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“Internationalism between Peoples”: Dessalines Brigade Wins the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance Award

9:41 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Interview by Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

 

Jose Luis Patrola is a history professor, farmer, and member of the Brazilian land reform group, the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement, or MST. He lived in Haiti for three years as part of the Dessalines Brigade, an exchange of agricultural and technical cooperation between Haitians and Brazilians. In a departure from many international programs of “teaching” and “aiding” Haitians, Patrola speaks here about mutual learning and respect.

 

 

We are here in Haiti in an educational solidarity exchange program. We’re not here to teach. We’re here to learn.

 

In our work, there’s great respect for Haitian farmers and movements. That’s something that has been greatly lacking: respect. Not only from foreigners, but from Haitian elites who don’t acknowledge their own people.

 

The MST and the Via Campesina [a coalition of farmers and landless people’s organizations from around the world] in Brazil have had contact with small farmers in Haiti for many years now. Since 2004, we’d been thinking about a solidarity exchange program between campesino movements in Brazil and Haiti. We were finally able to make this possible starting in January 2009, when the MST and other small farmers’ organizations from Brazil sent a brigade of four people to identify what the solidarity exchange would look like. The exchange now works to achieve horizontal solidarity between these farmers.

 

With the earthquake in January [2010], things changed a little, and movements in Haiti suggested to us the possibility of strengthening the brigade with more Brazilians. We organized a brigade

of 31 people, who sleep and eat in the Haitian farmers’ homes.

 

There are different farmer movements from Brazil that are participating. The MST is the biggest group, but there’s also the Movement of Small-scale Agriculturalists, the Movement of Women Campesinas, the Movement of Dam-Affected People, the Pastoral Commission of the Earth that’s part of the Catholic Church, and a representative of the Movement of Unemployed Workers.

 

The brigade consists of people with different skills. We have farmers. We have technical agronomists that are also children of farmers. We have veterinarians, professors, construction specialists, and two medics. We’re doing a little bit of everything; the diversity is very important. A doctor, for example, helped install a cistern for water catchment, and professors are also working the land.

 

The program works at two levels: an organizational level to strengthen peasant organization and autonomy, and a technical level with programs of cooperation, including agricultural production and training schools.

 

This exchange is organized in four fundamental components. First is the exchange, a big opportunity for cultural and intellectual training. We have 30 Brazilians here, which is like a training school in itself, because the starting point of their time here is learning.

 

And we sent Haitians to Brazil as a form of horizontal solidarity. The people spent one month in a school in Brazil where they had history, geography, and Portuguese classes. Then Haitians went to different parts of Brazil to get to know about the different things we’re doing. We want Haitians to have the opportunity to understand what’s happening in Brazil so when they come back home, they can contribute to their organizations.

 

The second phase of the work is producing seeds, which is fundamental to food sovereignty. We started strengthening the national production of seeds so people can save, maintain, and produce their own seeds. We’re establishing six centers of seed production of legumes and other seeds like corn. We’d like to grow stronger in the area of legume production based on our experiences in Brazil, because in Haiti all the seeds for legumes come from other places; they aren’t produced here. We don’t just want to build a program to produce seeds, we want it to be controlled by the farmers.

 

Third, we started a program of reforestation. It’s true that Haiti has serious issues with deforestation that’s not easy to work on. A lot of trees are cut to make charcoal to assure the farmers a steady income. We’ve worked on reforestation by planting avocados and mangos, other things, so the farmers can [have other sources of income].

 

The fourth area is the construction of intermediate-level technical schools to train young farmers in agricultural technologies. Like in other sectors of society, the investigative and technical side of agriculture has been abandoned. Five or six technical schools have been closed. We have plans to open one. We have many examples in Brazil to work with; it’s a dream of peasant movements.

 

[One piece of technical support] is water catchment. People here are dying of cholera. What’s the solution? Potable water to live. We’re installing 1,200 cisterns.

 

So these programs – the exchanges, the seeds, reforestation, and technical schools – have a fundamental objective: to help them strengthen their autonomy and their organizational capacity, the base of social movements. That’s the principal philosophy of the cooperation.

 

All the work we’ve done has been voluntary. All the resources we’ve gotten are from a foundation in Boston called Grassroots International and from two Brazilians who’ve supported the brigade. There are movements back in Brazil that are assuming responsibility for supporting the families, providing monthly contributions, because some [Brazilians here] left children [back home]. There are also the volunteer hosts [for the Haitians] there in Brazil.

