Oxfam report warns cost of staples could soar as result of climate change, rising energy prices and growing demand.
The price of some food staples could double in the next 20 years because of rising demand and climate change, a British-based charity has warned.
In a report released on Tuesday, Oxfam said world hunger was already increasing due to rising food price inflation and oil price hikes, as well as environmental changes such as droughts and floods.
“The food system is pretty well bust in the world,” Barbara Stocking, the Oxfam chief executive, said.
“All the signs are that the number of people going hungry is going up.”
The charity said 925 million people – one out of seven – are hungry, and the figure is likely to surpass one billion by the end of this year.
“If you think we have a crisis here, in 30 years it will be a cataclysm if the status quo remains,” Gonzalo Fanjul, a policy adviser for Oxfam, said.
Biofuels adding to demand
The report, called Growing a Better Future: Food Justice in a Resource-Constrained World, said: “The food system is buckling under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products and competition for land for biofuels, industry and urbanisation.
“The scale of the challenge is unprecedented, but so is the prize: a sustainable future in which everyone has enough to eat.”
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says food prices are higher than they have been in the last 20 years, surpassing the 2008 price spike that set off food riots in cities around the world.
Wheat prices, which have remained largely flat so far in 2011, are still more than 70 per cent above levels traded a year ago after the worst drought in decades devastated crops in the Black Sea region.
Prices for corn have more than doubled in the last 12 months with global production unable to keep pace with record demand, driven partly by the growth of the US ethanol industry.
Instability fuelled by high oil prices is likely to continue, the Rome-based FAO said.
Oxfam’s report partially blamed commodities traders, saying three companies control 90 per cent of the trade in grain.
It urged greater regulation of speculation in the global food market, but also opposed support for using food as a feedstock for biofuels.
“Financial speculation must be regulated, and support dismantled for biofuels that displace food,” it said.
It called for building a multilateral system of food reserves, ending biofuel subsidies so more crops go toward edibles, and more investment in the 500 million small farms in developing countries that support two billion people.
“The vast imbalance in public investment in agriculture must be righted, redirecting the billions now being ploughed into unsustainable industrial farming in rich countries towards meeting the needs of small-scale food producers in developing countries,” the report said.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies
Maikel Nabil’s detention highlights perils of criticising country’s military rulers in post-Mubarak era.
Human rights groups have condemned the prison sentence of the 26-year -old Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil.
Nabil was sentenced to three years in jail by a military tribunal for a blog entry he wrote called “The people and the army were never hand in hand”.
His jailing raises questions whether the regime in Egypt has changed at all since Hosni Mubarak stood down as president.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reports from Cairo.
Source: Al Jazeera
Forcing women to uncover their faces will not create some form of ‘moderate Islam’ but it does unveil French bigotry.
In one of my earlier pieces on the Arab revolutions (Tunisia’s tide of defiance), I cautioned those brave souls risking life and limb for the cause of freedom in the Arab world to “beware the French” by being vigilant against their “behind the scenes machinations and manoeuvrings”.
Remarkably, my fear of French deceit has been realised far quicker than I imagined. After first colonising and then propping up for decades some of the worst despots in North Africa with economic, financial and political support, the French government found itself wrong-footed by the overthrow of Tunisia’s long-running autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Let us not forget that just days before Ben Ali was deposed in January, French officials – in the form of the now discredited former foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie – offered the Tunisian regime security assistance in quelling the protests, while the same officials were making merriment in Tunisia on private holidays paid for by Ben Ali’s cronies.
To quote again from my previous article: “How often are the French wont to proclaim liberté, égalité, fraternité as their most fundamental values? As far as French policy in North Africa is concerned, we may add another: Fallacy.” As recent events have unfolded, however, I admit that I erred by overlooking one more very official French value: Hypocrisy.
In an effort not to be completely left behind by the massive political convulsions currently shaking the Middle East region, French political cunningness has been on ample display recently under the guise of offering French support to downtrodden Arab populations. At the receiving end of French ire have been the forces of Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. The French political and military establishment has been desperately trying to redeem itself from its earlier Tunisian debacle by attempting to take the lead in bombing Gaddafi’s forces, albeit under a UN mandate, and thereby advertising its humanity.
