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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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http://www.tomwilt.com/re-colonization-of-africa-through-buying-agricultural-land-wealthy-nations-and-their-multinationals-on-the-rampage/8548161/

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This month in ecological science

This month in ecological science

Evolutionary traps, invasive yellow starthistle’s favorable response to carbon dioxide and plant breeding for harmony between agriculture and the environment

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Posted 22 September 2011, by Nadine Lymn (Ecological Society of America) , EurekAlert! eurekalert.org

 

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Evolutionary traps in human-dominated landscapes

A study published in the September issue of Ecology looks at how human activities can diminish the usefulness of an ornamental trait, such as colorful feathers, as a signal of fitness. Cardinals, for example, need carotenoids in their diet to produce their red plumage; brilliant red plumage can signal an individual’s health and fitness. Researcher Amanda Rodewald (Ohio State University) and colleagues looked at the socially monogamous Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) in 14 forests in Ohio between 2006-2008, measuring plumage color, reproduction, and quantifying habitat. They found that the non-native Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) altered the selective environments for coloration by creating an evolutionary trap for the cardinals in rural landscapes and possibly relaxing selection in cities. Evolutionary traps occur when behavior that was once beneficial is a drawback in an altered environment.

The non-native honeysuckle is appealing to cardinals because it provides dense vegetation for nesting. Honeysuckle fruits are also a source of carotenoid pigments the birds need for their red plumage. Previous studies suggest that plumage brightness or hue signal a bird that is in good condition, has a good territory, and will put energy into raising its offspring. But the non-native honeysuckle’s appeal to cardinals comes with a price: a nest in this shrub is more vulnerable to predators. Rodewald and colleagues found that in rural areas the mostly brightly colored male cardinals were in best condition, bred earliest in the season, and secured the more preferred territories that included the non-native shrub. But their annual reproductive success was lower than that of duller males. The authors did not see these results in urban forests, where color was not related to any reproductive indicators, likely because the abundant honeysuckle and birdseed reduce the usefulness of color as a signal of quality. This scenario might lead to relaxed selection for bright color in urban forests and selection against bright color in rural forests.

“Our study provides evidence that human –induced changes to ecosystems can both create evolutionary traps that alter relationships between sexual and natural selection (i.e., via exotic shrubs in rural landscapes) and facilitate escape from evolutionary traps (i.e., via anthropogenic resources in urban landscapes),” write the authors. Read more at:http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/11-0022.1

Noxious and invasive yellow starthistle responds favorably to increased carbon dioxide

Yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitaialis) is a highly invasive plant species in the grasslands of western North America. Native to the lands northeast of the Mediterranean Sea and highly poisonous to horses, yellow starthistle is considered one of California’s most problematic non-native plants. Jeffrey Dukes (Purdue University) and colleagues conducted field experiments in California and found that Centaurea grew more than six times larger in response to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration and also responded favorably to nitrogen (N) deposition. In contrast, the surrounding grasses and wildflowers responded less strongly or not at all to increased CO2 and nitrogen levels. The researchers report their findings in the September issue of Ecological Applications.

“Given these results, we add Centaurea to a short but growing list of noxious and invasive plants demonstrated to dramatically benefit from CO2 in community settings, and to the longer list of invasives that benefit from increased N availability,” write the authors. “Atmospheric CO2 concentrations are increasing by 2 ppm/yr around the globe. Nitrogen deposition rates vary spatially, but are already higher than our treatment levels at one sampling station in California, and are expected to increase globally. Unless biocontrol agents become more effective at controlling Centaurea, the weed’s response to environmental changes is likely to heighten the challenge facing many North American land managers over the course of this century.” Read more at: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/11-0111.1

Plant breeding for harmony between agriculture and the environment

Meeting basic human needs while also preserving the natural resources to do so is a major challenge of the coming century. Earth’s human inhabitants need more food, animal feed, fiber, fuel and forest products, all while facing shrinking vital resources such as land, water and nutrients. A new eView review paper in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment asserts that plant breeding is a critical tool to bring about a more positive relationship between agriculture and the environment on which it depends.

