Posted June 25, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

AgricultureAgroecology

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @FAOnoticias.

IATP’s Dr. Jahi Chappell is blogging from Brasilia as the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) hosts the first of three public symposiums on national and regional strategies focused on agroecology.

As the civil society pre-meeting draws to a close the day before the opening of the FAO’s first Regional Seminar on Agroecology, the agroecological challenges facing farmers, academics, governments and the FAO remain clear.  Issues of insufficient funding; a world-wide lack of familiarity with the term “agroecology;” threats of cooptation, and the use of agroecology as a mere “tool” to prop up the current system, separation of agroecology’s vital elements of justice from the elements of science and practice; and the perception of insufficient evidence have all been raised. The pre-meeting day consisted of conversations between civil society organizations, academics and government and FAO representatives.

I started the day with the civil society groups.  We were welcomed and started off with a “mistica,” a ceremony that is often practiced by the international small farmers’ movement La Via Campesina and seeks to open a meeting with a recognition of the gifts we have been given by the earth, by our cultural inheritance and through the struggles and knowledge of the ancestors, particularly the ancestors of indigenous peoples.

After the opening ceremony, the civil society meeting split into smaller groups to discuss the recent Nyeleni Declaration on Agroecology, which set out common pillars and principles for a full and inclusive definition of agroecology, one that includes rights, responsibilities, food sovereignty and a fundamental paradigm shift in how we do agriculture in the world. (See here for the recent Scholars’ Open Letter supporting the Nyeleni Declaration, sent to the Director-General of the FAO on June 24, 2015.) The morning welcome also included a reiteration of the significance of the role of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA) in helping organize the meeting, alongside the key coordination by the Latin America Movement for Agroecology (MAELA), the Latin America and Caribbean People’s Alliance for Food Sovereignty, the FAO and the Ministry of Agrarian Development of Brazil.

Given my dual identities as a scientist and a staff member of an NGO, it was good to start the day with the civil society groups and then join the scientists’ group after the introductory session.

Along with allies from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, we discussed Brazil’s leadership in agroecology (it now hosts well over 100 “nuclei” for agroecology research and practice, in addition to its role in hosting and helping to organize this meeting) and the opportunities for agroecology that are before us, alongside the potential threats I mentioned above, given that attention to agroecology is growing.  Additionally, we discussed the role of the “dialogue of knowledges,” where farmers’ traditional, experiential, and on-going knowledge creation must be honored equally alongside the knowledge generated by academic research.  Finally, we also addressed the need to continue to bridge gaps between academia and social movements and how to build from the regional meetings to continue the strength and momentum of agroecology, with academics alongside and in collaboration with social movements, not separated from them.

The day ended with the launch of a book on women and agroecology, and a short documentary called “The Seeds” in which four Brazilian women shared their stories of agroecological innovation, growing autonomy, challenges and joys from switching to agroecological systems.

Oh, and of course, this was followed with cervejas (beers) and caipirinhas (Brazil’s national drink), with music from a great live band and continued conversations among all the attendees as night fell in Brasilia.

A great first day with much to think about, a clear assessment of many of the challenges ahead of us and appreciation for Brazil’s leadership in hosting this important meeting. Looking forward to Day Two!

Posted June 25, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

TradeTTIPFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from european_parliament.

For the past year, IATP has been working with partners Europe and the U.S. in a project to consider the potential impacts of TTIP on the rest of the world. As part of those efforts, we participated in a meeting in Brussels on TTIP and the Caribbean-Latin American region (CELAC). The title of the project working paper, “TTIP: why the world should beware,” indicates the general tenor of the Brussels meeting, which took place during the EU CELAC Summit and a tempestuous European Parliament debate about TTIP.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has characterized TTIP as a ‘high standards’ 21st century trade agreement that non-TTIP countries will want to join if they want access to the U.S. and EU member state markets. However, nobody asked the non-TTIP governments if they will now agree to new trade policies that they successfully have resisted at the World Trade Organization. According to the Brussels meeting participants, TTIP, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) would force the “rest of the world” to trade, invest and develop their national economies according to rules decided by U.S. and European Union negotiators.

In the U.S., we read in mainstream media editorials that TTIP, TPP and TISA must be approved in the U.S. Congress or the United States will lose “credibility,” or “prestige” or “leadership,” all of which would then pass to China, as President Obama contended in his State of the Union address. Governments, unable to convince their citizens that past or present trade and investment policy has brought wage gains or benefits for more than senior management, are claiming that passing the trade agreements is necessary for national security. For example, TTIP has been referred to as an “economic NATO,” i.e., a branch of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, by U.S. presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, among many others.

