Posted March 13, 2013 by Asian Farmers' Association
The Asian Farmers’ Association for Sustainable Rural Development (AFA) joins the South East Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE) and other network partners in the campaign against the commercialization of Golden Rice, as well as other GMOs, in the Philippines.
In line with its desire to achieve rice self-sufficiency for the country, the Philippine government has declared 2013 as the National Year of Rice. While this may be good on the surface, it is quite alarming that part of the efforts to achieve rice self-sufficiency involves the commercialization of Golden Rice, a genetically modified rice variety that is said to be vitamin A-enriched.
In addition to concerns over risks to health, environment, biodiversity, and infringement of farmers’ rights and livelihood, AFA believes that the best way to eliminate Vitamin-A deficiency is by eating a variety of nutritious foods that are usually found in diversified and integrated farming systems by smallholders, and which the government should support instead.
Thus, AFA joins hands with SEARICE and its network partners in issuing a call against Golden Rice commercialization by voicing objections, demanding a moratorium and, ultimately, halting its cultivation.
We ask friends and partners to uphold the right to safe food and the protection of farmers and the environment by supporting this campaign.
For more news and information, go to www.asianfarmers.org.
This blog was originally published March 7, 2013 by AFA.
Posted March 8, 2013 by Shiney Varghese
As the world was getting ready to usher in the New Year, most Indians were mourning the death of one of their young women, gang-raped on the night of December 16 on a bus that she boarded along with her companion. This is not the first time a woman was raped while travelling, nor was it the first time a young middle-class woman was gang-raped. Yet it galvanized the young and the old, women and men of India in a manner that had not happened before. There were many gatherings across the country to protest and mourn; there was an outpouring of grief and anger online too.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, I am most acutely aware of the grim reality faced by most women in this world: gender-based violence. It manifests itself differently in different cultures, but is omnipresent all the same.
Gendered violence is intrinsically linked to women’s livelihoods as well, such as women’s roles in agriculture and food systems: as farmers, agricultural laborers, food processors, and finally as the main persons responsible for providing and preparing food for homes.
Sheelu, a feminist activist with Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective, realized early on that sexual violence was an everyday reality for the women that the collective worked with, whether they were engaged in a household related activity (collecting water or firewood) or an economic activity (collecting fodder, employed in a agri-processing factory). Campaigns against gender-based violence quickly became one of the central focuses of the women's collective. These campaigns, in turn, created the conditions for the collective’s members to begin other work to empower women within the community and the region to address resource rights to improve their livelihoods. They became much stronger political actors able to more effectively claim their rights to food and land, something they could not have done without first addressing the violence that held them back at every turn.
Violence against women occurs in a multiple contexts: in the family, in the field, at the workplace, during caste, religious and communal conflicts, as well as by police and state officials. Sexual violence is used to control women (within the household or within the community), or the class/community she belongs to (e.g., in conflicts over land, inter-caste or communal violence or state-sponsored violence) in the event of a conflict. In contexts where women have no access to economic assets, they often have no recourse but to tolerate domestic violence.
Moreover, if the woman belongs to a community that is already in the margins of society, such acts of violence are often carried out with impunity, as is in the case of indigenous women in Canada, Native American women in the United States or Dalit women in India. According to Violence Against Dalit Women, the plight of Dalit (SC) women “seems much more alarming when one looks at the data pertaining to serious crimes such as rape and murder.” Simply put, women’s bodies often become the battleground for a number of different kinds of fights: cultural, communal, ethnic, racial, social, economic and domestic, and these fights can take place anywhere, public or private.
In the case of developing countries that are undergoing rapid urbanization and industrialization, the state can perpetuate or be complicit in human rights violations, as can be seen from the attempts to silence vocal women such as Soni Sori and several other less well known women in India. Similarly, when communities faced with displacement or destruction of livelihoods choose to exert their right to homeland and livelihoods, companies in search of metals and minerals may even resort to violence to silence them. Survivors of the gang rape of the eleven Q’eqchi’ women of Guatemala are suing the Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals Inc. and its subsidiary HMI Nickel for its role in the violence against women protesting its operations.