 

Social movements all over the world have forgotten the concept of internationalism. Small farmers’ movements through Via Campesina have revitalized this, and the example of Haiti has proven it. The exchange proves that a solidarity exchange is possible between peoples, not just between governments. Not that that isn’t important, but social organizations can also articulate their exchange programs of alliances.

 

What we are doing doesn’t consist of donating things, it consists of identifying and constructing alongside Haitians. The Haitian people have to be respected and we have to get to know them, we have to speak their language. It’s very symbolic, what we are doing.

Growing Strength to Grow Food: Haitian Farmers Win Annual U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance Prize

9:32 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

The US Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA) works to end poverty, rebuild local food economies, and assert democratic control over the food system. As a US-based alliance of food justice, anti-hunger, labor, environmental, faith-based, and food producer groups, the USFSA upholds the right to food as a basic human right and works to connect US struggles to the international movement for food sovereignty.

Next week, the USFSA is awarding the 5th Annual Food Sovereignty Prize, which recognizes grassroots initiatives that are building solutions to poverty and hunger, and resisting the corporate control of food and trade systems. This year’s winner, the Group of 4 and Dessalines Brigade/Via Campesina from Haiti and South America, and the honorable mentions, stand in sharp contrast to this year’s World Food Prize winners, Monsanto, Syngenta, and the Institute for Plant Biotechnology Outreach (IPBO).

***

“Instead of foreigners sending us food, they should give us the chance to do our own agriculture so it can survive.” So said Rony Charles, a rice grower and member of the Agricultural Producer Cooperative of Verrettes, in Haiti.

Giving domestic agriculture the chance to survive would address four critical needs:

  • Creating employment for the majority, estimated at 60% to 80% of the population;1
  • Allowing rural people to stay on their land. This is both their right as well as a way to keep Port-au-Prince from becoming even more perilously overcrowded;
  • Addressing an ongoing food crisis. Today, even with imports, more than 2.4 million people out of a population of 9 million are estimated to be food-insecure. Acute malnutrition among children under the age 5 is 9%, and chronic under-nutrition for that age group is 24%.2 Peasant groups are convinced that, with the necessary investment, Haiti could produce at least 80% of its food consumption needs; and
  • Promoting a post-earthquake redevelopment plan that serves the needs of the majority, unlike the one currently promoted by the U.S. and U.N. which is based on the growth of sweatshops. (See “Poverty-Wage Assembly Plants as Development Strategy in Haiti”.)

This year, one of the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance prizes goes to Four Focused Eyes (Kat Zye Kontre), a coalition of Haiti’s four largest and strongest peasant organizations, who are addressing these needs head-on. The name comes from an expression pertaining to cheating in Haitian card games, “Four focused eyes, an end to lies,” and refers to the long-term distrust between some of these organizations.

Four Focused Eyes includes the country’s two national peasant groups – Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen, or Heads Together Small Producers of Haiti, and the National Peasant Movement of the Papay Congress (MPNKP) – plus the two largest regional organizations – the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP by its Creole acronym) and the Regional Coordination of the Organizations of the South-East (KROS).

The coalition is building unity and strength for the common agenda. Together, they are helping the peasant sector become both more capable of growing food, and shore up might to win policies that promote domestic agriculture. Four Focused Eyes is pushing the state for a pro-peasant agenda, especially around food sovereignty and land reform, through mobilization and advocacy. They are advancing their agenda collectively through negotiations with the Ministry of Agriculture and national pressure. Moreover, they are making common cause with other farmer movements and allies around the globe, such as the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance and La Via Campesina, to fight for trade and foreign policies that promote small-farmer food, agriculture, and land systems.

Like their counterparts the world over, these farmers are focused principally on building food sovereignty. They are on the frontlines of a clash between two development models: food sovereignty and neoliberalism.3

Food sovereignty is the right of a people to define their own food and agricultural systems, premised on growing domestically for domestic consumption. It is based on other social and economic rights, too: the right to food, the right of rural peoples to produce, and the right to land.

Food sovereignty promotes small-scale agriculture, government management of food imports, protection of native seeds, and large-scale redistribution of land with protections of land tenure for small farmers. It calls for the democratic participation of the population in shaping trade policies and for development programs which protect domestic production, especially by small growers.

