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In Europe, a vote for the right to keep GM out

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The 'no' vote has given the European Parliament an excellent chance to improve EU legislation and give member states genuine tools to protect the environment and promote genuinely sustainable farming. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

The ‘no’ vote has given the European Parliament an excellent chance to improve EU legislation and give member states genuine tools to protect the environment and promote genuinely sustainable farming. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Members of the European Parliament have defeated a European Commission proposal to prevent member states from banning genetically modified crops on health and/or environmental grounds. The result of this vote means that national bans on GM crops, for environmental or health reasons, are allowed even if the EU approves genetically modified (GM) crops for cultivation.

The European Food and Safety Authority had approved GM for use in the EU, but a number of countries opposed to GM (like France) demanded the right to block crops under a principle known as ‘subsidiarity’, or devolution to individual countries.

The Greens/European Free Alliance has said that the vote by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) strengthens the grounds on which EU member countries could opt out from GMO authorisations under the proposed new system.

In a statement the Greens/European Free Alliance said: “No must mean no: countries wanting to opt out of GM authorisations must have a totally legally watertight framework for doing so. MEPs have also voted for the inclusion of mandatory measures to prevent the contamination of non-GM crops, with the myriad of issues this raises. The committee also rejected a proposal from EU governments, which would have obliged member states to directly request that corporations take them out of the scope of their GMO applications, before being allowed to opt out.”

However, the Greens are still very concerned that the new opt out scheme is a slippery slope for easing EU GMO authorisations and does not fundamentally change the flawed EU approval process in itself. Organisations, scientists, academics, political fronts and citizens’ alliances who do not want GM crop or food in their regions and countries nonetheless see an urgent need to reform the EU’s GMO authorisation process. On 03 November 2014, signatures from more than 160,000 European citizens were presented to the vice-chair of the Environment Committee calling on him to close these loopholes.

Eight EU countries have banned the cultivation of GM crops (others have not commercially grown such crops). The only crop permitted, Monsanto's GM maize, is restricted to some areas of Spain and four other countries. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Eight EU countries have banned the cultivation of GM crops (others have not commercially grown such crops). The only crop permitted, Monsanto’s GM maize, is restricted to some areas of Spain and four other countries. Image: Friends of the Earth Europe

Currently, authorisations proceed in spite of flawed risk assessments and the consistent opposition of a majority of EU member states in Council and, importantly, a clear majority of EU citizens. They have warned against a trade-off of easier EU authorisations against easier national bans. For the EU, the next step must be an EU-wide total ban and total rejection of GM crop, food, seed and technology in all its forms, otherwise the new proposal for EU GMO approvals is a Trojan horse which risks finally opening the door to GMOs despite citizens’ opposition, and which will keep open the route for GM/biotech companies to appeal against such bans (a route that European Greens and the many groups that have rejected GM want to shut once and for all).

Such a next step – which is the logical and moral next step for the European Parliament to take – is necessary to overturn completely the current arrangement which treats biotech companies and corporations at the same level as governments. Under the arrangement that existed till now (the ramifications of this week’s ‘no’ vote must still be examined) an EU member country which does not want GMO to be grown on its territory must request the biotech company (through the European Commission) that its territory be excluded from the geographical scope of the EU authorisation. Only if the country has applied for a ‘territorial exemption’ and been refused by the company is the country allowed to then implement a ban on GMO on its territory.

How utterly contemptuous of a country’s sovereign rights this arrangement was, and how it found its way into procedure illustrates dramatically the power and influence that the GM and biotech industry has come to wield in the EU – the decision of the geographical scope of an EU authorisation gave more weight to biotech/GM companies than to governments!

In the debate about GM crops, the argument that the biotech industry and their supporters always fall back on is that whether we like it or not, we are going to need them to feed the world. Genetic modification has, they assure us, the potential to produce crops with all sorts of wonderful traits: tolerance of drought, cold, salinity and flooding, resistance to insect pests, extra nutritional value, and more.

“But for the last 20 years, GM has singularly failed to convert that potential into reality,” the Institute for Science in Society has explained. “Almost all the GM crops grown have been modified to have one of two traits: tolerance of glyphosate-based herbicides and the ability to produce a Bt-toxin that can kill corn- and cotton pests. In the meantime, conventional breeding, often employing modern techniques such as marker-assisted breeding, has continued to deliver the goods. If our real goal is to feed the world, we should be taking resources away from GM and devoting them to other agricultural research that is less glamorous-sounding but more effective.”

Lured by dirty GM, Europe’s politicians betray public

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RG_GMO_quote_20140603Feckless EU politicians – the shallow brats of Brussels – have struck a deal between themselves and the agri-bio-technology corporations to sweep away the obstacles to genetically engineered crops in the European Union. This group, greasy fingers firmly in each other’s pocketbooks, want to allow (under limited circumstances, they say) individual EU member states to prohibit the growing of GMO crops on their territory, but to boost GMO crops in the EU overall.

