Poverty


Seattle, known as the emerald city to some, has urban agriculture popping up all over the place.  I’m actually going there in the fall to work with Seattle Youth Garden Works as one of their AmeriCorps garden coordinators.  I’m so excited!  I can’t wait to be part of this awesome community.  Here’s an article that was recently in the PI about urban gardening and food security in Seattle.  Below that are a ton of links to urban gardening stuff in Seattle.  Enjoy!

Gordon, a lead gardener at Seattle Youth Garden Works, holds up the bucket of compost he’s been speading. 

 

Written by Jennifer Langston

for the Seattle Post Intelligencer (June 3, 2008)

Instead of fighting hunger with grocery-store handouts, some see part of the solution in gardens, apartment balconies and front yards.

Over the past five years, the amount of fruit and vegetables grown or harvested in Seattle neighborhoods for food banks and meal programs has doubled to more than 44,000 pounds.

Though just a fraction of what fuels the emergency food pipeline, it will help meet unprecedented needs this summer, given rising prices and lines of low-income people that have ballooned since the holidays.

“It’s really key to our success,” said Rick Jump, executive director of the White Center Food Bank, which has seen its weekly demand increase by nearly 40 percent in the past several months. “We’re all out there striving to find resources.”

Soon, the food bank will start getting apples and plums from West Seattle yards — part of a neighborhood fruit tree harvest program pioneered four years ago by Solid Ground, a social service organization.

There will also be fresh vegetables from gardens worked by Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle, a new volunteer group also offering canning, gardening and tree-care classes at senior centers and local grocery stores.

“We’re trying to increase access to local fresh fruits and vegetables, not only by providing them, but also by teaching people how to grow and preserve their own,” said founder and West Seattle resident Aviva Furman.

At City Hall, conversations are under way to figure out how to expand programs enabling low-income gardeners to sell produce directly to urban consumers.

Generally, it’s illegal to sell from city P-patches, except for a small-market garden program allowing immigrant farmers in public housing developments to sell weekly bags of greens and produce.

Even foodies are struggling to shed some of the movement’s preciousness — peopled by those with the time to debate local vs. organic, or make handmade truffle pasta from scratch — and become more egalitarian.

“Unfortunately, people can get really snotty about where their food comes from,” said Willi Galloway, a Seattle Tilth board member who has worked to spread organic gardening to lower-income communities.

 

graphic

 

“It’s something that’s fun that everyone can do, and I hope our city becomes a place where everyone has a place to grow their food, regardless of income.”

At a recent container-gardening class at the White Center Food Bank, Regina Bash scooped dirt from the bed of a pickup truck with a yogurt cup and poured it into a bucket.

She planted a sturdy tomato plant in one pot, with salad greens, carrots and radishes sharing another. There were discussions on the best way to pick sweet peas (often) and protect roots (carefully). Experts answered questions on the science of propagation and the art of watering.

At the end, Bash carefully loaded one pot in a backpack, stuffed the other in a rolling duffel bag and headed toward the bus stop.

“I’ve always wanted cherry tomatoes because I love them,” said Bash, who lives in an apartment with no yard. “But I have a balcony … so my little patio is waiting for me when I get home.”

A few blocks away, at newly renovated White Center Heights Park, 17 virgin garden plots will be tended by local residents and food bank clients this summer.

Katie Rains, a former Rat City Rollergirl, has volunteered to grow vegetables and herbs specifically for the food bank.

“They get a lot of produce donations,” said the 25-year-old Evergreen State College student. “But the things they’re not getting are more of the cultural foods — bok choy, Chinese cabbage, cilantro, peppers, eggplant.”

Immigrant farmers at Seattle Housing Authority developments such as New Holly and High Point have been selling produce out of community gardens there for the last decade.

Now, the city neighborhoods department that oversees P-patches and community gardens is considering how to widen the program to include other low-income gardeners.

That could involve making more land available, or creating farm stands or other means to distribute local produce. But a major expansion would likely require partners from the private sector, said Rich MacDonald, the P-patch program manager.

One complication is a state ban on allowing people to profit from public resources. That’s why some have entertained creating market gardens or urban agriculture training programs on private land owned by churches, individuals or other community organizations.

“It’s a nice stable little program, but it’s little,” MacDonald said of the market garden program. “And it’s hard to imagine without a lot of resources that it would get much bigger.”

