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



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« September 2007 | Main | November 2007 »

October 2007

October 31, 2007

New Ideas on Globalization

As one era ends, another begins. The collapse of the World Trade Organization negotiations, combined with coming changes in the U.S. presidency, seem to be spurring a lot of creative new thinking about globalization. And judging by two recent efforts, it appears civil society is making the quick transition from defense to offense.

In April, participants in the Eco Fair Dialogue, including IATP's Sophia Murphy, issued an alternative set of global agriculture trade rules. The group held eight regional dialogues around the world and came up with seven principles for a new agricultural trade architecture. Those principles are "based on the conviction that public interest values are to be placed before private interests, and that markets are to be framed by politics." The new agriculture trade system would support: multifunctionality, human rights, environmental integrity, democratic sovereignty, extraterritorial responsibility, economic solidarity and trade justice.

Last month, Corporate Ethics International published the Strategic Corporate Initiative: Toward a Global Citizens' Movement to Bring Corporations Back Under Control. The paper charged that the "root cause" of our environmental and economic challenges "can be found in the excessive power of global corporations. To solve these problems, we must bring corporations back under our control." Following a similar process, this paper was the product of several meetings and numerous interviews with thinkers about corporate reform, and again resulted in seven "pathways" to challenge excessive corporate power. These pathways would: separate the corporation and the state; change international rules; elevate community rights; protect the commons; transform corporate purpose; tame the giant corporations; and re-direct capital.

You can find common themes in both efforts, namely the need to place the common good over private gain. In both cases, these are bold ideas combined with specific policy proposals. More to come.

Ben Lilliston

October 25, 2007

After "Lessons from NAFTA"

Day two of our "Lessons from NAFTA" conference hit hard on one of the most powerful themes of the meeting - the role of trade in forced migration. The day started with a keynote from "Children of NAFTA" author David Bacon, who outlined how NAFTA had displaced jobs and people in Mexico, driving them into the U.S. The day continued with a series of panels on different aspects of immigration and trade, each telling the story of how the forced migration of people desperate for jobs is one of the often ignored downsides of free trade agreements.

In our Farm Bill series, IATP outlined how NAFTA combined with the 96 U.S. Farm Bill to increase forced migration into the U.S. But it's clear this link between migration and free trade agreements is not getting through to either the mainstream media or political candidates. Discussions on immigration consistently ignore the trade context and prevent us from finding workable solutions. As Congress debates a new round of bilateral free trade agreements for Peru, Panama, Columbia and South Korea, an increase in forced migration should be part of the discussion.

Ben Lilliston

October 22, 2007

Lessons from NAFTA - Day 1

Today was the first day of "Lessons from NAFTA: Building a New Fair Trade Agenda" - a conference that has brought together an amazing collection of civil society leaders, academics and government representatives from the U.S., Mexico and Canada. The opening session heard a rousing speach from John Nichols, political writer for the Nation, who outlined what a terrible job the media did in writing about and endorsing NAFTA prior to its approval in 1994. He also pointed towards the 2008 election as an opportunity to increase the number of fair trade supporters in Congress.

A larger roundtable discussion looked back at NAFTA and the specific experiences of people in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie discussed the opportunity NAFTA brought to talk about trade to a wider audience and to build solidarity among civil society organizations in different countries. Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians, spoke of the ongoing challenges and occasional successes in opposing the free trade agenda in Canada. Victor Suarez, of ANEC, spoke of the challenges NAFTA brought to the Mexican countryside. Oscar Chacon, of NALAAC, spoke of how NAFTA increased immigration and the difficulties facing new immigrants entering the U.S. And Martha Ojeda, of Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, spoke of the working conditions at manufacturing plants on the Mexican-U.S. border.

There were a series of great panels in the afternoon on agriculture, energy and the environment, and it is impossible to report on them all. One that I caught quickly, but seemed to have many good ideas to help shape future discussions at the conference, was from Daniel De La Torre Ugarte, of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee. Ugarted pointed out at least two major flaws in NAFTA that must be corrected in future trade agreements: 1) the disparity in resources, both natural and capital, between trading partners must be acknowledged and addressed; 2) the right to export must not continue to trump other basic rights such as human rights, labor rights or environmental rights.

A full report, including recordings of the various presentations, will be available at IATP's web site as soon as we can pull it together. More to come tomorrow.

