Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
April 28, 2008

Consequences of Agro-Commodity Speculation

by Debs is Dead
lifted from a comment
with additions by b

Incidentally one of the innumerable talking heads that have been popping up to give their take the economy, the universe and everything of late did have one interesting contention.

That the flight from the dollar has caused spec- sorry investors, (his words not mine) to move into commodities such as cereal and grain when they pull outta the dollar.

This bloke pulled a number of between 20% and 25% of the value of food and other essentials all of which have increased in value by at least 100% in the last year, saying well nearly a quarter of the value is an increase as a result of 'investors' not speculators, he said buying into essential commodities as they look for alternatives to the $US that are stable.

If that is true then the world's problems are going to get worse that even our dire predictions.
The flow across to essential commodities will increase as 'investors' report better earnings from investing in food, but any attempt to reverse the flow, indeed any reverse of that investment may be as catastrophic for the hungry and poor as continued speculatory investment is (my words).

Crops as commodities are very different to oil, gold and diamonds, the latter tend to be extracted at a very predictable rate with long lead times (building new mines, drilling new wells) required for marked increases in amounts of resources extracted.

This isn't true of crops whose prices and productivity go up and down like a whore's drawers. The recent rise in grain prices has stimulated production on formerly fallow land that had been 'retired' after agricultural economies were forced to abolish the tariffs on heavily subsidised imports from amerika and europe.

Countries from Haiti to Thailand that had been net grain exporters and whose production dropped drastically following the effects of globalisation, have begun farming again.

If the floor drops outta the new prices because 'investors' have moved on to the next big thing small holders around the world who have bet their balls and their villages' wealth on a return to farming will lose their shirts once more. More humans will be driven off the land and into useless anti-human metropolises.

Even worse many small nations will lose yet another slice of economic sovereignty.
Further I'll stick my neck out with a huge prediction. The chaos that ensues from this evil speculation on what we humans eat could be the disaster monsanto needs to force acceptance of it's genetically modified monopoly on the world's food supply.


b adds:

Thanks Debs - I was thinking about this today too. Below are a few excerpts from a developing discussion.

One answer to this is to abolish free trade in agriculture products. In today's FT an unlikely proponent for less trade argued:

Africa and Latin America should adopt their own versions of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy as a response to rising demand for food, according to Michel Barnier, France’s farm minister.

While critics of the CAP prepare to use surging food prices and threats of shortages to seek freer trade in agriculture, Mr Barnier told the Financial Times that, on the contrary, the developing world should draw inspiration from Europe and form self-sufficient regional agricultural blocs funded with a redirection of development aid.
What we are now witnessing in the world is the consequence of too much free-market liberalism,” he said. “We can’t leave feeding people to the mercy of the market. We need a public policy, a means of intervention and stabilisation."

The "free traders" didn't like that special splash of French wine. Their immediate, angry answer was an FT editorial which calls Barnier's idea "a corker":

Food autarky is not food security. For Africa, beset by highly variable harvests and unproductive, largely rain-fed agriculture, attempting self-sufficiency today is a recipe for regular famine. Improving farm productivity, and the ability of growers to get their produce to market, is an imperative. Snatching away export markets that could reward such improvements is utterly perverse.

This is not just a bad idea. It is a potentially lethal one. It should be discarded.

The FT editors are wrong. Instead, more countries should follow the example of Malawi:

Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have periodically pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.
Here in Malawi, deep fertilizer subsidies and lesser ones for seed, abetted by good rains, helped farmers produce record-breaking corn harvests in 2006 and 2007, according to government crop estimates. Corn production leapt to 2.7 million metric tons in 2006 and 3.4 million in 2007 from 1.2 million in 2005, the government reported.

I suspect that the answer to the current commodity speculation will be more protectionism.  It is likely the correct one.

Posted by b on April 28, 2008 at 15:21 UTC | Permalink


The Free market has been sold to us as an ideology and a cure-all for the world's ills. We are starting to see the limits of where market mechanisms can be successfully applied and where they can't.

I hope we can learn from it.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Apr 28 2008 15:38 utc | 1

I hear that al-Queda's recent unauthenticated audio message also called for a raise of the capital gains tax and universal single-payer healthcare and that they believe in a Free market too.

The bastards.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Apr 28 2008 16:36 utc | 2

In tropical climates, seasonal cashflow cycles tend to inhibit investment. So you can subsidize agrarian inputs with good results - but another way to attack the problem is with inventory financing. This was a transient development-economics fad, and it might have been dropped too soon.

Posted by: ...---... | Apr 28 2008 17:02 utc | 3

DiD said:

The chaos that ensues from this evil speculation on what we humans eat could be the disaster monsanto needs to force acceptance of it's genetically modified monopoly on the world's food supply.

I was thinking the same thing. And if that doesn't do it, there's always this disaster.

Posted by: Hamburger | Apr 28 2008 17:11 utc | 4

Food autarky is not food security. For Africa, beset by highly variable harvests and unproductive, largely rain-fed agriculture, attempting self-sufficiency today is a recipe for regular famine. Improving farm productivity, and the ability of growers to get their produce to market, is an imperative. Snatching away export markets that could reward such improvements is utterly perverse.

This kind of doublethink makes my brain hurt.

First off, all agriculture is rain (or snowpack) fed. The only other kind is fed by drawing down irreplaceable "fossil water" like the Oglalla aquifer in the States, which is slow agricultural suicide. What the author presumably means is that agriculture should be artificially irrigated -- meaning, spending more money and being more dependent on fossil fuels, and (almost always) damaging the soil.

Let's see, what next -- African weather is changeable and crop failures are possible at any time. So Africa should tie its survival to mass producing industrial monocrops (which are even more vulnerable to crop failures than indigenous polyculture) for an export market which is also whimsical and changeable, thus adding a new layer of vulnerability to its situation. Africans should, in fact, sell monocrops of the kind that other people (we who write FT opeds) want to eat, in exchange for money w/which to buy other people's (our) industrial monocrops that we don't really want to eat. In the process, Africans should pay an overhead to enrich shippers, fossil fuel producers, packagers, hordes of bureaucrats and financiers, etc. Oh and by the way, Africans should go into debt to pay for the heavy machinery, patented seeds, and chemical ag inputs needed to maintain the sickly and fragile monocrop plantation model of farming -- and just by coincidence, their creditors will be us. And somehow this will make them more secure.

Someone's living on Fantasy Island here -- or else so deeply disingenuous that the whole article might as well be authored by Hill and Knowlton on behalf of its client ADM.

The only legitimate point in the graf as far as I can tell is the first one, that food autarky is not the sole key to food security. Climate and pest events can cause crop failure for an entire bioregion, and food security means having (a) reserves and (b) some kind of transport system to move excess from other productive regions to an afflicted region, balancing out overproduction (vis a vis local needs) with underproduction (vis a vis local needs).

I confess to a certain unease about the report from Malawi, which may reflect the successful (techno-enhanced) mining of topsoil rather than genuine sustainable productivity. But I don't know enough about how Malawi achieved these bumper crops...>just for a different perspective... (not to toot my own tuba or anything, but I've been thinking about this very issue of late)

Posted by: DeAnander | Apr 28 2008 17:22 utc | 5

More on CCD

Who should be surprised that the major media reports forget to tell us that the dying bees are actually hyper-bred varieties that we coax into a larger than normal body size? It sounds just like the beef industry. And, have we here a solution to the vanishing bee problem? Is it one that the CCD Working Group, or indeed, the scientific world at large, will support? Will media coverage affect government action in dealing with this issue?

FU Monsanto. Organic bees are the solution.

Posted by: Hamburger | Apr 28 2008 17:26 utc | 6

very cool website. sharing with friends.

Posted by: citizen | Apr 28 2008 19:31 utc | 7

very cool website. sharing with friends.

Posted by: citizen | Apr 28 2008 19:31 utc | 8

So, freedom has failed? Speculators are evil? You guys sound so bolshevik all of a sudden, I don't even think you know what you're saying. Those were the same slogans and smears used in Russia in the 20s, justifying expropriation of private farms, liquidation of the kulaks and collectivization of agriculture. Think Zimbabwe. Is that what you want in Nebraska and Iowa?

Nor is it a straight line risk/reward 1+1=2 in hard commodities like oil or iron ore. Volitility in crop yields is nothing compared to the crap shoot of mining. The safest investment bet is agriculture and food distribution. The riskiest is mineral exploration.


