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Thursday:  July 24, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in food (14)

Thursday
May102012

‘Bitter Seeds’ documentary reveals tragic toll of GMOs in India (FILM REVIEW) 

(Video `Bitter Seeds' trailer)

By Claire Thompson

When home-front battles over GMO labeling, beekeeping, and the Farm Bill get heated, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that Big Ag’s influence extends far beyond US borders. Micha Peled’s documentary Bitter Seeds is a stark reminder of that fact. The final film in Peled’s “globalization trilogy,” Bitter Seeds exposes the havoc Monsanto has wreaked on rural farming communities in India, and serves as a fierce rebuttal to the claim that genetically modified seeds can save the developing world.

The film follows a plucky 18-year-old girl named Manjusha, whose father was one of the quarter-million farmers who have committed suicide in India in the last 16 years. As Grist and others have reported, the motivations for these suicides follow a familiar pattern: Farmers become trapped in a cycle of debt trying to make a living growing Monsanto’s genetically engineered Bt cotton. They always live close to the edge, but one season’s ruined crop can dash hopes of ever paying back their loans, much less enabling their families to get ahead. Manjusha’s father, like many other suicide victims, killed himself by drinking the pesticide he spreads on his crops.

(PHOTO: GMO global protests/SchoolFood) Why is Monsanto seen as responsible for these farmers’ desperation? The company began selling Bt cotton in India in 2004, after a US challenge at the WTO forced India to adopt seed patenting, effectively allowing Monsanto to monopolize the market. Bt cotton seeds were - and still are - advertised heavily to illiterate Indian farmers, who have bought the company’s promises of high yields and the material wealth they bring. What the farmers didn’t know until it was too late is those seeds require an expensive regimen of pesticides, and must be fertilized and watered according to precise timetables. And since these farmers lack irrigation systems, and must instead depend on not-always-predictable rainfall, it’s incredibly difficult to control the success or failure of any year’s crops.

As farmers bought the Bt cotton in droves, the conventional seed they’d been using -  which needed only cow dung as fertilizer - disappeared in as little as one season. Now, in communities like Manjusha’s, it’s virtually impossible to buy anything but Monsanto’s seed.

Manjusha, the film’s protagonist, goes looking for answers after her father commits suicide.

To pay for seeds, pesticides, and fertilizer, farmers must take out loans, but most banks refuse to deal with them, so instead they turn to moneylenders, who charge exorbitant interest rates. Many farmers have nothing to offer as collateral besides their land. If a crop fails and they can’t pay back the loans, they lose everything.

The film offers a glimmer of hope in Manjusha, an aspiring journalist in a world where farmers’ daughters aren’t exactly encouraged to pursue independent careers. Scenes of her first earnest attempts at reporting are intimate and touching (“I had other questions to ask, but I forgot”), and her commitment to telling the story of her family’s and her community’s struggle always shines through her nervousness. This appealing heroine makes a story of global manipulation more personal, and thus more devastating.

(PHOTO: Nobel Prize recipient Vandana Shiva/DW)Piece by piece, Bitter Seeds lays out the bleak situation in India, using interviews with all players, from condescending seed sales reps and callous Monsanto execs, to activist Vandana Shiva, to farmers, their families, and village old-timers who remember when life as an Indian cotton farmer was not so bitter.

Proponents hail GMO crops as a triumph of science over nature that could provide a solution to world hunger. But this film reveals a society of farmers whose way of life, and very lives, are threatened. If GMOs have any benefits, it would be hard to convince me that they outweigh the human costs portrayed in Bitter Seeds.

-- This commentary originally appeared on GRIST.

Saturday
Jul162011

Horn of Africa Drought Threatens Millions (VIDEO REPORT)

Thursday
May262011

Food Insecurity: Who Will Save Us, the Smallholder or Large-scale Farmer? (PERSPECTIVE)

A food market in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura, where prices have skyrocketed in recent months. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWSBy Saliem Fakir

Land reform in South Africa is back as a lead item on the government’s agenda. It is a tacit admission that the process over the last seventeen years was a failure. The issue must also be seen in the light of growing food insecurity, as food prices seem to only go up rather than down.

South Africa’s land reform policy is not only a way to redress past loss but also an attempt to diversify farming as mainly white farmers dominate farming. However, in opening up the space for new entrants, the policy has inadvertently favoured larger farmers.

This too has not been entirely successful.

For a set of different reasons, the balance between small and large farming is quite important. Something we still have to get right. And, how we deal with it going forward will also determine how we deal with food insecurity.

In the meantime, food insecurity grows the world over, especially in Africa, where agriculture has not quite performed the way it should have despite the huge potential for both rain fed and irrigated farming.

Just as an illustration of the global challenge: about 925 million people are undernourished. Developing countries account for 98% of this number, while a significant number live in sub-Saharan Africa.  Feeding an additional 1.4 billion people by 2030 or a global population of 9.1 billion people by 2050 would require food production to increase by 50%.

The race to feed the world adequately is on. The question is, who can best help meet this projected demand: small or large farmers?

In classic supply and demand economics, food inflation tends to improve food production as high prices incentivise more planting. But the beneficiaries tend to be large farmers and commercialised agribusiness because of access to finance, well-established logistics and connections with the market. They tend to respond more quickly to incentives from increased food price shifts. 

However, there is considerable scope to look again at the role of smallholders in developing countries, especially Africa, where opportunity is ripe and also given that the success of large-holding ventures have not been as promising as initially thought.

There has also been a traditional bias against smallholding. In South Africa, smallholders have received little policy support, subsidies or preferential funding. The bias continues despite changes to land policy since 1994. Smallholdings are still thought of as being uneconomical and inefficient.

However, a report by Oxfam titled, Who Will Feed the World? The Production Challenge, seeks to dispel some of the myths around family run smallholding and small farming in general. The paper shows that in Vietnam and Thailand, family farming is highly productive and provides sufficient sources of income and food security for large rural populations.

Smallholding income can also be far more productive for rural areas than export orientated or foreign-owned large farms because any income earned, is spent in the rural area. This tends to stimulate other forms of rural economic activity besides simply just holding down the growth of unemployment.

However, the bias in favour of large-scale farming in Africa is being bolstered by a combination of factors acting in concert with each other.

Countries, such as China and Saudi Arabia, with significant sovereign funds are taking liberties by purchasing large chunks of land, most of which is in Africa, as they seek to feed their own growing populations and solve their own food insecurity. They tend to favour staple food or even cash crops that are capital intensive and largely labour saving operations.

Currently, Africa registers the lowest level of agricultural productivity in the world and this combined with the lack of infrastructure, large geographic spread and conflict, reinforces policy bias in favour of large-scale farming operations.

Large-farms tend to be associated with more productivity. They get favoured above investment in small-scale farming because foreign investors also inject significant investment in roads, irrigation schemes, power supply and making new market connections.

There is also that dazzle effect as big is seen as beautiful with the usual promise of lots of jobs and cash.

Some African children, like this young girl in Nigeria, consume just one meal-a-day due to high food prices. CREDIT: M Bociurkiw/HUMNEWSIncreased migration from rural cities to urban areas in the next decade or so is expected to double. The demand for food will grow while the supply of labour in rural areas to plough land and harvest fields is going to diminish.

Proponents for the revival of agriculture in Africa take these as cues for the defence of large-scale farming.

They argue that modern agriculture – in terms of technology, markets and finance – favour larger holdings as they give better economies of scale, they are more productive, efficient and it is the only way to meet growing demand for food quickly.

Opponents argue that this model tends to favour corporate agribusiness. That agriculture becomes too commercialised and less attuned to a pro-poor agenda.

Large-scale farming can also displace smallholdings through consolidation or African governments desperate for foreign investment who will grant concessions that involve the removal of people -- raising questions about land rights and other entitlements that are eroded as a result. 

