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Food Crisis Looms: the Cost of Uncertainty

by Asinus Asinum Fricat Wed Apr 23rd, 2008 at 06:21:15 AM EST

The sharp increase in food prices over the last couple of years has raised serious concerns about the food and nutrition situation of poor people in developing countries, about runaway inflation, and in some countries, growing civil unrest, as food riots break out across the globe.

Much has been written in these boards about the causes of rising prices and it should be noted that one of the major culprit is the shadow of "a new hunger" that has made food far too expensive for millions. Rising prices for all the world's crucial cereal crops and growing fears of scarcity are sending shivers through international markets, creating turmoil and, as GWB is fond of stating his newly found word, uncertainty.

Uncertainty creates panic buying. Brokers know this well.

Diary rescue by Migeru


The sharp rise in raw food prices in the past few months will intensify in the next few years amid increased demand for meat and dairy products from the growing middle classes of countries such as China and India, as well as heavy demand from the biofuels industry. The greatest challenge to the world is not US$100 or more oil, it's going to be about getting enough food so that the new middle class can eat the way our middle class does, and that means we've got to expand food output dramatically, and more importantly, avoiding falling into the trap of biotech companies like Monsanto whose drive for global domination of its GM products is near total.

Here's why some US growers may be seduced by Monsanto's logic: a quick math calculation will tell you that crop yields around the world need to increase to something close to what is achieved in the state of Illinois, which produces more than 200 corn bushels an acre (compared with an average 30 bushels an acre in the rest of the world). How can that be achieved, you may ask? That can only be done with more fertilizer, with genetically modified seeds, and with advanced machinery and technology. But, between you and I, the real reason for promoting GM products has not been to end world hunger as previously touted but to increase the stranglehold multinational biotech companies already have on food production. One dirty word: monopoly.

What to do, what to do? There are a number of avenues open to governments since the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation states that there is more than enough food on the planet to feed everyone, in fact there's enough to feed one and a half planet Earth's. The problem is distribution:

Seventy percent of the world's hungry live in rural areas. That is where it is most critical to provide food and employment. The seed planted by a farmer leads to a flourishing agribusinesses that pay taxes, and help build rural schools and roads. Agricultural development is the first step of a long-term sustainable economic growth. Everyone gains from investment in agriculture.

To properly address hunger, governments need to support sustainable farming that meets the needs of the local people and environment. Successive studies have documented the social and environmental benefits of sustainable low-input and organic farming in both the Northern & Southern hemispheres. These offer a practical way of restoring agricultural land degraded by industrial farming with chemicals and over-production, allowing family farmers to fight poverty and hunger. Again political will is needed to put into place policies that will help farmers worldwide. Greenpeace has a few words to say about GM:

Sustainable agriculture leads to better soil, a varied locally grown diet, increased harvests, a better environment and increased food security. Like illusionists using sleight of hand tricks, the biotech companies are diverting resources away from these more sustainable solutions and towards GM technologies simply to further their own interests.

Another source of funds that seems to be working is the International Fund for Agricultural development (IFAD), a specialized agency of the United Nations, which was established as an international financial institution in 1977 as one of the major outcomes of the 1974 World Food Conference. I'm impressed at their record. So far nearly $30 billions have been spent in various countries to promote better farming, rural poverty reduction, hunger and malnutrition and raise productivity and incomes as well as improve the quality of their lives. Its local-level operations in 115 countries and territories keep them in continuous and direct contact with the rural poor.

But the real change will have to come from the next President. And that is why I would urge voters to petition their chosen candidate, and ask the hard questions: how will poverty be tackled, when will the food imbalance be restored, will subsidies be given to organic farmers etc... the list is long, very long.

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I know I come across as cynical and distopian (that's bitter and angry in Obama-speak), but I genuinely fear it has to get worse before it will get better. Monsanto hold genuine advantages in terms of compelling narratives for selling their mirages.

There is a genuine distaste in the Western media for anything that reeks of dirty f.... hippyness, whihc means that technocratic corporate solutions always get the favourable press. Conservation is just un-American.

And a lot of things are gonna have to go wrong before that narrative gets scratched.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sun Apr 13th, 2008 at 08:19:27 AM EST
You ain't seen nothing yet. I'll post a water diary later on.
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Sun Apr 13th, 2008 at 10:21:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
American consumerism, and temporarily achieved great popularity.  Suppression and co-optation in the US required the creation of an entire secret police system (mostly to make drug busts), and the counter-revolutionary promotion of (high profit) "lifestyles."  

On the other side, the hippies never did get "strategy."  

And finally, of course, popularity did not mean people were ready to join the new way, only that they were really fascinated by the idea of being free, and even imagined it for a while.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Mon Apr 14th, 2008 at 01:01:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gaianne:
And finally, of course, popularity did not mean people were ready to join the new way, only that they were really fascinated by the idea of being free, and even imagined it for a while.  

way too frontal, sometimes! a lot of counterforce would have been avoided with more strategy, and less histrionics.

nice comment gaianne...

feeling free was one thing, actually being so quite another... so much of the euphoria of the time was the huge power of numbers we enjoyed, and the relatively high level of postwar education making us more socially aware.

freedom in life is always relative, and hippies blazed some great trails, also uncovering some ancient ones that had become post-industrially obscured.

no other generation since has had the power of such numbers and the ensuing ability to ensure media attention. the collective high was unreal, helped by a startling array of excellent music, the like of which has too rarely been seen and heard since...

hippies moved towards the edge of corporate society, and even redefined it in some areas, but corporations were already too powerful to stop, outflanking the progressivism of the time by going global and co-opting the media with propaganda/glitz, which soon got the happy consumers' snouts back the troughs again, and the ensuing generations' efforts to displace the nightmare were swiftly commodified, turned into fodder for mammon.

i remember 'getting' it seeing prebleached, then torn jeans becoming a fashion item sold in the malls back in the reagan years, lol-

so much of the hippy movement was wonderful, so much was a waste...of youth and innocence.

it was a terrible, extraordinary time to be a teenager without a clue, however many of the seeds sown then have reaped tasty, nutritional fruit that keeps on growing.

i sure wish we could have had the internet back then, at the same time as what we did have...

that's why it's great to see so many moved to get involved by obama, over stateside, it does me old heart good to see it, i pray he doesn't let them down like T.B. did the brits...

