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.
November 30, 2010
Animals and our obesogenic environment
Many things “cause” the obesity epidemic, acting together. But the general consensus around how to respond to this fact has changed significantly.
The new approach is to change the default environment that appears to constrain individuals to make bad choices and become obese in the first place by eating more calories than they can burn. A permissive culture that allows even the youngest, most vulnerable children to be bombarded with soda and other junk food ads is one example. Local zoning that leaves many neighborhoods lacking in sidewalks or bike lanes—or virtually any way of getting from point A to B except by car—is another.
This week, Nature reports on a study that looks at the obesity epidemic of the four-legged kind. (Though it’s hard to see how pets and laboratory animals would be as impacted by marketing or zoning as are kids.)
IATP's Food and Society Fellows seeking applicants with Fresh Ideas
The IATP Food and Society Fellows are currently seeking the next two-year class of fellows! Application instructions and information are below. The deadline is January 18. See below for a printable PDF application and information about a webinar on December 15 that will provide more information to potential applicants.
November 29, 2010
Will they get it right in Cancún?
The United Nations two-week long meeting on climate change begins today. In Cancún, Mexico, governments will have yet another opportunity to commit to a new global action plan to save the planet. For civil society organizations like IATP it is a unique opportunity to connect with and learn from farm organizations, scientists, academics and activists from around the world. Throughout these two weeks, IATP staff will be reporting on the Cancún climate meeting—from the negotiating halls to the various civil society meetings and protests.
Today, IATP released a new series of papers focusing on challenges and solutions for agriculture and climate change. Below is our press release with links to each of the papers in the series:
Governments at Cancún climate talks need to support local solutions
CANCÚN, MEXICO – Governments attending the global climate talks in Cancún, which begin today, need to abandon loophole-ridden carbon markets and support bottom-up climate solutions that integrate equity, food security and democratic participation, according to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
Today, IATP released a new series of papers focusing on agriculture and climate change. The series covers issues related to agricultural practices, climate finance and adaptation strategies. IATP is sending six staff members to the United Nations climate talks in Cancún and is hosting an official side event on climate-friendly agriculture, as well as speaking at a number of civil society workshops.
“Climate negotiators, led by the U.S., are too distracted by trying to set up unworkable rules for a new carbon market that will primarily benefit big financial players and the big polluting countries,” said IATP President Jim Harkness. “We need to get back to basics by strengthening commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, supporting local efforts and fulfilling funding obligations to countries struggling to adapt to the effects of climate change.”
IATP’s new series emphasizes that negotiators in Cancún should not consider agriculture as simply an offset for polluters. Rather, agriculture has a multifunctional role in society to strengthen food security, protect the environment and provide livelihoods for people around the world. Papers in the series include:
“Financing Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change: A Modest Beginning,” by Steve Suppan – Proposes concrete short-term options for financing climate change adaptation in developing countries.
“Women at the Center of Climate-friendly Approaches to Agriculture and Water,” by Shiney Varghese – Profiles the agricultural practices of the Tamilnadu Women’s Collective in India that both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
“Grain Reserves: A Smart Climate Adaptation Policy,” by Sophia Murphy – Makes the connection between efforts to ensure food security and climate change adaptation.
“A Farm Bill for a Cooler Planet,” by Julia Olmstead and Jim Kleinschmit – Examines how the U.S. Farm Bill could support practices that both mitigate and adapt to climate change.
“The New Climate Debt: Carbon Trading Wrapped in a Green Bond Proposal,” by Steve Suppan – Analyzes a climate finance proposal by the International Emissions Trading Association that would enrich global carbon traders.
You can read all of the papers in IATP’s climate series, as well as blog reports from Cancún by IATP staff, at www.iatp.org/climate.
To hear directly from farmers on how climate change is affecting their lives, see IATP’s new Voices of Agriculture and Climate website at www.climateandagriculture.org.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. www.iatp.org
November 24, 2010
The cost of adding carbon credits to clean water
In a recent NYT opinion piece Clean Water at No Cost? Just Add Carbon Credits, Tina Rosenberg argued that one of the best ways to ensure that the world’s poorest have access to water is through carbon trading. Having spent “more than two decades reporting on social problems around the world, and where possible, exploring new models to address them,” in October 2010, Rosenberg and David Bornstein began a series, entitled Fixes, that proposes to help spread knowledge about solutions (or potential solutions) to real-world problems, and how they work.