Posted by: Wolf DeVoon | Apr 29 2008 0:30 utc | 9

nothing like a bit of anti soviet hysteria to keep us warm in the cool days of our apocalypse

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Apr 29 2008 0:48 utc | 10

what freedom are we talking about here, DeVoon?
secular societies are ok, much much better than any theocratic or kingdom* example around...
: Freedom of Market has turned into a deadly parasite, and investment and speculation are quite different things
the 21s are still to see something big, like the 20s gave us the bolchies... and this FM stuff is not helping At All

*there's one or other anachronic european queendoms that don't count ;)

Posted by: rudolf | Apr 29 2008 1:06 utc | 11

It's the hedge fund locusts at work, according to Larry Elliott, The Guardian's economics editor, Against the grain: weak dollar hits the poor, Apr 21, 2008:

According to Nick Parsons, head of strategy at nabCapital, every time the dollar has weakened, hedge funds have bought commodities. The reason hedge funds act in this way is that commodities are priced in dollars and so when the US currency is falling, producers outside America raise prices to compensate. A more likely cause of the speculation, however, is that the hedge funds base their decisions on economic models that reflect the correlations displayed in the charts on this page [charts only appeared in print edition, unfortunately]. When the dollar falls, the models guide them to buy commodities, and the subsequent wave of buying pushes up the prices.

Posted by: Dismal Science | Apr 29 2008 1:27 utc | 12

I can say with good authority that African food productivity is limited primarily by lack of preservation, processing & distribution process. Also, there are parts of Africa that have been prone to catastrophic drought but most Africa farming communities are not, at least so far. In fact, overall, there is really no reason to doubt that Africa can very comfortably feed itself and it would not require anything even close to radical adjustment. And with a little more effort. Africa can deliver massive amounts of food to the rest of the world.

Traditional African farmers may not be able to match Big-Agro in the production of grains, but they are not as far behind as people might think. However, in the cultivation of non-grains such as tubers, veggies, fruits, they can readily out-produce the Agro-Conglomerate in quality & quantity without even breaking a sweat.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Apr 29 2008 1:43 utc | 13

inner city press: WFP's Sheeran Says Speculators Are a Cause of Food Price Crisis, But Has No Suggestions

UNITED NATIONS, April 24 -- As it raises money to respond to the food price crisis, the UN's World Food Program faces at least two issues, one of them head-on, the other less directly. Asked Thursday about the role of speculators in driving up food prices -- and, by implication, how to ensure that additional emergency funding doesn't just further benefit the speculators -- WFP director Josette Sheeran said she is not an expert in this, that WFP's focus is on feeding people. If not WFP, who in the UN system would know and be able to address the financial underpinning of today's global food markets? Video here, from Minute 41:19.
She said she was aware of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission meeting that Inner City Press asked about, but then declined to make any recommendation about limiting or regulating speculation.

Case in point is Dwight Anderson's Ospraie Capital, which Inner City Press explicitly asked Ms. Sheeran about. Video here, from Minute 41:19. Anderson has profited handily from the crisis, but now seeks to fly under the radar, buying up the rights to all photographs of himself. How to ensure that WFP's intervention into markets doesn't just benefit speculators like Anderson? One would like to think that WFP and Ms. Sheeran are making sure this doesn't happen. But nothing was said in this regard on Thursday. We will continue to follow this issue.

Posted by: b real | Apr 29 2008 3:13 utc | 14

DeA...higher, wider. The English have a phrase for it, being "bound over", to
the sheriff, to the church, the king, or the master, as an 'indentured servant'.

Americans don't use that term anymore, it chills their prime time catechism.
They don't use the early American term 'apprentice' anymore either, it conveys
a perverse honesty about underclassism, which modern America was blinded to.
No, we are all equal, all the best hope for man, in these best of all times.

Yes, far better to live in a house you mortgage rent, drive a car you mortage
rent, pay for a college tuition mortgage rent your kids will never use, and
rent to own all your furniture, for the day when they "bind your over" into
a nursing home, to eke out your final days, dollar by reverse mortage dollar.

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life of schlock.
I've taken each and every credit hock;
And more, much more than this,
I did it THEIR way!

Posted by: Kelly Anderson | Apr 29 2008 3:49 utc | 15

I sympathize with the effort to defend a system that promises to provide the best possible results despite never insisting on anything more ethical than mere legal behavior. But that promise is a lie. There is no such thing as a "market" when a tiny number of mega-corporations dominate world food trade. NO MARKET!

The days of the market providing never-before-heard-of efficiencies may have been legends even then, but they are certainly fairy tales now.

History again and again shows us speculators driving up prices, people dying in droves, and finally a few speculators expropriated and killed while most survive with fortunes intact. Do you really want to say the loss of property of a few is worse than the massacres-by-price called famines? Do you know enough to say that the Russian royalty would have produced a better history than the USSR? What possible basis could you have for such a theory? (No fair pointing out that I might change my tune when the McCarthy-ites come to kill me for heresy)

Posted by: citizen | Apr 29 2008 4:02 utc | 16

Wolf: considering the caliber of the commentaries here at MoA it's kind of anti-productive to say people here don't know what they are saying. That said, I'd love to hear more about your crap yields and the safety of ag-investement.

Posted by: Lizard | Apr 29 2008 5:30 utc | 17

i would just like to sort all this market speculation out with a single word: Amero; it's really the sure thing to be behind these days...

& if i may ask...for the sake of FOOD 4 Thought, with ag-monsanto global food conspiracies aside... how many Uni's again will it take to buy a burger grown in a lab??? i hear they're great = ethical and tasty! 'bout with a side of franken-fries, and well... mayo left pretty much unchanged...?

we are what we eat, eh??!

Posted by: spoon of the stars | Apr 29 2008 6:17 utc | 18

re food, history and induced calamities, remember importance to beginning of French Revolution of lack of grain and claims at time that the Duc d'Orléans (Louis Philippe II Joseph,called Philippe Égalité, born April 13, 1747, guillotined November 6, 1793), had bought up said grain.

Here is wikipedia on his son,>Louis-Philippe, King of the French 1830-1848

Posted by: plushtown | Apr 29 2008 6:58 utc | 19

and why are the energy companies more interested in developing bio-fuels rather than solar/wind. I suspect its not the risk. It may be because its easier to corner the market.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Apr 29 2008 7:27 utc | 20

Maybe if Obama starts wearing a flag pin on his lapel the recession will go away.

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Apr 29 2008 10:26 utc | 21

I can kind of see Sheeran's point. WFP bends over backwards to source locally so they don't glut domestic markets and ruin farmers while feeding refugeees. Farmers in most of the countries where WFP works are cut off from global markets (if not by protectionism, then by inadequate grades and standards, poor distribution and post-harvest losses, etc.) so the distressed markets where WFP works are walled off, in a sense, from the global markets where speculators play. And aid agencies go to outlandish lengths to keep relief aid from reaching the market. E.g. you see women walking with cans of ghee on their heads, but the oil is running down their necks because aid workers have punctured the cans to inhibit resale.

Posted by: ...---... | Apr 29 2008 11:01 utc | 22

So now we have the food bubble. They just keep coming.

Regarding Monsanto I think their business model is based on enclosure. Denying them exclusive rights and thereby denying them the right to sue others for breaking their exclusive rights could be done by taking away patents on seeds. Actually I think patents should be abolished once and for all, but removing patents from areas where it has proved to be patently bad would be a good start.

Another way would be some sort of Creative Commons or Open Source / Free Software for seeds. The tricky thing here is that in order to use the legislation for that kind of judo tricks you need to find an angle. Patents - requiring extensive applications and costs - are harder to use that way. Or at least I fail to see the way. It would be cool though if every time Monsanto sues someone for patent violations, there is a foundation suing Monsanto back.

GMOs are not good enough to make it by themselves on any halfway well functioning market.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Apr 29 2008 11:19 utc | 23

Taking away patents works for the short term, but kills economic incentive to invent/test/risk capital expenditure on development and marketing new stuff. Don't want any new stuff? BTW, Celanese is a stronger company than Monsanto. You're picking on a weak sister.

Taking away patents and property rights in the larger sense does something else. It freezes private investment across the board. No one knows who might be next for "nationalization," a weasel word for rape and pillage. Like Mugabe seizing farms and destroying them in a single range-the-moment harvest. Mainly what got harvested was the tools and machinery.

Food production in Africa?

