From north to south, Mexican farmers are facing some of the most severe climate instability they’ve ever confronted. The northern states are suffering from what the Mexican government has called the worst drought the country has ever experienced; rain just won’t fall, and the crops that have been planted have dried up. In the south, they’ve had year after year of devastating floods, the result of which has been devastating topsoil loss on the uniformly hilly terrain.
Elias Ventura, a small-holder corn farmer in the state of Oaxaca, told me about the hopelessness of this situation when we sat next to each other yesterday at the seminar IATP is co-hosting this week in Mexico City, “New Paradigms and Public Policies for Agriculture and Global Food Systems,” in advance of next week’s G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico. He said that he’s had either too much rain, or not enough, and that getting a good harvest under the unpredictable new weather extremes (that he said are the result of climate change) seemed like an impossibility. I asked him if the Mexican government provided any support when his crops failed and he gave me a resolute “No.” Not only would he be without the income that the crop would provide, but his community would have to adjust to a sharp decrease in food availability. This challenge Mexican farmers and rural communities face in the wake of climate change stands in stark contrast to the risk-management program the U.S. Senate has proposed for the 2012 Farm Bill, which would guarantee up to 90 percent of farmers’ revenue if crops fail or prices fall, but there are some similarities.
An article in Politico yesterday suggested that the introduction of more than 200 amendments to the Farm Bill on the Senate floor was part of a conservative strategy to “bait Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) into a confrontation that will ultimately kill the bill.” Aside from potentially upsetting Reid, the avalanche of amendments also makes it extremely difficult for citizens to track and weigh in on the type of Farm Bill they want. And maybe that’s another part of the amendment bomb strategy.
Senate leaders are working to winnow down the amendments to something manageable, and still hope to complete the bill by their July break. Last week, IATP sent a letter to Minnesota Senators outlining our priority amendments, including those focused on: a packer ban to restore competition in livestock markets, linking conservation to crop insurance, public research focused on crop diversity, rural development programs, and support for Beginning and Disadvantaged farmers.
Heated debates on equity of burden sharing and finance dominated much of the discussions at the UNFCCC negotiation in Bonn Germany. Within this broader debate, there is growing recognition of the urgent need to find new solutions to the challenges of agriculture and food security in the face of abrupt and violent climate events and slow-onset events, such as extended drought. IATP, ActionAid and the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance presented information at a side event on the scope of the challenges, and proposed work on agriculture that could be undertaken by UNFCCC. In the discussions on agriculture in the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), developing countries have repeatedly insisted that their priority is adaptation to climate change, particularly for agriculture.
ActionAid’s Harjeet Singh began by noting that in 2011 there were about 500 major weather events globally compared to an average of 120 a year during the 1980s. If the emphasis in work on agriculture under the UNFCCC becomes reducing greenhouse gases in agricultural activities of developing countries, as proposed by developed countries and the World Bank, climate risk and food insecurity will increase. Rather than using agriculture to create emissions offset credits for sale to developed countries, Parties should agree on how to adapt agriculture to climate change and invest accordingly.
Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Bonn, Germany, for the past two weeks. On the rather full agenda for the meeting was an exchange of views on agriculture, mandated by a decision taken last year at the 17th Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa.
The exchange of views was preceded by a submission process, where parties and observers were invited to submit their views on what might be discussed during the exchange. Contained in the views were proposals for how the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) might address the sector.
From the first meeting, parties were divided on how the SBSTA should address agriculture. While all Parties agreed to a framework based on the SBSTA mandate on scientific and technological matters, there was a division on whether the emphasis of future work should be on adaptation or on both adaptation and mitigation. Developed-country parties in particular were emphatic that both adaptation and mitigation should be covered, and that identification of synergies between adaptation and mitigation was an essential element of future work.
For example, developed countries early in the second week floated a proposal that would have SBSTA consider:
a) how to enhance the adaptation of agriculture to climate change impacts;
b) how to improve the efficiency and productivity of agricultural systems in a sustainable manner;
c) how to address synergies and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation.
In another display of Big Pharma’s political influence, the Obama Administration will appeal a court ruling that would have protected public health by withdrawing certain antibiotics from being used in animal feed. The decision to appeal the ruling (reported Friday), despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the overuse of these antibiotics poses a public health risk, is both deeply troubling and confusing.
