Think Forward blog

Agroecosystem study implies genetic modification neither helpful nor necessary for yield gains and sustainability

Posted September 27, 2013 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   

Used under creative commons license from Oculator.

Wow. This seems likely to cause a long-term stir, and I’m quite sure vociferous critiques from many quarters (though likely mostly from the usual suspects). University of Canterbury Professor Jack Heinemann and his team have found that

…Relative to other food secure and exporting countries (e.g., Western Europe), the U.S. agroecosystem is not exceptional in yields or conservative on environmental impact. This has not been a trade-off for sustainability, as annual fluctuations in maize yield alone dwarf the loss of caloric energy from extreme historic blights. We suggest strategies for innovation that are responsive to more stakeholders and build resilience into industrialized staple crop production.

In terms of making a splash and what the big, viral attention has been about, though, this excerpt from their abstract buries the lede. In an interview with the journal’s publisher, Prof. Heinemann elaborates:

Our most significant findings were that:

–GM cropping systems have not contributed to yield gains, are not necessary for yield gains, and appear to be eroding yields compared to the equally modern agroecosystem of Western Europe. This may be due in part to technology choices beyond GM plants themselves, because even non-GM wheat yield improvements in the U.S. are poor in comparison to Europe.

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New UN report calls for transformation in agriculture

Posted September 20, 2013 by Ben Lilliston   

Transformative changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems in order to increase diversity on farms, reduce our use of fertilizer and other inputs, support small-scale farmers and create strong local food systems. That’s the conclusion of a remarkable new publication from the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The report, Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before it is Too Late, included contributions from more than 60 experts around the world (including a commentary from IATP). The report includes in-depth sections on the shift toward more sustainable, resilient agriculture; livestock production and climate change; the importance of research and extension; the role of land use; and the role of reforming global trade rules.

The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.” The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

The UNCTAD report identified key indicators for the transformation needed in agriculture:

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Kenya’s challenge: How best to manage its new-found water wealth?

Posted September 19, 2013 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from ingodesigng5.

Turkana woman heading home with water, Kalokal, Kenya (near the shore of Lake Turkana).

In the midst of worrisome news about droughts, desertification, unreliable monsoons and growing concerns around water security around the world, the announcement by the UNESCO and Kenyan officials at the recent International Water Security Conference in Nairobi was anything but gloomy. The finding of potentially huge groundwater resources in northwestern Kenya is indeed a blessing, not only for the herding communities of drought-prone Turkana, but also for the region as a whole.

Until very recently the region was best known to the global water community both for the lack of access to water that mark the lives and livelihoods of indigenous communities that live there, and for their efforts to save Turkana Lake, the largest permanent desert lake in the world according to International Rivers.

But a recent survey by RTI, a company hired by U.N., found groundwater systems with a potential of storing about 250 billion cubic meters (or about 66 trillion gallons) in the Kachoda, Gatome, Nkalale and Lockichar areas, with the largest aquifer being located in the Lokitipi Basin—all of them in Turkana county, one of the 47 counties in Kenya.  Of these, the three smaller aquifers combined are estimated to store about 30 billion cubic meters of water, once confirmed by drilling.

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Food and National Security: The Shuanghui-Smithfield Merger Revisited

Posted September 12, 2013 by Shefali Sharma   

Used under creative commons license from chenevier.

Last week, the U.S. treasury approved the largest takeover by an international firm of a U.S. food company. It paved the way for China’s largest pork processor, Shuanghui, to merge with Smithfield, the U.S.’s largest pork processor. The fact that it was a Chinese company stirred up so much controversy that the Senate Agriculture Committee held a hearing July 10 entitled,  “Smithfield and Beyond: Examining Foreign Purchases of American Food Companies.”  A major concern was foreign ownership of the U.S. food supply and whether the U.S. review process of foreign takeovers addresses food safety and “protection of American technologies.” There was little doubt that this merger would be approved by Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS): Shuanghui is willing to absorb over $2 billion of Smithfield’s debt; U.S.

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IATP's board of directors welcomes Firoze Manji and Dr. Daniel De La Torre Ugarte

Posted September 9, 2013 by Corinne Rafferty   

Daniel De La Torre Ugarte and Firoze Manji

IATP is proud to announce the election of two new members to its board of directors, Firoze Manji and Daniel De La Torre Ugarte.

Firoze Manji is a leading African intellectual and activist. He is the founder and former editor-in-chief of Pambazuka News and Pambazuka Press, and the founder and former executive director (1997–2010) of Fahamu – Networks for Social Justice. He has published widely on health, social policy, human rights and political sciences, and authored and edited a wide range of books on social justice in Africa, including on women’s rights, trade justice, China’s role in Africa and more on  the recent uprisings in Africa. In March of 2013 Firoze moved to Dakar to be head of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa  (CODESRIA) documentation and information center. He shares IATP’s vision of a world in which the global commons is protected, corporate control is dismantled, and agriculture, food and energy systems are decentralized and democratized. He is the first IATP board member from Africa, and we are grateful to have his keen analytic mind in helping shape IATP’s direction.

