Fair trade or free trade? Let your voice be heard on Minnesota’s future!
The Obama Administration is negotiating two new mega trade deals (one with Pacific Rim countries, another with Europe) entirely in secret, with the goal of further expanding the NAFTA-model of free trade. These trade agreements could have major impacts on Minnesota's farmers, workers, small business owners and rural communities. They could limit Minnesota’s ability to support local food and energy systems and grow local businesses. In order to stay up to speed, Minnesota has set up a new Trade Policy Advisory Council (TPAC) to advise the state legislature and Governor.
TPAC wants to hear from Minnesotans: What concerns do you have about free trade? What role could TPAC play in the future? Now is your opportunity to have a say in our future trade policy. Complete the survey and let them know future trade negotiations should be public, not secret. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the development of trade agreements and that they protect local control and our quality of life. The free trade model has failed for Minnesota and we need a new approach to trade. Help ensure the voices of all Minnesotans are heard before trade agreements are completed, and that they protect local control, our natural resources and our quality of life.
Posted October 26, 2012 by Sophia Murphy
I came away from the 39th session of UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) last Saturday tired but hopeful. In a world where many are skeptical of global institutions' ability to solve the world’s most challenging problems—not least of which, climate change—the CFS offers a new approach to global governance, and is getting results. It’s a rare place in the multilateral system where transparency and participation have stretched to allowing civil society a place at the negotiating table. The processes are not perfect, and as Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier de Schutter’s summary reminds us, there is still a need for a “strong, innovative monitoring and accountability mechanism” to give the organization teeth. Nonetheless, it’s getting things done, and keeping a surprising diversity of people happy while doing it.
The CFS forum is maturing—settling into a rhythm and losing some of the slightly frantic energy that betrays the insecurity of an untested institution. (Don’t be fooled by the term “39th session”—the whole committee was dramatically revamped in 2009, so this is only the 3rd year the reformed committee has met). The governments seem more relaxed, and more focused. The civil society organizations are taking their space with confidence, focused on content, analysis and strategy because the processes they have built to ensure collaborative interaction among a diverse mix of constituencies and regions are working reasonably well. The processes are still evolving, of course, but they are working, too, which is great, because food security issues continue to merit urgent attention from the international community.
Having narrowly avoided a crisis in 2012 despite the U.S. drought, international food prices remain volatile and inclined to spike. Governments remain nervous about their country-level food security, mistrustful of international trade and heavily invested in expanding production. The need for space in the international system where governments can meet and discuss these issues without negotiating a trade agreement or signing a contract for the receipt of development dollars is as great as ever. CSOs hoped the CFS would be that space and the outcomes of 2012 give them grounds for optimism.
For example, this past week the CFS endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure, a hard-fought document agreed in March 2012, that sets out principles for governments to consider in managing the tenure of land, fisheries and forests from a food security perspective. Governments at this year’s CFS successfully navigated negotiations on climate change. They also made decisions on social protection, which are programs and policies designed to both assist people living below the poverty line and to prevent people from ending up below that line. The CFS discussed its mandate, too, in a document called the Global Strategic Framework (GSF). A version of the GSF has now been adopted, which, while imperfect, is workable, and can be built on. (Note the GSF website still needs to be updated). The CSOs were pleased to get the CFS mandate codified and adopted, even if not all the issues CSOs have identified as important were included. The U.S. in particular refused to allow the GSF to include a call for discussion of definitions of food sovereignty, but it was important that the negotiation on this point was held at all—it would have been unimaginable even five years ago, and the countries that disagreed with the United States were vocal.
I chaired a side event on price volatility at the CFS. Price volatility was a big issue on last year’s agenda. It remains a politically hot issue, as was evident in Agricultural Ministers’ speeches during the CFS, at the summit FAO hosted on World Food Day (October 16). IATP organized the side event with Oxfam, ActionAid International, and the Trans-Atlantic Dialogue on Food Assistance (TAFAD). The speakers were George André Simon, Professor of Food Security at the University of Rome; Halima Sanda from the organization of pastoralist farmers in Mali called Bilital Marobé; Djibo Bagnan, the President of ROPPA, a network of West African peasant organizations; and Aftab Alam, International Coordinator for Livelihoods and Food Security at Action Aid International. They addressed questions of price volatility in the past year, as they relate to conditions for farmers in developing countries; price volatility in domestic markets; and the agreement in April of a new international agreement on food assistance. Abdolreza Abbassian, in charge of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS) for FAO, was present and gave his view on what AMIS could add to curb excessive price volatility, and the limitations of AMIS in relation to the enormous challenges of food security as well.
One of the messages from the event was the need to stop talking about the food crisis, though the possibility of a dramatic food price crisis still looms. Rather, we should be talking about the new international context for food—some people like the term paradigm shift—which is characterized by a shift from excessive stocks to very low stock levels, new demand pressures for land and water (from biofuels in particular), poorly regulated commodity and futures exchanges, and less certain production resulting from climate change and the increased incidence of climate-related supply shocks, particularly due to drought and floods. It’s taking time to develop the best institutional, policy and regulatory frameworks to handle this new, less certain world for food systems, but the CFS remains one of the institutions that has to play a central role, despite the G-20’s reluctance to cede any political space.
