Tomorrow the first ever summit of G-20 Agriculture Ministers will take place in Paris. The French government is to be commended for the initiative. Concerned by the evident disarray in government responses to the food price crisis of 2007-08, the French government moved quickly and deliberately to consider how best to respond. One of their investments, one that might be overlooked in the drama of a G-20 summit, has been in research to understand what kinds of tools governments have used to respond to price spikes and volatility, and how effective those tools have been, particularly in developing countries, and particularly with an eye on reducing poverty and vulnerability to hunger. The results of that investment is informing the debate at many levels, and is a welcome addition to a literature that is otherwise rather too orthodox.
The G-20 agriculture ministers will meet on June 22–23 in France to discuss how to address the major challenges facing agriculture. A report issued this week by a U.N. agency on the growing influence of financial speculators on commodity markets, including agriculture prices, should be required reading.
"The 'financialization' of commodity markets has changed trading behaviour and significantly affects the prices of such basic goods as staple foods," reported the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Monday. The UNCTAD report documented the new forces of financialization in commodity markets beginning in 2004—and its role in steadily rising prices, accompanied by increasing volatility.
The study's findings, backed by interviews with physical traders and financial investors, determined that the rise of the commodity derivatives market had encouraged herding behavior to the point where financial investment, rather than market fundaments like supply and demand, increasingly influences prices. The report's findings concluded that acting against the majority of investors, even if justified by market fundamentals, may result in large losses. "It may therefore be rational for market participants to ignore their own information and follow the trend."
Among the varied insightful voices at the TEDxTC event Monday night in St. Paul, I had the distinct privilege of listening to the talks of two giants working on the intersection of food and justice: Winona LaDuke, activist and author from the White Earth Reservation, and LaDonna Redmond, originally hailing from Chicago but recently joining our IATP team here in Minneapolis. Each activist cut the issue of food justice in a personally, culturally and geographically relevant way, and each story resonated close to what our relationship with food could be.
Staff from congressional offices, development agencies and family farm organizations jammed into a crowded briefing room on Capitol Hill on Thursday to hear more about new approaches to food security that help farmers feed their communities while working with nature. The briefing was sponsored by IATP and the Interfaith Working Group on Global Hunger and Food Security, and hosted by Rep. Jim McGovern.
Olivier de Schutter, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the right to food (see right with Cheryl Morden), led off the event with a bold assertion: we’re not actually facing a hunger crisis, but really three interlocking crises: a poverty crisis, an environmental crisis and a nutrition crisis. In many cases, the volume of food available isn’t really the issue. Poor people can’t afford the food that is available, and they can’t influence agricultural prices and policies. Unsustainable farming practices that rely on agrochemicals derived from petroleum products mean that farmers can’t afford the inputs, and that the land becomes degraded. And, many countries are facing a new nutrition crisis, with obesity rates in some communities increasing at the same time as hunger persists in others.
Last week, a background paper for the G-20 Summit of Agricultural Ministers on price volatility from eight international organizations appeared . The paper, dated May 2, was presented last week to the sherpas who are preparing for the summit, to be held in Paris on June 23.
The analysis treats the failures of international markets seriously. It provides a clear and useful explanation for why price volatility, so useful at low levels in the movement of goods, becomes a serious problem when price swings are too large. Yet the paper is fundamentally dissatisfying.
The start and end points of the recommendations (more so than the analysis) is how to ensure open market liberalization works. And even at that, ends up compromised by the politics of free trade, in which poorer countries can be held to a much higher standard than the richer countries that fund the international agencies providing the advice. So on the one hand, developing countries should further increase their dependence on international markets, while relying on finance (including loans) from the international system—finance that has a poor track record to date, both for timeliness and adequacy. On the other hand, the G-20 countries themselves can continue to disrupt those same international markets, asked only to moderate their public subsidies and mandates for biofuels.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is pleased to announce the selection of 14 new Food and Community Fellows. The 2011–2013 class of fellows is a mix of grassroots advocates, thought leaders, writers and entrepreneurs. You can see the full class below and at foodandcommunityfellows.org.
The two-year fellowship provides an annual stipend of $35,000 in addition to communications support, trainings and travel. The program supports leaders working to create a food system that strengthens the health of communities, particularly children. For this class of fellows, a selection committee focused on work that creates a just, equitable and healthy food system from its roots up. Over 560 individuals applied for fellowships.