Paul Haas, development director for Solid Ground, has just that kind of ambitious goal: Acquire 100 acres over the next 10 years for food bank, low-income and immigrant farmers.

“The thing that’s been lacking in this is a great tangible vision, like the Kennedy space program,” he said. “It starts with ‘here’s two acres, we have this site, let’s do it.’ ”

Last week, Emiko Keller stopped by West Seattle’s High Point Market Garden on the first day of the season, picking up a bag of parsley, spinach, tah tsoi greens, radishes, bok choy and salad fixings.

High Point Market Garden

Her family splits a half “share” — which costs $310 for roughly four months — with a neighbor down the street.

“I like the feeling of this kind of community,” she said, after giving gardener Hien Vinh Nguyen a warm hug. “And I like the fact that I get … things I don’t normally see at the store.”

The garden’s proceeds will be split among five families this year, including Nguyen’s. A former South Vietnamese army officer, he spent 13 years in a Hanoi prison where he grew beans, rice, potatoes and vegetables on the prison farm.

In 1994, he immigrated to Seattle and helped build two community gardens at High Point.

“It’s extra money for the low-income people … and the customers are so happy,” he said. “It’s good for all the residents.”

 

Related Articles:

Urban Farming Sprouts in Seattle: Overlooked nooks and crannies colonized to grow food

 

Urban Agriculture in Seattle:

Longfellow Creek Garden

Growing Washington

Seattle Youth Garden Works

P-Patch Community Gardens

Seattle Tilth

WA Food System Wiki

Veg Seattle

Pick Your Own

Marra Farm

Community Harvest of Southwest Seattle

High Point Market Garden

Seattle Green Map Project

Seattle Farmers Markets

Seattle Urban Farm Company

Urban Garden Residence

Ballard Farmer’s Markets

Common Ground

Laughing Crow Farm

Farmhouse Organics

Eat Local Now!

100 Mile Diet- Sustainable Ballard

Sustainable Communities All Over Puget Sound (SCALLOPS)

Puget Sound School Gardens Collective

Lettuce Link

Growing Food, Growing Community

Seattle Dirt

Seattle Green Schools

Abundant Yards

Community Fruit Tree Harvest

Northwest Harvest

Cultivating Youth

Green Seattle Guide

“The Green Book”

Sustainable West Seattle

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Grocery bills are rising through the roof. Food banks are running short of donations. And food shortages are causing sporadic riots in poor countries through the world.

You’d never know it if you saw what was ending up in your landfill. As it turns out, Americans waste an astounding amount of food — an estimated 27 percent of the food available for consumption, according to a government study — and it happens at the supermarket, in restaurants and cafeterias and in your very own kitchen. It works out to about a pound of food every day for every American.

Grocery stores discard products because of spoilage or minor cosmetic blemishes. Restaurants throw away what they don’t use. And consumers toss out everything from bananas that have turned brown to last week’s Chinese leftovers. In 1997, in one of the few studies of food waste, the Department of Agriculture estimated that two years before, 96.4 billion pounds of the 356 billion pounds of edible food in the United States was never eaten. Fresh produce, milk, grain products and sweeteners made up two-thirds of the waste. An update is under way.

Food, a Shrinking Burden

After President Bush said recently that India’s burgeoning middle class was helping to push up food prices by demanding better food, officials in India complained that not only do Americans eat too much — if they slimmed down to the weight of middle-class Indians, said one, “many people in sub-Saharan Africa would find food on their plate” — but they also throw out too much food.

Click here to read the rest of the New York Times article.

Here is an awesome blog all about wasted food

“Carrots!” says this young intern from FoodShare, a Toronto non profit urban agriculture program
FoodShare is an organization that take a broad look at the entire food system – how food is produced, distributed and consumed.
How people get their food is also important. Food distribution systems that involve communities and help to create neighborhood leaders have a great potential to enhance individual and community empowerment, by leading people to feel that they have some control over this very basic part of their lives. Again, because of its material, cultural and social importance, food is special in its power to mobilize people to action. All our programs are based on this community building principle.
FoodShare tries to take a multifaceted, innovative and long-term approach to hunger and food issues. This means that we’re involved in diverse actions: grassroots program delivery, advocacy for social assistance reform, job creation and training, nutrition education, farmland preservation and campaigns for comprehensive food labelling are just a few examples of the areas we work in.
FoodShare was started in 1985 by the Mayor of Toronto and many citizens concerned about the growing hunger issues of the city. Since then, they have been actively involved in tons of projects all over the city, it is part of the school system, the farmers markets, and food banks of the city as well as host a hunger hotline, cooking classes, gardens and garden education, and healthy food choices classes. 
The Field to Table Urban Agriculture Project, founded by Annex Organics, has been home to a sprouting business, a rooftop greenhouse and garden, living machines, and a composting system. It now also includes honey bee hives and, off site, the Sunshine Garden, a 6000 sq ft market garden. Click here for a flier about the Sunshine Garden.
They also have a program called Good Food Boxes started in 1994, which runs similarly to a large buying club. The project distributes boxes of fresh (and often local) food throughout the city for either $12 or $32 depending of the version they choose.

