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Posts Tagged ‘Sudan

Sevastopol, Kiev, Moscow and the West

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A soldier atop a Russian armored personnel carriers with a road sign reading 'Sevastopol - 32 kilometers, Yalta - 70 kilometers', near the town of Bakhchisarai, Ukraine, February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AP

A soldier atop a Russian armored personnel carriers with a road sign reading ‘Sevastopol – 32 kilometers, Yalta – 70 kilometers’, near the town of Bakhchisarai, Ukraine, February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AP

The grave and censorious tones being taken by the government of the USA and by the major economic powers of the European Union concerning the crisis in Ukraine ring out with stunning hypocrisy. It is with them – principally the United States of America and Germany – that the responsibility for the current crisis lies.

The governments of these countries and their allies systematically intervened, the object being to redirect popular dissatisfaction with the corrupt regime of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych so that ultra-right nationalist and fascist forces would be strengthened. The aim all along was regime change – a technique used to vicious efficiency in the Middle East – so that the plans for the isolation of Russia could be furthered.

There is no doubt, as emphasised by the International Committee of the Fourth International, that Russian president Vladimir Putin represents oligarchs who enriched themselves by plundering state industry following the dissolution of the USSR. “His regime is incapable of making any appeal to the Ukrainian working class or to progressive sentiment within the country. Instead, he seeks to whip up chauvinism both in Russia and eastern Ukraine, adding to the dangers of civil and sectarian warfare”.

However, the newest comments by the US Secretary of State John Kerry represent a new low in early 21st century international statecraft, for he possesses none. “What has already happened is a brazen act of aggression in violation of international law, in violation of the UN Charter, in violation of the Helsinki Final Act, in violation of the 1997 Ukraine-Russia basing agreement,” Kerry told American television news channels. “Russia has engaged in a military act of aggression against another country and it has huge risks. It’s a 19th century act in the 21st century.”

USA_John_Kerry_Ukraine

Who does this man think he is fooling? The bloody record of American ‘foreign policy’ speaks for itself. Over the past 25 years alone, the USA has invaded, bombed or overthrown governments in Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. It has carried out assassinations and cyber attacks against Iran and is intervening to overthrow the government of Syria. The USA has ignored all international charters and peace treaties, has ignored the UN and does not accept any nation’s right to sovereignty or territorial integrity.

Unsurprisingly, Kerry was not challenged by his interviewers to comment in terms of that statement on Washington’s own constant threats to use force and military invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The RT news network quoted Marcus Papadopoulos, a political commentator, as asking, “Since when does the United States government genuinely subscribe and defend the concept of sovereignty and territorial integrity? They certainly are not doing that at the moment in Syria. They certainly did not do that when they attacked Libya. They certainly didn’t do that when they invaded Iraq. They certainly didn’t do that when they attacked Serbia over Kosovo and then later on recognised Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.”

Boris Kagarlitsky, Director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements in Moscow, is a well-known international commentator on Russian politics and society. In 2014 January and February 2014 he wrote two commentaries – before the fall of the Viktor Yanukovich regime and subsequent events. They are published at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal and they offer insights into the Ukraine-Russia-Crimea crisis of 2014 February and March.

“Neither the authorities nor the opposition enjoy the support of the majority of the population, and more important, neither side has a programme that would give it any prospect of winning this support and of constructing a broad social base. The problem lies not only and not so much in the notorious antipathies of east and west in Ukraine, as in the absence even of any attempts to suggest a socio-economic program aimed at integrating society, improving the conditions of life, reducing unemployment and developing the economy,” Kagarlitsky had written.

In his view, on one side was the corrupt, irresponsible administration of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovich. And on the other were the nationalists and ultra-rightists, violent and aggressive, no less corrupt, and who in no way resemble democrats according to any understanding of the word.

Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport, Crimea, on February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AFP

Unidentified armed men patrol outside of Simferopol airport, Crimea, on February 28, 2014. Photo: Haaretz/AFP

It is against such a view of the Ukrainian mess (fostered by the European Union in collaboration with the USA) that the mounting alarms of the last few days ought to be seen. Already,there are reports of Russian leader Vladimir Putin having told US President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation that Moscow reserved the right to protect its own interests and those of Russian speakers in the event of violence breaking out in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.

And moreover that there are an estimated 675,000 Ukrainians who left for Russia in January and February, fearing the “revolutionary chaos” brewing in Ukraine, according to news reports quoting Russia’s Federal Border Guard Service. Russian officials have said they fear a growing humanitarian crisis and the Itar-Tass news agency cited the service as saying: “If ‘revolutionary chaos’ in Ukraine continues, hundreds of thousands of refugees will flow into bordering Russian regions.”

