“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.

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Portland Fruit Tree Project provides a valuable service that helps communities benefit directly from local resources. Fresh fruit that grows on neighborhood trees is collected by volunteers, and dropped off at local Food Banks for distribution to those in need. The great thing about this program is beneficial to their health!

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

 

Global food shortages, soaring prices and alarm over the environment. But every day, Britain throws away 220,000 loaves of bread, 1.6m bananas, 5,500 chickens, 5.1m potatoes, 660,000 eggs, 1.2m sausages and 1.3m yoghurts

By Martin Hickman, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, The Independent
Thursday, 8 May 2008

 

A new study has exposed the staggering amount of food thrown away every day by the British public, calculating that the annual total of wasted products adds up to a record £10bn.

 

Each day, according to the government-backed report, Britons throw away 4.4 million apples, 1.6 million bananas, 1.3 million yoghurt pots, 660,000 eggs, 5,500 [CORRECTED] chickens, 300,000 packs of crisps and 440,000 ready meals. And for the first time government researchers have established that most of the food waste is made up of completely untouched food products – whole chickens and chocolate gateaux that lie uneaten in cupboards and fridges before being discarded.

The roll call of daily waste costs an average home more than £420 a year but for a family with children the annual cost rises to £610.

The Government’s waste campaign Wrap (Waste & Resources Action Programme) revealed the extent of Britain’s throwaway food culture after sifting through the dustbins of 2,138 people who signed up to an audit of food detritus. Other items on the daily list included 1.2 million sausages, 710,000 packs of chocolate or sweets, 260,000 packs of cheese, 50,000 milkshake bottles and 25,000 cooking sauces.

The study is published as millions of the world’s poor face food shortages caused by rising populations, droughts and increased demand for land for biofuels, which have sparked riots and protests from Haiti to Mauritania, and from Yemen to the Philippines. Last month India halted the export of non-basmati rice to ensure its poor can eat, while Vietnam, the second-biggest rice exporter, is considering a similar measure after Cyclone Nargis ripped through Burma’s rice-producing Irrawaddy delta.

In Britain yesterday, it emerged that food prices had risen by 4.7 per cent in the past month. The soaring cost of wheat has increased food prices in the UK by up to 11 per cent in the past year, putting more pressure on domestic budgets already struggling to cope with higher mortgage costs and council tax and energy bills.

Wrap suggested households seeking to balance their finances could save money by following basic tips to prevent food waste, such as planning shopping trips better and keeping a closer check on use-by dates. It also pointed out that many people do not know the difference between a “best before date”, which has no implications for food safety, and use-by data, which must be followed.

The Environment minister, Joan Ruddock, said: “These findings are staggering in their own right, but at a time when global food shortages are in the headlines this kind of wastefulness becomes even more shocking. This is costing consumers three times over. Not only do they pay hard-earned money for food they don’t eat, there is also the cost of dealing with the waste this creates. And there are climate- change costs to all of us of growing, processing, packaging, transporting and refrigerating food that only ends up in the bin. Preventing waste in the first place has to remain a top priority.”

Eliminating the huge level of food waste would have significant environmental consequences. Local authorities spend £1bn a year disposing of food waste, which leads to the release of methane, a potent climate-change gas. Wrap calculated that stopping the waste of good food could reduce the annual emission of carbon dioxide by 18 million tonnes – the same effect as taking one in five cars off the roads.

Food experts said the study should serve as a wake-up call to British consumers. As well as an individual “Victorian moral” effort, Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, called for the Government to take action to improve the efficiency of the food system to face up to the challenges of climate change, rising oil costs and water shortages. Describing modern supermarkets as “cathedrals of waste”, he said: “The British food economy is one of the most wasteful it would be conceivable to design. We have to create a new set of criteria on what we want the food economy to address; it’s time for politicians to catch up.”

