About IATP

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

Founded in 1986, IATP is rooted in the family farm movement. With offices in Minneapolis and Geneva, IATP works on making domestic and global agricultural policy more sustainable for everyone.

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About Think Forward

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health.



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October 2010

October 29, 2010

Climate change and agriculture: Are we getting to the heart of the matter?

This Sunday, the Netherlands, several other governments, the World Bank and the FAO are hosting a major six-day conference on agriculture, food security and climate in the Hague. Those closely following the climate talks believe that this conference is an attempt to include agriculture much more centrally within the climate negotiations of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

In principle, that is a welcome idea—to finally address the air, water and land-related pollution that industrial agriculture causes and the dangers it poses to our health and the health of the planet. Agriculture, along with land-use changes, is said to contribute up to 30 percent of the gases that are warming our planet to dangerous levels. However, we must be able to recognize real solutions in addressing these problems.

The conference agenda shows scant evidence that the real causes of agriculturally based greenhouse gas emissions will be addressed. For instance, one of the biggest sources of agriculture emissions is industrial livestock factories. According to one FAO paper, the livestock sector contributes almost 80 percent of all agriculture-related emissions. Yet, industrial livestock factories do not appear to be a topic of discussion. 

Instead the emphasis will be on finding “innovative” ways to finance adaptation to climate change in developing countries and “innovative” practices that can help small farms adapt to climate change.  Innovation is well and good, only in this context it appears to mean carbon markets and “climate genes.”  Up to 75 percent of these patented technologies are owned by multinational seed and agrochemical companies such as Monsanto, BASF, DuPont and Syngenta.[1]

Civil society organizations, including IATP, concerned about this meeting and its intentions have joined together to send a statement to these governments, the World Bank and the FAO. They say it’s critical that governments heed the policy recommendations of IAASTD, a comprehensive assessment conducted by over 400 experts. They say that small family farms, laborers, indigenous peoples, women and civil society organizations are already providing practical, just and affordable solutions to the problems of food security and climate change. They just need to be heard.

[1] Others include Bayer, Dow, Mendel, Ceres and Evogene. Source: Syam, N. “Implications of an IP Centric Approach to Adaptation of Agriculture to Climate Change.” Power Point Presentation. South Centre, October 2010





October 26, 2010

"Understanding the Farm Bill" on Facebook

What do farmers, public health professionals, food justice advocates, environmentalists, anti-poverty organizers and economic development authorities have in common? Probably an awful lot, but most pertinent at this time is the impact that the forthcoming Farm Bill will have on all of this work.

With the dire federal budget situation, many have dim hopes for significant policy change in the forthcoming Farm Bill. But we simply cannot ignore this opportunity that only comes around about once every five years. Farm Bill policies are too expensive and inequitable, and they prop up a food system that quickly needs to become more sustainable and more healthful.

As a small step toward encouraging greater collaboration between people and organizations, Lee Zukor of Simple, Good and Tasty and I have started a Facebook page for sharing information and opinions about the forthcoming Farm Bill. Currently, the majority of postings are articles of interest, but as farm bill proposals emerge in the coming months the page will facilitate conversations about important food and agriculture policy issues.

I hope that many of you will provide your opinions and think about how to build collaboration for change. As a first step, I encourage you to click on http://on.fb.me/UnderstandTheFarmBill, “like” the page, and build momentum for better policy and a better food system!

Mark Muller

Health disparities and neighborhoods

Carousel_pub_F9790_Wiler Report cvr The Twin Cities are lot like other parts of the U.S. when it comes to health. "Health is strongly connected to race, income and the specific parts of the metro area in which people live in," according to a report released earlier this month by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota.

Specifically, the report found that when compared to whites, mortality rates were 3.5 times higher for American Indians, and 3 times higher for U.S.-born blacks in the Twin Cities. Residents in the highest income areas in the Twin Cities had an average life expectancy of eight additional years compared to those in the lowest income/highest poverty areas.

In a comment on the report, IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. writes about the role of a community's environment in public health. "Abundant science now shows that people who live in less healthy, more polluted neighborhoods are sicker and at greater risk for a slew of chronic diseases and conditions than people that are not living in those neighborhoods. And these neighborhoods generally are lower income and more populated by people of color. It is through conscious changes to neighborhood environments that many health improvements are to be had in Minnesota."

One of the essential elements of a neighborhood's environment is access to healthy food. But David writes, "Many lower-income communities also lack access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods, or even access to full-service supermarkets."

You can read the full report and comments from David and other local leaders here.

Ben Lilliston

October 22, 2010

Parent Earth: videos about food for families

How can we foster a world that nurtures healthy, thriving children?

Parents don’t have all the answers. Parent_healthWhen it comes to food, they are faced with confusing product labels, scary food reports and their kid screaming “Mom, I want candy for breakfast!”

Parent Earth, a new website which launched Sept. 29, serves up entertaining and informative videos about the topic on every parent’s mind today: food. Working closely with noted nutritional, medical and educational leaders, the site is produced by two award-winning filmmakers and moms, and features more than 100 original and hand-picked videos covering cooking, gardening, nutrition and behavior.

Parent Earth videos deliver expert advice from doctors and 
pediatricians, nutritionists, sustainable food advocates, holistic health counselors and notable names like Chef Ann Cooper, best-selling author Paul Greenberg, documentary filmmaker Curt Ellis, pediatrician Dr. Bob Sears, nutritionist Latham Thomas and “The Office” actress Melora Hardin.

Created by Emmy Award–winning filmmaker and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) Food and Society Fellow Nicole Betancourt and co-founder and filmmaker Sarah Schenck, the two mothers have gained support from enlightened corporate sponsors including Happy Baby and Stonyfield Farm.