Overseas sovereign funds that own these large tracts of land can also undermine national development objectives. They are not necessarily pro-poor even if they create jobs.

While Brazil has shown that large-farming, that is export orientated (cash crops such as soya), can boost foreign earnings and the country’s reserves. This is not often the case with farms owned by foreign sovereign wealth funds – depending on how governments set capital repatriation terms on earnings – as access to land does not translate into localising benefits in a substantive manner.

Sometimes, developing countries would be better off with a lesser evil. Large retail businesses, like supermarkets, that have strong supply chain ties and favour small holder production can do more for smallholders as they are more likely to create beneficiation than foreign holding of land that is unconditional.

A retail food market that is decidedly pushed in a pro-poor direction can ensure that contract arrangements retain the smallholding character of African agriculture and help diversify crop production from staple to high value crops. They could bring financial stability through long-term contracts.

Sometimes large-scale farming makes sense for crops that have short shelf lives and require good storage and transport infrastructure so they can be dispatched quickly to overseas markets. In areas where a large in-migration of labour is required mechanised large-scale farming is probably better suited because labour intensity is not an option.

In the meantime, about five hundred million smallholders currently support two billion people. They are an important part of the agricultural system. However, most smallholders (close to 60%) either produce sufficiently for themselves or have to still purchase food to meet all their requirements.

The Oxfam paper argues for complementarity, while overwhelmingly suggesting that smallholdings can vastly improve the productivity and value for African rural economies provided the right types of policies and forms of support are put in place. The paper though, intriguingly, says little about co-operatives and nationally owned farms.

A pragmatic approach may be warranted in this debate. It is not, as numerous studies have also shown, an either/or situation. Smallholders can bring far more than just economic activity in rural areas as they also can act as safeguards over social capital. Large-holders whose aim is to see agriculture as an investment opportunity will always see it that way rather than protecting a way of life.

Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town. This article first appeared on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service (SACSIS)

 

Tuesday
Mar012011

(TRAVEL) - `A Trip to Adjara, Georgia’ 

--- By Craig Fedchock

Some of Georgia’s impressive historical churches. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)My work has given me the opportunity to travel to a wide variety of places around the world.  I’ve seen giant fruit bats in Australia and the Philippines, the harvest of longan fruit in Vietnam, and citrus in South Africa.  While I’ve seen so many things, I nevertheless didn’t know what to expect when I first came to the country of Georgia, nestled as it is along the Black Sea and reaching into the Caucasus Mountains. 

While the capital Tbilisi is at least somewhat well-known if for nothing more than being the capital of the country that tried to take on Vladimir Putin’s Russia two years ago, and limited amounts of Georgian wine and food are starting to make their way to our shores, not much else is widely known about the country. 

My experience began in the capital, a robust city which is benefitting from investments to its infrastructure from many countries, including most especially the United States.  I suspect that most of you reading this piece would be fairly surprised to learn that the main road from the city’s airport into town is named “George W. Bush Avenue,” complete with the former President’s picture.  As there are others much more experienced with Tbilisi and its environs, I shall be more than happy to defer to their perspectives and comments about that fine city. 

My preference instead is to reflect on the far too short a time I spent in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, which, with its capital Batumi, is seemingly a miniature version of the country as a whole. There are daily flights to and from Tbilisi on the national airline Georgian Airlines, as well as Air Batumi, although their dependability is suspect as one of my colleagues found out to her good fortune to be explained later.  There is train service as well to and from the capital, including an overnight train.  My suggestion, however, would be to fly to Istanbul on any one of the major airlines and take the non-stop Turkish Airlines directly to Batumi.  I myself was fortunate to arrive in traditional Georgian style in a “marshroutka”, sort of a large minivan with just enough shocks to keep you from tumbling like an astronaut in the space shuttle, but not enough to keep you from feeling like you just spent a few hours with one of those old fashioned weight loss machines in which you were strapped with a belt around your waist.  The redeeming thing is that despite the best efforts of the somewhat macho Georgian drivers, I managed to arrive at my hotel safe and sound. 

The Black Sea coast looking north from the Batumi botanical gardens. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)At the moment Batumi is in the midst of an enormous economic expansion.  The city, a favorite summer vacation spot during the Soviet times for those coming from Moscow and the other large northern cities, is slowly but surely picking itself back up from the ashes from the former USSR as well as the significant internal strife which took place for some time after the fall of communism.  Batumi has even been holding the Black Sea Jazz Festival for the past five years, bringing in some of the world’s best artists on a regular basis.  One of the key landmarks in the city is the Sheraton Hotel, which opened only in June of this year.  The Sheraton stands above most of the other buildings in the city, almost like the Alexandrian light house after which it claims its design.  It will soon have company, however, as Radisson, Kempinski, Hilton and Novotel all are in the process of developing properties which are destined to make the Batumi skyline gain an appearance more akin to that of Miami than a Caucasian Black Sea resort when they are all completed sometime in the next two years.

Just a short walk from the Sheraton, and eventually all of the other hotels mentioned above, stands the “Boulevard”, a lengthy boardwalk the likes of which I have not seen elsewhere.  Bordering the Black Sea “beach”, which is really stone rather than sand, the Boulevard stretches for roughly seven kilometers and just like everything else in Batumi, is on the upswing, with plans for expansion, some Batumians say, almost all the way to the Turkish border, about an additional 12 kilometers.  The amazing thing about the Boulevard is that while it abounds with restaurants and discos, it does so in such a way that it still maintains a feeling of spaciousness that is not at all common with other boardwalks I’ve had the chance to visit.  The Georgians have managed to keep their traditional menus alive in several of these shoreline restaurants, but I also saw a Chinese and even a Dutch (yes, a Dutch!) restaurant bordering the boulevard.   While nothing has been written about Georgian cuisine that can even come close to doing it justice, I don’t doubt for a minute that the restaurants featuring other cuisines will produce some good results if for no other reason than Georgians will be doing the cooking! 

The Georgian Table. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)I will mention that there are some true jewels in the Georgian culinary cupboard.  From simple fare like Khachapuri, which is really not much more than bread and cheese, (but oh what bread and what incredible cheese), and the basic “salsa” of Georgia, Tkemali, (made from tart plums, garlic, coriander (or dill) and salt and pepper and which Georgians are happy to put on just about anything), to more exquisite dishes, having a meal anywhere in Georgia is truly special.  Georgians will use almost any excuse to feed strangers, and the people living in Batumi are no exception.  The hospitality of Georgians is unmatched and simply needs to be experienced.  Beyond that however, the use of spices in the Adjara region is a little more creative and the flavors little more complex, and this alone warrants giving the region more attention.  

As I mentioned above, the city is truly undergoing a major renovation, and nowhere do the results promise to be more fantastic than in the area known as “Old Batumi.”  While there is still more work to be completed (according to one wine shop owner, who just happens to be producing a sherry-like Church Wine” based on a recipe his grandfather developed in 1907, the streets are being rebuilt for the first time since the Tsars were running the place, and the results are already striking. 

Nearing completion is Europe Square, surrounded by buildings no more than two stories tall which easily conjure up images in the mind of just about anywhere in the developed countries of Europe (although France comes first to my mind).    An additional shopping plaza is under construction in Old Batumi as well, and once complete, Batumi will definitely be in the running for being considered as a true jewel of the Black Sea. 

Beyond the city of Batumi, there are a couple of other places which must be mentioned.  For a short taxi ride from the Sheraton costing roughly about $3-5, you can visit to Batumi Botanical Gardens.  With thousands of species representing almost all the far corners of the earth, you can easily spend a minimum of two hours walking on the well-paved trails without seeing even a third of everything you could possibly see.  That the garden also houses Stalin’s one time dacha made it particularly fun for me, having spent several of my formative years studying the Soviet Union.  For roughly $3, you can make a day of it here, just make sure you bring along some Georgian wine, bread and any number of the fresh fruits and vegetables which are seemingly ubiquitous on the road side.

