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PART ONE: AGROFUELS IN AFRICA
Fueling the Destruction of African Agriculture
Richard Jonasse, Food First
The head of the US Department of Agriculture recently announced an incentive program that would subsidize up to 75 percent of the costs for establishing new US agrofuel plantations, in an “effort to promote production of fuel from renewable sources, create jobs and mitigate the effects of climate change”. This “incentive” is a hand-out to agribusiness, and despite the industry’s “green” fuels hyperbole agrofuels could actually have a negative impact on atmospheric carbon when land use changes are factored in. These subsidies are a public handout to Monsanto, Cargill, BP and Chevron. … The EU is also pursuing the agrofuel golden ring to the tune of a current 10% so-called “renewable” fuels mandate, with a goal of 20% by 2020. EU Commissioner for Climate, Connie Hedegaard is calling for an unspecified higher target for 2030.
FULL ARTICLE: http://www.foodfirst.org/en/node/3432
Evidence against global land deals piling up
The farmers of Makeni, in central Sierra Leone, signed the contract with their thumbs. In exchange for promises of 2,000 jobs, and reassurances that the bolis (swamps where rice is grown) would not be drained, they approved a deal granting a Swiss company a 50-year lease on 40,000 hectares of land to grow biofuels for Europe. Three years later 50 new jobs exist, irrigation has damaged the bolis and such development as there has been has come “at the social, environmental and economic expense of local communities”, says Elisa Da Vià of Cornell University.
When deals like this first came to international attention in 2009, it was unclear whether they were “land grabs or development opportunities”, to quote a study published that year. Supporters claimed they would bring seeds, technology and capital to some of the world’s poorest lands. Critics, such as the director of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, dubbed them “neo-colonialist”. But no one had hard evidence to back up their claims. Now they do. Two years on, a conference at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) of the University of Sussex, the biggest of its kind so far, examined over 100 land deals. Most judgments are damning.
FULL ARTICLE: http://www.africanagricultureblog.com/2011/05/evidence-against-global-la...
Kenyan farmers using agriculture to fight climate change
Thousands of farmers in Western Kenya are attracting global attention after being the first group in Africa to win financing from the World Bank (WB) to use agriculture to fight climate change. The farmers, spread in 45,000 hectares of land in Bungoma, Malakisi, Bondo, and Kisumu, will receive Sh28 million (US$350,000) from WB's BioCarbon Fund to adopt environmentally-friendly agricultural practices that cut carbon emissions to the atmosphere.
..."The potential for carbon sequestration in the soil is estimated at 5.5 gigatons annually with good land management practices, equivalent to 13 per cent of current emissions from all sectors. So soil carbon has a huge contribution to make to addressing the climate change challenge", he said. Under the project, the farmers use cover crops, crop rotation, mulching, improved fallows, compost management, green manure, agro-forestry, organic fertiliser, and rehabilitation of degraded land to cut carbon emissions. This deal opens doors for other similar projects that may see Kenyan farmers win millions of shillings for just practising environmentally-friendly farming techniques. "This development has tremendous benefits and potential for farmers in Kenya and can be scaled up in future," said Henrik Brundin of Vi Agroforestry.
FULL ARTICLE: http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/InsidePage.php?id=2000024027&cid=4
PART TWO: THE GREEN REVOLUTION AND (AGRA)BUSINESS AS USUAL
The Coming Global Food Fight
By Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
April 8th, 2011
Food prices around the world are surging. Between July of last year and this January alone, the price of wheat has doubled. Indeed, the cost of food has now passed the record levels of 2008, when angry citizens staged huge protests in dozens of countries. Currently, protesters across the Middle East include lowering food prices among their demands. When prices go up even a bit, millions more people starve. ...
In Tunisia and Egypt, the average person spends more than a third of their household budget on food, and thus more people feel food price hikes daily in the pits of their stomachs.
A country has “food sovereignty” when its people consume safe and nutritious food largely grown by their own small farmers. Significantly fewer countries sustain this sovereignty today than a generation ago. The reigning development model pushed by World Bank and other experts has left many countries exporting more cash crops like flowers and gourmet vegetables, and importing more of their staple foods.
But there is more to food sovereignty than freedom from imports. In richer countries, food purchases make up a relatively small percent of household budgets. Here in the United States, we spend an average of only seven percent of our budgets on food, although that number rises in poor urban neighborhoods.
