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Can The Agriculture System Of The Developed West Feed the World?

Western farmers get more subsidy than the GDP of 125 countries in the world.

Used food tins with overwhelming propaganda branding stacked near the town of Dadaab, Kenya, on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. |  Image source - AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam; courtesy - theatlantic.com

Used food tins with overwhelming propaganda branding stacked near the town of Dadaab, Kenya, on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. | Image source – AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam; courtesy – theatlantic.com

Looking at butter mountains, lakes of wine and milk, in Europe and US after the starvation and famine in Africa, it can be easy to jump to wrong conclusions.

Just 60 years ago, Europe was dependent on food imports – and was on limited rations.

Food aid is frequently a market seeding program to create markets for Western food multinationals. A Somali refugee with a high-energy biscuit at the Ifo refugee camp on July 24, 2011 in Dadaab, Kenya.  |  Image source - Oli Scarff/Getty Images; courtesy - theatlantic.com

Food aid is frequently a market seeding program to create markets for Western food multinationals. A Somali refugee with a high-energy biscuit at the Ifo refugee camp on July 24, 2011 in Dadaab, Kenya. | Image source – Oli Scarff/Getty Images; courtesy – theatlantic.com

Today the story is different.

The price of a ton of skimmed-milk powder, which in the summer of 2007 was above €3,000, had fallen roughly in half. In Germany it is currently around €1,400.

Farmers had been hit by a slump in demand for commodities caused by the global financial slowdown, and by the strength of the euro.

“We export a lot to Russia in terms of butter, cheese to the United States and milk powder to Africa and Asia, and all these are hit by the strength of the euro”.

Though the EU managed to dispense with its butter stocks in 2007, grain mountains and wine lakes still exist.

The latest figures show that 717,810 tons of cereals is piling up, along with 41,422 tons of sugar and 2.3 million hectoliters of wine, according to the European Commission.

via EU’s butter mountain is back – The New York Times.

Graphic source & courtesy - economist.com on Jul 1st 2010

Graphic source & courtesy – economist.com on Jul 1st 2010

Currently, there is belief that food shortages in the West were an exception – maybe even an aberration.

This confidence and belief has grown to the extent that the West seriously asks itself.

“But can we feed the world this way?”

following World War II, with the onset of the “Green Revolution,” feeding the world became a national mantra. It was a ubiquitous “good” that handily justified the discovery that the petrochemicals used in warfare could find postwar applications if dumped on our food supply.

However, 75 or 100 years ago, such a question would never have entered into our dialogue. To ask a local farmer or homesteader how his or her production methods were going to feed the world would have been absurd. The local producer’s job was to support the family, the community, and his or her bioregion–not the world.

Feeding the world” was the background tune playing in the bank, on the car radio of the seed salesman, in the office of the accountant as farmers were counseled to “get big or get out,” to expand their production and change their growing practices to participate in a global food supply, rather than a regional one.

Can the local, sustainable food movement in the United States feed the world? Hell, no. Nor can the industrial agricultural paradigm. No one can feed the world. One country cannot do it, nor can any specific model of production.

Thus, I leave you with one question: What can you do today that will enable the world to feed itself?

via The Downside of Expecting America’s Agriculture System to Feed the World | Alternet.

As Europe & US play out a charade of negotiations, it is Africa and Asia which is suffering from food shortages. | Cartoon by Peter Nicholson; on July 5, 2005; source & courtesy - nicholsoncartoons.com

As Europe & US play out a charade of negotiations, it is Africa and Asia which is suffering from food shortages. | Cartoon by Peter Nicholson; on July 5, 2005; source & courtesy – nicholsoncartoons.com

Truthfully?

Forget about the world. Forget about pollution, environment, green-planet, ecology, rain forests et al.

Think of yourself.

Between the US and the EU, the agricultural system gets close to US$100 billion dollars. Western farmers get more subsidy than the GDP of 125 countries in the world.