In 1991/92, both northern and southern Africa were again affected by drought and famine. Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan were the worst-hit countries in the north, with civil wars in Somalia and Sudan impeding the supply of food aid, so that many people died. In southern Africa, Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and even South Africa were all affected to varying degrees and all these countries had to import large quantities of food, or receive food aid for people in the worst-affected areas. Although the accuracy of the national statistics on food production that are quoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and others may be questioned, there is no doubt that malnutrition and poverty are widespread and increasing. The statistics indicate that millions are suffering from severe malnutrition. Malnourished people are particularly susceptible to the many diseases and parasites that are prevalent in Africa. Children, being the most vulnerable, suffer most — one of every eight dies from a combination of disease and malnutrition before its fifth birthday, and many more are physically and mentally impaired (UNICEF 1983).

IDRC 2004

Maybe that isn't current. Some kind of ag miracle happened while Sudan, Somolia, Nigeria, Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa went kablooey. Yes, South Africa -- state owned electricity supply shut down mining, and the ANC is about to self destruct. Huge fucking surprise.

Europe? Worst example of state run agriculture on the planet.

Asia? Rice exporters hoarding on direct order from governments (mostly dictators and corrupt ruling families). No free market in those enlightened hellholes.

So what you're really talking about in terms of this awful free market agriculture is Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., net exporters and abundantly good-hearted liberal chumps who give away more and more food every year.

Or is it the Chicago Board of Trade you want to kill? Okay to produce but wrong to buy, sell, and trade delivery contracts? Great idea, let's put a blindfold on all the producers, no way to predict what happens when you drive your buggy to the local grain dealer.

I truly don't know what you guys think any more. Vast capitalist conspiracy -- to do what? Overthrow the governments who call all the shots, already regulate brokers and bankers and farmers, tax every morsel that moves to supermarkets?


Posted by: Wolf DeVoon | Apr 29 2008 12:11 utc | 24

Europe? Worst example of state run agriculture on the planet.

Says who? Why couldn't the CAP model could benefit the Haitians (currently eating mud pies courtesy of the efficient market hypothesis): (FT, April 27)

Africa and Latin America should adopt their own versions of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy as a response to rising demand for food, according to Michel Barnier, France’s farm minister.

While critics of the CAP prepare to use surging food prices and threats of shortages to seek freer trade in agriculture, Mr Barnier told the Financial Times that, on the contrary, the developing world should draw inspiration from Europe and form self-sufficient regional agricultural blocs funded with a redirection of development aid.

Mr Barnier, a former French foreign minister, ex-EU commissioner and member of the governing centre-right UMP party, said he would not allow Europe’s system of subsidies and barriers to trade to take the blame for “disorder” surrounding the commodities spike in prices and associated unrest in some countries.

“What we are now witnessing in the world is the consequence of too much free-market liberalism,” he said. “We can’t leave feeding people to the mercy of the market. We need a public policy, a means of intervention and stabilisation.

“I think [the CAP] is a good model. It is a policy that allows us to produce to feed ourselves. We pool our resources to support production. West Africa, East Africa, Latin America and the southern shore of the Mediterranean all need regional common agricultural policies.”

It would kill all those food miles for starters.

Posted by: Dismal Science | Apr 29 2008 12:51 utc | 25

not talking conspiracy. Rather, pointing out that the entire theory of the market is based on myriad SMALL sellers and SMALL buyers. This is not the case, therefore it is not a market. You seem to be arguing for a fairytale, and I'd like to hear why.

Or, you are arguing for a NON-MARKET solution, but refuse to say what you mean.

Or, you are lost in a maze of word out of control.

Feel free to point out options missed here.

Posted by: citizen | Apr 29 2008 14:16 utc | 26

B. says "I suspect that the answer to the current commodity speculation will be more protectionism. It is likely the correct one.".

If only he were correct. Of course a return to tariffs in agricultural imports is the best way for struggling economies to restore some equity, affordability and political control over a nation's food supply.

But just as high school history taught that the Congress of Vienna showed the world's leaders "you can't turn back the clock" (in that case putting kings back on their thrones), these non G-8 nations have learned that it is impossible to re-impose tariffs.

Every sleazy banker on the planet would swoop upon any nation that tried it demanding immediate repayment of loans the fine print authorised should the borrower re-impose protectionism.
In addition all other nations would find that they were obligated to stop importing whatever it was that the G-8 bosses had previously permitted the now miscreant nation to export to others. Anyone who talks about the free market in relation to agriculture is talking out of their arse and doesn't know how the so called 'free market' works. amerika's agricultural produce has been protected at home whilst "The Global South" is bullied into getting rid of their protection so that subsidised amerikan food undersells their domestic produce, driving humans off their land into useless cities to consume useless mass produced crap as they starve to death.

That is the irony of course every 21st century victim of starvation will die listening to their i-pod because that planned obsolescent dross is more affordable than food.

To put it in a nutshell any country that tried to 'turn back the clock' as the bossfellas would term it, feed their population as a reasonable person would term it, would quickly find themself "Zimbabwe'd".

Their economy would be devastated immediately. Not because that is what happens with a protected market but because that is what the WTO globalists would cause to happen so that other nations didn't follow.

Now of course the G-8, WTO(World Trade Organisation) bosses realise they need to offer an alternative so that it doesn't come to that.

Here is a typical example of their thinking. before you read it I had better give you a little background on the author Mike Moore who served as Director General of the WTO 1999-2002. I would be lying if I said I knew him but he was an occasional acquaintance in the early 1970's when I was toying with the idea of "change from within" by joining NZ's Labour Party and Moore was their up and coming "next big thing". As far as I could discern from a few encounters I had with him there is nothing to the bloke other than ambition. He's not even very smart. He never did quite make it although he served briefly as Party Leader and an even shorter time as Prime Minister, he was unseated by Helen Clark when the women made a move on the party.
Moore played the party pooper at all party celebrations until Ms Clark became Prime Minister whereupon Moore was offered the job he couldn't refuse as director-general of the WTO.

In 1999 NZ was about the only country run by middle aged middle class white folks that for some weird reason had credibility with those nations who have been regularly shat upon by middle aged middle class white folks. Once it became apparent that their own nominee didn't have legs to get up, enough "global South" countries supported Moore as a halfway decent alternative. Oh how foolish. There is a point to this tale other than straight out scuttle-butt, the Moore experience provides insight into exactly why expecting anything that could favour "the South" is a pipe-dream.

Very few politicians here get rich. NZ's heritage has a substantial ethos of presbyterianism attached to it, so the voters, up until this point anyhow, would turn their backs on any politician who got rich while in office.

So when Mike Moore left for Switzerland, he didn't have a brass razoo. When he came home he qualified for the NZ equivalent of Forbe's rich list and now he has to set up education foundation's and the like to avoid paying taxes.

He's been pretty vague about how the change in circumstances came about. I imagine that his WTO co-workers and staff were as surprised and discomfited as his bosses were when they discovered his impecunious state.
After all as zimmerman once said "If you ain't got nothin ya got nothin to lose" and Moore's financial state would have worried the bossfellas. The concern would be that he might succumb to an attack of idealism. But they should have known that Moore, always a member of 'the pragmatic right' would never get a dose of ideals, otherwise he would never have been put up for the job. Most likely they just felt uncomfortable in the presence of a member of 'the great unwashed'.
Whatever - since the odds of Moore turning from a dull wage earner into a multi-millionaire entrepreneur so fast is unlikely we can only presume he was given the names of a few 'dead certs' to back. A futures deal here ,a stock option there, and a financial moron is made rich.

Anyway my point is that WTO deals are structured to prevent turning back the clock and despite what the bossfellas may say about welfare "Creating a culture of dependence" perusal of Moore's piece on "the global food crisis" (the cliche that has been chosen to address any of these issues) reveals that the band aids on offer are about re-inforcing that dependence eg:

" , , ,The United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, the World Trade Organisation and senior finance ministers met recently in Washington, DC and pledges were made to provide US$500 million ($639.5 million) in urgent food aid by May 1, such is the crisis.

This is important short-term action. But how can you encourage poor countries to grow food when subsidies from rich countries can drop similar products into their local market, sometimes at a third of local prices?

The medium- and long-term solution is the Doha Development Trade round, which is now at a critical stage. Unless the players at the WTO can get closer in the next few weeks, the deal will not be cut this year.

Politics in the US and elsewhere make it difficult to believe the deal could be done next year. But negotiations are closer than most believe. . .
. . .It's urgent that food aid is directed to those who will die unless action is taken now. This must be done in a way that doesn't collapse existing local agriculture.

Then, assist local producers by micro loans, grants of seed stock and basic guaranteed prices.

Corrupt and inefficient governments harm all forms of development. We must help build afflicted nations' infrastructure: commercial, agricultural and administrative. Democracy helps this cause.

In the medium and long term, we must conclude the WTO's Doha Development trade round which will return four to five times more to Africa than all the aid and loan debt forgiveness put together.

Where farmers can operate freely with secure property rights, we can see the best results.

On the surface Moore's burble seems...nice but only to those who haven't been paying attention.

There are few 'dog whistles' in there. Key phrases which may sound innocuous to the unindoctrinated but which say a great deal more than that to the initiated. eg

micro loans, grants of seed stock and basic guaranteed prices. Where to begin with those loaded phrases? micro loans are the means of introducing already impoverished farmers to the slow drip drain of getting in hock to trans-national lenders that are willing and able to pursue a borrower to the ends of the earth.

grants of seed stock many will have caught that. WILLIAM ENGDAHL's somewhat outdated study "Seeds of Destruction: The Geopolitics of GM Food" is still up to date in it's account of the attempts of monsanto et al to introduce ge/gm crops to "The Global South" with 'donations' of GM/GE seed.

"Corrupt and inefficient governments. . .Democracy helps this cause. " Got a recalcitrant government? Well then. Anyone up for a spot of 'Regime Change'?

Lastly (for me.- there are still plenty of other heavy hints for others to spew over)

"Where farmers can operate freely with secure property rights" Aha property rights - that old furphy. Many nations in the "Global South" have people living on land (clans tribes, villages, large townships sometimes) for which there is no paperwork. No property deeds! - centuries or millennia ago when the mob moved into that country they now call home no one was sitting on their spotty asses picking blackheads in the local lands and survey office.

No property deeds means no to a whole heap of other stuff, in particular mortgages (ie loans against the land) and no sales, no rigged sales whereby one senior but achilles heeled member of the clan is taken aside plied with intoxicants, (money, fast cars women, booze whatever) until they sign the piece of paper over to some trans national. I've seen that particular scam happen so often I simply don't believe the foreign capitalists who claim to not understand that no one person has the power to determine the future of land in these ancient societies. The introduction of modern property law inevitably creates the legal circumstance for one person to sell a clan's land but the clans never accept that law. Needless to say the clans lose when it goes to court.
Before any of these scams can occur a system of land transfer needs be instituted. Hence Moore's call for 'property rights' meaning capitalist style ownership property rights. Another recipe for mass starvation as people are driven off the land that was once theirs to be replaced by machinery.

Every move made for multi-lateral trade standardisation in agriculture has increased poverty and hunger in agrarian societies while it re-inforces the power of speculators. Moore fudges the issue of amerika and Doha, which is a dead giveaway, right at the start. amerika and europe have no intention of abolishing their own agricultural subsidies (I had to laugh at the amerikan poster who tried to give europeans a hard time about CAP, when amerikan agriculture is the most subsidised and protected in the world).

The plan by the G-8 nations appears to be to try and hold out for so long picking off all of the poor countries one by one, forcing them into abolishing subsidy and protection while promising to get rid of their own in the next political cycle. The abolition in G-8 countries never happens and domestic politics is blamed.

Meanwhile the poor nations are undercut in their own markets. Maybe this time they will successfully band together. That is the only thing that could work.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Apr 29 2008 15:05 utc | 27

@Wolf DeVoon

Taking away patents works for the short term, but kills economic incentive to invent/test/risk capital expenditure on development and marketing new stuff.

Sure, that's why we have Linux, Firefox and other open source stuff, right?

Taking away patents and property rights in the larger sense does something else. It freezes private investment across the board.

Not nessessarily. It depends on who gets to use the "property rights" under what conditions.

No one knows who might be next for "nationalization," a weasel word for rape and pillage.

If Venezuela nationalizes its oil and uses oil money for social means is that rape and pillage?

Like Mugabe seizing farms and destroying them in a single range-the-moment harvest. Mainly what got harvested was the tools and machinery.

Immediately after Mugabe nationalized and redistributed the farms the few whites owned, the US, UK and the EU put sanctions on Zimbabwe and cut it off from any hard currency. That is mostly the reason for the current hyperinflation and lots of other trouble there.

Maybe that isn't current. Some kind of ag miracle happened while Sudan, Somolia, Nigeria, Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa went kablooey. Yes, South Africa -- state owned electricity supply shut down mining, and the ANC is about to self destruct. Huge fucking surprise.

Not a suprize, but nothing unusual. Weren't electricty "failures" in California some time ago? Europe is experiencing longterm electricity problems too with the shutdown of the nuclear plants build in the 70s now coming up.

Europe? Worst example of state run agriculture on the planet.

Not for Europeans :-) - okay - the system is too subsidizes and tends to overproduce. But there have been ways developed to reduce the overproduction that is dumped on third world markets. But Europe has largely food security.

Asia? Rice exporters hoarding on direct order from governments (mostly dictators and corrupt ruling families). No free market in those enlightened hellholes.

Oh, those would be the proud dictatorships of India, Brazil and Argentinia? And we have free markets where?

So what you're really talking about in terms of this awful free market agriculture is Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S., net exporters and abundantly good-hearted liberal chumps who give away more and more food every year.

Those aint free markets but markets with lots of import restrictions and tarrifs. You may want to check the US tarrif lists and see how much "free market" there really is.

I argue for import taxes on foodstuff that allow for continues profitable production of enough food to survive within a country or economic union. That is exactly what the above countries you mention do while they, at the same time, heavily subsidize their own production.

Or is it the Chicago Board of Trade you want to kill? Okay to produce but wrong to buy, sell, and trade delivery contracts? Great idea, let's put a blindfold on all the producers, no way to predict what happens when you drive your buggy to the local grain dealer.

There are certainly ways one could stop speculation while allowing future contracts to continue. Rule 1: NO settling in money, only in the original commodity. Bang - gone are most of the speculators ...

I truly don't know what you guys think any more. Vast capitalist conspiracy -- to do what? Overthrow the governments who call all the shots, already regulate brokers and bankers and farmers, tax every morsel that moves to supermarkets?

I don't get what you mean here. So far, we have discussed things WITHIN the system, not the complete change of the system (which might be an alternative).

Posted by: b | Apr 29 2008 17:00 utc | 28

Bernhard, I think you know from previous comments that I genuinely respect your insight and market awareness. Reasonable people can sometimes disagree about which came first, the chicken or the egg? The cause of economic collapse in Zimbabwe has nothing to do with external sanctions. Under white rule, Rhodesia had an agricultural surplus. Today Zimbabwe is dependent on food aid from UK and EC.

How to change things WITHIN what system? Rule 1 (above) to abolish contracts payable in money destroys the market as such, and I think you know that. It may be happening anyway, right now, because the value of dollars, euros, francs, etc are so unpredictably volative.

Honestly, I think the big problem is energy, specifically oil, not natural gas. The world has a big surplus of gas. But farm machinery and transport needs deisel, bunker fuel, jet fuel, gasoline. Most of the uptick in food prices has been caused by higher fuel costs and easy money (higher nominal 'demand').

A remark you made about Venezeula really highlights the core of our discussion. Chavez is a hero to many, many people who aspire to a fairer distribution of income and 'collective' wealth. Mark my words. Pedevesa is going to collapse and all production go offline, because the comrades don't know how to operate the loot they seized from the 'greedy capitalist exploiters' who built it.

Take the market mechanism out of U.S. agriculture, you'll get the same result: falling output, then collapse.

Posted by: Wolf DeVoon | Apr 30 2008 0:14 utc | 29

Taking away patents works for the short term, but kills economic incentive to invent/test/risk capital expenditure on development and marketing new stuff.

A patent is a monopoly right to a certain product. Is granting monopolies the only way to encourage investment?

Patents are really only good for thing, and that is suing others. If you lack the resources to sue whoever infringes on your monopoly rights, you will not have any use of it. For huge companies with vast resources they are very useful in keeping smaller competitors out. In the seed business that includes farmers who do not want to use GMOs. Just sue them for infringing on the companies imaginary property and let them try to prove that their fields are free from the companys seeds.

There might be some fields of business where patents work the way they are advertised, stimulating research and progress. I have yet to find one however. It is very clear that in seeds patents serve the role of vehicle for an intellectual enclosure where what use to be the commons is carved up between corporate giants.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Apr 30 2008 0:18 utc | 30

We're not as far apart as you think. See Property

Posted by: Wolf DeVoon | Apr 30 2008 1:37 utc | 31

The cause of economic collapse in Zimbabwe has nothing to do with external sanctions. Under white rule, Rhodesia had an agricultural surplus. Today Zimbabwe is dependent on food aid from UK and EC.

well, the Rhodesians controlled the majority of the prime land (about 80%). And they grew a serious load of tobacco, for export, on the same fertile land their Black brothers had historically & very successfully cultivated for food. And also, how vunerable was/is Zimbabwe to economic collapse as a result of external sanctions ? Probably no more vunerable than Russia, Japan, China, Germany, or the USA.

on the bright side though, there is increasing opportunity today for African farmers to export to Europe and Asia. Its never been this good & we can only hope they step up.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Apr 30 2008 2:09 utc | 32

Some facts about zimbabwe are indisputable.
The land occupied by white farmers was originally forcibly taken from the indigenous occupants.

up until the creation of the state of zimbabwe, food grown in the most fertile parts of the then Southern Rhodesia, was grown for export as the local people didn't have the cash to pay for it even if it was the sort of food that they traditionally ate. This meant that in times of hardship eg drought, food would still be exported even when there was insufficient food for southern rhodesia's population. especially in what had been turned into 'tobacco country'. Tobacco isn't the most nutritious crop.