“We had more than three times the number of applicants of previous classes. Such a talented and diverse pool of people working for food systems change was exciting and challenging for our selection committee and application readers. We look forward to this class building on the great work of previous classes,” said IATP’s Mark Muller. “The six-person selection committee provided a diversity of expertise and perspective that was essential for the decision-making process.”
“This new group of fellows parallels their predecessors in skill, capacity and experience,” says Keecha Harris, a food systems and public health expert, member of the very first fellowship class and member of the selection committee. “The selection process demonstrates that this country has a cadre of profoundly dedicated individuals committed to better food in their communities and improved food policies in all levels of government.” The new class of fellows represents work from Bainbridge Island, Washington to west Georgia, and from southern New Mexico to Queens, New York.
Another selection committee member, August Schumacher, former USDA Undersecretary of Farm and Agriculture Services agrees. “The caliber of the final awardees reflects extraordinary capabilities, outstanding and innovative proposals, and plain hard work,” Schumacher says.
“The Food and Community Fellows have always been change agents,” says Jim Harkness, President of IATP.” We invest in individuals that have a vision and plan for bettering the food system. These fellowships aren’t about incremental change; we want big visions that have the potential to provide our children with new opportunities for growing, processing, eating and thinking about food.”
Class VIII IATP Food and Community Fellows
Brahm Ahmadi, founder of People’s Grocery and CEO of People’s Community Market in Oakland, is a social entrepreneur redesigning food retail to better engage, serve and support food desert communities.
Jane Black is a Brooklyn-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues.
Don Bustos is a traditional farmer in New Mexico working on issues of land and water rights using community-based approaches and providing farmer-to-farmer training.
Cheryl Danley, an Academic Specialist with the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems at Michigan State University in East Lansing, engages with communities to strengthen their access to fresh, locally grown, healthy and affordable food.
Nina Kahori Fallenbaum, the Washington, DC-based food and agriculture editor of Hyphen magazine, uses independent media to engage Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in local and national food policy.
Kelvin Graddick, a west Georgia-based, fair food system advocate, manages a cooperative that maintains a local sustainable food system, promotes healthy living, builds cultural and economic knowledge, and creates economic opportunities.
Haile Johnston, a Philadelphia-based social entrepreneur, works to improve the vitality of rural and urban communities through food system connectivity and policy change.
Jenga Mwendo, a community organizer based in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, focuses on strengthening community through urban agriculture.
Raj Patel, a writer, academic and activist in San Francisco, works in support of Food Sovereignty in the US and the Global South through advocacy, analysis and protest.
Kimberly Seals Allers, an award-winning, Queens-based journalist and author, is the leading voice of the African American motherhood experience and a champion for children through her work advocating for improved maternal and infant health and increased breastfeeding in the black community.
Valerie Segrest, a member of the Muckleshoot Tribe outside of Seattle, works as a Community Nutritionist and Native Foods Educator to create a culturally appropriate system of health through traditional foods and medicines.
Kandace Vallejo, a staff member at Austin, Texas-based Proyecto Defensa Laboral/Workers Defense Project, coordinates the organization's Youth Empowerment Program, where she works with low-income, first-generation Latino youth and their families to educate, organize, and take action to create a more just and equitable food system for workers and consumers alike.
Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard works with La Semilla Food Center to improve access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods in the Paso del Norte region of southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
Malik Kenyatta Yakini, an activist and educator, is Interim Executive Director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, chairs the Detroit Food Policy Council and serves on the facilitation team of Undoing Racism in the Detroit Food System.
IATP's Shefali Sharma is part of a delegation visiting rural areas in India to assess the human rights impacts of the country's trade and investment policies.You can view her previous post here.
New Delhi – Last I wrote, I was embarking on a journey into some of the most rural villages of Southern India. Over a four-day period, our team met with groups of farmers—men and women—in the State of Andhra Pradesh. We travelled from west to east across Chittoor District and then took an overnight train to the Northern district of Medak, covering hundreds of kilometers.
Our difficult task was to understand what small farmers in India grow, how much they keep for eating and how much they sell to the market. We wanted to understand if they can continue to sustain themselves and their consumption needs through growing food alone and whether they have access not just to food, but adequate nutrition all year long.
