Archive for November, 2010

Dozens of civil society organizations have sent a statement of concern to the organizers of theGlobal Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change on Sunday, 31 October—the first day of the conference. The six day conference in The Hague was organized by the Government of the Netherlands in cooperation with the Governments of Ethiopia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, and Vietnam, as well as the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Civil Society groups demand that the voices of the world’s poor and vulnerable be heard at the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change (Photo Credit: Bernard Pollack)

The conference aims to produce concrete measures for linking agricultural policies and investments to low-carbon, climate resilient agricultural approaches. The organizers are attempting to make agriculture more central in climate negotiations at the upcoming Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, Mexico later this month. The civil society statement of concern supports that effort, but expresses serious doubts about the process—saying “top down solutions are not legitimate solutions.”

The civil society statement outlined what its signatories considered essential if the process at the conference was going to support “fair and effective solutions to the agriculture and climate crises.” The statement demanded:

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In rural parts of the developing world where many people depend on subsistence farming practices, food security is not about consistent access to a supermarket but about consistent access to seed. Small farmers typically depend on local seed systems, that farmers save and exchange seed, as well as commercial suppliers for the seeds that they have to buy from agro-dealers.

The FAO has begun seed aid efforts to help countries in crisis, but many are concerned about possible biopiracy that could come with it. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack) 

Often, though, access to seeds is tenuous. Commercial seeds can be prohibitively expensive and because of inadequate storage facilities, local supplies are often at risk of disease, pests, and inclement weather. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Pakistani farmers lost an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 metric tons of wheat seed in this year’s devastating floods.

Lacking access to quality seed, many smallholders are unable to produce adequate amounts of food for their communities. Making things even more difficult, in farming communities that depend on saved seed a crisis like a flood, drought, or crop failure can extend food shortages into the next season because farmers have to depend on damaged/old seed or are left scrambling to find a new source.

Recognizing that seed security means food security in many parts of the world, the FAO has made establishing sustainable seed systems a priority.

In countries in crisis, the FAO, with the help of the European Union Food Facility, have been distributing emergency seed supplies. Beginning in November in Pakistan, these two groups began handing out wheat seed, and this past summer they distributed seed in Burkina Faso, where droughts devastated crop yields, forcing many people to eat their seed as food. And in Nicaragua, the European Union and FAO have started working with the local government to provide farmers with “quality seeds” that could boost the country’s agricultural productivity.

But despite the apparent good intentions of such efforts, there’s still reason to be concerned.

Seed aid may create long-term problems in much the same way food aid does.

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Vandana Shiva
November 4, 2010

When we think of wars in our times, our minds turn to Iraq and Afghanistan. But the bigger war is the war against the planet. This war has its roots in an economy that fails to respect ecological and ethical limits – limits to inequality, limits to injustice, limits to greed and economic concentration.

A handful of corporations and of powerful countries seeks to control the earth’s resources and transform the planet into a supermarket in which everything is for sale. They want to sell our water, genes, cells, organs, knowledge, cultures and future.

The continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and onwards are not only about “blood for oil”. As they unfold, we will see that they are about blood for food, blood for genes and biodiversity and blood for water.

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Word has it that debate and voting of the Food Safety Modernization Act will begin this Wednesday in the Senate. If passed, S. 510 will greatly expand the FDA’s authority over both processed foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. Will it thus make all of us eaters less likely to get sick? Last week, our esteemed panelists agreed that it will, with some caveats. Read the article from grist.com

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I know all about food security,” says Mitharam Maslai, a farmer from India’s Northeast highlands. “We ate only pumpkin and bamboo shoots every year for two to three weeks because we had run out of rice.”

IFAD is helping farmers in isolated Northeast India sustainably manage the rich local environment. (Photo Credit: IFAD)

Using a traditional ‘slash and burn’ method of farming known as jhum, indigenous villagers in this remote region were not producing enough rice to feed their families for the entire year. To address this problem, theInternational Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) started a project to introduce new farming methods to the region—emphasizing sustainable resource management—in the states of Meghalaya, Manipur, and Assam.

Environmental degradation was deepening the problem—people, not surprisingly, depend on the exploitation of natural resources to get them through the lean periods. Forest fruits and vegetables, medicinal plants, timber, and charcoal were often overharvested to supplement diets and incomes, contributing to deforestation, erosion, and loss of biodiversity.

Northeast India is considered a biodiversity hotspot and contains some of the subcontinent’s last remaining rainforest.

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Here’s a video of Wendell Berry reading a poem which captures our predicament and brings it home to us.

Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934, Henry County, Kentucky) is an American man of letters, academic, cultural and economic critic, and farmer. He is a prolific author of novelsshort storiespoems, and essays.

See the video.

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The Obama Administration is considering approval of the first genetically modified animal, a fast-growing GMO salmon Frankenfish. Several Senators and Members of Congress have been putting pressure on the Obama’s FDA to stop the Frankenfish, and, short of that, to at least require it to be labeled “GMO.” And, they’re all still in office after the 2010 mid-term elections!

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