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Food & agriculture - Dec 21

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Vandana Shiva on Farmer Suicides, the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal, Wal-Mart in India and More

Democracy Now
In India, more than three hundred farmers climbed water tanks in the country's central Vidarbha region, many of them threatening to commit suicide unless the government fulfilled their demands to lift them out of poverty. Throughout India, more and more troubled farmers are killing themselves. Up to three farmers a day swallow pesticides, hang themselves from trees, drown themselves in rivers, set themselves on fire or jump down wells. Many of them are plagued by debt, poor crops and hopelessness.
(13 Dec 2006)


All-time high for homegrown as pot becomes top cash crop in US

Dan Glaister, Guardian
Marijuana is now the biggest cash crop grown in the US, exceeding traditional harvests such as wheat, corn and soy beans, says a new report.

The study shows that 10,000 tonnes of marijuana worth $35.8bn (£18.4bn) is grown each year; the street value would be even higher. This dwarfs the $23bn-worth of corn grown, $17.6bn-worth of soybeans and $12.2bn-worth of hay. Marijuana is the biggest cash crop in 12 states, with the value of pot grown outstripping peanuts in Georgia and tobacco in North and South Carolina. In California, the biggest producer, it is worth $13.8bn.

The report, Marijuana Production in the US, by DrugScience.org, which wants marijuana to be reclassified...

The report says output in the US has grown tenfold in the last 25 years.

The boom in domestic production has in part been fuelled by tougher border controls after 9/11. As smuggling from Mexico has become more difficult the drug cartels have moved their operations into the US, often creating plantations in remote national park land.
(19 Dec 2006)
I'll leave it to others to sort out the philosophical implications. -BA


An Organic Recipe for Development

Stephen Leahy, IPS
Organic agriculture is a potent tool to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, but also to alleviate poverty and improve food security in developing countries, many experts now believe.

Organic agriculture's use of compost and crop diversity means it will also be able to better withstand the higher temperatures and more variable rainfall expected with global warming.

...For example, a village in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia that had converted to organic agriculture continued to harvest crops even during a severe drought, while neighbouring villages using conventional chemical fertilisers had nothing, Luttikholt told IPS.

...In the United States, organic farming systems use just 63 percent of the energy required by conventional farming systems, David Pimentel of Cornell University in New York State found.
(18 Dec 2006)
That's a significant start but energy inputs will ultimately have to drop far lower that. -AF


Federal Subsidies Turn Farms Into Big Business

Gilbert M. Gaul, Sarah Cohen and Dan Morgan, Washington Post
Many American family farms have been transformed from small, self-contained businesses to complex enterprises. That change has been helped along by government agricultural payments that guarantee crop prices or prop up farmers' incomes - payments that increasingly go to the largest farms.
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The cornerstone of the multibillion-dollar system of federal farm subsidies is an iconic image of the struggling family farmer: small, powerless against Mother Nature, tied to the land by blood.

Without generous government help, farm-state politicians say, thousands of these hardworking families would fail, threatening the nation's abundant food supply.

"In today's fast-paced, interconnected world, there are few industries where sons and daughters can work side-by-side with moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas," Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said last year. "But we still find that today in agriculture. . . . It is a celebration of what too many in our country have forgotten, an endangered way of life that we must work each and every day to preserve."

This imagery secures billions annually in what one grower called "empathy payments" for farmers. But it is misleading.

Today, most of the nation's food is produced by modern family farms that are large operations using state-of-the-art computers, marketing consultants and technologies that cut labor, time and costs. The owners are frequently college graduates who are as comfortable with a spreadsheet as with a tractor. They cover more acres and produce more crops with fewer workers than ever before.

The very policies touted by Congress as a way to save small family farms are instead helping to accelerate their demise, economists, analysts and farmers say. That's because owners of large farms receive the largest share of government subsidies. They often use the money to acquire more land, pushing aside small and medium-size farms as well as young farmers starting out.
(Dec 21 2006)
Long article.


Inuit diet touted as health tonic
Wild game counters cancer, heart disease

Margaret Munro, Vancouver Sun
The Inuit traditional diet offers natural protection against two of the planet's biggest killers -- heart disease and cancer -- according to a study that gives an unprecedented glimpse of the health of northern Canadians.

While accelerating environmental and social meltdown is putting huge stress on Arctic communities, the study of almost 1,000 Inuit in northern Quebec shows the diet rich in game continues to offer remarkable protection, says lead researcher Dr. Eric Dewailly of Laval University.

"The study shows that they still have huge benefit and protection," says Dewailly. He and his colleagues presented the results of the on-going study here yesterday at the annual scientific meeting of ArcticNet, a northern research consortium.

Dewailly says the traditional Inuit diet is high in selenium, common to whale skin, and likely explains why prostate cancer is almost unheard of in the north, as are most other cancers. Cardiovascular disease is also rare, likely because the Inuit diet remains rich in wild game. "The traditional Inuit diet is fats and proteins, no sugar at all," says Dewailly. "It is probably one of the healthiest diets you can have. The human body is built for that."

While the study indicates Inuit are still protected by their traditional foods, he says the evidence shows the benefits are "growing weaker and weaker" as consumption of processed southern food increases.

Inuit teenagers drink on average one litre of pop a day, Dewailly says. And unhealthy trans fats, common to chips, cookies and refined foods, are being seen in the blood of young Inuit in levels up to three times those seen among Europeans.
(14 Dec 2006)

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