- By Alexis Baden-Mayer, Esq., Political Director
Organic Consumers Association, May 23, 2012
Instead, rich nations will leave the problem in the hands of the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition where private corporations will invest $3 billion over 10 years — Monsanto has committed $50 million — beginning in three countries, Tanzania, Ghana and Ethiopia. (Human-rights activists have questioned the inclusion of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, noting that his authoritarian government has jailed dissidents and banned media access to hunger zones. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a letter to President Obama that the Ethiopian government “routinely downplays the extent of the crisis by denying journalists access to sensitive areas and censoring independent news coverage.”)
The main U.S. spokesperson for the New Alliance is USAID administrator Rajiv Shah. OCA opposed Dr. Shah’s appointment because of his work for the Gates Foundation and his position as a board member of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which actively promote expensive and unsustainable technologies like genetic engineering.
Ronnie Cummins, Director of the Organic Consumers Association, issued the following statement in response to the news:
“Study after study has shown that organic, agro-ecological farming practices on small diverse farms can boost yields in Africa and the developing world from 100-1000% over the yields of chemical-intensive or genetically engineered mono-crop farms. To help the world’s two billion small farmers and rural villagers survive and prosper we need to help them gain access, not to genetically engineered seeds and expensive chemical inputs; but rather access to land, water, and the tools and techniques of traditional, sustainable farming: non-patented open-pollinated seeds, crop rotation, natural compost production, beneficial insects, and access to local markets. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) reduce crop yields, and increase pesticide use, even according to USDA statistics. Bill Gates, Monsanto, and Barack Obama may believe that genetic engineering and chemical-intensive agriculture are the tools to feed the world, but a look at the fatal harvest of modern agribusiness tells a different story. Not only can climate-friendly, healthy organic agriculture practices feed the world, but in fact organic farming is the only way we are going to be able to feed the world.”
OCA political director Alexis Baden-Mayer spoke at the Occupy G8 People’s Summit, critiquing the New Alliance.The notes she prepared for the talk, with links, are below.
Contrary to the talking points of President Obama and the other leaders of the G8 nations, the problem of feeding the world isn’t about the need to produce more food, it’s about stopping the way wealthy countries are subsidizing their richest farmers, grabbing up the best land in Africa, speculating on food commodities in their financial markets, wasting food, diverting crop production to livestock feed and biofuels, and ratcheting up the costs of farming by encouraging the use of expensive and unsustainable GMO seeds, pesticides and fertilizers.
The world already produces more than 1 1/2 times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050.
70 percent of this food is produced by 3 billion small-scale food producers worldwide.
Nevertheless, 1 billion people on the planet are chronically hungry, and 70% are farmers.
If the G8 actually cared about ending hunger, they’d:
Stop Industrial-Scale Food Producers from Wasting the World’s Resources
35 percent of the food produced worldwide feeds meat and dairy animals. If humans switched to all-plant diets, all that agricultural land could produce 50 percent more human food, because feeding crops to animals that then become meat is a highly inefficient way to transfer plant energy to people.
10 percent of global vegetable oil is being diverted to biodiesel.
6 percent of global grain is being diverted to ethanol.
30 to 50 percent of food intended for human consumption in the world gets wasted.
Stop Wall Street from Gambling on Hunger, and End Speculation in the Food Markets
The share of the food market owned by speculators, uninvolved in the food production process, has risen from 12% in 1996 to 61% today. The 4 biggest grain buyers, including ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis and Dreyfus, dominate 75- 90% of the trade in grain worldwide generating profits in the realm of $2 to 3 billion a year.
Make Trade Fair, and End Subsidies for Rich Farmers in Wealthy Countries
In the United States, Congress, in renewing the Farm Bill, is poised to continue to give away subsidies worth tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to the largest commodity crop growers and agribusinesses. As written, the bill includes a $9 billion-a-year crop insurance program to guarantee income for the most profitable farm businesses in the country. This would come primarily in the form of unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies to industrial-scale growers who can well afford to pay more of their risk management costs.
USDA’s Federal Crop Insurance Board of Directors reduces crop insurance premiums for producers who plant Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt corn. Meanwhile, organic producers pay a surcharge on these policies, and payouts don’t reflect their higher costs.
Promote Proven Science on Increasing Yields Rather than Pushing Unsustainable and Expensive Technologies
Small farmers struggling with poverty and hunger could be helped with techniques for producing more food. Companies like Monsanto would have us believe it’s technology that these farmers need, but the UN Food and Agriculture Organization has reviewed the science on improving crop yields for small-scale farmers, and they found that all the science proves that it’s the FAO calls agro-ecological methods — what we know as organic — that improves crop yields for small farmers.
