From India’s green to greed to evergreen revolution – M S Swaminathen discusses a lifetime’s work

In 2009, I met M S Swaminathan during a visit to India. A plant genetistist, who was at Cambridge at the same time as Watson and Crick, he is often known as the father of India’s green revolution. A towering figure in the history of farming in India, the green revolution there has generated considerable controversy since the short-strawed wheat and rice varieties that responded well to fertiliser and water were introduced in India in the late 1960s.

When I met him at the research Foundation in Chennai that bears his name we recorded a wide ranging conversation about his lifetime experience, his views on the rhetoric and reality surrounding food security and creating a hunger free world, the role of science, and five key needs in India – for soil, water and biodiversity care, credit and insurance, and technical services for farmers. I have just edited this interview to remove some of the dated material and checked with him to ensure he is happy to have the views he expressed then published now, which he is.

He also reflected on the commodity-focussed green revolution, a key part of which was farmers were given a remunerative price they knew they would get. He felt that what went wrong with the green revolution was that it became a greed revolution, despite warnings he gave to avoid excessive soil and water exploitation, monocultures and not replace the many existing varieties. He discussed the importance of organic farming as well as assured and remunerative markets for farmers, with farming being the backbone of livelihood security. He also talked of the increasing social unrest and its links to gross inequity.

In reflecting on how in his day there were no patents and research was done for the common good, he discussed how patents and the expansion of intellectual property rules inhibited the sharing of knowledge and led to an emphasis on one type of technology. While he does not see problems with the use of biotechnology in medicine it is much more controversial in food. Key questions concern its impact and who will control it. The green revolution, he notes, was a public good enterprise but the gene revolution is a private sector enterprise and the issues we face are not just scientific but social and ethical. Do listen for yourself:

0 – 3’ 00”   Food security and hunger – rhetoric & reality

3’ 00” – 8’ 35” Role of science – soil, water, biodiversity, credit & insurance, technical services

8’ 35” – 13’ 30” From green to evergreen revolution – ecological farming systems approach, appropriate and affordable technology, assured remunerative markets

13’ 30” – 18’ 17” Importance of political will to change paradigm, eg in 1960s, plus professional skill and farmers’ action but farmers now want to leave

18’ 16” – 22’ 00” India’s economic & technological image and role of farming

22’ 00” – 28’ 05” Climate change, poor suffer most, equity and sustainable lifestyles and living

28’ 05” – 31’ 57” Patents, intellectual property, public good and sharing knowledge

31’ 57” – 37’ 09” Green revolution became greed revolution, mining soils & water, monocultures, abusing technology

37’ 09” – 42’ 30” Biotechnology, gene transfer between different species, difference between medicine and food, questions of impact and control, public good vs private interest, transparency and ethics

42’ 30” – 47’ 09” (end) Looking back, looking ahead: technology, population, employment and access to food

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Addressing #hunger, #debt, #trade and #finance – a lifetime’s work for Susan George

Susan George has been an indefatigable campaigner for a fairer world all her life. Her first book ‘How the Other Half Dies – the real reasons for world hunger’ published in the mid 1970s was hugely influential on a whole generation, including me. In this interview she discusses her lifetime’s work, starting with food and moving on into debt, international institutions like the World Bank, trade and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and finance. Power and the need to address how the global powerful class acts has been central to her work if we are to address inequality. She reflects on this and the future and recommends still to study the rich and powerful, not the poor and powerless.

0- 6′ 55″ Hunger

6′ 55″ – 8’50” Debt

8′ 50″ – 9′ 56″ Washington Consensus & World Bank

9′ 56″ – 11′ 39″ Trade, food and hunger, from NAFTA to TTIP

11′ 39 – 16′ 37″ Looking ahead, recognise enemies, Panama papers

16′ 37″ – 19′ 29″ Class perspective and advice

19′ 29″ – 21′ 27″ TTIP, impact on food system & agro-ecology

21′ 27 – 23′ 20″ Changing geopolitics

23′ 20″ – 26′ 30″ Finance, inequality and concerns for future

26′ 30 – 28′ 08″ (end) Hopeful vision

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Concentration and Power in the #Food System: Who Controls What We Eat

seedindustry1996-2013

For years Phil Howard has been proving that a picture is worth a thousand words – or more – with his visualisations of food industry structures. These reveal the growing concentration and connections between the ever fewer firms that control more and more of the markets across the food system, from seeds to fast food chains. Now he has written a short book – Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat­* – that develops these further. In the book he takes a political economy approach to understanding what this concentration means for power relations in the food system.

