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.
March 08, 2011
Reclaiming rights on International Women’s Day centennial
The year 2011 started with the news of food price hikes around the world pushing even more people, especially women, into hunger. But then along came images of women in Egypt in the forefront of a revolution to get rid of a government that has been in power for over 30 years! Victories such as the ones in Egypt are occasions for celebrating the strength and resilience of women even under the most oppressed circumstances, and their ability to defy prevalent stereotypes.
So, what will 2011, the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, bring for women?
In the initial years, tragic events such as the "Triangle Fire" of 1911 (which killed more than 140 working women in New York City) became a focus of International Women's Day. Since its beginnings in Europe, International Women's Day has grown to become a day of recognition and celebration across the world. Drawing attention to the abject working conditions women faced, and to issues such as land rights and food security, domestic violence and trafficking in women, and at the same time expressing solidarity with sisters across cultures and regions, IWD has grown in strength and visibility.
Yet on this 100th anniversary, what is foremost in my mind are the continuing challenges that women and girls face. In least-developed countries, nearly twice as many women over age 15 are illiterate compared to men. Girls account for two-thirds of children denied primary education, and 75 percent of the world’s 876 million illiterate adults are women. And women and girls make up over 70 percent of the 1.3 billion people living on less than a dollar a day. They form the majority of the water poor and food insecure. Given that 75 percent of the poor live in rural areas, and that there is a gender dimension to rural-to-urban migration, it is safe to say that most of these women, living on less than a dollar a day, are in rural areas. It is their responsibility to eke out a living from their surrounding environment for themselves and any other family members dependent on them.
A little over 10 years ago it was estimated that “women work two-thirds of the world's working hours, produce half of the world's food, and yet earn only 10 percent of the world's income and own less than 1 percent of the world's property.” I have not been able to find a comparable figure for women’s involvement in food production systems in this decade, even though the trends in seasonal and annual male migrations away from rural areas likely have increased women’s share of work in food production.
Women are likely to be especially hard hit this year by the hike in agricultural prices. The U.N.’s food-price index rose 34 percent from a year earlier. The price of onions increased by more than 60 percent in some South Asian markets, while that of tomatoes doubled in Middle East. According to World Bank estimates, 44 million people have been rendered food insecure by the recent rise in food prices. Even though we do not have a gender breakdown for these numbers, it would seem fair to assume that at least 70 percent of these 44 million are women and girls.
But there are also reasons for hope. In several climate-challenged communities in Asia and Africa, women have taken a lead of developing climate-resilient food systems. Examples include that of women farmers of Mkuranga District [40 km south of Dar es Salaam] who came together under the umbrella organization, Muungano, to grow organic vegetables and process them for income and food security. Similarly dalit women farmers, of Zaheearabad in India, practice dry-land agriculture in an attempt to adapt to climate change. By following a system of interspersing crops that do not need extra water, chemical inputs or pesticides for production, and by selectively applying farmyard manure once in two or three years depending on soil conditions, the women have been able to meet their food security and improve their livelihood options.
Gender-based differences are evident in developed countries too. In the United States, the highest poverty rate is for rural female-headed households (37.1 percent), followed by female-headed households in other parts (27.1 percent); for single-male headed households these numbers were much lower (16.6 percent for rural and 12.3 percent for urban). Thus in the United States too, food price volatility will be experienced most acutely by members of female-headed households.
However unlike in Africa and parts of Asia, here in the United States, agriculture is a male- (and machine-) dominated activity. In the few cases where women are principal operators, the farms tend to be smaller and tend to grow niche or specialty products. The move towards, smaller, organic and local farms have seen an increasing number of women entering agricultural sector. But for many of them it is not viable as a primary profession yet. Even as we celebrate these efforts of women’s entrepreneurship, we must also make sure that these tasks do not remain as unacknowledged and underpaid as they have in the past!
Like their counterparts in developing countries, women in most developed countries bear a disproportionate burden of child rearing in a family. For poorer women, belonging to marginalized communities, this implies the additional burden of ensuring food security for family members, even as they lack access to resources or control over means of production. Thus both in developed and developing countries women are facing increased challenges in feeding their families.
