In December, Development Roast asked are genetically modified (GM) foods a friend or a foe? Proponents claim that GM crops can help alleviate poverty and hunger by producing better seed technologies that resist drought and pests. Dr Channapatna Prakash of Tuskegee University embodied this view in his millennial article for AgBioForum, the Journal of Agrobiotechnology Management and Economics, entitled “Feeding a World of Six Billion.” Others argue that this is irrelevant since hunger is not related to a lack of food but inequality in its distribution, and that there are just too many possible side effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that are unaccounted and untested for by private companies who develop them. In 2000, outspoken critics Miguel Altieri of University of California, Berkeley and Peter Rosset of La Via Campesina gave their “10 reasons for why biotechnology will not ensure food security, protect the environment and reduce poverty in the developing world.” The following infographic from Visual.ly summarises some of the definitions and issues involved:
The honest poor can sometimes forget poverty. The honest rich can never forget it.
Gilbert K. Chesterton
Growing up in 1980s and 90s Russia was not easy. For the first few years of my life three generations of my family lived in a tiny two bedroom flat on the fifth floor of a ten story grey Communist monolith. Living in such close proximity, my grandparents on my mum’s side, my parents, and my sister and I shared a lot, except perhaps privacy. With regular state salary payments being rarer than all the world’s blue moons, my mum forwent many meals to keep my sister and I fed. On the flip side, every year, for the best part of the three months that a typical Russian school summer break lasts, my father’s parents inherited the responsibility of taking care of us, the kids. Their apartment, located in a rural town called Gorodovikovsk in the southern Russian Republic of Kalmykia, where my grandmother still lives, was a little roomier, but it lacked many of the amenities that most people living in developed countries take for granted. We used the communal outdoor, hole-in-the-ground latrine, using only old news pages for toilet paper. Meanwhile, on the count of, at best, an unreliable water supply, we filled up every pot and pan in the kitchen with fresh water from the local well, heating just enough every other day to have a quick “bucket wash” (perhaps this explains why I am still unable to take a shower that lasts longer than a minute).
As New Orleans braced itself for the arrival of Hurricane Isaac late in August 2012 the thoughts and good wishes of those far away were and remain with city’s residents. It seemed unjust that the city should be hit again and again when the monumental destruction that the 2005 Hurricane Katrina left in its path, and the subsequently inadequate response of the authorities, was already so devastating for the coastal metropolis. The Katrina crisis shone a bright spotlight on the infrastructural, public services, and general poverty and unemployment problems that have festered unchecked in the city and this spotlight brought with it a tsunami wave of anger. Enough was enough—things had to change. For a few, that meant subduing their frustrations and taking practical action with initiatives to turn the city around.
Whether the food industry can play a constructive role in battling public health and environmental problems is a heavily debated question. On the one end, global companies like Coca-Cola are touting their own efforts towards sustainability and are claiming to be making significant inroads. Meanwhile, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) argues that, despite their sustainability rhetoric, companies like the agriculture giant Monsanto only damage sustainability efforts because they are driven mainly by profits and encourage unsustainable practices like pesticide-use. Whereas, writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Professor Marion Nestle of New York University and Dr. David Ludwig of Harvard University, argue that companies could act in the interest of public health and environment only if guided to do so by consumer demand and public policy and regulation.
Last July billionaire Bill Gates was criticized for donating around US$10 million to the John Innes Centre in the United Kingdom to fund their research which helps the developing world. Why? Because they work on developing genetically-modified (GM) crops. GM crops receive a lot of publicity. They are cast positively as a potential savior of famine-struck countries, with the potential to be more nutritious, higher-yielding, and resistant to pests and extreme weather conditions. Were this true, then surely there would be very little opposition. So why is there so much controversy? Well, because it has become apparent that achieving these goals comes with a lot of difficulty, and because of the threat of potentially disastrous side-effects. Read More »
This week’s The Economist featured a story on rising global epidemic of obesity that was part of the Special Report on Obesity. I was very enthused by the initial discussion that mirrored much of the analysis that the Development Roast has offered in the past. Yet a grave disappointment ensued when the piece entitled Fat Chance seemed to contradict much of the preceding argument when reaching its conclusion.
The article begins with the now very familiar recounting of the global statistics that show obesity and its accompanying diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions and food-related cancers as the biggest killers worldwide, in both advanced and developing nations. It then went on to admit that such a widespread trend, which is imposing a heavy cost on both public and private purses, as well as causing a reduction in labor productivity, presents a dilemma for a magazine. Read More »
The recent history of quinoa production in Bolivia probably tells the country’s most inspirational agriculture success story. In the five years between 2006 and 2011 quinoa production increased by 163 percent, from 7,750 metric tons to 20,366 metric tons. During the last decade quinoa prices have also shown an unprecedented increase. The price of the specialty crop ‘royal quinoa’ rose from US$1,245 per metric ton to 2007 and an astonishing US$3,237 per metric ton in 2012.
Quinoa is a grain-like crop that is traditionally cultivated in the most un-hospitable parts of the Andean mountain range. For centuries South Americans living on high altitude Andean plateaus have reaped the benefits of quinoa seeds, but little international attention had been paid to the crop. Read More »
Over the last two decades there has been a great surge in land reform policies in developing countries. These land reform policies have mainly focused on rural property rights, and have consisted of giving small to medium size farmers, who for years have suffered from tenure insecurity, legal ownership of their land and property. Land reform has different objectives in different countries, but it is generally an attempt to boost development of the agricultural sector and rural regions, where poverty is often at its most extreme. It is also used to appease peasant farmers, who in many countries are increasingly disgruntled by the rural inequality legacy of colonialism that is now being heightened by the rise of wealthy large scale agribusinesses due to the globalization of the food market.
On the 16 October 2008 former President Clinton announced at a United Nations’ conference “we all blew it, even me.” This statement was acknowledging the major role that the west played in causing the 2006-2008 global food crisis, largely by their treatment of crops “like color TVs” rather than realizing their worth as a vital commodity for the world’s poor and thus differentiating them from material export/import goods.
Perhaps what is most surprising about this massive misjudgment of agricultural policies is that it was heavily promoted by a number of the institutions that we tend, or at least hope, to think are working for poverty eradication and not against it. Read More »
Sheelah Muhammad* is the co-founder of Fresh Moves—a project working for food justice in Chicago’s poorest areas. The organization employs five people from the communities in which they operate—prioritizing difficult-to-employ individuals who struggle to find work elsewhere—to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to communities that lack greengrocers or other sources of healthy food options.
“It is not just about food, it is about empowerment,” said the co-founder about Fresh Moves. Muhammad co-launched the initiative with activists Jeff Pinzino and Steven Casey as a direct response to the 2006 Mari Gallagher Report, which examined the health impact of food deserts in the city of Chicago. According to the document, food deserts are “neighborhoods with no or distant grocery stores but an abundance of fast food restaurants and other retail outlets offering little or no nutritious food.” Read More »