We also wanted to understand whether a European Union–India Free Trade Agreement (FTA), currently under negotiation, would have an impact on their livelihoods. In particular, what role does dairy and poultry play for their income and food security and what would liberalizing investment with the European Union do to land access and natural resources for local farmers. Historically, the European Union has a habit of dumping both dairy products and poultry parts in developing countries, decimating small-scale dairy and poultry producers in the process. For example, Ghana’s poultry sector was wiped out when frozen poultry parts flooded Ghanian markets and the EU-India FTA is likely to include an “asset”-based definition of investment, including both “movable and immovable property.”
World Water Day is observed every year on March 22 as a day of action to draw attention to the role that fresh water plays in our world and lives, and the challenges that lie ahead in realizing right to water for all. The past year has been momentous as far as the advancement of right to water goes. There have been two developments in the U.N. system in 2010, both of which uphold the state’s responsibility in ensuring the right to water. The first was the United Nations General Assembly Resolution of July 28, 2010 and the second has been the U.N. Human Rights Commission Resolution of September, 2010.
Acknowledging these and other developments around the world as well as outlining the broad contours of the challenges communities face in realizing the right to water, the following statement has been prepared for this World Water Day by all who are part of the water justice movement.
World Water Day Statement from the Water Justice Movement March 22, 2011
On World Water Day 2011, with water justice activists around the world mobilizing to assert the right to water and sanitation for people and communities, to preserve water as part of an ecological trust and to ensure that water is democratically controlled by the people in the public interest, we issue this short statement to reflect on both recent victories toward implementation of the right to water as well as the challenges and threats that remain ahead.
We are heartened by passage this past year of two resolutions within the U.N. system that have further affirmed the right to water and the obligations governments must fulfill to uphold this right. The first resolution, passed in July 2010 in the U.N. General Assembly was championed by leading countries in Latin America, including Bolivia, as well as other countries in the global South, and its passage marked the first time this body had gone on record formally acknowledging the right to water and sanitation.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy announced today that LaDonna Redmond will lead a new project focusing on health, justice and the food system.
The project will center on health disparities resulting from the food system, from the farm to consumers—particularly as they affect low-income populations and communities of color.
“We are excited to have LaDonna lead this area of work,” said IATP President Jim Harkness. “A more fair and healthy food system has to include everyone, not just those who can afford it. LaDonna’s extensive experience working at the community and policy level will be a tremendous asset.”
Redmond is a long-time community activist who has successfully worked to get Chicago Public Schools to evaluate junk food, launched urban agriculture projects, started a community grocery store and worked on federal farm policy to expand access to healthy food in low-income communities. Redmond is a frequently invited speaker and occasional radio host. In 2009, Redmond was one of 25 citizen and business leaders named a Responsibility Pioneer by Time Magazine. Redmond is a former Food and Society Policy Fellow.
“We have a food system that has largely been built on the backs of people who don’t have a lot of rights and access to our public policy infrastructure,” said Redmond. “We need to collectively better understand the inequities in the food system and make sure we include people who have faced these inequities in finding solutions.”
Redmond will be leading efforts at IATP to identify research gaps related to health in the food system, and connect researchers with those facing inequities in the food chain, including farmers, farm and food workers, and consumers.
Here is a short video featuring LaDonna talking about food justice, health and what role IATP can play:
The year 2011 started with the news of food price hikes around the world pushing even more people, especially women, into hunger. But then along came images of women in Egypt in the forefront of a revolution to get rid of a government that has been in power for over 30 years! Victories such as the ones in Egypt are occasions for celebrating the strength and resilience of women even under the most oppressed circumstances, and their ability to defy prevalent stereotypes.
So, what will 2011, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, bring for women?
In the initial years, tragic events such as the "Triangle Fire" of 1911 (which killed more than 140 working women in New York City) became a focus of International Women's Day. Since its beginnings in Europe, International Women's Day has grown to become a day of recognition and celebration across the world. Drawing attention to the abject working conditions women faced, and to issues such as land rights and food security, domestic violence and trafficking in women, and at the same time expressing solidarity with sisters across cultures and regions, IWD has grown in strength and visibility.