August 2012

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #204 The Land Grabbers

Posted by on 28 Aug 2012 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

August 28, 2012

Our topic this week is The Landgrabbers, the international buy up and lease out of millions of acres of land by financiers, agribusiness, and even mobsters. My guest will be Fred Pearce, author of a book by that title. He’s a science writer based in London, and I prerecorded an interview with him about landgrabbing and its effects on fundamental issues of world hunger and social and political equality

Here is some background on landgrabbing from the worldwatch insitute

In 2007, a combination of rising energy costs, population growth, and the increasing use of crops for biofuel production triggered a sharp spike in food prices around the world. In developing countries, the cost of importing food rose by 25 percent, resulting in riots, export bans, and black markets as the average family was forced to spend between 50 and 75 percent of its household income on food expenses. But the implications for some communities were even broader.

As food prices soared and countries felt increasing pressure, compelling governments to buy or lease large swaths of land for agricultural purposes, a practice known as “land grabbing.” The term land grabbing is problematic due to vast differences in land sales and leases, land grabbing has come to encompass the increasingly prevalent, and often criticized, act of large-scale national or transnational land exchanges.

Land grabbing occurs primarily in developing countries from South America, to Indonesia, to Africa. The Malian government, for example, has “signed over 470,000 hectares to foreign companies, from Libya, China, the UK, Saudi Arabia and other countries in recent years, virtually all of it in the Niger Basin.” Though the government has signed over 470,000 hectares, experts estimate that Mali only has the water resources to irrigate 250,000 hectares.

One of the main controversies about land grabbing is whether it ultimately helps to improve global food security and energy production, or whether it simply reflects economic greed and results in displacement and job loss in local populations.

In the context of energy production, the drive for biofuels has caused large firms to buy up land from poor villagers in Africa, often with devastating consequences. More than 30 biofuel projects have been initiated and subsequently abandoned across the continent, leaving the villagers, who were promised jobs and village improvements, unemployed and landless. There are reports of incomplete and missing land payments, dangerous working environments, and a general lack of transparency.

On a broad scale, land grabbing can be seen as a shift in security: countries that are food or energy insecure are able to buy or lease large swaths of productive land in order to grow and harvest land at a cheaper cost. Meanwhile, the local populations that sell or rent the land often lose their livelihoods and security. Additionally, many land grabs are not sales but rather leases that will eventually expire, leaving local populations with degraded soils, exploited aquifers, and diminished income.

Certainly, food-insecure nations will need find novel ways to provide enough food for their populations; however, small-scale rural farmers must be protected from powerful buyers, such as governments, and be given more power in the negotiation process to mitigate the negative consequences of land grabs.

Although reliable information on land grabs is scarce, estimates suggest that in the past several years, more than 80 million hectares have been sold or leased in large-scale deals. To protect vulnerable local populations, a stable regulatory framework needs to be implemented and land deals should be done with greater transparency.

Although regulation is lacking at the global level, the challenges associated with land grabs are gaining visibility. The United Nations recently adopted international guidelines with the goal of “improving secure access to land, fisheries and forests and protecting the rights of millions of often very poor people.” The guidelines call for transparency, consultations with local populations, protection of indigenous land rights, and fair and prompt compensation.

The adoption of these voluntary guidelines is an important first step. To effectively protect local populations, implementation and accountability must quickly follow.

(First posted on Worldwatch Institute’s blog: and Written by Alison Singer; Edited by Antonia Sohns).

Listen to the Interview with Fred Pearce

My Questions for Fred

This is Ecotopia on KZFR and my guest for this show, speaking to us from London, is Fred Pearce. He is currently the environment consultant of New Scientist magazine and a regular contributor to the British newspapers Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, and Times Higher Education. He has also written for several US publications including Audubon, Foreign Policy, Popular Science, Seed, and Time. Fred Pearce has written a number of books on environmental and development issues, including the book we’ll discuss today, The Land Grabbers (published by Beacon Press here in the U.S.)

Segment I: The Problem and Major Issues

–Your title is “The Land Grabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth.” As we look at the world map in school, most of us thought it had been pretty well divided up, except or occasional border adjustments and world wars. What made you start to think that land masses might be changing ownership? When did the idea for this book click into place?

–You spent about a year flying around the globe observing and interviewing people you call “the grabbers” and “the grabbed.”

–Who are some of the people who are doing the grabbing? [Notes: Soros, macro-terrorists, gun runners, Branson, a commander of British land forces in Guinea, Patagonia (vii).]

–What are they grabbing? Why? Do they want to just be farmers or open a shop in an exotic location? How much money is changing hands? What kind of control changes hands?

–You remark that some of the grabbers come in for humanitarian reasons, say to rescue the environment, preserve parks, and introduce new agriculural techniques as a way to create sustainable communities. Are there many of these kids of altruists? Does their altruism sometimes do damage?

–I wonder if we could talk about one or two of the countries/chapters in your book.

• One chapter that especially interested me was Liberia, “created two centuries ago as a homeland for freed American slaves.” Some saw Liberia as “an African Garden of Eden.” What happened? [Notes: Civil War, League of Nations, United Nations, Firestone, Cocal Cola, beer, timber industry, education, employment] What was/is Libya’s “resource curse”?] Will Libyans ever get their land back?

• Another amazing chapter in your book takes place not in Africa but in the good old USA: Chicago, Illinois. What did you see at the Chicago Board of Trade and what did it tell you? [Notes: corn, grain and other futures.] Does free competitive trading keep down the price of food? What was the relationship between the Chicago Board of Trade (and other markets) on the global price of food and hunger in 2007 and 2008? Where do outfits like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley fit it—what are they doing in the food market?

–Before we take a break, Fred Pearce, are there other examples/chapters you especially encourage people to think about in The Land Grabbers

Segment II: Possible Solutions

This is Ecotopia on KZFR, and My guest is Fred Pearce, a journalist based in England, who has written widely on environmental issues. His new book is called The Land Grabbers: The New Fight Over Who Owns The Earth, published by Beacon Press. As we discussed in the first segment, and and we see from reading your book, you do not offer a great deal of positive news. The partial message that I came away with is that, once again, the global economy and megabusiness have found a way to make vast fortunes without a lot of regard for the people whose land they take.

However, we do know as well that there a number of governmental and NGO agencies around the world working on issues like hunger, health, and education.

–In your travels around the world, did you see any positive centers where the landgrabbing ethic has been blunted, if not reversed?

…local farming? sustainable farming?

…community markets?

…resistance to chemical farming and GMOS?

—-Is there any good news from international agencies like Oxfam or the UN Millennium Project?

–Who are some of the advocates for small sustainable farming, a new “green revolution”? Who are the people and powers working on that?

–As you look to the future, Fred Pearce, what do you see happening? good news? bad news? Other than reading your powerful book, how can listeners learn more about the land grabbers?

Additional Background: The UN Committee on World Security

Tonight we’ve been talking about the phenomenon of “landgrabbing,” it it is encouraging to know that the United Nations has identified landgrabbing as a huge issue and is taking some steps to control it. Unfortunately, like so many U.N. actions, this action, by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is a voluntary set of global guidelines aimed at helping governments safeguard the rights of people to own or access land, forests and fisheries.

Passed in May 11 in Rome the guidelines–and here I will quotes the press release–”are based on an inclusive consultation process started by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN in 2009 and then finalized through … intergovernmental negotiations that included participation of government officials, civil society organizations, private sector representatives, international organizations and academics….

“The aim of the guidelines: to promote food security and sustainable development by improving secure access to land, fisheries and forests and protecting the rights of millions of often very poor people.”

The basic agreements call for:

“· Recognition and protection of legitimate tenure rights, even under informal systems

· Best practices for registration and transfer of tenure rights

· Making sure that tenure administrative systems are accessible and affordable

· Managing expropriations and restitution of land to people who were forcibly evicted in the past

· Rights of indigenous communities

· Ensuring that investment in agricultural lands occurs responsibly and transparently

· Mechanisms for resolving disputes over tenure rights

· Dealing with the expansion of cities into rural areas”

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, General José Graziano da Silva, said, ”Giving poor and vulnerable people secure and equitable rights to access land and other natural resources is a key condition in the fight against hunger and poverty. It is a historic breakthrough that countries have agreed on these first-ever global land tenure guidelines. We now have a shared vision. It’s a starting point that will help improve the often dire situation of the hungry and poor.”

He also said that “While the guidelines acknowledge that responsible investments by the public and private sectors are essential for improving food security, they also recommend that safeguards be put in place to protect tenure rights of local people from risks that could arise from large-scale land acquisitions, and also to protect human rights, livelihoods, food security and the environment.”

Importantly, Graziano de Salva points out that “Investment models exist that do not result in the large-scale acquisition of land, and these alternative models should be promoted. Investments should also promote policy objectives such as boosting local food security and promoting food security, poverty eradication and job creation, and providimg benefits to the country and its people, including the poor and most vulnerable.”

However, and here seems to be a central weakness, the press release continued:

“It is now up to the countries who endorsed the guidelines to put them into practice on the ground, according to Olaniran. Graziano de Salva said,’These changes won’t happen overnight. But we also know. as a result of the extensive consultations by FAO and the CFS-led negotiation process, that there is a lot of buy-in and support for the guidelines. The CFS endorsement lends them legitimacy and strength, and all the countries involved are ready to take them on board.'”

Speaking on behalf of civil society organizations involved in the guidelines process, Ángel Strapazzón, of Movimiento Campesino Indígena-Vía Campesina Argentina said: “We commend the process that was adopted for developing the guidelines, which provided the opportunity for civil society and representatives of small-scale food producers to participate at all stages, to draw attention to the real life issues and make concrete proposals.”

“We welcome the Guidelines, but with awareness that they fall short in some areas that are key to the livelihoods of small-scale food producers. Despite this, we call on governments and intergovernmental agencies to implement them and urgently improve governance of tenure for food security,” he added.

Luc Maene, Chairman of the International Agri-Food Network, representing the private sector, said: “Land tenure is fundamental to food security, and it is fitting that the newly-reformed Committee on Food Security leads this process. The guidelines set out important key elements to make land tenure function. In many places, land tenure systems are effectively non-existent. To us in the private sector and to our farmer partners, it is important that there should be effective local administration of land registries without corruption. Fair, transparent rules benefit everyone, ensuring women get equal access to land and furthering responsible investment throughout the agri-food chain.”

FAO’s Graziano da Silva added that the Organization stands ready to provide support and assistance to countries in adapting and implementing the guidelines.

As done in the past in the case of other, similar agreements — for example the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries — FAO will now develop a series of technical handbooks designed to help countries adapt the guidelines to their local contexts and put them into play. The Organization will also provide targeted technical assistance to governments towards that same end.

For its part, the CFS will next take a focused look at the issue of responsible agricultural investments in general. The body is currently planning a yearlong consultative process, to start in October, that could culminate in set of recommended principles for responsible investment in agriculture later in 2013.

Made up of governments, UN agencies, civil society organizations, agricultural research centres, financial institutions, private sector groups and philanthropic foundations, CFS is the leading global platform for discussions on food security issues and serves as a mechanism for consensus-building at the international level and policy promotion at the national level.

1. This Land (Score) 2:55 Hans Zimmer The Lion King (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) Soundtrack

2.Halala South Africa 5:20 Ladysmith Black Mambazo Long Walk To Freedom World 11 3/31/2010 12:27 PM

3. Freedom World 5:00 18 1 3/9/2012 10:43 AM

4. We Are the Ones 2:53 Sweet Honey in the Rock 1 8/28/2012 7:56 AM

5. This Land Is Your Land 2:27 Peter, Paul & Mary The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary Singer/Songwriter 1 8/28/2012 7:59 AM

6.Home 4:06 Mike Wofchuck Flight World 2 8/28/2012 8:03 AM

7. This Land Is Your Land 4:31 Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings Naturally R&B/Soul

8 Judgement Day 3:16 The Devil Makes Three LongJohns, Boots And A Belt Rock 6 3/31/2010 12:22 PM

R9iver Jordan 4:49 Soweto Gospel Choir African Spirit Easy Listening 9 7/4/2010 11:26 AM


Ecotopia #203 Label GMOs

Posted by on 28 Aug 2012 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Ecotopia #203
Title: Label GMOs
August 21, 2012

This week we’re talking about Proposition 37. Our guests are both proponents of the proposition to label products that contain GMOs, genetically modified organisms. We’ll talk first with Grant Lundberg; he’s the CEO of Lundberg Family Farms and on the Board of Directors of the Non GMO Project.

