City Gardens Abound In Cuba, Where 70% Of Vegetables And Herbs Are Local And Organic

HAVANA, June 4, 2008

(CBS/ Reinaldo Gil)

(CBS) This story was written by CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum in Havana.
“Buy local. Eat seasonal. Eat organic.” All now commonplace admonitions in the United States.

But while none of these slogans are household words in Cuba, 70 percent of the vegetables and herbs grown on the island today are organic and the urban gardens where they are raised are usually within walking distance of those who will consume them. So in one blow Cuba reduced the use of fossil fuels in the production and transportation of food. And they began doing this nearly 20 years ago.

The island nation’s move to organic and sustainable farming did not arise from its environmental consciousness, although there was an element of that also. The main reason was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Cuba’s only source of petroleum and main trading partner at that time.

Overnight long lines formed at gas stations that all too often ran out before all their customers could fill up. Traffic was virtually non-existent. Chinese “Flying Pigeon” bicycles replaced both private and public transportation.

“Puestos” as Cubans call the produce section of their rationed grocery stores displayed only empty bins as agriculture ground to a halt. Chemical pesticides and fertilizers vanished. Tractors became relics of a former time. Oxen pulled the plows that furrowed the fields.

Finding food for the dinner table became a day-long drudge. Cubans visibly lost weight. The communist youth daily, Juventud Rebelde, ran articles on edible weeds. Daily caloric intake dropped to about 1600 calories.

Organic agriculture “made its appearance at that moment as a necessity and that necessity helped us to advance, to consolidate and expand more or less uniformly in all 169 municipalities,” says Adolfo Rodriguez. At 62, he is Cuba’s top urban agrarian, with 43 years experience in agriculture.

He says there are now 300,000 people employed directly in urban agriculture without counting those who are raising organic produce in their backyards as part of a State-encouraged grassroots movement. In all, Rodriguez claims nearly a million people are getting their hands dirty organically.

With 76 percent of Cuba’s population of just under 11 million living in cities, the importance of this form of farming cannot be over emphasized, says Rodriguez.

I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay.
Adolfo Rodriguez, urban agrarian
The urban gardens have been dubbed “organoponicos.” Those located in never-developed empty lots primarily consist of raised beds. More complicated are those created in the space left by a collapsed building, not uncommon in cities like Havana where much of the housing is in a very deteriorated state and where all it takes is a heavy tropical rainfall followed by relentless sunshine to bring down a structure.

“We have to truck in the soil,” before anything can be planted, explains Rodriguez. “The basic issue is restoring fertility, the importance of producing compost, organic fertilizers, humus created by worms,” he says.

In a majority of cases the fruits and vegetables are freshly picked every morning and go on sale just with a few feet of where they grew. Only in exceptional cases, such as the densely population municipality of Old Havana (as the colonial section of the capital is named) do the organic fruits and vegetables travel a kilometer or so by a tricycle or horse drawn cart to reach consumers.

Havana residents line up at the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, which grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs. (CBS/Manuel Muniz)

Lucky are the Havana residents who live near the organoponico at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Occupying nearly an entire city block, it grows a wide variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs, as well as ornamental plants. It will even sell fresh basil shoots for customers to plant in their own herb garden. On a recent day, customers were offered the following fresh produce at reasonable prices: mangos, plantains, basil, parsley, lettuce, garlic, celery, scallions, collard greens, black beans, watermelon, tomatoes, malanga, spinach and sweet potatoes.

Luckily for Cubans in general, organic here is not equivalent to expensive. Overhead costs are low. The produce is sold from simple aluminum kiosks, signs listing the day’s offer and prices are handmade, electricity is used only for irrigation, and no transportation other than walking from the raised beds to the kiosks is involved. The result? Everything is fresh, local and available.

Convincing Cubans to buy this produce, especially the less familiar vegetables, so as to prepare earth friendly meals, presented a hurdle. The ideal meal on the island includes roast pork, rice and beans and yucca. A lettuce and tomato salad was popular. But the idea of vegetable side dishes or an all vegetarian meal was inconceivable to most.

