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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.

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July 2010

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...”

3. Afshaq Khan, e-mail communication, July 2010.

4. World Bank: Global Monitoring Report 2010, The MDGs after the Crisis, http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTGLOMONREP2010/Resources/6911301-1271698910928/GMR2010WEB.pdf

5. http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/IRIN/767d200266c1ab5956e7148ad2f52b03.htm

Shiney Varghese

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.

Midwest Rural Assembly to bring together community and government leaders
Participants talk strategies for rural prosperity

Minneapolis – Rural community leaders and government officials will gather at the 2010 Midwest Rural Assembly (MRA) to exchange ideas and strategies for rural prosperity.

The MRA will be held on August 16–17 in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Along with rural community leaders from throughout the region, participants will include U.S. Department of Agriculture state rural development directors from Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. Keynote speakers include South Dakota state representative Kevin Killer and Iowa State professor and writer/poet Debra Marquart.

“Rural communities have been particularly hard hit by these tough economic times,” said Jim Kleinschmit, director of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s Rural Communities program. “But there’s also a lot of innovation, energy and ideas coming out of our small towns. This is an opportunity for rural leaders and government representatives to learn about what’s working, and as importantly, how we can join together to face many of our common challenges.”

A special area of focus is to identify strategies to attract and retain young people in rural communities. Young rural leaders from Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Kansas will share their priorities. Other leaders will discuss successful examples of increasing rural prosperity through 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.

In addition to IATP, coordinating organizations include: Avera Rural Health Institute, Center for Rural Affairs, Center for Rural Policy and Development, Center for Rural Strategies, Dakota Rural Action, Great Plains Rural Policy Network, Heartland Center for Leadership Development, Iowa Policy Project, League of Rural Voters, Meadowlark Institute, National Rural Assembly, National Wildlife Federation, Nebraska Housing Developers Association, North Central Regional Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, Renewing the Countryside, Rural Learning Center, Rural Policy Research Institute, South Dakota Rural Enterprise, Inc., and West Central Initiative.

The MRA will be held at the Marina Inn Conference Center in South Sioux City, Nebraska. Registrants will receive a special MRA rate if rooms are booked before August 2. To register, and read the full agenda and speakers list, go to www.midwestruralassembly.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

Ben Lilliston

July 26, 2010

Farmers market power

Two years ago, we launched Minimarketsan initiative with the help of the city of Minneapolis to help organize small (5 vendors or fewer) farmers markets in low-income neighborhoods without easy access to healthy food. Community organizations took the lead. IATP helped navigate the permitting process and connect with farmers. We had six markets the first year. This summer, we have 21. 

The reasons why community groups are setting up these small-scale markets vary. For instance, the Streetwerks Youth Farmers Market serves a northside Minneapolis neighborhood and includes produce from a youth garden project run by Emerge Community Development. The Brian Coyle Community Center hosts a market primarily serving the Somali community on Minneapolis’ West Bank. St. Olaf Community Campus hosts a market at a senior nursing home and apartments. The new market at Children’s Hospital was launched this summer in response to employee requests. Ebenezer Park and Ebenezer Tower Markets serve two high rises that are home to seniors and disabled veterans.

Minnesota Public Radio and the Twin Cities Daily Planet have written great stories on our mini farmers market project. Our press release from today also gives more details.

Community organizations around the country aren't waiting for a new Farm Bill to change our food system, or the next big grocery supermarket to open in their neighborhood. They're teaming up with local farmers to bring healthy food to their communities right now. And they're leading the way toward a new food future.


Ben Lilliston

July 23, 2010

Shedding a light on race, equity and food

A couple of years ago I took on an in the food movement. I have to admit that I didn’t know much about the United States ShirleySherrodassignment to write about racial equity and social justiceDepartment of Agriculture or its history of inequity. So I started with what I knew to do: research. I typed in race and farming. It made sense to me. I needed a background, a point of reference. To my surprise there was entry after entry on discrimination against black, Native American and Hispanic farmers. The discrimination resulted in a class action suit filed by black farmers, known as the Pigford Case. I went on to interview a few black farmers to get their take on this. For more information on the Pigford Class Action Suit go here.

Fast forward to July 21, 2010. Shirley Sherrod, an employee of the USDA was asked to submit her resignation because she told her truth. Back in March she made an honest and open speech in front of the NAACP about her personal journey and evolution around race while she was working in rural Georgia at the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund. So she lost her job at USDA for an experience she had when she was employed by another organization 24 years ago.

I am sure that Ms. Sherrod never set out to be the next Rosa Parks. And I am sure that she never expected to lose her job for telling the truth. Instead, the head of the USDA reacted to a snippet of a tape of her speech. The NAACP reacted as well, throwing her under the bus for a speech that Ms. Sherrod made at one of their meetings months before. One that she says she has made several times to illustrate her change of heart.

I am sure it couldn’t have been easy for her to work with farmers in rural Georgia. I bet she has some stories about being called names and threatened by the white farmers she tried to help over the years. Whatever she saw, and felt, she clearly was able to move past it. It is a lesson that we all need to hear. And we could have heard it, if the tape hadn’t been edited.

The rest of the tape addresses lots of things including Sherrod’s story of the death of her father in a racist act. She talks about having crosses burned on her family’s lawn and about her commitment to stay in the South to change things. Yet, if you read the Tea Party blogs, or watched only Fox News, you would have heard only a couple of lines of her speech—out of context.

When a spokesperson for the Tea Party admitted that it was their intention to embarrass the NAACP by editing and sending this tape out virally, they set in motion a firestorm that made a whole lot of people look bad. The house may be on fire, but remember there was somebody standing there with a gas can and a match. Will we continue to let the flame throwers set the Shirley Sherrods of the world on fire for sport?

If you think that we live in a post-racial society, now that we have the first African American president, then think again. My heart broke a little when I heard Ms. Sherrod say “I can’t believe I am out of a job.” Shirley, I can’t either. I am not surprised that extreme conservatives work tirelessly to stir up the tensions of race. But I am horrified that the NAACP and the USDA were so reactionary. Right now I am sure that Tea Party members all over the country are having a great laugh at the expense of a woman in her 60s who told a story about how she has come to view race and poverty.

As a child of the 60s, I have seen hate around race. I have seen how far we’ve come. But I see how much healing we need to do. As of this writing, Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack has apologized to Ms. Sherrod and offered her a job. Not her job, but a job. The NAACP also apologized. But when will we stop being a PR machine, reacting to save funding and chase a few public opinion points? I am sure that the USDA acted to curb any embarrassment to the administration. How’d that work out USDA? Are you willing to shake the trees and go back to and chase out the hundred or so years of discrimination against black, Native American, Asian and Hispanic farmers?

I also want to thank CNN for doing real journalism. They teach us a lesson. Blogs and tweets are just sources—not the story. Real journalists roll up their sleeves and vet stories. They look at real tapes. They give balanced coverage. In fairness to other media outlets, it is true that there is a rush to get the story out there as quickly as you can in the 24-hour news cycle. We feed the beast as fast as we can. Maybe we need to slow down and ask some questions, especially when we call for someone to get fired.

The media has a lot of work to do. And so do we: the food advocates, the innovative thinkers, the food and public health policymakers, and the pundits. Race is an uncomfortable conversation. But I am now convinced that we need to have more conversations, even in the food world. When the food advocates talk about where our food comes from and where it goes, we need to talk about disparities and equity. We need to address our humanity and our diverse American culture. We need to find our own courage to let this moment be the catalyst for change. It’s easy to get angry about injustice. But it is difficult to be a part of the change. Let’s take a deep breath and move forward in truth, honesty and equity in food. Thank you Shirley Sherrod for the lesson.

This blog post was written by IATP Food and Society Fellow Andrea King Collier.

Andrew Ranallo

July 21, 2010

Wall Street reform bill a win for farmers and rural communities

It was late 2008 when IATP first sounded the alarm on the role of Wall Street speculators in driving agriculture prices up and down like a yoyo—hurting both farmers and consumers alike—and contributing to growing hunger around the world. A few hours ago, President Obama signed into law a Wall Street reform bill that closes many of the regulatory loopholes that allowed big financial players to wreak havoc on agriculture commodity futures markets. Wall Street lobbyists armed with hundreds of thousands of dollars and a legion of former Congressmen did everything they could to defeat this bill. Amazingly, they didn't. In the press release we issued today (pasted below), we explain why this bill is an important win for farmers, consumers and rural communities.  

Wall Street reform bill signed today will limit excessive speculation in agriculture

New rules to curb Wall Street’s influence over food and farming

Minneapolis – TThe Wall Street reform bill signed today by President Obama will severely restrict excessive speculation on agriculture commodity futures markets that has harmed U.S. farmers and countries battling hunger, according to the Institute

for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

“This landmark bill is a first step toward preventing the excessive speculation by big Wall Street banks that has created enormous price volatility in agriculture and energy markets,” said IATP commodities expert Steve Suppan. “This is an important win for farmers and rural communities whose economic futures are so tightly linked to agriculture and energy.”

