Tag Archives: FAO

Week in Links – Week 06/2011: Food prices, injustice and Egypt

– Confirming that earlier food price alarums represent a trend rather than a blip, the FAO registered the highest food prices ever earlier this month. Linking this development to the re-emergence of actual food riots in the last years, commentators in Foreign Affairs assert that violence generally fails to erupt unless food price fluctuations are accompanied by a concrete sense of injustice perpetrated by local actors. Whether this should be seen as a reassuring or alarming factor is left to you, gentle reader, to decide.

– While the situation in Egypt is less obviously connected to the subject matter of this blog (whatever the role of food prices there), it is one of the unfolding human rights events of the century and I cannot avert my eyes. And despite the breathing room the Mubarak regime gave the protesters by its cretinous decision to assault foreign reporters last week, things still look pretty precarious. Even as the military appears to wobble on not using open force against protesters, the Guardian has carried allegations of systematic torture of protesters by army units. Meanwhile, even murkier allegations are coming to light about the agenda of the Obama administration and the dubious resume of Omar Suleiman, the ostensible midwife of Egypt’s democratic transition. I am generally not one for conspiracy theories but at this point even fairly mainstream commentators such as Nicholas Kristof and Roger Cohen at the New York Times are nervously urging President Obama to keep himself on the right side of history. I never dreamed I would say this, but I am beginning to feel downright sentimental for the moral clarity (such as it was) of the Cold War.

FAO forum on on land tenure and international investments in agriculture

The FAO Forum on Food Security has invited interested persons to comment on the terms of of reference to be given to a project team that will examine the issue of land tenure in the context of international investments in agriculture. Based on the resulting final ToR, the project team is then expected to develop a report and recommendations for the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE) of the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) at its next session in October 2011.

Phew. Now that we are past all the acronyms, I hope readers will take the time to comment and to follow this process. The ‘global land-rush’ has, despite my best intentions, been sadly neglected to date on this blog. That said, it reflects the most existential land and property issues facing contemporary humanity and, as reflected in Chris Huggins’ excellent guest posting from last year, it is also an important point of contact (one might also say ‘conflict’) between human rights and development discourses related to land tenure. Indeed, the ‘land-rush’ label is somewhat misleading, as it applies to a diverse variety of practices, some of which may be sustainable, replicable and necessary, and others of which undermine both individual rights and sustainable development:

Governments stand at this crossroads where on the one hand, as many studies and analysis demonstrate, appropriate investments, efficient and effective use of natural resources and land may have both economic and ecological advantages under certain conditions but where, on the other hand, there are also typical examples of land grabbing with very negative effects for sustainable development, including social effects on small scale farmers, ecological effects such as decreased efficiency and effectiveness of the use of natural resources and the mining of soils.

In a world where food security is likely to require not only increased efficiency but also expansion of the area currently under cultivation, the report resulting from the current ToRs can provide some guidance on how to steer an unstoppable process in a sustainable direction.

Week in links – Week 46/2010

– The New York Times reports on extensive destruction of booby-trapped houses and damage to agricultural land through the construction of new military roads by NATO troops in Afghanistan. Compensation programs appear to be up and running but the verdict of one district governor is a little chilling: “We had to destroy them to make them safe.”

UNHCR reports to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly. The ReliefWeb headline says it all: “Voluntary Refugee Returns Worst in Two Decades; World Faces Quasi-Permanent Refugee Situations in Areas of Never-Ending Conflict, Third Committee Told.”

– In the latest twist in the protracted real estate crisis in the US, the New York Times reports on a new wave of adverse possession. By taking open possession of abandoned foreclosed homes, repairing them and even renting them out, private individuals are hoping to eventually meet the statutory requirements to receive title, with both positive and negative local impacts.

– On desertification and pastoralism in the Sahel, we have a bullish take from the EU-Africa Partnership and a more apocalyptic one on climate conflicts from Yale’s E360 publication.

– ASIL has made available an interesting introductory note to a recent property decision by the European Court of Human Rights – in this case, the Court confirmed that the definition of possessions under the European Convention includes final and enforceable arbitration decisions.

Refugees International urges African Union member-states to ratify last year’s groundbreaking Kampala Convention on the rights of IDPs. IDMC has a dedicated webpage on the Convention.

– Indonesia gets serious about climate change adaptation with the announcement of new guidelines on permanent relocations of populations from disaster areas too dangerous to allow return.

– UN Habitat issued its technical assessment of housing reconstruction needs after the Pakistan floods.

– FAO launched a new report and website on ‘climate-smart agriculture’, highlighting a mixture of traditional and high-tech approaches that raise yield and reduce carbon emissions.