There’s plenty more to digest from what has become the place to be and to learn for anyone working on food security policy. I predict the CFS is only just hitting its stride and that we can expect more in the future. Next year, for example, they will tackle biofuels. It was a great week, and there is more to come.
Posted October 25, 2012 by Shefali Sharma
Last week in Rome, the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security (CFS) agreed on key principles on how governments must address the massive food security challenge that climate change brings. The big news: Governments at the CFS recognized that policies addressing climate change must also support the Right to Food—an important step forward that if taken seriously by governments could result in a major shift in the way agriculture and land use are considered at the global climate talks.
The CFS is a pioneering, and perhaps unique, forum where governments and civil society organizations can work together to define coherent policies to meet the world’s food and agriculture challenges and reduce global hunger. Global warming has been considered the negotiating territory of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Agriculture has been a controversial, albeit minor, subset of those extremely contentious negotiations since 2008.Those talks have focused primarily on how to legitimize carbon accounting schemes to “offset” the climate footprint of the biggest polluters; rather than how to create a “sea change” in the way industrial agriculture is practiced and how to enable the agriculture sector to adapt to climate change. Though the UNFCCC acknowledged the effects global warming would have on food production, and the global imperative to avoid disruption of food systems from climate change, the negotiations have done little to assess governments’ proposals in the talks and their real impact on the Right to Food for millions of people. In fact, when it comes to agriculture, the proposals in the UNFCCC have been heading in the wrong direction.
Thus, when the CFS asked its High Level Panel of Experts (HLPto undertake a report on Food Security and Climate Change outlining key actions that governments should take at both global and national levels, IATP as well as numerous other organizations saw it as a critical opportunity to set things right on the climate and food front. We expressed our concerns through a letter to the HLPE in the drafting process, as well as in depth comments on the essential elements that should go into the report.
Informed by the report, governments came together last week at the CFS to agree on the decisions they would take on climate change to “promote greater convergence and coordination of policies on key issues that affect food security and nutrition.” Unlike the climate negotiations, civil society organizations (as well as a representative from agribusiness) were in the room to negotiate this “Decision Box.” Though the Decision Box is not “hard law,” or mandated obligations, adopted by member states of the CFS, it does add to the body of “soft” law that provides guidance and directives to member states and intergovernmental organizations to follow. Given that these same member states who agreed to the decision box then negotiate in other foras, the set of decisions is a reminder of what they agreed to with regards to food security. The strength of its application lies in how seriously governments and intergovernmental bodies take the CFS, the need for coherence in the global governance of agriculture and their commitment to food security.
Over three full days of statements and negotiations, including a 14 hour-day, governments and CSOs haggled over language on what governments would ask the CFS and its member governments to do (the final documents will be posted on the CFS website in the next few days). Those of us fighting to get the Right to Food acknowledged and accepted as a key principle for addressing climate change were triumphant. The decision box accepted by the CFS included the following guiding principles in the decision:
The Committee reiterates the role of the CFS in promoting greater policy convergence and coordination with regards to food security, and recognizes that the adverse effects of climate change can pose serious threats to food security especially to small scale food producers’ lives and livelihoods, and to the progressive realization of the right to food in the context of national food security, and urges action.
The Committee recognizes the responsibility of member states to ensure that their policies, programs, actions and strategies are fully consistent with existing international obligations [such as the Right to Food], including food security related commitments.
It is critical that governments begin to own the Right to Food and ensure that proposals to address climate change truly allow “human beings to feed themselves with dignity.” If governments negotiating at the UNFCCC follow through on their CFS commitments on climate change, it could create new urgency to prevent the collapse of food systems and prioritize agriculture adaptation for small scale food producers that are so essential to global food security. It would also ensure that proposals to address land use change in no way undermine peoples’ rights to access, availability and affordability of food. The agreement therefore was a major victory given that the politics of the climate talks threatened to jettison a decision at the CFS altogether.
The U.S. and Brazil were locked in a stalemate for many of those hours because the U.S. government perceived that its negotiating position at the UNFCCC was being compromised by a reference to the UNFCCC principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR). This famous CBDR principle is enshrined in the UNFCCC convention which entered into force 18 years ago in 1994. It is the principle which acknowledges “equity” and asks developed countries to “take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.” In the current context, the U.S. sees CBDR as a threat to the new treaty they want at the UNFCCC which would put developing and developed countries on the same footing. At the same time, they do not want the CFS to put more responsibility on developed countries for addressing adaptation needs of developing countries.
The U.S. claimed that CBDR is no longer an accepted position, while Brazil upheld the UNFCCC convention which is international law. Canada supported the U.S. position, while Argentina, India, Philippines and China supported Brazil. Civil society organizations including IATP pushed hard for the CFS to assert its primacy and leadership regarding actions needed to ensure food security in the face of climate change and to provide guidance to the climate talks and other fora on this issue. And this was achieved after protracted negotiations between Brazil and the U.S. that ended up side-stepping the CBDR issue by removing all references to it and any “principles” of the UNFCCC. We also succeeded in ensuring that the major and misguided propaganda of the World Bank on “climate smart” agriculture and carbon offset schemes that include soil carbon sequestration did not find its way in the CFS decision box.
