CORRECTED VERSION: Struggle for the Future of Food

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Global Governance, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, May 10 2021 (IPS) – Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.


Longer term perspective
The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.

Jomo Kwame Sundaram

A Long Food Movement, principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that ‘hi-tech’, data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Big Ag weds Big Data
The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (IR4.0), promoting digitisation, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while ‘precision farming’ now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling ‘cloud computing’ infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

Meanwhile, food data have become more commercially valuable, e.g., to meet consumer demand, Big Ag profits have also grown by creating ‘new needs’. Big data are already being used to manipulate consumer preferences.

With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.

New ‘digital ag’ technologies are also undermining diverse, ecologically more appropriate food agriculture in favour of unsustainable monocropping. The threat is great as family farms still feed more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

IR4.0 not benign
Meanwhile, hi-tech and asset management firms have acquired significant shareholdings in food giants. Powerful conglomerates are integrating different business lines, increasing concentration while invoking competition and ‘creative disruption’.

The IPES-ETC study highlights new threats to farming and food security as IR4.0 proponents exert increasing influence. The report warns that giving Big Ag the ‘keys of the food system’ worsens food insecurity and other existential threats.

Powerful corporations will increase control of most world food supplies. Big Ag controlled supply chains will also be more vulnerable as great power rivalry and competition continue to displace multilateral cooperation.

There is no alternative?
But the report also presents a more optimistic vision for the next quarter century. In this alternative scenario, collaborative efforts, from the grassroots to the global level, empower social movements and civil society to resist.

New technologies are part of this vision, from small-scale drones for field monitoring to consumer apps for food safety and nutrient verification. But they would be cooperatively owned, open access and well regulated.

The report includes pragmatic strategies to cut three quarters of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift US$4 trillion from Big Ag to agroecology and food sovereignty. These include “$720 billion in subsidies” and “$1.6 trillion in healthcare savings” due to malnutrition.

IPES-ETC also recommends taxing junk food, toxins, carbon emissions and TNC profits. It also urges criminal prosecution of those responsible for famine, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Food security protocols are needed to supercede trade and intellectual property law, and not only for emergencies. But with food systems under growing stress, Big Ag solutions have proved attractive to worried policymakers who see no other way out.

Last chance to change course
Historically, natural resources were commonly or publicly shared. Water and land have long been sustainably used by farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists. But market value has grown with ‘property rights’, especially with corporate acquisition.

Touted as the best means to achieve food security, corporate investments in recent decades have instead undermined remaining ‘traditional’ agrarian ecosystems.

Big Ag claims that the food, ecological and climate crises has to be addressed with its superior new technologies harnessing the finance, entrepreneurship and innovation only they can offer.

But in fact, they have failed, instead triggering more problems in their pursuit of profit. As the new food system and corporate trends consolidate, it will become increasingly difficult to change course. Very timely, A Long Food Movement is an urgent call to action for the long haul.

Food systems summit
According to Marchmont Communications, “writing on behalf of the UN Food Systems Summit secretariat”, the “Summit was originally announced on 16 October 2019 by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and was conceived following conversations with the joint leadership of the three Rome-based United Nations agencies…at the High-level Political Forum in July 2019”.

On 12 June 2019, ‘Inspiration Speaker’ David Nabarro announced to the annual EAT Stockholm conference that a World Food Systems Summit (WFSS) would be held in 2021. The following day, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed between the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Office of the UN Secretary-General.

It stirred up so much controversy that the MOU was later removed from the website of the WEF, hardly reputed for its modesty. Unsurprisingly, many believe that the WEF “pressed the Summit onto a reluctant UN Secretary-General”, and can be traced to its Food Systems Initiative.

Apparently, initial arrangements had bypassed the Rome-based UN food agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme. Their heads were then consulted and brought on board in July 2019.

With so much at stake, representatives of food producers and consumers need to act urgently to prevent governments from allowing a UN sanctioned corporate takeover of global governance of food systems.

  Source

Struggle for the Future of Food

Civil Society, Climate Change, Economy & Trade, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Global Governance, Natural Resources, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Apr 27 2021 (IPS) – Producers and consumers seem helpless as food all over the world comes under fast growing corporate control. Such changes have also been worsening environmental collapse, social dislocation and the human condition.

Longer term perspective
The recent joint report – by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food) and the ETC Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration – is ominous, to say the least.