“We’re cultivating some 40-plus species but you have to know who your customers are,” says Rodriguez. “We can’t plant a lot of broccoli right now because its not going to sell but we’re making progress.” For example, he notes, in the beginning practically no one bought spinach. Now, all the spinach planted is sold. Persuading people to eat carrots, according to Rodriguez, was an uphill battle. “We had to begin supplying them to the daycare centers,” so as to develop a taste for this most common of root vegetables.

The “queen” of the winter crop is lettuce. The spring/summer “queen” is the Chinese string bean. Cuba’s blazing summer sun doesn’t allow for growing produce out of its season, even under cover, except in rare circumstances.

The saving of heritage fruits, vegetables and even animals has also gotten a boost from the urban agrarian movement. The chayote, a fleshy, pear-shaped single-seeded fruit, had virtually disappeared from the market. Now, Rodriguez says, 130 of Cuba’s 169 municipalities are growing the fruit that many remember from their grandmother’s kitchen repertoire in which it was treated as a vegetable, often stuffed and baked.

“We are working to rescue fruit orchards that are in danger of extinction,” stresses Rodriguez. “We’ve planted fields with fruit species that many of today’s children have never even seen, such as the sapote. To save these species we’ve created specialized provincial botanical gardens,” he explains.

Similarly, the urban agrarian movement is rescuing native animal species such as the Creole goat and the cubalaya chicken, the only native Cuban poultry species.

Currently spiraling global food prices are hitting the island hard. Cuba has been importing just over 80 percent of the food consumed domestically. The government is making more land and supplies available to farmers and this may well include chemical fertilizers and pesticides in an attempt to greatly reduce this foreign dependency.

Adolfo Rodriguez, Cuba’s top urban agrarian (CBS/Reinaldo Gil)

Rodriguez does not believe this push to quickly increase agricultural output will negatively impact on the urban organic movement. Even during the 1990s, known in Cuba as the “Special Period,” he says, the potato crop continued to receive chemical pesticides and fertilizers. And even today, the 30 percent of the non-organic produce includes, for example, large-scale plantings of tomatoes for industrial processing.

“I think that Cuba’s urban agriculture has come to stay,” concludes Rodriguez. “That there is a little increase in the application of fertilizers and pesticides for specific crops is normal but that’s not to say that the country is going to shift away from organic farming, to turn our organic gardens into non-organic ones.”

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We thought we were finally done with the farm bill after months and months of “negotiations,”  but we spoke too soon.  Apparently the House yesterday overruled a different version of the farm bill than the President signed, meaning that we’re back at the beginning.  Well, almost the beginning. This is just one more step to prove that the Bush Administration is pure evil.

I don’t think I have to remind anyone that an estimated 35.5 million Americans are food insecure; meaning their access to enough food is limited by a lack of money and other resources.  (USDA/ERS, Household Food Security in the United States: 2006).  Food Banks all over the country have been urging that the farm bill needs to be passed and put into place. 

Yesterday in a press release, America’s Second Harvest, the country’s largest food bank distributor commended the House for overruling the President’s veto.

“Demands are up, and food is down,” said Vicki Escarra, President of America’s Second Harvest. “This is one of the worst times that our food banks have experienced in recent years in terms of the level of need and our ability to meet the need. At the same time, food stamp benefits are eroding and food and fuel prices continue to soar.”

Food banks nationwide have experienced a dramatic decline of nearly $200 million in food donations from the USDA surplus commodity program in recent years as a result of a strong agriculture economy. The Farm Bill, which has been debated for months in Congress, would bring much needed immediate relief to this dire situation facing the nation’s charitable distribution Network by replenishing record low levels of food inventories at food banks and significantly improving food stamp benefits. It would increase the amount of mandatory funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) from $140 million a year to $250 million a year and index the amount for inflation. (May 21 Press Release)

 

So after reading what the farm bill could do to immediately help the hunger situation, read this….

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House overwhelmingly rejected President Bush’s veto of a $290 billion farm bill Wednesday, but what was to have been a stinging defeat for the president became an embarrassing episode for Democrats.

art.wheat.gi.jpg  

The House will try to pass a $290 billion farm bill again Thursday after a mixup the day before.