There are also promising calls for international policy initiatives. For example, releasing its 2010-11 edition of The State of Food and Agriculture report the FAO said yesterday: “If women in rural areas had the same access to land, technology, financial services, education and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people reduced by 100–150 million.”
This new focus on women in agriculture can cut both ways: more women in food production can ensure more food for families; but unless care is taken, women can end up being yet another instrument to achieve narrow development goals. It is necessary that this new focus is as much about achieving food security, and building a climate-resilient food system, as about the empowerment of women and their meaningful participation in decisions that affect their lives. Only such an approach can address the obstacles that block women from claiming their economic, cultural and social rights.
The centennial year, 2011, is an opportunity to recognize women’s role in advancing alternate food systems that are both just and resilient around the world. It is also an opportunity to stand in solidarity with women and girls across cultures and nations that continue to face tremendous challenges in realizing their social, economic and political rights as individual women, as mothers and daughters, and as community members.
 A hundred years ago, in 1911, the first International Women's Day (IWD) was organized on March 19. Following discussions in 1913, International Women's Day was transferred to March 8 and since then has remained the global date for IWD.
 World Development Indicators, 1997, Womankind Worldwide.
 Rudy Ruitenberg, World Food Prices Climb to Record as UN Sounds Alarm on Further Shortages, March 3, 2011, Bloomberg.
February 23, 2011
Can food safety race to the top?
"Many argue that globalized trade creates a ‘race to the bottom,’ where the country with the weakest regulations or lowest wages ultimately sets the standards in the global marketplace," writes IATP's David Wallinga, M.D. in the Des Moines Register. "Something different may now be happening around food safety: Global forces are putting pressure on U.S. regulators to catch up with the rest of the world."
Dr. Wallinga writes that weak U.S. regulations on antibiotic use in meat and poultry production have blocked or limited U.S. exports in Russia, the European Union and several other countries. A Congressional Research Service report released in December also concluded that antibiotic use in the U.S., commonly used for growth promotion in confined animal feeding operations (CAFO), could affect future U.S. export markets for livestock and poultry.
"At some point, the economic costs of lost exports may override even the purported—and very suspect—economic benefits from the routine use of antibiotics in animal feeds," Dr. Wallinga writes.
You can read the full commentary here.
February 14, 2011
Inspiration from Egypt at the World Social Forum
Friday’s closing ceremony of the World Social Forum began with the news that Hosni Mubarak had resigned from office and led to a resounding cheer and celebration amongst the crowd. Egypt and Tunisia’s people-led struggles had reverberated throughout the forum with intermittent marches of Eyptians and those in solidarity. In between assembly sessions of social movements, climate justice groups and those gearing towards Rio+20, several of us protested outside the Eyptian Embassy in Dakar on Friday to show support to those assembling in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Even as we shouted slogans, news travelled that Mubarak had actually resigned, this time for real.
Inspiration from Egypt was visible among the Senegalese students, several of whom marched in protest against the current long-time Senegalese president. Other students asked us to sign petitions to end the military action in the Ivory Coast. But clearly, something is bubbling on the African continent as a result of Egypt and Tunisia.
The evening ended with the sun setting on the Atlantic ocean behind the stage and a call to action by among others, the climate justice groups and those organizing to the stop the next Earth Summit in the summer of June 2012 from becoming an “Earth grab” (in the words of Pat Mooney from the ETC Group). Speaking of the climate summit, he said, “Copenhagen was a tragedy, but Cancún was Treason…we have the next 15 months with a second Cochabamba gathering, the G-8 and G-20 summits, Durban and Rio to turn this around and we can! They (governments who endorsed the Cancún Climate agreement) have become too greedy and in their greed, they have lost their vision. We can provide it for them.”
The climate justice groups pledged to start a series of local, regional and national mobilizations that will culminate in international stop off points in the 15-month road map from Dakar to Cochabamba, G-20, Durban, Port Alegre in the next WSF and onto Rio. They demanded to set targets to achieve only a maximum one-degree temperature rise, curb greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2017 and allow no offsets (read: carbon trading and buying the right to pollute in industrialized countries through so-called green projects in the global South). Needless to say, these are ambitious but science-based targets on what is actually needed to curb and reduce devastating global warming for future generations.