Professional evaluation of The Good Food Box shows that participating in the program helps people access a more nutritious diet. It is now thought that up to 70% of deaths result from diseases that have a diet-related dimension, and there is mounting evidence that eating enough fruit and vegetables is key to preventing disease. Not only is it a matter of justice that everyone should have access to the food they need to keep them healthy- it also makes sense because of the enormous costs to the health care system that result from treating these diseases.

The Good Food Box makes top-quality, fresh food available in a way that does not stigmatize people, fosters community development and promotes healthy eating.

 

The Salad Bar program is a Farm to School program aimed at getting fresh vegetables to school children in Toronto.  Modeled after salad bar programs from the US, this program aims to get kids excited about fresh, local food.  Click here to see what kids said about the Salad Bar at their school.

From Innovations Report
14.05.2008

In 1996, 180 nations—including Canada—met in Rome for the World Food Summit (WFS) to discuss ways to end hunger. Nations pledged to eradicate hunger and committed themselves to a basic target: reducing the number of undernourished people by half by 2015. Five years later, they reaffirmed their commitment to meeting the goals set out in the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action.

In the Rome Declaration, nations committed themselves to ensuring an enabling environment and implementing policies to eradicate poverty and guarantee access to sufficient, safe food to all. They also agreed to promote a fair world trade system, and to work to prevent natural disasters and other emergencies that threaten food security. They further agreed to promote the use of public and private investments in ways that foster human resources and sustainable development.

IDRC’s programs and the research it funds contribute to meeting these commitments. IDRC believes that poverty alleviation, food security, and environmental sustainability go hand in hand. It also believes that effectively addressing these interlinked challenges requires working actively with the main actors, from farmers to researchers to government officials. While this is the thrust of all of IDRC’s programs, two contribute most directly to increasing food supplies—Rural Poverty and Environment (RPE) and Urban Poverty and Environment (UPE). 

A multidisciplinary approach

In rural areas, IDRC supports research that focuses on the needs of the poor who live in fragile or degraded ecosystems. This can take many forms, from promoting participatory plant breeding of staple crops as a means to conserve biodiversity and recognize farmers’ knowledge (read more: Seeds that give – link below), to supporting collaborative management of natural resources such as watersheds and community forests. Research also seeks to support land tenure reforms and improve access to natural resources and focuses on how the poor can improve their livelihoods while better managing natural resources in a context of market liberalization and integration.

Efforts to ensure that research is relevant to the need of farmers have met with success in many areas. For example:

* In Viet Nam, IDRC-supported research has demonstrated that community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) concepts and processes, such as “farmer to farmer” methods, can be successful in reducing poverty at the commune level. The overall goal has been to develop and support processes that will reach and build sustainable livelihoods for a greater number of the poorest in upland communities (read more: Improving Natural Resource Management in Viet Nam’s Hong Ha Commune).

* In the harsh conditions of Jordan and Syria, farmer-selected lines of barley have fared as well or better than those emanating from research centres. What’s more, these varieties yield better forage and are more palatable to sheep and goats, the main sources of meat and milk products in the region (read more: CASE STUDY: North Africa and Middle East Breeding Better Barley — Together – link below). 

* In China, bridging the gap between scientists and farmers has led to the adaptation of varieties of maize to local conditions and the improvement of a number of others, contributing to both food supplies and livelihoods (read more: Bridging the Gap Between Scientists and Farmers in China). 