(settles in rocking chair to listen to some serious reminiscin' music!)

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Apr 23rd, 2008 at 04:08:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The greatest challenge to the world is not US$100 or more oil, it's going to be about getting enough food so that the new middle class can eat the way our middle class does, and that means we've got to expand food output dramatically, and more importantly, avoiding falling into the trap of biotech companies like Monsanto whose drive for global domination of its GM products is near total.

I totally agree: to me the biggest reason to oppose GM organisms is not the threat to health or biodiversity which don't seem dire, but the prospect of total corporate control of the global food supply.

When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done. — John M. Keynes

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Apr 23rd, 2008 at 06:24:10 AM EST
by Asinus Asinum Fricat (patric.juillet@gmail.com) on Wed Apr 23rd, 2008 at 12:22:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Monsanto's Harvest of Fear: Politics & Power: vanityfair.com

"Monsanto is big. You can't win. We will get you. You will pay."

Scenes like this are playing out in many parts of rural America these days as Monsanto goes after farmers, farmers' co-ops, seed dealers--anyone it suspects may have infringed its patents of genetically modified seeds. As interviews and reams of court documents reveal, Monsanto relies on a shadowy army of private investigators and agents in the American heartland to strike fear into farm country. They fan out into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers, store owners, and co-ops; infiltrate community meetings; and gather information from informants about farming activities. Farmers say that some Monsanto agents pretend to be surveyors. Others confront farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the "seed police" and use words such as "Gestapo" and "Mafia" to describe their tactics.

When asked about these practices, Monsanto declined to comment specifically, other than to say that the company is simply protecting its patents.

nice...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Wed Apr 23rd, 2008 at 05:05:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Monsanto's Harvest of Fear: Politics & Power: vanityfair.com
Whatever the outcome, the case shows why Monsanto is so detested in farm country, even by those who buy its products. "I don't know of a company that chooses to sue its own customer base," says Joseph Mendelson, of the Center for Food Safety. "It's a very bizarre business strategy." But it's one that Monsanto manages to get away with, because increasingly it's the dominant vendor in town.

I know other companies that sues its customers, they all deal with intellectual enclosure. "Intellectual property" is their fancy brand name, but what it amounts to is old fashioned monopolies. We might not recognise it as it is the monopoly right to one particular seed (patent) or one particular song (copyright), but with increasing numbers of monopoly rights held by a decreasing number of companies we are heading towards one company controlling food, another controlling culture, a third one computer programs and so on. And their lobbying for ever increasing lengths and scopes of their rights is intense. Corporate surveilliance rights is often needed to make sure no one avoids paying their dues. A boss from the Honourable East India Company would recognise their business models and feel right at home.

Monsanto's Harvest of Fear: Politics & Power: vanityfair.com

The company has a staff devoted to enforcing patents and litigating against farmers. To gather leads, the company maintains an 800 number and encourages farmers to inform on other farmers they think may be engaging in "seed piracy."

If you oppose you are a pirate, so if you have not donned your eye patch yet, you might as well, because sooner or later you will be guilty of piracy.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Apr 24th, 2008 at 06:33:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the documentary The World According to Monsanto, there's a discussion with Midwest corn farmers (the kind that have a lot more than 1,000 acres) about Monsanto's methods. They said the atmosphere in the area had become appalling. There was no more goodwill or friendship between neighbours. People spied on each other, suspected each other, were ready to snitch on each other or feared being snitched on.

This is not just an effect of simple intellectual property. Seedsmen have always held rights to the varieties they create, so that XXX Seeds is the only company that can sell YYY variety, because they developed that variety. But with GM, the seeds are sold under contract of the Right-of-Use kind that software developers inflict on us: "paying for this software doesn't mean it's yours, just that you have a certain limited right of use". So, the farmer signs up that he may use the seeds and sell the crop, but not keep any seed back to sow again. And the next intensifier is that Monsanto enforces and persists in litigation so as to create a body of case law.

It's IP to the power of ten.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Apr 24th, 2008 at 07:34:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There has been various systems of rights in traditional plant breeding, but under the banner of Intellectual Property (which I believe is just a few decades old) and with lots of lobbying those rights has expanded to the power of ten.

I suspect that the term Intellectual Property was constructed to shift debate from "what monopoly rights (or exclusive rights) should we as a society hand hand for the good of the society?" to "why should we allow pirates to steal intellectual property?". And it has been very successful.

So I would say that Intellectual Property are traditional rights to the power of ten. And that the EULAs, the terminology (theft, pirates), the surveilliance needed to stop incursions are not accidentaly similar, but similar because it is part of the same intellectual enclosure.

Seeds and other biological processes are the most worrying arena of this enclosure, as it is hard to see a Creative Commons or Open Source movement in seeds. Or maybe I am just not imaginative enough.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Apr 24th, 2008 at 08:47:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not strict pertinent but the top graph is worth sharing

from here

Other interesting graphs can be found at this page.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Apr 24th, 2008 at 01:19:16 AM EST


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