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The battle against the corporate control of seeds is a struggle for many around the globe. Our friend Naira talks about the situtation in Colombia.  

Colombia, like many Latin-American countries, has great agriculture variety due to its geography and climate; traditionally it was a food exporter for many countries. Nowadays, the agricultural landscape is changing in part because of genetically modified seeds of corn and cotton. Since 2002, Colombia’s government has passed many laws which allow GM corn and cotton from Monsanto and Dupont to be grown for human consumption and fed to animals. At first, there was a small debate about the effects of GMOs on health but it was easily stopped by the media. No question was raised on the possible environmental, cultural and social costs. Farmers were sold the idea that GM cotton and corn would raise their yields and decrease their costs. As many examples around the world show, this was not the case. Cotton farmers went totally bankrupt after a few years because of the high cost of the modified seed and the increased need for pesticides and herbicides. Corn farmers...

This week, WDM called on the UK Government to stop the backing the corporate takeover of seeds in Africa and beyond, and to protect the seed sovereignty for farmers instead. In just a few days, we’ve got cross-party support from MPs who have signed a ‘Seed Sovereignty’ early day motion in Parliament.

“The origin of food is seed. Whoever controls the seed controls the entire food chain.” – So says Ali-Masmadi Jehu-Appiah of Food Sovereignty Ghana, summing up what is at stake when the Plant Breeders Bill, aka ‘The Monsanto Law’ is considered by the Ghanaian parliament next week. The Plant Breeders Bill will allow big businesses to have legal ownership and control over seed varieties they claim to have developed. This will increase the power of large seed corporations to push expensive seeds that farmers will then become dependent on. This law, if passed, will see the systematic substitution of traditional varieties of seed, widely saved and traded by farmers, with uniform commercial varieties; seeds controlled by big business.

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On the 25 and 26 October, 250 activists, union organizers, agricultural workers and producers met in a small city nestled in the Galician hills

On the 25 and 26 October, 250 activists, union organizers, agricultural workers and producers met in a small city nestled in the Galician hills: Mondoñedo. Most people were there for the biennial gathering of Spain’s food sovereignty network: Plataforma Rural to discuss issues affecting agriculture including supporting youth involvement in the countryside; feminist contributions to food sovereignty and the challenges posed by the globalised food system to local fishing and agriculture.

At the same time, forty people met for the international ‘Friends of MST’ gathering. This was to help people involved in supporting Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement to coordinate their efforts while getting to know members of Spain’s food sovereignty network.

Having been to the MST’s congress in February, I went to...

All over the world small-scale food producers are growing food sustainably for their local communities in spite of the threats thrown at them by the world’s elite and powerful. 

For years, rules imposed by the World Bank and IMF forced many countries to produce cash crops for export, leaving little support for growing food for local populations. More recently, schemes like the G7’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition are pushing through reforms which will make it easier for big corporations to grab land, promote chemical inputs and privatise seeds. For example, the parliament in Ghana will be debating a bill next week that will prevent farmers from saving and exchanging seeds, leaving them little option but to buy seeds each year from big seed companies or face criminalisation for breaking the law. 

I’ve just come back from Rome where I saw this theme of corporate control over food systems reverberate loudly. I attended the ...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa. Zai pits

The Zai pit technique originated in Mali but was adopted and modified by farmers in Burkina Faso after a particularly bad drought in 1980 which affected over 1 million people. The technique involves digging a series of pits roughly 20-40cm across by 20cm deep during the dry season. Manure is added to the pit and when the first rains arrive the pits are planted with seeds. The pits help to hold some of the surface water which comes during periods of heavy rain. They also help to protect plants and fertility from being washed away and as a result help to increase crop yields – by up to 500% in some cases. Soil water conservation (SWC) techniques like Zai planting, but also stone bunds (stone walls built along contours to help slow surface water runoff) not only help to increase food yields, but they help farmers to grow plants on otherwise degraded and non-productive land. In Burkina Faso’s Central Plateau, SWC techniques have helped to rehabilitate over 300,000 hectares of land. Simple agroecological techniques such as these can therefore have a powerful impact on improving people’s food sovereignty. 

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We will be going through the A to Z of food sovereignty each day until world food day on 16th October. The words have been chosen to show the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture.

Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to feed themselves but the political and economic rules which govern the food system are set against them. These rules are written by and for multinational companies and political elites, in support of a global food system that benefits them rather than the millions of smallholders and family farmers who produce the food and get little in return.

>> Take action here

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa. Yields

People generally understand and like the idea of sustainable agriculture - producing food without expensive and unsustainable inputs like chemical fertilisers and pesticides. But many people argue that sustainable agriculture can’t produce as much food as conventional agriculture, and with our increasing global population, we need to increase food production as much as possible. The problem with this reasoning is that sustainable or agroecological methods can increase crop yields.

The largest study to date of food production using sustainable farming techniques (using data from 57 developing counties) showed that farmers switching to sustainable methods on average increased their yields by 73%. In Africa the increase was even higher.UK Government Office of Science Foresight project commissioned an analysis of 40 agroecological projects that had been carried out in 20 Africa countries to determine the impact they had had. Over almost 13 million hectares of land, the 40 projects had benefited more than 10 million farmers, with...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa. Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping is a form of landscaping and gardening which emphasises water conservation and is therefore ideal for arid environments. Although it is mainly used to create efficient and drought-resistant gardens, rather than to produce food as such, it borrows from some of the agroecological techniques used across arid and semi-arid parts of Africa by using methods to increase soil moisture and reduce soil erosion. It is also the only farming-related word we could think of that starts with the letter X. Well, that and xerophytes (plants adapted to survive in the desert) and xylophagy (animals that eat wood).


Photo credit: J Brew

About the A-Z of food sovereignty project.

We will be going through the A to Z of food sovereignty each day until world food day on 16th October. Click here to see the whole series. The words have been chosen to show the positive alternatives to corporate-led agriculture. Africa’s small-scale food producers already know how to produce enough food sustainably to...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa: Water-havesting 

Around one-fifth of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity and in Africa alone around 345 million people lack access to safe drinking water. In some areas this is caused by a physical lack of water. In others, the problem is more to do with ‘economic water scarcity’: a lack of investments in the infrastructure to store and distribute water. Globally there is enough freshwater to go round, but as with many natural resources, it is both unsustainably managed (wasted, polluted) and abundant in some places (floods) while scarce in others (droughts). In many African countries, harvesting and storing rainwater is an important way of ensuring that food production can continue into parts of the dry season.

