IATP's Jim Kleinschmit was recently interviewed by ARC2020, a multi-stakeholder platform, of over 150 organisations within 22 EU Member States working for reform the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). They asked about his work, and the links between the U.S. Farm Bill and the CAP. Learn more about ARC2020 at www.arc2020.eu or read the interview below:
Last month, we received a visit from Jim Kleinschmit, Rural Communities Program Director at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, USA. We took the opportunity to ask him about his work, his organisation and the links between the US Farm Bill and Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy…
1. Can you tell us how you came to be involved in your work and what are the strongest images and/or influences that have been accompanying you?
I was fortunate to be raised on a farm in Northeast Nebraska by parents involved in the U.S. family farm and sustainable agriculture movement. Over the last twenty five years, my family has transitioned our farm from conventional dairy, livestock and crop production to organic crop and grass-fed beef production. Throughout our childhood and even today, my parents instilled in me and my siblings the importance of farming in society, the responsibility farmers have to protect and enhance soil and other natural resources, and the fact that our current farm policies are not working for farmers, the environment or society.
Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on a study that looked at rising sea levels from a new angle. The study found that efforts to meet increasing freshwater demand by harnessing “fossil” groundwater [groundwater that cannot be replenished for millennia under current climate conditions] contributes more to rising sea levels than melting glaciers. Since there it cannot be replenished, tapping groundwater results in land subsidence (downward-shifting of ground surface) and a one-way transfer of water into the oceans. Researchers involved concluded that the deep tube-well drilling for water has contributed to sea level increases by an average of a millimeter every year since 1961. Neither the climate community nor the water community had paid attention to this aspect of tube-well drilling before.
IATP’s Steve Suppan is in Bonn, Germany blogging from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations.
The UNFCCC negotiations have thus far been a pretty quiet affair. There are just over 3,000 government delegates, intergovernmental officials and accredited NGO observers going about their jobs, with just a handful of journalists to report the results. It is very unlikely that there will be any of the front-page drama of negotiators photographed huddling over the meaning of a phrase to come to an agreement to “save” the negotiations, as happened in Durban, South Africa, 36 hours after many developing country negotiators had gone home. Protest actions are few, small and polite, with none of the beatings of climate negotiations protestors that occurred in Durban and at previous Conference(s) of the Parties (CoP) to the UNFCCC. For example, today the Youth Nongovernmental Organizations staged a “marriage” between climate finance and climate science, complete with costumes and a blessing.
So instead of street fighting, there is a lot of infighting, some of it subtle and some not so subtle. On May 19, IATP went to two UNFCCC workshops called for by the Durban CoP. The workshops featured about two dozen presentations that are thematized here. The first had the title “Workshop on a framework for various approaches,” for financing projects to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and to adapt to climate change. The diplomatically cumbersome title notwithstanding, much of the workshop was about whether the trading of carbon emissions credits would result in any net reduction in GHGs to prevent a catastrophic global warming.
The global scramble for land and resources has a big new player, and if you’re a teacher or work for a nonprofit, it might be you. The Financial Times reported this week that TIAA-CREF is developing a new “investment vehicle” that will bet the retirement funds of millions of American on the rising price of farmland around the world. According to the report:
The move represents a further step by institutional investors to look for ways to exploit the rapid growth of emerging markets and for long term alternatives to stocks and bonds following the poor performance of the last decade.
“We see increased protein consumption in developing economies and alternative energy mandates driving increased demand for food, fibre and fuel from a limited resource—land,” said Jose Minaya, head of global natural resources and infrastructure investments at TIAA-CREF.
TIAA-CREF holds half a trillion U.S. dollars representing the retirement funds of over three million American college professors and nonprofit workers. It is joining a huge wave of investment into farmland that has swallowed over 560 million acres worldwide since 2001. (Equivalent to about one quarter of all farm and ranch land in the U.S.) Proponents call this a win-win proposition, with wealth from the finance industry flowing to the cash-starved farming sectors of Africa, Asia and Latin America, and generating profits for Wall Street while feeding the world.