Why it has come to this becomes clearer from two recent interviews (published mid-February 2014) with members of the revolutionary left in Ukraine that shed light on the nature of the movement that overthrew the Viktor Yanukovich regime, and the attitude of the small Ukrainian left towards it. Excerpts of the interview were published by Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. The first is with ‘Denis’ from a Kiev branch of a revolutionary syndicalist group, the Autonomous Workers Union (reposted from Pratele Komunizace) and the second is with Ilya Budraitskis, a Moscow-based socialist in Kiev (translated by RS21).

There is also an excellent summary by Suhail Ilyas who has outlined the main actors and possible courses that events in the Ukraine can take over the week to come. This sort of summary id decidedly difficult to provide, given the paucity of credible sources from Kiev and the Crimea, and the confusing nature of the relationships between so many blocs. But it is more valuable by far than the attempts by the major western media networks who proffer this new conflict as a Russia vs the USA plus EU struggle.

The global transmission of high food prices-World Bank’s February evidence

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Higher global wheat prices have fed into sharp increases in domestic wheat prices in many countries, the February 2011 Food Price Watch of The World Bank has said. The transmission rate of global wheat price increases to the domestic price of wheat-related products has been high in many countries, according to the report. “For instance, between June 2010 and December 2010, the price of wheat increased by large amounts in Kyrgyzstan (54%), Bangladesh (45%), Tajikistan (37%), Mongolia (33%), Sri Lanka (31%), Azerbaijan (24%), Afghanistan (19%), Sudan (16%), and Pakistan (16%). Several of these countries have a large share of calories consumed from wheat-based products, particularly for the poor. Global food prices continue to rise, though not uniformly for all grains.”

The World Bank’s Food Price Watch is produced by the Bank’s Poverty Reduction And Equity Group, Poverty Reduction And Economic Management Network. The World Bank’s food price index rose by 15% between October 2010 and January 2011, is 29% above its level a year earlier, and only 3% below its June 2008 peak. A breakdown of the index shows that the grain price index remains 16% below its peak mainly due to relatively stable rice prices, which are significantly lower than in 2008. The increase over the last quarter is driven largely by increases in the price of sugar (20%), fats and oils (22%), wheat (20%), and maize (12%).

Maize prices have increased sharply and are affected by complex linkages with other markets. In January 2011, maize prices were about 73% higher than June 2010. These increases are due to a series of downward revisions of crop forecasts, low stocks (U.S. stocks-to-use ratio for 2010-11 is projected to be 5%, the lowest since 1995), the positive relationship between maize and wheat prices, and the use of corn for biofuels.

Ethanol production demand for corn increases as oil prices go up, with sugar-based ethanol less competitive at current sugar prices. Recent United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates show the share of ethanol for fuel rising from 31% of U.S. corn output in 2008-9 to a projected 40% in 2010-11. Increased demand for high fructose corn syrup from countries such as Mexico, as they substitute away from higher priced sugar, also contributes to higher demand for corn. Prospects of easing in this market depend partly on the size of the crops in Latin America, particularly Argentina, which has been affected by unusually dry weather due to the La Nina effect, and the extent of import demand from China in 2011 as well as oil and sugar price trajectories.

Domestic rice prices have risen sharply in some countries and remained steady in others. The domestic price of rice was significantly higher in Vietnam (46%) and Burundi (41%) between June–December 2010. Indonesia (19%), Bangladesh (19%), and Pakistan (19%) have increased in line with global prices. These Asian countries are large rice consumers, especially among the poor. Rice prices have increased in Vietnam despite good domestic harvests. This is primarily due to the depreciation of the currency, which has fuelled overall inflation and expectations of higher demand from large importers and led  to the minimum rice export price being raised by the Vietnamese government. Rice price increases in Sri Lanka (12%) and China (9%) have been relatively moderate in the second half of 2010, while in Cambodia and the Philippines the retail price of rice remained largely unchanged during this period.

