Resources Research

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

Posts Tagged ‘UN

The deadly threat of gene drives

leave a comment »

The UN Biodiversity Conference began on 13 November 2018 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and until its close on 29 November will call on decision makers from more than 190 countries to step up efforts to “halt biodiversity loss and protect the ecosystems that support food and water security and health for billions of people”.

On 17 November, the Conference of Parties to the Cartagena Protocol of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity begins. On the agenda is a vital subject that has been moved to the centre of the meeting’s deliberations: a technology called ‘gene drives’. This part of the UN Biodiversity Conference will discuss several key draft decisions about the risks it poses and how to deal with them, including through a moratorium on the technology.

What are ‘gene drives’? Gene drive organisms are supposed to ‘force’ one or more genetic traits onto future generations of their own species. The term for gene drives used by French scientists, ‘Forçage Génétique’ (genetic forcer) makes the intention clear: to force an engineered genetic change through an entire population or even an entire species. If permitted, such organisms could accelerate the distribution of corporate-engineered genes from the lab to the rest of the living world at dizzying speed and in an irreversible process.

As a must-read explainer of this menacing new technology, prepared by the ETC Group and the Heinrich Böll Stiftung, has put it, such organisms “are designed, over time, to replace non-gene drive organisms of the same species in a population via an uncontrolled chain reaction – this ability may make them a far more dangerous biohazard than genetically modified organisms (GMOs)”. [The report, released in October 2018, is ‘Forcing The Farm: How Gene Drive Organisms Could Entrench Industrial Agriculture and Threaten Food Sovereignty’.]

Recently, a study by the Bundesamt für Naturschutz, which is the central scientific authority of the German federal government for both national and international nature conservation, warned that “with gene drives, GMO applications are moving directly from crop plants to modifying wild species. Major consequences on semi-natural and natural ecosystems are expected.” The research concludes that “a clear understanding
and analysis of these differences is crucial for any risk assessment regime and a socially acceptable and
ethical evaluation that is vital for the application of [GDO] technology”.

More pertinent to the current model of the transnational cartelisation of industrial agricultre, a group of French researchers recently concluded: “The time frame of gene drive perfectly fits the economic development strategies dominant today in agribusiness, with a focus on short-term return on investments and disdain for long-term issues. The current economic system based on productivity, yields, monoculture, and extractivism is a perfect match for the operating mode of gene drive.” [From ‘Agricultural pest control with CRISPR‐based gene drive: time for public debate’ by Virginie Courtier‐Orgogozo, Baptiste Morizot and Christophe Boëte in EMBO Reports.]

Reading these warnings helps form better clarity about what GDOs are and are not. From what I have been able to understand, normal reproductive biology gives the offspring of sexually reproducing organisms a 50:50 chance of inheriting a gene from their parents. The gene drives however is an invasive technology to ensure that within a few generations, all that organisms offspring will contain an engineered gene!

Why the phase shift from the already dangerous GMO to the threatening of an entire species by GDO? Thanks to rising consumer awareness of the dangers of GMO food crops, vegetables and fruit – which is now visible even in India (a generation-and-a-half later than Europe) where the central and state governments have put not a rupee into educating consumers about pesticide and synthetic fertiliser poisoning, let alone GMOs) – the uptake of GMOs is levelling off as the predicted risks have become evident, such as the intensification of the treadmill of increased use of toxic chemicals. The so-called ‘gene editing’ techniques, and particularly GDOs, has given the industrial agriculture-biotech-seed multinational corporations a strategy to regain the pace of their domination of food cultivation and therefore food control.

Recognising the extreme danger, the UN Biodiversity Conference which is now under way in Egypt, and particularly the part of the conference beginning on 17 November which is the Conference of Parties to the Cartagena Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), have placed gene drives on the agenda. [The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement which aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health. It was adopted on 29 January 2000 and entered into force on 11 September 2003.]

The meeting will discuss, under ‘Risk assessment and risk management’ (which are Articles 15 and 16 of the Protocol) draft decisions on gene drives and, we must hope, take them while imposing a moratorium on this evil technology. [Draft decision document CBD/CP/MOP/9/1/ADD2]. The draft decisions are:

3. Also recognises that, as there could be potential adverse effects arising from organisms containing engineered gene drives, before these organisms are considered for release into the environment, research and analysis are needed, and specific guidance may be useful, to support case-by-case risk assessment;

4.Notes the conclusions of the Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology that, given the current uncertainties regarding engineered gene drives, the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples and local communities might be warranted when considering the possible release of organisms containing engineered gene drives that may impact their traditional knowledge, innovation, practices, livelihood and use of land and water;

5. Calls for broad international cooperation, knowledge sharing and capacity-building to support, inter alia, Parties in assessing the potential adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity from [living modified organisms produced through genome editing,] living modified organisms containing engineered gene drives and living modified fish, taking into account risks to human health, the value of biodiversity to indigenous peoples and local communities, and relevant experiences of individual countries in performing risk assessment of such organisms in accordance with annex III of the Cartagena Protocol;

The concerns of the CBD and the warnings of scientists have been entirely ignored by the agricultural biotechnology corporations and by the inter-connected funding organisations and research groups engaged in synthetic biology. As the report, ‘Forcing The Farm’, has said, multimillion-dollar grants for gene drive development have been given by Gates Foundation, the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, the Open Philanthropy Institute, the Wellcome Trust and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. These include generous allowances for what is called ‘public message testing’ and ‘public engagement exercises’ – making GDOs sound beneficial to society and glossing over the dangers – and lobbying of governments and policy-makers.

What is particularly worrying for us in India is the role of the Tata Trusts in financing research on GDOs. In 2016 October an American university, the University of California San Diego, received a US$70 million commitment from the Tata Trusts (which now is the umbrella organisation for what earlier were the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and the Tata Education and Development Trust, and in terms of funding capacity is probably the largest in India) to establish the Tata Institute for Active Genetics and Society (TIAGS).

This new institute is described as a collaborative partnership between the university and research operations in India. A university press release had said: “UC San Diego, which will be home to the lead unit of the institute (TIAGS-UC San Diego), will receive US$35 million in funding, while the remainder of the committed funds is anticipated to support a complementary research enterprise in India (TIAGS-India).”

India is a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity (signed 23/01/2001, ratified 17/01/2003, entered into force 11/09/2003) and its reporting to the Protocol on risk assessments of GMOs (which have officially not been used on food crops) has been worse than desultory – the five risk assessments submitted by India are all in 2012 for Bt cotton hybrids.

The shameful co-option of the statutory Genetic Engineering Approval Committee by India’s biotech companies, which was fully revealed in 2016 during the furore over the Committee’s bid to have GM mustard approved, has shown that the entire biosafety assessment process in India and its ability to actually protect our environment and citizens’ health from the profoundly menacing risks of biotechnology, is compromised.

The Gates Foundation, which has graduated from influencing central and state government policy in health and agriculture to becoming an implementing agency, and which has invested heavily in synthetic biotechnology and GDOs (such as ‘Target Malaria’, which uses gene drives against mosquitoes) is now collaborating with the Tata Trusts in health, nutrition and crop cultivation together with the American aid agency USaid and other foundations that claim philanthropic intentions. The risks to our agro-ecological methods, our local crop cultivation knowledge, our food and our public healthcare system have now become far more threatening.

