Category Archives: Agriculture

Border wall moves ahead; Mexican resistance stirs


Yep, the border wall is moving ahead.

From the Chicago Tribune:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect “a great wall” along the 2,000-mile border.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to FedBizOpps.gov, a website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

The agency’s notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

Announcement comes a day after cross-border meeting

The wall wasn’t even mentioned when two cabinet members traveled south of the border the day before the announcement.

From NBC News:

There were promises of cooperation, of closer economic ties, and frequent odes to the enduring partnership between the U.S. and its southern neighbor. But there were no public mentions of that massive border wall or President Donald Trump’s plan to deport non-Mexicans to Mexico as top U.S. officials visited the Mexican capital.

Instead, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played it safe, acknowledging generally that the U.S. and Mexico are in a period of disagreement without putting any specific dispute under the microscope. It fell to their hosts, and especially Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, to thrust those issues into the spotlight.

“It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad,” Videgaray said Thursday after meeting with Kelly and Tillerson.

The Americans focused instead on putting to rest some of the fears reverberating across Latin America – such as the notion that the U.S. military might be enlisted to deport immigrants in the U.S. illegally en masse. Not so, said Kelly. He said there would be “no mass deportations” and no U.S. military role.

Sure, Mexico can trust anything that comes out of an administration headed by a man who can’t even keep his own lies straight, then flies into a rage any time anyone dares point that out.

Trump may do the impossible for Peña

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been polling at all-time lows, earning an abysmal 12 percent approval rate in one recent survey., making Trump’s current 42 percent approval rating look like a rave review.

But Trump may prove a boost for the beleaguered Mexican President is Agent Orange continues with his self-serving racist rants, especially now that Peña’s administration is showing a little resistance.

From teleSUR English:

The U.S. wants to pressure Mexico into keeping migrants and refugees as they await trial, forcing Mexico to deport them instead. Mexico isn’t falling for it.

Mexico will reject the remaining funds of the Merida Plan if they’re used by the U.S. to coerce the country on immigration policy, said Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Friday.

The US$2.6 billion security assistance package on the drug war has been almost been entirely distributed since 2008, mostly on military equipment like helicopters and training for its security forces.

The plan has been widely criticized for worsening, rather than improving, violence and disappearances in the country and being partly responsible for the disappearance of the 43 student-teachers in Ayotzinapa. It already contains a proviso to withhold funds if Mexico doesn’t improve its rule of law or human rights abuses, though the U.S. has never enacted this demand.

Besides now taking into account U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall, the aid may be dependent on Mexico hosting undocumented immigrants from third countries as they are awaiting processing of their deportation trials in the U.S.

“They can’t leave them here on the border because we have to reject them. There is no chance they would be received by Mexico,” said Osorio Chong on Friday, speaking with Radio Formula after a cool reception of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who visited on Thursday.

Mexico already deports hundreds of thousands of Central Americans apprehended at its southern border, but cities like Mexico City are among the largest receptors of refugees deported from the U.S.

Mexico hints at a trade war

A not-so-veiled threat was issued Thursday at the same time Trump administration officials were meeting with their Mexican counterparts.

From Reuters:

Mexico’s economy minister said on Thursday that applying tariffs on U.S. goods is “plan B” for Mexico in trade talks with the United States if negotiations aimed at achieving a new mutually beneficial agreement fail.

Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told local broadcaster Televisa that he expected North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with both the United States and Canada to begin this summer and conclude by the end of this year.

And promptly takes the first step

Guajardo’s warming was accompanied by action as well,

From teleSUR English:

Amid trade tensions with the United States, Mexico plans to send a delegation next month to visit Brazilian corn, beef, chicken and soy producers as an alterative to U.S. suppliers, its representative in Brazil said on Friday.

Mexican chargé d’affaires Eleazar Velasco said Brazil is uniquely positioned to expand agricultural commodity sales to Mexico if trade with the United States is disrupted because it is closer than other potential suppliers like Australia.

“The United States unilaterally wants to change the established rules of the game,” Velasco told Reuters. “This will evidently lead us to rebalance our trade relations.”

Mexican Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada was due to visit Brazil last week but had to postpone his trip until March due to scheduling issues, Velasco said.