We hope you’ll share this website with your contacts who advocate for healthy, fresh food for all children.

For more information, visit www.ParentEarth.com.

Follow us on Twitter.

Check out our latest press on Bon Appetite.

This post was originally published on the IATP Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog

Andrew Ranallo

October 21, 2010

UN Committee on Food Security concludes on positive note

IATP's Sophia Murphy was in Rome last week for the Food and Agriculture's Committee on Food Security meeting. A version of this report also appeared on the Triple Crisis blog.

The 36th meeting of the FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS) concluded in archetypal U.N. fashion: one and a half hours of apparently aimless milling about followed by a call to order, a 10-minute exchange during which it becomes clear that the milling about was actually about last—very last—minute negotiations, and, finally, adoption of the report by acclamation. So ended the first meeting of a revamped piece of the U.N. system—a small but fascinating piece.

Why fascinating? Because last year governments agreed to a major overhaul of the way the committee works, and to give the committee a preeminent role in the coordination of U.N. food security policy. The FAO, World Food Program (WFP) and the International Fund Agriculture and Development (IFAD) jointly run the CFS. There are several new mechanisms alongside, including one defining a Civil Society Mechanism to ensure adequate and accountable participation from the nongovernmental sector writ large, and a recently constituted High-level Panel of Experts (yes, another acronym: HLPE) that will be commissioned by the CFS to write reports and more generally to provide the benefit of independent advice and thinking.

The mood was upbeat at the end. Government officials seemed tired but satisfied. And the CSOs did, too. Not excited or exhilarated, but not angry or bored, either. A few governments seemed determined to damn with faint praise (sadly for this Canadian, Canada comes to mind). But others engaged. The United States, for instance, while hardly visionary, was constructive. The budget discussion was a painful rehearsal of so many of the U.N.’s budgetary discussions, along strictly North-South lines. On the other hand, on substance, the divisions were not so predictable.

There are procedural issues to work out for next year. The governments spent hours (and hours) negotiating the outcomes from a roundtable, which seemed a bit tangled. Why not just adopt the report, and spend the negotiating time on outcomes the governments themselves will have to implement? As it is, the HLPE will have its work cut out to make sense of the many proposals and to pick among them because it has nowhere near enough resources to do them all.

On the other hand, there has never been anything like the CFS before—no intergovernmental body was even attempting to concert governments’ responses to food security. Let alone an intergovernmental forum so open to CSO contributions. Particularly in an age when governments have accepted that food security is not a simplistic equation of total availability of grains worldwide divided by the total global population, the need for a CFS in the U.N. system is clear. It is a hopeful sign that so many governments came prepared to engage.

The biggest fight during the meeting was probably around land grabs and how to tackle them. Two processes have somehow emerged, in parallel, serving different audiences. One is under FAO auspices and is known as the Voluntary Guidelines on the tenure of land and other natural resources. The other as RAI, or the “Principles for Responsible Agricultural Investment that Respects Rights, Livelihoods and Resources,”— an interagency process (FAO, IFAD, World Bank and UNCTAD). It has angered many NGOs and CSOs because they have emerged without consultation and instead of starting with the universal human right to food, they build on various corporate social responsibility initiatives.The VG emerged from the 2006 International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development and have a better pedigree in terms of consultation and broader ownership by NGOs. Take a look at what the Special rapporteur on the right to food had to say: he should know.

For now, whatever happens next must happen soon. The international community has already sat by for too many years as national governments and investors have muddled and meddled in the highly (and rightly) sensitive issues of land ownership and land use. It was encouraging to see a fight in Rome, but it will be far more encouraging if the governments can actually act, and fast.

Sophia Murphy

October 20, 2010

Draft AGF report offers clues on climate finance

We've posted an October 4 draft report of the U.N. High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF). The AGF was set up by the U.N. Secretary General in February, following the global climate talks in Copenhagen, to evaluate and provide options for financing efforts to address climate change, particularly in developing countries. The AGF is expected to release a final draft in November, and present its findings at the COP 16 meeting in Cancún.

Prior to the climate talks earlier this month in Tianjin, China, IATP released a short paper outlining concerns that carbon markets are considered a reliable source for climate finance. While in Tianjin, IATP and other civil society organizations sent a letter to the AGF co-chairs expressing that the amount of climate finance being considered is not enough; public finance should be prioritized over private finance; multilateral banks should not serve as a channel for climate finance; and that carbon markets lack the necessary reliability for climate finance.


Ben Lilliston

October 19, 2010

Agriculture in global climate talks

While agriculture is unquestionably one of the sectors most affected by climate change, it has historically been somewhat of an afterthought in global climate negotiations. That changed in the lead-up to the climate talks in Copenhagen last year. Agriculture now has its own sectoral chapter within the climate negotiations that covers such ground as food security, traditional farming knowledge, sustainable practices and a research agenda for better understanding agriculture's role in contributing to and addressing climate change. In addition to its own chapter, agriculture will certainly be affected by other aspects of the negotiations, including climate finance (how funding is raised and disbursed to address climate change).

IATP's Shefali Sharma just returned from Tianjin, China where the U.N. held its final negotiations prior to the next big global climate meeting (COP 16) in Cancún, Mexico in December. Shefali writes that despite the wide gaps between countries on many major issues, the stakes continue to be high for climate and food security around the world. In a post-Tianjin report, Shefali outlines the state of play for agriculture within the global climate talks and what we can expect to be discussed in Cancún. Read the full report.