Jomo Kwame Sundaram

A Long Food Movement, principally authored by Pat Mooney with a team including IPES-Food Director Nick Jacobs, analyses how food systems are likely to evolve over the next quarter century with technological and other changes.

The report notes that ‘hi-tech’, data processing and asset management corporations have joined established agribusinesses in reshaping world food supply chains.

If current trends continue, the food system will be increasingly controlled by large transnational corporations (TNCs) at the expense of billions of farmers and consumers.

Big Ag weds Big Data
The Davos World Economic Forum’s (WEF) much touted ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ (IR4.0), promoting digitisation, is transforming food systems, accelerating concentration in corporate hands.

New apps enable better tracking across supply chains, while ‘precision farming’ now includes using drones to spray pesticides on targeted crops, reducing inputs and, potentially, farming costs. Agriculture is now second only to the military in drone use.

Digital giants are working with other TNCs to extend enabling ‘cloud computing’ infrastructure. Spreading as quickly as the infrastructure allows, new ‘digital ag’ technologies have been displacing farm labour.

Meanwhile, food data have become more commercially valuable, e.g., to meet consumer demand, Big Ag profits have also grown by creating ‘new needs’. Big data are already being used to manipulate consumer preferences.

With the pandemic, e-retail and food delivery services have grown even faster. Thus, e-commerce platforms have quickly become the world’s top retailers.

New ‘digital ag’ technologies are also undermining diverse, ecologically more appropriate food agriculture in favour of unsustainable monocropping. The threat is great as family farms still feed more than two-thirds of the world’s population.

IR4.0 not benign
Meanwhile, hi-tech and asset management firms have acquired significant shareholdings in food giants. Powerful conglomerates are integrating different business lines, increasing concentration while invoking competition and ‘creative disruption’.

The IPES-ETC study highlights new threats to farming and food security as IR4.0 proponents exert increasing influence. The report warns that giving Big Ag the ‘keys of the food system’ worsens food insecurity and other existential threats.

Powerful corporations will increase control of most world food supplies. Big Ag controlled supply chains will also be more vulnerable as great power rivalry and competition continue to displace multilateral cooperation.

There is no alternative?
But the report also presents a more optimistic vision for the next quarter century. In this alternative scenario, collaborative efforts, from the grassroots to the global level, empower social movements and civil society to resist.

New technologies are part of this vision, from small-scale drones for field monitoring to consumer apps for food safety and nutrient verification. But they would be cooperatively owned, open access and well regulated.

The report includes pragmatic strategies to cut three quarters of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and shift US$4 trillion from Big Ag to agroecology and food sovereignty. These include “$720 billion in subsidies” and “$1.6 trillion in healthcare savings” due to malnutrition.

IPES-ETC also recommends taxing junk food, toxins, carbon emissions and TNC profits. It also urges criminal prosecution of those responsible for famine, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

Food security protocols are needed to supercede trade and intellectual property law, and not only for emergencies. But with food systems under growing stress, Big Ag solutions have proved attractive to worried policymakers who see no other way out.

Last chance to change course
Historically, natural resources were commonly or publicly shared. Water and land have long been sustainably used by farmers, fisherfolk and pastoralists. But market value has grown with ‘property rights’, especially with corporate acquisition.

Touted as the best means to achieve food security, corporate investments in recent decades have instead undermined remaining ‘traditional’ agrarian ecosystems.

Big Ag claims that the food, ecological and climate crises has to be addressed with its superior new technologies harnessing the finance, entrepreneurship and innovation only they can offer.

But in fact, they have failed, instead triggering more problems in their pursuit of profit. As the new food system and corporate trends consolidate, it will become increasingly difficult to change course.

Proposed by the WEF, the UN Secretary-General’s Food Systems Summit later this year clearly seeks to promote corporate ‘solutions’. Very timely, A Long Food Movement is an urgent call to action for the long haul.

With so much at stake, representatives of food producers and consumers need to act urgently to prevent governments from allowing a UN sanctioned corporate takeover of global governance of food systems.

  Source

Recipes with a Taste of Sustainable Development on the Coast of El Salvador

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Environment

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

María Luz Rodríguez stands next to her solar oven where she cooked lasagna in the village of El Salamar in San Luis La Herradura municipality. In this region in southern El Salvador, an effort is being made to implement environmental actions to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/ IPS

SAN LUIS LA HERRADURA, El Salvador, Mar 31 2021 (IPS) – Salvadoran villager Maria Luz Rodriguez placed the cheese on top of the lasagna she was cooking outdoors, put the pan in her solar oven and glanced at the midday sun to be sure there was enough energy for cooking.