This is the first time governments party to the climate talks and the CFS are acknowledging their responsibility to “integrate climate change concerns in food security policies and programs and to increase resilience of vulnerable groups and food systems to climate change, emphasizing adaptation to climate change as a major concern.” They are acknowledging that they must act on the adaptation concerns of food producers, “especially small-scale producers.” Considering that the agriculture talks at the UNFCCC have thus far been busy shifting the burden of greenhouse gas reductions onto small producers who have least contributed to climate change, this step by the CFS is definitely in the right direction.
We, CSOs and governments alike, must now build on this success and ensure that the CFS continues to assert its competence in the realm of food security and climate change—not least because it is the most inclusive and transparent forum to date on both of these issues. We hope this first step is followed by others to push international fora such as the UNFCCC and intergovernmental organizations such as the World Bank and the FAO towards “convergence” that ensures the right to food in all climate change proposals, and particularly in those that address agriculture.
Posted October 25, 2012 by
According to a new report from Common Cause, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) reported spending $2.8 million on political advertising so far in the 2011-12 election cycle. Scores of candidates “fighting for jobs” and “cutting government regulation” were funded by the ACC. The ACC is the trade group that represents big chemical companies like Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobil. In the 2011-12 election cycle the chemical industry also contributed $10 million to candidates for federal office and gave $388,000 to congressional leadership PACs.
Chemical companies are investing in a Congress that will represent their interests, and the money continues to flow after these officials take office. In 2011 the ACC spent $10.8 million lobbying Congress and for the first half of 2012 has spent $14.8 million. On top of this, individual chemical companies, including Dow Chemical and DuPont, have invested significant resources in lobbying Congress to the tune of $81.6 million to lobby the 112th Congress!
Why are big chemical companies spending big bucks on elections and lobbying? The chemical industry is trying to prevent reform of the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). TSCA does a poor job of regulating the over 80,000 chemicals used in commerce, with only 5 chemicals restricted in its 35-year history. For the first time in 35 years, TSCA reform saw some positive momentum with the passage of Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act through the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in 2012. This legislation requires basic safety data on all chemicals and prioritizes the phase out of the worst chemicals, ones that are toxic and build up in the environment, in the food system and in the human body.
Reforming TSCA could also affect the future of another new industry by providing a route for evaluating the toxicity of and regulating the chemicals used in high-pressure hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” according to the EPA. The ACC views fracking as a boon to the chemical industry because it provides improved access to shale gas as a critical new source for energy and liquid natural gas for highly toxic polyvinyl chloride (PVC ). According to a previous Common Cause report, oil and gas companies spent $747 million over ten years to preserve the provision in the 2005 Energy Act that exempts fracking from EPA review.
While citizens might not have the spending power of the ACC, we can fight to overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that opened the door to lavish corporate campaign spending. Hundreds of groups, including the IATP, have joined United for the People, a coalition working to overturn Citizens United.
You can also let your Congressional representatives know you care about addressing toxic chemicals. Ask them to support action to protect American families from toxic chemicals. Let Congress know that you reject Big Chemical's agenda and support the Safe Chemicals Agenda!
Posted October 24, 2012 by
IATP has long recognized that many of the drivers of the destructive industrial food system are not based on a sound rationale, but instead on a series of corporate marketing myths. IATP Food and Community Fellow Raj Patel, for example, has recently been taking on the false assumptions that contributed to the Green Revolution and the revitalized interest in a new Green Revolution.
Another common assumption is that we have a moral obligation to “feed the world,” and that we should not only embrace chemically intensive, industrial food production and distribution systems for profit, but also to fulfill a moral obligation to feed hungry people in other parts of the world. It’s an extremely effective frame. Surely you’re not willing to ignore the plight of the hungry in order to selfishly provide local wildlife habitat or eat local and organic foods?
IATP has researched the relationship between U.S. grain exports and hunger, an important component of this myth. A recent report by IATP Senior Associate Julia Olmstead reveals that dramatic increases in U.S. grain production and export has not alleviated global hunger.
This confirms the conclusions of the exhaustive review conducted for the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which found that inadequate income and the inability of countries facing hunger to develop their own sustainable food systems are important drivers to hunger that are often ignored in the drive for increased industrial food production.
Some of the research that debunks the “feeding the world” myth can get technical and esoteric. IATP Food and Community Fellow alum Anna Lappé has cut through the jargon with an excellent short video, released today on Food Day, titled “Do we really need industrial agriculture to feed the world?” In the six-minute video Anna uses animation to tell a compelling story that allows all of us to appreciate the conclusions of the 600-page IAASTD report and so many other studies.
Have a wonderful Food Day! Eat well, support policies that give everyone the ability to eat well, and pass the video along so that everyone can better understand the destructive nature of the “feed the world” myth.
Posted October 24, 2012 by Sarah Leavitt
Guest blogger Sarah Leavitt is the digital outreach manager of the Lambi Fund of Haiti.
It’s a common scene in Haiti: Marceline, a small farmer, walks into a bustling market to sell her harvest and the marketplace is riddled with imported goods. Fruits and vegetables are from the Dominican Republic, packaged goods from the U.S. line the rows and large bags of rice stamped with USAID lay on the ground. To an unknowing eye, this wouldn’t mean much, but to Marceline these imported goods are undercutting her and other Haitian farmers’ ability to make an honest living.
