hunger


Why do you bring your mistakes here?

Kofi Annan has joined with President Obama, Monsanto, AGRA, and the Gates foundation to promote and execute food aid that replaces bags of wheat, rice and corn (agricultural dumping) with bags of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and genetically engineered seeds. The end result will be to starve people in Africa and feed corporations in the US and Europe.

Kofi Annan and farmers

Under the guise of “sustainability” the [Gates] Foundation has been spearheading a multi-billion dollar effort to transform Africa into a GMO-friendly continent. The public relations flagship for this effort is the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), a massive Green Revolution project. Up to now AGRA spokespeople have been slippery, and frankly, contradictory about their stance on GMOs.

If you had any doubts about where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is really placing its bets, AGRA Watch’s recent announcement of the Foundation’s investment of $23.1 million in 500,000 shares of Monsanto stock should put them to rest. Genetic engineering: full speed ahead. (Eric Holt-Gimenez)

If you have questions about Monsanto’s agenda, here it is in brief:

At a biotech industry conference in January 1999, a representative from Arthur Anderson, LLP explained how they had helped Monsanto design their strategic plan. First, his team asked Monsanto executives what their ideal future looked like in 15 to 20 years. The executives described a world with 100 percent of all commercial seeds genetically modified and patented. Anderson consultants then worked backwards from that goal, and developed the strategy and tactics to achieve it. They presented Monsanto with the steps and procedures needed to obtain a place of industry dominance in a world in which natural seeds were virtually extinct. (Jeffrey M. Smith)

Monsanto: No food shall be grown that we don't own

Kofi Annan is Chairman of the Board of Directors for AGRA. He is convening a conference in Ghana in the first week of September. As detailed in this blog, and by others, both AGRA and USAID top positions are filled with people that come from Monsanto and Dupont.
Kofi Annan Calls For United Effort To Accelerate African Green Revolution

African heads of state, industry representatives, the international donor community and farmers will meet in Ghana at the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) in the first week of September. Delegates will create an action plan on the acceleration of a Green Revolution in Africa.

Samuel Amoako has reported on this as well: Kofi Annan Hosts Forum On Africa’s Food Security in the Ghanaian Times on August 11.

It is worrisome that Kofi Annan is connected with AGRA. Maybe he believes that US mechanized and chemical agriculture work well. Most people in the US do, aside from family farmers who see the effects first hand. I have a good friend who works for the US Dept. of Agriculture and thinks this kind of big agriculture really is the best and that Monsanto is a boon to mankind. We have had several heated discussions. In fact Monsanto is destroying land, causing chemically induced human diseases, creating super weeds, super insect pests, and economic havoc in many parts of the US farming areas, particularly in the midwest and the south. There have been countless protests all over India and Brazil. I’ve read many heartbreaking stories, including this comment from Pearl on this blog:

The farmers of southern Kentucky have been enslaved by Monsanto. The previous generation fell for an ad campaign called “Hi-bred” or “High-Bred”, and the current generation is stuck with fulfilling the contracts their fathers signed. The chemicals that Monsanto has contractually required be applied to those fields have so damaged the soil that the only way to get anything to grow in the fields now is to keep applying more of those blasted chemicals. So even if a person who inherited a contract WANTS to discontinue the agreement with Monsanto when the contract expires, they are unable to do so unless they want to leave the land fallow for many, many, many years. Most farmers cannot afford to do this, as this would mean little to no income for their families for somewhere between 5 to 20 years, depending on how long it would take for the soil to renew itself.

I’ve always had enormous respect for Kofi Annan, I do not understand his participation in this and it bothers me a great deal. Even though I admire and respect him there are no free passes with a subject like this.

Genetically modified crops produce less, not more, than conventional crops.

Alexis Baden-Mayer points out in Dupont, Monsanto, and Obama Versus the World’s Family Farmers that AGRA is basing its programs on myth:

Most of the world’s food is not produced on industrial mega-farms. 1.5 billion family farmers produce 75 percent of the world’s food.