Ben Lilliston

October 18, 2010

Good meat makes good food

As we put the summer garden to bed and our thoughts turn to winter meals of slow-cooked stews and roasts, a welcome guide to cooking and sourcing sustainable meat has arrived from Deborah Krasner. Good Meat:822 The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meats, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang,combines all the information needed to understand what sustainable meat production is, where to find it and—most gloriously—how to cook it. With over 200 recipes and photographs, the James Beard Award winning author of The Flavors of Olive Oil has opened a window on the world of delicious meats—kept on the farm for far too long for the private enjoyment of farm families. Guinea fowl, lamb shanks, pig’s tails, rabbit hearts, livers, tongues and kidneys of all sorts. In addition to the uncommon, Good Meat is replete with the standard steaks, ribs, loin roasts, sausages, chops and hams. Rounding out the platters of meat are complimentary side dishes, deserts and salads.

The opening section provides an insider’s view of what sustainable meat is and where it comes from. It is this picture of the farmers, the farms and the animals that separates sustainable meats from meat produced in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and industrial meat processing plants. There is a reason you won’t find a cook book that combines pictures of industrial meat production and preparing food for dinner: Nobody would come to the table. From the animal feed to the slaughtering techniques, Good Meat introduces us to a way of producing and preparing food that benefits the farmer, nature and those who eat the food. Krasner has included a substantial resource section, which we are proud to say includes the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy as a source for information about good, safe and local food.

With the apple harvest nearly over and the cider press waiting, I was easily drawn to a recipe for roast chicken with apples, sausage and cider on page 302. My only suggestion is to follow the meal with glass of Calvados and to start planning what new fruit trees to plant in the orchard next spring.

Dale Wiehoff

October 15, 2010

Volatile times discussed in Rome

I'm in Rome to talk about volatility (my powerpoint here). More precisely, the volatility in agricultural commodity markets and what can be done to a) mitigate it and b) better cope with its consequences. The topic was part of one of three issues the first meeting of the revamped FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS) has on its agenda. It will be one of the first topics to be addressed by the High Level Panel of Experts created as part of the revamped CFS structure. It's also an issue close to the French government's heart, as it made clear in the short speech given yesterday by France's Minister for Agriculture. France's President Sarkozy has committed to making agriculture a central part of the agenda for the G20 meeting that France will host next May.  

It's great to see that the topic is preoccupying governments. It should be. Of course agriculture prices fluctuate and of course that fluctuation plays a number of very useful purposes in keeping markets on track. Volatility, however, especially unpredictable and extreme volatility, hurts producers, consumers and ultimately undermines investor confidence, starving the sector of much needed capital.

The problem should be tackled both at the source, by limiting the occasion for extreme volatility to occur, and where it hits home, in poor households especially, by providing safety nets and risk management tools. It has to be tackled comprehensively, too. Volatility has several distinct components that need to be considered jointly. There are the futures markets and speculative investors, a problem much discussed by IATP, on this blog and elsewhere. There is the question of grain reserves, the issue I came to Rome to talk about and also a hot topic for IATP writing. Then there is trade - do we have the right rules? What can governments do better?

Climate change is affecting the heart of any food system: the weather. We don't yet know all that it will mean for the future, but for the millions of people coping today with record-setting disasters, from Central America through South Asia with too many stops in between, it is clear that there is a new and particular urgency to addressing volatility quickly and effectively, with as few ideological fights about governments and markets and their respective roles as possible.

This year should see renewed attention from governments on understanding the causes and taking action to at least mitigate volatility. The background paper for the discussion written for the CFS was disappointing: it gave a useful and concise discussion of how climate change was increasing vulnerability to food insecurity but then turned into a very unpersuasive discussion about responses, mostly highlighting the failures of past reserves policies, and not very convincingly. Here's hoping the next iteration serves governments better. Perhaps by CFS 37 (i.e. in one year's time), we could hope to see some binding government decisions on the issues. Fingers crossed.

Sophia Murphy

Times they are a changing at the FAO

I'm writing from Rome, a beautiful city despite the cars. I'm attending the FAO's Committee on World Food Security, a once relatively sleepy piece of the sprawling UN system that last year was given a significant boost by a thorough revamp. Listening to the governments negotiate, agonizing over words (to launch or to discuss? To endorse or to notice? To act by the next session of the committee or at a future session of the committee?) I am mostly pulled back into memories of the days when a UN meeting was a regular part of my life.

But I am also struck by some differences.

There is the technology - someone now has the job of typing amendments into a computer, projected onto huge screens, so that everyone can see the text as it changes. There is the technique - maybe it was just a good day, but the working group report backs were exemplary. Short and on message. Not something I would have expected the system to be good at. But most revolutionary, really, is the presence of civil society organizations - the CSOs. CSOs are a part of the revamped committee, you see. So in the parsing of the sentences that goes into creating a government agreement, you see Via Campesina and FIAN and Oxfam asking for (and getting) the floor, just as the governments do. No governments first rule, no pre-agreed rules about which topics can be addressed. The CSOs spent days in advance discussing the agenda and drafting agreed language themselves. 

Now let's see if all this change adds up to a Committee that can fulfill it's promise. This year will be too early to tell, but so far not bad. I'll know more when I get into the building this morning and find out what was decided after I left at 11pm last night.

Sophia Murphy

October 14, 2010

Nanotech organic?

The idea that engineered nanomaterials (involving the manipulation of materials at the molecular level) would be allowed in certified organic food production seems ludicrous on its face. Allowing nanotechnology would seemingly destroy the credibility of the organic label with consumers. Yet, the National Organic Standards Board Materials Committee issued a proposal for public comment recently requesting that the USDA's National Organic Program hold a symposium on whether nanotechnology in organic production is "possible, practical and legal."