Previously, Wrap’s Love Food, Hate Waste campaign put the financial cost of the 6.7 million tonnes of food discarded annually in the UK at £8bn. After interviewing 2,715 households – and then analysing the contents of most of their bins – researchers found that people were throwing away a greater proportion of edible, unused products. Rather than half new food and half peelings and scrapings from plates, the proportion of entirely unused products was 60 per cent by weight and 70 per cent by value.

Overall, that meant the total level of waste was £2bn higher, at £10bn, with the untouched products discarded worth £6bn. Of those, products worth £1bn were still “in date”, Wrap found.

Launching The Food We Waste report, Wrap’s chief executive, Liz Goodwin, described its findings – which mean that one in three shopping bags is dumped straight in the bin – as “shocking”.

She said: “People aren’t really aware that we are wasting so much food; do we think it’s acceptable to throw so much away when people around the world are starving? But also with the economic situation here purse strings are getting tighter yet the average family with children is wasting more than £600 a year on food waste. It begs some questions which we all need to ask ourselves. As individuals we are all wasting food. By class or age, there isn’t much difference in how much we waste.”

‘I chuck out a lot because I live on my own’

Andrew Small, 46, from London

I waste a lot of stuff which goes way over its sell-by date. If you don’t shop that often like me there is a danger of things like milk and fruit and vegetables going off in the fridge.

Estimated waste per month: £30

Andreia Augusto, 35, from Portugal

I mostly waste salads and vegetables from the fridge; and things like HP sauce, plus beans and lentils tend to get chucked out. It can happen almost without you noticing.

Estimated waste per month: £50

Lisa Jennings, 26, from London

I throw away a lot because I live on my own and I like to cook each night instead of eating ready-made meals. I struggle with vegetables because I tend to buy them in big packets.

Estimated waste per month: £20

Alaria Alongi, 40, Italian, lives in London

I recycle everything and do my own compost. When I make a surplus I tend to eat leftovers. I look forward to a day when you use your own large containers for buying rice and pasta.

Estimated waste per month: £0

Alan Young, 58, from London

I try to avoid throwing any food away, despite eating mainly at home. I was brought up by parentswho came from a wargeneration in which waste was a sin.

Estimated waste per month: £5-10

 

 

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The below about food waste in Britain and Canada was taken from THE SHADOW’S ECHO blog


Apparently, the British throw out a lot of food. Enough to cost them
$10 billion British pounds per year ($15.5 billion Canadian dollars). 
My previous work on food waste for urban agriculture estimated that
Canadians threw out at least 7-14 million tonnes of food. If I do
some more rough estimates then Candians lose at least $3-5 billion per
year conservatively on wasted food.

If this waste were recovered we could prevent the release of roughly
9-15 million tonnes of greenhouse gases for Canada (the weight of
76-127 CN Towers) and 18 million tonnes for the UK (the weight of 152
CN Towers). Yet we seem to waste as much food as the Brits (they
waste 6 million tonnes). The Canadian $ and greenhouse gas values
could be equal to or greater than the British cost. Regardless,
that’s quite a lot of money and climate changing emissions.

Last I checked, people in the UK wasted 30% of their home pantries
(most of it being unopen and uneaten food). The information I have
indicates it’s roughly the same here in Canada (ranging from 20-30%
depending on your local area). Unfortunately we don’t have a campaign
like the UK government’s Waste & Resources Action Programme. There
just aren’t enough hard numbers. Anyone feel like starting a food
waste study?

02/05/2008 

There are huge opportunities to grow more food in our cities, a new report by Sustain[1]  shows.  Edible Cities,[2]  looks at examples of urban agriculture projects in cities including New York, Milwaukee and Chicago and identifies a series of opportunities that other cities could be adopting. 

Edible Cities reportBen Reynolds, one of the authors of the report explains: “We are all familiar with allotments, and the odd community garden as features of the city landscape, but more often than not a lot of space is wasted, where with a little support we could see projects like this in the UK, where salad crops, vegetables and even fish are produced commercially within the city.”

One project in Milwaukee, Growing Power,[3]  has set up a fish farm as part of a river ecosystem where they are able to harvest watercress and fish to sell to local restaurants. This holistic system goes one step further, by feeding some of the fish on worms that are produced as part of a large scale composting enterprise on site.