The so-called “compromise pact” is likely to make it easier for the manufacturers of GM crops to win approval while allowing some countries to ban them. Not surprisingly, as the British government slavishly follows the White House line on every matter (except fish-and-chips), the deal was welcomed by Britain, which in a typically obsequious statement said it hoped the pact would allow for more rapid approval of GM crops in the EU.

Oddly, France’s agriculture ministry welcomed the “good news”, which coincided with a decision by the French constitutional court to uphold a domestic ban on GM maize. Just as oddly, Germany praised the deal for allowing “opt-outs”, saying it opened the way for a formal ban in Germany.

RG_EU_GMO_pact_201405This pact came following what is called an indicative vote of EU Member State representatives – taken in a closed meeting (obviously). A formal vote will take place at a meeting of Environment Ministers on June 12 and if agreed – very likely it will be – it will then go to the European Parliament for approval.

That approval (or not) may come in an environment riven by weaknesses in the EU’s GMO assessment and approval system and pro-GMO bias at the centre of the European Food safety Agency (EFSA). There has also been chronic failure to implement an EU-wide and rigorous co-existence and liability regime – to date the EU has only produced non-legally binding recommendations for co-existence (of GM and non-GM crops).

The significance of all this is that it breaks the political stalemate that has largely prevented GMO crops from being grown in the EU. The proposal is based on the deceit that both pro- and anti-GMO countries can have want they want, and the unity of the EU Single Market can remain intact.

This is nonsense because under the proposed terms:

* Before banning an approved GMO crop EU Member States have to seek agreement from GMO companies to having their product excluded from a specific territory.
* If the companies refuse, Member States can proceed with the ban but only on grounds that to do not go against the EU approval and assessment of health and environmental risk – which means that if the EU-wide assessment gives the nod to GM, the country must concur despite its own assessment and public opinion.
* EU Member States nevertheless still have specific grounds for a ban which can include aspects like protection of nature reserves, areas vulnerable to contamination, and socio-economic impacts. So EU ‘unity’ can be overridden, provided smaller and weaker EU members states assert that right.

Monsanto drops GM crop plans in Europe

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'Monsanocchio', by Raymond Burki, a Swiss cartoonist whose works are published in the Lausanne daily 24 heures. Courtesy: Presseurop

‘Monsanocchio’, by Raymond Burki, a Swiss cartoonist whose works are published in the Lausanne daily 24 heures. Courtesy: Presseurop

The signs have been gaining substance over the last two years. In western Europe (Britain excluded), citizens and independent researchers have demanded and end to GM food products. The support given to the seed-biotech-fertiliser conglomerates of the USA and Europe, by their governments has been well met by organised consumer awareness and resistance. It is no wonder then that these cartels have shifted the use of their tactics to Asia, where political establishments can be more easily influenced and where consumer awareness about the dreadful dangers of GM is generally lower than in western Europe.

Europe’s press is reporting that Monsanto, the fertiliser and biotechnology company, is withdrawing all permits requested to the European Commission to grow genetically modified corn, soy and sugar beet because it does not see “a commercial outlook” for these products (that’s what the public relations scoundrels call what we know and practice as informed consumer awareness).

German daily Die Welt reported that only a request to grow genetically modified corn (of the MON810 type) will be renewed. For the moment, this type of corn is the only genetically modified organism commercially cultivated in Europe, said Die Welt. While MON810 corn type is admitted into the EU, several countries including France, Germany and Italy have banned it at the national level, following citizen initiatives. Last year, German chemical firm BASF threw in the towel and relocated its biotechnology centre to the USA because genetic engineering is so strongly contested in Europe.

Monsanto has loudly insisted that its genetically modified products, including maize MON810, which is authorised in Europe, are safe for humans. It has an army of compromised ‘scientists’ on its payroll in every single country where it wants to push its GM products, and using its public relations agents has infiltrated media in every country that it sees as a market. But the evidence that GM is dangerous for humans and animals, for insects and plants alike grows by the day. A study conducted on rats for two years by a team of French researchers on Monsanto NK 603 corn revealed an abnormally high tumour and death rate – Monsanto’s own in-house studies, pushed out as counter-evidence by mercenary accomplices, were conducted for no more than three months!