But in this case, her solution rests on a simplistic understanding of the two central issues: the water crisis and carbon trading. There are a many of reasons for the water crisis and the large numbers of water-poor, and working through them is like peeling the layers of an onion. The most apparent reason for not having access to safe water is the lack of public financing to build a water infrastructure. So, for a while, multinational-led water privatization was promoted as the solution, with these companies leveraging the financing for building and maintaining the water infrastructure. However as the article acknowledges, “for-profit water multinationals such as Bechtel and Suez” have been critiqued “for the way they treat rural people and slum dwellers.”
These companies “have little incentive to lay pipes to reach people who are far away, and if they do, they charge very high prices.” In the absence of water infrastructure, the next best solution is decentralized water treatment systems. The article tells us about a technology that can help individuals and households clean their own water! LifeStraw, an instant micro-biological water purifier, is a “point-of-use water purification system that can filter up to 18,000 liters of water,” which is estimated to last for about three years (at the rate of 16.43 liters of purified drinking water per day). It is as simple as having a straw for an individual, or a slightly bigger "LifeStraw Family" with a spout that can be hung from the wall of a household. Point-of-use water purifiers have been called more effective compared to cleaning the original water source, especially when it comes to poorer environments.
Several U.S. government organizations including the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as Coca Cola, have been involved in the testing and promotion of this technology in a number of countries in Africa. It is understandable that the organizations would want to test it in sub-Saharan Africa where access to clean drinking water is seen as a challenge. Vestergaard Frandsen, the company that developed LifeStraw, plans to provide the technology at no cost to water poor people! So far, so good!
How would they pay for it? Vestergaard Frandsen is multinational leader in making what they call "profit for a purpose." They plan to raise money by charging those who emit greenhouse gases (GHG) in exchange for an allowance of GHG emissions, or put in simpler words, in exchange for an allowance to pollute more.
The argument goes thus: If there were no LifeStraw, poor people would have to boil their water. This would contribute to GHG emissions. Thus, access to LifeStraw potentially leads to the reduction of an activity that would have otherwise contributed to global warming. All this sounds very good, but there is a big “if” involved here. What this imagined scenario ignores is the fact that along with lack of access to water, the poor also lack access to other resources, including firewood. Boiling water is neither a common practice, nor a priority for poor households in most parts of the world. It is mainly those with easier access to resources, and the ability to spare resources for doing that additional chore who take up the practice. This has been my repeated experience across two decades of interactions with poor communities.
It is at this point that one might want to peel the next few layers: Why are our water resources polluted and depleted? Most obviously, because of several causes, including: lack of sanitation facilities; improper disposal of untreated human waste; discharge of untreated industrial effluents into rural and urban waterways that sometimes double as drinking water sources; excessive use of agrochemicals that seep into underground waters; and agricultural runoffs that pollute surface waters.
Peel once more and you come to the core of it all: Our consumption-driven economies require water-intensive, high-output agricultural and industrial production as well as energy generation, that takes water for granted. There is no doubt that technologies like LifeStraw may be necessary (and much better than, say, bottled water) in water-stressed situations, or emergencies such as floods. But it would be misplaced to fund them through carbon trading. Carbon trading has emerged as a response to our refusal to cut down or reduce actual emissions. Instead it is a mechanism to provide emitters with a cheaper option: continue with emissions by buying permits to pollute rather than incur cost to replace the GHG-emitting technology with better options. In order for carbon markets to function, there is, first, the need to create a demand for carbon credits.
As and when national governments introduce an upper limit (also known as a "cap") to allowable emissions, such a demand will be created. Companies and countries that exceed the limit—largely in the North—will need to buy credits from elsewhere—largely, the South. Second, there is the need to create carbon credits that can be bought by carbon polluters. According to current mechanisms—such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)—these credits can be accrued only if the condition of "'additionality," (amongst others) is fulfilled.
For example, credits may accrue when farmers switch their practices from fossil-fuel intensive to organic, or when governments provide policy incentives to nudge a shift in consumption patterns. In both cases, if GHG emissions are less compared to what would have happened in the absence of the project, they would be eligible for carbon credits. But there are problems with such mechanisms. To begin with, they do not take existing conservation practices into account. For example, in many of the poorer regions of the world, natural farming is practiced as part of local traditions. There is also the possibility of dubious claims where carbon credits may be granted to hypothetical activities. For example, the provision of LifeStraw is expected to reduce the GHG emissions associated with the (non-existent) practice of boiling water. Additional problems associated with the carbon derivatives markets is yet another issue.