EU President Donald Tusk has accused the European opposition to TTIP of being “pro-Putin” and financed from Russia, without evidence. According to Miguel Urban, a Member of the European Parliament speaking at the opening session of the “TTIP and the rest of the world” meeting, the purpose of such accusations is to create a climate of fear in which There Is No Alternative (TINA) to the trade and investment policies decided by corporate and government elites behind closed doors. (Indeed, according to an analysis of the Wiki leaked TISA financial services text, the draft negotiating texts must not be made public for five years after the final agreed text is ratified by the [currently] 23 TISA prospective governments.) The TINA agreements are then presented to legislatures for their assent under fast track procedures.

IATP reviewed several of these geopolitical justifications in “Trade Policy Removal of Regulatory ‘Irritants’: An Effective Geopolitical Tool?” Among the foreign policy elites, there is debate about whether TTIP’s “high standards” will function as an “economic NATO” or whether TPP will “contain” China, with whom the United States is negotiating a bilateral investment agreement. The conservative Heritage Foundation even questions whether TTIP and TPP should be sold to the public as geopolitical protection from Russia and China respectively.

But none of the geopolitical analyses consider government failure to punish cross-border corporate crime, with sufficient penalties to prevent future crime, to be a threat to national security. For example, the $2.5 billion in fines levied by the Securities and Exchange Commission on five global banks for price fixing foreign exchange rates in the $75 trillion foreign exchange market were puny relative to the banks’ earnings and the SEC voted to waive the penalties that apply to financial felons. In addition, the Internal Revenue Service allows 75 percent of the fines to be deducted as a business expense. Mark Carney, Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, wrote in April to the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors that “financial misconduct” was so widespread among global banks that it endangers the integrity of the entire financial system.  And yet the Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions in TTIP and TPP would allow financial “investors” to sue governments for financial “regulatory actions,” including enforcement actions that would diminish their anticipated profits under the agreements.

At the “TTIP and the rest of the world” meeting, it was striking how many presentations involved analysis of government failure to prosecute the investors that TTIP and TPP will protect despite well-documented corporate environmental depredation and violations of human rights, including the murder of activists and trade union officials. Ambassador Maria Fernanda Espinoza, who represents Ecuador in Geneva, told the meeting that the purpose of the Investor State Dispute Settlement system of private arbitration panels is to restrict the sovereignty of States over the operations of transnational companies operating in their territories. An arbitration panel awarded Chevron $106 million against Ecuador based on evidence that was later discovered to have been falsified. Ecuador’s attempts to get Chevron to pay for the clean-up costs of massive contamination of Ecuador have been foiled by the private arbitration system.

Ambassador Espinoza urged meeting participants to become involved in a United Nations Human Rights Council process to negotiate a binding legal instrument concerning the activities of transnational corporations and enterprises to protect human rights. The first meeting of the intergovernmental group to negotiate the instrument will take place July 6-10 in Geneva. The United States and the European Union strongly opposed the UN General Assembly resolution to begin the negotiations and are working hard to weaken any legal instrument to be non-binding voluntary guidelines. It is perhaps too predictable that a lobbyist-dominated process should insist on binding legal measures to protect private investors and non-binding guidelines to protect human rights from violation by transnational corporate business practices. Those are the real geopolitics being promoted by TTIP.

Posted June 24, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

AgricultureAgroecologyFood

Used under creative commons license from unicphoto.

FAO Director General Graziano da Silva

On June 24, more than 40 scholars and scientists of agriculture and food systems sent the Director-General (DG) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) a second open letter, calling for the FAO to acknowledge and build on the historic, civil-society led Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology. This follows up on last year’s letter on the same subject, sent on the occasion of the FAO’s first International Symposium on Agroecology for Food and Nutrition Security. As IATP wrote earlier this year, the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration was the culmination of a landmark meeting of “international movements of small‐scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people from around the world,” coming together at the Nyéléni Center in Sélingué, Mali this past February. The participants sought to reach a common understanding of agroecology as a key element of Food Sovereignty, and to develop joint strategies to promote agroecology and defend it from cooptation.

In their letter, the scholars affirm the importance of the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration and discuss its origin from civil society and its strength in including concepts of human rights and justice, which they argue cannot be separated from any properly scientific approach to improving food security, food sovereignty and sustainability throughout the world. They then call on the Director-General to “seek to build on the Nyéléni Agroecology Declaration, in particular, to build on its incorporation of sovereignty, rights and justice as key elements of a rational approach to a sustainable and food-secure system that promotes human dignity.”