In Kenya, there is enough rainwater harvest potential to support six to seven times the current population, and in Ethiopia, with its population of almost 100 million, there is potential to harvest enough to over cover the needs of over 500 million people. Across parts of the Sahel, rainwater harvesting is now carried out over hundreds of thousands of hectares, allowing huge areas of land to become...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa: Varieties 

“Since the 1900s, some 75 percent of plant genetic diversity has been lost as farmers worldwide have left their multiple local varieties and landraces for genetically uniform, high-yielding varieties.” FAO agrobiodiversity document

Industrial agriculture and the practice of growing the same crop year after year (mono cropping), has been responsible for a huge loss of traditional plant varieties and animal breeds around the world. Around 95% of our food is provided for by only 30 crops, and that merely four of them (rice, wheat, maize, potatoes) provide almost 60% of our food needs. Given that so few plant species account for so much of our food needs, it is vital that we maintain as many varieties of each of these species as possible. And yet we are losing plant varieties at an alarming rate. For example 1,500 rice varieties were lost in Indonesia in the space of 15 years (1975 to 1990). When the 2009 hurricane in West Bengal turned everyone’s fields into salty ponds, only a handful of farmers were still...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa. Uganda

Uganda has over 180,000 organic farmers, the second highest number of producers in the world after India (340,000). In Africa, where over 900,000 hectares of agricultural land are certified organic, Uganda has the most organic land of all countries with over 212,000 hectares, followed by Tunisia (174,725 hectares) and Ethiopia (99,944 hectares). There are of course many more farmers and hectares of fields that are not certified organic and there are thousands of farmers who carry out sustainable agricultural practices both from necessity (lack of money to pay for chemical fertiliser) and from experience. Uganda is home to a number of agricultural research institutes that are working with farmers to develop new plant varieties and farming practices to improve yields. For example, the National Agricultural Research Organization has been able to develop 19 new varieties of sweet-potatoes which have helped farmers to increase yields considerably...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in African: Tigray

The Tigray project is a sustainable development project that started in Tigray, northern Ethiopia in 1996. The focus of the project is community-based land management and rehabilitation to improve crop production and the livelihoods of local farmers. Originally this was done by offering farmers a ‘basket of choices’ of trainings that they could be involved with as an entry point for the project. These included making and using compost, planting multipurpose trees, water harvesting, and building ponds. When researchers examined the difference between using composting and chemical fertiliser on plots over a number of years, they discovered that average yields on composted plots were as good as or higher than those which used chemical fertiliser.

Another effect...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa: Seed Banks

Community Seeds Banks emerged about 30 years ago as a response to biological diversity loss,  increasing corporate control over  seeds and the impact of natural disasters and climate change on crop production. Today there are countless seed banks around the world and some countries like India and Nepal have over 100. Seed banks perform a number of important functions. For starters they help to conserve local plant varieties, make seeds more accessible (usually at a lower price than commercial seeds) and increase seed sovereignty. But they also create a community space where farmers can swap seeds and talk about seed varieties. Finally seed banks can also help to create new livelihoods and income by farmers breeding and selling seeds through the bank. 


Jogimara community seed bank in Nepal. Photo credit: bioversity international

In Ethiopia and Zambia for example, incomes from growing and selling seed varieties are around two to three times more than the average household income. Giving farmers access to...

The World Bank was set up in 1944 to provide loans for countries to help people out of poverty. Yet in its 70 year history, it’s had no shortage of controversy. The bank has been slammed for funding projects like large-scale dams and coal-fired power plants that risk having devastating effects on communities. But it’s also faced intensive criticism for using its power to push countries to change their laws to help corporations take control of their economies. 


A #WorldVsBank mural in Nairobi. Photo credit: The Rules

Over the past decade, the bank has done this by promoting its Doing Business rankings. The project ranks countries according to the “ease of doing business” in them for corporations, helping investors and CEOs to decide where to move their money or operations for maximum profit. The approach is simple. Countries with fewer laws protecting people, their land and their livelihoods, and therefore allowing corporations to profit unhindered, score highly. Countries with more laws that keep checks on corporations are penalised. Countries are scored down for having policies such as minimum wages, paid holidays, overtimes rates, corporate income...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa: Resilience 

Resilience is the capacity for people, their communities and the environment to face sudden changes or disasters and to recover from these shocks. Although it is an important and useful concept, it has become a buzz word in international development. FAO talks of “Resilient Livelihoods” and has developed a ‘resilience strategy’ which includes: institutional strengthening, developing early warning systems, protecting and building livelihoods, and improving ‘preparedness for and response to crises’. This kind of resilience sounds quite top heavy. It can seem like organisations speak of creating resilience without the participation of the people that suffer the most from sudden changes and shocks. The resilience of farmers and farming communities is strengthened above all by supporting them to develop their own skills. 

For example in Niger, farmer to farmer approaches in the 1980s led to...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa. Some quotes.

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa. Quotes

“It is not about bread. It is about making money."
Nigerian agriculture minister Akinwumi Adesina, telling government and business leaders that the best way to spark an agriculture boom is to focus on profit. March 2014.

“Multinational companies are simply here to expand their business. GMO is not a solution to famine.”
Abdallah Mkindi, Coordinator of the Tanzania Alliance for Biodiversity, a coalition of environmental and organic-farming groups. October 2013.

"Africa has to move away from agriculture for food in the stomach to agriculture for wealth into the economy and into the pockets of farmers."
Martin Bwalya, Director of The Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), an African Union (AU) initiative. August 2014.

“In many African countries women are major producers of food and the ones who sustain households and communities, yet their role is not always recognised. Despite all their efforts, women remain poor and voiceless. Rural women still face many constraints and problems. For example, as far as land ownership is concerned, women’s rights to land...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty in Africa: Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB)

Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) is a decentralised and participatory approach to breeding and creating different types of plants. Researchers and farmers work together to create varieties of plants that are better adapted to local soils and weather patterns. This collaboration between researchers and farmers can help to speed up the development of new varieties from 10-15 year to 5-7 years.

In PPB, farmers take the lead in selecting varieties of plants that might be worth breeding and improving. They also take the lead in growing and distributing new types of seed to other farmers. PPB helps to empower farmers and gives them more control over the development of plant varieties and therefore control over their livelihood. Since women always play such an important part in preserving and planting seeds, they stand to gain the most from PPB approaches.


Hand pollination in an African eggplant breeding program. Photo credit: Globalhort

Corporate-controlled seed breeding programmes tend to serve large scale, corporate farming...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: Organic

Organic farming uses crop rotations, manure and compost to improve soil fertility and avoids using pesticides and chemical fertilisers to improve crop yields. Organic farming is a way of farming which includes many agroecological techniques such as water-harvesting, agroforestry, green manures, etc. It is also a term used to denote organic certification.


Farmers making their own organic manure  in Lower Nyando, Kenya. Photo credit: K. Trautmann

According to the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), the worldwide umbrella organization, there were around 1.1 million hectares of organic land in Africa – 1% of the total agricultural area. But there are many more hectares of land where farmers basically practice organic agriculture without being certified. Let alone the millions of hectares of forests which communities across Africa use to collect wild foods and medicines (which are also organic!).

Organic certification has its advantages. For example among smallholders in...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty. Ngitili 

Ngitili is a word for ‘enclosed fodder reserve’ in Sukuma, a regional language of Tanzania. It refers to an enclosed area, closed to livestock during the wet season to allow the vegetation to regenerate, then opened again during the peak of the dry season. It provides fodder, firewood, timber and medicinal plants throughout the year. The ngitili system has had an impact on multiple fronts. There has been an increase in biodiversity, through the restoration of woodlands as the number of plant and animal species have increased.

