Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Farmers' Networks Urge Government Action Against Land Grabbing       
By Sabina Zaccaro

ROME, Oct 11, 2011 (IPS) - Civil society organisations and global farmers' networks are gathered in Rome this week to ask governments to stop the "disastrous practice of land grabbing", ahead of next week's Committee on World Food Security.

From Oct. 11 to 14, the Rome-based U.N. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is running intergovernmental negotiations on land governance.

After six years of negotiations involving governments, international organisations and civil society groups, this session is expected to adopt voluntary guidelines on responsible governance of land and other natural resources. These guidelines would protect and strengthen access to land, fisheries and forests for indigenous peoples and small-scale producers, especially women.

According to farmers' organisations, the guidelines currently under negotiation could become an instrument "to keep financial speculation out of peoples' lands, water and forests and to overcome a system of governance that facilitates the takeover of peoples' natural resources by corporate investors and other powerful actors".

Delegates from the global farmers' network la Via Campesina, the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty and the Italian Committee for Food Sovereignty are taking part in the negotiations.

The issue seems most crucial now that the global food and financial crises have made maintaining livelihoods impossible for farmers, their communities and small-scale producers unless their land is preserved.

A rampant practice

A recent
report by Oxfam identified 227 million hectares of land, an area the size of northwest Europe, as having been reportedly sold or licensed – largely in Africa and mostly to international investors – through thousands of secret deals since 2001.

Earlier this year the World Bank
identified 56 million hectares of "grabbed" land, again predominantly in Africa.

The issue implicates Europe and the U.S equally.

According to a recent
report on land grabbing, released earlier this month by Friends of the Earth, more than 60 percent of land consumed in Europe is imported, while U.S. demand for imported land increased by 100 million hectares between 1997 and 2004.

The report stated, "Europe uses the equivalent of 1.5 times its own area in land. Germany and the UK are among the top land import dependent countries, each importing more than 80 million hectares a year. Average land consumption in the EU is 1.3 hectares per capita, while countries such as China and India use less than 0.4 hectares per capita. The U.S. consumes more than three hectares per capita, four times as much as India."

In many cases, land is being used to grow crops for biofuel markets.

Widespread, long-lasting impacts

"We want to make sure that governments understand our position on the disastrous (impacts) of land grabbing on international investments in agriculture," Kalissa Regier, youth vice president of Canada's National Farmers Union (NFU) and member of La Via Campesina, told IPS.

"The situation is particularly disastrous for young farmers. Every time farmland is (taken) from the rural community, it can never be regained by families or the younger generation who once had a chance to be part of their land, part of their families' heritage."

Areas where farmers have secure land tenure and access to arable land have decreased incidence of food insecurity, she added. But once land is lost "through land grabbing, corporate investments in agriculture or government investments in farmland", it cannot be regained, she said.

Regier, an organic grain producer in Canada, said the impacts of this issue would last for hundreds of years and stressed that land grabbing is not limited to the global South, but that people around her were experiencing it as well.

Land grabbing is "manifesting itself differently depending on the social and economic structures" in different regions, she said. " In Africa, Asia and South America, you see the disastrous impacts of poverty, hunger and displacement of communities," while North America has seen many of its youth shift from rural areas into cities alongside huge amounts of foreign investment in farmland.

Concerns over implementing guidelines

Olivier De Schutter, the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food, recently urged the adoption of common guidelines on land governance.

He stressed that "governments should be wary of speculation and concentration of ownership when land rights are transferred to private investors to develop farmland". He added, "Harmful investments to the detriment of local populations – or land grabbing – can only be warded off if we first secure the underlying rights of farmers, herders and fisherfolk."

On Tuesday, farmers' delegates in Rome submitted the
Dakar Appeal, a document prepared during the 2011 World Social Forum in Senegal, to the president of the U.N. Committee on Food Security (CFS).

The appeal, which calls on governments to put an end to land grabbing and urges the CFS to reject the
World Bank principles for responsible agricultural investment, is endorsed by over 700 organisations worldwide.

Farmers are also extremely concerned about the implementation of guidelines.

"We are participating (in high-level discussions) here… but finally we want this paper to be reflected in the life of the woman who depends on fish from the lake, whose children go to sleep hungry because the fish in the lake have been taken by a big company from another country," Rehema Bavuma, a
Ugandan delegate from the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers, told IPS.

Bavuma lives on the bank of Lake Victoria, Uganda.

"Traditionally, women and men near the lake have depended (exclusively) on fish. The men fished and the women cooked or smoked the fish, for eating or selling to their neighbours."

However, Bavuma said, this is not happening anymore. "They still live near the lake but they are not allowed to fish because the government has given rights to big companies to take fish from the lake and sell it, but local people cannot afford to buy it, as it is very expensive."

"These people have no food, no jobs, no water and no income. If our governments negotiate (guidelines) on behalf of their peoples, we want to see (those rules) adopted and implemented." She added that land grabbing affects water supplies and other resources as well.

Farmers' networks are expecting governments to take a strong position in the negotiations on land tenure by openly opposing land grabs and ensuring communities' rights and human rights are protected.

"We expect governments negotiating land tenure to approve strict guidelines that can rescue farmers from the hands of private speculators and safeguard small producers' and local communities' access to and control over natural resources, including land, water and forests," said Mamadou Ba, of the Conseil National de Concertation et de Coopération des Ruraux, Senegal.