In their review, E. Charles Brummer (Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation) and colleagues note that plant breeders are working to improve crop hardiness to withstand various environmental conditions, such as those associated with climate change. Many breeders are also interested in reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment, such as contributing to oxygen-deprived dead zones in water bodies or soil erosion. Since the 1950s, crop improvements—together with inputs including fertilizers, pesticides and water—have enabled agricultural production to keep up with human demands. Now, say the authors, “partnerships between ecologists, urban planners, and policy makers with public and private plant breeders will be essential for addressing future challenges.” Co-author Seth Murray (Texas A&M University) adds that: “We tend to think that solutions are technological and can be put in place quickly. But new crop cultivars and species take decades or more to develop and there is no shortcut so we really need to start thinking now about what we will need in 10-20 years.” Read more at: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1890/100225

 

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http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-09/esoa-tmi092211.php

Learn about beneficial rain gardens at free workshop

 

Learn about beneficial rain gardens at free workshop

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Posted20 September 2011, by Brenda OReilly, West Lake/Bay Village Observer, westlakebayvillageobserver.com

 

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A rain garden is an attractive landscaped area planted with perennial native plants which don’t mind getting “wet feet.” Built in a bowl shape, a rain garden is designed to increase infiltration allowing rain and snowmelt to seep naturally into the ground. Benefits of rain gardens are multiple: they recharge groundwater supply, prevent water quality problems, provide habitat for birds and butterflies and are great-looking landscape features.

Amy Roskilly of the Cuyahoga Soil and Water Conservation District and the Bay Village Green Team are partnering to sponsor a FREE rain garden workshop on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 6-7:30 p.m. at the Bay Community House, 303 Cahoon Rd. To register, call Amy at 216-524-6580, ext. 22, or email aroskilly@cuyahogaswcd.org.

Recent studies have shown that up to 70% of the pollution in our streams, river and lakes is carried there by run-off from practices we carry out in our own yards and gardens. Some of the common “non-point source pollutants” from our yards that end up in our local waterways include soil, fertilizers, pesticides, pet wastes, grass clippings and other yard debris.

Planting rain gardens is an effective way to help our communities “bloom,” as we work to protect the health of our watersheds. Learn about the importance of planting a rain garden and how to site it for your yard in this workshop as we work through the Rain Garden Manual for Homeowners.

For more information, please visit the Events section at www.bayvillagegreenteam.com.

Brenda OReilly, Co-Chair of the Bay Village Green Team

 Read More on Nature & Environment

 

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http://www.westlakebayvillageobserver.com/read/2011/09/20/learn-about-beneficial-rain-gardens-at-free-workshop

New program trains the next generation of farmers

 

New program trains the next generation of farmers

Apprenticeship sparks interest in agriculture among some students

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Posted 21 September 2011, by Jordanna Goodma and Sarah Strohmayer, The Vermont Cynic, vermontcynic.com

 

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After six months of being a student in the Farmer Training Program, students will have all the skills they need to start and sustain their own farm.

New to the University of Vermont, the Farmer Training Programs aims to train students in hands-on skill based education in sustainable agriculture, according to their website.

“We want the students to be leaders in the food systems, and through their knowledge, create new sustainable farms,” Andrea Ziga, program planner, said.

Currently, the program has 12 students enrolled in its first ever session taking place at the University of Vermont.

“I love Vermont and I saw this program so I did it,” Danielle George, a student in the Farmer Training Program, said.  She said that she is enjoying the program and what it has to offer.

George said that not all of the students are involved in the program because they want to be farmers.  She said although some want to be farmers, others are in it because they want to work in the field of agriculture and food systems.

One of the goals of the program is to use all of the diverse resources available in the community to help students learn, Program Director Susie Walsh Dalso said.

“The program has a deep appreciation for the greater community,” Dalso said. “The hands on experience, research and classroom teaching make this a one of a kind program to create the sustainable farmers of tomorrow.”

George said that the program meets five days a week — two days at UVM’s horticulture farm, two days at other, local farms and one day in the classroom or on a field trip.

At UVM’s horticulture farm, she said the students have farmed the land that started out as sod.  According to the program’s website, it is at this site where the students are encouraged to think like farmers.

At the horticulture farm, the students do a variety of tasks, including observing crops, planting crops in the field, and taking care of weeds and pesticides, George said.

“I didn’t know anything about farming before this program, but I’ve learned a lot,” George said.

On the two days that the students spend at other farms there are three farms in particular that they go to, she said.  They go to Bread & Butter Farm, Intervale Community Farm, and Half Pint Farm, which is a smaller farm part of the Intervale.

George said that at the Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne, she and the other students learn about the cows that are raised there and how they are used for meat and milk.

