Posted November 12, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

TradeTPPClimate ChangeFree trade agreements

This article is part of New Economy Week, a collaboration between YES! Magazine and the New Economy Coalition that brings you the ideas and people helping build an inclusive economy—in their own words.


President Obama announced his decision last week to reject approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have brought fuel from the Canadian tar sands through the heartland of the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico. Because this oil emits more greenhouse gases than other forms of fuel, the decision had everything to do with climate change and came just a month prior to the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change,” Obama stated. “And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership.”

While environmental groups hailed the Keystone announcement, they have criticized the Administration’s push for a massive new trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a big step backward on climate. In fact, the proposed agreement, finally made public last week, is literally in climate denial: nowhere in its 5,000-plus pages do the words “climate change” appear.

In many ways, the TPP is a broad attack on locally based economies that protect the climate and support renewable energy. Instead, the agreement tilts the playing field in favor of multinational corporations and financial institutions. Fortunately, it’s far from a done deal.

The TPP is considered the largest free trade agreement ever negotiated, with the countries involved contributing 40 percent of global GDP. It includes the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim countries: Mexico, Canada, Peru, Chile, Japan, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei.

The TPP expands trade by lowering tariffs, which are taxes on imported products like food, shoes, or fuel. But it goes much further than that. It sets a common system of regulations and rules for corporations operating in TPP countries—all designed to accelerate trade. With 30 chapters, the TPP sets rules for things like patents for medicines (and plants), how governments can purchase goods and services, and how the financial sector and food safety can be regulated. It also establishes an independent legal structure to enforce these rules.

While the TPP doesn’t mention climate change explicitly, many of its provisions would have important implications for the climate, aside from the simple fact that expanded trade increases greenhouse gas emissions related to transportation.

Here are a few of the big concerns with the TPP:

1. It expands the rights of corporations to challenge regulations.

The TPP establishes special legal rights of foreign corporations to challenge new regulations that it views could impact future profits. These corporate rights, first established under NAFTA in 1994, would be granted to corporations in all TPP countries. As an example, TransCanada is currently considering whether to bring a NAFTA challenge over President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone pipeline. Other corporate rights cases challenging fracking bans and the rights of oil companies to drill offshore point to how regulations that mitigate climate change could be challenged under the TPP.

2. It drives natural gas exports and production.

The TPP mandates the automatic approval of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) export permits to TPP countries, a policy the Sierra Club says is likely to lead to an increase in fracking. Japan is already the world’s largest importer of natural gas, and anticipates importing much more if the TPP is approved. Fracking has not only been linked to air and water pollution; the process is a high emitter of greenhouse gases, and it further locks in a fossil-fuel based system of energy over renewable options.

3. Limiting support for local, renewable energy systems.

The U.S. Trade Representative is the government agency that represents the United States in trade negotiations. One of its priorities in the TPP has been to eliminate what it calls “localization barriers to trade,” which means striking down government programs that give preference to local or national businesses. But this is not just for other countries—the same rules would apply here in the United States. A recent trade tribunal at the World Trade Organization gives an example of what this looks like in practice: The tribunal ruled against an Ontario policy designed to create local green jobs through locally sourced renewable energy.

Fortunately, the TPP is far from a done deal. While President Obama has signaled his intention to sign it, Congress still has to approve it. A Congressional vote likely won’t come until early spring, though political maneuvering could delay the vote, perhaps until after the 2016 elections.

And congressional approval is not inevitable. Congress barely passed fast track earlier this year—which set the timeline and process for congressional approval of TPP. Many congressional leaders and presidential candidates from both parties have expressed deep concerns about TPP.

The TPP also opens the door for an important debate about the values we want our economy to reflect. The deal reinforces and reflects an old economic system tied to fossil fuels and dominated by multinational corporations. That older model runs head-on into growing new economy initiatives and businesses building more localized systems for food, energy, and other services, grounded in racial and economic equity.

A truly new vision for trade would reflect the values of this new economy, not undermine them. Such a vision would start by rejecting the current secretive process, accessible only to corporate advisors, for negotiating future trade deals. The TPP fight is an important political opportunity to reject an outdated economic model, while building power for the new economy many are already creating.

Originally published by Yes! Magazine on November 12, 2015.

Posted October 28, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

FoodFood securityUnited NationsWater

Used under creative commons license from CIFPOR.

In its 42nd session, the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) two weeks ago made landmark recommendations linking water with food security and nutrition. It is a matter of pride for the negotiators that these recommendations are rooted in a human rights framework. Launched barely two weeks earlier in New York, the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (SDA), with 17 sustainable development goals and 169 corresponding social development targets, also has human rights at its heart. These are important milestones.

However, for the global Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) indicator framework is to be truly human rights-based, and to have an integrated, ecosystem-based approach to development, there is a need to monitor the progress for all, including the most marginalized and vulnerable. Only then will we ensure that no one is left behind” and extreme inequalities are addressed. Thus the CFS recommendations on water for food security and nutrition come at an opportune time, as the UN develops these indicators.

A little history: the birth of CFS in 1974 was triggered by the world food crisis of 1972-74, brought about by widespread droughts and famine. Another food crisis, that of 2007-2008, caused by multiple crises in environment and exacerbated by the financial crisis, led to structural reforms of the institution. CFS came out of those reforms as the most inclusive international and intergovernmental platform working on food security and nutrition. Housed at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, its membership is comprised not only of states, but UN agencies, NGOs, civil society participants and research bodies as well. CFS defines world food security as existing “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

The emergence of CFS as the preeminent multilateral body on food security and nutrition is particularly relevant when we consider the first two goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): ending poverty and ending hunger. The CFS recommendations on the food and nutrition security of smallholder producers—which include women, with a special focus on food insecure communities and vulnerable individuals—will be extremely helpful in developing indicators for assessing the SDGs.

Earlier this year, the CFS High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) issued a major report on Water for Food Security and Nutrition.  I served as a member of the project team that brought out the report. This is the first ever comprehensive effort by the HLPE to bring together the links between water for food security and nutrition. It went far beyond the usual focus on water for agriculture and crop production to instead combine an ecosystem-based approach with a human rights framework.

The three page summary of recommendations made available to multilateral negotiators at the CFS, called the “box,” was based on recommendations from the HLPE report. Since the CFS deliberations are intended to guide countries in setting policy, the recommendations should inform other processes as well. As countries move forward on developing indicators to measure the SDGs, the recommendations are especially relevant not only with reference to goals on poverty and food security, but also on water (goal six), health (goal 3), decent work (goal 8), inequality (goal 10), production and consumption (goal 12) and ecosystems (goal 15), to list a few.