The report is the result of a visit by a group of London officials, supported by the US Embassy.  Amongst the visitors[4]  was Colin Buttery, Deputy Chief Executive of the Royal Parks.  Colin commented: “We saw some really inspiring initiative in the States. In Chicago, they were growing food amongst the ornamentals flower beds in the central park.  There were no fences, and yet there was no vandalism, with the harvested produce sold at a nearby market .[5]  It would be great to see some of these ideas adopted in London and cities across the UK.”

The report draws many parallels with the situation in London, where food growing, despite being a genuinely successful way of bringing the capital’s diverse communities together, is often forced to the extremities of neighbourhoods rather than celebrated and built into the heart of an area.

Many of the opportunities[6]  identified by this report are going to be explored at the Growing Food for London conference in City Hall on the 30th June,[7] where it is hoped the city’s planners, architects, growers and policy makers will buy into an edible vision for the Capital’s future. Watch this (green) space…

ENDS

Press contact: Ben Reynolds, London Food Link project officer, tel (work): 020 7837 1228; (mobile): 07939 202711. Ben@sustainweb.org

Notes

For copies of the report or photos please contact Ben Reynolds.

  Sustain: The alliance for better food and farming represents around 100 national public-interest organisations, Sustain (a not-for-profit organisation) advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture. http://www.sustainweb.org

  Edible Cities: A report of a visit to urban agriculture projects in the U.S.A is launched on April 29th 2008. It is available at www.sustainweb.org/publications (for press copies please contact Ben Reynolds above).

  For more information on the Growing Power centre in Milwaukee visit www.growingpower.org/

  The four visitors included; Colin Buttery, Royal Parks, www.royalparks.org.uk/; Tony Leach, London Parks and Green Spaces Forum www.lpgsf.org.uk/; Catherine Miller, Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens (London officer), www.farmgarden.org.uk/london-pages.html; Ben Reynolds, London Food Link, part of Sustain,www.londonfoodlink.org.

  The organisation Growing Power, established the potager kitchen garden in Grant Park, downtown Chicago in 2005.  The food growing plots replaced a formal annual bedding area, so that park users do not realise at first sight that planting is entirely made up of over 150 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.  For more information see www.growingpower.org

  The main opportunities the report identifies for growing more food in London can be summarised as follows:

  • Planting more fruit and nut trees in parks and along routeways 
  • Planting beds of edibles instead of traditional ornamental plants in bedding in parks 
  • Grow more food in under-utilised spaces, setting up community gardens in parks, derelict council facilities, social housing land and unused private gardens. 
  • Alternative food production such as mushroom growing, bee-keeping and planting edibles on roves and window boxes. 
  • Re-establish food growing as a major land-use on the green belt/urban fringe.

  The Growing Food for London conference is an all day event held at City Hall, on Monday 30th June.  Booking is necessary.  Speakers include Tim Lang (City University), Joe Nasr (author of Urban Agriculture: Food, Jobs and Sustainable Cities), Fritz Haeg, (author of Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn) and Ian Collingwood (Middlesborough Council regeneration, and lead on the Middlesborough Urban Farming project). The event, which is jointly organised with the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum, is part of the London Festival Architecture

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.

 

A 20-egg flat was going for $5.39 at a store in Bethesda recently. Nationally, egg prices are up 35 percent in a year. (Michael Williamson – The Washington Post)

IFPRI Policy Brief by Joachim von Braun

The sharp increase in food prices over the past couple of years has raised serious concerns about the food and nutrition situation of poor people in developing countries, about inflation, and—in some countries—about civil unrest. Real prices are still below their mid-1970s peak, but they have reached their highest point since that time. Both developing- and developed-country governments have roles to play in bringing prices under control and in helping poor people cope with higher food bills.