Largest Movers in Domestic Prices, June to December 2010
Wheat
Kyrgyzstan (retail, Bishkek) 54%
Bangladesh (retail, national average) 45%
Tajikistan (retail, national average) 37%
Mongolia (retail, Ulaanbaatar) 33%
Sri Lanka (retail, Colombo) 31%
Azerbaijan (retail, national average) 24%
Afghanistan (retail, Kabul) 19%
Sudan (wholesale, Khartoum) 16%
Pakistan (retail, Lahore) 16%

Rice
Vietnam (retail, Dong Thap) 46%
Burundi (retail, Bujumbura) 41%
Bangladesh (retail, Dhaka) 19%
Pakistan (retail, Lahore) 19%
Indonesia (retail, national average) 19%
Mozambique (retail, Maputo) 14%

Beans
Burundi (retail, Bujumbura) 48%
Cameroon (retail, Yaounde) 43%
Uganda (wholesale, Kampala) 38%
Kenya (wholesale, Nairobi) 22%

Maize
Brazil (wholesale São Paulo) 56%
Argentina (wholesale, Rosario) 40%
Rwanda (wholesale, Kigali) 19%

State of Food Insecurity 2010 – FAO says too little, too timidly

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Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010The 2010 edition of the State of Food Insecurity says much too little and what it does say is unconvincing. There is a theme for this years edition of one of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) ‘flagship’ reports. The theme is “countries in protracted crisis” by which FAO means conflict and war, internal and external.

FAO doesn’t say so explicitly in the introduction to SOFI 2010 on its website. There’s no excuses for FAO not to when the World Food Programme, Oxfam, ActionAid and a number of international agencies and aid groups have done so, not just this year but for at least a decade.

As the world’s pre-eminent compiler of food and agriculture-related research, data and analysis, FAO ought to see itself as duty-bound to be clear and fair in its reportage but it is not.

SOFI 2010 says that the majority of the world’s undernourished people live in developing countries. Two-thirds live in just seven countries (Bangladesh, China, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia and Pakistan) and over 40% live in China and India alone.

The report says that “FAO’s projections for 2010 indicate that the number of undernourished people will decline in all developing regions, although with a different pace. The region with most undernourished people continues to be Asia and the Pacific, but with a 12% decline from 658 million in 2009 to 578 million, this region also accounts for most of the global improvement expected in 2010″. Where does FAO think this improvement is going to come from, given the fact that its own food price index shows how cereals have risen at a clip this year to match the rise in 2007?

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010Just as it did a month ago, the FAO is sounding like it is in two minds about what to report. SOFI 2010 says that “developing countries as a group have seen an overall setback in terms of the World Food Summit goal (from 827 million in 1990–92 to 906 million in 2010), while some progress has been made towards MDG 1 (with the prevalence of hunger declining from 20% undernourished in 1990–92 to 16% in 2010)”.

Which are the 22 countries covered by the ‘protracted crisis’ theme? Here they are, the numbers in total population in millions followed by number of undernourished in millions, both for 2005-07. (Why couldn’t these have been for 2009 in a report dated 2010?): Afghanistan (na / na), Angola (17.1 / 7.1), Burundi (7.6 / 4.7), Central African Republic (4.2 / 1.7), Chad (10.3 / 3.8), Congo (3.5 / 0.5), Côte d’Ivoire (19.7 / 2.8), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (23.6 / 7.8), Democratic Republic of the Congo (60.8 / 41.9), Eritrea (4.6 / 3.0), Ethiopia (76.6 / 31.6), Guinea (9.4 / 1.6), Haiti (9.6 / 5.5), Iraq (na / na), Kenya (36.8 / 11.2), Liberia (3.5 / 1.2), Sierra Leone (5.3 / 1.8), Somalia (na / na), Sudan (39.6 / 8.8), Tajikistan (6.6 / 2.0), Uganda (29.7 / 6.1), Zimbabwe (12.5 / 3.7).

SOFI 2010 says: “On average, the proportion of people who are undernourished is almost three times as high in countries in protracted crisis as in other developing countries (if countries in protracted crisis and China and India are excluded). Nonetheless, not all countries in protracted crisis present very high levels of undernourishment as in some of these countries crises are localized to certain areas or regions. There are approximately 166 million undernourished people in countries in protracted crisis – roughly 20% of the world’s undernourished people, or more than a third of the global total if China and India are excluded from the calculation.”

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) 2010The question, what happens when China and India are excluded from calculations? With the exclusions 130.4 million (China) and 237.7 million (India) fall out of the equations? Moreover, SOFI isn’t following it’s own data. The para above says 166 million (approx) undernourished in countries in ‘protracted crisis’ but the table annex shows that the 22 countries together have 146.8 million undernourished. If the larger number for the 22 countries is the 2009 estimate, then FAO could have used the same method to provide estimates for all countries for 2009.

When FAO recalculates its food price index monthly (the current index is up-to-date for September 2010) why are these estimates three years old? Why should China and India be excluded when they account for over a third of the global undernourished population? Last month FAO said that 925 million people in the world live in chronic hunger and explained that “the decline (from 1,020 million in 2009) was primarily attributable to better economic prospects in 2010 and the fall in food prices since mid-2008”. What fall in food prices? What better economic prospects?

