Farmland is for Farming

Here on Okinawa, there’s a venerable tradition of taking fine agricultural land and turning it into something crappy, like an airbase. The Japanese did it before WWII. The US did it afterward. It’s no small thing to lose a huge slab of high quality soil on flat land in a place as hilly and unkind to agriculture as Okinawa. Farmland is for farming. So a group of farmers occupied the occupiers. And won.

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Treaty Like It’s 1999

Although it seems they fell out of fashion after the 1999 WTO protests, trade agreements are still being drafted. Every few months, urged by chambers of commerce and under cover of darkness, legislators ink up new pacts to make it easier for goods to flow and workers to be shed.

Last year, the US Korea Free Trade Agreement was passed. This year, making the Korea deal look piddly, the Trans Pacific Partnership is expanding. The TPP began in 2006 as a hardcore trade agreement between the most trade-dependent countries around the Pacific: Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. Brunei joined the negotiations near their conclusion, rounding out the ‘Pacific 4’. Their zeal to reduce tariffs, harmonise standards, and prevent subsidies goes far beyond the ambitions of the World Trade Organization. And now six other countries want in: the US, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam.

In part, the reason that news about trade agreements doesn’t hit front pages is because, er, it’s news about trade agreements. Not the stuff of which editors’ dreams are made. But just because the agreements don’t make the front pages, doesn’t mean that people haven’t heard the news. There have been protests against the TPP across the Asia-Pacific region. And at the protests, people are connecting the dots. Like here in Okinawa, Japan.

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Land Grabs for Oil, Carbon Offsets in Uganda

The terrific Jason Taylor, of whom you’ll be hearing much more soon, has put together a powerful video with Friends of the Earth International on land grabbing in Uganda. By dangling the prospect of foreign investment in front of the right people, oil companies have kicked poor Ugandan communities off their land. The carbon-offset crowd, the ambulance-chasers of international resource development, have promised remediation and cleaner consciences for all involved in the oil boom. The solution: clear native forest to grow pine for carbon credits. The question of whether to laugh or cry is left as an exercise for the reader.


Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s Payback is out. It’s terrific, despite my appearing in it. Go see it for the haunting Albanian blood-debt story if nothing else. If you’re in New York, you can watch it here. Trailer below.

More here.

Organic vs Industrial Agriculture rematch

Nature just published the latest in the war over whether organic agriculture can feed the world. The headline: organic agriculture produces 25% less than industrial agriculture.

Tom Philpott, skillfully as ever, has sliced through the study, its silences and its implications. Headline: sure, if you look at the narrowest possible metrics, conventional’s better, but the whole point of organic is that you don’t just look at the narrowest possible metric.

As I’ll be arguing in a forthcoming, loooong, article in the Journal of Peasant Studies, the problem here is one we’ve seen in other comparisons between organic and conventional. Organic-industrial isn’t terribly far from industrial conventional. What this study, and others like it ignore are cases that don’t just try to compete on industrial agriculture’s terms, but on completely different ones. Agroecological farming, for instance, is more resilient to climate change, and can outperform conventional agriculture in real-world smallholder settings. In any case, the model of massive fossil-fuel dependent farms based on inefficient, insecure and unsanitary processing and distribution sysetms is flawed from the ground up. Reducing pesticide use at one end of the grinder, while keeping everything else the same, is hardly progress. Headline: A more organic cesspool is still a cesspool.

So what would progress look like? Eric Holt-Gimenez, together with Miguel Altieri, Hans Herren and Stephen Gliessman have ideas, and I’m reposting here the fine words you’ll find at Food First.
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