Posted October 20, 2016 by Sophia Murphy
As international trade diplomats contemplate the latest move in their world—a formal complaint by the United States about China’s use of price supports for its farmers, lodged at the WTO last week—I am in Delhi to present IATP’s most recent findings of U.S. agricultural commodity dumping in export markets. Dumping is the sale of goods for less than their cost of production. Dumping distorts markets, and especially in food markets, destroys livelihoods and opportunities for development.
In anticipation of the full report, here are some of the initial numbers. They show the return of dumping in 2015 for several major commodities. The dumping margin is: for wheat (33 percent), soybeans (11 percent), maize (14 percent), rice (2 percent) and cotton (49 percent). In IATP’s analysis, this renewal of relatively high levels of dumping for some commodities does not signal a simple return to the world before the price shocks of 2007-08. While production has responded well to higher prices, the risk of over-production—as well as environmental constraints as climate change takes effect—make high levels of volatility likely to persist in the medium to long term.
Dumping is usually raised by one government, which complains about another. The complaint focuses on the use of public support for sectors whose products are then exported at prices lower than cost.
IATP measures its dumping calculation a little differently.
These calculations do capture the role of government payments, which are especially high for cotton and historically have been high for rice. But the numbers also show that something else is going on. The level of government support just is not sufficient to account for the dumping margins we have measured. If the government is not paying the difference, or not all of it, who is?
The answers are speculative but suggest something about the structure of low value commodity markets, like soybeans and maize. If not the state, or not only, who else could be absorbing the cost of dumping? There are two other actors: the traders and the farmers. Is it the traders? It certainly is not the case that grain traders are operating at a loss. For instance, Cargill has more than doubled in size since I first looked at the company in 1999. Its gross turnover is now in the range of USD $1.1 billion. Commodity traders move in a financially risky world but they are not going bust by internalizing losses on underpriced U.S. agricultural commodity.
They may, however, be complicating the economic analysis. The traders are an oligopoly: just four companies between them trade more than 75 percent of grain that crosses an international market. This means there is scope for price distortion. Moreover, the traders do not just sell commodities to other processors. They are also processors themselves, producing feed for livestock, raising livestock, making food additives, and turning commodities into biofuels. This makes what economists call price discovery complicated: maybe the companies would take less than market value for raw commodities so as to keep their input costs low—making up the difference downstream—in their vertically integrated operations. The lack of transparency surrounding the operations of grain traders makes it difficult to know.
What about the farmers themselves? Clearly they rely on transfers from the government, but as we say above, those transfers are not enough to cover all the dumping cost. It is worth distinguishing between variable and full costs. Our dumping measure looks at full costs. The variable costs are those that the farmer has to face each year: the costs of buying seed, tractors, petrol, etc. The full cost adds a return to the farmer’s own labour and to the land. Of course, meeting variable costs is a lower bar. Agricultural economists tell us that as long as the variable costs are met, production will continue, even if full costs are not. Why? Because a farmer can choose not to pay him/herself (they own the business); because many farm operations in the United States have other sources of income to support the farm; because the U.S. has large areas of productive land for which there is little alternative use; because agriculture is very intensive in factors of production that do not readily move—deep knowledge; expensive equipment; geographically specific characteristics of water availability, soil composition; and weather patterns.
It is also the case that U.S. agriculture has seen an expansion of very (very) large farms that are managed by a company rather than independent operators. Their scale enables them to lower fixed costs significantly below the average numbers IATP uses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
An honest and productive discussion of dumping would start from this complex situation to consider new solutions that are fair to farmers and consumers in the South and North.
Here is some of my arguments for the conference opening:
But is the right to spend money on agriculture—and to downplay the effects of those programs on other countries—a sufficient objective for WTO negotiations? Can we instead imagine trade rules that do a better job of supporting states in their obligation to realize the right to food? Rules that respect environmental constraints, especially climate change?
Yes, we can.
Posted October 19, 2016 by Shiney Varghese
As the 43rd session of the UN Committee on Food Security meets in Rome this week they will finalize the negotiated draft recommendations on “connecting smallholders with markets”, developed with inputs from several hundreds of civil society organizations, including IATP. It has been a long process to get here.
At least since the food price crisis, if not from earlier, agricultural development initiatives have identified “connecting smallholders with markets” as an important strategy for ensuring the livelihood security of smallholder producers. However, most initiatives focus on integrating farmers and other smallholder producers into food value chains (vertically integrated companies that source, process and retail their products, such as Pepsi Co and Nestle), rather than exploring what kind of marketing channels would best fit the local needs of food producers, and consumers.
Unsurprisingly when the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS) convened a technical team to organize a High Level Forum on connecting smallholders with markets, it supported the dominant ideas about markets. The Civil Society Mechanism (CSM) of the CFS questioned that assertion. The CSM represents 11 distinct constituencies, including smallholder producers such as pastoralists and fisher folk. As result of CSM efforts, the experiences of small-scale producers’ organizations, consumers and the urban poor were fed into the background document, as well as at the High Level Forum itself in June 2015. In October of that year the CFS initiated a work-stream on “Connecting smallholders with markets”. The ensuing discussions during the CFS annual summit last year sought to recognize the multiple, invisible markets that food producers, especially in indigenous communities, use for sourcing and selling their products and produce.
A case study on IATP’s experience of working with small acreage farmers (also known as smallholder producers in international contexts) in Minnesota is one of the several case studies that the CSM gathered from around the world to demonstrate the multiple ways in which smallholders manage their markets in a way that is beneficial to themselves and the consumers.
