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Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Posts Tagged ‘Doha

What the WTO-FAO alliance on food portends

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Campaign material by GRAIN and Via Campesina to stop seed laws that criminalise farmers and to defend local seeds.

Campaign material by GRAIN and Via Campesina to stop seed laws that criminalise farmers and to defend local seeds.

A convergence that the agri-business multinationals have long looked for is now beginning. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation – whose constitution includes “bettering the condition of rural populations” as one of its four main purposes – has joined forces with the World Trade Organisation, whose concern for rural populations is precisely zero.

Both organisations call it a collaboration, but that term is a smokescreen. The FAO is technically being run under the supervision of its eighth director-general (since 1948; their tenures are far too long and Asian and South American members especially ought to have corrected this error long ago). José Graziano da Silva, the number eight, has since 2013 increased the pace at which the FAO also collaborates with the private sector – which means the international grain traders, the agricultural commodity cartels, the food and beverage multi-nationals, and last but not least the exceedingly powerful agricultural biotechnology corporations.

The WTO has described the new alliance as a “step up” on the issue of “trade and food security, as well as other issues”. The first item of collaboration by the trade body with the FAO will be to participate in the annual State of Agricultural Commodity Markets report, which this year will focus on trade and food security, and which the WTO has mischievously described as “the FAO’s flagship publication”. It isn’t, for the FAO’s State of Food and Agriculture is the flagship report, but that misappellation is a sign of the changes to come.

Grain_defend-local-seeds_201503_2What is being sought, from the WTO point of view, is “evidence and greater clarity on a range of issues related to trade and food security”. This is ingenuous, for the WTO’s ‘greater clarity’ has only meant more trade, justified with make-believe macro-economical models that pretend trade is good for low income consumers and smallholder farm producers alike, and to ignore ground truth. For the FAO on the other hand, ‘greater clarity’ on the question of food and trade has long been available in-house in the form of the food balance sheets maintained for every country in FAOstat, which is the voluminous FAO database.

But the tone is being set by the WTO, which has said: “Considering the important role of open and strengthened food markets in supporting food security objectives, the two directors-general discussed how trade and the multilateral trading system could help in creating a more favourable global environment for food security and sustainable agriculture.” It obviously doesn’t occur to WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo and his secretariat that ‘the multilateral trading system’ and ‘sustainable agriculture’ are fundamentally incompatible.

The FAO’s description of its new alliance is couched in milder terms. The organisation has said the collaboration offers “mutual assistance on critical themes such as the functioning of international grain markets” but also invokes “evidence and greater clarity” on “the governance of trade flows and the pursuit of broader food security”. FAO has resorted to using the non sequitur that food security is closely linked to trade and therefore this alliance is important. As with the WTO, internal contradictions don’t matter – if FAO is discussing smallholder family farms, then food security doesn’t include trade; if FAO is discussing organic cultivation, then food security doesn’t include trade. But under an alliance with WTO, unquestionably it does.

Grain_defend-local-seeds_201503_1FAO Director-general José Graziano da Silva has insisted that “food security and trade can together play a very important role to help fulfil FAO’s mandate”. What part of the mandate could be ‘helped’ by this alliance? The FAO member states are committed under its constitution to (1) raising levels of nutrition and standards of living of the peoples under their respective jurisdictions; (2) securing improvements in the efficiency of the production and distribution of all food and agricultural products; (3) bettering the condition of rural populations; and (4) contributing towards an expanding world economy and ensuring humanity’s freedom from hunger.

If called upon to do so by FAO member states – and I wish the G77 would summon up the critical voice to do so – the new alliance will probably be explained by the WTO and FAO as helping to fulfil the second and fourth objectives. Thus ‘improving the distribution’ of food and contributing to ‘expanding the world economy’ is what the alliance will use to show that the FAO’s mandated objectives (problematic as hey are already) are being followed.

What could the immediate implications be of the WTO now having a hand in setting the FAO’s ‘development’ agenda concerning the production of food staples and their use? Here is a short list:

1. The FAO overtly supporting the push, through the WTO, by the USA and other major grain exporting countries, for developing countries to increase their ‘trade facilitation’ measures – which means their physical and policy readiness to receive grain and manufactured food, no matter what the cost is locally.

2. This push will become stronger and energetic very quickly. So far, the Bali decision on public stockholding for food security purposes is to remain in place until a permanent solution is agreed and adopted. The WTO, the USA and the European Union want negotiations (which in their parlance means that all other countries accept their proposal) to be agreed to and adopted by 31 December 2015.

3. The new WTO-FAO alliance will immediately start exerting pressure on India, countries of the South and the G77 on Bali decisions concerning agriculture: tariff-rate quota administration, export competition and phasing out of cotton subsidies.