In Haiti, the idea of food sovereignty means so much more than growing food that is healthy, culturally appropriate and produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods (as defined by the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty). For the more than half of Haitian society that depends on agriculture for its livelihood, an agriculture system that that supports locally grown foods is imperative.
The struggle to protect and strengthen local agriculture is nothing new to Haiti. Severe environmental degradation and years of deforestation have eroded the soil and left much of the land devoid of the nutrients essential to producing high yielding crops. This, coupled with Haiti’s propensity for natural disasters, like hurricanes, leaves small farmers especially vulnerable to fluctuations in the environment.
Take Hurricane Isaac for example. Heavy rains came and quickly washed away topsoil no longer anchored down by the roots of trees, leading to the destruction of many crops and livestock. The damage was so severe, it is estimated that the agriculture sector suffered $2,420 million in losses (Caribbean Journal 2012). This susceptibility to crop loss makes relying on agriculture in Haiti a difficult endeavor. For small Haitian farmers like Marceline, losing crops to a hurricane is devastating. Selling goods from a harvest in the market is now out of the question and the need to feed her children, send them to school and eke out an existence becomes a herculean feat.
If the seemingly ever-present threats of the environment were not enough, small farmers continually face ramifications of unfair trade policies that promote the incessant dumping of food aid and cripple local markets.
The most well-known example of this is the infamous U.S. rice programs that destroyed Haiti’s rice production in the mid 1990s. The Clinton Administration negotiated an agreement with the Haitian government that dramatically cut tariffs on imported U.S. rice, which became cheaper than Haitian rice. As a consequence, the floor dropped out from beneath Haitian rice growers. As Clinton explains it, "It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake." Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March of 2010, "I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else."
Then again in May 2010, on the heels of the earthquake, when communities were still reeling from the devastation and loss of life—farmers’ crops were attacked yet again. Monsanto announced the donation of $4 million dollars' worth of hybrid corn and vegetable seeds. Much like Clinton’s rice subsidy policies that were at the time touted as providing Haitians with a cheap and affordable source of food, this donation was given under the veil of benevolence to help farmers who “may not have had sufficient seeds to plant” (Monsanto 2010), an assumption without merit.
Monsanto’s actions were harmful for a couple of reasons. First, the seeds came coated in toxic fungicides and require significantly more water, chemical fertilizers and pesticides than local Creole heirloom and organic seeds. In addition, these hybrid seeds cannot be saved and re-planted, so farmers who use them must purchase new seeds for planting each year.
Small farmers saw this ruse for what it was—a move by Monsanto to create agricultural dependency in Haiti. The peasant farmer leader Chavannes Jean-Baptiste of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) called this donation, “a new earthquake [for Haiti]” and “a very strong attack on small agriculture, on farmers, on biodiversity, on Creole seeds…and on what is left of our environment in Haiti.” Local peasant farmer movements were so opposed to this attack on food sovereignty that they committed to burning Monsanto’s seeds upon arrival. Undoubtedly, not all of the seeds were destroyed and thousands of Haitians were distributed these seeds unaware of the long-term risks and impending dependency—all of which impoverished farmers simply cannot afford. (Read more about the continued impacts of Monsanto’s influence in Haiti.)
In spite of these egregious threats from the U.S. and international corporations, small communities throughout Haiti are uniting to strengthen local food production, protect the environment and promote Creole seed and food storage.
One such example is the Youth Association of Sél (AJS) who are partnering with the Lambi Fund of Haiti to build a grain storage facility and to launch a community credit fund in their community. The organization is building a grain silo to store surplus grains and seeds for use in times of need—droughts, natural disasters and between growing seasons. The storage facility will also be a place to store local Creole seeds. With this silo, AJS members are working to increase access to high quality, local seeds that they can share and sell to one another at an affordable rate.
AJS, a youth organization comprised of 255 members (120 women) is a young and vibrant group that realizes the importance of fighting for and promoting food sovereignty in its community. In order to increase their capacity, members attended workshops administered by Lambi Fund on grain storage management and operation, bookkeeping, the issuing of loans and how to manage a community credit fund.
To date, 50 low-interest loans have been issued to members who are using the funds to purchase more seeds, tools and organic fertilizers for growing more peanuts, peas and corn in the area. One recipient noted that investments from the loan allowed him to cultivate 25 percent more land. All of these loans were repaid on time, and since AJS manages the credit fund and interest earnings stay within the community, the fund is growing. As a result, AJS members are planning toHaitis issue an additional 19 loans this fall to farmers in preparation for the upcoming planting season. The silo is currently under construction and committees have been formed that will be responsible for managing the food storage unit and distributing the grains and seeds in an equitable manner.
While members of AJS may be young, each of these members is not naïve to the difficulties of farming in Haiti. Hurricanes, droughts, a degraded environment, unfair trade policies and corporate influences make growing food and earning a fair income markedly difficult, yet members of AJS and countless other Haitians living in rural Haiti realize the importance of standing in unity and working together toward a food secure Haiti. Cooperatives and community organizations much like AJS are working together to promote food storage, seed sharing and community lending practices that are strengthening the foundation of agriculture in Haiti. To read more about efforts like these or to support community-led efforts for sustainable agriculture, please visit www.lambifund.org.