A makeshift banquet of honeycomb, pears, and of course, vodka. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)The best thing of all for me, however, was the chance I had to visit Georgia’s newest National Park, Mtirala.  This came about at the invitation of the Adjara Autonomous Republic’s Minister of Agriculture, Emzar Dzirkvadze, and resulted in a day I will most likely never forget.  The Minister exhibited a true love of his region, and respect for the land for which he cares in many ways, not least of which was his willingness to get behind the wheel of the four wheel drive which took us up the winding and unsurfaced road to the mountaintop where the park is located.   As I mentioned above, one of my colleagues was able to join the trip because her flight on Air Batumi was delayed until much later in the day.  On the way there we stopped by a small stand, artfully constructed with the help of the World Wildlife Fund, for a taste of the honey produced by bees kept by residents living in one of the small villages of indeterminate age (maybe hundreds of years old?) that can be found in one of the truly remotest regions of the country.   

While on the road to our visit, the Minister spoke of his plans for the region, all reasonable and deserving to be realized, while pointing out with pride the many things that are represented in Georgian nature.  It was obvious in his comments that not only the minister, but his fellow Adjarians are committed to ensuring that whatever happens, the need to maintain the quality of life and produce, with a strong emphasis on organic production, is paramount.  That being said, after a fantastic drive which had us driving next to, around or even in a few cases through, spring-fed waterfalls around almost every corner, we arrived at the Visitor Center (again constructed with the aid of the World Wildlife Fund and even equipped with a wheelchair ramp) for the park.  While there, we were given a presentation by a park representative in flawless English which included a tour of the guest quarters, four rooms which at 20 Lari (the Lari is currently running about $.50 US) a night, including breakfast, which can only be described as elegantly Spartan, one of the best examples of the finest in ecotourism I have seen. 

Georgian Beekeeper in Mtirala Park. (CREDIT: Craig Fedchock)We then visited the beekeepers, who make all of their beekeeping supplies out of local materials, and saw first-hand the love for the land which is in the Adjarian people, not to mention the ever-present Georgian hospitality.  Within minutes of the completed presentation on  beekeeping, a table magically appeared from out of nowhere under a pear tree and we were treated to the freshest honey and honey comb possible, along with the requisite shot of honey vodka.  As we had some lunch waiting for us at the restaurant a short walk from the Visitor Center, we made our goodbyes far too quickly and moved a short bit it down the mountainside for our lunch.  That the restaurant is situated next to a spring-fed mountain stream, and the water is absolutely drinkable only made the remainder of our time in the park that much more enjoyable.  At the Minister’s suggestion, we gathered up our clay water vessel, walked about two minutes and filled our pitcher with water coming directly out of the mountain side.  Everything in our meal, with the exception, once again of the requisite beer and vodka, was locally and organically produced (including some of the best fresh trout which kept getting bigger and bigger the longer we stayed at the table), and had we not needed to catch our flight home, all of us in our party would have had no trouble at all to committing to several additional days in the park.   

The Adjara region is one of those places where you can lose yourself for a few days in the forested mountains, and come back to Batumi to enjoy nightlife and cuisine as sophisticated as anywhere.  While the renovations are still underway it is not too early to pay a visit; you will leave wanting even more.   

--- The author if Craig Fedchock, Director of International Capacity Development for the United States Department of Agriculture; Animal, Plant Health Inspection Service.  He recently took this trip to the country of Georgia, and was so moved by the beauty of the culture and the people, he wanted to share the experience with others.

Thursday
Feb032011

World food prices at an historic high (Report) 

photo courtesy UN News(HN, February 3, 2011) --  World food prices have surged, for the seventh consecutive month, to a new historic peak in January, according to the updated FAO Food Price Index, a commodity basket that regularly tracks monthly changes in global food prices.

The index averaged 231 points in January and was up 3.4 percent from December – the highest level since the FAO started to measure in 1990 and higher than in June 2008 when the cost of food sparked violent protests in countries including Egypt, Haiti and Cameroon.

“These high prices are likely to persist in the months to come, FAO economist Abdolreza Abbassian said.

The individual group components of the index, apart from meat, all registered rises in January.

The Cereal Price Index averaged 245 points in January reflecting rises in the price of wheat and grain which had already gone up due to poor weather conditions this past year in countries such as Russia and the Ukraine and was driven higher by flooding in Australia, which is a major wheat exporter.

Political unrest

The high price of food seems to have been the spark that has unleashed a series of anti-government demonstrations, protests in several countries in the Middle East, beginning in Tunisia, where a young man set himself on fire after being prevented from selling fruits and vegetables, and spreading to Algeria, Yemen, Jordan and Egypt.

The Middle East and North Africa are the two regions that import the largest amount of cereal and countries in the area have been hit especially hard by the harvest shortages in Russia and the Ukraine this year.

Today the Moldovan government has decided to ban all wheat exports until the next harvest in an effort to prevent a large increase in the price of bread. The Prime Minister stated that the order should have been made earlier to avoid the “panic” that he says has already taken hold of the population.

wheat, file photoChallenges

Surging global food prices are just one of the many challenges that people face throughout the world. Climate change, growing population, and water sources are also affecting the overall food production and availability. As many countries grow increasingly dependent on food imports, they grow more vulnerable to natural disaster and market fluctuations taking place half-way around the world from them.

In India, The Financial Times reported earlier this week that food prices have hit their highest point in more than a year. Food prices are up by at least 18 percent from last year in a country where millions are spending more than 50 percent of their total income on food.

Rises are particularly high for dairy products, up 6.2% from December. Prices were driven higher by a combination of lower supply and increasing demand in emerging economies such as China and India.

The demand for food is expected to continue to grow as a result both of population grown and rising incomes according the FAO. Demand for cereals (for food and animal feed) is projected to reach some 3 billion tons by 2050. Annual cereal production will have to grow by almost a billion tons (2.1 billion tons today), and meat production by over 200 million tons to reach a total of 470 million tons in 2050, 72 percent of which will be consumed in developing countries, up from the 58 percent today.

The production of biofuels could also increase the demand for agricultural commodities, depending on energy prices and government policies.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick has asked global leaders to “put food first” and tackle the problem of price volatility.

“We are going to be facing a broader trend of increasing commodity prices, including food commodity prices”, he said.

Commodities prices have been on the rise generally with copper hitting a record high of $10,000 a ton.

Oil was also up on Thursday with Brent crude rising to $103.37 a barrel.

- HUMNews Staff

Wednesday
Feb022011

Hunger fuels discontent in the Middle East (Opinion) 

Weeks of street protests across Tunisia culminated in the dramatic ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ali after 23 years in power. photo courtesy PressTVby Joel Brinkley

(HN, February 2, 2011) When the Middle East tumult began in Tunisia two months ago, demonstrators had barely a thought in their heads about throwing their president out of office. No, they had a larger problem. They were hungry.

Next door in Algeria, meantime, youths were setting government buildings afire and shouting "Bring us Sugar!" And after people first took to the streets in Jordan, Finance Minister Mohammad Abu-Hammour promised to lower commodity prices to "help the poor and middle class cope as global food prices rise."

The world is heading into a food crisis again, barely three years after the last one in 2008. That, not political reform, animated the riots and demonstrations across the Arab world and beyond -- until Tunisia's president fell from power on Jan. 14. After that, hungry demonstrators aimed higher.

Now, whatever the final results in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and other states that have been under siege, millions of people in these places still will not be able to afford enough food for their families.

The United Nations office that monitors global food supplies announced last month that world prices for rice, wheat, sugar, barley and meat have reached record levels and will probably continue to rise in the months ahead. That list of affected foods is far broader than last time. In 2008, the demonstrations were called "bread riots" because of the high price of grains.