Even if problems associated with carbon trading practices and carbon markets were to be fixed, some fundamental problems would persist. First of all, when carbon credits are allocated to GHG-reduction activities, often practiced by communities and countries in the South, it is a means for passing on the responsibility of GHG reduction to those countries whose climate footprint is limited but whose climate vulnerability is high. In the case of water poor, they need finances, and are willing to carry the burden in order to have access to funds to help climate-proof their nation. Second it allows polluting communities and companies to continue with their current GHG-emitting practices at almost no cost to themselves. Thirdly, carbon trading becomes a means for generating profit from doing almost nothing, or close to nothing.
For example, when Vestergaard Frandsen provides access to clean water for free to water poor, is the company trying to fulfill their corporate responsibility? As far as I can make out, it is far from it: Vestergaard Frandsen is hoping to cash in on the possibility of emerging carbon markets. Ostensibly promoted as a win-win mechanism to reduce GHG emissions, carbon trading and carbon markets have created spaces where companies such as Vestergaard Frandsen can accrue carbon credits worth billions for themselves for claimed GHG-reduction practices. However, as my colleague Steve Suppan, an expert on carbon derivatives pointed out: “Carbon markets cannot exist without governments creating both the demand [cap] and the supply [billions of dollars of emissions permits given to industry and offset credits]; the collapse of the Chicago Climate Exchange is just more evidence of this fact.” The NYT article had him remarking: “So now carbon marketers are looking for a lifeline in water. My, what a surprise! And what a surprise that the carbon market–besotted NYT fell for this ruse!” No doubt, financial incentives should be available to continue with, or shift to, practices whose GHG-emission footprint is lower than the alternatives. But the model cannot be that of carbon trading; it has to be that of climate financing.
Similarly, adaptation funds should be made available for communities to access appropriate technology that can help meet their basic needs, like safe drinking water. At COP 16, negotiators should explore viable alternatives for climate financing that promote real solutions to real problems.
November 22, 2010
NYC’s ‘FoodWorks’ leverages food system for health, job creation and the environment
New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn today announced "FoodWorks New York," a new effort by the city council to produce a comprehensive plan to use the city’s food system to create jobs, improve public health and protect the environment. Over the next six months, the city council will work with experts from government, industry, labor and academia, as well as hunger and environmental advocates and community leaders to examine every step in the city’s food cycle. In a speech, Speaker Quinn outlined five outcomes for the plan:
As part of developing the plan, the council will require city agencies to report back on food-related measures. The data will be used to set goals and better coordinate efforts across city government.
November 18, 2010
Clock ticking to take on big meat companies
U.S. livestock and poultry markets are some of the most concentrated in the world. Just four companies control 83 percent of the beef production, four control 66 percent of pork production, and another four control 58 percent of poultry production. You know the companies: Tyson, Cargill, Swift/JBS, Smithfield, Pilgrim's Pride.
Over the last several decades, these companies have established themselves as pillars of industrial food production. The result has been devastating for farmers, ranchers and rural communities.
Since 1980, the U.S. has lost nearly 600,000 hog farms and more than half a million cattle farms, according to USDA. Farmers and ranchers are making less and less of the food dollar spent in the grocery store. Unfair contracts, retaliation, secrecy and deception are now common in U.S. meat and poultry markets.
In June of this year, the USDA published new draft rules designed to reign in the market power of these companies and ensure fair competition in livestock and poultry markets. They are taking public comments on the draft rules until November 22. You can read IATP's comment here. We think these new rules are a good first step - and long overdue.
In a special issue of Radio Sustain, we interview poultry farmer Mike Weaver, rancher Gilles Stockton, R-CALF President Bill Bullard, and agriculture columnist Alan Guebert to find out more about the potential impact of these new rules.
Take a listen to Radio Sustain. Then, take few minutes to send a letter to the USDA by November 22 in support of our farmers and ranchers. To build a more sustainable and resilient food system - we need more independent farmers and ranchers – not fewer.
November 16, 2010
Learning from China's food system
China faces the challenge of feeding 22 percent of the world's population on 9 percent of its arable land. What does this really mean for China's farmers, the environment and the world? And what can we learn from China's experience as we grapple with challenges of development, environment and hunger?
IATP President Jim Harkness, who lived and worked in China for 16 years, will examine the challenge of feeding China and explain why, despite two decades of dire warnings, China’s growing appetite has not brought famine to the rest of the world...yet.