Roadside shacks of people whose land has been taken over for soy fields in Alto Parana, Paraguay, which is among the South American countries with the most unequal land distribution. Paraguay has seen this situation escalate to the point where today, 2% of owners control 85% of the farmland. The regional situation is worse when one considers that the neighbouring countries – Brazil especially but also Argentina – are also experiencing land concentration for transgenic soybeans. Photo: Grain / Glyn Thomas / FoE

Roadside shacks of people whose land has been taken over for soy fields in Alto Parana, Paraguay, which is among the South American countries with the most unequal land distribution. Paraguay has seen this situation escalate to the point where today, 2% of owners control 85% of the farmland. The regional situation is worse when one considers that the neighbouring countries – Brazil especially but also Argentina – are also experiencing land concentration for transgenic soybeans. Photo: Grain / Glyn Thomas / FoE

Greenpeace noted the company will also seek to continue sales of its controversial MON810 maize, which was already approved in Europe and is the last remaining GM crop grown there. “The EU-wide authorisation for the cultivation of MON810 is expiring at the end of a ten-year period and the safety of the crop is due to be reassessed. The company is permitted to continue to use MON810 in Europe until the European Commission announces its decision,” stated Greenpeace.

The GM Freeze campaign welcomed Monsanto’s announcement that it is withdrawing pending applications to cultivate GM crops in the European Union but said this is not the end of Europe’s GM story. GM Freeze pointed out that Monsanto’s GM crops will still be imported into the EU, primarily for use in animal feed and biofuels, so the damage to ecosystems and human health caused by GM will continue elsewhere. The lack of labels on meat, eggs, dairy products and fish produced using GM feed means that Europe’s reliance on GM is hidden from consumers so they cannot easily avoid buying GM-fed products. Food companies should meet the clear demand for entirely non-GM foods by labelling those produced without GM, as is done successfully by many companies in Germany, Austria and France.

In tiresomely typical contrast, the government of the United Kingdom is to push the European Union to ease restrictions limiting the use of GM crops in the human food chain, reported The Independent. Britain’s Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is next week due to announce a UK government drive to increase Britain’s cultivation of GM foods! The newspaper said Britain’s ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. The government of Britain’s craven attempts to relax the rules will face opposition from countries like Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.

Forgetting their ‘commitments’ to get GM out of their supply chains, big British food retailers – Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and Tesco – have gone in the opposite direction. Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have joined Monsanto, Cargill and Nestle on the absurd Roundtable on Responsible Soy, a group that has been condemned by organisations around the world as a greenwash of existing bad practice in industrial soya monoculture. The Roundtable ‘certifies’ (judge and jury) GM soya as “responsible” despite growing evidence of adverse health, environmental and socioeconomic impacts in producer countries. Tesco is now backing GM soya production in South America, where it is grown in huge monocultures sprayed frequently with Roundup to the detriment of people and ecosystems there.

Tiffin: GM in China, land in Colombia, soya republic, the dodgiest food prize

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1) China is the world’s biggest grain producer and maintains a standing policy that forbids growing GM grain. But China does allow imports of certain GM products. In 2012, China imported over 58 million tons of soybeans – mostly genetically modified. Public opinions on GM crops in China are polarised, with a great number of people holding suspicions toward GM products.
Rao Yi, a professor and dean of Peking University’s School of Life Sciences, said that while some GM-related concerns still need to be discussed, there are also rumors that need to be dispelled. Domestically-grown soybean is scarce in China, as China’s imports of GM soybeans rocketed to 58 million tons from less than 3 million tons in 1997. Many farmers have abandoned soybeans for other crops, as imported soybeans are cheaper. GM technology is the future of agriculture, said Fang Zhouzi, a biochemist and vocal supporter of GM technology, adding that it will be harder for China “to catch up with the USA” if China does not recognize this fact.

2) Cargill, the world’s largest food company, has been secretly amassing land from small farmers in eastern Colombia, despite a law prohibiting the practice. When the two countries signed a free trade agreement last year, Cargill emerged as the owner of 52,574 hectares where it grows corn and soybeans. The small farms in the isolated high plains of Vichada department in eastern Colombia were given to poor peasants in the 1990s under a scheme to convert ‘wasteland’ in an area that had become a stronghold for the lucrative cocaine trade. Colombian law prohibits any one person or entity from owning more than one “agricultural family unit” of this land in an effort to diversify land ownership in a country where most land is owned by a small wealthy minority.

3) The profound impacts of the agribusiness model know no borders between rural and urban. In rural areas and outer suburbs they are measured in terms of agrotoxin poisoning, displaced farmers (who swell the ranks of the urban poor), ruined regional economies, correspondingly high urban food prices, and contamination of the food supply. Ultimately, what we are looking at is a social and environmental catastrophe settling like a plague over the entire region. Wherever you live, you cannot ignore it.
The handful of people and companies responsible for this chain of destruction have names: Monsanto and a few other biotech corporations (Syngenta, Bayer) leading the pack; large landowners and planting pools that control millions of hectares (Los Grobo, CRESUD, El Tejar, Maggi, and others); and the cartels that move grain around the world (Cargill, ADM, and Bunge). Not to mention the governments of each of these countries and their enthusiastic support for this model. To these should be added the many auxiliary businesses providing services, machinery, spraying, and inputs that have enriched themselves as a result of the model.
To put some numbers on the phenomenon, there are currently over 46 million ha of GE soy monoculture in the region. These are sprayed with over 600 million litres of glyphosate and are causing deforestation at a rate of at least 500,000 ha per year.