Western governments subsidize their farmers by a sum greater than the GDP of countries like Morocco, Oman, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tunisia, Kenya, Libya, Tanzania among many others.

The West can afford this subsidy regime for now. One more crisis like the ongoing Great Recession – and these subsidies will have to go. When agricultural subsidies to Western farmers go, food from dinner tables across the West will also vanish. As subsidies decline, Western consumers may see food shortages and nearly 50% increase in food prices.

Go.

Worry about that.

Levels of total farm income and total subsidy over the years in the US

Levels of total farm income and total subsidy over the years in the US


Without Comment – The Great Indian Genetic Robbery

January 24, 2012 5 comments

The ways, means, and behind Western technology and science.

India is rice country. Rice is a critical component of a complex eco-system, tied to legends, used as symbol, essential witness at religious ceremonies and rituals. Such an immense preoccupation with rice would, which is to be expected, call forth its own brand of competence to grow it; so we find a bewildering number of techniques, some of which even today place Indian rice farmers, some Adivasis, in a class far ahead of international science.

In the Jagannath Temple at Puri in Orissa, I was told, freshly harvested rice is presented to the deity everyday, and various varieties of rice, placed in pots, one on top of the other, with a single flame beneath the lowermost, still cook simultaneously. In Chhattisgarh region there is a rice variety called Bora, which can be ground directly into flour and made into rotis. Other varieties have fascinating names, like the kali-mooch of Gwalior, the moti-chur and the khowa; the latter, as its name signifies, tastes like dried milk. The dhokra-dhokri, with its length of grain over 14 mm is the longest rice in the world and the variety Bhimsen has the largest width; there is variety called udan pakheru – because of its long, featherlike structure.

There may have been as many as 1,20,000 varieties of rice in the country, adapted to different environments, and selected and evolved by farmers for specific human needs. These varieties are a product of nature’s desire for diversity, eagerly husbanded by indigenous and non-formal science.

The Central Rice Research Institute (CRRI), at Cuttack, had been working on the different problems associated with rice culture ever since it had been set up in the late 1950s. Dr R.H. Richharia took over as its director in 1959, and a number of competent scientists had come up with interesting work that sooner or later would converge into a strategy to produce more rice.

Two major developments totally ruined the prospect of a promised land overflowing with rice and honey. The first was economic: the oil price hike of 1973 effectively limited a fertiliser-based agricultural strategy. It would make Green Revolution inputs so expensive that they would have to be subsidised by Governments if farmers were not to give up using them forever. The second major problem, also irreversible, arrived in the form of disease and insects. The growing of varieties with a narrow genetic base (all with the same dwarfing gene, dee-gee-wo-gen), upset insect ecology and invented entire generations of pests.

In India, the situation was equally horrifying. All of Dr Richharia’s predictions had come true. ‘The introduction of high-yielding varieties,’ noted a task force of eminent rice breeders, ‘has brought about a marked change in the status of insect pests like gall midge, brown planthopper, leaf folder, whore maggot, etc. Most of the HYVs released so far are susceptible to major pests with a crop loss of 30 to 100 per cent… Most of the HYVs are the derivatives of TN1 or IR8 and therefore, have the dwarfing gene known as dee-gee-wo-gen. The narrow genetic base has created alarming uniformity, causing vulnerability to diseases and pests. Most of the released varieties are not suitable for typical uplands and lowlands which together constitute about 75 per cent of the total rice area of the country.

The IRRI counter-strategy against the pests involved breeding of varieties, with genes for resistance to such pests, taken from wild relatives of the rice plant and its traditional cultivars. All of a sudden it seemed critical that massive efforts be made to make as complete a collection of the older varieties: many of the traditional Indicas were found to be important donors for resistance. Gene incorporation strategy, in other words, required vast germplasm resources, most of which were to be found in India. The recruitment of Dr M.S. Swaminathan would be instrumental in the task of collection.

In India, again, Dr Richharia stood in the way.

