Posted September 30, 2011 by Ben Lilliston
Wall Street aside, it’s nearly impossible to find a legislative or regulatory issue related to food and agriculture that hasn’t been deeply shaped (if not outright written) by corporate lobbyists. Adbusters called for a Presidential Commission to end the influence of corporate money in Washington. That would be step in the right direction for those who care about agriculture and our food system. If Washington won’t step up to the plate, the stakes will only get higher.
Posted September 26, 2011 by Sophia Murphy
In mid-September, I had the pleasure to attend a two-day consultation run by the Center for Women's Global Leadership (CWGL), housed at Rutgers University (which, by the way, I was told boasts a freshman year this year that includes no less than 46 percent first generation university students. Kudos!). The consultation was the third that the CWGL has held with U.N. Special Rapporteurs—last week's was with Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food. Dr. de Schutter is in the first stages of preparing a report on women's rights and the right to food, which he will present to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in March 2012. CWGL assembled a group of some 30 people to discuss the report, focusing on the right to food, gender equality and macro-economics. It was a great two-day brainstorm with a lot of smart and experienced (mostly) women. Fun and stimulating and useful.
The highlights? It's been too long since I had two-days with explicitly feminist thinkers. It was refreshing and demanding, too. There was the perhaps perrenial struggle in feminist analysis with how to manage the micro-macro links. In the end, for me, women's issues are centred on power issues: decision-making power, whether in cultural, social, economic or political matters. The struggle is often first and foremost in the home. A patriarchy, after all, is about the father. Yet we know that patriarchy is perpetuated right through to the highest levels of decision-making. As IATP Food and Community fellow Raj Patel said in one session, questions like which debts count and which get forgiven; which sectors of the economy suffer inflation, or increased unemployment; whose credit is increased or tightened; which services get cut during a recession—these questions all have gender implications that are almost always unacknowledged by those in power. For women, the big fights are not new, but they are not yet won—the fight for equality as inheritors; equality as automous members of a household; equality in access to productive resources; equality in wages.
For the Special Rapporteur's mandate, the decision to focus on women is important. First, women are over-represented in most of the groups of people whose rights are not respected. Women's lack of equality translates into their being more likely than men to be hungry, uneducated, denied access to land or credit, and more likely to be silenced in decision-making. They increasingly have access to paid employment, but hardly ever—whether in rich or in poor countries—on equal terms. This in itself is reason to act.
Focusing on women also forces attention to the question of political agency: Who makes decisions, in whose name and in whose interests? The Special Rapporteur has written a series of studies and reports that look at macro-economics, from trade to investment to agro-ecological production systems to agribusiness. A report about women and the right to food will add an edge to that work by highlighting important reasons why macro-economics is also about rights. A feminist, just as a human rights activist, must ask not just "What is the policy?" but "Who does it affect, and how?" Invoking a Rawlsian notion of justice (any policy should benefit most the least advantaged), outcomes matter, and a deliberate discrimination in favor of the disadvantaged becomes central.
I'll blog again on some of the main areas of debate from the meeting. Let me finish here with a note of warning that many around the room sounded over the two days: it is all too common to hear arguments for women's rights on purely instrumentalist grounds, as if some reason beyond women's too-often denied humanity was needed as a justification to fight for women's rights. One popular argument is that educated women are better mothers, for example, or that women are better managers of household affairs than men and so should get micro-credit loans. But of course, women have a right to food whether or not they are wives, daughters or mothers. It is a pity that slightly more than half of humanity needs a special report at all. But since we do, many thanks to the Special Rapporteur for taking the time to document the issues, and to CWGL for providing a space and the expertise to ensure it will be a rich report.
Posted September 23, 2011 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Tomorrow, IATP will join millions of people in 176 countries in Moving Planet, a coordinated a day of activities to advocate for a sharp reduction of greenhouse gases and other sustainable solutions to climate change. The activities will range from bike marches, prayer services, workshops, lectures, presentations of petitions, press releases and concerts. IATP will be at a Moving Planet event on the grounds of Minnesota’s state capitol building in St. Paul.