But the winds are changing: Thousands of ordinary women around the world joined organizers of one billion rising marking a day of action to protest against violence against women and girls last month. As if in recognition of the changing mood of millions of people, when the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-57) meets at the United Nations in New York this week (March 4–15), its focus is on violence against women and the priority theme is the elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls. A multitude of events are held this International Women’s Day to protest violence against women, seek justice and celebrate the distance we have traveled over the last century.
Posted March 6, 2013 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
The 16th round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) began this week in Singapore. That trade deal has the potential to become the biggest regional free-trade agreement in history, both because of the size of the economies participating in the negotiations and because it holds open the possibility for other countries to quietly “dock in” to the existing agreement at some point in the future. What started as an agreement among Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore in 2005 has expanded to include trade talks with Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam. Japan and Thailand are considering entering into the negotiations, and others are waiting in the wings.
And yet, despite the potential of this agreement to shape (and in very real ways override) a vast range of public policies, there has been very little public debate on the TPP to date. Governments have refused to release negotiating texts. Media attention on agriculture and the TPP has focused on New Zealand’s insistence on access to U.S. dairy markets and Japan’s concerns over rice imports.
While important, that debate is much too narrow. The TPP is not only about lowering tariffs. It has the potential to greatly expand protections for investors over those for consumers and farmers, and severely restrict governments’ ability to use public policy to reshape food systems. The fundamental causes of recent protests across the globe over food prices, the rising market power of a handful of global food and agriculture corporations, as well as the dual specters of rising hunger and obesity around the world, point to the need to transform the world’s food systems, not to lock the current dysfunction situation in place.
In Who’s at the Table? Demanding Answers on Agriculture in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, IATP raises questions around investment, food safety (especially in emerging new food technologies), procurement and competition policy that should guide an informed public debate around the right rules for agricultural trade.
Trade policy should start from such goals as ending global hunger, enhancing rural and urban incomes and employment, and encouraging a transition to climate friendly agriculture—not from the bottom line of multinational corporations. The burden of proof should be on governments to demonstrate that the commitments being negotiated in the TPP will advance the human rights to food and development. Given the stakes for agriculture and food systems in all of the countries involved, they should include all stakeholders in a frank discussion of the trade rules that are needed to ensure that food sovereignty, rural livelihoods and sustainable development take precedence over misguided efforts to expand exports at any cost. That is what should be on the table in Singapore.
Posted March 1, 2013 by Sophia Murphy
IATP has always argued that trade agreements need to respect and promote human rights, not drive a process of globalization that privileges commercial interests and tramples on public interests. In a new paper on land grabs, we reaffirm that position.
“Land grabs” are large-scale purchases or leases of agricultural or forested land on terms that violate the rights of the people who live on or near that land. The problem has commanded enormous public policy and media attention for the last few years. In our paper, IATP sets some context for the land grabs phenomenon. We focus on two forces that have contributed significantly to the problem:
The situation is compounded by climate change and the resulting destabilization of weather patterns, which in turn has made agricultural production less predictable. Climate change has made domestic food supplies less certain and exports, too. The United States, still a huge source of grains for international markets, lost 40 percent of a record large number of acres planted with corn to drought in 2012.
The sense of food insecurity has driven some of the richer net-food importers—countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait—to invest in growing food abroad for import to their domestic markets. That is one driver of land grabs.
The sense that our food systems are fragile and that supplies are scarce, where for decades they have been abundant, is another driver—companies such as South Korea’s Daewoo are looking to source raw materials directly, rather than buying them on the market.
It’s not that investment in agriculture is a bad thing. Indeed, it’s sorely needed. But unless we have the conversation about what kind of investment, in what kind of agriculture, and in whose interests, then the investment does more harm than good.
Land grabs, as the label implies, have been overwhelmingly negative. They are associated with weak institutional capacity (and sometimes corruption) in the recipient country governments, as well as authoritarian governments in the investors’ home countries, making it hard to bring pressure there for better practices. The communities whose land is leased or bought are not adequately protected.
