Wednesday, October 24, 2012

World Food Day - Is anybody listening?

October 14 was the annual World Food Day (an annual event I used to help organize). This year the big topic was world food prices.

A recent study showed that some of the poor spend as much as 70% of their income on food. Therefore, even a small increase in prices can affect people severely.

An often overlooked impact of food price increases is nutrition. The more food costs increase, the more people turn to cheap food which often has little nutrition.

I find it interesting is that while the governments in Europe are debating the "Eurocrisis" (more about that in a future post), they are completely ignoring the food price problem, which is a much more important issue.

Indeed, the main reason for the increase in food prices has been speculation on the agricultual markets. Many companies are trading on these markets who have no interests in the products, but are simply making money from buying and selling on the market. In fact, much of what is being done in Europe right now is only encouraging this practice (along with other market-based investment), by placing emphasis on business and investment banking instead of peoples livelihoods. These view is also supported by the IMF and other governments.

For more on agriculture, see my article Agriculture and Environment.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Land Grapping

Last week saw the release of guidelines for access to lands for food security, produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

This received very little attention, but I think this is significant. The issue of land grabbing is becoming alarmingly big news in the last five years or so. For example, see this article from the BBC. In many countries large overseas companies are buying land to grow food and other crops and then sending that food, etc. back to their home countries. The first issue is that in most cases the food (or more correctly the land on which it grows) is necessary for feeding the local population.

But what is the real issue addressed by the guidelines, is that the land that is bought by the large companies, is not available to local farmers and in many cases, the original farmers are forced off the land. Hence, the term "land grap". The guidelines are how to protect the rights of the tenants.
Generally, I do not like voluntary standards, but this case is somewhat different. First, it is that it is simply important that the UN agencies are looking at the issue. Secondly, it is an international guideline, and therefore, would be very difficult to enforce.

With the emphasis on economic growth, there has been a major attack on rights of worker's and tenure rights. Corporations should not have the ability to set up work (including corporate farms) simply anywhere they want.
The overall problem is where this land grabbing does increase overall economic growth, it also decreases the economic of local people. It is the economic rights of these people which is most important.

Update 1: Here Fred Pearce, the author of the book Land Grabbers discusses the problem of land grabbing.

Update 2: There is an interesting article at World Resources Institute called Why land rights should be on Rio+20 agenda

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fossil Fuels, Big Oil, Jobs, ...

Recently there was an interesting article on Grist titled Fossil-fuel subsidies are the real job killers. It raises so many questions I do not know where to start!

Let us start with subsidies. I do not know how many times I have heard about renewable energy: "But they would not exist with subsidies." What the people who say this do not realize is the amount of subsidies that the fossil fuel (especially oil and coal) industry get. For the US oil companies get US$12 billion per year in subsidies (compared to US$2 billion for renewables). Many other countries either directly or indirectly subsidize the industry.

And these companies are BIG. ExxonMobil is the largest company in the world. The four largest oil companies make a total of 546 billion US dollars in profits. Only about twenty countries have a GDP higher than this. And ExxonMobil pays no corporate tax at all (despite a nominal rate of 24%), do to large loopholes in the tax legislation.

The main thrust of the argument in the Grist article is that despite the large profits, the Big Oil companies actually reduced the number of people they employed.

I have always been skeptical of the idea that economic growth is how you increase the number of jobs -- just because a company increases its income does not automatically increase the number of jobs. In fact, the biggest expense for most companies is personnel. (And do not believe the lie that companies care about their workers)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Japanese Disaster vs. Haiti

Everybody is talking right now about the one year anniversity of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. And I mean everybody -- the BBC, CNN, local media, all major newspapers, the internet newsites, etc.

But earlier this year, on January 12, was the one year anniversity of the earthquake in Haiti. That anniversity received very little press.

Well, the Japanese disaster was a tragedy - 15,000 died. But Haiti had over 200,000 dead, ten times the number in Japan, and 300,000 injured. And 1.5 million were displaced, -- more than ten percent of the entire population. And after one year, one-third of those (520,000) are still displaced. Haiti was also hit later last year by a hurricane which affected many of the same people as the earthquake. And they also had a chlorea outbreak.

A report just released shows that half of all the humanitarian disaster funding in 2011 went to Japan.

So while we are thinking about Japan, let us not forget others around the world.

Update: The UN just released and interesting report on the discrepancies in disaster funding.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Green Economy, Rio+20, and Greenwashing

I just finished reading an excellent article entitled Rio+20 and the greenwashing of the global economy

The article explains how the business lobby has tried to influence the green economy concept of that the UN has introduced.

The green economy is a term used by the UN as part of the Green Economy Initiative. But as I said previously,

"... in that site I find no definition of the term, instead you see constant referral to "greening the economy". Those are not the same."

We need to have a real green economy, not a greenwashed economy.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Occupy Wall Street - what is it about?

Recently, there has been a number of major protests in the US. The most noted of these is the Occupy Wall Street. But there has also been Occupy Seattle, Occupy Oakland, Occupy London, etc. The protests in Greece and Spain have a lot in common to the Occupy movement.

But what is all this about? I of course cannot speak for the protesters, but will give what I see as the reasonings behind it.

There are really two main themes that the protesters are really fighting for: real democracy and economic (and social) policies which address people's interests before considering business interests.

I have many times in this column talked about corporatocracy. The protesters want their voices heard. They want a government that listens to the people and not to where the money flows. I have already at length discussed the cause and effects of this and solutions in my article on Corporatocracy.

What I find disturbing is the reaction to the protests by the police and local governments. They have acted as bullies, not allowing the freedom of speech and assembly the protests are entitled to. This is being done with the encouragement of businesses who claim the protests are hurting there business. In reality the protests are hurting there political postition.

It is interesting to see the response of the US (both federal and state) to the Occupy movement. They applaud the protest movements in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria as examples of people regaining power; but when the protests are in there own country, it is somehow wrong.