Jim’s talk is part of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment’s fall 2010 Frontiers lecture series, scheduled for noon to 1 p.m., Nov. 17, at 380 VoTech Building, 1954 Buford Avenue, St. Paul.
Find out more about IATP’s China Initiative here.
November 12, 2010
When Obama visited India earlier this week, saying India "has already emerged" as a power in Asia and globally, his compliments were loaded.
On Wednesday night at IATP, Leo Saldanha and Bhargavi Rao from the Environment Support Group (ESG) in Bangalore, described India's current tug of war between its traditional commons-based framework (collectively owned resources and landscapes) and the privatization that accompanies foreign direct investment (FDI) and globalization.
In the U.S. today, as highlighted by Shalini Gupta with IATP’s Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, imagining a model without privatization may be near impossible for many. India's current struggle is more comparable to late-1800's North America—in the midst of the industrial revolution, at war with indigenous tribes, and spurred onward by increasing demand for natural resources and promised riches of industrial development.
The push for globalization in India brings with it a fundamental shift in the environment and traditional way of life. According to Saldanha, jobs are indeed created, but not jobs for the farmers, fishers and indigenous tribes. In fact, the land, waters and forests that provide their livelihoods are being appropriated to private interests and natural resources are being extracted at alarming rates.
Global demand—and India's own push for an increased GDP—dictates that profits be maximized. The traditional commons-based framework and environmental laws, then, are barriers that must be removed. It began, Saldanha said, in the 60s tourist boom: coastal beaches once used for fishing filled up with four-star hotels.
Now, according to Bhargavi Rao, roads are being widened, public parks are being gated and grazing lands are being turned into garbage dumps for corporations. And to make room for these drastic changes to the environment, development advocates are pushing to dilute India’s environmental laws.
In 1986, two years after the tragic Bhopal gas leak, the Indian parliament enacted the Environment Protection Act. It allows companies and individuals to be held criminally (not just civilly) liable for violations of environmental standards. Now, an RFP from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing for a move from the current standards to one limited to civil liability in the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests—a move that would essentially pull the legislation's teeth while protecting foreign investors.
Saldanha and Bhargavi described the underreported thousands of Indian farmer suicides throughout the past decade attributed to this globalization. "The state moved from being a custodian of public land to an appropriating force," Saldanha said.
What are Leo, Bhargavi and ESG doing to fight back? A combination of protest with litigation and lobbying forms the foundation of ESGs work, but as Bhargavi said, "Protest is backbone of grassroots struggle." One example included forming a human chain around a lake that was nearly sold off to business interests. Another, coalition-based, action included writing a death certificate for the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
The latest effort centers on trying to stop Asia's largest steel maker, POSCO, from being allowed to build plants on forest and coastal lands. Clearance for this project—funded, in part by Warren Buffett, and India's largest-ever foreign direct investment—has been granted but, as one NGO alleges, may have been obtained illegally. For now, the project's progress has been stalled, but not defeated.
Obama's visit earlier this week was more than a goodwill visit, multinational business interests globally and in the U.S. stand to make millions. "Maximizing profits for a few while leaving millions behind," is how Saldanha describes the ongoing changes. And, perhaps Obama's description of India as "already emerged" was a bit premature. If emerging means destroying the environment, displacing the indigenous and taking livelihoods away from poor farmers, surely prosperity lies on another path.
November 09, 2010
Fast food advertising to children is relentless
Yesterday at The American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual meeting in Denver, researchers from Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released Fast Food FACTS (Food Advertising to Children and Teens Score). They found that children as young as two are seeing more fast food advertising than ever before and that children are targeted through various media and in the restaurants themselves.
Read this summary of their findings and a rundown of the best and worst kids meals available at popular fast food restaurants. If you're going to visit one, be sure to ask for the healthy sides (milk, fruit, yogurt). The study found that if you leave the choice to the restaurants, most will serve your kids french fries and soda.
November 06, 2010
Watered down 'Roadmap of Action' on climate change
IATP's Shefali Sharma reports from The Hague where the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change has just concluded.
The closing plenary of the conference ended with a laser light show about answers to the climate change problem and its impact on agriculture. At the closing, the “Chair’s Summary” of the six-day conference was handed to the participants and speakers made references to the idea that this was a roadmap for domestic as well as international action and its implementation would depend on all that were gathered at the conference.
