Tag Archives: food security

Week in links – Week 24/2011: murder in Colombia, biofuels in Sierra Leone

– Amid all the policy chatter on the recently passed Victims’ Law in Colombia, a moment of reflection is due on the fate of Ana Cordoba, widowed and displaced in 2001, and murdered in cold blood a decade later for having had the temerity to mobilize her fellow displaced persons for the return of their homes.

– The BBC reports on a recent study by the Oakland Institute that adds to the mounting chorus of criticism against large scale investors in land driving the current ‘global land-rush’. Although many of the Oakland Institute’s accusations are familiar – non-transparent transactions, unequal bargaining power, corruption, tribal chiefs bought for “a bottle of Johnny Walker” – the language is quite tough, with hedge fund use of arable land to “make room” for export commodities such as biofuels and cut flowers described as “creating insecurity in the global food system that could be a much bigger threat than terrorism”:

“The same financial firms that drove us into a global recession by inflating the real estate bubble through risky financial manoeuvres are now doing the same with the world’s food supply,” the report said.

Interestingly, the BBC report includes a sidebar describing its reporters’ positive impression of a Swiss biofuel plantation in Sierra Leone, presumably in the interest of editorial balance. The juxtaposition does raise the issue of whether such investment in post-conflict contexts may – in some circumstances – provide valuable investment-driven rural job creation in a manner that fragile transitional governments can only dream of (as blogged on here in the case of Liberia).

More detail on this investment – along with the Oakland Institute criticism it has sailed into – is given in a New York Times article this week. The Swiss company investing in ethanol, Addax Biofuels, defends itself as a for-profit company that scrupulously follows existing corporate social responsibility guidelines and eschews non-transparent arrangements:

Construction begins this year, and the project is expected to be operational in 2013. It employs over 500 people and will create more than 2,000 jobs, according to Addax. The land will be leased from local landowners and tribal chiefs.

According to Addax Bioenergy, the deal follows evaluations of the social, environmental and economic effects with the government and local nonprofit groups. The memorandum of understanding was ratified by Sierra Leone’s Parliament last November, and according to local news media reports, it was supported by the political opposition as well.

Anyone who has followed coverage of the implementation of donor policies on involuntary resettlement in Cambodia on this blog will be aware that such guidelines may be worth little more than governments’ will to respect them. However, until someone comes up with a better idea, getting investment hungry governments and land hungry investors to take such standards seriously is probably the only realistic way forward.

Week in links – Week 22/2011

– A Guardian investigation shows that British firms have now secured more land in Africa for biofuels than those of any other country. Unwanted publicity, it seems, particularly in light of Oxfam’s simultaneous citation of biofuel production as a factor in an ongoing food crisis that may see the prices of staples double in the next two decades.

-In the long gap since my last postings on Haiti, the basic dynamic of urban IDP camps settling into informal settlement status is little changed, but the resulting tensions appear to be coming to a head. By November last year, tenure insecurity in IDP camps had become so rife that a coalition of rights groups sought and received a directive from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordering the Haitian authorities to “stop evicting earthquake survivors from camps unless they are provided safe and adequate shelter.” However, last week Beverly Bell of Other Worlds reported on a series of violent and systematic forced evictions of IDPs in the Delmas district of Port au Prince. The evictions were ordered by local mayor Wilson Jeudi, who justified them by disputing the humanitarian vulnerability of the residents:

Jeudi called the camps “disorderly” and claimed that many of those in the tents did not actually live there. “They just come to do their commercial activities [thievery and prostitution] and go back to their homes in the evening.”

The mayor said that no compensation would be offered to those ousted from their temporary shelter. “We were all victims of the earthquake,” he added.

-Meanwhile, a leaked USAID-commissioned report appeared to give some support to Mr. Jeudi’s diatribe, alleging not only that the death toll from the quake was less than one-third of the officially reported 316,000, but also that only 895,000 IDPs moved into the IDP camps after the quake with 375,000 remaining now (compared with IOM’s numbers of 1.5 million original residents and 680,000 current). Most interesting to Mr. Jeudi, the report also “suggests many of those still living in tent cities did not lose their homes in the disaster.” The report is not yet officially released due to the need to address apparent inconsistencies.

– The BBC carries a rather sad story about Palestinian refugees engaged in a lawsuit not be able to return to the village they fled in 1948 – a point they appear to have largely conceded – but to prevent others from living there in its proposed reincarnation as a luxury housing development.

Available land? The Economist special report on global food security

by Rhodri C. Williams

Just a quick note to draw readers’ attention to a special report on what it will take to feed a global population of 9 billion by 2050 in this week’s Economist. Like much of the material in the Economist, the special reports are only available for a limited time, but can be downloaded in .pdf format while they last. Intriguingly, next week’s edition is slated to include a special report on ‘property’.

Turning to the current report on food security, land is discussed as a constraint on the increases in yield needed to keep up with global population growth, but is accorded less significance than other variables, notably water and fertilizer. One of the most interesting conclusions of the report is that genetic modification of both livestock and plants may facilitate a second green revolution that might for the first time allow the stabilizing population of the world to eat properly, climate change notwithstanding. One of the most worrisome conclusions is that achieving these types of technological leaps may be the only way to avoid catastrophe.

On the issue of land, the special report asserts that intensive agriculture along Brazilian lines, together with extensive use of fertilizer and genetically modified crops, will be necessary evils. The article notes that clearing of new land would be counterproductive, in part due to the cost of losing further forests, and in part because little readily arable land remains uncleared. However, the report cites World Bank findings indicating that cultivated land could be increased by one-third worldwide by bringing intensive methods to areas with fewer than 25 people per hectare currently living on them.

The World Bank is also cited as noting that up to an eighth of such ‘available’ land has already been put to cultivation by foreign investors in only three years since the ‘global land rush’ phenomenon began in earnest. While this is taken as evidence that the remaining seven eights can quickly be put to the service of a hungry world, it also raises some questions that are not fully addressed in the report. One of the foremost relates to the fate of the twenty five or fewer people currently occupying each of the half-billion hectares in question.

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