CFS recommendations to improve water for food security and nutrition recall that water is the lifeblood of ecosystems on which the food security and nutrition of present and future generations depend. They acknowledge increasing degradation of water resources and ecosystems and allocation mechanisms that do not recognize and protect the interests and rights of all users, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized. They encourage States and other actors to join forces within their mandate, competencies and responsibilities to address the challenges related to water’s contribution to FSN through both an ecosystem approach and a people-centered approach.  Most importantly the CFS recommendations encourage states and other key actors to make smallholder producers and workers engaged in food production/processing central to efforts to ensure food security and nutrition, and to do so without compromising ecosystem integrity.

In her presentation to the CFS on behalf of the HLPE, the project team leader Lyla Mehta called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to explore the intrinsic links between human rights to water, sanitation and food so that these rights can be meaningfully integrated in their future work. Appreciating the report, the Civil Society Mechanism (the representative civil society coordination team that participates in CFS processes) in its intervention called attention to the specific point raised in the report on the necessity of recognizing extraterritorial human rights obligations of states in the context of the transboundary nature of water. It was gratifying to watch country after country express appreciation for the report for providing a comprehensive, timely and technically sound, relevant and rights-based approach to water for food security and nutrition. Overwhelming endorsement of the decision box was marred only by the statement by the United States. Despite being appreciative of the report and party to the negotiations, in their final intervention the U.S. distanced itself from any obligations that are underscored by the economic, cultural and social  rights referenced in the final decision box.

The agreement at the Committee for Food Security to take this set of recommendations forward is an important first step. Policy makers at international, national and subnational levels will hear the very clear message that water, food security and nutrition are inextricably linked and must be addressed in an integrated manner. Only when policymaking at all levels is well integrated can the global community hope to achieve the SDGs by 2030. It is now also up to all actors involved in the negotiations, including civil society, to build on the intergovernmental and multi-stakeholder legitimacy of the CFS agreement, backed up with a solid and credible evidence-based report. We need to build the road between Rome and local communities.

Posted October 20, 2015 by     Brent Patterson, Council of Canadians

More than a year ago the Council of Canadians set twin objectives for this federal election: to get out the vote and to defeat the Harper government. Both were accomplished last night. More than 17.5 million people, about 68 per cent of all eligible voters, cast a ballot in this election. That's a dramatic increase of almost 3 million voters from the 14.8 million people, or 61.4 per cent of eligible voters, who voted in May 2011. And last night not only was Stephen Harper defeated as prime minister, he resigned as leader of the Conservative Party. We celebrate both of these accomplishments.

We had felt though that the best likely outcome of this election would be a minority government. And if we had a system of proportional representation that would have been the outcome last night. Under that system, the Liberals would have won a minority government of about 133 seats (rather than a majority with 184 seats), the NDP 67 seats and the Greens 12 seats. We could have had a stable minority government through a multi-party coalition or accord. Instead, the Liberals won 54 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons with just 39.5 per cent of the vote. We believe this is wrong.

While we welcome Prime Minister-elect Justin Trudeau's election night speech that focused on hope, inclusion and the end of the politics of division and fear evident under the Harper government, we are deeply concerned by his party's support for 'free trade' agreements like the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). And with about 40 days until the critical United Nations COP 21 climate talks begin in Paris, the Liberals have only pledged "real climate change solutions" rather than more concretely an end to export pipelines and no new approvals for the tar sands.

We are also disappointed that the Liberal commitment is only to ensure "that fracking is consistently meeting the most stringent environmental assessments and reviews", rather than to ban or implement a moratorium on this harmful practice. Nor did we see the Liberals promise the $4.7 billion needed to ensure that Indigenous peoples enjoy the right to water and sanitation through upgraded infrastructure in their communities. And we are very concerned that the new prime minister appears to see the private sector or public-private partnerships (P3) as a 'solution' to the water crisis for First Nations.

We also will have to see what the Liberal pledge to "negotiate a new Health Accord with provinces and territories, including a long-term agreement on funding" truly means. If the new prime minister continues to support 'free trade' agreements that include longer patents for pharmaceutical corporations, as is the case with CETA and TPP, and doesn't explicitly commit to public solutions and oppose privatization, then we will have a real challenge ahead of us.

That all said, there could be some opportunities to move forward on these issues, much more so than would have been the case under another five years of Stephen Harper.

The prime minister-elect has promised to "negotiate a new Health Accord with provinces and territories, including a long-term agreement on funding." We will mobilize in the lead-up to that conference to demand a 10-year accord annual 6 per cent increase in health care transfer payments to the provinces, at least 25 per cent federal funding of provincial health care costs, a prohibition on user fees and privatization, and a commitment to public solutions. We also believe that his promised "credible environmental assessments" that "respect the rights of those most affected, such as Indigenous communities" should mean that the National Energy Board process for the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipelines should begin from the start again.

We also look forward to participating in the "proper review and oversight" and "stringent environmental assessments" of fracking. We will be there to advocate for the full restoration of the protections to the Navigable Waters Protection Act as promised by the Liberals in their platform. The new prime minister has also promised "a full and open public debate" on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and to "defend Canadian interests during the TPP’s ratification process – which includes defending supply management, our auto sector, and Canadian manufacturers across the country." We hope to be a leading voice in that fight.

There is also a long check-list of Liberal promises made during this election, including:
- to "immediately launch a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada"

  •  to enact all the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommendations
  •  to fully restore the Interim Federal Health Program that provides health care to refugees
  •  to ban oil tanker traffic off the British Columbia coast which would effectively kill the Northern Gateway pipeline project
  •  to protect the Great Lakes
  •  to "repeal the anti-democratic elements in Stephen Harper’s Fair Elections Act"
  •  to "restore the voter identification card as an acceptable form of identification"
  •  to "give Elections Canada the resources it needs to investigate voter fraud and vote suppression"
  •  to "encourage more Canadians to vote, by removing restrictions on the ways in which the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada can communicate with voters"
  •  to "restore the independence of the Commissioner of Canada Elections, so that they are accountable to Parliament and not the government of the day"
  •  to fund the federal portion of the construction of 'Freedom Road' for the Shoal Lake 40 First Nation
  •  to resettle no fewer than 25,000 Syrians by January 1, 2016
  •  to scrap Harper's plan to increase the eligibility age for Old Age Security to 67 by 2023 from the current 65
  •  to repeal Harper's Employment Insurance reforms
  •  to ensure that foreign workers have a realistic prospect of citizenship
  •  to end the practice of omnibus bills
  •  to end the Canadian Revenue Agency's harassment of charitable organizations
  •  to stop Harper's plan to end door-to-door mail delivery
  •  to repeal the problematic elements of C-51
  •  to re-open the Kitsilano Coast Guard base
  •  to end the combat mission in Iraq
  •  to repeal the anti-union legislation C-377 and C-525

We will have to work hard to ensure that these measures are fully implemented in a meaningful way and that they were not just empty promises.

And given the current electoral system gave the prime minister a majority government with seats disproportionate to the popular vote, we will be on the watch for the electoral reform legislation - that must focus on changing our system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation - that the prime minister has promised by April 2017.