At the Intervale Farm in Burlington, she said they deal grow a lot of food for the purpose of CSA shares, where people pay cash up front for the food of their choice for the season.

George said that the CSA system is really great because it helps the farmers by giving them cash up front.

At the third farm that they visit, the Half Pint Farm, they help produce food that is sold at local Farmers Markets and to local grocers and restaurants.

Already at Michigan State and UC Santa Cruz, the farming apprenticeship program hopes to help the nontraditional students by furthering their education, according to their pamphlet.

The second session of the Farmer Training Program begins May 2 and is now accepting applications.

 

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http://www.vermontcynic.com/news/new-program-trains-the-next-generation-of-farmers-1.2634056

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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The Food Movement: Its Power and Possibilities

 

The Food Movement: Its Power and Possibilities

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Posted 14 September 2011, by Frances Moore Lappé, The Nation, thenation.com

 

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Editor’s Note: Frances Moore Lappé’s essay below kicks off our forum on the food movement. Raj Patel, Vandana Shiva, Eric Schlosser, and Michael Pollan have contributed replies.

For years I’ve been asked, “Since you wrote Diet for a Small Planet in 1971, have things gotten better or worse?” Hoping I don’t sound glib, my response is always the same: “Both.”

As food growers, sellers and eaters, we’re moving in two directions at once.

The number of hungry people has soared to nearly 1 billion, despite strong global harvests. And for even more people, sustenance has become a health hazard—with the US diet implicated in four out of our top ten deadly diseases. Power over soil, seeds and food sales is ever more tightly held, and farmland in the global South is being snatched away from indigenous people by speculators set to profit on climbing food prices. Just four companies control at least three-quarters of international grain trade; and in the United States, by 2000, just ten corporations—with boards totaling only 138 people—had come to account for half of US food and beverage sales. Conditions for American farmworkers remain so horrific that seven Florida growers have been convicted of slavery involving more than 1,000 workers. Life expectancy of US farmworkers is forty-nine years.

That’s one current. It’s antidemocratic and deadly.

There is, however, another current, which is democratizing power and aligning farming with nature’s genius. Many call it simply “the global food movement.” In the United States it’s building on the courage of truth tellers from Upton Sinclair to Rachel Carson, and worldwide it has been gaining energy and breadth for at least four decades.

Some Americans see the food movement as “nice” but peripheral—a middle-class preoccupation with farmers’ markets, community gardens and healthy school lunches. But no, I’ll argue here. It is at heart revolutionary, with some of the world’s poorest people in the lead, from Florida farmworkers to Indian villagers. It has the potential to transform not just the way we eat but the way we understand our world, including ourselves. And that vast power is just beginning to erupt.

The Work

In a farmworker camp in Ohio, a young mother sat on her bed. She was dying of cancer, but with no bitterness she asked me a simple question: “We provide people food—why don’t they respect our work?” That was 1984. She had no protection from pesticides, or even the right to safe drinking water in the field.

Twenty-five years later, in Immokalee, Florida, I walked through a grungy, sweltering 300-foot trailer, home to eight tomato pickers, but what struck me most was a sense of possibility in the workers themselves.

They are among the 4,000 mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, formed in 1993—more than two decades after Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers’ victorious five-year grape strike and national boycott. In the 1990s, CIW’s struggle over five years, including a 230-mile walk and hunger strike, achieved the first industrywide pay increase in twenty years. Still, it only brought real wages back to pre-1980 levels. So in 2001, CIW launched its Campaign for Fair Food. Dogged organizing forced four huge fast-food companies—McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway—to agree to pay a penny more per pound and adhere to a code of conduct protecting workers. Four large food-service providers, including Sodexo, were also brought on board. Beginning this fall, CIW will start implementing these changes at 90 percent of Florida tomato farms—improving the lives of 30,000 tomato pickers. Now the campaign is focused on supermarkets such as Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop and Giant.

The Land

In Brazil, almost 400,000 farmworker families have not only found their voices but gained access to land, joining the roughly half-billion small farms worldwide that produce 70 percent of the world’s food.

Elsewhere, calls for more equitable access to land in recent decades have generally gone nowhere—despite evidence that smallholders are typically more productive and better resource guardians than big operators.

So what happened in Brazil?