The opposing model, neoliberalism, is the one governing farming in Haiti and much of the world. An ideology as well as a set of free-market policies and programs, neoliberalism opposes a significant role of government or community in planning, investing in, or intervening into markets in ways which could protect and promote national development. Neoliberalism gives primacy to corporate control over domestic production and the environment. Key players here include the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, governments of industrialized countries, large landholders, and corporations.

The model is based on global trade rules which allow rich countries to make profits off Haiti and other low-income countries in two ways. The first is as a source of cheap, raw goods for the so-called First World, which are extracted or produced by intensive exploitation of labor, land, and other resources. Haiti used to fill this role, historically exporting hardwoods and more recently – until the 1908s – foodstuffs, until the agricultural sector no longer had the capacity to do so.

Low-income countries’ second role is as a market for corporate goods from high-income countries. The trade policies of wealthy nations and the conditions on loans by international financial institutions pressure low-income countries to lower import tariffs, though high-income countries’ own production remains protected by subsidies. In Haiti, conditions on two loans from the IMF, in the 1980s and 1990s, forced the government to reduce tariffs on food imports to as low as 3% from former levels of up to 150%.4 This made it suddenly cheaper to buy food from U.S. agribusiness than from the farmer the next field over, thus effectively putting out of business the farmer in that next field.

Until the early 1980s, Haiti was largely self-sufficient in food, but now domestic agriculture meets only 43% of Haitians’ food consumption needs.5 This has led to the further impoverishment of the small farmer sector; those who still try to survive through growing do so in grinding destitution. Another option has been to flee to the cities, and for more than three decades peasants have been arriving in droves for Port-au-Prince, where they have found jobs in the assembly sector or the informal sector if they were lucky, or have remained unemployed if they weren’t. This led to another impact of so-called free trade policies: the dense population in Port-au-Prince of rural emigrants and others, virtually all of them living in shoddy housing on terrain often unsuitable for dwellings, contributed greatly to the high death toll (estimated at 250,000 to 300,000) from the January, 2010 earthquake.

Attaining food sovereignty in Haiti would necessitate a governmental commitment to invest significantly in agriculture. Farmers need support for tools, seeds, credit, irrigation and water storage systems, and assistance from agronomists. Food sovereignty must involve land reform, since peasants currently don’t have the land they need to grow. It would mean staunching the flow of dumped U.S. commodities which, more than ever since the earthquake, has meant that Haitian farmers either have to sell their food for a pittance or cannot sell it at all. Food sovereignty would require raising tariffs on food imports to protect national production.

Food sovereignty would also involve turning around Haiti’s ecological crisis, since its effects – topsoil erosion, deforestation, destruction of watersheds, floods, and droughts – all impede agricultural production. Some Haitian farmer-activists are promoting a set of programs to address this crisis, with their own programs of reforestation, integrated water management, and creation of non-charcoal energy sources. But the farmers say they cannot reverse the environmental decline on their own, and ask the government to commit to national programs and to enforce ecological protection laws that are already on the books.

Food sovereignty in Haiti would require, furthermore, passing a law against genetically modified [GMO] seeds and limiting multinational corporate involvement in Haiti’s seeds, which Haitian farmers call “the patrimony of humanity.” The need has been underscored this year by new imports of seeds from Pioneer and Monsanto. Some of them, such as Monsanto’s calypso tomato seeds, are treated with deadly poisons which the EPA banned for home use in the U.S.6 While Monsanto, for one, is donating its seeds at the moment, one suspects that that largesse will quickly end and that farmers will be forced to buy them in subsequent years. Meanwhile, agriculture becomes dependent on foreign corporations for the very foundation of agriculture. (For more, please see “Haitian Farmers Commit to Burning Monsanto Seeds.”)

Silion Pierre, a national coordinator with Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen, Heads Together Small Producers of Haiti, said, “Our idea is to reinforce our strength and capacity to mobilize by bringing together all progressive forces, Haitian and foreign, to make Haiti into another nation where people can live with security and food.”

1 The U.N. in 2006 estimated 60%, while peasant organizations commonly use the figure of 80%.

2 World Food Programme, 2010, http://www.wfp.org/countries/haiti.

3 Posited by Via Campesina, as explained in “Food Sovereignty” flyer, 2002, discussed in Peter Rosset, Agrarian Reform and Food Sovereignty: Alternative Model for the Rural World, Center for the Study of Rural Change in Mexico, Feb. 2006, p. 7.