We should rightly celebrate the defeat of Stephen Harper, a significantly increased voter turnout, and an election apparently relatively free of the voter suppression evident in the last federal election, but we will have to campaign even harder now to ensure that the 70 per cent of Canadians who said "it was the time for change" in Ottawa this election, get the change they deserve.

Posted October 15, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

AgricultureAgricultural TechnologyEnergy

Used under creative commons license from agrilife.

 An algae raceway at Texas A&M AgriLife.

Can genetically modified algae feed and fuel the world, as scientific entrepreneur J. Craig Venter predicted in 2011? For entrepreneurs of manufacturing with algae biomass, the future is now. That was the message of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) Summit held September 30th to October 2nd in Washington, DC. Yet, to the product developers who rely on synthetically modified microbes to genetically “edit” and customize algae for industrial and agricultural purposes, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on “new microbes” modified by “Advanced Genetic Engineering” posed a lot of questions.  For some of those questions, there are not yet answers; at least parts of the algal future are not now.

IATP participated in both events, which covered the scientific, engineering, regulatory and financial challenges of an industry poised for take-off with the robust help of government investment and policy. Our agricultural take-away from the meetings was this: farmers looking for a cheap source of fertilizer or protein for animal feed from the biomass by-product of algae derived bioproducts may get more than they bargain for. As we told the EPA, the modification of algae by “Advanced Genetic Engineering” does not yet include successful techniques to keep the genes of the modified algae from outcrossing and ­ acting as an invasive species or a weed among agricultural plants. Given the at least 60 million acres of “super-weeds” infesting U.S. farmlands, farmers can ill-afford the further expense of controlling another generation of super-weeds.

ABO members, whether start-ups or huge prospective algal biofuels users, such as Boeing, had good cause to celebrate.  The EPA’s recently announced Clean Power Rule includes a provision for production of algal products using carbon dioxide emissions to qualify as a method for power plants and other major greenhouse gas emitters to meet their emissions reduction targets. The EPA ruling not only cleared a pathway for making large scale algal biofuel more economically viable, but also made the commercial future of co-products, such as algal livestock feed and fertilizer, more attractive to investors.

As someone whose previous knowledge of algae was limited to seaweed wrapped around sushi, spirulina in green smoothies and the slime that covers many Minnesota lakes in August, my visit to the Summit exhibitors’ technology provided a quick algal education. Some of the topics discussed included the open pond raceway design to reduce energy use by a factor of ten, technology to increase the efficiency of the capture and use of CO2 by a factor of fifteen and algae harvesting and dewatering technology to increase primary harvesting by a factor of eight over conventional algae technology. All of these advances were advertised by just one firm, Global Algae Innovations, which was looking for partnerships to produce high value products such as cosmetics, pigments and “nutraceuticals” such as dietary supplements.

Apart from the cost-control challenges of deciding which equipment to buy to grow and dry various strains of algae were the scientific challenges in selecting and modifying the algal seed from which the rest of the biomass is grown. Advances in sequencing and transcribing genetics have aided the process of selecting useful strains of algae. Some production methods use “new microbes,” whose regulatory review is carried out by the EPA under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976.

To put this in context, one must understand that Congress is undertaking a controversial process of TSCA “modernization” that will continue to allow the chemical industry to add to the 22,000 chemicals already registered by the EPA for commercial use since 1976 without a formal risk assessment about the safety of those chemicals. The bill proposed by Senators David Vitter and Tom Udall would end the ability of state governments to require more extensive information from manufacturers than the EPA does about chemicals introduced into commerce. The bill does not provide new authority for the vastly underfunded and understaffed EPA to regulate the “new microbes” used for some algal production methods. On October 2nd, Senator Udall’s office announced a TSCA bill compromise to secure a filibuster proof majority.

The EPA is revising its 1997 “Points to Consider in the Preparation of TSCA Biotechnology Submissions for Micro-organisms.” Because the 1997 document did not envision the genetic modification of algae, the EPA is also developing a ”Considerations for GM/Synbio Algae” document that will outline the kinds of information industry applicants will need to submit in order to receive an EPA “registration” or commercial approval for their product. The EPA held a public hearing to gather input for the document and is inviting written comment on it by October 30th. 

Each commenter had three minutes to respond to one of four categories of “Charge Questions” put forward by the EPA. I responded to the questions concerning “Advanced Genetic Engineering.”

The first question concerned the synthetic biology “kill switches” that are supposed to keep the genes in synthetically modified microbes from crossing over into other plant species, i.e. Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). There is a concern among algae biosafety researchers that modified algae could escape into natural environments and outcompete wild and agricultural plants. Avenues of escape could include GM algae biomass used as fertilizer, GM algae carried from open ponds by birds or animals and microalgae carried by the wind.

According to a 2015 Scientific Opinion by three European Commission scientific committees, “no single technology solves all biosafety risks and many new approaches will be needed.” However, multiple devices to prevent HGT could overload the host microbes and result in failure to contain.

A second question asked which of the various synthetic biology techniques offered the most likely success of containing the synthetically engineered genes. Commercial applicant answers to the EPA about that question may not be public for specific products. Commercial applicants often claim to the EPA and other regulators that product data and information is Confidential Business Information (CBI), even if it pertains to public or environmental health and even if protected by patents. If the EPA continues to routinely grant CBI status to such data and information, the public engagement that the EPA says it wants about synthetic biology cannot be scientifically substantive. CBI prevents independent scientific peer review of the applicant’s data and information, and reduces communication to a dialogue between a handful of regulatory and product developer scientists.

The EPA responded to my comment by stating that the revision of the 1992 “Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Agricultural Biotechnology,” ordered by the White House in a July 2 memo, would elicit comment about which parts of commercialization applications for genetically and synthetically modified biotechnology products should be granted CBI status and why. (Pat Rizzuto, “EPA Lists Extensive Data Needs for Bioengineered Algae,” Bureau of National Affairs, September 30, 2015. Subscription required.)

It is not clear when the EPA will produce new guidance to industry documents on information to be submitted for synthetically engineered microbes. Nor is it clear as to which of the algal biomass products will be affected by the guidance. What is clear is that algal biomass product developers and equipment manufacturers believe that they are crucial participants in “Creating a New Carbon Economy” and in “Sustainable Health and Nutrition” to partly quote plenary session titles.

Some of the algal entrepreneurs are developing products that respond to imminent environmental threats with major economic consequences. Professor Charles Yarish showed how to breed and grow seaweed strains that greatly reduced the excessive nitrate levels from agricultural fertilizers that were polluting the waters of the Long Island Sound. Professor Pallab Sarker of Dartmouth College argued that only algal-based fish food could stem the collapse of marine feeding chains that result when sardines, anchovies and other small fish are fed to salmon and other farm-raised fish. No doubt I missed many excellent presentations. There were three to four concurrent sessions during the Algae Biomass Summit and about 200 hundred posters that described scientific, engineering and commercialization initiatives.

