Inter Press ServiceFamily Farms – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Mon, 15 Oct 2018 19:49:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Latin American Rural Women Call for Recognition and Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/latin-american-rural-women-call-recognition-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-american-rural-women-call-recognition-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/10/latin-american-rural-women-call-recognition-policies/#respond Fri, 12 Oct 2018 13:39:07 +0000 Mariela Jara http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=158128 This article forms part of IPS coverage of International Rural Women's Day, celebrated Oct. 15.

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Yolanda Flores, an Aymara indigenous woman, speaks to other women engaged in small-scale agriculture, gathered in her village square in the highlands of Peru's southern Andes. She is convinced that participating in local decision-making spaces is fundamental for rural women to stop being invisible and to gain recognition of their rights. Credit: Courtesy of Yolanda Flores

Yolanda Flores, an Aymara indigenous woman, speaks to other women engaged in small-scale agriculture, gathered in her village square in the highlands of Peru's southern Andes. She is convinced that participating in local decision-making spaces is fundamental for rural women to stop being invisible and to gain recognition of their rights. Credit: Courtesy of Yolanda Flores

By Mariela Jara
LIMA, Oct 12 2018 (IPS)

Rural women in Latin America play a key role with respect to attaining goals such as sustainable development in the countryside, food security and the reduction of hunger in the region. But they remain invisible and vulnerable and require recognition and public policies to overcome this neglect.

There are around 65 million rural women in this region, and they are very diverse in terms of ethnic origin, the kind of land they occupy, and the activities and roles they play. What they have in common though is that governments largely ignore them, as activists pointed out ahead of the International Day of Rural Women, celebrated Oct. 15."They play key roles and produce and work much more than men. In the orchards, in the fields, during planting time, they raise the crops, take care of the farm animals, and disproportionately carry the workload of the house, the children, etc., but they don't see a cent." -- JulioBerdegué

“The state, whether local or national authorities, neglect us,” Yolanda Flores, an Aymara woman, told IPS. “They only think about planting steel and cement. They don’t understand that we live off agriculture and that we women are the most affected because we are in charge of the food and health of our families.”

Flores, who lives in Iniciati, a village of about 400 indigenous peasant families in the department of Puno in Peru’s southern Andes, located more than 3,800 metres above sea level, has always been dedicated to growing food for her family.

On the land she inherited from her parents she grows potatoes, beans and grains like quinoa and barley, which she washes, grinds in a traditional mortar and pestle, and uses to feed her family. The surplus is sold in the community.

“When we garden we talk to the plants, we hug each potato, we tell them what has happened, why they have become loose, why they have worms. And when they grow big we congratulate them, one by one, so our food has a lot of energy when we eat. But people don’t understand our way of life and they forget about small farmers,” she said.

Like Flores, millions of rural women in Latin America face a lack of recognition for their work on the land, as well as the work they do maintaining a household, caring for the family, raising children, or caring for the sick and elderly.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) urges governments in the region to assume a commitment to reverse the historical disadvantages faced by this population group which prevent their access to productive resources, the enjoyment of benefits and the achievement of economic autonomy.

“Depending on the country, between two-thirds and 85 percent of the hours worked by rural women is unpaid work,” Julio Berdegué, FAO regional representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS.

Women engage in subsistence agriculture at more than 3,300 metres above sea level in the highlands of the southern department of Cuzco, in the Andes of Peru, in the municipality of Cusipata. With the support of nongovernmental organisations, they have built greenhouses that allow them to produce a range of vegetables despite the inclement weather. Credit: Janet Nina/IPS

Women engage in subsistence agriculture at more than 3,300 metres above sea level in the highlands of the southern department of Cuzco, in the Andes of Peru, in the municipality of Cusipata. With the support of nongovernmental organisations, they have built greenhouses that allow them to produce a range of vegetables despite the inclement weather. Credit: Janet Nina/IPS

Berdeguè, who is also deputy director general of FAO, deplored the fact that they do not receive payment for their hard work in agriculture – a workload that is especially heavy in the case of heads of families who run their farms, and during growing season.

Public policies against discrimination

María Elena Rojas, head of the FAO office in Peru, told IPS that if rural women in Latin American countries had access to land tenure, financial services and technical assistance like men, they would increase the yield of their plots by 20 to 30 percent, and agricultural production would improve by 2.5 to 4 percent.


That increase would help reduce hunger by 12 to 15 percent. "This demonstrates the role and contribution of rural women and the need for assertive public policies to achieve it and for them to have opportunities to exercise their rights. None of them should go without schooling, healthy food and quality healthcare. These are rights, and not something impossible to achieve," she said.

“They play key roles and produce and work much more than men,” the official said from FAO’s regional headquarters in Santiago. “In the orchards, in the fields, during planting time, they raise the crops, take care of the farm animals, and disproportionately carry the workload of the house, the children, etc., but they don’t see a cent.”

“We say: we want women to stay in the countryside. But for God’s sake, why would they stay? They work for their fathers, then they work for their husbands or partners. That’s just not right, it’s not right!” exclaimed Berdegué, before stressing the need to stop justifying that rural women go unpaid, because it stands in the way of their economic autonomy.

He explained that not having their own income, or the fact that the income they generate with the fruit of their work is then managed by men, places rural women in a position of less power in their families, their communities, the market and society as a whole.

“Imagine if it was the other way around, that they would tell men: you work, but you will not receive a cent. We would have staged a revolution by now. But we’ve gotten used to the fact that for rural women that’s fine because it’s the home, it’s the family,” Berdegué said.

The FAO regional representative called on countries to become aware of this reality and to fine-tune policies to combat the discrimination.

A global workload greater than that of men, economic insecurity, reduced access to resources such as land, water, seeds, credit, training and technical assistance are some of the common problems faced by rural women in Latin America, whether they are farmers, gatherers or wage-earners, according to the Atlas of Rural Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, published in 2017 by FAO.

But even in these circumstances, they are protagonists of change, as in the growth of rural women’s trade unions in the agro-export sector.

Afro-descendant Adela Torres (white t-shirt, front), secretary general of the National Union of Agricultural Industry Workers (Sintraingro) in the banana region of Urabá, in the Colombian department of Antioquia, sits on the floor during a meeting of women members of the union. Credit: Courtesy of Sintrainagro

Afro-descendant Adela Torres (white t-shirt, L-C, front), secretary general of the National Union of Agricultural Industry Workers (Sintrainagro) in the banana region of Urabá, in the Colombian department of Antioquia, sits on the floor during a meeting of women members of the union. Credit: Courtesy of Sintrainagro

With the increased sale of non-traditional products to international markets, such as flowers, fruit and vegetables, women have swelled this sector, says another regional study, although often in precarious conditions and with standards that do not ensure decent work.

