Think Forward blog

Political momentum on water raises red flags

Posted October 4, 2016 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from designforhealth.

On 21 September 2016 the United Nations (U.N.) newly convened High-level Panel on Water (HLPW), called for a fundamental shift in the way the world looks at water. Supported by the World Economic Forum and its water initiative, the HLPW was formed to help “build the political momentum” to deliver on the U.N. mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on “water and related targets” that the U.N. member governments agreed to in 2015.

The HLPW is co-convened by the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the President of the World Bank Group Dr. Jim Yong Kim. Co-chaired by the presidents of Mexico and Mauritius, the Panel is comprised of 11 sitting Heads of State and Government and one Special Adviser “to provide the leadership required to champion a comprehensive, inclusive and collaborative way of developing and managing water resources, and improving water and sanitation related services”.

But will the HLPW provide this leadership? How do we ensure that the leadership is inclusive, transparent and accountable?

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Celebrating National Farm to School Month

Posted October 3, 2016 by Katie Costello   Josh Wise   

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is celebrating because October is National Farm to School Month! For 30 years, IATP has been at the center of the local food movement, presenting an alternative vision to factory farming and industrial food. Nowhere is this work seen more profoundly than in our Farm to Institution Program. Our work has connected farmers directly with schools, hospitals, and now early childhood education programs, to provide fresh, healthy, local foods to their meal programs. In October we’re celebrating National Farm to School Month with our partner organizations around this state!

With the start of harvest season, October is a perfect time to celebrate Minnesota’s agriculture with Farm to School activities happening in schools and early child care settings across the state. Did you know that in 2014, over 268 school districts in Minnesota were participating in Farm to School activities? You can read more about Farm to School in Minnesota from the state’s Farm to School Leadership Team’s 2016 report.

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Seeds of Corporate Power vs Farmers' Rights: We need to start tilting the field back in favor of farmers and the environment

Posted September 29, 2016 by Karen Hansen-Kuhn   

 Farmer in Angola drying coffee beans

This piece was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus on September 27, 2016.


The consolidation of corporate power in agriculture has been in the news a lot lately, first with the proposed ChemChina-Syngenta and Dow-DuPont mergers, and now with Bayer’s proposal to purchase seed giant Monsanto. National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson testified in Congress last week that the proposed mergers would enable just three corporations to control 80 percent of the U.S. seed supply (and 70 percent of the global pesticide market). The result is that farmers have fewer and fewer choices about the kinds of seeds they want to plant. The concentration of processing and distribution also limits options and further squeezes farmers at a time when prices are tumbling around the globe.

This expansion of corporate control is also happening in three international treaties that establish the global rights of various stakeholders to seeds, germplasm, and plant varieties. Each of these treaties strikes a certain balance among those interests. And recently, like the agribusiness mergers, the balance has been tilting away from the interests of smaller-scale farmers and diversified agriculture. Unsurprisingly, corporations interested in accessing seeds and other genetic resources are pushing hard on all fronts.

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The debates: questions for the presidential candidates on trade and agriculture policy

Posted September 23, 2016 by IATP   

Used under creative commons license from gageskidmore.

The 2016 election is bizarre, to say the least. While the vast majority of reporting has focused on the horserace and he said she said aspects of the campaigns, the policy proposals put forward by the candidates will have profound and lasting impacts on the citizens they seek to govern. As a recent article in The Atlantic notes, “Once in office, presidents almost always try to carry out their pre-election agendas. When they’re unable to keep those promises, it’s usually because of congressional opposition—not because they’ve discarded campaign rhetoric to pursue other goals.”

With an increasingly globalized food system, trade and agricultural policies have become integral to combating climate change, providing economic security, and ensuring public health. These policies affect our jobs, the food we eat, and the land we live on. The trade and agricultural agenda set by the United States will affect billions of people around the globe. As the presidential debate season begins on Monday, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy will be watching closely to see if and how the candidates address the following questions:

Trade:

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Indicators as a tool for changing policy and practice

Posted September 22, 2016 by Shiney Varghese   

 Photo: North Market

This piece originally published by Farming Matters on September 20, 2016 and republished under the Creative Commons license.


Agro-chemical and fossil fuel intensive agricultural food systems not only destroy the environment but also ignore both the health implications (of the crops/food produced), and the socio-economic implications (for the people engaged in producing that food). Agroecological approaches, in contrast, see food production as one, albeit crucial, component in the larger web of life. They draw on science, but are built on the firm foundations of traditional knowledge; and they seek to enhance ecological integrity while attempting to address food sovereignty concerns. While industrial farming operations are dependent on outside (and often fossil fuel-based) inputs like herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics and genetically modified crops, local food and farming systems minimise off-farm inputs by rotating crops, integrating livestock production, and following agroecological practices. For those who see ecological approaches as necessary for achieving the food, water, health, poverty and environmental targets of the post 2015 agenda, agroecology with its emphasis on local, shared knowledge is not only central to maintaining ecosystem integrity, and revitalising rural economies but also to realising the food sovereignty of those involved in food production and consumption.