Of the 51 species of mammal which had disappeared from Meatu District, in the Simiyu Region of Tanzania, 21 species including the aardvark, eland, black-backed jackal, and African civet have now returned, although the return of major carnivores has caused other problems. Households earn about half of their income from ngitili, equivalent to an...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: Mulching 

Mulching involves covering the soil with a layer of plant material such as leaves, grass clippings, wood chips and even cardboard. It has a number of benefits including: 

Helping to prevent soil erosion – by protecting it from the action of wind and rain

Increasing soil fertility

Shading the soil and reduces water loss through evaporation

Helping to keep down the weeds

Reducing soil compaction. 

Mulching is a key technique in agroecology and is widely used by small-scale farmers around the world. In dry parts of Kenya, mulching can slightly increase the length of the growing season. In West Africa,...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: likoti

Likoti means ‘holes’ in Sesotho (one of 11 official Lesotho languages). It is used to describe a method of Conservation Agriculture where pits of about 30cm in diameter by 20cm in depth are dug and filled with organic fertiliser and seeds. The practice was introduced in Tebellong, a mountainous area of southern Lesotho, to help farmers increase their agricultural yields. Compared to conventional agriculture, likoti has resulted in: higher crop yields, better soil fertility and soil structure, higher incomes, and greater social sustainability – since this technique is available to even the poorest villagers. Figures from 2010 estimated that over 5000 households had adopted likoti taking up almost 3% of all arable land in the country, though the figure is probably higher since it includes farmers who have adopted the technique without support from farmer or development organizations. 


Likoti in Lesotho - Photo credit: Pim Techamuanvivit

About the A-Z...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: jobs

Agriculture currently employs about 65% of Africa’s population, but the figure is likely to continue to fall given current speeds of rural to urban migration (40% of African people live in urban areas at the moment but the figure will be more than 50% by 2030). Because of this, it is critical that opportunities for employment in rural areas are developed and that the livelihoods of smallholder farmers are supported. Small-scale producers are the cornerstones of local and sustainable food systems. Supporting them will also help to prevent the ‘urbanisation of poverty’: according to the World Bank, although more and more people in Africa have moved to cities, overall levels of poverty have not been reduced. Not only could job creation in rural areas help to slow down rural-to-urban migration, but there is evidence that creating jobs in agriculture can often be cheaper than creating jobs in other sectors of the economy.

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The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: Kenya

Agriculture is a hugely important part of Kenya’s economy. Over 87% of the population works on the land, and farming accounts for around 30% of the country’s GDP. The main crops it produces are maize, tea, sugar cane, coffee and wheat, and its most important export crops are tea, cut flowers, tobacco and coffee. Although most of the farming in Kenya is large-scale, conventional, high-input farming (Kenya uses more than 50% more chemical fertiliser per hectare than the average across sub-Saharan Africa) there is a small percentage of organic farming: around 13,000 farmers are certified organic and they work on 0.02% of Kenya’s agricultural land. 


A Keyan farmer. Photo credit: CGIAR

There are also a large number of agroecological projects taking place across Kenya. Several organizations have been involved with encouraging farmers to grow, sell and eat African leafy vegetables. These are green leafy vegetables which are high in vitamins and minerals. One programme which...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty:Innovation

Innovation is one of the keys to increasing food yields and improving the long term sustainability of our food system. Top-down, technology-driven innovation has contributed to large increases in crop yields in the past, but these increases  have slowed, and often only serve the interests of corporate profit-making rather than small-scale farmers. Farmer-led innovation, which makes use of farmers’ local knowledge can have a significant impact on food yields and food sovereignty. For example farmers are often best suited to identifying and developing plant varieties adapted to deal with the impacts of climate change and plant diseases. It is also important that farmers and scientists collaborate on research work.

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The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: Homegardens
 

Homegardens are a form of mixed farming practiced on small plots of land usually surrounding or close to the home, and typically focused on subsistence food production. They are a popular and common form of urban agriculture and produce more than half of the fruit and vegetables consumed in a number of African cities in Burundi, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique and Zambia. Some families produce food using car tyres and boxes to produce fruits and vegetables for themselves and for sale. In Dakar, almost 8000 inner-city households grow tomatoes, lettuces and cucumbers for sale and in Nairobi, 11000 households produce enough food in ‘sack gardens’ to cover the cost of their rent.  In the capital of Cameroon, Yaoundé, around 35% of the residents grow traditional leafy vegetables which provide an important source of additional nutrition. Most of the urban food growers involved in homegardening are women, since the men usually work on larger commercial operations either in the city or further...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: gender

"It is women that hold the key to tackling hunger and malnutrition. Yet their needs are often not recognised or understood.” Sandra Kabati in her fields at Mangambwa Village, Senanga District - Zambia.

There is a widely acknowledged gender gap in agriculture. Women farmers carry out around 70% of the agricultural labour. They also carry out most of the food preparation, sourcing of water and fuel wood essential for household food consumption. They do, on average, around 90% of the weeding and hoeing on agricultural land, as well as 60% of the harvesting and marketing of produce and products. And yet the significant role that women play in food production is often ignored or not considered by policy makers.


Photo credit: DFAT photo library

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The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: farmer field schools (FFS)

Farmer field schools (FFS) are an educational forum for farmers to learn and share practical knowledge related to farming based on a central learning garden.The approach was first used in Kenya in 1995 and has since spread across Africa (and other parts of the world). To date an estimated 12 million farmers around the world have had some form of training through a FFS. The impacts of FFS have been considerable, ranging from increasing food production (by anything from 50% and 85%), to increasing access and control over food production by women and children.


Organic agriculture school in Morogoro, Tanzania. Photo credit: Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania

In Uganda, what started as a...

Today, governments and businesses will gather in New York as part of the UN’s Climate Summit to launch a new initiative: The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA). Agriculture is both a driver and a victim of climate change.  Industrial farming is responsible for up to 30 per cent of total global emissions. Unmitigated climate change would have devastating effects on crop productivity, worldwide. Yields from rain-fed agriculture in Southern Africa could be halved between 2000 and 2020. 


One of the corporate cheerleaders for this new 'climate smart' initiative. Photo credit: _skynet 

You may, therefore, be pleased to hear that GACSA, initiated by the UN and the World Bank, claims it will aim to help the global farming sector adapt to climate change, increase yields and cut emissions. But look a little deeper into GACSA’s strategy and who’s signed up to it, and things look a little less smart. The governments and global corporations signed up to the alliance are hoping that a series of false solutions will let industrial...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: Erosion

An estimated 24 billion tonnes of soil is lost from farm land every year – most of it washed into rivers and lakes. Deforestation, over-grazing, and industrial farming – particularly digging but also the practice of leaving soil bare between plantings – all contribute to leaving the soil exposed to wind and rain. As a result of erosion, the United Nations estimates that around 40% of the world’s agricultural land is severely affected.


Erosion is a great concern in Madagascar. In this picture you can see by its colour that the Betsiboka river carries a lot of sediment down to the sea. Photo by ...

Ninety NGOs and campaign groups have condemned the G7’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, as representatives of governments and multinational companies, including UK development secretary Justine Greening, meet in New York today to discuss the controversial scheme.

Groups including the World Development Movement, Action Aid International and Greenpeace International say there is no evidence that the G7 scheme, to which the UK is contributing £600 million in aid money, is reducing poverty. 

'Africa cake': Protestors presented a cake to the Department for International Development in April to highlight the New Alliance's carve-up of the continent.

