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)