Growing food in the cities

In the booming urban areas of developing countries, access to land, food, and basic environmental services such as water, sanitation, and waste collection is limited, leading to increased poverty and environmental burdens. One of the goals of IDRC’s UPE program is to support research on urban agriculture (UA) as a means to increase household food security and to generate income (read more: Feeding the Sustainable City)

Thanks largely to the pioneering work of IDRC-supported researchers over the past two decades, some municipalities have now recognized the value of urban agriculture in boosting food security and reducing unemployment among the urban poor. For example:

* City councillors in Kampala, Uganda have created ordinances to better integrate farming activities into urban planning and management (read more)

* In Rosario, Argentina municipal authorities, working farmers’ groups, shantytown dwellers, and civil society organizations devised a scheme for granting tenure to unused municipal lands. As a result, more than 700 community market gardens were established, a vegetable processing agroindustry was created, and plant and craft fairs were held. This has led to sustainable food supplies and livelihoods for poor residents (read more). 

Given the challenges, IDRC and its partners are encouraging governments to team up with stakeholders to develop strategies to meet the MDGs. In answering the need for more secure land tenure for city farmers, governments at all levels could reduce poverty and help improve the lives of slum dwellers. By actively supporting urban agriculture activities, they can reduce hunger and malnutrition while promoting employment among disadvantaged groups such as women.

Innovative approaches

Because hunger and poverty are intimately linked to economic and social policies at the macro and sectoral levels, IDRC also supports research to understand these links and target policies effectively. A first step is mapping poverty and its components. Another is to link changes in these to various combinations of policies. IDRC has been doing this in over 20 developing countries since 1990 (read more: Micro Impacts of Macroeconomic and Adjustment Policies [MIMAP]). An essential component of IDRC’s work in this area is the community-based poverty monitoring system developed in 1996. First implemented in the Philippines, the Department of the Interior and Local Government has since directed all local government units to adopt the system’s 13 core indicators for measuring poverty (read more: Development Takes on a Face and an Address in the Philippines). The CBMS is now being tested, with IDRC support, in 12 countries in Asia and Africa (read more: Poverty and Economic Policy (PEP) Research Network).

IDRC also tackles poverty issues through such innovative means as the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). Many Centre-supported projects demonstrate that communities with greater access to ICTs are able to generate and sustain economic growth (read more: An overview of ICTs at IDRC ). For example:

* In Kenya, a project is experimenting with ways of using the Internet to provide financial, marketing, and information services to small farmers so that they can better market their produce and boost their incomes (read more: Kenyan Farmers Discover the Internet). 

* In Senegal, farmers in remote areas can obtain up-to-the-minute market prices for their crops through portable telephones provided through an IDRC-supported project. This has directly increased participating farmers’ incomes by 30% and generated new employment for women (read more: Acacia Partner Garners Two Major ICT Prizes). 

* In India, rural knowledge centres in seven villages provide information on the price of agricultural inputs, market prices, government programs, and much more. The positive impact on villagers livelihoods has led to a movement to bring the benefits of ICTs to 600 000 villages by mid-2007 (read more: Making Waves; Mission 2007—National Alliance Every Village a Knowledge Centre).

Vivien Chiam | Quelle: ResearchSEA 
Weitere Informationen: www.idrc.ca

Written for The Nation on May 15, 2008

by WALDEN BELLO

When tens of thousands of people staged demonstrations in Mexico last year to protest a 60 percent increase in the price of tortillas, many analysts pointed to biofuel as the culprit. Because of US government subsidies, American farmers were devoting more and more acreage to corn for ethanol than for food, which sparked a steep rise in corn prices. The diversion of corn from tortillas to biofuel was certainly one cause of skyrocketing prices, though speculation on biofuel demand by transnational middlemen may have played a bigger role. However, an intriguing question escaped many observers: how on earth did Mexicans, who live in the land where corn was domesticated, become dependent on US imports in the first place?

The Mexican food crisis cannot be fully understood without taking into account the fact that in the years preceding the tortilla crisis, the homeland of corn had been converted to a corn-importing economy by “free market” policies promoted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and Washington. The process began with the early 1980s debt crisis. One of the two largest developing-country debtors, Mexico was forced to beg for money from the Bank and IMF to service its debt to international commercial banks. The quid pro quo for a multibillion-dollar bailout was what a member of the World Bank executive board described as “unprecedented thoroughgoing interventionism” designed to eliminate high tariffs, state regulations and government support institutions, which neoliberal doctrine identified as barriers to economic efficiency. 