An associate professor at Michigan State University, his focus in the nine chapters is largely on what has been happening in the USA. He discusses the re-interpreting of antitrust in the USA and its impact on supermarkets, convenience stores and fast food outlets before looking at consolidation in distributors. In looking at packaged foods and beverages he takes beer, soy milk and bagged salad as examples. The soy theme is picked up in the next chapter on commodity processing where soybeans are one of his examples, the others being dairy and pork. Next, when considering farming and ranching, he looks at how tax payer funds have “reinforced the advantages larger-scale operations at the expense of smaller operations” in soybeans, milk, pork and leafy greens production.

As the seed industry graphic above illustrates there has been considerable concentration there, as seeds and chemicals are increasingly linked in complex relationships (see also The Future Control of Food). Livestock genetics are even more concentrated with a resulting growing homogeneity. Even the organics movement has been undermined by what he calls ‘stealth ownership’ by major food companies with pressures put on standards. While he sees various counter-movements that resist ‘dominant food and agricultural firm’s efforts to increase their power’ they have ‘failed to reverse trends toward increasing their market share’.

While currently he sees various positive feedbacks leading to further concentration he also sees various negative feedback possible that would undermine this.

Conc-in-food-system

* Philip H. Howard, Concentration and Power in the Food System: Who Controls What We Eat­, (2016) is published by Bloomsbury in paperback at $29.95 in the USA and £19.99 in the UK.

Philip Howard is also President of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society (AFHVS) and a member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

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@_RajPatel on #sugar, capitalism and seven cheap things

Capitalism began with sugar argues Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power and the Hidden Battle for The World’s Food System. He was talking about a new book he’s working on at a meeting on Critical Agrarian Studies in the Hague in early February. For him, the seven cheap things illustrate some of the key problems with capitalism today, as he explains briefly in this short interview:

[Photo Credit: Sheila Menezes @ http://rajpatel.org/meet-raj/ ]

The colloquium’s rather long title was ‘Global governance/politics, climate justice & agrarian/social justice: linkages and challenges’. You can also see an interview with Raj Patel about global governance here. All the 70 wide-ranging papers presented at the colloquium are available to download and recordings of the keynotes should go up on the Transnational Institute’s website soon.

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Heartbreak Valley – #floods, #food and hope: #hebdenbridge, #mytholmroyd

 

Heartbeaking! That’s what it feels going round my town, and seeing pictures from other towns along this little Pennine Valley in West Yorkshire. Boxing Day (26 Dec) floods devastated communities along the valley. For some, it was for the third time in less than 4 years.

Near us, the River Calder, park and canal merged into one, after hours and hours of very heavy rain. Below us water spilled out from the overflowing canal at a break in the wall, creating a raging torrent down to the already flooded stonemasons yard. On Sunday we saw the result. The road along side the canal had its surface ripped up, old cobbles exposed and swept away, and a deep gulley gouged out. Impassable. Along the canal bank, the main east-west fibre optic cable lay exposed. In our town centre, scenes of devastation, but things are reportedly even worse a mile down the road in Mytholmroyd, where a man was rescued from his landrover by boat. (you can see videos from around the area on Youtube – eg, 1, 2, 3).

After the water subsides there’s thick black mud on roads, pavements and in shops. People’s houses and nearly every business in this town of independent little shops are badly hit. The Hebden Bridge Picture House flooded, the stalls ruined. When the clean up began on Sunday, our family group take hose, brushes and a snow shovel to residents affected at the other end of town – off the beaten track and not getting the attention of shops and dwellings on the main road and town centre. Pick up some antiseptic wipes being handed out by the Coop, amongst others things, outside their flooded store. Christmas holiday ended for my visiting children, shocked and upset, now working to help in clean up.

Pavements filling up with ripped out shop fittings, damaged stock. People flocking to help, the town hall becoming the coordinating hub, and place for free drinks, food and materials. Other businesses and the Trades Club also offering food and drink, some carrying them round the town. But with the electricity off in much of the town by Monday late afternoon the activity winds down til Tuesday. Today (Wednesday) the power to most is restored with about 50 properties to go.

Everywhere people flocking to help*. Some just to see. A great response from both local community and further afield. With nothing open, no place to buy food, no working cash machines, and for many no mobile phone signal on some networks, in the first couple of days the generosity of those giving food away and coming to help is great – and is still going on.