Only hours before the House’s 316-108 vote, Bush had vetoed the five-year measure, saying it was too expensive and gave too much money to wealthy farmers when farm incomes are high. The Senate then was expected to follow suit quickly.

Action stalled, however, after the discovery that Congress had omitted a 34-page section of the bill when lawmakers sent the massive measure to the White House. That means Bush vetoed a different bill from the one Congress passed, leaving leaders scrambling to figure out whether it could become law.

Democrats hoped to pass the entire bill, again, on Thursday under expedited rules usually reserved for unopposed legislation. Lawmakers also probably will have to pass an extension of current farm law, which expires Friday.

“We will have to repass the whole thing, as will the Senate,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. “We can’t let the farm bill just die.”

Republican leaders called for a farm bill do-over. The White House, almost gleefully, seized on the fumble and said the mixup could give Congress time to fix the “bloated” bill.

“We are trying to understand the ramifications of this congressional farm bill foul-up. We haven’t found a precedent for a congressional blunder of this magnitude,” said Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman. “It looks like it may be back to square one for them.”

“In all likelihood, you have to redo this process,” said Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, the No. 2 Republican and one of the 100 GOP lawmakers who broke with Bush in voting to override the veto. “I’d like to see a farm bill passed that no judge can say is not the farm bill.”

About two-thirds of the bill would pay for nutrition programs such as food stamps, about $40 billion is for farm subsidies, and $30 billion would go to farmers to idle their land and to other environmental programs.

Congressional Republicans overwhelmingly abandoned Bush in voting to pass the bill last week. They overlooking its cost amid public concern about the weak economy and high gas and grocery prices. Supporters praised the spending on food stamps and emergency food aid.

Before the problem with the bill was discovered, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the bill could make the situation worse for struggling families.

“Members are going to have to think about how they will explain these votes back in their districts at a time when prices are on the rise,” she said. “People are not going to want to see their taxes increase.”

Wednesday’s snag stemmed from an error made while printing the legislation on parchment before sending it to Bush.

Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said the section in question — which deals with trade and international food aid programs — was never printed. Indeed, the final 628-page version of the bill jumps straight from “Title II” on conservation programs to “Title IV” on nutrition programs.

Democrats proposed bringing up and passing the missing section separately and sending that to Bush, thus allowing the entire measure to become law. But Republicans argued that might not be constitutional because Bush actually vetoed a version that Congress never considered.

The bill would make small cuts to direct payments, which are distributed to some farmers no matter how much they grow. It also would eliminate some payments to individuals with more than $750,000 in annual farm income or married farmers who make more than $1.5 million.

Previously, negotiators were considering a $950,000 income cap for individuals on farm income.

Individuals who make more than $500,000 or couples who make more than $1 million jointly in nonfarm income also would not be eligible for subsidies.

Under current law, there is no income limit for farmers, and married couples who make less than one-fourth of their income from farming will not receive subsidies if their joint income exceeds $5 million.

The administration originally proposed a cap for those who make more than $200,000 in annual gross income but later indicated that it could accept a limit of $500,000.

The bill also would:

  • Boost nutrition programs, including food stamps and emergency domestic food aid by more than $10 billion over 10 years. It would expand a program to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren.
  • Increase subsidies for certain crops, including fruits and vegetables excluded from previous farm bills.
  • Extend dairy programs.
  • Increase loan rates for sugar producers.
  • Urge the government to buy surplus sugar and sell it to ethanol producers for use in a mixture with corn.
  • Cut a per-gallon ethanol tax credit for refiners from 51 cents to 45 cents. The credit supports the blending of fuel with the corn-based additive. More money would go to cellulosic ethanol, made from plant matter.
  • Require that meats and other fresh foods carry labels with their countries of origin.
  • Stop allowing farmers to collect subsidies for multiple farm businesses.
  • Reopen a major discrimination case against the Agriculture Department. Thousands of black farmers who missed a deadline would get a chance to file claims alleging that they were denied loans or other subsidies.
  • Pay farmers for weather-related farm losses from a new $3.8 billion disaster relief fund.
  • CNN Politics, May 21, 2008

    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.

     

    James Godsil wrote on Community Food Security Coalition listserve

    So here is some federal legislation to work for.