4) The 2013 World Food Prize has gone to three chemical company executives, including Monsanto executive vice president and chief technology officer, Robert Fraley, responsible for development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Yet, GMO seeds have not been designed to meet the Prize’s mandate and function in ways that actually impede progress toward the stated goals of the World Food Prize.
Almost twenty years after commercialisation of the first GMO seeds, by far the most widely used are not engineered to enhance nutrient content, but to produce a specific pesticide or to resist a proprietary herbicide, or a combination of these traits. Even in reducing weeds, the technology is failing, for it has led to herbicide-resistant “super weeds” now appearing on nearly half of American farms.
This award not only communicates a false connection between GMOs and solutions to hunger and agricultural degradation, but it also diverts attention from truly “nutritious and sustainable” agroecological approaches already proving effective, especially in the face of extreme weather. Developed and controlled by a handful of companies, genetically engineered seeds further the concentration of power and the extreme inequality at the root of this crisis of food inaccessibility.

Valuing the food we lose and throw away

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Worldwide, about one-third of all food produced, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages – harvesting, processing and distribution – while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain. Graphic: from FAO images

Worldwide, about one-third of all food produced, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems, according to data released by FAO. Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages – harvesting, processing and distribution – while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain. Graphic: from FAO images

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) together with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has begun a campaign to encourage simple actions by consumers and food retailers to cut the 1.3 billion tonnes of food lost or wasted every year.

“In industrialised regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption,” the Director-General of FAO, José Graziano da Silva, said. “This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world.”

Indeed this is the point. The industrialised agriculture and the attendant food retail and sales system is responsible – directly – for encouraging such consumer behaviour. If the FAO and UNEP are determined to follow the logic of their campaign, they must stop encouraging less industrialised countries to adopt the same systems of food production and sale.

They must also stop encouraging the genetically-modified crop industry from claiming that it is only GM seed that can feed growing populations. The answers to current hunger lie not in the ver greater use of technology and industry but in being far more responsible with growing food organically, eating it locally, using the small wastes in local nutrient cycles such as composting, and educating food consumers about how to do their bit.

The FAO head, da Silva, had added that the campaign can “help food producers to reduce losses through better harvesting, processing, storage, transport and marketing methods…” which is rather retrograde. It is the ‘betterness’ of harvesting, processing, storage, transport and marketing that has contributed greatly to this situation that the FAO and UNEP find intolerable.

The campaign itself has a wide variety of facts and advice and is well worth following.

Written by makanaka

January 22, 2013 at 20:48

For whom do the FAO and its director-general work?

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A farmer accompanies his cattle through the fields of Uttara Kannada district, in the state of Karnataka, south India.

A farmer accompanies his cattle through the fields of Uttara Kannada district, in the state of Karnataka, south India.

For farmers small and large?  For the tens of millions of food-consuming households, poor or just getting by?  For the governments and bureaucracies of small countries who want to import less and grow more?  For the organic cultivators on their small densely bio-diverse plots?  Or for the world’s large food production, trading, and retail corporations, whose influence is wide and whose power is vast? [This is an extract from the full article at Monthly Review’s MRZine.]

FAO director-general Jose Graziano da Silva

There is the continuing if travel-stained hope — held by so many of us, those who work at humble stations in the food and agriculture sector — that, of all those whom the director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO of the United Nations) does work for, it is not that last.  But, since 2011 June, when José Graziano da Silva became the head of the FAO, the signs have been otherwise, and they are growing stronger with each passing month.

What effect does this have on the way the 190-odd member states of the UN deal with agriculture and food, with nutrition and food security, with making food affordable?  A great deal.  These are questions the member states of the FAO (and of the UN) have faced since 1945, with the end of World War Two.  If you read this passage, it helps illustrate how little has changed from one point of view, and how much has, from another, far more insidious and destabilizing point of view:

. . . [S]ome of the basic problems that have afflicted humanity since the beginning of society remain unsolved.  Large parts of the world still suffer from hunger, and the threat of famine is ever present.  Today we are confronted by a new challenge in human history which, if not faced, could sweep away the little progress we have so far achieved — this is the upward surge of world population at a rate never experienced before.

That was the fourth director-general of the FAO, B. R. Sen of India, and he said these words during his inaugural address at the First African Regional Conference held in Lagos, Nigeria, on 3 November 1960.

Sen appealed “… to our Member Governments not only to discuss their problems, but also to avail themselves of the knowledge and skills FAO has acquired over many years in the fields of agricultural development and food production and distribution.”  He said: “While the increase of agricultural productivity must remain the sine qua non of economic development of the less developed regions, the importance of education, public health and institutional factors must be recognised in any plan of balanced economic development.”

The FAO 'real' food price index. What will a private sector 'political commitment' do to these trends?