Our governments, and especially the United States, are far from these goals having pledged for voluntary national targets full of loopholes in the hope of some day arriving at an agreed limit of no more than a two-degree global temperature rise.
The real work on helping raise public consciousness and mobilize citizens towards urgent and just action from our governments on this 15-month journey begins now. Nothing short of the future of this planet is at stake.
IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from the World Social Forum in Dakar, Senegal.
February 10, 2011
A festival for social justice: reporting from the World Social Forum
It is now the fourth day of this great festival of ideas, discussions and debates about the key political issues of our times and the struggles taking place at local, national, regional and international levels to achieve social justice. The focus is inevitably on African issues of struggle and the various forces impacting local communities and national and Pan African trajectories. This World Social Forum (WSF) is timely given that the continent has become the focus of one of the biggest resource grabs since colonial times—be it for agrofuel demand of industrialized countries, land bought by other countries for their own food production needs, or land-based investment deals that take away community control of natural resources right before their eyes and in spite of their resistance. A large number of seminars and discussions here have focused on landgrabs and testimonies offered from across the continent and around the world. Groups and communities are discussing how to force companies and governments to uphold and respect human rights—social, cultural, economic and ecological—of communities and people; and how to stop the pillaging of dwindling natural resources through unregulated investment.
Set on the campus of Cheikh Anta Diop University, 40,000 students are milling amongst stalls, tents and sessions organized by hundreds of organizations; doing street theatre, picking up pamphlets, asking questions. Many of them are volunteers for the WSF and translating during organized events. Their interest and curiosity is inspiring. In fact, just a week before the forum, the new president of the university had decided to suspend the week holiday that was given by the previous president for students to freely attend WSF events. The new president reneged on that commitment and resumed classes, even taking back many classrooms that were assigned to WSF events. The first few days we found ourselves wandering into classrooms where students were patiently trying to sit through classes and shut out the noise and energy emanating throughout the campus due to the social forum. In spite of the logistical hurdles—and not knowing where the next event will be—civil society has rolled right along in making the forum a success.
I have been participating in events and discussions related to climate change, food sovereignty and natural resources. Many of the sessions are trying to make sense of the outcome in Cancún (COP 16) for climate change and what civil society needs to do differently in the run up to Durban, South Africa, who will host the next major climate meeting at the end of this year. Groups from South Africa are here and already organizing themselves to host civil society organizations in order to create a loud and resounding voice condemning the paltry pledges made by governments in Cancún to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many groups feel that trying to convince governments inside negotiating halls at the COPs will not create the urgent shift we need to see in the climate talks towards binding and ambitious targets for drastically reducing greenhouse gases. There is an acute realization that social awareness and mobilization needs to take place locally with specific strategies to shift national positions on climate change. For Africa, anything above a one-degree global temperature rise will mean drastically reduced cropping seasons, much greater incidences of severe and unpredictable weather with dire consequences for food production and hence food sovereignty. The Pan African Climate Justice Alliance is trying to influence national processes around the continent moving towards Durban.
The United States and Europe, however, still determine the fate of the climate treaty and the international targets that will be set. Without a sea-change in U.S. public opinion on climate change as a key responsibility it is hard to see how we can keep the United States government from undermining entirely an international regime that must stop and reverse global warming.
Roughly six months after Durban will be the 20th anniversary of the Rio Summit—known as Rio+20—where governments will come together with possibly new proposals on dealing with the major environmental problems of our times. It was at Rio, 20 years ago, that the U.N. Climate Treaty was created, in addition to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Despite these efforts we have drastically worsened our global situation—on both the climate change and biodiversity front.
Several groups have come together at the WSF to begin organizing toward Rio+20. They see the meeting as a major opportunity to reframe the debate moving forward in this decade and want to link awareness building and social mobilizations in the next 16 months that include COP 17 in Durban and onward to Rio in the middle of 2012.
