Posts Tagged 'united nations'

Globalised food system has failed the poor.

The World Economic Forum’s annual gathering is usually little more than a toast to the benefits of increasing global gross domestic product (GDP), trade and investment. But this year’s meeting comes at a time when economic expansion can no longer be taken for granted and when the uneven benefits of past growth are sparking mass social unrest.

So it is little wonder that doomsday scenarios about the “seeds of dystopia” and the risks of “rolling back the globalisation process” are being dangled in Davos. The world’s economic and political leaders stand warned: do globalisation better, or it will be derailed by the growing legions of the discontented.

Leaders would be unwise to ignore this warning. Discussions in Davos must go beyond how to rectify the imbalances in developed countries’ debt-to-GDP ratios. They must finally pay attention to the wider imbalances that are generated by unfettered globalisation.

Popular anger is directed not only at the bank bail-outs, soaring public debt and bleak employment prospects of recent years. All around the world, people have fallen afoul of a two-track economic process whereby whole industries have been sacrificed to cheaper imports, whole regions have been consigned to abandonment or degradation and whole populations have been frozen out of economic progress.

Nowhere are these imbalances more evident than in the global food system. Globalisation has been wholeheartedly embraced in the service of feeding the world: bilateral and multilateral trade agreements have been put in place to allow food to flow from food-surplus to food-deficit regions.

Yet this model has failed spectacularly. The food bills of the least-developed countries increased five-or sixfold between 1992 and 2008. Imports now account for about 25% of their current food consumption. The more they are told to rely on trade, the less they invest in domestic agriculture. And the less they support their own farmers, the more they have to rely on trade. Countries that fall into this vicious cycle leave their citizens vulnerable to historically volatile prices on international markets, which means increased hunger and insecurity.

Despite the persistent challenges of hunger and food inequality, people are told to embrace more open markets, more trade and more globalised economic processes. Yet open markets do not function as perfectly as many at Davos would like to think. Food moves where purchasing power is highest, not where the need for it is most urgent.

This blind embrace of globalisation from above means missing out on key opportunities that do not fit the dogma. If we were to support developing-world small landholders, who are often the poorest groups, we could enable them to move out of poverty and enable local food production to meet local needs. Trade would complement local production rather than justifying its abandonment.

Trade and investment agreements are the gateways through which globalisation passes on its way to redefining a country’s economic landscape and they are increasing at an impressive pace. There are 6092 bilateral investment agreements in force, with 56 concluded in 2010 alone.

That growth reflects the flawed economic model of the pre-crisis years, which relied on indifference to where growth came from, how sustainable it was and who was benefiting from it. If we are to learn anything from the crisis, it must be to start asking the right questions.

Every new bilateral agreement, every chapter of globalisation, should be measured against new criteria. How sustainable and how evenly spread will the macroeconomic benefits be? Will they facilitate genuine development and provide dignified opportunities to those who become economically displaced?

Globalisation involves winners and losers — that has been established.

But losing out, for a subsistence farmer, means sinking into dire poverty and hunger.

Is the denial of a vulnerable population’s right to food an acceptable byproduct of a trade deal? Should the goal be to multiply the interests of powerful multinationals? Are these the economic processes that we want, or need?

These are the questions leaders must ask at Davos. Globalisation can survive the crisis. But not as we know it. Globalisation must be taken back for the interests of the many. © Project Syndicate, 2012. http://www.project-syndicate.org

 • De Schutter is the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food.

http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=163521

World: Slow Death by Carbon Credits.

Indigenous peoples can suffer from pollution compensation plan

By Dennis Martinez*

Forget any spin. In the end, the recent UN gathering on climate change in Cancún repeated Copenhagen’s failure in 2009. Again, the world’s industrial economies refused to set new binding reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, despite dire warnings by scientists. Instead, delegates again vaguely promised money for climate adaptation and mitigation: this time $30 billion to the developing world by 2012, and $100 billion more by 2020.

Once more, the industrialized countries appear to have pledged much of this money in a salvage measure dubbed “REDD” – Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries.

Established by wealthy nations, venture capitalists, the World Bank, and the United Nations, REDD would pay for the carbon absorbed in developing countries, to compensate for pollution caused by industrialized countries.

The initiative would allow polluters to buy carbon credits from companies, communities, non-government organizations, or countries that promise not to destroy forests for a specific period. To polluters, setting aside money for carbon absorption in a REDD forest is far less costly than reducing emissions at tailpipes or smokestacks.

But even if it works – itself a point of contention – this carbon-offsetting simply postpones any weaning off the fossil-fuel economy.

Perhaps the people least impressed by this half-measure are the ones who most urgently need a solution to climate disruption. From the Amazon basin to the African savannahs, traditional indigenous peoples depend directly on their local environment for sustenance, and so they are the most vulnerable to climate change. At Cancún, indigenous leaders again watched as REDD technocrats tried to “save” their territorial forests as global carbon sinks, instead of cutting their own countries’ emissions.

