Category Archives: Agriculture

Venezuelan program brings agroecology home


We’ve had a long fascination with agroecology, the practice of growing food with the use of environmentally damaging synthetic fertilizers and corporatized seeds and pesticides.

Giving the ever-growing corporate domination of the American university, it’s no surprise that the best-paid academic scientists are busily churning out highly profitable patented pesticide, veterinary drugs, and plants and animals for the Big Agra and Big Pharma.

UC Berkeley, which once had one of the country’s finest agroecology programs, has dropped it ad huge Big Agra bucks have flooded the campus, most notably in the form of a half-billion-dollar BP-funded program to create cellulose-chomping bacteria designed to poop out the basic ingredient of clean-burning, high-energy fuel.

So far, with all the original cash spent, there’s still no superfuel, but, golly, there was all that cash, and all those wobnderful corporate connections.

To paraphrase an old and very sexist joke, they know what UC Berkeley is, and they’ve already established the price.

So it’s up to countries like Cuba [previously] and Venezuela [previously] to give backing to agroecological programs.

And that brings us to this report on one Venezuelan agroecology program, via teleSUR English:

Agroecology: A Latin American Movement

Program note:

Is Agroecology a viable option for Latin America? This small Venezuelan institute may have the answer.

Moving to curtail rights abuses by companies


When it comes to power, think transnational corporations.

Back in March Foreign Policy published an excellent report on the power of the 21st Century corporation, including these observations:

Already, the cash that Apple has on hand exceeds the GDPs of two-thirds of the world’s countries. Firms are also setting the pace vis-à-vis government regulators in a perennial game of cat-and-mouse. After the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act to discourage banks from growing excessively big and catastrophe-prone. Yet while the law crushed some smaller financial institutions, the largest banks — with operations spread across many countries — actually became even larger, amassing more capital and lending less. Today, the 10 biggest banks still control almost 50 percent of assets under management worldwide. Meanwhile, some European Union officials, including Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, are pushing for a common tax-base policy among member states to prevent corporations from taking advantage of preferential rates. But if that happened (and it’s a very big if), firms would just look beyond the continent for metanational opportunities.

The world is entering an era in which the most powerful law is not that of sovereignty but that of supply and demand. As scholar Gary Gereffi of Duke University has argued, denationalization now involves companies assembling the capacities of various locations into their global value chains. This has birthed success for companies, such as commodities trader Glencore and logistics firm Archer Daniels Midland, that don’t focus primarily on manufacturing goods, but are experts at getting the physical ingredients of what metanationals make wherever they’re needed.

Could businesses go a step further, shifting from stateless to virtual? Some people think so. In 2013, Balaji Srinivasan, now a partner at the venture-capital company Andreessen Horowitz, gave a much debated talk in which he claimed Silicon Valley is becoming more powerful than Wall Street and the U.S. government. He described “Silicon Valley’s ultimate exit,” or the creation of “an opt-in society, ultimately outside the U.S., run by technology.” The idea is that because social communities increasingly exist online, businesses and their operations might move entirely into the cloud.

The U.N. ponders a move

Two years ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to begin the process of regulating the way transnational corporations impact human rights.

Here’s how the vote went:

  • In favor: Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, China, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Venezuela, and Vietnam
  • Opposed: Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, South Korea, Romania, Macedonia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America
  • Abstained: Argentina, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Gabon, Kuwait, Maldives, Mexico, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, and the United Arab Emirates

The idea has won the support of more than 80 countries, though Obama’s America remains firmly opposed.

The work continues.

From the latest report from the Working Group on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations of the United Nations Human Rights Council:

The most egregious business-related human rights abuses take place in conflict-affected areas and other situations of widespread violence. Human rights abuses may spark or intensify conflict, and conflict may in turn lead to further human rights abuses. The gravity of the human rights abuses demands a response, yet in conflict zones the international human rights regime cannot possibly be expected to function as intended. Such situations require that States take action as a matter of urgency, but there remains a lack of clarity among States with regard to what innovative, proactive and, above all, practical policies and tools have the greatest potential for preventing or mitigating business-related abuses in situations of conflict. In the present report, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises outlines a range of policy options that home, host and neighbouring States have, or could develop, to prevent and deter corporate-related human rights abuses in conflict contexts.

