Posts Tagged ‘biofuel’

Re-Colonization Of Africa Through Buying Agricultural Land: Wealthy Nations And Their Multinationals On The Rampage

Re-Colonization Of Africa Through Buying Agricultural Land: Wealthy Nations And Their Multinationals On The Rampage

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Posted 26 September 2011, by Akinyi Princess of K’Orinda-Yimbo, Tom Wilt News, tomwilt.com

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The global food crisis of 2007/2008 that triggered riots from Cape to Cairo and from Senegal to Haiti made governments and their agriculturally-engaged companies to get on the saddle and gallop – with their thinking caps on. Export tariffs were slapped on staple food crops to minimise how much could be sold outside their countries.  In my book – Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare: A Critical Observation of Neighbouring Continents, I mentioned, rather apocalyptically, that if we Africans don’t take care then the outside world will turn our continent into “a timber plantation.” This is now happening, but on a worst-case scenario. Africans are being colonised again and this time not with the power of  weapons but through Africans themselves selling their continent willingly. The 99- and 999-year lease – a remnant of colonialists – surely cannot fool anybody. This is equivalent to a full century and/or full millennium which translates into three and a half to thirty-four consecutive generations of Africans.

Africans are selling the one natural resource they can’t afford to sell – their land. Especially arable land. In Antananarivo, Madagascar, earlier in 2009, President Ravalomanana’s government was overthrown by angry urban poor who were already spending two thirds of their income to feed themselves ever since the 2008 massive rise in global prices for commodities like rice and wheat. This was not just because of his own private jet bought from a member of the Disney family for his own use with public funds – no. President Ravalomanana was leasing 1.3 hectares (half the size of Belgium and half of Madagascar’s arable land) to South Korea’s Daewoo for 99 years to grow maize and palm oil and send all harvests during this period back home to feed South Koreans. Daewoo paid nothing: they PROMISED to improve the island’s infra structure. And of course they would provide “jobs for the citizens of Madagascar by farming it, which is good for Madagascar” (read cheap slave labour). As usual the public was kept in the dark. Until the news was leaked by London’s Financial Times. This is the first government in the world to be toppled by angry mobs and the military for “land-grabbing”. Kudos to the people.

There are more than 100 similar land-grabs globally, since September 2008, where huge tracts of farmland are bought up by wealthy countries as well international corporations. Mark Weston, Britain’s international development policy consultant does the colourful canvas thus: “Imagine if China, following a brief negotiation with a British government desperate for foreign cash after the collapse of the economy, bought up the whole of Wales, replaced most of its inhabitants with Chinese workers, turned the entire country into an enormous rice field and sent all the rice produced there for the next 99 years back to China… Imagine that neither the evicted Welch nor the rest of the British public knew what they were getting in return for this, having to content themselves with vague promises that the new landlords would upgrade a few ports and create jobs for the local people.

“Then, imagine that, after a few years – and bearing in mind that recession and the plummeting pound have already made it difficult for the UK to buy food from abroad – an oil-price spike or an environmental disaster in one of the world’s big grain-producing nations drives global food prices sharply upwards and beyond the reach of many Britons. While the Chinese next door in Wales continue sending rice back to China, the starving British look helplessly on, ruing the day their government sold off half their arable land. Some of them plot the violent recapture of the Welch valley.”

This – huge tracts of land being “sold” to foreigners for “promises” – is what is happening all over Africa this very minute. Except that in my experience not many Africans are that good at organising themselves as a unified force to recapture their valley. They would either fall upon each other with machetes for a few grains some “kind” soul dropped them from the air, or they’d turn into a trillion factions with double the number of “generals”.

Even the great pope of the free market, Financial Times, has used words like “rapacious” for the likes of Daewoo, warning that it was the most “brazen example of a wider phenomenon” where rich nations are trotting the globe buying up the natural resources of poor countries. The new colonialism is vast in Africa, with the buyers being wealthy countries unable to grow their own food. The Arabs are back fleeing their barren sands to turn Africa into their granary like they did one and a half millennia ago (in Egypt at the time). The Gulf states are in the lead in this new investment. Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, controlling between them 45% of the world’s oil, are snatching AGRICULTURAL LAND in Egypt, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Zambia, Uganda, but also in Cambodia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia. South Korea has grabbed a staggering 960,000 hectares in Sudan, the largest country in Africa, where at least 6 other rich countries are said to have secured large land-holding – and precisely where the local population are among the hungriest and least secure in the world. The Saudis are negotiating 500,000 hectares (not acres) in Tanzania. Companies for the United Arab Emirates have snapped up 324,000 hectares in Pakistan. Highly populated countries like China, South Korea and India have acquired swathes of African farmland to produce food for export. India recently lowered tariffs for Ethiopian commodities that could enter India after the Indian government lent money to 80 Indian companies to buy 350,000 hectares of farmland in Africa, particularly huge tracts in Kenya and Ethiopia. And this is the same Kenya where, in the year 2008, the locals of African descent were chopping each other’s limbs off, being shot by their own police and armed forces and burning innocent men, women and children locked up in churches – because of the land tenure! This is the Kenya where the Gallmanns, Briatores and Bransons and many others own private ranches the size of 3 Cypruses, where Prince William and his girlfriend spend a bit of “Hollywood in the bush” once or so a year – the rest of the time, all the above celebrities have their small states looked after by their private property “my Africans” – while 75% of Afro-Kenyans have no scratch of land to plant a tomato!

Kenya made a deal with Qatar, an Arab land with only 1% arable land, to acquire 40,000 hectares of land to grow food. A third of Kenya’s population was facing food shortages and President Kibaki had no better answer for hungry Kenyans opposing the deal but to impose a state of emergency and then turn around to appeal for international food relief. Where is the logic here, by the bony ancients? If Qatar can grow food on Kenyan soil to feed Qataris, why can’t Kenya grow food in Kenya to feed Kenyans? The land offered to Qatar is in the fertile Tana River delta with an abundance of fresh water. Some 150,000 Kenyan farming and pastoralist families for whom the land is communal graze their 60,000 cattle there. It is no wonder that, supported by opposition activists and environmentalists fearing the destruction of a pristine ecosystem of mangrove swamps, savannah and forests, the people now threaten armed resistance. When that happens, the rest of the world will only report about “warring African tribes”, not a group of people fighting to keep their land and ecosystem instead of allowing it delivered to Qatari farmers to feed their Arabs.

Next door in Uganda, 400 small farmers comprising a total of 2,000 people, were driven out (using violence through the Ugandan army) of their land in 2001 to make room for the German coffee grower Neumann Kaffee Gruppe. This was against the OECD guidelines for multinational concerns. On 24th August 2001, the concern’s boss, Michael R Neumann, together with President Museveni inaugurated the plantation. The people who were driven off their land can since then neither feed themselves adequately nor pay school fees for their children. This is another in a long line of  violations of social human rights perpetrated by yet another African so-called leader against his own citizens. Are Africans surprised when the rest of the world view them as some strange pathogens? Who is polishing the patina of Africa’s “bad image”?

Mozambique has signed a $ 2bn deal to give 10,000 Chinese “settlers” land in return for $ 3m in military aid from Beijing. Right. Take the land for 99- or 999-year lease and settle down while you give the starving Mozambicans both reason and means to kill each other off, leaving Mozambique a Chinese province. Food is a weapon is a weapon is a weapon….

But the list is long. The British investor Cru Investment Management has grabbed tracts of the fruitful agricultural land in dirt poor Malawi. US investment banker Philippe Heilberg, assisted by a “warlord”, acquired 4,000 square kilometres of land in southern Sudan. Congo-Brazzaville is allegedly selling 10 million hectares to Euroancestral South Africans to farm. Multinational finance concerns such as Deutsche Bank, Blackstone Group, Goldman & Sachs and Dexion Capital all have invested in African agricultural land. The World Bank and International Finance Corporation are engaged in “the development of agro-business” big time in Africa and other developing countries ever since the food crisis of 2008, pumping billions to agro-concerns to ensure food production in Africa for their own countries. All such investors no longer want to depend on speculators, they want to eliminate middlemen and take control themselves. Cru Investment spokesman, Duncan Parker maintains, “Africa has what it takes to be one of the leading food producers worldwide. Her potential in workers is big, her soil productive and there’s plenty of sun and water.”

Is the man not talking about the same Africa whose people are starving and dying of diseases that could be avoided by mere clean drinking water?

And Philippe Heilberg told the US media that whatever political and legal risks he is taking in Africa at the moment will pay most lucratively because he expects several African states in the coming years to simply fall apart. Can Africans legitimately blame Heilberg for his arrogance and indifference? Besides, when one listens between the words, there is always a plan-in-motion behind such blatant utterances. Africans may well be the next Palestinians – pariahs in their own land.