In a comment to the National Organic Standards Board sent earlier this week, IATP's Steve Suppan takes issue with the assumption that federal regulators can effectively regulate engineered nanomaterials in food production—meaning, any kind of food production, organic or not. The nanotech industry has been reluctant to submit product data on the environmental, safety and health effects of nanomaterials in food production. Currently, there are no requirements that the industry submit such data before nanoproducts enter the market. And in fact, according to an explosive report from AOL News earlier this year, they already have already entered the marketplace without regulatory oversight.

Steve writes, "Food processing and agribusiness firms engaged in nanotechnology research, sometimes in cooperation with USDA's Agricultural Research Service, have not submitted to regulatory authorities the food and agri-nanotechnology data required to carry out risk assessment to develop standards. [...] USDA's National Organic Program, rather than joining FDA in assuming that food and agri-nanotechnology can be regulated under current authority, should adopt a presumptive prohibiltion on ENMs (engineered nanomaterials) in products that meet the organic standard."

You can read IATP's full comment to the NOSB here.

Ben Lilliston

October 13, 2010

Stonyfield Farm and IATP reward sustainable farming

"It's hard to think green when you're in the red," says IATP's Jim Kleinschmit, as he describes the challenge for farmers routinely trapped by a precarious bottom line. In a short film by Stonyfield Farm, Jim explains how a new program created by IATP in 2006, helps companies involved in the emerging bioplastics industry to support farmers growing corn more sustainably - including no genetically modified crops, no cancer-causing pesticides like atrazine and improved soil management.

You can read more about the Working Landscapes program in our press release below.

IATP applauds Stonyfield Farm’s purchase of Working Landscapes Certificates

New program pays farmers premium for more sustainable practices

MINNEAPOLIS – The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) applauds StonyfieldFarm’s decision to purchase Working Landscapes Certificates (WLC)—a program that rewards farmers by linking sustainable corn production with bioplastics.

The adoption of the WLC program by Stonyfield, the world’s largest organic yogurt maker, in conjunction with their introduction of a new bioplastic packaging line, means support not only for better plastic, but also for better farming practices. Through the purchase of WLCs, the company is providing support for more sustainable corn productionon over 500 acres in Iowa. IATP created the Working Landscapes program in 2006.

“This innovative, market-based mechanism allows companies to link their purchase of bioplastics to support for more sustainable crop production locally,” says Jim Kleinschmitof IATP, who heads the WLC project. “This extra payment makes clear to farmers that companies and consumers care about, and are willing to pay for, more sustainable farming and its benefits for the environment.”

The Working Landscapes Certificates program was created by IATP to address a core issue: linking the emerging biobased market to more sustainable farming. Bioplastics, which are currently made from corn, provide a more environmentally sound alternative to petroleum plastics if they support sustainability goals throughout their production, use and disposal. Currently, however, direct sourcing of more sustainably produced feedstock crops for the production of bioplastics is logistically and financially difficult. So the WLC program provides an alternative mechanism for companies like Stonyfield to support farmers who want to grow corn more sustainably.

To be eligible for the WLC program, farmers agree to undertake certain production practices, including: planting only non-genetically modified seed varieties; excluding the use of atrazine and carcinogenic chemicals; and using soil fertility testing and residue management to avoid soil erosion and water quality issues.

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy Page 2These sustainable practices are quantified as a “good”—a Working Landscapes Certificate—that a company like Stonyfield can purchase, in a quantity linked to the amount of corn needed to produce the bioplastics the company uses. Participating farmers were paid $60 an acre in 2010 to implement these sustainable practices. This payment is in addition to the market price the farmer receives for the corn itself.

“As a company constantly looking for ways to improve its environmental performance, this program builds more sustainable practices into our production,” said Nancy Hirshberg, Stonyfield Farm Vice President for Natural Resources. “Supporting the environmentand farmers are two touchstones for our company.”

You can find out more about the Working Landscapes program at http://www.workinglandscapes.org. You can find out more about Stoneyfield’s involvement in the program at http://www.stonyfield.com/MadeFromPlants/.

Download this press release as a PDF.

Andrew Ranallo

October 12, 2010

One Penny More: New video launches CIW supermarket campaign

IATP Food and Society Fellows Shalini Kantayya and Sean Sellers have collaborated on the latest campaign video for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Watch the CIW's supermarket campaign video and take action for fair food here.


By leveraging its high-volume purchasing power, the U.S. supermarket industry plays an active role in farmworker exploitation. Publix, Ahold, Kroger and Trader Joe's all pack a very heavy punch when it comes to their market power in the produce industry. And with great power comes great responsibility—both for the poverty and brutal working conditions from which they have profited for so many years, and for the work of reforming farm labor conditions in their supply chains that lies ahead.

With the four largest fast-food companies (McDonald's, Yum Brands, Burger King and Subway) and three largest foodservice providers (Compass Group, Aramark and Sodexo) having signed Fair Food agreements with the CIW, the focus now falls squarely on the $550 billion supermarket industry. And with the exception of Whole Foods, the natural food leader that signed an agreement with the CIW nearly two years ago, it's time now for the major grocery chains to step up and bring their considerable purchasing power to the plate. And for that to happen, the Campaign for Fair Food needs you to take action.

The supermarket giants are the only thing standing between us and a future of respect for human rights in Florida's fields, between a food industry based on farm labor exploitation and degradation today and a more modern, more humane industry tomorrow. Let's send them a message—loud and clear—that it's time for the supermarket industry to join the growing movement for Fair Food.

This blog post, written by fellows Sean Sellers and Shalini Kantayya was originally featured on the Food and Society Fellows Fresh Ideas blog. 


Andrew Ranallo

Who benefits from volatility?