Environmental law and the dharmic principle

leave a comment »

RG_tree_om_blog_20160829The recent history of “global” approaches to the environment has shown that they began full of contradictions and misunderstandings, which have continued to proliferate under a veneer of internationalisation. To provide but a very brief roster, there was in the 1970s the “Club of Rome” reports, as well as the United Nations Conference on Human Environment in 1972 (which produced the so-called Stockholm Declaration). In 1992, the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro) was held and was pompously called the “Earth Summit,” where something called a “global community” adopted an “Agenda 21.” With very much less fanfare also in 1992 came the Convention on Biological Diversity, and signing countries were obliged to “conserve and sustainably manage their biological resources through global agreement,” an operational conundrum when said resources are national and not international.

In 2000 came the “Millennium Summit,” at which were unveiled the Millennium Development Goals, which successfully incubated the industry of international development but had almost nothing to do with the mundane practice of local development. In 2015 came the UN Sustainable Development Summit, which released a shinier, heftier, more thrillingly complex list of sustainable development goals. During the years in between, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its associated satellite meetings (three or four a year) spun through every calendar year like a merry-go-round (it is 22 years old, and the very global CO2 measure for PPM, or parts per million, has crossed 400).

The visarjan (immersion) of Shri Ganesh. The idol is accompanied by huge crowds in Mumbai. Photo: All India Radio

The visarjan (immersion) of Shri Ganesh. The idol is accompanied by huge crowds in Mumbai. Photo: All India Radio

Looking back at some five decades of internationalisation as a means to some sort of sensible stock-taking of the connection between the behaviors of societies (ever more homogenous) and the effects of those behaviors upon nature and environment, I think it has been an expensive, verbose, distracting, and inconclusive engagement (but not for the bureaucratic class it sustains, and the “global development” financiers, of course). That is why I find seeking some consensus between countries and between cultures on “ecocide” is rather a nonstarter. There are many differences about meaning, as there should be if there are living cultures left amongst us.

Even before you approach such an idea (not that it should be approached as an idea that distinguishes a more “advanced” society from one apparently less so), there are other ideas, which from some points of view are more deserving of our attention, which have remained inconclusive internationally and even nationally for fifty years and more. Some of these ideas are, what is poverty, and how do we say a family is poor or not? What is economy and how can our community distinguish economic activity from other kinds of activity (and why should we in the first place)? What is “education,” and what is “progress”-and whose ideas about these things matter other than our own?

That is why even though it may be academically appealing to consider what ecocide may entail and how to deal with it, I think it will continue to be subservient to several other very pressing concerns, for very good reasons. Nonetheless, there have in the very recent past been some efforts, and some signal successes too, in the area of finding evidence and intent about a crime against nature or, from a standpoint that has nothing whatsoever to do with law and jurisprudence, against the natural order (which we ought to observe but for shabby reasons of economics, career, standard of living, etc., do not).

Clay cooking pots and decorative terracotta. A craftsman and his wares at a weekly market in Kerala.

Clay cooking pots and decorative terracotta. A craftsman and his wares at a weekly market in Kerala.

These efforts include Bolivia’s Law of the Rights of Mother Earth, whose elaborate elucidation in 2010 gave environmentalists much to cheer about. They also include the recognition by the UN Environment Programme, in incremental doses and as a carefully measured response to literally mountainous evidence, of environmental crime. This is what the UNEP now says, “A broad understanding of environmental crime includes threat finance from exploitation of natural resources such as minerals, oil, timber, charcoal, marine resources, financial crimes in natural resources, laundering, tax fraud and illegal trade in hazardous waste and chemicals, as well as the environmental impacts of illegal exploitation and extraction of natural resources.”  Quite frank, I would say, and unusually so for a UN agency.

Moreover, there is the Monsanto Tribunal, which is described as an international civil society initiative to hold Monsanto-the producer of genetically modified (GM) seed, and in many eyes the most despised corporation ever-“accountable for human rights violations, for crimes against humanity, and for ecocide.” In the tribunal’s description of its rationale, ecocide is explicitly mentioned, and the tribunal intends to follow procedures of the International Court of Justice. It is no surprise that Monsanto (together with corporations like Syngenta, Dow, Bayer, and DuPont) is the symbol of industrial agriculture whose object and methods advance any definition of ecocide, country by country.

This ecocidal corporation (whose stock is traded on all major stock markets, which couldn’t care less about the tribunal) is responsible for extinguishing entire species and causing the decline of biodiversity wherever its products are used, for the depletion of soil fertility and of water resources, and for causing an unknown (but certainly very large) number of smallholder farming families to exit farming and usually their land, therefore also exiting the locale in which bodies of traditional knowledge found expression.  Likewise, there is the group of Filipino investigators, a Commission on Human Rights, who want forty-seven corporate polluters to answer allegations of human rights abuses, with the polluters being fossil fuel and cement companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and BP, and the allegations include the roles of these corporations’ products in causing both “global warming and the harm that follows.”

A 'gudi' and 'bhagwa dhvaj' hoisted by a home in Goa for Gudi Padwa, the festival which marks the beginning of the new year.

A ‘gudi’ and ‘bhagwa dhvaj’ hoisted by a home in Goa for Gudi Padwa, the festival which marks the beginning of the new year.

Such examples show that there is a fairly strong and active manifestation of the movement to recognise ecocide as a crime under international law. However, to find such manifestations, one has to look at the local level. There, the questions pertain more tangibly to the who, what, and how of the ecological or environmental transgression, and the how much of punishment becomes more readily quantifiable (we must see what forms of punishment or reparation are contained in the judgments of the Monsanto Tribunal and the Philippines Commission).

Considering such views, the problem becomes more immediate but also more of a problem-the products of industrialised, mechanised agriculture that is decontextualised from culture and community exists and are sold and bought because of the manner in which societies sustain themselves, consciously or not. It is easier to find evidence for, and easier to frame a prosecution or, the illegality of a corporation, or of an industry, than for the negligence of a community which consumes their products. So the internationalisation (or globalisation) of the idea of ecocide may take shape in a bubble of case law prose and citations from intergovernmental treaties but will be unintelligible to district administrators and councils of village elders.

My view is that searching for the concept which for the sake of semantic convenience we have called ecocide as an outcome of an “internationally agreed” idea of crime and punishment will ultimately not help us. I have such a view because of a cultural upbringing in a Hindu civilisation, of which I am a part, and in which there exists an all-embracing concept, “dharma,” that occupies the whole spectrum of moral, religious, customary, and legal rules. In this view, right conduct is required at every level (and dominates its judicial process too), with our literature on the subject being truly voluminous (including sacred texts themselves, the upanishads, various puranas, and works on dharma).

Perhaps the best known to the West from amongst this corpus is the Arthashastra of Kautilya, a remarkable legal treatise dealing with royal duties which contains a fine degree of detail about the duties of kings (which may today be read as “governance”). This treatise includes the protection of canals, lakes, and rivers; the regulation of mines (the BCE analogue of the extractive industries that plague us today); and the conservation of forests. My preference is for the subject of ecocide and its treatment to be subsumed into the cultural foundation where it is to be considered for, when compared with how my culture and others have treated the nature-human question, it becomes evident that we today are not the most competent arbiters, when considering time frames over many generations, about how to define or address such matters. The insistence on “globalising” views in fact shows why not.

(This comment has been posted at the Great Transition Initiative in reply to an essay titled ‘Against Ecocide: Legal Protection for Earth’.)

Brazen FAO flies its double helix colours

with 3 comments

The matter that faces us now concerning the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is: how should we consider what its activities represent? Like other UN agencies, the FAO works according to a mandate, which is agreed upon by its member states. Where the FAO is concerned, that mandate has to do with agriculture, not in the form of crops produced per hectare or acre, but in terms of who the cultivators and growers are, what their living and working conditions are, and the manner in which the crop and food they produce reaches the hands of those who need it.

