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Agribusiness could be the surprise winner if subsidies end; Companies perpetuate child labour in India; other news

(Monday, Dec. 12, 2005 -- CropChoice news) --

1. India vows to protect farmers in WTO deals
2. New publications for the Hong Kong WTO process
3. Wind energy turns corner in Nebraska with new partnership
4. Sometimes a bumper crop is too much of a good thing
5. Small farm destruction not inevitable as many of the land grant college professors say, rather it's planned
6. Dean/Horizon's $10 million gamble
7. Food crisis feared as fertile land runs out
8. Biofuel imports should be closely scrutinized
9. Agribusiness could be the surprise winner if subsidies end
10. Energy promoters happy with study
11. Security hawk urges stronger energy policy
12. Companies perpetuate child labour in India by low prices and flawed inspection

1. India vows to protect farmers in WTO deals

Asia Pulse News
Monday December 12, 2005

NEW DELHI, Dec 12 Asia Pulse - India's Cabinet Committee on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on Thursday armed Commerce Minister Kamal Nath with powers to negotiate at the WTO forum in Hong Kong next week and protect the interest of 650 million Indian farmers.

The committee, which met under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, finalised India's negotiating strategy for the forum starting on December 13.

Minister Kamal Nath, who will lead the Indian delegation at the five-day meeting, was given a mandate to protect the livelihood security of the country's farmers.

"If Hong Kong has to end without an agreement, so be it. If we can't make them (developed countries) agree, believe me we will also not agree. India will carry on even after Hong Kong... And the interest of country's 650 million farmers will be protected," said Nath.

"We will not compromise whatever we may get in goods or services for the sake of our farmers," he added.

Nath noted that agriculture remained the most structurally flawed part of global trade and WTO.

2. New publications for the Hong Kong WTO process

Kevin P. Gallagher and Timothy A. Wise, from GDAE's Globalization and Sustainable Development Program, will be attending the WTO meetings in Hong Kong December 13-18 to present the institute's research on the social, economic, and environmental impacts of trade liberalization. They will present their findings to negotiators and in parallel NGO forums taking place in Hong Kong. In addition, the institute has released new publications relevant to the negotiations:

For more on GDAE's Globalization and Sustainable Development Program:

Timothy A. Wise, Deputy Director
Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE)
Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155
tim.wise@tufts.edu, http://ase.tufts.edu/gdae

Globalization and Sustainable Development Program
phone (617) 627-3509
fax (617) 627-2409

3. Wind energy turns corner in Nebraska with new partnership

By Robert Pore
Grand Island Independent
Dec. 10, 2005

Nebraska's landscape could be changing in a big way with the future addition of thousands of new wind turbines thanks to a new partnership between state rural advocacy groups and Nebraska Public Power District.

And that partnership could bring thousands of new jobs for rural Nebraska, along with creating another cash crop for farmers throughout the state, according to John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union.

Wind energy development and the rural economy was a topic of discussion at the Nebraska Farmers Union convention in Grand Island Friday.

What has changed the state's wind energy landscape, Hansen said, is that now Nebraska Public Power District is an active partner in developing this environmentally friendly industry.

Speaking at the Farmers Union meeting was Douglas Mollet, NPPD water system/renewable energy manager.

According to Mollet, NPPD is working to enhance the development of farmer- and community-owned wind energy farms by integrating the power those facilities would generate into NPPD's power system.

NPPD, which is owned by the people of Nebraska, has been involved with wind energy for the last 10 years.

Earlier this year, NPPD opened a wind energy farm outside of Ainsworth that contains 36 wind turbines. NPPD also owns two turbines at Springview.

What makes Nebraska ripe to develop wind energy, Mollet said, is that the state ranks sixth in the nation in wind energy potential.

Surrounding states, such as Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota are ahead of Nebraska in the development of its wind energy resources. Mollet said because NPPD is a public entity, it is not allowed by law to take advantage of the production tax credits that have been used to spur investment and development of wind energy in other states.

Another factor that has kept NPPD from investing in wind energy is the huge upfront development costs. But Mollet said improved technology has helped bring costs down and make it more affordable for NPPD to invest.

"We are right at that threshold when the cost is making it economically feasible for us to invest," he said.

But the problem now is that wind energy is a worldwide growth industry and production of wind turbine equipment is not able to keep up with surging demand.

One advantage Mollet said that NPPD has in developing wind energy is that it can be easily integrated into its wide variety of energy sources.

What brought about a change in NPPD's approach to wind energy is that last year Nebraska Farmers Union, the Center for Rural Affairs and the American Corn Growers Association worked with NPPD to adopt Minnesota's community-based development concept for wind energy growth.

Also speaking at the convention about wind energy was Dan Juhl of Danmar & Associates of Pipestone, Minn., a pioneer in the community-based development approach to wind energy in Minnesota.

Juhl said as the wind energy industry began to grow in Minnesota, there were concerns that large corporate wind energy developers were draining as much as $650,000 per year out of the state with each new turbine that was built.

According to a government study on wind energy in Minnesota, Juhl said, using a community-based development strategy allows local people to generate more than $3.3 million per year in revenue from a wind turbine operation that would be kept in the state.

Under a community-based development approach, locally owned and community-based wind projects generate both revenue and electricity while keeping energy dollars local and not polluting the air and water.

Local farmers or landowners would form a limited liability corporation and bring outside investors in to build the wind turbines.