These circumstances have hugely distorted comparisions between the exports of southern rhodesia and the exports of zimbabwe.

nevertheless when Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo sat down with the english to negotiate a transition to 'majority rule' as the english media always termed the move to zimbabwe's self determination, a number of promises were made on both sides.

Mugabe and Nkomo were under a great deal of pressure from the traditional owners, many of whom had fought in ZAPU, Zanu-PF, to return all lands immediately. Although as discussed before the produce was for export and most workers were foreign migrants imported from outside the borders of southern rhodesia/Zimbabwe, both Nkomo and Mugabe recognised that an immediate return of all lands would be impossible to manage and would deprive the new state of a major source of foreign revenue.

The english also had an interest in slowing the return of this, allegedly the most fertile land in Africa. Much of the landholdings were owned by english within the ruling elite. As I pointed out earlier elsewhere the sanctions imposed by the british commonwealth following the universal declaration of independence by the minority white government of Ian Smith, were broken openly and with alacrity. ie the land holdings had returned profits to the white foreign landlords right through the war of independence and those assholes wanted the wealth to keep coming.

So a deal was cut by the english who also saw an opportunity to stitch up access to the produce of this bountiful land. The english agreed to pay a subsidy so that the land would be reclaimed slowly. This was to be compensation to the traditional owners until they got their land back. In all likelihood the english figured that 'things change' and eventually they would be able to get a government in place in Zimbabwe which would 'sell' the land back to the whiteys. Maybe after suitable 'greasing of palms' even call the compensation already paid "the settlement".

Now a whole lot of unforeseen by the new Zimbabwe govt issues flowed from this deal. The most powerful whiteys who owned the best land hung out waiting for a 'more reasonable' administration eg morgan tsvangirai who has been reported to have offered to give whitey back some of the land that has already been returned. Whatever the Bliar as PM of england made a unilateral decision to stop paying the agreed compensation. That is why Zanu-PF sped up the land return program. Surprise surprise whitey had broken his word.

No one expected this re-aquisition to be without problems. Of course the immediate change of ownership was going to to cause a drop in production but what was the alternative. To let these assholes keep the land for free knowing that little of it's benefits would ever flow to zimbabwean citizens?

Of course when all this went down the bliar had amerika's ear so amerika supported the introduction of a really tough regime of sanctions against the zimbabwean people. It is those sanctions which have been at the heart of zimbabwe's economic collapse.

This is a deliberate effort by the english to economically reconquer a colony and it is sad to see so many people fall for the lies that have been peddled.

Mugabe prolly is an asshole but the starvation of the zimbabwean people in order to effect regime change is a deliberate, cold, crime against humanity.

It is also apparent that Mugabe is about to let go but he isn't going to allow everything to go with him. The english media particularly the bbc has become hysterical as it tries to paint a picture of bloodshed since the election. The fact they have had had precious little to work with hasn't stopped the lies. The recount didn't have any dishonesty. Oh and the hysteria about detention of opposition figures being a precursor to murder didn't get up. Last night the bbc conceeded that everyone had been released without having had violence done to them.

If I had to to guess about what the 'delay' forbodes it would be Zanu-PF ensuring that they hand over to a new government which won't aid and abet the theft of zimbabwean assets.

It is weird how some people can see that corporations distort 'democratic' election in their own country yet they get uptight when Zanu-PF resist the same shit being pulled in Zimbabwe.

Posted by: Debs is dead | Apr 30 2008 2:26 utc | 33

@debs - yep, certainly someone is peddling lies.

Back to the food question. Interesting op-ed in today Wall Street Journal Europe by David Roche:

Ironically, one consequence of the Bernanke-Greenspan liquidity cornucopia is to make a recession, if not actual social instability, more likely in the developing world. By debasing the world's major trading and asset currency, they have created a flight to real assets that has contributed to increasing the price of food, energy and other commodities dramatically.

Like I said earlier, easy money pushed up nominal 'demand' for oil and other commodities; rising energy costs looped back and pushed up food in particular. This is primarily a central bank problem, doing the wrong thing to prop up the debt bubble.

Posted by: Wolf DeVoon | Apr 30 2008 2:48 utc | 34

the biotech companies have been pushing for a "new" green revolution in africa

food first: The New Green Revolution and World Food Prices

It was just a matter of time… and not long at that. The world food crisis and the explosion of “food riots” across the globe has been turned into an opportunity. By whom? By the same institutions that created the conditions for the crisis in the first place: proponents of the new Green Revolution.

In their April 10 editorial entitled The World Food Crisis, the New York Times warns that increases of 25-50% in the price of food and basic grains have sparked unrest “from Haiti to Egypt.” The Times rightly lays part of the blame on the doorstep of northern countries’ thirst for ethanol, pointing out that the substitution of fuel crops for food crops, “[Accounts] for at least half of the rise in world corn demand in each of the past three years.” A rise in demand means a rise in price. This puts food out of reach of poor consumers.

But then confusing economic demand with actual availability, the Times jumps to a dubious solution. Quoting World Bank president Robert Zoellick, the paper calls for “[A] ‘green revolution’ to increase farm productivity and raise crop yields in Africa.” This was of course, a likely response from the World Bank, the institution that, along with the International Monetary Fund, forcibly applied the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) responsible for destroying the capacity of African nations to develop or protect their own domestic agricultural systems from the dumping of subsidized grain from the U.S. and Europe. Over the same 25 years in which SAPs were being implemented, the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) invested over 40% if its $350 million/year budget in Africa’s “Green Revolution.” The result? A big zero. Actually, it was worse, because as African marketing boards, agricultural ministries, national research programs and basic infrastructure fell under the scythe of the mighty SAPs, Africa’s agricultural systems steadily eroded. Now their entire food systems are hopelessly vulnerable to economic and environmental shock—hence the severity of the current food price inflation crisis.

How do CGIAR and other Green Revolution champions explain this debacle? The Green Revolution, they claim, ‘bypassed” Africa. If that is the case, then where on earth did CGIAR spend all that money? If not, and the Green Revolution was simply a failure, then how will more of the same solve the present food crisis?

Of course, the Green Revolution is not just one institution, and it is not static. The new genetically-engineered Green Revolution is a conglomeration of public and private research institutions, supported by both tax dollars and conditional investments from a handful of powerful seed/chemical and fertilizer monopolies. The Green Revolution is an industrial modernization paradigm, as well as a campaign for penetrating agricultural markets in the Global South. But above all, the Green Revolution is a political strategy designed to gain and keep control over the Global South’s food systems firmly in the hands of northern corporations and institutions. It is precisely this political dimension of the current food crisis that is so tacitly avoided by the New York Times, the World Bank, and other Green Revolution promoters.

pambazuka: A new Philanthro-Capitalist Alliance in Africa? AGRA—The Return of the Green Revolution

In September 2006, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation teamed up to launch “AGRA” a $150 million Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Echoing the claim that Africa’s last Green Revolution (originally promoted by Rockefeller) had “bypassed” the continent, Gates and Rockefeller promised that AGRA will improve the lives of the continent’s impoverished farmers by investing in appropriate technology, efficient farm practices, and a network of small shopkeepers to sell mini-packets of improved seeds and fertilizers.

Elegantly simple in its proposal and presentation, AGRA is the global face of a renewed international effort to revive Africa’s sagging agricultural research institutions and introduce new Green Revolution products across the sub-Sahara. The complex array of institutional and financial interests lining up behind Gates and Rockefeller include multilateral and bilateral aid organizations, national and international research institutes, and the handful of powerful multinational seed, chemical, and fertilizer monopolies upon which the entire financial future of the new Green Revolution ultimately rests. Gates and Rockefeller foundations are betting that AGRA can entice industry, governments and other philanthropies to invest in African agriculture. AGRA is the Green Revolution’s new philanthropic flagship leading a global campaign to attract talent, investment and resources for another go at Africa’s beleaguered food systems.

