Monday, April 22, 2013

Corruption in the water sector

Corruption in the water sector is all-pervasive, affecting everything from water resources management to drinking water services, irrigation and hydropower. It occurs in all phases—from design through construction to operation and maintenance of water systems.

Corruption represents lack of integrity in people and organizations. It is enabled by lack of governance, transparency and accountability— deficiencies that can be addressed by tools that help access information, demand accountability and build partnerships. Binayak Das from the Water Integrity Network will discuss this in detail, in a webinar organized by TheWaterChannelon April 25, 2013 between 1300-1400 GMT. (Check your local timing)

Attending the webinar is free and easy. Just click here, chose ‘Enter as Guest,’ listen to Binayak and put your comments/questions to him through the chat window. If you have any prior suggestions/questions for the speaker, send them to

For more information, go to

With Regards,

Abraham Abhishek

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sir John Beddington warns of major global crisis by 2030

One of Britain's leading scientists is warning that the growth of the world's population will reach crisis point by the year 2030.

John Beddington, the UK government's chief scientific adviser, says food and water supplies will come under severe pressure as the Earth's population swells to 8.5 billion people.


He says the answer is in embracing new agricultural technology.


Harry Smith reports.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Climate change: how a warming world is a threat to our food supplies

When the Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire on 17 December 2010, it was in protest at heavy-handed treatment and harassment in the province where he lived.

But a host of new studies suggest that a major factor in the subsequent uprisings, which became known as the Arab spring, was food insecurity.

Drought, rocketing bread prices, food and water shortages have all blighted parts of the Middle East. Analysts at the Centre for American Progress in Washington say a combination of food shortages and other environmental factors exacerbated the already tense politics of the region. As the Observer reports today, an as-yet unpublished US government study indicates that the world needs to prepare for much more of the same, as food prices spiral and longstanding agricultural practices are disrupted by climate change.

"We should expect much more political destabilisation of countries as it bites," says Richard Choularton, a policy officer in the UN's World Food Programme climate change office. "What is different now from 20 years ago is that far more people are living in places with a higher climatic risk; 650 million people now live in arid or semi-arid areas where floods and droughts and price shocks are expected to have the most impact.

"The recent crises in the Horn of Africa and Sahel may be becoming the new normal. Droughts are expected to become more frequent. Studies suggest anything up to 200 million more food-insecure people by 2050 or an additional 24 million malnourished children. In parts of Africa we already have a protracted and growing humanitarian disaster. Climate change is a creeping disaster," he said.

The Mary Robinson climate justice foundation is hosting a major conference in Dublin this week. Research to be presented there will say that rising incomes and growth in the global population, expected to create 2 billion more mouths to feed by 2050, will drive food prices higher by 40-50%. Climate change may add a further 50% to maize prices and slightly less to wheat, rice and oil seeds.

"We know population will grow and incomes increase, but also that temperatures will rise and rainfall patterns will change. We must prepare today for higher temperatures in all sectors," said Gerald Nelson, a senior economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.

All of the studies suggest the worst impacts will be felt by the poorest people. Robinson, the former Irish president, said: "Climate change is already having a domino effect on food and nutritional security for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. Child malnutrition is predicted to increase by 20% by 2050. Climate change impacts will disproportionately fall on people living in tropical regions, and particularly on the most vulnerable and marginalised population groups. This is the injustice of climate change – the worst of the impacts are felt by those who contributed least to causing the problem."

But from Europe to the US to Asia, no population will remain insulated from the huge changes in food production that the rest of the century will bring.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world's leading Cgiar crop research stations, said: "There's a lot of complacency in rich countries about climate change. We must understand that instability is inevitable. We already see a lot of refugees. Perhaps if a lot of people come over on boats to Europe or the US that would wake them up."

Asia and Oceania

China is relatively resilient to climate change. Its population is expected to decline by up 400 million people this century, easing demand on resources, and it has the capacity to buy in vast quantities of food. More


Seeds of suicide

“Monsanto is an agricultural company.

We apply innovation and technology to help farmers around the world produce more while conserving more.”

“Producing more, Conserving more, Improving farmers lives.”

Mar 27, 2013 - Control over seed is the first link in the food chain because seed is the source of life. When a corporation controls seed, it controls life, especially the life of farmers.

Monsanto’s concentrated control over the seed sector in India as well as across the world is very worrying. This is what connects farmers’ suicides in India to Monsanto vs Percy Schmeiser in Canada, to Monsanto vs Bowman in the US, and to farmers in Brazil suing Monsanto for $2.2 billion for unfair collection of royalty.

These are the promises Monsanto India’s website makes, alongside pictures of smiling, prosperous farmers from the state of Maharashtra. This is a desperate attempt by Monsanto and its PR machinery to delink the epidemic of farmers’ suicides in India from the company’s growing control over cotton seed supply — 95 per cent of India’s cotton seed is now controlled by Monsanto.