Those investors would be able to capture the production tax credit and other incentives. After 10 years, complete ownership of the wind-generating facilities reverts back to the LLC group.

Since NPPD is prohibited from investing in such private-sector wind-energy facilities, Mollet said what NPPD can do to encourage wind energy development is open up its publicly owned power system to purchase the power from these community-based wind energy operations.

"It's just a matter of getting people together to invest in the wind turbines and aggregating them together instead of scattering them across the countryside," Mollet said.

Hansen it was important to develop a partnership with NPPD to develop community-based wind energy projects.

"We now have a new paradigm in Nebraska in wind energy development," he said.

Hansen said in the past, because Nebraska is a 100 percent public power state, the idea was that public power had to own all of its power-generating facilities.

To complement public power, work with them and be able to take advantage of private-sector incentives to build the facilities, Hansen said they had to expand the definition of public ownership.

"We in the community are owners of it and we are the public, also," he said. "What we have simply done is expanded that idea of public ownership. We will be the first to do what we need to do to keep the big outside utilities from coming in and encroaching on Nebraska territory."

4. Sometimes a bumper crop is too much of a good thing

New York Times
December 8, 2005

WARSAW, Ill. - The first architects of agricultural subsidies aimed to bail out farmers during bad harvests so that they would not abandon the vital task of producing food for the nation.

But these days, not only are farmers overcoming droughts and floods, agricultural technologies are ushering them into an era of surging production that is likely to outstrip global demand for years to come.

This season's parched-earth conditions were supposed to spell doom here for the Illinois corn crop. Instead, the country's second-biggest corn-growing state harvested 16 percent more per acre than expected, helping the United States produce its second-largest crop ever.

The bountiful harvest, much of it likely to end up on world markets, has only added to a fundamental problem facing the sector: too much success for its own good. Despite the worst Midwest drought in 17 years, seed technology allowed farmers to continue their relentless increase in production.

That presages a challenge that will continue to dog farmers across the industrialized world and bureaucrats negotiating global trade agreements: how to sell ever-larger bumper crops, often increased by the latest genetic advancement, without causing too much economic pain in farm regions.

Even as businesses have cut employee benefits and have limited job security in the face of more intense global competition, governments in rich countries have clung to one of the oldest forms of trade protectionism: farm subsidies.

Manufacturers like Delphi and airlines like United and Northwest can and do file for bankruptcy and scale back their operations in a process that often enhances economic efficiency. But Washington, Tokyo and Brussels have spent heavily on subsidies for decades and have erected numerous other trade barriers to slow the demise of their farmers facing similar competitive pressures.

Some of these farm subsidies have reached extraordinary levels. Mark Vaile, Australia's trade minister, recently calculated that European Union subsidies work out to $2.20 per cow per day; more than a billion people around the world live on less than that each day.

The subsidies have not retarded the advance of farm productivity, but food prices in poor countries tend to be much lower than in affluent countries. That is because the United States and European Union keep large quantities of food off the market at home each year to support prices for their farmers and sell the food instead at subsidized prices overseas or donate it as foreign aid.

These trade practices have prevented people in poor countries with rich soil from trying to export their way to prosperity with farm goods the way countries like South Korea and Japan have exported their way to prosperity with industrial goods. The current round of global trade talks, which will include a ministerial conference in Hong Kong from Dec. 13 to 18 is supposed to address the problem but has stalled, mainly over French opposition to sharper curbs on European Union subsidies.

But the current system of subsidies faces another challenge: increasing yields from crop strains emerging from the laboratories at seed companies like Monsanto and the Pioneer Hi-Bred International unit of DuPont.

New crops, some produced through the breeding and grafting of existing strains and others through genetic manipulation, are increasing corn production in the United States and Europe every year. This is adding to surpluses, depressing global prices and driving up the costs of subsidies, which have already hit $20 billion a year for trade-related subsidies alone in the United States, and almost $85 billion a year in the European Union.

Individually, farmers welcome the new varieties of grain.

"As a grower I hate to admit it, but the people in the labs really helped us out this year," said Joe Zumwalt, a third-generation farmer here in western Illinois, near the Mississippi River. "If it weren't for the seed genetics they have been offering us the last few years, our yields and our outcome wouldn't have been nearly what they were."

But for farming communities as a whole, bumper crops can be bad news.

"Farmers really shoot themselves in the foot when they have a better crop," said Neal E. Harle, an agricultural economist at Iowa State University. "An increase in yield rewards the producer with a disproportionate drop in price and profitability; farmers would be better off if the whole crop got a haircut of 15 percent or so."

The difficulty in trying to obtain a deal limiting agricultural subsidies at the World Trade Organization ministerial conference in January in Hong Kong is that countries as varied as Japan, Switzerland, France and even the United States are each worried that their farmers of certain crops would be among the first to fail if subsidies were reduced.

Developing-country exporters of agricultural commodities like Brazil, Guatemala and Malaysia, meanwhile, are clamoring for the W.T.O. to halt moves by the United States and especially the European Union to limit the cost of their subsidies by dumping the excess food on world markets at low prices. Since 1996, American farmers have been encouraged by farm subsidy programs to produce flat out, knowing that government payments would cushion a severe drop in prices.

But lately, with large increases in corn yields becoming the norm rather than an aberration, corn prices have dropped to their lowest level since the late 1990's. Low prices, tepid exports and ample subsidy protections for farmers mean this could end up being the most expensive harvest ever for American taxpayers.