This second letter coincides with the first of a series of regional agroecology meetings, the Regional Seminar on Agroecology in Latin America and the Caribbean, which begins in the capital of Brazil, Brasilia, on June 24th. (Meetings will also be held in Senegal and Bangkok later this year.) The letter  further calls on the Director-General to continue to develop these regional meetings “with active participation and [to] reflect the priorities of autonomous diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers”; to avoid “the reduction and cooptation of agroecology as a narrow set of technologies to fine-tune and further consolidate the industrial food system through concepts such as ‘climate-smart agriculture’ or ‘sustainable intensification,’” (as we’ve written about here and here); and to plan “the organization of two additional regional symposia on agroecology in Europe and North America”. Agroecology, after all, is not something that is only useful to Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean—the tools it has to offer farmers, and its respect for their knowledge and autonomy, should be available to all farmers, and supported in all areas as the best way to face the multitude of challenges before us in our food systems.

Noting, with disappointment, that the FAO’s Medium Term Plan mentions agroecology only once, while using variations on the phrases “climate-smart” and “sustainable intensification” throughout, the scholars commit themselves to contributing “scientific analyses from our various established research projects relevant to the principles and pillars of the Nyéléni Declaration,” and to volunteer to help build on what has been called the “dialogue of knowledges” that can be found at the heart of agroecology. The Nyéléni Declaration enunciates the important foundations for efforts that truly honor and collaborate with farmers’ traditional and experiential knowledge, together with scientific knowledge. With the historic Declaration originating from civil society, and now backed by a slate of scholars from around the world, we very much hope that the FAO and its member countries will heed the growing consensus that crosses the typical boundaries between “scholar” and “farmer,” and find them coming together around the importance of agroecology.

Posted June 23, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @PostLandfill.

The hazy term “Climate Smart Agriculture” (CSA) came into sharper focus this month after a series of high-level intergovernmental meetings that prioritized corporate-led solutions. While actual climate negotiators were immersed in talks in Bonn during the first two weeks in June (as part of the lead up to the annual UN climate meeting later this year in Paris), other groupings circled around the term at other key international summits. The most powerful western governments, known as G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and the United States), had their annual gathering on June 7 and 8 in Schloss Elmau, in Bavaria, Germany. CSA was on the agenda in both places, and it was also an important focus of the 39th session of the FAO held in Rome from June 6 to June 12, 2015.

CSA advocates define food security in the context of water and climate challenges, often equating it with increasing agricultural productivity and resource use efficiency. While increasing productivity of the resources is indeed desirable, unfortunately it is often conflated with increasing private sector investments in land, water and agricultural infrastructure in developing countries, and in the African continent in particular. 

In Bonn, the UN food agencies – International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)— organized an event with the World Farmers Organization (WFO) to share their experience ”in enhancing adoption of climate smart agriculture.” While WFO has small farmers and large farmers as its members, its advocacy positions on climate change tend to coincide with that of agri-biotech corporations. For example, the WFO, Canadian Federation of Agriculture and CropLife International (on behalf of Farming First) made identical submissions to UNFCCC in 2013, advocating for greater scientific research on agriculture. The lobbying efforts of these groups in the context of Rio+20 have been shown to have both suppressed other civil society voices and influenced the Rio texts on Agriculture.

There are also important leadership connections among the groups. In 2008, the then Director/ Manager of Corporate and Crop Protection Communications of the group, Robynne Anderson, became the founding chair of Farming First, one of the leaders in the WFO in 2008 when it was formed. At the time, she was also the spokesperson for the IFAP. As the founding president of the lobbying firm Emerging Ag Inc.—which hosts International Agri-Food Network (IAFN)—and Director General of IAFN, Anderson also facilitates the Private Sector Mechanism at the UN Committee on Food Security in Rome.

The G7 declaration from Bavaria acknowledges and commits to building on the long-term G7 efforts for food security and nutrition, including the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (2008), the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (2012), the Land Partnerships (2013) and the Global Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Compact (2013). These initiatives have evolved over the years from a sharp focus on public-sector commitments to end global hunger in the wake of the 2008 food price crisis to almost exclusive reliance on private sector investment and solutions. Several recent studies and reports point out how the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in particular has pushed changes in policy frameworks, enabling the private sector to acquire land in African countries by displacing communities, and this without making any contribution towards food security. In fact, according to one of these case studies, these investments have diverted land and water resources away from food crops for energy crops; the study has resulted in a Call for Action, “Stop EcoEnergy’s Land Grab in Bagamoyo in Tanzania.”