The IATP case study looks at a marketing initiative in two counties in Minnesota (MN), USA, which connects the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) with the Head Start Program run by the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties (CAPRW) in Minnesota. IATP’s experiences in this ‘Farm to Head start program’, demonstrate the need for targeted programs and policies to help these farmers access markets on their terms, and to ensure incentives for local food processors accommodate the distinct and locally specific needs of small acreage farmers. The multiple benefits include enhanced economic and social wellbeing of the communities; respect for the traditional food cultures of local communities, and ensuring that next generation is nurtured on healthy food habits.
Currently, marketing structures are dominated by vertically integrated multinational food chains. Both consumers and producers are looking for alternatives to the current marketing structures, and IATP’s purpose in sharing this case study was to show policy makers how new marketing channels are being explored in the United States. Examples from Minnesota include not only vibrant farm to institution networks (Farm to School; Farm to Hospital etc.) and farmers’ markets but also Community Supported Agriculture.
These case studies were shared with the world governments during an information session in the lead up to this year’s CFS summit, During the intergovernmental negotiations that followed, the CSM referred to the IATP case study along with those from Belgium, Brazil and France to show how food procurement policies can be tailored to support smallholders needs and their viability. In its report on the process, the CSM urged governments to continue to collect comprehensive information on local, national and regional food systems as a regular aspect of data collection systems and to make that information available to smallholders.
The CSM publication that came out last week on the topic addresses many of the issues involves and concludes that, “The ‘Connecting to Smallholders to Markets’ process and negotiated text have illuminated the vital issue of the links between smallholders, markets, and food security and nutrition. It is important that the recommendations are treated with the seriousness they deserve and are followed up on, at the CFS but above all at local, national and regional levels, with smallholders in a leading role. [………] To ensure effective follow-up and sound policies, it is vital to fill the existing gap of information and analysis regarding territorial markets. It is necessary to be able to map territorial markets and to better understand their functioning, their relationships with smallholders and food security and nutrition, the interplay between formal and informal markets, the links between territorial markets and sustainable agroecological production models. To this end, the negotiated recommendations call for:
Collecting comprehensive data on markets linked to local, national and/or regional food systems—both rural and urban, formal and informal – to improve the evidence base for policies, including age, gender, and geographic-disaggregated data, incorporating this as a regular aspect of data collection systems, and making this information available to smallholders(10i)
As the 43rd session of the UN Committee on Food Security meets in Rome this week to finalize the negotiated draft recommendations on “connecting smallholders with markets”, we are hopeful that these policy proposals will be integrated and mainstreamed not only within CFS but also in other UN processes, paving way for policies enabling fair marketing pathways around the world.
Posted October 18, 2016 by Juliette Majot
Corporate interest-driven trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are undermining the very principles of government by the people, and if approved, would continue to reverse hard-won progress for environmental integrity, social justice and economic development. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Tweaking current negotiated texts won’t fix the problem. But hitting the reset button on trade agreement objectives, trade negotiation processes, and actual trade rules themselves could bring about trade that stands a chance of enhancing the lives and livelihoods among trading partners. For all their public pronouncements against free trade agreements, both U.S. presidential candidates need to be part of the effort to reimagine trade with a vastly different set of objectives than those limited to corporate welfare.
The real and potential value of trade itself—to all trading parties, not just Americans—can be lost in the debate about the rules that govern it. The exchange of goods and services, over small and large distances, is thousands of years old, and the benefits innumerable. Opponents to the TPP or TTIP do not dismiss trade itself; instead, we seek to establish trade rules that are beneficial to the public interest rather than rules that reflect and perpetuate the prevailing imbalance of political and corporate interests. And because trade agreements have become political hot potatoes, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, we are in a moment when resetting trade objectives is possible.
What exactly, do Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump envision? There is nothing in either of the candidate’s positions that tell us how or if trade agreements could, for example, improve the odds of addressing climate change; contribute to sustainable agriculture and food safety; or reinvigorate democracy instead of unhinging it. There is no reason to assume that trade agreements could not aspire to contribute to all of those things and more.
When it comes to climate change, agriculture and food, consider the potential for trade rules to:
New trade agreements with the goal of benefiting society as a whole require common sense and well-articulated opening arguments for how trade agreements should be negotiated, what they should and should not contain, and how they should be governed.
Alas, well-articulated arguments are not coming from U.S. presidential candidates. The deeply disturbing spectacle of the U.S. election is full of nonsense and obfuscation, devoid of genuine policy debate, though trade policy is heavily sampled in what mash-up there is. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump have a clear vision of what trade agreements should look like, except to say that they (to paraphrase) should be tougher and better for America.
Corporate-driven trade agreements like the TPP and TTIP, both of which have become publically unacceptable and therefore politically unpalatable, aren’t about what is or is not best for America or for that matter, any other country. For the most part, they aren’t even about trade. With their negotiations guarded from public scrutiny, trade agreements are written and negotiated by corporate interests whose primary concern is to regulate the public sector so that the public sector can no longer regulate them.
The breadth of public sector regulation contained in TPP, is well documented and continues to swell public opposition. TPP provisions limit the government’s sovereign ability to introduce new laws in the public interest, including those related to food safety, financial reform, labor rights, environmental protection, procurement policies, and pharmaceutical pricing. They undercut emerging international commitments at every level. Under TPP, the odds are significantly lowered for any signatory country to achieve its targets for climate change mitigation under the Paris agreement. Those same restrictions also chip away at hard-won local laws on the environment, public health and sustainable food systems. The result? Further entrenchment of the corporate interests squelching democracy and putting the concept of it on shaky ground.