And now food is not the only thing that African land is needed for. Think of the recent EU Desertec cordoning off the Sahara for solar energy for Europe. In the Desertec Concept are the words:

In the upcoming decades, several global developments will create new challenges for mankind. We will be confronted with problems and obstacles such as climate change, population growth beyond earth’s capacity, and an increase in demand for energy and water caused by a strive for prosperity and expansion.The DESERTEC Concept provides a way to solve these challenges.

The question is, SOLVE THEM FOR WHO? Certainly not for Africans. And how does this concept work?

It works just like a coal steam power plant, with the difference that concentrated solar power is used for steam production, instead of coal. Large mirrors are positioned in such a way that they reflect and concentrate the sunlight onto a certain point much like capturing sunlight through a magnifying lens. A major advantage of this technology is that a part of the sun’s heat can be collected in heat storage tanks during the day and then run through steam circuits at night or specifically during peak hours, depending on the demand. With this technology, renewable and controlled energy can be provided according to the demand of the electricity grid.

Yet Africans, fifty years down independence road and with the technology already existing and sitting their for a price they can more than afford, cannot position large mirrors in such a way that they reflect and concentrate the abundant African sunlight like capturing sunlight through a magnifying lens! Africans have had the Sahara forever – but they just couldn’t come up with the idea of getting some solar energy from this vast desert. No idea from the whole of Sunny Africa? Yes they could, if Africans start thinking of themselves as worthwhile human beings too, and join forces to keep what is theirs theirs. Otherwise Africans might as well follow the butcher meekly to the slaughter house because that’s where they’re going to end up – in “native reserves” dying off as a people until the few Africans left are put in museums like they were once the main attraction in circuses all over the West in the 18th through early 20th centuries.

German, British and American companies have also bought land in Tanzania and Ethiopia to grow biofuels. Ethiopia – the byword for famine – argues that since it imports oil, biofuels will set off price fluctuations and dependency on oil! What about the environmental impact – 75% of the land allocated to the foreign biofuel firms are forested and these forests will have to be chopped off! The Chinese chopstick manufacturers are delighted.

A Norwegian biofuel company will create “the largest jatropha plantation in the world” by deforesting vast tracts of land in northern Ghana. The company was back to darkest Europe when it flagrantly cheated an illiterate chief to sign 38,000 hectares with his thumbprint. Jatropha is a non-too-demanding plant that produces oily seeds from which biodiesel can be made.

This entire new scramble for poor countries’ land is the result of the food crisis of 2007-2008 when the price of wheat, rice and other cereals skyrocketed across the globe. When the food-grower countries applied tariffs to minimize the amount of staple crops that left their countries, the supply was further tightened resulting in prices shooting further up. It was a policy-created scarcity rather than the true-and-tried traditional supply and demand. A situation arose where rich countries reliant on massive food imports put on their thinking caps. They began to put the fundamentals of global trade (that each country should concentrate on its best product and then trade it) under the microscope. The Gulf states, among other rich countries, with their unimaginable amounts of cash from trading oil suddenly realised you can’t eat cash dipped in oil. Nor can you gnaw on a Rolls-Royce. Or feed your children computer chips. The sheikhs & associates saw that the costs of food imports had doubled in five years. The future boded for worse – both regional and global markets were no longer reliable.

The perfect answer was to own agricultural land. “Control of foreign farmland”, writes Paul Vallely, “would not only secure food supplies, it would eliminate the cut taken by middlemen and reduce food-import bills by more than 20 percent. And the benefits could only increase.” Because the fundamental conditions that had ushered in the worldwide food crisis remain unchanged and could easily get worse.

According to the UN the world population will double by 2050. To grow enough food to feed 9bn people choke the planet. So, long term strategies are the right response. When the Prime Minister Taro of Japan (the world’s largest food importer) asked the G8 leaders in Italy: “Is the current food crisis just another market vagary?” he answered his own question: “Evidence suggests not; we are undergoing a transition to a new equilibrium, reflecting a new economic, climatic, demographic and ecological reality.”

Not that the market is asleep either. The cost of land is rising rapidly, making the irresponsible but insatiable African leaders salivate. And we Africans sit with our hands folded on our laps, waiting for some force of nature to come to our rescue. Many are not even aware of the fact that their ancestral land is being offered for re-colonisation, because their governments are big boys who believe informing their citizens of what is going on puts the boys in a subservient position. These are the chaps in this world who are unaware that they are servants of their people.

The food and financial crises combined have made agricultural farmland the new strategic asset. Veteran speculator Jim Rogers, in league with fellow veterans like Lord Jacob Rothschild, said in July 2009: “I’m convinced that farmland is going to be one of the best investments of our time.” This should actually augur well for Africa because there is land in abundance in the continent, and the agricultural sector – Africa’s backbone – is in need of capital and technology. A win-win situation. Except that Africans are auctioning their continent’s most sacred possession for nought and a staggering 99- or 999-year lease (depending on which salivating leader is dealing with whom. There are leaders out there offering the old colonial 999-year lease). That interprets into three and a half to thirty-four generations of Africans – left in limbo. Or as eventual specimens in museums of the wealthy.

Producing enough food to feed 9bn people in 2050 will crush the planet, denuding forests and drainage rivers and ruining arable land. In Copenhagen, capital saw to it that their lackeys, known as governments the world over, treated climate change as Father Christmas – a fairy tale. But, to capital’s delight, oil prices continue to rise in direct relation to fertilizer and tractor fuel – hence biofuels to further cut the land that would be available for food crops. The horrors are ahead because the fat harvest times are over – there won’t be enough food for the table even for the filthy rich – unless they can afford €3m a day residency in outer space. The market economy will this time – as always – not provide for all and sundry as falsely proclaimed. Land prices have jumped from 15% to 30% globally.

After the financial crisis in mortgage-based derivatives, agricultural land is the new strategic asset. An asset that nobody can manufacture or erect, and then sell. Once given away, it is gone and there’s no replica or spare parts, Africans.

Marginally seen, it could be a good thing for African countries. Apart from the staggering and varied natural resources, some of which cannot be found anywhere on the planet, land, as already said, is what Africans have in plenty. All Africa needs is capital to develop her agriculture. A mammoth share of this capital is ferreted out of the continent by the handful few wrongly-wired Africans to develop economies NOT AFRICAN. The Big Curse for which Africans only have themselves to blame. The rest of the world call it capital flight – as if this staggering amount of money simply made up its mind to take to the air and fly to the West – the mad terminologies of our times where human beings call their own dead “collateral damages”.

The financial global players who brought on the crisis are the very same ones now roaming the agricultural landscape and grabbing chunks of it. These land deals should bring investments, technology and know-how to local farmers, reduce dependency on food aid and similar maladies. They should provide infrastructure that goes beyond roads leading from the foreign leaseholder’s farms to the port that transport 100% of their harvests back to their own countries. The deals should enable the building of schools and health centres for the whole community. They should provide enough taxes to the government for more development – assuming African governments would at last invest in their own countries and people instead of castles and numbered accounts overseas. African so-called leaders have some inborn dread of educated and healthy citizens. Instead of recognising the greatest potential to their nations of human resources they see adversaries.

Then there is the problem of monoculture in growing plantation of large-scale food crops dependent of huge amounts of pesticides and fertilisers. This would ruin the long-term sustainability of tropical soils not suited to intensive cultivation, as well as damage the local water table. Soil erosion will occur and ruin long-term land fertility. The diversity of plants, animals and insect life will be drastically threatened while the intensive usage of agrochemicals bring in water-quality maladies. In addition the irrigation of the foreign investors’ plantations would take water away from the indigenous users. So these grabs are in effect water grabs – the most valuable part of these deals – instead of land grabs, since once you own the land you own the water beneath it.

The chief executive of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe puts it this way: “Water withdrawal for agriculture continue to increase rapidly. In some of the most fertile regions of the world (America, southern Europe, northern India, north-eastern China), over-use of water, mainly for agriculture, is leading to sinking water tables. Groundwater is being withdrawn, no longer as a buffer over the year but in a structural way, mainly because water is seen as a free good.”

It is not. The average person in the world uses 3,000-6,000 litres of water daily, less than a tenth of which is used for hygiene or manufacturing. The rest goes to farming. Meat-eating has increased and meat requires ten times more water per calorie than plants. The thirstiest products on earth are biofuels. To grow Soya for one litre of biodiesel takes up to 9,100 litres of water and up to 4,000 litres to transform corn into bioethanol. Brabeck-Letmathe predicts, “Under the present conditions and with the way water is being managed, we will run out of water long before we run out of fuel.” India and the USA combined produce a third of the world’s cereals, but Frank Rijsberman of the International Water Management Institute cautions, “we could be facing annual losses equivalent to the grain crops” of India and the USA.