“Hopefully it won’t get too cloudy later,” Maria Luz, 78, told IPS. She then checked the thermometer inside the oven to see if it had reached 150 degrees Celsius, the ideal temperature to start baking.

She lives in El Salamar, a coastal village of 95 families located in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality in the central department of La Paz which is home to some 30,000 people on the edge of an impressive ecosystem: the mangroves and bodies of water that make up the Estero de Jaltepeque, a natural reserve whose watershed covers 934 square kilometres.

After several minutes the cheese began to melt, a clear sign that things were going well inside the solar oven, which is simply a box with a lid that functions as a mirror, directing sunlight into the interior, which is covered with metal sheets.

“I like to cook lasagna on special occasions,” Maria Luz said with a smile.

After Tropical Storm Stan hit Central America in 2005, a small emergency fund reached El Salamar two years later, which eventually became the start of a much more ambitious sustainable development project that ended up including more than 600 families.

Solar ovens and energy-efficient cookstoves emerged as an important component of the programme.

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Aerial view of Estero de Jaltepeque, in San Luis La Herradura, a municipality on the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador where a sustainable development programme is being carried out in local communities, including the use of solar stoves and sustainable fishing and agriculture techniques. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The project was financed by the Global Environment Facility‘s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, and El Salamar was later joined by other villages, bringing the total number to 18. The overall investment was more than 400,000 dollars.

In addition to solar ovens and high-energy rocket stoves, work was done on mangrove reforestation and sustainable management of fishing and agriculture, among other measures. Agriculture and fishing are the main activities in these villages, in addition to seasonal work during the sugarcane harvest.

While María Luz made the lasagna, her daughter, María del Carmen Rodríguez, 49, was cooking two other dishes: bean soup with vegetables and beef, and rice – not in a solar oven but on one of the rocket stoves.

This stove is a circular structure 25 centimetres high and about 30 centimetres in diameter, whose base has an opening in which a small metal grill is inserted to hold twigs no more than 15 centimetres long, which come from the gliridicia (Gliricidia sepium) tree. This promotes the use of living fences that provide firewood, to avoid damaging the mangroves.

The stove maintains a good flame with very little wood, due to its high energy efficiency, unlike traditional cookstoves, which require several logs to prepare each meal and produce smoke that is harmful to health.

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

María del Carmen Rodríguez cooks rice on a rocket stove using a few twigs from a tree species that emits less CO2 than mangroves, whose sustainability is also preserved thanks to the use of the tree. Many families in the community of El Salamar have benefited from this energy-efficient technology, as well as other initiatives promoted along the Pacific coast in southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The rocket stove can cook anything, but it is designed to work with another complementary mechanism for maximum energy efficiency.

Once the stews or soups have reached boiling point, they are placed inside the “magic” stove: a circular box about 36 centimetres in diameter made of polystyrene or durapax, as it is known locally, a material that retains heat.

The food is left there, covered, to finish cooking with the steam from the hot pot, like a kind of steamer.

“The nice thing about this is that you can do other things while the soup is cooking by itself in the magic stove,” explained María del Carmen, a homemaker who has five children.

The technology for both stoves was brought to these coastal villages by a team of Chileans financed by the Chile Fund against Hunger and Poverty, established in 2006 by the government of that South American country and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to promote South-South cooperation.

The Chileans taught a group of young people from several of these communities how to make the components of the rocket stoves, which are made from clay, cement and a commercial sealant or glue.

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The blue crab is one of the species raised in nurseries by people in the Estero de Jaltepeque region in southern El Salvador, as part of an environmental sustainability project in the area financed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The use of these stoves “has reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by at least 50 percent compared to traditional stoves,” Juan René Guzmán, coordinator of the GEF’s Small Grants Programme in El Salvador, told IPS.

Some 150 families use rocket stoves and magic stoves in 10 of the villages that were part of the project, which ended in 2017.

“People were given their cooking kits, and in return they had to help plant mangroves, or collect plastic, not burn garbage, etc. But not everyone was willing to work for the environment,” Claudia Trinidad, 26, a native of El Salamar and a senior studying business administration – online due to the COVID pandemic – at the Lutheran University of El Salvador, told IPS.

Those who worked on the mangrove reforestation generated hours of labour, which were counted as more than 800,000 dollars in matching funds provided by the communities.