After he had been retired from service at Chandler’s insistence, Richharia had gone to the Orissa High Court, where for three years, alone, he fought a legal battle that ruined his family, disrupted the education of his children, and brought tremendous strains on his wife’s health. The legal battle was successful, for in 1970, the Court ordered his reinstatement as director of the CRRI. He had redeemed his honour.

In the meanwhile, the Madhya Pradesh government had appointed Dr Richharia as an agricultural advisor, and the rice man set about his disrupted rice work once again, with his usual zeal. Within the space of six years, he had built up the infrastructure of a new rice research institute at Raipur. Here, this extraordinarily gifted and imaginative rice scientist maintained over 19,000 varieties of rice in situ on a shoestring budget of Rs. 20,000 per annum, with not even a microscope in his office-cum-laboratory, situated in the neighbourhood of cooperative rice mills. His assistants included two agricultural graduates and six village level workers, the latter drawing a salary of Rs.250 per month. Richharia had created, practically out of nothing, one of the most extraordinary living gene banks in the world, and provided ample proof of what Indian scientists are capable of, if they are given proper encouragement.

An attack of leaf blight that devastated the corn crop of the US in 1970, and which had resulted from the extensive planting of hybrids that shared a single source of cytoplasm, and the continuous attacks on IRRI varieties, impelled IRRI to sponsor a Rice Genetic Conservation Workshop in 1977. Swaminathan attended it as an ‘observer’. The report of that workshop begins with the statement: ‘The founders of IRRI showed great foresight when in 1960-61 they planned the establishment of a rice germplasm bank.’ Nonsense. The certified aims and objects for the institute merely talk of a collection of the world’s literature on rice. The workshop, being held 17 years after the establishment of IRRI, indicated that the germplasm problem was becoming important only now.

After the workshop, IRRI’s covetous gaze fell on Richharia’s 19,000 varieties at the Madhya Pradesh Rice Research Institute (MPRRI). Not only had Richharia now uncovered a fascinating world of traditional rices, some of which produced between 8-9 tonnes per hectare – better than the IRRI varieties – he had also discovered dwarf plants without the susceptible dwarfing gene of the IRRI varieties. His extension work among the farmers would soon begin to pose a direct challenge to IRRI itself.

IRRI staff members journeyed to Raipur and asked for his material. Still moulded in the old scientific tradition, he refused because he had not studied the material himself. He was decidedly against any proposal for ‘exchange’, for this could only mean giving up his uncontaminated varieties for IRRI’s susceptible ones.

So the IRRI did the next best thing: it got the MPRRI shut down!

The ICAR floated a scheme for agricultural development in Madhya Pradesh, particularly for rice. The World Bank contributed Rs.4 crores. The condition laid down was: close down the MPRRI, since it would lead to a ‘duplication of work.’ At a special meeting of the MPRRI Board, Madhya Pradesh’s chief secretary who was not a trustee was present. He had been earlier connected with the Ford Foundation. A resolution was passed closing down the Institute, and the rice germplasm passed over to the Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya (JNKVV), whose vice-chancellor Sukhdev Singh also joined the IRRI board of trustees. Scientists were sent to IRRI for training in germplasm transfer, and Richharia’s team was disbanded.

This time too, they locked Dr. Richharia’s rooms and took away all his research papers. (More @ The Great Gene Robbery  |  Claude Alvares |  13 Jan 2012Vijayvaani.com).

The real pandemic – Sunita Narain

May 23, 2009 2 comments
Indus Valley seal showing domestic animals

Indus Valley seal showing domestic animals

Take swine flu — now renamed. We know it started in La Gloria, a little town in Mexico. We know a young boy suffering from fever in March became the first confirmed victim of the current outbreak, which, even as I write, has reached India. What is not said is this ill-fated town is right next to one of Mexico’s biggest hog factories, owned by the world’s largest pig processor, Smithfield Foods. What is also not said is that people in this town have repeatedly protested against the food giant for water pollution, terrible stench and waste dumping. (via Sunita Narain: The real pandemic).