By nearly all accounts, agriculture prices worldwide have entered a new era of volatility. Earlier this year, wheat prices shot up an additional $3 a bushel over two months due in large part to concerns around a wheat export ban in Russia. This week, corn prices have risen dramatically due to a USDA report issued Friday, finding a less-than-predicted corn crop this year.

This era of extreme volatility dating back to the 2007-08 global food crisis has contributed to the nearly one billion people worldwide suffering from hunger. This week in Rome, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is hosting a five-day conference on efforts to address global food security. The meeting comes on the heels of an emergency meeting at the FAO last month focused on increased volatility in grain markets.

Of course, agriculture production has always experienced ups and downs due to a variety of factors—from the weather to pests, economics or war. Traditionally, one of the simplest tools to smooth out agriculture markets is to establish reserves: putting food aside in times of plenty to release in times of scarcity. This week, IATP published a series of short primers on: why we need food reserves, food reserves in practice, what's next on food reserves, and the WTO and food reserves. IATP's Sophia Murphy is attending the FAO meeting in Rome to speak on a panel focusing on volatility, where she'll be making the case for food reserves.

Some kind of food reserve is just common sense, right? Who could be against food reserves and efforts to stabilize agriculture prices? Who profits from volatility in agriculture markets?

Yesterday's press release from Cargill announcing that profits jumped 68 percent this quarter provides a clue. As Cargill CEO Greg Page stated, "Our results were led by the food ingredients and the commodity trading and processing segments, both of which experienced resurgence in volatility across agricultural commodity markets. The change put Cargill's global breadth, trading and risk management skills more acutely into play as we worked with customers to help them manage their price risk and raw material needs."

As agriculture commodity prices remain volatile, agribusiness companies like Cargill and ADM (up $388 million last quarter) with a global reach and diversified holdings throughout the food chain are uniquely positioned to benefit, and so far, they have.

Ben Lilliston

October 11, 2010

Farm to School carries promise, lessons

JoAnne Berkenkamp's new commentary—published last week on OtherWords—addresses the gap between the growing national initiatives to connect schools with healthy local foods, and the agriculture and education policies that have kept it from growing faster. The combination of federal farm programs that disproportionately encourage commodity crops and tight school budgets have kept farmers from the school lunch room.

Berkenkamp remains optimistic though, as the benefits of Farm to School—fighting obesity, raising food literacy, supporting local farmers and economies—speak for themselves, and the model is taking off despite little legislative support.

"Congress can do better," she writes. "No matter how you calculate it, farm-to-school programs are an investment in the education and health of our children, and the economic future of our farmers."

Read the commentary on OtherWords or download a copy on IATP.org.

Andrew Ranallo

October 08, 2010

Climate finance must add up

One of the most contentious issues at the global climate talks taking place this week in Tianjin, China continues to be finance: how to fund efforts to adapt to climate change and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. The global financial crisis has made these discussions even more challenging as developed countries like the U.S. struggle with rising deficits. To move the discussion forward, the U.N. established a High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Finance (AGF) last year, which will present a report at the COP 16 climate talks in Cancún, Mexico in December.

Prior to the Tianjin meeting this week, IATP published a paper outlining our concerns with carbon markets as a reliable source of climate finance. Earlier today, IATP joined over 25 civil society organizations in Tianjin in expressing grave concern that the AGF “is not going to support the type of solutions that will truly benefit developing countries and communities living in poverty.” In a letter to the co-chairs of the AGF, the groups wrote that:

  • Pledges for climate finance are not enough of what is required.
  • Public finance should be prioritized over private finance.
  • Multilateral development banks should not serve as a channel for climate finance.
  • And, carbon markets lack the necessary reliability to be considered a valid source of climate finance.

You can read the full letter here.

Ben Lilliston

Global food funds necessary, but not enough

The Obama administration continues to push for new investments to end global hunger. As part of that effort, Bloomberg news reports that the U.S. will urge other nations attending the upcoming G-20 Finance Ministers meeting and the World Bank/IMF meeting this week to contribute to the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP). GASFP was set up last year to channel funding requests for agricultural development. So far, the U.S., Canada, South Korea and Spain (along with the Gates Foundation) have contributed $880 million.

On the plus side, the fund is driven by host-country requests through partner agencies. Rather than setting up a cumbersome new set of rules and procedures, developing country governments can work with multilateral agencies like the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program and others, using their existing procedures. Some of those agencies, especially IFAD, have a long history of working with small-scale farmers and including women farmers. GAFSP’s steering committee includes donor and recipient governments, as well as representatives from Southern and Northern civil society organizations.

On the other hand, there is reason to be skeptical of a food security fund housed at the World Bank. Over the last 20 or so years, the bank’s structural adjustment programs required trade liberalization, privatization and cuts in public credit, technical assistance and other support to agriculture. In 2007, the World Bank’s own Internal Evaluation Group recognized that its under-investment in African agriculture, and its over-reliance on the private sector, had been a dismal failure. Since then, the bank has committed to mend its ways, but whether new programs housed at the bank can really contribute to food sovereignty—each country’s right to democratically determine its own path to achieve food security and the right to food—remains to be seen.

Obama is right that substantial new investment in agriculture is needed. But, as always, the devil is in the details. Over the last few years the FAO’s Committee on Food Security (CFS)—which meets next week in Rome (IATP's Sophia Murphy is attending and will report back)—has undergone a thorough reform process. It now includes active involvement by family farmers, urban poor, women, indigenous peoples and development organizations from the Nouth and Sorth. Can GASFP coordinate with the CFS to learn from experiences and priorities around the world? Will it support agro-ecological methods built on local knowledge and priorities or will it advance GMOs and other technological fixes? More money for sustainable agricultural development is necessary, but definitely not sufficient to end hunger.