Late last month, the World Bank warned that Yemen was "particularly vulnerable" to food-price shocks because the country is desperately poor and imports most of its food. A few days later, thousands of protestors took to the streets, and the government finally announced it would institute price controls. But Middle Eastern nations aren't the only victims.

Thirteen people were killed in Mozambique last fall during riots over the price of bread. Sri Lanka's president warned his people that they couldn't import food to mitigate the crisis because so many other nations are in serious trouble, too. In Kenya, five people actually starved to death, local media reported.

Around the world, the U.N. reports, nearly one billion people live at the edge of starvation. These are the people who live on something like a dollar a day, and when the prices of staples, like rice and corn and wheat, shoot up, they can no longer afford to buy any.

In Sri Lanka, for example, prices for those staples rose by 30 percent in recent months. Already, 15 percent of Sri Lanka's infants suffer from "wasting," Unicef says. That means they are starving to death.

Who's to blame for all of this? America and other wealthy nations, in large part. When commodity prices begin to rise, Western speculators start buying commodity shares, driving prices even higher. After hearing about poor wheat crops in Russia and Ukraine last August, speculators drove the wheat price up by 80 percent.

At the same time, when gasoline prices are high, as they are now, demand for ethanol increases. Ethanol is made from corn, and Washington offers subsidies for corn's use as fuel. The U.S. is the world's largest corn producer, but now 40 percent of the crop is converted to ethanol. As a result, corn prices have risen by 66 percent.

Unusually violent weather also played a role. Floods, droughts, storms and wildfires in Australia, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine and South America, among other places, reduced crop yields. Agronomists blame climate change and predict worse in the years ahead.

But other villains hold responsibility, too. They are the past and current leaders of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Algeria and others of their ilk. They've had little control over global food prices. But they've wielded imperial control of their nations.

The Egyptian president lives in one of the world's most sumptuous palaces, once a luxury hotel with 400 rooms and a 6,340-square-foot ceremonial hall. Living there for nearly three decades, Hosni Mubarak knew full well that his people were hungry and desperate; 30 percent of the state's children grow up "stunted" because of malnutrition during the first years of life.

Regularly, union members and others held angry demonstrations over low wages, hundreds of them. To mollify them, sometimes Mubarak raised salaries a few pennies. But as successive food crises devastated his people, Mubarak, like his fellow dictators throughout the region, did little if anything to alleviate his peoples' misery -- watching their suffering from high windows in his grand manse. During the 2008 food crisis, his government actually cut bread rations.

Mubarak and the others brought this on themselves.

Joel Brinkley, a professor of journalism at Stanford University, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

This article first appeared on StAugustine.com

Monday
Jan242011

With Food Prices Rising, People Revolting, Is Wal-Mart Really the Answer to America’s Unhealthy Food Crisis?

- a commentary by Cynthia Thomet

A recent Bloomberg report entitled, “Mexico prices rose more than expected last month [December 2010],” confirms a feeling that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I read this piece—an increasing and incremental sour pinch on my pocketbook every time I go to the grocery store.

My HUMNews editor suggested I write about lemons for this PeaceMeal story. It is a food that is enjoyed by numerous cultures all around the world, she said. I started to dream about it as the ingredient that could unite us as a people. That is, if we could all afford it this year!

Yes, my friends, food prices are on the rise. So, it seemed only appropriate to write about this other food-related issue that we all share in common: inflation.

Back when I wrote my last PeaceMeal column, there were rumblings about this becoming a serious issue in 2011. Like clockwork, the Guardian  reported in our first week of 2011 that “soaring prices of sugar, grain and oilseed drove world food prices to a record in December, surpassing the levels of 2008 when the cost of food sparked riots around the world, and prompting warnings of prices being in ‘danger territory’.”

January 2011 has not even ended, and we are witnessing protests and riots in Algeria , Tunisia, and Jordan  In northern Nigeria, the prices of onions have more than doubled – ditto for India! And UNICEF reports that the number of mothers bringing their severely malnourished kids to feeding centers in Niger has spiked in recent weeks – due, in part, to higher food prices.

Back here in Atlanta, where I live, I have begun to see prices rising significantly at the local restaurant supplier that sells bulk produce, grains, packaged foods and beverages to area restaurants, bodegas and local merchants. And it’s been making me feel particularly vulnerable to all the forces that are out there: mother earth and weather, political forces here and abroad, economies local and distant.

Rising food prices is what political revolutions are made of. The French revolution was catalyzed by famine and hunger, and now we’re seeing some of the same scathing language from Jordanian protesters: “Unify yourselves because the government wants to eat your flesh.” (It’s enough to make you skip the meat aisle.)

At the same time, I couldn’t help being caught up (and even a little distracted) by the public relations partnership between Wal-mart and Michelle Obama for their healthy foods initiative  Yes, obesity and unhealthful eating are major problems in the United States. Yes, there are many “food deserts” around the country where low income peoples have little access to unprocessed foods. And, yes, Wal-mart is promising to change the quality of processed foods so they are healthier. But it ignores the fact that Wal-mart still wants consumers to purchase processed foods, because, frankly, that’s where the money is made.

My opinion: it’s just a PR initiative designed to secure a consumer body for a billion-dollar big box business that needs tax breaks and a seat at the government dinner table. I have always had the hunch that the very processing of foods is what diminishes the value inherent in any food, and I have recently found that there are scientists who have been researching this phenomenon. (Visit this article  to kick-start any research in the issue. It’s fascinating!)

But in the greater scheme of things, I think the Wal-mart initiative is really missing the mark, as far as true change is concerned. The PR rhetoric sounds almost like, “Why don’t they eat healthier cake?” when some of the major food issues facing the regular American public include:

  • How global food production is run, managed, controlled and directed by a small number of major international food corporations.
  • How food distribution and pricing is controlled by a small number of major international food corporations.
  • How the major food corporations want to create a deeper dependency on processed foods, because of their greater profit margin returns.

It just seems that simplifying and downscaling the food production process could be the better way to go.

So, while President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia freaks out from the cresting wave of protests and flees Tunis (and packs up his gold bars and family , I’m turning a lemon around in my hand wondering whether the First Lady is conscious that even a fresh lemon as a garnish in water is a luxury many Americans could never afford—even if purchased from Wal-mart.

Seriously though, it is hard for me to listen to Wal-mart’s commitment to pass on its best prices to the consumer without thinking that their negotiation strategy doesn’t involve bullying local farmers into bending to the big box’s exclusivity will.

Cynthia Thomet is a humanitarian, a food lover and co owner and doyenne of the award winning downtown Atlanta, Georgia; US restaurant, Lunacy Black Market. http://www.lunacyblackmarket.com/.  You can find Cynthia's own blog here: http://thoughtfulcyn.wordpress.com/.   Her pieces for HUMNEWS search for the intersection between food and humanity, and how meals unite us.

Monday
Jan242011

2011 is Year of the Bat - Crucial Pollinators (Perspective)

By Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle

(HN, January 24, 2011) - Were you aware that bats are key pollinators in many parts of the world? Pollination is a vital ecosystem service without which many of our key industries such as agriculture and pharmaceuticals would collapse or incur heavy costs for artificial substitution. TEEB has found that in some estimates, over 75% of the worlds crop plants, as well as many plants that are source species for pharmaceuticals, rely on pollination by animal vectors.Bats provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer. CREDIT: Merlin Tuttle

Furthermore, for 87 out of 115 leading global crops (representing up to 35% of the global food supply), fruit or seed numbers or quality were increased through animal pollination. Bats also provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer.

Bat Pollinators: Tequila and the Tree of Life

More than 1,200 species of bats comprise nearly a quarter of all mammals, and their ecological services are essential to human economies and the health of whole ecosystems worldwide. Without bats, costly crop pests would increase, forcing greater reliance on dangerous pesticides. We could also lose some of our favorite foods and beverages and suffer the consequences of greatly diminished biodiversity.