Interest payments rose from 19 percent of total government expenditures in 1982 to 57 percent in 1988, while capital expenditures dropped from an already low 19.3 percent to 4.4 percent. The contraction of government spending translated into the dismantling of state credit, government-subsidized agricultural inputs, price supports, state marketing boards and extension services. Unilateral liberalization of agricultural trade pushed by the IMF and World Bank also contributed to the destabilization of peasant producers.

This blow to peasant agriculture was followed by an even larger one in 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect. Although NAFTA had a fifteen-year phaseout of tariff protection for agricultural products, including corn, highly subsidized US corn quickly flooded in, reducing prices by half and plunging the corn sector into chronic crisis. Largely as a result of this agreement, Mexico’s status as a net food importer has now been firmly established.

With the shutting down of the state marketing agency for corn, distribution of US corn imports and Mexican grain has come to be monopolized by a few transnational traders, like US-owned Cargill and partly US-owned Maseca, operating on both sides of the border. This has given them tremendous power to speculate on trade trends, so that movements in biofuel demand can be manipulated and magnified many times over. At the same time, monopoly control of domestic trade has ensured that a rise in international corn prices does not translate into significantly higher prices paid to small producers.

It has become increasingly difficult for Mexican corn farmers to avoid the fate of many of their fellow corn cultivators and other smallholders in sectors such as rice, beef, poultry and pork, who have gone under because of the advantages conferred by NAFTA on subsidized US producers. According to a 2003 Carnegie Endowment report, imports of US agricultural products threw at least 1.3 million farmers out of work–many of whom have since found their way to the United States.

Prospects are not good, since the Mexican government continues to be controlled by neoliberals who are systematically dismantling the peasant support system, a key legacy of the Mexican Revolution. As Food First executive director Eric Holt-Giménez sees it, “It will take time and effort to recover smallholder capacity, and there does not appear to be any political will for this–to say nothing of the fact that NAFTA would have to be renegotiated.”

Creating a Rice Crisis in the Philippines

That the global food crisis stems mainly from free-market restructuring of agriculture is clearer in the case of rice. Unlike corn, less than 10 percent of world rice production is traded. Moreover, there has been no diversion of rice from food consumption to biofuels. Yet this year alone, prices nearly tripled, from $380 a ton in January to more than $1,000 in April. Undoubtedly the inflation stems partly from speculation by wholesaler cartels at a time of tightening supplies. However, as with Mexico and corn, the big puzzle is why a number of formerly self-sufficient rice-consuming countries have become severely dependent on imports.

The Philippines provides a grim example of how neoliberal economic restructuring transforms a country from a net food exporter to a net food importer. The Philippines is the world’s largest importer of rice. Manila’s desperate effort to secure supplies at any price has become front-page news, and pictures of soldiers providing security for rice distribution in poor communities have become emblematic of the global crisis.

The broad contours of the Philippines story are similar to those of Mexico. Dictator Ferdinand Marcos was guilty of many crimes and misdeeds, including failure to follow through on land reform, but one thing he cannot be accused of is starving the agricultural sector. To head off peasant discontent, the regime provided farmers with subsidized fertilizer and seeds, launched credit plans and built rural infrastructure. When Marcos fled the country in 1986, there were 900,000 metric tons of rice in government warehouses.

Paradoxically, the next few years under the new democratic dispensation saw the gutting of government investment capacity. As in Mexico the World Bank and IMF, working on behalf of international creditors, pressured the Corazon Aquino administration to make repayment of the $26 billion foreign debt a priority. Aquino acquiesced, though she was warned by the country’s top economists that the “search for a recovery program that is consistent with a debt repayment schedule determined by our creditors is a futile one.” Between 1986 and 1993 8 percent to 10 percent of GDP left the Philippines yearly in debt-service payments–roughly the same proportion as in Mexico. Interest payments as a percentage of expenditures rose from 7 percent in 1980 to 28 percent in 1994; capital expenditures plunged from 26 percent to 16 percent. In short, debt servicing became the national budgetary priority.

Spending on agriculture fell by more than half. The World Bank and its local acolytes were not worried, however, since one purpose of the belt-tightening was to get the private sector to energize the countryside. But agricultural capacity quickly eroded. Irrigation stagnated, and by the end of the 1990s only 17 percent of the Philippines’ road network was paved, compared with 82 percent in Thailand and 75 percent in Malaysia. Crop yields were generally anemic, with the average rice yield way below those in China, Vietnam and Thailand, where governments actively promoted rural production. The post-Marcos agrarian reform program shriveled, deprived of funding for support services, which had been the key to successful reforms in Taiwan and South Korea. As in Mexico Filipino peasants were confronted with full-scale retreat of the state as provider of comprehensive support–a role they had come to depend on.

