Category Archives: Corpocracy

Big Agra African land grabs raise risk of violence

Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

Regions of Africa where the relative availability of fresh water, as calculated by the Blue Water Index [BWI] threatens violence as the competition got fresh water between smallholders and giant foreign-owned farms intensifies.

We’ve long been concerned about the increasing share of African farmlands, once owned in common by the people who farm them, being sold to foreign agricultural giants by cash-strapped African governments.

One of our deepest concerns has been the power of those corporations, largely own by Chinese and European multinationals, to gain control over the continent’s water supplies, raising the risk of starvation and violence for the planet’s poorest continent.

And now comes a study confirming our suspicions and revealing just where the risks of conflict are greatest.

From Sweden’s Lund University:

For the first time, researchers point to areas in Africa where foreign agricultural companies’ choice of crops and management of fresh water are partly responsible for the increased water shortages and greater competition for water. This in turn increases the risk of outright conflicts between all those who need water – plants, animals and humans.

During the 21st century, foreign companies have leased large tracts of land in Africa – more so than in other parts of the world – in order to produce cheap food, cheap timber and cheap raw material for biofuels. An interdisciplinary study from Lund University in Sweden shows that about three per cent of the land leased in Africa by foreign companies has been registered as currently in production, for the purpose of growing crops. For various reasons, the companies have either pulled out or not started producing on other leased land.

The study also shows that the crops that foreign investors decide to grow often require more water than the traditionally grown crops. Furthermore, it shows that the same crop can have very different needs for water, depending on the climate where it is grown and which irrigation systems the companies use.

The researchers in Lund, together with a colleague in France, have developed a model that shows how much water is needed for different production systems, in different types of climates, in different parts of the continent. The model takes into account both the size of the land and the type of irrigation system.

This model has enabled researchers to distinguish between areas where rainwater accounts for the largest share of irrigation water, and areas where large foreign agricultural companies satisfy more than half of their water needs by using fresh water sources, such as groundwater, rivers and ponds. This has allowed the researchers to highlight the areas around the continent where increased competition for water escalates the risk of water-related conflicts between different sectors and ecosystems.

“These hotspots have not been identified in this way before. Previous studies have often focused on the size of the area and not on how much fresh water is used to grow the demanding crops that foreign companies are interested in”, says physical geographer Emma Li Johansson, who was in charge of the study.

The leases are often written for periods of 33 to 99 years. The contracts rarely include any rules or limits concerning the use of water.

“Our research can perhaps lead to foreign investors showing greater consideration for how much water is necessary, in relation to how much water is actually available. Hopefully, the results can serve as a basis for documents that regulate the water consumption of large-scale farming companies”, says Emma Li Johansson.

The results are published in an article in the scientific journal PNAS.

Download article: Johansson E L et al (2016) Green and blue water demand from large-scale land acquisitions in Africa. PNAS (open access).

Map of the day: Global import rates take a dive

Following up on our previous post, there’s this from the International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook — October 2016:

IMF World Economic Outlook, October 2016; Chapter 2: Global Trad

Chart of the day: Global trade collapse in 3 charts

A stark picture of the collapse of global trade from World Economic Outlook — October 2016:

IMF World Economic Outlook, October 2016; Chapter 2: Global Trad

Big Pharma grabs up Peruvian native biosphere

The classic exemplar of the evils of modern capitalism is the pharmaceutical industry, extorting vast sums from the most vulnerable as they rush to create a new cartel beyond the dreams of the corporate bucaneers of yore.

Rushing drugs to market armed with tests performed by bought-and-paid-for academics isn’t enough for them.

Now they’re busily grabbing up the plants traditional cultures have relied on for their own pharmacopeia.

Consider their latest target, via teleSUR English:

The production and consumption of natural Andean and Amazonian ancestral products in Peru is threatened by the “biopiracy” of foreign companies who have filed over 11,690 patents for the domestic produce of the region, effectively poaching the natural heritage of the country. The resources are said to be rich in nutrients and vitamins and range from those with anti-aging properties to those that act as natural aphrodisiacs.

