Think Forward blog

Reporting from Brazil: lessons on agroecology

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

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @FAOnoticias.

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

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

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

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The geopolitics of TTIP: Who decides on rights?

Posted June 25, 2015 by Dr. Steve Suppan   

Used under creative commons license from european_parliament.

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

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

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Food system scholars and scientists pen second letter to FAO Director-General supporting agroecology

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

Used under creative commons license from unicphoto.

FAO Director General Graziano da Silva

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

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Spring time in Europe for Climate Smart Agriculture

Posted June 24, 2015 by Shiney Varghese   

Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @PostLandfill.

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

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

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Corporate ROI on Fast Track

Posted June 22, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

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

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

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

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

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It’s Never Been about Trade

Posted June 19, 2015 by Juliette Majot   

Used under creative commons license from riebschlager.

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

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

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IATP Rural Climate Dialogue wins Award

Posted June 16, 2015 by Tara Ritter   

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

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

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

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Farm to Institutions: A Producer Perspective

Posted June 16, 2015 by Pete Huff   

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

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

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Treaties, Trade Agreements and Government by the People

Posted June 15, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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A Game of Chicken

Posted June 11, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

Used under creative commons license from Meena Kadri.

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

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