Karen Hansen-Kuhn

October 07, 2010

IATP at Tianjin climate talks: Carbon markets not reliable

IATP co-hosted a side event at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate negotiations in Tianjin, China earlier this week. Below are the remarks of IATP President Jim Harkness. Other speakers at the side event included Nick Berning and Karen Ornstein of Friends of the Earth along with a Bolivian UNFCCC delegate on how carbon markets are being treated in the negotiations.

These remarks are also available to download as a PDF on iatp.org.

Carbon markets: A reliable and practical source of climate finance?

Remarks of IATP President Jim Harkness at the UNFCCC climate negotiations in Tianjin, China. Presented October 5, 2010.

Thank you for joining us today. My name is Jim Harkness.

I am the President of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. We are a 25-year-old organization that works locally and globally to ensure fair and sustainable

food, farm and trade systems. We are based in the United States, with offices in Geneva, Switzerland. And we have representatives on our board of directors from Brazil, the Philippines, Mexico, Canada and the Netherlands.

We’re here to talk about financing for adapting and mitigating climate change. Most of us believe that we will not have a meaningful climate deal without a clear system of finance in place to invest in a low-carbon economy and adaptation. We are at a critical juncture in this discussion. As you know, a draft decision on a climate finance fund is expected in Tianjin. Also, the Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF), which was formed after Copenhagen, will be presenting a draft report on climate finance shortly after Tianjin and a final report before Cancun.

Much of the discussion in Copenhagen, and throughout the climate debate, has focused on carbon markets as a primary source of climate finance. Of the $100 billion a year by 2020 committed to “be mobilized” by developed countries within the Copenhagen

Accord, much of that climate finance is expected to come from carbon markets. Many have argued that carbon markets are necessary because developed countries no longer have the public resources for climate finance. It’s important to note that one reason developed countries are facing such financial constraints is the recent bailout of the financial services industry following a decade of its deregulation and spectacular

near-collapse. We are deeply concerned that the global community is now being asked to trust this failed and unrepentant industry—which has fought regulation following its bailout—to provide adequate climate finance through carbon trading. We believe that carbon markets will not result in reliable and timely financing for the critical projects around the world that are needed to adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And, having studied the role of poorly regulated financial markets in the global food crisis of 2007-08, we are concerned that such markets will not only shift the burden of mitigation

to developing countries, but will also adversely affect food security, and undermine many important efforts to deal with both climate change and rising global hunger.

Carbon and agriculture markets are tied together through futures markets. Big financial firms, many represented here in Tianjin, have positioned themselves to invest in carbon derivatives. These derivatives would be based on the value of carbon emissions permits—given to industry by governments—and of carbon offset credits. And these carbon derivatives could bundle together permits and credits with each other and with other commodities, such as oil or agricultural futures contracts.

Carbon derivatives would be created and traded under regulations that oversee all commodity futures contracts, which include agriculture, metals, energy and oil. And here’s the crux of the problem. These commodity futures markets have experienced a decade of regulatory exemptions, exclusions and waivers that have led to excessive speculation by big Wall Street players. The result has been enormous price volatility and harm to many around the world.

Excessive speculation by big financial firms, like Goldman Sachs, on commodity futures exchanges are now well recognized as major contributors to the global food crisis of 2007-08. The U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), a recent FAO committee report on agriculture price volatility and the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food have all stressed the need to address excess speculation on these markets by big financial firms.

How do these firms distort futures markets and what exactly are the effects? The big financial firms use two key tools to game the system. One, commodity index funds bundle together up to 24 futures contracts for all types of commodities. So, within one fund you might have derivatives for corn, gold and oil all together. Because financial firms, unlike commodity users, are not limited in the number of contracts they can hold, financial speculator “weight of money” (the sheer size of their holdings) drives the prices of the indexed contracts. As these contracts are sold and new contracts are bought, the “weight of money” induces enormous price volatility, far beyond what can be explained by commodities supply and demand. This price volatility is also replicated in global food prices—this is devastating for poor consumers and for the small farmers who produce most of the world’s food.

Carbon derivatives could also be bundled within a commodity index fund. The price effect of bundling contracts of consumable commodities and those of carbon, a wholly artificial and legislated commodity, can be difficult to predict. Legislation that allows the unlimited “banking” of carbon emissions permits could result in a periodic flooding of the market with permits. The resulting price drop would undermine the environmental objective of raising carbon prices to induce long-term industry investments in clean technologies. The current practice of trading carbon offset derivatives before the offset projects are verified to have reduced greenhouse gases could likewise result in price volatility, if the carbon asset underlying the derivative turns out to be fraudulent.

What would happen to agricultural contracts tied directly or indirectly to the vastly capitalized $2 trillion carbon market of 2017 forecast by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) under a mandatory U.S. carbon market scenario? The mostly likely outcome is that the bigger market drives prices in the much smaller agricultural markets. If agricultural futures prices return to their 2007-08 volatility, net import food–dependent developing countries would be unable again to forward contract food grains at reliable prices, leading to increased food insecurity.

A second way speculators take advantage of exemptions from commodity futures market rules is through over-the-counter (OTC) trading. These are unregulated private trades between firms, rather than trading on public and regulated exchanges. By trading over the counter, these financial firms are able to avoid regulatory scrutiny since OTC trade data are not reported daily to regulators,

as is required of regulated exchanges. By claiming that OTC trades are “customized” and that the data is confidential business information, OTC traders gain an unfair price information advantage over public exchange traders

OTC trading is already common on the European Emissions Trading Scheme—accounting for 44 percent of all carbon trades in 2008, according to Point Carbon. Trading under the ETS has resulted in high volatility and low carbon prices. Low and volatile prices have not has spurred big emitters to invest in greenhouse gas–reducing technologies and practices, as required by the ETS legislation.