Trade agreements must no longer be wielded by the economically and political powerful as equal-opportunity sledge hammers to pound away at those with less power. Markets cannot be treated as though they exist in a world other than the one we have: the one facing the extraordinary warming of the planet; the one experiencing growing inequality; the one where worsening political and economic tensions undermine the peace and security of the people who live on it. Trade aimed at solving these problems, instead of fueling them, is the only trade worth having.
Posted October 14, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan
Originally posted on Foreign Policy in Focus on October 12, 2016
Notwithstanding President Barack Obama’s best efforts to sell the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement to Congress and the public on economic grounds, presidential and congressional candidates are shunning the TPP as a winning campaign issue. Even Senator Rob Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, doesn’t mention the TPP in his electoral “Jobs and Growth” agenda. The economic forecasting arguments for TPP are very weak—even according to the “heroic assumptions” of proponents, such as no change in the U.S. trade balance or net employment as a result of the TPP. So, what arguments do the TPP proponents have left?
When Congress returns to Washington after the November 8 elections, its members, particularly the defeated or retiring legislators, will be pressured to vote for the TPP in large part on national security grounds. What these grounds are, just like the draft TPP texts themselves, will remain a closely guarded secret.
Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) told Inside U.S. Trade that following a classified national security briefing about the TPP, “It’s a very powerful argument; it’s not just trade, it’s an important tool in our diplomatic and national security arsenal.” He could not reveal the details of the “very powerful argument” without violating his security clearance. After the elections, Kind said, military leaders (presumably retired, since active duty officers are not allowed to lobby) would be deployed to lobby Congress to vote for the TPP. There will be more classified briefings for members of Congress, followed by more press conferences about the “very powerful argument” whose reasons the Peoples’ Representatives cannot reveal publicly without serious legal repercussions. Justifying one’s TPP vote on opaque national security grounds will surely be easier than trying to justify the vote on economic grounds, as Kind’s own situation illustrates.
Representative Kind’s plan for aiding economically distressed Wisconsin dairy family farms in his district involves removing export barriers and legalizing the immigrant work force that is the labor backbone of mega-dairy Confined Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs). Although Kind is a leading Democratic TPP supporter, the plan does not mention the TPP, as one of his aides noted. If it were to mention the TPP, Representative Kind would have to answer questions about the impact of increased TPP dairy ingredient imports on low and plummeting U.S. raw milk prices. He would have to answer, as IATP did recently, why TPP supporters want to increase dairy ingredient imports when U.S. dairy processors are pouring U.S. farmers’ raw milk into high-tech sewers. Since the main beneficiaries of this dairy import scheme are convicted U.S. raw milk price fixers, such as the Dairy Farmers of America and Dean Foods, the better part of valor dictates that Representative Kind justify his vote for the TPP on the basis of classified national security briefings.
On September 28, Secretary of State John Kerry asked, as if representing the TPP’s other 11 prospective members, “If America won’t enter into partnership with us on economic matters, why should we look to Washington for guidance on political or security matters?” Secretary Kerry’s ventriloquized question makes sense if you believe that the United States has geopolitical and military security influence only to the extent that it can use trade policy as a “soft power” tool to reward or punish countries in President Obama’s “pivot to Asia.”
But consider just some of the sources of that influence. The U.S. military budget is larger than the next seven military budgets combined (not counting the military budgets of U.S. intelligence agencies). The National Security Agency is authorized to spy on 193 countries and 20 international organizations, as well as to report on the activities of foreign corporations. Doesn’t the United States already control sufficient sources of influence in political and security matters so that prospective TPP “partners” would seek U.S. “guidance” regardless of whether or not Congress approves the TPP? President Obama and his successors will hardly need the TPP to order the intelligence agencies to determine whether foreign corporate activities pose a present and imminent danger to the United States or are stealing U.S. intellectual property. Nevertheless, would-be foreign policy realists (ignoring the prospective Latin American members of the TPP) contend that a successful “pivot to Asia” turns on the approval of the TPP.
the pivot’s legacy ultimately will be determined by ratification of the TPP. The 12-member free-trade pact, the first to include the world’s second- and third-largest economies, is not just important for business. As a high-standards agreement it has the potential to affect more than just tariffs, reaching deep into member countries to create conformity on labor, the environment, food safety, intellectual property, cybersecurity, the digital economy, development, and other standards. If China were to join the TPP, conformity with these clauses would have a transformative strategic effect on the nature of the Chinese state. Though a distant outcome at the moment, it is not implausible.
This kind of argument, however appealing to foreign policy hawks in its idealism, is thoroughly implausible on a number of grounds. We outline just three here.
In a rebuttal to Secretary Kerry’s geopolitical argument for passing the TPP, Representative Sander Levin, the top Democrat on trade and investment issues in the House of Representatives, said “An agreement that is not in our economic interest cannot be in our national security interest because our national security depends on our economic strength, including in manufacturing.” He warned the Obama administration not to try to pass the TPP during the lame duck session. To do so would intensify citizen opposition to what he called a “mindless approach that assumes more trade is always better, no matter what its terms.”
Among the issues Levin wants the next administration to re-negotiate is the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Mechanism, which allows corporations and other investors, such as hedge funds, to sue governments over regulatory actions perceived to impair anticipated investor profits. The ISDS, which IATP opposes, is a one-way private tribunal that provides governments with no recourse to sue investors for cross-border regulatory evasion and harm to public, worker, and environmental health caused by investor activities.