The FAO ‘real’ food price index. What will a private sector ‘political commitment’ do to these trends?

As you see, it has been over 50 years and few of the deficits recorded then have been banished.  How could they have been?  In the years — the decades — since 1960, many a development theory has been advanced only to be discarded . . . but not before the worst of them were thrust upon poor folk and choiceless urban dwellers, as they are now.

Only the armory of the food giants today is far more potent than it ever has been.  And still more powerful will they become, if championed by the FAO as they currently are.  Graziano da Silva at the end of 2012 November said that the private sector can make an important contribution to the fight against poverty and hunger and promote sustainable food production and consumption.  Where did he say this?  At the FAO Headquarters, to participants whose associations represent more than five thousand companies, during the first in a series of planned dialogues on what the FAO is calling “private sector involvement in poverty- and hunger-reduction initiatives.”

This is deeply worrying.  Food companies, global grain traders, commodities exchanges, multi-national food retail chains, and large processed-food corporations have been using all the means they could muster to influence the FAO during the 2001-10 decade.  Now, under Graziano da Silva, the gates have opened wide in a manner that was still resisted during the tenure of his immediate predecessor, Jacques Diouf (1994-2011), and could hardly be countenanced during the tenure of Edouard Saouma (1976-1993).  What would those who came before — A. H. Boerma (1968-1975), B. R. Sen (1956-1967), P. V. Cardon (1954-1956), N. E. Dodd (1948-21), and J. B. Orr (1945-1948) — have thought of such a swerve marketward?

Indigenous and organic cereals displayed in Bangalore, Karnataka

Indigenous and organic cereals displayed in Bangalore, Karnataka

The signs came early.  In 2011 October, for the World Food Day of that year, Graziano da Silva in an article wrote of “boosting investments in agriculture and food security” but didn’t say whether he meant public investment or private.  What he did do was extol what he believes are the benefits of “boosting cash flows into economically stagnant rural communities,” as the FAO release of that day explained.  The director-general’s words were: “Cash transfers and cash-for-work programmes work in the same way as rain on dry soil, allowing these communities to bloom once again.”

It was a turn of metaphor that, when similarly used by him in an article about eleven months later, infuriated 109 farmers’ and peasants’ movements and associations.  Graziano da Silva and Suma Chakrabarti, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), wrote an article published in the Wall Street Journal on 6 September 2012.  In the article, they called on governments and social organizations to embrace the private sector as the main engine for global food production.

mrzine_logo“The language used by Graziano da Silva and Chakrabarti is offensive,” said the signatories to the common statement issued by the 109 organizations.  “Phrases like ‘fertilize this land with money’ or ‘make life easier for the world’s hungry’ call into question the FAO’s ability to do its job with the necessary rigor and independence from large agribusiness companies and fulfill the UN mandate to eradicate hunger and improve the living conditions of rural people.”[You can read the rest on MRZine.]

Written by makanaka

December 5, 2012 at 16:35

The hidden hunger that shames India

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Infochange India’s special hunger and malnutrition issue of its journal Agenda, 2012 July

Agenda, which is the journal of the excellent development news website Infochange India, has issued its new number, themed on hunger and malnutrition. The articles in this collection are a mix of reportage from amongst the poorest rural regions of India, insightful explorations into the nature of nutrition and the change in food systems, and critical views on food and agriculture policy in India.

“Forty-eight per cent of all children under 5 in India are stunted for their age – the impact of longstanding hunger which, in turn, is a result of sheer poverty, marginalisation and a government that clearly does not care,” explained the introductory essay by the issue editor. “Twenty per cent of children are wasted – they are stick-thin because a drought or other crisis has forced the family to further cut back on food. And an outrageous 43% of all children under 5 are underweight – a composite index of chronic or acute deprivation.”

Children in India are especially severely affected. The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme is supposed to address this extreme deprivation by providing supplementary food, rations and growth monitoring through community-level anganwadis for children under the age of six years. However, though a whopping 70% of children in India between six months and five years are anaemic, 74% of children under 6 do not receive any supplementary food from the anganwadi in their region. Convert those numbers into more than 100 million children who don’t get enough to eat.

I am privileged to have contributed three articles to this issue of Agenda. They are:

What individuals spend on a monthly food basket – Though the amounts spent on cereals are largely the same, there are clear differences between the spending of rural and urban consumers on milk and milk products, sugar and oil. Urban consumers spend 104% more than rural consumers on beverages, refreshments and processed foods.

Approaches to malnutrition and the writ of a compartmented government – The absence of inter-sectoral programmes covering the entire life-cycle of women and children in particular and requiring coordination between different ministries such as women and child development, health and family welfare, agriculture, food processing and human resource development, is the reason why, at the start of the Twelfth Five-Year Plan period (2012-17), the fundamental causes of malnutrition in India remain as they were during the First Five-Year Plan.

Micro, bio and packaged — how India’s nutrition mix is being reshaped – Crop and food multinationals, ably assisted by government, are using the ‘reduce hidden hunger’ platform to push hunger-busting technologies that best suit them — including biofortification of crops, the use of supplementation, and of commercial fortification of prepared and processed foods.

Climate debt and the Durban deception

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As African civil society, global South movements and international allies protested right through COP17 in Durban, South Africa. They rejected the call of many developed countries for a so-called 'Durban mandate' to launch new negotiations for a future climate framework. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

COP17 is over in Durban and some positions have now become clear. From a reading of the independent accounts of the negotiations and the long-winded statements issued by governments, this is what has happened:

1) Actual action to reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gases has been pushed back by years, probably five and maybe even 10. A new treaty will take several years to negotiate and a few more to get it ratified by enough countries so that it makes a difference. Even then, major polluters like the USA (especially the USA but also China, India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa) may not ratify it. We don’t know – since it wasn’t spelt out in Durban – that any new agreement won’t be a weak and useless ‘pledge and review’ system.

2) Developed countries want to end the Kyoto Protocol. But they also want to retain and expand parts of the Kyoto Protocol they like. This includes the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism). The European Union (EU) is most keen on this. By doing this they want to continue to transfer their responsibilities to developing countries. Since Durban ended with no legally binding emission reductions (under the expiring Kyoto Protocol or under any sort of successor to it) there is no rationale for any carbon market. But the big carbon brokers and traders of the EU want the carbon market, the continuation of the CDM and even the creation of new ‘market mechanisms’.

3) The hold of global finance and banking over climate negotiations is strong. The World Bank and the Global Climate Fund mean that any climate fund linked to a post-Kyoto deal will be managed by an anti-democratic entity that is responsible for much of the climate disruption and poverty in the world. The World Bank together with support from the European Union will block any attempt at participatory governance of such a fund. This means the Global Climate Fund will be set up to funnel more profits – under the guise of mitigation and adaptation – to the private sector.

This much is clear to me. That is why I see one more outcome:

4) Large and influential advocacy groups such as India’s Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) will support the position their government’s take even what that position is going to hurt the poor in the country. In a briefing titled ‘The final outcome of the Durban Conference on Climate Change’ the CSE provided its assessment:

Developed countries are committing themselves to reduce only 13 to 17 percent by the year 2020. This will lead the world to an increase in the temperature of more than four degrees Celsius. Photo: Orin Langelle/GJEP

“The Durban Conference is a turning point in the climate change negotiations as even though developing countries have won victories, these have come after much acrimony and fight. At Durban the world has agreed to urgent action, but now it is critical that this action to reduce emissions must be based on equity. India’s proposal on equity has been included in the work plan for the next conference. It is clear from this conference that the fight to reduce emissions effectively in an unequal world will be even more difficult in the years to come. But it is a conference which has put the issue of equity back into the negotiations. It is for this reason an important move ahead.”

But – COP17 saw no turning point, although India’s government and its media supporters are saying so at home. Developing countries have won no victories and the poor in those developing countries must bear the brunt of the environmental impacts of business as usual. There was no agreement to urgent action – in fact exactly the opposite. India has no proposal on equity – it has none at home and therefore none to offer any climate negotiations. There is no move ahead except for finance, carbon markets and tech transfer brokers.

That’s that, as I see it. Here is some material worth consulting to learn more about the ideas of equity and justice under the subject of climate change.

In Triple Crisis, Martin Khor wrote: “The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban ended on Sunday morning with the launch of negotiations for a new global climate deal to be completed in 2015. The new deal aims to ensure “the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties”, meaning that the countries should undertake deep Greenhouse Gas emissions cuts, or lower the growth rates of their emissions. It will take the form of either “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”. In a night of high drama, the European Union tried to pressurize India and China to agree to commit to a legally binding treaty such as a protocol, and to agree to cancel the term “legal outcome” from the list of three possible results, as they said this was too weak an option.”

In Project Syndicate, Mary Robinson, a former President of Ireland, is President of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Laureate, have written about climate justice:

“The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires at the end of 2012. So the European Union and the other Kyoto parties (the United States never ratified the agreement, and the Protocol’s terms asked little of China, India, and other emerging powers) must commit to a second commitment period, in order to ensure that this legal framework is maintained.”

“At the same time, all countries must acknowledge that extending the lifespan of the Kyoto Protocol will not solve the problem of climate change, and that a new or additional legal framework that covers all countries is needed. The Durban meeting must agree to initiate negotiations towards this end – with a view to concluding a new legal instrument by 2015 at the latest. All of this is not only possible, but also necessary, because the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy makes economic, social, and environmental sense. The problem is that making it happen requires political will, which, unfortunately, seems in short supply. Climate change is a matter of justice. The richest countries caused the problem, but it is the world’s poorest who are already suffering from its effects. In Durban, the international community must commit to righting that wrong.”