Calzada will bring Mexican food industry executives to do deals with Brazilian exporters, the diplomat said. The trip is part of a drive to lessen dependence on U.S. exports as President Donald Trump threatens to upend long-standing free trade between the two countries.

And Mexico acts on the financial front as well

The country has been engaged in a massive buttressing of its currency.

From CNNMoney:

Mexico’s currency, the peso, is one of the best performers in the world in February, up over 5%.

Before the U.S. election, the country’s central bank started implementing what its governor, Agustin Carstens, called a “contingency plan.” Carstens says Trump’s potential policies would hit Mexico’s economy like a “hurricane.”

For ordinary Mexicans, the peso’s momentum doesn’t mean much. Gas prices rose as much as 20% in January while economic growth and wages continue to be sluggish. Life is getting more expensive.

Still, it’s a swift turnaround for a country and currency facing an uncertain future with the U.S.

Since November, Mexico’s central bank has raised interest rates three times and sold U.S. dollars to international investors. Among other efforts, it’s all meant to buoy the peso that’s been weighed down by Trump’s threats.

Things are starting to get interesting. . .

Colorado River Basin faces epochal droughts


And they’ve already begun, according to The 21st century Colorado River hot drought and implications for the future [open access]. a new report from Scientists at the Colorado Water Institute and the university of Arizona, just published in Water Resources Research.

From the American Geophysical Union:

Warming in the 21st century reduced Colorado River flows by at least 0.5 million acre-feet, about the amount of water used by 2 million people for one year, according to new research.

The research is the first to quantify the different effects of temperature and precipitation on recent Colorado River flow, said authors Bradley Udall of Colorado State University and Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona.

“This paper is the first to show the large role that warming temperatures are playing in reducing the flows of the Colorado River,” said Overpeck, UA Regents’ Professor of Geosciences and of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences and director of the UA Institute of the Environment. The new paper has been accepted for publication in Water Resources Research, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

From 2000-2014, the river’s flows declined to only 81 percent of the 20th-century average, a reduction of about 2.9 million acre-feet of water per year. One acre-foot of water will serve a family of four for one year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From one-sixth to one-half of the 21st-century reduction in flow can be attributed to the higher temperatures since 2000, report Udall and Overpeck. Their analysis shows as temperature continues to increase with climate change, Colorado River flows will continue to decline.

Current climate change models indicate temperatures will increase as long as humans continue to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but the projections of future precipitation are far less certain.

Forty million people rely on the Colorado River for water, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The river supplies water to seven U.S. Western states plus the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California.

Udall, a senior water and climate scientist/scholar at CSU’s Colorado Water Institute, said, “The future of Colorado River is far less rosy than other recent assessments have portrayed. A clear message to water managers is that they need to plan for significantly lower river flows.”

The study’s findings, he said, “provide a sobering look at future Colorado River flows.”

The Colorado River Basin has been in a drought since 2000. Previous research has shown the region’s risk of a megadrought – one lasting more than 20 years – rises as temperatures increase.

Continue reading

Trump’s NAFTA stance sparks Mexico trade war


And the first commodity under attack is corn grown by farmers in the U.S.

From teleSUR English:

The foreign affairs commission at the Mexican Senate will introduce a bill this week that would make the country buy corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

Mexico is one of the top buyers of U.S. corn and the move will be a tough blow to the U.S. agriculture industry, said the president of the commission Armando Ríos Piter from the leftist PRD party.

The bill is seen as a counter-attack to the protectionist threats made by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to kill the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada in the early ’90s. Experts say such a bill would be very costly for U.S. farmers.

“If we do indeed see a trade war where Mexico starts buying from Brazil … we’re going to see it affect the corn market and ripple out to the rest of the agricultural economy,”  Darin Newsom, senior analyst at agricultural management firm DTN, said to CNN.

If approved, this bill would be one of the first signs of concrete action by the Mexican government after it has been directly targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and policies, particularly an executive order enabling construction of a border wall and the promise to make Mexico foot the bill.

However, to unions of Mexican farmers and academics, Trump’s pledge to end NAFTA will be a good opportunity to boost the agriculture sector in Mexico.

The treaty has helped to dismantle Mexico’s agricultural production system through neoliberal policies that have left millions of poor farmers without state support and made the country increasingly dependent on food from abroad.