In 1977, the FDA proposed withdrawing penicillins and tetracyclines from animal feed, but never acted. In late March of this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council won a court ruling to force the FDA to act, unless the antibiotic manufacturers can show these feed drugs are not contributing to the creation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
It’s widely recognized that antibiotics are declining in effectiveness, and everyone from the American Medical Association to the Center for Disease Control, USDA and the World Health Organization agrees that reckless use in agriculture is at least partly at fault for the increase in drug resistant infections in humans. FDA data on pharmaceutical sales shows 80 percent of all antibiotics in the US are sold for use in food animals—about three-quarters of which are added to animal feed for healthy animals to promote growth or control disease among flocks or herds under confinement conditions.
IATP's Jim Kleinschmit was recently interviewed by ARC2020, a multi-stakeholder platform, of over 150 organisations within 22 EU Member States working for reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They asked about his work, and the links between the U.S. Farm Bill and the CAP. Learn more about ARC2020 at www.arc2020.eu or read the interview below:
Last month, we received a visit from Jim Kleinschmit, Rural Communities Program Director at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA. We took the opportunity to ask him about his work, his organisation and the links between the US Farm Bill and Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy…
1. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in your work and what are the strongest images and/or influences that have been accompanying you?
I was fortunate to be raised on a farm in Northeast Nebraska by parents involved in the U.S. family farm and sustainable agriculture movement. Over the last twenty five years, my family has transitioned our farm from conventional dairy, livestock and crop production to organic crop and grass-fed beef production. Throughout our childhood and even today, my parents instilled in me and my siblings the importance of farming in society, the responsibility farmers have to protect and enhance soil and other natural resources, and the fact that our current farm policies are not working for farmers, the environment or society.
Many of us on staff at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy enjoy an occasional Chipotle burrito. Compared to other casual dining options, the company has done an outstanding job of sourcing antibiotic-free meat from farmers committed to the humane treatment of animals. We applaud its efforts to provide “food with integrity” and, of course, the touching “Back to the Start” video that depicts the life of a family farmer.
Yet despite these admirable efforts, we are disappointed by Chipotle’s blind spot when it comes to farmworkers. As mentioned in a previous post and illustrated in a video by IATP Food and Community Fellow Shalini Kantayya, the treatment of workers in Florida’s tomato fields is atrocious. Tomato harvesters are still paid by the piece, and the average piece rate today is 50 cents for every 32 pounds of tomatoes they pick, a rate that has remained virtually unchanged since 1980. As a result of that stagnation, a worker today must pick more than 2.25 TONS of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday—nearly twice the amount a worker had to pick to earn minimum wage thirty years ago, when the rate was 40 cents per bucket.
Effectively addressing this crisis is not easy. Federal labor policy has overtly ignored the plights of farmworkers, and any individual grower would price himself/herself out of business if they tried to institute better labor standards as an individual business.
“Antibiotic levels nearly nil” screams the headline from this article in the industry trade publication, National Hog Farmer. It was a piece of spin doctoring in response to IATP’s report earlier this month on the widespread and unregulated use of human antibiotics in ethanol production. Ethanol producers use antibiotics to control bacterial outbreaks during production, which can interfere with the fermentation process and lower ethanol yields.
Our report, “Bugs in the System,” made some basic points:
The industry has said nothing to refute points #1 and #3. They can’t. They are irrefutable. The process of antibiotic resistance is basic to microbiology. POET, the world’s largest ethanol producer, is certified antibiotic-free.
The multi-million dollar initiative known as AGree released their mission and strategies for transforming food and agriculture policy by 2030 last week. Despite a litany of plans and players involved, it’s still hard to know what to make of AGree.
AGree is the brainchild of nine foundations (with the Gates Foundation far and away the largest) that already fund a variety of initiatives of food and agriculture in the U.S. and around the world. They announced a year ago that they would combine forces and launch “an initiative designed to inform and address food and agriculture policy issues through the direct engagement of diverse groups” to “drive transformational change.”
AGree is led by four co-chairs including former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, and a diverse Advisory Committee that includes farmers of all sizes and types as well corporate giants like Cargill and DuPont. AGree has identified four interrelated challenges: meeting future demand for food; conserving and enhancing water, soil and habitat; improving nutrition and public health; and strengthening farms, workers and communities. And last week, AGree announced their five strategic priorities to take on these challenges:
Earlier this month as the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development was hosting one of the last meetings to bring out a final draft for the negotiations in Rio de Janeiro, I came across a flurry of reports issued by various entities, including the one by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), entitled Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21) Report for Rio+20, which will serve as a roadmap during the Rio+20 conference this June. (In all fairness, I should mention that IATP contributed to the component of this report entitled, “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability.”) While all of these reports focus on sustainability, the call for sustainability in the agricultural sector is worth our attention for the simple reason that it is where one of the most crucial fights for world’s resources is taking place.