UNFCCC Parties will be asked to consider adopting another variant on carbon trading as a major source of climate finance currently pushed by one of the largest carbon trading lobbies. The International Emissions Trading Association (IETA) is made up of over 170 financial, law, energy and manufacturing companies. They are leading advocates for carbon derivatives. Their most recent proposal for financing is something called green bonds. We believe green bonds are also extremely vulnerable to excessive speculation.

Under the IETA proposal, financial firms would loan developing countries money—through a green bond—to engage in a carbon-reduction project. The carbon credit that would result from that project would serve as the collateral for the bond. IETA proposes that international financial institutions guarantee project loans in case of a developing country default.

Once again, if a carbon market is highly volatile, the developing country may not be able to cover that loan through the sale of carbon offset credits or other revenues. So, we have a scheme that puts developing countries into debt while guaranteeing the investment of financial firms. All under the guise of addressing climate change.

On the issue of climate finance, we need to start a new conversation and be open to new proposals and ideas. We need to answer such questions as: Who should provide the financing to address climate change? Who oversees that money and decides how it is spent?

We believe that those who are largest polluters historically have a responsibility to be the largest source of climate finance in accordance

with the convention—and not just countries, but polluting industries as well. There are a variety of taxes being discussed including carbon, transportation and financial taxes. Those should all be on the negotiators’ table.

It is absolutely essential that climate finance investments do not undermine food security, e.g., by displacing farmers from their land. Our goals should be exactly the opposite: to support sustainable agriculture that improves our ability to adapt to climate change, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, increases food security and strengthens rural livelihoods.

We strongly oppose the World Bank’s involvement in controlling a climate finance fund. This proposal would divorce climate finance from the normative and technical agreements of the UNFCCC—a grave mistake. The World Bank has an unfortunate history in its involvement with the Clean Development Mechanism and other climate related projects—as well as being a leader in pushing for deregulation in the finance sector.

Instead, we believe the Adaptation Fund, within the UNFCCC’S Kyoto protocol, is the appropriate place for climate finance funds to be held and distributed. We also support the establishment of a new fund under the convention, as proposed by developing countries.

We are interested in working with others to develop new, creative ideas on climate finance. We believe that new approaches to climate finance will only succeed in addressing climate change if they are consistent with the convention and are transparent, inclusive and equitable.

We have materials on the table that go into more depth on the issues I’ve discussed today. You can find all of our materials on our website: www.iatp.org. Thank you! 

Andrew Ranallo

Seed industry promotes doubling of crop yields by 2030

In 2008, Monsanto launched a major public relations campaign to double crop yields in the U.S. by 2030. Recently, discussions in farm country have again picked up on this claim. It is worth examining the issues in depth.

Can it be done? Based on past history, it will be difficult. A recent USDA Economic Research Service bulletin (USDA/ERS) shows that agriculture productivity is growing at the yearly average rate of 1.58 percent which is a doubling in 44 years, not the 20 years proposed. And corn yields, which are the focus of the discussion, have a growth rate of 1.76 percent from 2004 to 2010, or a doubling rate of 40 years.

ERS projects about 175 bushels per acre (bu/A) in 2015, so yield would be about 205 bu/A by 2030. If harvested acreage stays constant (not a certainty) at around 80 million, production would be 16.4 billion bushels, a 31 percent increase over 2010. These data show that a yield doubling is highly unlikely, and is more likely a marketing ploy.

It is easy to dismiss such statements on yield as a way to promulgate more inputs, especially GMOs (genetically modified crops). There are major questions out there. Do GMOs really increase yield? Up to now, the answer depends on who you ask. Some—including some ERS reports—indicate no effect, others are counting on GMOs to really raise the yield.

A recent article in Farm Industry News based largely on interviews from Monsanto and Pioneer (DuPont), BASF and Syngenta scientists and development people, gives insight into what the industry is planning. Stacking, that is putting many GMO traits in a single variety, is claimed to be the wave of the future, especially for corn. The 8-trait SmartStax corn, developed by Dow and Monsanto, was available for 2009. Monsanto scientists are predicting that stacking 20 or more traits will be the norm. Massive breakthroughs in gene marking, real-time micro DNA analysis and computer programming are claimed to allow tailoring seeds to a specific climatic zone, bio-region or cropping strategy. Traits that are projected to be available include drought tolerance, nitrogen efficiency, herbicide tolerance (beyond Roundup)  and insect resistance.

But recent findings indicate that the industry's gene stacking for yield and profits is going awry. This recent article from The New York Times documents the plummeting fortunes of the biotech giant Monsanto (shares have dropped from a high of $145 in mid-2008 to about $48 currently) largely because of the slow sales of SmartStax and the Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans. This is attributed to decreased yield coupled with overpricing, and a Department of Justice investigation into possible antitrust violations. But Monsanto's fortunes aside, this shows that predicting the success of biotech technology on yield is uncertain at best.

If it works, drought tolerance might be the biggest trait to increase production as it will permit corn to be grown in drier regions such as Kansas, the Dakotas and western Nebraska where now only sorghum and wheat can be grown without irrigation. If corn can be grown profitably, cattle may well leave the range and wheat acreage will drop.

Herbicide tolerance, which arguably has not increased yields but has increased profits, will move to newer chemicals as well as proven products. Several genes for tolerance to herbicides may be stacked in one variety. Will this bring about new herbicide resistant weed issues? Only time will tell.