In Tunisia and Egypt, however, the average person spends more than a third of their household budget on food, and thus more people feel food price hikes daily in the pits of their stomachs.
IMF “consultation” on the 2011 review of conditionality
13, May 2011
Bretton Woods Project
The IMF is currently reviewing conditionality in all its programmes. The last such review had been conducted in 2004-2005. The concept note on this endeavour was published in March and the analytical work has started, but the public consultation process was opened only afterwards. Submissions are welcome until 31 May and can be made to the Fund's website:
The IMF, moreover, informed that consultation meetings have been held in Europe last week with NGOs, banks and the European Commission. The review is supposed to be concluded in October 2011.
... Civil society groups expressed concerns about a lack of engagement of civil society groups in the developing countries. While appreciating the IMF’s effort to consult civil society groups in London, they suggested that it would be more important to reach out to those affected by IMF conditionality….
[The] groups also expressed concerns over online consultations, because in of quality or even lack of internet access in many developing countries and the short period of consultation. Comments and counter-analysis of the IMF’s finding would require to at least knowing which countries the IMF is looking at in depth.
IMF representatives responded that 18 countries will be selected for in-depth analysis and that the list of those countries will be published.Civil society groups asked whether the conditionality review would use the same questions for country authorities that have been specified by the IEO report on structural conditionality to create a basis for comparability.
FULL ARTICLE: http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/art-568410
Global Health Philanthropy and Institutional Relationships: How Should Conflicts of Interest Be Addressed?
Stuckler D, Basu S, McKee M (2011)
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's endowment mainly comes from Bill Gates' personal fortune and stock in Berkshire Hathaway given to the Foundation as a gift from Hathaway's CEO Warren Buffett. In 2006, Buffett made a pledge to gradually give away all of his Berkshire Hathaway stock to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, most recently with an additional 24.7 million shares in July 2010 . Currently, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is listed with the SEC as a 10% owner of the Berkshire company.
At the end of 2008, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust had US$29.6 billion assets under its management: $13.5 billion were in corporate stock, $1.8 billion in corporate bonds, $6.1 billion in US and state government obligations, and $8.2 billion in other investments, land, and temporary holdings. …the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's corporate stock endowment is heavily invested in food and pharmaceutical companies, directly and indirectly (see Text S4 for full listings). The Foundation holds significant shares in McDonald's (9.4 million shares representing about 5% of the Gates' portfolio), and Coca-Cola (>15 million shares, over 7% of the Foundation's portfolio, not counting Berkshire Hathaway holdings). In 2009 the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sold extensive pharmaceutical holdings in Johnson & Johnson (2.5 million shares), Schering-Plough Corporation (14.9 million shares), Eli Lilly and Company (about 1 million shares), Merck & Co. (8.1 million shares), and Wyeth (3.7 million shares).
FULL ARTICLE: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.100102...
AGRA: Taking African Agriculture out of the hands of farmers
The Seed Project Co Ltd, she said, is funded through AGRA Programme for African Seed Systems (PASS). “PASS works to dramatically increase Africa’s capacity to breed, produce and disseminate quality seeds of staple food crops such as maize, rice, cassava, beans, sorghum, millet and other staples. This US$150 million initiative aims to develop seed systems that deliver new crop varieties to smallholder farmers efficiently, equitably and sustainably.”
PASS, Mwichuli said, operates through four sub-programmes which form a seed value chain that begins with educating a new generation of plant breeders and seed specialists and ends with improved seed on the shelves of village-level agro-dealers. “The four sub-programmes are: Education for African Crop Improvement (EACI); Fund for the Improvement and Adoption of African Crops (FIAAC); Seed Production for Africa (SEPA), and the Agro-dealer Development Program (ADP).