4 Oxfam International, Kicking Down the Door: How Upcoming WTO Talks Threaten Farmers in Poor Countries, April 2005, p. 26.

5 World Bank, 2008.

6 Extension Toxicology Network, Pesticide Information Project of the Cooperative Extension Offices of Cornell University, Michigan State University, Oregon State University, and University of California at Davis,http://pmep.cce.cornell.edu/profiles/extoxnet/pyrethrins-ziram/thiram-ext.html

Bringing the Food Home: Local Food and Agriculture Systems

7:57 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Part 16 of the Harvesting Justice series

Indoor farmer's market

An indoor farmer's market.

In Western Massachusetts on a sunny winter day, a farmers’ market was taking place in the entryway of an elementary school. The smell was a mix of apple cider, homemade donuts, and gymnasium. Long rows of tables were heavy with piles of root vegetables, hardy apples, fresh pies, pasture-raised lamb, honey wine, and handmade brooms. There was enough diversity that, if determined and creative, one could make it through an admirable portion of a long northern winter.

In the last few years, winter farmers’ markets have been turning up everywhere, tucked into corners of community centers, churches, and school auditoriums. Farmers in cold climes are pushing the limits of their seasons, growing vegetables in greenhouses and building root cellars to make their harvests last. And communities are aligning their appetites with their climates, relinquishing mealy winter tomatoes in favor of the joys of parsnips and cabbage.

In today’s globalized system, the number of miles a typical piece of food travels before it gets to its final point of sale averages 1,000 to 1,500, depending on which of the many studies one is reading. A small bag of trail mix we recently purchased listed 11 countries as far-flung as Greece, Chile, India, Vietnam, and Tanzania as possible sources for its three ingredients of almonds, cashews, and raisins.

Food literally transverses the globe, creating a major disconnect between us and our source of survival, and creating plenty of opportunities for middle-people to make a profit along the way. For every dollar spent on food in the US, about 84 cents go to middle-people, while only 16 cents go to farmers.[i]

Nearly one-fifth of oil and gas consumption in the US is used to power our industrialized food system.[ii] This doesn’t just include fuel for shipping food, but also for growing it (tractors, pesticides, and fertilizers), processing it (factories, refrigeration, packaging materials), and distributing it (warehouses, stores, and restaurants). When we stand in front of our open refrigerators peering in for a snack, the cold air streaming out the door is the last hurrah on the long, energy-intensive journey our food has made. Between 7.3 and 10 units of fossil-fuel energy are required for each unit of food energy that we consume.[iii] In our current food system, far more energy is used up getting that small bag of trail mix into our hands than we gain from eating it.

Some advocates are strict in their commitment to local sourcing, envisioning an entirely local diet. Others believe that if something can’t be grown in a region and is imported, the price should more closely reflect the true costs, including the environmental impacts of transporting the far-flung food.

Taken alone, “local” or “organic” doesn’t necessarily equate “sustainable.” Local foods can be grown with heavy pesticides or without respecting workers’ rights. And today we have the Walmart-ization of organics, which replicates some of the same destructive practices of industrial agriculture. An increasing amount of organic produce is grown on industrial-sized farms, utilizing harmful practices like monocropping and poor water and soil management, and more of it is being shipped around the globe. As organic food has become a lucrative market, big companies like Kellogg, M&M Mars, and Cargill have gotten in on the gold rush, buying up smaller organic companies and starting organic lines. A deluge of “green-washing,” marketing with intentionally vague labels such as “natural” or “naturally raised” and drawings of idyllic country scenes, is further manipulating and misinforming consumers.

As with everything else related to food and agricultural systems, change toward the local and the sustainable is underway. Below are a few ways that you can contribute:

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We Have a Dream: Farmworkers Organize for Justice

10:47 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Part 13 of the Harvesting Justice series

Farmworkers on a decorated stage protest for better wages and working conditions.

A "Fair Food" Rally in Lakeline, Florida.

For decades, farmworkers – the more than one million men and women who work in fields and orchards around the country – have been leading a struggle for justice in our food system. They have been building awareness and mobilizing the public, successfully securing some rights, higher wages, and better working conditions. Today, a recent string of victories by the farmworker group Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), together with the steadfast work of other groups, have taken the movement to a whole new level.