The G7 declaration builds on the New Alliance proposal in ways that raise further concerns about food sovereignty. It endorses Sustainable Intensification (a term that includes use of GMO crops) and makes a nod to Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). GACSA is a 90 member platform launched in September 2014 to promote Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA does not exclude GMO crops as a solution) despite several concerns raised by civil society from the outset.  While advocates tend to leave the term CSA undefined, IATP has pointed out how, “Climate Smart Agriculture incentivizes destructive industrial agricultural practices by tying it to carbon market offsets based on unreliable and non-permanent emissions reduction protocols.”

Some countries like France, a member of the GACSA, have an ambivalent relationship with it. At the recent third Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture, the French Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Stéphane Le Foll, announced a public subsidy for an international research project  on restoration of degraded soils and soil carbon sequestration, which they see as a major option for supporting the three pillars of CSA (adaptation, mitigation, food security). However, the French Government spokesperson has indicated that they do not see agriculture as central to UNFCCC negotiations in Paris later this year. They also recognize the civil society concerns as valid, and they point to the need for those concerns to be addressed if GACSA is to be successful.

On the other hand, whether in Bavaria, Bonn or Rome, there seems to have been a concerted effort to promote GACSA. The FAO hosts the GACSA secretariat, a fact that was evidenced by their prominent role in the FAO conference. In Rome the co-chairs of the GACSA were fully engaged during the entire period of the FAO conference; GACSA has identified outreach (mobilization/ consolidating membership) as an important priority program area, with a special focus on an “Aggressive” communication and advocacy plan–communicating CSA and GACSA.

While there is certainly an urgent need to expand the public debate on climate change and agriculture, the kinds of solutions being proposed, and who controls them, are also vitally important. A recent briefing paper by European development network CIDSEshows that the attempts at climate smartness are more about corporate green washing than about building climate resilience or food security. For example, in addition to the ongoing lobbying efforts, the meetings in June were preceded by a gathering of 82 of the world’s leading companies (May 2015) to advance their roles in the ground-breaking Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative (LCTPi) with focuses on four areas that are directly relevant for food security:  Advanced Biofuels, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and  Forests and Forest Products as Carbon Sinks.  This in turn was preceded by a meeting in early May of the GACSA Investment Action Group, which France plans to join in. The framing note for the meeting stresses the Role of Private Finance Investments in Climate Smart Agriculture.

The developments in June reveal a concerted effort on the part of the business sector, UN agencies and donor governments to work together to promote a corporate-driven global alliance to push investments in agriculture. So why not call it Corporate Smart Agriculture?

Posted June 22, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Money and PoliticsFast TrackFree trade agreements

Opponents of Fast Track rallying outside Senator Amy Klobuchar's office in Minneapolis. 

When fast track trade authority squeezed through the House of Representatives last week by 10 votes, big corporate donors breathed a sigh of relief. They had heavily invested in political donations and K Street lobbying power to advance their trade agenda—and expected a return on investment.

And it has been quite an investment. According to Maplight, corporate interests supporting Fast Track contributed more than nine times as much money to House members ($197 million), compared to interests opposing Fast Track ($23 million).

Now, the Fast Track fight returns to the Senate where the flood of corporate money flows just as rapidly. The Guardian, analyzing Federal Election Commission data, reported that corporate members of the U.S. Business Coalition for TPP contributed $1,148,971 to U.S. Senate campaigns between January and March 2015—an average of $17,676.48 was donated to each of the 65 “yea” votes in a previous Fast Track vote in May.

Why do corporate donors care so much about Fast Track? Fast Track, granted to the President for the next six years, would facilitate the negotiation of least two mega trade deals, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involving 11 Pacific Rim countries and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with Europe, to not only set rules for trade, but expand corporate rights to challenge national and local regulations. Fast Track ties Congress’ hands to only an up or down vote on any future trade agreements—eliminating the possibility of amendments to protect local businesses, workers or the environment. TPP and TTIP are at the top of the corporate and financial industry wish list but first they need Fast Track to finish the deal.

Corporate donors are confident these trade deals will serve their interests because they are working hand-in-glove with the U.S. Trade Representative. Corporate and financial industry interests are represented throughout the USTR’s office, starting at the top with former Citigroup executive Michael Froman leading the agency, reports David Dayen in the American Prospect. Dayen writes: “Assistant trade representative for agricultural affairs, Sharon Bomer Lauritsen previously lobbied for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO). Christopher Wilson also represented BIO as part of the trade consulting group C&M International, before becoming the U.S. deputy chief of mission to the World Trade Organization. Deputy trade representative Robert Holleyman worked for the Business Software Alliance, representing Microsoft, Apple, and IBM, among others.” Open Secrets documents more than 140 USTR current and past staff using the revolving door between government and industry.  

Industry groups and representatives also dominate trade advisory committees that “advise” the USTR as it negotiates trade agreements. These corporate advisors are allowed access to the otherwise secret trade negotiating text of the TPP and TTIP. A Washington Post analysis, breaks down how industry groups and representatives dominate these trade advisory groups.