This will jolt you upright

There were two things about this post which made me sit up.

annual-world-wheat-production

Annual World Wheat Production

One – The real story behind the ‘probable’ pandemic. This is something that most mainstream media writers do not tell. Take official Government press releases, (sometimes) change the language and call it news. Sometimes, they help in the cover up. If this story does not become well-known enough, Mexico and its poor will be blamed for the starting this pandemic – by the West.

Two – the fragile state of US agriculture, specifically, and the West in general.

About 46,000 ‘corporate’ farmers, account for nearly 50% of US farm output – and most of the US$20 billion in subsidy. The US Government prints vast amounts of currency notes or issues US Treasury Bonds, which are lapped up (earlier by the Middle East Oil Potentates, and the Chinese these days). This money is then handed over to these ‘American farmers’.

The US agricultural system

An interesting situation exists in the food sector – especially in the US. Giant food corporations, killed buying competition with high prices (to farmers), direct buying from farmers (at higher prices), monoclonal seeds that destroy bio-diversity. And the US consumers are not getting the lower food prices that are being promised in India.

Industrial crops will create a foodgrain crisis

Industrial crops will create a food-grain crisis

Farmers became dependent on corporate supplies of seeds (at high prices) and corporate purchases by the same corporations (at low prices). Today, an ‘efficient’ and ‘hi-tech’ agricultural farm sector in the US needs more than US$ 20 billion (conservative estimates are US$12 billion) of subsidies to survive.

The US-EPA says, “By 1997, a mere 46,000 of the two million farms in this country (America), accounted for 50% of sales of agricultural products (USDA, 1997 Census of Agriculture data) (bold letters supplied) – and gobble up most of this huge subsidy that lowers Third World agricultural prices. These lower agricultural prices devastate agriculture in Third World countries, creating man-made famines. These man-made famines, of course, gives the West a false sense of superiority.

A study in contrast

The Indian agricultural system, with nil subsidies, working with cost disadvantages, does not have giant buying corporations and monoclonal seed stock, is holding its own against subsidized agricultural systems of the West. And paid hacks of these Western corporations are trying to tell Indian consumers and policy makers that these giant corporations will cut food costs in India.

Economic crisis

Economic crisis

These giant corporations are aiming for entry into India – promising ‘efficiencies’ in buying (which will give consumers a better price), and higher prices for farmers (which will increase farm incomes). Of course, this will last as long as there is competition.

Once, these giant corporations, fueled by huge amounts of debt and equity, drive out competition, they will lower the boom on the consumers and the farmer – like in the USA.

Stuffed and starved

Raj Patel, in his book, Stuffed and Starved, demonstrates how global food corporations are behind global food habits, imbalance traditional diets, creating disease epidemics (like diabetes) – and how India needs to be careful before crafting industrial policies that encourage these global corporations to destroy Indian agriculture. A book review extracts some key points as follows,

Polluter cleans up principle ought to apply (Carton by David Horsey; courtesy - indianinthemachine.wordpress.com). Click for larger image.

Polluter cleans up principle ought to apply (Carton by David Horsey; courtesy - indianinthemachine.wordpress.com). Click for larger image.

What we think are our choices, says Patel, are really the choices of giant food production companies. Millions of farmers grow food, six billion people consume it. But in between them are a handful of corporations creating what Patel calls “an hourglass” model of food distribution. One Unilever controls more than 90% of the tea market. Six companies control 70% of the wheat trade. Meanwhile, farmers across the world are pitted against each other, trying to sell these gatekeeper companies their produce. And if you think the consumer comes out on top because of all this competition, think again.

The End of Bretton Woods

With the collapse of Bretton Woods, this will become increasingly difficult. Where will US agriculture be without subsidies – in a massively high costs zone. US food exports will shrivel and global agricultural prices will reach (at least) 200 year highs (my estimate). And that will be the golden hour for Indian agriculture. What is the only dark cloud in this scenario – GM seeds which the West is pushing down the reluctant Indian agriculturists’ throat. With significant help from the Indian Government.

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