It’s important to detail exactly how U.S. trade and investment policy substance and process should change, something IATP and many others are developing now. But to give Levin’s proposals and those of others a chance to become part of U.S. trade and investment policy, policy space for them must be created by defeating the TPP.
Posted October 5, 2016 by Ben Lilliston
Earlier this week, the European Parliament approved the Paris climate agreement, joining more than 60 other countries in signing the deal and paving the way for this historic global effort to enter into force. While the Paris deal is truly a major step forward, countries will have to overcome a series of hurdles created by trade agreements to reach their climate goals. An escalating fight at the World Trade Organization (WTO)—attacking renewable energy initiatives in two of the world’s biggest polluting countries (the U.S. and India)—shows why untangling trade agreements from climate goals should be the next big step.
As part of the Paris agreement, countries submitted voluntary climate plans, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). But the ability of countries to reach those climate goals will depend on rewriting trade rules at the WTO—and a series of regional and bi-lateral trade agreements—that consistently favor corporate rights over the climate.
The WTO fight between the U.S. and India proves the point. The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) launched its challenge of India’s solar initiative at the WTO in 2013. As part of the USTR’s commitment to eliminate what it calls “localization barriers to trade,” the agency charged that India’s program included subsidies and incentives that benefited India solar cell and module makers over U.S. companies. The USTR claimed that India’s “local content requirements” violate WTO national treatment obligations, which require foreign firms to be treated the same as domestic firms. India pointed out that the solar program served the same purpose as many green jobs programs in U.S. states that also supported renewable energy and that India’s solar program was essential to meeting their INDC as pledged in the Paris climate agreement.
Last month, a WTO panel issued a final ruling determining that India’s program did violate WTO rules. The country will either have to change the program or face U.S. retaliation in the form of tariffs. In response, India took initial steps at the WTO to challenge renewable energy programs that create local, green jobs in eight U.S. states.
Trade rules become even more thorny for the climate when it comes to regional free trade deals, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which are designed to go further than WTO rules. For example, the proposed TPP not only allows countries the right to challenge national regulations—covering areas such as government procurement, financial services, intellectual property and food safety—but it also grants foreign corporations the right to challenge such regulations.
Earlier this year, TransCanada utilized these special corporate rights provisions, known as Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), to sue the U.S. government for $15 billion after President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline on climate grounds. Other ISDS cases have challenged off shore drilling, fracking for natural gas, and a series of energy intensive mining projects.
In a report released last month, we looked at the INDCs of TPP countries and potential ways the trade deal could undermine national climate goals. The results were alarming. TPP rules will impact sectors like energy, agriculture, forestry and mining—all major contributors to climate change. The TPP also ties the hands of governments developing policies to address climate change, like popular green jobs programs. With 30 chapters and more than 5,000 pages, nowhere in the TPP do the worlds “climate change” appear.
Finding ways to reconcile the growing conflict between trade rules and climate goals is getting more attention, including from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). The Sierra Club’s Ben Beachy has proposed a Peace Clause at the WTO, which would prevent future cases against climate initiatives. Others have proposed a climate club, which focuses on the biggest polluters putting a price on carbon and taxing imports from non-member countries.
The weakness of the Paris climate agreement is that it is based on voluntary pledges. Without legal enforcement, the deal largely relies on peer pressure. Those voluntary pledges are scheduled to ratchet up over time and could ultimately add real teeth for enforcement; but trade deals already have teeth. They will continue to chew through the Paris climate deal until countries come to grips with their past appetite for trade above all else.
Posted October 4, 2016 by Shiney Varghese
On 21 September 2016 the United Nations (U.N.) newly convened High-level Panel on Water (HLPW), called for a fundamental shift in the way the world looks at water. Supported by the World Economic Forum and its water initiative, the HLPW was formed to help “build the political momentum” to deliver on the U.N. mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on “water and related targets” that the U.N. member governments agreed to in 2015.
The HLPW is co-convened by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the World Bank Group Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Co-chaired by the presidents of Mexico and Mauritius, the Panel is comprised of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser “to provide the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.
But will the HLPW provide this leadership? How do we ensure that the leadership is inclusive, transparent and accountable?
The Panel was announced at the January 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, ringing alarm bells for those who have been monitoring the post 2015 processes at the United Nations. Last summer, water justice activists were extremely concerned that the draft text on Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water did not clearly recognize water as a fundamental human right. Their relentless advocacy forced the U.N. Member States to reaffirm their commitments regarding the “human right to safe drinking water and sanitation” as part of their vision for Transforming the World through the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
Barely six months later, when the High-level Panel was announced—at a venue dominated by transnational corporates, a forum where rich and powerful mingle and plan for the future —it raised some red flags. When the Panel was officially launched in April 2016 in New York, civil society organizations (CSO) raised their concern that the HLPW appeared to be an initiative led by the World Bank. Meera Karunanandan, one of the key CSO campaigners said, “With the World Bank now positioning itself as a leader in the implementation of the SDG on water, groups who fought for a rights-based perspective are now deeply concerned that the agenda will very quickly be steered away from human rights objectives in favor of a plan to manage water to meet the World Bank’s vision for economic growth.”
The CSO advocacy led to an official action plan that lists a number of key considerations and principles that have guided the panel so far. These principles include a commitment to the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, as well as to transparency and inclusion.
However, this does not mean we can be assured that the panel will continue to be guided by these principles.