However, the irony of the French unleashing their prestigious Rafale fighter jets on Gaddafi’s forces, the very same jets that France sought to sell Libya following a $6.5bn arms sale in 2007, is glaring. Back then, Gaddafi was obviously a good guy and selling him sophisticated weapons was nothing but a noble enterprise, especially when so many business opportunities were at stake. Besides, it was not like Gaddafi was going to use the planes against his own people, right?
A faux pas (if indeed that is what it was) by the French interior minister, Claude Guéant, has not helped the French cause: He boldly described his country’s military action in Libya as a “crusade,” a choice of words that will not be lost on Libyans and Arabs, more widely. The French and other Europeans have carried out many a ‘crusade’ against the Middle East throughout history, leading to the deaths of millions of people. It is not for nothing that modern Algeria is known as balad el million shaheed in honour of the million or so martyrs who perished at the hands of the French during the war of independence in 1954-1962.
Given France’s penchant for selectivity, therefore, was there really any surprise when the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, condemned Europe’s participation in bombing Libya as “hypocrisy”? Tusk said such actions gave the impression that Europe only intervened when oil interests were at stake. Perhaps the French establishment would concur.
Where is the liberté at home?
Now you would think that given France’s belated rush to save North African, and mostly Muslim, lives, the country was a model of solid social relations and stability at home. Suppose those Libyan civilians fleeing daily barrages from Gaddafi’s tanks fled to France, they would enjoy a peaceful future there free from stigmatisation and social isolation, right? Well, no. The men may get by but the women, if they choose to wear the niqab, had better stay in Libya.
As of today, the French state will forbid face coverings in public, a measure which, while couched in generalisations, is aimed specifically at outlawing some 2,000 or so Muslim women from deciding how they dress and conform to their religion.
The government of President Nicholas Sarkozy has pledged the full force of the law to enforce these measures. Furthermore, in a bid to outdo the fascist tendencies in the country, Sarkozy’s ruling party, the UMP, has gone to such extremes as to question the role of Islam in republican France. Apparently Islamic values and practices are not compatible with the French way of life.
Beware Libyans, Tunisians, Egyptians and a whole plethora of other political refugees currently battling repression. If you are thinking of escaping to France, know that your “alien” values may not be welcome there.
The startling thing about France’s actions is not just the audacity with which these policies are pursued but also the belief that such measures will have no bearing on external relations.
While the two faces of France are now on public display, this hypocrisy barely raises any questions at home.
Sarkozy’s arms dealer and business acquaintances will rush to the Middle East, to the Gulf, to North Africa, at the next available opportunity to sign multi-billion euro contracts. Here they will intermingle with Muslims, male and female (yes females also step out of their homes in the Arab world) who, lo and behold, may be veiled.
Why are they veiled? Not because their husbands beat them into covering their heads and faces but because they have chosen to do so. (Is it really so hard to believe that they can decide for themselves?) Now France may well have a problem with such a choice. Then it should make a point by breaking all relations with this region, so that the rest of the world knows what the French feel about the practice of niqab, and, for that matter, halal food and Islamic finance. And, for good measure, perhaps male circumcision too. It is always good to know where people and governments stand on certain issues. Sarkozy and his coterie should have enough courage to declare publicly their animosity towards Islamic practices, if indeed that is what they harbour.
French government policy will not create some form of ‘moderate Islam’ by forcing women to uncover their faces. If it has achieved anything, it has successfully unveiled French hypocrisy and bigotry towards Muslims. The people of the Middle East are not fooled by France’s diversionary tactics in pretending to back human rights in Libya.
Lest anyone ask how Gaddafi’s brutality should be dealt with if not militarily, that is not the point of contention. The Gaddafi gang rightly needs to be defeated with broad international, including Arab, military support. Suffice to say that France need not overexert itself in this endeavour given how bankrupt its recent policies have proven. A tiresome, hypocritical, wannabe global power will not redeem itself so easily.
Mohammed Khan is a political analyst based in the UAE.
Source: Al Jazeera
Chiquita has been more involved with Colombian paramilitaries than previously believed, newly released documents reveal.