Monsanto’s talk of ‘technology’ tries to hide its real objectives of control over seed where genetic engineering is a means to control seed

Through patents on seed, Monsanto has become the “Life Lord” of our planet, collecting rents for life’s renewal from farmers, the original breeders.

Patents on seed are illegitimate because putting a toxic gene into a plant cell is not “creating” or “inventing” a plant. These are seeds of deception — the deception that Monsanto is the creator of seeds and life; the deception that while Monsanto sues farmers and traps them in debt, it pretends to be working for farmers’ welfare, and the deception that GMOs feed the world. GMOs are failing to control pests and weeds, and have instead led to the emergence of superpests and superweeds.

The entry of Monsanto in the Indian seed sector was made possible with a 1988 Seed Policy imposed by the World Bank, requiring the Government of India to deregulate the seed sector. Five things changed with Monsanto’s entry: First, Indian companies were locked into joint-ventures and licensing arrangements, and concentration over the seed sector increased. Second, seed which had been the farmers’ common resource became the “intellectual property” of Monsanto, for which it started collecting royalties, thus raising the costs of seed. Third, open pollinated cotton seeds were displaced by hybrids, including GMO hybrids. A renewable resource became a non-renewable, patented commodity. Fourth, cotton which had earlier been grown as a mixture with food crops now had to be grown as a monoculture, with higher vulnerability to pests, disease, drought and crop failure. Fifth, Monsanto started to subvert India’s regulatory processes and, in fact, started to use public resources to push its non-renewable hybrids and GMOs through so-called public-private partnerships (PPP).

In 1995, Monsanto introduced its Bt technology in India through a joint-venture with the Indian company Mahyco. In 1997-98, Monsanto started open field trials of its GMO Bt cotton illegally and announced that it would be selling the seeds commercially the following year. India has rules for regulating GMOs since 1989, under the Environment Protection Act. It is mandatory to get approval from the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee under the ministry of environment for GMO trials. The Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology sued Monsanto in the Supreme Court of India and Monsanto could not start the commercial sales of its Bt cotton seeds until 2002.

And, after the damning report of India’s parliamentary committee on Bt crops in August 2012, the panel of technical experts appointed by the Supreme Court recommended a 10-year moratorium on field trials of all GM food and termination of all ongoing trials of transgenic crops.

But it had changed Indian agriculture already.

Monsanto’s seed monopolies, the destruction of alternatives, the collection of superprofits in the form of royalties, and the increasing vulnerability of monocultures has created a context for debt, suicides and agrarian distress which is driving the farmers’ suicide epidemic in India. This systemic control has been intensified with Bt cotton. That is why most suicides are in the cotton belt.

An internal advisory by the agricultural ministry of India in January 2012 had this to say to the cotton-growing states in India — “Cotton farmers are in a deep crisis since shifting to Bt cotton. The spate of farmer suicides in 2011-12 has been particularly severe among Bt cotton farmers.”

The highest acreage of Bt cotton is in Maharashtra and this is also where the highest farmer suicides are. Suicides increased after Bt cotton was introduced — Monsanto’s royalty extraction, and the high costs of seed and chemicals have created a debt trap. According to Government of India data, nearly 75 per cent rural debt is due to purchase inputs. As Monsanto’s profits grow, farmers’ debt grows. It is in this systemic sense that Monsanto’s seeds are seeds of suicide.

The ultimate seeds of suicide is Monsanto’s patented technology to create sterile seeds. (Called “Terminator technology” by the media, sterile seed technology is a type of Gene Use Restriction Technology, GRUT, in which seed produced by a crop will not grow — crops will not produce viable offspring seeds or will produce viable seeds with specific genes switched off.) The Convention on Biological Diversity has banned its use, otherwise Monsanto would be collecting even higher profits from seed.

Monsanto’s talk of “technology” tries to hide its real objectives of ownership and control over seed where genetic engineering is just a means to control seed and the food system through patents and intellectual property rights.

A Monsanto representative admitted that they were “the patient’s diagnostician, and physician all in one” in writing the patents on life-forms, from micro-organisms to plants, in the TRIPS’ agreement of WTO. Stopping farmers from saving seeds and exercising their seed sovereignty was the main objective. Monsanto is now extending its patents to conventionally bred seed, as in the case of broccoli and capsicum, or the low gluten wheat it had pirated from India which we challenged as a biopiracy case in the European Patent office.

That is why we have started Fibres of Freedom in the heart of Monsanto’s Bt cotton/suicide belt in Vidharba. We have created community seed banks with indigenous seeds and helped farmers go organic. No GMO seeds, no debt, no suicides.

The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust More


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice Conference April 15 & 16

Hunger, Nutrition and Climate Justice Conference being hosted by the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice April 15-16.