The land grabs are now a pandemic. As with natural resources in Africa, there is no transparency and foreign governments and multinationals engaged in bribes have no great fear of prosecution in poor countries. In their own wealthy countries, at least somebody may publicly cry foul or demonstrate with huge placards in the streets without fearing being shot down by the police or armed forces.

In Africa land rights are not just written, they also exist through custom and practice. There should indeed be (if nothing else) compulsory sharing of benefits such as construction of schools and health centres. Short leases, or better still contract farming, would leave smallholders in control of their land and contract to investors. On the other hand the investors must never have the right to export entire harvests especially during a food crisis in the host country.

Land-grabs represent a serious violation of the human right to food. Humankind’s most primordial fight was over food. It is food that makes the fittest who then survives. I therefore call to all Africans, Continental and Diaspora, and all friends and fans of Africa, to join me in this fight by going to my web site – www.akinyi-princess.de – and signing in the with both your name, the words and your valid email address. In addition, please spread the word to your friends, families, social network chums and pals, chat room and forum acquaintances around the globe to join us in the fight. I need at least 25,000 authentic email “signatures” to enable me to write a petition to the AU Commissioner in Addis Ababa demanding that African governments may not simply “negotiate” land grab deals with foreign governments and multinationals without prior consultations with their respective citizens in the form of a referendum. The petition is now being professionally drafted and will be posted in my web site ASAP.

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A graduate journalist – the London Schools of Journalism as well as an economics graduate of the London School of Economics. Been writing as a freelance journalist since 1980, columnist with various dailies and monthly magazines in Africa and Europe. Gives lectures and seminars in various German universities, colleges and high schools on topics ranging from socio-economy in Africa, Business English, African literature and the socio-ethnological conflicts in the traditions of Africans and the West in general. Written and published articles, papers, novels in Engish and German. Her non-fiction book “Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare: A critical Observation of the Neighbour Continents” published in 2008 by a New York publisher. Full CV –  www.akinyi-princess.de. More works as yet unpublished and a children’s fantasy/thriller.

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More GM crops in Puerto Rico: Why We Should Worry


More GM crops in Puerto Rico: Why We Should Worry

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Posted 20 September 2011, by Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero, ALAI, América Latina en Movimiento (Agencia Latinomericana de Información), alainet.org

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The US-based Monsanto company, the world’s biggest seed company and undisputed world leader in agricultural biotechnology, announced in June 2011 that it would increase its activities in Puerto Rico. Specifically, the corporation is investing $4.3 million in the construction of a 20,000-square foot laboratory for corn and cotton seed development in the southern municipality of Juana Diaz. These will be genetically modified (GM) seeds, no doubt, since Monsanto spends the bulk of its research and development budget on this technology. The announcement was made in Washington DC during the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s annual conference. Puerto Rico Industrial Development Corporation executive director Jose Perez-Riera and agriculture secretary Javier Rivera-Aquino were in the convention in a celebration mood with Juan Santiago, Monsanto’s chief of operations in Puerto Rico, while he was making the announcement.

Pioneer Hi Bred, Monsanto’s leading competitor in the GM seed business, is not far behind. That same month it inaugurated in the municipality of Salinas, several miles east of Juana Diaz, a 22,000-square foot seed laboratory. Pioneer, which has been in Puerto Rico since 1989, has been a subsidiary of multinational corporation Dupont since 1999. The Dupont-Pioneer corporate giant was the world’s largest seed company until 2005, when Monsanto surpassed it by purchasing Mexico’s Seminis seed company for $1.4 billion.

Puerto Rico governor Luis Fortuño attended the Pioneer laboratory’s festive inauguration and heaped praise on the agricultural biotechnology corporations that operate in the island. “Puerto Rico is an ideal place for bioagricultural research,” Fortuño said during the inauguration. “The island boasts a regulatory framework aligned with the U.S., an efficient transportation system, a longer growing season suitable for planting crops year-round, novel economic incentives, and a highly-educated workforce.”.

What’s wrong with all this? GM products are the subject of a worldwide heated controversy, whose participants include doctors and scientists as well as peasant movements, international organizations and political leaders, and has led to arrests, violent repression and persecution against scientists that have dared to contradict the official discourse on biotechnology. Since the 1990’s this debate has produced numerous books, television and newspaper reports, documentaries (both short and of full-length), scientific symposia, contentious international negotiations, and even protest marches and civil disobedience.

When we say genetically modified we mean an organism whose genetic code, or genome, has had foreign genes inserted into it through genetic engineering. The process of genetic engineering tears down cell barriers in order to make genetic combinations that would have never happened in nature, and it’s used in food and agriculture since the 1990’s. There are actually tens of millions of hectares of farmland planted with GM crops in the world, the great majority of them in only four countries: the United States, Canada, Brazil and Argentina. Almost all these GM crops are soy and corn. The rest are mostly cotton and canola.

These GM crops do not yield more than their conventional non-GM counterparts, they are not more nutritional, and do not use less toxic agrochemicals. The majority were altered to be immune to a herbicide called Roundup, a product of Monsanto, and they are thus known as Roundup Ready. The rest produce their own pesticide, and are known as Bt crops. This soy and corn are used to make, among other things, flour, starch, cooking oil, high fructose corn syrup, biofuels and feed for the farm animals that give us meat, eggs and dairy.

 

A safe herbicide?

It goes without saying that foodstuffs derived from Roundup Ready crops can have substantial traces of Roundup. So, how safe is this herbicide for human consumption?

In June 2011 an international group of scientists and researchers, organized as Earth Open Source, published a report titled “Roundup and Birth Defects: Is the Public Being Kept in the Dark?”. The document says that as early as the 1980’s Monsanto knew that glyphosate, active ingredient of Roundup, caused birth defects in laboratory animals; that the German government had this information at least since 1998; and, to quote from the report’s press release:

“The German government has known about these findings since at least the 1990s, when as the ‘rapporteur’ member state (of the European Union) for glyphosate, it reviewed industry’s studies for the EU approval of the herbicide. The European Commission has known since at least 2002, when it signed off on glyphosate’s approval. But this information was not made public. On the contrary, regulators have consistently misled the public about glyphosate’s safety. As recently as last year, the German Federal Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety, BVL, told the Commission there was “no evidence of ‘teratogenicity’ (ability to cause birth defects) for glyphosate.” (Parentheses in original)

In 2010 a prestigious scientific journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology, published a peer-reviewed study, written by Argentine embryologist Andres Carrasco, leading researcher at the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet) and director of the molecular embryology laboratory at the University of Buenos Aires, which determined that glyphosate is extremely toxic for amphibian embryos in doses much lower than those used in agriculturural sprayings, as much as 1,540 times lower. And Argentina has over 20 million hectares (over half of the country’s farmland) planted with Roundup Ready soy, which receive over 200 million liters of glyphosate a year!

In August 2010 Argentina held its First National Encounter of Medics of Fumigated Towns, in which participating scientists, researchers, and academics wrote an open letter to agribusiness trade associations, from which we quote:

“The cancers and other severe illnesses are detected with more frequency now. As well as miscarriages, disruptions of fertility and the birth of children with birth malformations, which we find in very elevated rates. And respiratory, endocrine, hematological, neurological and psychic ailments are, also now, much more frequent in the systematically fumigated populations. Fumigated because they share the same geographic space as the agroindustrial and genetically engineered crops that you yourselves exploit.

… We, the doctors and other members of the health teams, the researchers, scientists and academics that analyze this problem, are certain that the increasing health ailments in the inhabitants of the fumigated towns are caused by the fumigations that you yourselves carry out.”

The Grupo de Reflexion Rural (GRR), an Argentine NGO that is critical of GM crops and industrial agriculture, has been documenting these horrors for years:

“Some time ago, the (GRR) took on the task of collecting information about the impacts of glyphosate on diverse Argentine populations: among other places, in the Ituzaingo neighborhood in Cordoba; Las Petacas, in Santa Fe; in San Lorenzo, also in Santa Fe; and Los Toldos in Buenos Aires. In each of these populations dramatic situations were detected. And precisely in the Ituzaingo neighborhood… over two hundred cancer cases in a population of hardly 5,000 inhabitants, as well as deformations among the newborn. Ituzaingo is a population surrounded by soy fields that are systematically fumigated. The spray from these fumigations arrives at the doors of the houses.”