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TPP and U.S. dairy policy: fewer farms and raw milk down the sewers

Posted September 8, 2016 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from ugacommunications.

Regardless of their operation, do all farmers benefit when they sell their production to traders and processors who export crop- and livestock-derived products? According to a recent interview with Ambassador Darci Vetter, the chief U.S. agricultural trade negotiator, the answer is unequivocally yes. Even now, when prices paid to farmers and ranchers by those traders and processors are well below the cost of producing those crops and livestock, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)? Consider the case of dairy farmers.

IATP contends that the dairy import provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) will do nothing to stem the global raw milk price collapse that is driving U.S. dairy farmers out of business.  Those low prices provide very cheap raw materials to such mega-dairy processors as Kraft Foods, Dean Foods and Land O’Lakes, which is owned by the mega-cooperative, the Dairy Farmers of America, but the benefits to farmers are vanishingly small.

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Raising Rural Voices on Climate Change

Posted September 7, 2016 by Tara Ritter   

 Image courtesy of the Center for Rural Strategies. 

The two-day Minnesota Rural Climate Dialogue State Convening got underway today bringing together citizens from rural communities in the state. Over the past two years, Rural Climate Dialogues held throughout Minnesota in Stevens, Itasca and Winona Counties brought together groups of rural citizens to learn and deliberate about the effects of climate change and extreme weather in their communities, and create plans for how their communities should act to sustain and improve resilience. Over the course of two days, rural citizens from each of the three communities are convening to recall and share their community plans, form statewide rural climate priorities and present them to state agency staff to connect them with existing financial and technical assistance programs.

The day kicked off with introductions. People shared what they do for work—the group included sustainability and healthcare professionals, timber mill and railroad employees, and farmers—but everyone focused primarily on the pride they have for their communities. People talked about the beauty of rivers, bluffs and forests and their towns’ engaged residents. Everyone agreed that their communities had countless assets worth preserving, and that many of those assets are at risk from extreme weather and climate change impacts.

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The TPP's climate blindspot

Posted September 6, 2016 by Ben Lilliston   

Image used under Creative Commons license via Flickr users AgriLife Today and G A R N E T. 

Free trade deals, and in particular the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), have taken a beating this election season. Most of the noise on trade from Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has focused on the loss of jobs linked to the offshoring. Much less attention has been paid to the serious impact the TPP and past trade agreements will have on our ability to respond to climate change.

In a new report on the TPP and climate commitments made by countries as part of the Paris climate agreement, we found that trade rules consistently benefit multinational corporations in high greenhouse gas emitting sectors like agriculture and energy, while creating barriers for governments in setting climate-related policies.

Our analysis found that the Trans Pacific Partnership expands the scope of past trade agreements to harm the climate in three important ways:

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Welcoming our new Director of Development and Communications

Posted August 30, 2016 by Juliette Majot   

We’re excited to welcome Josh Wise as the new Director of Development and Communications at IATP.

At our core, everything IATP does is communications. Josh’s role is a new one. We’ve merged the development and communications departments into one, to help us unify our message and increase our engagement. IATP’s work has always demanded clear communication of our research and policy advocacy to the public, government officials, and our partners and colleagues. His work supports the critical analysis and advocacy work carried out by IATP staff and partners; puts our issues into context and ensures we are engaging with key allies. And, he will expand communications with donors and funders to reflect the growing importance of strategic partnerships evolving in the funding community.

Josh has a strong background in trade, having served as the Executive Director of the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition, a group of more than 80 organizations—including IATP—dedicated to lobbying elected officials to support trade policies that work for working people, farmers, and the environment. He also served as the Midwest organizer for the Citizens Trade Campaign, leading the campaign in the Midwest to oppose Fast Track, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). At the local level, Josh worked to ban sweatshop-produced goods from local procurement agreements and established the Minnesota Trade Policy Advisory Council, which oversees Minnesota’s role in international trade negotiations.

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Let’s make sure the Clean Power Plan provides opportunity for rural, low-income communities

Posted August 22, 2016 by Tara Ritter   

Used under creative commons license from usdagov.

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and the EPA’s regulation to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. While the Clean Power Plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also includes a program to make sure all communities benefit from a clean energy transition. This program—the Clean Energy Incentive Program—is currently open for comment, providing an important opportunity to shape the environmental justice and rural implications of the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is a voluntary part of the Clean Power Plan that provides support for low-income communities to undertake renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The CEIP will match state funds to incentivize early investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency before the Clean Power Plan’s first compliance deadline in 2020. The renewable energy projects can happen anywhere, but the energy efficiency projects must happen in low-income communities. This is an excellent opportunity to level the playing field for low-income communities, which often face barriers to accessing renewables and energy efficiency upgrades.

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