With the end of dictatorship in 1984 came the birth of arguably the largest social movement in the hemisphere: the Landless Workers Movement, known by its Portuguese acronym MST. Less than 4 percent of Brazil’s landowners control about half the land, often gained illegally. MST’s goal is land reform, and in 1988 Brazil’s new Constitution gave the movement legal grounding: Article 5 states that “property shall fulfill its social function,” and Article 184 affirms the government’s power to “expropriate…for purposes of agrarian reform, rural property” that fails to meet this requirement. Well-organized occupations of unused land, under the cover of night, had been MST’s early tactic; after 1988 the same approach helped compel the government to uphold the Constitution.

Because of the courage of these landless workers, a million people are building new lives on roughly 35 million acres, creating several thousand farming communities with schools serving 150,000 kids, along with hundreds of cooperative and other enterprises.

Nevertheless, MST co-founder João Pedro Stédile said early this year that the global financial crisis has led “international capitalists” to try to “protect their funds” by investing in Brazilian “land and energy projects”—driving renewed land concentration.

And in the United States? The largest 9 percent of farms produce more than 60 percent of output. But small farmers still control more than half our farmland, and the growing market for healthy fresh food has helped smallholders grow: their numbers went up by 18,467 between 2002 and 2007. To support them, last winter the Community Food Security Coalition held community “listening sessions,” attended by 700 people, to sharpen citizen goals for the 2012 farm bill.

The Seed

Just as dramatic is the struggle for the seed. More than 1,000 independent seed companies were swallowed up by multinationals in the past four decades, so today just three—Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta—control about half the proprietary seed market worldwide.

Fueling the consolidation were three Supreme Court rulings since 1980—including one in 2002, with an opinion written by former Monsanto attorney Clarence Thomas—making it possible to patent life forms, including seeds. And in 1992 the Food and Drug Administration released its policy on genetically modified organisms, claiming that “the agency is not aware of any information showing that [GMO] foods…differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”

The government’s green light fueled the rapid spread of GMOs and monopolies—so now most US corn and soybeans are GMO, with genes patented largely by one company: Monsanto. The FDA position helped make GMOs’ spread so invisible that most Americans still don’t believe they’ve ever eaten them—even though the grocery industry says they could be in 75 percent of processed food.

Even fewer Americans are aware that in 1999 attorney Steven Druker reported that in 40,000 pages of FDA files secured via a lawsuit, he found “memorandum after memorandum contain[ing] warnings about the unique hazards of genetically engineered food,” including the possibility that they could contain “unexpected toxins, carcinogens or allergens.”

Yet at the same time, public education campaigns have succeeded in confining almost 80 percent of GMO planting to just three countries: the United States, Brazil and Argentina. In more than two dozen countries and in the European Union they’ve helped pass mandatory GMO labeling. Even China requires it.

In Europe, the anti-GMO tipping point came in 1999. Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, expects that the same shift will happen here, as more Americans than ever actively oppose GMOs. This year the “non-GMO” label is the third-fastest-growing new health claim on food packaging. Smith is also encouraged that milk products produced with the genetically modified drug rBGH “have been kicked out of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Yoplait, Dannon, and most American dairies.”

Around the world, millions are saying no to seed patenting as well. In homes and village seed banks, small farmers and gardeners are saving, sharing and protecting tens of thousands of seed varieties.

In the United States, the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, estimates that since 1975 members have shared roughly a million samples of rare garden seeds.

In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh—known as the pesticide capital of the world—a women-led village movement, the Deccan Development Society, puts seed-saving at the heart of its work. After the crushing failure of GMO cotton and ill health linked to pesticides, the movement has helped 125 villages convert to more nutritious, traditional crop mixes, feeding 50,000 people.

On a larger scale, Vandana Shiva’s organization, Navdanya, has helped to free 500,000 farmers from chemical dependency and to save indigenous seeds—the group’s learning and research center protects 3,000 varieties of rice, plus other crops.

In all these ways and more, the global food movement challenges a failing frame: one that defines successful agriculture and the solution to hunger as better technologies increasing yields of specific crops. This is typically called “industrial agriculture,” but a better description might be “productivist,” because it fixates on production, or “reductivist,” because it narrows our focus to a single element.

Its near obsession with the yield of a monoculture is anti-ecological. It not only pollutes, diminishes and disrupts nature; it misses ecology’s first lesson: relationships. Productivism isolates agriculture from its relational context—from its culture.