Some of the technological objectives of algal entrepreneurs and scientists have been achieved at the level of pilot plant production levels, e.g. producing algal-based fuel that meets the requirement of the Secretary of the Navy.  Scaling up production to a commercial level, to the point of competing economically with traditional energy and agricultural commodities, may require not only the support of the EPA and Departments of Defense and Energy; it may require solving biosafety problems of HGT that currently appear to be intractable, especially given the strictures of CBI claims on independent scientific review.

Posted October 15, 2015 by Pete Huff   

Used under creative commons license from Donna Cleveland.

In the current media environment, there’s a lot of seemingly contradictory information about the “right” way to grow and eat food. Setting out to address these tensions in a public forum, the Food Dialogues® came to Minneapolis this summer. The event–entitled “Farm to Consumer: Bridging the Gap Between Consumer Concerns and Food Production and Sourcing Decisions”–was presented as an open panel discussion on the way the nation grows and eats food, now and into the future.

At first glance, the dialogue between actors such as Minneapolis Public Schools, a national leader in providing healthy, regionally sourced foods, and General Mills, a major financial backer for groups that fight improved school nutrition standards, appeared promising. Equally promising was the presence of the farm voice, specifically Riverbend farm, a small, community supported organic farm, side-by-side with Cargill, the nation’s largest privately held corporation. However, looking behind the curtain of this and other Food Dialogues® events around the country reveals the less objective agenda of those setting the stage–an agenda that had little interest in a real dialogue about the future of farming and food systems.

Supported and advised by a long list of “industry partners” including Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, John Deere and other perennial favorites, the Food Dialogues® are more a promotional product than a real dialogue. Investing in public events like the Food Dialogues® is common practice for some of the largest corporations driving our current farming and food system. The industrial agriculture and food sector spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to influence what ends up on our forks. In its new report Spinning Food, Friends of the Earth highlights the fact that industry trade associations and front groups for industrial agriculture and food spent over $740 million privately to influence public policy, media and consumer behavior toward their products between 2009 and 2013. That’s nearly $150 million spent annually by agribusiness to ensure that the status quo dinner table remains set.

The Food Dialogues® are hosted in cities around the country by commodity producer associations and funded with public and private dollars to further the interests of industrial agriculture, thus indirectly favoring corporate consolidation over producers and local control. For the Food Dialogues®, the driving force is the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), who sponsored the Minnesota event in conjunction with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (a branch of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association) and the Nebraska Soybean Board. These three organizations collectively raised approximately $38 million in revenue in 2012 (the most recent tax information that is consistently available). While the latter two are less public about the composition of their funding, the USFRA website claims that nearly a third of its funding comes from “industry partners,” corporations with a clear interest when it comes to the “right” way to grow and process food. As for the rest of the bill, that’s where those who work the land pick up the tab. Remarkably, farmers and ranchers are legally compelled to fund these promotional associations and events, regardless of whether they agree with their message or whether the message helps or hurts their farms.  While a lack of financial transparency obscures the breakdown of income for many commodity groups, USFRA notes that the remaining two-thirds of its funding comes from what they call “farmer-and-rancher-led affiliates.” This compelled support is better known as checkoff program money.

Taxing farmers and ranchers to promote agribusiness

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the “checkoff program,” is supposed to act as a “promotion and research program.” Checkoff programs are established by federal law and are crafted to promote the consumption of particular agricultural products (pork, eggs, corn, soy, etc.) that typically enter the market in less processed forms and, therefore, make it difficult for producers to distinguish their products via advertising. For example, instead of two farms marketing their eggs separately, it is more cost-effective to work together to encourage consumers to buy eggs over another protein source. In short, a rising egg tide lifts all producer boats. Hence the 1974 Egg Research and Consumer Information Act was passed to establish a framework for the egg checkoff.

Under the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996,the overarching and coordinating federal law for “commodity promotion laws,” check-off programs function as a mandatory tax,  typically around one percent, that farmers of a particular commodity must pay per unit of that particular commodity sold at market or to processors. These taxes are collected by the USDA and are redistributed by the agency to approved checkoff organizations for the purpose of promoting the commodity crop in a generic sense (i.e. not promoting a particular brand or company). According to the National Agricultural Law Center, “checkoff programs attempt to improve the market position of the covered commodity by expanding markets, increasing demand, and developing new uses and markets.” For example, according to the Pork Checkoff website, “U.S. pork producers and importers pay $0.40 per $100 of value when pigs are sold and when pigs or pork products are brought into the United States.” While this seems like a small amount to pay, the money adds up quickly for checkoff programs-the National Pork Board alone cleared $81 million in revenue in 2011.

According to Alan Guebert, agriculture journalist and author, there are currently 22 federal check off programs that include both familiar and unfamiliar commodities from beef to mangos and raise approximately $750 million per year from U.S. farmers and ranchers. The results are some of the more iconic advertising campaigns of the 20th century: “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner,” brought to you by the National Livestock and Meat Board; “The Incredible Edible Egg,” by the American Egg Board; “Pork: the Other White Meat;” “Got Milk?;” and other advertising campaigns of the  same variety. While the organizations that fund these advertisements will claim market development success, there is little independent economic analysis evidence to validate these claims, and more important, the money is not being spent to promote small-scale organic or sustainably produced products, or food raised or grown for local markets.

Legally, checkoff programs have long been contentious in their purpose and practice. Federal law requires that checkoff programs hold a vote for participants to determine the continuation, suspension or termination of the program and requires that programs authorize and fund an independent evaluation every five years. Along with late fees and interest payments, penalties for violating program requirements can cost a producer upwards of $10,000. Given the mandatory nature of the programs, it’s not surprising that not all producers agree that the touted benefits of checkoff programs are worthwhile. In 2000, a majority of pork producers voted to end the pork checkoff–but the USDA, on behalf of the National Pork Producers Council, overturned the vote.  

Over the past two decades, several key legal battles have highlighted two of the major participant complaints: that checkoff programs are inequitable because producers required to pay for them don’t receive equal benefit, and, perhaps more concerning, that the programs violate the First Amendment rights of their participants. While efforts have been made to ensure the equal delivery of benefit through various exemptions and credit programs, particularly for small, organic and specialty producers that claim their size and/or products don’t benefit from generic advertisement, the programs remain contentious. It should be noted that with the exponential growth of the market for organics and subsequent rise of large-scale corporate organic producers, there is currently a controversial effort underway to establish a checkoff program for the organic sector.

Regarding the constitutionality, USDA programs have regularly been considered by various courts to determine if checkoffs violate free speech. Complaints center around the fact that qualifying producers are legally compelled to contribute to shared advertising which they may not agree with and are thus forced into associated with businesses they otherwise avoid, including those who import competitive foreign products into domestic markets. However, a 2005 Supreme Court decision ruled that checkoff participants have no legal claim to First Amendment violations.