REDD can target the tropical forests exactly because indigenous communities have carefully preserved them for many thousands of years. But the initiative seems to have little use for the forest inhabitants themselves. The UN climate talks relegate indigenous peoples to “observer” status. At least eight national REDD plans funded by the World Bank would allow bans on the kind of small-scale, biodiverse farming that is practiced by many indigenous peoples and is misnamed “slash and burn.” At the same time, at least 19 of the plans explicitly contain provisions for tree plantations, which displace forest dwellers, degrade biodiversity, and cause high fire risk. Plantations are tolerated under the United Nations’ definition of forests. They satisfy carbon investors who like precise measurement and predictability – not messy, biodiverse forest habitat.

This mentality inspires what critics call “fortress conservation”: non-government organizations and national authorities cordon off land to protect species and institute carbon-offset projects, driving out of their forests the indigenous stewards, who become “conservation refugees.” John Nelson, Africa policy adviser for the Forest Peoples Program, estimates that some 150,000 to 200,000 people in the Congo basin alone have suffered this fate.

“Imagine waking up one day,” he says, “to find a boundary outside your village – with armed paramilitary guards telling you that you cannot enter the forest.” If people cannot go there, they cannot teach their children how to live in the traditional ways, and these ways, with all they might have to teach the larger world about storing carbon and repairing forest ecosystems, will be lost. “Mitigation policies of the developed world,” Ramiro Batzin, a Keqchikel Maya from Guatemala, recently told the World Bank, “will kill us before climate change does!”

Despite their long residence in the forests, many indigenous peoples have fought for decades to establish legal title to the land. But nothing at Cancún required REDD programs to establish or secure those rights, or to obtain genuine consent for projects in indigenous communities.

This neglect, and the fortress conservation it allows, is not only an injustice but also a missed opportunity. Studies have shown that traditional land management, when title is secured, sinks carbon far more effectively and cheaply than conventional efforts favored by REDD.

The Emberá of Panama, like the Ogiek of Kenya, have been the stewards of the land for millennia. But at best REDD would promise them compensation – and a dubious dependence on a cash economy, which tends to erode traditional culture. Especially in an age of climate chaos, the erosion of such stewardship is unacceptable. And in any case, nobody should mistake the initiative for a real solution to a changing climate. That remains what it was in Kyoto, and what it will be later this year in Durban: cut greenhouse gas emissions.

* Dennis Martinez, a Native American forest-restoration specialist, is on the steering committee of the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative. Laird Townsend of the non-profit media organization Project Word, a project of the Tides Center, contributed to this article.

http://www.servindi.org/actualidad/38573?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Servindi+%28Servicio+de+Informaci%C3%B3n+Indigena%29

October 16th: International day of Action vs agribusiness and Monsanto.

On the occasion of the meeting of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, and to mark World Food Day on October 16, 2010, La Via Campesina calls for actions around the world to denounce the role of agribusinesses such as Monsanto and their destruction and corporatization of biodiversity and life.

Even though the UN declared 2010 the International year of Biodiversity, the CBD is meeting at a time of unprecedented biodiversity destruction. As well as animals, insects and birds, the world is also seeing the disappearance of thousands of plant varieties as agribusiness destroys, contaminates and privatizes the World Heritage stored inside the seeds and plants nurtured by generations of farmers over thousands of years of agriculture on Earth. Since 1900, approximately 90% of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost from farmer’s fields. Biodiversity is also endangered by land-grabbing and the displacement of communities who are actually protecting biodiversity.

Agribusiness corporations are attempting to monopolize seeds through the use of hybrid seeds, patents and laws that make farmers’ seeds illegal. Intellectual property rights systems that are upheld or enforced by institutions such as WTO or TRIPS are putting nature into private hands. Monsanto has become a true giant – the company owns almost a quarter of the patented seed market worldwide, and keeps taking over seeds companies particularly in Europe. The top ten biggest companies control almost 70% of the world’s seeds. The company is now entering the “aid business”, selling its seeds in Africa with the Bill Gates Foundation through the “Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)”.

Not only do the TNCs sell seeds, they also provide toxic chemicals with devastating effects. Huge monocultures treated with cocktails of agrochemicals will further destroy the world’s biodiversity as well as peasant communities. In the world of Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer and others, there is no space for biodiversity, just uniformity, biotechnology and profit.

Within the decision making spaces on climate change, agribusiness promotes aggressively technologies that destroy biodiversity such as transgenic trees plantations or GM seeds, solutions which are fasly presented as better adapted to the new climate.

La Via Campesina knows that the future of our planet depends on our ability to protect, nurture and promote agro biodiversity. We, peasant men and women propose to develop the richness and diversity of our farms, plant varieties, cultures and traditions. Seeds are part of the World Heritage and should remain into public and community-based use, not private ownership.

