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Dig for victory: Monty Don interview
(text and video)
Leo Hickman, The Guardian
Monty Don’s doctors want him to take it easy. He wants to convert British gardeners to growing their own food, and import networking skills from al-Qaida

… Newbie gardeners need all the hope and advice they can get, and Don, a contender for the title of “Britain’s best-loved gardener”, has been dishing out lashings of both for 15 years, in print and on television. But earlier this year he fell silent owing to a minor stroke – another notch on his life’s long list of maladies including childhood bone marrow cancer, depression and peritonitis.

As a result of the stroke, he stepped down as the main presenter of the BBC’s Gardeners’ World in April and postponed taking up his role as the new president of the Soil Association.

… he sees the brief of his new role as being a high-profile campaigner arguing for a wholesale change to the global food system. He intends to start doing this by rousing Britain’s 11 million gardeners into growing as much of their own food as they can.

A revival of the “dig for victory” ethos offers, he says, many environmental, health and economic benefits, not least at a time when sales of organic food have, as reported in the Guardian yesterday, fallen by a fifth since February due to the collective tightening of belts. “We need to use our horticultural skills – which are second to none in the world – to grow food,” he says. “It’s really important to get people aware of just how tenuous our food supply really is.”

… Don sees himself helping to nurture networks of community gardeners who exchange seeds, labour, tools and time in order to grow food – in part inspired by al-Qaida. “This terrifying, disastrous evil has actually usurped and upset the whole system. It makes you ask: what were they doing right? Well, they just bypassed, they stepped aside, they’re just not there. You need to join together, not delegate … to a government body.”

Don’s huge distrust of politicians is much evident. “My experience of working with government has not been fruitful, I have to say. I’m not aligned to any party, although, like many people, I feel very disillusioned by the current government, but don’t feel very hopeful over any alternative. Power is not the right bit of kit to do this job. It’s about going after the hearts and minds. ..
(30 August 2008)

Russia’s Collective Farms: Hot Capitalist Property

Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times
PODLESNY, Russia – The fields around this little farming enclave are among the most fertile on earth. But like tens of million of acres of land in this country, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they literally went to seed.

Now that may be changing. A decade after capitalism transformed Russian industry, an agricultural revolution is stirring the countryside, shaking up village life and sweeping aside the collective farms that resisted earlier reform efforts and remain the dominant form of agriculture.

The change is being driven by soaring global food prices (the price of wheat alone rose 77 percent last year) and a new reform allowing foreigners to own agricultural land. Together, they have created a land rush in rural Russia.

“Where else do you have such an abundance of land?” Samir Suleymanov, the World Bank’s director for Russia, asked in an interview.

As a result, the business of buying and reforming collective farms is suddenly and improbably very profitable, attracting hedge fund managers, Russian oligarchs, Swedish portfolio investors and even a descendant of White Russian émigré nobility.

Earlier reformers envisioned the collective farms eventually breaking up into family farms. But the new business model rests on a belief that Russia’s long, painful history of collectivization is destined to end in large corporate factory farms.
(30 August 2008)

China raises, extends fertiliser export duties

Edmund Klamann, Reuters
China will raise export duties on nitrogenous fertilisers to 150 percent by the end of the year to curb outflows, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Saturday, as the country seeks to control agricultural costs.

The increase, which will also apply to synthetic ammonia, will be in effect from Sept. 1 until Dec. 31, while a 100 percent duty on other fertilisers will be extended for an extra two months to Dec. 31, the report said.

China, the world’s largest fertiliser market, slapped an extra 100 percent duty on fertiliser exports in April, with effect to Sept. 30, lifting tariffs as high as 135 percent for some products such as urea to keep more production at home.

The duties tightened supply further in the global market.
(30 August 2008)

Raj Patel At Kepler’s
Amanda Kovattana, Flickr account
Raj Patel told stories about the mystery ingredients in our food. Lecithin, which he mentions in his book “Stuffed and Starved”, is an emulsifier in many of our processed foods. It is made from soy and responsible for 40,000 slaves and deforestation in Brazil. And we thought it was cattle that was bringing down the forest, but no it is the humble soy bean which has become Brazil’s largest export due to world demand.

He explained how the global market began in 1880 when the British replaced feudalism in India with a market system and paid labor. In the feudal system labor was exploited for free, but they were fed by those exploiting them. In the free market labor is exploited with “slave wages” and no one has to be responsible for feeding anyone. Since then, instead of a famine every 120 years, there is one every four years, but there is always enough food to export to countries and people who can afford to buy it. Markets basically created poor people, or rather people who cannot afford to buy food, but Mr. Patel did not point this out because he is not about getting rid of the money system altogether, he is about eradicating poverty.

Mr. Patel was very good at explaining concepts and has an educated British accent to go with his presentation. He’s also quite funny in that droll way. World Bank policies, he described as being much like the scene in the movie Time Bandits with John Cleese as Robin Hood, with us upper class accent, giving people the fabulous gifts stolen from Napoleon, but then the same recipients are punched in the nose by a thug standing next to him. Thus the free market brings fabulous wealth that the poor cannot use and then they are bloodied by it.

He is fond of concepts and liked to tell stories so if you don’t already know the big picture you have to string it all together yourself.

I like his perspective that our lifestlye has made our food absurd, but we don’t know it because our speeded up life has made convenience food and soda pop, eaten while driving, seem reasonable.
(30 August 2008)