The hunger problem is not caused by low yields. The world has 6 billion people and produces enough food for 9 billion people.

And as I’ve discussed before, the smaller the farm the greater the yield.

There is an inverse relationship between the size of farms and the amount of crops they produce per hectare. The smaller they are, the greater the yield.

In some cases, the difference is enormous. A recent study of farming in Turkey, for example, found that farms of less than one hectare are twenty times as productive as farms of over ten hectares(3). Sen’s observation has been tested in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Malaysia, Thailand, Java, the Phillippines, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay. It appears to hold almost everywhere. (Monbiot)

The key to true food security is food sovereignty, and the key to food sovereignty lies in who controls the land. The problems of both starvation and obesity stem from injustice in the way farmland and food are distributed. AGRA policies will poison the land and water, destroy local seeds and seed gene pools that provide the true hope for food sustainability. Local agriculture in most parts of the world has developed seeds that are tough and resistant to local pests, weeds, and local environmental dangers such as droughts or floods. AGRA wishes to replace these seeds with ones that need expensive, continuous, and ever expanding chemical coddling. These chemicals will poison the land, the water, and the people.

Additionally the Gates Foundation, Monsanto, and other corporate interests are investing in a doomsday seed bank, in which they will own the world’s agricultural gene pool. They are storing seeds from all over the world. In the event of genetic disaster, they will own the surviving gene pool.

Jonathan Weiner, in The Beak of the Finch describes how chemicals drive the destruction of land and the creation of super weeds and super insect pests:

Some of the greatest opposition to evolution comes from the farmers of the Cotton Belt, and that is where Taylor is seeing one of the most dramatic cases of evolution in action on this planet.

… in the year 1940, cotton farmers began spraying their fields with the chemical compound dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, better known as DDT. These first insecticidal sprays killed so many insects, and killed so many of the birds that ate the insects, that in biological terms the cotton fields were left standing virtually vacant, like an archipelago of newborn islands – and out of the woods and hedgerows fluttered [the cotton destroying moth] Heliothis virescens.

In the next few optimistic years, pesticide manufacturers assaulted Heliothis with bigger and bigger doses of DDT. They also brought out more poisons from the same chemical family: aldrin, chlordane. The aim was nothing less than the control of nature, and pesticide manufacturers believed that control was within their grasp. The annual introduction of new pesticides rose from the very first product, DDT, in 1940, to great waves of chemical invention in the 1960s and 1970s. In those decades, dozens of new herbicides and insecticides were brought to market each year. Heliothis became on of the most heavily sprayed species in what amounted to a biological world war. Through it all, the moths clung to the cotton.

… The moths have become almost absolutely resistant to all pesticides, from your cyclodienes to your organophosphates to your carbamates, and most of your pyrethroids. …

“Its an extraordinarily potent example of evolution going on under our eyes,” Taylor says. “Visible evolution.”

A pesticide applies selection pressure as surely as a drought or a flood. The poison selects against traits that make a species vulnerable to it, because the individuals that are most vulnerable are the ones that die first. The poison selects for any trait that makes the species less vulnerable, because the least vulnerable are the ones that survive longest and leave the most offspring. In this way the invention of pesticides in the twentieth century has driven waves of evolution in insects all over the planet. Heliothis is only one case in hundreds. (from pp 251-255)

In short, pesticides and herbicides destroy most of the insects, plants, and often other animals in those fields where they are used. But nature fights back. Those insects and weeds that can resist the chemicals initially, breed and grow stronger. They have no competition except from the chemicals, and they quickly evolve immunity, even as the chemicals become stronger and more toxic. Stronger and more toxic chemicals are needed to fight the new insects and weeds, and the destructive cycle continues. The chemicals wind up in the food, and run off into the land and the water, creating an ever increasingly toxic environment for humans and many other plants and animals.