Posted October 23, 2012 by
On September 24–26, 2012, hundreds of food justice advocates gathered in Minneapolis for the Food + Justice = Democracy conference. One of the primary features of the conference was the use of a People’s Movement Assembly process to craft principles around food justice. View and comment on the draft Principles of Food Justice or read a summary of the conference and its aims below. Join IATP for a post-conference webinar to review the outcomes and plan for moving forward on November 15. RSVP now.
The U.S food system has never been just, fair or healthy. This is a shocking statement to some, but to the vast majority of people of color and tribal nations in the United States this has always been a reality. This sentiment was the thread connecting many of the conversations throughout all three days of IATP’s Food + Justice = Democracy conference last month in Minneapolis.
African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos experience higher incidence of chronic diseases, higher mortality, and poorer overall health outcomes. To address the health disparities that those communities face, we must recognize their experience in the overall analysis of the problem of a failed food and agriculture system.
Contemporary food movements emphasize the return to and protection of the family farm. This emphasis paints a pristine picture of America that is foreign to many communities of color. Grounding the brokenness of the food system solely in this perspective ignores the history of Native Americans and their removal from native land that prepared the country for the arrival of European immigrants. This analysis also ignores the enslavement of Africans and the unpaid labor force that created much of the wealth for corporate America. It cannot be one analysis over the other: We must have an analysis that represents the reality of all communities.
The call for food justice is a call for inclusion of every community, ethnic group, class and gender identity.
The Food + Justice = Democracy conference provided an opportunity to issue that call and bring together as many strands of the food movement as possible and unite our voices to call for an end to injustice in our food system.
Reframing the narrative of the food system is no easy task. It requires incorporating the truth about our food system and facilitating a deep engagement with the communities that feel most exploited. The space and opportunities to engage are limited.
The Food + Justice = Democracy conference organized around narratives instead of traditional presentations, and peoples movement assemblies (PMA) instead of workshops. The idea was to maximize the brain power of 300+ activists from around the country by coming together to find the spark of the movement for food justice—an ambitious endeavor seeking to ignite conversations with the purpose of crafting a cohesive public policy agenda for food justice.
The conference reframed the industrial food and agriculture narrative into five critical assumptions:
The conference structure used narratives to deliver a new framework. This process allowed conference attendees to hear presentation that highlighted the complexities of racial, ethic, class and gender identity and their impact on the food system.
Narratives that describe the lives of African Americans, Native Americans, Hmong and Latino communities were shared without forfeiting the added layers of class and gender. This proved a much more dynamic and instructive way to discuss disparities in America.
The conference used People Movement Assemblies (PMAs) to help conference attendees develop a national vision for the food system based on justice. PMAs were lightly structured conversations led by groups and activists that are working toward a food justice.
The PMAs were divided into these areas:
Each PMA was tasked with creating a set of principles that captured the vision of what a fair, just and healthy food system would do for our communities under that category. The principles of food justice, in draft form, will travel around the country to solicit input from every community that wants to talk about organizing for food justice.
To get involved in the process moving forward, read and share your comments on the draft principles. Also, watch for details on upcoming opportunities, including a webinar on November 15, and a Facebook chat hosted by IATP.
View and comment on the draft Principles of Food Justice.
Posted October 18, 2012 by Malik Yakini
In the mid-1970s, I was a member of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress, USA. Inspired by the South African political party, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the PAC-USA, asserted that “land is the basis of power.” Of course, this slogan echoed the words of Malcolm X and countless other Black activists before him. It embodied the understanding that it is from the land that we get the food that sustains our lives. It is from the land that we get the materials needed for housing, and clothing. It is from the land that we get mineral resources that feed economies and generate wealth. It is on the land that we build, grow and create community. As we struggle to foster food security, food justice and food sovereignty, the question of land, who “owns” it, who controls it and who benefits from it, must be in the forefront of our discussions.
Many forces have shaped the past 700 years of human history, but none as profoundly as the global imperial expansion by England, France, Spain, Portugal and Germany. The centuries long conquest, colonization, enslavement, domination and exploitation of Africans and other people of color and their lands was deeply rooted in a white supremacist worldview. European explorers came to the shores of West Africa and the east coast of what we now call the United States, with ideas about the private ownership of land that were shaped by the feudal societies that they came from; highly stratified societies were the wealthy owned much of the land, and the masses were landless, impoverished and subject to all manner of abuse and exploitation. Those European explorers encountered Africans and “Native Americans” whose cultures suggested that the earth cannot be privately owned, but only wisely used by humans for the common good, and preserved for future generations. Because Europeans eventually won the hard fought military campaigns they waged against Africans and the indigenous peoples of the western hemisphere and created institutions to maintain their cultural dominance, we have been taught the idea that the earth is a commodity that can be bought and sold.