Finally, numerous discussions are also taking place on the linkages between the food, climate and financial crises, their impact on Africa and impacts on small producers. IATP participated in events organized by the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in West Africa (FECCIWA) on climate change, food sovereignty and the food crisis, as well as an event on “Fighting against price volatility and regulating agricultural markets” organized in conjunction with CCFD-Terre Solidaire, a Catholic French NGO, Mooriben (an organization from Niger engaged on creating food security at the local level, including food reserves), Afrique Vert Mali (Green Africa Mali) and GRET, a French development NGO. In addition, we will be involved in the WSF convergence process today and tomorrow where civil society groups who have been meeting throughout the week will come together to see how we can move forward with our plans on both climate and Rio+20. For IATP, we are interested in seeing how the issues of speculation in carbon and commodity markets, agriculture offsets in the climate negotiations, and their impacts on small producers, can be part of the discussions and strategies to build awareness and counter negative proposals and impacts.
Onward to day five.
IATP's Shefali Sharma is blogging from Dakar, Senagal at the World Social Forum.
February 09, 2011
Women at the center of climate-friendly approaches to agriculture and water
Extreme weather events consistent with climate change are already playing havoc with the livelihoods and food security of much of the world’s poor. This is particularly true for arid and semi-arid areas of the global South. Yet, most proposals for agriculture being discussed at the U.N. global climate talks and elsewhere focus on new technological developments, like genetically engineered crops. But these approaches are based on still unproven claims and do not fully consider their impact on the natural world.
In a new paper, IATP’s Shiney Varghese examines proven agricultural practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and strengthen resilience to climate change through a case study of the Tamilnadu Women’s Collective in India. The collective, a federation of village-level women’s groups with over 150,000 members—the majority of which belong to the lowest caste—follow three principles for food security: 1.) empowerment of women; 2.) democratic local governance; and 3.) multifunctional agriculture.
Shiney will present her findings at the United Nations in New York on February 22 as part of a workshop, titled “Climate Adaptation Challenges from a Gender Perspective.” The workshop is expected to contribute towards the fifty-fifth session of the U.N.’s Commission on the Status of Women. You can learn more about how the Tamilnadu Women’s Collective is using traditional knowledge and practices to increase food security and climate resilience by reading the full paper here and at www.iatp.org.
January 25, 2011
Will Obama's trade agenda undermine global food security?
During tonight's State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is expected to tout an expanded trade liberalization agenda as part of his plan to generate more U.S. jobs. But does this push to open up markets square with the Administration's plan to address global food security?
President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative promotes ending global hunger by bolstering food production by small-scale farmers—especially women, through programs led by developing countries. While the U.S. development agenda emphasizes increasing local food production in developing countries, the trade agenda pushes in the opposite direction, aiming to double U.S. exports in the next five years. In a new paper, IATP’s Karen Hansen-Kuhn documents how the Obama Administration’s agricultural trade policy is very much a continuation of past policies—policies that have undermined small-scale farmers and global food security. The paper identifies much needed reforms in U.S. trade policy to recognize current challenges associated with food security and climate disruptions. You can read the full paper here.
January 14, 2011
Who owns a movement?
It was only 12 years ago that IATP started TransFair USA. We didn’t hold on to it for long, since at the same time we also started Peace Coffee, a 100 percent fair trade coffee company (later certified by TransFair). To avoid a conflict of interest, IATP transferred all the accounts and assets of TransFair to another legal entity, and hired Paul Rice—who is still TransFair’s president—to run it. During the past 12 years, TransFair has grown from a small project to a globally significant institution, by far the leading fair trade certifying organization in the United States. IATP believes strongly in the principles of fair trade—paying producers a fair price, transparent contracts, independent third party certification. TransFair’s success story should make us proud. It doesn’t. TransFair’s growth has seemed to come at the expense of some of the core values of fair trade, making it increasingly more difficult to defend. But changing its name to Fair Trade USA and then trying to trademark it? This is the last straw. It also does not bode well for TransFair’s future.
Let’s remember this: TransFair didn’t grow in a vacuum. Over this same period the fair trade movement in the U.S. and globally has multiplied beyond all expectation. TransFair developed a business model that aggressively pursued signing up large coffee roasters and retailers to the TransFair label. While not the model IATP had in mind when we started TransFair, it has been very successful. The TransFair label can be seen from Starbucks to Wal-Mart. A downside of this model is that 100 percent fair trade coffee companies, who tend be smaller, more local, and, frankly, more fair trade—not only in percentage of business, but in paying producers more, having more transparency and supporting small producer cooperatives, etc.—have felt disenfranchised and are either migrating to a new label or considering self-certifying—a tremendous step backwards since independent third-party certification is a cornerstone of consumer confidence. At the same time, TransFair has turned its focus to the larger growers to assure the large roasters and retailers adequate supplies of coffee. This has led to small co-operative producers being edged out. TransFair could have done any number of things to differentiate a 100 percent fair trade coffee company like Peace Coffee from a Starbucks, for instance, but didn’t.