IATP proposes four linked policy shifts to create a more stable and transparent international food system: reformed trade rules that ensure export restrictions in times of crisis are subject to transparency and predictability requirements and that allow all countries policy space for food security policies; publicly-managed grain reserves to dampen the effects of supply shocks; readily accessible funding for the poorest food importers, which would be triggered automatically when prices increase sharply in international markets; and, the development of strong national and international laws to govern investment in land, respecting the principles and guidelines set out in the Voluntary Guidelines on Land Tenure. Tanzania’s recently announced limits on how much land foreign and domestic investors can lease is a hopeful example of a national government taking the initiative to get serious about regulation.
The world, and agricultural production along with it, is only getting less predictable. In thinking through how to manage demand given our planetary boundaries and the imperative of social justice, the scale and pace of land investment now underway is a threat to food security and a threat to sane and just outcomes for our planet and its people. Let’s change the rules that make land grabs possible.
Posted February 28, 2013 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
Washington D.C. is a gloomy place these days, with grey skies and a weirdly warm winter, the sour prospect of failure around the sequestration debate, and more cuts on the horizon. It’s possible, however, that on international food aid there just might be a silver lining to all that gloom. Reuters reports that President Obama might propose new rules in his March budget proposal that would make food aid reach more people, more quickly and more efficiently.
Since the 1950s, nearly all U.S. food aid has been shipped in-kind. There was a certain (though even then, not entirely positive) logic to that practice when this country had vast grain reserves, but that hasn’t been the case for years. Most donor countries now provide more flexible resources for local and regional purchases of food aid, and there has been pressure for years from development and faith organizations for the U.S. government to get with the times and make that shift.
There was a small breakthrough in the 2008 Farm Bill, which created a pilot program to test local and regional purchases of food aid. The evaluation of that experiment found that food aid purchased locally arrived, on average, in about 56 days, compared to 130 days for food purchased and shipped from the U.S.—and at lower cost. Early drafts of the 2012 Farm Bill would have expanded that program and made it permanent, but the Farm Bill, like so many others initiatives these days, is in limbo.
Eleven civil society groups, including American Jewish World Service, Oxfam and IATP, issued a statement this week applauding reports that the administration would reform food aid to institutionalize local and regional purchase of food aid and take steps to replace monetization (when food aid is sold on local markets to generate funds for development projects) with more sensible and sustainable development funding. The National Journal reports that other groups including the American Soybean Association and the Sailors Union of the Pacific oppose the changes, insisting that, “Growing, manufacturing, bagging, shipping, and transporting nutritious U.S. food creates jobs and economic activity here at home.” The fact that the actual proposal is still just a rumor only fuels controversy, but all groups agree that cuts in food aid should not be on the table.
Food aid is just one tool for agricultural development. It is that last safety net when all else fails, so it is imperative that funding levels don’t fall. But reforming food aid so that it’s faster, more efficient and even possibly a tool to build local markets, is a common-sense solution that deserves to be a much bigger part of the anti-hunger toolbox.
Posted February 26, 2013 by
Our simple ask: That in reauthorizing ADUFA—the law that requires Big Pharma to pay fees to the FDA, in part to hire staff to approve new animal drug products—the FDA ought to make sure the law carries some public health strings attached.
Namely, we urge the FDA collect and then report back to us, the public data on exactly how nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics are being used in food animals each year. Currently FDA only reports summary data. One cannot easily see how much of that 30 million pounds is sold for use in animal feed, although previous data indicates it’s about 90 percent. The FDA also fails to indicate how much is sold for use in pigs, versus chickens, turkeys or beef cattle. These data are critical for targeting efforts to reduce the overuse of critical human medicines for what are unnecessary uses of convenience, like growth promotion, in animals.
The Senate’s one and only hearing on ADUFA is later this week. Giving testimony are two representatives of industry, and the veterinarian in charge at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. Hopefully, the lack of a public health voice won’t also be reflected in the content of the bill.
Read the joint letter.
Posted February 22, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
Farmer Tom Nuessmeier, from La Sueur, Minnesota, is different. His 200-acre organic farm—producing farrow-to-finish hogs, corn, soy, oats, winter grains and alfalfa—is pretty uncommon in its diversity and size, especially today. As the average size of farms has grown, the number of farms has decreased overall, and so has the variety of crops. According to USDA data highlighted in the video, while corn acres have increased 62 percent, hay and oat acres have decreased 15 and 92 (!) percent respectively in the past 50 years.