The bill requires the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to set per-commodity limits across all markets on the number of derivatives contracts that can be controlled by any one entity and its affiliates during a trading contract period. Previously, Wall Street firms and others took advantage of the “Enron loophole” and other regulatory exemptions to purchase and then sell off derivative contracts for agriculture and energy without limits, driving prices up and down.

Just as importantly, the bill requires that most derivatives presently traded “over the counter,” i.e., in private deals not subject to CFTC rules and reporting requirements,

be traded on public and regulated exchanges. The legislation also strengthens enforcement standards and prosecutorial resources for initiating fraud and market manipulation investigations.

“This bill will help markets work for agriculture and all Americans, not just for Wall Street and the transnational corporations that hide their deals in private markets,” said Suppan. “With a return to a more transparent price setting process on public and regulated exchanges, farmers and ranchers again will be able to sell their products in advance to generate the cash flows they require for planting, livestock purchases and other farm management expenses.”

Greater transparency and tougher position limits in the U.S. will also benefit many developing countries. Countries dependent on agriculture

imports for food security will be able to forward contract at fairer and more predictable prices. Developing countries that rely on agricultural exports will similarly benefit from greater price predictability and stability as they forward contract sales.

The bill also requires a study of proposed mandatory trading of carbon emissions credits under CFTC authority to induce investments to meet greenhouse gas emission targets. The study will estimate the price volatility and trading volume effects of carbon trading under proposed climate change legislation. Last year, IATP reported on the risks of excessive speculation on proposed carbon markets.

“The next critical phase of Wall Street reform comes in the regulatory implementation of this bill,” said Suppan. “Wall Street lobbyists and industry associations fought hard to maintain their insider privileges. This opposition will be at least as vigorous in the rule-making process.”

IATP will continue to work alongside the Commodity Markets Oversight Coalition, Americans for Financial Reform and other allies to ensure effective implementation and enforcement. The implementation process with regards to agriculture will begin at an Agricultural Markets Advisory Committee meeting at the CFTC on August 5.

In 2008, IATP first reported on the role of big financial firms in contributing to steep food price increases. This dramatic price volatilitynot only affected U.S. agriculture, but ultimately contributed to increased hunger in many of the two-thirds of developing countries that are food-import dependent and that rely on U.S. markets for predictable purchase prices.

Ben Lilliston

July 19, 2010

China's pollution census, manure and biogas

In February of this year, the Chinese government released results of the first national pollution census 全国污染源普查). The most startling finding of this nearly three-year, 737 million RMB investigation was that agriculture is a bigger source of water pollution in China than industry. Because agriculture had never before been included in official pollution measures, the finding that farming is responsible for 44 percent of chemical oxygen demand (COD—the main measure of organic compounds in water), 67 percent of phosphorus discharges and 57 percent of nitrogen discharges was big news. The New York Times and The Guardian published articles on the Chinese pollution census.

In addition to fertilizer-, pesticide- and herbicide-containing runoff from crop fields, the census found that manure from livestock and poultry farms is a major source of agricultural pollution. An article this week in the China Daily further details animal waste problems, citing incidents of blue-green algae outbreaks in lakes and waterways because of excessive amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen fromIMG_5521 livestock farms. The photo to the right is an example of this phenomenon near a commercial pig farm I visited in Sichuan Province. Given the lack of effective water treatment methods and facilities, combined with the ever-increasing scale of livestock production, this is indeed a serious problem for China to address.

In response to the census, the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) is promoting biogas digesters as a possible solution to the current “manure problem.” The ministry is currently executing and administering a $66.08 million (USD) loan from the Asian Development Bank to expand the use of biogas technologies. By 2020, plans are to construct an additional 80 million household methane digesters and 10,000 large-scale biogas plants. These projects build on technologies that have been used in China for decades. (Here is a report by Professor Li Kangmin and Dr. Mae-Wan Ho that gives a brief history of biogas use in China, dating from the late nineteenth century.)

The concern is scale. According to a water expert at the Asian Development Bank, presently less than 1 percent of the 4.2 million large-scale pig, cattle and poultry farms use biogas digesters to process manure. As these commercial farms follow the Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) model by packing more and more animals into smaller and smaller spaces and continue to take an increasing share of production and markets, surely they are the operations to watch—and to regulate. But to date, biogas digester projects have focused on small-scale production. The MOA estimates that 35 million of the 140 million rural households were using digesters at the end of 2008. While digesters can bring certain benefits to rural communities, particularly production of cooking gas and nutrient-rich fertilizer, these small-scale farms are not the ones contributing most to the manure-in-water problem.

