you become an “obsessive tree-planter”?

All credit goes to my mother, quite like a monkey, I’ve spent a good part of my childhood on trees. I used to even take afternoon naps on a guave tree. As my wife puts it, apart from my son I love only two things – Vipassana meditation and trees. She keeps saying, “Plant trees and then meditate under them. That’s all you want to do!”

This book is not wooded with words. Was that deliberate?

Yes. There’s not much to say anyway. We all know why trees are good for us. This book is just a gentle reminder and a call to action. The focus is on the action. The world is full of words. What the world needs is action.

What were the challenges in the process of writing/ putting together and getting this book out?

It began as a series of fun doodles. I strung them together and sent them to Tulika on a whim. The wonderful folks at Tulika loved it. More than anything, they opened up to the crazy idea of including tree seeds. It meant relooking at all conventional publishing practices and increasing the man-hours spent on making every book, but they did it. I love them and respect them immensely for that. This is the world’s first kid’s book that comes with real tree seeds to be planted.

You said “it’s as much a book for adults as for children.” Why is it important for adults?

This book is a small step in repaying that loan and undoing the damage that our generation inflicted on mother earth. As adults, it’s high time we accept what we have done (and are doing) to the environment and take the required action to undo the damage. This book empowers both adults and children to take that small but most effective first step of planting a tree. For, planting a tree is the single most effective action that any individual can take to trigger off a chain reaction that heals the earth.

You are a trustee at What does this organisation do?

Treesforfree is a charity that plants trees to heal the earth. We plant trees for free for anyone who is willing to nurture and protect the tree. To date, has planted over 26,000 trees in and around Bangalore city. Funds come in the form of donations from individuals and organisations that wish to plant trees but don’t have the space to do so. It is pretty much a one-woman show; the woman being the wonderful founder and president, Janet Yegneswaran. As a volunteer sums it up – “Save the planet. Call Janet on 9845449703.” Treesforfree is looking to extend its reach to the famers who have plenty of land in the villages surrounding Bangalore. Corporates and individuals are invited to chip in.

How can city and apartment dwellers get involved in bringing about a ‘tree-volution’, so to speak?

Where one lives is not a limiting factor. One’s volition and willingness to get involved is. Most of the volunteers and supporters of live in apartments. Yet they are responsible for planting over 26,000 trees to compensate the loss of tree cover in our garden city. It all boils down to one question, “How badly do you want help?”

For instance, I met someone who wanted to raise tree saplings on his apartment balcony. He said that the saplings could be planted in the ground when opportunity arose. That’s what apartment dwellers could do with the seeds in the book. Grow the trees where you can. Call and we’ll help you find a place to plant the sapling.

Gift gift vouchers. Gift this book with tree seeds. Give this book as birthday party return gifts or corporate gifts. This book is a great way to inspire kids and parents to plant trees. The seeds in the book are the seeds for a ‘tree-volution’. All you need to do is plant them.

Can children make a difference?

Children can do everything. And they must be encouraged and empowered to do so. That is what the book hopes to do. The book provides inspiration. And the seeds with the book empower them to bring about a positive change.

Children can influence their parents to act. I have seen a small child who refused to accept plastic bags and refused to let her parents accept plastic bags. The seeds in the book are more about sowing thoughts about trees in children’s minds than about them sowing tree seeds in the ground.

Charumathi Supraja is a city-based freelance journalist.