Outcomes of the FAO negotiations are expected by Friday.


Biofuels, Speculators Driving Food Price Surges

by Amanda Wilson
WASHINGTON - A new report on global hunger pinpoints factors at the heart of spikes in food prices it says are exacerbating the unfolding food crisis in the Horn of Africa.
Released ahead of World Food Day on Oct. 16, the report calls for action to control price volatility in the global food market and protect the world's poorest from the scourge of famine.
The Global Hunger Index (GHI), released Tuesday by The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Welthungerhilfe, and Concern Worldwide, points to climate change, growing demand for biofuels, and increasing commodities futures trading in global food markets as the causes of price increases in food, which it says were also at the root of the food crisis of 2007-2008.

Price volatility refers to the relative rate at which the price for a commodity changes over time, according to the GHI. The report points to an enduring period of high and increasingly volatile prices for food, which it says has economic, social and political impacts.

The GHI report places countries on an index of hunger based on three indicators: the proportion of undernourished people, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the child mortality rate. According to the report, 26 countries face hunger crises. Burundi, Eritrea, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had a GHI score that increased 63 percent due to ongoing conflict, top the index with the most extreme levels.

Another major food security report released by the United Nations this week, "The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011", also highlights data showing that volatile food prices are increasing hunger in the world's poorest countries and forecasts that high prices will continue into 2012.

"Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Kenya are severely suffering from a number of factors that contribute to food insecurity," said Wolfgang Jamann, secretary general of Welthungerhilfe, during the Tuesday press conference. "This is just one side of the coin – the other side of the coin is the so-called 'silent hunger' of over one billion people in the world who are suffering from acute or chronic hunger."

Increasing food commodities futures trading, when investors bet on future prices for food commodities, in maize, soybeans, and wheat, have increased prices for those foods, according to the GHI. The report points out that money invested in food commodities futures trading went from 13 billion to 260 billion dollars between 2003 and 2008.

Maximo Torero, director of the Markets, Trade, and Institutions Division at IFPRI and co-author of the GHI report, said speculation in the food commodities market is excessive.

"In the case of wheat you have people trading for three times the production of wheat," Torero told IPS.

He said the problem arises when investors enter and exit the market for short-term profit without ever making a real transaction. According to Torero, only two percent of transactions are ever realised in the food futures market. The situation is one that needs more regulatory measures, he said.

Increasing and excessive food commodities speculation coincides with an ongoing boom in biofuels. As the WHI report points out, the United States and European Union are subsidising biofuel production as an alternative to crude oil. This is encouraging farmers to shift their production to biofuel crops, such as maize, that never make it to the dinner table. Global biofuel subsidies reached 20 billion dollars in 2009, according to the GHI.

Torero said that when more food crops go to biofuel production in the United States, it affects the amount of crops that can be exported to other countries. This has an impact because the United States accounts for about 50 percent of all global corn exports. As the GHI points out, an increasing link between the energy market, which is highly volatile, and the food market, is also making prices more volatile.

Furthermore, extreme weather events such as droughts and floods, which may increase due to even very small changes in the global climate, have the potential to decimate crop yields, further raising food prices. The poor are hard-hit by food price spikes and volatility, especially in low-income countries where families spend a majority of their income on food, the report stresses.

The GHI presents several policy recommendations to address food price volatility and increases by "revising biofuel policies, regulating financial activity on food markets, and adapting to and mitigating climate change". It also urges countries to improve social services and invest in "sustainable, small-scale agriculture".

Other voices are calling for a dramatic re-examination of global food supply chains to make them shorter and more geared toward local needs. Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, has advocated for sustainable, small-scale agriculture under the banner of "Agroecology".

"International trade only concerns nine to 10 percent of the food that is produced globally, yet it has had decisive influence on the way decisions are made on the way infrastructure develops and on how farmers are being supported," DeSchutter told IPS earlier this year. "Governments have generally supported export-led agriculture, supported global supply chains, and under-invested in local and regional markets."

He said he encouraged governments to reinvest in agriculture that feeds local populations. Instead, he said small farmers around the world were being ignored by public policies, migrating to cities, and eventually ending up in poverty and eating heavily-subsidised, cheap, imported food.

DeSchutter told IPS, "It's a vicious cycle in which small farmers are further impoverished because they can't compete - that's why we have one billion hungry."

*With additional reporting by Kanya D'Almeida.

Monday, October 10, 2011


MAUI WOWIE!!          

Sent: Sunday, October 9, 2011 10:00 AM
Subject: WFD tabling @ Island Naturals

Merle Hayward,
Hilo, Hawaii 96720
Anyway, just wanted to let you know a mandatory labeling bill has just passed in the Maui County Council.  The resolution is now included in the Hawaii State Association of Counties legislative package.  Remaining counties must also endorse this measure, however, in order for it to reach the legislature.
I do not yet know how these HSAC resolutions proceed to remaining counties, whether individually, or all at once.
But it is important to alert people to watch for this measure in their county, and/or support it along the way as the bill progresses.
This bill will show up in county council(s) before the next legislative session.
And if the legislature receives such a mandate from HI counties, it might be hard to ignore!
That would mean mandatory labeling for all of Hawaii!