“PASS operates across the seed value chain to: Train plant scientists to breed improved varieties of Africa’s indigenous and staple food crops; builds the capacity of national agricultural research systems in the strategic fields of plant breeding and seed production; develop crop varieties (using farmer-participatory methods) that are disease- and pest-resistant, grow well in local environments, able to withstand climatic variations, and meet consumer preferences. … AGRA supports private African seed companies and farmer cooperatives to produce, distribute and market improved seed; strengthen networks of village-based agro-dealers to distribute the seed to remote farmers; strengthen associations of women farmers and farmers generally; develop seed storage and processing capacity; promote policies that accelerate the release of proven new varieties; strengthen seed regulatory systems; eliminate seed trade barriers; and harmonize regional seed laws.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: Part of the strength of African smallholder lies in the diversity of seed varieties that farmers save and replant. This method keeps seed stocks resilient in the face of weather conditions that can change from year to year. The innocuous-sounding phrase “harmonization of seed laws” often refers to breaking down barriers to trade, so that agribusiness companies can sell their wares, which are standardized seeds with few variations. Similarly, the vague phrase “breeding improved varieties” can mean marker assisted breeding or biotechnology. Either way it is the standardization of seed genetics, which leads to entire regions planting the same seeds; which in turn leads to dangerous vulnerabilities to changing conditions from year to year. Futhermore, as the article states, interest on agricultural loans by banks runs 20 to 30 percent, which places farmers (and the land they put up as collateral) at serious risk. Agriculture is a gamble under the best of circumstances, but the lack of genetic seed diversity and the usurious loans make matters much much worse.
PART THREE: ALTERNATIVES TO THE GREEN REVOLUTION IN AFRICA
Can The World Feed 10 Billion People?
Raj Patel 05/4/2011
If you arrive in Malawi in March, just after the rainy season, growing food seems like a fool’s game. It’s hard to find a patch of red soil that isn’t a tall riot of green. From the roadside you can see maize about to ripen, with squash and beans planted at the base of the thick stalks. Even the tobacco fields are doing well this year. But there’s a rumble in this jungle. Malawi’s swaying fields are a battleground in which three different visions for the future of global agriculture are ranged against one other.
The first and most venerable development idea for Malawi sees these farmers as survivors of a doomed way of life who need to be helped into the hereafter. Oxford economist Paul Collier is the poster child for this “modernist” view, one that he presented in a scathing November 2008 Foreign Affairs article in which he cudgeled the “romantics” who yearned for peasant agriculture. Observing both that wages in cities are higher than in the countryside, and that every large developed country is able to feed itself without peasant farmers, Collier argued the virtues of big agriculture. He also called on the European Union to support genetically modified crops and for the United States to kill domestic subsidies for biofuel. He was one-third right: biofuel subsidies are absurd, not least because they drive up food prices, siphoning grains from the bowls of the poorest into the gas-tanks of the richest — with limited environmental gains, at best.
Collier’s contempt for peasants seems, however, to rest on something other than the facts. Although international agribusiness has generated great profits ever since the East India Company, it hasn’t brought riches to farmers and farmworkers, who are invariably society’s poorest people. Indeed, big agriculture earns its moniker — it tends to work most lucratively with large-scale plantations and operations to which small farmers are little more than an impediment.
FULL ARTICLE: http://rajpatel.org/2011/05/04/can-the-world-feed-10-billion-people/
Expanding territory for agroecology (part 4 of 8)
May 11, 2011 by Groundswell International
This is the fourth post in an eight-part series about how we can transform the roles of non-governmental organizations like Groundswell to make food sovereignty a reality. Read the first, second and third posts.
Bern Guri says that in Ghana, “isolated examples of small scale farmer agro-ecological production exist, but the government of Ghana doesn’t see what small farmers are doing as relevant, because they are focused on larger farmers. They see small scale farmers as holding back production. We need to shine a light on the successful examples, but also create a market. To do this we identify capacities that farmers already have for agroecological farming and strengthen them and spread them. We work to document and disseminate the good work already happening so people know that alternatives exist.”
…The question of whether or not agro-ecological farming works for small-scale farmers in the developing world is perhaps the easiest to address. As noted above, broad experience along with a growing body of research and evidence demonstrates that it works for them on multiple levels. Even proponents of industrialized agriculture usually accept agroecology’s success on a small scale, but argue it is not viable on a larger one. Yet many farmers in the developing world are already adopting and practicing agro-ecological farming, and the only incentive they have to do so is that it brings them benefits—more food, less cost, an improved environment, healthier families and communities, greater resilience to shocks and so on. While there are a powerful set of actors with a major economic self-interest in promoting the sale of their agricultural inputs and technologies, the same is not true of agro-ecology. The only incentives for external actors to promote agroecology are social—reducing poverty and creating a more inhabitable planet.
FULL ARTICLE: http://groundswellinternational.org/2011/05/11/expanding-territory-for-a...