The outcome at The Hague, in the end, was a non-binding Chair’s summary. This is because both governments and civil society organizations raised serious concerns about the first draft of the outcome document that was distributed yesterday morning in which draft language stated, “We collectively developed the Roadmap for Action on Agriculture, Food Security […] to achieve the ‘triple win’ of improving agricultural productivity and food security […]”
Though the outcome document continued to have a “Roadmap for Action” as publicized prior to the conference, the language of the outcome document was watered down significantly from claims to a “shared understanding” to simply “Understanding the Challenges” in the final draft.
The organizers announced on Wednesday that the draft would not be a negotiated document but that inputs were welcome. Yesterday, Australia, Egypt, New Zealand, Philippines and the United States were just some of the countries cautioning that an outcome document that is not actively negotiated cannot claim to have a common vision for action. There was also a significant amount of confusion during the course of the meeting as to the intentions of such a roadmap.
A statement by 12 organizations, including IATP, responded to the first draft circulated yesterday by stating, “Those most impacted by climate change and whose livelihoods are most at risk, in particular small-scale farmers, indigenous people and women especially from developing countries, have not been present, or consulted, nor have genuinely participated in this process. A democratic and participatory process should have involved all sectors of civil society engaged on these issues in a process designed to genuinely engage and dialogue with civil society. The ‘roadmap for action’ drafted by a few cannot be claimed to have been ‘collectively developed,’ even by those present at the Conference.”
They further stated, “Our understanding of the problems and solutions differs fundamentally from the framing posed by the organizers. We believe that adaptation has to be the main priority of this conference. The agricultural challenges faced by the poorest and most vulnerable, in Africa but also in Asia, in small-island states, in Latin America, are adaptation challenges. While sustainable farming practices can provide mitigation benefits, the climate crisis is caused first and foremost by the emissions of rich countries and we reject that small farmers are meant now to take on the mitigation responsibilities of the North.” You can read the full statement here.
Seventeen of the 26 pages are in the form of an annex whereby countries, intergovernmental organizations, companies and a few NGOs have listed the policies, strategies and “incentive mechanisms” they will use to carry out their vision of “climate smart” agriculture—a phrase that has been in popular use in the run up to this conference. Vietnam has offered to host a “follow-up” conference in 2012 as the outcome document claims to have created a “living Roadmap initiated during this conference.”
During the conference, the World Bank also positioned itself to expand its role into funding agriculture soil carbon sequestration projects through its BioCarbon Fund. Warren Evans, director of the Environment Division at the bank stated, “[…] for the first time, we have been able to move forward with methodologies for monitoring, reporting and verifying soil carbon sequestration from improved agronomic practices […]. This is particularly important because all of us here today want agriculture and soil carbon to be formally eligible for carbon payment in future climate agreements.”
A second major initiative that was announced today was the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change which will be launched by the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security Program of the CGIAR and Earth System Science Partnership. The initiative is being supported by the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development. The initiative hopes to have a panel of nine senior scientists to act as commissioners. The commission would begin in early 2011 and aims to deliver “a clear set of findings” and policy recommendations on agriculture and climate change to feed into such processes as the UNFCCC COP17 and Rio +20 Earth Summit.
November 05, 2010
UN climate finance report falls flat
The U.N. High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF) released their report today, outlining a series of recommendations on one of the most controversial elements of the global climate negotiations. Everyone agrees that money must be raised to help developing countries both adapt to the effects of climate change as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But how much money, where the money comes from, and who controls it, are all stumbling blocks in the climate negotiations.
Last month, IATP and 25 other civil society groups wrote the AGF, calling for public finance options, including a financial transaction tax, to be given a priority over private finance options that depend on volatile and unreliable carbon markets. IATP's Steve Suppan wrote a paper last month outlining concerns with carbon markets as a reliable source of climate financing. Below is the press release issued today by civil society groups in response to the AGF report:
UN Advisory Group on Climate Finance Report Falls Flat
Recommendations Downplay Role of Public Finance, Rely Too Much on Private Finance
A new report on climate change financing options released today by a U.N. Advisory Group unwisely emphasizes carbon markets and other private finance options, while irresponsibly advocating an increased role for multilateral development banks (MDBs). Despite concluding that public sources of climate finance are available and promising, the report’s findings downplay the role that public finance can and must play in helping developing countries deal with climate change.
The U.N. Secretary General’s High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing (AGF) issued its report today ahead of the annual U.N. climate summit in Cancún that begins November 29. The report outlines a number of public and private options to raise money to help developing countries adapt to the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The AGF recommendations are unfortunately based on unduly optimistic econometric projections and a blind faith in the capacity of highly volatile and unreliable carbon price signals to induce long-term investments in low carbon energy production and manufacturing,” said Steve Suppan of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “A better start on climate finance would be for developed countries to make good on their $30 billion pledge for immediate funding to allow developing countries to adapt agricultural production and water management systems to the imminent ravages of climate change.”
“It was inappropriate for the AGF Report to make reference to the role of multilateral development banks. MDBs are not a source of climate finance, but are used as a channel. And they are not acceptable even as a channel. MDBs are a part of the climate problem, not the solution. The World Bank and other MDBs are far, far more adept at causing climate pollution than in helping countries to mitigate or adapt to it. Using MDBs as a channel would also mean climate finance in the form of loans or other debt-creating instruments,” said Lidy Nacpill of Jubilee South – Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.
“Adaptation funding, in particular, is compensation for damages done by developed countries and should only be given in grants. It is untenable that the AGF suggests otherwise. The enormous costs of dealing with climate change must not add to the already heavy debt burdens experienced by many developing countries,” added Nacpil.
“The AGF report—as limited in scope and conservative in its estimates as it is—still shows that there are numerous viable options to generate public finance for climate change,” said Ilana Solomon of ActionAid USA. “Developed countries have no excuse for inaction. The options are there. They must work through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change to come to agreement on a combination of public sources to generate the desperately needed resources to help developing countries confront climate change."
“The AGF acknowledges that meeting the needs of developing countries will take a ‘systemic approach’ to financing climate adaptation and mitigation,” noted Janet Redman, co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Options like a financial transaction tax meet the mark: stabilizing the economy by curbing dangerous speculation and raising hundreds of billions of dollars each year for global public goods like combating climate change. The AGF is undercutting its own mission by underestimating the revenue generated by a feasible and popular source of public finance."
The groups expressed concern that the AGF was guided by a pledge developed countries made in Copenhagen to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 in public and private finance—a pledge which falls short of reasonable estimates of climate financing.
“The $100 billion is an arbitrary, political figure that is based neither on need nor on equity. If the U.S. government rapidly mobilized trillions to bail out Wall Street, why cannot at least equal effort be put toward bailing out the planet from a climate crisis that rich countries caused?” said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth U.S.
In October, at the global climate talks in Tianjin, more than 25 civil society organizations sent a letter to the co-chairs of the AGF outlining their recommendations for climate finance.
ActionAid USA, Friends of the Earth U.S., Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Institute for Policy Studies, Jubilee South – Asia/Pacific Movement on Debt and Development.
November 03, 2010
Don't forget the carbon speculators
This week, the World Bank, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and a number of governments are meeting in the Hague at the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. The original goal was to develop a Roadmap for Agriculture that would feed into the global climate change negotiations at the United Nations.
One of the key obstacles to developing a joint approach on agriculture and climate change is financing: finding money to help farmers and communities adapt to the effects of climate change while reducing agriculture's contribution to climate change. Carbon markets have been one of dominant proposals for financing agriculture-related projects on climate change.
IATP's Shefali Sharma is in the Hague and delivered the below statement to conference participants on the risks carbon markets pose to food security and greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Between 2007 and the spring of 2008, the food price index shot up by 85 percent, then in a few months, agriculture commodity prices fell by 60 percent. The massive price spike and drop was devastating for developing countries, particularly net-food importers. The food price crisis drove another 150 million people into hunger. According to UNCTAD, the extent of price volatility during the food crisis cannot be attributed to supply and demand alone. There is now a wide consensus that speculation on commodity markets by financial traders had a significant role to play in creating the crisis.
Reliable, predictable and public finance needs to fund adaptation needs in developing countries and there are several proposals including carbon, transport and financial transaction taxes that are on the table that should be considered.
Reporting on the roadmap at the global conference on ag and climate
IATP's Shefali Sharma is reporting from the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change at The Hague.
It is the fourth evening of this six-day long conference, which promises to deliver a “roadmap” of concrete actions on agriculture, food security and climate change through a participatory process. This evening, a draft copy of the roadmap is supposed to be made available at the conference center with the announcement that this was “not going to be a negotiated text” and that only a “chairman’s summary” would be produced as the outcome of the meeting.