By trying to claim exclusive rights over the term Fair Trade USA, TransFair is making claim to a movement that, in large part, it is abandoning. We urge TransFair to reconsider plans to trademark the words fair trade and to focus building a strong fair trade movement that does the best it can by the producers, importers, retailers, and ultimately, the consumers who believe that trade can be fair and just.
November 30, 2010
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 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.
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.
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.
October 14, 2010
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.
September 27, 2010
Rethinking the fundamentals of food security
After a lull in public attention over the last couple of years, rising food prices are back in the spotlight. A spike in prices triggered in part by the Russian export ban, and a deadly food price riot in Mozambique have rekindled the debate on global food security. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) convened a special meeting on global grain prices last Friday, concluding that measures are needed to increase market information and transparency in agricultural trades. Olivier de Schutter, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, released a new report on the need to address speculation on commodity markets. He called for regulation and the establishment of food reserves, along with a renewed focus on agroecological methods to increase food production in developing countries.
The last food crisis in 2007-08 highlighted some of the underlying problems of the broken global food system: decades of neglect of investment in agriculture; the foolhardiness of relying on trade for food security; and the vulnerability to wild swings in prices caused by deregulated speculation on commodities. World leaders have made some important new commitments to increase spending and attention to agriculture. And there have been some important first steps toward a new approach in the United States.
The recent financial reform legislation increases transparency and puts new limits on commodity speculation. The Obama administration’s Feed the Future initiative and bills under consideration in Congress would increase spending on agricultural development, emphasizing production by small-scale farmers, especially women farmers. The Global Food Security bill sparked a vigorous debate on the kind of research needed to strengthen local food production. Family-farm, faith, environmental and social justice organizations slammed the initial emphasis on GMOs, insisting on agroecological approaches that protect and build upon local knowledge and reduce dependence on imported inputs. Compromise language now broadens the approach to include research on technologies appropriate to local ecological and social conditions, including ecological agriculture, conventional breeding, and genetically modified technology. Of course, how this will all eventually play out on the ground in developing countries is what really matters.
In addition to how food is produced, it is also vital to ensure that people have access to it when and where they need it. Feed the Future and the Global Food Security Act are silent on the question of food reserves. They do provide for some increases in local and regional procurement of food aid. The USAID budget for local food aid expanded to over $280 million last year. This is a breakthrough in U.S. food aid programs, which up to now have overwhelmingly supported in-kind shipments of food purchased in the United States, transported by U.S. shipping companies, and distributed by U.S. agencies and NGOs. Several GAO reports have documented how much more in-kind food aid costs than locally procured food.The USAID humanitarian assistance program is an important step. Unfortunately, it is still dwarfed by the in-kind food aid programs which continue at about $2 billion a year. There is no doubt that food aid saves lives in times of disaster, and that droughts and flooding and the consequent crop failures could become even more frequent as global warming destabilizes production. There will clearly be times when it makes sense to ship U.S. food to respond to a crisis. But the current approach to food aid skips any assessment of whether it would be cheaper or faster to buy food locally or regionally in developing countries. And it is unlinked from the root causes of food crises, including the vital importance of local production of food in markets controlled by local people. The default is in-kind aid because that’s what we’ve always done. Never mind the fact that the U.S. no longer holds public food reserves. Or that nearly all other countries providing food aid made the transition to local and regional procurement years ago.
These first steps towards increased investment in agriculture and experiments with locally procured food aid matter. They just aren’t nearly enough.
By Karen Hansen-Kuhn
September 23, 2010
Time to put food reserves on the table
Agriculture prices have always experienced their ups and downs. But in recent years, those ups and downs have become more sharp and extreme. And the result has been deadly to many of those around the world facing hunger.