Beyond the functionality of the checkoff programs as they exist legally, the various organizations they support have long been subject to scrutiny regarding the ethics and accountability of their practices. The authorizing legislation for checkoff programs limits the activities of funded entities to advertising, promotion, consumer education and research—explicitly forbidding lobbying efforts. However, two current examples provide a window into how industry is increasingly involved in the political process.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is revisiting a lawsuit against the USDA by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (ICCI) regarding the relationship between the National Pork Board (NPB), a checkoff approved organization, and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), a lobbying group. The case is specifically looking at the legality of the USDA’s approval for the NPB to license “Pork, The Other White Meat” to the NPPC for $3 million per year for 20 years.

In another current example, evidence has emerged this month that potentially links the American Egg Board (AEB), an authorized checkoff organization, to a coordinated multi-year attack on Hampton Creek, the San Francisco-based, plant-based protein food company that made waves with its open letters about changing the food system that were recently published in the New York Times. Perhaps more concerning than the apparent malice of the AEB, is the fact that USDA staff are clearly implicated in the electronic paper trail. These current transgressions are not the only examples of the use of checkoff funds being questionable–explorations of the practices of checkoff programs typically reveal that oversight is limited at the best and non-existent at the worst.

It’s clear that checkoff organizations aren’t neutral ground for an unbiased conversation.

The private and public funding behind groups like the USFRA and events like the Food Dialogues® and other related events should be clearly identified to their participants and the general public–and given a more accurate description: paid advertising. The discussion that the Food Dialogues® takes on is a needed one, but, given the power and questionable behavior of checkoff organizations, that discussion needs to be more balanced, transparent and inclusive.  An equitable and effective dialogue about farming and food should bridge the gap between producers and consumers and lead to solutions that benefit both, not simply agribusiness.  

Posted October 13, 2015 by     Eric Holt-Giménez, Executive Director of Food First

An OFRANEH youth brigade member waters sweet chili pepper in a family garden. Photos by Steve Pavey.

This is part of a blog series around the 2015 U.S. Food Sovereignty Prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which IATP is a member organization. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.


What’s in a prize? The politics of distribution versus growth.

On October 14th in Des Moines, Iowa, the Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded to the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, run by African-American farmers of the southern United States and to OFRANEH—the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña).

The next day, hundreds of distinguished international guests will also gather in Des Moines, Iowa as Sir Fazle Hasan Abed accepts the World Food Prize in the name of BRAC—the world’s largest non-governmental rural development agency.

Both prizes are awarded in recognition of the fight against hunger. That’s where the similarity ends and the lesson begins.

Founded in 1986 by the “father of the Green Revolution” Norman Borlaug, the World Food Prize typically celebrates technological innovations that increase agricultural yields. This is because the award committee assumes that there is not enough food in the world to feed everyone. Actually, over the last four decades we have consistently produced 1 ½ times enough food for every man, woman and child on the planet. Yet, over a billion people are still hungry and malnourished because they are too poor to buy food. Awarding the Word Food Prize to BRAC should be a reminder that poverty, not scarcity, is the main cause of world hunger.  

Sir Fazle’s knighthood and 20 international awards all attest to the positive impact of BRAC’s anti-poverty work. Their selection was a safe move for the World Food Prize, which has been roundly criticized for giving the award to yet another Green Revolution scientist last year and to a triad of biotechnology scientists from the private sector the year before. BRAC will undoubtedly help restore some of the Prize’s lost luster in a world were genetic engineering has lost much of its credibility.

Does this award reflect a shift in the World Food Prize’s paradigm? Is the emblematic lightship of the Green Revolution ready to admit that hunger will not be ended by dint of a continuous flow of industrial crop varieties and chemical inputs? Not likely. A review of nearly thirty years of Food Prize laureates reveals a smattering of recipients who do not fit the dominant Green Revolution paradigm (Hans Herren, Muhammad Yunus, George McGovern and Robert Dole, among others). While the Prize entertains intermittent forays into areas of food aid, economic development and even agroecology, it always returns, lemming-like, to its foundational discourse: to end hunger we must double food production. The corollary to this theorem is that only chemically-based, industrial agriculture is up to the task.

That the planet has been overproducing food for nearly half a century is irrelevant to Green Revolution champions. That agroecological methods of production are cheaper, more accessible and consistently more productive and climate resilient than anything the Green Revolution has on offer, is also quietly swept under the rug in the yearly World Food Prize celebrations.

The destitute farmers producing over half the world’s food—primarily peasant women—make up most of the world’s hungry. They need more land, more water and a larger share of the food dollar. But the World Food Prize does not understand hunger or poverty as a problem of resource distribution. Rather, the World Food Prize believes that hunger and food insecurity are the result of scarcity. Whatever the problems underlying poverty and world hunger—in the Global South and the Global North—the solution for hunger is always the same: growth. Growth in productivity, growth in commercial inputs, growth in credit, growth of global markets…

But global food supply has been growing at 12% per capita a year for several decades. At the height of the global food crises of 2008 and 2011, the world saw record-breaking grain harvests. The problem of hunger is poverty. Resource-poor farmers—who make up 70% of the world’s hungry—are forced to sell their harvest cheaply (because they are poor). Later, when their own supplies run out and prices rise, they go hungry because they can’t afford the food in the markets. The steady spread of high-external input, plantation agriculture—largely soy for livestock, cane and maize for biofuels and oil palm—pushes smallholders and pastoralists off the land, destroying their livelihoods, increasing poverty and hunger even as more food is produced.

Why does the World Food Prize insist that the answer to hunger is growth?

Because a focus on growth allows us to ignore the problems of inequity, exploitation and the growing disparity of wealth in the world. It allows us to ignore the issue of resource distribution—and its corollary: re-distribution. Eighty-four individuals now own as much wealth as half of the world’s population. The growing wealth gap is causing hunger. It is easy to talk about baking an ever bigger pie. It’s much harder to talk about who get the biggest piece, or who gets to cut the pie.

This political convenience becomes evident when we look at the Food Sovereignty Prize, in many ways the antithesis of the World Food Prize. This prize has a shorter history (and an infinitely smaller budget) than the World Food Prize. This year’s laureates, the U.S.-based Federation of Southern Cooperatives and OFRANEH were chosen for their steadfast commitment to human rights and their historical resistance of oppression.

What do human rights and oppression have to do with hunger? Everything.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, founded in 1967 came out of the civil rights movement when according to its founders, as a black person in the rural south,

You took your life in your hands when you went anywhere. Particularly if you were going somewhere where they were talking about freedom and independence and cooperative farming.”  