For three days now, the meetings have continued nonstop from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. with plenaries morphing into working groups, morphing into numerous side events and an investment fair in the evening. Participants have complained about not having any breaks or enough time to engage on the numerous topics. The conference has been dominated by panels and confusion has reigned with regards to the objectives of such a “roadmap” that will simply be delivered onto the participants in a top down manner. Certainly, the chairmen’s summaries of what happened in working groups the day before illustrates that the conference is not meant to necessarily capture the diversity of views (and there are many, with little consensus on anything!), but steadily drive towards a planned outline of a “roadmap.”
Such a shell of an outline was handed to participants today with the headings such as: “Shared Understanding of the Challenges,” “Shared understanding of the Solutions,” “Urgent Need for Action,” and “A Roadmap for Action.” This latter heading is further divided into “Policies and Strategies” for the catch phrase of the conference: “climate-smart agriculture,” “Tools and Technologies for Climate-Smart Agriculture” and “Financing for Transformational Change.” And yet the working groups have not necessarily been addressing these issues in any meaningful way, nor has there been adequate governmental and civil-society participation in the debates or time to merit a “shared understanding.”
The conference appears to be dominated by agribusiness interests and those promoting opportunities for carbon-related offsets and market-based approaches to solve the climate crisis in agriculture sector in the Global South. The words “mitigation” and “adaptation” have been used interchangeably, particularly by representatives from industrialized countries such as the U.S. and New Zealand, raising concerns that this so-called “roadmap” of the chair of the conference will simply ignore the legal obligations of industrialized countries who are party to the UNFCCC to reduce their own carbon footprint and greenhouse gases domestically and to set the stage for carbon offsets in agriculture.
In response to the proceedings of the conference, Bolivia and Nicaragua on behalf of the ALBA group of countries (Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela) made 13 recommendations to the conference organizers regarding the chairman’s summary as the outcome document of the conference.
They called on the chair to “honor the commitments” under the UNFCCC on mitigation, adaptation and financing. They said, “Developed countries should not shift the burden of reducing their emission to developing countries through the carbon market and offsetting […]” Instead, they called for a “holistic framework” that also includes water management, biodiversity, agricultural prices, commodities markets, livelihoods, employment, salaries, womens’ and indigenous rights and poverty reduction.”
The ALBA group also supported the findings of the International Assessment on Agriculture Science Technology and Development (IAASTD) and referenced the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba on April 2010. They stressed that ecological agriculture “is the route to food security and adaptation to climate change” and as such adaptation should be the main priority of the conference. They noted that a market-based approach will lead to carbon speculation “and inevitably a carbon bubble. On the contrary, we need to get non-sector speculators out of food futures markets. Speculation in food security that leads to mass malnutrition is immoral and should be illegal,“ they said.
They concluded by emphasizing the Adaptation Fund of the Kyoto protocol as the appropriate channel for financing and stressed that further funding could also be obtained through Special Drawing Rights at the International Monetary Fund.
Tomorrow begins the ministerial roundtable to deliberate on the chair’s summary.
November 01, 2010
Fairness in food from farm to [every] plate: November's Radio Sustain
This month's Radio Sustain podcast is all about food security and farmworker justice: Why does exploitation of farmworkers and modern-day slavery still exist in the United States, and why do some (both domestically and internationally) go hungry while others have more than enough?
First, IATP Food and Society Fellow Sean Sellers discusses the shocking modern-day farmworker exploitation that takes place throughout the country. In a new campaign, he and IATP Food and Society Fellow Shalini Kantayya have created a video with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to ask for One Penny More for farmworkers.
Domestically, hunger remains—unsurprisingly—concentrated in low-income urban areas. Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap, is a veteran food security and anti-hunger advocate. He's founded multiple food security organizations, including the Community Food Security Coaltion (CFSC). Winne talks about his ideas on where the food gap comes from and shares his insights on what steps must be taken to close it.
Finally, IATP's Sophia Murphy discusses the state of international food security, and why food reserves hold promise as a tool for stabilizing volatility in agriculture markets that devastates farmers and poor consumers around the globe.
Monsanto’s Roundup-Ready crops increasing herbicide use
In 2003, at an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) conference in Indianapolis, I presented a paper entitled "GMO’s and IPM: are they compatible?" One focus of the discussion centered on the question of whether GMO’s will increase or decrease pesticide use over time? I, and others—especially Chuck Benbrook—predicted that over time pesticide use will actually increase as pest resistance develops. I also covered this issue recently in a previous Think Forward blog.