The United Farm Workers (UFW), founded in 1966 by Dolores Huerta, César Chávez, and others, launched the modern-day farmworker movement. They brought their struggles to national attention by leading boycotts against grape and lettuce growers. Consumers around the country banished grapes and lettuce from their grocery lists, forcing growers to raise wages and to improve labor conditions. Since then, farmworkers have used work stoppages, hunger strikes, marches, union negotiations, and boycotts to win substantial improvements. No longer is it commonplace for crew leaders – those who round up workers and manage the crew – to beat workers, for example, or for farms to aerially spray pesticides in fields while people are working in them.

Exploitation in the Field

Despite these significant advances, farmworkers are still afforded inadequate rights, both on the books and in practice. They perform strenuous physical labor without the protections of sick leave, overtime pay, or health insurance. They are exempt from the National Labor Relations Act that protects workers’ rights to form unions and bargain collectively. If farmworkers try to organize or if they anger their bosses, they can be fired with absolutely no legal recourse. More than half are estimated to be undocumented, and live under the constant threat of deportation if they try to stand up for better conditions.[i] They may also be unable to demand their rights because they don’t speak English, or are unaware of what rights they do have.[ii] Racism and xenophobia play out in many ways, compounding the exploitation.

The minimum wage didn’t even apply to farmworkers until 1966, long after most professions were covered. And today, despite the law, many don’t in actuality make minimum wage. Farmworkers are twice as likely as other workers to live below the poverty line, and most earn an average of $10,000 to $12,000 per year.

These low wages are the result of cost-saving endeavors of corporate players along the food supply chain. The monumental profits of the fast-food industry, for example, come in part from companies’ ability to buy their ingredients cheaply. In an industry with estimated sales of $167.7 billion, company buyers use their power to pay the lowest prices possible to growers and food processors. Growers and processors, in turn, pay the lowest wages they can for field and factory work. Those suppressed wages go hand in hand with suppressing rights, so that workers don’t have the power to organize for better pay.

Farmworkers are also subject to inhumane working and living conditions. In the worst instances, they have been victims of slavery. Workers have been kept under armed guard, locked up at night, forced to work, denied the right to speak to people off the farm, and beaten if they attempt to escape. Since 1997 in Florida alone, the federal government has won seven criminal prosecutions for farmworker slavery, involving more than 1,000 workers. Since 2010, Florida has initiated two more prosecutions.

Most farmworkers come from villages in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. They are living the boomerang of globalization, often forced to emigrate in search of work because agriculture in their home countries has been weakened by US and global trade policies. One farm advocacy group noted, “US agriculture policy has thus created a de facto immigration policy.”[iii]

Rights and Power

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Weeding Corporate Power Out of Agricultural Policies: Communities Mobilize for Food and Farm Justice

8:07 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Tomatoes at Waterpenny Farm

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

From the school cafeteria to rural tomato farms, and all the way to pickets at the White House, people are challenging the ways in which government programs benefit big agribusiness to the detriment of small- and mid-sized farmers. Urban gardeners, PTA parents, ranchers, food coops, and a host of others are organizing to make the policies that govern our food and agricultural systems more just, accountable, and transparent. They are spearheading alternative policies on the local, state, national, and international levels. Some advances include the following:

* The National Family Farm Coalition is educating and lobbying to restructure the subsidy system so that it benefits small farmers instead of agribusiness. Together with other groups like Food and Water Watch, Food First, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, they are engaging in research, education, and strategies to help turn us all into effective policy-change advocates.

* People from all walks are becoming more involved in the US Farm Bill. Up for renewal every five to seven years, this hugely influential legislation lays out the framework for national food and farming policy. It regulates agricultural subsidies, food stamps, school lunch programs, rural conservation, and much more. Given the heavy impact this set of laws has on our daily lives, more and more people are asserting the need for public participation in crafting the legislation.

In preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill, for example, the Community Food Security Coalition, a group of nearly 300 organizations, helped the public learn about and lobby for the issues, and drafted a platform of top priorities. This built on coalition’s history of successful grassroots lobbying for Community Food Projects in the 1996 Farm Bill, wherein government grants go to food projects supporting lower-income communities. During the lead-up to the Farm Bill vote in 2008, community food, family farm, and farm-to-school organizations helped secure vital policy changes. These included placing a moratorium on land foreclosures under certain conditions, prioritizing socially disadvantaged farmers for federal loans and grants, and promoting locally grown produce in food stamp and school-lunch programs.

