Agribusiness is not the fairest of them all?
The Guardian (UK)
Food crisis fears prompt UN wake-up call to world leaders
By Claire Provost in Geneva This article was originally published by The Guardian on September 18, 2013
Governments in rich and poor countries alike should renounce their focus on agribusiness and give more support to small-scale, local food production to achieve global food security and tackle climate change, according to a report from Unctad, the UN trade and development body.
The 2013 Trade and Environment Review, calls on governments to "wake up before it is too late" and shift rapidly towards farming models that promote a greater variety of crops, reduced fertiliser use and stronger links between small farms and local consumers.
Persistent rural poverty, global hunger, population growth and environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis, argues the report, which criticises the international response to the 2008 food-price crisis for focusing on technical "quick-fixes".
"Many people talk about energy, transport, etc, but agriculture only comes on to the agenda when there is an acute food-price crisis, or when there are conflicts at the national level over food," said Ulrich Hoffman, senior trade policy adviser at Unctad. "At the international scene most of the discussion is on technicalities, but the matter we have before us is far more complex."
The report warns that urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause big disruptions to agriculture, particularly in vulnerable regions of poorer countries.
It says that while the 2008 crisis helped to reverse the long-term neglect of agriculture and its role in development, the focus has remained on increasing yields through industrial farming.
The report, which includes contributions from 60 international experts – covering topics from food prices and fertiliser use to international land deals and trade rules – demands a paradigm shift to focus efforts on making farming more sustainable and food more affordable through promoting local food production and consumption.
Several of the contributors call for a focus on food sovereignty, a concept introduced more than a decade ago by the international peasants' movement La Via Campesina. Unlike food security, often defined as ensuring people have enough to eat, food sovereignty focuses on questions of power and control. It puts the needs and interests of those who produce and consume food at the heart of agricultural systems and policies.
The report argues that industrial, monoculture agriculture has failed to provide enough affordable food where it is needed, while the damage caused to the environment is "mounting and unsustainable". It echoes the work of Nobel prize-winner Amartya Sen in arguing that the real causes of hunger – poverty and the lack of access to good, affordable food – are being overlooked.
Agricultural trade rules must be reformed, it says, to give countries more opportunity to promote policies that encourage local and regional food systems.
The report follows last week's publication of Unctad's annual trade and development report, which urged governments to focus more on domestic demand and inter-regional trade and rely less on exports to rich countries to fuel growth.
"Export-led growth is not the only viable development path," said Nikolai Fuchs, president of the Geneva-based Nexus Foundation and a contributor to the trade and environment report. "We don't say 'no trade', but … trade regimes should secure level playing fields for regional and local products, and allow for local and regional preference schemes, for example in public procurement.
"Highly specialised agriculture does not create enough jobs in rural areas where most of the poor are." He argued that industrial, export-oriented farming typically offers a few highly skilled and specialised jobs, or low-skill, seasonal and precarious employment.
The report says governments should acknowledge and reward farmers for the work they do to preserve water sources, soil, landscapes and biodiversity.
Hoffman acknowledged it would be difficult to implement the agenda the report was suggesting. "Subsidies are a key hurdle … at a national level but also [in terms of] dealing with subsidies in the context of the WTO [World Trade Organisation]," he said. There must be more scrutiny of agricultural subsidies, he argued, including those that appear to promote environmentally sustainable farming, as there were "ample opportunities for abuse or misuse".
Hawaii's Kauai Island moves to curb gene-altered crops, pesticide testing
By Christopher D'Angelo
This article was originally published by Reuters on October 16, 2013
Lihue, Hawaii - Lawmakers on the tropical island of Kauai, Hawaii, on Wednesday
approved a hotly contested measure aimed at reining in widespread pesticide use
by companies testing new genetically modified crops on the island.
The Kauai County Council passed the bill by a vote of six to one after months of
protests by islanders and mainland U.S. groups who wanted to see a range of
broad controls on the global agrichemical companies that have found the island's
tropical climate ideal for year-round testing of new biotech crops.
The vote on Kauai came amid a global backlash against the spread of
genetically-modified organisms in food and feed(GMO). Critics claim they
contribute to greater pesticide use, environmental damage and health concerns
for people and animals. But the industry says they are crucial for increasing
global food production and improving environmental sustainability.
"This victory is an amazing credit to the people of Kauai who stood up to
massive pressure from the GMO companies and won their right to know about
pesticides and GMOs in their community," said Charles Margulis, a spokesman for
the California-based Center for Environmental Health, which supported the bill.
Known as Hawaii's "Garden Isle," Kauai's landscape has become fertile ground for
testing of new crops by DuPont Pioneer, Syngenta, BASF, and Dow AgroSciences,
which together have staked out work on an estimated 15,000 acres on the isolated
DuPont, which fought to defeat the bill, was disappointed it passed, and may sue
to block its implementation, said spokesman Josh St. Peters.
"We believe it to be bad policy - and the kind of regulation that should remain
at the state and federal level, where policy makers and agencies are already
empowered with oversight of our industry," he said. "We believe that the bill is
not legally defensible and we continue to evaluate all of our business and legal
Kauai is the fourth largest of the main Hawaiian Islands and has a land area of
562.3 square miles and a population of about 67,000.
Many on the island have blamed health problems and pollution on what they say is
excessive use of pesticides as the companies test a range of genetically altered
crops. In early September, more than 3,000 islanders took to the streets of
Lihue with signs and banners, and chanting "Pass the Bill."
More than 80 people lined up to offer testimony to the council meeting, which
started on Tuesday morning but lasted until 3:30 a.m. local time on Wednesday.
Only four people testified against the bill, the rest asked for its passage.
Early versions of the measure introduced in June prohibited open-air testing of
experimental pesticides and genetically modified crops, established a permitting
process for the industry and placed a temporary moratorium on the expansion of
GMO crop test fields.
"The people in my community have asked for help," Kauai County Councilman Gary
Hooser, who introduced the bill, said on Tuesday. "People are concerned."
In an attempt to forge compromise last month, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie
proposed that pesticide and genetically engineered seed corporations be allowed
to voluntarily disclose pesticide use.
The version of the bill that passed late Tuesday was stripped of some of its
tougher conditions and now requires the agricultural companies to disclose the
presence and use of genetically modified crops and pesticides; establishes
buffer zones around schools, hospitals, homes and other areas, and requires the
county to conduct a study on the health and environmental impacts of the
Concerns about pesticide use on the island have been mounting in recent years
and some allege health problems, including increased rates of cancer, are tied
to the farm chemicals on the experimental crop fields.
But testifying at the hearing, BASF representative Kirby Kester said that
passage of the bill was unwarranted because there is no evidence the companies
are doing any harm.
And prior to the meeting, Mark Phillipson, spokesman for Syngenta Hawaii, said
the industry was committed to a safe environment.
"We abide by high standards to create a safe environment for our workers, our
neighbors and the community," Phillipson said.
A spokesman for Dow could not immediately be reached for comment.