4. The FAO using trade-related arguments to defend the unacceptable biases in the existing WTO Agreement on Agriculture, and to beat down the developing countries stand (taken at the Bali ministerial meeting of the WTO in 2013) on the issue of public food reserves for food security.

5. The WTO using the FAO’s long experience in the field to sharpen its attack on the public food reserves systems of developing countries – which the US Trade Representative and its allies in the OECD calls ‘trade distorting’ – so that the socio-ecological institution of the smallholder farmer, and family farms, are done away with.


The four degree doom

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Conducted by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and Climate Analytics in Berlin, the report, ‘Turn Down The Heat’, released this month just before the next round of climate change negotiations begin in Doha, Qatar, discusses bluntly the frightening risks of a future without climate policy.

There are several sharp and extremely urgent messages for politicians and policy-makers alike in the Potsdam report. Politicians, whether in the OECD countries or in the BRICS or in the G20, have proven themselves time and again, year after year, to favour the enrichment of themselves and their constituencies over any consideration of a shared planet and a cooperative future. What do we have left? Policy-makers, bureaucrats, NGO and community representatives and hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens in our countries, and so it becomes necessary that these are the people who read and digest what Potsdam has had to say.

What does the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics have to say? “Humankind’s emissions of greenhouse gases are breaking new records every year. Hence we’re on a path towards 4-degree global warming probably as soon as by the end of this century. This would mean a world of risks beyond the experience of our civilisation – including heat waves, especially in the tropics, a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people, and regional yield failures impacting global food security.”

As usual, it is the poorest in the world are those that will be hit hardest, the researchers conclude, making development without climate policy almost impossible. But we have to ask – how possible is it with the current apology of climate policy? What is popularly called the “global community” by the world’s mainstream media (most of which is owned by corporations, politicians or both) is considered to have committed to holding warming below 2°C to prevent “dangerous” climate change. This is rubbish, and the Potsdam report all but says so: “The sum total of current policies – in place and pledged – will very likely lead to warming far in excess of this level. Indeed, present emission trends put the world plausibly on a path toward 4°C warming within this century.”

The increase in total ocean heat content from the surface to 2000 m, based on running five-year analyses. Reference period is 1955–2006. The black line shows the increasing heat content at depth (700 to 2000 m), illustrating a significant and rising trend, while most of the heat remains in the top 700 m of the ocean. Vertical bars and shaded area represent +/–2 standard deviations about the five-year estimate for respective depths. Chart: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

As I am intimately concerned with agriculture and food and therefore the effects of a changing climate upon them, I turned to that section of the ‘Turn Down The Heat’ report (get the pdf here). The Potsdam researchers said that projections for food and agriculture over the 21st century indicate substantial challenges irrespective of climate change. They added: “As early as 2050, the world’s population is expected to reach about 9 billion people and demand for food is expected to increase accordingly.”

Here I found the first problem, and that indicated yet again that the climate scientists are good at modelling climate, but bad at understanding how the food system (not the natural one, the corporate one) actually works. What is more correct in my view is that primary agricultural produce at current levels is enough to feed a growing population for the next two generations provided (1) food crops such as maize are not grown to provide biofuel, (2) meat in all its hideous factory-farmed forms is drastically reduced in all agro-ecological regions, (3) the huge inventories held by the regional and global food processing and food retail industries are drastically cut down (that their businesses are shut down).

The Potsdam report continued that “based on the observed relationship between per capita GDP and per capita demand for crop calories (human consumption, feed crops, fish production and losses during food production)” it is reasonable (from the evidence it cites) to “project a global increase in the demand for crops by about 100 percent from 2005 to 2050”. It mentions “other estimates for the same period project a 70 percent increase of demand” and that “several projections suggest that global cereal and livestock production may need to increase by between 60 and 100 percent to 2050, depending on the warming scenario”.

Here I found the second problem. What is meant by these expert reports when they talk about the relationship between per capita GDP and per capita demand for crop calories? Beyond a localised recommended daily dietary allowance designed to provide proper nutrition, extra consumption of food calories (and protein and fats and sugar and micro-nutrients) can no longer be seen as expected to rise in parallel with rising income (where is income rising in real terms anyway, my thermometric friends, other than for the 1% who are causing most of this trouble in the first place?). The reform of diet and the return of local slow food is the answer to those complex, altogether unnecessary equations that posit 40%, 50%, 70% or 100% increases in food production over X, Y or Z years.

Then, the Potsdam report goes on to say that “the historical context can on the one hand provide reassurance that despite growing population, food production has been able to increase to keep pace with demand and that despite occasional fluctuations, food prices generally stabilise or decrease in real terms”.