Contrary to claims by Chiquita Brands International that its payments to Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups over more than a decade were extorted, internal company documents released here Thursday strongly suggest that the transactions provided specific benefits to the banana giant.
The documents, which were published by the National Security Archive (NSA), an independent research group, raised questions about the factual basis for a 2007 plea agreement between Chiquita and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) under which the company was fined $25mn for paying the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), which was designated a terrorist group by the State Department in 2001.
Under the agreement, which capped a four-year investigation, government attorneys accepted the company’s contention that the payments to the AUC paramilitaries, which began in 1997, amounted to “protection” money and that Chiquita never received any actual services in exchange for them.
But some of the documents released by the NSA appeared to contradict that contention. They detail Chiquita’s handling of what the company referred to as “sensitive payments” from 1990, when it was paying left-wing guerrilla groups active in Uraba, to 2003 when a PowerPoint presentation obtained by the NSA presents options for how to conceal improper payments.
A March 2000 memo, for example, recorded a conversation between Chiquita senior counsel Robert Thomas, the memo’s author, and managers from the company’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Banadex, in which the latter indicate that Santa Marta-based paramilitaries formed a front company to disguise “the real purpose of providing security” to Banadex’s local operations.
Thomas quotes one participant, whose name is deleted from the document, as saying “we should continue making the payments; we can’t get the same level of support from the military.”
“Chiquita’s apparent quid pro quo with guerrillas and paramilitaries responsible for countless killings belies the company’s 2007 plea deal with the Justice Department,” said Michael Evans, NSA’s chief researcher on Colombia. “What we still don’t know is why US prosecutors overlooked what appears to be clear evidence that Chiquita benefited from these transactions.”
The Justice Department did not return calls about the case. Ed Loyd, a company spokesman, insisted that “Chiquita made payments solely out of a well-grounded fear of retaliation against its employees if the company refused” and defended the plea agreement.
“The Department of Justice, which… is charged with objectively analysing the facts, reviewed ALL of these documents as part of an exhaustive investigation that lasted nearly four years,” he stated in an email. “[It] found NO evidence that Chiquita shared any of the murderous goals of the terrorist groups it was forced to pay.”
The document dump took place on the same day as a meeting between Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos and US president Barack Obama to finalise a so-called “Action Plan on Labour Rights” – a deal meant to secure Congressional approval of the countries’ long pending Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
The FTA, negotiated under the last George W. Bush administration, has been stalled precisely over charges by the pact’s critics that Bogota has not done enough to dismantle paramilitary groups responsible for killing thousands of labour activists over the past two decades.
Nearly 150 unionists have been murdered in the past three years alone, according to Colombia’s main labour rights group Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS).
“I think it’s important for people to bear in mind that there’s a serious cost to doing business in Colombia that goes beyond simple extortion payments, or whatever you want to call them, and can be counted by the number of people killed by these illegal armed groups,” Evans said.
The AUC are supposed to have been disbanded from 2003-2006, but successor groups and criminal bands, or “bacrim”, continue to dominate large swathes of the country.
“It is of great concern that the US is moving forward with an FTA with Colombia without addressing the full dismantlement of Colombian paramilitary groups,” said Gimena Sanchez, an Andean expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.
“As such, we worry about the proliferation of more Chiquita-like cases,” she continued. “Currently in the Choco region, 23 oil palm industrialists are under indictment for links to paramilitarism and violent displacement.”
Paramilitaries linked to police
Also concerning to critics of the Washington-Bogota trade pact is a history of complicity by Colombian police, military, judicial, and political officials with these illegal armed groups.
Indeed, the NSA documents suggest that state security forces encouraged and facilitated Chiquita’s payments to the AUC, and were even recipients of such funds.
While most payments in the early 1990s were paid to guerrilla groups, an August 1993 memo indicates that the company subsidiary in Turbo had begun channelling security payments to the Colombian Army through a “banana association” known as “Agura” at a price of three cents per box of bananas shipped.
By 1998, the documents suggest that the company had begun paying the AUC through legal Convivir militias that then-governor of Antoquia Department – and future president – Alvaro Uribe was actively promoting.