This idea has continuing impact. Many contemporary national boundaries are the result of colonization by Europeans. We can’t intelligently discuss the present economic, political, social and health disparities impacting Africans, both on the continent and in the diaspora, without understanding how these inequities were shaped by and continue to be perpetuated by European imperialism, colonialism, neo-colonialism and the global system of white supremacy. Across the planet, this thirst for continued dominance plays out in land-grabs. More and more land “ownership” is being concentrated in the hands of the few. Small-holder farmers are being forced out of business. People leave rural areas coming to cities where, if they find employment, they become wage-slaves to the wealthy.
Land grabs are taking place in many African-American communities such as Harlem, Washington D.C. and Detroit. But, Detroit is unique. The population of the city declined from 2,000,000 in 1950 to 713,000 according to the 2010 census data. The City government struggles with how to maintain city infra-structure and services for a geographic footprint which has not shrunk, with the meager resources afforded by a much smaller tax base. No easy task indeed. With more than 1/3 of the city’s land-mass vacant, Detroit is a prime target for land-grabbers. One can clearly see the temptation facing City government to sell off unused city-owned land to the highest bidder, putting the land back on the tax rolls, and in the process ridding themselves of the responsibility of cutting the grass and otherwise maintaining the property. But, this is not a time for easy solutions. This is a time for bold, innovative thinking that is informed by history and guided by values that work for the betterment of humanity.
Because Detroit is viewed by many around the world as the poster-child for urban decay, there is great interest in our efforts to think, create and build ourselves out of the seemingly intractable situation in which we find ourselves. The eyes of the nation are on Detroit. Detroit’s political leadership has the opportunity to shift the paradigm from more concentrated ownership of land in the hands of wealthy whites, to strategies that recognize the value and developmental potential of commonly held land, and the value of facilitating increased land “ownership” by the city’s residents. Except for its people, land is Detroit’s most important asset.
Detroiters should ask our elected political leaders the following five questions.
If the people of Detroit do not quickly learn the lesson taught by the Pan African Congress USA, that “land is the basis of power,” we will find ourselves in a continuing subordinate position.'
Posted October 16, 2012 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
World Food Day is an event perhaps best known to those already advocating to end hunger in their own countries and around the globe. That seems like such an obvious goal, and yet how to achieve it is subject to vigorous debate. This year we’re in the middle of the third global food price crisis since 2008. It seems likely that those crises will become the upward swings of ever more unstable prices unless we make some serious shifts in policy and practice.
To begin with, it’s about time we abandon the idea that the problem of global hunger is simply about producing enough food. Increasing the volume of food production is important, but who has access to that food, and who controls how it is grown is even more vital. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) reports that 70 percent of rural people live in poverty. Many of those people are themselves farmers who are also facing new threats to their ability to feed their families and their communities.
Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest and activism on the issue of large-scale farmland acquisition in the Global South. Conflicts between small-scale farmers or farm workers and foreign investors have been raging for decades, if not centuries. The pace and scope of those acquisitions, however, is new. In the decades preceding the food price crisis of 2007-08, new international trade and investment agreements created the legal conditions for land grabs, but low and falling commodity prices depressed the demand for farmland in developing countries. When food prices spiked, there was a rush of new investments by corporations, financial investors and sovereign wealth funds, many of which are not directly involved in food production. Vast amounts of land, perhaps equal to the size of Western Europe, have been leased or sold, often without the knowledge or consent of the communities who will be most affected by those decisions.
There are several overlapping challenges here. Land tenure laws are unclear in many countries and often don’t serve to protect small-scale farmers’ interests. Under the customary laws prevalent in many African countries, for example, community elders might sign off on land deals without consulting the people farming those lands, or decisions can be made far up the line in remote bureaucracies. In any case, the assumption that these lands are somehow vacant, blank slates, just waiting for new investments, is often flatly wrong, and expanding industrial agricultural production (often for export) in delicate ecosystems (where farmers may practice shifting cultivation) can have devastating social and environmental impacts.
The failure of international trade rules is a big part of the problem, since they often prohibit governments from taking actions to protect local food supplies and rural communities. The sharp swings in agricultural commodity prices also undermine confidence in the trading system, creating incentives for governments and companies to acquire land abroad to protect their perceived interests. The investment rules contained in the trade agreements (or established as conditions of trade agreements, as in the case of Mexico) protect investors against any changes in rules to prioritize local land ownership, or even to ensure that the investments serve food security or environmental goals.
Those rules also favor banks, sovereign wealth funds, pension funds, and other investors looking for the next new target for innovative investments, or a means to diversify funding portfolios. The increased demand for biofuels, also driven in large part by rules set in the U.S. and Europe, creates new incentives for investors interested in taking advantage of this huge new market. In many cases, firms purchase land outright or lease it for decades into the future. They are assuming that land prices will continue to rise as pressure for food production increases, and that assumption itself, and the volume of new investments, puts upward pressure on land prices and therefore even greater pressure on farmers around the world.
So the problem is not just, or even primarily, about finding new ways to grow more food, but rather changing the rules of the game so that farmers, whether in Kenya or Kansas, have the right conditions to grow what makes sense to feed their families and their communities. Finding better ways to make sure that farmers can stay on their land is part of the solution. Earlier this year, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) approved new voluntary guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of Food Security. This week, governments and civil society are debating the next steps in a process to build on the guidelines at the national and international levels.