There continues to be strong public opposition to Fast Frack and the proposed free trade agreements. Nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose Fast Track. And more than 2,000 organizations from across the political spectrum have written to Congress opposing Fast Track.

The Fast Track fight in Congress is not only about trade, it’s also about our democracy, and the price we pay for what appears to be an increasingly corrupt pay-to-play system of governance. We’ll find out soon where our Senators stand.   

Posted June 19, 2015 by Juliette Majot   

TTIPTPPFast TrackFree trade agreements

Used under creative commons license from riebschlager.

Fast Track approval of highly secretive trade agreements that will threaten local food procurement programs across the U.S. and give corporations the standing to sue governments for lost profits passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a slim margin of ten votes yesterday.  It was a nasty battle, with House proponents succeeding only through cynical political and procedural brinksmanship.  The same strategies will be on display next week in the U.S. Senate. Fast Track (officially called Trade Promotion Authority, or TPA) now requires additional approval in the U.S. Senate. Expect more brinksmanship, less honesty and certainly less democracy. 

Supporters of Fast Track authority -- many of whom took their few minutes on the floor of the House debate to claim (disingenuously) that the behind-the-scenes, corporate-led trade negotiation process (and abdication of congressional responsibility when it comes to trade agreements) -- is really very democratic  have decided that the American way forward is to make the process even more undemocratic. And that means getting Fast Track approved as fast as they can by burying important pieces of the Fast Track package here and there in other popular pieces of legislation.  Nothing up my sleeve.  Presto.

Why? Because proponents are facing burgeoning opposition from the grassroots on up. Representatives in Washington on both sides of aisle (and the space between) are getting the kinds of questions from their constituents that cause real problems in elections; questions like: Why did you grease the skids for trade agreements that have almost nothing to do with trade, and more to do with “pre-empting national, state, and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs,” as David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance puts it.  Why did you vote to weaken food safety standards, ignore currency manipulation and turn a blind eye to human trafficking? Why did you ignore the truckloads of data that show that despite promises of earlier free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA, they managed to increase the gap between the haves and have-nots in each and every country that signed them?  Why did you set the stage for trade agreements designed by and for corporate elites at the expense of we the people?   

Tough questions. Better to confuse and obfuscate while getting this nasty business done quickly. Better to give voters the time they need to forget.

But we aren’t going to forget. Not this week as we head into battle in the Senate, not the week after that nor the weeks and months that follow.  

Popular campaigns to democratize trade agreement negotiations and to oppose the agreements now on the table are being led by an unprecedented coalition of civil society groups that include unions, teachers, environmentalists, family farmers, consumer groups and many others. Unions have made their opposition to Fast Track a defining issue, announcing that they would suspend political contributions until it is resolved and strongly implying that they would make this a key issue in their support moving forward.

If approved, Fast Track will indeed grease the skids for approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and others just like them, because that is what Fast Track is designed to do.  Thumbs up, thumbs down, no amendments. What Fast Track will not do is shut up millions of Americans who will fight to ensure those thumbs point down, when the time comes, for these reasons: number one, the process is anti-democratic;  number two, the trade agreements are little more than corporate charters paving the way for more corporate power, at the expense of labor, equity, the environment and sovereignty; and number three, we the people understand the first two reasons.

Thumbs down, way down, on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Posted June 16, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

Rural Climate DialoguesClimate ChangeRural Development

Each year, Environmental Initiative hosts an awards ceremony to honor Minnesota’s most innovative environmental projects. After projects from across the state are nominated, 18 finalists are chosen, and one winner in each of six categories is announced at the awards ceremony. Projects based on partnership and collaboration are highly valued. We’re excited to report that this year a project initiated by IATP and the Jefferson Center, “Morris Engaged: Planning and Action for Climate Resilience,” won the Community Action category.

“Morris Engaged” started in June 2014 when IATP co-hosted the Rural Climate Dialogue in Morris, MN. The Dialogue convened 15 Morris area residents—randomly selected and stratified to reflect the demographic, political and ideological diversity of the region – to study the local impacts of climate change and create a community response to changing climate conditions and extreme weather events. IATP, the Jefferson Center and other project partners—including the University of Minnesota, Morris – worked for months prior to and after the Dialogue to collaboratively identify issues for Dialogue participants to consider, and to secure support to implement the community’s recommendations.