The conference will "bring together key policy makers and global thought leaders with local people and practitioners facing the realities of rising food prices, failed crops, undernutrition and voicelessness. The objective will be to facilitate a respectful dialogue and learn from practical experience and robust evidence to inform a new approach to addressing hunger, nutrition and climate justice, in the context of the new international development agenda." Among the many notable participants are Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food and former U.S. Vice President, Al Gore.

Background documents, case studies and resources for the Hunger · Nutrition · Climate Justice Conference are now available below.

Conference Agenda

HNCJ Conference Provisional Agenda (PDF)

Conference Documents

HNCJ Conference Papers, including full case studies (PDF)

Case studies

For a full list of case studies click here


Due to capacity limitations at Dublin Castle, attendance at the conference is by invitation only.

However, the conference will be livestreamed on and participation via social media is encouraged (follow us on Twitter: #HNCJ) More


Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity By Lester R Brown

Chapter 1. Food: The Weak Link

Over the next several weeks, the Earth Policy Institute will be releasing Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity by Lester R. Brown in installments. Look for a new chapter about every other week. Supporting data, videos, and slideshows are available for free download at

The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold. 1


The abrupt rise in world grain prices between 2007 and 2008 left more people hungry than at any time in history. It also spawned numerous food protests and riots. In Thailand, rice was so valuable that farmers took to guarding their ripened fields at night. In Egypt, fights in the long lines for state-subsidized bread led to six deaths. In poverty-stricken Haiti, days of rioting left five people dead and forced the Prime Minister to resign. In Mexico, the government was alarmed when huge crowds of tortilla protestors took to the streets. 2

After the doubling of world grain prices between 2007 and mid-2008, prices dropped somewhat during the recession, but this was short-lived. Three years later, high food prices helped fuel the Arab Spring. 3

We are entering a new era of rising food prices and spreading hunger. On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by record amounts. On the supply side, extreme soil erosion, growing water shortages, and the earth’s rising temperature are making it more difficult to expand production. Unless we can reverse such trends, food prices will continue to rise and hunger will continue to spread, eventually bringing down our social system. Can we reverse these trends in time? Or is food the weak link in our early twenty-first-century civilization, much as it was in so many of the earlier civilizations whose archeological sites we now study?

This tightening of world food supplies contrasts sharply with the last half of the twentieth century, when the dominant issues in agriculture were overproduction, huge grain surpluses, and access to markets by grain exporters. During that time, the world in effect had two reserves: large carryover stocks of grain (the amount in the bin when the new harvest begins) and a large area of cropland idled under U.S. farm programs to avoid overproduction. When the world harvest was good, the United States would idle more land. When the harvest was subpar, it would return land to production. The excess production capacity was used to maintain stability in world grain markets. The large stocks of grain cushioned world crop shortfalls. When India’s monsoon failed in 1965, for example, the United States shipped a fifth of its wheat harvest to India to avert a potentially massive famine. And because of abundant stocks, this had little effect on the world grain price. 4

When this period of food abundance began, the world had 2.5 billion people. Today it has 7 billion. From 1950 to 2000 there were occasional grain price spikes as a result of weather-induced events, such as a severe drought in Russia or an intense heat wave in the U.S. Midwest. But their effects on price were short-lived. Within a year or so things were back to normal. The combination of abundant stocks and idled cropland made this period one of the most food-secure in world history. But it was not to last. By 1986, steadily rising world demand for grain and unacceptably high budgetary costs led to a phasing out of the U.S. cropland set-aside program. 5

Today the United States has some land idled in its Conservation Reserve Program, but it targets land that is highly susceptible to erosion. The days of productive land ready to be quickly brought into production when needed are over. 6

Ever since agriculture began, carryover stocks of grain have been the most basic indicator of food security. The goal of farmers everywhere is to produce enough grain not just to make it to the next harvest but to do so with a comfortable margin. From 1986, when we lost the idled cropland buffer, through 2001, the annual world carryover stocks of grain averaged a comfortable 107 days of consumption. 7

This safety cushion was not to last either. After 2001, the carryover stocks of grain dropped sharply as world consumption exceeded production. From 2002 through 2011, they averaged only 74 days of consumption, a drop of one third. An unprecedented period of world food security has come to an end. 8

When world grain supplies tightened in 2007, there was no idled U.S. cropland to quickly return to production and there were no excess grain stocks to draw upon. Within two decades, the world had lost both of its safety cushions.

The world is now living from one year to the next, hoping always to produce enough to cover the growth in demand. Farmers everywhere are making an all-out effort to keep pace with the accelerated growth in demand, but they are having difficulty doing so.

Today the temptation for exporting countries to restrict exports in order to dampen domestic food price rises is greater than ever. With another big jump in grain prices, we could see a breakdown in the world food supply system. If countries give in to the temptation to restrict exports, some lower-income importing countries might not be able to import any grain at all. When could this happen? We are not talking about the distant future. It could be anytime.