Earlier this year, for example, Mexican civil society groups were forced to file a court case seeking information on the contents of any negotiations or agreements between the World Bank and the Government of Mexico City. (According to widely-published statements from the Mexico City Mayor, the World Bank is loaning 10 billion pesos for concessions to operate the city's hydraulic infrastructure).
This lack of transparency led international organisations, such as the Public Services International, to raise concerns about the direction the High-level Panel might take, given that “the President of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, heads the recently formed United Nations and World Bank High-level Panel on Water, mandated to find new ways to achieve the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 for the Right to Water and Sanitation. The secrecy surrounding the Mexico City agreement does not speak well for the direction that the Mexican President might be considering for this new Panel.”
The news last week from Mexico, on the proposed federal budgetary allocations on water for 2017, underscore the concerns raised by Public Services International. Our colleagues, Gloria Tobón, Ricardo Ovando and Elena Burns of Agua para Todos Agua para la Vida, Mexico, commented that:
In the 2017 Federal Budget proposed last week by Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, funding for public water system infrastructure was cut by 72 percent! (from 12.6 billion pesos to 3.6 billion pesos). Meanwhile,the budget for the megatunnel to export Mexico City's rainwater (which the city needs in order to supply itself through sustainable reservoirs) to Carlos Slim’s PPP ‘treatment’ plant--which was increased from 3.1 billion to 3.2 billion pesos.
[See this detailed report for more information on that scheme.]
Meanwhile, the Mexico City mayor just announced once again, on September 6, that the World Bank and Veolia will be investing in every aspect of the city's water infrastructure. In response to legal demands for access to information on these deals through the Mexico City transparency agency and then in local and federal courts (initiated after a similar announcement in November last year), the Mexico City government has denied consistently that any such negotiations were taking place.
Thirdly, CONAGUA, the huge national water agency, is cancelling the renovation of water rights to smaller agricultural users, while granting concessions for enormous volumes to transnational mining and energy (thermoelectric and fracking) companies.
Finally, CONAGUA, and their allies in the Legislature (both houses are controlled by Enrique Peña Nieto's party) plan to override the broad-based citizen’s movement for new water law which would prevent private control and promote democratic decision making in watersheds and municipal systems, and instead pass their new General Water Law this November, to provide the guarantees that private investors are requiring.”
Clearly, the Panel’s commitment, not only to “inclusive and collaborative ways developing and managing water resources” but also “to the right to water,” would be at risk under this approach.
According to the World Bank, the Panel aims to “mobilize effective action […] to increase access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation for all, and to improve the sustainable management of water and sanitation … (SDG 6), as well as to contribute to the achievement of the other SDGs that rely on the development and management of water resources.”
The Bank’s recognition that “achievement of most SDGs would rely on the development and management of water resources” is commendable. In fact, it would be impossible to achieve SDG 2 on ending poverty and achieving food security through sustainable agriculture without small holder food producers’ rights to freshwater, and political and policy support for agricultural practices that conserve water.
However, according to our partners, CONAGUA, the national water agency of Mexico is cancelling the renovation of water rights to smaller agricultural users. This experience raises questions about the commitment of Mexico, and the leadership of the HLPW to “the achievement of the other SDGs,” which the World Bank states is one of the aims of the HLPW itself. In addition, as we might infer from the information shared by our partners at Agua para Todos Agua para la Vida, Mexico, there are questions around transparency and accountability of the leadership, both in the case of Mexico and the HLPW itself.
To anticipate the direction the Panel might take, the “Special Advisor” to the Panel, Dr. Han Seung-soo played a pivotal role in the adoption of OECD declaration on Green Growth, and in its promotion as a global strategy for economic growth. (Critics have described “green growth” as a greenwashing of existing industrial practices.) As a founding chair (2007) of the high-level panel on water and disaster—co-moderated by the World Water Council (organizer of the triennial world water fora, that denied water as a human right) —his priority is likely to ensure that the “green growth” is not compromised, and that limited water resources are made available to support it.
It then remains our, i.e. the public’s, collective responsibility to ensure that the High-level Panel on Water does not promote green growth at the expense of a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative approach to developing and managing water resources. Indeed, let’s hope that the HLPW is able to help bring a fundamental shift in the way the world looks at water, where fundamental human rights and environmental justice are kept at the center of that shift.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is celebrating because October is National Farm to School Month! For 30 years, IATP has been at the center of the local food movement, presenting an alternative vision to factory farming and industrial food. Nowhere is this work seen more profoundly than in our Farm to Institution Program. Our work has connected farmers directly with schools, hospitals, and now early childhood education programs, to provide fresh, healthy, local foods to their meal programs. In October we’re celebrating National Farm to School Month with our partner organizations around this state!
With the start of harvest season, October is a perfect time to celebrate Minnesota’s agriculture with Farm to School activities happening in schools and early child care settings across the state. Did you know that in 2014, over 268 school districts in Minnesota were participating in Farm to School activities? You can read more about Farm to School in Minnesota from the state’s Farm to School Leadership Team’s 2016 report.
Farm to School Month isn’t just for schools. Across Minnesota and nationwide, child care centers, family child care and early childhood education settings are incorporating activities, lessons and local menu items that teach children about how food is grown. Since 2012, IATP has worked in partnership with child care centers like New Horizons Academy and the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties (CAPRW) Head Start in St. Paul, and growers like the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) to connect local growers and young children. IATP’s Farm to Child Care curriculum package contains information on designing a Farm to Child Care program, including recommendations on how to showcase local farmers; detailed examples of family engagement strategies; and suggestions to incorporate food- and farm-related themes into activities such as circle time, math and science, sensory and dramatic play, arts, and conversations at mealtime. IATP is working to expand the Farm to Child Care model at several Head Start centers across the Minnesota, including Stearns County, Olmsted County and Hennepin County.