In 2007 the food price index calculated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) rose by nearly 40 percent, compared with 9 percent the year before, and in the first months of 2008 prices again increased drastically. Nearly every agricultural commodity is part of this rising price trend. Since 2000—a year of low prices—the wheat price in the international market has more than tripled and maize prices have more than doubled. The price of rice jumped to unprecedented levels in March 2008. Dairy products, meat, poultry, palm oil, and cassava have also experienced price hikes. When adjusted for inflation and the dollar’s decline (by reporting in euros, for example), food price increases are smaller but still dramatic, with often serious consequences for the purchasing power of the poor.

National governments and international actors are taking various steps to try to minimize the effects of higher international prices for domestic prices and to mitigate impacts on particular groups. Some of these actions are likely to help stabilize and reduce food prices, whereas others may help certain groups at the expense of others or actually make food prices more volatile in the long run and seriously distort trade. What is needed is more effective and coherent action to help the most vulnerable populations cope with the drastic and immediate hikes in their food bills and to help farmers meet the rising demand for agricultural products.

The Sources of Current Price Increases

The combination of new and ongoing forces is driving the world food situation and, in turn, the prices of food commodities. One emerging factor behind rising food prices is the high price of energy. Energy and agricultural prices have become increasingly intertwined (see figure). With oil prices at an all-time high of more than US$100 a barrel and the U.S. government subsidizing farmers to grow crops for energy, U.S. farmers have massively shifted their cultivation toward biofuel feedstocks, especially maize, often at the expense of soybean and wheat cultivation. About 30 percent of U.S. maize production will go into ethanol in 2008 rather than into world food and feed markets. High energy prices have also made agricultural production more expensive by raising the cost of mechanical cultivation, inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, and transportation of inputs and outputs.

At the same time, the growing world population is demanding more and different kinds of food. Rapid economic growth in many developing countries has pushed up consumers’ purchasing power, generated rising demand for food, and shifted food demand away from traditional staples and toward higher-value foods like meat and milk. This dietary shift is leading to increased demand for grains used to feed livestock.

Poor weather and speculative capital have also played a role in the rise of food prices. Severe drought in Australia, one of the world’s largest wheat producers, has cut into global wheat production.

The Impacts of High Food Prices

Higher food prices have radically different effects across countries and population groups. At the country level, countries that are net food exporters will benefit from improved terms of trade, although some of them are missing out on this opportunity by banning exports to protect consumers. Net food importers, however, will struggle to meet domestic food demand. Given that almost all countries in Africa are net importers of cereals, they will be hard hit by rising prices. At the household level, surging and volatile food prices hit those who can afford it the least—the poor and food insecure. The few poor households that are net sellers of food will benefit from higher prices, but households that are net buyers of food—which represent the large majority of the world’s poor—will be harmed. Adjustments in the rural economy, which can create new income opportunities, will take time to reach the poor.

The nutrition of the poor is also at risk when they are not shielded from the price rises. Higher food prices lead poor people to limit their food consumption and shift to even less-balanced diets, with harmful effects on health in the short and long run. At the household level, the poor spend about 50 to 60 percent of their overall budget on food. For a five-person household living on US$1 per person per day, a 50 percent increase in food prices removes up to US$1.50 from their US$5 budget, and growing energy costs also add to their adjustment burden.

Figure 1

Policy Responses So Far

Many countries are taking steps to try to minimize the effects of higher prices on their populations. Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Vietnam are among those that have taken the easy option of restricting food exports, setting limits on food prices, or both. For example, China has banned rice and maize exports; India has banned milk powder exports; Bolivia has banned the export of soy oil to Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela; and Ethiopia has banned exports of major cereals. Other countries are reducing restrictions on imports: Morocco, for instance, cut tariffs on wheat imports from 130 percent to 2.5 percent; Nigeria cut its rice import tax from 100 percent to just 2.7 percent.