Several new modes of action for insect resistance are also being studied and refuge-in-a-bag products are now being evaluated by EPA. Will these lead to true yield enhancement? Or just more acres per farm?

Several major issues must be addressed as the corporate world pushes for yield doubling. Some are discussed in recent Iowa Farmer Today. The issues may seem obvious, but it is good to see them discussed in a mainline farm weekly. Gene Lucht, who authored the report, poses the following questions:

  1. Would farmers be able to afford the technology? This probably depends on how well capitalized the farmers are, or if, in fact, they are shadow corporations. Many farmers have gone broke by overcapitalizing and being caught by plunging markets prices. Doubling yield technologies are not something one can hop into and out of depending on markets. And experience has shown that the seed companies do not hesitate to raise seed prices if they can market a trait as beneficial to yield.
  2. Would it hurt or help livestock farmers? This likely depends on what markets are available to absorb all the corn. Overproducing would bring grain prices down in the short term, but make them more volatile. Volatile markets are already creating huge problems for farmers and for consumers.
  3. Would it (doubling yield) lead to greater concentrations in the seed or chemical businesses? It is probably too late to ask that question, as concentration is occurring almost daily. The fertilizer companies, for example, are continuing to concentrate at a rapid rate.
  4. Would it lead to fewer and larger farms? Almost certainly, but again this trend is so well established that yield doubling would only accelerate the trends.
  5. Would it hurt the environment? Yes, and yes again. It is hard to find positives for expanding row crops when environmental issues are concerned.
  6. What would it require in new or improved infrastructure? Another article in IFT examines this issue for grain transport and storage. More trucks would be needed, more grain cars, larger elevator storage, better roads and railroads. As Brazil found out, the infrastructure needs are great and costly.
  7. Would it lead to a decline in prices that would hurt farmers? That is hard to say, but undoubtedly it will lead to more price volatility. Usually the farmer loses both on the upswing and downswing of price fluctuations. And,
  8. Is it necessary to feed a growing world population? This is the question often debated in the “more land for wildlife“ debate. Dennis Avery has again weighed in on this one, proposing that, once again, the only way to produce enough food is to increase yields. But his propaganda is having a hard time catching on these days.
I have not emphasized the issues of increased fertilizer use as well as irrigation water that would undoubtedly come with increased yields. Finally, there are the inherent environmental problems such as increased erosion, probably more localized flooding, and loss of wildlife habitat and biodiversity. But these are side issues to the industry: The important one is the push by the biotech industry to control the agenda of many universities, local governments, and state and federal governments. As public funding for "public" universities declines, corporate influence is becoming more dominant.

It will be interesting to see if crop (especially corn) yield increases continue at roughly their present pace, especially since climate change appears to be lowering projected yields worldwide. However, the use of so many resources on one crop must be questioned, even if it is currently the dominate grain crop. I question the need for this overemphasis, when so many other agriculture research needs exist. The unintended consequences of our current path must be examined.

Dennis Keeney

October 05, 2010

Debating climate finance in Tianjin

IATP President Jim Harkness and Senior Program Officer Shefali Sharma are in Tianjin, China this week monitoring the ongoing global climate talks that will serve as the final prelude to COP16 in Cancún later this year.

In a side event held today,Tianjin climate talks entitled “Carbon markets: A reliable and practical source of climate finance?” IATP hosted a panel to discuss public finance mechanisms, market and environmental integrity in carbon trading, and consequences for sustainable agriculture. A press conference will be held on Thursday.

IATP's Senior Policy Analyst Steve Suppan has also written a new paper addressing the U.N. Secretary-General's High-Level  Advisory Group on Climate Finance (AGF), entitled "Trusting in Dark (Carbon) Markets?" Read the press release below:

Climate finance can’t afford carbon markets

Influence of market speculators too risky for the future of the planet

TIANJIN, CHINA – A high-level advisory group to the United Nations will outline its draft proposals this week for financing efforts to combat global climate change. Carbon emissions markets are expected to be central in their recommendations. But carbon market prices would likely be too volatile to provide a reliable source of finance, and other options should be considered, according to a new analysis released today by the U.S.-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Finance (AGF) will present key elements of a draft report on October 7 at the U.N. global climate talks in Tianjin. The AGF will present a final report in Cancun, Mexico at the next Conference of the Parties (COP 16) meeting in early December.

The IATP paper, “Trusting in Dark (Carbon) Markets” by Steve Suppan, warns that carbon markets are vulnerable to excessive speculation by big financial firms. Those same firms wreaked havoc on agriculture markets in 2007-08, contributing to a sharp rise in global food prices and an increase in global hunger.

“The big financial players are lobbying governments to scale up the trading of carbon,” said Suppan. “But there is no independent evidence to show that carbon market price signals spur industry to make long-term investments in greenhouse gas–reducing technology. These big players are also lobbying for regulatory exemptions that would promote the carbon price volatility that delays or even drives away these investments.”

IATP President Jim Harkness and Senior Program Officer Shefali Sharma are in Tianjin to monitor the U.N. climate negotiations. IATP co-hosted an October 5 side event in Tianjin on climate finance proposals.

“Agriculture, particularly in developing countries, is the sector most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and badly needs transparent and predictable climate finance,” said Harkness. “A transition toward more sustainable practices will make agriculture, and livelihoods dependent on it, more resilient to climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen global food security. We need to consider alternative climate finance proposals to make this happen.”

IATP has authored a series of papers on climate change, including “Speculating on Carbon,” “The New Climate Debt” and “Climate and Agriculture: A Just Response,” among others. For more, go to IATP’s climate and agriculture website.

Andrew Ranallo