In 2008 Chemical Research in Toxicology published a study by Gilles-Eric Seralini, a French specialist in molecular biology and professor at the University of Caen, which indicates that Roundup is lethal to human cells. According to Seralini’s research, doses far below those used on soy crops cause cell death in a few hours. “Even in doses diluted one thousand times, Roundup herbicide stimulates the deaths of human embryonic cells, which could cause deformations, miscarriages, hormonal, genital and reproductive problems, as well as different types of cancer”, Seralini told Argentine newspaper Pagina 12.

In 2005 Seralini had already confirmed that Roundup provokes toxic effects in human placental cells and embryos even in very low doses, in a study published by Environmental Health Perspectives. The herbicide kills a great proportion of these cells after only 18 hours of exposure in concentrations lower than those of agricultural use.

“He also emphasized that in solutions of between 10 thousand and 100 thousand times more diluted than in the commercial product it no longer killed cells, but it blocked their production of sex hormones, which could provoke in fetuses difficulties in the development of bones and of the reproductive system. He alerted about the possibility that the herbicide could be an endocrine disruptor, and called for new studies.”

Seralini’s study in Chemical Research in Toxicology focused on human umbilical cord, embryo and placental cells. The cells died in the 24 hours of exposure to the Roundup varieties. “A cell action mechanism was studied with four different Roundup formulations (Express, Bioforce or Extra, Gran Tavaraux, and Grand Tavaraux Plus). The results show that the four Roundup herbicides, and the pure glyphosate, cause cell death. Confirmed by the morphology of the cells after the treatment it is determined that, even in the lowest of concentrations, it causes important cell death”, says the publication.

 

Genetically engineered pesticide

Biotechnology companies assure us that the toxin secreted by Bt crops is harmless to human beings and that it dissolves in the human digestive system. Today we know both statements are wrong.

Bt toxin was found in the blood of pregnant women and their fetuses, as well as in non-pregnant women, by doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec. Specifically, the study determined that the toxin was present in 93% of 30 pregnant women, in the umbilical cord blood of 80% of the fetuses, and in 67% of 39 non-pregnant women. The study has been accepted for publication in Reproductive Toxicology, a peer-reviewed journal.

Research funded by the Italian government published in 2008 found that laboratory rats fed with Monsanto’s Bt corn had abnormally high IgE and IgG antibodies, something that is typically associated with allergies and infections. They also had elevated levels of interleukins, which is associated to various diseases in humans, from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis to multiple sclerosis and Lou Gehrig’s. The animals also had abnormally high levels of T gamma delta cells, which is what happens in cases of asthma, childhood food allergies, and juvenile arthritis.

The insecticide produced by the tissues of Bt plants is the genetically engineered version of a natural toxin produced by Bacillus thuringiensis, a very common soil bacterium. Natural Bt has been used as pesticide in organic agriculture for decades. Biotech companies assure that this pesticide in its natural form is safe and that therefore its GM variant must be safe too. But today we know that natural Bt can have adverse effects if it is not used correctly.

According to scientific peer-reviewed studies (Vazquez et al), lab rats fed with natural Bt toxin suffered tissue damage and developed immune responses as severe as those caused by cholera toxin, and even started having adverse reactions to foods that previously had caused them no trouble.

Adverse reactions in humans have alse been documented:

In 1999 Environmental Health Perspectives published a study authored by I. L. Bernstein et al, which found that farm workers have developed immune system reactions when exposed to natural Bt.

In March 2001 the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scientific Advisory Panel warned that published studies on animals and humans suggest that Bt proteins can cause allergies. The EPA ignored the panel, and it also ignored a 1993 Washington State Health Department report and a study published by the American Journal of Public Health in 1990 which documented that hundreds of people in the states of Washington and Oregon had allergy symptoms after Bt sprayings to eradicate the gypsy moth.

In India there are thousands of farm workers that have symptoms similar to the aforementioned cases reported in the USA- what these Indian farm workers all have in common is that they work with Bt cotton plants. “According to reports and records from doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies, as well as numerous investigative reports and case studies, workers are struggling with constant itching and rashes; some take antihistamines every day in order to go to work.”, according to researcher Jeffrey Smith, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Technology and author of “Seeds of Deception”.

We quote Smith again:

“When they allow livestock to graze on the Bt cotton plants after harvest, thousands of sheep, goats, and buffalo died. Numerous others got sick. I visited one village where for seven to eight years they allowed their buffalo to graze on natural cotton plants without incident. But on January 3rd, 2008, they allowed their 13 buffalo to graze on Bt cotton plants for the first time. After just one day’s exposure, all died. The village also lost 26 goats and sheep. One small study in Andhra Pradesh reported that all six sheep that grazed on Bt cotton plants died within a month, while the three controls fed natural cotton plants showed no adverse symptoms.”

Information on the hazards of Bt crops is not new. On May 22 2005, England’s The Independent reported the existence of a secret Monsanto report about Mon 863, one of their Bt corn varieties. According to the 1,139-page report, rats fed with this corn for 13 weeks had unusually high counts of white blood cells and lymphocytes, which increase in cases of cancer, poisoning or infection; low levels of reticulocytes, which can indicate anemia; loss of kidney weight, which can indicate blood pressure problems; liver necrosis; high blood sugar; and other adverse symptoms. Monsanto spokespeople assured that the company would make the report public, but did not do so willingly, invoking “confidentiality”, and at first only published an 11-page summary. It was not until a German court ordered its disclosure months later that the full text became public.

It is important to point out that this important information about Mon 863 is public not because of Monsanto’s good faith but because someone, most probably an employee with access to the company’s confidential documents took the risk of taking it to the press. If it were not for this anonymous hero, this Wikileaks of biotechnology, today we would be blissfully ignorant of the effects of this genetically engineered corn. We must ask then, Can there be other harmful GM foods that the biotech industry is feeding us knowing full well that they can cause harm to people?

This has been an extremely brief summary of health risks caused by the GM products that companies like Monsanto and Dupont are developing in Puerto Rican farmlands. For more information, please see the bilingual blog of the Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety (http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/), a small collective founded in 2004 to alert the citizenry about the implications of GM crops and products.

 

A Spanish language version of this article was published in 80 Grados, a Puerto Rican online publication (http://www.80grados.net/).

 

– Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican author, investigative journalist, environmental educator, and director of the Project on Biosafety. He is a Research Associate of the Institute for Social Ecology and a Fellow of the Oakland Institute, and has published over 1,000 articles over the last 20 years in the most diverse outlets, including Counterpunch, Inter Press Service, Corporate Watch, Alternet, Grist, Z Magazine, CIP Americas Policy Program, Food First, Earth Island Journal, and many more. His bilingual blog on all things progressive and ecological is updated almost daily (http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/). His Twitter ID is carmeloruiz.

Puerto Rico Project on Biosafety, September 12 2011

 

SOURCES:

Dario Aranda interviews Seralini. http://www.pagina12.com.ar/diario/elmundo/4-126983-2009-06-21.html

Earth Open Source. Roundup and Birth Defects. http://es.scribd.com/doc/57277946/RoundupandBirthDefectsv5

Inter News Service. El Vocero. http://www.vocero.com/puerto-rico-es/fortuno-inaugura-laboratorio-de-investigacion-bio-agricola

Kevin Mead. Caribbean Business. http://www.caribbeanbusinesspr.com/news03.php?nt_id=58530&ct_id=1

Jeffrey Smith. http://www.responsibletechnology.org/blog/1412

FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:

Bt crops http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/search/label/Bt

Glyphosate http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/search/label/Glyphosate

GMO’s in Puerto Rico (mostly in Spanish) http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/search/label/Puerto%20Rico

Roundup http://bioseguridad.blogspot.com/search/label/Roundup

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http://alainet.org/active/49554

Resisting the Corporate Theft of Seeds


Resisting the Corporate Theft of Seeds

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Posted 15 September 2011, by Vandana Shiva, The Nation, thenation.com

Editor’s Note: This piece is one in a series of replies to Frances Moore Lappé’s essay on the food movement today.

We are in a food emergency. Speculation and diversion of food to biofuel has contributed to an uncontrolled price rise, adding more to the billion already denied their right to food. Industrial agriculture is pushing species to extinction through the use of toxic chemicals that kill our bees and butterflies, our earthworms and soil organisms that create soil fertility. Plant and animal varieties are disappearing as monocultures displace biodiversity. Industrial, globalized agriculture is responsible for 40 percent of greenhouse gases, which then destabilize agriculture by causing climate chaos, creating new threats to food security.