Ben Lilliston

October 20, 2007

No Free Lunch?

An important report that has received surprisingly little attention from the media and Members of Congress writing a new Farm Bill comes from the Organic Center and Brian Halweil of Worldwatch Institute. Still No Free Lunch: Nutrient Levels in U.S. Food Supply Eroded by Pursuit of High Yields looks at one of the little studied downsides of modern industrial agriculture.

Halweil examined historical records from the USDA and found that while farmers have doubled or tripled yields of major grains, fruits and vegetables over the last half century the range of essential nutrients has declined, with double-digit percentage declines of iron, zinc, calcium, and selenium. "As a consequence, the same-size serving of sweet corn or potatoes, or a slice of whole wheat bread, delivers less iron, zinc and calcium."

Halwiel writes, "Think of this relationship between yield and nutritional quality as farming's equivalent of `no free lunch.' That is, higher yields, while desirable, may come with the hidden cost of lower nutritional quality, and in some cases, heightened risk of food safety and animal health problems."

The current high yield system has worked tremendously well for seed and grain companies. Not so well, it turns out, for nutrient-rich foods, public health and even farmers (over-production has led to below-cost prices). The public health community has already written Congress calling for a Health Food Bill as a substitute for the Farm Bill.

In the next few weeks, the Senate will write its version of the Farm Bill. They would do well to read Halweil's report and think about what type of food system serves the health of eaters.

Ben Lilliston

October 16, 2007

Al Krebs - Fighter for Family Farms

Agriculture journalist, family farm advocate and IATP friend Al Krebs died last week. This is a big loss for family farmers. Several IATPers have known Al since the 1970s. I first met Al in 1990 as an awkward intern right out of college at Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law in Washington, D.C. Al was working hard to finish up his classic study of U.S. agribusiness companies called Corporate Reapers. Al was a deep believer in history - that to understand the present and find solutions for the future, you need to understand the past. Understanding the history is particularly important for advocates for family farmers – because much of the history has been and continues to be misrepresented and misunderstood. Al set the record straight. And in Corporate Reapers, Al went right to the heart of the struggles of family farmers - corporate agribusiness. He knew farm programs like few others. He was one of the few who understood the challenges for both family farmers and migrant farmworkers - from his extensive time in California with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers. He was a devoted Baltimore Orioles fan. My last conversation with him was at Farm Aid a few years ago talking about Cal Ripken who had been selected for the Hall of Fame. And he wrote eloquently earlier this year about the standard set by Ripken in light of recent steroid scandals in baseball. We are lucky to still have his written works – they will stand. It is the deeper conversations we’ll miss. As John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union wrote last week, “who among us will help pick up the slack in the reigns.”

Ben Lilliston

October 02, 2007

China and Africa

I head home today, after a productive trip. I spent the past couple of days at a conference on China's relationship with Africa. Some interesting related papers can be found at the web site of the Center for Chinese Studies of Stellenbosch University, South Africa. There was a fascinating lineup of participants: current and former ambassadors from China to African countries and vice versa, social scientists, businesspeople, China Exim bank officials, Foreign Ministry types and reps from African (but not Chinese for some reason) NGOs. The guiding assumption of the conference seemed to be that increasing Chinese trade and investment in Africa would be a good thing, and I took pains to remind participants that this is not at all a given. Most of the attention and concern about China in Africa has focused on minerals (including petroleum) and big dams, and though this meeting was much richer and more nuanced (with a lot of interesting discussion of the role of very small Chinese entrepreneurs and firms acting completely under the radar of official Chinese presence), I was still surprised at the lack of attention to agriculture. Clearly there's work to be done on this issue, especially as the "biofuels boom" hits Africa, and the threat of agricultural land (and precious water resources) being swallowed up by fuel crops for export. China has wisely restricted use of food-producing land for biofuels production. I wonder if they might consider applying this same wise policy in Africa?

Sam Fromartz wrote and asked what I have been eating, so let me end this China Trip blog with a few food pictures!

KitchenThese are from a bustling Shanxi restaurant, representing one of the regional cuisines that you don't see much abroad. People in Shanxi love dark, thick vinegar, mutton, and noodles in all shapes and sizes. The tube-shaped noodles the woman is making will be steamed, then diners dip them into a vinegary sauce before eating. The big pancakes are eaten plan as the bread course at the end of the meal.



Jim Harkness