RG_FAO_biotech_201602Looked at in this way, an organisation such as the FAO has as one of its responsibilities the provision of support, in as many ways as possible, of the majority of those who grow food and the majority of those who buy food. In recent years however, the UN FAO has set aside this responsibility, deliberately and according to a plan. This dereliction of duty – in fact it is a duty agreed upon by FAO member states, of which there are 197 – can only be explained in one way: the FAO of today no longer represents the smallholder cultivator and farmer and peasant, and no longer represents the rural communities for whom agriculture is a dominant part of their biocultural life.

If the FAO now functions as an industry association (that is, representing the interests of a range of industries and technologies within the agriculture and food sector) then that is the choice of the organisation, presumably with the consent of the member states. However, such a deviation from its role hitherto then calls into question the funding it receives from said members, for that funding has for the 70 years of the organisation’s existence been predicated upon the FAO fulfilling its responsibility towards smallholder and peasant farmers, wherever in the world they may be. If the FAO is today an industry organisation – which its recent actions proclaim it to be – then the 197 member states must stop giving the organisation an annual contribution.

Via_Campesina_COP21Will such a cessation of financial support make a difference to the FAO of 2016? Let us examine how the organisation is funded. The total FAO Budget planned for 2016-17 is US$ 2.6 billion. Of this amount, 39% comes from contributions paid by member countries, whereas 61% is to come from what are called “voluntary contributions from members and other partners”. Some countries pay more than others, some very much more, some not at all. The USA maintains an outstanding towards the FAO that is ludicrous – it is US$ 96.97 million in arrears.

But what is of concern to us is the alteration in the balance of the members’ contributions and the so-called voluntary contributions, in the rough ration of 40 to 60. This means that 6 out of 10 dollars that the FAO receives is used for what the organisation calls “support technical and emergency (including rehabilitation) assistance to governments for clearly defined purposes linked to the results framework” and which is different from the activities provided for under the “regular budget”.

Under the circumstances that I have just described therefore, the FAO-hosted international symposium, titled ‘The Role of Agricultural Biotechnologies in Sustainable Food Systems and Nutrition’, which is under way 15-17 February 2016, is what any trade organisation would call an interest group gathering with an intent to change policy and practice in a manner that profits and benefits the members of that interest group.

It is opaque to us for now, based on the information provided by the FAO on this symposium, whether the money spent on transporting to Rome “over 400 scientists, representatives of government, civil society, the private sector, academia, farmers’ associations and cooperatives” for a conference to “explore how agricultural bio-technologies can benefit family farmers, particularly those in developing countries, who need to improve nutrition and food systems while facing the challenges of poverty, climate change, and population growth” – whether the money spent to do so comes out of the regular budget or out of a voluntary contribution. An answer either way must only lead to further very critical questions asked of the FAO senior management.

FAO_biotech_msg_1These questions must be asked of FAO at all levels – particularly in FAO member states whose contributions to the organisation’s regular budget may be minuscule, but whose food and agriculture line ministries and departments, whose institutions and laboratories are induced or coerced into accepting an “inter-governmentally mandated package of best practices” that does everything to help the international agriculture biotechnology and industrial crop cultivation corporations and traders, and nothing whatsoever for those member countries’ peasant and smallholder farmers.

What the FAO is doing with this bio-technology symposium is worse than unconscionable and worse than being wilfully unmindful about the evidence of the harm – to animal populations, ecosystems and humans – caused by biotechnologies and especially those employed for agricultural purposes. The serious harm to health and the ecological and agronomical impacts of glyphosate and glyphosate tolerant crops for example are the most thoroughly researched. The same kind of evidence has now emerged for Bt crops and Bt toxins. Evidence that genetic modification per se is harmful is as broad and unimpeachable, with the uncontrollable processes of genetic modification having led to the phenomena of antibiotic resistance (reported from all over the world), the creation of new pathogens, the incidence of cancers, and the hijacking of the human body’s natural nucleic acids to do harm.

FAO_biotech_msg_2It is deliberately misleading and deeply cynical for the FAO to claim, with a banal insouciance, that this symposium “focuses mainly on the broad range of biotechnologies that could result in yield increases, better nutritional qualities, and improved productivities of crops, livestock, fish and trees benefitting family farmers and their food systems, nutrition and livelihoods”. This is the sort of cartoonish PR piffle that the UN sustainable development goals (the SDGs) have been wrapped in to appeal to the social media tendencies of the world’s teenagers.

For the last two years out of the four that José Graziano da Silva has been at the head of the organisation, the tilt towards industrial agriculture and biotechnology has become very much more pronounced compared with the already sorry condition the organisation was during the second term of Jacques Diouf (the Senegalese diplomat who was director-general from January 1994 to 31 December 2011). Under da Silva the “agriculture for nutrition” campaign line has become very much more prevalent, and has been supported – voluntary contributions facilitated by the FAO’s Partnerships and Advocacy Branch (an office by itself, and a very industrious one) – by a host of private sector networks and consortia whose interests encompass biofortification, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural biotechnologies.

The symposium has been condemned fiercely and jointly by 42 international and regional organisations with 131 national and local organisations (173 in all) led by La Via Campesina, Grain and ETC Group. “It is clear that, through the FAO, industry wants to re-launch their false message that genetically engineered crops can feed the world and cool the planet, while the reality is that nothing has changed on the biotech front,” is Via Campesina’s statement which adds that GMO use “throws farmers off the land” while “the industrial food system that it promotes is one of the main drivers of climate change”.

el_salto_magazine_'Transgenicos', El Salto magazine, by jcharlie http://jcharlie.deviantart.com/

‘Transgenicos’, El Salto magazine, by jcharlie http://jcharlie.deviantart.com/

The same corporations (feted by FAO as valuable private sector partners) are going beyond conventional GMO plant varieties toward ‘extreme biotech’ strategies such as synthetic biology to create new genetic constructs, Via Campesina has warned. “Not only do they ignore the rights of farmers, they are using biotechnologies to patent plant genes that are already in peasants’ fields and that we have selected ourselves. They want to forbid us to produce our own seeds and oblige us to buy their patented GMOs every year as well as their toxic pesticides, indispensable to grow those GMOs. In animal husbandry and fisheries where transgenic salmon and pigs already exist, we see the same scenario, the strengthening of industrial production and the increase in the use of antibiotics.”

Grain, which works to support small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems, has in its comments said that two of the FAO keynote speakers at the symposium are known proponents of GMOs, and the agenda and side events over the three days include speakers from the Biotechnology Industry Organization (a biotech trade group in the USA), Crop Life International (the global agro-chemicals trade association), DuPont (one of the world’s largest biotech seed companies) and CEVA (a major veterinary medicine corporation), among others.

“FAO has only invited one speaker or panellist openly critical of GMOs,” Grain has said (that one is from Via Campesina). “One of the two speakers at the opening session is a former assistant director general of FAO who has pushed for so-called Terminator seeds (GMO seeds programmed to die at harvest time forcing farmers to purchase new seeds every growing season), in opposition to FAO’s own public statements.”

Just when the biotech companies that make transgenic seeds are merging, the ETC Group has stated (with Syngenta having agreed to sell itself and its technologies to the government-owned China National Chemical Corporation, or ChemChina, only a fortnight ago), “the corporate vision of biotechnology is showing up at FAO” with the symposium being “another attempt by multinational agribusiness to redirect the policies of the UN agency toward support for GMOs”. ETC Group has demanded that FAO put an end to biopiracy and to its support for genetically modified crops, but as I have outlined earlier, the biotechnology purveyors in the FAO will have none of it because the structures of funding and control have been altered perhaps beyond the reach of the organisation’s member states.