The State of Food Insecurity 2010 is a disappointing and pedestrian effort. FAO ought to retract this version and revise it thoroughly without dwelling on themes like ‘protracted crisis’ and instead get to grips with the market- and economics-related reasons for food price spikes and the hunger they bring.

Global farmland grab and the shadow of the Soviet kolkhozes

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Peasant girl with rake, 1930s, Simon Fridland

Peasant girl with rake, 1930s, Simon Fridland

The World Bank has just released an interesting document called ‘Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can it Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits?’. It is presented as a response to the global farmland grab, reviews global trends of land expansion as well as empirical evidence on land acquisitions in 14 countries between 2004 and 2009: Brazil, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Liberia, Lao PDR, Mexico, Mozambique, Nigeria, Peru, Sudan, Ukraine, and Zambia. (I’ll post more on the study as soon as I can read it fully.)

The inclusion of Ukraine is interesting, primarily because of the country’s long history (as a Soviet republic) of collective farming, and also because of the horrific famine that engulfed Ukraine, the northern Caucasus, and the lower Volga River area almost 80 years ago, in 1932-1933, was the result of Joseph Stalin’s policy of collectivisation. This is also part of the region which suffered in the July 2010 fires that traumatised Russia.

The Bank’s study contains a few paras about the Soviet farming system which are worth reading closely, for they help explain the current wheat shortage in Russia and the responses of both Russia and Ukraine to the continuing wheat crisis.

Woman Collective Farmer, 1932, Simon Fridland

Woman Collective Farmer, 1932, Simon Fridland

Eastern European countries have undergone major transitions from the former Soviet system of collective and state farms to new agrarian structures (says the Bank’s section on Russia). These transitions have unfolded in many ways depending on countries’ factor endowment, the share of agriculture in the overall labour force, infrastructure, and the way the reforms were implemented. In areas of low population density, where collectives were divided into small plots allocated to members, the plots were quickly rented back by companies with access to finance and machinery.

These companies were often created from former collective farms whose managers could more easily consolidate land parcels and shares. Services, institutions, and logistics were geared to large-scale production, so smallholder grain production was never viable option. Where farms were land- and capital-intensive, corporate farming was the dominant organisational structure. On the other hand, many countries where land was split up into smallholder farms also performed well. The diversity is illustrated by the share of area under corporate farms 10 years after the transition, ranging from 90 percent in Slovakia, 60 percent in Kazakhstan, 45 percent in Russia, to less than 10 percent in Albania, Latvia. and Slovenia.

In Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan, the transition was associated with a 30 M ha decline in area sown, with most of that area returning to pastures or fallow. Large farms were better able to deal with the prevailing financing, infrastructure and technology constraints. Aided by the phasing out of an inefficient meat industry and the associated demand for grain as feed, the region turned from a grain deficit of 34 mt in the late 1980s to exports of more than 50 mt of grain and 7 mt of oilseeds and derivatives. In light of the scope for transfer of available technology, Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the region’s three land-abundant countries, have an opportunity to establish themselves as major players in global grain markets, especially if ways to effectively deal with volatility are found.

Farmer's first Spring. The Soviet region of Nizhnegorodsk's District, 1929, Arkadi Shishkin

Farmer's first Spring. The Soviet region of Nizhnegorodsk's District, 1929, Arkadi Shishkin

Given the slow development of markets, mergers to integrate vertically to help acquire inputs and market outputs led to the emergence of some very large companies. For example, in Russia, the 30 largest holdings farm 6.7 million ha, and in Ukraine, the largest 40 control 4 to 4.5 million ha. Many of the agricultural companies are home grown, though often with significant investment from abroad. Several have issued IPOs.

Some Western European companies have also invested directly in large-scale farming in the region. For example, Black Earth, a Swedish company, farms more than 300,000 ha in Russia. With greater demand and better logistics, there remains substantial potential for intensification and in some cases for area expansion. Cereal yields increased 38 percent from 1998-2000 to 2006-2008 but are still far below potential. For example, Ukraine’s cereal yields are 2.7 t/ha, some 40 percent of the Western European average. The potential to transfer technology and relatively cheap land has been one of the major motivations for foreign direct investment in the region.

In Russia land is either leased or owned, and in Ukraine. where private land sales are not allowed, all land is leased. usually for 5-25 years. But throughout the region, land rents are still very low relative to land of comparable quality in other parts of Europe. Competitive markets for land shares have yet to emerge. and in many situations imperfections in financial and output markets preclude own-cultivation as a viable option. So the bargaining power of landowners is often weak, suggesting that rental rates are low and that owners receive few of the benefits from large-scale cultivation.