Many of our most important foods come from bat-dependent plants. These include bananas, plantain, breadfruit, peaches, mangos, dates, figs, cashews and many more. In fact, in an average tropical food market, approximately 70 percent of the fruit sold comes from trees or shrubs that rely heavily on bats in the wild. Some such as the famous durian, still rely on bat pollinators even in commercial orchards. This king of Asian fruits sells for a billion dollars annually, but could be lost without healthy populations of its bat pollinators.

In East Africa nectar feeding bats are essential to fruit production of the Baobab tree, sometimes referred to as the African Tree of Life due to the exceptional variety of wildlife that depend on it for food and shelter. Recently, it has additionally become known as the Vitamin Tree. Baobab fruits contain six times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, are rich in other vitamins and antioxidants and may soon become a billion dollar a year crop.

In deserts, from the southwestern United States to southern Peru, more than 100 species of cactus and agave plants rely on bats for pollination. Giant, columnar cactus plants, such as the famous saguaro and organ pipe, are heavily relied on for food and shelter by a wide variety of birds and mammals, and agaves are extremely useful in erosion control, as ornamentals and as the source of all tequila liquor. The world's thirsty Margarita drinkers can definitely raise a glass in praise of bats.

Bats: Nature's natural pesticide

Bats also provide an essential ecosystem service known as "biological control." Natural pests and diseases are usually regulated by a wide range of predators and parasites. TEEB has found that agricultural pests cause significant economic losses worldwide. Globally, more than 40% of food production is being lost to insect pests, plant pathogens, and weeds, despite the application of more than 3 billion kilograms of pesticides to crops, plus other means of control. Natural control of pests is to date one of the most effective means of dealing with these threats. Bats are essential predators which keep many damaging insects from destroying crops.

The colony of 20 million free-tailed bats that lives in Bracken Cave near San Antonio, Texas, for example, consumes 200 tons of insects nightly, predominantly crop pests such as corn earworm and armyworm moths. Just one of these bats can catch enough moths in one night's feeding to prevent 50,000 or more eggs from being laid, resulting in local cotton growers saving close to a million dollars annually in reduced need for pesticides.

A single mouse-eared bat (widespread in Europe and North America) can capture 1,000 or more mosquito-sized insects in just one hour. A colony of 150 big brown bats, a number that could live in a backyard bat house, can capture enough cucumber beetles in a summer to prevent them from laying 33 million eggs that would otherwise hatch into corn rootworms, a billion-dollar-a -year pest in the United States.

In many locations, bats can be easily attracted to bat houses to help protect gardens and organic farms. Outstanding success has been reported from Oregon to Georgia in the United States, probably because many of our worst insect pests listen for bat echolocation signals and flee areas where bats are heard. A pecan grower in Georgia reports having become entirely organic since he attracted thousands of bats to extra large bat houses in his orchard. So the next time you think organic, think "bats."

Bat Fertilizer

Bats are also the primary energy producers for many cave ecosystems. Guano deposits beneath their roosts provide energy that sustains thousands of unique life forms, from bacteria and fungi to arthropods and small vertebrates. These organisms are often endemic to a single cave or cave system, but provide a potential treasure trove of biodiversity needed for solving human problems, from production of new antibiotics and gasohol to improved detergents and waste detoxification.

Additionally, extraction of bat guano for fertilizer provides an invaluable renewable resource for whole communities in developing countries from Asia and Africa to Latin America. For example, due to this eco-service of bats, Thailand's Khao Chong Pran Cave has become a major source of income for the local community, as well as a unique tourist attraction. Careful protection and harvest management have allowed annual guano sales to increase from $10,000 to $135,000. Bat guano is big business.

From Terror to Tourist Attraction

As people learn to appreciate bats, these fascinating animals are paving the way for popular tourist attractions. When 1.5 million free-tailed bats began moving into crevices beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas, health officials warned that they were rabid and dangerous, and local people wanted the bats eradicated. However, through the educational efforts of Bat Conservation International, fears were calmed, and in more than 30 years, not a single person has been harmed. The bats consume roughly 15 tons of insects nightly and attract 12 million tourist dollars each summer, clearly demonstrating the value of bats to our environment and economies.

Year of the Bat 2011-2012

Unfortunately, many people in other locations around the world still misunderstand, fear and persecute bats at great harm to themselves. Too many have heard only of vampires and disease, both of which have been greatly exaggerated by sensational media stories.

Needlessly fearful humans, in Latin America, have mistakenly destroyed thousands, even millions of highly beneficial bats at a time by sealing, burning or poisoning roosts, especially in caves, and many more bats have been lost through simple neglect of their conservation needs.

Ironically, even the common vampire bat of Latin America has proven useful. A new drug, Desmoteplase developed from research on vampire saliva, appears to greatly improve treatment of stroke victims, a potentially enormous contribution to human wellbeing. Who would have thought that a bat - and a vampire, at that - could help save countless lives?

Year of the Bat (2011-2012) celebrations will highlight bat values and needs, providing unique introductions to these incredibly fascinating animals that unfortunately rank among our planet's least understood and most rapidly declining and endangered animals. But as more people learn about and account for the ecosystem services provided by bats, greater conservation efforts will be made to ensure the survival of these fascinating and essential creatures.

For more information:

Year of the Bat 2011 - 2012 is a global campaign to promote conservation, research and education about the world's only flying mammals. Year of the Bat is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and EUROBATS, as well as numerous partner organizations around the world.

The writer is Honorary Ambassador for the Year of the Bat campaign.

Thursday
Jan062011

Soaring Food Prices Cause Concern Worldwide (Report)

(PHOTO: Bikyamasr.com)(HN, January 6, 2011) - Noah commandeers his battered taxi through the early morning haze of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, wondering how he will come up with the money to pay for a trip to the market. Not only has the price of produce shot up in recent months, the price of parking at the market has double in recent weeks.

Noah’s worries were confirmed this week by the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), which reported that its food price index – a basket tracking the wholesale cost of wheat, corn, rice, oil seeds, dairy products, sugar and meats, has jumped to a record high – even surpassing prices that sparked riots in more than 30 countries – including Haiti, Somalia and Cameroon - in 2007-2008.

While the price of staples such as rice and wheat are below the crises level, sticker shock in markets around the world is being caused by corn, sugar, meat and vegetable oil.

“We are entering a danger territory,” Abdolreza Abbassian, an economist at the FAO told reporters Wednesday.

(GRAPH: FAO) But some believe the world food supply is more fragile than it ever was, mostly because of extreme weather worldwide last year. Major wheat producers such as Ukraine and Russia have banned exports of wheat in 2010 after extremely poor harvests. And recent severe flooding in Australia’s agricultural heartland of Queensland is already having global repercussions on the world food supply.

This week, young people in the capital of Algiers, Algeria, rioted mostly because of rising food prices – including oil, sugar and flour.

There is also evidence to suggest that in the poorest countries, mothers are being forced by rising prices to cut back on essentials. In Niger - where one in four children die before their fifth birthday, mainly due to malnutrition – record numbers of children are being admitted to the country’s 822 therapeutic feeding centres, according to UNICEF.

Even in developed countries, people in the food business are being forced to cope using innovative means. Cynthia Thomet, co-owner of Atlanta’s Lunacy Black Market, a trendy eatery, said fluctuating prices of produce means much more frequent menu changes.

The sharp increase in commodity prices has prompted food companies like General Mills, Kraft, Sara Lee, Kellogg and ConAgra Foods to drop discounts and start rising prices on many products, said Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper.

According to the FAO not only is their Food Price Index which tracks 55 commodities in total at a record high, but December 2010 was the sixth month in a row of surging prices - the highest since records began in 1990. The organization says it fears that prices will continue to soar in coming months as supply will fall short of world demand.

