Think Forward blog

Senators—Voluntary is not COOL!

Posted December 9, 2015 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from Fiona MacGinty-O'Neill.

This week the World Trade Organization (WTO) gave Canada and Mexico the right to impose over a billion dollars’ worth of sanctions per year unless the U.S. Congress repeals a common sense law, Country of Origin-Labeling (COOL) for meat (beef, pork and poultry). COOL informs consumers where animals were born, raised and slaughtered before turning into meat. The meat industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators trying to repeal COOL since it was first enacted in 2002. So the WTO case, which has been consistently appealed by the United States Trade Representative since 2008, is a big victory for Big Meat because it gives legislators who are already in their pocket a “legitimate” reason to change the law in spite of overwhelming consumer demand for such labels.

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Mennonites leave Mexico in search of water

Posted December 8, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

 Mennonite boy in  Chihuahua, Mexico.

News coming out of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is most often about narco-traffickers but, in recent weeks, attention has shifted to farmers protesting increased cost of production and shutting down the importation lane at the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez crossing. And a little further south, severe drought is driving Mennonite farmers off the land. A closer look at the history of Mennonite migration reveals a pattern connected to drought and dry land farming for the last 150 years.

Near the tiny village of Santa Rita, 50 miles from Ciudad Juarez, Mennonite farmers are packing up their belongings and heading for Argentina. Mennonites have a history of migration brought on by persecution for their uncompromising pacifist religious beliefs, but this latest relocation is the result of a drought that has ravaged the region since 2012.

With predictions that water will run out in the next 20 years from overuse, all kinds of farmers will be moving out of Chihuahua and looking for land and water to grow the corn, beans, pecans, apples, dairy and other agricultural products that have been the mainstay of this arid part of northern Mexico.

Mennonites were originally a Dutch Anabaptist religious community, established in the Netherlands in the 1500s.  They moved east across Europe to escape religious harassment into the lush Vistula Delta of Prussia and then south into Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimea and eventually as far as Siberia and Turkestan before reversing course and going west to America.

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4 things we’re tracking as Paris climate negotiations hit the home stretch

Posted December 7, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from Takver.

 Marche Mondial pour le Climat

Paris - After four years of negotiations, countries from around the world aim to complete a new global climate deal in the next week. A new 48-page draft text was circulated this weekend and there will be a lot of horse-trading and late nights in the coming week. Here are a few of the key issues we’ll be tracking:

Can national climate commitments become stronger?

The essence of a proposed Paris climate deal are national commitments, known as INDCs, made by governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Those commitments were submitted prior to Paris and include how much each country will reduce emissions beginning in 2020 and continuing through 2030. They also describe national policies that will help achieve those reductions. Many of these include polices around energy, forests, agriculture and food security.

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Understanding the Nature of Peace

Posted December 7, 2015 by Juliette Majot   

Used under creative commons license from Josh Zakary.

On our way back home from the European Rural Parliament, where people from all over the Continent agreed to a Common Manifesto on the future of rural Europe, we were confronted with a very real human experience. Having left Schärding in Austria, where the citizens’ Parliament was held, we shared the crowded train from Passau to Munich with many refugees. We experienced the grace of heartfelt and practical kindnesses - the common humanity - offered to them by fellow European passengers and train personnel on the crowded journey.

Most refugees were totally lost - without European languages, without tickets, and sometimes even without a clear destination. Conductors patiently ascertained what languages they spoke, then helped by finding volunteer translators speaking Arabic and the many other languages needed. Cell phones were passed back and forth between refugees and other passengers, as refugees contacted friends and family. And always, between and among refugees and those reaching out to them, eye contact, smiles, the touch of a hand, the offering of comfort to people suffering months of flight and insecurity.

Schärding lies at the border between Austria and Germany. These days volunteers, rural communities and local authorities do their utmost to take care of the nearly 2000 refugees arriving every single day. Delegates from 40 European countries at the European Rural Parliament had already felt compelled to focus on the European refugee crisis, to considering what small towns and villages around rural Europe need, to help provide new homes and work for our newcomers.

The reality on the Austrian ground and on the train back to Munich underscored the urgency of this work.

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The Clever Ambiguity of Climate Smart Agriculture

Posted December 4, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Paris – The term “climate smart agriculture” (CSA) is popping up frequently in the official events of the global climate talks here in Paris. But what climate smart agriculture actually means seems to depend on who’s talking. In fact, the term has entered into an Orwellian space of meaning both everything and nothing simultaneously. This vacuum has created room for agribusiness and some governments to use “climate smart agriculture” as a convenient marketing slogan to describe business as usual practices that do little to address the unfolding climate crisis that is already deeply affecting the global food system.

The term “climate smart agriculture” is the product of clever political jockeying of previous climate conferences –first emerging in 2010 after the failed climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. At that time, it was part of an effort pushed by the World Bank and a handful of countries such as the Netherlands and New Zealand to push developing countries to accept agriculture into global carbon markets. Since then, the poor performance of carbon markets (particularly in Europe) as well as the shift in global climate talks toward voluntary pledges to reduce emissions has at least temporarily taken the wind out of the sails for a global carbon market. But that hasn’t slowed the momentum of “climate smart agriculture,” whatever it means.

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Rural leaders and advocates release climate change policy priorities

Posted December 3, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

Global leaders are convening in Paris for the U.N. climate change conference. This two-week event is intended to result in a global climate agreement, with commitments from most of the world’s countries on how they will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Closer to home, many rural communities in the U.S. are grappling with the same question of how to deal with climate change impacts. Rural America will be disproportionately impacted by climate change. On average, rural residents are more food and energy insecure and earn less than their urban counterparts, and rural communities are more likely to have natural resource-based economies than urban communities. However, rural America is home to a small enough percentage of the population that it’s often overlooked by policymakers.