    H.R.2364 
    Title: To promote expanded economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers through local and regional markets, expand access to healthy food in underserved communities, provide access to locally and regionally grown food for schools, institutions, and consumers, and strengthen rural-urban linkages, and for other purposes. 
    Sponsor: Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] (introduced 5/17/2007)      Cosponsors (20) 
    Latest Major Action: 7/17/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.


     
    5/17/2007–Introduced.  

    Local Food and Farm Support Act – Amends the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a grant program to support value-added agricultural products which shall include a socially disadvantaged farmer and rancher component and may include a small and individual producer grant component.

    Directs the Secretary to establish a Family Rancher and Rancher Viability and Innovation Fund.

    Amends the Specialty Crops Competitiveness Act of 2004 to direct the Secretary, through the Agricultural Marketing Service, to: (1) establish a grant program for eligible entities to conduct enterprise feasibility studies, including studies of consumer preference; and (2) provide loans and loan guarantees to eligible entities and individual producers to develop processing, distribution, and information infrastructure for locally or regionally produced food.

    Amends the Farmers-to-Consumers Direct Marketing Act of 1976 to direct the Secretary to carry out a direct to consumer marketing assistance program to make grants to eligible entities for projects to establish, expand, and promote farmers’ markets and other farmer to consumer direct marketing opportunities.

    Extends: (1) the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) farmers’ market nutrition program; (2) the senior farmers’ market nutrition program; (3) the food stamp community food project program; and (4) the farm-to cafeteria program.

    Establishes: (1) the food stamp fruit and vegetable incentive program; and (2) the urban agriculture production program.
    H.R.2364 
    Title: To promote expanded economic opportunities for farmers and ranchers through local and regional markets, expand access to healthy food in underserved communities, provide access to locally and regionally grown food for schools, institutions, and consumers, and strengthen rural-urban linkages, and for other purposes. 
    Sponsor: Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] (introduced 5/17/2007)      Cosponsors (20) 
    Latest Major Action: 7/17/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities.


     by date

     

    As you probably know, a House-Senate committee agreed on a final version of the Farm Bill on May 8. Next week it goes to the full House and Senate, and after that to the president’s desk — and the USDA secretary has already vowed a veto. A debate is brewing in our circles about whether the sustainable-ag/food-justice should support the veto, or push for an override.

    Read this great article I found on the community food security listserve

    How should sustainable-food advocates respond to the latest farm bill proposal?

     

    Found on Grist

    Posted by Tom Philpott at 4:59 PM on 08 May 2008

    For months now, the 2007 farm bill has been in limbo, tied up in reconciliation negotiations between the House and the Senate.

    On Thursday, the bicameral Farm Bill Conference Report agreed on a final proposal. The latest version will go to the larger House and Senate next week for approval; if all goes well, it will finally go to President Bush’s desk.

    But since this wouldn’t be the 2007 farm bill without a final dose of drama, negotiations seem far from over. “The President will veto this bill,” USDA chair Ed Schafer bluntly declared in a Thursday afternoon communique.

    The sticking point is subsidy reform, or lack thereof. “This legislation lacks meaningful farm program reform and expands the size and scope of government,” Schafer stated.

    Many sustainable-ag and rural advocates would cheer a Bush veto. On the Center for Rural Affairs blog, Dan Owens recently laid out their case:

    We will have the opportunity to fight again, and … I have real hope that we can do better, that we can win more, that we can get a farm bill that is better than the one about to pass Congress. And we can try again in 2009. But if the bill becomes law, we will have to wait until 2013.

    Others, however, disagree. They argue that the bill contains valuable provisions that need to be passed — small victories that will be surrendered if farm policy reverts to the 2002 farm bill.

    Below I’ll try to sketch out what this latest version contains. I’ll also be trying to get movers and shakers in the sustainable-ag/food-justice world to give their perspectives.

    The most controversial bit in this farm bill is the commodity title — the program through which the government ostensibly tries to smooth out the financial uncertainty of farming. The title has evolved over the years into a funnel that delivers the great bulk of the title’s cash to the largest farms, doing little to balance out swings in supply and demand.