For the growth of super weeds world wide, see the following charts:

The vertical axis shows the number of species of weeds that have become chemical resistant, the horizontal axis shows the years. You can see the exponential increase starting about 1970 when Monsanto introduced Roundup, and continuing into 2010. (click to enlarge)

You can see the distribution, North America, Western Europe, and Australia have already been severely impacted. Africa is a huge new market that has not yet been ruined. You can see why it is so desirable, it is a huge wide open opportunity to Monsanto and other greedy chemical corporations. Most countries in Africa have not yet been touched or biologically recolonized by GMOs and agricultural chemicals. South Africa, which has allowed GMOs, is the most severely impacted to date. (click to enlarge)

Genetically modified seeds, GMOs, are designed to be used as part of a program involving chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Their effect on farmers is usually to lock them into a cycle of debt, as described by Pearl above, and as experienced and protested in many countries including India and Brazil, as mentioned above. Terminator seeds, also known as suicide seeds or homicide seeds, will not regenerate, so instead of saving seeds, farmers have to buy new seeds each year, as well as investing in more, and more toxic chemicals each year that are necessary to make the GMO seeds grow. This cycle has created death and destruction in many places, including hundreds of farmer suicides in India.

I’ve heard that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and that is certainly the case for the insects and weeds targeted by chemical pesticides and herbicides. Those that don’t die become very much stronger. We have already have super bugs and super weeds, thanks to the efforts of companies such as Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta. Evolution can move very fast, not just fast enough to observe, but fast enough to leave us humans struggling in its wake. Monsanto and the other agricultural chemical companies market each new product as though it is the end of some pest, that evolution stops at this point, and we can just relax. In fact each new chemical is the creator and the beginning of many more powerful threats. And the more powerful the chemical tools we use against these threats, the more those chemicals poison us and strengthen the insects and weeds we are fighting.

Although they have stopped talking much overtly about this, AGRA and the Gates Foundation speak about “land mobility” which means moving farmers off their farms so the land can be used for large scale mechanized agriculture. But there is no mention of where these people will go and live, and how they will be reemployed. What this means is thousands of displaced people moving to slums around the cities, which will grow and will be filled with unemployed people. This is politically and socially destabilizing. It breeds crime and political violence. This kind of policy also hits women particularly hard, because in western models such as corporate agriculture, their traditional rights to land are ignored. Women are the majority of agricultural workers, and will become even more impoverished and disenfranchised, not that it will bother AGRA or Gates or Monsanto, as they say:

Over time, this will require some degree of land mobility and a lower percentage of total employment involved in direct agricultural production.

Family farmers, who produce 75% of the worlds food, will gradually be displaced, driven off their land, and the land will be poisoned and ruined. There will be less food, less healthy food. More people will starve, while more corporations will get fat.

As Joan Baxter writes:

Back in the early 1990s when I was reporting from northern Ghana, an elderly woman farmer decided I would benefit from a bit of enlightenment. In a rather long lecture, she detailed for me the devastating effects that the Green Revolution – the first one that outside experts and donors launched in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s – had had on farmers’ crops, soils, trees and their lives. She said that the imported seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and tractors, the instructions to plant row after row of imported hybrid maize and cut down precious trees that protected the soils and nourished the people – even the invaluable sheanut trees – had ruined the diverse and productive farming systems that had always sustained her people. When she finished, she cocked an eye at me and asked, with a cagey grin, ‘Why do you bring your mistakes here?

For more African farmers perspectives on this subject, see:

Africa: African Farmers and Environmentalists Speak Out Against A New Green Revolution In Africa PDF
http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/voicesfromafrica/pdfs/voicesfromafrica_full.pdf

________

The first part of this article was published, text only, on GhanaWeb on September 13. You can read comments there.

Jamaal Montasser took this shot of a man ploughing a field with cattle while on a work placement with Ghana’s ministry of agriculture.