Farmers around the world are finding ways to respond to increasing climate chaos by diversifying crops, strengthening soils and other agroecological approaches. Without rules that ensure they can stay on the land to make those changes, World Food Day will continue to be about mourning the dire situation of global hunger rather than, one day, celebrating progress in better food systems and the right to food.
Posted October 10, 2012 by
After a six-year struggle, Chipotle Mexican Grill has signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to join the Fair Food Program. This victory came just days before a massive CIW action was to take place at the Chipotle "Cultivate Festival" near its headquarters in Denver, Colorado and represents a historic moment for the Food Justice movement. "After six long years, people all across the country have added their own grain of sand to this growing movement," IATP Food and Community Fellow Kandace Vallejo said in an email about the victory.
The agreement, which will improve wages and working conditions for farmworkers in Florida who pick tomatoes for Chipotle, comes in advance of the winter tomato-growing season, when most of the nation’s tomatoes come from growers in Florida.
The Fair Food Program provides a bonus for tomato pickers to improve wages and binds growers to protocols and a code of conduct that explicitly include a voice for workers in health and safety issues, worker-to-worker education on the new protections under the code, and a complaint resolution procedure which workers can use without fear of retaliation. The Program also provides for independent third party audits to ensure compliance.
“With this agreement, we are laying down a foundation upon which we all—workers, growers and Chipotle—can build a stronger Florida tomato industry for the future,” said Gerardo Reyes of the CIW. “But more than this, today’s news marks a turning point in the sustainable food movement as a whole, whereby, thanks to Chipotle’s leadership, farmworkers are finally recognized as true partners—every bit as vital as farmers, chefs and restaurants—in bringing ‘good food’ to our tables.”
Chipotle is the 11th company to join the CIW’s Fair Food Program, which is designed to create a sustainable tomato industry through respect for the rights and concerns of all involved. The Fair Food Premium paid by participating buyers like Chipotle is used to help participating growers improve wages and working conditions for Florida farmworkers.
On October 10, 2012, the CIW will be the only US-based organization awarded with the Food Sovereignty Prize, “for creating one of the most powerful and inspiring worker-led movements that is transforming not only an industry but the consciousness of a nation.”
Watch the Food Sovereignty Prize ceremony live, tonight on http://foodsovereigntyprize.org/live/.
This blog entry was originally posted by the IATP Food and Community Fellows program.
Posted October 10, 2012 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Last week a U.S. federal judge struck down a Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) rule designed to prevent excessive speculation in agricultural and non-agricultural commodities by Wall Street and its biggest corporate clients. A growing body of peer-reviewed research and public interest analysis has shown how the dominance of financial institution speculation in commodity markets has resulted in structurally higher and more volatile prices. The position limit rule restricts the amount of contracts that can be held by any one trader and its affiliates during a given time period. The rule was scheduled to go into effect on October 12. Agribusiness firms, such as Archer Daniel Midlands and Bunge Ltd., are among the non-banks seeking to delay and weaken rules on over-the-counter trades (OTC) that are privately negotiated and not reported to regulatory authorities.
IATP, as a member of the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition (CMOC), has advocated the extension of CFTC position limit rules to include OTC trades. As CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler has stated in dozens of speeches, most recently on October 1 at the Bank of England, the lack of regulation of the OTC markets was a major factor in the financial service industry crisis of 2008-09, triggering the Great Recession in which we are still ensnared.
The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act authorizes the CFTC to set limits on what percentage of specified commodity contracts can be held by any one entity and its affiliates. The purpose of the position limits rule is to reduce or prevent financial speculation in excess of the liquidity needs of the commodity producers, processors and transporters that are protecting themselves against sudden price increases or decreases in the commodities covered by the rule.
Agricultural contracts, when bundled into commodity index funds, are bet to increase prices, regardless of supply and demand fundamentals. The “weight of money” of unlimited positions drives prices higher than can be explained by market fundamentals. As the banks “roll” in and out of contracts, price volatility increases beyond supply and demand related volatility. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) regards price volatility as a major driver of increased rates of hunger, particularly in developing countries.
According to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (not a regulator of these contracts), during the first quarter of 2012, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank and Bank of America were counterparties to 57.3 percent of all OTC contracts. The "Big Four" were dealmakers in 93 percent of all derivatives contracts (OTC plus regulated contracts). These banks, major beneficiaries of the $29 trillion Federal Reserve Bank emergency loan program (which rescued them from bankruptcy), strongly oppose a position limit rule that would reduce their control over the OTC market. (A September 2012 Bank for International Settlements report stated “...we find no evidence that rescued banks reduced the riskiness of their new lending.”) They joined other bank and non-bank members of the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (ISDA) and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) in a lawsuit to prevent the implementation of the position limit rule.