Food shortages undermined earlier civilizations. The Sumerians and Mayans are just two of the many early civilizations that declined apparently because they moved onto an agricultural path that was environmentally unsustainable. For the Sumerians, rising salt levels in the soil as a result of a defect in their otherwise well-engineered irrigation system eventually brought down their food system and thus their civilization. For the Mayans, soil erosion was one of the keys to their downfall, as it was for so many other early civilizations. We, too, are on such a path. While the Sumerians suffered from rising salt levels in the soil, our modern-day agriculture is suffering from rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. And like the Mayans, we too are mismanaging our land and generating record losses of soil from erosion. 9

While the decline of early civilizations can be traced to one or possibly two environmental trends such as deforestation and soil erosion that undermined their food supply, we are now dealing with several. In addition to some of the most severe soil erosion in human history, we are also facing newer trends such as the depletion of aquifers, the plateauing of grain yields in the more agriculturally advanced countries, and rising temperature.

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the U.N. Food Price Index was at 201 in June 2012, twice the base level of 100 in 2002–04. (See Figure 1–1.) For most Americans, who spend on average 9 percent of their income on food, this is not a big deal. But for consumers who spend 50–70 percent of their income on food, a doubling of food prices is a serious matter. There is little latitude for them to offset the price rise simply by spending more. 10

Closely associated with the decline in stocks of grain and the rise in food prices is the spread of hunger. During the closing decades of the last century, the number of hungry people in the world was falling, dropping to a low of 792 million in 1997. After that it began to rise, climbing toward 1 billion. Unfortunately, if we continue with business as usual, the ranks of the hungry will continue to expand. 11

Those trapped between low incomes and the doubling of world food prices are forced to eat less. Most of the nearly 1 billion people who are chronically hungry and malnourished live in the Indian subcontinent or sub-Saharan Africa. There are pockets of hunger elsewhere, but these are the two remaining regions where hunger is pervasive. India, which now has a thriving economy, should be experiencing a steady decline in the number who are hungry and malnourished. But it is not, presumably because rising incomes among the poor cannot keep up with rising food prices. 12

In a hungry world, it is children who suffer the most. Rising world food prices are leaving millions of children dangerously hungry. Some are too weak to walk to school. Many are so nutritionally deprived that they are physically and mentally stunted. Neither we nor they will ever know what their full human potential could be. The costs of this will be visible for decades to come. 13

As a result of chronic hunger, 48 percent of all children in India are stunted physically and mentally. They are undersized, underweight, and likely to have IQs that are on average 10–15 points lower than those of well-nourished children. 1

In early 2012, Adam Nossiter wrote in the New York Times about the effect of high food prices in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a country where hunger is common. Interviewing individual families in Kinshasa, he noted that three years ago everyone ate at least one meal a day. But today even families with both parents working often cannot afford to eat every day. It is now a given in many households that some days will be foodless, days when they will not eat at all. Selecting the days when they will not eat is a weekly routine. 15

The international charity Save the Children commissioned detailed surveys in five countries—India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Peru, and Bangladesh—to see how people were dealing with rising food prices. Among other things, they learned that 24 percent of families in India now have foodless days. For Nigeria, the comparable figure is 27 percent. For Peru it is 14 percent. Family size plays an important role in hunger. Almost one third of large families in all countries surveyed have foodless days. 16

Historically there have been two sources of grain demand growth. The oldest of these is population growth. Each year the world adds nearly 80 million people. Tonight there will be 219,000 people at the dinner table who were not there last night, many of them with empty plates. Tomorrow night there will be another 219,000 people. Relentless population growth is putting excessive pressure on local land and water resources in many countries, making it difficult if not impossible for farmers to keep pace. 17

The second source of growing demand for grain is consumers moving up the food chain. As incomes rose in industrial countries after World War II, people began to consume more grain-intensive livestock and poultry products: meat, milk, and eggs. Today, with incomes rising fast in emerging economies, there are at least 3 billion people moving up the food chain in the same way. The largest single concentration of these new meat eaters is in China, which now consumes twice as much meat as the United States does. 18

Now there is a third source of demand for grain: the automobile. Distillers use grain to produce fuel ethanol for cars, an activity that is concentrated in the United States and that has developed largely since 2005. In 2011, the United States harvested nearly 400 million tons of grain. Of this, 127 million tons (32 percent) went to ethanol distilleries. 19

With this massive industrial capacity to convert grain into automotive fuel, the price of grain is now more closely linked to the price of oil than ever before. As the price of oil rises, it becomes more profitable to convert grain into ethanol. This sets the stage for competition for the grain harvest between the affluent owners of the world’s 1 billion automobiles and the world’s poorest people. 20

Population growth, the rising consumption of livestock and poultry products, and the use of grain to fuel cars together raised the world growth in grain consumption from an average of 21 million tons per year from 1990 to 2005 to 45 million tons per year from 2005 to 2011. Almost overnight, the annual growth in grain consumption doubled. 21

At a time when the world’s farmers are facing this record growth in food demand, they continue to wrestle with the traditional threats to production such as soil erosion. But now they are also looking at three new challenges on the production front. One, aquifers are being depleted and irrigation wells are starting to go dry in 18 countries that together contain half the world’s people. Two, in some of the more agriculturally advanced countries, rice and wheat yield per acre, which have been rising steadily for several decades, are beginning to plateau. And three, the earth’s temperature is rising, threatening to disrupt world agriculture in scary ways. 22

The countries where water tables are falling and aquifers are being depleted include the big three grain producers—China, India, and the United States. World Bank data for India indicate that 175 million people are being fed with grain produced by overpumping. My own estimate for China is that 130 million people are being fed by overpumping. In the United States, the irrigated area is shrinking in leading agricultural states such as California and Texas as aquifers are depleted and irrigation water is diverted to cities. 23

Second, after several decades of rising grain yields, some of the more agriculturally advanced countries are hitting a glass ceiling, a limit that was not widely anticipated. Rice yields in Japan, which over a century ago became the first country to launch a sustained rise in land productivity, have not increased for 17 years. In both Japan and South Korea, yields have plateaued at just under 5 tons per hectare. (One hectare = 2.47 acres.) China’s rice yields, rising rapidly in recent decades, are now closely approaching those of Japan. If China cannot raise its rice yields above those in Japan, and it does not seem likely that it can, then a plateauing there too is imminent. 24

A similar situation exists with wheat yields. In France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—the three leading wheat producers in Europe—there has been no rise for more than a decade. Other advanced countries will soon be hitting their glass ceiling for grain yields. 25

The third new challenge confronting farmers is global warming. The massive burning of fossil fuels is increasing the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, raising the earth’s temperature and disrupting climate. It is now in a state of flux. Historically when there was an extreme weather event—an intense heat wave or a drought—we knew it was temporary and that things would likely be back to normal by the next harvest. Now there is no “norm” to return to, leaving farmers facing a future fraught with risk. 26

High temperatures can lower crop yields. The widely used rule of thumb is that for each 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum during the growing season farmers can expect a 10-percent decline in grain yields. A historical study of the effect of temperature on corn and soybean yields in the United States found that a 1-degree-Celsius rise in temperature reduced grain yields 17 percent. Yet if the world continues with business as usual, failing to address the climate issue, the earth’s temperature during this century could easily rise by 6 degrees Celsius (11 degrees Fahrenheit). 27

In recent years, world carryover stocks of grain have been, only slightly above the 70 days that was considered a desirable minimum during the late twentieth century. Now stock levels must take into account the effect on harvests of higher temperatures, more extensive drought, and more intense heat waves. Although there is no easy way to precisely quantify the harvest effects of any of these climate-related threats, it is clear that any of them can shrink harvests, potentially creating chaos in the world grain market. To mitigate this risk, a stock reserve equal to 110 days of consumption would produce a much safer level of food security. 28

Although we talk about food price spikes, what we are more likely starting to see is a ratcheting upward of food prices. This process is likely to continue until we succeed in reversing some of the trends that are driving it. All of the threatening trends are of human origin, but whether we can reverse them remains to be seen.

As food supplies tighten, the geopolitics of food is fast overshadowing the geopolitics of oil. The first signs of trouble came in 2007, when world grain production fell behind demand. Grain and soybean prices started to climb, doubling by mid-2008. In response, many exporting countries tried to curb rising domestic food prices by restricting exports. Among them were Russia and Argentina, two leading wheat exporters. Viet Nam, the world’s number two rice exporter, banned exports entirely in the early months of 2008. Several other smaller grain suppliers also restricted exports. 29

With key suppliers restricting or banning exports, importing countries panicked. No longer able to rely on the market for grain, several countries tried to negotiate long-term grain supply agreements with exporting countries. The Philippines, a chronically rice-deficit country, attempted to negotiate a three-year agreement with Viet Nam for 1.5 million tons of rice per year. A delegation of Yemenis traveled to Australia with a similar goal in mind for wheat, but they had no luck. In a seller’s market, exporters were reluctant to make long-term commitments. 30

Fearing they might not be able to buy needed grain from the market, some of the more affluent countries, led by Saudi Arabia, China, and South Korea, then took the unusual step of buying or leasing land long term in other countries on which to grow food for themselves. These land acquisitions have since grown rapidly in number. Most of them are in Africa. Among the principal destinations for land hunters are Ethiopia, Sudan, and South Sudan, each of them countries where millions of people are being sustained with food donations from the U.N. World Food Programme. 31

As of mid-2012, hundreds of land acquisition deals had been negotiated or were under negotiation, some of them exceeding a million acres. A 2011 World Bank analysis of these “land grabs” reported that at least 140 million acres were involved—an area that exceeds the cropland devoted to corn and wheat combined in the United States. This onslaught of land acquisitions has become a land rush as governments, agribusiness firms, and private investors seek control of land wherever they can find it. Such acquisitions also typically involve water rights, meaning that land grabs potentially affect downstream countries as well. Any water extracted from the upper Nile River basin to irrigate newly planted crops in Ethiopia, Sudan, or South Sudan, for instance, will now not reach Egypt, upending the delicate water politics of the Nile by adding new countries that Egypt must compete with for water. 32

The potential for conflict is high. Many of the land deals have been made in secret, and much of the time the land involved was already being farmed by villagers when it was sold or leased. Often those already farming the land were neither consulted nor even informed of the new arrangements. And because there typically are no formal land titles in many developing-country villages, the farmers who lost their land have had little support for bringing their cases to court. 33

The bottom line is that it is becoming much more difficult for the world’s farmers to keep up with the world’s rapidly growing demand for grain. World grain stocks were drawn down a decade ago and we have not been able to rebuild them. If we cannot do so, we can expect that with the next poor harvest, food prices will soar, hunger will intensify, and food unrest will spread. We are entering a time of chronic food scarcity, one that is leading to intense competition for control of land and water resources—in short, a new geopolitics of food.


1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Production, Supply and Distribution, electronic database, at, updated 12 June 2012; U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “FAO Food Price Index,” at, updated 5 July 2012.

2. Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) futures data from, Inc., “Oilseed & Grain Futures/Commodities Charts/Quotes,” at, viewed 5 June 2012; International Monetary Fund (IMF), “IMF Primary Commodity Prices,” at, updated 6 July 2012; FAO, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011: How Does International Price Volatility Affect Domestic Economies and Food Security? (Rome: 2011), pp. 44–47; Ian MacKinnon, “Farmers Fall Prey to Rice Rustlers as Price of Staple Crop Rockets,” (London) Guardian, 31 March 2008; Ellen Knickermeyer, “In Egypt, Upper Crust Gets the Bread,” Washington Post, 5 April 2008; James Bone, “UN Peacekeeper Killed in Haiti Riots Over Food Prices,” (London) The Times, 14 April 2008; Ronald Buchanan, “Mexico Protest Prompts Food Price Assurance,” Financial Times, 1 February 2007.

3. CBOT futures data from, Inc., op. cit. note 2; IMF, op. cit. note 2; Christian Parenti, “The Price of Bread: A Measure of Political Stability,” Mother Jones, 19 July 2011.

4. Douglas E. Bowers, Wayne D. Rasmussen, and Gladys L. Baker, History of Agricultural Price-Support and Adjustment Program, 1933–1985 (Washington, DC: USDA, 1984); Lester R. Brown, Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pp. 145–46; historical grain prices from IMF, International Financial Statistics, electronic database, at, various years.

5. U.N. Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2010 Revision, electronic database, at, updated 3 May 2011; historical grain prices from IMF, op. cit. note 4; USDA, op. cit. note 1; Bowers, Rasmussen, and Baker, op. cit. note 4.

6. Tadlock Cowan, Conservation Reserve Program: Status and Current Issues (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 22 January 2010), p. 1.

7. USDA, op. cit. note 1.

8. Ibid.

9. Sandra Postel, Pillar of Sand (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999), pp. 13–21; Michon Scott, “Mayan Mysteries,” in National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Earth Science Data and Information Systems Project, Supporting Earth Observing Science 2004 (Washington, DC: 2004), pp. 37–43; Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Penguin Group, 2005).

10. Figure 1–1 from FAO, op. cit. note 1; food expenditures from USDA, “Table 7: Food Expenditures by Families and Individuals as a Share of Disposable Personal Income,” at, updated 13 July 2011, from International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), “Food Price Crisis and Financial Crisis Present Double Threat for Poor People,” press release (Washington, DC: 1 December 2008), and from Joachim von Braun, Food and Financial Crises: Implications for Agriculture and the Poor (Washington, DC: IFPRI, 2008), p. 5.

11. FAO, op. cit. note 2, pp. 44–47.

12. Ibid.; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD Economic Surveys: India 2011 (Paris: 2011).

13. Save the Children, A Life Free from Hunger: Tackling Child Malnutrition (London: 2012).

14. Ibid., p. iv; International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and Macro International, National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005–06: India: Volume I (Mumbai, India: IIPS, 2007), p. 269; Susan Horton, “Opportunities for Investments in Nutrition in Low-income Asia,” Asian Development Review, vol. 17, nos. 1, 2 (1999), pp. 246–73.

15. Adam Nossiter, “For Congo Children, Food Today Means None Tomorrow,” New York Times, 2 January 2012; Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, IFPRI, and Concern Worldwide, 2011 Global Hunger Index: The Challenge of Hunger: Taming Price Spikes and Excessive Food Price Volatility (Bonn, Washington, DC; and Dublin: 2011), p. 17.

16. GlobeScan Inc., “Multi-country Nutrition Poll 2011 Topline Report,” as commissioned by Save the Children (London: 17 February 2012), pp. 5, 11, 12.

17. U.N. Population Division, op. cit. note 5.

18. FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2009 (Rome: 2009), p. 12; USDA, op. cit. note 1.

19. Lester R. Brown, “Exploding U.S. Grain Demand for Automotive Fuel Threatens World Food Security and Political Stability,” Plan B Update (Washington, DC: Earth Policy Institute, 3 November 2006); Lester R. Brown, “Distillery Demand for Grain to Fuel Cars Vastly Understated: World May Be Facing Highest Grain Prices in History,” Plan B Update (Washington, DC: Earth Policy Institute, 4 January 2007); F.O. Licht, World Ethanol and Biofuels Report, vol. 10, no. 16 (24 April 2012), p. 323; USDA, op. cit. note 1; USDA, Feed Grains Database, electronic database, at, downloaded 16 May 2012.

20. Ward’s Automotive Group, World Motor Vehicle Data 2011 (Southfield, MI: 2011).

21. USDA, op. cit. note 1.

22. Countries with water bubbles from Lester R. Brown, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006), p. 43; from Isam E. Amin et al., “Major Problems Affecting the Principal Aquifers in Lebanon,” in Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs, vol. 40, no. 6 (2008), p. 471; from Dale Lightfoot, Survey of Infiltration Karez in Northern Iraq: History and Current Status of Underground Aqueducts (Paris: UNESCO, September 2009); from “Afghanistan: Groundwater Overuse Could Cause Severe Water Shortage,” Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) News, 14 September 2008; and from U.N. Population Division, op. cit. note 5.

23. USDA, op. cit. note 1; John Briscoe and R. P. S. Malik, India’s Water Economy: Bracing for a Turbulent Future (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2006); U.N. Population Division, op. cit. note 5; USDA, Census of Agriculture: Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey (Washington, DC: various years).

24. Lester R. Brown, Increasing World Food Output: Problems and Prospects (Washington, DC: USDA, Economic Research Service (ERS), 1965), pp. 13–14; USDA, op. cit. note 1.

25. FAO, FAOSTAT, electronic database, at, updated 23 February 2012.

26. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 2; IPCC, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the IPCC (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 111–14.

27. John E. Sheehy, International Rice Research Institute, e-mail to Janet Larsen, Earth Policy Institute, 1 October 2002; David Lobell and Gregory Asner, “Climate and Management Contributions to Recent Trends in U.S. Agricultural Yields,” Science, vol. 299, no. 5609 (14 February 2003), p. 1,032; IPCC, Climate Change 2007, op. cit. note 26, p. 749.

28. USDA, op. cit. note 1; Brian Wright, International Grain Reserves and Other Instruments to Address Volatility in Grain Markets, Working Paper presented at the World Grain Forum 2009, St. Petersburg , Russia, 6–7 June 2009, p. 22.

29. USDA, op. cit. note 1; CBOT futures data from, Inc., op. cit. note 2; IMF, op. cit. note 2; Financial Times, “In Depth: The Global Food Crisis,” at, updated 6 May 2008; USDA, ERS, “U.S. Rice Industry: Background Statistics and Information,” at, updated 30 April 2008; FAO, “Soaring Food Prices: Facts, Perspectives, Impacts and Actions Required,” paper presented at High-level Conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy, Rome, 3–5 June 2008.

30. Office of the President, Republic of the Philippines, “RP Assured of 1.5 Million Metric Tons of Rice Supply from Vietnam Annually,” press release (Manila: 26 March 2008); USDA, op. cit. note 1; “Yemen to Seek Australian Food Cooperation,”, 19 May 2008; “Bahrain to Own Rice Farms in Thailand,” TradeArabia News Service, 30 May 2008; Javier Blas, “Nations Make Secret Deals Over Grain,” Financial Times, 10 April 2008.

31. GRAIN, Seized! The 2008 Land Grab for Food and Financial Security (Barcelona: October 2008); Joachim von Braun and Ruth Meinzen-Dick, “Land Grabbing” by Foreign Investors in Developing Countries, Policy Brief No. 13 (Washington, DC: IFPRI, April 2009); Klaus Deininger and Derek Byerlee, Rising Global Interest in Farmland: Can It Yield Sustainable and Equitable Benefits? (Washington, DC: World Bank, January 2011); George C. Schoneveld, The Anatomy of Large-scale Farmland Acquisitions in Sub-Saharan Africa, Working Paper 85 (Bogor, Indonesia: Center for International Forestry Research, 2011); Fred Pearce, The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth (Boston: Beacon Press, 2012); U.N. World Food Programme, “Countries,” at, viewed 17 June 2012.

32. Deininger and Byerlee, op. cit. note 31, p. 51; USDA, op. cit. note 1; Karen Frenken and Jean-Marc Faur├Ęs, Irrigation Potential in Africa: A Basin Approach (Rome: FAO, 1997), at

33. Deininger and Byerlee, op. cit. note 31, p. 49; John Vidal, “Fears for the World’s Poor Countries as the Rich Grab Land to Grow Food,” (London) Guardian, 3 July 2009.

Copyright © 2012 Earth Policy Institute



Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A mysterious malady that has been killing honeybees en masse for several years appears to have expanded drastically in the last year, commercial beekeepers say, wiping out 40 percent or even 50 percent of the hives needed to pollinate many of the nation’s fruits and vegetables.

A conclusive explanation so far has escaped scientists studying the ailment, colony collapse disorder, since it first surfaced around 2005. But beekeepers and some researchers say there is growing evidence that a powerful new class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, incorporated into the plants themselves, could be an important factor.

The pesticide industry disputes that. But its representatives also say they are open to further studies to clarify what, if anything, is happening.

“They looked so healthy last spring,” said Bill Dahle, 50, who owns Big Sky Honey in Fairview, Mont. “We were so proud of them. Then, about the first of September, they started to fall on their face, to die like crazy. We’ve been doing this 30 years, and we’ve never experienced this kind of loss before.”

In a show of concern, the Environmental Protection Agency recently sent its acting assistant administrator for chemical safety and two top chemical experts here, to the San Joaquin Valley of California, for discussions.

In the valley, where 1.6 million hives of bees just finished pollinating an endless expanse of almond groves, commercial beekeepers who only recently were losing a third of their bees to the disorder say the past year has brought far greater losses.

The federal Agriculture Department is to issue its own assessment in May. But in an interview, the research leader at its Beltsville, Md., bee research laboratory, Jeff Pettis, said he was confident that the death rate would be “much higher than it’s ever been.”

Following a now-familiar pattern, bee deaths rose swiftly last autumn and dwindled as operators moved colonies to faraway farms for the pollination season. Beekeepers say the latest string of deaths has dealt them a heavy blow.

Bret Adee, who is an owner, with his father and brother, of Adee Honey Farms of South Dakota, the nation’s largest beekeeper, described mounting losses.

“We lost 42 percent over the winter. But by the time we came around to pollinate almonds, it was a 55 percent loss,” he said in an interview here this week.

“They looked beautiful in October,” Mr. Adee said, “and in December, they started falling apart, when it got cold.”

Mr. Dahle said he had planned to bring 13,000 beehives from Montana — 31 tractor-trailers full — to work the California almond groves. But by the start of pollination last month, only 3,000 healthy hives remained.

Annual bee losses of 5 percent to 10 percent once were the norm for beekeepers. But after colony collapse disorder surfaced around 2005, the losses approached one-third of all bees, despite beekeepers’ best efforts to ensure their health.

Nor is the impact limited to beekeepers. The Agriculture Department says a quarter of the American diet, from apples to cherries to watermelons to onions, depends on pollination by honeybees. Fewer bees means smaller harvests and higher food prices.

Almonds are a bellwether. Eighty percent of the nation’s almonds grow here, and 80 percent of those are exported, a multibillion-dollar crop crucial to California agriculture. Pollinating up to 800,000 acres, with at least two hives per acre, takes as many as two-thirds of all commercial hives.

This past winter’s die-off sent growers scrambling for enough hives to guarantee a harvest. Chris Moore, a beekeeper in Kountze, Tex., said he had planned to skip the groves after sickness killed 40 percent of his bees and left survivors weakened.

“But California was short, and I got a call in the middle of February that they were desperate for just about anything,” he said. So he sent two truckloads of hives that he normally would not have put to work.

Bee shortages pushed the cost to farmers of renting bees to $200 per hive at times, 20 percent above normal. That, too, may translate into higher prices for food.

Precisely why last year’s deaths were so great is unclear. Some blame drought in the Midwest, though Mr. Dahle lost nearly 80 percent of his bees despite excellent summer conditions. Others cite bee mites that have become increasingly resistant to pesticides. Still others blame viruses.

But many beekeepers suspect the biggest culprit is the growing soup of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are used to control pests.

While each substance has been certified, there has been less study of their combined effects. Nor, many critics say, have scientists sufficiently studied the impact of neonicotinoids, the nicotine-derived pesticide that European regulators implicate in bee deaths.

The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005 has roughly tracked rising bee deaths.

Neonics, as farmers call them, are applied in smaller doses than older pesticides. They are systemic pesticides, often embedded in seeds so that the plant itself carries the chemical that kills insects that feed on it.

Older pesticides could kill bees and other beneficial insects. But while they quickly degraded — often in a matter of days — neonicotinoids persist for weeks and even months. Beekeepers worry that bees carry a summer’s worth of contaminated pollen to hives, where ensuing generations dine on a steady dose of pesticide that, eaten once or twice, might not be dangerous. More

Given that these useful insects polinate many of our food crops we really need to solve this issue as soon as possible. It may be that neonicotinoids need to be banned immediatly before the situation gets worse. We cannot afford to take chances with our food security. Editor