Groups like the National Corn Growers Association argue that the answer to overproduction lies in creating more demand through greater exports, which have proved elusive lately, and through building more plants that use corn to produce bio-diesel and ethanol fuels.

"We can provide this nation with a renewable source of energy all the time," said Jonathan Hofmeister, 35, a corn and soybean farmer who lives a few miles from Mr. Zumwalt.

But even as critics of the current system like Dr. Harle are pushing for limits on domestic subsidy payments to encourage farmers to curb their overproducing ways, they must contend with university researchers and big seed companies working feverishly to increase corn yields. The push the last 15 years has also been to make seeds able to retain more moisture so they can better withstand severe droughts. This past summer was the first real test of the newer drought-resistant seeds since the Midwest drought of 1988, seed company officials said.

That the seeds passed with high marks - coming after the record 2004 American corn crop - shows that corn production may have entered an era of even higher production.

As a result, the Green Revolution, including most recently the use of genetically engineered plants, is colliding with the international trade system. Rising crop yields in affluent countries, even in years with poor growing conditions, are producing more food than these countries' populations can eat.

Rather than let the market sort out the winners from the losers, condemning some less-efficient farmers to go broke or forcing them to switch to other crops, governments continue to subsidize them heavily. And the cost of these subsidies has spiraled higher with increasing yields.

Here in western Illinois, Mr. Zumwalt had expected corn yields of 120 to 130 bushels an acre because of the drought, but he ended up averaging 175 bushels. The cost to produce corn, meanwhile, has risen, he said, with fuel costs double what they were in 2004 and fertilizer 40 percent more expensive, in large part because of higher natural gas prices.

While Mr. Zumwalt, 26, gives plenty of credit to advancements in seed genetics, he is a modern-day example of how farmers have also increased efficiency through use of better equipment and water-management practices. He uses combines that rely on a global-positioning system to map exactly how much corn each acre of land is yielding, giving him critical information on how much fertilizer, seed and chemicals are needed for the next harvest.

Even with this year's Farm Belt drought, American corn yields have increased by 31 percent since 1995, and by 72 percent since 1975. In recent years, Europe, where much less corn is produced, has followed suit as the big companies have introduced newer seed varieties there as well.

Lately the development of new seeds has accelerated considerably. After two severe droughts in the 1980's, companies began pouring billions of dollars into seed research, particularly in corn, with the goal of developing hybrids that could more effectively capture moisture from the root system. The challenge was to create that tolerance without sacrificing yield.

In the 1990's corn breeders also began directing genetic technology developed in the human health industry into plant breeding. Breeders can now use DNA markers to study individual contributions from pieces of chromosome in the seed, allowing them to leverage multiple years of data.

Monsanto, DuPont and the Swiss company Syngenta, three of the largest seed players, have established multiseason nurseries in places like Hawaii, Chile and Argentina, where they can test up to four generations of a seed variety in one year.

"We can work 365 days a year without having an off-season," said William S. Niebur, DuPont's vice president for crop genetics research.

Syngenta has recently reorganized its scientific teams to keep up with the advances in genomics and other disciplines, said Ray Riley, head of global corn and soybean product development for Syngenta.

The result is that seed companies today are doubling the rate of genetic yield improvement in corn every year. Most recently, Monsanto, for example, claims its genetically modified seeds that limit the amount of corn root worm, a common problem in Illinois, have added at least nine bushels an acre.

"We don't see any signs that our ability to improve the yield of corn is diminishing," said Marlin Edwards, global head of breeding technology for Monsanto.

Those kinds of predictions make farmers like Mr. Zumwalt nervous about the prices their crops will fetch once conditions improve.

"We have just gotten too good at what we do, I guess," he said.

Alexei Barrionuevo reported from Illinois for this article and Keith Bradsher from Hong Kong.

5. Small farm destruction not inevitable as many of the land grant college professors say, rather it's planned

DTN Town Hall

To the Editor:

My name is Stephen E. Houston Jr. I'm a small farmer from southwest Georgia. I farm about 150 acres of cotton, peanuts and wheat. I also do custom combining and operate a semi truck to make ends meet. My perspective in life has forced me to come to the conclusion that USDA program payments are helping to put small farmers like me out of business. Sounds a little silly, but read the rest of this letter and look at some of the data I'm talking about, and I'm sure you will see a lot of what I'm saying is true.

My theory is that if payment limits started causing farmers to lose government support after they become larger than the size of a family farm, small and young farmers wouldn't face such insurmountable barriers as they do today. I believe after a farm's income becomes larger than the level it takes to support a family, its government payments should start tapering off. The reason I say this is that with no real limits on how much government support you can receive, competition for land causes government payments to be passed on to landlords and capitalized into land values creating serious economic problems for small and young farmers.

Government payments are directly linked to the increasing size of farms and land prices. When farmland is appraised, the base assigned to the land is a major factor in the value of the land. As payments tied to the production history of land increase, so does land rent and value. Farmers don't own most of the land in my community, it's owned by absentee landlords or foreign and domestic investors. Insurance companies such as John Hancock have bought large parcels of land because the government payments being capitalized into land rent and value make for such a good return on their investment.