Despite the activism on the most recent Farm Bill, it was allowed to expire at the end of 2012 due to a stalemate in Congress around payments to farmers and broader budget issues. Congress implemented a nine-month extension, but several important programs were de-funded, including support for new farmers and farmers of color, conservation efforts, research into organic farming, and other progressive initiatives. Organizations of farmers and activists are now pushing for these to be reinstated in the next Farm Bill, which is slated for action in summer 2013. Groups such as the Rural Coalition and National Family Farm Coalition have been developing citizen-driven advocacy to ensure that priority programs addressing equity and access issues are not left behind.

* People are becoming wise to the ways of industrial meat, dairy, and egg production, and demanding an end to abuse of animals by industry. In 2008, California residents organized a ballot initiative mandating better conditions for livestock and poultry. More Californians voted for it than for any other citizen initiative in state history. Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Maine have passed similar laws.

* The 2009 “Country of Origin Labeling” (COOL) federal law mandates that retailers label certain meats, produce, and nuts with their country of origin. In 2011, the WTO ruled against COOL labeling for meat products, claiming that it interfered with international trade law. However, due to pressure from the grassroots and groups like Food and Water Watch, the USDA is working to amend the COOL regulations in a way that upholds the labeling while complying with the WTO ruling. Some states such as Vermont, Minnesota, Montana and Maine have their own state-labeling policies and programs to help residents choose foods produced closer to home.

* For nearly 60 years, US law has required that all food aid distributed globally be grown in the US and shipped abroad. This system is inefficient, involving tremendous costs and time. More significantly, imported food aid undercuts farmers in recipient countries, who are often unable to sell their own food when competing with cheap US products. While short-term needs for emergency food may be met, aid imports undermine the local food production that can address hunger in the long-term. Instead, US food processors and transporters benefit. In April 2013, the Obama Administration proposed a policy change that would allow the US government to purchase food aid from within recipient countries, as most other donor countries already do. Organizations like the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Oxfam America, Partners in Health, American Jewish World Service, and others have been organizing petitions and press releases to gain support for the new legislation.

* Groups at the town, city, and state level are putting together food policy councils to create food systems that better serve their communities. The councils work on projects such as increasing the amount of local food purchased by public institutions like schools, hospitals, and prisons; preserving farmland; and drafting sweeping charters to guide future food policy. These councils aim to democratize food systems by encouraging broad public participation in policy-making. Some 200 such councils now exist in the US, with new ones forming all the time.
To become an active and effective citizen-advocate:

• Support a shift in US aid policy to source food aid locally from within recipient countries. Take action to support Obama’s current proposal, and learn more about food aid policies, here: http://ajws.org/reversehunger/take_action.html.

• Plug into advocacy on the Farm Bill. The next few months will be crucial as policymakers determine which aspects of the legislation will be extended. Stay tuned through the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (http://sustainableagriculture.net/), the Rural Coalition (http://www.ruralco.org/) and the Farm Bill Primer website (http://farmbillprimer.org/).

• Consider joining a food policy council, or starting one if there is none in your area. Learn more here: www.foodsecurity.org/FPC/council.html.

* Join up with organizations listed in the last article in the Harvesting Justice series to get involved in their campaigns and movement-building.

Many thanks to Kathy Ozer and the National Family Farm Coalition for their generous help with information and analysis.

Download the Harvesting Justice pdf here, and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website.

Read more from Other Worlds here, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

Copyleft Other Worlds. You may reprint this article in whole or in part. Please credit any text or original research you use to Tory Field and Beverly Bell, Other Worlds. Read the rest of this entry →

Seeds of Change: Shifting National Agricultural Policies

12:23 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

“The only way we’re going to… change the most basic attitude of policy-makers… is for you and me to become the policy-makers, taking charge of every aspect of our food system – from farm to fork,” said Jim Hightower, the former agriculture commissioner of Texas.[i]

The need for us to become the policy-makers to create a just and sustainable food supply chain is urgent, because in the hands of the US government it has become increasingly unjust and unsustainable. Over the past 50 years, agricultural policies that once supported small- and mid-sized farmers have been whittled away. As a result, more than 100 family farms go out of business every week.[ii] The government has instead turned food production over to agribusiness and allowed large firms to buy up small producers and traders. Currently, in the pork, poultry, beef, and grain markets, the biggest four firms control more than half the market share. Three companies control 90% of the massive global grain trade.