Yet as the flood waters here recede, elsewhere they are rising. Other places, not just in rural areas and little towns but in cities have flooded – Leeds, Manchester, York. As I write a new storm brings more floods further north. The news focus switches. The government takes an interest, deploys a few hundred troops to help – and indeed they did today at our Little Theatre and elsewhere in town. But too little is reported about the many thousands of people working across communities in the north of England to help those affected – volunteers, council workers, utility staff. That’s why people are now talking about hope here – the fantastic response from the community and much help offered from elsewhere too.

Initially too, little is reported about the bigger picture of climate change that lies behind these increasingly frequent extreme ‘unprecedented’ weather events – not just here in the UK but worldwide. Slowly a few start to talk about climate change, rethinking the approach to flooding. Still too few, too late. Worse, such advice has been ignored too often before as George Monbiot pointed out in a Guardian article today. The local coordinator for Friends of the Earth writes an open letter to the MP for the Calder Valley saying “Calder Valley under water: Sacrificed to indifference and political ideology

Perhaps though, at long last, some serious policy change may emerge, even if this is flying in the face of past experience. The Environment Agency says it’s time to review its approach – but it does after every flood. The PM mutters platitudes and some help is being offered but nowhere near the level of help or wide ranging rethink that is needed.

Here’s hoping – and working – for a better 2016 for all.

*Update on 2 Jan
If you would like to make a donation to help you can go here. As of midday 2 Jan 2016 this appeal by the Community Foundation for Calderdale had raised over £250,000 from a target of £1 million, with matching funds £ for £ promised by the government for up to £2 million.
A number of cafes, Saker Bakers, shops and the Cinema are open for business again. Do bring cash or cheque books as there are no cash machines operating in the town and many don’t have electronic payment methods.
More information on Facebook Calder Valley Flood Support page, on Hebweb, on Upper Calder Valley Plain Speaker  and more photos at Bluplanetphotos .

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BBC Breakfast features #foodandpoverty commision report at Thurrock lunch club

I was up before 5am this morning to head for Thurrock lunch club where BBC breakfast did a piece about the Fabian Commission report on Food and Poverty launched today. You can read all about it, download it and see our five principles and 14 point action plan here. But I thought you might like to hear what the other two interviewees and the volunteers working at the lunch club had to say, so we had a brief chat between the two slots on BBC breakfast.

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Changing the #foodsystem with #bread and #agroforestry – Andrew Whitley in the Scottish Borders

Andrew Whitley is a campaigning organic baker known for starting the Village Bakery in Melmerby in the 1970s and latterly as co-founder of the Real Bread Campaign. His book Bread Matters is credited with ‘changing the way we think about bread’ by Sheila Dillon of the BBC Food Programme and his business of the same name provides artisan bakery training. Now he’s followed his interest in bread back to its roots by farming in the Scottish borders – using agroforestry approaches, inspired by the work of Prof Martin Wolfe at Wakelyns. He is also experimenting with some 70 varieties of wheat, spelt, emmer, rye, oats and barley, including varieties that used to be grown in Scotland, some obtained from the Vavilov Institute in Russia – as he explains in the video tour of his farm.

With his wife and co-director Veronica Burke he is pioneering a new project – Scotland The Bread – which is a collaboration to re-establish a Scottish flour and bread supply that is healthy, equitable, locally controlled and sustainable. It links together plant breeders, farmers, millers, bakers, nutritionists and citizens. Their measure of success is how reliably they pass on nourishment, from the soil to the slice. To achieve that, they aim to create change in every part of the system: fair prices for local farmers growing nourishing food for people, fewer damaging food miles, more nutrition in every slice of bread and more jobs per loaf as they skill up community bakers to bring out the best in the local grains. They believe that growing better grain and baking better bread can provide part of the solution to diet-related ill-health. Everyone – older people, children, those looked after and ‘catered for’ in our hospitals, schools, prisons and care homes – will benefit.

They aim to combine research with action, so Scotland The Bread collaborates with scientists in leading institutions to find traits in heritage Scottish and Nordic wheats that will help them to produce locally resilient, nutritious grains. At the same time, Scotland The Bread is preparing a market for the new grains by building community capacity in small-to-medium scale artisan breadmaking.

In autumn 2015 the first four community projects will sow some of Scotland The Bread’s trial wheats. By late summer 2016 they will be able to harvest, thresh, clean and mill that grain and (using slow, natural fermentation) turn it into healthy, digestible bread.

Currently a project of Bread Matters, Scotland The Bread will launch as a Community Benefit Society towards the end of 2015.

For more information contact info@breadmatters.com

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