I can throw a rock from my house to some 3,500 acres of land owned by German people who were paid $896,675 in the peanut-quota buyout because they are incorporated as Seldom Rest Farms and they are receiving high cash rent each year as a direct result of program payments, courtesy of the taxpayer. No one will ever be able to figure how much of the taxpayer's money has been funneled into the pockets of large farmers, large insurance companies, foreign and domestic investors, and landlords because of the way current USDA program payments are structured.

With no real payment limits, competition for land causes program payments to be forwarded on to landlords. It doesn't seem right for the money, which is supposed to help farmers stay in business to be passed on to landowners.

No real limits? That's right, no real limits. You see a partnership can have has as many sets of payment limits as it does partners. When you apply the three-entity rule, this number doubles. Then add the fact you get another set of limits for peanut payments and it has now quadrupled. You may think not just anyone can qualify to draw payments in one of these partnerships but the Government Accountability Office has a very detailed report out describing just how easy it is to meet the criteria and how some farmers have used the relaxed implementation of the rules to draw large sums of money. The report can be found at the GAO web site at http://www.gao.gov (search for GAO-04-407).

All this stuff I'm describing to you has caused about four farms in my area to become very dominant, with each farming about 10,000 acres and receiving over $1,000,000 in government payments a year. This has driven land prices to over $3,000 per acre and land rent to $175 to $200 per acre making it hard for small farmers to show a positive cash flow projection. This is an impossible barrier for someone who wants to start farming or stay small.

If the next farm bill goes with the trend of the last two it will be the last nail in the coffin for the small and family farm. Lots of us out here are hanging on by a thread and our survival depends on the outcome of some of our representatives' efforts to stop this travesty when the next farm bill is passed. We could use a hard cap around $300,000 with no partnerships or three-entity and this would keep farms around 1,000 acres in my area. This in my estimate is large enough to support a family.

It wouldn't bother me these farmers getting so big if they were doing it on their own but they are doing all this with the support of our federal government. I don't believe the American people know their tax dollar is going to these large farmers who are using it to put the little man out of business. I don't believe farmers are entitled to program payments but if USDA is going to offer support, I think it should go to young and small farmers. I mean to me it looks as if USDA is favoring large corporate farms because about 75 percent of government payments are going to 10 percent of recipients. They allow a person to draw payments as three separate entities if they have no individual farming interest and unlimited payments if they can find enough partners.

I believe if taxpayers had a choice, and they do, they would rather support the little guy than funnel large amounts of money into large farmers' pockets who use it for extravagant purchases such as: sports cars, condominiums, large camper homes, private airplanes, and new equipment every year.

After living and working under this farm policy it is my opinion USDA encourages farmers to exploit weaknesses in payment limits and definitions of who qualifies as an active producer. They do this by not being able to enforce payment limit laws and make sure the farm operations are run the way they are portrayed on their CCC-502 forms. They also can't accurately determine active management or significant contribution to a farming operation because of the looseness of their definitions. This allows farmers to add partners and start up corporations to avoid limitations. I have witnessed this with my own eyes having worked for a large farmer. Therefore I believe they should tighten regulations for who can draw payments and look at limitations on a single entity basis with one limit per person no matter if they are in a corporation or a single entity.

Stephen E. Houston Jr.
Southwest Georgia

The views expressed in the pages of Town Hall are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of DTN, its management or employees. We welcome Letters to the Editor or other opinion pieces. Please send them to: DTN Town Hall, C/O Editor, 9110 West Dodge Road, Suite 200, Omaha, NE, 68114. Or e-mail them to agnews@dtn.com, or fax them to 1-402-390-7187.

6. Dean/Horizon's $10 million gamble

Contact: Mark Kastel, 608-625-2042, kastel@cornucopia.org, Harry Lewis, 903-885-9150

CORNUCOPIA: Dean Foods, the $11 billion giant that controls the leading market position in conventional milk, is taking a controversial and risky gamble by attempting to turn their 4000 cow plus confinement dairy, in the desert-like West, into what the public will perceive as a "legitimate" organic farm. Earlier this year The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based farm policy research group, filed a legal complaint with the USDA alleging that cows on Dean's Horizon farm are confined to a feedlot and routinely denied access to pasture as required by the federal law that regulates organic food production.

Now the corporate dairy giant has announced that they will spend $10 million on the farm located near Paul, Idaho, by adding pasture, more barns, and state-of-the-art milking equipment.

"With stocking levels maybe five times higher than the average organic dairy farm in the United States, and conditions that their farm manager has referred to as 'the desert,' we question whether Dean can realistically operate a pasture-based dairy," said Mark Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst for The Cornucopia Institute. "Even if they divide their herd in half to make it easier to manage, I would find it hard to believe that they will be able to handle as many as 2000 to 2500 cows (plus young stock) being milked three times a day while providing, as the company says in their news release, 'freedom for animals to roam and exhibit their natural behaviors,'" Kastel added.

"What they instead appear to be doing is trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear," Kastel stated. "And if this is the case, I suspect that consumers will see through their PR job and perhaps reject their products in the marketplace."

The Cornucopia Institute has been tracking the growth of confinement animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in organic agriculture. As demand for organic milk has skyrocketed, investors have built large industrial farms mimicking what has become the standard production paradigm in the conventional dairy industry. They hope to use the CAFOs to reduce organic production operating costs through confinement and the ability it provides to increase herd milking frequency to three and even four times a day.