And then we’ll talk with Dave Murphy, a frequent guest on this program. He’s the founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a nonprofit that dedicated to reforming policies relating to food, agriculture and the environment.
Listen to the Program

Our Conversation with Grant Lundberg

On the phone with us now is Grant Lundberg, CEO of Lundberg Family Farms and on the Board of Directors of the Non GMO Project

1. Grant, you are a proponent of Yes on Prop 37, which would require the labeling of GMO products. What exactly does the proposition call for? What does GMO mean?

2. What are the goals of the California Right to Know, an activist group supporting Proposition 37? Are there efforts to ban GMOs altogether?

3. You’re also involved with the Non GMO Project? How does that relate to Prop 37?

4. Why do you think it’s important to label GMO products? Beyond the fact that we have a right to know, what’s wrong with GMOs?

5. What got you involved in the efforts to let the public know about GMOs?

6. The website for the Non GMO Project ( has a very useful “handbook” called “GMO Myths and Truths: An evidence-based  examination of the claims made for the safety and efficacy of genetically modified crops.” What kinds of myths are common about GMOs?

7. What kind of media ads might we expect to see about Prop 37 in the next few months? How can people learn more? California Right to Know  website is

Thank you so much, Grant Lundberg. We’ve been talking to Grant Lundberg, who’s the CEO of Lundberg Family Farm and active in the Yes on Prop 37, aiming to require the labeling of products with GMOs.

Our Discussion with Dave Murphy
Back on the show with us is Dave Murphy. He’s founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots organization of more than 300,000 farmers and citizens. He is a tireless activist, working to reform policies related to food, agriculture and the environment.
1. What work has Food Democracy Now! done in the past on the issue of GMOs?

2. Why do you think this is an important issue? What are some of the risks of GM crops? Why not go for a ban on GM crops rather than just labeling GMOs?

3. I read in your blog on Food Democracy Now! that the parliamentary standing committee on agriculture issued a report calling for a reversal of India’s policy to allow GM crops to be cultivated. What do think the outcome of that is likely to be? How to other countries treat GM crops?

4. You also write that recent campaign finance reports show that pesticide and processed food companies have contributed nearly $10 million to oppose Proposition 37. Who are some of those companies? What rationale, if any, do they offer for opposing Prop 37? In what form will we see the opposition to Prop 37?

5. Tell us about some of the lobbying efforts both locally and nationally to create support for GM crops?

5. What do you think will be the outcome of this proposition? How is Food Democracy Now! participating in the California Right to Know Campaign?

6. We’ve already mentioned the website. Food Democracy Now! also has information on this topic: Tell us a bit more about some of the efforts of Food Democracy Now!

Our guest has been Dave Murphy. He’s the founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now!, a grassroots movement of more than 300,000 American farmers and citizens dedicated to reforming policies relating to food, agriculture and the environment. Thanks for being with us again, Dave.”


1. Real Food    2:58    Jerry Engler    Very Jerry    Country
2. The GMO’s    2:55    Synthetic Folk Hero    Synthetic Folk Hero    Pop
3. Genetically Modified Organisms    3:49    Panika    Genetically Modified    Hip-Hop/Rap
4. Monsanto (Go Away!)    6:17    Human    Naked    Pop
5. Weave Me the Sunshine    4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary    Folk        100    7/6/12 3:57 PM
6. Food    2:40    The Turtles    The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands    Pop        4    6/13/11 12:53 PM
7. Food Food Food (Oh How I Love my Food)    2:10    The Wiggles    Toot Toot    Children’s Music        5    8/21/12 8:42 AM