One 1997 memo also notes that Convivir militias “operate under military supervision (and have offices at the military bases)” and that “their sole function is to provide information on guerrilla movements.”
Another 2000 memo by Thomas described a 1997 meeting in which the AUC’s notorious leader, Carlos Castano first suggested to Banadex managers that they support a new Convivir, called La Tagua del Darien.
According to the memo, the Banadex officials said they had “no choice but to attend the meeting,” because “refusing to meet would antagonise the Colombia military, local and state government officials, and Autodefensas.”
The newly released documents consist of more than 5,500 pages of internal Chiquita memos obtained by the NSA from the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act.
They are also likely to be used by plaintiffs in an ongoing civil lawsuit here against Chiquita on behalf of dozens of Colombians killed by right-wing paramilitaries, notably the AUC.
In addition to fuelling the FTA debate, the newly disclosed documents are also likely to bolster half a dozen federal lawsuits against Chiquita on behalf of the families of hundreds of AUC victims in the banana-growing region of Uraba where Chiquita and its affiliates are active.
“They reinforce the claim… that the company was knowingly complicit in, and thus liable for, the atrocities committed by the AUC in Uraba while on the Chiquita payroll,” said Arturo Carrillo, director of George Washington University’s International Human Rights Clinic, which is representing plaintiffs in one of the suits.
“One can only hope that the revealing information obtained and published by the NSA will lead to greater accountability for Chiquita’s criminal actions in Colombia,” Carillo said, “since the company’s plea agreement with the Justice Department, which has refused to prosecute Chiquita executives for wrongdoing, amounts to little more than a slap on the corporate wrist.”
Source: Inter Press Service
Japan’s disaster and the global recession provide stark lessons on societies’ failure to manage risks, economist says.
The consequences of the Japanese earthquake – especially the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant – resonate grimly for observers of the American financial crash that precipitated the Great Recession. Both events provide stark lessons about risks, and about how badly markets and societies can manage them.
Of course, in one sense, there is no comparison between the tragedy of the earthquake – which has left more than 25,000 people dead or missing – and the financial crisis, to which no such acute physical suffering can be attributed. But when it comes to the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima, there is a common theme in the two events.
Experts in both the nuclear and finance industries assured us that new technology had all but eliminated the risk of catastrophe. Events proved them wrong: not only did the risks exist, but their consequences were so enormous that they easily erased all the supposed benefits of the systems that industry leaders promoted.
Before the Great Recession, America’s economic gurus – from the head of the Federal Reserve to the titans of finance – boasted that we had learned to master risk. “Innovative” financial instruments such as derivatives and credit-default swaps enabled the distribution of risk throughout the economy. We now know that they deluded not only the rest of society, but even themselves.
These wizards of finance, it turned out, didn’t understand the intricacies of risk, let alone the dangers posed by “fat-tail distributions”- a statistical term for rare events with huge consequences, sometimes called “black swans”. Events that were supposed to happen once in a century – or even once in the lifetime of the universe – seemed to happen every ten years. Worse, not only was the frequency of these events vastly underestimated; so was the astronomical damage they would cause – something like the meltdowns that keep dogging the nuclear industry.
Research in economics and psychology helps us understand why we do such a bad job in managing these risks. We have little empirical basis for judging rare events, so it is difficult to arrive at good estimates. In such circumstances, more than wishful thinking can come into play: we might have few incentives to think hard at all. On the contrary, when others bear the costs of mistakes, the incentives favour self-delusion. A system that socialises losses and privatises gains is doomed to mismanage risk.
Indeed, the entire financial sector was rife with agency problems and externalities. Ratings agencies had incentives to give good ratings to the high-risk securities produced by the investment banks that were paying them. Mortgage originators bore no consequences for their irresponsibility, and even those who engaged in predatory lending or created and marketed securities that were designed to lose did so in ways that insulated them from civil and criminal prosecution.
This brings us to the next question: are there other “black swan” events waiting to happen? Unfortunately, some of the really big risks that we face today are most likely not even rare events. The good news is that such risks can be controlled at little or no cost. The bad news is that doing so faces strong political opposition – for there are people who profit from the status quo.