>snip<

States should warn business enterprises of the heightened risk of being involved with gross abuses of human rights in conflict-affected areas and clearly communicate their expectations with regard to business respect for human rights, even in such challenging environments. With few exceptions, States have yet to convey their expectations of business behaviour in situations of conflicts. Normally, States would convey such expectations through policies, laws and regulations. For example, in the area of anti-corruption, States in recent years have agreed upon and communicated their expectations regarding standards of business conduct with respect to bribery through international conventions and domestic policies and regulations. However, unlike anti-corruption, the existing legal and policy framework relevant to conflict-affected regions does not have a component that is specifically designed to deal with the problems of business involvement.

This lack of regulatory clarity limits the ability of States to engage or advise business enterprises regarding acceptable conduct in or connected to conflict-affected regions. Therefore, states should review whether their policies, legislation, regulations and enforcement measures effectively address the heightened risk of businesses operating in conflict situations being involved in gross human rights abuses, including through provisions for human rights due diligence by business. They should ensure that their regulatory frameworks are adequate, the applicability to business entities is clarified and, for the most extreme situation, make sure that the relevant agencies are properly resourced to address the problem of business involvement in international or transnational crimes, such as corruption, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Abby Martin interviews one of the measure’s architects

In this, the latest episode of Abby Martin’s series for teleSUR English, the San Francisco Bay Area native interviews a diplomat who played a seminal role in shaping the UN panel’s mandate.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: Bringing Corporations to Justice with Ecuador’s UN Rep

Program notes:

For the first time ever, progress is being made at the United Nations for a binding legal instrument that would hold corporations accountable for human rights violations. Transnational corporations — many with larger economies than the countries they operate in — have enjoyed immunity from charges for destroying the environment and taking human lives. But Ecuador is leading a fight in the UN to create an international treaty and standards that can change this equation. At teleSUR’s studios in Quito, Abby Martin interviews Ecuador’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Chair of the negotiations for the binding instrument, María Fernanda Espinosa, about the need for this step.

U.S.: Give land to indigenous people to save it


How incredibly sensible.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Indigenous people are better than governments at preventing forests from being cut and should be seen as a solution, not a barrier to protecting them, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People said on Tuesday.

Indigenous peoples and communities have claims to two thirds of the world’s land but are legally recognised as holding only 10 percent, according to think tank World Resources Institute (WRI).

Without title deeds, indigenous communities may find their land is taken over for major development projects such as palm oil plantations and logging.

“Society thinks that indigenous peoples are claiming land that they shouldn’t be having because it should be used for expanded food production,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But giving indigenous peoples rights to land was a guarantee that forests, which store carbon and contribute to food security would continue to exist, Tauli-Corpuz said.

Monsanto says Bayer takeover bid still too low


The multinational giants continue to haggle over the urge to merge.

From Reuters:

U.S. seed company Monsanto Co turned down a sweetened $64 billion acquisition offer from Bayer AG  but said it was open to further talks with the German healthcare and chemicals group as well as other parties.

The widely expected rejection puts pressure on Bayer to sweeten its offer once again, at least enough to get access to Monsanto’s books. The two companies have been in negotiations about a potential confidentiality agreement, Reuters reported on Monday.

Monsanto said on Tuesday its board unanimously viewed Bayer’s latest bid as “financially inadequate and insufficient to ensure deal certainty.”

“Monsanto remains open to continued and constructive conversations with Bayer and other parties to assess whether a transaction that the board believes is in the best interest of Monsanto share owners can be realized,” the company said.