Henry Saragih, the International Coordinator for La Via Campesina. Has written an open letter to the Secretary General of the Food and Agriculture organization (FAO). La Via Campesina is an organization of millions of small farmers and landless workers in more than 60 countries around the world. Mr. Sarigih has described the current food crisis succinctly and accurately:

This current food crisis is the result of many years of deregulation of agricultural markets, the privatization of state regulatory bodies and the dumping of agricultural products on the markets of developing countries. According to the FAO, liberalized markets have attracted huge cash flows that seek to speculate on agricultural products on the “futures” markets and other financial instruments.

There is lots more, read the letter.

Here’s a dumb energy idea – fight climate change by chopping down forests to grow biofuel crops:

 

Increasing production of biofuels to combat climate change will release between two and nine times more carbon gases over the next 30 years than fossil fuels, according to the first comprehensive analysis of emissions from biofuels.

It seems obvious that this is a really dumb idea, but that is just what international corporations and some really bad leadership in Africa are planning.

Africa appears to plunge from one corporate nightmare to another. Just as we begin to come to terms with the colonially-sponsored corporate conquest of our oil resources, along comes a new wave of ‘green’ companies turning fertile African lands to Northern ‘gold’. Senegalese president and agrofuel promoter Abdoulaye Wade has called this ‘a new revolution in Africa’. Others have likened it to ‘the new scramble for Africa’.
. . . large tracts of arable land are being sold off to the highest bidders with little regard for the repercussions on local populations livelihoods and food security.
. . .
A recent study published by the Africa Biodiversity Network (ABN) provides compelling evidence from Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Benin that the misguided scramble for projects could lead to an environmental and humanitarian disaster on the continent. For instance, Timothy Byakola reports that a plan is underway to convert a third of Uganda’s prime rainforest reserve, Mabira Forest, into agricultural land on which sugarcane will be planted for ethanol production. According to Byakola, President Yoweri Museveni has vociferously supported this controversial project, ignoring community opposition to it. The consequences of the deforestation of 7,100 hectares of one of the key water catchment sources for the Nile River and Lake Victoria, and the implications for the communities around Mabira which depend on the forest as a source of livelihood, are potentially enormous.
. . .
As with carbon trading, the agrofuels issue brings climate justice questions to the fore. In 2004 climate change activist George Monbiot warned that rising demand for biofuels will result in competition for food between cars and people. ‘The people would necessarily lose: those who can afford to drive are, by definition, richer than those who are in danger of starvation.’ He goes on to argue that the reason Northern governments are enthusiastic is because they don’t want to upset car drivers. He argues that biofuels ‘appear to reduce the amount of carbon from our cars, without requiring new taxes. It’s an illusion sustained by the fact that only the emissions produced at home count towards our national total.’

Grain prices, particularly maize and wheat are shooting through the roof. People are already going hungry in a number of countries as a result. And the switch to biofuel crops damages protein supply, driving up the price of animal feed, as well as the price of staple food crops. Food aid is dropping because the budgets alloted to it are fixed, but the price of the food is going up. At the same time, the biofuel “miracle plant” jatropha is growing on huge plantations. The reason jatropha was supposed to be a good idea is because it is tough enough to grow in arid and marginal lands. Instead, it is being grown instead of food. As the paragraph above points out, poor people will starve, and rich people will drive, fueled by the food taken from poor people’s mouths.

The governments of the poor countries will use their armies trained and equipped by the US and other rich countries, to control political dissent. Rich governments will be happy because they don’t have to pass unpopular regulations or raise taxes. The people in the rich countries will tut tut comfortably about how those poor people don’t know how to govern themselves. And even if biofuel contributes more to global warming than does fossil fuel, rich countries will meet their carbon targets, and won’t worry. It is probably a good thing the poor are always with us (Matthew 26:11) that way we can continue to rip them off and avoid any sacrifice or inconvenience to ourselves.