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Are you anti-globalist?: A question for the G-20 Summit

Posted September 6, 2013 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Photo by Twitter user @paulmurphymep.

This question was posed to me after I was detained for questioning at passport control in St. Petersburg, Russia airport. The Group of 20 Leaders’ meeting will take place here on September 5–6. I had arrived for the G-20 Counter Summit organized by the Post-Globalization Initiative, whose name was stamped on my visa as the inviting organization. Nevertheless, this was a question worth asking, if not for the apparent purpose of turning me away at the border.

After producing evidence of my hotel address, Russian contact person, return plane ticket etc., I was allowed to pass and now am free to ponder this question. More free than members of Russian civil society organizations and even Parliamentarians, who, according to the St. Petersburg Times, have been interrogated by the police about whether during the G-20, they would engage in “terrorist activities” in protest of the G-20. Shades of the aftermath of November 2001, when opposition to the World Trade Organization’s Doha agenda was affiliated with “terrorism” by proponents of that agenda. Although the technologies of official surveillance have become more sophisticated, the ideological purposes behind them have not changed so much.

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Missing the story on Golden Rice

Posted September 6, 2013 by Ben Lilliston   

Used under creative commons license from boyosep.

In the wake of protests in the Philippines over genetically engineered Golden Rice, a series of articles have appeared in the U.S. mainstream press (e.g., the New York Times) and alternative publications like Slate and Grist, all coming to the vigorous defense of the latest incarnation of this wonder rice designed to prevent malnutrition. Through veiled and at times explicit condescension, the U.S. media consensus seems to be that opposition to this wonder rice is based on scientific ignorance: Why wouldn’t you want to address global malnutrition?

A gaping hole in U.S. coverage is the perspectives of Philippine farm organizations, like the Asian Farmers Association affiliate PAKISAMA, or really anyone from the Philippines who opposes Golden Rice. By not including these voices, these reports miss a fundamental issue at the center of all issues around genetically engineered (GE) foods: power. Who controls the technology? Who controls what farmers can grow, and what people eat? Not coincidently, these questions are also at the center of addressing global hunger.

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Tar sands a dirty outcome of free trade failures

Posted September 3, 2013 by Patrick Tsai   

Anti-expansion display from the #RLBLOCKADE encampment near Leonard, Minnesota.

As controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline has captured most of America’s attention, Minnesotans have been dealing with a different pipeline carrying tar sands bitumen to the United States. On July 17, 2013, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) granted Enbridge, L.P. a 120,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) capacity increase to line 67, the “Alberta Clipper”, from 450,000 bpd to 570,000 bpd.

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G-20 Counter Summit in St. Petersburg

Posted August 30, 2013 by Dale Wiehoff   

Counter Summit logo.

On September 3 and 4, a large-scale international Counter Summit, intended as an alternative to the September Summit of the G-20, will be held in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is taking place at the Международный Деловой Центр, nab.reki Smolenki 2, and is organized by the Post Globalization Initiative. The Summit’s ambition is to develop new principles of economic and social policy which are not based on the Washington Consensus. As part of the Summit, world renowned experts, economists, politicians and social scientists from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas will come together for panel discussions, seminars, and public lectures, including Dr. Steve Suppan of IATP. Dr. Suppan will address speculation in commodity markets.

Counter Summits have a tradition of their own. These major international democratic events are commonly held in response to the elites' G-20 and G-8 Summits and represent alternative points of view on the most pressing social issues. The St. Petersburg Counter Summit is especially important in light of the ongoing global economic crisis. It will suggest ways to solve the problems associated with the crisis of U.S. hegemony, "free trade" and the WTO.

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The Road to Bali: The WTO’s Ninth Ministerial

Posted August 29, 2013 by Sophia Murphy   

Used under creative commons license from World Trade Organization.

New WTO Director General, Brazil’s Roberto Azevêdo.

It’s increasingly difficult to explain to anyone why multilateral trade talks–once so high on the international policy agenda—are still worth our time and attention. Such attention as international trade garners has moved on to the regional and plurilateral deals, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the talks between the U.S. and the E.U. Yet at some level it’s obvious that multilateral co-operation matters more than ever. Trade has to be made to work more effectively for a series of objectives, from reducing pollution and natural resource use to supporting livelihoods to building economies that allow a fairer distribution of benefits. At the same time as we support more decentralized and local control over food systems, we know the world also faces problems that require a multilateral framework.

So where is the multilateral trade community focused? Here is the short version:

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