In 2008 a singular report helped crack the productivist frame. This report, “The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development” (known simply as IAASTD), explained that solutions to poverty, hunger and the climate crisis require agriculture that promotes producers’ livelihoods, knowledge, resiliency, health and equitable gender relations, while enriching the natural environment and helping to balance the carbon cycle. Painstakingly developed over four years by 400 experts, the report has gained the support of more than fifty-nine governments, and even productivist strongholds like the World Bank.

IAASTD furthers an emerging understanding that agriculture can serve life only if it is regarded as a culture of healthy relationships, both in the field—among soil organisms, insects, animals, plants, water, sun—and in the human communities it supports: a vision lived by many indigenous people and captured in 1981 by Wendell Berry in The Gift of Good Land and twenty years later by Jules Pretty in Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature.

Across cultures, the global food movement is furthering agri-culture by uniting diverse actors and fostering democratic relationships. A leader is La Via Campesina, founded in 1993 when small farmers and rural laborers gathered from four continents in Belgium. Its goal is “food sovereignty”—a term carefully chosen to situate “those who produce, distribute, and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations,” says the declaration closing the group’s 2007 global gathering in Nyeleni, Mali. La Via Campesina connects 150 local and national organizations, and 200 million small farmers, in seventy countries. In 2009 it was included among civil society players on the UN Committee on Food Security.

And in the urban North, how is the food movement enhancing agri-culture?

For sure, more and more Americans are getting their hands in the dirt—motivated increasingly by a desire to cut “food miles” and greenhouse gases. Roughly a third of American households (41 million) garden, up 14 percent in 2009 alone. As neighbors join neighbors, community gardens are blooming. From only a handful in 1970, there are 18,000 community gardens today. In Britain community gardens are in such demand—with 100,000 Brits on waiting lists for a plot—that the mayor of London promised 2,012 new ones by 2012.

And in 2009 the Slow Food movement, with 100,000 members in 153 countries, created 300 “eat-ins”—shared meals in public space—to launch its US “Time for Lunch” campaign, with a goal of delicious healthy school meals for the 31 million kids eating them every day.

An Economics of Agri-Culture

Agri-culture’s unity of healthy farming ecology and social ecology transforms the market itself: from the anonymous, amoral selling and buying within a market structured to concentrate power to a market shaped by shared human values structured to ensure fairness and co-responsibility.

In 1965 British Oxfam created the first fair-trade organization, called Helping-by-Selling, in response to calls from poor countries for “trade, not aid.” Today more than 800 products are fair-trade certified, directly benefiting 6 million people. Last year the US fair-trade market passed $1.5 billion.

The Real Food Challenge, launched by young people in 2007, is working to jump-start a US swing to “real food”—defined as that respecting “human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability.” Student teams are mobilizing to persuade campus decision-makers to commit themselves to making a minimum of
20 percent of their college or university food “real” by 2020. With more than 350 schools already on board, the Challenge founders have set an ambitious goal: to shift $1 billion to real food purchases in ten years.

Farmers’ markets, the direct exchange between farmer and eater, are also creating a fairer agri-culture. So rare before the mid-’90s that the USDA didn’t even bother to track them, more than 7,000 farmers’ markets dot the country in 2011, a more than fourfold increase in seventeen years.

Other democratic economic models are also gaining ground:

In 1985 an irrepressible Massachusetts farmer named Robyn Van En helped create the first US Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which eaters are no longer just purchasers but partners, helping to shoulder the farmer’s risk by prepaying for a share of the harvest before the planting season. On weekends, “my” CSA—Waltham Fields, near Boston—is alive as families pick and chat, and kids learn how to spot the yummiest strawberries. Now there are 2,500 CSAs across the country, while more than 12,500 farms informally use this prepay, partnership approach.

The cooperative model is spreading too, replacing one dollar, one vote—the corporate form—with one person, one vote. In the 1970s, US food cooperatives took off. Today there are 160 nationwide, and co-op veteran Annie Hoy in Ashland, Oregon, sees a new upsurge. Thirty-nine have just opened, or are “on their way right now,” she told me.

Funky storefronts of the 1970s, famous for limp organic carrots, have morphed into mouthwatering community hubs. Beginning as a food-buying club of fifteen families in 1953, Seattle’s PCC Natural Markets has nine stores and almost 46,000 members, making it the largest US food cooperative. Its sales more than doubled in a decade.