But the biggest threat we face is the control of seed and food moving out of the hands of farmers and communities and into a few corporate hands. Monopoly control of cottonseed and the introduction of genetically engineered Bt cotton has already given rise to an epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India. A quarter-million farmers have taken their lives because of debt induced by the high costs of nonrenewable seed, which spins billions of dollars of royalty for firms like Monsanto.

I started Navdanya in 1987 to address the challenge of GM seeds, seed patents and seed monopolies.

We have been successful in reclaiming seed sovereignty and creating sixty community seed banks to reclaim seed as a commons. We have proven that biodiverse ecological agriculture produces more food and nutrition per acre than monocultures, while reducing costs to the planet and to farmers.

But our efforts are like a little lamp in a very dark room. We keep the lamp of possibilities and alternatives burning. The food emergency, however, calls for a much wider response.

The food movement must become more integrated, from seed to table, from village to city, from South to North. We need to be stronger in challenging the corporate control of our food system and the role of governments in increasing, rather than stopping, the corporate abuse of our seeds and soils, our bodies and our health. Michelle Obama has an organic garden at the White House, but the Obama administration is embracing GMOs in the United States and around the world. The US-India agriculture agreement—signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Singh in 2005, at the same time as the signing of the US-India nuclear deal—has on its board representatives from Monsanto, ADM and Walmart. The hijacking of our food systems is the hijacking of our democracy.

That is why we have to make food democracy the core of the defense of our freedom and survival. We will either have food dictatorship for a while and then a collapse of our food systems and our societies, or we will succeed in building robust food democracies, resting on resilient ecosystems and resilient communities. There is still a chance for the second alternative.

Read the other responses in the forum:
Raj Patel, “Why Hunger Is Still With Us
Eric Schlosser, “It’s Not Just About Food
Michael Pollan, “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System

About the Author

Vandana Shiva
Vandana Shiva, originally a physicist, founded Navdanya in 1987. Among her books are Stolen Harvest and Soil Not Oil….

Also by The Author

The article presents information about the congress to be held on globalizing gender justice. The right-wing cabal in Congress is attempting to prevent the U.S. delegation from taking part in the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in professed horror at human rights violations in China. But what they’re really scared about is the empowerment of women–that’s the overall goal of the Platform for Action, with its subtheme of Action for Equality, Peace and Development, to be adopted by some 185 nations this September.

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http://www.thenation.com/article/163401/resisting-corporate-theft-seeds

The Potential and Problems of Large-Scale Bioenergy Production

The Potential and Problems of Large-Scale Bioenergy Production


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Posted 06 September 2011, by Staff, CO2 Science, co2science.org

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Reference
Beringer, T., Lucht, W. and Schaphoff, S. 2011. Bioenergy production potential of global biomass plantations under environmental and agricultural constraints. Global Change Biology Bioenergy 3: 299-312.

What was done
Using a process-based model of the land biosphere to simulate rain-fed and irrigated biomass yields driven by data from different climate models, and combining these simulations with a scenario-based assessment of future land availability for energy crops, the authors estimate “the global bioenergy potential from dedicated biomass plantations in the 21st century under a range of sustainability requirements to safeguard food production, biodiversity and terrestrial carbon storage,” after which they explore the resulting spatial patterns of large-scale ligno-cellulosic energy crop cultivation with respect to their impacts on land and water resources.

What was learned
Beringer et al. report that their calculated bioenergy potentials “are in the lower range of previous assessments,” but they say that all biomass sources may still provide some 15-25% of the world’s future energy demand in 2050, with energy crops accounting for 20-60% of the total potential, depending on land availability and share of irrigated area. But therein lies the problem.

What it means
Noting that “human land use is already the most important driver behind environmental degradation (Foley et al., 2005), biodiversity loss (Butchart et al., 2010) and fresh water consumption (Rodell et al., 2009)” — and that “if energy crops are not restricted to abandoned and surplus agricultural land, the spatial expansion of agricultural activities could affect a large number of natural ecosystems, many of which already are under significant pressure from habitat loss and fragmentation” — the three German researchers conclude that “a possible twofold increase in irrigation water requirements, global cropland increasing by up to 30% for energy crops alone, and additional nitrogen demand that may exceed future fertilizer production,” all illustrate the great challenges of integrating large-scale bioenergy into global sustainable land use. In addition, they report that “a spatial analysis with the ‘Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World’ data set (Olson et al., 2001) reveals that many of the affected regions feature a large diversity of wildlife,” and that “converting these iconic landscapes into large-scale biomass plantations may not be regarded as socially acceptable.”

In light of these several findings, it can readily be understood that the host of intractable problems associated with large-scale bioenergy production will in all likelihood prevent their full potential from ever being realized. Strong competing interests for finite land and water resources simply will not allow it to happen. And humanity thus needs to realize that we can’t ride a hobbled bioenergy horse into the future and expect to prosper.

References
Butchart, S.H., Walpole, M., Collen, B., van Strien, A., Scharlemann, J.P.W., Almond, R.E.A., Baillie, J.E.M., Bomhard, B., Brown, C., Bruno, J., Carpenter, K.E., Carr, G.M., Chanson, J., Chenery, A.M., Csirke, J., Davidson, N.C., Dentener, F., Foster, M., Galli, A., Galloway, J.N., Piero Genovesi, P., Gregory, R.D., Hockings, M., Kapos, V., Lamarque, J.-F., Leverington, F., Loh, J., McGeoch, M.A., McRae, L., Minasyan, A., Morcillo, M.H., Oldfield, T.E.E., Pauly, D., Quader, S., Revenga, C., Sauer, J.R., Skolnik, B.,Spear, D., Stanwell-Smith, D., Stuart, S.N., Symes, A., Tierney, M., Tyrrell, T.D., Vié, J.-C. and Watson, R. 2010. Global biodiversity: indicators of recent declines. Science 328: 1164-1168.

Foley, J.A., DeFries, R.S., Asner, G.P., Barford, C., Bonan, G., Carpenter, S.R., Chapin, F.S., Coe, M.T., Daily, G.C., Gibbs, H.K., Helkowski, J.H., Holloway, T., Howard, E.A., Kucharik, C.J., Monfreda, C., Patz, J.A., Prentice, I.C., Ramankutty, N. and Snyder, P.K. 2005. Global consequences of land use. Science 309: 570-574.

Olson, D.M., Dinerstein, E., Wikramanayake, E.D., Burgess, N., Powell, G., Underwood, E.C., D’Amico, J., Itoua, I., Strand, H., Morrison, J., Louchs, C., Allnutt, T., Ricketts, T.H., Kura, Y., Wettengel, W. and Kassem, K. 2001. Terrestrial ecoregions of the world: a new map of life on earth. BioScience 51: 933-938.

Rodell, M., Velicogna, I. and Famiglietti, J.S. 2009. Satellite-based estimates of groundwater depletion in India. Nature 460: 999-1002.

Reviewed 7 September 2011

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http://www.co2science.org/articles/V14/N36/B3.php

While Politicians Deliberate Climate Change, Others Adapt

 

While Politicians Deliberate Climate Change, Others Adapt

 

Posted 01 September 2011, by Kristin Palitza, InterPress Service (IPS), ipsnews.net

CAPE TOWN , Sep 1, 2011 (IPS) – While many scientists, academics and politicians still theorise about ways to adapt to climate change, a South African civil society organisation has launched a hands-on project that mobilises communities to take easy steps to reduce carbon emissions.

Called the Project 90 by 2030, it encourages individuals, organisations and companies to change the way they live and operate by 90 percent by the year 2030. The idea stems from the suggestion environmental activist George Monbiot makes in his book “Heat” that industrialised nations need to reduce their carbon footprint by 90 percent by 2030.

“It’s a goal-oriented, praxis-oriented approach. It’s actually very simple,” says Project 90 by 2030 director Brenda Martin.

The project’s main purpose is to challenge South Africans to change the way they live and how they relate to the environment, she explains. “As the biggest carbon emitter on the continent, South Africa has the biggest responsibility in Africa to fight climate change,” Martin notes.

With the firm belief that every person can make a small contribution to a healthier environment, Martin suggests that individuals start by reducing their carbon footprint by just 10 percent a year and “keep at it, until they reach 90 percent over several years.” It’s about setting achievable goals, she explains.

Still, Martin is keenly aware of the urgency of preventing further climate change. “If we move as slowly as we do now, we will run out of time to reduce carbon emissions,” she says. “But I do believe that we can make a change. There are sufficient clean energy supply options available to us.”