What is left to do? Proscribe the UN FAO for its anti-small farmer and anti-peasant activities, encourage members states to demand that FAO mend its ways or step out of the organisation, and meanwhile demand that governments central and local ban all environmental releases of GMOs and synthetic biology. As the 173 signatories to the statement on the symposium show through their work, action can be taken locally in communities, villages, towns, municipalities, regions, as well as nationally and globally. As for the benighted symposium, here is a news article by FAO on the conference, this is the page for the event, the brochure, summaries of presentations (which provide one more confirmation of the fundamentally destructive intentions of the biotech industry), and a ‘key messages’ sheet from FAO whose manner and attitudes betray the extent to which an industrial mind now runs this particular UN agency.

It’s time to permanently retire the UN climate circus

with one comment

‘World on Fire’ by Spiros Derveniotis, courtesy Cartoon Movement, http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/2486

‘World on Fire’ by Spiros Derveniotis, courtesy Cartoon Movement, http://www.cartoonmovement.com/p/2486

This year’s ritual of talking about climate and talking about the effects of changing climates has begun. This is the 21st year that this is being done, and in none of the previous 20 years have the talkers achieved any worthwhile goal. They will not this year either, although much money will be spent on slick and colourful messages to convince the publics of 196 countries otherwise.

On 1 June the Bonn Climate Change Conference June 2015 began. The actors at this conference are mainly from the same cast that has played these roles for 20 years. They have been replaced here and there, and overall the main cast and supporting casts have grown in number – I think this growth in the number of climate negotiators and climate experts matches the growth rate of parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, there may be a correlation that can inspire a new discipline of research.

These conferences are expensive, for thousands of people are involved. Most of these people profess to be concerned about climate change and its effects and most of these people maintain curriculum vitaes that are tomes designed to awe and impress, usually with the purpose of securing well-paid consultancies or academic tenureships or some such similar lucrative sinecures. It is an industry, this negotiating climate change, whose own rates of growth are about as steep as the number of those, in the OECD countries, who fall into debt. As before, there may be interesting correlations to note.

The soundbite, big data and cool vector graphics world of UNFCCC climate negotiation pretense has gone on for far too long.

The soundbite, big data and cool vector graphics world of UNFCCC climate negotiation pretense has gone on for far too long.

The publics of the 196 countries that are constrained to send emissaries and observers and negotiators to these colossal jamborees have been lied to for 20 years quite successfully, and this 21st year we will see the lies repeated and presented all wrapped up in new tinsel. Many of these countries – from south-eastern and central Europe, from small island states in the Pacific and Indian oceans, from the Caribbean, from South America and from South-East Asia – pay for the useless privilege of sending representatives to attend this annual round of sophisticated tomfoolery. It is money down the drain for them.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) under whose aegis most of these jamborees are held, and in whose august name most of the hollow but portentous pronouncements are ritually made, is an organisation that is over the hill, round the bend and up the wall. It represents today nothing that is in the interest of the public and it represents today almost everything that is in the interest of the corporate plutocracy, whether global or regional or national.

A 21st edition of annual obfuscation by the UNFCCC and its crony institutions.

A 21st edition of annual obfuscation by the UNFCCC and its crony institutions.

Unembarrassed by its own hopelessly prodigal existence, the UNFCCC lines up ‘technical expert meetings’ month after month to produce suitably technical papers that would fill libraries, if they were printed. It arranges conclaves in expensive locales (all sponsored naturally) to gauge ‘mitigation ambition of countries through multilateral assessment’. It commissions extensive reviews of the adequacy of countries’ agreed goals to keep the global average temperature from rising beyond 2°C above pre-industrial levels and the abundantly-qualified authors of these reviews (which read very much like the reviews of 2014, 2013, 2012 and so on) self-importantly inform us that “the world is not yet on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently”, just as their predecessors did 20 years ago.

The main UNFCCC cast and its supporting cast (of thousands, but these thousands alas do not form the geographic representation that the United Nations system pretends to) spend days together at preparatory conferences and meetings, and pre-preparatory conferences and meetings, and agenda-setting conferences and meetings, and theme-outlining conferences and meetings, all year round. From somewhere within this flurry of busy nothingness they announce (perhaps on the days before the solstices and following the equinoxes) that new breakthroughs have been made in the negotiating text and that consensus is nigh.

This has gone on far too long. Twenty years ago, when this great obfuscation began, there were some 1.83 billion children (under 14 years old) in the world. Today they are at ages where they are finishing primary school, have begun working (many of them in informal, insecure, hazardous jobs whose paltry wages keep families alive) and a few are completing university degrees. Some of this 1.83 billion may have an interest in what climate is and why it changes but for them, the techno-financial labyrinths invented by the UNFCCC and its comfortable nest of crony institutions offer no enlightenment. For those young women and men, the cancerous industry of climate change negotiations has done nothing to ensure, during their lifetimes till now, any reduction in the exploitation and use of materials whose first and primary effect is to degrade the nature upon which we all depend. [This article has also been posted on the India Climate Portal.]

The cities and their multitudes

leave a comment »

The 166 Indian cities in the UN population list. What do the colours mean? Dark blue is for city populations up to 250,000; light blue is 250,000-500,000; pink is 500,000 to 1 million; orange is 1 million to 5 million; red is 5 million and above. The source for the data is 'World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision', from the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

The 166 Indian cities in the UN population list. What do the colours mean? Dark blue is for city populations up to 250,000; light blue is 250,000-500,000; pink is 500,000 to 1 million; orange is 1 million to 5 million; red is 5 million and above. The source for the data is ‘World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision’, from the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.

Bigger cities growing at a rate faster in the last decade than earlier decades. This is what the image shows us. These are 166 cities of India whose populations in 2014 were 300,000 and above. The jagged swatches of colour that seem to march diagonally across the image describe tiers of population, for the table is arranged according to the populations of these cities in 2015, with the annual series beginning in 1985 and extending (as a forecast) until 2030.

The populations of four cities will cross 0.5 million in 2015: Jalgaon (Maharashtra, whose population will be 506,000 in 2015), Patiala (Punjab, 510,000), Thoothukudi (Tamil Nadu, 514,000) and Imphal (Manipur, 518,000). They will join a group of cities which in 2014 crossed the 0.5 million mark: Gaya (Bihar, 508,000 in 2015), Rajahmundry (Andhra Pradesh, 511,000), Udaipur (Rajasthan, 517,000), Bilaspur (Chhattisgarh, 518,000), Kayamkulam (Kerala, 533,000) and Agartala (Tripura, 550,000).

Just ahead of these are Vellore (Tamil Nadu, whose population in 2015 will be 528,000 and which crossed 0.5 million in 2013), Mathura (Uttar Pradesh, 529,000 and 2014), Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu, 530,000 and 2011), Sangli (Maharashtra, 545,000 and 2009), Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh, 550,000 and 2013), Ujjain (Madhya Pradesh, 556,000 and 2009), Kurnool (Andhra Pradesh, 567,000 and 2012), Muzaffarnagar (Uttar Pradesh, 587,000 and 2011), Erode (Tamil Nadu, 590,000 and 2010) and Cherthala (Kerala, 593,000 and 2013).

To make this chart I have used the data from ‘World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision’, from the United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division. The 166 cities of India are extracted from the main table, ‘Annual Population of Urban Agglomerations with 300,000 Inhabitants or More in 2014, by Country, 1950-2030’.