And the cutback in agricultural programs was followed by trade liberalization, with the Philippines’ 1995 entry into the World Trade Organization having the same effect as Mexico’s joining NAFTA. WTO membership required the Philippines to eliminate quotas on all agricultural imports except rice and allow a certain amount of each commodity to enter at low tariff rates. While the country was allowed to maintain a quota on rice imports, it nevertheless had to admit the equivalent of 1 to 4 percent of domestic consumption over the next ten years. In fact, because of gravely weakened production resulting from lack of state support, the government imported much more than that to make up for shortfalls. The massive imports depressed the price of rice, discouraging farmers and keeping growth in production at a rate far below that of the country’s two top suppliers, Thailand and Vietnam.

The consequences of the Philippines’ joining the WTO barreled through the rest of its agriculture like a super-typhoon. Swamped by cheap corn imports–much of it subsidized US grain–farmers reduced land devoted to corn from 3.1 million hectares in 1993 to 2.5 million in 2000. Massive importation of chicken parts nearly killed that industry, while surges in imports destabilized the poultry, hog and vegetable industries.

During the 1994 campaign to ratify WTO membership, government economists, coached by their World Bank handlers, promised that losses in corn and other traditional crops would be more than compensated for by the new export industry of “high-value-added” crops like cut flowers, asparagus and broccoli. Little of this materialized. Nor did many of the 500,000 agricultural jobs that were supposed to be created yearly by the magic of the market; instead, agricultural employment dropped from 11.2 million in 1994 to 10.8 million in 2001.

The one-two punch of IMF-imposed adjustment and WTO-imposed trade liberalization swiftly transformed a largely self-sufficient agricultural economy into an import-dependent one as it steadily marginalized farmers. It was a wrenching process, the pain of which was captured by a Filipino government negotiator during a WTO session in Geneva. “Our small producers,” he said, “are being slaughtered by the gross unfairness of the international trading environment.”

The Great Transformation

The experience of Mexico and the Philippines was paralleled in one country after another subjected to the ministrations of the IMF and the WTO. A study of fourteen countries by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization found that the levels of food imports in 1995-98 exceeded those in 1990-94. This was not surprising, since one of the main goals of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture was to open up markets in developing countries so they could absorb surplus production in the North. As then-US Agriculture Secretary John Block put it in 1986, “The idea that developing countries should feed themselves is an anachronism from a bygone era. They could better ensure their food security by relying on US agricultural products, which are available in most cases at lower cost.”

What Block did not say was that the lower cost of US products stemmed from subsidies, which became more massive with each passing year despite the fact that the WTO was supposed to phase them out. From $367 billion in 1995, the total amount of agricultural subsidies provided by developed-country governments rose to $388 billion in 2004. Since the late 1990s subsidies have accounted for 40 percent of the value of agricultural production in the European Union and 25 percent in the United States.

The apostles of the free market and the defenders of dumping may seem to be at different ends of the spectrum, but the policies they advocate are bringing about the same result: a globalized capitalist industrial agriculture. Developing countries are being integrated into a system where export-oriented production of meat and grain is dominated by large industrial farms like those run by the Thai multinational CP and where technology is continually upgraded by advances in genetic engineering from firms like Monsanto. And the elimination of tariff and nontariff barriers is facilitating a global agricultural supermarket of elite and middle-class consumers serviced by grain-trading corporations like Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland and transnational food retailers like the British-owned Tesco and the French-owned Carrefour.

There is little room for the hundreds of millions of rural and urban poor in this integrated global market. They are confined to giant suburban favelas, where they contend with food prices that are often much higher than the supermarket prices, or to rural reservations, where they are trapped in marginal agricultural activities and increasingly vulnerable to hunger. Indeed, within the same country, famine in the marginalized sector sometimes coexists with prosperity in the globalized sector.