All over the country, schools and early child care settings are celebrating the connection between children and local foods. Farm to School Month is an opportunity to recognize the importance of teaching children—from toddlers to teens—about food origins, promoting lifelong healthy eating habits, and supporting local economies. From food and farming-related classroom activities, to farm tours and taste testing local fruits and vegetables, communities nationwide are joining in the festivities.
This is also a time to highlight the work that still needs to be done for smart farm to institution policy in our state. Despite over 100 school districts in the state participating in Farm to School programs, there is no statewide framework to coordinate and promote this effective and popular program for farmers and students. IATP is continuing to work at the legislature to make sure that the Departments of Agriculture and Education have dedicated staff members to work with districts on Farm to School, to ensure that early childhood is a piece of the puzzle and to fulfill our decades long mission of providing farmers with a fair price for their crops.
IATP’s Farm to Child Care work is supported in part by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
Posted September 29, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn
This piece was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus on September 27, 2016.
The consolidation of corporate power in agriculture has been in the news a lot lately, first with the proposed ChemChina-Syngenta and Dow-DuPont mergers, and now with Bayer’s proposal to purchase seed giant Monsanto. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson testified in Congress last week that the proposed mergers would enable just three corporations to control 80 percent of the U.S. seed supply (and 70 percent of the global pesticide market). The result is that farmers have fewer and fewer choices about the kinds of seeds they want to plant. The concentration of processing and distribution also limits options and further squeezes farmers at a time when prices are tumbling around the globe.
This expansion of corporate control is also happening in three international treaties that establish the global rights of various stakeholders to seeds, germplasm, and plant varieties. Each of these treaties strikes a certain balance among those interests. And recently, like the agribusiness mergers, the balance has been tilting away from the interests of smaller-scale farmers and diversified agriculture. Unsurprisingly, corporations interested in accessing seeds and other genetic resources are pushing hard on all fronts.
This is most evident in the push to compel countries to adhere to the most corporate-friendly of the three: the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV). Although earlier versions of the treaty included some flexibility for family farmers to save and share seeds, the 1991 version eliminated those rights. According to analysis by Public Citizen and Third World Network (TWN), UPOV91 requires protection to be provided for all plant varieties for 20 to 25 years, and it stops farmers and breeders from exchanging protected seeds—a traditional practice common among farmers in many countries around the world.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) includes provisions requiring countries in the trade deal to ratify UPOV91. Of the TPP countries, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico and New Zealand are not yet members of the UPOV91. Those countries would be pushed to make major changes to domestic laws and rules that protect farmers’ rights when it comes to plant breeding and seed saving. Any other countries that join the TPP would also be compelled to become members of UPOV91. Countries currently considering joining the TPP include South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Taiwan—none of which is a member of UPOV91. That process is already generating considerable controversy in TPP countries, as well as countries involved in prior trade agreements like the U.S. Central America Free Trade Agreement [see this blog by Ben Lilliston for more on UPOV91 and the TPP].
The United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) struck a different balance in its Nagoya Protocol, which was completed in 2010 and entered into force in October 2014. It has been ratified by 86 countries (but not the United States). It establishes a consultation process for prior and informed consent over decisions to share seeds and other genetic resources, as well as a process for benefit sharing. It’s a step forward in terms of ensuring developing country interests, but still generates controversy.
Adelita San Vicente—from the Mexican NGO Semillas de Vida (Seeds of Life) and the Without Corn No Country campaign (which has so far successfully sued to block planting of GMO corn in Mexico)—explains that the Nagoya Protocol, while an improvement over UPOV91, fails to consider the context of the seeds, reducing them to commodities rather than essential elements of people’s cultural heritage. In June, a provisional Constitutional Court ruling suspended the Protocol’s implementation in Guatemala, in large part as a result of campaigns by indigenous and farm organizations led by the Red Nacional para la Defensa de la Soberania Alimentaria en Guatemala (National Network for the Defense of Food Sovereignty in Guatemala). They argued that the goal should be to protect biodiversity, not to commercialize it.
Companies eager to access genetic resources in other countries are finding the Nagoya Protocol too difficult to navigate, so some are turning to a third body, one actually seen as a model for protecting farmers’ rights. The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA, also known as FAO Seed Treaty) was completed in 2001. The Seed Treaty governs access to seeds and germplasm included in its seedbank and establishes rules on fair and equitable sharing of the benefits.
When the treaty was completed, many organizations including IATP praised the FAO Seed Treaty as “a major step forward for farmers around the world by improving their access to seeds.” The most contentious provision states that farmers, researchers and others using the system “shall not claim any intellectual property or other rights that limit the facilitated access to the plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, or their genetic parts or components, in the form received from the Multilateral System.” Ratified by 139 countries, the treaty also includes a provision on farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange, and sell farm-saved seed. The U.S. refused to endorse the treaty in 2001 but eventually signed (but did not ratify) in 2002. This May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the treaty, and in June it urged the full Senate to consider ratification of the bill.