On September 28, Judge Robert Wilkins of the Washington, D.C., district court, declared that the CFTC had misinterpreted the Dodd-Frank legislation by not making the rule respond to “ambiguities” he found in the law. Among these ambiguities was whether, as the plaintiffs argued, the words “as appropriate” qualified the “shall” authorizing the CFTC to set position limits only if appropriate, or whether, as the CFTC argued, “as appropriate” applied to the amount of position limits that Congress categorically had obliged the agency to set. Judges customarily defer to federal agency interpretations when the judges find ambiguities in laws. However, Judge Wilkins chose to side with the plaintiff’s claim that “as appropriate” qualified “shall” to mean that the CFTC was not obliged to set position limits. Judge Wilkins, again concurring with the ISDA et al., further ruled the CFTC was obliged to conduct a “necessity finding,” which likely would entail a “complete” cost-benefit analysis demanded by the plaintiffs, before the position limit rule could go into effect. In a 43-page order, he nullified the rule and required the CFTC to revise it in “further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.”
Judge Wilkins rejected the validity of Friend of the Court brief filed by some Democratic Party members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that affirmed there was no ambiguity in the law and legislative history to authorize the CFTC to set and enforce position limits. Instead, Judge Wilkins concurred with the ISDA and SIFMA argument that the CFTC had to demonstrate that position limits are both “necessary” and “appropriate” to prevent or reduce excessive speculation before it could set, implement and enforce them.
Again, concurring with the plaintiff’s arguments, Wilkins criticized the CFTC for not having conducted “necessity findings” based on cost-benefit analyses for each and every position rule covered contract, as the agency had done for a handful of agricultural contracts from 1938 to 1956. During that time exchanges were required to report all agricultural contract data daily to the CFTC’s predecessor agency. Remarkably, Wilkins ignored the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which authorized the CFTC not to require reporting of OTC data for position limit surveillance by regulators. The contract specific reported OTC data that would factor into the “complete” cost-benefit analyses the judge and Wall Street demand to justify position limits do not exist as a result of CFMA market deregulation. OTC and index trader data reported monthly to the CFTC since July 2010, as a result of Dodd-Frank, could well be regarded by the judge as an insufficient basis for “complete” cost-benefit analyses.
John Kemp, Reuters’ peerless commodity markets analyst, has suggested that the most likely viable future for a position limits rule is not judicial but legislative. He proposes that a new bill might pass judicial muster by removing the words “necessity” and “appropriate” from the Dodd-Frank text to clarify the CFTC’s unambiguous authority to set and enforce position limits. Such a bill would be attached by Dodd-Frank supportive legislators to a must-pass piece of legislation, most likely an appropriations bill to keep the government operating.
Kemp is right to forecast that an appeal to the Washington, D.C. Court of Appeals very likely would be in vain. Much of Judge Wilkins’ ruling is justified by reference to Court of Appeals law. As Floyd Norris commented recently in The New York Times, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) efforts to implement Dodd-Frank have been struck down by the Court of Appeals. There is no reason to think that the court would defer to the CFTC’s authority and competence to implement and enforce a position limits rule.
The CFTC could consider answering Judge Wilkins’ challenge by requesting an expedited ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on the position limits rule. Judge Wilkins charged “the agency failed to brings its expertise and experience to bear when interpreting the statute and offered no explanation for how its interpretation comported with the policy objectives of the Act” (at 42). Wilkins reproached the CFTC for relying on a defense that parsed the plain-text meaning of the terms of the Dodd-Frank provisions that authorized the agency to set position limits. Why shouldn’t the CFTC respond to this accusation by showing the Supreme Court how the costs and benefits of industry self-regulation under CFMA failed to achieve the policy objectives of the Commodity Exchange Act, while the historical limits in the rule had achieved those objectives?
Judge Wilkins chose to disregard Dodd-Frank’s legislative history in his decision that Congress did not require the CFTC authority to set and enforce position limits. The Supreme Court could not so readily dismiss legislative history, given its obligation to review appeals within the framework of the U.S. Constitution. For example, the Supreme Court likely would review Judge Wilkins’ ruling to determine whether the CFTC had interpreted Dodd-Frank within the constitutional “Necessary and Proper” clause, and the clause that gives Congress the authority to regulate commerce. Would it be “necessary and proper” for the CFTC to conduct a “necessity test,” documented by a “complete” cost-benefit analysis, before implementing the position limit rule, rather than, as Dodd-Frank requires, providing Congress with a cost-benefit analysis after the rule had been in effect for sufficient time to gather position data and analyze compliance with the rule?
However the CFTC decides to respond to Judge Wilkins’ order, the damage to investors from exchange-managed “position accountability” and other nostrums of financial self-regulation continue to mount. Friend of the Court briefs to a CFTC request for an expedited Supreme Court ruling on the position limit rule should present the costs of deregulation (the benefits for the plaintiffs being well established), as well as the costs and benefits of regulation. Such a presentation can only approximate the “complete” cost-benefit analysis that Judge Wilkins’ order all but requires of a CFTC hamstrung by the CFMA and its exemptions, exclusions, waivers and “no action” letters on Bush administration CFTC rule violations.
There is no certainty that a Supreme Court ruling would establish that the CFTC can set and enforce position limits without doing pre-implementation, cost-benefit analyses, as if OTC and energy trading regulatory evasion authorized by the CFMA had never disappeared the 2000–2010 data needed for such analyses. A more robust presentation on the failure of “position accountability” to prevent excessive speculation, together with detailed costs of that failure, might tip the scales of justice in favor of a ruling that it is “necessary and proper” for the CFTC to set position limits.