"An official of Dean/Horizon offered to brief us last month on their 'good news,' but when we followed up on their offer our phone calls went unreturned," observed Kastel. Dean, along with Colorado-based Aurora Dairy, which operates numerous factory-style dairies around the country, might already control 60 to 70% of the nation's organic milk market. "We cannot allow them to 'greenwash' their factory farms and delude the consumer," said Kastel.

"Think of what they could accomplish if they were willing to invest $10 million in fostering new family farm startups and further funding organic transitions," said Texas organic dairyman Harry Lewis.

Although Dean claims that 75% of their milk comes from "family dairy farms," some of their suppliers have split (conventional/organic) operations with as many as 10,000 cows (3000 organic). "That's a big family! And it's a growing family with the company said to be reaching out to other producers in the West, encouraging them to start new 1000-2000 cow operations," Lewis added.

"This corporate behemoth, the largest conventional milk bottler in the country, is out to take control of the organic dairy industry by controlling raw milk supply," according to Kastel. "There is a perfect economic model for the catastrophic results when this type of market concentration takes place in agriculture-margins get squeezed and family-scale producers are forced off the land," Kastel lamented.

"What they are suggesting as an answer to their 'image problem' in the organic marketplace is nothing more than an attempt to greenwash their factory farm," organic dairy producer Lewis said with passion. "Based on the dry climate and lack of rainfall in that area of Idaho, this farm would likely require 5 to 10 times more pasture than the 1400 acres they are proposing to be added to their feedlot operation."

"We will thoroughly investigate Dean's proposal and report back to the organic community with our findings," Kastel promised.


Editor's note: Please do not run the corporate public relations campaign from Dean Foods without adequate balance in the story. If you contact us, we will be happy to supply you with organic family farmers and Cornucopia staff to interview, as well as graphics. Please call upon us if we can be of any assistance.

The Cornucopia Institute is dedicated to the fight for economic justice for the family-scale farming community. Through research, advocacy and economic development our goal is to empower farmers both politically and through marketplace initiatives. The Institute's Organic Integrity Project acts as a corporate watchdog assuring that no compromises to the credibility of organic farming methods and the food it produces are made in the pursuit of profit. The Institute actively resists regulatory rollbacks and the weakening of organic standards, to protect and maintain consumer confidence in the organic food label. The group's web page is located at http://www.cornucopia.org.

7. Food crisis feared as fertile land runs out
Maps show 40% of Earth's land is used for agriculture

by Kate Ravilious
Published on Tuesday, December 6, 2005 by the Guardian / UK

New maps show that the Earth is rapidly running out of fertile land and that food production will soon be unable to keep up with the world's burgeoning population. The maps reveal that more than one third of the world's land is being used to grow crops or graze cattle.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison combined satellite land cover images with agricultural census data from every country in the world to create detailed maps of global land use. Each grid square was 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) across and showed the most prevalent land use in that square, such as forest, grassland or ice.

"In the act of making these maps we are asking: where is the human footprint on the Earth?" said Amato Evan, a member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison research team presenting its results this week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The current map shows a snapshot of global land use for the year 2000, but the scientists also have land use data going back to 1700, showing how things have changed.

"The maps show, very strikingly, that a large part of our planet (roughly 40%) is being used for either growing crops or grazing cattle," said Dr Navin Ramankutty, a member of the Wisconsin-Madison team. By comparison, only 7% of the world's land was being used for agriculture in 1700.

The Amazon basin has seen some of the greatest changes in recent times, with huge swaths of the rainforest being felled to grow soya beans.

"One of the major changes we see is the fast expansion of soybeans in Brazil and Argentina, grown for export to China and the EU," said Dr Ramankutty.

This agricultural expansion has come at the expense of tropical forests in both countries.

Meanwhile, intensive farming practices mean that cropland areas have decreased slightly in the US and Europe and the land is being gobbled up by urbanisation.

The research indicates that there is now little room for further agricultural expansion.

"Except for Latin America and Africa, all the places in the world where we could grow crops are already being cultivated. The remaining places are either too cold or too dry to grow crops," said Dr Ramankutty.

By continuing to monitor changes in land use the scientists hope that they will be able to highlight problems and help find solutions.

"The real question is, how can we continue to produce food from the land while preventing negative environmental consequences such as deforestation, water pollution and soil erosion?" said Dr Ramankutty.

The next phase of the project is to build an internet-based databank - called the Earth Collaboratory - that would draw on the knowledge of scientists around the world, local environmentalists and members of the general public.

Jonathan Foley, director of the Wisconsin-Madison research team, said: "[The Collaboratory] will truly be a brave new experiment that effectively bridges science, decision-making and real-world environmental practice - collectively envisioning a new way to live sustainably."

8. Biofuel imports should be closely scrutinized

For Immediate Release
Contact: Larry Mitchell (202) 835-0330

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2005 ­ Importation of biofuels into the United States Should be closely scrutinized according to the American Corn Growers Association (ACGA). "We have learned some hard lessons in the past when importing alternate fuels which we must work hard to avoid in the future," says ACGA President Keith Bolin. "Plans to import biodiesel and ethanol from foreign sources need to be closely reviewed and federal laws must be updated to ensure the future viability of the nation’s young and growing biofuel industry."

"Back in the early 1980s, when gasohol was the rage with the Prairie Populist movement of that time, the U.S. allowed the importation of inferior methanol," explained Bolin. "The fuel systems of thousands of cars and trucks were damaged by those cheap fuel imports. Many service stations at that time proudly displayed signs that there was no alcohol in their gasoline, resulting in a huge setback for our domestic ethanol industry."