The Dialogue helped spur a larger movement around climate change in the Morris community. New organizations are joining the program and partners are working to implement community recommendations. Recent efforts include:

  • The University of Minnesota, Morris and the City of Morris are currently working together to develop plans for community renewable energy implementation at the residential, municipal and business scale.
  • The Morris Area High School is incorporating climate change into its curriculum.
  • The Federated Church is working with project partners and other communities of faith in the area to promote awareness and discussion of climate and extreme weather issues among their members.
  • A partnership of community churches, student groups, and area leadership development programs hosted a community education event in April featuring a deliberative discussion of community recommendations and a screening of the film “Chasing Ice.”
  • Partners have secured additional funding to continue working on recommendations throughout 2015.

“Morris Engaged” has proven itself to be a successful model for engaging community members of all different backgrounds, ages, ideologies, and beliefs around climate change in a way that focuses on local impacts and responses rather than politics. The project’s recent Environmental Initiative Award is a true testament to the success of this model of community engagement. Last month, IATP and the Jefferson Center co-hosted a second Rural Climate Dialogue in Grand Rapids, MN, and a third Dialogue is planned for southeastern Minnesota in early 2016. Our goal is to spur similar leadership from within those communities to match the impressive level of civic engagement we’ve seen in Morris.

Posted June 16, 2015 by Pete Huff   

Local FoodAgricultureFarm to InstitutionSustainable Agriculture

Institutions purchasing and serving regionally produced food has gained momentum in recent years, largely driven by the exponentially successful farm to school movement. But this practice has reached a critical transition point in the growth process: how to move from a good idea that is supported by end users to an economically sustainable one with wide appeal for those at the beginning of the supply chain—particularly the farmer that provide the fruits, vegetables and other products for the cafeteria tray.

In the newly released report “Building Minnesota’s Farm to Institution Markets: A Producer Survey,” the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy— along with project partners the Sustainable Farming Association and Renewing the Countryside—summarize the findings of a recently completed survey that identifies some of the key “next steps” that farmers feel are needed to ensure the state’s emerging farm to institution markets work for them. With over 75 percent of survey respondents interested in selling to these markets in the future, it make sense to develop a deeper understanding of how to make them as accessible and successful as possible. 

Institutions form the backbone of communities – rural and urban – and have an enormous impact on residents throughout various stages of life. Spanning the educational (e.g. K-12 schools, child care, universities/colleges, etc.), public health (e.g. hospitals, elderly care, etc.) and public service (e.g. government offices, prisons/correctional facilities, etc.) sectors, institutions are major buyers of a huge variety of products—including food. As such, they represent a leverage point for small and medium scale businesses, including farms and the businesses that support them, to move into a larger local market and capture a percentage of that institutional purchasing capacity.

Efforts to orient such purchasing toward local economies are well established and are increasingly focused on food. According to a recent report by Policy Link, “It is estimated that 37 states have laws that require some or all state and local agencies to allow geographic preference for purchasing locally grown food,” making regionally grown food competitive with more conventional food procurement options. When lining up against mainline distributors who operate large aggregation and distribution supply chains, this advantage is critical for small and medium scale producers and the businesses that support their operation (e.g. equipment supply, food hubs, produce processing, etc.).

With decades of trial and error informing its success, Farm to School programs present a possible model for the trajectory of other institutions as they source regionally produced food, individually or collectively. The National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School highlight the rapid expansion of Farm to School activities in their recently released “State Farm to School Legislative Survey 2002-2014.” Citing USDA Farm to School Census data, the report notes: “the number of farm to school programs in the U.S. increased 430 percent between 2006 and 2012,” with over 40,000 schools participating in 2012. Such activity equates to approximately $385 million in local food purchases nationwide.

Within Minnesota, the same 2012 USDA Farm to School census revealed that 72 percent of the state’s K-12 schools were engaging in Farm to School practices—directing over $12 million of their food purchasing dollars toward local purchases of some kind—and that such participation was likely to increase by eight percent in the coming years. Two recent University of Minnesota-Extension surveys on the market potential of food procurement for K-12 schools and health care facilities in northwest and central/northeast Minnesota estimate that a 20 percent market capture of the institutional food procurement market would result in $480,000 and $590,000 for each region respectively. Extended statewide, these estimates would mean that $2.1 million dollars would be directed toward to local producers if one out of every five meals at the state’s schools and hospitals was comprised of regionally produced vegetables, fruits, meat and other products. As small and medium scale farms diversify their farm business plans, institutional markets have the potential for real financial gains.

Beyond the economic potential, institutions as a whole are a different type of market for producers to engage due to the nature of the public services they provide. When well established, efforts such as Farm to School present multiple economic, social, nutritional and environmental benefits for farmers, the individuals who rely on institutional services and the region within which both coexist. The new survey results demonstrate that Minnesota producers are aware of and motivated by these multiple benefits, with two-thirds of respondents noting “relationships with the local community” as the highest influencer of their decision to build business relationships with institutions. Interestingly, over half of the respondents were also highly influenced by the economic potential of farm to institution markets, with respondents ranking “fair, steady prices,” access to an “additional local market,” and the possibility of establishing “reliable/advance contracts” as highly influential. While the survey gauged interest overall, respondents were most interested in exploring the benefits of selling to hospitals, universities and colleges. The increasing influence of the economic benefits evident in the survey is a positive sign that institutional markets are becoming more sophisticated and viable for more producers.   

While it is growing, institutional markets can still be difficult for farmers to access, particularly for small and medium scale producers. This is due to a number of systemic challenges (e.g., limited budgets, logistical needs, food safety requirements, etc.) that are difficult, yet not impossible to overcome. Such factors were identified through the survey. Somewhat contradictory to the factors highly influencing engagement with institutional markets, respondents to the survey listed low purchasing prices and volume needs of institutions, low or high, as being the major barriers for entry to or expansion within farm to institution sales. However, the desire for expanded producer aggregation and collaboration to counter these barriers was strong—with 25 percent of the respondents currently engaged in such efforts and over 50 percent interested in future participation. 

Such cooperation was not limited to interest in food hubs or other aggregation operations to service institutional markets.  Respondents were strongly interested in peer-to-peer learning, as well as greater direct connections with institution food purchasing staff in their region. Specifically, there was interest in regional farmer-buyer networking events, workshops, online directories, webinars and farm visits/field days.  Clearly, face-to-face relationships are key to regional farm to institution success.  However, the strong recommendation for online forums shows that producers are increasingly willing to engage in new approaches to networking—a finding that should be explored more to help maximize the success of the more time-intensive process of face-to-face relationship building. 

On a whole, the future for farm to institution market in Minnesota is bright.  However, the growth of these markets must be rooted in the needs of farmers and guided by their leadership. The results of the survey provide a starting point for the “next step” in bringing fresh, healthy and locally produced food to cafeterias throughout the state while also ensuring the social and economic benefits are shared by everyone on the path from farm to table.

Posted June 15, 2015 by     David Morris - Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR)

TTIPTPPFast TrackFree trade agreementsNAFTA: North American Free Trade Agreement

For much of our history, trade agreements were considered treaties. According to the Constitution they had to be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. The House does not participate in ratification of treaties (Article II, Section 2).

By the late 19th century Congress realized it was far too cumbersome to require a Congressional vote to change individual tariffs, so they delegated to the President the authority to use tariffs as a flexible tool in the exercise of foreign policy.

In the 1970s trade agreements stopped focusing on tariffs and began addressing an increasingly broad group of rules (e.g. procurement, copyrights and patents, product standards, subsidies, environmental standards) called non-tariff trade barriers. Modern multi-faceted trade pacts have more to do with pre-empting national, state and local rules that could favor communities or regional economies or domestic businesses or the environment than with lowering tariffs.

Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution gives Congress a little wiggle room by making a distinction between “treaties” and “agreements”. Congress can change the ratification process for agreements. But it is highly probable that the Constitution’s Framers would have expected Congress to do so only with respect to agreements of limited importance.

In 1974 Congress made clear it thought otherwise. That year Congress acquiesced to a dramatic reduction in its and by extension the citizenry’s authority over trade rules. Under the new procedure the President was allowed to unilaterally negotiate the final terms of a trade agreement. He would then present the final agreement to Congress, which would be unable to change it in any way and would have a limited time for debate. Instead of requiring ratification by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, trade pacts would require only a simple majority from both chambers.

In 1993 Congress ratified the far-reaching North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) under the new fast track provisions. NAFTA not only limited national and state sovereignty over a variety of issues but it also established for the first time what has come be known as investor state dispute settlement procedures. Corporations, rather than only governments would have the right to sue. And they could sue for loss of potential profits. And they would do so via a new extra-territorial judicial system that favors commerce over community and corporations over governments.

The NAFTA vote was close: 234-200. Three-quarters of Democrats voting against while 80 percent of Republicans voted in favor. The ratification process of NAFTA was challenged in federal courts, but the courts rejected the challenge, ruling in essence that Congress can at its discretion decide when a treaty is not a treaty and can make the process for ratification as undemocratic as it sees fit.

The authority to pursue fast track expired in 2007. But in December 2009, the United States Trade Representative (USTR), on behalf of the President, notified the country that the President intended to enter into negotiations for a regional, Asia-Pacific trade agreement as if that authority continued to apply.

Today the President is asking Congress to ratify his illegal use of the fast track.

Last week, after the House overwhelmingly rejected a trade assistance act that was formally tied to the approval of fast track authority it passed a standalone fast track bill by a tiny majority of 219-211. Eighty-five percent of Democrats voted against while 78 percent of Republicans voted in favor.

As Paul Ryan (R-WI) has noted, “We’re not talking about passing a trade agreement right now. TPP is still being negotiated. It doesn’t exist yet as an agreement. We’re talking about whether we can even consider a trade agreement…” Representative Ryan is correct that Congress is not voting on TPP. But he’s wrong that if fast track fails Congress will be unable to “even consider a trade agreement”. Of course it can. The question before Congress right now is about how transparent and democratic that consideration will be.

We the people would like it to be as transparent and democratic as possible. Public opinion consistently favors trade but just as consistently solidly opposes fast track. We oppose the remarkable, indeed unprecedented secrecy in which the trade pact has been drafted and the inability of the average citizen, unlike giant corporations, to play a part in that drafting. We condemn the prohibition against changing the document in any way after submission.

And perhaps most of all we are furious about fast track’s foreclosure of extensive and intensive debate on a complex document of far reaching consequence.

If fast track fails the President can still submit a trade bill. And we can then launch a much needed and long overdue national conversation about the benefits and limitations of trade and the dangers of ceding sovereignty to a new international constitution whose goal is to limit democracy and expand corpocracy.

Posted June 11, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

TradeIndustrialized MeatLivestockWorld Trade Organization (WTO)

Used under creative commons license from Meena Kadri.

Last week the World Trade Organization (WTO) ruled that India is unfairly preventing the import of poultry and eggs from the U.S.  India instituted the ban against U.S. dumping of poultry products in 2007, ostensibly to protect against the spread of highly pathogenic Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu, though more likely to protect its own rapidly growing domestic poultry industry from giant U.S. companies like Tyson. The Obama administration's aggressive challenge to India’s ban sends a clear message to trading partners, particularly those in the Trans Pacific Partnership, that the U.S. will not tolerate trade barriers against U.S. corporations; we are sure to see more disputes brought to the WTO in the future.

Ironically, this latest WTO ruling against India comes just as the U.S. poultry industry has been hit again with a deadly strain of Avian Influenza A (H5N2) that has killed millions of chickens and turkeys. In Minnesota alone, almost 9 million birds have died or been destroyed as a result of the outbreak, the source of which remains unknown. In response, dozens of countries around the world have instituted bans of their own on the import of U.S. poultry products. Vaccines are proving ineffective and shortages in the egg and meat markets are causing price increases and growing concerns about health risks. As experts cast about for possible causes of this epidemic, they rarely consider the most obvious suspect: the highly concentrated productions methods that dominate the global poultry industry.

Poultry production is world’s largest meat industry. In 2014, 86 million tons of broiler meat was produced globally. In the U.S. alone the poultry industry is worth $265 billion annually. The fact that millions of birds are sick and dying and pose a threat to public health should prompt an investigation into an industry that monopolizes the market, exploits and abuses its workers, is unbelievably cruel to the birds and produces a product that is so contaminated with bacteria that the carcasses are rinsed in chlorine to prevent serious illness from eating the meat. In spite of these harsh chemical rinses, antibiotic resistant bacteria, causing severe illness, has also been linked to industrial poultry production.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman was pleased with the WTO ruling because it would supposedly benefit the “50,000 family farms” that are part of the U.S. poultry industry. That same industry, however, is lobbying night and day to remove the enforcement language in the 2008 Farm Bill that should protect contract chicken farmers from abuse and intimidation by the processors. Efforts to reform the poultry industry, led in Congress by Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) recently received a boost from a John Oliver comedy sketch that provided a rare look at how unfairly the U.S. poultry industry treats contract chicken farmers. Without the efforts of Kaptur and Pingree and groups like the Rural Advancement Fund International (RAFI-USA), National Family Farm Coalition and National Farmers Union, those protections would already be gone.

India’s attempt to use the threat of disease to protect its poultry industry (the third largest broiler producer in the world and second largest egg producer) might have failed, but this shouldn’t stop them or some other country from banning U.S. poultry for human rights abuses, anti-trust activity or gross cruelty to animals. The irony is that as poultry production becomes ever more industrialized in developing countries, the same problems of animal welfare, corporate power, contract farming and public health will emerge there. Nonetheless, instead of helping to dump U.S. chicken around the world and destroy agricultural livelihoods in other countries, Obama might pay a little more attention to what is happening on chicken farms in the U.S. Changing our model of production towards a humane method that genuinely supports family farms and public health will go a long way towards reforming global production as well.




       Sign up for our free newsletter!