The FAO mask slips further

leave a comment »

Family farming is a descriptive phrase that rings well with environmentalists, with anthropologists and ethnologists who have had anything to do with food and its cultivation, with naturalists and especially with the many groups promoting agro-ecological farming all over the world. What could be wrong with recognising and valorising family farming?

The FAO's view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

The FAO’s view of smallholder farming, agri-business and markets, rendered in textbook business school fashion.

Quite a lot, when it comes through the machinery of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s propaganda mill. The most cited of the FAO’s ‘flagship’ publications, the State of Food and Agriculture in 2014 has as its theme family farming, but this theme carries a passenger, which the FAO has described as ‘Innovation in family farming’. And that is how the mask has slipped further.

[The State of Food and Agriculture, FAO’s major annual flagship publication has as its 2014 theme ‘Innovation in family farming’ (the full report here and a summary here).]

The publication needs to be read not for the assertions of how important smallholder farming is, but for the conceptual machinery that has been assembled so that a technical take-over of small farms can be achieved with limited opposition. This is the scheme of the FAO of 2014, which is sadly a very different agency from what it was even a decade ago.

SOFA 2014 in its prose swings rather schizophrenically between sugary pronouncements about how family farms are “the custodians of about 75 percent of all agricultural resources in the world”, and therefore why they should be the new focus for an innovation that is techno-centric. The publication has made liberal use of terms such as “improved ecological and resource sustainability” and where the word ‘sustainable’ is used ‘vulnerable’ is surely not far behind. It isn’t, and SOFA 2014 goes to some lengths to convince its readers that most family farms are vulnerable in one or many ways.

The spin doctors employed by the FAO have come up with what the publication has called a triple challenge for family farming (challenges are most intimidating when they come in threes). This is: “yield growth to meet the world’s need for food security and better nutrition; environmental sustainability to protect the planet and to secure their own productive capacity; and productivity growth and livelihood diversification to lift themselves out of poverty and hunger”. The answer, according to the machine men of international crop science, is that they must innovate (or, better still, nominally hold the title to the factors of crop production while the innovation is administered by outside agents).

FAO_SOFA_2014_coverThis very brief canning of the publication’s main objective helps to place in context the main messages of this year’s State of Food and Agriculture, which include:

“Family farms are part of the solution for achieving food security and sustainable rural development; the world’s food security and environmental sustainability depend on the more than 500 million family farms that form the backbone of agriculture in most countries.”

Here the device of a very large number, 500 million, is used to reassure the critics that the forces that would control the world’s crop staples are unlikely to homogenise such a number. But indeed it is their number and variety that are being studied carefully in order to find approaches that – to use the acidic terms of the multi-lateral banks – boost investor confidence. Hence the considered advice from FAO: “Family farms are an extremely diverse group, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account.”

There is more on complexity and diversity with specific regard to the institutions for crop science (and for food retail and sales, the porcine twin of formal modern agriculture research). The SOFA has said: “The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are far more complex than ever before; the world must create an innovation system that embraces this complexity.” What the FAO means by “more complex than ever before” is the growing opposition to industrial agriculture, agricultural biotechnology and the use of genetic modification techniques. So, the embracing that is called for is one that should sound acceptable, non-threatening, inclusive, participatory and all the other terms that the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal-setters so volubly use.

FAO_SOFA_2014_cover_bwInstitutions cost money, which will come from where exactly? The FAO has a ready answer. “Public investment in agricultural R&D and extension and advisory services should be increased and refocused to emphasise sustainable intensification and closing yield and labour productivity gaps.” That is to say, leave the innovation bit to the private sector, turn your research centres (built and run with public monies) over to us, dismantle your nationalist agricultural extension service but give us the network, and look how we close yield and productivity gaps. That’s the pitch, in a nutshell, ignoring the several blunt cautions raised by other UN agencies (including the previous Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) that we have quite enough food but far too little equity and fairness concerning how it reaches those who need it.

This publication, the State of Food and Agriculture, is the latest that has been outfitted to serve FAO’s new interest, camouflaged though it is. The usual empowering wordiness that has become so tiresomely characteristic of the UN system is on view here too: family farmers need an enabling environment, good governance, stable macroeconomic conditions, transparent legal and regulatory regimes, secure property rights, risk management tools, market infrastructure, capacity development through investment in education and training, participatory agricultural research, emphasise sustainable intensification, closing the yield and productivity gaps.

Until the next major report, this one will be turned into a mini-curriculum to be referenced by client governments so that a technologically obsessed industrial agriculture and seed industry annexes larger shares of old markets (India and South-East Asia) and totally subordinates small new ones (African countries). ‘Fiat panis’ (let there be bread) is the FAO motto and after a reading of SOFA 2014 one could be excused for considering that this motto be switched with ‘fiat food oligarchs’, for that is the direction the FAO, under Jose Graziano da Silva, is firmly pursuing.

The Crimea syndrome

leave a comment »

Update: With the referendum complete, the Republic of Crimea has addressed the United Nations seeking recognition as a sovereign state and called on Russia to integrate it into the Russian Federation.

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate in Sevastopol on March 16, 2014 after partial votes showed that about 95.5 percent of voters in Ukraine's Crimea region supported union with Russia. Photo: RT / AFP / Viktor Drachev

Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrate in Sevastopol on March 16, 2014 after partial votes showed that about 95.5 percent of voters in Ukraine’s Crimea region supported union with Russia. Photo: RT / AFP / Viktor Drachev

However, a spokesperson for UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters the Crimea secession referendum will only exacerbate an “already complex and tense situation” and that the secretary-general is “deeply concerned and disappointed”. The UN position, as enunciated by Ki-moon, is for all parties to work for a solution that is guided by the principles of the United Nations Charter, “including respecting Ukraine’s unity and sovereignty”.

This is uncalled for and a display of partisanship that is not in accordance with the UN Charter in the first place, not for an inter-governmental body that has written “democracy” and “democratic principles” into more resolutions, statements and declarations that one can count. The Crimea referendum was held in the presence of international observers, including those from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The respect for sovereignty that Ki-moon expects for Ukraine, is equally to be expected for the Crimean population, and indeed for the populations of Somalia, Haiti, Sudan, Serbia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. With these statements by Ki-moon, the role of the UN as a stabilising factor in international disputes comes into question. The embargos and restrictions and bans (collectively and incorrectly called ‘sanctions’ by the USA) against Russia are already coming into effect, despite advice from Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, that they should be discarded.

15 Mar: In the first place, this is a referendum to be undertaken (on Sunday, 16 March 2014) in Crimea, which is in Ukraine, and involves residents of Crimea, not the residents of ‘western’ nations (or allies) – as the ruling regimes in the ‘western nations’ have taken to labelling themselves – and not residents of Russia.

The United Nations Security Council, a lame-duck body that has been used numerous times in the last 40 years to issue a rubber-stamp for the imposition of punitive embargoes (called ‘sanctions’ in American English) and for the waging of ‘just’ war (or wars of ‘liberation’, wars of ‘peace-building’ and wars to uphold ‘democracy’), has just voted on a resolution that calls the Crimean referendum illegal.

Russia vetoed this resolution (China abstained) and the ‘western allies’ voted for it. That the UN Security Council met to even consider such a resolution is testament to its nakedly partisan nature – serve the interests of the USA and its EU allies. The UNSC has no business to decide whether or not a referendum held in a region (province, republic, autonomous or otherwise) of any country is legal or not.