Tomorrow the UN Food and Agriculture Organization will hold a special meeting to examine extreme volatility in global grain prices. The meeting was brought on by the recent spike in the price of wheat and concerns that the the world will once again experience escalating food prices - similar to what happened in 2007-2008.
Historically, one of the key tools that communities and governments have used to temper the inevitable swings in agriculture supply has been reserves. Food reserves set aside food in times of plenty and release food in times of scarcity.
Unfortunately, a several decade push toward market deregulation has discouraged the use of reserves. But the recent extreme highs and lows in agriculture prices have spurred a resurgent of interest - not only at the international level, but at the regional and local level too. In our press release today, we call on the FAO to consider the establishment of food reserves. And we issued a new report by Sophia Murphy on how the international trade rules treat food reserves.
September 01, 2010
Great ideas from the Midwest Rural Assembly
Last month, IATP and some of the Midwest's leading rural thinkers and doers got together for the Midwest Rural Assembly in South Souix City, Nebraska. Participants exchanged ideas on how to address the gamut of challenges facing rural communities, including the loss of jobs and young people, inadequate health care and education, and other issues related to rewewable energy, agriculture and natural resources.
At the Midwest Rural Assembly site, we've posted a series of video interviews with many participants, blog reports on the rich discussions and the fantastic photo slideshow below. Look for many of these ideas and initiatives to continue to bloom throughout the rural Midwest in the coming years.
August 17, 2010
Not your grandfather's energy utility
The small town of Milan, Minnesota is trying an innovative approach to reduce it's energy burden. At the Midwest Rural Assembly today, Cheryl Landgren of the Greater Milan Initiative and IATP's Shalini Gupta told participants about setting up the first rural sustainable energy utility (SEU) to help reduce the town's energy costs while supporting larger community goals of job creation and population retention.
Homes and buildings in rural communities like Milan often use a lot of energy and are a high cost for rural residents. Winter heating bills are particularly tough on low-income residents. The Greater Milan Initiative is now setting up an SEU: a model developed by the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy at the University of Delaware. SEUs create long-term community infrastructure around reducing energy usage and costs and promoting energy production where it is used.
The Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP is continuing work with the Greater Milan Initiative to get this new SEU off the ground. Look for more details soon.
August 03, 2010
Environments, individuals and the food gap
With 30 percent living below the poverty line, Hartford, Connecticut, is nearly the poorest city in the United States according to the 2000 Census. From 1979 until 2003, Mark Winne served as Executive Director of the Hartford Food System a grassroots nonprofit organization “dedicated to fighting hunger and improving nutrition." This experience, as well as co-founding multiple food policy organizations (including the Community Food Security Coalition) has given Winne a unique, multi-level view of food insecurity.
Our food system today is at an interesting junction: While the organic and local food movements are gaining momentum at an unprecedented rate, hunger, food insecurity and obesity are higher than ever. At IATP's event "Closing the Food Gap" last night, Winne continually returned to the central question: Where does responsibility lie? With the individual or in the food environments we have created? Winne proclaimed to have "one foot firmly planted in each camp," despite also being aware that in today's food environment—especially in low-income communities where healthy food is often scarce—one must be extremely strong, and discerning, to make healthy decisions.
So what changes are necessary to make healthy food more accessible and individuals more prepared to make the decision to eat healthy? Winne listed environmental changes as simple as building more supermarkets, altering bus routes to reach healthy foods, building farmers markets in food-scarce neighborhoods and efforts like community-owned grocery stores like People's Grocery in West Oakland.
On the individual level, Winne spoke of competing with the barrage of billboards, soda machines and television ads that children are exposed to by including more food education—cooking, preparation and nutrition—in our schools' curricula. And, on a larger scale, encouraging participation in "food democracy." As the food industry becomes more centralized, and more powerful, are we truly able to impact what food enters our communities? Yes, Winne admitted, as consumers we are able to vote with our dollars, but we are competing with powerful corporations. Low-income neighborhoods often become overrun with fast food operations while supermarkets are nowhere to be found—what good is a vote when nothing on the ballot is beneficial?
Winne's answer? Food Policy Councils. Yes, the national fight must continue through avenues like the Farm Bill and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, but local change can happen now. State and local policy councils are springing up across the country thanks to Winne's model of interacting constructively with local and state government to bring about change. Justice, not charity: Individuals, taking responsibility for the environment in which they live, to help bring healthy, sustainable solutions to hunger, and diet-related illness.