– Finally, an interesting example of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) taking up ‘HLP’ issues in a case in which Georgia accuses Russia of violating its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by virtue of its failure to allow ethnic Georgians to return to the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, where Russia is alleged to exercise effective control. A recent blog piece on this by the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research provides some background and reminds of an interesting October 2008 interim measure in which the Court ordered the parties, among other things, to:

do all in their power, whenever and wherever possible, to ensure, without distinction as to national or ethnic origin,
(i) security of persons ;
(ii) the right of persons to freedom of movement and residence within the border of the State ;
(iii) the protection of the property of displaced persons and of refugees …

The week in links – week 41/2010

This week’s food for thought:

– Continuing the nervous drumbeat on the upcoming Southern Sudan referendum, here is Open Democracy on the apparent new delay to the Abyei referendum, and a good news-then-bad news analysis by Phillipe De Pontet at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

– The International Law Observer notes that the Human Right to Water and Sanitation is now official – a recent decision by the Human Rights Council brings the number of states that have gone on the record to 178.

– Meanwhile, the FAO Right to Food people are about to release a guideline on responsible land tenure management and the right to food (it is available now in Spanish).

– Lyric Thompson reports in Open Democracy on the whiff of UN politics behind the anticlimactic tenth birthday party in the UN Security Council for Resolution 1325.

– In case anyone forgot the link between land and identity, here is a comment in the Jerusalem Post on what the construction ban and its absence is seen to signify by some in the Middle East. In the meantime, the NYT reports on the resumption of construction plans in East Jerusalem, and Open Democracy has news of a possible response, with the Arab League apparently considering whether to “appeal directly to the UN to recognise the state of Palestine.”

– From the US, Paul Krugman reports on the ongoing fallout of the mortgage crisis and the fact that it now appears that the USA, one of the world’s great proponents of rule of law and the sanctity of property, is witnessing foreclosures by banks that are unable to actually document the mortgage agreements they are enforcing.

– And in the unremarked on but terrifying land violence category, IRIN reports on inter-clan skirmishes over land in northeastern Kenya that displaced 600 families.

– Finally, the ECFR has issued a new short comment and report on the ‘spectre of a multipolar Europe with a fairly provocative set of findings:

  • The post-Cold War order is unravelling. Rather than uniting under a single system, Europe’s big powers are moving apart. Tensions between them have made security systems dysfunctional: they failed to prevent war in Kosovo and Georgia, instability in Kyrgyzstan, disruption to Europe’s gas supplies, and solve frozen conflicts.
  • The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions. Russia and Turkey may complain more, but the EU has the most to lose from the current peaceful disorder.
  • A frustrated Turkey still wants to join the EU, but it is increasingly pursuing an independent foreign policy and looking for a larger role as a regional power. In the words of foreign minister Davutoglu, Turkey is now an ‘actor not an issue’. Its accession negotiations to the EU should be speeded up, and it must also be engaged as an important regional power.
  • Russia never accepted the post-Cold War order. Moscow is now strong enough to openly challenge it, but its Westpolitik strategy also means that it is open to engagement – that is why Dmitri Medvedev suggested a new European security treaty a couple of years ago.
  • Obama’s non-appearance at the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the latest sign that the US is no longer focused on Europe’s internal security. Washington has its hands full dealing with Afghanistan, Iran and China and is no longer a European power.

The week in links – week 40/2010

A fairly modest crop after a busy week:

  1. Oxfam’s turn to ring the alarm on the numerous risks entailed by Southern Sudan’s upcoming referendum …
  2. … and to promote reconstruction of the agricultural sector in Haiti in a new briefing paper.
  3. UNHCR comments on how protracted conflict situations are creating a ‘new global refugee’ population.
  4. FAO and WFP comment on how protracted crises involving chronic hunger and food insecurity affect twenty-two countries worldwide “due to a combination of natural disasters, conflict and weak institutions”.

Admin note – FAO on Haitian agriculture and upcoming guest-blog on the Quilombos case in Brazil

Following on to my prior post on Haiti, FAO has now reported that rural reconstruction continues to lag behind in Haiti, primarily due to lack of funding. In doing so, the FAO describes its cooperation with the Haitian Ministry of Agriculture and “over 170 non-governmental and international organizations” (!) in the agricultural cluster, providing an interesting example of an attempt to make the occasionally arcane terminology of humanitarian reform a bit more accessible to the general public.

Also interesting is the fact that investments in rural agriculture continue to be justified both on the basis of the decentralization concept and food security. In the words of FAO Senior Emergency and Rehabilitation Coordinator for Haiti Etienne Peterschmitt, “[g]reater investment in agriculture and the creation of jobs in rural areas are needed urgently to stem the flow of displaced people back into Port-au-Prince and to support food security throughout the country.” In addition, the FAO remains cognizant of the strain that hosting IDPs has placed on rural families:

“Immediately after the disaster hit in January we focussed on areas directly affected by the earthquake,” said Cristina Amaral, Chief of FAO Emergency Operations Service. “Now we are focussing on assisting host families whose coping mechanisms were severely strained by the influx of displaced persons into their communities and to prepare for the hurricane season.”

In other news, I am happy to announce that TN will soon be hosting a guest post on the Quilombos case in Brazil by Leticia Osorio and César Augusto Baldi. The post will give a thorough background briefing on the case involving the Quilombos indigenous people that is currently pending before the Supreme Court of Brazil. The forthcoming decision will determine the constitutionality of Presidential Decree 4887 of 2003 which regulates the procedure for granting property titles to Quilombo communities over the lands they occupy. The authors have also promised a follow-up guest posting once the Court’s decision is issued.

Haiti early recovery linked to turning the corner in the countryside

by Rhodri C. Williams

Two months on from Haiti’s earthquake, the practical contours of a strategy to find durable solutions for the displaced appears to be taking shape. In essence, the plan seems to be to work from the establishment of safe transitional shelter sites toward permanent reintegration of those who remained in Port au Prince and other affected towns, on one hand, while seeking to provide an economic basis for those who left the towns to remain in the countryside, on the other. Whether or not this approach can now be said to represent an explicit article of international and Haitian government policy, the building blocks are clearly being put in place.

Judging from the latest OCHA situation report, increasingly targeted interventions may be yielding some encouraging results. A March 12 IASC contingency planning meeting brought together international, government and civil society actors to identify at-risk groups and “gaps where preparedness is needed in anticipation of the rainy/hurricane seasons.” Two days later, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes visited Haiti to assess humanitarian relief efforts. An international donor meeting will take place at the New York UN Headquarters at the end of March in order to secure funding for an impressive list of needs including schools, infrastructure, roads and power, as well as assistance to cover the government’s payroll for teachers, police, doctors, nurses, civil servants and basic services.

Shelter materials have been provided to some 63% of those in need and the shift from general food distribution to food and cash for work schemes is set to be scaled up next month. Child protection measures and monitoring of gender-based violence in camps are also being expanded, along with vaccinations, nutrition programs, health interventions and efforts to provide clean water and sanitation. Schools are slated to reopen in April. However, the question of securing safe and legally secure transitional shelter sites appears to be becoming more acute as the rainy season approaches:

The relocation of 200,000 persons currently displaced in high risk settlements requires a minimum of 600 ha. So far 220 ha have been identified by the Government. Of the five sites that were identified by the Government for relocation, two have been secured and surveyed. MINUSTAH will soon start works in Tabarre Issa. The other three sites are still under negotiation.


There are still insufficient human resources for site planning and development as well as of Social Engineering staff to facilitate the movement of the population to the new sites. The lack of new land allocation is of concern in respect [of the] imminent raining season.

Outside of the towns, the FAO reports in a new press release that ongoing seed distributions currently targeting 180,000 smallholder farming families are meant to be complemented with longer horizon programs supporting reforestation, increased food production and community watershed management. The short term objective of these programs is to speed an exit from large-scale food aid, but the longer term goals are set in ambitious terms as the creation of a “greener, more productive Haiti”. Critically, the PR notes that these goals are meant not only to benefit the settled rural population but also the more recent influx of urban IDPs:

During his visit, [FAO Head] Diouf and Minister [of Agriculture] Gue signed the Leogane Declaration, signaling the commitment of FAO and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development to work together on short-, medium- and long-term programmes aimed at increasing food production, supporting the integration of displaced populations in rural areas and building a revitalized, sustainable Haitian agriculture sector and promoting long-term investment.

However, this strategy involves a high-stakes up front gamble. If agricultural production cannot be ramped up quickly enough during the next weeks and months, food insecurity will likely result not only for those displaced from the capital but also the host families they currently depend on. The latest OCHA report described the precarious situation of rural host families, based on a recent survey by CRS:

Approximately 78% of respondents reported hosting an average of 5.6 displaced persons. This has put an enormous strain on household coping strategies with the vast majority of households eating less, selling belongings (including possessions, livestock, grain reserves) changing their diet, and using trees to make charcoal.

The assessment reveals that the pressure on host families has compelled farmers to make changes in their normal agricultural practices.  Farmers are now reducing some inputs such as fertilizer and tillage. They are also shifting to short season crops and prefer lower cost seeds (such as maize) while avoiding high cost seeds (such as bean). Overall, although land cropped remains the same, the land being cropped per household member has dropped dramatically. According to analysis made by CRS, these new trends could result in a dramatic drop in household income and increase food security.

In a separate press release, FAO describes a recent appeal by its Director-General, Jacques Diouf, for an integrated rural development programme in Haiti to be funded through the dedication of a portion of the $20 billion pledged for farmers in poor countries  by the G-8 leaders in Italy last July. While it is likely that this proposal will receive a sympathetic hearing at the upcoming donors’ conference, the fate of an agriculture-centric early recovery plan may hang in the balance in the next few months.

Given the current difficulties in providing safe transitional shelter for those IDPs who remained in towns, crop failures could provoke a disaster in the form of further influxes, both of returning urban IDPs and new migrants from the countryside. Long poor and neglected, Haiti now finds itself in the extraordinary position of entering the second decade of the 21st century with its  fortunes standing or falling on the outcome of a single growing season.