The NGOs from the G7 countries claim that the initiative’s real purpose is ‘to enable private corporations to influence...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: Conservation Agriculture (CA)

Maria Erro used to struggle to grow enough food on her half-hectare plot in Karatu district, in northern Tanzania…[her] life changed dramatically in October 2002, when she learned how to use an approach called conservation agriculture. Instead of hoeing the soil, she left the dried stalks and leaves from the previous crop on the surface. She learned how to plant maize seed directly through this mulch…Between the maize rows, she planted lablab – a legume that spreads quickly, covers the soil with a dense, leafy mat, and produces an edible seed. The lablab smothered the weeds, freeing her of the backbreaking task of weeding the plot. The lablab also fixed nitrogen in the soil, so her maize crop benefited. She harvested six bags of maize, instead of the two or three she had got in previous years…“It was a miracle”, she says, “I will practise conservation agriculture forever.”

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a farming technique that requires...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: biodiversity

“I used to see 30 types of bean in the market, but now I only see 2” – Ugandan farmer

“For centuries the agricultures of developing countries were built upon the local resources of land, water, and other resources, as well as local varieties and indigenous knowledge. This has nurtured biologically and genetically diverse smallholder farms with a robustness and a built-in resilience that has helped them to adjust to rapidly changing climates, pests, and diseases” – Miguel Altieri, prominent agroecology scientist-activist.

The United Nations estimates that up to 75% of plant varieties were lost in the last century. It also predicts that almost a quarter of the non-domesticated or wild relatives of our main food crops – potatoes, beans, peanuts – will be lost by the middle of this century due to our rapidly changing climate. 

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The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: Agroforestry

"There’s no point in using manure or artificial fertilizers when you have gao trees in your fields,” says Bashir Mohamed in Droum village. “And it’s not just the area under the trees that’s more fertile. The wind will blow the fallen leaves across the fields, so that increases fertility beyond the trees as well.” 


Crops under the faidherbia tree -Photo credit: World Agroforestry Centre/Charlie Pye-Smith

Agroforestry is a farming system where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, bamboos) are grown together with agricultural crops and/or animals. This fusion of agriculture and forestry creates multiple benefits and can help address:

Environmental issues such as soil...

Call of G7/G8 Civil Society Organizations to their Governments on the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa
 
More than two years after the launch of the G8 New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, what we have seen of its ‘progress’ does not change our assessment that the New Alliance actually undermines food security, nutrition and the progressive realization of the right to food in Africa. First on-the-ground research suggests a dramatic gap between development rhetoric and impacts. There is no sign that the New Alliance is lifting African people out of poverty, but the promise to “unleash ...

The latest in our A to Z of food sovereignty: drought

Small-scale farmers often live on some of the most marginal and vulnerable land in the world. They therefore tend to suffer the most from extreme weather events and the negative impacts of climate change. Despite their vulnerability, they are also extremely innovative. For example, small-scale farmers in Tanzania have started to predict droughts through temperature changes and adjusted by planting faster-growing and drought-resistant crop varieties. Many farmers have also started to see the benefits of planting trees as a form of mitigation against the impacts of drought. Planting ‘fertilizer trees’ [see Agroforestry], helps the soil to retain moisture during droughts. It...

“Keeping our seed is a collective responsibility. Seed is our wealth. It is neither hers nor mine. It is ours. So we have a joint responsibility. The modern seed is like a stranger or a guest, just like you are. You may indulge us for a day or two, but when you leave tomorrow, it is us who will remain. Just like that, our local seeds will never leave us”

Mohammed, farmer from the Wollo region of Ethiopia. From Seeds of Freedom

African farmers' ability to freely save and trade their seeds is under increasing threat from powerful seeds companies and a variety of complex new laws. Earlier this year, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) moved to sign up to an international convention known as UPOV 1991 which essentially prevents farmers from exchanging and selling their own seeds. The convention will also help big corporations to claim ownership of seed varieties and tie farmers in to buying GM and hybrid. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), a group of farmers promoting small scale family...

The Attac summer university, a gathering of over 2,700 people from across Europe, is the perfect place to form and maintain European alliances. Here I have met old friends from the food sovereignty movement and made some interesting new ones.

Many of the people who were involved in the first European food sovereignty gathering in 2011 are also here continuing to building the international movement. 

After the European forum, named Nyeneli after the global gathering in Mali, there has been a wave of national gatherings and actions across the continent. It is really inspiring to catch up with the people behind these movements. We’ve been hearing of successful food sovereignty gatherings in Austria, the Netherlands and the ex-Yugoslavian countries, touring permaculture caravans in Greece and peasant markets in Romania.  It has also been a good opportunity to share strategies with the German food sovereignty movement who are planning a gathering in 2016. 


On the panel at the ESU seminar on food sovereignty. Represenatives from farmers organisations in Palestine and France. 

On Thursday I met Ruba from Palestine who works for...

Yesterday, Coca Cola announced it would expand its business activities in Africa. The corporate giant announced it will increase investments in Africa by $5 billion over the next 6 years, bringing the total to $17 billion by 2020. Coca Cola is part of the latest wave of corporations moving in to Africa to secure markets, land, resources and labour which promise vast corporate profits. With African small scale farmers facing the risk of being squeezed out of their livelihoods, many African activist groups have called this a “new wave of colonialism”.

Photo: Thomas Hawk/flickr

As part of its new investments, Coca Cola will launch Source Africa, a partnership with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and Grow Africa, to source “consistent and sustainable” local ingredients in African countries. The New Alliance and Grow Africa are two development programmes using the offer of rich countries’ aid money and private investment to open up African countries to the might of big...

Coca-Cola has announced it will join a scheme, financed by the UK, US and other governments, which claims it will lift 50 million people in Africa out of poverty, but which critics including the World Development Movement say puts profit before poverty reduction.

Coca-Cola is the highest profile company to join the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which also includes British companies Unilever, Diageo and SABMiller. The UK government has committed £600 million in aid money to the scheme, launched in 2012.


Photo: Francesco Desideri/flickr

The US government released figures yesterday on the progress of the New Alliance, but reported no data on the scheme’s direct impact on food security or nutrition in the African countries involved.

According to the US government, only 65 of the 277 companies participating in the New Alliance have reported on the social impact of their involvement in the scheme, including job creation. Its report claims that 3 million smallholder farmers in Africa have been ‘reached’ through the scheme, but does not give further detail. Only 21 per cent of smallholder farmers ‘reached’ are women.

The New...

I don’t know about you, but when asked about UK farmers my mind immediately presents the stereotypical image of an old, balding, slightly overweight white male. Wellies and a flatcap are optional; a giant tractor is not. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these farmers. But the fact remains; they’re a dying breed (literally). And though it’s hard to imagine that a bright young lad (or lady- outside of the UK, most of the farmers in the world are women) will be able to mount the tractor and carry on the legacy, it is inevitable. Somebody, somewhere, must prolong the future of farming. 

So, the barley baron cannot spring, fully formed, from the soil he tills. Let us now look at the source of young farmers. As sad as it is, it seems that very few of these come from traditional farming families. Why would they? After watching your parents toil in the sun day in day out, it’s not unreasonable to want a desk job. Many people would attribute the decline of small farms and the increase in land concentration to the fact that nobody wants to be a farmer anymore. It’s just not a nice job.