Protesters block the halls at the Durban International Conference Centre, December 9, 2011. Photo: Earth Negotiations Bulletin

In Real Climate Economics, Frank Ackerman said about the USA: “While others are not blameless, the United States is the leader of the do-nothings, the country whose inaction ensures a global climate stalemate. As long as the world’s largest economy, with the largest cumulative emissions and the greatest resources to tackle the climate crisis, refuses to act, others are not likely to move forward on their own. Yet there is not a snowball’s chance in Texas that any significant climate policy will survive the current U.S. Congress. Thus the global failure to protect the earth’s climate can be traced back to the dysfunctional state of American politics. With the Republicans increasingly committed to science denial and the Democrats unable or unwilling to challenge them, climate policy is going nowhere.”

Several more points on subjects that have much to do with climate change.

On technology – “The technology discussions have been hijacked by industrialised countries speaking on behalf of their transnational corporations”, said Silvia Ribeiro from the international organisation ETC Group. Critique of monopoly patents on technologies and the environmental, social and cultural evaluation of technologies have been taken out of the Durban outcome. Without addressing these fundamental concerns, the new technology mechanism will merely be a global marketing arm to increase the profit of transnational corporations by selling dangerous technologies to countries of the South, such as nanotechnology, synthetic biology or geoengineering technologies.

On agriculture – “The only way forward for agriculture is to support agro-ecological solutions, and to keep agriculture out of the carbon market”, said Alberto Gomez, North American Coordinator for La Via Campesina, the world’s largest movement of peasant farmers. “Corporate agribusiness, through its social, economic and cultural model of production, is one of the principal causes of climate change and increased hunger. We therefore reject free trade agreements, association agreements and all forms of the application of intellectual property rights to life, current technological packages (agrochemicals, genetic modification) and those that offer false solutions (biofuels, nanotechnology and climate smart agriculture) that only exacerbate the current crisis.”

According to Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s former ambassador to the UN and Bolivia’s former chief negotiator on climate change, "The USA blackmails developing countries. They cut aid when a developing country raises its hands and does discourse against their proposals. This happened to Bolivia two years ago: after Copenhagen, they cut aid of $3 million." Photo: Petermann/GJEP-GFC

On REDD + and forest carbon projects – “REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation)+ threatens the survival of Indigenous peoples and forest-dependent communities. Mounting evidence shows that Indigenous peoples are being subjected to violations of their rights as a result of the implementation of REDD+-type programs and policies”, declared the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities against REDD and for Life. Their statement, released during the first week of COP17, declares that “REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) promote the privatisation and commodification of forests, trees and air through carbon markets and offsets from forests, soils, agriculture and could even include the oceans. We denounce carbon markets as a hypocrisy that will not stop global warming.”

On the green economy – “We need a climate fund that provides finance for peoples of developing countries that is fully independent from undemocratic institutions like the World Bank. The bank has a long track record of financing projects that exacerbate climate disruption and poverty”, said Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South. “The fund is being hijacked by the rich countries, setting up the World Bank as interim trustee and providing direct access to money meant for developing countries to the private sector. It should be called the Greedy Corporate Fund!” Climate policy is making a radical shift towards the so-called “green economy”, dangerously reducing ethical commitments and historical responsibility to an economic calculation on cost-effectiveness, trade and investment opportunities. Mitigation and adaption should not be treated as a business nor have its financing conditioned by private sector and profit-oriented logic. Life is not for sale.

On climate debt – “Industrialised Northern countries are morally and legally obligated to repay their climate debt”, said Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Developed countries grew rich at the expense of the planet and the future all people by exploiting cheap coal and oil. They must pay for the resulting loss and damages, dramatically reduce emissions now, and financially support developing countries to shift to clean energy pathways.” Developed countries, in assuming their historical responsibility, must honour their climate debt in all its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective and scientific solution. The focus must not be only on financial compensation, but also on restorative justice, understood as the restitution of integrity to our Mother Earth and all its beings. We call on developed countries to commit themselves to action. Only this could perhaps rebuild the trust that has been broken and enable the process to move forward.

How the G20 ministers said ‘agriculture’ but meant ‘trade and commodities’

with one comment

Under the presidency of France, the G20 called a meeting of its member countries’ agriculture ministers to consider the food production and food price problems. They have releaed a “ministerial declaration”. This declaration is being called a “renewed commitment” to tackling hunger by part of the financial media, or is being called “weak” and a mere restating of positions by the more critical, or is being called an empty document full of vague promises and no reform by some activists.

Sandatu Kalug, 58, a lifetime rice farmer in Maguindanao Province lost his entire paddy crop to heavy flooding in June 2011. Photo: David Swanson/IRIN

In fact, it is a strong statement alright. It supports the current model of agri-business, of international investment in arable land, it supports the operations of the global agriculture commodity markets and trading systems, and it ensures that the flows of finance and capital between the world’s financial markets and the commodity markets will continue with less restrictions rather than more control.