Trade unions fight exploitative conditions

But trade unions are fighting exploitative labour conditions. A black woman from Colombia, Adela Torres, is an example of this struggle.

Since childhood and following the family tradition, she worked on a banana farm in the municipality of Apartadó, in Urabá, a region that produces bananas for export in the Caribbean department of Antioquia.

Now, the 54-year-old Torres, who has two daughters and two granddaughters, is the secretary general of the National Union of Agricultural Industry Workers (Sintrainagro), which groups workers from 268 farms, and works for the insertion of rural women in a sector traditionally dominated by men.

“When women earn and manage their own money, they can improve their quality of life,” she told IPS in a telephone conversation from Apartadó.

Torres believes that women’s participation in banana production should be equitable and that their performance deserves equal recognition.

“We have managed to get each farm to hire at least two more women and among the achievements gained are employment contracts, equal pay, social security and incentives for education and housing for these women,” she explained.

She said rural women face many difficulties, many have not completed primary school, are mothers too early and are heads of households, have no technical training and receive no state support.

In spite of this, they work hard and manage to raise their children and get ahead while contributing to food security.

Making the leap to positions of visibility is also a challenge that Flores has assumed in the Andes highlands of Puno, to fight for their proposals and needs to be heard.

“We have to win space in decision-making and come in as authorities; that is the struggle now, to speak for ourselves. I am determined and I am encouraging other women to take this path,” Flores said.

Faced with the indifference of the authorities, more action and a stronger presence is the philosophy of Flores, as her grandmother taught her, always repeating: “Don’t be lazy and work hard.” “That is the message and I carry it in my mind, but I would like to do it with more support and more rights,” she said.

With reporting by Orlando Milesi in Santiago.

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This article forms part of IPS coverage of International Rural Women's Day, celebrated Oct. 15.

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Brazil’s Agricultural Heavyweight Status Undermines Food Supplyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/brazils-agricultural-heavyweight-status-undermines-food-supply/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-agricultural-heavyweight-status-undermines-food-supply http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/brazils-agricultural-heavyweight-status-undermines-food-supply/#respond Sat, 16 Jun 2018 00:45:50 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156253 Brazil is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and exporters, but its food supply has become seriously deficient due to food insecurity, unsustainability and poor nutrition, according to a number of studies. A week-long nationwide strike by truck drivers, that began on May 21, revealed the precariousness of the food supply, which practically collapsed […]

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A soybean plantation in Tocantins, a state in central Brazil, where this monoculture crop is beginning to cover the best lands, following in the footsteps of the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the largest producer and exporter of soy and maize in the country, which "imports" the food it consumes from faraway areas. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A soybean plantation in Tocantins, a state in central Brazil, where this monoculture crop is beginning to cover the best lands, following in the footsteps of the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso, the largest producer and exporter of soy and maize in the country, which "imports" the food it consumes from faraway areas. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 16 2018 (IPS)

Brazil is one of the world’s largest agricultural producers and exporters, but its food supply has become seriously deficient due to food insecurity, unsustainability and poor nutrition, according to a number of studies.

A week-long nationwide strike by truck drivers, that began on May 21, revealed the precariousness of the food supply, which practically collapsed in the large Brazilian cities, at least in terms of perishable goods such as vegetables and eggs, said the National Agroecology Alliance (ANA).

Brazil ranks 28th out of 34 countries in the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), developed by the Italian Barilla Centre for Food and Nutrition, together with the British magazine The Economist’s Intelligence Unit."Monoculture agriculture, without interaction with the ecosystems, is based heavily on imports of inputs, including oil; it degrades the environment, causes erosion and deforestation, in contrast to agriculture as it was practiced in the past, which valued soil nutrients." -- Paulo Petersen

In Latin America, Colombia (13), Argentina (18) and Mexico (22) are the best rated, according to this index based on 58 indicators that measure three variables: sustainable agriculture, nutritional challenges and food waste.

But the United States, the world’s largest producer of agricultural products, also ranks only 21st in the FSI, reflecting the same discrepancy between agriculture and sustainable food, which is also not directly related to the countries’ per capita income levels.

“The Brazilian food system is unsustainable in environmental, social and economic terms,” said Elisabetta Recine, head of the National Council for Food and Nutritional Security (Consea), an advisory body to the president of Brazil, with two-thirds of its 60 members coming from civil society.

“Production has become increasingly concentrated, as well as trade. This means food has to be transported long distances, driving up costs and increasing the consumption of durable, industrialised and less healthy food in the cities,” Recine, who teaches nutrition at the University of Brasilia, told IPS.

This is well illustrated by the four supermarkets of the Kinfuku chain in the region of Alta Floresta, in the northern part of the state of Mato Grosso, located on the southern border of the Amazon rainforest.

They sell food transported weekly by truck from the southern state of Paraná, more than 2,000 km away, owner Pedro Kinfuku told IPS at one of their stores.

Mato Grosso is the country’s largest producer of maize and soy, monoculture crops destined mainly for export or for the animal feed industry, which monopolise local lands, driving out crops for human food.

This “long cycle of production and consumption” is part of the system whose insecurity was highlighted by the truck drivers’ strike over the space of just a few days, said Recine.

A group of children eat lunch at a school in Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where thanks to the National School Meals Programme (PNAE) the students in public schools eat vegetables and fresh food from local family farms. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A group of children eat lunch at a school in Itaboraí, 45 km from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where thanks to the National School Meals Programme (PNAE) the students in public schools eat vegetables and fresh food from local family farms. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

This phenomenon also concentrates wealth, generates little employment and increases social inequality in the country, while environmentally it exacerbates the use of agrochemicals, she said.

Brazil, which had managed to be removed from the United Nations Hunger Map in 2014, has once again seen a rise in malnutrition and infant mortality, in the face of “budget cuts in social programmes, growing unemployment and the general impoverishment of the population,” the nutritionist lamented.

At the same time, “obesity is increasing in all age groups throughout the country, directly related to the poor quality of food and the lack of preventive actions, such as the creation of healthy food environments, with regulations that restrict certain products,” said the president of Consea.

“We have to consider the food system from the soil and the seed to post-consumption, the waste,” she said.

The “structural problem” of the mode of production, the transport, distribution and consumption of food in the world today, particularly in Brazil, is the result of “two disconnects, one between agriculture and nature and the other between production and consumption,” said agronomist Paulo Petersen, vice-president of the Brazilian Association of Agroecology.

