After four days of difficult negotiations among 121 governments at a UN Food and Agricultural Organization Treaty meeting on the use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture held in Tunisia, a Canadian effort to block progress was overturned. At midnight on Thursday, Brazil read an amended resolution on farmers’ rights to a tired plenary, shifting the prevailing tension amongst delegates into relief and enthusiasm. Following corridor negotiations, in which Europe, Latin America and Africa confronted Canada’s effort to derail the implementation of farmers’ rights, governments agreed to: ...
The first ever “Pie-in-the-Sky” contest for the wackiest geoengineering scheme to combat global warming is taking off just as controversial planetary techno-fixes are heating up.
Issue: The main (and much-needed) goal of the Madrid High-Level meeting is to reorganize the intergovernmental management of food and agriculture. At the last food crisis in 1974, OECD states savaged the UN’s unified system and carved it into four warring factions. In the midst of today's food crisis, the four remain underfunded, weakly governed and dismayingly competitive. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the biggest “loner” in the crowd, the World Food Program (WFP), are all either suffering from harsh external reviews or major program reorganization. Complicating the problem, UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s High-Level Taskforce on the food crisis sees Madrid as an opportunity to segue into the secretariat for the G-8's proposed Global Partnership for Food and Agriculture. This top-down Partnership would substantially weaken G-77 policy influence in UN food fora by constructing an amorphous “compact” dominated by major governments, agribusiness, mega foundations, and multilateral food and financial institutions with just enough CSOs to mute protests against the presence of Monsanto and Gates. Also in Madrid, at the invitation of the Spanish premier, Jeffrey Sachs will be pedalling his proposal for a new vertical fund to draw down corporate and foundation money.
Because governments have failed to govern, the leading multilateral institutions involved in food and agriculture are in deep trouble. Unless governments and international secretariats cooperate, these institutions will be irreparably damaged and the power vacuum OECD states have created over recent decades will continue to be filled by multinational agribusiness and the new philanthro-capitalists.
Contrary to the opinion of many, June's Food Summit actually did something. It signaled the beginning of the end for the multilateral system as we know it. Over the next six months the food emergency - and the international institutions designed to address it - could get worse.
In the name of moving “beyond petroleum,” Big Oil, Gene Giants, governments, start-ups and others are forming partnerships that will extend corporate control over more resources in every part of the globe – while keeping the root causes of climate change intact. With grudging recognition that first-generation agrofuels are neither economical nor ecological, investors turn to other life-based technologies, including synthetic biology, for the next alternative fuel fix.
Farmers’ organizations who were invited to attend a United Nations meeting on the Treaty that governs the exchange of crop seeds for research and plant breeding late yesterday told the assembled governments that the Treaty would have to be suspended. Speaking on behalf of 30 farmers’ and other civil society organizations, Ibrahima Coulibaly of ROPPA (regional farmers’ organization of West Africa) said that, “the Treaty, hosted in Rome by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), must halt the exchange of crop germplasm – the critical material for plant breeding. The suspension should remain in effect until governments meet the minimal obligations of the Treaty including its core financial arrangements,” the African farmer leader concluded.
Issue: Everybody’s trying to jump-start science – and, especially, agricultural science – in Africa. Starting with the G8 meeting in Canada five years ago – and pledges by four of its members to build new centers of scientific excellence in Africa – the Syngenta Foundation, CGIAR, Jeffrey Sachs’s Earth Institute, and now, Google, Gates, and Rockefeller are all pushing new initiatives for the continent. While there is no denying that Africans deserve support in their struggle to address hunger, disease and climate change, science and technology are no “silver bullet” to resolve Africa’s problems. Yet, when the G8 meets this June in Germany they are expected to announce a new research agenda that will again propose scientific solutions to the world’s – and, particularly Africa’s – social problems.
On 3 May 2007 ETC Group (a Canadian-based international civil society organization - formerly known as RAFI) together with "No Patents on Life!" and Greenpeace will continue a 13-year legal battle against one of biotech's most notorious patents. At an appeal hearing at the European Patent Office in Munich, civil society organizations will argue that Monsanto's patent (European Patent No. 301-749) on all genetically engineered soybeans - unprecedented in its broad scope - must be revoked. "No patent symbolizes the brokenness of the patent system better than Monsanto's species-wide patent on genetically engineered soybeans," said Hope Shand of ETC Group. "Monsanto's patent is both technically flawed and morally unacceptable," said Shand.
