“Conversations” on technological utopias vs. tackling structural injustice in the global food system

Posted November 20, 2014

Used under creative commons license from theworldfoodprize.

This year’s World Food Prize and Borlaug Dialogue, held from October 17–19, 2014 in Des Moines, Iowa once again brought together the big gun stakeholders in industrial agriculture, and provided many insights to the current framing on the global food security challenge.

Given the parallel celebration of the Borlaug Centennial marking 100 years since the birth of Norman Borlaug, it should come as no surprise that Sanjaya Rajaram was named this year’s World Food Prize Laureate. As Borlaug’s protege in terms of sustaining his legacy of wheat breeding, this award for Rajaram appears to reinforce the importance of remembering what Borlaug was said to have achieved, while also ensuring that current research efforts at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Mexico, where Rajaram is based, continue to be perceived to play an important role in meeting global agricultural research needs. It is also noteworthy to acknowledge that Rajaram was born in India but has become a naturalized Mexican citizen given that Borlaug pioneered many Green Revolution ideas and technologies in Mexico in the mid 20th century before subsequently institutionalizing them in India’s post-independence agricultural sector. Indian agriculture continues to be geared towards a commitment to use “modern” and “improved” crop varieties and inputs even as many small farmers face a variety of severe social, environmental and economic challenges that fundamentally threaten production levels and livelihood security of a significant proportion of its population.     

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Big Meat flexes its muscles

Posted November 6, 2014 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Mark Roy.

It wasn’t the subject of a barrage of campaign ads this past month, nor has it been widely reported in the media or even debated much in the halls of Congress but new rules are being written right now as part of an arcane, secret process that will expand global agribusiness’ choke-hold over our food system, and you are not invited. A new report, Big Meat Swallows the Trans-Pacific Partnership, released today from IATP takes an in-depth look at what’s at stake for global agribusiness—and particularly the big meat corporations—in potentially the largest regional free trade agreement ever negotiated, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

This weekend, President Obama will meet with leaders of 11 other Pacific Rim countries at the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit about TPP. The negotiations and the proposed treaty text itself are secret, behind-closed-doors affairs—and the corporations that will benefit like it that way.

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Canadian farmers don't own Wheat Board they built, grew and loved says top court

Posted October 21, 2014 by Steven Shrybman   

Used under creative commons license from TJMartins.

With some help from my friends (lawyers Anders Bruun and Ben Piper) I argued a case before the Federal Court of Appeal yesterday. The Court ruled from the bench; the result was mixed but more of a defeat than a victory.

Among other things, the case was about money.  An awful lot of it -- over $17 billion.  That is actually a realistic estimate of the value of the Canadian Wheat Board that has been destroyed by the Harper's government's decision to get rid of the Board's marketing monopoly for wheat and barley and to fire all of the directors elected by the farmers to sit on the Board.

With the benefit of the market power the monopoly afforded, a smart farmer-controlled Board had built an international brand for Canadian wheat that allowed it to claim a very nice premium in the market -- somewhere between $600-800 million a year. It also allowed the Board the leverage to negotiate favorable supply chain arrangements with the rail companies and international grain conglomerates so that grain could be moved efficiently to markets.

While the Wheat Board still exists, it has been run by Harper appointees since Dec. 2011 and has no marketing power. Last summer, the failure of supply chain logistics to move a bumper wheat crop to market cost farmers an estimated $4 billion.

The court was dealing with motions to strike a proposed class action brought on behalf of grain producers seeking compensation for the value of the Wheat Board the Government had taken and will now either sell or wind down.

At the center of the case was this question -- can the Government simply take the assets, which include the enormously valuable goodwill the Board built, from the farmers who paid for and built those assets, and do so without paying the farmers for them?  The Court said yes. Why? Because according to the Court the farmers weren't "shareholders" and had no proprietary interest in those assets.

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Farmers, Ranchers and Consumers Lose on WTO COOL Ruling

Posted October 20, 2014 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from ed_needs_a_bicycle.

A U.S. law requiring the simple labeling of meat and poultry products for the country of origin (COOL) was determined to violate trade rules by a dispute panel at the World Trade Organization (WTO) today.

The ruling demonstrates again how trade rules have been rigged to benefit multinational corporations and run counter to the interests of consumers who want more information about the food they purchase and farmer and ranchers who target local markets.

Knowing where your food comes from is an important right for consumers all over the world. This ruling is also a loss for farmers and ranchers who are selling to domestic, local markets and who want to build stronger connections with consumers. Trade rules should never get in the way of greater transparency in the marketplace. The USDA should not give in to the WTO on COOL in the short term, and should appeal the ruling. In the long term, we need to reform or throw out trade rules that undermine consumers and farmers.

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Real solutions from agriculture at the People's Climate March

Posted September 20, 2014 by Tara Ritter   

IATP’s Tara Ritter is blogging from New York City as she attends the NYC Climate Convergence and the People's Climate March.

Saturday 9/20/2014

On the day before the People’s Climate March—what’s being billed as the largest mass climate demonstration in history—the Organic Consumers Association hosted a day of workshops as part of the NYC Climate Convergence. The final workshop was entitled “Now that the U.S. supports Climate-Smart Agriculture, is reform of our climate-dumb food system possible?” The speakers were Ronnie Cummins and Will Allen of the Organic Consumers Association, Anna Lappé of the Small Planet Institute, Elizabeth Kucinich of the Center for Food Safety, and myself representing IATP.