Monoculture agriculture, “without interaction with the ecosystems, is based heavily on imports of inputs, including oil; it degrades the environment, causes erosion and deforestation, in contrast to agriculture as it was practiced in the past, which valued soil nutrients,” he said in an interview with IPS.

For Petersen, consumption is increasingly moving away from agricultural production in physical distance, and also because of the processing chain, which is generating waste and “homogenising habits of consumption of ultra-processed foods and excess sugar, sodium, fats and preservatives, leading to obesity and non-communicable diseases.”

A large line of trucks slows down traffic in Anápolis, a logistics hub in central Brazil, at an intersection, where thousands of trucks circulate daily transporting food, industrial products and supplies, in all directions in this enormous country. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A large line of trucks slows down traffic in Anápolis, a logistics hub in central Brazil, at an intersection, where thousands of trucks circulate daily transporting food, industrial products and supplies, in all directions in this enormous country. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

All of this, he said, has to do with climate change, the loss of biodiversity, growing health problems, the concentration of land ownership and the dominant power of agribusiness and large corporations.

“It is necessary to reorganise the food system, to change its logic, and that is the State’s obligation,” said Petersen, also executive coordinator of the non-governmental organisation Advisory Service for Alternative Agriculture Projects (ASPTA)- Family Agriculture and Agroecology, and member of the executive board of the National Agroecology Alliance (ANA) network.

Brazil launched positive actions in the food sector, such as the government’s School Meals Programme, which establishes a minimum of 30 percent of family farming products in the food offered by public schools to its students, thus improving the nutritional quality of their diet.

In addition, family farming was recognised as the source of most of the food consumed in the country, and a low-interest credit programme was created for this sector.

The problem, according to Petersen, is that this financing sometimes foments the same vices of industrial large-scale agriculture, such as monoculture and the use of agrochemicals.

There is a growing awareness of the negative aspects of agribusiness and the need for agro-ecological practices, as well as initiatives scattered throughout the country, but the dominant agricultural sector exercises its power in a way that blocks change, he said.

The bulk of agricultural credit, technical assistance, land concentrated in the hands of a few large landowners, and influence on state power all favour large-scale farmers, who also have the largest parliamentary caucus to pass “their” laws, Petersen said.

A vegetable garden in Santa Maria de Jetibá, of the 220-member Cooperative of Family Farmers of the Serrana Region, the largest supplier of vegetables and fruit to schools in the municipality of Vitoria, in the southeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A vegetable garden in Santa Maria de Jetibá, of the 220-member Cooperative of Family Farmers of the Serrana Region, the largest supplier of vegetables and fruit to schools in the municipality of Vitoria, in the southeast of Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In Brazil, there are 4.4 million family farms, which make up 84 percent of rural establishments and produce more than half of the food, according to official figures.

But they have little influence in the government in the face of the power of a few dozen large producers.

Food banks are also an example of good, albeit limited, actions to reduce waste and the risks of malnutrition in the most vulnerable segments of the population.

They emerged from isolated initiatives in the 1990s and were adopted as a government programme in 2016, with the creation of the Brazilian Network of Food Banks, under the coordination of the Ministry of Social Development.

In 1994, the Social Trade Service (SESC), made up of companies in the sector, also began to create food banks in its own network, which it named Mesa Brasil (Brazil Board). By the end of 2017, it had 90 units in operation in 547 cities.

That year, the network served 1.46 million people per day and distributed 40,575 tons of food.

It is the largest network of such centres in the country, but it has proven insufficient in a country of 208 million people and 5,570 cities.

Mesa Brasil makes use of food that would no longer be sold by stores, because of commercial regulations, but which is in perfect condition, and delivers it to social institutions.

“It also promotes educational actions for workers and volunteers from social organisations and collaborators from donor companies,” on food and nutritional security, according to Ana Cristina Barros, SESC’s manager of aid at the national level.

“One of our biggest difficulties is the legal obstacles that prevent food companies from making donations, which are increasingly interested in doing so,” she told IPS.

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Locals Learn to Live in Harmony with Drought in Brazil’s Semi-arid Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/locals-learn-live-harmony-drought-brazils-semiarid-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=locals-learn-live-harmony-drought-brazils-semiarid-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/locals-learn-live-harmony-drought-brazils-semiarid-region/#respond Thu, 02 Nov 2017 20:37:39 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152861 Irrigated green fields of vineyards and monoculture crops coexist in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast with dry plains dotted with flowering cacti and native crops traditionally planted by the locals. Two models of development in struggle, with very different fruits. On his 17-hectare farm in Canudos, in the state of Bahia, João Afonso Almeida grows vegetables, sorghum, […]

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João Afonso stands amidst his watermelons and other forage plants on his farm in the municipality of Canudos, in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Thanks to water and soil management techniques, the droughts are not so hard on him, his crops or his animals. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

João Afonso stands amidst his watermelons and other forage plants on his farm in the municipality of Canudos, in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Thanks to water and soil management techniques, the droughts are not so hard on him, his crops or his animals. Credit: Gonzalo Gaudenzi / IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
CANUDOS, Brazil, Nov 2 2017 (IPS)

Irrigated green fields of vineyards and monoculture crops coexist in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast with dry plains dotted with flowering cacti and native crops traditionally planted by the locals. Two models of development in struggle, with very different fruits.

On his 17-hectare farm in Canudos, in the state of Bahia, João Afonso Almeida grows vegetables, sorghum, passion fruit (Passiflora edulis), palm trees, citrus and forage plants.

"What we have done is simply to read nature. Observing how plants can survive for eight months without rain, and how animals adapt to drought, and drawing conclusions for how people should do things. It is not about technology or books. It is simply observation of nature applied to human action.” -- Harold Schistek
Between the rows, cactus plants grow to feed his goats and sheep, such as guandú (Cajanus cajan), wild watermelon, leucaena and mandacurú (Cereus jamacaru).

The earth is dry and dusty in the Caatinga, an ecosystem exclusive to Brazil’s semiarid region, where droughts can last for years, alternating with periods of annual rainfall of 200 to 800 mm, along with high evaporation rates.

But thanks to simple rainwater harvesting techniques, Almeida has managed to live harmoniously with the local ecosystem.

“This is a water harvesting ‘calçadão’ (embankment),” he told IPS, showing a tank installed with the help of the Regional Institute for Appropriate Small Farming (IRPAA), which is part of the Networking in Brazil’s Semiarid Region (ASA) movement, along with another 3,000 social organisations.

“The water goes to the tank-calçadão that has a capacity to store 52,000 litres. We use it to water the garden. It provides an income for the families,” he added.

For domestic consumption, he has a 16,000-litre tank that collects rainwater from the roof of his house through gutters and pipes.

ASA has installed one million tanks for family consumption and 250,000 for small agricultural facilities in the semiarid Northeast.

Almeida uses an “enxurrada” (flow) tank, and an irrigation system for his citrus trees, which through a narrow pipe irrigates the roots without wasting water. He also opted for plants native to the Caatinga that adapt naturally to the local climate and soil conditions.

“Production has improved a great deal, we work less and have better results. And we also conserve the Caatinga ecosystem. I believed in this, while many people did not, and thank God because we sleep well even though we’ve already had three years of drought,” he said.

In the past, droughts used to kill in this region. Between 1979 and 1983, drought caused up to one million deaths, and drove a mass exodus to large cities due to thirst and hunger.

 

Part of the extensive vineyards of the Especial Fruit company in the São Francisco River valley, where irrigation projects have made it possible to grow fruit on a large scale for export, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

Part of the extensive vineyards of the Especial Fruit company in the São Francisco River valley, where irrigation projects have made it possible to grow fruit on a large scale for export, in Brazil’s semiarid Northeast. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

“The farm used to be far from any source of water. We had to walk two to three kilometers, setting out early with buckets,” he recalled.

The droughts did not end but they no longer produce deaths among the peasants of Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, a region that is home to some 23 million of Brazil’s 208 million people.

This was thanks to the strategy of “coexistence with the semiarid”, promoted by ASA, in contrast with the historical policies of the “drought industry”, which exploited the tragedy, charging high prices for water or exchanging it for votes, distributing water in tanker trucks.

 

Thanks to simple rainwater harvesting techniques, Almeida has managed to live harmoniously with the local ecosystem. “This is a water harvesting ‘calçadão’ (embankment), the water goes to the tank-calçadão that has a capacity to store 52,000 litres. We use it to water the garden. It provides an income for the families,”

Thanks to simple rainwater harvesting techniques, Almeida has managed to live harmoniously with the local ecosystem. “This is a water harvesting ‘calçadão’ (embankment), the water goes to the tank-calçadão that has a capacity to store 52,000 litres. We use it to water the garden. It provides an income for the families” Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

“Coexistence with the semiarid ecosystem is something completely natural that actually people around the world have done in relation to their climates. The Eskimos coexist with the icy Arctic climate, the Tuareg (nomads of the Sahara desert) coexist with the desert climate,” the president of the IRPAA, Harold Schistek, told IPS in his office in the city of Juazeiro, in the Northeast state of Bahía.

“What we have done is simply to read nature. Observing how plants can survive for eight months without rain, and how animals adapt to drought, and drawing conclusions for how people should do things. It is not about technology or books. It is simply observation of nature applied to human action,” he explained.

The “coexistence” is based on respecting the ecosystem and reviving traditional agricultural practices.

The basic principle is to store up in preparation for drought – everything from water to native seeds, and fodder for goats and sheep, the most resistant species.

The fruits are seen in the Cooperative of Farming Families from Canudos and Curaçá (Coopercuc), made up of about 250 families from those municipalities in the state of Bahía.

 

Almeida uses an “enxurrada” (flow) tank, and an irrigation system for his citrus trees, which through a narrow pipe irrigates the roots without wasting water. He also opted for plants native to the Caatinga that adapt naturally to the local climate and soil conditions.

Almeida uses an “enxurrada” (flow) tank, and an irrigation system for his citrus trees, which through a narrow pipe irrigates the roots without wasting water. He also opted for plants native to the Caatinga that adapt naturally to the local climate and soil conditions. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

Coopercuc, which Almeida is a member of, has an industrial plant in Uauá, where they make jellies and jams with fruits of the Caaatinga, such as umbú (Spondias tuberosa) and passion fruit, with pulps processed in mini-factories run by the cooperative members.

“We’re not only concerned with making a profit but also with the sustainable use of the raw materials of the Caatinga. For example, the harvest of the ombú (Phytolacca dioica) used to be done in a very harmful way, swinging the tree to make the fruit fall,” Coopercuc vice-president José Edimilson Alves told IPS.

Now, he said, “we instruct the members of the cooperative to collect the fruit by hand, and to avoid breaking the branches. We also do not allow native wood or living plants to be extracted.”

The cooperative sells its products, free of agrochemicals, to large Brazilian cities and has exported to France and Austria.

“This proposal shows that it is possible to live, and with a good quality of life, in the semiarid region,” said Alves.

 

Coopercuc vice-president José Edimilson Alves. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

Coopercuc vice-president José Edimilson Alves. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet / IPS

 

This reality exists in the 200,000-hectare fruit-growing area of the São Francisco River valley, located between the municipalities of Petrolina (state of Pernambuco) and Juazeiro. Government incentives and irrigation techniques favoured the installation of agribusiness in the area.

According to the State Development Company of the Valleys of São Francisco and Parnaíba, fruit growers in the area generate over 800 million dollars a year, and provide about 100,000 jobs.

“It is estimated that this use of irrigation represents 80 percent of all uses of the basin. But we have to consider that the collection of water for these projects promotes the economic and social development of our region by generating employment and revenues, through the export of fresh and canned fruit to Europe and the United States,” explained the company’s manager, Joselito Menezes.

The company Especial Fruit, which has about 3,000 hectares in the valley and 2,200 workers, produces thousands of tons of grapes and mangos every year, which are exported mostly to the United States, Argentina and Chile, along with a smaller volume of melons, for the local market.

“All the irrigation is done with the drip system, since good management of water is very important due to the limitations of water resources,” the company’s president Suemi Koshiyama told IPS.

He explained that “The furrow irrigation system only takes advantage of 40 percent of the water, and spray irrigation makes use of 60 percent, compared to 85 percent for drip irrigation.”

“The region that has the least water is the one that uses the most. Thousands of litres are used to produce crops, so when the region exports it is also exporting water and minerals from the soil, especially with sugarcane,” said Moacir dos Santos, an expert at the IRPAA.

“In a region with very little water and fertile soil, we have to question the validity of this. The scarce water should be used to produce food, in a sustainable manner,” he told IPS.

According to ASA, one and a half million farm families have only 4.2 percent of the arable land in the semiarid region, while 1.3 percent of the agro-industrial farms of over 1,000 hectares occupy 38 percent of the lands.

“Family farmers produce the food. Agribusiness produces commodities. And although it has a strong impact on the trade balance, at a local level, family farming actually supplies the economy,” dos Santos said.

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New Label Defends Family Farming in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/new-label-defends-family-farming-in-argentina/#respond Thu, 13 Aug 2015 17:58:18 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141980 It’s pouring rain in the capital of Argentina, but customers haven’t stayed away from the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market, where family farmers sell their produce. The government has now decided to give them a label to identify and strengthen this important segment of the economy: small farmers. Norma Araujo, her husband and son are late […]

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A stand in the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood. Producers and consumers will now benefit from the label “produced by family farmers”. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It’s pouring rain in the capital of Argentina, but customers haven’t stayed away from the Bonpland Solidarity Economy Market, where family farmers sell their produce. The government has now decided to give them a label to identify and strengthen this important segment of the economy: small farmers.

Norma Araujo, her husband and son are late getting to the market in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Palermo Hollywood because the heavy rains made it difficult to navigate the dirt roads to their farm, in the municipality of Florencio Varela, 38 km from the capital.

They quickly set up their fruit and vegetable stand as the first customers reach the old warehouse, which was closed down as a market during the severe economic crisis that broke out in late 2001. Today, 25 stands offer products sold by social, indigenous and peasant organisations, which are produced without slave labour and under the rules of fair trade.

“Our vegetables are completely natural. They are grown without toxic agrochemicals,” Araujo told IPS. She is a member of the Florencio Varela Family Farmers Cooperative, which also sells chicken, eggs, suckling pig and rabbit.

Across from Araujo’s stand, Analía Alvarado sells honey, homemade jams, cheese, seeds with nutritional properties, natural juices, olive oil, whole grain bread, organic yerba mate – a traditional caffeinated herbal brew – and dairy products.

Mercosur labels

Argentina’s new label forms part of a collective effort by the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) which began to work with such labels four years ago, as part of the Specialised Meeting on Family Agriculture (REAF), Raimundo Laugero explained.

Brazil – a member of Mercosur along with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – was a pioneer in the bloc, creating a family farming label in 2009, according to the REAF.

Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador also take part in the REAF, which brings together governments and family farming organisations. The REAF announced that in June Chile created its own label, “Manos Campesinas” (peasant hands) for “healthy products of peasant origin, made on a small scale, which foment local development.”

Ecuador and Bolivia have also taken decisive steps towards creating a label that would “defend food sovereignty, rural incomes and access to local foods.” Uruguay, meanwhile, is holding a series of meetings “on the creation of a family agriculture label.”

“The idea is to give small farmers a chance, and here we have people from all around the country, who wouldn’t otherwise have the possibility of selling their goods,” Alvarado said.

The ministry of agriculture, livestock and fishing took another step in that direction with the creation in July of the “Produced by Family Farms” label, “to enhance the visibility of, inform and raise awareness about the significant contribution that family farms make to food security and sovereignty.”

According to the ministry, there are 120,000 family farms in this country of 43 million people, and the sector is “the main supplier of food for the Argentine population, providing approximately 70 percent of the daily diet.”

“A label identifying products grown on family farms not only makes the sector more visible but foments a dialogue between consumers and farmers who have a presence in the countryside across the entire nation, generating territorial sovereignty,” said Raimundo Laugero, director of programmes and projects in the ministry’s family agriculture secretariat.

In the category of family farmers the government includes peasants, small farmers, smallholders, indigenous communities, small-scale fisher families, landless rural workers, sharecroppers, craftspeople, and urban and periurban producers.

In his interview with IPS, Laugero said the label will not only identify products as coming from the family agriculture sector, but will “guarantee health controls, chemical-free and non-industrial production, and production characterised by diversity, unlike monoculture farming.

“When we’re talking about a product from family agriculture, the symbolic value is that they are produced through artisanal processes and with work by the family, and one fundamental aspect is that behind the product are the faces of people who live in the countryside,” he said.

Agriculture is one of the pillars of the economy of this South American nation, accounting for 13 percent of GDP, 55.8 percent of exports and 35.6 percent of direct and indirect employment.

María José Otero, a pharmacist, has come a long way to the market on her bicycle, but she doesn’t mind. For her family she wants “the healthiest and most natural diet possible, free of chemicals.”

She also shops here because of “a social question” – she wants to benefit those “who produce natural food without so much industrialisation, while avoiding the middlemen who drive up food prices.

“Besides, I’m really interested in the impact caused by the act of consuming something with awareness,” she added. “That means taking care of the environment where you work, respecting animals. It’s not the same thing to consume eggs from animals that walk about and eat naturally as from animals that are cruelly treated and packed into warehouses, fed in horrible ways.”

Otero said the new label was “great.” “There’s a lot of deception in this also, from people who say they’re selling organic products or products made with a social conscience, and it’s a lie. This label gives you a guarantee,” she said.

“This will especially help the public become aware of what it means to help small farmers. So they can realise that what they pay and what they consume really goes to them, and for the people who do the work to really get paid what they are due,” Alvarado said.

Laugero also stressed that a significant aspect of the new label is that it is linked to “participatory guarantee systems for agroecological products.”

He pointed out that normally when farmers apply for a label recognising their products, they need to turn to a company that carries out the certification process, while the concept “agroecological” has other components.

He mentioned six pilot projects in Argentina, of participatory guarantee systems – basically locally focused quality assurance systems – for agroecological products, which involve organised farmers and consumers, and which the state will now support as well.

“With the label, they’re going to do much better, because they’ll have a more massive reach, and more people will be included,” he said.

At the Bonpland market, Claudia Giorgi, a member of the La Asamblearia cooperative, which works as part of a network with other social organisations, is preparing shipments to another province which will use the same transportation to send products back, to cut costs.

Giorgi makes papaya preserves. But she also sells products from other cooperatives like natural cosmetics, lavender soap, medicinal herbs, pesticide-free tea, mustard and different kinds of flour.

“What is produced in each social organisation is traded for products from other groups, at each organisation’s cost, which is the producers’ costs plus what is spent on logistics,” she explained to IPS.

She said she didn’t have any information yet about the new label, but believes that it will be a good thing if it proves to be “functional” and if it differs from labels that “are profit-making schemes” and “have a cost.”

The resolution creating the new label states that one of the aims is to “promote new channels of marketing and sales points.”

Laugero noted that besides accounting for 20 percent of agricultural GDP, family farming represents 95 percent of goat production, 22 percent of cattle production, 30 percent of sheep production, 33 percent of honey production, 25 percent of fruit production, 60 percent of fresh vegetables, and 15 percent of grains.

“But that doesn’t always translate into profits,” he said. “We need to work hard on those aspects so that income also ends up in the hands of family farmers.”

In her case, Araujo puts the emphasis on solving even more simple problems, such as finding transportation for her vegetables to the market, even when it rains.

“They should fix our dirt roads,” she said, clarifying that small farmers themselves have offered to participate in the task.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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OPINION: Innovation Needed to Help Family Farms Thrivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-innovation-needed-to-help-family-farms-thrive/#respond Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:52:09 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137264 Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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Peruvian peasant women working on the family plot of land near the village of Padre Rumi in the Andean department of Huancavelica. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
ROME, Oct 19 2014 (IPS)

Family farms have been contributing to food security and nutrition for centuries, if not millennia. But with changing demand for food as well as increasingly scarce natural resources and growing demographic pressures, family farms will need to innovate rapidly to thrive.

Meanwhile, sustainable rural development depends crucially on the viability and success of family farming. With family farms declining in size by ownership and often in operation as well, improving living standards in the countryside has become increasingly difficult over the decades.They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Agricultural land use is increasingly constrained by the availability of arable land for cultivation as other land use demands increase. Addressing sustainable rural development involves economic and social considerations as well as ecological and resource constraints.

More than half a billion family farms worldwide form the backbone of agriculture in most countries. Although family farms account for more than nine out of 10 farms in the world, they have considerably less farm land. They are the stewards of the world’s agricultural resources and the source of more than four-fifths of the world’s food supply, but many are poor and food-insecure themselves.

Innovation challenge

Family farms are very diverse, and innovation systems must take this diversity into account. While some large farms are run as family operations, the main challenge for innovation is to reach smallholder family farms. Innovation strategies must, of course, consider family farms’ agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions.

Public efforts to promote agricultural innovation for small and medium-sized family farms should ensure that agricultural research, advisory services, market institutions and infrastructure are inclusive. Applied agricultural research for crops, livestock species and management practices should consider the challenges faced by family farms. A supportive environment for producer and other rural community-based organisations can thus help promote innovation.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

The challenges facing agriculture and the institutional environment for agricultural innovation are more complex than ever. Effective innovation systems and initiatives must recognise and address this complexity. Agricultural innovation strategies should focus not only on increasing yields and net real incomes, but also on conserving natural resources, and other objectives.

An innovation system must consider all stakeholders. Therefore, it must take account of the complex contemporary policy and institutional environment for agriculture and the range of stakeholders engaged in decision-making, often with conflicting interests and priorities, thus requiring appropriate government involvement.

Public investments in agricultural R&D as well as extension and advisory services should be increased to emphasise sustainable intensification, raising yields and closing labour productivity gaps. Agricultural research and advisory services should therefore seek to raise productivity, improve sustainability, lower food prices, reduce poverty, etc.

R&D should focus on sustainable intensification, continuing to expand the production frontier in sustainable ways, working systemically and incorporating both traditional and other informal knowledge. Extension and advisory services should focus on closing yield gaps and raising the labour productivity of small and medium-sized farmers.

Partnering with producer organisations can help ensure that R&D and extension services are both inclusive and responsive to farmers’ needs.

Institutional innovation

All family farmers need an enabling environment for innovation, including developmental governance, growth-oriented macroeconomic conditions, legal and regulatory regimes favourable to family farms, affordable risk management tools and improved market infrastructure.

Improved access to local or wider markets for inputs and outputs, including through government procurement from family farmers, can provide strong incentives for innovation, but farmers in remote areas and other marginalised groups often face formidable barriers.

In addition, sustainable agricultural practices often have high start-up costs and long pay-off periods. Hence, farmers need appropriate incentives to provide needed environmental services. Effective local institutions, including farmer organisations, combined with social protection programmes, can help overcome these barriers.

The capacity to innovate in family farming must be supported at various levels and in different spheres. Individual innovation capacity and capabilities must be developed through education, training and extension. Incentives can create the needed networks and linkages to enable farmers, researchers and others to share information and to work towards common objectives.

Effective and inclusive producer organisations, such as cooperatives, can be crucial in supporting innovation by their members. Producer organistions can help their members better access markets and innovate and also ensure a voice for family farms in policy-making.

Innovation is not merely technical or economic, but often requires institutional, systemic and social dimensions as well. Such a holistic view of and approach to innovation can be crucial to inclusion, efficacy and success.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released The State of Food and Agriculture: Innovation in Family Farming on Oct. 16.

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Excerpt:

Jomo Kwame Sundaram is the Coordinator for Economic and Social Development at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought.

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Reducing Hunger: More Than Just Access to Foodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/reducing-hunger-more-than-just-access-to-food/#respond Mon, 13 Oct 2014 20:00:33 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137144 “We want healthy food, we want to produce according to our traditions,” farmers and activists demanded during an international forum of experts on agriculture and the environment in this southern Italian city. It is not necessary to go far to find an illustration of the difficulties facing farmers in achieving that goal, Dario Natale told […]

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A dozen activists from the Stop Biocidio organisation disrupted Greenaccord’s 11th forum on Saturday Oct. 11 to demand that the Italian government clean up illegal toxic waste dumped on their lands and protect agricultural production around Naples. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
NAPLES, Italy, Oct 13 2014 (IPS)

“We want healthy food, we want to produce according to our traditions,” farmers and activists demanded during an international forum of experts on agriculture and the environment in this southern Italian city.

It is not necessary to go far to find an illustration of the difficulties facing farmers in achieving that goal, Dario Natale told IPS. He is a young man who lives in the area between the cities of Naples and Caserta known as “Terra dei fuochi” or land of fire, due to the chronic burning of waste, much of it toxic.

“The land is polluted, people get sick and our products are under suspicion. The government has done nothing,” complained the 24-year-old Natale, who belongs to Stop Biocidio, a group that is demanding an end to the illegal dumping or burying of waste in the area, and to the burning of garbage, which began in the 1990s.

That area in the southwest province of Campania is known for the production of vegetables, fruit and mozzarella cheese made from the milk of the domestic Italian water buffalo.

Since the 1990s, the Camorra, the Naples mafia, has taken over the handling and disposal of refuse and toxic waste hauled in from Italy’s industrialised north and dumped in the south, which has caused serious damage to the environment, health and the local economy.“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn't mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one.” -- Marino Niola

This is one of the problems that will be discussed at the Expo Milan, to be held in May 2015 in that northern Italian city, under the theme Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. In the expo, participating countries will present their situation regarding the production of food, the fight against hunger, and measures adopted to guarantee food security.

These are the same issues that were tackled at the 11th International Media Forum on the Protection of Nature, held Oct. 8-11 in Naples under the theme “People Building the Future; Feeding the World: Food, Agriculture and Environment”.

The Forum, organised by Greenaccord, an Italian network of experts dedicated to training in environmental questions, brought together some 200 reporters, academics, activists, students and representatives of governments and multilateral organisations from 47 countries.

During the four days of talks and debates they also discussed issues like the fight against hunger, the role of transnational corporations, and the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.

The nations of the developing South, different experts said, are in an ambiguous situation, because they fight hunger but are only partly successful when it comes to ensuring food security which also involves production and distribution of quality food.

“It’s not just about production of enough food for everyone; it means that every individual must have access to food,” Adriana Opromolla, Caritas International campaign manager, told IPS. “In Latin America, for example, compliance with that right varies. The fact that countries have laws on it does not mean they are necessarily complying.”

Caritas released a report on food security in Guatemala and Nicaragua on Monday during the annual forum of the International Food Security & Nutrition Civil Society Mechanism, held in the Rome headquarters of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Oct. 12-19 is the Food Week of Action.

By 2050, demand for food will expand 65 percent, while the world population will reach nine billion.

The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014 report released Sept. 16 revealed that the proportion of undernourished people in Latin America went down from 15.3 percent in the 1990-1992 period to 6.1 percent in 2012-2014.

As a result, this region met the first of the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) one year before the 2015 deadline. The MDGs were adopted by the international community in 2000, and the first is to cut the proportion of hungry people and people living in extreme poverty around the world by half, from 1990 levels.

Measures taken in the region have varied. For example, nations like Colombia and Mexico included the right to food in the constitution, while other countries, such as Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador adopted legislation on the matter.

“Food insecurity is still a problem and it doesn’t mean only access to food, but when, how and how much. There is a real security and a perceived one,” Marino Niola, director of the Centre for Social Research on the Mediterranean Diet, or MedEatResearch, at the private Suor Orsola Benincasa University of Naples, told IPS.

In 2004, FAO adopted the “Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security”, which are being reviewed this year.

The theme for World Food Day, Oct. 16, this year is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”.

“The right to food is an ethical way to address food production and distribution. It has to be guaranteed for importing countries,” Gary Gardner, a researcher with the Worldwatch Institute, told IPS.

In his research, the U.S. expert has found that 13 counties were totally dependent on imported grains in 2013, 51 were dependent on imports for more than 50 percent, and 77 were dependent on imports for over 25 percent.

More than 90 million people in the world are totally dependent on imported grains, 376 million are dependent on imports for more than 50 percent and 882 million are dependent on imports for more than 25 percent.

Opromolla said more budgetary resources are needed, as well as greater transparency in decision-making and more participation by civil society.

“It’s a structural problem,” the Caritas expert said. “Multiple measures are needed, applied in a coherent manner. The commitment by the state is essential, because it must guarantee the right to food.”

Natale is clear on what he wants and does not want for situations like the current one in “Terra dei fuochi”: No more pollution of the soil and water, and government protection of agricultural production. “Our diet is healthy. It doesn’t depend only on pizza and pasta, as the government says. If we don’t produce, where does the food come from?”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Half of U.S. Farmland Being Eyed by Private Equityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/half-u-s-farmland-eyed-private-equity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-u-s-farmland-eyed-private-equity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/half-u-s-farmland-eyed-private-equity/#comments Wed, 19 Feb 2014 00:52:14 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131762 An estimated 400 million acres of farmland in the United States will likely change hands over the coming two decades as older farmers retire, even as new evidence indicates this land is being strongly pursued by private equity investors. Mirroring a trend being experienced across the globe, this strengthening focus on agriculture-related investment by the […]

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Industry analysts say the institutional share of U.S. farmland ownership is rising quickly. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Feb 19 2014 (IPS)

An estimated 400 million acres of farmland in the United States will likely change hands over the coming two decades as older farmers retire, even as new evidence indicates this land is being strongly pursued by private equity investors.

Mirroring a trend being experienced across the globe, this strengthening focus on agriculture-related investment by the private sector is already leading to a spike in U.S. farmland prices. Coupled with relatively weak federal policies, these rising prices are barring many young farmers from continuing or starting up small-scale agricultural operations of their own."This is no longer necessarily about food at all, but rather is a way to reap financial profits." -- Anuradha Mittal

In the long term, critics say, this dynamic could speed up the already fast-consolidating U.S. food industry, with broad ramifications for both human and environmental health.

“When non-operators own farms, they tend to source out the oversight to management companies, leading in part to horrific conditions around labour and how we treat the land,” Anuradha Mittal, the executive director of the Oakland Institute, a U.S. watchdog group focusing on global large-scale land acquisitions, told IPS.

“They also reprioritise what commodities are grown on that land, based on what can yield the highest return. This is no longer necessarily about food at all, but rather is a way to reap financial profits. Unfortunately, that’s far removed from the central role that land ultimately plays in terms of climate change, growing hunger and the stability of the global economy.”

In a new report released Tuesday, the Oakland Institute tracks rising interest from some of the financial industry’s largest players. Citing information from Freedom of Information Act requests, the group says this includes bank subsidiaries (the Swiss UBS Agrivest), pension funds (the U.S. TIAA-CREF) and other private equity interests (such as HAIG, a subsidiary of Canada’s largest insurance group).

“Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before,” the report states.

“Driven by the same structural factors and perpetrated by many of the same investors, the corporate consolidation of agriculture is being felt just as strongly in Iowa and California as it is in the Philippines and Mozambique.”

As yet, the amount of U.S. land owned by private investors is thought to be relatively low. The report points to a 2011 industry estimate that large-scale investors at the time owned around one percent of U.S. farmland, worth between three five billion dollars.

Last year, however, another industry analyst put this figure at around 10 billion dollars, suggesting that the institutional share of farmland ownership is rising quickly.

“We’ve been seeing a decimation of the family farmer for a long time, but now these processes are accelerating,” Mittal says. “We need a tightening at the policy level before we’re swamped by these trends.”

Demographic collision

In the year after food prices suddenly rose in 2008, global speculation in land rose by some 200 percent. With the international financial meltdown coinciding almost simultaneously with this crisis, investors have increasingly viewed agricultural land as a relatively safe place to put their money amidst rising volatility.

In the United States, investors are particularly eyeing potential future returns from mineral prospecting, water rights and strengthening trends in meat consumption. U.S. farmland is also seen as globally desirable due to a combination of high-tech farming opportunities and lax regulations regarding the use of genetically modified crops.

As a result of this new interest, land prices in the United States have risen by an estimated 213 percent over the past decade. This could now play into two trends at once.

Already, the United States is home to relatively low numbers of farmers, with the country famously home to more prisoners than full-time agriculturalists. But those who do continue to farm are also quickly aging.

While federal agriculture officials are expected to offer updated demographic information within the coming week, the most recent statistics suggest that just 6 percent of farmers are under 35 of age. Further, some 70 percent of U.S. farmland is owned by people 65 years or older.

