Thursday, January 25, 2007

Reponses to the Gates/Rockefeller Push for an Anachronistic African "Green Revolution"

The charitable powerhouse that is the Gates' Foundation joined with the Rockefeller Foundation not too long ago to push for a huge anti-hunger initiative. Of course, a major part of their initiative will go to promoting/pushing outmoded Green Revolution type methods, meaning the classic package of "improved" seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers, all of which oft costs small farmers more than they produce from it, gets them on the pesticide treadmill, and is almost certainly unnecessary to address hunger (especially since there are enough raw calories available on a regional scale almost everywhere in the world; distribution, poverty, and lack of entitlement are the real culprits behind hunger, by and large).

Happily, a number of African civil society organizations had this to say at the World Social Forum:
Statement from African civil society organisations at the
World Social Forum 2007

Nairobi, Kenya

25 January 2007

Africa is the source of much of the world's agricultural knowledge and biodiversity. African farming represents a wealth of innovation: for example, Canada's main export wheat is derived from a Kenyan variety called "Kenyan farmer"; the US and Canada grow barley bred from Ethiopian farmers' varieties; and the Zera Zera sorghum grown in Texas originated in Ethiopia and the Sudan. This rich basis of biodiversity still exists in Africa today, thanks to the 80% of farmers in Africa that continue to save seed in a range of diverse eco-systems across the continent.

The future of agriculture for Africa and the world will have to build on this biodiversity and farmers' knowledge, especially in the current context of climate change. The diversity of seed varieties continually developed by African farmers will be vital to ensure that they have the flexibility to respond to changing weather patterns. With the challenges that climate change will bring, only a wealth of seed diversity maintained by farmers in Africa can offer a response to prevent severe food crises.

However, new external initiatives are putting pressure on these agricultural systems. A new initiative from the Bill Gates/ Rockefeller Foundation partnership, called the "Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa" (AGRA) is putting over $150 million towards shifting African agriculture to a system dependent on expensive, harmful chemicals, monocultures of hybrid seeds, and ultimately genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Another initiative funded by the G8 is pushing biotechnology in agriculture through four new major Biosciences research centres in Africa. And GM companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta are entering into public-private-partnership agreements with national agricultural research centres in Africa, in order to direct agricultural research and policy towards GMOs. These initiatives under-represent the real achievements in productivity through traditional methods, and will fail to address the real causes of hunger in Africa.

This comes at a time when the world is realising the need for organic agriculture; however these initiatives would promote the use of more chemicals, and less seed diversity in the hands of farmers. These initiatives will destroy the bases of biodiversity, knowledge and adaptive capacity - at a time when it is needed most.

This push for a so-called "green revolution" or "gene revolution" is being done once again under the guise of solving hunger in Africa. Chemical-intensive agriculture is, however, already known to be outmoded. We have seen how fertilisers have killed the soil, creating erosion, vulnerable plants and loss of water from the soil. We have seen how pesticides and herbicides have harmed our environment and made us sick. We know that hybrid and GM seed monocultures have pulled farmers into poverty by preventing them from saving seed, and preventing traditional methods of intercropping which provide food security. We vow to learn from our brothers and sisters in India, where this chemical and genetically modified system of agriculture has left them in so much debt and hunger that 150,000 farmers have committed suicide.

The push for a corporate-controlled chemical system of agriculture is parasitic on Africa's biodiversity, food sovereignty, seed and small-scale farmers. Farmers in Africa cannot afford these expensive agricultural inputs. But these new infrastructures seek to make farmers dependent on chemicals and hybrid seeds, and will open the door to GMOs and Terminator crops. Industrial breeding has in fact been driven by the industry's demand for new markets - not to meet the needs of farmers.

We know, however, that the agroecological approach to farming, using traditional and organic methods, provides the real solutions to the crises that we face. Studies show that a biodiversity-based organic agriculture, working with nature and not against it, and using a diversity of mixed crops, produces higher overall yields at far lower costs than chemical agriculture. A 2002 study by the International Centre for Research on Agroforesty (ICRAF) showed that Southern African farms using traditional agroforestry techniques did not suffer from the drought that hit the region so severely that year.

We reject these new foreign systems that will encourage Africa's land and water to be privatised for growing inappropriate export crops, biofuels and carbon sinks, instead of food for our own people. We pledge to intensify our work for food sovereignty by conserving our own seed and enhancing our traditional organic systems of agriculture, in order to meet the uncertainties and challenges that will be faced by present and future generations. Agricultural innovation must be farmer-led, responding to local needs and sustainability. We celebrate Africa's wealth and heritage of seed, knowledge and innovation. We will resist these misguided, top-down but heavily-funded initiatives from the North, which show little or no understanding or respect for our complex systems. We ask that we be allowed to define our own path forward.

Signed by African civil society organisations at the World Social Forum in Nairobi, 2007.

70 organisations from 12 African countries
*(undersigned posted to "Comments")

**(sorry for no web reference; this was forwarded to me in an email, so it's authenticity depends solely on the reliability of my source; he is, however, a fairly reliable source)

Further info on the Gates/Rockefeller Boondoggle Program can be found here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Breaking Integration Eggs: Who with the what the fuck now?

Listening to an old Democracy Now!, from December 06 2006, I heard some of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Antonin Scalia's counters in the Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson cases before the Supreme Court. (They're cases 05-915 and 05-908, 12/4/06.)