This loss of diversity, though, makes sense as markets and policy have developed to encourage monocropping (namely, corn and soy). As Tom puts it:
The market tells people, and the insurance setups dictate to a degree, that that’s what you’re going to do if you want to go after the greatest profit. But I think it’s kind of a short-term way of looking at things that does have long-term implications if you’re talking about just maintaining the farm’s ability to be resilient.
Posted February 21, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
Farming is risky for anyone: volatile markets and unpredictable weather can make planning and execution from season to season a difficult prospect. Make that double with the extreme weather climate change is bringing. Sure, there is crop insurance in some cases, but what about farmers like Mike Brownfield?
One bad hailstorm and Mike Brownfield’s orchard—the first certified organic orchard in Washington—could lose an entire crop. Being organic means being viewed by the USDA as more risky than conventionally grown fruit (despite studies showing the opposite); being viewed as more risky means paying higher premiums for insurance, but still receiving only conventional-price reimbursement should disaster strike (despite organics being worth more at market).
The fourth in IATP’s “Climate change, agriculture and resilience” video series focuses on the risk involved for farmers who grow our food, how they deal with it, and how that risk is increasing as weather extremes due to climate change shake our system’s very foundations. Without conventional crop insurance to protect his orchard, Mike Brownfield has instituted other methods of risk-management:
For us, having a diversity of crops has made a difference. A certain variety of apple is not always going to have a great year for you, and so that's why we diversified so much in our crops—and in our marketing.
Watch the video or check out the rest of the series:
Posted February 20, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
How can we balance the environmental impacts of farming with our need to continue producing food?
Today, in part three in our “Climate change, agriculture and resilience” video series, father and daughter team Maurice and Beth Robinette of Lazy R Ranch talk about their approach to farming grass-fed beef and why carbon sequestration and protecting their ecosystem is so important. As Beth Robinette puts it:
So much of what we do here is about ‘How do we create maximum functioning ecosystems in our pasture?’ and to me that’s what resilience is. If you have an ecosystem that’s at peak function, it can take a lot more damage or uncertainty than an ecosystem that is not at peak function. That’s about the sum of what we’re trying to do here: Grow grass that’ll keep growing.
But making changes like the Robinette’s isn’t easy, or cheap. As direct marketers of their beef, the Robinettes command a premium price, and can put those dollars toward protecting their farm’s ecosystem. For farmers that are just getting by due to market prices or input costs, this kind of adaptation would be impossible.
More long-term thinking in policymaking, and programs that encourage practices like those Lazy R Ranch has piloted would go a long way in building a food system that can withstand the shocks of climate change while contributing less to the factors that are known to cause it.
Watch the video, or check out the rest of the series:
Posted February 19, 2013 by Andrew Ranallo
“I think we came in April and it was within a month or two when all the ground was still bare and black and we had one of those two- or three-day blows and I had drifts of soil on my window sills and I'm thinking ‘Hmmm this isn't good.’ That was probably what sparked us to start making some of the changes we did.”
That’s Loretta Jaus speaking about the extreme soil erosion she and her husband faced on their farm due, in part, to modern tiling practices that replaced the region’s prairies and wetlands with more dry, tillable soil.
Part two of our “Climate change, agriculture and resilience” series features the Minnesota organic dairy farm of Martin and Loretta Jaus who farm the same 410 acres that Martin’s great grandfather homesteaded in 1877. In order to combat the eroding soil, and remain more resilient in the increasing incidences of drought and flood, Martin and Loretta have worked to increase their farm’s biodiversity. From the video:
They improved and expanded a pasture made up of deep-rooted perennials that could better access soil moisture during dry spells and serve as a sponge when it rains. They put in shelter belts of trees and they restored a marsh and a pond. Not only did these measures decrease erosion but the Jaus's found that their farm became more resilient as well, both in times to drought and wet weather.
Watch the video, or check out the rest of the series: