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Posts Tagged ‘food crisis’

Njari, Tanzania, 2006.  A meeting held by the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union

Njari, Tanzania, 2006. A meeting held by the Kilimanjaro Native Cooperative Union

As the year 2008 comes to a close, the world must cope with a recent assertion made by the Food and Agriculture Organization that “one billion people will go hungry around the globe next year for the first time in human history…”

This shameful scenario was presented in the December 28th issue of The Independent: “The shocking landmark will be passed – despite a second record worldwide harvest in a row – because people are becoming too destitute to buy the food that is produced….the growth in hunger is not occurring, as in the past, because of shortage of food – but because people cannot afford to buy it even when it is plentiful.”

Theories abound as to why the world is in this predicament and what should be done to regain control of the global food economy. Meantime, consumers in developed countries are learning more about the sometimes vast and unsustainable supply chains that bring them their food, and are questioning the enormous resources consumed to maintain this system.    One movement, which gained national attention in the US with the publication of Michael Pollan’s bestseller, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, focuses on changing our eating patterns to be less global.  “Locavores” recommend turning to urban gardens, supporting farmers’ markets, and even keeping a few chickens in the back yard.  In short:  Buy Local.

But growing one’s own food, buying local and adhering to 100-mile food diets only offer partial solutions to the growing food crisis. As valid and important as these strategies are, we must also pursue other paths if we are going to restore balance to the food system and exonerate ourselves from such an unforgiveable crime as having allowed one billion people to go hungry.

If the primary problem is not a food shortage, but rather the gap between what food costs and what hungry people can afford to pay, then we must analyze the economic and political institutional failures which have created this situation. We need to redraft our trade agreements to keep workers in sustainable jobs in the U.S. and farmers productive on their fields in the Global South. For small farmers in this country, as well as consumers, one way forward is to organize now to radically change the next Farm Bill.  It’s great to see these movements gathering momentum to make dramatic changes in our agriculture and trade policies.

Where does Fair Trade Fit In?

But through all the news and the commentary about the food crisis, the problems and solutions, where is the mention of Fair Trade?  Why is the voice of Fair Trade so absent within the food sovereignty movement?

It’s as if Fair Trade has fallen off the social justice map. Is Fair Trade just a fad – a naive notion that “all a consumer has to do” is “look for the seal” and the world will be a better place? Can it really be that the achievements gained and lessons learned through Fair Trade have nothing to offer the current discourse about local farmers, sustainable agriculture, and the food crisis?

The Fair Trade movement has helped millions of farmers worldwide, assisted farmer organizations, and educated consumers in the North about the injustices of our trade system. After all, it was developed in response to the huge systemic injustices facing producers in the Global South. Small farmers simply can’t compete with large landowners, plantations, and family estates. The landowners have all the connections to the same oligarchies that acquired wealth and power by enslaving generations of farmers after appropriating their land. Many of these same landowners now run the countries, make the laws, own the banks, run the exporting companies, and pocket the profits.

Fair Trade was very successful in raising awareness of this situation. Alternative traders and other activists found innovative and creative ways to “introduce” producers and consumers to each other, to build bridges between cultures. The movement educated consumers, inspired many to learn, engage and take action. Fair Trade offers market access, credit and fairer prices to millions of farmers, enabling peasant farmers to become co-operative business owners with increasing political and economic power.

Of course, if Fair Trade is barely mentioned amongst those concerned with food security and food sovereignty, try searching through the conversations about Fair Trade within the movement itself. Inspired? I don’t mean to offend, but the dialogue can get tiring. “Fair Trade,” “Whole Trade,” “Direct Trade”,  “Beyond Fair Trade” — does the Fair Trade movement have nothing more to offer consumers and activists than rivalries between roasters; who makes more trips to source; who knows their farmer partners better?

Fair Trade must join in discussions about our industrial food system, the plight facing small farmers in the US, and the governmental policies that created the industrialized food economy in which we all are forced to participate.  We need a rich debate within the movement about these larger issues that affect small farmers and consumers.

Bringing it All Together

Some of us are thirsting for a deeper level of conversation. Personally, I want to see Fair Trade raised alongside the “buy local” and agriculture and trade policy reform strategies. Gains have been achieved and lessons learned. Why isn’t the Fair Trade movement influencing – and being influenced by – the food sovereignty movement?

Fair Traders need to get back into the ring or we will lose the advances the movement has made. It’s time to tone down the marketing rhetoric and return to the educational goals of our mission; find new ways to talk with consumers – and each other – about our work and why we’re doing it. Most importantly, we need to continue creating innovative new strategies, and joining others, to fix the huge injustices in our food system and large scale destruction of the planet.

I also think that “locavores”, who talk about the need to support small farmers, community development and sustainable agriculture, should consider expanding their lens to include mention of small farmers in the Global South. As long as consumers continue to drink coffee and tea, and eat chocolate and other foods not grown in our country, let’s remember that the struggles of these small farmers are as challenging and as critical as those in the U.S. And while small farmers participating in Fair Trade are not in our own backyards, they are trying to maintain, and strengthen their own local communities. Their food security depends on their ability to remain organized in co-operatives; to receive the higher, “fairer” prices they deserve; and ultimately, on the agriculture and trade policies we enact here in Washington.

By the same token, when we talk about the role agri-business has played in dictating agriculture, economic, and trade policies, it would be powerful to highlight alternatives. If the large-scale mechanized farming favored by agribusiness – with its reliance on fossil fuel, pesticides, genetically modified organisms, government subsidies, and factory farms – is the problem, which businesses within the food system are offering solutions?

Certainly small farmers are central to our vision of a greener and more just food system.  But it is important also to recognize the significance of the food co-operatives, locally-owned natural food markets, independent restaurants and cafes, which shine as visible examples of those who are building an alternative day after day. 

Why is there so little mention of these independent and co-operative businesses in food security circles?   Many alternative trade organizations, and worker-owned co-operatives are demonstrating that businesses can have a social mission; reasonable profits can be made and shared more equitably amongst workers and farmers; business can be conducted through strong relationships based on mutuality, transparency and integrity; and of course that healthy food can be produced sustainably.

These organizations – producing, manufacturing, distributing and selling us our food – are walking the walk. They are demonstrating through action that alternatives do exist. Positive models are out there. And the more we can highlight, replicate and create additional independent, local and co-operative businesses, the more success we will have building the type of food system that the food sovereignty movement and all the locavores, fair trade and agriculture policy activists are promoting: a food system based on the principles of solidarity, sustainability and co-operation.

Our movements for a greener and more just food system could benefit by engaging more with each other. Ultimately, the more we challenge, learn from, influence and highlight the contributions each movement is making, the stronger and more successful we will be in our ultimate goal of fixing a broken food system. Let’s unite, deepen and strengthen our movements. With the threat of one billion people facing hunger and food security in 2009, it’s a change we can’t afford not to make.

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Our food system is broken.  One billion people across the globe face hunger and food insecurity.   On October 15th, World Food Day, a group of food, farm, labor, and justice organizations from across the US put forth a Call to Action calling on the next administration to take rapid steps to address the food crisis through fundamental changes to the government’s food, agricultural, labor and international aid policies.  This ad-hoc group, The US working Group on the Food Crisis, represents various sectors of the food system, including anti-hunger, family farm, community food security, environmental, international aid, labor, food justice, consumer, and other groups.  

Yesterday, they sent a letter, and the Call to Action, to President-elect Barack Obama asking him to take immediate action.  (You can still add your and/or your organization’s name to this growing list.)

Equal Exchange and a number of our food co-operative and Interfaith partners have endorsed this call. We believe that it’s past time to get our food system working for small farmers, consumers, and the environment. Changing government policies is imperative. Equally critical are efforts to support progressive businesses that are trying to change the food system by constructing an alternative economic model, based on solidarity principles. At Equal Exchange, we are continually challenging ourselves to learn about the food system, questioning what got us to this point, calling for appropriate policy changes, and taking concrete steps to support local farmers, farmer co-operatives, and businesses that live their values and are constructing alternative economic models that work for people. We encourage all of you to do the same – other models are possible! (more…)

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One billion people around the world face hunger and food insecurity. Every time I hear that statistic (and it keeps growing), it never ceases to astound me. I’m struck both by the fact that in today’s world we have allowed this situation to occur AND that we have seen so little put forth by the current administration to do absolutely anything about it. Where’s the outrage? (more…)

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I’m dashing off to the Farm Aid Concert in Mansfield, where Equal Exchange is the official coffee sponsor, so I’ll have to be brief. But I wanted to thank everyone who responded to Nick’s posting, “Co-operatives: The Democracies of our Economy“, with all of those thoughtful comments. I just wanted to add one more voice to the point raised by Keith. Yesterday I attended a meeting of the National Family Farm Coalition. A number of small farmer organizations, progressive NGOs and researchers advocating for more fair trade and agriculture policies have come together to work on the current food crisis. October 16th is National Food Day and they have been preparing a Call to Action to launch on this day. (stay tuned for more on that). The meeting was held here in Boston to piggyback on the fact that many of the Coalition’s members and allies will be attending the Farm Aid concert today.

Among those present at yesterday’s meeting was a group of small farmers who belong to the Federation of Southern Co-operatives, one of Equal Exchange’s partners in our Domestic Fair Trade program. Several of them got up and expressed outrage at the $500 billion* bailout of financial institutions being proposed this weekend by the Bush administration. Where are the subsidies or any support for small farmers who are responsible for growing the food we eat?

We talked about the recent Farm Bill and how most of the subsidies and other support went to agri-business. I couldn’t help thinking about the wave of recent articles criticizing the Fair Trade system for offering a minimum price to small farmers as an affront to the “free market”. As John Lewis, a dedicated life-long civil rights activist who was present at the meeting stated: “Small farmers are always last. And they should be first to receive some of this support. But, instead the corporations are getting it, most of whom don’t even need it.”

* by now everyone knows the bailout went up to $700 billion….

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The Via Campesina, the largest organization of small farmers in the world, has long advocated for changes in our agriculture and trade policies. For the past decade, they have been promoting the principles of Food Sovereignty as a way forward to protect rural communities, our food system, and the planet. As a movement that originated with small farmers in the South, there is much to learn from their concerns and their proposals. In a future blog article, I’ll talk more about the overlap between the Food Sovereignty and Fair Trade movements.

For now however, I’d like to just introduce you to some of the concepts being discussed in the Food Sovereignty movement…

A few months ago, I came across a very well-written and powerful article published by Food First, entitled, “Small farms as a planetary ecological asset: Five key reasons why we should support the revitalization of small farms in the Global South”, by Miguel A. Altieri, President of the Sociedad Cientifica LatinoAmericana de Agroecologia and Professor of Agroecology at the University of California, Berkeley. If you had any doubts about why small farmers are essential to our planet and our food system, and why we believe it is critical to support them, this article should answer any lingering questions.

I encourage you all to follow the link to his full article. Initially, I thought I might just try to summarize Altieri’s main points for those of you who might not have time to read the full article. To be perfectly honest, however, Altieri is so articulate and his points so well-made, I found it impossible to condense. So instead, and I hope he will forgive me, I’ve simply extracted many of his arguments verbatim.

Altieri identifies “…five reasons why it’s in the interest of Northern consumers to support the cause and struggle of small farmers in the South.” The following are excerpts taken directly from his article:
(more…)

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All too often the impact of unfair agriculture and free trade policies falls most severely on the shoulders of women. Grassroots International is a human rights and international development organization that works alongside their partners to promote the rights of all people to land, water, and food. We would like to thank Blair Rapalyea, an intern with Grassroots, for the following article she posted on their blog about how current economic conditions are affecting women.


Since I started my internship with Grassroots International in May, I have come to realize the true magnitude of the food crisis. The way that the economic system produces and distributes food is leaving far too many people hungry and jobless. Throughout my research, I studied the effect that the crisis has had on women, and I believe that their role, though historically overlooked, is crucial to finding a sustainable solution. I believe, along with everyone at Grassroots International, that women’s economic and land rights are not just rights that they deserve as people, but steps that must be taken in order to bring the world out of the food crisis.

The severity of the current food crisis has shocked people all over the world and called into question the effectiveness of a free-market economy that allows so many to starve. The privatization of resources necessary to farm and the increasing price of farming supplies is forcing small farmers to abandon their work. Big agribusinesses are making huge profits as prices rise, but family farmers don’t benefit from the increased costs. Fertilizer, land, and water sources are bought up by big companies, and land formerly used to grow food is often switched to produce only corn and grain meant to make more lucrative ethanol, taking food out of the mouths of the hungry. (more…)

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The following is a press release from the National Family Farm Coalition about a trade bill recently introduced to Congress which we can finally put our support behind!

 
FAMILY FARMERS PRAISE INTRODUCTION OF TRADE BILL THAT HELPS ADDRESS GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS: U.S. and United Nations Continue to Promote Catastrophic Free Trade Agenda

Washington D.C., June 4, 2008


The National Family Farm Coalition today praised the introduction of the TRADE Act in the House and Senate which offers urgent and necessary reforms to our deeply flawed trade agreements. Much of the world is grappling with a growing global food crisis. Much of the crisis has been precipitated by free trade policies that have made developing countries reliant on imported food at the expense of domestic local production. Farmers from Haiti to Indonesia to Mexico have been driven off their land due to trade agreements that dismantled tariff protections and domestic state support for local farmers. This allowed U.S. agribusinesses to dump cheap commodities into overseas markets, forcing countries to be at the mercy of global markets for their food security instead of relying on local family farmers. With commodity prices now skyrocketing, governments are no longer able to provide food for their citizens.

The TRADE Act offers positive steps to help countries practice food sovereignty instead of “free trade.” Ben Burkett, President of the National Family Farm Coalition and a Mississippi farmer said, “We applaud the introduction of the TRADE act. The legislation is clear that fair trade begins with farmers being able to earn fair prices reflecting cost of production, fair treatment of farm labor, and limitations against unfair dumping practices. It allows for countries who are part of a trade agreement to establish strategic food and energy reserves, an important policy that must be reinstated to address the global food crisis.” (more…)

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