This is not simply the erosion of national food self-sufficiency or food security but what Africanist Deborah Bryceson of Oxford calls “de-peasantization”–the phasing out of a mode of production to make the countryside a more congenial site for intensive capital accumulation. This transformation is a traumatic one for hundreds of millions of people, since peasant production is not simply an economic activity. It is an ancient way of life, a culture, which is one reason displaced or marginalized peasants in India have taken to committing suicide. In the state of Andhra Pradesh, farmer suicides rose from 233 in 1998 to 2,600 in 2002; in Maharashtra, suicides more than tripled, from 1,083 in 1995 to 3,926 in 2005. One estimate is that some 150,000 Indian farmers have taken their lives. Collapse of prices from trade liberalization and loss of control over seeds to biotech firms is part of a comprehensive problem, says global justice activist Vandana Shiva: “Under globalization, the farmer is losing her/his social, cultural, economic identity as a producer. A farmer is now a ‘consumer’ of costly seeds and costly chemicals sold by powerful global corporations through powerful landlords and money lenders locally.”

African Agriculture: From Compliance to Defiance

De-peasantization is at an advanced state in Latin America and Asia. And if the World Bank has its way, Africa will travel in the same direction. As Bryceson and her colleagues correctly point out in a recent article, the World Development Report for 2008, which touches extensively on agriculture in Africa, is practically a blueprint for the transformation of the continent’s peasant-based agriculture into large-scale commercial farming. However, as in many other places today, the Bank’s wards are moving from sullen resentment to outright defiance.

At the time of decolonization, in the 1960s, Africa was actually a net food exporter. Today the continent imports 25 percent of its food; almost every country is a net importer. Hunger and famine have become recurrent phenomena, with the past three years alone seeing food emergencies break out in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and Southern and Central Africa.

Agriculture in Africa is in deep crisis, and the causes range from wars to bad governance, lack of agricultural technology and the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, as in Mexico and the Philippines, an important part of the explanation is the phasing out of government controls and support mechanisms under the IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs imposed as the price for assistance in servicing external debt.

Structural adjustment brought about declining investment, increased unemployment, reduced social spending, reduced consumption and low output. Lifting price controls on fertilizers while simultaneously cutting back on agricultural credit systems simply led to reduced fertilizer use, lower yields and lower investment. Moreover, reality refused to conform to the doctrinal expectation that withdrawal of the state would pave the way for the market to dynamize agriculture. Instead, the private sector, which correctly saw reduced state expenditures as creating more risk, failed to step into the breach. In country after country, the departure of the state “crowded out” rather than “crowded in” private investment. Where private traders did replace the state, noted an Oxfam report, “they have sometimes done so on highly unfavorable terms for poor farmers,” leaving “farmers more food insecure, and governments reliant on unpredictable international aid flows.” The usually pro-private sector Economist agreed, admitting that “many of the private firms brought in to replace state researchers turned out to be rent-seeking monopolists.”

The support that African governments were allowed to muster was channeled by the World Bank toward export agriculture to generate foreign exchange, which states needed to service debt. But, as in Ethiopia during the 1980s famine, this led to the dedication of good land to export crops, with food crops forced into less suitable soil, thus exacerbating food insecurity. Moreover, the World Bank’s encouragement of several economies to focus on the same export crops often led to overproduction, triggering price collapses in international markets. For instance, the very success of Ghana’s expansion of cocoa production triggered a 48 percent drop in the international price between 1986 and 1989. In 2002-03 a collapse in coffee prices contributed to another food emergency in Ethiopia.

As in Mexico and the Philippines, structural adjustment in Africa was not simply about underinvestment but state divestment. But there was one major difference. In Africa the World Bank and IMF micromanaged, making decisions on how fast subsidies should be phased out, how many civil servants had to be fired and even, as in the case of Malawi, how much of the country’s grain reserve should be sold and to whom.

Compounding the negative impact of adjustment were unfair EU and US trade practices. Liberalization allowed subsidized EU beef to drive many West African and South African cattle raisers to ruin. With their subsidies legitimized by the WTO, US growers offloaded cotton on world markets at 20 percent to 55 percent of production cost, thereby bankrupting West and Central African farmers.

According to Oxfam, the number of sub-Saharan Africans living on less than a dollar a day almost doubled, to 313 million, between 1981 and 2001–46 percent of the whole continent. The role of structural adjustment in creating poverty was hard to deny. As the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa admitted, “We did not think that the human costs of these programs could be so great, and the economic gains would be so slow in coming.”