As an aspiring young farmer, I can dispel that notion myself...

Whole Food Action is a new network of independent wholefood shops working together to help build the movement for a better food system. On Sunday 13 July, 17 people representing 7 shops from Sheffield to Portsmouth met  in Manchester for their first gathering, and to plan for the public launch of their website in September. www.wholefoodaction.org.uk will include a searchable map of UK wholefood shops, as well as news from and ways to get involved in the wider food movement. Helen of the True Food Community Co-op in Reading describes her experience:

When my alarm went off at 5.55am on Sunday morning I had a moment of doubt about the wisdom of travelling all the way to Manchester for the first gathering of Whole Food Action.  It was too late to back out though so by 7am the two delegates from True Food Co-op in Reading and one from Wild Thyme Wholefoods in Portsmouth were on our way north.

The first part of the day was a tour of Unicorn Grocery. We arrived slightly early and watched as customers began arriving and standing around, bags ready, eager...

During the colonisation of Africa, over a hundred years ago, railways were built to connect the interior to the ports to facilitate the efficient extraction of resources out of Africa. Resources like rubber, copper, coal and cotton were brutally extracted and transported out of Africa to fuel the industrial revolution in Europe. All this facilitated by investment in infrastructure which prioritised routes out to the main ports along Africa’s coast. 

Explore these issues in our 2nd interactive infographic here. 

Today, investment from multinational companies and aid money from rich countries are joining forces once more to build railways which connect the interior of Africa to its ports.

Through ‘agricultural growth corridors,’ investment is flooding in to fund infrastructure which connects rural areas to global markets. On the surface, this sounds like a welcome, much needed initiative in Africa. But the beneficiaries of this investment...

This week I’ve been volunteering at World Development Movement doing work experience in the agribusiness team.  On Tuesday I went to The Spark, a week of workshops, films, discussions, poetry, music and art looking at the fight for social justice.

In the afternoon I took part in a workshop called Our Land, Our Cities – Community Food Now. Run by the UK Food Sovereignty Movement and the Community Food Growers Network, the workshop explored the struggle for food sovereignty through film clips, presentations from urban food projects and group discussion.

So what is food sovereignty? Food sovereignty, I learnt, is about producing food for people not profit, putting control over food systems with the producers and prioritising food for local communities over international trade. The global food system is dominated by a small number of multinational corporations, resulting in hunger and exploitation of workers. Corporate bottlenecks between producers and consumers need to be cut out.  The workshop explained about the 200 million strong global social movement struggling to put this right. It also looked at what is going on here in the UK. 

With nearly 80% of the UK...

Over a hundred years ago, European countries carved up the continent of Africa. By 1914, only Liberia and Ethiopia remained independent. This blatant grab for land and control was masked by claims of philanthropy. The colonialists said that the people of Africa needed civilising and that they would bring their modernising ways to the African people. They claimed that the land was empty and so they were justified in taking it. But no amount of rhetoric could hide the brutal reality that the true beneficiaries of colonialism were the European powers. Meanwhile the people of Africa were robbed of their land, lost control of their resources and millions died from forced labour.

If we fast forward to the present, a new scheme supported by the richest countries in the world, looks set to replicate the grab for resources and land. The G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (‘New Alliance’) claims to address poverty in Africa. However, in spite of its benevolent-sounding name, the New Alliance looks more like a blueprint for transferring control of Africa’s seeds, land and resources into the hands of multi-national companies. In exchange for promises of investment from...

For the first time in history a law that mentions food sovereignty has the chance of going through parliament. The Agroecology (Food Security) Bill which is being drafted and supported by the Agroecology Alliance goes to vote on the 12 June! This bill is a private members bill which has been proposed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agroecology and not the government and so doesn’t have much chance of reaching national law. Nevertheless, it is undoubtedly an exciting first step in the journey towards a food system in the UK that puts people and the environment before profit. If this bill succeeds in passing the first ballot on 12 June then it will be debated by parliament through the rest of the year. 

At the moment government policies like the ’agritech’ strategy only increase the control of large landowners and multinational agricultural companies at the expense of small-scale growers. This is why such a law is drastically needed. Community and local food projects are...

Global justice campaigners have called on Unilever to pull out of an aid scheme they say will damage African countries’ ability to tackle poverty.

Unilever, which holds its AGM in London on Wednesday 14 May, is a leading member of the G8’s ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’. The scheme claims it will lift 50 million people in Africa out of poverty by 2022. But the World Development Movement believes the New Alliance will increase hunger and poverty by taking land and power away from millions of small-scale farmers.

Marmite is one of Unilever's flagship products.

African countries involved in the New Alliance are required to change their laws to make it easier for big corporations to buy up land, a move which campaigners believe will increase land-grabbing and leave farmers homeless and without livelihoods. The scheme will also help companies to control the supply of seeds used by African farmers, and increase production of export crops like biofuels at the expense of crops to feed local populations.

Farmers’ groups from across Africa have condemned the New Alliance as ‘a new wave of colonialism...

Not too long ago, a friend and a fellow activist asked me what I think is the most critical issue facing the world. I answered that although our most immediate crisis is the effect climate change is having on the melting of the Arctic sea ice, the industrial food system will be our silent killer. 

As an environmental researcher, writer, and campaigner, I have often lamented that the energy crisis gets more airtime than the food crisis. So I welcome the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 5th Assessment report  for shining a light on the threat the changing climate poses to our ability to feed ourselves. 

Charting the decreases in the yields of staple foods (e.g. wheat, maize, fish) already being experienced in the current climate and noting the vulnerability of our food system to climate hazards (e.g. heat waves, floods), the report argues that food yields will continue to fall (accompanied by price increases) and in the next 5-10 years the world will see wars break out over food shortages. This may sound alarmist...

This week Janet Maro from Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT) will be speaking at three events around the UK as part of the launch of our new agribusiness campaign. Here she gives a sneak preview of what she'll be talking about.

A youth group that trained by SAT harvest the first egg plants from their plot for sale

Sustainable Agriculture Tanzania (SAT) is a grassroots organization working directly with small scale farmers in Morogoro region. Our area of focus has been using locally available materials mostly from plant sources to produce useful inputs such as fertilizers and botanical extracts for use in the farm during crop production. Nature has a lot in store for us and there is a wide range of different plants which are useful for plants, human and animals.

We first experiment and try using the different locally available plants to produce high quality compost, botanical extracts and do companion planting to see how they will perform on our crops before we disseminate the knowledge to farmers who we train in the villages and those who come to learn at our training centre.

We work in diverse environments, in the slopes...

Last Thursday, over a hundred food sovereignty actions happened in a hundred different countries. They marked the day of international peasant struggle, a day that has been declared a day of action by La Via Campesina, the global peasant movement representing over 200 million peasants.

 

WDM was keen to support this event as it is the perfect opportunity to link the struggles of small-scale farmers in the UK with the local struggles for food sovereignty in communities across the globe. 

While much of WDM’s campaigning focuses on the needs of producers in Africa, it is important to recognise the needs of producers here the UK. They are struggling against the same corporate food system that put profits before the environment and people.

