If You Love This Planet, Dr. Helen Caldicott

Alexandra Spieldoch on global land-grab schemes, food and water security and the power of corporate agribusiness


Image: Independent/UK

Image: Independent/UK

Alexandra Spieldoch is the Director of the Trade and Global Governance Program at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. She specializes in analysis of international policy and institutions that support fairer rules in food and agriculture. In this interview she discusses food security and global governance from a human rights and development perspective. Dr. Caldicott starts the conversation by remarking how disturbed she was by the information in Spieldoch’s 2009 article Global Land Grab. In
providing an overview of the international food and water situation, Spieldoch says 200 million more people are now
hungry since the 2006 food crisis. And water supplies are decreasing; two-thirds of the world may suffer from lack of water stress if urgent action is not taken.

For background, see Spieldoch’s May 5 PowerPoint slide presentation, Land Grab: The Race for the World’s Farmland. Read her 2008 article The Food Crisis and Global Institutions. Also see the 2009 articles Fears for the World’s Poor Countries as the Rich Grab Land to Grow Food and Wish You Weren’t Here: The Devastating Effects of Rich Countries Buying Land in Poor Countries to Grow Food and Cash Crops and
Land Grab: The Race for the World’s Farmland. Visit the blog, FarmLandGrab.org. And see World Hunger Facts 2009.

As they talk about the trade in “commodities” and the theft of land from the world’s poor to grow food and flowers, Spieldoch provides a historical perspective back to the 1980’s when globalization initiatives started to dismantle cooperative and community agriculture programs. For more information on the impact of globalization, visit the website of the International Forum on Globalization. Spieldoch explains why governments go along with free trade agreements that cut domestic programs which help the poor. Dr. Caldicott refers to research by Australian social psychologist Alex Carey on how Americans have been trained by corporate think tanks to worship free enterprise and to disdain government social welfare. Her just-released book If You Love This Planet covers the “manufacture of consent” by corporate America in depth. Listen to a two-part program on corporations, propaganda, and democracy based on Carey’s research.

Alexandra Spieldoch

Alexandra Spieldoch

As they discuss water, Dr. Caldicott quotes a corporate leader who says the world will run out of water before it runs out of fuel, and points out the impact of glacier melt on billions of people. Spieldoch says that agriculture contributes up to 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and irrigated agriculture uses over 70% of the world’s water. Read Millions of Rural Poor in Nepal Could Face More Hunger as a Result of Climate Change; The melting of the Himalayan glaciers will be felt well beyond Nepal’s borders.

Spieldoch comments on recent riots in countries that can no longer grow enough food. Dr. Caldicott cites Madagascar, where South Korean firm Daewoo tried to take over half of the country’s arable land for 99 years, which led to violent protests which successfully blocked Daewoo’s plan. Spieldoch explains the significance of these events, and then talks about the large size of the new land-lease schemes. She states which nations are buying land in other countries to grow food, and which countries are victims of the land schemes, mostly in Africa.

Dr. Caldicott moves the conversation to biofuels, which create more greenhouse gas emissions, not less. See the September 23 press release More Than 200 Scientists and Economists Call on Congress, Federal Agencies to Account for All Emissions From Biofuels. Dr. Caldicott alludes to Archer Daniels Midland, the world’s largest grain and ethanol producer whose former slogan was “Supermarket to the World.” She says that biofuels are an inappropriate response to the real problem of peak oil. Read The Era of Xtreme Energy: Life After the Age of Oil and visit the Web site of Post Carbon Institute. Spieldoch notes that big agribusiness, not small farmers, profits from biofuels. Spieldoch talks about genetically modified foods and Monsanto’s new advertising campaign, “How can we squeeze more food from a raindrop?” Watch the new French documentary The World According to Monsanto in 10 parts on YouTube (narration in English). See the September 22 news article Court Rejects Genetically Modified Sugar Beets. Read Agriculture -South Africa: Small Farmers Pushed to Plant GM Seeds.

Photo:  www.ifad.org

Photo: www.ifad.org

Dr. Caldicott says that in a future world without oil, communities will need to grow their own food and harvest their own water. See the nine-minute Web video Eat the Suburbs: Gardening for the End of the Oil Age and read Creating a backyard vegetable garden. Spieldoch says that increasing world populations will exacerbate land struggle issues, and she notes that women farmers have few legal rights. Global investment should support local efforts. To that end, Spieldoch closes by praising a landmark study, International Assessment of Agriculture Science, Technology and Development. The report emphatically advocates sustainable practices, small-scale farming, local knowledge, healthy food and biodiversity to solve critical food problems and safeguard farmers.

For additional information on the topics she discussed, Spieldoch recommends people read Free Trade in Agriculture: a Bad Idea, Integrated Solutions to Water, Ag and Climate Crises, Global Food Responsibility: the EU and the U.S. Must Chart a New Path, and the executive summary of the International Assessment of Agriculture, Science and Technology, in which Spieldoch at one point refers to the role of women in agriculture. She also recommends The World Bank’s Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook. See The Hunger Project’s fact sheet, Women Farmers and Food Security.

For a more general look at the world food situation, read the article Half the world’s population faces major food crisis by 2100, Science study finds, and look for the new documentary film, Food Inc., which might be shown in your area (or later available on DVD). Also check out the book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations about the importance of soil to world survival. For more about global warming and the world’s food and water, see the reports Cooking up a storm: Food, greenhouse gas emissions and our changing climate and Livestock’s Long Shadow. Read River systems worldwide are losing water due to global warming, Water Scarcity Looms as Population, Temperatures Rise, and As water and power dry up in India, the people revolt. And check out a Ugandan woman’s account of how global warming is affecting rural African farmers, Climate Change is Killing Our People. For more on looming world water issues, read the book Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

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