To set an example, the Project 90 by 2030 initiative has built 15 renewable energy demonstration sites throughout the country over the past four years. The sites showcase affordable, practical solutions, such as biogas digesters, solar panels and solar water heaters. This way, the organisation wants to demystify renewable energy generation for the public and show how renewable energy can provide sufficient, reliable and cheap energy that will not impact negatively on professional activities.

“We want to show people what they can do to reduce climate change on a day-to-day basis,” explains Martin. “Everyone can and must do something. While decision makers continue to deliberate, we are getting on with it.”

One of the demonstration sites is the Johannesburg Zoo, which installed 15 large solar panels on the roof of its education centre to reduce its carbon footprint.

“At the moment, the solar power is fed into the electricity grid, but in future, we hope to make the centre entirely carbon neutral,” says the head of the Zoo’s green team, Lorna Fuller.

The zoo is also running its restaurant with the help of a biogas digester. “We feed kitchen scraps and animal waste into the digester to convert it into gas that we use for cooking in the restaurant,” explains Fuller.

Participating in the initiative was a no-brainer for the zoo management, Fuller says, since “we worry about the impact climate change will have on the environment and the habitat of animals.”

Since the zoo has half a million visitors a year, Fuller hopes that its environmental showcase will find many imitators. “We show visitors how it all works. Some people visit the zoo especially to look at our green installations,” she says.

Project 90 by 2030 is also running 30 school clubs where children get involved in simple, hands-on climate change projects, such as energy saving drives or recycling projects. The only condition: the projects need to have a wider impact than just on the school. They need to benefit the entire community around it. “That’s how we ensure we achieve a broad effect on large groups of people,” Martin explains.

Once projects are up and running for several weeks, the pupils learn how to assess them and measure how much energy, water and carbon emissions have been saved.

“We decided to work with school children to help create a next generation that is more aware of climate change and what can be done,” says Martin. “We want to shape young people and encourage them to create a better world.”

At the Springfield Convent Senior School in Cape Town, a group of pupils started their Project 90 by 2030 involvement with a ‘green audit’ to assess their school’s electricity and water usage as well as how much waste they produce.

The outcome was worrisome, and the learners decided to make some important changes to how their school is managed: they installed low-flow showerheads, geyser blankets as well as a water metre for the river that flows through the school ground, which they use to irrigate the gardens. They also started to recycle waste and use less paper.

“We put an emphasis on individual actions that become a lifestyle and have a collective effect,” says the schools head of geography Fiona Smith, who facilitates the school club. Many of the pupils have also begun to implement similar initiatives in their homes.

Says Smith: “We hope our pupils will grow into adults that treat our planet with more care.”   (END)

 

 

 http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=104958

 

No alternative to adaptation with climate change: Experts

 

No alternative to adaptation with climate change: Experts

 

Posted 27 August 2011, by Editor, The Financial Express (International Publications Limited), thefinancialexpress-bd.com

 

RANGPUR, Aug 27 (BSS): Experts and environmentalists today said there is no alternative to adaptation with adverse impacts of climate change and cutback emissions of green house gases since existence of the people are at risks.

“The climate change has caused grave concerns to the agriculture, environment, ecology, bio-diversity, climatic patterns and all other concerned sectors everywhere in Bangladesh, the worst climate victim nation,” they said.

They urged for concerted efforts to reduce the risks of disasters and adapt with untimely and devastating floods, droughts, tornadoes, cyclones, massive river and coastal erosions, pest attacks, short falls in crop productions and other natural calamities.

Talking to BSS, Head of Agriculture and Environment of RDRS Bangladesh Dr MG Neogi today narrated as his NGO has been working towards the directions of climate change adaptations in the most disaster-prone areas in Rangpur division.

“We have so far adapted 18,000 households in the remote char areas in Rangpur, Kurigram, Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat and Nilphamari under assistances of Norwegian Church Aid, Church of Sweden, Fin Church Aid, Dan Church ID, European Union and CLP,” he said.

Huge activities are being conducted to assist the landless char families in raising plinths of their houses, providing solar panels and chargers, boats, cows and disaster kit boxes and introducing rice-fish and short duration paddy farming.

Nutritious fodders for the cows, setting up of 157 paddy banks with one tonne paddy reserve for each bank to face seasonal lean periods, vegetables, home and floating gardening, tree plantation and other assistances are being provided to the beneficiaries.

To adapt the climate change victims with the situation, Advisor of the NGO and renowned agriculture scientist Dr Syed Samsuzzaman said 556 solar power units and many biogas plants have been set up in the targeted char villages at the lowest ever costs.

 

http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/more.php?news_id=147807&date=2011-08-28

Global Land Grab

Global Land Grab

Fear of unrest and hunger for profit are sparking massive acquisitions of farmland.

As China and others jockey for land and power, the weight of shifting empires and changing climate is threatening to crush international cooperation on ending hunger.

Posted 22 August 2011, by Terry J. Allen, in These Times, inthesetimes.com

An Egyptian demands a higher minimum wage in Cairo on May 2, 2010. In the seven months leading up to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's resignation in February, the trading price of wheat more than doubled, as nearly two dozen countries restricted food exports and choked global food supplies. (Photo by Khalee Desouki/AFP/Getty Images)

A 21st-century land rush is on. Driven by fear and lured by promises of high profits, foreign investors are scooping up vast tracts of farmland in some of the world’s hungriest countries to grow crops for export.

As the climate changes and populations shift and grow, billions of people around the globe face shortages of land and water, rising food prices and increasing hunger. Alarm over a future without affordable food and water is sparking unrest in a world already tinder-dried by repression and recession, corruption and mismanagement, boundary disputes and ancient feuds, ethnic tension and religious fundamentalism.

World leaders feel the heat. Calling food security concerns “extremely significant,” a 2009 U.N. report noted, “The acquisition of land internationally is one possible strategic choice to address the challenge.”

Fortunately for nervous rulers, the strategy of growing food abroad as shelter against the fires of revolution dovetails nicely with the goals of private and public capital. Governments drawing on sovereign wealth funds, and rich investors accessing state subsidies, have negotiated deals to acquire tens of millions of acres of farmland in Africa, South America and South Asia. When they export the food to their home countries, the valuable water used to grow the crops will ride along as a free bonus.

The largest investors in foreign croplands hail from China, India and South Korea, along with Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states. What these countries have in common is that all were shaken financially or politically by the 2007-08 food crisis. And all lack sufficient land or water to ensure that they can feed their populations in the coming years—especially if, as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns, climate change continues to “exacerbate land degradation and water scarcity in many places, and to increase the frequency of extreme weather events affecting harvests.”

Raw dealing

Available for chump change and unsecured promises, land around the world is changing hands at a rate unprecedented since the Colonial Era, when white men applied the ink of nationalism and greed to redraw maps of Africa, Asia and the New World. Seated at polished tables in Europe, they deployed merchants, missionaries and armies to lay claim to cultures and continents—and to the human, agricultural and mineral resources they held.

The “new colonialism” is less like a crusade and more like an ordinary business transaction floated on a promise of “win-win.” The deal-makers include international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds and commodity traders, as well as pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by the lure of cheap land and high profits. Even universities, including Harvard and Vanderbilt, are getting into the act, according to an extensive report by the Oakland Institute, a progressive policy think tank.

Most of the land deals occur in the private sector, “though often with strong financial and other support from government, and significant levels of government-owned investments,” according to the FAO. Conforming to this pattern and awash in oil income, the Saudi “government earmarked $5 billion to provide loans at preferential rates to Saudi companies to invest in countries with strong agricultural potential,” writes Mae-Wan Ho of the U.K.-based Institute of Science in Society, including large swaths of Indonesia and Thailand for rice, and possibly 6,000 acres for wheat in war-ravaged Sudan.

The investors are negotiating land transfers all the way from the top, with heads of states, down to tribal chiefs and impoverished landowners. Water rights, tax breaks and waivers on labor and environmental standards often sweeten the deals.

When they cannot buy land outright at prices ranging from cheap (a few dollars an acre) to stolen (“You get a bottle of Johnnie Walker, kneel down, clap three times, and make your offer of Johnnie Walker whiskey,” in one transaction reported by the Oakland Institute), investors lease vast tracts for as long as 99 years and for as little as 40 cents per acre per year.

According to the U.N.’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), some 2 billion people in the developing world depend on 500 million smallholder farms for their livelihoods. In Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, these small farmers produce about 80 percent of the food that local people consume.

But with spectacular speed, patchworks of plots that used to support local populations through subsistence farming and grazing are being amalgamated into massive industrial plantations. In Awassa, Ethiopia, a “plastic and steel structure already stretches over 50 acres—the size of 20 soccer fields,” writes John Vidal in South Africa’s Mail and Guardian.