And an update, also from teleSUR:

Mexico’s agriculture minister said on Thursday he will lead a business delegation to Argentina and Brazil to explore buying yellow corn, part of a drive to lessen Mexico’s U.S. dependence given uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s trade policies.

The trip will happen within the next 20 days, Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada said, adding that the government could explore quotas and changing the tariff regime for imports from South America if needed.

Petition drive seeks an end to Roundup in Europe


We’ve written lots about the widespread use of glyphosate, the herbicide used in Monsanto’s GMO crops, engineered to tolerate the chemical and ensure big profits, since both the seeds and the poison are manufactured by the same company.

First marketed as a drain cleaner in 1964, the chemical’s use as a pesticide was discovered and patented a decade later by Monsanto.

While Monsanto insists the chemical is safe, an exhaustive 2016 scientific review of the glyphosate-based herbicides {GBHs] published in Environmental Health [open access] concluded:

  1. GBHs are the most heavily applied herbicide in the world and usage continues to rise;
  2. Worldwide, GBHs often contaminate drinking water sources, precipitation, and air, especially in agricultural regions;
  3. The half-life of glyphosate in water and soil is longer than previously recognized;
  4. Glyphosate and its metabolites are widely present in the global soybean supply;
  5. Human exposures to GBHs are rising;
  6. Glyphosate is now authoritatively classified as a probable human carcinogen;
  7. Regulatory estimates of tolerable daily intakes for glyphosate in the United States and European Union are based on outdated science.

Glyphosate” Unsafe on Any Plate, a 17 November 2016 from Food Democracy Now! looked at glyphosate levels in breakfast foods and snacks,m comparing to the number from recent scientific studies on the chemicals harm to animals.

The report notes “With the widespread increase in glyphosate use over the past 20 years and the fact that independent science has confirmed low level exposure to Roundup causes liver and kidney damage at only 0.05 ppb glyphosate equivalent, as reflected by changes in function of over 4000 genes, the American public should be concerned about glyphosate residues on their food. Additional research points to harmful impacts at levels between 10 ppb and 700 ppb.”

And here are the numbers:

Glyphosate/Roundup Damage by the Numbers (ppb)

0.1 ppb: Roundup (0.05 ppb glyphosate) altered the gene function of over 4,000 genes in the livers and kidneys of rats.

0.1 ppb: Roundup (0.05 ppb glyphosate) severe organ damage in rats.

0.1 ppb: Permitted level for glyphosate and all other herbicides in EU tap water.

10 ppb: Toxic effects  on the livers of fish.

700 ppb: Alterations of kidneys and livers in rats.

700 ppb: Permitted level for glyphosate in U.S. tap water.

1,125.3 ppb (1.1253 mg/kg): Level found in General Mills’ Cheerios.

The report also features two illuminating maps showing the spread of the chemical’s use on America’s farmlands:

blog-glyphosate-1

blog-glyphosate-2

And now a coalition of European environmental groups is calling for an end of glyphosate used on the continent.

From the Health and Environment Alliance [HEAL]:

Campaigners and activists met in Brussels and other European cities (Madrid, Rome, Berlin and Paris) today to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ban glyphosate, reform the EU pesticide approval process, and set mandatory targets to reduce pesticide use in the EU. The goal is to collect at least one million signatures from Europeans and submit the petition before the Commission’s next move to renew, withdraw or extend the EU licence of glyphosate.

Glyphosate – the most widely used weedkiller in Europe – is also known as Roundup, a Monsanto brandname. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) linked glyphosate to cancer. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is currently working on a safety assessment.

Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said: “Thousands of tonnes of glyphosate are sprayed each year on our fields, in our countryside and our neighbourhoods. It is defined as a ‘probable carcinogen’ by IARC, the international agency recognised as the gold standard in carcinogen identification. We should not be using any weedkiller linked to cancer. If we are serious about protecting people’s health, and giving our wildlife a chance to recover, then our governments must step in to ban the most toxic pesticides, and reduce the overall amount that is used.”

Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU food policy director said: “We are told that pesticides are strictly regulated to prevent harm. Yet they continue to be approved in secret meetings, based on unpublished industry studies. This kind of secrecy panders to industry and prevents proper scrutiny of EU food safety decisions. Regulators – not industry – should be responsible for ensuring public safety based on published scientific evidence.”

Oliver Moldenhauer, Executive Director at WeMove.EU said: “This year we have a real opportunity to finally get glyphosate out of our fields and off our plates. Our politicians need to hear this message loud and clear: they must protect citizens and the environment by banning this dangerous weedkiller and put us on the path towards a pesticide-free future.”

The ECI is backed by a broad, pan-European coalition of 38 organisations from 15 countries, including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Greenpeace, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN-E), and WeMove.EU.

More information is available on www.stopglyphosate.org

American invader threatens Africa’s food supplies


It’s a stealthy invader, an illegal immigrant, and it threatens to cause still more instability in a continent struggling with conflict and First World profiteers, but its impacts portend famine and yet more instability and violence.

Making matters worse, the invasion comes at a critical moment when the continent faces imminent threats from drought and climate change.

From MercoPress:

New research announced by scientists at CABI (Center for Agriculture and Bioscience Information) confirms that a recently introduced crop-destroying armyworm caterpillar is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a UK based CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be present in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall armyworm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

More threats loom: Drought and climate change

The introduction to a very alarming report from IRIN tells the basics:

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.

The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months.

“We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added.

Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.

According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll.

“We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN.

Mexican ban on Monsanto’s GMO corn upheld


Perhaps the most singular example of 21st Century rentier capitalism is agrabiz giant Monsanto.

The company has staked its future on a one-two punch, depriving farmers of what they’ve always cherished and protected, the right to hold some of their crop back each year to provide seed for next year’s crop.

With its patented GMO crops [previously], genetically engineered to withstand the company’s own patented weed-killer, the company not only leases one-time intellectual property rights in its seed but peddles the poison needed for those crops to survive.

Oh, and never mind that the genes herbicide-resistant genes have jumped to other plants, creating a so-called superweeds that require yet another round of gene tweaking accompanied by the release of yet more tepxic weed-killers.

Mexico, homeland to the root races of the world’s corn crops, has been fighting to keep Monsanto’s GMO corn out of their country, and now those GMO opponents have won another roung in an ongoing struggle

From teleSUR English:

A ban on planting genetically modified corn in Mexico is likely to continue for years as a slow-moving legal battle grinds on, said a top executive of U.S.-based seed and agrochemical company Monsanto Co.

Last week, a Mexican court upheld a late 2013 ruling that temporarily halted even pilot plots of GMO corn following a legal challenge over its effects on the environment.

Monsanto regional corporate director Laura Tamayo said in an interview that it will likely be “years” before the company can make any progress against the ban.

While Mexico is self-sufficient in white corn used to make the country’s staple tortillas, it depends on imports of mostly GMO yellow corn from the United States for its livestock.

Several years ago, Monsanto submitted two applications for the commercial planting of GMO corn in Mexico. Both sought 1.7 million acres in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, the country’s largest corn-producing area. Both applications are still pending for Monsanto.

Mexico is the birthplace of modern corn, domesticated about 8,000 years ago and today the planet’s most-produced grain.

Critics say genetically modified corn plantings will contaminate age-old native varieties and that toxins designed to protect the GMO grain against pests may be linked to elevated insect mortality.

California Roundup cancer warning label okayed


Roundup, the glyphosate-based plant killer sold to spray fields planted with Monsanto’s genetically altered plants [previously], may come with a cancer warning label if the Big Agra giant loses an appeal of a new court ruling.

From the Associated Press:

California can require Monsanto to label its popular weed-killer Roundup as a possible cancer threat despite an insistence from the chemical giant that it poses no risk to people, a judge tentatively ruled Friday.

California would be the first state to order such labeling if it carries out the proposal.

Monsanto had sued the nation’s leading agricultural state, saying California officials illegally based their decision for carrying the warnings on an international health organization based in France.

Monsanto attorney Trenton Norris argued in court Friday that the labels would have immediate financial consequences for the company. He said many consumers would see the labels and stop buying Roundup.

“It will absolutely be used in ways that will harm Monsanto,” he said.

After the hearing, the firm said in a statement that it will challenge the tentative ruling.