In response to this problem, a group of rural organizations, leaders and experts in the U.S. outlined the challenges climate change poses to rural communities and a set of policy priorities. The document, entitled “Rural Climate Policy Priorities: Solutions from the Ground,” is endorsed by 23 organizations and outlines transformative and long-term policy approaches to climate change that encourage resilience, equity, democracy and local ownership and control.

The Rural Climate Policy Priorities outline climate solutions for multiple areas of rural communities and economies, including agriculture, conservation, education, energy, fisheries, forestry, health, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.

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What to make of the soil carbon initiative launched in Paris

Posted December 2, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Paris – Yesterday at the global climate talks, France and about 30 other country leaders, research institutions and a handful of NGOs launched a much anticipated new initiative focused on researching and advancing efforts to sequester carbon in soil. The voluntary initiative, called 4 pour 1000, is not part of the official climate negotiations, which has largely ignored agriculture. And while the launch answered some questions about priorities – it left other important issues, like how the initiative will be financed and by whom, as well as the all-important questions of governance (particularly the role of farmers and civil society), for another time. 

France has been talking up the 4 pour 1000 initiative for much of 2015, meeting with NGOs (including IATP) and country representatives, and holding sessions at the Committee on World Food Security in and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. The initiative has attracted growing interest because of the well-recognized need to focus on soil health in order to cope with climate-related impacts on agriculture. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) just completed a year’s worth of events around the International Year of Soils.

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A 21st Century Ambition for International Trade

Posted December 2, 2015 by Sophia Murphy   

Used under creative commons license from World Trade Organization.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) turned 20 this year—it is young in the world of multilateral agencies (by way of comparison, the UN turned 70) but it is no longer new. There is now a sizeable group of people working on trade who do not remember a time before the WTO. It has become the default trade institution—the organization everyone thinks of when they think about global trade.

Yet the young organization, birthed with such hyperbole, has lost its way. It is spurned by many of those who initially worked so hard to bring it into being, including the U.S. government, which seems to have lost interest in the organization. The hopes and the fears expressed at the WTO’s inception were premised on what looked like real power in the multilateral system, including a dispute settlement system that can enforce penalties on governments that break the rules.

On the eve of the WTO’s tenth Ministerial Conference, to be held in Nairobi December 15-18, the conviction that the WTO would be an effective new design for multilateral governance looks misplaced. The WTO has not negotiated a single tariff reduction in its 20 years of existence. The members adopted a negotiating agenda in Doha in December 2001 and have failed to bring it to conclusion. A vocal number of WTO members from among the richest countries, led by the United States, have openly declared that the Doha Agenda should no longer be even mentioned once Nairobi is done.

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Trade laws undo local progress on food systems

Posted November 20, 2015

Used under creative commons license from rusty_clark.

So much of trade policy involves searching through legal texts and leaked documents for clues about what’s coming next. Careful examination of the recently released text for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is already revealing new risks for our food system. Those findings also tell us what to watch out for in the other big pending trade deal—the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. Unlike earlier trade agreements focused primarily on reducing tariffs to open up markets, these agreements are likely to include extensive provisions intended to reduce or eliminate state and federal regulations viewed as “trade irritants.” The focus on state and local rules and programs is one of the “innovations” in recent trade deals.

First, the good news. Sort of. Farm to School programs funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provide bidding preferences for healthy, locally grown foods have been kept out of federal procurement commitments in TPP. And, for the time being at least, state and local procurement is off the table. The bad news is that the text directs that “No later than three years after the date of entry into force of this Agreement, the Parties shall commence negotiations with a view to achieving expanded coverage, including sub-central coverage.” No word on how that would be decided or who would be consulted, but it indicates the clear intention to include programs by states, counties and perhaps even public universities or hospitals, at some point in the future. In that case, our clue comes from the TTIP negotiations, where leaked meeting reports indicate that the EU is seeking such commitments from the U.S. for all goods and all sectors.

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Agroecology, the expertise coffee needs

Posted November 17, 2015 by IATP   

Oscar looking over his coffee field and his brother's coffee field.  

Oscar Omar Alonzo Aguilar farms coffee on a plot of land alongside his brother in Honduras. Oscar’s field is on the left; his brother’s field is on the right. Why is Oscar’s coffee thriving while his brother’s crop struggles?

The brothers are growing coffee in a region highly affected by climate change—one result of this climate change is the dramatic increase in a destructive parasitic fungus called Hemileia vastatrix, also known as coffee leaf rust.

Oscar has applied efficient micro-organisms that strengthen his plant’s defenses and the results are extraordinary. This is part of a method of farming called agroecology—a practice that's about finding solutions to nature’s problems by utilizing nature herself.

Agroecology is an approach to agriculture that values people and the planet over the profits of global agribusiness. By combining the best in science with farmer knowledge, we can authentically assist farmers and inform global policymaking to create a just, fair and sustainable food system.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and our fair-trade coffee company Peace Coffee are working together to learn more about farmers’ own agroecology innovations while sharing and creating cutting-edge research from top agroecology researchers. We need your help! In our latest edition of our podcast Radio Sustain, we sat down with Peace Coffee CEO and Queen Bean, Lee Wallace, and IATP's Senior Staff Scientist and agroecology expert, Dr. M. Jahi Chappell, to discuss this project in depth.

In 2016, IATP is partnering with Peace Coffee to increase our collective impact—we're going to roll out expanded work on agroecology to take advantage of new opportunities in global policy.

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