Why so? This is because, in its own words, the “Security Council takes the lead in determining the existence of a threat to the peace or act of aggression. It calls upon the parties to a dispute to settle it by peaceful means and recommends methods of adjustment or terms of settlement.”

A poll run by the Ria Novosti news service on its website shows the support - 72.8% in favour against 12.8% not in favour - for Crimea joining Russia.

A poll run by the Ria Novosti news service on its website shows the support – 72.8% in favour against 12.8% not in favour – for Crimea joining Russia.

A referendum is neither a threat to peace nor aggression, and there is no dispute involved that falls within the ambit of what the UNSC describes as dispute. The UNSC therefore, under the UN Charter, has no locus standi on a matter such as this.

The USA-drafted and USA-sponsored resolution that attempted to have declared the Crimea referendum ‘illegal’ should not have even been entertained. But instead, the USA and its EU allies sought to portray the referendum as “illegal, unjustified, and divisive. It will be administered under the barrel of a gun rather than under the eyes of international observers.”

So said Samantha Powers, the representative of the USA to the UN. Her words of staggering hypocrisy are exceeded only by the even more shameless hypocrisy of the US Secretary of State John Kerry on the matter, and by those of the president of the USA Barack Obama on the matter. America’s warmongering record since the end of World War Two stands as bloody counterpoint to the hypocritical disinformation being vomited out by the US government and being faithfully broadcast by pliant media.

The puppet government installed in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, as a result of the regime change engineered by the USA and Germany, and several more ‘western’ allies, also voted in its ‘Verkhovna Rada’ (parliament) for early dissolution of Crimean parliament (as reported by Itar-Tass). The coup-imposed government has cut off financial links to Crimea, but has pledged not to attack the peninsula militarily.

Even while Samantha Powers was arranging hypocrisy in great putrid piles around a US-drafted resolution that is nothing but crude sabre-rattling, NATO began air drills with fighter jets in Poland (which borders Ukraine). Recently dispatched US jets took part in the exercises, with more lies from Washington’s military hawks claiming that the drills were planned before the unrest in Ukraine. John Kerry has already denounced the scheduled referendum in Crimea on secession from Ukraine and reintegration into Russia as a “backdoor annexation” which proves nothing more than his limited but vicious vocabulary.

"Extremely high turnout at this polling station. Haven't spoken to anyone yet who's voted against joining Russia." pic.twitter.com/KiyJSmrN9b

“Extremely high turnout at this polling station. Haven’t spoken to anyone yet who’s voted against joining Russia.” pic.twitter.com/KiyJSmrN9b

Following the script of this phoney attempt at intervention through the UN Security Council – which also serves, in the twisted logic of the US-EU combine that fostered the Kiev coup and which is just as keen to foment a new conflict on Ukraine’s borders – it is not difficult to see the close-range reactions. The coup-installed government in Kiev will reject the results of the referendum and accuse Russia of violating international law by using its military might to ‘redraw Europe’s borders’ – with the ‘western nations’ ignoring their gory histories of redrawing borders in Africa, Asia and South America.

The government of Russia will angrily remind the world that these Ukrainian ‘authorities’ came to power as a result of a coup planned and carried out by pro-Western and anti-Russian extremists, inspired by the US and EU, and that ethnic Russians in Ukraine are now facing discrimination and worse. NATO may even revive its old favourite scheme to install US missile defence systems in Central Europe (the old story was that these would protect NATO allies against ‘rogue states’ like Iran). ‘Sanctions’ will follow, a variant of the Cold War will once again settle over Europe.

But the finance and economics of this confrontation will change. The US and EU are intent on having some semblance of what they call a state in Ukraine in which to funnel billions of dollars and euros – that this economy even before the engineered coup was ramshackle and corrupt (run by oligarchs, now replaced by other oligarchs) does not seem to be a consideration. The pliant media assisted by faithful think-tanks who march to the drumbeat of the US State Department will paint this movement of speculative capital as being necessary to create a prosperous and democratic society. There will be no reference made to Yugoslavia, where the same set of tactics was used, and which didn’t work.

There are other differences. The opposition in Crimea to the USA-backed and fascist-led putsch of 22 February 2014 in Kiev has infuriated the US government in Washington and its EU ‘western’ allies. In Ukraine, the coup-installed government takes its orders from the International Monetary Fund and from Wall Street bankers (the source of or gatekeepers of the said billions) and is preparing a programme of savage austerity measures against the working class – of the same kind that has ruined labour in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain (which has also ruined labour in the ‘western allies’ but that ruination has been hidden better).

These foul machinations will be obscured by a typhoon of propaganda. Already incendiary proposals are circulating in the American and the global financial media. In an article titled ‘How to Put Military Pressure on Russia’, the Wall Street Journal (the house organ of the Davos parasites) has called for arming Polish Air Force F-16 fighters with nuclear weapons (!) and stationing detachments of US ground troops in Poland, Romania and the Baltic countries.

This has been backed by thuggish statements from Kerry, who said this week that if the Crimean vote takes place “there will be a very serious series of steps on Monday in Europe” and that sanctions against Russia would “get ugly fast”. Al Capone would have welcomed Kerry’s brand of diplomacy. Not far behind however are German chancellor Angela Merkel and Britain’s prime minister David Cameron. Also this week, Merkel said that planned EU sanctions are meant to cause “massive political and economic harm” to Russia, while Cameron promised, as any schoolyard bully does, that if we don’t “see Ukrainians and Russians talking to each other” (about what the USA and EU want, not about what the Ukrainians, Russians and Crimeans want) “then there are going to have to be consequences”.

The blatantly provocative and dangerously violent nature and tone of the pronouncements made by these heads of government and senior functionaries is to my mind in need of United Nations attention. Instead, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York that the situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate and there was “a great risk of dangerous, downward spiral”. He urged Russia and Ukraine not to take “hasty measures” that “may impact the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. Not a word by the UN sec-gen about the atrocious and dangerous misconduct by the heads of government of the ‘western nations’, by John Kerry, Barack Obama and Samantha Powers on this matter. So much for the ‘United’ part of the UN.

Written by makanaka

March 15, 2014 at 22:14

Sevastopol, Kiev, Moscow and the West

with one comment

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.

Why Bharat must tell the WTO to go to hell

with 3 comments

Update: So far, India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry has said what our farmers’ need him to say at the WTO ministerial meeting.

Activists protest against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference in Bali, Indonesia, on 2013 December 04. Image: AFP

Activists protest against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) conference in Bali, Indonesia, on 2013 December 04. Image: AFP

This is good news for our millions of cultivator households, and is also good news for cultivating families and communities in the countries of the South. This bloc must oppose without reservation and compromise of any kind the USA- and EU-led puppeteering of the WTO rules of agriculture to help their food-seed corporations.

The reaction in the corporatised media has been typical, with headlines like ‘Bleak outlook for WTO deal as rifts widen over food subsidies’. Reuters has reported that there are “deep divisions with only one day left to the end of talks” but that “India gains supporters for its stance on food subsidies” and also that “a Bali deal could benefit world economy by as much as $1 trillion”. We have no idea where these absurd numbers have appeared from concerning the alleged ‘benefits’ of the WTO, but foreign and Indian media have also reported the spiky warnings from the Trade Representative of the United States of America, Michael Froman.

He is reported to have said: “Let us not sugar-coat reality: leaving Bali this week without an agreement would deal a debilitating blow to the WTO as a forum for multilateral negotiations.” Froman and his government don’t (or won’t) understand that such an outcome is exactly what we want – no more WTO, for good and forever. He is also reported to have that if the WTO is finished “the unfortunate truth is that the loss will be felt most heavily by those members who can least afford it”. Froman is lying, for it is with WTO that farmers and cultivators in their millions have suffered grievously for a generation.

