Sunday, 2 March 2008

Friday, 29th February, 2008


OPINION: FOOD FANTASIES - Africa's organic farms

Nearly all of Africa's farms are thus de facto "organic." Poor and non-productive, but organic.

Africa's traditional rural food systems are definitely "slow." To serve maize meal (called nsima) to her family, an African woman must first spend a season planting, weeding, harvesting and storing her corn, then she must strip it, winnow it, soak it, lay it out to dry, carry it to a grinder or pound it by hand, dry it again, and finally - after walking to gather enough fuel wood - cook it over a fire.
Cereal crop yields in Africa are only one-third as high as in developing Asia, and only one-tenth as high as the United States. Average income from this kind of farming amounts to only a dollar a day, which is why nearly 80 percent of all those officially classified as poor in Africa are farmers, and why one third of all farmers are chronically malnourished.
Without modern agricultural science, food production in Africa has fallen ominously behind population growth. Total agricultural production per capita today has fallen 19 percent below the level of 1970. Increasingly, Africans must depend on imported food aid.
Africa's urgent need for agricultural modernization is being rudely ignored. When elite urbanites in rich countries began turning away from science-based farming in the 1980s, external assistance for agriculture in poor countries was cut sharply. As late as 1980 the U.S. Agency for International Development was still devoting 25 percent of its official development assistance to the modernization of farming, but today it is just 1 percent. Nearly 30 percent of World Bank lending once went to agricultural modernization, but now it is just 8 percent.

In Europe, meanwhile, some official donors and nongovernmental agencies are working to block farm modernization in Africa. Despite Africa's worsening soil nutrient deficits, European donors like to promote costly organic farming techniques as the alternative to chemical fertilizer use. This is not how European farmers escaped poverty. Only 4 percent of cropland in Europe is currently being farmed organically (and less than 1 percent in America), but European NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace tell Africa's poor this is the path they should follow.
European governments and NGOs also promote regulatory systems that block the use of genetically engineered crops, including crops capable of resisting insects without pesticide sprays. Europe's own science academies have found no new risks to human health or the environment from any of the genetically engineered crops placed on the market so far, but since overfed Europe can do without this technology, underfed Africa is told to do the same.
In this fashion, and perhaps without realizing it, wealthy countries are imposing the richest of tastes on the poorest of people. The rich are, in effect, telling Africa's farmers they should just as well remain poor.

Christoph Büchel's legal battle becomes fodder for his art
A major underlying theme for Büchel is what he called "the creative economy," the way that, in his view, museums - particularly American ones - seem to care less about the art than they do about their image, budget, attendance and expansionist visions as they become ever more a part of an entertainment culture.

"We've not exacted a sufficient cost from the Hamas terrorist organization," he [Israeli opposition leader, Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud] told CNN in New York. "I think we have been fighting essentially a war of attrition. They do something, we do something and so on. And the nature of deterrence, of course, is that you change the rules."

REVIEW: Chasing dreams of a new era in the Mideast
Dreams and Shadows The Future of the Middle East By Robin Wright 464 pages. $26.95. The Penguin Press.
Opening on an optimistic note, Wright describes how in 1983 she stood across the street from the ruins of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut after more than 60 Americans had been killed by a suicide bomber. At that time, she recalls, it seemed that Islamic fundamentalists had the initiative and were shaping the future of the region. "Yet a generation later" she writes, "Islamic extremism is no longer the most important, interesting or dynamic force in the Middle East."
It would be good if this were true, but in general the stories Wright relates of brave reformers battling for human and civil rights show them as having had depressingly small influence.

OPINION: ETHNO-NATIONALISM - The clash of peoples
Contemporary social scientists who write about nationalism tend to stress the contingent elements of group identity - the extent to which national consciousness is culturally and politically manufactured by ideologists and politicians. They regularly invoke Benedict Anderson's concept of "imagined communities," as if demonstrating that nationalism is constructed will rob the concept of its power. It is true, of course, that ethno-national identity is never as natural or ineluctable as nationalists claim. Yet it would be a mistake to think that because nationalism is partly constructed it is therefore fragile or infinitely malleable. Ethno-nationalism was not a chance detour in European history: it corresponds to some enduring propensities of the human spirit that are heightened by the process of modern state creation, it is a crucial source of both solidarity and enmity, and in one form or another, it will remain for many generations to come. One can only profit from facing it directly.

OPINION: GOD'S COUNTRY - Faith and tolerance
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released this week the most comprehensive survey of the American religious landscape ever conducted. We can now say, with reasonable certainty, that almost half of Americans switch religious affiliation in the course of their lives and that only slightly more than half (51.3 percent) identify themselves as Protestants.
While Roman Catholics still constitute roughly a quarter of Americans, about one-third of native-born Catholics have left the Church, their seats in the pews now occupied by recent immigrants. America remains a Christian majority country, but its Christianity is distinctly consumer-friendly; people shop for God, and churches and denominations tailor their teachings to attract them....
The idea that this country can return to an era in which God commanded and people obeyed is impossible, not because secular people demand control over the decisions that affect their lives, but because religious people do as well. And it surely cannot be good news for religious conservatives that one of the fastest growing "religious" communities in the United States are those with no pronounced religious convictions...
Americans have long viewed themselves as belonging to God's chosen country, charged by the Creator to fulfill his special providence.
As the United States begins to resemble the rest of the world in the astonishing variety and volatility of its religious traditions, it will become increasingly difficult for leaders to rally around the flag by rallying around the faith. That may make some Americans, especially those who believe we once were, and should always be, a Christian country, unhappy.
LETTERS: A faithless world
In today's world, people feel a need for spirituality but are unwilling to sacrifice anything for it. As a result religion has become something that exists in the subjective sphere where objective dogmatic contents do not bind us. Spirituality is little more than the individual affirming himself. But living according to one's own claims is a false recipe for life.
Paul Kokoski, Hamilton, Ontario


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