It is the model of peasant agriculture in its diversity that will allow us to adapt to the demographic and climatic changes which are already upon us.

As we confront the agribusinesses in our fields through promoting our alternatives, we refuse to recognize their “rights” as owners of the planet’s biodiversity and we will also confront them through political actions in the coming weeks, at the FAO, the CBD and the UN Climate Talks (UNFCCC).

We call for Actions worldwide around October 16th to protect biodiversity and confront transnational corporations such as Monsanto.

La Via Campesina invites you to coordinate your actions with the call of the network “Climate Justice Action!” in order to organise direct actions worldwide for climate justice on October 12th, 2010. (/www.climate-justice-action.org/)

 

Our role in Haiti’s plight

Any large city in the world would have suffered extensive damage from an earthquake on the scale of the one that ravaged Haiti’s capital city on Tuesday afternoon, but it’s no accident that so much of Port-au-Prince now looks like a war zone. Much of the devastation wreaked by this latest and most calamitous disaster to befall Haiti is best understood as another thoroughly manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence.

The country has faced more than its fair share of catastrophes. Hundreds died in Port-au-Prince in an earthquake back in June 1770, and the huge earthquake of 7 May 1842 may have killed 10,000 in the northern city of Cap ­Haitien alone. Hurricanes batter the island on a regular basis, mostly recently in 2004 and again in 2008; the storms of September 2008 flooded the town of Gonaïves and swept away much of its flimsy infrastructure, killing more than a thousand people and destroying many thousands of homes. The full scale of the destruction resulting from this earthquake may not become clear for several weeks. Even minimal repairs will take years to complete, and the long-term impact is incalculable.

What is already all too clear, ­however, is the fact that this impact will be the result of an even longer-term history of deliberate impoverishment and disempowerment. Haiti is routinely described as the “poorest country in the western hemisphere“. This poverty is the direct legacy of perhaps the most brutal system of colonial exploitation in world history, compounded by decades of systematic postcolonial oppression.

The noble “international community” which is currently scrambling to send its “humanitarian aid” to Haiti is largely responsible for the extent of the suffering it now aims to reduce. Ever since the US invaded and occupied the country in 1915, every serious political attempt to allow Haiti’s people to move (in former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s phrase) “from absolute misery to a dignified poverty” has been violently and deliberately blocked by the US government and some of its allies.

Aristide’s own government (elected by some 75% of the electorate) was the latest victim of such interference, when it was overthrown by an internationally sponsored coup in 2004 that killed several thousand people and left much of the population smouldering in resentment. The UN has subsequently maintained a large and enormously expensive stabilisation and pacification force in the country.

Haiti is now a country where, according to the best available study, around 75% of the population “lives on less than $2 per day, and 56% – four and a half million people – live on less than $1 per day”. Decades of neoliberal “adjustment” and neo-imperial intervention have robbed its government of any significant capacity to invest in its people or to regulate its economy. Punitive international trade and financial arrangements ensure that such destitution and impotence will remain a structural fact of Haitian life for the foreseeable future.

It is this poverty and powerlessness that account for the full scale of the horror in Port-au-Prince today. Since the late 1970s, relentless neoliberal assault on Haiti’s agrarian economy has forced tens of thousands of small farmers into overcrowded urban slums. Although there are no reliable statistics, hundreds of thousands of Port-au-Prince residents now live in desperately sub-standard informal housing, often perched precariously on the side of deforested ravines. The selection of the people living in such places and conditions is itself no more “natural” or accidental than the extent of the injuries they have suffered.

As Brian Concannon, the director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, points out: “Those people got there because they or their parents were intentionally pushed out of the countryside by aid and trade policies specifically designed to create a large captive and therefore exploitable labour force in the cities; by definition they are people who would not be able to afford to build earthquake resistant houses.” Meanwhile the city’s basic infrastructure – running water, electricity, roads, etc – remains woefully inadequate, often non-existent. The government’s ability to mobilise any sort of disaster relief is next to nil.

The international community has been effectively ruling Haiti since the 2004 coup. The same countries scrambling to send emergency help to Haiti now, however, have during the last five years consistently voted against any extension of the UN mission’s mandate beyond its immediate military purpose. Proposals to divert some of this “investment” towards poverty reduction or agrarian development have been blocked, in keeping with the long-term patterns that continue to shape the ­distribution of international “aid”.

The same storms that killed so many in 2008 hit Cuba just as hard but killed only four people. Cuba has escaped the worst effects of neoliberal “reform”, and its government retains a capacity to defend its people from disaster. If we are serious about helping Haiti through this latest crisis then we should take this comparative point on board. Along with sending emergency relief, we should ask what we can do to facilitate the self-empowerment of Haiti’s people and public institutions. If we are serious about helping we need to stop ­trying to control Haiti’s government, to pacify its citizens, and to exploit its economy. And then we need to start paying for at least some of the damage we’ve already done.


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