Biodiversity plunges, and human action is to blame


Two new major studies examine the alarming loss of species on Planet Earth directly attributable to human action, action, and the results are, as you may expect, alarming.

And with the acceleration of global climate change, the outlook for the future looks increasingly grim.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the introduction off modern agriculture.

Percentages of original species still surviving after the advent of Homo sapiens.

The first study takes a broad look at the impacts of all human action on biodiversity.

From University College London:

Levels of global biodiversity loss may negatively impact on ecosystem function and the sustainability of human societies, according to UCL-led research.

“This is the first time we’ve quantified the effect of habitat loss on biodiversity globally in such detail and we’ve found that across most of the world biodiversity loss is no longer within the safe limit suggested by ecologists” explained lead researcher, Dr Tim Newbold from UCL and previously at UNEP-WCMC.

“We know biodiversity loss affects ecosystem function but how it does this is not entirely clear. What we do know is that in many parts of the world, we are approaching a situation where human intervention might be needed to sustain ecosystem function.”

The team found that grasslands, savannas and shrublands were most affected by biodiversity loss, followed closely by many of the world’s forests and woodlands. They say the ability of biodiversity in these areas to support key ecosystem functions such as growth of living organisms and nutrient cycling has become increasingly uncertain.

The study, published today in Science [$30 for one-day access to the article], led by researchers from UCL, the Natural History Museum and UNEP-WCMC, found that levels of biodiversity loss are so high that if left unchecked, they could undermine efforts towards long-term sustainable development.

For 58.1% of the world’s land surface, which is home to 71.4% of the global population, the level of biodiversity loss is substantial enough to question the ability of ecosystems to support human societies. The loss is due to changes in land use and puts levels of biodiversity beyond the ‘safe limit’ recently proposed by the planetary boundaries – an international framework that defines a safe operating space for humanity.

“It’s worrying that land use has already pushed biodiversity below the level proposed as a safe limit,” said Professor Andy Purvis of the Natural History Museum, London, who also worked on the study. “Decision-makers worry a lot about economic recessions, but an ecological recession could have even worse consequences – and the biodiversity damage we’ve had means we’re at risk of that happening. Until and unless we can bring biodiversity back up, we’re playing ecological roulette.”

The team used data from hundreds of scientists across the globe to analyse 2.38 million records for 39,123 species at 18,659 sites where are captured in the database of the PREDICTS project. The analyses were then applied to estimate how biodiversity in every square kilometre land has changed since before humans modified the habitat.

They found that biodiversity hotspots – those that have seen habitat loss in the past but have a lot of species only found in that area – are threatened, showing high levels of biodiversity decline. Other high biodiversity areas, such as Amazonia, which have seen no land use change have higher levels of biodiversity and more scope for proactive conservation.

“The greatest changes have happened in those places where most people live, which might affect physical and psychological wellbeing. To address this, we would have to preserve the remaining areas of natural vegetation and restore human-used lands,” added Dr Newbold.

The team hope the results will be used to inform conservation policy, nationally and internationally, and to facilitate this, have made the maps from this paper and all of the underlying data publicly available.

Animal species lost because of agricultural production

Species loss due to agricultural production.

Species loss due to agricultural production.

A second major study, this time conducted under the auspices of the European Commission: look at species loss specifically related to agricultural production.

The results are equally alarming.

From the European Commission:

In the past 500 years, over 300 vertebrate species have gone extinct, and many more are under threat of extinction — causing a lamentable decline in the variety of life on the planet. Biodiversity provides important benefits, from pollination to nutrient cycling, that are vital for human health and the economy. There is, therefore, an urgent need to address the causes of biodiversity loss.

Agriculture is a major driver of biodiversity decline. As the world’s economies are become more and more connected, international flows of crops and their products are increasing and it is important to understand the environmental effect of these changes.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

El Niño aftermath brings specter of starvation


And those most deeply impacted are children in some of the world’s poorest countries.