Here I found the third problem and it is, as the more laid-back of Americans tend to say, it’s a doozy. What’s the historical context? Is it the Green Revolution by any chance? Is it the mutation of hybrid agri into bio-tech agri? Considering that the climate scientists are the ones who are very familiar with the gases now crowding our atmosphere, have they not made the connection between industrial, synthetic, high-external input agriculture and the nitrification of the atmosphere they’re so good at measuring? I’ll bet they are, so how can they point to the relentless growth of primary crop tonnage as a “reassurance” when it’s in fact the opposite?

That’s my quick reaction to the food growth part of what they have said. As for “food prices generally stabilise or decrease in real terms”, clearly they don’t consult even the mild-mannered FAO food price index, which has entered in 2012 November yet another month of its high plateau which makes it the longest sustained maintenance of elevated food price index since it began. The climate scientists are good at climate, but they surely need a crash course in understanding how the corporations and their patrons, those pesky politicians who are preparing for another jaw-jaw in Doha, exploit climate change for profit, and that includes making an extra penny out of a kilo of wheat flour, never mind the weather outside.

Written by makanaka

November 24, 2012 at 17:05

Why the West wants to wreck UNCTAD

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How much damage do the financial and ruling elites of the western power blocs think they can get away with? A great deal, it is clear, judging from the stoutness of the defences raised to protect the UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and its analytical mandate.

One of the less conspicuous UN agencies, UNCTAD was set up in 1964 to support developing countries to strengthen their weak position in international economic structures, and to design national development strategies. As Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, explained, it became a kind of secretariat on behalf of developing countries, providing a small pro-development balance to the huge organisations dominated by the developed countries, such as the OECD, the IMF and World Bank.

In the past 20 years, the developed countries (OECD) have tried to curb the pro-South orientation of the UNCTAD secretariat and its many reports. The inter-governmental discussions became less significant, while UNCTAD’s pro-development mission was increasingly challenged by the developed countries.

What is this mission? UNCTAD says it promotes the development-friendly integration of developing countries into the world economy, that it has progressively evolved into an authoritative knowledge-based institution whose work aims to help shape current policy debates and thinking on development, with a particular focus on ensuring that domestic policies and international action are mutually supportive in bringing about sustainable development.

Note the stress on development, and not market, not trade and not finance. This is the problem for those who would seek to scuttle UNCTAD. It is a trend that seemed to have subsided in the past decade, but in the past two months, the meetings in Geneva to prepare for UNCTAD XIII, some developed countries have reportedly attempted to dilute the areas of future work of UNCTAD, to the frustration of the G77 and China.

Hence the statement, which is now widely available on the internet, by civil society organisations which have gathered in Doha, Qatar, for UNCTAD XIII meeting (21-26 April), which has said:

“The importance of UNCTAD’s work has been highlighted by the global financial and economic crisis and its continuing catastrophic effects on peoples and economies. Over the years while the Bretton Woods twins led the cheerleading for unbridled liberalisation and deregulation of markets and finances which produced the crisis, UNCTAD’s analysis consistently pointed out the dangers of these policies. The economic turmoil provoked by the crisis makes UNCTAD’s mandate and work even more relevant.”

“CSOs in Doha demand that UNCTAD’s crucial research and analytical work especially on 1) the global financial crisis, and 2) other development challenges including those arising from globalisation be maintained. UNCTAD serves as an important countervailing forum where the interests of developing countries can be paramount when trade, development and interrelated issues are being discussed. This value and its proven track record is why the attack on UNCTAD’s mandate has to be resisted.”

The CSOs in Doha are concerned that group of countries which includes Japan, USA, Switzerland, Canada, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and which also includes the European Union (EU) are so opposed to UNCTAD’s vital analytical and advisory work on finance and responses to the crisis that they are refusing to even reaffirm UNCTAD’s mandate as agreed in Accra.

What is clear is that this group now sees UNCTAD’s work as a global defence against the effects of new economic policies, which in their many mutations have since the early 1980s heaped unspeakable misery on hundreds of millions around the world, in the South. These policies, as UNCTAD has also helped show, have led directly and indirectly to pervasive and chronic economic inequality, insecurity, unemployment and under-employment, casualisation, informalisation, a heightened level of labour exploitation, the emasculation of protective factory acts and labour laws.

That is why the civil society organisations present in Doha for UNCTAD XIII contrasted the interest the major powers have shown in strengthening the IMF and World Bank (and in using bodies of questionable accountability such as the G20 to block truly multilateral responses to the crisis of neoliberalism) with their negative attitude to UNCTAD. They noted that the IMF and World Bank continue to peddle policies which caused and have been discredited by the crisis. And they have demanded that the OECD-oriented group of would-be UNCTAD wreckers keep their hands off the organisation.

Written by makanaka

April 20, 2012 at 17:49