(PHOTO: City Farmer)Additionally, in a continuing to struggle world economy rising food prices would see consumers left with less money for discretionary spending on things like eating out and retail items as every day eating becomes more expensive.

Compounding the issue is the growing global population, scheduled to top 7 billion people sometime this spring.  The FAO has previously warned that worldwide food production must rise by 70% by 2050 when the global population will increase to 9.1 billion people, mostly in Asia and Africa.

--- By HUMNEWS’ staff

Thursday
Nov112010

Food Security at Risk: What Do the Mozambican Riots and BHP Billiton Have to Do with Each Other? (PERSPECTIVE)

By Saliem Fakir

The recent Mozambican food and fuel riots raise the spectre, in general, about food insecurity and social unrest in the future.

We certainly have the capability to feed all of the world’s population, but the political economy of agriculture, food production and distribution somewhat has a greater influence as to whether people can feed themselves or not.

Food security though is not limited to good rainfall, soils, or the ingenuity of breeding the right strains of crops. Food security is fundamentally about access to food by the poor in an affordable manner.

For a long time we have been buying cheap food because of cheap oil or the lavishing of subsidies to farmers in Europe and the United States that produced food mountains in the 80’s and 90’s.

Cheap food is no longer guaranteed, as oil prices are likely to rise. Oil is a key ingredient of fertilizer and enables us to move food easily from one part of the world to another in a globalised economy. That privilege is not likely to last for long and governments will be required to intervene more and more in the food market.

Those who can afford it may well easily accommodate cost shifts because they have higher income capabilities.

But, as the Mozambican riots demonstrate, for the poor any sudden shift in prices (for instance a 30% bread price hike alone) without major shifts in income or the state’s ability to caste a wider welfare net is a source of great anxiety and stress. Much of it overflows out into the streets with angry crowds looting and baying for the blood of senior officials.

The control of global food production is the subject of numerous books. It would be fair to say that neither consumers nor farmers have great influence on these chains of supply because they have come under the control of very large agribusinesses and retail outlets.

The average subsidy in the US accounts for 12% of total farm income. In OECD countries, it’s about 26% and in the European Union about 29%. These, in general, have favoured consolidation of farming into large agribusinesses, and in the US, virtually wiped out family farms -- once a strong feature of the US rural scene.

Food costs are also influenced by the movement of input costs and the rent ‘surcharge’ that is exacted by those who control the distribution, marketing and processing of food.

The greater the dependency of the global food system for oil based chemical derivatives and fuel for transport, the more vulnerable everybody is to shifts in prices of these inputs. We were witness to this when oil prices hit $140/barrel two years ago.

The future picture of oil does not look optimistic and despite the decline in the price of oil, it has not gone below the $40-$50/barrel range. This has already lifted the cost of food production. Oil price inflation is slowly seeping its way into the food chain.

However, where inflation of inputs increase the cost burden of food production they also eat away at the purchasing power of individuals and households. Their impacts assault the poor as a double penalty.  Their incomes can’t accommodate the sudden cost shifts and their incomes are unlikely to keep pace with inflation to absorb future cost increases.

And, as we can see from the Mozambican riots much of this was centred in urban areas, in particular, Maputo. Urbanization in Africa is happening at a much faster rate than anywhere else in the world. It makes dependence on the supply of affordable food even more of a strategic challenge for government.

Especially, governments that are dependent on food imports and where the growing urban population starts to delink itself from the agricultural food production chain and base. This urban population will increasingly rely on the markets or state schemes to supply food.

Africa’s own agricultural production has to be boosted in order to facilitate intra-regional trade in agricultural goods to reduce reliance and dependence on imports. These will require considerable investments in new infrastructure and assistance to farmers.

This will not be easily forthcoming in countries that have very depleted state resources or financial means. Even if the money were available, it would take a good few years for the benefits of such infrastructure investment to come through.

A good proportion of food inflation costs have been attributed to rising oil prices, biofuel production and control, by major food suppliers, of the supply chain. There has been little focus on the control of strategic input ingredients.

At the global stage, new acquisitions of critical input resources like potash may not hold a positive portent for affordable food production in general and Africa as a whole. BHP Billiton is making a $39 billion bid for Canada’s Potash Corporation.

The ‘PotashCorp’, as it is known in short, is the world’s largest producer of potash, and the second and third largest producer of nitrogen and phosphate -- three of the critical ingredients for the production of fertilizer. By the end of 2007 the company controlled 22% of the world’s potash industry.

Potash supply, the world over, is controlled by eight large companies who control 70-80% of the potash market and operate in a similar fashion as OPEC does with oil. They operate as a cartel that can manipulate prices.

During the 2008 food crisis, the price of potash went up from $150/tonne in 2006 to $1000/tonne in 2008.  This is possible because potash itself is not ubiquitous. The largest reserves straddle mainly four countries: Canada, Russia, Israel and Belarus.

The use of potash in the fertilizer industry is relatively obscure and known mainly to industry experts for its strategic importance.

BHP seeks market dominance. BHP is one of the largest mining companies in the world and has been seeking to dominate the mining and resource sector in the last five years or so (given that it is cash flush) and has been undertaking mergers and acquisitions left-right and centre.

BHP’s attempt to seek market dominance has not gone unnoticed. China has become wary of BHP’s acquisition strategies, as it may influence the price at which this strategic resource could be obtained from the market.

In an attempt to block BHP’s control over Canada’s Potash Corp, Chinese officials have ordered the state owned company, Sinochem, to launch a counter bid. China is seeking to acquire a blocking bid in order to derail the hostile take-over by the Anglo-Australian miner.

China has also invited the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, to join in on the bid. China did a very similar thing when BHP sought to take a large stake in Rio Tinto. It paired up with the US aluminium producer Alcoa Inc. to buy a 9% stake in Rio Tinto forcing BHP out of the race for the stake in Rio.

The Chinese government, like the Indian government, suspects the bid to control the potash market by BHP is an attempt to milk the Asian market through market dominance as most of the future growth is expected in this region. China is the biggest importer of potash and is concerned about how it will feed its very large population in the future.

The control over PotashCorp is viewed as a strategic buy because it is a swing producer. In other words, it can ratchet production up or down depending on demand and so keep prices relatively high.

The interest in potash by investors is a reflection of a wider interest by big players in the potential of the agricultural sector, which is expected to boom in the next decade because of the growth in the global population. The FAO predicts food demand will jump 70% from now till 2050.

The potash bid and the volatility of other input costs in the agricultural sector is increasingly being viewed with concern by governments and consumer groups.

Between, 2007-2008 when food prices went sky-high, riots were seen from Bangladesh to Mexico. If you start adding other variables like climate change, the unpredictability of oil prices and the degradation of the purchasing power of the poor, the potential for social unrest seems almost certain.

----Saliem Fakir is an independent writer based in Cape Town. South Africa.

Wednesday
Nov032010

(PEACEMEAL) `Tackling World Hunger Can Be Confusing. Addressing the Problem with Small Bites Might Make it More Manageable’

--- Commentary by Cynthia Thomet

You may not have heard about an individual named David Beckmann, president of the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Bread for the World, whose focus is to urge decision makers to “end hunger at home and abroad.” I hadn’t, until he was awarded the World Food Prize at the 2010 Laureate Award Ceremony in Des Moines, Iowa.

As a 501(c)4 organization, Bread for the World is a little different from other nonprofits, because of its ability to devote its time, resources and energy not only to educating decision makers about ending hunger, but also to advocating specific policy change, or directly lobbying policy makers on this issue. Beckmann recently published a book called, Exodus from Hunger: We Are Called to Change the Politics of Hunger.

