Just when you thought Congress couldn’t screw up the Farm Bill any worse, they surprise us all. As part of a fiscal cliff, New Year’s Day bender, Congress and the White House extended a barebones version of the Farm Bill for yet another nine months—giving the bumbling legislative body more time to further decimate the nation’s main farm and food policy.
The Farm Bill extension, apparently written largely by powerful Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and VP Joe Biden, continues existing commodity programs (including controversial direct payments), keeps the food stamp program largely intact, and provides a temporary extension of the dairy program. But there’s a long list of what it doesn’t do, including funding extension for 37 programs. It also doesn’t include immediate emergency relief to livestock producers and fruit growers still dealing with the damaging effects of the ongoing drought. The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a critical program supporting agroecology, can’t sign up new farmers to participate in 2013. Other programs that received no mandatory funding include a host of renewable energy programs, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher program, rural development programs and organic and specialty crop research programs. Additionally, an important pilot program for local and regional procurement of international food aid was not funded. (See excellent summaries of the deal by the National Farmers Union and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture).
It’s ironic that agriculture, an activity that is fundamental to sustaining large societies, has come to present so many risks to public and environmental health. As farms have grown larger, more productive, fewer in number, and more specialized over the last century, they’ve come to produce some less than desirable byproducts, just like any other major industry. But farming isn’t just another industry; it’s based on ecological principles and natural systems, which, if managed carefully, can be used to promote rather than harm health. A recently published study out of Iowa State University suggests that smart diversification and re-integration of plant and animal systems on the farm can pave the way to a healthier, more balanced agriculture.
The 18th annual climate negotiations of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) just ended Saturday night. These government officials had a historic and an urgently critical task at hand: how to effectively address the increasing climate chaos characterized by extreme storms like Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Bhopa (which recently just devastated several islands in the Philippines), droughts, floods and eerily erratic weather before it’s too late.
The “Doha Climate Gateway,” as the outcome is being called, resulted in a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (the KP) and built the “gateway” for a new climate treaty that is supposed to come into force by 2020. In three year’s time, governments will have to finalize this new treaty that will now be negotiated in a track they call the Ad-hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP).
As I look at the snow outside my window, I have to admit it: The summer’s bounty of sweet corn and tomatoes is long gone, but the demand for local food keeps chugging along—particularly among K-12 schools that are eager to keep their Farm to School program going even after the snow flies.
How can we provide new opportunities for our farmers and make local foods available year-round? One strategy worth a look is preserving the local bounty through freezing fruits and vegetables.
Today, IATP is releasing new research on innovative strategies for freezing locally and regionally grown produce for the K-12 marketplace. We looked at several small and mid-scale approaches including schools freezing on-site in their own kitchens, multi-use kitchen facilities, small freezing enterprises, and “co-pack” relationships where a processing company freezes produce on behalf of a third party, like a group of farmers.
Our research draws insight from the first-hand experience of ventures around the country that are now freezing fruits and vegetables grown in their region. While there has been considerable zeal of late around the concept of “food hubs,” we found a mixed picture, and reasons for both optimism and caution. Here are a few highlights:
A week ago, with most of us still digesting election results—and our turkey—a critical deadline passed in the struggle to convince the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to pull back the veil of ignorance around how antibiotics are being fed or given to pigs, chickens, turkeys and cattle animal agriculture.
The good news is nearly 25,000 Americans last week wrote FDA Commissioner Hamburg, a physician, urging her to do a better job in helping to keep our precious antibiotics effective by asking for this critical information from Big Pharma, and making it public. They included:
To its most dedicated proponents at the U.N. climate talks in Doha, “climate-smart agriculture" (CSA) is the fairy tale success story on agriculture and climate change. To the World Bank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and several agriculture-focused NGOs, it provides a win-win on mitigation and adaptation: Carbon is supposed to be sequestered in soil based on a set of practices that a project manager puts in place and farmers implement, and that sequestration is measured and recorded as carbon credits. The carbon credits are then supposed to be traded on an international market. The practices used to store carbon are also supposed to build resilience, so farms can adapt to the changing weather they are starting to face.
At COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, parties agreed to have an “exchange of views” on agriculture under the Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA); “mitigation adaptation synergies,” (read: climate-smart agriculture) were one of the main, and most contentious, issues on the table during those and previous talks. At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where entire sentences can be composed of acronyms and agricultural discussions are mostly limited to 45-minute sessions that are closed to observers, it is easy to forget that the decisions countries make have significant and nuanced impacts on real people living in very different local contexts. As a student and activist following the climate negotiations at the international political level, it is always both painful and refreshing to see non-governmental organizations working to infuse the talks with the effects they may have on the ground.
The money in your mug. The nickel in your nip. The cashflow in your cup. What’s the connection and what does it have to do with you?
After oil, coffee is the world’s most traded commodity. Globally, over 25 million farmers grow coffee to support themselves and their families. Many of these growers are very small, with a typical Fair Trade coffee farmer growing on less than eight acres of land.
At the beginning of each growing season, farmers need to come up with the cash needed to run their farm as the coffee grows, to harvest it and get it to market. Like farmers around the world, they have to finance these costs, as well as cover living expenses year round, even though they only harvest and get paid once a year.
Small-scale farmers have long struggled to access traditional financing. Lacking conventional collateral and access to fairly-priced loans they often have to borrow money from middle-men at exorbitant interest rates that cut into their profits and their ability to meet their families’ most basic needs. Around the world, the annual demand for sustainable trade financing for farmers is estimated at $3 billion. The financing that is actually available to small growers is more like $300 million.
That’s where you come in.
Peace Coffee (which is owned by IATP) and a group of like-minded coffee roasters in the U.S. and Canada are exploring a new way for you to put your money where your mug is. In conjunction with the Grow Ahead Foundation, they are participating in a new model for social trade finance that connects coffee drinkers and others with the farmers who grow their coffee.
The biggest threat for agriculture at the 18th Conference of Parties (COP) of the UNFCCC is the certain likelihood (oxymoron intended) of “non-decisions” for setting ambitious emissions reduction targets for the post-2012 period, when the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period expires. Bill McKibben’s widely circulated article Global Warming's Terrifying New Math tells us in starkly clear terms what we need to do to set things right:
We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We'd have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.
McKibben lays out in simple terms what we policy advocates and scientists have failed to do thus far: convince the average citizen in the industrialized world why immediate, ambitious and drastic cuts in our fossil fuel use is necessary to prevent the deadliest impacts of global warming, not just for future generations, but for this generation. Yet, government representatives will be going to the climate talks prepared to take years to cobble together a legally binding deal to cut emissions worth the paper they sign.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is pleased to announce that we’ve been chosen as a recipient by the USDA’s new Farm to School grant program.
Farm to School efforts that connect K-12 students to foods produced nearby are growing by leaps and bounds. Across the country, more than 12,000 schools are involved. In IATP’s home state of Minnesota, nearly 150 school districts serving two-thirds of Minnesota’s students are now offering locally and regionally grown foods.
With USDA’s support, IATP will begin working on a couple of the key challenges and opportunities now facing the Farm to School movement. One of those challenges is that in the Northern half of the United States the harvest season for fresh fruits and vegetables only partially overlaps with the school year (primarily in September and October). Another is that, while fresh fruits and vegetables have been a very successful starting point for Farm to School procurement, we need to engage a broader swath of the agricultural community and to impact more and more types of food on the tray.
And lastly, we need to complement innovation at the school and district level with more collaboration across multiple districts. School districts acting individually are challenged to have a significant impact on larger supply chains or to create enough demand to support new product development by food entrepreneurs. By working together, districts can identify opportunities for new types of products and collaborate with farmers, food processors and other supply chain players to provide markets for those foods.
I’ve been a feminist all my life. It had something to do with having three brothers and no sisters, perhaps—that and parents who encouraged me to be who I wanted to be. It had to do, too, with the sexism I experienced. The school careers councillor who suggested that it might be awkward to be a diplomat because it would mean my husband would have to follow my career, for example. But of course, I am one of the lucky women. Not only did I have access to an education; so did my mother, and her mother before her, who was one of the first two graduates from her all-girl high school in London to attend university, in 1929. I have my own career, economic independence, a vote, and legal protections that ensure my assets, and my share of the assets I have built with my spouse, are and will be mine—whether I stay married, divorce or am widowed. These are protections and entitlements only too few women enjoy: education, economic independence, a political voice and legal protection. They are essential to allowing women to enjoy their rights.
On Monday 19th November, Oxfam launches a two-week online policy discussion called: Making the food system work for women. Over ten days, ten essays will be presented, each written by a different contributor—I had the chance to write about trade, and former IATP Trade and Global Governance Program Director, Alexandra Spieldoch, makes a pitch for women’s leadership. Other contributors include eco-feminist Vandana Shiva; Jayati Ghosh, feminist economist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and ActionAid International’s Director, Joanna Kerr. Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, will provide a concluding analysis.