Agribusiness subsidies: lining whose pockets?

People everywhere are stepping up to the plate to force food and agriculture policies to serve us, not multinational corporations. Before looking at some advances and victories, let’s explore ways in which government support has shifted from farmers to some of the world’s biggest corporations.

The government used to set price floors for certain commodity crops, nonperishable staples like corn, wheat, rice, and cotton. The price floors acted as a minimum wage for farmers, regulating the lowest amount they could be paid for their products. Another government program, maintaining grain reserves, allowed farmers to store some grain crops in seasons when they overproduced. This meant that the reserves could be released into the market in less abundant future seasons. The regulation of extra grain helped prevent food shortages and price spikes.

But agribusinesses wanted to buy commodity crops, from which they make processed food products, as cheaply as possible. So they pressured legislators to end price-regulating policies. And legislators responded. Beginning in the 1970s, price floors and grain reserves were gradually eroded; by 1996, they were eliminated completely. Farmers had to lower their prices in response, to attract more customers, and boost production to compensate for lost income.

To respond to the downward spiral of prices and keep farmers from going under, the government ramped up the subsidy system. Subsidies, which began in the 1930s during the Great Depression, use taxpayer money to give commodity farmers direct payments, tax breaks, subsidized insurance, and other financial support. These government payments make it possible for farms to continue selling their products cheaply without going out of business.

However, the real winners in the subsidy system are the corporations who are able to buy commodity crops from farmers for artificially low prices, yielding them even higher profits. Taxpayers foot the bill, underwriting billions in annual profits for agricultural corporations.

The mix of subsidies, together with the elimination of policies that protect farmers, has created such a skewed equation that some commodity crops are sold for even less money than it costs to grow them. This practice, called “dumping,” enables corporations to undercut farmers around the world. Between 2000 and 2003, for example, while the cost of producing rice was approximately $415 per ton, government subsidies allowed agribusiness companies to sell it overseas for just $275 per ton.

The whole system is kept in place by close-knit relationships between corporations and government. Corporations tempt legislators with campaign contributions, votes, and investment in their districts. In return, members of Congress give out subsidies to agribusiness and pass legislation that opens markets in their favor. A revolving door spins government officials into corporate positions and then back again.
The answer is not to throw out government subsidies. Eliminating this support system, without changing the underlying conditions that make commodity farms dependent on it, will not benefit farmers. And some subsidies, like grants for sustainable agriculture and tax credits for renewable energy conversions, can benefit small farmers.

Seeds of Policy Change

The alliances between the US government and big business have become what they are through a series of policy choices and back-room dealings. Other policy choices and more transparent politics could yield different outcomes for small farmers in the US and around the world. Subsidies need to be restructured and new policies need to be implemented to promote a just and sustainable food system. The changes will not come easily, because of the power and profits that flow to an elite few through the current relationships. But organized movements of people can and have beat out big power, when armed with unity, good strategy, hard work, and numbers.
A variety of necessary changes are already underway, and many sectors are beginning to engage to force more. Stay tuned for our next Harvesting Justice blog to read about some victories and advances. In the meantime, here are some resources that can help you learn more and take action on the issues:

Learn about the history of US agricultural policies. Get started at the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy’s webpage (www.iatp.org).

Work to change national agricultural policy. Check out Food and Water Watch (www.foodandwaterwatch.org) and the National Family Farm Coalition (www.nffc.net), and their campaigns to make the US Farm Bill and international trade agreements more fair and just.

Learn about initiatives and campaigns that are challenging structural racism in land distribution and agricultural policies. The Rural Coalition’s report, “A Seat at the Table” (available on their website, www.ruralco.org), is a good resource. And check out Setting an Anti-Racist Table’s list of resources on racial justice in the food system: http://anti-racist-table.weebly.com/racial-justice-in-the-food-system.html.

Lobby your state to make laws friendlier to family farms. Check out the Georgia
Organics Action and Advocacy website to see an example of effective advocacy
(www.georgiaorganics.org/takeaction.aspx).