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Scientists praise and challenge FAO on agroecology

Posted September 17, 2014 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from faoalc.

UPDATE: Join these scientists and sign on to support a U.N.-wide agroecology effort.

Nearly 70 scientists and scholars of sustainable agriculture and food systems sent an open letter to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today, praising the organization for convening an International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. Given the multiple, overlapping challenges posed by continued food insecurity, rural poverty, climate change, drought and water scarcity, the letter calls for a solid commitment to agroecology from the international community.

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GMOs in China: Reading the tea leaves

Posted September 4, 2014 by Jim Harkness   

Used under creative commons license from shanidov.

 Rice terraces near the village of Dazhai.

The headline of last week’s Science Insider blog was eye-catching: “China pulls plug on genetically modified rice and corn.” (The RT version was even better: “End of the line: GMO production in China halted.”) What actually happened was far less dramatic or definitive. On August 17, biosafety permits for research on two strains of GM corn and one of GM rice expired and were not renewed by the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture. But exactly why this happened and what it means for the future of genetic engineering of food in China is uncertain. (This is being debated in the Chinese press.)

The apparent tightening of enforcement is not limited to GMO experiments. Since last fall, several large shipments of corn from the U.S. have been turned back on the grounds that they contained a Syngenta GE variety that has not been approved for sale in China.

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“Sustainable intensification” is unsustainable

Posted September 3, 2014 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from leisaworldnet.

Technicians and farmers discussing the results of sustainable intensification on a rice farm in Nepal.

In a new paper led by collaborators at Leuphana University Lueneburg (Germany) and just released in print in the scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology & the Environment, my colleagues and I question one of the buzzwords in international conversations about hunger and conserving the environment: sustainable intensification (SI). Explained briefly, sustainable intensification seeks to produce the most food, on the least land, with the lowest environmental impact.

SI has been the subject of a recent European Union report, proposals by  prominent scholars, and is a major theme area of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. SI is often seen by some experts as “key” to agriculture’s future, particularly in Africa, and has been the subject of a number of high-profile publications in some of the world’s top scientific journals. It is, in short, an idea on the rise.

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During extreme drought, farmers try for resiliency

Posted August 25, 2014

Struck by drought, the wheat fields at the Hixsons' farm are sparse and stunted

This entry is part of IATP's Story of Drought, examining the impacts, causes and perception of drought in the U.S. and around the world.

Lamar, Colo. – In a good year, the wheat on the Hixsons’ farm should stand waist high by mid-summer. This year, though, much of the crop isn’t even tall enough for the combine to harvest.

Jillane Hixson hasn’t seen regular rainfall since 2002. She and her two brothers, Ron and Eric, farm 3,000 acres of wheat here in southeast Colorado, the same land that their father farmed before them. After 12 years of drought, "The ground is just like brown flour," Hixson says. When the wind picks up, what was once soil coats her car, her windows, and even her counter tops.

"Every morning when you get up, the first thing you do is vacuum down the kitchen table and wipe down the coffee pot just to be able to make a cup of coffee," Hixson says. "You can't escape it."

With regular rain, the Hixsons harvest around 40 bushels of wheat an acre. This June, much of their land yielded merely four bushels an acre, or one-tenth that. The Hixsons’ crop insurance covers just enough for them to buy seed and fertilizer and try again, but it doesn’t pay anything near what a full harvest does.

"The insurance just barely lets you stay in business and actually keep borrowing more money," Hixson says. "You start this vicious cycle of borrowing and borrowing and borrowing in hopes that the weather cycle will change and the crops will come in."

All throughout eastern Colorado and western Kansas, farmers and ranchers are waiting for rain. “We’re in the midst of a prolonged drought,” says Duke Phillips, a Colorado rancher who manages cattle on about 200,000 acres. “Everybody is operating at deficiencies and praying for more.”

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Corporate wolves dressed as local sheep

Posted August 5, 2014 by Pete Huff   

Used under creative commons license from komunews.

Emily Towne, owner of the Full Plate Farm in Russellville, Mo., holds a sign against Amendment 1, Missouri's "right-to-farm" amendment.

Today, Missouri goes to the polls to decide—among other things—if they want to amend the state’s constitution to include what is being referred to as the “right to farm.” This debate has been a fiercely pitched and costly battle to enshrine a right that many farmers rightly assume they already have.

The National Agricultural Law Center notes on their website that “All fifty states have enacted right-to-farm laws that seek to protect qualifying farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations.” In short, farmers and ranchers everywhere, including Missouri, are protected from those who complain about their daily operations on the basis of comfort.

So why such an adamant fight for something redundant? The simple truth is that the proposed Amendment 1—which would ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices without infringement—has nothing to do with the protection of Missouri citizens at all. Despite the seemingly local origins of a measure to protect local farmers from “unreasonable regulations” and outside groups, the effort is nothing more than a national corporate wolf in a local sheep’s clothing. While the fate of Missouri will be known later today, it is important to understand the national context of fights like these.

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