Small farmers could be among those worst affected if foreign companies obtain the patents. “Campesinos have been guardians of seeds and diversity generation after generation, from our ancestors to our fathers we have inherited the seeds,” said Director of the National Association of Ecological Products of Peru Moises Quispe.

“We campesinos are very conscious about it. These seeds are part of our lives, and if there’s a new owner who patents them for their own economic interests, it’s a very worrying situation.”

Peru has 4,400 species of native plants with various uses, including 1,200 which have medicinal properties. The products that have the highest number of patents filed are Tara with 3,989, Yacon with 3,211, Maca with 1,406, Cat’s Claw with 843, Cascarilla with 648 and Purple Corn with 294, among 23 others. The data was collected by the state-run National Commission Against Biopiracy, but they only monitor 35 of the 4,400 species facing this threat.

Chart of the day: The two-tier economy

While the Labor Department touts a job recovery since the great recession, many of those jobs “recovered” are part-time positions, jobs which lack the essential benefits critical for so many individuals and families.

From a new report from the Pew Research Center:


Yahoo’s Yahoos & a major case of buyer’s remorse

In his seminal 1726 satire, Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift coined a word to describe a loathsome creature spawned by his imagination.

The word was Yahoo, and here’s Wikipedia’s definition of the nature of the beast:

Swift describes them as being filthy and with unpleasant habits, resembling human beings far too closely for the liking of protagonist Lemuel Gulliver, who finds the calm and rational society of intelligent horses, the Houyhnhnms, greatly preferable. The Yahoos are primitive creatures obsessed with “pretty stones” they find by digging in mud, thus representing the distasteful materialism and ignorant elitism Swift encountered in Britain. Hence the term “yahoo” has come to mean “a crude, brutish or obscenely coarse person.”

Why anyone would want to name a company after disgusting a critter is something of a mystery, although the name may be apt given that the company was letting both the NSA and FBI root around in its emails searching for “pretty stones,” the jewels of intelligence.

And now a would-be buyer of the company is finding that they’re about to wind up with a mess of their hands.

From the New York Post:

Verizon is pushing for a $1 billion discount off its pending $4.8 billion agreement to buy Yahoo, several sources told The Post exclusively.

The request comes on the heels of the web giant getting bludgeoned by bad news in the past few days.

Yahoo revealed two weeks ago that it had been hacked in 2014 and that usernames and passwords for 500 million accounts were swiped. Then, earlier this week, it was learned that Yahoo had been ordered by a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to scan emails for terrorist signatures.

“In the last day we’ve heard that [AOL boss] Tim [Armstong] is getting cold feet. He’s pretty upset about the lack of disclosure and he’s saying, ‘Can we get out of this or can we reduce the price?’” said a source familiar with Verizon’s thinking.

But it gets worse, as the Intercept reports:

Contrary to a denial by Yahoo and a report by the New York Times, the company’s scanning program, revealed earlier this week by Reuters, provided the government with a custom-built back door into the company’s mail service — and it was so sloppily installed that it posed a privacy hazard for hundreds of millions of users, according to a former Yahoo employee with knowledge of the company’s security practices.

Despite this week’s differing media accounts, this much isn’t disputed: In 2015, Yahoo provided the U.S. government with the means to scan every single email that landed in every single Yahoo Mail inbox. The scanning was kept an absolute secret — and as this ex-Yahoo source describes, that meant keeping it a secret from security personnel who came to believe it endangered Yahoo’s hundreds of millions of unwitting customers.

The employee, who worked at Yahoo before, during, and after the installation of the email-scanning program, requested anonymity because of a nondisclosure agreement formed when the individual quit several months after the program was discovered internally last summer. The source declined to share certain specific names for fear of violating that same NDA or the NDA of others, but The Intercept has confirmed details of the source’s employment at Yahoo, which would have put the then-employee in a position to know this information.

Yep Yahoo is precisely the right name, no?

Chart of the day: Employers ditch pension plans

From a sobering new report on the American workforce from the Pew Research Center: