Last November I posted on a curious–and possibly environmentally devastating–case of neo-colonialism involving Madagascar and the Korean conglomerate, Daewoo.
The case involved a deal being hatched between the country’s leadership and Daewoo whereby the Korean company would lease about half of Madagascar’s arable land with the intent of growing export crops for Korean consumption. As I noted at the time, about 65% of the population in Madagascar was facing chronic food insecurity. The details of the plan were sketchy, but if the deal went through, likely people in an already tenuous position would be displaced from their land, or forested areas of the country would be converted to commodity cropland causing serious environmental problems.
It appears that the potential deal struck a chord with the political opposition and prompted the street demonstrations that culminated in a military-backed coup last week. Thus it is noteworthy that the new president, Andry Rajolenia, announced yesterday that the deal is now cancelled.
The political situation in Madagascar remains precarious after the coup, with the US announcing that it was suspending aid. But it appears–for the time being–that this ill-conceived Korean sell-off is dead.
A couple of weeks ago I posted about the introduction of the Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act in the Illinois General Assembly.
The Act will encourage state institutions and organizations receiving state money to purchase food products from producers within Illinois. It will also establish a Local Food Council comprised of representatives from various sectors of the food system: consumers, farmers, distributors, chefs, and municipal activists.
The idea is to create a sustainable, regional food system which enhances rural and urban economic development, public health, and environmental responsilbility. Currently, the state’s agricultural sector is primarily dedicated to the production of commodity crops like corn and soybeans. This type of production is capital intensive, dominated by a small number of large corporations, and subject to the volatility of global commodity markets.
Encouraging a locally-focused food system allows a greater diversity of economic opportunities in Illinois’ rural communities while simultaneously meeting a market need in the state’s urban centers and reducing the environmental impact of agricultural production.
More information about the bill and the movement towards local food security in Illinois can be found at the Illinois Food and Farm Task Force website.
The bill passed the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee last week and will likely be voted on by the entire Illinois House within the next two to three weeks.
The bill passed the House yesterday nearly unanimously! Now it will go to the Senate.
The New York Times is reporting that Governor David Patterson has caved to electric utilities by weakening the state’s carbon trading scheme.
New York is a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which seeks to reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector by a factor of 10% by the year 2018. The initiative establishes a carbon cap and requires electricity providers to purchase emissions allowances.
My understanding is that each of the states participating in the initiative determine the method of allocating allowances. The most effective way at determining a price for emissions is by auctioning off the allowances. Gov. Patterson–after strong lobbying from the utilities industry–has apparently decided to give away nearly $17 million worth of allowances for free.
This is money that would otherwise be used for low-carbon investment. Patterson’s move will also put pressure on other states to give away allowances since the emissions credits are transferable (i.e. if one state gives them away the carbon price is artificially lowered since New York utilities can sell them to utilities in other states for massive profit).
Too many free allocations plagued the effectiveness of the European Union’s cap-and-trade scheme during its initial phase. Patterson seems interested in following that questionable path.
This development is worrisome, as the RGGI is something of a model in the US and will likely influence Congressional deliberations this year on a national cap-and-trade scheme.
The popularity of books like Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has brought a greater awareness of the problems of industrial agriculture in the United States. The health, economic, and environmental impact of an industrialized, monocrop food system has caused consumers to change their behavior throughout the country. Organic foods and farmers markets are expanding as people seek healthy and environmentally friendly food.
The industrial food system, however, is not simply the product of market forces; rather, it is influenced by a complex web of federal subsidies, production habits, and distributional frameworks that are inherently preferential to large producers to the detriment of small farmers. While consumer changes are significant, they can’t mitigate the power of entrenched policies.
Little policy reform has been present at the federal level in the United States, but there are grassroots movements at the state and local level that are trying to affect change. Illinois is at the forefront of these efforts. After a year of meetings and consultations involving urban/suburban consumers, environmentalists, farmers, chefs, wholesalers, and social justice advocates, the Illinois Food and Farms Task Force released its report which advocates for a sustainable, local food system in the state.
In a state where 95% of its agricultural products are commodity crops destined for export, the report calls for state agencies to strive to obtain 20% of their food purchases from local sources by 2020. Institutions that receive state money–like public schools–are encouraged to obtain 10% of their food purchases from local sources by 2020. The report also calls for the establishment of a State Food Council to explore further strategies to increase the vibrancy of the local food system.
The Illinois General Assembly will be considering HB 3990–which will establish these initial elements of the legislation. While the legislation will not be heavy on mandates, having a state-sanctioned body of diverse interests looking seriously at the issues of food networks at the state level will undoubtedly bring more attention to the advantages of diversifying rural economies and minimizing the carbon footprint of agriculture in the state.
Fiona Harvey at the Financial Times has a good story on the potential carbon emissions increases that will likely accompany national stimulus packages recently passed by countries around the world.
It seems that–despite the rhetoric about “green jobs” and “post carbon economies”–that many of the national stimulus plans are not actively assessing their impact on the criteria of carbon minimization. When you break down the numbers spending is going primarily to traditional infrastructure projects like roads and construction which will circulate money in the global economy–but will also increase carbon emissions.
The FT has also posted a nice interactive graphic comparing the stimulus schemes of various countries.
According to the article, the US and Europe appear to be the biggest culprits in this regard.