Issue: Kyoto is fading and carbon trading is a farce. Recognizing this, OECD states can either “bite the bullet” and adopt socially-responsible policies to dramatically cut fossil fuel use and useless consumption or, they can hope for a “silver bullet” – some new techno-fix that might let them have their cake and eat it too. The silver bullet may be winning. At the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the US government is lobbying for “geoengineering” activities such as deliberately polluting the stratosphere to deflect sunlight and lower temperatures. At least 9 national governments and the European Union have supported experiments to spread iron filings on the ocean surface to nurture plankton and sequester carbon dioxide. At least a dozen additional countries are involved in stratospheric weather/climate modification. Commercial carbon traders are engaging in ocean fertilization as well. The scientific debate and the government/commercial experimentation is taking place, once again, in the absence of public discussion.
Two World Bank projects, with funding from the GEF (Global Environmental Facility), propose to introduce genetically modified crops such as maize, potatoes, cassava, rice and cotton into five Latin American and four African countries that are centers of origin or diversity for these and other major food crops. Civil society organizations warn that DNA contamination from genetically modified crops poses an unacceptable risk to stable crops that are the basis of peasant economies in these regions. The multi-million dollar projects are being promoted under the guise of scientific biosafety research, but civil society organizations on both continents are calling for their immediate rejection because they threaten food sovereignty and farmer-controlled seed systems.
The Enola bean patent case demonstrates that intellectual property challenges are not a viable means of “correcting” abuses in the patent system. Just about everyone agrees that the Enola bean patent is technically invalid – the bean, in fact, is genetically identical to a pre-existing Mexican bean variety that was previously known and grown in the United States.
"The Potential Impacts of Nano-Scale Technologies on Commodity Markets," prepared for the South Centre, examines the potential impacts of nanotechnology on two sectors - agriculture and mining - in commodity dependent developing countries. Cases studies on rubber, textiles, platinum and copper provide early examples of how economies and workers in the global South could be affected by nanotech's emerging R&D and products.
This report examines the potential impacts of nanotechnology on two sectors – agriculture and mining – in commodity dependent developing countries. Case studies on rubber, textiles, platinum and copper provide early examples of how economies and workers in the global South could be affected by nanotech’s emerging R&D and products. In most cases it is too early to predict with certainty which commodities or workers will be affected and how quickly. However, if a new nano-engineered material outperforms a conventional material and can be produced at a comparable cost, it is likely to replace the conventional commodity. History shows that there will be a push to replace commodities such as rubber, cotton and strategic minerals with cheaper raw materials that can be sourced or manu- factured by new processes closer to home. Nanotech’s new designer materials could topple commodity markets, disrupt trade and eliminate jobs. Worker-displacement brought on by commodity- obsolescence will hurt the poorest and most vulnerable, particularly those workers in the developing world who don’t have the economic flexibility to respond to sudden demands for new skills or differ- ent raw materials.
Twenty-five years after the biotech industry got the green light to patent life, nanotech goes after the building blocks of life.
On the 25th anniversary of Diamond vs. Chakrabarty,* the US Supreme Court's landmark decision (June 16, 1980) that opened the floodgates to the patenting of living organisms, ETC Group releases a new report, "Nanotech's 'Second Nature' Patents."
ETC Group's first Communiqué of 2005 focuses on Syngenta, the global gene giant that ranks first in agrochemicals and third in seeds. Syngenta has a patent pending in 115 countries that, if approved, would give it a multi-genome monopoly over at least 40 plant species.
Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the scale of atoms and molecules, is rapidly converging with biotech and information technology to radically change food and agricultural systems. Over the next two decades, the impacts of nano-scale convergence on farmers and food will exceed that of farm mechanisation or of the Green Revolution. No government has developed a regulatory regime that addresses the nano-scale or the societal impacts of the invisibly small.