One of the issues we’ll be talking about there will be finance: how do we pay for a global shift toward a low carbon economy? Over the past three years, IATP has focused on problems with using carbon emissions markets to address climate change, particularly as these markets relate to agriculture. Earlier this month, we published our analysis of the World Bank’s model project in Kenya for reducing greenhouse gases. The project would pay farmers an average of one dollar per year for 20 years to practice Sustainable Agricultural Land Management to sequester carbon emissions in soil. The World Bank would buy the results of the farmers’ work at $4 per metric ton of carbon emissions, converted into carbon emission offset credits to be sold to major polluters to help them comply with greenhouse gas caps without having to actually reduce their own pollution. Because the science of measuring soil carbon is fraught with uncertainties, the World Bank discounts 60 percent of the result of the farmers’ work, although the carbon accountants doing the monitoring and verification of that work will be paid well and in full.
IATP will participate in the October 1–7 U.N. climate change negotiations in Panama City. We anticipate a major effort by the U.S and European governments, supported by the South African presidency of the Conference of Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to make a major push to legitimate “new market mechanisms” in general and agricultural soil carbon markets in particular within the UNFCCC work program.
Given our many criticisms of carbon markets as the proposed chief means to finance climate change adaptation and GHG-reduction projects, we are delighted to hear of two agreements announced this week to invest a total of $1.6 billion in U.S. energy conservation projects. On September 21, two California pension funds announced at the Clinton Global Initiative that they would invest $1 billion in U.S. energy conservation and efficiency technologies. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said of the announcement, “This is a big deal.” On September 19, a consortium of major companies announced that they would invest $650 million to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency in Miami, Florida and Sacramento, California.
These announcements are indeed “big deals,” not so much for the amount of money invested, since the global need for such investments is so much greater, as for the fact that these are direct investments to reduce greenhouse gasses. Rather than wait for investors in carbon emissions markets to discover a high enough price to induce major emitter investment in new energy production and conservation technologies, the pension funds and the business consortium deal, brokered by the nonprofit Carbon War Room, have decided to act now.
Governments and carbon market proponents, such as the World Bank, have labored in vain for more than 15 years to design and subsidize carbon markets to make them serve the purpose of reducing greenhouse gases. The results of these labors have been plagued with the scientific and methodological uncertainties noted in the World Bank’s Kenya project, to say nothing of the market and environmental integrity failures and fraud in carbon markets under the European Union’s Emission’s Trading Scheme.
The announcements of these new major investments in GHG reduction come as a breath of fresh air following the decision by the U.S. State Department to give a positive environmental impact assessment to the Keystone XL pipeline project. The pipeline would run from the shale oil fields of Canada, often called the Tar Sands, to a refining and shipping installation in Texas on the Gulf of Mexico.
In late August, major environmental organizations wrote to President Barack Obama to implore him to stop the Keystone project, which is expected to emit 150 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, more than the emissions of most countries. President Obama, under heavy pressure from the oil industry and the Canadian government to approve the project, is expected to announce a decision by the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (CoP), November 28–December 9 in Durban, South Africa. The Keystone project decision will be among the concerns of Moving Planet participants, particularly in the United States and Canada, on September 24. Opposition to the Keystone project among environmental justice advocates likely will grow as the start of the CoP and President Obama’s decision on Keystone approaches.
If you live in Minnesota, join us tomorrow at the state capitol to show your support and learn more. If you're elsewhere, there are lots of Moving Planet events going on around the world—find one near you.
Posted September 23, 2011 by Sophia Murphy
This post was originally featured on the Triple Crisis blog.
G-20 development ministers meet on Friday in Washington, D.C. One of the items on their agenda is a proposal developed in June for the G-20 agriculture ministers to allow the World Food Program to develop a pilot proposal for an emergency food reserve. The decision was possibly the most important outcome in an otherwise thin summit communiqué: however circumscribed, we know that food price volatility correlates with low stocks, and that providing stocks is a proven way to curb excessive volatility. We also know that in emergencies, in most of the poorest countries, it takes an average of 90 days to bring food into food-deficit areas. 90 days is too long. The costs of working in emergency conditions are also too high, in both resources and human life. There are cheaper, better ways to ensure food is available when it’s needed: a reserve in the food-vulnerable regions is one of them.
The pilot is to be part of the G-20 Action Plan on Food Price Volatility. Preparation of the proposal included extensive consultation with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which accepted an invitation to host the pilot project.