In London, food growers and activists from across the country created a pop up farmers market in Whitehall, demonstrating the productivity of small-scale food production  (even in what...

Manchester being the place it is one can find all sorts of causes and campaign groups through the internet and networks, but fail to interact with them in the integrated way some fondly enjoin groups to do. So, whilst putting out feelers and finding our inboxes and facebook pages flooded with postings from worthy groups one doesn’t like to cut out, we ended up using personal contacts and experiences to help us launch the new Agribusiness campaign on a wet Saturday morning in suburban Manchester.  

Our photographer and webmaster being kept in by the domestic priorities we turned to our friends in SPEAK and Friends of the Earth (with whom we have build relationships through the Climate Act and RBS Tar Sands campaign) and they bolstered numbers and took photos. (Thanks Ali for the photos!)

Manchester group and John Leech MP
Photos: Ali Abbas, Friends of the Earth Manchester

In his first campaign action with us Eric Mulvihill explained his motivation: “This campaign is important to me because I support small farmers everywhere,  for two reasons: firstly my own ancestors were small...

We have created a reading group to help you get up to speed on WDM’s new campaign on corporate power in the world of food production. The reading group is split into five topics, with a selection of longer and shorter articles, youtube videos and short films. Each session also has some suggested discussion questions for you to work through.

We hope that through taking part in this reading group you will feel more confident in your understanding of the wider issues that surround WDM’s agribusiness campaign. We also hope you’ll enjoy your discussions with other WDM activists. The reading group is available for people to do in their own time, or with a group of people locally, and we are also providing online skype sessions for people to join, which we hope will connect up activists across the country. You have the option of joining a monthly group, looking at one of the topics each month, or a weekly group, looking at one of the topics each week. These discussions will be facilitated, but the facilitator will be encouraging you all to talk through your thoughts, ideas and reactions to the readings; they will not be question and answer sessions.

Dates for the online groups:

Weekly discussions

Food sovereignty - Wednesday 23 April: 7-8.30pm...

£600 million in UK aid money is going to a scheme to help big businesses increase their profits in Africa, a report by the World Development Movement reveals today. The report slams the scheme as fuelling a ‘corporate scramble for Africa’.

The UK government is channelling £600 million in aid to the G8-sponsored ‘New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition’, claiming it will lift 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. But campaigners say the scheme is set to benefit multinational companies like Monsanto and Unilever at the expense of millions of small-scale farmers, and is likely to increase poverty and inequality on the continent.

Campaigners believe the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition will disempower small-scale farmers. Photo: malias/Flickr

In return for receiving aid money and corporate investment through the New Alliance, the African countries involved have to change their laws, making it easier for corporations to acquire large tracts of farmland, control the supply of seeds, and ship...

Today a group of smartly dressed business people from companies including Diageo, Monsanto and Unilever turned up at the UK government's Department for International Development (DfID). They were carrying a cake, a gift for development secretary Justine Greening, to say thanks for all the help her department has given their companies to expand their reach in Africa.

Except that those brandishing the Africa-shaped cake were WDM campaigners, there to highlight how DfID, along with its rich country peers, have been supporting the corporate scramble for Africa as part of a scheme known as the 'New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition'.

DfID celebration

The New Alliance doesn't sound at all objectionable at first. After all, who doesn't want everyone to be able to eat decently? But behind the innocent-sounding name, the reality is very different.

Hundreds of millions of pounds of the UK aid budget is being channelled through this initiative, which is demanding that African governments change their laws to facilitate the expansion of agribusiness. There will certainly be some winners from the scheme which is helping the multinational companies involved to access raw...

Last week, global corporation Unilever announced that it is to triple its production of tea in Tanzania. It’s the latest outcome of Unilever’s partnership with the Tanzanian government, formed in 2013 to much fanfare, to ‘reinvigorate’ the Tanzanian tea sector.

The company claims that their new investment will generate approximately £90m in revenues for the country. The tea-growing scheme will be based in the new Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT), a 7.5 million hectare area of fertile land now designated for industrial farming by corporations. The announcement has been hailed by the corporate world as a sure sign that Tanzania is now a place to do business.

Tea plantation in Tanzania. Gumtau/CC

Tea plantation in Tanzania. Gumtau/CC.

Unilever’s latest expansion is part a new wave of corporate interest in African agriculture. In return for corporate investment and aid, African states are reforming policies to make it easier for corporations to operate in their farming sectors. Unilever’s plans in Tanzania form part of the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition launched in 2012. Under the initiative, corporate...

It's not hard to work out who is behind the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). With its hugely undemocratic and dangerous provisions that will enable corporations to sue governments for defending their citizens, the clues are blatantly obvious that this EU-US trade deal is about strengthening the rights of corporations to profits – above all else. Whether it’s in healthcare, environment or energy, big companies are set to profit from the rules being rewritten in their favour.

This is music to the ears of the financial sector who have been fighting tooth and nail against attempts to regulate in both the US and the EU since the financial crisis. TTIP presents a prime opportunity for the financial sector to free-ride off this agenda of deregulation and liberalisation.


Protest outside the European Parliament in Brussels

The proposed rules on the negotiating table would forbid regulations that limit the number of investments or financial services suppliers, and/or limit the total value and number of their transactions or operations. This has huge ramifications for not just...

Yesterday about 15,000 members of Brazil’s biggest movement, the Landless Workers Movement (MST), marched to the headquarters of Brazil’s federal government from the camp where the MST’s sixth congress is taking place.

Everyone who was able to march had a break from the talks and discussions of the congress to march through the Brazilian capital. The march followed an action in the morning by the Sem Terrinha (‘little landless’ – the children in the movement) at the Ministry of Education. The children hand-painted its walls and invading the entrance. For many of the children, it was their first action as part of the movement.


Photo: Ninja Midia/flickr

For everyone else, the afternoon’s march definitely wasn’t their first, as massive demonstrations and marches are a vital part of the MST's struggle for popular agrarian reform.


I was in the international bloc with about 200 others and the organisers were really strict about keeping us together the whole time. The entire march was organised in four long columns. This meant that it was hard to grasp how huge the march really was, as you had to stay in your place in the line. The MST developed this way...

My name’s Lauren and I have been working at WDM on work experience for the past 4 days. It has been a really great week and I have been able to compare my politics lessons at 6th form college to the real world of campaigning.

Every day I spoke with a member of each team, getting a low down on everything they do and allowing me to ask as many questions as possible. These overviews were with Dan from the food campaign, Sam on the Climate change campaign, Morten on social media, Angela about fundraising and Ralph on the activism team. The factor which was pretty obvious was how passionate everyone was for their work and the causes of the campaigns. These meetings were highly informative and allowed me to get a real understanding of the work that WDM do on a daily basis.

My other tasks involved actually doing some research for the food campaigns team who are about to launch a campaign to stop the corporate takeover of African food. This included photo research for Heidi plus some snooping on the huge corporations who are involved with the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and finding out controversies behind these companies. I absolutely loved these tasks, I really felt...

A popular media campaign on commodity derivative trading?? Well, yes!

From its launch in the summer of 2010, to the long-awaited victory earlier this month, the World Development Movement’s food speculation campaign was never out of the news for too long. Here are some of the highlights.