An excellent report by Jill Richardson in Alternet, “How the US Sold Africa to Multinationals Like Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, PepsiCo and Others,” illustrates this fact with examples from Kenya:
- The stunted, diseased corn one sees [in Kenya] was planted from the “best” store-bought seed and ample chemical fertilizer was applied. …
- But the corn growing on the demonstration farm of Samuel Nderitu’s NGO, Grow Biointensive Agricultural Center of Kenya (G-BIACK), is healthy and thriving. So are G-BIACK’s other vegetable crops and fruit trees. Why will he harvest a successful crop when his next-door neighbor will not?
- G-BIACK is an organic farming training center, and the crops there were grown with manure and compost instead of chemical fertilizer. G-BIACK also saves seeds instead of purchasing seeds from the store. The farmers in this region, near the city of Thika, farm tiny plots — as small as one-fifth of an acre and averaging one acre. Many use chemical fertilizer, but since it is expensive, they often fail to use enough. “Here, in Kenya, if you plant anything without chemical fertilizer, if you don’t know anything about organic farming, it can’t grow,” says Nderitu. But, as G-BIACK proves, those who do know how to farm organically achieve great success. G-BIACK was named the NGO of the Year in 2010 by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the Government of Kenya. And its next-door neighbor with the failed crop is now attending its trainings to learn organic farming.
- About 15 km outside of Thika, a farmer named James is also thrilled he switched to organic farming. Farming only one-fifth of an acre, he used to require two $60 bags of fertilizer to plant his crops. Now, he uses manure from his pigs and he is happy with the results. Like most Kenyan farmers, James grows corn, beans, pumpkins, kale, and other crops for family consumption. For income, he can sell a pregnant sow for $240 or a month-old piglet for $20. Before, he would spend much of that money on fertilizer, but now he can use it for other things. He proudly demonstrates how to use his new well, which his increased income allowed him to afford. Next, he plans to buy a water pump so he doesn’t have to pull the water out of the well one bucket at a time.
- Organic farming in Kenya is not about hugging a tree. It’s a simple financial matter. Those who rely on purchased inputs must use their scarce income to buy them. In Thika, where the population is concentrated and land sizes are tiny, many women supplement their farming income with prostitution. The area’s AIDS rate is sky-high, although it has come down from the 37 percent high it reached a decade ago. Poverty breeds AIDS by pushing women into prostitution, but AIDS also breeds poverty, as children are orphaned when their parents die. Some are raised by grandparents, others live in child-headed households. By allowing farmers to keep their money instead of spending it on costly inputs, organic farming gives hope of breaking this cycle. How many fewer women will need to enter prostitution if they can instead make ends meet by farming?
- Whereas chemical farming is input-intensive, organic farming requires knowledge. A farmer relying on fertilizer and purchased seeds needs money and the entire supply chain required to manufacture the inputs and distribute them to a nearby agro-dealer. But knowledge is free. Robert Mwangi learned how to farm organically from G-BIACK and soon saw his income increase. With five acres, he was never destitute, but now he has enough money to help family members out when they are in need. Mwangi’s neighbors have seen his success and he is helping them adopt organic methods too. At the same time, he conducts experiments on his land to see which methods or crops give him the best results. As each farmer in the community conducts an experiment or two on their land each season, they can share their results with one another and all will benefit.
- An internationally celebrated farming technique called the push-pull method has also helped Kenyan farmers increase yields — by a factor of 3.5. The yield increase is due to elimination of an insect pest, the stem borer, and a parasitic weed, striga, as well as an increase in soil fertility. The farmer pulls the stem borer away from the corn by planting a cattle feed crop called napier grass nearby. Napier grass is more attractive to egg-laying stem borer moths than corn, but few of the larvae that hatch on it survive.
- A second cattle forage crop, desmodium, is planted between rows of corn. Desmodium, a legume, fixes nitrogen in the soil. It also releases chemicals into the soil causing striga seeds to “suicidally germinate.” It releases yet more chemicals into the air that repel stem borer moths and attract parasitic wasps that prey on stem borers. All of the crops used in the system are native, so no corporation profits, only the farmers themselves.
- Elsewhere in Kenya, not far from the home of Barack Obama’s paternal grandmother, American Amy Lint and her Kenyan husband Malaki Obado champion native Kenyan crops that are perfectly adapted to the region’s long dry periods. To an untrained eye, the area looks desolate and devoid of food, but the locals know better. Walking through their rural village, the point out leafy greens, fruits and crops used for building materials, medicine and rope, all growing wild. These aren’t a replacement for cultivated staples like corn, cassava or sorghum, but they provide micronutrients in local diets and improve local food security. With so much natural abundance, one must wonder why the Gates Foundation has sunk so many millions of dollars into creating staple crops with the full range of required nutrients genetically engineered into them.