It turns out the food or fuel competition over corn may be a much more serious and immediate problem than anyone realized. Lester R. Brown of the Earth Policy Institute writes:


World May Be Facing Highest Grain Prices in History

Investment in fuel ethanol distilleries has soared since the late-2005 oil price hikes, but data collection in this fast-changing sector has fallen behind. Because of inadequate data collection on the number of new plants under construction, the quantity of grain that will be needed for fuel ethanol distilleries has been vastly understated. Farmers, feeders, food processors, ethanol investors, and grain-importing countries are basing decisions on incomplete data.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects that distilleries will require only 60 million tons of corn from the 2008 harvest. But here at the Earth Policy Institute (EPI), we estimate that distilleries will need 139 million tons . . . half the 2008 harvest projected by USDA.
. . .
This unprecedented diversion of the world’s leading grain crop to the production of fuel will affect food prices everywhere. As the world corn price rises, so too do those of wheat and rice, both because of consumer substitution among grains and because the crops compete for land. Both corn and wheat futures were already trading at 10-year highs in late 2006.

The U.S. corn crop, accounting for 40 percent of the global harvest and supplying 70 percent of the world’s corn exports, looms large in the world food economy. Annual U.S. corn exports of some 55 million tons account for nearly one fourth of world grain exports. The corn harvest of Iowa alone, which edges out Illinois as the leading producer, exceeds the entire grain harvest of Canada. Substantially reducing this export flow would send shock waves throughout the world economy.
. . .
And this soaring demand for corn comes when world grain production has fallen below consumption in six of the last seven years, dropping grain stocks to their lowest level in 34 years.
. . .
The grain it takes to fill a 25-gallon tank with ethanol just once will feed one person for a whole year. (emphasis mine)
. . .
Soaring food prices could lead to urban food riots in scores of lower-income countries that rely on grain imports, such as Indonesia, Egypt, Algeria, Nigeria, and Mexico.


Already, the price of Mexico’s staple food, corn tortillas, has increased 400%.


I keep reading about various initiatives to grow Jatropha curcas in Ghana to use as bio fuel. I thought I’d find out a bit more. Here is a little bit of what I’ve been finding.

Bio fuel might be a very good idea as a short term or transitional power as we move away from fossil fuels. It has downsides as well as advantages. One of the major downsides it that land that is producing crops for bio fuels is not engaged in food production. If land is taken out of food production it means the price of food goes up, and food resources become more scarce. This is currently an issue in the United States with corn grown for bio fuel.

Can U.S. farmers keep filling the nation’s bellies as they scramble to fuel its cars?
. . .
In 1998, about 5 percent of the corn harvest (526 million bushels) went into ethanol production, according to the National Corn Growers Association. This year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects ethanol producers to use upward of 2 billion bushels, or nearly 20 percent of the crop.
. . .
Considering that corn suffuses the U.S. food system — it’s the main feed for beef, poultry, egg, dairy, and hog production, and provides sweetness for candy, cereal, soft drinks, and other supermarket staples — its price can’t suddenly jump without causing repercussions.
. . .
Tyson CEO Richard L. Bond recently told investors. “Quite frankly, the American consumer is making a choice here … either corn for feed or corn for fuel.”
The Wall Street Journal recently explained succinctly why poultry prices will soon reflect corn’s new popularity as a fuel source. Because of higher corn prices, “It costs nearly a nickel more to produce a pound of chicken today than at the end of 2005, yet the 20-year average industry profit margin per pound of chicken is two cents. . . And adding a nickel a pound for whole chickens at the farm level will ripple up the food system.

The issue in Ghana is going to develop differently than in the United States, but it would be helpful to keep our eyes open and try to avoid the mistakes of others.

Jatropha curcas is a tough plant that is very drought tolerant, and will grow in marginal land. So it might be a useful plant to grow in some areas. But to put large tracts of land that have been, or could be, used for food production into Jatropha curcas or other bio fuel production, could hurt individuals and the economy, creating more hunger and malnutrition.

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