The timing of the new hearing seems to coincide with renewed efforts by multinational seed companies to influence its implementation. A report published by Third World Network on a July meeting of parties to the ITPGRFA described strong positions by African governments for a mandatory “subscription system,” with payments based on a percentage of seed sales and license income. According to the report, while the U.S. is not a party, a U.S. delegate participated as part of the Canadian delegation, arguing for limits on the new proposals. A Monsanto representative participating as a stakeholder criticized the postponement of a proposal for a termination clause, which would eliminate any requirement for benefit-sharing payments after a fixed number of years. Developing countries argued against a termination clause, since companies could simply hold onto germplasm until they wouldn’t need to make payments. Negotiations are also underway over genetic sequence data (“dematerialization”), an issue that is also being debated more broadly (beyond plants and seeds) at the CBD and the World Intellectual Property Organization.
At the Senate hearing, John Schoeneker, testifying on behalf of the American Seed Trade Association (ASTA, whose leadership includes representatives of Bayer, Dupont and Syngenta) and the State Department urged ratification of the Seed Treaty, which would require no changes to U.S. laws but would enable access to the seedbank. An ASTA letter to the Foreign Relations Committee signed by 80 farm and seed business groups urged ratification, saying, “Currently, public and private sector breeders are vulnerable to the Nagoya Protocol, which was established under the auspices of the Convention on Biological Diversity and goes beyond the agriculture sector. The Nagoya Protocol is a far less favorable option [than the ITPGRFA] for germplasm exchange for U.S. agriculture researchers and the entire U.S. seed sector.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, the South Centre, Berne Declaration, and Third World Network, among others, have pointed out the contradictions among the rules established in these various treaties. The point now is not so much whether or not the Senate should ratify this treaty, but who decides on the rules about sharing these resources, and how those decisions are implemented. The ITPGRFA broke new ground on farmers’ rights over seeds and genetic resources, an advance that is effectively eroding under the TPP language and the proposed mergers. The balance needs to tilt back the other way, starting with enforceable new policy to establish that the right to food, biodiversity, and farmers’ rights take precedence over agribusiness profits, whether in these treaties or in trade deals. Ensuring that farmers around the world have access to seeds and seed breeding will be critical to climate change adaptation. Leaving agribusiness firms to set the rules on access to seeds and other genetic materials is a recipe for further corporate concentration and fewer good options for family farmers, local communities, and biodiversity.
Posted September 23, 2016 by IATP
The 2016 election is bizarre, to say the least. While the vast majority of reporting has focused on the horserace and he said she said aspects of the campaigns, the policy proposals put forward by the candidates will have profound and lasting impacts on the citizens they seek to govern. As a recent article in The Atlantic notes, “Once in office, presidents almost always try to carry out their pre-election agendas. When they’re unable to keep those promises, it’s usually because of congressional opposition—not because they’ve discarded campaign rhetoric to pursue other goals.”
With an increasingly globalized food system, trade and agricultural policies have become integral to combating climate change, providing economic security, and ensuring public health. These policies affect our jobs, the food we eat, and the land we live on. The trade and agricultural agenda set by the United States will affect billions of people around the globe. As the presidential debate season begins on Monday, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will be watching closely to see if and how the candidates address the following questions:
Posted September 22, 2016 by Shiney Varghese
This piece originally published by Farming Matters on September 20, 2016 and republished under the Creative Commons license.
Agro-chemical and fossil fuel intensive agricultural food systems not only destroy the environment but also ignore both the health implications (of the crops/food produced), and the socio-economic implications (for the people engaged in producing that food). Agroecological approaches, in contrast, see food production as one, albeit crucial, component in the larger web of life. They draw on science, but are built on the firm foundations of traditional knowledge; and they seek to enhance ecological integrity while attempting to address food sovereignty concerns. While industrial farming operations are dependent on outside (and often fossil fuel-based) inputs like herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics and genetically modified crops, local food and farming systems minimise off-farm inputs by rotating crops, integrating livestock production, and following agroecological practices. For those who see ecological approaches as necessary for achieving the food, water, health, poverty and environmental targets of the post 2015 agenda, agroecology with its emphasis on local, shared knowledge is not only central to maintaining ecosystem integrity, and revitalising rural economies but also to realising the food sovereignty of those involved in food production and consumption.
Meeting global challenges Many readers are likely well familiar with the three fundamental aspects of agroecology—a scientific discipline, a practice, and a movement. While it has long been known as a scientific discipline, agroecology as a practice and a movement has come of age at a time when there is growing support around the world for changing agricultural practices in response to natural resource depletion and climate change. Agroecological approaches are developed in the context of an increasing support for less chemical-intensive, more resource use efficient, ecological approaches to agriculture – especially systems that produce healthy food for local markets while also ensuring fair wages and safe working conditions to agricultural workers. This approach is supported not only by farmers and workers engaged in farming, but also by parents interested in healthy food choices for their children, by food workers and chefs interested in supplying healthy food alternatives to consumers, and by local governments interested in rebuilding local economies. Such agricultural-food systems have the potential to provide a whole host of benefits – from environmental to social to health to local economy.
Agroecological transition However, in most agricultural research and policy circles, these benefits are not assessed or valued adequately in a holistic manner. Most agricultural research supports the industrial farming systems, with an almost exclusive focus on crop productivity and cash income. But there are two problems with this primary focus on industrial agriculture.
First, it puts any other methods of farming at a distinct disadvantage, since there is relatively little data to show how agroecological farming systems positively impact the environment, farm economics, public health and the food sovereignty of the community at large. As a result, whole systems of food and farming get excluded from research and policy support. Second, policy recommendations stemming from current mainstream research often propose single vector solutions (which in fact may exacerbate the crisis on another vector) to the complex set of ills resulting from industrial food and farming systems. For example, faced with the problem of low productivity associated with resource depletion, researchers working on industrial farming systems may propose modifying seeds with in-built traits such as improved water resource use efficiency or drought resistance. However, there is little examination as to whether such seeds are in conflict with either ecological, or socioeconomic interests of the communities that grow, harvest and/or consume the crops, or whether adoption of these seeds will support the food sovereignty of communities concerned.