In 1999 the government of Malawi initiated a program to give each smallholder family a starter pack of free fertilizers and seeds. The result was a national surplus of corn. What came after is a story that should be enshrined as a classic case study of one of the greatest blunders of neoliberal economics. The World Bank and other aid donors forced the scaling down and eventual scrapping of the program, arguing that the subsidy distorted trade. Without the free packs, output plummeted. In the meantime, the IMF insisted that the government sell off a large portion of its grain reserves to enable the food reserve agency to settle its commercial debts. The government complied. When the food crisis turned into a famine in 2001-02, there were hardly any reserves left. About 1,500 people perished. The IMF was unrepentant; in fact, it suspended its disbursements on an adjustment program on the grounds that “the parastatal sector will continue to pose risks to the successful implementation of the 2002/03 budget. Government interventions in the food and other agricultural markets… [are] crowding out more productive spending.”

By the time an even worse food crisis developed in 2005, the government had had enough of World Bank/IMF stupidity. A new president reintroduced the fertilizer subsidy, enabling 2 million households to buy it at a third of the retail price and seeds at a discount. The result: bumper harvests for two years, a million-ton maize surplus and the country transformed into a supplier of corn to Southern Africa.

Malawi’s defiance of the World Bank would probably have been an act of heroic but futile resistance a decade ago. The environment is different today, since structural adjustment has been discredited throughout Africa. Even some donor governments and NGOs that used to subscribe to it have distanced themselves from the Bank. Perhaps the motivation is to prevent their influence in the continent from being further eroded by association with a failed approach and unpopular institutions when Chinese aid is emerging as an alternative to World Bank, IMF and Western government aid programs.

Food Sovereignty: An Alternative Paradigm?

It is not only defiance from governments like Malawi and dissent from their erstwhile allies that are undermining the IMF and the World Bank. Peasant organizations around the world have become increasingly militant in their resistance to the globalization of industrial agriculture. Indeed, it is because of pressure from farmers’ groups that the governments of the South have refused to grant wider access to their agricultural markets and demanded a massive slashing of US and EU agricultural subsidies, which brought the WTO’s Doha Round of negotiations to a standstill.

Farmers’ groups have networked internationally; one of the most dynamic to emerge is Via Campesina (Peasant’s Path). Via not only seeks to get “WTO out of agriculture” and opposes the paradigm of a globalized capitalist industrial agriculture; it also proposes an alternative–food sovereignty. Food sovereignty means, first of all, the right of a country to determine its production and consumption of food and the exemption of agriculture from global trade regimes like that of the WTO. It also means consolidation of a smallholder-centered agriculture via protection of the domestic market from low-priced imports; remunerative prices for farmers and fisherfolk; abolition of all direct and indirect export subsidies; and the phasing out of domestic subsidies that promote unsustainable agriculture. Via’s platform also calls for an end to the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights regime, or TRIPs, which allows corporations to patent plant seeds; opposes agro-technology based on genetic engineering; and demands land reform. In contrast to an integrated global monoculture, Via offers the vision of an international agricultural economy composed of diverse national agricultural economies trading with one another but focused primarily on domestic production.

Once regarded as relics of the pre-industrial era, peasants are now leading the opposition to a capitalist industrial agriculture that would consign them to the dustbin of history. They have become what Karl Marx described as a politically conscious “class for itself,” contradicting his predictions about their demise. With the global food crisis, they are moving to center stage–and they have allies and supporters. For as peasants refuse to go gently into that good night and fight de-peasantization, developments in the twenty-first century are revealing the panacea of globalized capitalist industrial agriculture to be a nightmare. With environmental crises multiplying, the social dysfunctions of urban-industrial life piling up and industrialized agriculture creating greater food insecurity, the farmers’ movement increasingly has relevance not only to peasants but to everyone threatened by the catastrophic consequences of global capital’s vision for organizing production, community and life itself. 

 

Other Nation articles on the subject…

 

  • Haiti on the ‘Death Plan’ 

    REED LINDSAY: Protesters decry high food prices–and the savage cost of “free trade” agreements.

  • The World Food Crisis

    JOHN NICHOLS: We must rein in the global food giants who reap profits at the expense of the planet and the poor.

  • Milk Wars 

    DAVID E. GUMPERT: As struggling dairy farmers seek profits by responding to rising consumer demand for raw milk, regulators are taking a hard line.

  • Banana Kings 

    EMILY BIUSO: The history of banana cultivation is rife with labor and environmental abuse, corporate skulduggery and genetic experiments gone awry.

  • The Big Yam 

    JOHN FEFFER: Chinese hearts, minds and pocketbooks get a lot of attention from the Eastern and Western consumer markets.