The broad-spectrum herbicide glyphosate (Roundup, until recently manufactured exclusively by Monsanto), when used with corn or soybeans containing a transgenic gene resistant to the effects of the herbicide has provided excellent control of both grass and broadleaved weeds. This permitted more use of no-till and narrow row farming, and increased the acreage that can be managed per farm unit. Thus, it has indirectly contributed to yield and to profits. In short, it has been a major contributor to large-scale industrial agriculture that has decimated the countryside. As Andrew Wargo III, president of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts, states in a New York Times article, ”It (Roundup) is the single largest threat to production agriculture that we have ever seen.”
Chuck Benbrook estimates that it takes about 12–15 years to develop resistance to a pharmaceutical in a general population, which fits the time frame that is occurring for Roundup-resistant weeds (Roundup-Ready soybean was first introduced in 1996). Dr. Mike Owen, the Extension Weed Scientist at Iowa State University, calls this “Darwinian evolution fast forwarded.” Owen, in a “Stewardship Tips” fact sheet from ISU Extension, recommended timely weed control, knowing the weed issues in the field, using a pre-followed post herbicide system to control weeds and using full labeled rates of glyphosate. These recommendations were in general ignored. Many publications have been available over the years giving the facts behind the occurrence of resistance. Yet now Roundup resistance is a big problem and growing bigger.
Why? Basically it was overused and poorly managed.
Benbrook wrote “glyphosate herbicide and genetically engineered corn, soybeans and cotton (are) the most stunning and profitable market success story in the history of the pesticide and seed industry.” Dr. Owen points out that while it is logical to blame GMO crops, the real blame lies with the cropping and weed control system that has come out of the Roundup-Ready marketing and promotion efforts, coupled with the convenience and simplicity of the Roundup-based systems. He also faults the aggressive marketing by industry that downplayed the risks involved. And after going off patent, glyphosate prices dropped, encouraging farmers to increase herbicide rates to kill the more resistant weeds. Of course, this only encouraged the weeds to fight back with increased resistance. It has becoming a losing arms race, or what Willard Cochrane called—years ago—the "Technology Treadmill." Chemical companies are delighted with the new business opportunities; now they can revive old chemistry.
The most persistant problems have been seen in only a few weed species. Among these are pigweed (Palmer amaranth), horseweed and giant ragweed. Even though only about 7 to 10 million acres are currently impacted, resistant weeds will spread rapidly as forces such as birds, dirty combines and wind and soil erosion spread resistant weed seeds from field to field.
While Monsanto spent precious years in denial, it now recognizes the problem and realizes that if the effectiveness of glyphosate is diminished, farmers will be reluctant to pay the premium for Roundup-Ready seeds. Recently, Monsanto became aggressive, actually subsidizing the use of alternate herbicides that control the Roundup-resistant weeds in cotton, where the problem first surfaced and is the most severe. In 2010, they began paying farmers to use these alternatives as well as developing crops that have resistance to other herbicides.
The herbicide subsidy program by Monsanto has been extended in 2011 to corn and soybeans. This is admittedly an effort to extend the use of glyphosate, but also likely has a financial return because Monsanto is forming partnerships with chemical companies such as Sumitomo Chemical and Valent that produce the alternatives. Valor, a herbicide made by Monsanto, has also been approved but it is a very toxic herbicide. Warrant is another subsidized herbicide (made by Monsanto) which is particularly effective for pigweed control in soybean.
Of course, these subsidy programs fall back into the old pattern; the overuse of glyphosate has lead to the use of more herbicides and these are more toxic. And while Monsanto and other companies are racing to develop crops resistant to alternate herbicides, no silver bullet has emerged. While farmers might think a new magic herbicide-GMO combination is in the works, it is not likely.
Still with the high and rising demand for soybeans worldwide (The October 28, 2010 Chicago Board of Trade Price was $12.25) growers will be looking for all the ways possible to maintain their current soybean production systems. Industry will benefit but farmers will be paying higher input costs.
As long as the free market reigns supreme and corporations control agriculture’s destiny, there will be no way to halt the development of even more pest resistance and more dominance by the chemical/seed industry. Will the loss of the ability to control weeds cripple agriculture’s economy? Some think so. And they may be right. Remember, Bt insect control through GMOs has greatly expanded recently. The clock is ticking.