The real challenge for addressing manure-based water pollution comes from the rivers of waste running out of commercial livestock farms and directly into bodies of water. If biogas digesters are to be the chosen path to correct this ill, perhaps there should be a mandate that all new CAFOs (and there are new ones coming into production all the time) must install digesters from the beginning. At the same time, the existing 99 percent of commercial farms that don’t already use them should be urged to do so.

Mindi Schneider is blogging from China. She is a native Midwesterner currently living in China and working on her PhD in Development Sociology at Cornell.

Mindi Schneider

July 13, 2010

Chinese farmer with rocket launcher fights back against forced relocation

Property rights are a hot and complicated issue in China today, with both the left and right calling for (very different kinds of) reform. As property developers rush to build the “New China,” they push farmers and residents off of their land, with little regard for compensation—and by using all the political connections and brute force they can muster.

Forced relocation of this kind is fully legal under current Chinese law. Farmers don’t own land outright, but rather lease it from local governments for terms of up to 30 years. These agreements are considered binding, until a property developer (state-owned, private or mixed) sets its sights on a particular tract of land, and the families with the land-use rights are relocated. Compensation is generally a pittance, and developers and officials rely on intimidation to move people out of their way.

Recently, Chinese media has increasingly reported on instances of people protesting forced relocation and low compensation by taking rather drastic measures. S-CHINESE-FARMER-II-largeThis week, the China Daily (English version) ran a story about Yang Yongde, a farmer from outside the city of Wuhan in Hubei province. Mr. Yang successfully negotiated a compensation package of 761,00 RMB ($111,000 USD) for his 25 mu (1.75 hectare) of land, including houses and a fishpond. He only reached this agreement, however, after building a watchtower above his home and launching homemade rockets from a bamboo bazooka at developers as they approached his land. This fight went on for about five months, and near the end, his brother was attacked and severely injured while guarding Mr. Yang’s land while he was off filing a petition.

I first saw this story on an English language blog called China Hush in June. The author of the post summarized news reports from the Chinese press about Mr. Yang’s struggles, which are linked here and here. Apparently, this media attention helped Mr. Yang get the settlement he wanted. The developers and officials involved succumbed to his demands soon after reports of his standoff were made public.

Mr. Yang’s story, along with those of many others who have fought to keep their homes or to be fairly compensated for their losses, are probably most unique in the sense that they have been reported. Forced evictions and relocations are commonplace in China today, but most of them go unreported. So while Mr. Yang came out with a nice settlement, it is important to focus on the broader policy and legal changes that are needed to protect others in similar situations. Wang Xixin, a law professor at Peking University, is quoted is the China Daily article: “Yang's success was only accidental and may not be repeated. Offering property owners more channels and rights to appeal is the correct way to resolve the problem.”

I would also say that continuing to report on these incidents is another move in the right direction, so long as those that get reported don't serve to mask or silence those that remain ignored. In the past few days, The Guardian, the BBC, the Telegraph, the Huffington Post, and several local papers and blogs have picked up the story of the “rocket farmer” from the Chinese press. Forced relocations, and protests against them, will continue to be important issues to watch.

Mindi Schneider is blogging from China. She is a native Midwesterner currently living in China and working on her PhD in Development Sociology at Cornell.

Mindi Schneider

July 01, 2010

Environmental justice, science leaders urge action linking climate and public health

In a letter sent to Congress and the Obama administration last month, leading voices in environmental justice, science and academics asked that: “1) the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) should not be overturned or diminished; and 2) climate change policy should address the emissions of greenhouse gas co-pollutants, as well as the emissions of greenhouse gases themselves.”

The same facilities and vehicles that emit greenhouse gases also emit co-pollutants that lead to high rates of asthma and other serious public health concerns. In addition to the public health impacts associated with climate change itself, co-pollutants from coal plants and other fossil fuel sources disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color as these communities are largely located where fossil fuel facilities are located and where urban vehicle emissions are concentrated. This unique partnership of leading environmental justice activists, policy analysts, scientists and academics is the first of its kind.

While Congress has rejected initial attempts to undermine the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions for public health reasons, additional attempts to challenge EPA’s authority are expected. Shalini Gupta, director of the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy at IATP, was among the 18 leaders who signed onto the letter. To find out more, read the press release and full letter.

Shalini Gupta