We have seen two of the big risks in recent years, but have done little to bring them under control. By some accounts, how the last crisis was managed may have increased the risk of a future financial meltdown.
Too-big-to fail banks, and the markets in which they participate, now know that they can expect to be bailed out if they get into trouble. As a result of this “moral hazard”, these banks can borrow on favourable terms, giving them a competitive advantage based not on superior performance but on political strength. While some of the excesses in risk-taking have been curbed, predatory lending and unregulated trading in obscure over-the-counter derivatives continue. Incentive structures that encourage excess risk-taking remain virtually unchanged.
So, too, while Germany has shut down its older nuclear reactors, in the US and elsewhere, even plants that have the same flawed design as Fukushima continue to operate. The nuclear industry’s very existence is dependent on hidden public subsidies – costs borne by society in the event of nuclear disaster, as well as the costs of the still-unmanaged disposal of nuclear waste. So much for unfettered capitalism!
For the planet, there is one more risk, which, like the other two, is almost a certainty: global warming and climate change. If there were other planets to which we could move at low cost in the event of the almost certain outcome predicted by scientists, one could argue that this is a risk worth taking. But there aren’t, so it isn’t.
The costs of reducing emissions pale in comparison to the possible risks the world faces. And that is true even if we rule out the nuclear option (the costs of which were always underestimated). To be sure, coal and oil companies would suffer, and big polluting countries – like the US – would obviously pay a higher price than those with a less profligate lifestyle.
In the end, those gambling in Las Vegas lose more than they gain. As a society, we are gambling – with our big banks, with our nuclear power facilities, with our planet. As in Las Vegas, the lucky few – the bankers that put our economy at risk and the owners of energy companies that put our planet at risk – may walk off with a mint. But on average and almost certainly, we as a society, like all gamblers, will lose.
That, unfortunately, is a lesson of Japan’s disaster that we continue to ignore at our peril.
Joseph E. Stiglitz is University Professor at Columbia University and a Nobel laureate in Economics. His latest book, Freefall: Free Markets and the Sinking of the Global Economy, is available in French, German, Japanese, and Spanish.
Source: Project Syndicate.
The Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan, and Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Zizek, discuss the power of popular dissent, the limits of peaceful protest, and the future of Egyptian politics
The revolutionary chants on the streets of Egypt have resonated around the world, but with a popular uprising without a clear direction and an unpopular leader refusing to concede, Egypt’s future hangs in the balance.
Today we are going to Europe to review states, known as “microstates”. Indeed, they count only a few kilometers.
The smallest state within Europe is Malta Island, an archipelago of 320 km2, not far away from Sicilia in Italy. Its capital is Valetta. The republic has inherited the ecclesiastic order of Malta. The region has 400,000 inhabitants, alleged to be Phoenician descendants.
Malta’s insularity could explain why such a small country has remained independent throughout history. However, it is less evident taking a look at similar state enclosed, locked or even encompassed by superpowers.
Let’s first take a look at the state of San Marino, enclosed in Italia. Less than 10kms from the Adriatic Sea, San Marino covers 61 km2 and counts 29,000 inhabitants, one fourth of them are Italians. The capital is San Marino, the national language is Italian, and last but not least it is the oldest republic of Europe. The constitution of 1569 gives authority to a large council constituted by 20 nobles, 20 bourgeois, and 20 farmers. San Marino, establishing a community of Christians to escape from the Roman Empire Diocletian, supposedly created the state in 301.
How San Marino preserved its independence from the 301 to the XXI? On the one hand, the state’s landscape made it very demanding to invade. On the other hand, in 1740, San Marino benefited from the protection of the Pope, Clement XII, standing against the plans of expansion of Romagna. In 1796, Bonaparte, admiring the republican spirit already existent, spared the microstate. Finally, receiving several Italian revolutionaries such as Garibaldi,San Marino secured its independence in the name of the Italian Unity. The treaty of friendship, signed in 1962, between the two states made official their relationship.
Nowadays, San Marino survives through its tourism and financial system. Furthermore, the state has introduced financial agreements with Italia allowing it the use the euro and even to emit it.
Let’s now focus on Andorra. Being enclosed by France and Spain, it is to expect that Andorra benefits from substantial economic interests. The Principality of Andorra is located in the Pyrenean massif. It covers 468 km2 and counts 67,000 inhabitants and last but not least, it is one of the only countries in the world counting more foreigners than nationals. Its capital is Andorra La Vella and the official language is Catalan. Known to be founded in 805 by Charlemagne, Andorra confronts itself to the same problematic: How such a small state preserved its independency?
Power rivalries between Foix and La Seul d’ Urgell drove the creation of a co-principality in 1278. The bishop of Urgell and the earl of Foix agreed to share their political and juridical authority in Andorra considering themselves as co-princes. From 1278 to the XXI, the rights of the earl of Foix were transmitted to the kings of France and then to the presidency. In 1993, Andorra introduced a new constitution, adopted a parliamentary system, became a sovereign state, adhered to the United Nations, and established agreements with France and Spain, offsetting the microstate lack of army.
The country makes a living out its tourism and duty-free sales due to the absence of a tax and a fiscal system. Andorra did not join the European Union in order to save its economic advantages, even if the euro is its national currency.
The Principality of Liechtenstein is located in central Europe and bordered by Austria and Switzerland. This territory gathers the seigniories of Schellenberg and Vaduz obtained by Hans Adam, the Prince of Austria in 1719. This Principality is catholic and its official language is German.
However in 1818, the political union of German speakers, planned by Austria, is blocked by the Prussian expansion in the region. On its side, Prussia was only aiming at consolidating Germany, forcing Liechtenstein to independency in 1866. The dismantling of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, after the First World War, incited the Principality to enhance its relations with Switzerland. In 1923 the two neighbors decided to implement a monetary and customs union, leading to the use of the Swiss Franc as national currency in Lichtenstein.
The country covers 160 km2 and counts 35,000 inhabitants, of whom 15% are Swiss and 7% are Austrians. The capital is Vaduz. Thanks to its favorable fiscal system to foundations and firms, the country sees about 35,000 foreign companies growing on its soil. In 2000, the German Secret Service has accused this tax haven to laundry money. Later on the OECD claimed that its cooperation on organized crime was dubious.
Our last case study is Monaco. The presence of cliffs, running alongside the southern coast of France, has prevented all forms of circulation for centuries. The road linking France and Italia had gone through La Turbie (in the north) until 1868. That being said, it is to assume that its location (as well as its relation with France) contributed to the continuity of the microstate.
In the XIII, the Grimaldi family is heading the Guelf party favorable to the pope. Being chased away from Genes by the Giblin party in favor or the Holy Roman Empire, the Grimaldi family took refuge in the region of Monaco while asking protection to France. Members of the Grimaldi family became lords owning territories, such as: Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton. As a matter of history, they had been dispossessed of their land during the French Revolution of 1793.
During the re-establishment in 1815, the former lords retrieved some of their lands and contributed to the protection of France in 1861. They undertook the development of casinos attracting clients from all over the world. Creating substantial wealth, the casinos allowed the suppression of tax system in 1869.
Covering only 2 km2, Monaco is the second smallest state in the world after Vatican. Since 2005, the last reigning Grimaldi is the Prince Albert II. Monaco counts 32,000 inhabitants from 120 different countries with 20% of Monegasques, 17% of Italians, and 40% of French. The country is a tax haven with an offshore banking center employing 2,800 persons. Monaco is often suspected of dirty money laundering despite of tougher regulations implemented and disclaimers emitted by the central authority.
Its relation with France is central. Monaco has a customs union with France since 1965, leading to the adoption of the euro with the right to emit it agreement with Brussels. French remains the national language. The prince has to choose its prime minister out of list made by the French President. A new agreement since 2002, stipulates that the Principality will remain independent even if the Grimaldi family does not have descendants. Before that, the region had to come back to France in the absence of heirs.
The sovereignty of the microstates depends of economic interests. They often are tax havens. However, as we pointed out, we note dating political tradition giving them historical legitimacy. Neither the European Union nor the globalization erodes ties to a location or a history.
Arte, Le Dessous des Cartes – Jean-Christophe Victor: Micro-Etats d’Europe 01/2010