With a 99-year lease for 2,500 acres, the developer, Saudi Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, has brought in Spanish engineers and Dutch water technology, and hired 1,000 women to pick and pack 50 tons of food a day, writes Vidal. “Within 24 hours, it has been driven 200 miles to Addis Ababa and flown 1,000 miles to the shops and restaurants of Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East.”

Unappeased hunger

Since long before the days of Roman bread-and-circus politics, leaders have feared the threat of hungry masses. Some have even felt their pain: “[D]uring the last major rise in food prices in 2007 and 2008, [the consequences] were grave,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a May FAO gathering in Rome. “For hundreds of millions of people, the staples of life, like rice, wheat or corn, were suddenly out of reach. People who were already vulnerable fell into an even greater danger zone.” But her next sentence made clear that humanitarian concerns were not the only motivation for establishing food security. “Anger and frustration over food prices sparked riots in dozens of countries,” she said.

The years 2007 and 2008 marked a turning point for both environmental consciousness and food insecurity. Before then, agricultural land had expanded by less than 10 million acres a year. But with the pile up of evidence for global warming, no one but the ideologically blinkered could see extensive droughts and other weather-related catastrophes as flukes. Sharply diminished yields triggered exporting countries to ban or curb grain sales, pushed prices up and helped trigger a series of riots that shook dozens of countries. World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned in 2008 that “33 countries around the world face potential social unrest because of the acute hike in food and energy prices.”

By 2009, deals were being struck for 111 million acres, with 75 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a World Bank report. A year later, the bank upped the total to nearly 140 million acres.

These “land grabs,” says Lester Brown, encompass “an area that exceeds the croplands devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States.” Brown, winner of a MacArthur Fellowship and the 1987 U.N. Environment Prize, is the founder of the Worldwatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute.

Then, as if out of nowhere, the Arab Spring struck this year. Longstanding un- and underemployment and repression were key triggers, but as the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies noted, a “proximate factor behind the unrest was a spike in global food crises, which in turn was due in part to the extreme weather throughout the globe over the past year.” The Pentagon’s U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review called climate change a “threat multiplier.”

In the seven months before Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak was driven from power in February, the trading price of wheat had more than doubled. In August 2010, faced with droughts and wildfires, Russia had prioritized its own populations and restricted most grain exports, ensuring that prices would skyrocket. The choked supply line seriously impacted Egypt, which imports more than half its food.

By early 2011, some 21 countries had imposed export control measures including limits and outright bans on the foreign sale of particular crops.

Saudi jitters

Saudi Arabia had a ringside seat as the Arab Spring spread across the region. The House of Saud understood that national (i.e., their own) security rests on its ability to buy the quiescence, if not loyalty, of its citizens with affordable food and social welfare programs that make Sweden look like Tea Party paradise.

The sheiks had been watching the writing in the sand since the 1970s, when, after the Arab oil-export embargo, they realized their vulnerability: Just as the West was dependent on them for oil, they were dependent on others for food. The prospect of being forced to bend the stiff royal knee to Western-imposed economic pressures inspired the Saudis to apply their oil technology to drilling deep for water. Within a short period of time, using heavy irrigation, the country became self-sufficient in wheat. But unlike underground water supplies that are replenished by precipitation, fossil aquifers can be drained dry with jaw-dropping rapidity—and that is what is happening under the Arabian Peninsula.

Within a few decades, the prehistoric aquifer was almost exhausted, and by 2007, just when food riots were roiling the region, the Saudi wheat harvest had dropped precipitously. By 2016, the Saudi Ministry of Agriculture predicts the country will have to import 100 percent of the wheat it needs to feed its nearly 26 million people.

Saudi Arabia is one of 18 countries—which together contain half the world’s people—where water for irrigation is draining aquifers. But the export of “virtual water” incorporated into growing crops promises not only ecological problems, but political trouble downstream. Large-scale irrigation in Ethiopia and Sudan, for example, diverts water from the upper Nile River basin and cuts into Egypt’s already limited water supply.

Despite water woes, Sudan welcomes investors. “It’s the first country that gives us land without complicated procedures,” Mohammed Rasheed al-Balawi, a former agriculture manager of the Saudi firm Hadco, told the Financial Times. “The area is big, the people are friendly [and] they gave us the land almost free.”

Trading in human livelihoods

That characterization of terms is hotly disputed. Although both investors and host countries often refer to acquired land as under-developed or empty, the deals typically displace herders and small farmers, who are not consulted and, in any case, lack legal deeds. The World Bank estimates that between 2 and 10 percent of Africa’s land is held under formal land tenure, and most of that is in urban areas.

“The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries,” Ethiopian Nyikaw Ochalla told Vidal. The deals are done secretly. “The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.”

As foreign investors pour in—from Arab princedoms, India, South Korea, China and other nations—hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians are being relocated. Many, “viewed as ‘squatters,’ are forcibly removed with no compensation,” Frederic Mousseau, policy director at the Oakland Institute, said in a press release.

Ironically, key targets of foreign agro-investment include the world’s hungriest countries: In Ethiopia, 13 million people receive international food aid and 41 percent are undernourished. The country’s massive transfer of physical wealth to foreign corporations is overseen by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. One of the parties he controls, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, owns at least five parastatal companies and has major stakes in the agricultural products market. A carefully worded 2009 World Bank report noted that in Ethiopia “there is an impression that endowment and state-owned enterprises benefit from privileged access to policymakers and resources and are consequently able to compete on unfair terms.”

Zenawi’s regime has granted control of 1.48 million acres to foreign entities. Since 2007 it has approved at least 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects and is now offering up at least 7.4 million acres, some leased for only 40 cents per acre per year, according to the Mail & Guardian.

“Karuturi, an Indian company, which owns large swaths of the region, is heavily involved in burning forests and grasslands to make way for potential farmland” for biofuels, according to Nebiyu Eyassu reporting in Pambazuka News.

Compensation, when it occurs, can be paltry. In Ethiopia’s Gambella region alone, 45,000 families in 49 villages have been “dislocated,” Ethiopian-born writer and filmmaker Fikre Tolossa told the Commonwealth Club of California this March. “They will be resettled not too far from the lands they have been dispossessed of, so that they will be an ideal resource for cheap labor, should the need arise. After having lost their vast lands, they will end up owning a tiny piece of land: [3.2 acres] per family.”

If African men fare poorly in these deals, women often fare worse. Most of Africa’s small-scale farming is traditionally done by women who are rarely consulted about land deals. “[W]omen are more likely than men to spend the income they control on food, healthcare and their children’s education,” the International Food Policy Research Institute wrote in a 2011 report. So taking away the small plots they use to feed their families and generate income removes an important brake on hunger and extreme poverty for current and future generations.

’21st-century colonization’

Foreign investors are banking on a better outcome: up to 25 percent profits, buoyed by loose environmental and labor regulations common in desperately poor and corrupt countries. “Lack of transparency and of checks and balances in contract negotiations creates a breeding ground for corruption,” the FAO said, adding with understatement, “and deals that do not maximize the public interest.”

One of the public costs, lax environmental regulation, is a key perk for investors. If history is any guide, eventually—but not before great profits can be extracted—industrial monoculture agriculture will deplete soil and water; the perpetual chemical inputs including fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides will poison the environment; and pest and disease problems will strangle biodiversity.

But even when host governments impose contractual restrictions and protections, “there does not appear to be any significant enforcement of lease terms,” according to the Oakland Institute report. “Our agreement with government is purely commercial,” a foreign investor in Ethiopia told the Institute. “Government is charging us a rent. What we choose to do on the land for our own commercial intent is our own business. There are … no constraints, no contracts, none of that.”

The terms of Ethiopia’s land deals and how they are enforced are subject to the will of Zenawi, who was “re-elected” last year by 99.6 percent, down from 99.9 percent in 2008. The U.S. State Department has accused his authoritarian regime of serious human rights violations, including politically-motivated killings and torture by state security services. Human Rights Watch charges that “development assistance is underwriting the Ethiopian government’s repression.”

The “land grab” in Ethiopia’s Gambella and Oromia regions has elements of ethnic cleansing, says Rashid Songolo, a spokesman for Oromo Liberation Front, an Oromo people’s movement in exile. Property held by Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, has been selectively sold to foreign developers, he told In These Times, “as a form of punishment and looting for those societies that sympathize with opposition political groups like OLF. The Oromos are being displaced and forced into refugee camps all over the world and into modern day slavery, because of the new 21st-century colonization.”

Evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch tends to support this charge. It described Zenawi’s EPRDF party apparatchiks, including militias and spies, as deciding, based on loyalty, who gets donor-financed fertilizer, seeds, food aid and jobs. The New York Times reported that one farmer said he was told: “Unless you join the EPRDF, you could die and your family will starve to death.”

One of the largest investors in Ethiopian farmland, Saudi businessman (and Ethiopian-born) Sheikh Mohammed al-Amoudi, is closely linked to the Zenawi’s regime and enjoys his support. Amoudi is also “close to the Saudi royal family, which sees him as a can-do guy and encourages his growing business empire in Ethiopia,” according to Forbes.

A self-made billionaire 12 times over and the second-richest man in Saudi Arabia, Amoudi grows wheat, rice, vegetables and flowers for the Saudi market on four farms in Ethiopia. His Saudi Star company leases 2,500 acres housing the Awassa greenhouse complex. In the next few years, he plans to spend $2 billion on acquiring and developing 1.25 million acres of farmland.

Amoudi, whose mother was Ethiopian, says his projects are designed “to improve the livelihood of my people and help in the development of my country, and not as some might think to amass personal wealth or siphon my country’s wealth. … I need not prove this. …

[T]hose who bear responsibility for character defamation and false allegations should learn that there are consequences for their action.”

Beyond the ‘white man’s burden’

Even Saudi oil wealth pales before China’s enormous economic engine. With $332 billion in assets, the China Investment Corporation is one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. And like the Saudis, China’s concerns about growing unrest and food insecurity are factors in its increasing investment in foreign farmland.

China’s “embrace of [Africa] is strategic, planned, long-term and still unfolding,” writes Deborah Brautigam, an American University specialist in China-Africa relations. She argues that China is more concerned with economic expansion than food security, which significant portions of its leadership believe is better ensured by adequate home production.

That may be difficult to achieve. While the United States has almost 3 acres of farmland per person, China has only .23 acres. And 5,000 years of intensive farming has depleted China’s soil, industrialization has poisoned much of its water, and development and urbanization have depleted rivers and land so that even as population and per capita consumption increase, the country has lost more than 20 million acres of arable land—just since the mid-1990s.

Although it is not clear that the outcome is different because of it, China has been described (and not only for the literal reason) as being unencumbered by the old “white man’s burden” of having to couch investment as altruism or even win-win. In a diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of African Affairs, called China “a very aggressive and pernicious economic competitor with no morals. … China is not in Africa for altruistic reasons [but] … for China primarily.” The high-horsed pronouncement took place, ironically enough, at a meeting in Nigeria with international oil companies—whose ventures are hardly distinguished by altruism.

In addition to Africa, China is investing in diverse cropland in Australia and New Zealand and looking to Indonesia for biofuels and to South America for soy for livestock production to feed its increasingly affluent population’s taste for meat and dairy. China’s South American interests are so extensive that some Brazilians, while crediting Chinese investment for their booming economy, fear for their autonomy.

“They are moving in,” Carlo Lovatelli, president of the Brazilian Association of Vegetable Oil Industries, told Alexei Barrionuevo of The New York Times, “looking for land and reliable partners. But what they would like to do is run the show alone.”

“Some experts,” the Times noted, “say the partnership has devolved into a classic neo-colonial relationship in which China has the upper hand.” Last year 98 percent of China’s exports to Brazil were manufactured products, while almost 84 percent of Brazil’s exports to China were raw materials.

But it is not as if Brazil or other countries suddenly lost an idyllic independence. Some Brazilian farmers “say they share Chinese officials’ goal of breaking the stranglehold of international trading companies like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland,” Barrionuevo notes.

For the richer, not poorer

Over the last few decades, the United States—which long controlled industrial agriculture around the world, along with much of the global economy—has been losing ground. As the largest holder of U.S. debt, China has become, in effect, Washington’s banker, while the United States, the world’s largest grain producer, has become China’s farmer, a Forbes blog noted. Foreign agricultural land offers China a great place to invest its giant trade surplus—much of it courtesy of the U.S. consumers who buy up Chinese goods—as well as a hedge against food insecurity.

That insecurity is widespread and growing. After decades of promises and thousands of schemes, much of the world remains desperately malnourished. And now, as China, the United States and others jockey for land and power, the weight of shifting empires and changing climate is threatening to crush international cooperation on ending hunger. Over the last few years there has been “an ominous retreat from the idea of common purpose based on shared values,” said former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. “We have seen a worrying rise in protectionism, unilateral export bans, land grabs and exclusive deals that meet the food needs of the rich but not the poor.”

As fear of food insecurity mounts, even rich countries are not immune to foreign investment schemes that draw resources from one country to feed another.

A new foreign investment strategy aims to secure part of the U.S. grain harvest even before it reaches the open market, Brown told In These Times. South Korea, which imports 70 percent of its grain, has opened an office in Chicago. The public-private enterprise is planning to build grain elevators and “contract for crops directly from U.S. farmers, bypassing the large international trading firms,” he says. And “[w]ith China’s 1.4 billion increasingly affluent consumers starting to compete with U.S. consumers for the U.S. grain harvest,” Brown writes in Foreign Policy, “cheap food, seen by many as an American birthright, may be coming to an end.”

The new politics of food scarcity

Many investors say that they give back at least as much as they take. “We’ve really created something out of nothing in Africa,” said Anthony Poorter, Africa director for EmVest, the African subsidiary of Emergent Asset Management. “There are no shady deals.”

In areas with hungry people, inadequate roads and other infrastructural deficiencies, foreign capital is sorely needed to develop more rational farming operations that can promote prosperity, food security and jobs. And there is little doubt that monoculture industrial farming, genetically engineered seeds and input from pesticides and chemical fertilizers can more quickly create higher yields than small-scale subsistence farming. Properly managed, supporters of expo-agriculture argue, investment dollars can bring educational opportunities, healthcare and the possibility of safer, higher living standards to subsistence farmers and impoverished rural populations.

Some investors also believe they are serving humanity: “Unless food production is boosted 50 percent before 2050,” said Poorter’s boss, Emergent CEO Susan Payne, “we face serious shortages globally.” Her company, which “went on record in 2007 to identify food security as the next energy security,” invests in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is aiming for an annual return of 25 percent or more.

But just as international development aid schemes, such as USAID’s, conform to the geopolitical strategies and economic goals of the dispensing country, private investment is shaped by an inner imperative: the need to turn a profit. Whatever the investors promise, or however decent they are as individuals, their bottom line is the bottom line.

“There is a real risk that the current scramble for land will transfer wealth from the poor and the marginalized to those who have access to capital and markets, with deeply regressive consequences,” warned UN Special Rapporteur Olivier de Schutter.

And as with many previous development plans, unintended consequences may pile up the human and economic costs. The investor country’s sought-after political and food stability may translate into instability in the host country, and that in turn may boomerang back on the investors and their backers. “This [land grab] is creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat to global security than terrorism,” says the Oakland Institute’s Mousseau.

Backlashes have already occurred. When word leaked that Madagascar planned to sell 3 million acres to the South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics, popular outrage quashed the deal and toppled Madagascar’s government. In the Philippines, as food prices were spiking in 2007, outcries from Filipino farmers stopped China from buying 2.5 million acres on which to grow export crops.

A pro-Oromia website warned that the situation in Ethiopia offered the “potential for a catastrophic unrest and poses a huge security headache not only for the country but for the whole world.”

These targeted peoples decry the new “land grab” as a more sophisticated incarnation of old colonialism—driven today by a tangle of factors, including climate change, population growth, fear of social unrest, diminishing water and land, trade restrictions, erosion and pollution, the volatility of commodity prices and markets, speculation, the energy crisis, agro-energy/biofuel production, the global financial crisis, carbon trading and on and on.

Private and government investors defend win-win agro-investment as part of the solution to world hunger and an important step on the path to prosperity. Reliance on the market and private profit-driven investment, they say, is an improvement over decades of failed NGO and “humanitarian” development schemes that failed to feed the planet’s almost 1 billion hungry people, or raise up the 2 billion who live on less than $2 a day.

From either viewpoint, it is clear that the geopolitics of food scarcity has undergone a major shift. Land is the new gold and mining it for export food, extracting its water to incorporate into crops and taking advantage of cheap labor and lax environmental laws are now, as Brown puts it, “integral parts of a global power struggle for food security.”

And all sides agree: When people are hungry enough, they are likely to choose the risk of revolution over the certainty of starvation. Governments that are unable to secure affordable food for their populations are vulnerable to the kind of social unrest that has long been part of history’s hunger not only for food, but for justice.

Terry J. Allen, an In These Times senior editor, has written the magazine’s monthly investigative health and science column since 2006.
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