The Hindu reported that developing nations including India want a ‘peace clause’ (see a few paragraphs below for why we should have no such ‘peace clause’) “till a permanent solution is found on the matter for smooth implementation of the food security programme”. The Hindu report has quoted Sharma as having said that India was not isolated on the food security matter in WTO and majority of countries where over 75% people live are supporting New Delhi’s stand. “I would like to make this absolutely clear that we have not come here as petitioners to beg for a peace clause,” he was quoted as having said.

The section of foreign media that has long spoken for the USA-EU axis of agreement on WTO and its perverse agriculture rules has complained about what it calls India’s opposition. One such newspaper is the Wall Street Journal, which has reported that India “is angry over WTO rules that don’t allow it to move ahead with a massive food subsidy programme”, that negotiators have been trying to win over India by “allowing it to break those rules for four years before reducing the scope of its subsidies”. It needs to be said here (see more below) that an outside agency’s ‘rules’ are immaterial to what Bharat’s people need, and that there is no question of any agency, country, group of countries or foreign entity of any sort ‘allowing’ India to decide the manner of its service to its people.

WTO-bullock-cartEarlier: Our kisans and our farmers have no use for a WTO ‘peace clause’. Our households and families that squeeze their weekly budgets to buy their food staples have no place in their lives for definitions of ‘market distorting subsidies’. Our retailers and wholesalers and fair price shops which supply these households and pay our kisans for the food they grow are much too busy to bother with what ‘amber box’ and ‘green box’ mean, or with the Ninth Ministerial Conference of the WTO.

The question is one not of food sovereignty or the right to food alone, it is also one of our country’s sovereignty and of democratic principles to be respected. For the so-called ‘developed’ countries who are also WTO members, the government of India paying farmers a minimum support price to buy crops that can be stocked (as needed) or released into the Public Distribution System is a ‘market distortion’ and they have invoked all sorts of WTO regulations to show why it is. This is dangerous and must be firmly and finally treated as a threat to the integrity of the Republic of India and its citizens. Whether those who have been sent to the WTO Ministerial Conference (in Indonesia, 2013 December 03-06) to argue India’s case will do so in a manner that protects our kisans and our households is yet to be seen.

Food security, prices that balance the income of farmers and the needs of food-purchasing households, and the quantities involved are matters that lie between the people of Bharat and the government (central and state) that exists to serve us. It is not the business in any way, in any year and under any pretext, of any of the other 192 member countries of the United Nations or of any grouping from amongst them. It is not the business of any UN agency nor any multilateral and/or inter-governmental body or agency regardless of whether India is a member or signatory to any such group or entity. That is the meaning of the sovereignty that exists as the contract between citizens and the state, and that means between us and the government of the Republic of India.

What business does the WTO imagine it has in this matter? Consider its chief operating statement: “The World Trade Organization deals with the global rules of trade between nations. Its main function is to ensure that trade flows as smoothly, predictably and freely as possible.” Arrogant and entirely mercantile, the WTO is incompetent in the matter just described – food security in Bharat. Via Campesina, the worldwide small farmers’ and peasants’ movement, has said: “”After several collapses and stalemates in the negotiations, the WTO has found a way to revive not only itself but also to deepen the free trade liberalisation agenda and expand into areas not previously covered by trade.”

An agricultural road ahead minus a WTO is what India must strive for now.

An agricultural road ahead minus a WTO is what India must strive for now.

Are India’s named representatives at the Ninth Ministerial of the WTO saying so clearly and loudly so that the entire UN system and the WTO can hear? Here is an extract from the statement made by the Union Minister of Commerce and Industry, Anand Sharma, on 2013 December 02: “We cannot continue to have rhetoric of development agenda without even a reasonable attempt to address the issues which are of primary concern to developing economies. For decades, handful of farm lobbies of some countries have shaped the discourse and determined the destiny of millions of subsistence farmers of the developing countries. The massive subsidisation of the farm sector in the developed countries is not even a subject matter of discussion, leave aside serious negotiations.” This position may be useful, but we have to wait and see how it is developed between now and the end of this Ninth Ministerial.

That it may not be developed is already hinted at, for the same minister has also said: “It is therefore difficult for us to accept an interim solution as it has been currently designed. As a responsible nation, we are committed to a constructive engagement for finding a lasting solution. But till such time that we reach there, an interim solution which protects us from all forms of challenge must remain intact.” The ‘interim solution’ is what has popularly been called a ‘peace clause’, by which is mean that the use of measures to procure foodgrains by developing countries to promote food security would continue to be deemed illegal but WTO members would not go into the process of dispute settlement for a certain period.

Moreover, this ‘interim solution’ will be effective for only four years (that is, less than a single of our Plan periods) and Sharma’s saying that “we are committed to a constructive engagement for finding a lasting solution” is no indicator that our representatives to the WTO will tell the WTO that our farmers, our crops and food and our prices is none of its business. As the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has mentioned, a country might seek to use both purchases and sales of stocks to support a level of equilibrium in market prices that supports long-term development objectives.

The bloc of so-called ‘developed’ countries – the USA and some of its habitual crony countries, and the European Union, all of them having subsidised their agriculture heavily and steadily for 50 years – are holding up WTO ‘rules’ to say that if the price paid by our government is higher than the ‘external reference price’, the difference is considered a ‘trade-distorting subsidy’. And what is this reference price? The average international price of 1986-88! As anyone who has even a passing interest in food knows, true food inflation (which households experience) in most of the world has for the last six years been 10% and above. Fuel price inflation has been as much if not more. Fertiliser price inflation: ditto. It is the USA and (some) countries of the EU that have annually supported the cost of cultivation and held retail food prices low to the extent of half their agricultural GDP – which they today say is permitted under WTO rules, but that India’s crop procurement prices is a ‘market distorting subsidy’ that gets in the way of a ‘free market price’!

The concept of a ‘free market price’ is a mythical entity, Prabhat Patnaik has pointed out. “There are so many things that go into the price formation of any commodity, that to single out only a few of them as constituting ‘distortions’ and the rest as ‘non-distorting’ is totally arbitrary,” he has said. “This distinction which has been foisted upon the WTO by the advanced capitalist countries to serve their own interests, and imposed through it upon the entire world, is invidious for several reasons.”

End_WTO_BaliBut the WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, is considered to have as his priority the success of this Ninth Ministerial Conference in Indonesia (he warned WTO members in his inaugural speech this year that the “world will not wait for the WTO indefinitely” – what he thinks such a waiting world is was not clear, but our kisans want no WTO in their lives). [The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development has more.]

Several farmers’ organisations, trade unions and peoples’ campaigns in India have resolved to support the Indian government’s position to not trade away national food security. The group welcomed the decision of the Indian Cabinet on 2013 November 28 November to reject any “peace clause” that does not guarantee a permanent solution. The peace clause has been widely opposed by the Chairs of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce and Agriculture, the Left parties, and mass organisations, which include Bhartiya Kisan Union, Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, Bharatiya Majdoor Sangh, Focus on the Global South India, Right to Food Campaign, Shram Seva Nyas, South Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements, Swadeshi Jagran Manch and Third World Network India.