The new Green Revolution differs fundamentally from the first one introduced in the 1970-90s in that this time the private sector, rather than government, is taking the lead. This Green Revolution is concentrating on Africa’s food crops like tubers and plantains, rather than global commodities like corn, rice and wheat. This time around, the conventional crop breeding programs being built in Africa will lay the genetic and industrial groundwork for the expansion of genetically modified crops. And more importantly, the seed and chemical companies that stand to gain from the Green Revolution are fewer, and because of biotechnology, much bigger and vertically integrated, selling both seed and inputs. In fact, only two companies—Monsanto and Syngenta—control 30% of the global market in seeds.
AGRA’s job—as so eloquently stated by Bill Gates in Davos—is to bring Africa’s poor into the international market. Here, they will consume both hybrid and genetically-modified seeds, fertilizers and agrochemicals. They will also consume the products of these seeds, making their diet dependent on the companies driving the Green Revolution. Whoever can establish these seed markets in Africa will control not only the markets, but the food, and ultimately the ground of the vast continent.
AGRA allows the Gates foundation unprecedented influence not only in setting the national food and agricultural policies of many African governments, but in the agenda-setting of continental agreements (like NEPAD), multilateral development institutions (e.g. FAO), the strategies of agricultural research centers (e.g. WARDA), and the political economic re-structuring of Africa’s food systems in general. The Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa is the Gates’ Foundations bold foray into big philanthropy’s latest incarnation: philanthro-capitalism.
AGRA’s philanthro-capitalism draws the world’s attention away from local alternatives and towards global market-based “solutions” that ultimately favor those with more international market power, i.e., the seed and chemical monopolies. Though it strengthens corporate opportunities and power, it does nothing to address the weakened ministerial and regulatory capacity of the state, ignores the need to protect local markets or ensure a greater market share of the value chain for farmers. It elides land issues and does not address the eroding economic and environmental resiliency of African food systems. Worse, it diverts attention away from the role that the global markets play in creating hunger and poverty in Africa in the first place.

from a pambazuka interview w/ the director of the african center for biosafety, mariam mayet

Let’s ... turn our attention to philanthropy, which Cecil Rhodes once called, philanthropy plus five-percent - which is to say that philanthropy paves way for profit making, or what others call the philanthropy-industrial complex. Can you talk a little about the role of Western philanthropy in Africa?

Philanthropy in Africa has some history especially in relation to the Rockefeller family. The Rockefeller foundation has a much longer history than the Gates Foundation for example. Gordon Conway who became one of the presidents of the Rockefeller Foundation published a book called the New Green Revolution in 1999. The Green Revolution push we are seeing in Africa is really his brainchild. Their philanthropy has come in the context of pushing a very distinct corporate agenda – to open markets for US corporations. For example in Kenya the Rockefeller Foundation has been involved in sponsoring Florence Wambugu’s sweet potato project because they want to open Africa up to GMOs. So if you give the impression that a genetically modified sweet potato can work because it is the poor person’s crop, there will be more willingness to accept GMO’s. So it is not philanthropy. It’s a form of investment, a corporatized agenda for resource extraction from Africa.

There was an expose in the LA Times on the Bill Gates Foundation where it was found that the foundation invests money in companies and corporations that cause the very same problems it is trying to solve, companies such as Shell. So the philanthropy arm is trying to save the environment, while the investment arm is making profit from its destruction…

Exactly, the Rockefellers made their money from Exon, which later became Chevron – so they have old oil money - this wrecked a whole lot of havoc environmentally and in terms of human rights.

And also the idea of telescopic philanthropy, a telescopic philanthropy that sees far but not what is under its feet – for example there are a lot problems in the United States amongst minority communities…

Yes, why didn’t they give money to Hurricane Katrina victims? Why do they feel they have to come and rescue Africa? We say that the Green Revolution is a white man’s dream for a black continent. And this dream… this savior mentality is very missionary, very colonial, and imperialistic – and yes they should leave us alone. If they take away all the developmental aid, if they take all the food aid, and the military aid – we would be like Cuba. We would struggle for a while but eventually we would find our way. We would build our own local economies and vibrancy because all these development aid is also an industry unto itself, and it feeds off itself.

Who are the world’s biggest agri-business players? Take Cargil, which owns shares in seed companies, buys the harvest from farmers and transports it all over the world – they are more powerful than some governments because they are in charge of the international prices of grains and trade in grains. You have to really understand this whole capitalist agri-business system in order to understand the logic of the green revolution.

AGRA, according to its website, is and “African-led partnership working across the African continent to help millions of small-scale farmers and their families lift themselves out of poverty and hunger. AGRA programs develop practical solutions to significantly boost farm productivity and incomes for the poor while safeguarding the environment. AGRA advocates for policies that support its work across all key aspects of the African agricultural “value chain”—from seeds, soil health, and water to markets and agricultural education. AGRA is chaired by Kofi A. Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations”. They say that they are African led and now they have Kofi Annan who is serving as the chairman of AGRA – your response?

I think they are African followed because the vision was put in place by Gordon Conway from the Rockefeller Foundation. The Rockefeller Foundation brought in the Bill-Melinda Gates foundation, then started to recruit willing and compliant Africans – the coup de grace was Kofi Annan.

If it was African led we would not be asking for consultation and transparency. It would be coming from our farmers, coming from the ground-up. What is African led, are the local struggles, where people are clearly saying this is what we want. Go to speak to the people affected and they will tell you what they want – that would be African led.

Can you talk a little bit about the packaging of AGRA? You have Kofi Annan, who has UN credentials, gentle spoken yet charismatic and Bill Gates who appears harmless. There is a lot of star power and money…

The things is the Green Revolution is a very a violent package because it puts powerful toxic chemicals into Africa. It displaces and destroys local knowledge and seeds. It favors those farmers who will be able to access the system, the more powerful farmers. This will divide the African peasantry.

AGRA also creates a lot of dependency and debt. It is violent. But the geeky sexy richest man who brought us wonderful technology, and gentle Kofi Annan – this is the savior face, our last hope. It is a very strategic move to push a very agri-business, corporatized market driven package – but it will fail in Africa because they do not understand Africa.

We are a very diverse people, we need local solutions that are multi-dimensional and multi-faceted – built on local knowledge and local seeds. You need to speak to people about how they adapt to harsh climates. To have a one-size fit all solution for Africa will be disastrous for us. Even in one country we have different eco-systems, different farming communities, different cultures, different eating habits.

We do not need to grow more foods for exports. We need to build on food sovereignty principles and give people equitable access to land, allocate the water fairly, support traditional farming methods, and create local vibrant economies, before we start exporting coffee, cocoa, and grow maize for export.

We are not saying that everyone must live on the land, or farm – we are talking about a local economy that is also integrated into the national economies. You cannot have two economies. We are talking about a vibrant whole.

I have to say that we are also unhappy with the agricultural systems in Africa and this is why we are saying – that we have to stop talking about food security because this perpetuates the existing paradigms. We have to tell our governments - what the hell are you doing? You have messed up badly, and left a vacuum for the philanthropist to walk in - and take over our countries, in a way.

online copy of the book Unmasking the new green revolution in Africa: motives, players and dynamics

Since the late 1990s, the development discourse in Africa has been dominated by the idea that of a “New Green Revolution in Africa”. This call has been promoted by the United Nations, governments in Africa and beyond, funded by private philanthropic foundations, and supported by agricultural transnational corporations. This report provides a critical analysis of the key players promoting the New Green Revolution in Africa and the dynamics among them.

The paper argues that the New Green Revolution and biotechnology agenda in Africa is underpinned by a neo-liberal economic push to integrate Africa into the world market economy by creating markets for agricultural inputs and products, all in the name of freeing poor African farmers from the clutches of hunger and poverty.

The paper discusses the following:

* a background on the Green Revolution in Asia
* Gordon Conway’s “Doubly Green Revolution for Africa”
* the role of private foundations, such as the Rockefeller and the Gates Foundation in funding such initiatives
* support for the Green Revolution for Africa from UN agencies, international financial institutions, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), agriculture firms, the New Economic Partnership for Africa (NEPAD), as well as other players

Based on this analysis. the paper argues that the current excitement over Africa has not arisen spontaneously, but is guided by strategic thinking based on a particular development paradigm that has not been developed from within the African continent nor crafted by Africans.

to be continued...

Posted by: b real | Apr 30 2008 2:58 utc | 35

"There is not one grain of anything in the world that is sold in the free market. Not one. The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians." - Wayne Andreas, CEO of ADM, US ag giant.

