Do you remember that feeling when you first unwrapped your latest new phone, tablet or laptop? That shiny, sleek form suggesting science fiction made fact; the gorgeous glowing graphics connecting you to the creativity of the whole world? Go on, admit it, some of you might have even gleefully hugged your beautiful little gadget. Perhaps you lovingly stroked it, or at the very least casually dropped it into conversations for the next week, to the amusement of your friends and colleagues…
Such is the powerful hold of the new generation of electronic gadgets, that few of us are totally immune to their allure. They are addictive, futuristic, almost other-worldly. But of course they are not really other-worldly at all.
One of the successes of their slick design has been to help us forget that these gadgets started life as part of the Earth, in the form of rock, mineral and oil. And that the transformation from subterranean mineral to sleek mobile has involved a staggering amount of land grabbing, ecosystem destruction, pollution and fossil fuels, as well as a terrible human cost in war and poor working conditions. Continue reading
Farmers in Ethiopia need to focus on adaptation to deal with climate change
[Doha, Qatar, UN Climate negotiations] Rich countries are failing to take action or support developing countries to adapt their agriculture in the face of escalating climate change, say African negotiators and climate activists at the UN climate negotiations in Doha this week. They are accused of delaying their own action, while promoting agricultural carbon markets that will only increase hunger and vulnerability to climate change.
“African negotiators are throwing their hands up in despair, and asking why they should even bother coming to the negotiations, if the developed countries continue to wring more demands from us in return for no money or commitments,” says Seyni Nafo, a delegate from Mali. “This cynicism is at its most stark in the agriculture negotiations.” Continue reading
As communities, governments and corporations acknowledge the unavoidable reality that our planet is facing devastating ecosystem loss, a debate is emerging about the best way to value and incentivise the protection of nature.
One argument put forward by governments, corporations and even some environmentalists, is that “We need to put a price on nature to appreciate its value.” The thinking is that once nature is monetised, market forces will ensure that if it valuable enough, it will be protected.
The movement towards “Payments for Ecosystem Services” or PES follows this logic. But when extended into the marketplace, international commodity and financial traders in London, New York and Tokyo come to view these new “asset classes” as tradeable goods like any other. These ecosystem “services” are to be bought, sold, valued and manipulated according to the most profit they can make – no matter what the impact on the communities and ecosystems that they are connected to. The “herding” behaviour of commodity traders, where they often join stampedes to buy into or abandon products means that prices can go up and down in extremes – and this instability is a disaster for the environmental security that they claim to serve. Continue reading
African farming voices challenge the GM myth
“Global agriculture has changed more in our lifetime than in the previous 10,000 years. But as with all change, conflicts of interest have arisen. Nowhere is this conflict more poignant than in the story of seed.” A new film from the African Biodiversity Network (ABN) and the Gaia Foundation, narrated by actor Jeremy Irons, is set to explode pervasive myths about agriculture, development and Africa’s ability to feed herself. At the heart of the film “Seeds of Freedom” is the story of seed, and its transformation from the basis of farming communities’ agri-culture, to the property of agri-business.
Africa is under growing pressure to turn to hybrid seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Only last month, President Obama launched the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which will see the combined forces of agribusiness giants Monsanto, Syngenta, Cargill, DuPont and Yara investing $3 billion into creating new markets in Africa, amidst claims that this will solve hunger and malnutrition.
But amidst the pressure to “modernise” agriculture, the enormous wealth and diversity of locally-adapted seeds and farmer knowledge is ignored, undermined and eroded by policy makers. Increasing biological and agricultural diversity has been at the centre of food production, culture and spirituality for every traditional culture on earth, since the beginning of human history. Our ancestors had good reasons: they knew that greater diversity in their crops gave them better nutrition and resilience to the many challenges of farming, from weather, pests and soil variations. As Muhammed, a traditional farmer from Ethiopia says in the film, “Seed is our life. Our livelihoods depend on it. One variety is not enough for us. If we lose that, we are lost.” Continue reading
Soil carbon markets a “dangerous distraction” for African farmers.
[Bonn, Germany] “I am sorry I was late. I was talking to my wife on the phone. She tells me that the rains have just come a month early and we were discussing what to plant. Last year they came a month late. You see how this climate change is affecting us, and how we need to adapt.” Sidat Yaffa is a small-scale farmer from the Gambia. But Sidat was apologising to an unusual crowd – his fellow UN negotiators from around the world, here in Bonn to discuss agriculture and to negotiate what can be done in the context of climate change.
Adaptation strategies must value farmers’ seed and knowledge, and must not impose industrial top-down approaches.
Sidat’s grounded perspective is unusual in these corridors. But his views on the importance of addressing the need for adaptation were echoed by almost every country, and particularly developing countries. When negotiations began 2 weeks ago, it seemed that there was widespread agreement. Negotiators all commented on the productive spirit and good feeling between countries, in stark contrast to other parallel discussions on climate change. But gradually, cracks have emerged, and the “good feeling” expressed seems to be souring as the differences between countries’ agendas become apparent.