As Eric Holt Gimenez points out in his Huffington Post piece, “The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition: Nothing New About Ignoring Africa’s Farmers,” “farmers would say that Africa is actually a rich continent and it is the continued extraction of wealth by foreign corporations that causes poverty and hunger.” He encourages us to read a letter addressed to the African Union and signed by 15 African peasant farmer federations, which states:
- Today we are faced with two contrasting aspirations in Sub-Saharan Africa: the desire to regain control of our development and, on the other hand, the temptation of an excessive reliance on external resources… [African governments] should accord the major advantages to the principal investors in agriculture, those who take the risks within the family enterprises, that is, the peasants, and not to urban or foreign sources of capital.
Stop Corporations from Stealing and Polluting Local Water Supplies
Over 750 million people world-wide do not have access to safe, clean drinking water, and 2.5 billion people still lack access to improved sanitation. Jill Richardson’s article illustrates how multinational agribusinesses are partly responsible for this tragedy:
- Across Kenya’s many different ethnic groups, provinces and ecological zones, farmers agree on what they need most, and it isn’t help from Monsanto or Wal-Mart. It’s water. In arid and semi-arid areas, lack of water has always been an issue. But at least the two rainy seasons, the long rains between March and June, and the short rains between October and December, were consistent. During each rainy period, Kenyan farmers would grow a crop that had to last until the next harvest. But, according to farmer Florence Ogendi, the rains changed about five years ago. First the short rains became unreliable, and now they can’t even count on the long rains. In her area, the long rains used to come in late February, but this year they did not arrive until April.
- Sometimes, water that used to be shared by all is now taken or polluted by a powerful few. Near Kitengela, an enormous flower farm has drilled wells to irrigate its crops, which are for export. With so much water going to irrigate flowers, the nearby Isinya River now runs dry. Elsewhere, Lake Naivasha suffers the same problem, also due to flower farms. And a day after Nderitu took his goats to graze near a local river, all five goats were dead. The autopsy revealed the deaths were from pesticides. Nderitu blames the enormous Del Monte pineapple plantation just across the river from where his goats grazed.
Stop Foreign Land Grabbing, and Help Poor Farmers Gain Access to Decent Farmland
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to up to 60 per cent of the world’s unused arable land. Not surprisingly, this has prompted a land grab on the part of foreign countries and corporations. The G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is facilitating this gold rush by requiring African countries to allow more private-sector access to land.
Again, from Jill Richardson:
- Access to land is another issue for Kenyan farmers. While farmers like James try to coax a living from a fraction of an acre, nearby Del Monte grows pineapples on several thousand acres. Locals report that they pay their workers a mere $2.40 a day, less than the minimum wage, but actually more than the $2.05 per day the other large farms in the area pay. Mwangi, who lives within sight of Del Monte’s land, feels ill whenever they spray pesticides. The land could likely support more farmers, and more successful farmers, if it wasn’t concentrated in the hands of a few corporations.
Commit to Local and Regional Purchasing in Times of Famine
A company called Glencore received $78 million from the UN World Food Program in 2011 to deliver food aid to the worst hit famine areas, even though the World Food Program Executive Director, Josette Sheeran was “convinced that strategically directed local purchase can benefit not only the hungry, but also poor farmers producing food.”
Unlike other donor countries, the U.S. ships most of its food aid as in-kind donations sent around the globe rather than local purchases from farmers in the country or region in need. Food aid is purchased by U.S. agribusinesses, transported by American shippers, and delivered by U.S. NGOs or U.N. agencies. By law, at least 75 percent of our food donations must be purchased, processed and transported by American companies. Shipping food aid to sub-Saharan Africa costs 35 percent more than local food purchases. A full 65 percent of our food aid budget is consumed by shipping costs. Furthermore, food shipped from the United States takes two to three months longer to arrive than food purchased regionally.
In the 2008 Farm Bill, Congress authorized a four-year, $60 million pilot program for local and regional purchases of foodaid. An initial survey of some of the results from the test cases found that the average cost of providing grains was 54 percent lower, and the delivery time was cut 62 percent (nearly 14 weeks).
The U.S. government should phase out the practice of monetization, in which the government donates food to U.S. development organizations who then sell the food in-country to raise money for their programs (about $300 million in FY 2010). The costs entailed in monetization can absorb nearly 30 percent of the potential revenues, and in many cases distort local markets, forcing local farmers to compete with food donations in their own markets.