How effective are these responses likely to be? Price controls and changes in import and export policies may begin to address the problems of poor consumers who find that they can no longer afford an adequate diet for a healthy life. But some of these policies are likely to backfire by making the international market smaller and more volatile. Price controls reduce the price that farmers receive for their agricultural products and thus reduce farmers’ incentives to produce more food. Any long-term strategy to stabilize food prices will need to include increased agricultural production, but price controls fail to send farmers a message that encourages them to produce more. In addition, by benefiting all consumers, even those who can afford higher food prices, price controls divert resources toward helping people who do not really need it. Export restrictions and import subsidies have harmful effects on trading partners dependent on imports and also give incorrect incentives to farmers by reducing their potential market size. These national agricultural trade policies undermine the benefits of global integration, as the rich countries’ longstanding trade distortions with regard to developing countries are joined by developing countries’ interventions against each other.

Sound Policy Actions for the Short and Long Term

The increases in food prices have a dominant role in increasing inflation in many countries now. It would be misguided to address these specific inflation causes with general macroeconomic instruments. Mainly, specific policies are needed to deal with the causes and consequences of high food prices. Although the current situation poses policy challenges on several fronts, there are effective and coherent actions that can be taken to help the most vulnerable people in the short term while working to stabilize food prices by increasing agricultural production in the long term.

First, in the short run, developing-country governments should expand social protection programs (that is, safety net programs like food or income transfers and nutrition programs focused on early childhood) for the poorest people—both urban and rural. Some of the poorest people in developing countries are not well connected to markets and thus will feel few effects from rising food prices, but the much higher international prices could mean serious hardship for millions of poor urban consumers and poor rural residents who are net food buyers, when they actually are exposed to them. These people need direct assistance. Some countries, such as India and South Africa, already have social protection programs in place that they can expand to meet new and emerging needs. Countries that do not have such programs in place will not be able to create them rapidly enough to make a difference in the current food price situation. They may feel forced to rely on cruder measures like export bans and import subsidies. Aid donors should expand food-related development aid, including social protection, child nutrition programs, and food aid, where needed.

Second, developed countries should eliminate domestic biofuel subsidies and open their markets to biofuel exporters like Brazil. Biofuel subsidies in the United States and ethanol and biodiesel subsidies in Europe have proven to be misguided policies that have distorted world food markets. Subsidies on biofuel crops also act as an implicit tax on staple foods, on which the poor depend the most. Developed-country farmers should make decisions about what to cultivate based not on subsidies, but on world market prices for various commodities.

Third, the developed countries should also take this opportunity to eliminate agricultural trade barriers. Although some progress has been made in reducing agricultural subsidies and other trade-distorting policies in developed countries, many remain, and poor countries cannot match them. This issue has been politically difficult for developed-country policymakers to address, but the political risks may now be lower than in the past. A level playing field for developing-country farmers will make it more profitable for them to ramp up production in response to higher prices.

Fourth, to achieve long-term agricultural growth, developing-country governments should increase their medium- and long-term investments in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and market access for small farmers. Rural investments have been sorely neglected in recent decades, and now is the time to reverse this trend. Farmers in many developing countries are operating in an environment of inadequate infrastructure like roads, electricity, and communications; poor soils; lack of storage and processing capacity; and little or no access to agricultural technologies that could increase their profits and improve their livelihoods. Recent unrest over food prices in a number of countries may tempt policymakers to put the interests of urban consumers over those of rural people, including farmers, but this approach would be shortsighted and counterproductive. Given the scale of investment needed, aid donors should also expand development assistance to agriculture, rural services, and science and technology.

Conclusion

World agriculture is facing new challenges that, along with existing forces, pose risks for poor people’s livelihoods and food security. This new situation calls for policy actions in three areas:

  1. comprehensive social protection and food and nutrition initiatives to meet the short- and medium-term needs of the poor;
  2. investment in agriculture, particularly in agricultural science and technology and in market access, at a national and global scale to address the long-term problem of boosting supply; and
  3. trade policy reforms, in which developed countries would revise their biofuel and agricultural trade policies and developing countries would stop the new trade-distorting policies with which they are hurting each other.

In the face of rising food prices, both developing and developed countries have a role to play in creating a world where all people have enough food for a healthy and productive life.

 

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