In one commentary I wrote for PeaceMeal, entitled “Billions Undernourished” was on the eve of World Food Day, and I learned a lot about what world hunger means in a nutshell: nearly one billion people in the world suffer from chronic hunger. The 1 Billion Hungry awareness campaign by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations called upon us to tap into our anger over this piece of information and do something to change this sad reality.

One billion people is alot of people.

  

Rick Steves, a well-known travel guide writer and public television travel host, wrote in an inspired blog post about his recent trip—not to Europe, but to the World Food Prize ceremonies: “With all my travel experience, I've gained empathy for the struggles of people in developing nations, but my concern used to be confused and directionless.”

Indeed, humanitarians and world leaders are challenged with suggesting solutions and introducing policy to balance the forces that have wreaked havoc on the earth—from the natural disasters that have emerged as a result of climate change to the laws of capitalism that are still beholden to the cold realities of supply and demand, and the sometimes colder political motivations that tamper with the international trade economy’s so-called “invisible hand”.

Earlier this week, a headline in The Guardian announced, “Scramble to meet shortfall in food aid: Tens of thousands in Swaziland to miss out on food aid as lack of donor funding forces the WFP to cut assistance.”  

Tens of thousands. That’s a lot of people, too.

The article elaborates on some of the elements that complicate delivering food aid in Swaziland:

In one anecdote from Steves’ blog post, he describes a discussion panel about keeping young people interested in farming. When asked about this, Afghanistan’s minister of agriculture, Mohammad Asif Rahimi said, “Remember, in your society one percent of the people are farmers. In Afghanistan, 80 percent of our people are farmers. Encouraging young people to farm is not an issue for us.”

Still, the Guardian spoke with Kanayo Nwanze, president of the International Fund for Agriculture Development who would like to see countries investing in agriculture, making the sector “more attractive to youth and less dependent on rainfall for irrigation.”

It appears that the causes of, and approaches to, addressing world hunger are as numerous as its victims. An approach that would seem reasonable in Afghanistan and Swaziland might seem ludicrous in the United States, or vice versa. But this should not stop you from taking at least one step towards doing good.

Campaigns such as “1 Billion Hungry” have the potential to raise eyebrows, but they also have the potential to overpower and devastate action with crushingly huge numbers that reduce the individual to feelings of helplessness—or directionlessness. As we approach the end of the year, please do not allow your concern to feel directionless. Hopefully, a growing awareness of our global interconnectedness can help us feel obligated to move into a future where undernourishment is just a scientific definition, not a human reality. 

--- The author is Cynthia Thomet, a humanitarian, and co owner and doyenne of the award winning downtown Atlanta, Georgia; US restaurant, Lunacy Black Market.

Saturday
Jul102010

Post World Cup Fun in South Africa 

HUMNEWS and Savvy Traveller have teamed up to catalogue a selection of dining and accommodation options for post World Cup visitors to South Africa. This short list of discerning recommendations has been validated by our team and are unreservedly recommended.

Johannesburg

Protea Hotel Fire and Ice: Cool and trendy - come here to meet friends at the large bar. Within the popular Melrose Arch shopping and dining complex.

Piza e Vino and Orient: Delicious pizzas and a decent wine list come together in an informal setting. Also within the trendy Melrose Arch complex. For contemporary Asian cuisine try the Orient at 4 High Street. Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese dishes, including dim sum and Peking Duck.

Shayona: Operated by Gujaratis as a non-profit organization. Come here for first-rate vegetarian curries, rotis and pappadums. Incredibly, the menu changes every day - depending on what the chef finds in the markets. 74 Church Street in Mayfair. Open Tuesday to Sundays.

Lucky Bean Restaurant: The chic and diverse neighbourhood of Melville deserves some time. One stand out is the Lucky Bean (formerly Soulsa) at 16 7th Street. Its name is derived by the elegant tree mural indoors. Owners Natasha Pinuc and Conway Falconer embrace HUM's philosophy to life: "We love good food, we love wine and we love the idea of people getting together."  Food is described as "funky and fresh" and good service and a decent wine list rounds out this unpretentious eatery. Try the red bean burger, Thai-style wraps and for dinner - prawn and chorizo risotto.

Circle Bar, Rosebank Hotel: Voted as the best bar in the country. We like the plush leather seats and ever changing colour pods. In Rosebank.

Rosebank Flea Market:  Voted Joburg's premier flea market for 10 consecutive years. Come here for an amazing selection of African arts and crafts to freshly-baked bread, olives (pictured below), Polish meats - even wigs. We were intrigued by the wooden masks from Congo and the traditional wired embroidered crafts from Zimbabwe. Skilled African artisans can be found from Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Togo and Senegal. At the corner of Craddock Ave and Baker St. in Rosebank. Sundays only from 9am to 5pm. The African craft market is open daily.Herbs and Potions at the Rosebank Flea Market (PHOTO: MBociurkiw, HN, 2010)Bloemfontain 

Villa Bali Boutique Hotel: Friendly service, comfortable, quiet and safe. What more can you ask for? Walking distance to the city's main shopping mall.

The Block & Cellar Restaurant: Attached to the Southern Sun Hotel, this is where you come for excellent steak, including ostrich steaks (pictured below). Extensive wine list, cigar lounge, friendly service. Derives its name from the block where diners can select top quality cuts of grained beef. For a South African starter, try dry or wet biltong - cured meat.

A tasty traditional meal at The Block & Cellar Restaurant (PHOTO: MBociurkiw, HN, 2010)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Cape Town

One and Only, Cape Town: This has been THE venue in Cape Town to watch the World Cup games. But come here for impeccable service, a great bar scene, excellent food (Nobu and Gordon Ramsey's Maze) - and free Wi-Fi and parking!

Bukhara: Indians represent one of the largest ethnic groups in South Africa, so little wonder some of the best culinary treasures are to be found here. This is North Indian cuisine at its best. Get seated near the open kitchen and watch the army of chefs work their magic. The tandoori chicken is an absolute must! Some diners claim they detect an "African twist" on Indian cuisine - and indeed, the beef served here is true South African. The original of four Bukhara outlets in the Rainbow Nation, this one is located in the central business district at 33 Church Street.

The Grand Cafe and Beach: When a former Miss Universe suggests a venue, you don't ask questions! Finding the Grand takes some detective work as it is discreetly tucked away near the Green Point soccer stadium, on the waterfront. But tenacious travellers are rewarded with a splendid and unique setting. The main restaurant is in a converted warehouse and even features a small shop selling local souvenirs and artifacts. Dine and drink inside or outside - on its own private beach overlooking Granger Bay. Globetrotter/owner Sue Main's has brought artifacts from around the world to make this a very special venue. Her creations range from a 3-foot long pizza to cray fish sandwiches.

M'Hudi Winery, Kraaifontein: The only black-owned winery in South Africa. We recommend the Pinotage. An extremely warm welcome is extended to all guests. M'Hudi was started by family members passionate about agriculture and wine, who left their regular jobs and overcame substantial obstacles to work magic with grapes. This is a rustic winery but look out for great things in the future!

Diale Rangaka of M'Hudi Winery explains his vision to a reporter (PHOTO: MBociurkiw, HN, 2010)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diemersfontein Winery, Wellington: Few words in our lexicon of love for wine match up with our affection for Diemersfontein wine. The Carpe Diem Pinotage, with hints of chocolate and coffee, is nothing short of sublime. Set aside an entire day for this winery, to allow for a proper wine tasting and a lazy lunch at the winery restaurant.

The menu board at Diemersfontein Winery (PHOTO: MBociurkiw, HN, 2010)-- Objective research done by HUMNEWS staff on location. (With appreciation to Air Canada and Lufthansa for travel assistance to and from South Africa.)

Saturday
Jun262010

South African Cocktails and Appetizers

For celebrating your team, or, not...it's Saturday nite somewhere!

ENJOY!