We begin with a map from the UNICEF Briefing Papers It’s not over, El Niño’s impact on children:

EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA RAINFALL: El Niño and La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific are known to shift rainfall patterns in many different parts of the world. Although they vary somewhat from one to the next, the strongest shifts remain fairly consistent in the regions and seasons shown.

EL NIÑO AND LA NIÑA RAINFALL: El Niño and La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific are known to shift rainfall patterns in many different parts of the world. Although they vary somewhat from one to the next, the strongest shifts remain fairly consistent in the regions and seasons shown.

And the story, via the United Nations News Center:

While the 2015-2016 El Niño – one of the strongest on record – has ended, its devastating impact on children is worsening, as hunger, malnutrition and disease continue to increase following the severe droughts and floods spawned by the event, a new report from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed today.

Making matters worse, there is a strong chance La Niña – El Niño’s flip side – could strike at some stage this year, further exacerbating a severe humanitarian crisis that is affecting millions of children in some of the most vulnerable communities, UNICEF said in a report It’s not over – El Niño’s impact on children.

El Niño is the term used to describe the warming of the central to eastern tropical Pacific that occurs, on average, every three to seven years. It raises sea surface temperatures and impacts weather systems around the globe so that some places receive more rain while others receive none at all, often in a reversal of their usual weather pattern.

While El Niño, and its counterpart La Niña, occur cyclically, in recent years, mainly due to the effects of global climate change, extreme weather events associated with these phenomena – such as droughts and floods – have increased in frequency and severity, according to UN agencies.

“Millions of children and their communities need support in order to survive. They need help to prepare for the eventuality La Niña will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis. And they need help to step up disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change, which is causing more intense and more frequent extreme weather events,” said UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Programs, Afshan Khan.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Massive drought plagues Brazil’s Amazon Basin


 

Vast areas of the Amazon basin are stricken by an El Niño-spawned drought.

Vast areas of the Amazon basin are stricken by an El Niño-spawned drought.

With Brazil in a state of chaos in the wake of the political coup that has ousted President Dilma Rousseff pending a post-Olympics trial by the national senate and the interim government wracked by a series of corruption scandals, the nation faces a new threat: The potential for massive fires in the Amazon Basin.

While the drought is bringing havoc to the lives of people, plants, and animals in the region, we should note that fires would present the coup government with an opportunity to alleviate their severe cash shortage appease their corporate and land baron backers by selling them conveniently fire-cleared land to raise beef and the corporate-controlled soybean crops that provide the cattle with their primary source of feed.

More on the fire threat from NASA’s Earth Observatory:

El Niño conditions in 2015 and early 2016 altered rainfall patterns around the world. In the Amazon basin, El Niño reduced rainfall during the wet season, leaving the region drier at the start of the 2016 dry season than any year since 2002.

“Severe drought conditions at the start of the dry season have set the stage for extreme fire risk in 2016 across the southern Amazon,” said Doug Morton, an Earth scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a co-creator of the fire forecast. The wildfire risk for July to October now exceeds the fire risk in 2005 and 2010—drought years when wildfires burned large swaths of the rainforest.

The Amazon fire forecast analyzes the relationship between certain climate observations and active fire detections from NASA satellites to predict fire season severity. Developed in 2011 by scientists at the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) and NASA, the forecast model is focused particularly on the link between sea surface temperatures and fire activity. Warmer sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific (as observed during an El Niño) and Atlantic oceans shift rainfall away from the Amazon region, increasing the risk of fire during dry months.

The forecast team also tracks changes in water storage during the dry season. The maps above show the accumulated deficit in surface and underground water storage in 2016 and other recent drought years, as reported by the Global Precipitation Climatology Centre. The accumulated deficit is measured from August through May; for example, August 2015 to May 2016 sets the stage for the 2016 dry season. Shades of red depict areas where rainfall has been below normal, while blues were above normal. (Click here to learn more about how GRACE studies water supplies.)

There’s more. . . Continue reading