“The older generation needs to cash out because they have no retirement funds, even as the new generation doesn’t have the capital to get into the kind of debt that [starting a farm] requires,” Severine von Tscharner Fleming, a farmer and co-founder of the Agrarian Trust, a group that helps new farmers access land, told IPS.

“Today there is a huge number of older folks trying to decide what to do with their land, and in many places we don’t have many years to help them make that decision. So in that sense there’s an urgent need, and we don’t have many tools at the federal level to help.”

For the most part, Fleming suggests, U.S. federal agriculture policy today is not aligned to the country’s best interests, instead pointing away from greater agricultural diversity, regional resilience and greater strengthened opportunity for rural economies. Nonetheless, she says that her organisation is encountering a surge of attention from young people that want to start their own farms.

“Over the past seven years, we’ve had an explosion of interest in being trained as a farmer and entering the trade of agriculture, and this is very much related to the crises around the banks and the environment,” she says.

“The problem we’re facing is not one in which nobody wants to farm, but rather the fact that the U.S. economy is structured in such a way that makes it really hard to start a farm in this country.”

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Q&A: Brazil’s School Meals Teach Good Eating Habitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/qa-brazils-school-meals-teach-good-eating-habits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-brazils-school-meals-teach-good-eating-habits http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/03/qa-brazils-school-meals-teach-good-eating-habits/#respond Wed, 20 Mar 2013 20:19:54 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=117343 Fabíola Ortiz interviews ALBANEIDE PEIXINHO, coordinator of Brazil's National School Meals Programme

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Fabíola Ortiz interviews ALBANEIDE PEIXINHO, coordinator of Brazil's National School Meals Programme

By Fabíola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 20 2013 (IPS)

Providing school meals for 45 million children is a remarkable achievement for Brazil. But the programme faces specific difficulties, as well as the generic problems plaguing any national plan in this vast country of more than 192 million people.

Brazil’s National School Feeding Programme (PNAE) has evolved from the strictly welfare-oriented approach it had when it was created 58 years ago, into a multi-purpose development strategy with educational goals and a focus on stimulating local economies. IPS sat down with its coordinator, Albaneide Peixinho, to discuss its accomplishments and challenges.

Q: The PNAE has existed since 1955. How has it progressed since then?

A: Nowadays it is based on several principles, like the human right to adequate nutrition and the aim of ensuring food and nutritional security by means of free and universal provision for all children and adolescents enrolled in the public education system.

Albaneide Peixinho, coordinator of Brazil's National School Meals Programme. Credit: Divulgaçao Fundo Nacional de Desenvolvimento da Educaçao

Albaneide Peixinho, coordinator of Brazil’s National School Meals Programme.
Credit: Divulgaçao Fundo Nacional de Desenvolvimento da Educaçao

And also on equity and the constitutional right to school meals as a way of guaranteeing equal access to food.

The PNAE is part of the federal government’s Zero Hunger strategy, which encompasses 30 programmes designed to fight the causes of hunger and contribute to eradicating extreme poverty.

The government’s social vision was a key factor in the dramatic fall in poverty in this country, and it was reflected in the PNAE, which since 2003 saw its funding increased by 300 percent and its services expanded to middle-school students.

At the same time, the requirement that the programme must purchase produce from local family farms gives it an important role in reducing social inequality.

Q: What has it achieved?

A: The PNAE was created simply as assistance to some schoolchildren. Now it reaches 45 million students in basic education for the 200 days of the school year. Over the years it has accumulated experience and has taken on an ever wider scope, promoting improvement in educational indicators, economic and social development and social participation in health care, by teaching good eating habits.

The 1988 constitution guaranteed the right (to free school meals) of all pupils enrolled in primary schools. As of 1994, the programme which previously was centralised, with a governing body that drew up menus, bought food and distributed it throughout the country, was converted into a locally managed programme governed by means of agreements.

Since 1998 it has been further improved, for example by insisting on respect for the eating habits and the farming preferences of each locality, and the creation of school nutrition councils as oversight bodies, with representatives of parents, students, teachers, the community and the executive and legislative branches.

One of the main legal frameworks is law 11,947 of 2009, which stipulates that at least 30 percent of the resources of the National Education Development Fund be devoted to buying food produced on family farms, as well as providing the school meal service to all primary education students, including both children and adults.

Q: What problems does the programme face?

A: There are difficulties that are specific to the programme, and others that are inherent to any programme covering the whole of Brazil: the size of the country, the varied agricultural activities in the different regions, and the low productive capacity of family agriculture when it comes to supplying demand.

Other problems include differences in local customs, the different nutritional needs of students, lack of infrastructure to store, transport and prepare meals, a lack of space to set up school lunchrooms, as well as challenges in developing ongoing food and nutritional education that is intrinsic to the educational process.

There is also “competition” between the meals offered by the school and canteens or bars selling sweets, fizzy drinks, salty or fatty snacks, the “favourites” of children and adolescents. A 2009 resolution restricts the amount of fat, sugar and salt in PNAE meals.

Q: And what challenges does the programme intend to address?

A: We plan to carry out a thorough assessment of the nutritional needs of students and match them with adequate nutrition that they find acceptable, as well as with the farming culture and diets of every locality. Another challenge is finding professionals who are well-trained in this field.

Q: Is it possible to reach all primary schools, at federal, state and municipal levels?

A: The programme serves all schools that have formed their own school nutrition council and have hired a nutritionist. In 2012 there were 161,670 such schools, 83 percent of the total.

Q: How are the menus drawn up?

A: They need to be drawn up according to age range, type of school and the hours students spend in school. When two meals are served, at least 30 percent of daily nutritional requirements should be provided. In schools with a full-day curriculum, the minimum is 70 percent. (In Brazil, many schoolchildren attend either the morning or the afternoon shift.)

Q: Has it been demonstrated that school meals improve scholastic performance?

A: There is a variety of evidence on the role of nutrition in neurological, cognitive and intellectual development in childhood. Proteins, calcium, iron, iodine, zinc, vitamins and fish oils fulfil essential functions, as shown by different studies.

The school environment favours the formation of habits. Habits are formed from birth, by means of family customs and those taught by society – at school, in social circles and by the media – up until adult life, when along with symbolic aspects they set the pattern of individual and societal consumption.

The PNAE encourages eating fruits, vegetables and pulses and prescribes food hygiene control, precepts that lead to an adequate supply and healthy intake. The earlier these habits are learned, the greater the probability that they will be continued in adulthood.

The post Q&A: Brazil’s School Meals Teach Good Eating Habits appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Fabíola Ortiz interviews ALBANEIDE PEIXINHO, coordinator of Brazil's National School Meals Programme

The post Q&A: Brazil’s School Meals Teach Good Eating Habits appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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