    Bush wants to cut the subsidies because they have become a sticking point in global trade deals, and presumably because of Iraq-related budgetary concerns. Most sustainable-ag advocates would like to see them replaced with more equitable and effective ways of smoothing out supply and demand troubles — ones that benefit farmers and consumers, not the few agro-industrial corporations that dominate our food system.

    This Associated Press piece digs into the details of the current commodity title, and how the limits it places on subsidies fall short of what critics including the Bush administration had wanted. In an emailed communique (Word doc), the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition summarized the title like this:

    Comprehensive payment limitation reform was not included in the bill.  … the net result is no change in the highly skewed status quo on payment limits for direct and counter-cyclical payments.

    The latest version also includes a controversial “permanent assistance fund” worth $3.8 billion. A couple of months ago on Gristmill, Britt Lundgren and Jason Funk of Environmental Defense Fund called this provision a “a disaster for taxpayers, most farmers, and the environment.” They say it encourages farmers to cultivate disaster-prone land. Bush, too, has sharply criticized this provision.

    If the commodity title and the disaster fund are considered a disappointment, other provisions — ones that, unhappily, involve far less money — have drawn support.

    The Community Food Security Coalition reported in a Thursday email that the new version contains funding for Community Food Projects — vitally important programs designed to bring fresh, healthy food to places that now have little access. Writes acting policy director Steph Larsen:

    The great news is that Community Food Projects (CFP) is in the final language, and we have $5 million in annual mandatory funding for the next 10 years! As you may recall, this year we started out with no money due to new congressional budget rules that cuts the funding for small programs. New language for CFP should fix this problem so that for the next Farm Bill, CFP will be able to build on the $5 million instead of starting from scratch with zero dollars. And with mandatory funding, we will not have to fight for these dollars every year.

    Larsen added the bill also allows public schools to favor local farms in bids for school food. “This change will eliminate [a major] barrier for schools to support local agriculture and will make Farm to School programs easier to establish.”

    (Before anyone gets too excited, the bill does not add any funding to the miserly National School Lunch Program budget. Now schools can theoretically buy local; but they still have $.70-$1.00 to spend per day on ingredients for each kid’s lunch.)

    The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition also points to several victories, especially with regard to the Conservation Title. This title tries to balance the produce-as-much-as-possible thrust of the Commodity Title by giving farmers incentives to manage their land in ecologically sound ways.

    The SAC declared the Conservation Title in the current version an overall “win,” since it delivers “$4 billion net increase in mandatory spending, combined with $2.5 billion in savings from Conservation Reserve Program, for total new funding of $6.5 billion, and a continued rebalancing toward working lands conservation.”

    SAC also points to several “wins” in boosting funding for organic agriculture, including a “nearly five-fold increase to help cover the costs of organic certification,” and a “a seven-fold increase” in funding for organic farming research and extension.” It should be noted, though, these outlays amount to sums in the tens of millions over five years, while the cash devoted to industrial-scale farming runs to billions every year.

    As for my beloved “packer ban,” which would have forbidden meat packers like Tyson and Smithfield from owning livestock — well, that didn’t survive negotiations.

    So, should the sustainable-ag community support a presidential veto — or fight for a Congressional override?

    Check out the comments of the Grist article, there’s some great ones!

     

    More general farm bill links…

    IATP Ag Observatory

    My article about the farm bill

     

     
    Urban agriculture could be one of many solutions to the imminent global food crisis.

    I’ll start this article out with some little blips from NPR about the global food crisis and the riots they have sparked in Haiti this week.

    Rising Food Prices Spark Growing Concern

    Haitians Tense after Food Prices Spark Riot

    The hand of a woman is covered in mud as she makes mud cookies on the roof of Fort Dimanche, Nov. 30, 2007.  (ABC News)

    They’re eating mud?

    Does no one remember the Universal Declaration of Human Rights made in 1948?

    Article 25 states:

    Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

    Last year on World Hunger Day (October 16) the FAO released a press release to remind us of this human right.

    Eleven years after the 1996 World Food Summit the number of undernourished people in the world remains unacceptably high, with 820 million in developing countries, 25 million in countries in transition and 9 million in industrialized countries. As a result, promoting the right to food is not just a moral imperative or even an investment with huge economic returns, it is a basic human right, according to FAO. –FAO NewsRoom

    Sixty years after this Declaration was signed by General Assembly of the United Nations, study after study show that we do produce enough food to feed the world over- its poverty thats the real problem.