Check out the following for more ways to learn and engage.
• National Family Farm Coalition, www.nffc.net
• Rural Coalition, www.ruralco.org
• Farm Policy, www.farmpolicy.com
• Food First blog, www.foodfirst.org/en/blog
• Women, Food & Agriculture Network, www.wfan.org
• US Food Policy, www.usfoodpolicy.blogspot.com.
• Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute, www.fapri.org.
• Oakland Institute, www.oaklandinstitute.org.
• Organic Consumers Association Fair World Project, www.fairworldproject.org.
• Domestic Fair Trade Association, www.thedfta.org.
• “The Global Banquet: Politics of Food,” directed by Annie Macksoud and John Ankele, 1999,
www.olddogdocumentaries.com/vid_gb.html.
• “King Corn,” directed by Aaron Woolf, 2007.
• “We Feed the World,” directed by Erwin Wagenhofer, 2005, www.we-feed-the-world.at/en/
film.htm.
• “Dive!” directed by Jeremy Seifert, 2010, www.divethefilm.com.

Many thanks to Kathy Ozer and the National Family Farm Coalition for their generous help with information and analysis.

[i] “Jim Hightower” in “One Thing To Do about Food: A Forum,” Alice Waters, ed., The Nation, September 11, 2006, 21.
[ii] Farm Aid, based on census data, reported 330 farms a week going out of business in 2007; more recent census data has also shown numbers in the hundreds.

Download the Harvesting Justice pdf here, and find action items, resources, and a popular education curriculum on the Harvesting Justice website.

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BIRTHING JUSTICE: Women in Peace-Building: Peace amidst War for Resource Control

8:51 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

Emem Okon Speakling at the True Cost of Chevron Press Conference (photo: rainforestactionnetwork, flickr)

Emem Okon Speakling at the True Cost of Chevron Press Conference (photo: rainforestactionnetwork, flickr)

Welcome to Birthing Justice: Women Creating Economic and Social Alternatives. The series features twelve alternative social and economic models which expand the possibilities for justice, equity, and strong community. They are based in the US, Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Some are national-level, some global-level. Some are propelled by people’s movements, some forced or adopted into government policy. In first-hand narratives, women describe their role in having created the models and show us their unique perspectives and challenges in the movements.

Below is the first narrative of Birthing Justice.

Women in Peace-Building: Peace amidst War for Resource Control

Accelerating commodification of water, oil, land, and nature over the past few decades has resulted in a global power play, wresting precious resources away from communities that have lived sustainably with them for centuries. Oil is one example where the domination of multinational companies has led to mass displacement, seeded social conflict, and fundamentally disrupted the relationship between indigenous communities and their environment.

Groups the world over are striving to defend an alternate understanding of the earth and how we should treat it, however. They view entities such as oil as part of the global commons – the set of natural resources, basic services, public spaces, and cultural traditions that should be part of a public trust to be enjoyed by all – rather than as commodities to be bought and sold. Another way to conceive of these assets is through the Spanish term for them: el bien común, the common good. Behind the commons is the fundamental idea that life, information, human relationships, popular culture, and the earth’s riches are sacrosanct and not for sale.

Everywhere, indigenous peoples are claiming their autonomy over their territories, which includes the right to self-government and control of everything over, on, and in their lands. At this moment, some 30,000 indigenous peoples from the Ecuadorian Amazon are embroiled in legal battles with Chevron for contaminating their water and destroying the health of entire villages. This past January, a broad-based coalition of US and Canadian groups stalled the Keystone X-L pipeline project and are working to uphold this decision. And for decades, indigenous people everywhere have been defending their lands and the earth’s resources in epic battles.

On top of this, communities are working to repair the divisions that corporate and governmental repression has wrought. Women have been central to these efforts. Throughout the world, women are working to make peace in areas torn by war and resource conflicts. Sometimes this means creating a peace zone, a space of safety in the midst of violence. In other places, women are at the forefront of efforts to end national or regional conflicts.

Emem Okon is part of one such endeavor in the Niger Delta, where oil companies and government have created a climate of violence and fear. We’re excited to kick off the Birthing Justice series with Emem’s story, and we hope it will inspire you to be a part of the movement to honor, share, and celebrate the earth’s resources. Read the rest of this entry →