All this is done in the name of small farmers and poor consumers. They have talked about a new global agriculture market information system (Amis) so that governments can share better data about the state of food stocks and global production. This is nonsense – it is the bankers, food traders, commodity funds, retail food industry and foodgrain exporters who will use this new knowledge and data. They imply that the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) will run the Amis and they will exploit the new data. Private sector players, such as the large grain traders for whom knowledge of stocks and harvests represent a key competitive advantage, are simply ‘urged’ to participate – they will, at a profit which further loots the urban and rural poor.

There are five main objectives the G20 ministers made commitments to. However, like earlier inter-governmental statements over the last few years concerning agricultural production and access to food, it’s always safer I find to consider what is being meant here.

If we look at the five objectives and take the first:
“i. improve agricultural production and productivity both in the short and long term in order to respond to a growing demand for agricultural commodities”

There is a growing demand for “agricultural commodities”. So investment and research and trade arrangements and enabling policy are to be deployed to help fulfil this kind of demand?

“ii. increase market information and transparency in order to better anchor expectations from governments and economic operators”

Do governments and “economic operators” (what are these? food traders? commodity funds? integrated retailers?) have the same kinds of expectations? Is better “market information and transparency” to benefit only government and “operators” or do food producers and consumers also require them?

To make best use of the land, the Jumma tribes of Bangladesh's CHT practise a form of ‘shifting cultivation’, growing food in small parts of their territory, before moving on to another area and allowing the land to recover. Photo: IRIN/Courtesy of Christian Erni/IWGIA

“iii. strengthen international policy coordination in order to enhance confidence in international markets and to prevent and respond to food market crises more efficiently”

Confidence in international markets may be a concern for governments and economic operators, but in what way are they essential for food producers and consumers, who have since late 2007 suffered through price spikes amplified by these same international markets? The implication here is that responses to “food market crises” can be provided by – among other measures such as policy direction – these markets, which I find troublesome especially given the evidence since 2007.

“iv. improve and develop risk management tools for governments, firms and farmers in order to build capacity to manage and mitigate the risks associated with food price volatility, in particular in the poorest countries”

What are these risk management tools? Are they commodity hedge funds? Are they trading agreement? Are they bilateral agreements and FTAs? Are they commodities exchanges? Who will wield these tools? In poor and the poorest countries farmers have little or no capacity to manage and mitigate existing risk – they surely cannot bear the additional risks brought about by price volatility, but in what way will these tools help and function?

“v. improve the functioning of agricultural commodities’ derivatives markets.”

To what end? Agricultural commodities derivatives markets tie up crop production and food-in-stock, but for whom do they do this? If the functioning of these markets is to be “improved”, who will benefit from this improvement? Will it be the smallholder farmer and if so in what way? How many farmers of the South are directly connected to the agricultural commodities derivatives markets as beneficiaries? Are consumer coops connected?

These are some questions that come to mind when reading these five objectives. I see that Sarkozy has stated, “”We all know that agricultural production is insufficient to meet demand”. This may be so, for certain crops in certain regions, but against the background of these five objectives, I have to question: demand from whom or what and to what end?

[See ‘The priorities of the agriculture G20’, Nicolas Sarkozy’s address at the G20 and you can get the G20 ministerial declaration here]

A vegetable seller waits for customers at the Wakulima market in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN

Here are a few sentences from paras 18 and 19 of the ‘ministerial declaration’:

“18. We commit to creating an enabling environment to encourage and increase public and private investment in agriculture. In particular, we stress the need to support public-private partnership on investments, based on a value-chain approach, for services (such as access to financial services, agricultural education and extension services), and for infrastructure and equipment for production (such as irrigation), for agroprocessing, for access to markets (such as transport, storage, communication) and for reducing pre and post-harvest losses.”

“19. We encourage countries, international organizations and the private sector to increase investment in developing countries agriculture, and in activities strongly linked to agricultural productivity growth, food security and generation of income in rural areas, such as agricultural institutions, extension services, cooperatives, research, roads, ports, cold chain, power, storage, irrigation systems, information and communication technology, climate change mitigation and adaptation. We also encourage them to enhance public-private partnerships in this field, in particular to improve market and value-chain operators’ cooperation and procurement from smallholders.”

This is a direct and unambiguous call for greater industrialisation of agriculture, for the strengthening of the tools of globalisation that have given rise to the agri commodity markets and products like derivatives, for the intensification of corporate R&D in agbiotech and with the support of national agricultural reseach systems in various countries – and at the likely cost of traditional knowledge and ecological approaches to cultivation. This sounds to me like an unambiguous statement of support for the food trading and food retail industries and their vast ‘verticals’ (as they call the integrative links these days), and finally for the systems of finance and banking that undergird the globalisation of food.