In July 2010, the new campaign attracted headlines across the UK media – helped by the ‘choc finger’ incident, in which hedge fund Armajaro used the futures market to buy up almost the entire European cocoa supply, pushing prices to a 33-year high.



In December that year, we showed how speculation was pushing up the price of Christmas turkey, and on Shrove Tuesday the media reported how banks were making pancakes more expensive.



We targeted Barclays, the biggest UK player in food speculation, outside its AGM in 2011, getting the issue reported across the mainstream media again.



Through the summer of 2011, record food prices kept food speculation on the media agenda....

A couple of group members from Brighton and Hove WDM and Glasgow WDM look back on campaigning on food speculation:

"It's March 2013 and I'm standing outside a bank, on the busiest shopping street in Brighton on a Saturday afternoon, dressed in a white coat and pretending to be a therapist, counselling a poor banker on his addiction to gambling on food prices, while someone films us for posterity.



Amazingly, people aren't shouting things at me. Instead, they're stopping to talk and find out exactly what it is bankers are up to this time. 'Oh yes,' says one. 'Food speculation. It's all over the news, isn't it?'

It occurs to me that three years ago, the issue of commodity speculation was barely on the agenda. Since WDM started the campaign, our group has targeted Barclays on several occasions, including at the university Freshers Fair and at its branches in Brighton and Hove. We've played a giant game of snakes and ladders on the seafront...

Since working at WDM, I have often found myself doing unusual things such as dressing up in a shark costume or building a cardboard detonator for an action outside HSBC. I’d only been working at the organisation a couple of months before I was asked to climb into the front of a digger outside RBS to protest against their involvement in tarsands just another day (not) in the office!

So in May 2013, I didn’t find it strange when I found myself wearing a bright blue Barclays eagle mask while trying to ride a ‘Barclays bike’ – for the second year in a row. It was the Barclays AGM and we were there to protest against their role in food speculation, welcoming shareholders with the chant ‘speculation means starvation, what we need is regulation!’ and ‘One, two, three four… Bank on hunger no more! Five, six, seven, eight… Osborne you must regulate!”.



Barclays is the UK’s biggest player in food speculation, and we estimate that in 2012...

Earlier this week EU negotiators agreed legislation which would see limits on food speculation introduced in Europe for the first time. It follows over three years of campaigning by WDM local groups, supporters and staff and our allies. Here’s how…

Ingredients
3 reports
6 briefings
57 MEPs – met and lobbied by WDM local group and staff members
450 economists – signed up to a letter demanding reform
5,494 action cards – signed by concerned members of the public
3,244 signatures added to a petition to lead MEP Markus Ferber
45,952 actions taken by dedicated WDM supporters


Prepare carefully: take a complex issue and make it sexy and accessible
Our food speculation campaign launched in summer 2010 with interviews on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme and Newsnight as our report highlighted how bankers were literally gambling on hunger. 900 people signed-up to take our phone action to demand action from the UK’s financial regulator.

Give the banks a good grilling
Early in 2011 we honed in on Barclays – the UK’s biggest player in food speculation. We calculated that the bank had made up to £...

Limits to curb speculation on food prices agreed
UK blocks proposals for tougher regulation

EU negotiators last night agreed to introduce regulation to prevent speculation by banks and hedge funds driving up food prices and exacerbating the global hunger crisis. The new controls will place a limit on the number of food contracts that banks and other finance companies can hold, and will force traders to open their activity to greater public scrutiny.

Anti-poverty campaign group the World Development Movement has hailed the decision as an historic step forward, but said that the UK government’s opposition to tough controls has resulted in serious loopholes in the regulation. In particular, limits will be set at national rather than EU level, which campaigners say risks a regulatory ‘race to the bottom’ as countries could compete to set  weaker limits.

The group is urging the European regulator ESMA to ensure that the new rules are implemented effectively, and not watered down further by industry lobbying.

Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley together made an estimated £2.2 billion from speculating on food including wheat,...

Negotiators could agree regulation tomorrow (12 December)

The UK Treasury and the finance sector have colluded in lobbying against European legislation which would prevent financial speculation driving up food prices, new research reveals today.

The World Development Movement has uncovered details of a series of meetings held by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mark Hoban from 2010 onwards, urging finance companies to lobby against proposed regulation which includes provisions aimed at stopping speculation by banks and hedge funds pushing food beyond the reach of millions of people. The anti-poverty group has accused the government of whipping up opposition to the legislation, against the public interest.

The UK Treasury has lobbied against strong regulation to curb food speculation.

Mark Hoban and other Treasury ministers encouraged the City to coordinate lobbying efforts with the Treasury, and travelled to European capitals to persuade other governments to oppose tighter regulation of the commodity and other financial markets...

UK pension funds are betting an estimated £1.5 billion on food prices, meaning that around £180 belonging to the average UK pension saver is being used to speculate on global food prices, according to a report released today by the World Development Movement. The campaign group is calling for tough regulation to stop food speculation contributing to the global hunger crisis by driving prices up.

UK pension funds are betting an estimated £1.5 billion on food prices.

The report reveals how pension funds and other institutional investors have poured vast sums of money into the commodity markets in recent years, pushing global prices upwards and fuelling global hunger and poverty. Pension funds’ involvement in commodities has been facilitated by investment banks including Goldman Sachs and Barclays. Barclays announced in February this year that it was pulling out of food speculation, however it continues to facilitate speculation by investors such as pension funds.

The World Development Movement’s...

I joined WDM four weeks ago as an intern and I must say it is an exciting time for a start, as I will be involved in a new ambitious campaign that will be launched in the new year. The campaign is rooted in global justice issues and will be about challenging the corporate control of the African food system through the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (New Alliance).

WDM will contest this initiative as part of the global movement for food sovereignty, which demands the right to food to be fulfilled, and that food producers and consumers can determine their own food systems and have control over the skills and resources that form them.

The New Alliance is supposedly committed to eradicating hunger in Africa, building on previous initiatives (such as the green revolution) that have failed so far to reach that goal. It is a partnership between the powerful G8, a number of African governments, transnational corporations and some domestic companies. Under its cooperation frameworks, African countries promise to reform their land laws and make other policy changes to facilitate private investment in agriculture. In exchange, they get hundreds of millions of dollars in donor assistance and promises from foreign companies and their local partners to...

You couldn’t make it up. Three years ago (conveniently just as we launched our food speculation campaign), hedge fund Armajaro caused a massive spike in cocoa prices

In an event that has become the poster child of the excessive and profiteering food speculation we’ve been challenging with our campaign, the trader took control of virtually the entire European cocoa market by buying up the majority of the cocoa futures contracts on the London exchange. With chocolate makers and the like still needing a supply of the beans, prices hit a 33-year high and other traders threatened to leave the market if it wasn’t better regulated.

Cocoa beans

Cocoa beans. Credit: flickr.com/carsten_tb

The incident not only exposed how speculators can push up prices, causing major problems for everyone else, but also how existing ‘regulation’ of the commodity markets was a total joke: in theory, the exchange should have intervened to prevent trades of this size taking place, but in practice they did...