To truly measure the value and sustainability of agroecological approaches to local food and farming systems, we need indicators that are multidimensional and cross-disciplinary, and that fully capture the range of outcomes contributing to the success — economic, environmental, socio-political — of the system. This recognition led us at the IATP to develop a set of indicators that would help identify the markers of agroecological practices. In developing those indicators, the report, Scaling up Agroecology (2013), not only looked at the interconnections between agroecology and food sovereignty, but also at policies and practices needed to make agroecological approaches central to food and farming systems.
From principles to policy We wanted to situate the scaling up of agroecology very firmly in the context of food sovereignty. Thus we drew up seven principles—five principles informed by an ecosystem-based approach shared by all strands of agroecologists; and two principles recognising the pivotal role of small scale producers and workers in ensuring their food sovereignty both in terms of their tremendous agroecosystem knowledge base and also in terms of the democratic control of local institutions. We started with the principles of agroecology and food sovereignty, and for each of those principles we listed a set of practices. Corresponding to each particular practice, we developed some indicators of success—ecological as well as socioeconomic—to help policy makers understand what makes a particular practice agroecological: it is not simply about ecological benefit, but also about addressing the questions raised by political ecologists and their critique of modern agricultural systems. Against each of the principles and corresponding practices, we went on to identify policy support needed to promote wider adoption of those practices. In developing these indicators, feedback from our partner organisations and from many individuals was crucial. A matrix of principles, practices, assessable indicators and policy support is found in Appendix 1 of the report.
Not only farmers faced with environmental challenges, but also national and international agricultural research and policy establishments concerned with food security, have been concerned with natural resources (soil, water, biodiversity) related challenges. Initiatives such as Sustainable Intensification and Climate Smart Agriculture proposed by technocrats, and supported by international actors including philanthropy capitalists and state and international agencies, are top-down responses to climate related challenges to food security. Climate Smart Agriculture is advanced by UN agencies such as FAO in intergovernmental spaces such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Moreover, for example, the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture includes stakeholders such as Yara and Haifa Chemicals Ltd – agribusiness corporations selling fertilizers. While initiatives such as Sustainable Intensification and Climate Smart Agriculture may at times also include sustainable practices, these are fundamentally different from agroecological approaches. This is because the latter’s roots lie in a political and economic critique of modern agricultural systems, a holistic ecosystem analysis as well as being founded on a sound local knowledge base.
Indicators of success For example, let us take one of the five agroecological principles: ‘Agroecological practices enhance beneficial biological interactions and synergisms among agrobiodiversity components thus resulting in the promotion of key ecological processes and functions.’ We identified two practices (from amongst many) that could help contribute to promoting key ecological processes and functions: having democratically controlled, local renewable energy programs and water resource development that respects ecological limits; and having crop diversification programmes that integrate crops, vegetables, livestock, trees and fish in the ecosystem.
Next we identified how such practices can contribute, on the one hand, to ecosystems, and on the other hand, to socioeconomic benefits to the community. In this case these practices could help global efforts in: biodiversity conservation; water conservation; climate mitigation and adaptation. In this instance the increased ecological functions could be measured in terms of water quality improvement of runoff; increased plant biodiversity; increased soil microbial diversity. At the same time, the synergies among economic, ecological and climate adaptation benefits (especially stability in terms of assured farm outputs from unit of land by integrating trees, crops, vegetables, livestock and fish in the agroecosystem) could help contribute to enhancing socioeconomic conditions of the community.
The next step was to identify the supportive policy environment to promote these practices. For these practices to be adopted widely by communities, it is necessary that agricultural, water and energy policies prioritise the use of natural resources (such as land and water) for food production, local energy security and local water security.
Similarly, corresponding to the two principles recognising the pivotal role of small scale producers, we listed sets of practices, a set of ecological indicators and socio economic indicators, and finally the policy support needed for scaling up those practices around the world.
To take another example, we start with the principle that ‘agroecological movements enhance abilities of small scale producers and workers to self-organise, retain, reproduce and redefine cultural practices to pursue sustainable and gender-sensitive livelihood strategies; and effectively influence social and policy processes as well as governmental decisions’.
A corresponding practice would be mutual support among farmers and their communities to establish locally controlled democratic institutions, including cooperatives that have a mission and vision to promote key ecological processes and functions.
Here too, we identified indicators to assess how such efforts by agroecological movements can contribute to on the one hand to ecosystem sustainability and on the other hand to socioeconomic benefits to the community. Practices such as developing local democratic institutions with clear commitment to ecological sustainability can ensure not only that livelihood strategies at community level are ecologically sustainable, but also contribute to the empowerment of local communities, increased economic viability of traditional livelihood practices, revitalised rural and agrarian economies. Once again for such practices to spread widely, it is necessary, though not sufficient, to have pro-democratisation policies that recognise women’s central roles in agricultural and food systems, revitalise rural economies, minority cultures as well as marginalised livelihood practices.
Together, these agroecology policy options can achieve a number of interlinked goals that are part of any sustainable development agenda, including, but not limited to: climate adaptation for agriculture, stability of farm outputs, community access to micronutrient rich food and local food security while ensuring long term ecosystem sustainability. The important role of the corresponding indicators is that they can be used to track change and show whether we are heading towards the vision of agroecology firmly rooted in food sovereignty.