Maintaining excess agricultural capacity probably served many purposes in the industrialized world. I can think of political reasons, and to avoid social upheaval in case of shortages whether due to nature or war. What we wound up with is a "state capitalist" system that gutted third world agriculture by using government funds to flood their markets. This simultaneously demonstrates two points: that the idealized "free market" is not the source of the problem, and that if we want to solve the problem, we should encourage policies that create gluts without allowing them to destroy agriculture elsewhere - subsidies and tariffs. Ideologically this is unpalatable to the PTB since if you think about it, why should this be a way to ensure a food supply but somehow a terrible way to ensure an industrial base. The answer is that historically protectionism works for both, fables about needles notwithstanding. The reason it can not be tolerated is that the creation of productive capital, including in the form of an industrial base, is perceived as a threat by those who hold existing capital.

and btw, collectivization of land has a bad track record empirically. Sorry if that bothers you ideologically or emotionally. Redistribution, fine. It is not suprising that people who "have a stake" in whether the crops are produced simply work harder and smarter, or at least hire people to do so. Similarly the new lords created by so-called collectivization can be as heartless as the landlords of famine era Ireland.

to dismiss the mass starvation in Ukraine or China as mere propaganda is to deny the flesh and blood experiences of real people. Emphasis on flesh, with some value in the blood too.

Posted by: boxcar mike | Apr 30 2008 3:16 utc | 36

so far in this thread nobody has mentioned the recent final rpt put out by the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) that gathered "some 400 scientists and other specialists" as well as global institutions (world bank, FAO, WHO, UNESCO, etc), governments, representatives from civil societies and, of course, private companies. two of those private companies pulled out from the IAASTD just months ago after failing to exert their influence on the project, and, surprise surprise, they just happen to be the seed companies monsanto & syngenta.

Monsato and Syngenta have apparently pulled out of an ambitious, Sh70 million (US$10-million) agricultural project because it does not emphasise or recognise the significant contribution of modern biotechnology in agricultural development and poverty reduction.
No public statements have been offered, but the spokesman for CropLife told Nature that the decision was prompted by the inability of its members to get industry perspectives reflected in the draft reports. One of these perspectives is the view that biotechnology is key to reducing poverty and hunger, and it is based in part on high (and rising) levels of demand for biotech crops from farmers across the developing world.

Ms Denise Dewar of Croplife International, of which Monsanto and Syngenta are members, is quoted in the Guardian stating, "We were concerned with the direction the draft was taking and that our input was not being taken appropriately. We were looking to see references to plant science technology and the potential role it can contribute."
A spokesman for the agriculture-industry body CropLife International told Nature, "This is a most reluctant decision."

"If they can bring evidence forward that we have not been objective, or that the language is biased, then we could discuss that," Watson said.

Insiders agree that the current draft is decidedly lukewarm about the technology’s potential in developing-world agriculture. The summary report, for example, devotes more space to biotechnology’s risks than to its benefits. The report says that evidence that biotech crops produce high yields is not conclusive. And it claims that if policy-makers give more prominence to biotechnology, this could consolidate the biotech industry’s dominance of agricultural R&D in developing countries. This would affect graduate education and training, and provide fewer opportunities for scientists to train in other agricultural sciences.
The idea that biotechnology cannot by itself reduce hunger and poverty is mainstream opinion among agricultural scientists and policy-makers. For example, biotechnology expansion was not among the seven main recommendations in Halving Hunger: It Can Be Done, a report commissioned by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan.

from a recent food first article,

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology (IAASTD) recently released its final report in Johannesburg, South Africa. The result of an exhaustive 3-year international consultation similar to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IAASTD calls for an overhaul of agriculture dominated by multinational companies and governed by unfair trade rules. The report warns against relying on genetic engineered "fixes" for food production and emphasizes the importance of locally-based, agroecological approaches to farming. The key advantages to this way of farming-aside from its low environmental impact-is that it provides both food and employment to the world's poor, as well as a surplus for the market. On a pound-per-acre basis, these small family farms have proven themselves to be more productive than large-scale industrial farms. And, they use less oil, especially if food is traded locally or sub-regionally. These alternatives, growing throughout the world, are like small islands of sustainability in increasingly perilous economic and environmental seas. As industrialized farming and free trade regimes fail us, these approaches will be the keys for building resilience back into a dysfunctional global food system.

ips: Reinventing Agriculture

Both scientific knowledge and traditional skills were evaluated under the IAASTD, which marked the first attempt to bring all actors in agriculture together to address food security. Contributors produced five regional assessments, and a 110-page-plus synthesis report.

Amongst the 22 findings of the study that chart a new direction for agriculture: a conclusion that the dominant practice of industrial, large-scale agriculture is unsustainable, mainly because of the dependence of such farming on cheap oil, its negative effects on ecosystems -- and growing water scarcity.

Instead, monocultures must be reconsidered in favour of agro-ecosystems that marry food production with ensuring water supplies remain clean, preserving biodiversity, and improving the livelihoods of the poor.

"Given the future challenges it was very clear to everyone that business as usual was not an option," IAASTD Co-chair Hans Herren told IPS. He was speaking at an Apr. 7-12 intergovernmental plenary in South Africa's commercial hub, Johannesburg, where the assessment findings were reviewed ahead of Tuesday's presentation.

While global supplies of food are adequate, 850 million people are still hungry and malnourished because they can't get access to or afford the supplies they need, added Herren -- who is also president of the Arlington-based Millennium Institute, a body that undertakes a variety of developmental activities around the world. A focus only on boosting crop yields would not deal with the problems at hand, he said: "We need better quality food in the right places."

The notion that yield can no longer be the sole measure of agricultural success was also raised by Greenpeace International's Jan van Aken, who said that the extent to which agriculture promotes nutrition needs to be considered. A half-hectare plot in Thailand can grow 70 species of vegetables, fruits and herbs, providing far better nutrition and feeding more people than a half-hectare plot of high-yielding rice, he added.
The plenary was marked by some disagreement over the ever-controversial matters of biotechnology and trade: indeed, during a long and fraught debate over biotechnology, the meeting very nearly fell apart. U.S. and Australian government representatives objected to wording in the synthesis report that highlighted concerns about whether the use of genetically modified (GM) crops in food is healthy and safe.

This issue, along with challenges pertaining to trade, had been thoroughly debated over the three-year IAASTD process and the final wording reflected scientific evidence. The report says biotechnology has a role to play in the future but that it remains a contentious matter, the data on benefits of GM crops being mixed; it further notes that patenting of genes causes problems for farmers and researchers.

Syngenta and the other biotech and pesticide companies abandoned the assessment process late last year.

The impasse at the plenary was broken when the two countries agreed to a footnote in the report indicating their reservations about the wording. They also agreed to accept the report as a whole, along with Canada and Swaziland: "Our government will champion this even though we have reservations on some parts," the Australian delegate told the meeting.

The other 60 countries represented at the plenary took a stronger position, moving beyond acceptance to adopt the report.

"I'm stunned. I didn't think it would pass," said Janice Jiggins of the Department of Social Science at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, and one of the experts who worked to review the totality of agricultural know-how and the effects of farming around the world.

There was also broad endorsement from civil society.

"We have a very strong anti-GMO (genetically-modified organism) stance but agreed to accept the synthesis report findings because it was neutral," noted van Aken. "We're not happy with everything, but we agree with the scientific consensus in the synthesis report."

to be continued...

Posted by: b real | Apr 30 2008 3:41 utc | 37

Hidden in the subtext of Bush's pre-scripted speech, (if you want to call a NeoZi
call-to-mammon a speech) was both the Pimp Cheerleader we all know, drumming his
ANWR and NUKE diatribes like a rastafarian junkie on crack, and the Stern Denyer,
chastising his confabulated Congress for the sins of Wall Street's Jugend, whipping
them to pile more tax deficits onto tax deficits to bail out the NeoZi grifters and
speculators. Then that little subtext, crushing the agriculture lobby for BushCon's
failed BioFool Initiative, essentially throwing America's small farmers under the
bus, now that Big AgraPharm is locked into untold profit potential in commodities.
Who needs the hayseeds and their moonshine?! Time to roll back the incentive plan.
NeoZi and Saudi princes must be queing up for that looming Midwest farmland auction.

There's a little glottal thing Dutch do, when they agree with you, in resignation,
they'll lower their head, inhaling as they glumly whisper, "Ja, da." It produces
a sound which, once you've heard it, is forever branded in your mind, every time
Shiva the Destroyer strides up the the microphone to lay down his latest pogrom.