Monday was an exciting day for me. Because after years of talking about their work in public talks, food sovereignty briefings and film nights, WDM had a visit from the MST!


Isis and Ana join me, Christine , Miriam and Heidi at the office

Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST) is a landless peasant movement in Brazil. They have been enormously successful in the last 15 years at driving through a bottom up process for much needed land reform. Because of them 370,000 families, many of them previously landless, have been able to settle on 7.5 million hectares of land. This has been done by occupying land and reclaiming it from the landed elites that have long been dominant in Brazil. After occupying the land, what’s even more exciting, is what the MST do with it. Families are empowered to work together and set up producer cooperatives making what was once fallow and unproductive land into a fertile resource. Added to this the movement also runs a national agroecology school where peasants from across the Brazil and even the world can come to learn about alternative agricultural methods, as...

Five banks made an estimated total of £2.2 billion from speculating on food including wheat, maize and soy between 2010 and 2012, prompting campaigners to accuse the banks of fuelling a global hunger crisis.

Goldman Sachs is the leading global player in food speculation.

Goldman Sachs, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley were the top five global investment banks involved in global commodity markets between 2010 and 2012, making an estimated £640 million ($1 billion) from speculating on food in 2012 alone. Financial speculation fuels price spikes, pushing food prices beyond the reach of millions of people.

The figures were released today by anti-poverty campaign group the World Development Movement, which is calling for tough controls to curb food speculation. Proposed new regulation is due to be discussed at the European Union on Wednesday (6 November), but is at risk of being watered down by objections from the UK government [link to today’s press...

A leaked document has revealed attempts by the UK government to scupper proposed controls on food speculation ahead of negotiations in Brussels next Wednesday.

New rules to prevent banks driving food prices up through financial speculation are due to be finalised in the European Union. But a memo sent by UK negotiators to their counterparts from other European countries last week reveals the UK government’s push to prevent major loopholes in the proposals being closed in the draft regulation.

The memo states UK negotiators’ opposition to strict limits on the amount that banks and other financial players can speculate in commodity derivative markets – a measure that campaigners see as essential to stop speculation destabilising food markets and fuelling global hunger. Instead UK negotiatiors are pushing for the continuation of a system of self-regulation under which speculators have been able to cause huge spikes in the price of foodstuffs.

The memo is likely to have been written by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the UK government body tasked with regulating the financial sector, and the FCA would certainly have reviewed it. Yet the changes it is calling for would constrict the FCA’s ability to...

Last month WDM supporter, Joel, gambled with his food for a week. Here he tells us why he put himself through the ordeal.

Playing with my Food

How would you feel if your food supply rested upon the toss of a coin? If your ability to eat depended upon arbitrary events which are entirely out of your control?



Last month I experienced this for myself by gambling on my own food for seven days. Before every meal I tossed a coin – heads I ate, tails I didn’t (and a no snacking policy prevented me escaping the inevitable bouts of hunger). The high point of my luck was three heads in one day, and the low point was the exact opposite – three tails resulted in me going without a meal on Friday.

So why did I put myself through this? It was an attempt to create for myself the horror of being at the mercy of a volatile food market – a type of market which, in recent years, has had a powerful influence on the lives of millions of vulnerable people around the world.

A Chaotic Market
Anyone following WDM’s campaigns will no doubt be aware of the issue of food speculation.

Following the relaxation of regulations in the...


Protesters outside the tory party conference last year

Remember being at school and spending ages working on something – a painting, maybe – only for some nasty kid to come along and ruin it just as you were adding the finishing touches? Last week the UK government was being that kid.

For the last two years, WDM has been campaigning hard to make sure new European rules on food speculation will be strong enough to prevent speculators flooding the markets for food contracts and causing massive spikes (or slumps) in food prices.

We’ve now reached the final stage of the negotiations (you can see how far we’ve come here).This is where the three EU institutions meet for regular negotiations to try and agree the final text of the legislation on food speculation alongside a whole packet of other financial reforms. 

After years of intense lobbying by WDM local group members, staff and our allies across Europe, a couple of weeks ago the European Commission published a proposed compromise text. It looked good. It wasn’t perfect, but most of our biggest concerns about ways speculators might be able...

Last month I stood outside the European Parliament whilst a group of actors, dressed up as bankers, were wrapped in barrier tape by activists. This spectacle was designed to greet European decision makers as they entered one of the first key negotiation meetings on food speculation reforms. The problem being, that even though we have position limits in the proposed legislation, there is still a threat of dangerous loopholes entering the final text. These loopholes could make this legislation impotent against a powerful financial sector hell-bent on continuing their profit making despite the moral implications of food speculation. 

This week food speculation reforms are back on the agenda. We drastically need to keep the pressure up to remind negotiators of the need for strong, water tight, regulations. If not, millions of people are still vulnerable to global food price shocks that will force them below the poverty line. 

To do this, we need your help to conjure up an almighty twitter storm today and tomorrow. If we can get hundreds of tweets sent to key negotiators in the run up to Wednesday’s...

Veteran broadcaster David Attenborough caused a minor furore earlier this week with his comments on population control, saying that famines in Ethiopia were ‘about too many people for too little piece of land’. Sending flour bags to Africa was ‘barmy’, he said, suggesting that famine was nature’s way of dealing with too many people.

We thought such ideas has been consigned to history long ago. Sadly not. Here’s the text of the letter our new director, Nick Dearden, wrote to the Telegraph in response:

Sir David Attenborough is right to be concerned about threats to Africa’s ability to feed itself. Backed by £400 million of British aid, the G8’s New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition is forcing African governments to adopt policies that make it easier for foreigners to take over agricultural land, much of which will be used for the production of biofuel or other export crops.

But if his concerns are really about too many people and too little land,...

Recent protests in Colombia have been drawing to an end after several weeks of disruption and riots. At first miners were protesting in order to raise their voice against the heavy handed behaviour of the government towards miners. Farmers then joined in with the movement, with farmers, students and unions coming together to demand much needed changes in the country’s agricultural policies. At first the scale of the protests was underplayed with Prime Minister Santos even stating that the protests were not happening. However their dramatic scale throughout Colombia demonstrated that the situation could no longer be denied or ignored. On the 7th September, a month after the start of the protests - the leaders of the farmers’ strike and the government had come to an agreement with lower fertiliser prices and easier access to loans for farmers being promised, yet continued strikes and road blockades by protestors show that these concessions may not be enough.
 


Photo Credit – Erik Anderson


Farmers seek a review of the free trade agreements that saw the increased opening of the Colombian agricultural markets to international trade...

In 2003 Brazil’s government launched the Zero Hunger programme with the aim of eliminating hunger and poverty. Since its launch malnutrition amongst children has decreased and there has also been a reduction in the number of households facing some degree of food insecurity. The positive impacts of the Zero Hunger programme have led to it being used by African leaders as a blue print for ending hunger in the continent by 2025.

Unlike the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition scheme developed by the G8, the Zero Hunger programme originated in the global south and looked at improving conditions for small scale farmers. As well as tools, technical assistance, and training the Brazilian government also created government run restaurants, food banks and school feeding programmes that were supplied from the food bought directly from the farmers. Yet the question remains as to whether Zero Hunger has been enough to address the structural causes of hunger that exist in Brazil. 

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