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Costa Rica will pay the price for cheap fruit

Felicity Lawrence, Guardian
While making our film about the pineapple industry in Costa Rica, I interviewed the buyer of one of the major European supermarket chains, who wanted to remain anonymous(they usually do).

He was worried that the most intense production of pineapples is based in Costa Rica’s flat Atlantic region where the humidity is highest and pests on the monoculture plantations are the most troublesome. They need more pesticides there than the farms in the hilly, more windy area further west, but without the same economies of scale and with the extra distance from the port, it’s more expensive to produce where the environmental cost is lower.

… One of the greatest problems is that the transnational traders’ and retailers’ power outstrips the government’s ability to regulate. Costa Rica is more stable, democratic and ecologically minded than many developing countries, which is precisely why it is so attractive to foreign investors, yet its environmental laws remain weak and have barely kept up with an industry that has seen explosive growth.

And, of course, the situation isn’t helped by price wars that are driving producers towards the kind of industrial agriculture that takes a heavy toll both on the environment and on the lives of those who live and work in the plantations’ shadow.
(4 October 2010)


Farm-to-School’s Teachable Moment

JoAnne Berkenkamp, OtherWords
Teaching the value of healthy eating in schools is a great way to fight obesity.

Schools throughout the country are shaking up the cafeteria through new initiatives to improve children’s health while giving a boost to local farmers. It’s time to give the mystery meat a break and bring out locally produced apples, squash, tomatoes, and chicken.

You’d think that a program linking local farmers producing fresh, minimally processed foods with local schools would be a no-brainer. But several decades of federal farm programs have discouraged farmers from targeting local markets–instead encouraging farmers to expand acreage with a few commodity program crops (like corn, soybeans, or wheat) or get out of farming all together. At the same time, school lunch programs dealing with tight budgets have taken advantage of more highly processed foods over buying fresh from local farmers.

We’re clearly seeing some of the consequences of a flawed farm policy and tight finances for school lunch programs. Approximately 17 percent of U.S. schoolchildren are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And we have the highest obesity rate among 40 countries analyzed in a recent Organization on Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report. The costs of our obesity are astronomical: at least $147 billion per year in direct health treatment costs, by an estimate published in the journal Health Affairs.

Teaching the value of healthy eating in schools is a great way to start turning these numbers around.
(4 October 2010)


Ellen Thrives On Pinkerton and Hopkins’ ‘Local Food’

Ellen Grant, Green Prophet
Tamzin Pinkerton and Rob Hopkins are authors of ‘Local Food, How to make it happen in your community’ – a big, hearty book. In a time when the supermarkets look set on taking over, they give practical guidance on how to set up community projects to help us gain more food independence: food security, self-sufficiency and organic eating are central to their message. ‘Local Food’ is packed with real- life examples of community schemes including farmer’s markets, community gardens and school projects.

Not only a handbook for those looking to create a neighbourhood project, ‘Local Food’ is also an informative, inspiring read that is relevant to the current food-crisis. It seems to me that more and more people are buying local produce, preferring organic food and feeling the need to get back in touch with nature and the soil.

After many years of people growing more dependent on supermarkets for their food and losing touch with where that food comes from, there seems to be a shift occurring, even in the mainstream, back to the 1930s when the ‘Dig for Victory’ movement was beginning as a result of rationing during the Second World War. As Rob Hopkins points out, ‘By the end of the war, 10 percent of the nation’s diet was coming from allotments and back gardens…Nutritionists argue that the nation had never been healthier.’

… I know that I need training from experienced people to become an active gardener, a preserver and a forager. This book has reminded me that I want to learn about edible wild plants such as blackberries and elderflower to further my current ‘easy nibbles’ repertoire. I also like the idea of a community composting scheme because, even without an allotment, I am adamant that my lovely compost will go to help some needy soil just down the road from my house.

This review was compiled by Ellen Grant. Ellen was brought up to love animals and plants and when, at the age of fourteen, her family moved to an old farmhouse with fifteen acres of land Ellen was infected with the green bug. She now lives in Bristol and attends Bath Spa University.
(5 October 2010)


Haitian Farmers: Growing Strength to Grow Food

Beverly Bell, Common Dreams
Rony Charles, a rice grower and member of the Agricultural Producer Cooperative of Verrettes, said, "Instead of foreigners sending us food, they should give us the chance to do our own agriculture so it can survive."

Giving domestic agriculture the chance to survive would address four critical needs:

  • Creating employment for the majority, estimated at 60% to 80% of the population;[1]
  • Allowing rural people to stay on their land. This is both their right as well as a way to keep Port-au-Prince from becoming even more perilously overcrowded;
  • Addressing an ongoing food crisis. Today, even with imports, more than 2.4 million people out of a population of 9 million are estimated to be food-insecure. Acute malnutrition among children under the age 5 is 9%, and chronic under-nutrition for that age group is 24%.[2] Peasant groups are convinced that, with the necessary investment, Haiti could produce at least 80% of its food consumption needs; and
  • Promoting a post-earthquake redevelopment plan that serves the needs of the majority, unlike the one currently promoted by the U.S. and U.N. which is based on the growth of sweatshops. (See "Poverty-Wage Assembly Plants as Development Strategy in Haiti".)

To attain these goals, Haitian groups of small farmers (or peasants, as they call themselves) are challenging a decades-long pattern of conflict and competition, a trend which the Duvalier dictators actively fostered in order to sustain their fierce control. Groups are uniting into coalitions and beginning to work together, thereby building political might to shore up domestic agriculture. They are advancing their agenda collectively through negotiations with the Ministry of Agriculture, national pressure, international policy advocacy, and creation of common cause with other farmer movements and allies elsewhere.

These farmers, like their counterparts the world over, are focused principally on building food sovereignty. They are on the frontlines of a clash between two development models: food sovereignty and neoliberalism.[3] (7 October 2010)