For more information, check out Mark Winne's books Closing the Food Gap and the upcoming Food Rebels, Guerrilla Gardeners, and Smart-Cookin' Mamas: Fighting Back in an Age of Industrial Agriculture.
July 29, 2010
UN General Assembly declares access to safe, clean drinking water and sanitation essential
On July 28, 2010, the UN General Assembly declared that "the right to drinking water and sanitation was essential for the full enjoyment of life."
The resolution was introduced by Bolivia, and was co-sponsored by 39 countries.1 There were 122 states in favor, 0 opposed and 41 abstentions.
This declaration by the general assembly is an important step towards the recognition of the right to water and sanitation, and will strengthen the rights already established in General Comment 15 on the right to water. General Comment 15 is an authoritative interpretation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by 160 States.
Interpreting the Covenant, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights clarified (in 2002) that the use of the word “including”2 indicates that the right to an adequate standard of living is not limited to food, clothing and housing. It indicated that the right to water is also included within the right to an adequate standard of living since water is fundamental for survival. Since 2002, when the general comment was adopted, a large number of states have accepted the view elaborated in General Comment 15 that the right to water is legally binding. However, a few countries led by the United States have so far prevented the recognition of right to water in UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, which operate by consensus.3
Yesterday's unanimous declaration by the UN General Assembly will give a boost to those governments that have made an effort to recognize water as a basic right, and to other multilateral efforts to promote the realization of right to water and sanitation.
This is indeed a huge step forward.
However there is much more to be done. The first step, of course, is to make the right to drinking water and sanitation a reality. This is particularly true for rural areas where 84 percent of water poor live.4 While the resource requirements for meeting the drinking water needs of 884 million people and sanitation related water needs of 2.6 billion people are well within the collective means of our 21st-century world, water remains a mirage for the water-poor. A commitment to help realize the right to water on the part of the rich governments of the world could help save the lives of 1.5 million children under age five who would otherwise die from water-related illnesses. To help meet Millennium Development Goals on water (to halve the number of water poor by 2015) poorer countries need a mere $18.4 billion annually, which they are hard pressed to raise. Yet we have seen that bank bail-outs of much higher magnitude come about easily.5
Equally important is recognizing that the realization of several other rights, such as right to food and right to livelihood, is contingent on reliable access to water. This is especially true in the case of the large number of rural people who are directly dependent on land-based activities such as agriculture, animal grazing and other related activities for meeting their food needs. Climate change is already impacting and will continue to impact these peoples’ food security. Ensuring clean water to help them realize their right to livelihood is of utmost importance.
At the moment, it is commendable that the declaration acknowledges "the importance of equitable, safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as an integral component of the realization of all human rights."
A universal recognition that extends this by acknowledging "the importance of equitable, clean water as an integral component towards the realization of all human rights, especially right to food, and right to livelihood" would be of additional help, especially in the changed context of climate crisis.
1. Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, The Plurinational State of Bolivia, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Fiji, Georgia, Guinea, Haiti, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritius, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, The Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tuvalu, Uruguay, Vanuatu, The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Yemen
2. In Article 11 (1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, States parties “recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing...”
4. World Bank: Global Monitoring Report 2010, The MDGs after the Crisis, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTGLOMONREP2010/Resources/6911301-1271698910928/GMR2010WEB.pdf
July 27, 2010
What's working in Midwest rural communities?
On August 16 and 17, rural community leaders in the Midwest have a unique opportunity. U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development leaders from Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas will be in South Sioux City, Nebraska at the 2010 Midwest Rural Assembly. And they want to hear about what's working in rural communities in the Midwest.
Join some of the Midwest's leading organizations working for rural prosperity, along with state and federal government officials, at the Midwest Rural Assembly. Topics covered will include how to retain young people in rural communities, cooperative business models, sustainable energy, local food systems, green job creation, rural teacher training, microenterprise programs, integration of immigrants, rural infrastructure projects and more. Policy discussions will cover federal health care reform, farm policy and broadband policy.
Find out more in the press release below, and at the Midwest Rural Assembly website.