Earlier this month as the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development was hosting one of the last meetings to bring out a final draft for the negotiations in Rio de Janeiro, I came across a flurry of reports issued by various entities, including the one by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), entitled Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21) Report for Rio+20, which will serve as a roadmap during the Rio+20 conference this June. (In all fairness, I should mention that IATP contributed to the component of this report entitled, “Food and Agriculture: The future of sustainability.”) While all of these reports focus on sustainability, the call for sustainability in the agricultural sector is worth our attention for the simple reason that it is where one of the most crucial fights for world’s resources is taking place.
Three conflicts going on right now in the Philippines illustrate just how high the stakes are in struggles over rights and resources around the world.
I got an email this morning from Esther Penunia, secretary general of the Manila-based Asia Farmers Association and IATP board member, informing me that the Supreme Court of the Philippines has ordered that the country’s second-largest family-owned plantation should be divided up among 6000 farm families. (See the New York Times story on this decision.) Although the amount of land and number of beneficiaries is limited, the decision has a much larger significance. The distribution of land and wealth in the Philippines have remained staggeringly unequal since colonial times, and one of the most prominent popular demands following the fall of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 was for land reform, but until now, the country’s plutocrats had skillfully used their influence over the government and courts to prevent any meaningful redistribution. After 25 years, the Philippines is taking a huge step toward realizing the People Power Revolution’s vision of equality and democracy. “We feel that this is social justice,” Esther said of the decision.
Climate change will have significant impacts on world food security in our lifetimes. Indeed, we have already begun to feel the impacts from extreme events—droughts, heat waves, torrential rains leading to floods, with consequent impacts on crop production in Russia, Texas and the U.S. Midwest, Pakistan, Thailand, to name a few recent high-profile locations. Scientists predict that in the changing climate, extreme events such as these will increase in frequency and magnitude.
More insidious and potentially more threatening are slow onset events that over time will incrementally diminish or eliminate crop production in some parts of the world. These slow onset events—temperature rise, salt-water intrusion, loss of soil moisture and water supplies, loss of productive coastal areas due to sea level rise—will reduce crop yields and eliminate agriculture as a livelihood strategy for many.
So the decision by the newly reformed Committee on World Food Security to request its High-level Panel of Experts (HLPE) to conduct a study on climate change and food security was welcomed enthusiastically, especially by many of the civil society organizations working on food and climate change. At the end of 2011, the HLPE established a project team of experts from around the world to write the report. The mandate given to the team was to “review existing assessments and initiatives on the effects of climate change on the most affected and vulnerable regions and populations and the interface between climate change and agricultural productivity, including the challenges and opportunities of adaptation and mitigation policies and actions for food security and nutrition.”
You might think that the devastating impacts of commodity price volatility on global hunger would require policy debates in multiple international organizations. Last week, the United Nations’ General Assembly (UNGA) held a high-level debate on how to address this very issue. The opposing views of panelists concerning the extent to which financial speculation is driving commodities prices comprised a vigorous debate. More troubling is an attempt to squelch U.N. agency policy analysis of this issue and other economic governance topics.
U.N. member countries with globally influential financial and commodity markets are attempting to remove economic policy analysis from the mandate of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). This attack elicited an April 11 letter of protest from former UNCTAD staff, well as protests from developing countries that welcome UNCTAD’s analysis of the impact of financial speculation on commodity prices. According to the U.S. and EU, the U.N. should concern itself with capacity building to enable implementation of or adjustment to policies decided among the Group of 20 countries and at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
The effects of trade liberalization (so-called free trade agreements like NAFTA) on the economy, jobs, the environment and even food security have all been studied closely, but as more and more governments start to confront the large and growing costs of poor diets on human health, new questions are emerging about the relationship between free trade agreements and the growing global obesity epidemic. When countries agree to liberalize the exchange of goods and capital among themselves, are they unwittingly also agreeing to share chronic diseases?
In a new article in the latest issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, IATP takes a hard look at how the deregulation of trade and investment undermines human health. The article is co-authored by three IATP staff, Dr. David Wallinga, Karen Hansen-Kuhn and Sophia Murphy, together with Sarah Clarke, a graduate student at Tufts University and Corinna Hawkes, an environmental geographer with an extensive background on the links between health, food and global trade and finance.
The article looks at how NAFTA contributed to what nutritional experts call an “obesogenic environment” in Mexico. An explosion in the availability of low-quality, calorie-dense foods in Mexico in the wake of NAFTA coincided with Mexico going to second place worldwide for the highest percentage of overweight and obese people in its population (the USA takes first place).