For four decades across 16 southern states, the Federation has promoted Black and family owned farms, coops, training in sustainable agriculture, forestry, management and marketing, and has advocated in the courts and state and national legislatures for the rights of Black farmers. They have stood up against the steady trend in Black land loss that has gone from a peak of 14% to less than 1% of agricultural land in the United States. Ben Burkett, southern farmer and Director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives (and president of the National Family Farm Coalition) states,

“Our view is local production for local consumption. It’s just supporting mankind as family farmers. Everything we’re about is food sovereignty, the right of every individual on earth to wholesome food, clean water, clean air, clean land, and the self-determination of a local community to grow and do what they want. We just recognize the natural flow of life. It’s what we’ve always done.”

Co-prize winner OFRANEH from Honduras came together in 1978 to protect the territories and the human rights of the Garifuna people of Honduras’ Atlantic coast. These descendants of African-Carib ancestry are a historically oppressed minority in Honduras. Their traditional lands are being grabbed by oil palm plantations and tourism developments. Because displacement and deforestation have made the Garifuna extremely vulnerable to the extreme weather events associated with climate change, OFRANEH works with local populations to build climate resilience. Says OFRANEH Coordinator Miriam Miranda,

“Our liberation starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty. We need to produce to bring autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples. If we continue to consume [only], it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest. We need to become producers. It’s about touching the pocketbook, the surest way to overcome our enemies. It’s also about recovering and reaffirming our connections to the soil, to our communities, to our land.”

The difference between the World Food Prize and the Food Sovereignty Prize is the difference between entrepreneurial “empowerment” and real political power. While the former implies an increase in personal agency within the existing system—by becoming economically successful—the latter is about how the resources of that food system are allocated.  

When compared to BRAC’s impressive economic successes, the impacts of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and OFRANEH seem circumscribed, their positions romantic; small, grassroots Davids standing up to the Goliath of institutionalized racism and unstoppable global economic forces.

The World Food Prize provides us with an optimistic story of successful grassroots capitalism, while the Food Sovereignty Prize is a resistance story about hope against all odds. But these narratives actually distort our understanding of hunger and its causes. The fact is that for the vast majority of the world’s peasant farmers, BRAC’s successes are the exception rather than the rule. The default is land grabs, racism, hunger, institutionalized violence and climate disasters—the daily reality of the farmer and fisher families of OFRANEH and the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.

If the entrepreneurialism promoted by BRAC is so good for rural people then why, after four decades and widespread international recognition, haven’t these alternatives become standard policy everywhere?

Clearly, farmers with BRAC are better off and their success stories should be celebrated and replicated. But giving prizes for optimistic alternatives should not blind us to the harsh realities of an economic system that prevents most farmers from accessing the coops, micro credit, training and services promoted by BRAC. Indeed, unless “empowerment” enables rural communities to protect themselves from the waves of dispossession and climate chaos resulting from global capitalism and the spread of industrial agriculture in the name of ending hunger, even these gains may be short-lived.

Economic development is necessary for the oppressed, discriminated and exploited communities of our food system. It is also insufficient. Not all growth benefits the poor. Indeed, much of it hurts them.  Economic growth without redistribution of power and wealth ultimately reinforces the existing systems of exploitation. Without political control over land, water, markets and food producing resources—without food sovereignty—rural people will be a tourist development or an oil palm plantation away from poverty and hunger.

What’s in a prize? A tale of two paradigms and the difference between optimism and hope, between food security and food sovereignty—between the status quo and the end of hunger.

Copyleft Other Worlds. You may reprint this article in whole or in part.  Please credit any text or original research you use to Other Worlds.

Attend the Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa or watch the livestream. More information available at foodsovereigntyprize.org.

Posted October 8, 2015 by     Stephen Bartlett, Agricultural Missions, and Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

Miriam Miranda, Coordinator of OFRANEH. Photo courtesy of Grassroots International.

This is part of a blog series around the 2015 U.S. Food Sovereignty Prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which IATP is a member organization. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.


“Our liberation starts because we can plant what we eat. This is food sovereignty,” said Miriam Miranda, Coordinator of the Fraternal Black Organization of Honduras, or OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym, in an interview.

OFRANEH is winner of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize, given by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance. “There is a big job to do in Honduras and everywhere, because people have to know that they need to produce to bring the autonomy and the sovereignty of our peoples. If we continue to consume [only], it doesn’t matter how much we shout and protest,” said Miranda. “It’s about recovering and reaffirming our connections to the soil, to our communities, to our land. We need to become producers.”

In order to produce, through, one must have land. OFRANEH has organized the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna people of the Atlantic Coast of Honduras into a movement to protect Garifuna territory – including ecologically rich lands, rivers, forests, and oceanfront - against theft by multinational corporations, the national government, and the oligarchy. On the lands and waters, OFRANEH members are also actively strengthening their skills of ecological farming and sustainable small-scale fishing practices.

OFRANEH also aims to defend all that is nurtured upon their territories. This includes community, autonomy, traditional culture, the Garinagu language, local radio stations, ancestral spirituality, and ceremonial life.

OFRANEH’s defense of its identity and territory is head-on, through direct-action community organizing, national and international legal action, and movement-building. In its work, OFRANEH especially prioritizes the leadership development of women and youth.

Garifuna lands are being grabbed, with approval from the Honduran government and often the US government - for tourism, a naval base, deep-water port, and gas and oil extraction. This is despite Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization; the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and Honduras’ own constitution, which guarantees free, prior, and informed consent to any projects in indigenous territories. Narco-traffickers have seized additional lands.

On September 10, 2015, Garifuna peoples were forcibly evicted from the city of Puerto Castillo – formerly claimed by United Fruit Company – by a major landowner. This robbing of ancestral lands and compressing the displaced into a restricted location has happened in the town before, for the construction of a major port.

The community of Triunfo de la Cruz has brought a case about dispossession of its land to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This is only the fourth case ever brought to protect indigenous territories. (The other three are the Sarayacu in Ecuador, the Saramaca in Suriname, and the Awas Tingni in Nicaragua.) A decision is expected soon.

Narco-traffickers, interested in the strategic characteristics of the land for clandestine drug running – space for a runway, a hidden creek to the sea, and remote location – had invaded the legally titled Garifuna lands. In 2012, the community reoccupied its land with drumming and ceremony, despite narco and paramilitary threats and automatic rifle fire. Since then, however, a portion of the land has been re-invaded by campesinos, with the support of narcos. The community is threatened with an illegal sale by narco-connected individuals, with the complicity of politicians. OFRANEH’s strategy to win back and keep Vallecito is to apply strong enough pressure, together with allies around Honduras and the world, that the governmental Agrarian Institute of Honduras (INA) will be forced to evict the illegal usurpers.

The future of Vallecito is complicated by Honduran government plans for so-called “charter cities” (ciudades modelos in Spanish), foreign enclaves shielded from Honduran sovereignty with their own security and laws, financed by international investors. Vallecito is at the center of a large swath of Garifuna territory the government has in mind for this project. If it is consolidated, dozens of Garifuna communities could be displaced.