Nonetheless, the danger we in Bharat have to guard against is both outside and inside. This year, India is an active and vocal member of the group of 33 countries (G-33) whose position is that the present WTO rules which constrain the ability of developing countries’ governments to purchase food from small farmers and stock them must be clarified or changed. But India is also a BRIC country whose ministers are doing all they can to allow foreign ownership of everything from banking to airports to defence to food. Hence this stance is hypocritical (as is India’s stance at the useless and totally compromised climate change COP meetings). Thus, the danger outside is how the USA (plus crony countries) and the EU employ Indian ministers to push through the WTO rules. The danger inside is that Parliament and state legislatures – which technically represent directly affected parties – are being by-passed while the interests of the corporate-financial elite (global, regional, national) are being protected.

It is this danger that has been referenced in the representation by 15 of the major farmer unions of India, including the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) and the Karnataka Rajya Ryota Sangha (KRRS). The representation to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “Forth-seven years after the green revolution was launched, India is being directed at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to dismantle its food procurement system built so assiduously over the past four decades. This ill-advised move is aimed not only at destroying the country’s hard-earned food security but also the livelihood security of over 600 million farmers, 80% of them being small and marginal.”

And that is why it is time for us to give our government the ultimatum – the world is not about trade but about people and the planet. Ours is not an agriculture in the service of the WTO’s murderous rules and our kisans will not abide being beggared. The crops grown to feed our households rural and urban and the prices set in the mandis and found in the kirana shops are a matter for Bharat. That is why it is time for us to face down the sly brokers in the WTO – and their masters – once and for all.

A tiring tale from the FAO that again ignores the global food industry

with 2 comments

Cheap processed food advertised in Chengdu, P R China.

Cheap processed food advertised in Chengdu, P R China.

Why has the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) not stated what has become painfully obvious to households the world over – that the macro-economics which determines everything from what farmers grow and what city workers pay for food is utterly out of control?

This silence is why FAO’s ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013’ – with its updated estimates of undernourishment and its diplomatic paragraphs about progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and World Food Summit (WFS) hunger targets – remains conceptually crippled.

The roles of the food industry, its financiers, its commodities satraps, the marketers and their fixers in government, the networks that link legislators and food business investors in countries with growing processed foods businesses, all these shape food security at the community and household level. Yet none of these are considered critically by an FAO report that ought to be thoroughly non-partisan on the matter.

The FAO ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013’ (condensed to SOFI 2013) has said that “further progress has been made towards the 2015 MDG target, which remains within reach for the developing regions as a whole, although marked differences across regions persist and considerable and immediate additional efforts will be needed”.

How many more food insecurity indicators are needed to tell governments what their working class households already know? The table of SOFI 2013 indicators.

How many more food insecurity indicators are needed to tell governments what their working class households already know? The table of SOFI 2013 indicators.

In the first place, let’s consider the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target concerning hunger. This is to halve the proportion of hungry people in the total population. There is also the World Food Summit (WFS) target, which is to halve the number of hungry people. Both have 2015 as the target year. However, any hunger has no place in a world that today produces more than enough food to adequately feed every elder, child, woman and man.

But there is another aspect, and this is: who does the FAO think is paying attention to ‘global’ targets and placing these targets above any local needs or ambitions? Just as the MDGs are scarcely known and recognised outside the enormous development industry which perpetuates a growing mountain of studies and reports on the MDGs, nor are ‘global’ hunger reduction targets. When alleged leaders of the world gather together in the United Nations General Assemblies and other grand international fora and ask (in a tiresome and repetitive way) how we are going to feed 9 billion people, no individual smallholder farmer listens, because growing and feeding is done locally, and therefore ‘targets’ are also local, just as food insecurity or security is local.

This is why the SOFI 2013 approach – which is to say that “the estimated number of undernourished people has continued to decrease [but] the rate of progress appears insufficient to reach international goals for hunger reduction” – is utterly out of place and does not in any way reflect the numerous variety of problems concerning the provision of food, nor does it reflect the equally numerous variety of local approaches to fulfilling food provisioning.

Next, it is way past high time that FAO and the UN system in general jettison the “developing regions” label. It has no meaning and is an unacceptable legacy of the colonial view. Besides, as I point out a little later, food inadequacy (including insecurity and outright poverty) is becoming more and not less prevalent in the so-called developed regions. And moreover, I object to “considerable and immediate additional efforts will be needed” to reverse food insecurity, as the SOFI recommends, because this is the green signal to the global industrial agri-food industry to ram through its destructive prescriptions in the name of additional efforts.

SOFI 2013 also “presents a broader suite of indicators that aim to capture the multi-dimensional nature of food insecurity, its determinants and outcomes”. Once again, it is way past high time that the FAO ceased encouraging a proliferation of indicators of every description (and then some) that do next to nothing to ensure low external input and organic agriculture supported by communities and local in scale and scope, and in which the saving of seed and the preservation of crop and plant diversity is enshrined. There is not one – not a single indicator from FAO (and not one from any of its major partners, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) – for this need that is at the core of the myriad wonderful expressions of human civilisation.

Oxfam has made graphic the growing poverty in the European Union.

Oxfam has made graphic the growing poverty in the European Union.

SOFI 2013 also said that “recent global and national food consumer price indices suggest that changes in consumer prices were generally much more muted than those recorded by international price indices, often influenced by greatly increased speculation in spot, futures and options markets”. This unfortunately is completely untrue, for even FAO’s own database on national consumer price indexes (supplied by FAO member countries themselves) suggests that the CPI follows international price indices (this blog has pointed out the correlation a number of times in the last two years). And it is the same macro-economics that rewards speculators in “in spot, futures and options markets” which also deepens food insecurity every year.

Now, to return to the question of who is “developing” and who is not. The European Union (28 countries) has a population of 503 million (the early 2012 estimate). The USA has a population of 313 million (mid-2012 estimate). How large a group in both the European Union and the USA are hovering around the poverty lines, or who are plain poor, and who cannot afford to buy enough food for themselves?

In a report released in September 2013, the Oxfam aid agency warned that the poverty trap in Europe, which already encompasses more than 120 million people, could swell by an additional 25 million with austerity policies continuing. The report, ‘A cautionary tale: Europe’s bitter crisis of austerity and inequality’, said that one in two working families has been directly affected by the loss of jobs or reduction of working hours.

The food insecurity problem has been growing in the non-“developing” world just as fast as it has been growing in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, south-east Asia and other “developing” regions that the FAO’s flagship reports habitually places in the foreground. In early 2012 news reports in European Union countries were mentioning regularly how “ever more people are threatened with poverty”. The European Commission’s office for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion said so too: “Household incomes have declined and the risk of poverty or exclusion is constantly growing.”

Across the Atlantic, a US Census Bureau report released in September 2013 titled ‘Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012’, poverty was found to be “at a near-generation high of 15 percent, close to the high point since the 1965 War on Poverty, the 15.2 percent rate reached in 1983”. This report found that 46.5 million USA ctitzens (about 9.5 million families) live in poverty and that some 20.4 million people live on an income less than half of the official poverty line of the USA.

FAO’s ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013’ will with its present methods, outlook and biases be useful neither to cultivating communities growing the food we eat, nor to administrators in districts and provinces who must plan and budget to encourage local action that brings about food security, nor to the member countries of the United Nations if it continues to ignore the very large and growing numbers of the poor in the European Union and USA – 170 million poor people, and therefore food insecure, is a population that is considerably larger than that of any country in sub-Saharan Africa which inevitably figures in these reports.

Here are the materials for FAO’s ‘State of Food Insecurity in the World 2013’: The FAO news story. A frequently asked questions document. The FAO page on State of Food Insecurity 2013. The executive summary. The full pdf file and chapters. The e-book. The food security indicators data.