"Today, our nation’s new and upcoming biodiesel industry has gone to great lengths to avoid the pitfalls experienced by the gasohol industry," said Bolin. "It would be a huge tragedy to see this new domestic fuel industry struck down in its infancy by inferior imported fuels. We must ensure that any foreign biofuels coming into the U.S. today meet the same strict standards established for our domestic biofuels."

"As important as maintaining our high fuel standards are, we also need to update our nation’s laws to ensure our domestic biofuel industry is not negatively impacted by foreign imports," added Bolin.

ACGA recommends the following changes be made to current federal laws to guarantee that Congress’s original objectives for the nation’s biofuel industry are met:

  • Imported biofuels should not be allowed to count toward the newly enacted Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS),
  • IRS code should not allow biofuel tax incentives for imported biofuels,
  • All biofuels should be labeled at the pump as to its country of origin, and
  • Imported biofuels should be held to the same high quality standards as domestically produced biofuels.

"Farm organizations and rural Americans have worked hard to build our homegrown fuel industry, as have key leaders in the Congress," concluded Bolin. "Years ago, back in the frigid winter of 1979, demonstrating farmers camping on the Mall in the nation’s capital built a still, made ethanol and then baked cookies from the distillers grain which were distributed to and consumed by members of Congress. That was a long time ago and today we can all take credit for building an infrastructure, supported with good safeguards and incentives from the federal government, for the rapid expansion of our domestic biofuel industry. Let us all make sure we move ever forward in this endeavor." The American Corn Growers Association represents 14,000 members in 35 states. See www.acga.org .


9. Agribusiness could be the surprise winner if subsidies end

By Marcela Valente
Baking Business
BUENOS AIRES, December 2 2005

Critics of the farm subsidies paid to farmers in wealthy nations argue that their elimination would improve the lives of farmers in developing countries.

But some small farmers and activists in Latin America suspect that the benefits would only go to a handful of large agribusiness corporations.

The ones who stand to benefit from a possible opening up of markets in the European Union (EU) "are the big transnational corporations that dominate business in the countryside. There are only a few of them, and they produce a very limited variety of products," Argentine farmer Pedro Pereti told IPS.

Pereti lives in Maximo Paz, in the eastern Argentine province of Santa Fe, where he cultivates 230 hectares of maize, soybeans and wheat and raises a few cattle. He is assistant secretary of the coordinating committee of family farmers in Mercosur -- the Southern Common Market trade bloc made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay -- and argues that it would be a "grave error" for developed countries to eliminate subsidies before developing countries undergo agrarian reform.

"Without agrarian reform, there will be no automatic trickle-down effect," he maintained. "The Argentine countryside will turn into a green desert, because of the expansion of soybean cultivation, the current star crop, and the rural exodus will increase. Meanwhile, many more people from Africa and Latin America will go to Europe."

It is noteworthy that after 50 years of existence, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) should have convened an international congress to discuss agrarian reform, he said, adding that "We should talk about land and productivity, because there won't be room for everyone."

FAO and the Brazilian government are organizing a March 7-10 international conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in the city of Porto Alegre to debate a new agricultural paradigm that would respect the environment and contribute to eradicating poverty and hunger.

According to a late October report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the agricultural sector has grown by more than 3 percent a year over the last few years, a rate of growth which outstrips that of Latin American economic activity as a whole.

However, most people who work in agriculture in the region are poor. ECLAC attributes this disparity to a development model that has concentrated heavily on a handful of export commodities like fruit, beef, coffee and soybeans.

But this pattern could become even more ingrained if the EU, the United States and Japan, who are jointly responsible for 80 percent of global agricultural protectionism, were to eliminate their farm subsidies, estimated at $ 250 billion per year.

Alberto Broch, vice president of the National Confederation of Agriculture Workers (CONTAG), Brazil's largest union federation of landless rural workers and small farmers, believes that ending the subsidies would be "beneficial" insofar as it would get rid of trade distortions, particularly the artificial lowering of prices. But removing them would not be sufficient to promote rural development, he added.

"The elimination of subsidies would be no substitute for public policies making more credit available and guaranteeing minimum prices," the trade unionist told IPS, while calling for measures supporting small farmers. "There are different kinds of agriculture in this country," which require different treatment, he stressed.

Adriano Campolina, the regional director of Action Aid, an international non-governmental development agency, sees things in a similar light. He said that while ending trade-distorting subsidies would be a good thing, developing countries "should have the right to protect their agriculture with subsidies that allow them to fight hunger and rural poverty."

In order for an end to protectionism by and for the rich to have a positive impact on the world's smaller rural economies, policies must be implemented to enhance rural development through family-based agriculture, and to exert more control over corporate agribusiness, Campolina told IPS.

Otherwise, improved access to rich-world markets "will benefit Cargill and the other transnational corporations that dominate the (agriculture and livestock) business," he emphasized.

In Mexico, people in rural areas are not at all eager for the still far-off moment when the subsidies shoring up agriculture in powerful countries are dismantled. Miguel Pickard, of the Center for Economic and Political Research for Community Action, told IPS that eliminating the subsidies "will not solve the big problems of inequity in world trade."

If in fact industrialized countries do away with their agricultural subsidies, "some competitive producers in developing countries, big or small, will benefit. But the big corporations will benefit the most," the researcher concluded.

Once subsidies are removed, industrialized countries will undoubtedly adopt a strategy of buying up land and productive farm units in developing countries, Pickard predicted, which means governments in the region should make long-term plans to assist peasant farmers.

But the end of protectionism is not yet in sight. It is possible that the sixth ministerial conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which will take place in Hong Kong Dec. 13-18, may postpone a decision on the agricultural question to the last phase of the multilateral trade talks, which are scheduled to conclude in late 2006.

Argentine agronomist Walter Pengue said that "if the subsidies are removed within a global production context like the present one, an improvement in the lot of peasants and small producers cannot be guaranteed."

Pengue, a researcher with the Landscape Ecology and Environment Group at the University of Buenos Aires, maintained that Quechua and Aymara indigenous peasant farmers, who operate outside the trade rules of the global market, "will receive a very small share" of any possible benefits.

Quite the reverse, in fact, he warned: liberalization could have a negative impact, by "increasing the pressure on the environment, further concentrating land ownership, and causing mass migration of small farmers to the cities."

What would really be useful to small producers, he said, would be to "strengthen local and regional markets," like the open-air markets in small rural towns where peasants in Bolivia and Paraguay sell their surplus produce. "The model of rural development needs to be reformulated," he declared.

The market is "so distorted" that a melon grown in Argentina can be sold in Japan at a lower price than in the local market, in spite of the distance, he noted.

In addition, Pengue said, countries such as the United States control the trade in food products that are not even produced there.

It should not be possible for prices of crops in developing countries to be determined in the capitals of Europe or the United States, nor should the economic viability of a Latin American country depend almost totally on the value their principal export product can command in those markets, he said.

"That isn't a real economy; it is a crazy, distorted economy that must be completely overhauled," he asserted.

*With additional reporting by Mario Osava (Brazil) and Diego Cevallos (Mexico). December 5, 2005

10. Energy promoters happy with study

Associated Press Writer
Bismarck Tribune
Dec 6, 2005

FARGO - Wind energy promoters are touting a federal study showing that North Dakota has the capability to export more electricity within the current system.

The Western Area Power Administration, or WAPA, released results of the $750,000 study on Monday. It looked at seven existing transmission sites, including three in North Dakota and four in South Dakota.

"This is good news," Public Service Commissioner Susan Wefald said Monday. "This shows that we can have some wind energy development in North Dakota right now."

Wind farms currently are operating or planned in the counties of LaMoure, Dickey, Pierce, Burleigh, McHenry, Oliver, Rolette and Ward.

The Rugby wind farm in Pierce County is the largest project so far, with about 100 turbines and the ability to generate about 150 megawatts of electricity. A standard wind turbine generates about 1.5 megawatts of power, Wefald said.

The WAPA study shows the potential to transmit another 500 megawatts of wind energy without any major upgrades.

"This clearly shows that there is room to export energy out of state," said Jay Haley, chairman of the North Dakota Renewable Energy Partnership, which promotes wind energy. "There's more that can be done right now than people realize."

Haley said he expects the construction of several more wind farms in the 50- to 100-megawatt range within three to five years. Wind energy is the cheapest electricity on the market, he said.

"Wind energy is very popular today," Haley said. "The price keeps coming down."

Haley and Wefald said the WAPA study will help the state attract wind energy investors while it looks at ways to improve the transmission system.

"This is going to make a difference in North Dakota wind development," Wefald said. "This study was a big deal ... and it wasn't cheap."

11. Security hawk urges stronger energy policy

Marcia Taylor
Farm Journal

James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, warned attendees at the Farm Journal Forum in Washington, D.C. today that instability in the Middle East will be prolonged and continue to have serious repercussions on national security. The best solution to reduce this dangerous oil dependency, Woolsey said, was "to figure out ways to substitute fuels to use in the existing infrastructure," including ethanol and environmentally-friendly types of diesel as well as hybrid vehicles.

In-fighting among religious factions in the Middle East "will go on as long as the Cold War-decades not years," Woolsey said in a candid speech outlining the region's geopolitics. Even if U.S. troops leave the region, "we will be ideologically and financially engaged for a very long time." One problem is that this region holds two-thirds of the world's oil reserves and that flow of oil could easily be disrupted at any time. The irony is that "when we fill up at the pump here, we are shipping back hundreds of billions of dollars" to regimes and individuals in the Middle East, "a fair share" of which is going to fund hatred campaigns against the U.S., he said.

"Who is paying for the hatred that is being taught in schools in Pakistan or to Palestinians on the West Bank? Like the old Pogo cartoon said, 'we have seen the enemy and he is us,'" Woolsey said.

Woolsey believes that all vehicles should be flex fuel vehicles, capable of using up to 85% ethanol blends. Half of all Ford Tauruses already have this feature, he said, and the cost to adapt them is only about $100 per vehicle. He personally drives a hybrid vehicle that gets 50 miles per gallon.

Corn-based ethanol fuels are a start on energy independence, but to produce the volume of motor fuels needed, research advances must increase efficiency in cellulose-based ethanol, derived from waste materials and high-biomass crops like switch grass. About two-thirds of the 30 million acres now in the nation's Conservation Reserve Program are planted to switch grass and could contribute to this new energy market, creating stronger rural economies in the process.

"Every billion dollars of imported oil that we replace by high-grade ethanol or renewable diesel adds another 10,000 to 20,000 jobs, almost all in rural areas," Woolsey said.

Other energy speakers at today's forum, including an analyst from the American Petroleum Institute, cautioned that unless Americans curb their energy habits, the country could need 39% more petroleum products by 2025 and a 67% increase in crude oil imports. "Oil is the Achilles heel of our economy," warned Nathanael Greene of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

12. Companies perpetuate child labour in India by low prices and flawed inspection

India Committee of the Netherlands
October 31, 2005

Multinational and Indian seed companies are paying Indian farmers who are producing their cotton seed almost 40% too little to enable them to hire adults for the local minimum wage of Rs.52 (¤1,-) instead of children. The companies are multinationals like Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta but also Indian companies like Nuziveedu Seeds, Raasi Seeds and Ankur Seeds. At present the farmers working for these companies mainly hire children and young people below 18. At least 100.000 of them work 13 hours a day in cotton seed production in Andhra Pradesh for less than half a euro per day. They are often bonded by loans given to their parents.

Two new reports

These are some findings from the report ‘The Price of Childhood’1 released by the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), the International Labor Rights Fund (USA) and Eine Welt Netz NRW (OneWorld Net Germany). The authors of the report, independent Indian researcher Dr. Davuluri Venkateswarlu and British agricultural economist Lucia da Corta from Oxford University, are holding the view that the seed companies are responsible for large-scale child (bonded) labour and for evading India’s minimum wage laws. The parents of the working children are often un(der)employed. If they do have work in the sector, it is usually for a wage which is not much more than half of the official minimum wage.

According to a recent report of the MV Foundation2 11 children in Andhra Pradesh have died and 3 were severely injured due to accidents caused while travelling to work and due to inhalation of pesticides working in the fields. Many children have health problems like headaches, vomiting and depression. Often they don’t have access to medical aid.

Who is paying the price of childhood?

The research clearly shows that farmers would have a net loss if they would hire adults at the local minimum wage instead of children and teenagers. That is by far not the case for the companies. The market prices of one kilogram of cotton seed is 3.6 up to 12.1 times as high as the procurement price paid to the farmer! If companies would pay for the substitution of child labour for adult labour (against minimum wages) it would cost them between 4.2% and 21.3% of their profit. If paid by the consumers the seed would cost 3.2% to 10.9% more.

Companies like Bayer, Monsanto and Syngenta do acknowledge that there is substantial child labour in their supply chain and that they are at least partly responsible for that. They do however deny that there is a relation with the price they are paying to cotton seed farmers. According to the companies farmers are to blame for the high incidence of child labour and say farmers have to improve their productivity to make the shift from child to adult labour.

A consequence of this is that the activities against child labour undertaken by the companies had a limited effect thus far. The report ‘The Price of Childhood’ shows that there has been a decrease in the number of working children between 6 and 14 years to roughly half of all labourers. However, the other half now consists for 70% of young people between 15 and 18 years of age. They have generally worked as a child before and are now kept on. But like the younger children they work around 13 hours a day and hardly earn more than they do.

Flawed inspection

Multinational companies as well as Indian companies have been criticised since 2001 by the MV Foundation - a very successful NGO spearheading the anti-child labour movement in the state of Andhra Pradesh - for allowing and abetting child labour in cotton seed production. This has been supported by northern NGO’s like the India Committee of the Netherlands (ICN), the International Labor Rights Fund (USA) and a number of German organizations by putting pressure on multinational companies to eliminate child labour in their supply chain.

While in earlier years not much was done by the companies except giving statements against child labour, this year a policy was agreed upon by Bayer and Monsanto - supported by Syngenta which has a ‘crop holiday’ in Andhra Pradesh in 2005 - consisting of monitoring, incentives and sanctions. Monitoring started in co-operation with the MV Foundation. The companies promised a bonus of 5% to farmers working without child labour. Violations however would, after a first warning, be sanctioned by a reduction of 10% and finally a rejection to purchase the seeds. Indian companies like Ankur, Nuziveedu and Raasi did not take any action thus far, despite promises by the Association of Seed Industry (ASI) of which they are members.

After a few months of joint inspections with multinationals, the MV Foundation however decided in September to discontinue this kind of co-operation. It found that e.g. visits were announced by the companies to the farmers. The result was that they only found a few children, while unannounced visits by the MV Foundation revealed there were many more children working in the fields. The MV Foundation offered to continue a form of independent monitoring and provide the results to the companies and/or the local authorities and the public.

The report ‘The Price of Childhood’ can be found on http://www.indianet.nl/pricechildhood.html.

Background information can be found on http://www.indianet.nl/katoenz_e.html .

For more background information, see below.

Background on child labour in cottonseed production

Three reports have thus far been researched and written by Dr. Venkateswarlu on child labour in cotton seed production. In his last report of October 2004 the author estimates that around 83.000 children are still working in cotton seed production in A.P. Around 12.000 of them are via agents (‘seed organizers’) for multinational companies. According to the first report ‘Seeds of Bondage’ (2001) almost all children are dalits (‘outcastes’) or from ‘backward caste’. Recently the Mumbai Mirror (10 and 11 September 2005) reported on girls working in the cotton seed fields.

For other information contact
Gerard Oonk - India Committee of the Netherlands
tel. 31-30-2321340 or g.oonk@indianet.nl