Regardless, OFRANEH plans to recover and keep Vallecito and transform it into a center of Garifuna renewal.  All community members dislocated from their lands, for whatever reason, will be able to resettle there. Strengthening traditional Garifuna agriculture, aqua-culture, and culture in general will be an integral part of the resettlement. Immediate plans include the construction of a Garifuna ceremonial/cultural building. Youth leadership development is another part of the plan, so that urban youth and young adults can learn the same skills and knowledge as Garifunas living in remote rural locations.

Like other indigenous and non-indigenous Hondurans standing up for their rights, the Garifunas suffer continual violence, threats, and human rights abuses. Both the land grabs and the violence surrounding them are part of a political climate resulting from a coup d’état against President Manuel Zelaya on June 28, 2009. Then, with the help of the US government, a clique of the top oligarchs of the nation swept to power. The U.S. government has played an enabling role with a series of post-coup regimes, providing political cover and military and police aid, and looking the other way as human rights violations and impunity mount. Hundreds of assassinations of opposition organizers and their family members have marked Honduras in recent years, bringing to mind the death squads of the 1980s. 

In addition to the government’s impunity and corruption, the illegally imposed congress has conceded land and minerals to foreign investors. Beyond what is happening in indigenous communities, campesino land across the country is being grabbed by agribusiness, particularly for African palm plantations planted to feed the craze for biofuel in the North.

Miriam Miranda said, “Our lands and identities are critical to our lives. For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.” 

Attend the Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa or watch the livestream. More information available at foodsovereigntyprize.org.

Originally published by Daily Kos.

Posted October 7, 2015 by     Shannon Duncan Bodwell

This is part of a blog series around the 2015 U.S. Food Sovereignty Prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which IATP is a member organization. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.


“In the end we succeeded. But it cost us six years in jail, and five of my colleagues were assassinated. However we are still here, working, and pushing forward,” said Alfredo Lopez.

Alfredo, a well-known and respected community leader, is the vice-president of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), a partner of Grassroots International. OFRANEH organizes with indigenous, Afro-descendant Hondurans (known as Garifunas), whose ancestral territory contains some of the most breathtaking and fertile areas along the Atlantic coast of Honduras. And they also constantly face land grabs by agrofuel plantations, tour-resort developers and narco-traffickers.

While leading efforts to stop a tourist development from displacing Garifuna communities,  Alfredo was jailed on trumped-up charges and spent six years in prison before being released for lack of evidence. It was only through community pressure, international solidarity, and a ruling by the International Human Rights Commission Court in Costa Rica that the Honduran government finally freed Alfredo. 

Since his release, he and with other members of OFRANEH have received numerous threats and been the target of several attacks. Soft-spoken and humble, Alfredo explains that threats to personal safety are commonplace for human rights defenders in Honduras. Embroiled in the middle of political violence spurred by a hardline, military-backed government, Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the Western Hemisphere. 

Alfredo has helped OFRANEH set up a network of six community radio stations that are unifying Garifuna communities along the coast. The stations educate communities about their rights, history and culture, and keep them current on news and strategies for defending their territories. OFRANEH has also set up an impressive network of international solidarity and a national network of allies across the country to help them in their efforts.

The determination of OFRANEH and its organizers like Alfredo – to continue to defend their rights in the face of such adversity – has been recognized internationally as they have been named the international winner of the 2015 Food Sovereignty Prize. The Food Sovereignty Prize spotlights grassroots organizations working internationally and in the United States for a more democratic food system. The Food Sovereignty Prize will be awarded on October 14, 7 pm Central Time in Des Moines, IA, and will be livestreamed over the Internet.  

While the challenges are many, Alfredo and OFRANEH continue in their push for justice and find strength from the past. “Our ancestors suffered through the same situation as us, perhaps even worse. They were forced onto boats and shipped from Africa. Many were not lucky enough to survive the journey and died along the way. We try to remember and respect their sacrifices, and this helps us today in our struggles,” said Alfredo.

Attend the Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa or watch the livestream. More information available at foodsovereigntyprize.org.

Originally published by Grassroots International.

Posted October 7, 2015 by     Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

Garifuna youth brigade members remove a fence post in the area planted by narco invaders of the land prior to the 2012 land recovery. Photo courtesy of Steve Pavey.

This is part of a blog series around the 2015 U.S. Food Sovereignty Prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which IATP is a member organization. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.


In 2015, the US Food Sovereignty Prize honors the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH by its Spanish acronym), Afro-indigenous farmers and fisherpeople who are defending their lands, waters, agriculture, and way of life. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, primarily African-American farmers across 13 states in the deep South, shares the prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015.

The prize is given by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which is comprised of groups of advocates, activists, and farmers and other food producers. Food sovereignty asserts that people everywhere must reclaim their control over food systems. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance upholds the right to food as a basic human right, and connects local, national, and international movements for systems change.

Below are excerpts from an interview with Miriam Miranda, coordinator of OFRANEH. OFRANEH works with the 46 Afro-indigenous Garífuna communities of the nation to defend their lands, agriculture, fishing, other riches of nature, identity, and rights.

Without our lands, we cease to be a people. Our lands and identities are critical to our lives, our waters, our forests, our culture, our global commons, our territories. For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.

We are a mix of African descendants and indigenous peoples who came about more than 200 years ago in the island of San Vicente. We live on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. What we Garífuna face is largely the same things faced by people all over Latin America, and in fact the whole planet.

If you map out the conflicts that are threatening our country, you’ll see they reflect exactly where transnational capital is trying to take more resources from indigenous peoples. Maybe you believe that President Mel Zelaya was ousted in a coup d’état [in 2009] because he was a leftist. No. It was because [those with wealth] wanted to take land and resources, which they are now doing. There’s more pressure on us every day for our territories, our resources, and our global commons.

Look at the search for so-called alternatives to oil - through mining, mega-dams, et cetera. All these resources are being taken from indigenous areas. In Honduras, they’re taking land that we were using to grow beans and rice so they can grow African palm for bio-fuel. The intention is to stop the production of food that humans need so they can produce fuel that cars need. The more food scarcity that exists, the more expensive food will become. Food sovereignty is being threatened everywhere.

Another of our main challenges is the tourism industry. We live almost on the sea, right on the beach. It’s a blessing but recently it’s also become a curse, because of course all those with power want to have a place on the beach. The Honduran government has started on some tourism mega-projects. The displacement of communities and the loss of cultures that come with the development of tourism [are increasing].

We’ve occupied and claimed ancestral lands that had been taken by others, such as Vallecito Limón. We’re also using international human rights law in order to guard our territories. We have a claim against the government in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Washington regarding Triunfo de la Cruz [a beachside Garífuna community whose communally owned lands have been taken]. We hope to have a decision in November or December. This will create an important precedent for all indigenous peoples, not just for the Garífuna. It’ll define the responsibility of the state to protect territories and rights of indigenous peoples. This will only be the [fourth] case ever brought that will help establish policies and mechanisms to protect the territories and resources of indigenous peoples, and all of humanity, of course. 