I've really got to get to work, but what in the ungodly fuck is this:
MR. MADDEN: Well, like the Michigan cases, sometimes student in the end of the day have an assignment determined by race. Just like in the university cases, at some point race will be a tipping factor. It's different, though, when we put someone in a basically comparable school.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, you're saying every -- I mean, everyone got a seat in Brown as well; but because they were assigned to those seats on the basis of race, it violated equal protection. How is your argument that there's no problem here because everybody gets a seat distinguishable?
MR. MADDEN: Because segregation is harmful. Integration, this Court has recognized in Swann, in the first Seattle case, has benefits. The district was -
JUSTICE SCALIA: Well, it seems to me you're saying you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. Can you think of any area of the law in which we say whatever it takes, so long as there's a real need, whatever it takes -- I mean, if we have a lot of crime out there and the only way to get rid of it is to use warrantless searches, you know, fudge on some of the protections of the Bill of Rights, whatever it takes, we've got to do it?

Breaking some eggs? How can anyone with a straight face compare integration as some damaging egg-breakery on par with segregation? AAAAAAAAAHHHH! I know many conservatives do this regularly, but it still blows my mind each and every time. I'm not sure if I've addressed this point in the blog before or not, but I am totally and utterly aghast by the occasionally-mentioned conservative concept that the way to get beyond racial bigotry and segregation and other human and cultural differences is to try to absolutely avoid ever pointing out differences between people. In fact, I seem to remember some other Supreme Court argument where one of the conservative judges said something to the extent of "How can we ever achieve equality if we keep reminding people of the differences between them?" ARGH! The goal here: appreciate difference, not eradicate (or actually, ignore) difference. Black people aren't just going to become white, and the sort of completely-blended multiracial society is a bit a ways away yet. So until there's a whole lot more interracial boot-knocking and the resultant skin color homogenization to a nice toffee color, many minorities are still going to, you know, be and look like minorities. And as long as there are people, there will be cultural differences. Any approach seeking integration through homogeneity is simply not going to work in an already-hetereogeneous society like the US. Even pretending homogeneity, no dice. Especially not while JIM CROW IS IN FREAKING LIVING MEMORY. You'd think we could all agree at least to work consciously on integration until the living memory of American Legal Apartheid is gone (and de facto US apartheid ceases to exist), but apparently not.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Perhaps your Holocaust Denial Conference meant what you thought it meant (though perhaps not)

A lively conversation opened up after my last not-so-recent post between me and good J-Friend Becky T. Becky critiqued my (and Counterpunch's) analysis of Iran's recent-ish Holocaust Denial Conference. She argues, among other things, that being anti-Israel is effectively being anti-Jew (I hope that's a fair characterization), which I sort of agree with, sort of try to rebut. Becky clarifies some things on my assertion that one can be "anti-Israel" but not anti-Jew in that they may be against ethnic/religious discrimination, which it seems to me obviously takes place in Israel. Becky highlights the legal differences in immigration-related issues, and the complications involved with trying to keep Israel a Jewish State. My interpretation of her main point is that being a religious state is not an inherent or root problem of discrimination -- pointing to the state(ish) religion of the Church of England (whom many Brits ignore I think) and the open secret of the US' intensely religious/pro-Christian nature. (Or at least this implies that criticizing Israel for being a religious state is hypocritical in light of such examples.) We'll skip deconstruction of the C of E and US' non-state state religion, in favor of moving on to Becky's defense/critique (defensitique?) of pro-Jew immigration laws.
Certainly, Jews from the rest of the world can gain Israeli citizenship much more easily than non-Jews. This makes sense, if the purpose of the Jewish State's existence is to be a place of refuge for Jews in the diaspora. This has led to a lot of good for African (especially Ethiopian) and Russian Jews, who had the ability to leave desperate situations in their home countries and start fresh in Israel. Obviously, maintenance of a Jewish majority and these types of 'asylum' rights for Jews in Israel is important to world Jewry. So, I think it's somewhat understandable that if Israel loses it's Jewish majority (~80% as of 2003), it no longer functions as it was intended. I guess theoretically if there were no possible threat that Jews may be persecuted in any other place in the world ever again, it would no longer be necessary for Israel to try to maintain the demographics of the country.
She follows this by outlining the exact problems maintaining this has caused (and pointing out the largely secular character of most Israelis, despite the unproportional power the observant and Orthodox wield).

I guess my reaction is, well, one, agreement that this topic is of course almost completely shaped by the, er, "Palestinian Question", but two: given that maintaining a haven for one uniquely persecuted group is a noble goal, how much is that nobility compromised each time one compromises on the usual rights granted across ethnic/religious lines under international law? How is moral righteousness affected when the moral imperative to treat others justly and help them when they're in need are compromised? I don't have an easy answer, and the problem seems to be that neither does Israel (or, you know, anyone else). The problem with hard answers, of course, is that nobody likes to follow them to the difficult conclusions they lead to...

Relatedly, however, please check out another Counterpunch piece, by former Israeli Education Minister Shulamit Aloni, outlining why she thinks Israel does, in fact, have an apartheid. (I don't find her argument to be quite complete -- for the open-minded, check out the relevant chapters in Chomsky's book Failed States.)