South Africa is a country with a multiracial society of varied ethnic origins that has influenced greatly in their traditions and cocktails and appetizers on a Johannesburg winter afternoon or a summer Cape Town beachside can be enjoyed by everyone.   

BEVERAGES

What better way to unwind from a long, hot day of game-viewing and adventure than enjoying a refreshing cocktail and small traditional snacks?

Traditional beverages are homemade brewed, whether in rustic villages or modern cities. Whether you choose to eat on the wild side: crocodile, impala, ostrich, zebra or the mild side: chicken, lamb, beef and vegetables, the diverse dining traditions of South Africa offer food and drink for every palate.  

Also, herbal tea and coffee are often consumed during breakfast. Drinks served during a typical South African meal might also include Mechow, a fermented beer like drink made from cornmeal. Ginger beer is also commonly served in local diners and pubs. Fruit punches and cocktails are easily prepared on the spot, as well as fresh squeezed orange juice.

Wine

South Africa is a country very well known for the production of good quality white and red wines. Especially in the southern parts of the country, in the Cape region, where climactic conditions simulate those of the old wine countries, is a great environment for the vineyards to produce the best grape crop. Over 300 years ago, Dutch settlers in the Western Cape of South Africa started cultivating grapes for wine and brandy production. They subsequently started making wines and brandies that were then blended with local fruit and herbs.  Among the staples of the South African wines, there are the Muscadel, Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

South African Beer

Beer in South Africa has become serious business in South Africa. Dutch and British immigrants in South Africa brought the knowledge to produce alcohol but local indigenous people such as the Sotho and Zulu had already produced brewing forms of sorghum and maize beers.

South African Breweries - "SAB" produces many of the brands on the South African market but every aspect of beer is available nowadays and South Africa has many breweries and pubs where their beers can be tasted.

Some of the most popular beers are:

Castle - Lager

Castle Milk - Stout

Bavaria 8.6 - South Africa Lager

Kulu Draught - South Africa Lager  

Savannah Dry - South Africa (Flavoured)

Windhoek Lager - South Africa Lager  

Hansa Pilsner - South Africa

Black Label - South Africa

Castle Lager - South Africa

Lion Lager - South Africa

Mitchells Foresters Lager - South Africa

Van Der HUM Liquer 

Another specific South African drink, consumed in bars and restaurants, is the Van Der Hum, tangerine based liquor - a citrus blend of brandy, Cape tangerines, herbs, spices, seeds and barks; made from five year old potstill brandy, and wine distillate, is named Van der Hum after its original creator.  It is sweetened with cane sugar syrup, and has a deep golden amber hue.

Cocktails

“The Joburg Cocktail “

Cocktail Variety:         Aromatic

Cocktail Strength:      Medium

Cocktail Size:             Short

Glass type:                 Lowball glass

Garnish:                     Orange Twist

Method:                      Stir and Strain

Ingredients

30 ml Rum

15 ml Dubonnet

3 dashes Orange Bitters

Ice Cubes

Instructions
Stir all ingredients with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a lowball glass filled with ice and garnish with an orange twist. Serve.

 “The Malawi Shandy”

The Malawi Shandy is South Africa’s unique spin on the Shandy.  

(A Shandy is an extremely popular drink consumed across the globe. Its ingredients vary from country to country and ingredients can include ginger beer, ginger ale, lemonade, and soft drinks. and is an exceptionally refreshing drink comprised of equal parts of lemonade and ginger ale and a few drops of Angostura bitters.)

Another popular type of Shandy consumed in Namibia and South Africa is the `Rock Shandy’.

This drink contains equal parts of soda water and lemonade with some dashes of Angostura bitters. The Angostura bitters are comprised of water, alcohol, gentian root, and vegetable flavoring extracts.

You’ll love sipping on these crisp cocktails to quench your thirst! 

APPETIZERS

Some of the most delicious South African appetizers include pates, such as the snoek pate or the biltong pate. Thin sliced button mushrooms, mixed with chopped onions, finely grated biltong, cream cheese and fresh watercress make for a great appetizers.

Other traditional snacks served in restaurants may be the Peri-Peri chicken livers prepared in dry white wine with cayenne pepper; pink crepes filled with cream cheese, Mozambique shrimp, or baked mushrooms with basil and sometimes nut stuffing.   Avocado salad or spinach soup can be served as appetizers and are sometimes accompanied by special South African bread, baked half-way, cut and baked all the way to make it crispy inside as well.

The Yellow melon muscatel (the South African name for muscatel) is a traditional South African appetizer, and is usually served on salad plates.  

“Biltong Pate”

Biltong (pron. bill-tong) is a 400 year old traditional South African beef snack, cured as a beef jerky, both in taste and preparation.

 Ingredients

200g /7 oz Button Mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 small Onion, chopped
50g / 2oz Butter
100g / 4oz  Biltong , finely grated
250g / 9oz Cream Cheese
250g / 9oz  Whipping Cream, lightly whipped
To serve garnish with Fresh Watercress & wafer thin slices of Biltong
Instructions

Melt the butter in a frying pan; add the mushrooms and onions and sauté until soft.
Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Once cold, place the onion mixture in a food processor together with the rest of the ingredients and blend well.

To serve - garnish with watercress and wafer-thin slices of Biltong.
Serve with crackers or thin slices of fresh baguette bread.

Serves 4-6 

 “Akara”

Ingredients

2 c. Black-Eyed Peas

1 med. red onion

1/2 tsp. red pepper, to taste

1/2 tsp. salt

peanut oil (Preferred) or other vegetable oil for frying

Soak peas overnight or use canned.

Drain and pound with masher till crushed.

Grind puree in blender, adding water as needed to a smooth consistency (like pancake batter).

Grind very fine onion and peppers; add to Beans in blender.

Heat oil to 350-375 in deep fryer.

Drop mixture by teaspoonful into hot oil and fry until deep brown. Drain on paper towel.

Many Africans sprinkle the fried beans with additional red pepper.

Eat them warm. Use as warm snacks or as a bread substitute.

*Original reporting with previously printed information from Recipes Wiki

Wednesday
May192010

UN Urges "Green Revolution" for Africa

(HN, May 19, 2010) In the northern Nigerian state of Kano, it's not difficult to spot the extreme wastage and inefficiencies that plague small farmers. Power outages, lack of water, gouging by middlemen and poor harvesting and distribution methods are among the challenges the average farmer faces.

The scenario is repeated across the African continent, compounding the poverty spiral that keeps millions poor and hungry.Many African farmers suffer from poor post-harvest practices

A UN report released today warns that "ineffective farming techniques and wasteful post-harvest practices" have left sub-Saharan Africa as the region most likely to miss the Millennium Development Goals on poverty and hunger.

Produced by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the report say per capita food production in the least developed countries (LDCs) has declined continuously over the past 40 years – dropping by one-fifth between the early 1970s and the mid-2000s.

The report argues that nothing less than a "Green Revolution" for Africa is required, built on technology and innovation aimed at the needs and capabilities of millions of smallholder farmers and at coping with the continent’s varying climate conditions. The continent's smallholder farmers can benefit from new technologies such as low-cost drip irrigation and plastic water tanks to store runoff, as opposed to modern irrigation systems which can increase crop yields but are designed more for larger farms.

The report cites a successful policy of “smart subsidies” to ease access to fertilizers which has led to “staggering” increases in maize production in Malawi, as well as alternative technologies in the areas of pesticides, tilling and post-harvest technologies.

Smallholders make up the bulk of Africa’s farmers, many of whom live at or below the poverty line.

Separately, UNCTAD reported this week that unemployment levels in Africa is "unacceptably high." In 2008, unemployment rates registered at 10.1 percent, and is likely to remain in the "double digits" for 2009. Most of the unemployment is among the young and women, said Magdi Farahat, the Geneva Representative of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Staff, UN, files