The marvelous women comrades in Triunfo de la Cruz, Garífuna women, many of them elders, have incredible strength. They participate in meetings, in actions, tearing down walls that are built on the beach. They’re sustaining the Garífuna youth so that they know who they are, without shame. They’re producing the yucca that is our staple food.

Women [everywhere are] defending life, culture, and territories, opposing a model of death that grows stronger each day. We are at the front of the avalanche of attacks. Everywhere throughout Honduras, like in all of Latin America, Africa, Asia, women are at the forefront of the struggles for our rights, against racial discrimination, for the defense of our commons and our survival. We’re at the front not only with our bodies but also with our force, our ideas, our proposals. We don’t only birth children, but ideas and actions as well.

If the problem is global, we have to have a global response. It’s time for every human being in the global North to take up his or her responsibility in respect to the use of resources, responsibility relative to waste and to consumption. The standard of living that you all have in the US is unsustainable. You are the button-pushers.

We [on the other end] have crises piled one after another. We are trying to resist and find every solution we can, but we ask ourselves: Hmm, are we the ones consuming all this energy? If those in the North are the consumers, why are we in Honduras paying? Why are we being displaced to generate energy for others? What are we supposed to do? Leave the planet to destruct, or make a change for future generations? They won’t have land or water or air. This is not pessimism, it’s reality. The time has come.

For more information, please see US Food Sovereignty Prize. And also visit this site to learn about the US Food Sovereignty Alliance’s Month of Community Power.

Attend the Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa or watch the livestream. More information available at foodsovereigntyprize.org.

Originally posted at worldpulse.com

Posted October 6, 2015 by     Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

Food Sovereignty Prize Domestic Winner Federation of Southern Cooperatives (FSC)

This is part of a blog series around the 2015 U.S. Food Sovereignty Prize, which will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015. The Food Sovereignty Prize is awarded by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which IATP is a member organization. The US Food Sovereignty Alliance works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. We believe all people have the right to healthy, culturally appropriate food, produced in an ecologically sound manner. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based and food producer groups, we uphold the right to food as a basic human necessity and public good and work to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.


The 2015 US Food Sovereignty Prize goes to two organizations that are demonstrating just how much Black lives matter, as they defend their ancestral lands for community-controlled food production. The Federation of Southern Cooperatives, primarily African-American farmers across the deep South, shares the prize with the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras, Afro-indigenous farmers and fisher-people. The prize will be presented in Des Moines on October 14, 2015.

Food sovereignty goes beyond ensuring that people have enough food to meet their physical needs. It asserts that citizens everywhere must reclaim their power in food systems by rebuilding the relationships between people and the land, and between food providers and those who eat. 
The US Food Sovereignty Alliance upholds the right to food as a basic human right and works to connect our local and national struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.

The Federation of Southern Cooperatives strengthens a vital piece of food sovereignty: helping keep lands in the hands of family farmers. Its members are farmers in 13 Southern states, approximately 90 percent of them African-American, but also Native American, Latino, and White.

The Federation’s work is today more important than ever, given that African-American-owned farms in the U.S. have fallen from 14 percent to 1 percent in fewer than 100 years. To help keep farms Black- and family-owned, the Federation promotes land-based cooperatives; provides training in sustainable agriculture and forestry, management, and marketing; and speaks truth to power in local courthouses, state legislatures, and the halls of the U.S. Congress.

Below are excerpts from an interview with Ben Burkett, an active member of the Federation. Burkett is also a farmer, director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, president of the National Family Farm Coalition board of directors, and a member of La Via Campesina’s international board

“Our view is local production for local consumption. It’s just supporting mankind as family farmers. Everything we’re about is food sovereignty, the right of every individual on earth to wholesome food, clean water, air and land, and the self-determination of a community to grow and eat what they want.

“The Federation of Southern Cooperatives grew out of the civil rights movement [in 1967]. Racism is still here in the marketplace and in credit, but we have learned to deal with it and not give up on changing the system. We struggle every day to bring about a change.

“We recognize the natural flow of life. It’s just what we’ve always done. We want to go back to the way things were. It’s supporting mankind as small farmers and family farmers. It’s not so much a matter of making money, it’s a matter of carrying on so your farm will continue on. But you have to make some profit off it in order to keep it going.

“Myself, I’m a fourth-generation farmer on a farm that my great-grandfather homesteaded in 1889. That wasn’t but about 20 years after the end of slavery. He got 164 acres from the United States government. I still have the title – they called it a patent – signed by Grover Cleveland. And we’re still farming that same land.

“Some say the system is working. It appears to be working fine, but corporate agriculture is not sustainable. Our system of growing food is heavy, heavy, heavy dependent on petro-chemicals, on inorganic compounds, mostly petroleum-based. And then it takes too much control out of the local community. Now, it might last for several decades, but in the end it can’t last.

“You’ve got a few companies that want to control all the seed stock of the world, and they’ve just about got a handle on marketing three of the main commodities: corn, soybean, and cotton. [For us,] it’s hard to find seeds that aren’t treated with the Monsanto-manufactured Roundup Ready. I’ve tried to find cotton that wasn’t treated, but I couldn’t. Now they’re working on controlling wheat and rice.

“And they make those seeds so most of them don’t regenerate the next year anyway. But if you do save any of the seeds, Monsanto and the other companies are going to prosecute you for saving their property. Those seeds are patented, the property of the seed company, so they reserve the right to keep them. They’ll take you to court and make you pay back their money. Basically you’re just sharecropping for them, you’re leasing their seeds.

“I don’t think that’s fair. Once you’ve bought the seeds and planted them on your own land, it looks to me like they ought to be your own seeds. That’s the essence of life. Where did Monsanto and the other companies get their first seed from? Someone gave them to them. Those seeds didn’t fall out of the sky.

“We’ve been – I don’t want to use the word co-opted – trained by the institutions of agriculture, the companies, the university system, and technology, to give our rights over to the company, which I think is absolutely wrong. We have to be more proactive than reactive as small farmers, family farmers. We can’t wait for the government and large corporations to dictate to us what we can do in our region.

“They’ve got a unique way of buying you off to not fight here. The American consumer doesn’t care as long as it’s cheap. But no matter what farmers plant, the consumer’s got to change the system. People buying the end product have to complain. As long as they don’t complain, there’s no need even talking about it.”

The prize is given by the US Food Sovereignty Alliance, which is comprised of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based, and food producer groups. To learn more about the work of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, please visit http://www.federationsoutherncoop.com/

Attend the Food Sovereignty Prize Ceremony on October 14 in Des Moines, Iowa or watch the livestream. More information available at foodsovereigntyprize.org.




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