I can think of only one other sound forever branded in my thoughts of BushCon, and
how the NeoZi's have destroyed US, in barely 8 years since the Reagonauts took over.
It's the feeling you had when the second tower fell, and now you understand at last
America is become a NeoZi Ziggurat, we are its slaves, and we best get to praying.

Our friends have already started without US.

The Coming Global Dustbowl

Posted by: Tom McAffrey | Apr 30 2008 4:17 utc | 38

from an ips interview w/ robert watson, director of IAASTD

What is the significance of the IAASTD findings for global food security?

The significance of the IAASTD is that for the first time governments from the developed and developing countries, civil society, scientific authors from natural and social sciences all worked together to address the critical issue of how to get affordable and nutritious food in way that is environmentally and socially sustainable.

The IAASTD clearly states that business as usual in agriculture is not an option. Why is this the case?

The IAASTD builds on the findings from two previous assessments. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that 15 of the planet's 24 natural ecosystems are in trouble or in decline, in large measure due to degradation of land and water -- mainly because of agriculture. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that agriculture is a major contributor to human-induced climate change, and climate change will have a major impact on agricultural productivity.

If we only focus on boosting food production it will only come at the expense of further environmental degradation.


Does IAASTD call for the end of large-scale monocultures?

If monocultures can be modified so they are environmentally and socially sustainable, then they're OK. You can't undermine agriculture's natural resource basis -- the soil, water, biodiversity and so on -- because eventually it will collapse.

OTOH, the collapse of monopolies in the agricultural industrial complex is what has some biotech giants concerned.

again, africa is being viewed as the 'final frontier' & they are seeking multiple means of securing their interests on the continent.

one argument to propagate such was recently put forth in a book that appears, based on interviews w/ the author in lieu of reading the actual text, to be fallacious on many grounds - Starved for Science:
How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa

In Starved for Science Robert Paarlberg explains why poor African farmers are denied access to productive technologies, particularly genetically engineered seeds with improved resistance to insects and drought. He traces this obstacle to the current opposition to farm science in prosperous countries. Having embraced agricultural science to become well-fed themselves, those in wealthy countries are now instructing Africans—on the most dubious grounds—not to do the same.

In a book sure to generate intense debate, Paarlberg details how this cultural turn against agricultural science among affluent societies is now being exported, inappropriately, to Africa. Those who are opposed to the use of agricultural technologies are telling African farmers that, in effect, it would be just as well for them to remain poor.

for an idea of what one could expect from the book, a quick read of an interview w/ the author at the website named, ironically, reason online ("free minds and free markets") may be all that's needed to scare a truly reasonable person away from it

Can you give an example of a genetically modified seed or organism, something in use today?

Bt crops have been engineered to contain a gene from a naturally occurring soil bacterium that expresses a certain protein that cannot be digested by caterpillars. Mammals can digest the protein with absolutely no problem, but caterpillars cannot. When the caterpillars eat the plant, they die.

What’s wonderful about this is that it’s so precisely targeted at the insects eating the plant. The other insects in the field aren’t affected. Using conventional corn instead of Bt corn, you have to spray the whole field and you end up killing a lot of non-targeted species. With this variety, you don’t have to spray.

That sounds less scary than “Genetically Modified Organism.”

The book makes the argument that the overregulation of this technology in Europe and the anxieties felt about it in the United States are not so much a reflection of risks, because there aren’t any documented risks from any GM crops on the market. I explain that reaction through the absence of direct benefit. The technology is directly beneficial to only a tiny number of citizens in rich countries—soybean farmers, corn farmers, a few seed companies, patent holders. Consumers don’t get a direct benefit at all, so it doesn’t cost them anything to drive it off the market with regulations. The problem comes when the regulatory systems created in rich countries are then exported to regions like Africa, where two thirds of the people are farmers, and where they would be the direct beneficiaries.

How pervasive are genetically modified foods in the U.S.?

Roughly 90 percent of the cotton and soybeans produced in the US are genetically modified. Fifty or 70 percent of the corn is genetically modified. If you look at the products on a retail store shelf, probably 70 percent of them contain some ingredients from genetically modified crops. Mostly corn or soybeans.

Are there documented safety risks that merit caution?

There aren’t any. It’s like the first ten years of aviation without a plane crash.

What about environmental risks? Don’t GM crops affect surrounding plantlife?

The only impacts they have different from conventional crops are beneficial to the environment. They allow you to control weeds and insects with fewer sprayings of toxic chemicals. And they don’t require as many trips through the field with your diesel tractor, so you burn less fossil fuel. And there is more carbon sequestered because you’re not tilling the soil the way you otherwise would.

There are environmental impacts; there is gene flow. The pollen from a genetically modified maize plant will flow into a neighboring field and will fertilize the crops in that neighboring field. Some of the seeds, as a consequence, will contain the transgene, but that’s no different from pollen from a conventional maize plant flowing into the next field. It’s only if you decide arbitrarily to define gene flow from genetically modified crops as “contamination” and flow from all other crops as natural. Only then does it start to become describable as an adverse effect.

the reader, by now, has probably reasoned (and not so arbitrarily) that there is more than enough manure in that interview to richly fertilize several hectares of farmland for generations. this is the kind of crap that gets thrown at africans to make them think they're missing out on something wonderful or scare them into not trusting their own knowledge. (and it's not like africa doesn't already have plenty of experience w/ gmo's, or "organic" farming, for that matter.)

from l.s. stavrianos' global rift: the third world comes of age (1981),

The overseas extension of the American agricultural system is commonly known as the Green Revolution. In the course of the exportation of the Green Revolution the interests of Third World peasants have been disregarded as completely as have the interests of American family farmers.
Equally disruptive has been the impact of the Food for Peace program on Third World agriculture. Close to $30 billion of food was distributed by this program to over 130 countries between 1954 and 1980. Most Americans assume that this aid represents a humanitarian enterprise in support of needy peoples. In fact, the 1954 Agricultural Trade and Development Act (Public Law 480) was designed specifically to "improve the foreign relations of the United States" and to "promote the economic stability of American agriculture and the national welfare." Not until 1961 was the law's statement of purpose amended to include the goal of combatting world hunger.
But the flood of U.S. food lowered food prices in the recipient countries to the point where local farmers were unable to compete. The net result was the undermining of local food production and increased reliance on U.S. food imports.
The success of P.L. 480 not only expanded U.S. markets at the expense of Third World self-sufficiency in food but also realised the law's other objective - to "improve the foreign relations of the United States." Senator Hubert Humphrey, one of the earliest champions of the Food for Pease program, explicitly recognized and lauded this achievement before a Senate committee (1957):
I have heard ... that people may become dependent on us for food. I know that was not supposed to be good news. To me, that was good news, because before people can do anything they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, in terms of their cooperation with you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific.

Precisely the same viewpoint was expressed by Reagan's Secretary of Agriculture, John Block, during his confirmation hearings (1980): "Food is a weapon but the way to use that is to tie countries to us. That way they'll be far more reluctant to upset us." Because of adverse publicity, Block several days later changed his terminology, if not his views, by terming food "a tool for peace."

so will there be any non-aligned countries for the next world war?

Posted by: b real | Apr 30 2008 5:06 utc | 39

apologies for killing the conversation somehow


vanity fair: Investigation: Monsanto’s Harvest of Fear
Monsanto already dominates America’s food chain with its genetically modified seeds. Now it has targeted milk production. Just as frightening as the corporation’s tactics–ruthless legal battles against small farmers–is its decades-long history of toxic contamination.

Posted by: b real | May 1 2008 18:55 utc | 40

there are a few potential theories on why genetically modified seed-stock have not been embraced in Africa to the extent desired by Monsanto & co. But the one that may make the most sense is that where these genetically modified stocks have been tried, the Africans have determined that its all hype. In general, African farmers appreciate the value of fertilizers (to juice up crop growth) and pesticides (to help protect their crops) but they are not panicked at all by any suggestion that their tried and trusted seed-stocks are lacking. They will try "new & improved seed-stocks" on a tiny patch of their acreage, but really only to determine that they are not missing out on something thats actually really really better, across the board.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | May 2 2008 3:14 utc | 41

noticed this in an article in tuesday's east african standard - the third member of kenya's power-sharing govt is pledging to "support displaced people who voluntarily return to their homes"

US Ambassador, Mr Michael Rannerberger, said provisions for the displaced to restore their livelihood was key.
The US has said it will donate seeds and farm equipment to those who have already been resettled.

let's hope it's not monsanto's MON810 maize. anyone keeping an eye on these guys?

Posted by: b real | May 6 2008 3:07 utc | 42

The comments to this entry are closed.