Between the last days of June and just last week, an astonishingly short period of time, the WFP coordinated a process among a number of intergovernmental and national agencies; coordinated the drafting of a report, which is both a feasibility study and pilot project proposal; found a willing partner region (ECOWAS); worked with an ad hoc group of interested G-20 governments who provided oversight; and managed some outreach to NGOs with experience in humanitarian emergencies and stocks policies. It is an impressive achievement. Bravo.
The resulting WFP proposal covers all aspects of the creation, operation and governance of the reserve as well as a comparative analysis including other measures to respond to humanitarian needs under conditions of high and volatile food prices. Yet the G-20 governments placed a number of constraints on the design of the pilot, including the requirement that releases from the reserve only be distributed through safety net programs so as to not affect local food prices (required for WTO compliance), that the size of the physical reserve be kept to a bare minimum (no more than a 30-day supply), that any physical reserve be complemented by some form of “virtual reserve” (something of a catch-all category for alternatives to holding physical stocks directly), and that releases would only be triggered when certain criteria were satisfied, related to global market shocks and local or regional food insecurity indicators. The constraints reflect the preoccupation of many governments (not least the U.S. government) that nothing interfere with commerce—only the poorest should be helped (as they are too poor to voice any demand anyway), and with only limited supplies (in case known supplies should dampen prices and thereby discourage production in the long run).
These constraints could jeopardize the whole exercise, but they could still be changed before the summit of G-20 heads of state in November.
Three concerns top the list:
Furthermore, it is possible that problematic high prices could occur without significant price volatility (e.g., sustained high maize prices related to mandated biofuel demand) preventing effective use of the reserve. As the High-level Panel report on price volatility makes clear, it is high and volatile prices that are the issue for many countries, not volatility alone. An alternative indicator, such as global stock-to-use ratio, may offer a more responsive yet still objective indicator of whether an international market shock has occurred.
If the G-20 really wants an emergency reserve to work, it will be important for development ministers to push for a pilot project that dares a little more than the current proposal. It is only a pilot after all: a relatively low-risk opportunity for learning. Nothing ventured, nothing gained; the commercial market has already proved itself inadequate. Whatever the explanation for the failings, it is clear that much of the demand for food in poorer countries has a hard time making itself heard in the international marketplace. If the G-20 wants markets to dominate the exchange of food, safety nets are essential, as G-20 ministers know. Here is a chance to work with something more effective and less expensive that the existing system of humanitarian assistance. Let’s hope development ministers are willing not just to adopt the proposal coming their way (that would be a start), but to strengthen it, too. It is an opportunity to send a strong signal to the G-20 heads of state, who will meet in early November, that reserves are a practical tool to counter market failures that jeopardize people’s lives and livelihoods. It is great to have a proposal on the table, but reserves deserve a better hearing than the G-20 agriculture ministers’ mandate allows. Let’s hope other ministries can take the idea to a higher level.
Posted September 21, 2011 by Andrew Ranallo
IATP hosted a conference last week at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment that addressed the contentious issue of indirect land use change (ILUC)—put simply, if we take an acre of corn used in food production and begin using it for fuel instead, how will the global agriculture system make up for that missing corn for food? Will more land be cleared somewhere else? What are the environmental implications?
With the rising demand for alternative energy sources, more and more farmers are entering this transition. In March 2011, IATP led a group of U.S. researchers, farmers and biofuel producers down to Brazil to explore ILUC on the ground. IATP’s conference was part of a follow-up to that trip and brought a group from Brazil up to Minnesota to learn more about U.S. biofuel production.
The conference was designed to look ahead, and find ways to sustain the delicate global system of farmers, land and the environment as the demand for alternative energy sources rises and more farmers enter transition from food to fuel.
Minnesota 2020 has put together a short video about the conference and its participants. Watch the video below, read more about IATP’s recent work on ILUC or listen to audio interviews (scroll to bottom of page) with the delegation that visited Brazil in March.
Posted September 16, 2011 by Ben Lilliston
Posted September 14, 2011 by
Posted September 6, 2011 by Ben Lilliston
Healthy food that supports local farmers. What could be better for our next generation of eaters?
Posted September 6, 2011 by Mark Muller
This post originally appeared September 4, 2011 on The Huffington Post.
In many cultures, it's common before a holiday meal to give a prayer of thanks for the food and the people that prepared it. At these times, we may think of our family members in the kitchen, or possibly the hard-working farmers we met at the farmers market.