    The world produces enough food to feed everyone. World agriculture produces 17 percent more calories per person today than it did 30 years ago, despite a 70 percent population increase. This is enough to provide everyone in the world with at least 2,720 kilocalories (kcal) per person per day (FAO 2002, p.9).  The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.-worldhunger.org, 2008

    Not only that, but a University of Michigan study from 2007 shows that “low-intensive food production systems (including organic and other natural approaches)” could sustain the current world population and maybe even more.  Here’s the abstract.

    Check out the proceedings from this FAO Conference on Organic Agriculture and Food Security from 2007.

    Earlier this year the UN released a statement admitting that it no longer has the money to keep malnutrition at bay this year.  

    “We will have a problem in coming months,” said Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP). “We will have a significant gap if commodity prices remain this high, and we will need an extra half billion dollars just to meet existing assessed needs… This is the new face of hunger. There is food on shelves but people are priced out of the market. There is vulnerability in urban areas we have not seen before.”

    Its budget for 2008 was $2.9 billion dollars, which includes voluntary contributions from wealthier nations.  “But with annual food price increases around the world of up to 40% and dramatic hikes in fuel costs, that budget is no longer enough even to maintain current food deliveries (Borger).”

    What are the main causes of these incredible hikes in food costs?

    Recently, land and resources taken up by biofuels has been blamed for raises in cost. Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute, says that this counts for about 30% of the raises in cost.  Another 50% comes from the sharp growth in demand from a new middle class in China and India for meat and other foods, which were previously viewed as luxuries.  Filling in the gaps are losses in world levels of grain storage due to erratic weather-induced changes…. And climate change will only become a greater issue over time. (Borger)

    So what does all of this have to do with urban agriculture?  TONS!

    Urban agriculture enables individuals and families feed themselves on a very small-scale production.  This agriculture can take place in open lots, on balconies, old tires, bags, baskets, rooftops, and around the perimeters of cities.  the FAO realizes the value of urban and peri-urban (a silly name for agriculture on the edges of cities and other similar areas) agriculture.  You can check out their websites here:

    Food to the Cities

    Urban/Peri-Urban Agriculture

    And one of the most instrumental advocates for urban agriculture, Jac Smit, had written tons and tons on sustainability through urban agriculture.  Check some of his papers out here:

    Farm the City

    From the Desk of Jac Smit– tons of his papers in a big bundle

    Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs, and Sustainable Cities. UNDP, Habitat II Series, 1996.

    Another great resource for information on how great urban agriculture is in the International Development Resource Centre.  They have an exhaustive list of books you can download for free from their rather confusing website.

    Here is the page of books about agriculture and development, many of them about urban agriculture.

    Luc J.A. Mougeot works for them and is an INCREDIBLE person.

    Lastly, a great website with lots and lots of documents is Resource centers of Urban Agriculture and Food Security (RUAF).

     

     
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    A French documentary called “The World According to Monsanto” caused quite a stir in the US alternative agriculture community this week. Dubbed “A documentary that Americans won’t ever see,” this hour-and-fifty-minute documentary is available free through google video. 

    Pretty cool if you ask me, but I haven’t watched the whole thing.

       

    Monsanto was founded in 1901 by equally scary looking John F. Queeny.

    The film first aired on ARTE, a French-German cultural channel on March 11 and made its way to the states by early April where many Americans saw it.  This doumentary about scary mega agribusiness corporation, Monsanto, was made by French journalist and film-maker Marie-Monique Robin. The fact that there is not that much else out there about the film probably suggests that not many other people have watched the whole documentary either. I’ll have to watch it and get back to you…

    Protesters fighting to remove Monsanto’s milk hormone rBGH from the market

    Monsanto has been around for ages and is a leading force behind so-called “conventional agriculture.” There’s lots of people fighting against this blackhole of a company around the world. 

    The company’s profits for fiscal year 2007 are a disgusting $1.06 billion.

    Check out:

    Millions Against Monsanto Campaign

    MonsantoWatch.org

    SourceWatch Monsanto