Producer co-ops have also made huge gains. In 1988 a handful of worried farmers, watching profits flow to middlemen, not to them, launched the Organic Valley Family of Farms. Today Organic Valley’s more than 1,600 farmer owners span thirty-two states, generating sales of more than $500 million in 2008.

The Rules

The global food system reflects societies’ rules—often uncodified—that determine who eats and how our earth fares. In the United States, rules increasingly reflect our nation’s slide into “privately held government.” But in rule-setting, too, energy is hardly unidirectional.

In 1999, on the streets of Seattle, 65,000 environmentalists, labor and other activists made history, blunting the antidemocratic agenda of the World Trade Organization. In 2008 more citizens than ever engaged in shaping the farm bill, resulting in rules encouraging organic production. The movement has also established 100 “food policy councils”—new local-to-state, multi-stakeholder coordinating bodies. And this year, eighty-three plaintiffs joined the Public Patent Foundation in suing Monsanto, challenging its GMO seeds’ “usefulness” (required for patenting) as well as the company’s right to patent seeds to begin with.

Even small changes in the rules can create huge possibilities. Consider, for example, the ripples from a 2009 Brazilian law requiring at least 30 percent of school meals to consist of food from local family farms.

Rules governing rights are the human community’s foundational guarantees to one another—and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave access to food that status. Since then, nearly two dozen nations have planted the right to food in their constitutions. If you wonder whether it matters, note that when Brazil undertook a multifaceted “zero hunger” campaign, framing food as a right, the country slashed its infant death rate by about a third in seven years.

Food Power: Only Connect

This rising global food movement taps universal human sensibilities—expressed in Hindu farmers in India saving seeds, Muslim farmers in Niger turning back the desert and Christian farmers in the United States practicing biblically inspired Creation Care. In these movements lies the revolutionary power of the food movement: its capacity to upend a life-destroying belief system that has brought us power-concentrating corporatism.

Corporatism, after all, depends on our belief in the fairy tale that market “magic” (Ronald Reagan’s unforgettable term) works on its own without us.

Food can break that spell. For the food movement’s power is that it can shift our sense of self: from passive, disconnected consumers in a magical market to active, richly connected co-producers in societies we are creating—as share owners in a CSA farm or purchasers of fair-trade products or actors in public life shaping the next farm bill.

The food movement’s power is connection itself. Corporatism distances us from one another, from the earth—and even from our own bodies, tricking them to crave that which destroys them—while the food movement celebrates our reconnection. Years ago in Madison, Wisconsin, CSA farmer Barb Perkins told me about her most rewarding moments: “Like in town yesterday,” she said, “I saw this little kid, wide-eyed, grab his mom’s arm and point at me. ‘Mommy,’ he said. ‘Look. There’s our farmer!’”

At its best, this movement encourages us to “think like an ecosystem,” enabling us to see a place for ourselves connected to all others, for in ecological systems “there are no parts, only participants,” German physicist Hans Peter Duerr reminds us. With an “eco-mind” we can see through the productivist fixation that inexorably concentrates power, generating scarcity for some, no matter how much we produce. We’re freed from the premise of lack and the fear it feeds. Aligning food and farming with nature’s genius, we realize there’s more than enough for all.

As the food movement stirs, as well as meets, deep human needs for connection, power and fairness, let’s shed any notion that it’s simply “nice” and seize its true potential to break the spell of our disempowerment.

Nation Contributors Reply:
Raj Patel, “Why Hunger Is Still With Us
Vandana Shiva, “Resisting the Corporate Theft of Seeds
Eric Schlosser, “It’s Not Just About Food
Michael Pollan, “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System

 

About the Author

Frances Moore Lappé
Frances Moore Lappé just released EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want (Nation Books)…

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The article offers a discussion about world hunger and wealth distribution. It is argued that calls for the end of hunger fail to challenge the systems that prevent solutions. Hunger has grown 43 percent in five years in the United States. More hungry people live in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Hunger is caused by an economic system that is driven by the rule: highest return to existing wealth. Because of this system, economic inequality is worsening in most of the world.

Focuses on the status of ownership of Industry in Sweden as of February 1983. Name of the trade union which is lobbying for the passage of the ownership of industry in the hands of the workers; Type of proposal given by the workers’ organization, Social Democratic Party to industrialists in exchange of the ownership of Swedish industry; Way in which the workers would get controlling interests in Sweden’s major companies.

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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….

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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