In the project area, 500 hectares of mangroves have been preserved or restored, and sustainable practices have been implemented on 300 hectares of marine and land ecosystems.

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador's southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez shows how she cooks bean soup on an energy-efficient rocket stove in an outside room of her home in the hamlet of San Sebastián El Chingo, one of the beneficiaries of a sustainable development programme in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura, on El Salvador’s southern coast. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Petrona Cañénguez, from the town of San Sebastián El Chingo, was among the people who participated in the work. She was also cooking bean soup for lunch on her rocket stove when IPS visited her home during a tour of the area.

“I like the stove because you feel less heat when you are preparing food, plus it’s very economical, just a few twigs and that’s it,” said Petrona, 59.

The bean soup, a staple dish in El Salvador, would be ready in an hour, she said. She used just under one kilo of beans, and the soup would feed her and her four children for about five days.

However, she used only the rocket stove, without the magic stove, more out of habit than anything else. “We always have gliridicia twigs on hand,” she said, which make it easy to use the stove.

Although the solar oven offers the cleanest solution, few people still have theirs, IPS found.

This is due to the fact that the wood they were built with was not of the best quality and the coastal weather conditions and moths soon took their toll.

Maria Luz is one of the few people who still uses hers, not only to cook lasagna, but for a wide variety of recipes, such as orange bread.

However, the project is not only about stoves and ovens.

 Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

Some families living in coastal villages in the municipality of San Luis La Herradura have dug ponds for sustainable fishing, which was of great help to the local population during the COVID-19 lockdown in this coastal area of southern El Salvador. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala /IPS

The beneficiary families also received cayucos (flat-bottomed boats smaller than canoes) and fishing nets, plus support for setting up nurseries for blue crabs and mollusks native to the area, as part of the fishing component with a focus on sustainability in this region on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Several families have dug ponds that fill up with water from the estuary at high tide, where they raise fish that provide them with food in times of scarcity, such as during the lockdown declared in the country in March 2020 to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The project also promoted the planting of corn and beans with native seeds, as well as other crops – tomatoes, cucumbers, cushaw squash and radishes – using organic fertiliser and herbicides.

The president of the Local Development Committee of San Luis La Herradura, Daniel Mercado, told IPS that during the COVID-19 health emergency people in the area resorted to bartering to stock up on the food they needed.

“If one community had tomatoes and another had fish, we traded, we learned to survive, to coexist,” Daniel said. “It was like the communism of the early Christians.”

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The UN Food Systems Summit: How Not to Respond to the Urgency of Reform

Aid, Civil Society, Food & Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, Food Sustainability, Global, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

At a critical juncture on the road to the UN Food Systems Summit, three UN rights experts warn that it will fail to be a ‘people’s summit’ unless it is urgently rethought.

NEW YORK, Mar 22 2021 (IPS) – Global food systems have been failing most people for a long time, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made a critical situation even worse. 265 million people are threatened by famine, up 50% on last year; 700 million suffer from chronic hunger; and 2 billion more from malnutrition, with obesity and associated diet-related diseases increasing in all world regions.


Michael Fakhri

Everyone agrees that we need urgent solutions and action. The convening of this year’s UN Food Systems Summit by Secretary General António Guterres was therefore welcome. However, as we move towards critical junctures on the road to the Summit, we remain deeply concerned that this ‘people’s summit’ will fail the people it claims to be serving.

After more than a year of deliberations, the Summit participants will meet this October in New York to present “principles to guide governments and other stakeholders looking to leverage their food systems” to support the Sustainable Development Goals. We will be told that the outcomes have been endorsed by the civil society groups who took part, with ‘solutions’ crowd-sourced from tens of thousands of people around the world. And if other solutions are not there, we will be told that this is because their proponents refused to come to the table.

But coming to the table to discuss ‘solutions’ is not as simple as it sounds. What if the table is already set, the seating plan non-negotiable, the menu highly limited? And what if the real conversation is actually happening at a different table?

These concerns are still as pressing today as they were on day one.

First, the Summit initially bypassed the bodies already doing the very hard work of governing global food systems. The UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS) already has the structure that the Summit organizers have been hastily reconstructing: a space for discussing the future of food systems, a comprehensive commitment to the right to food, mechanisms for involving civil society and the private sector on their own terms, and a panel of experts regularly providing cutting-edge reports. In other words, everyone is already at the table. The Summit has flagrantly – and perhaps deliberately – shifted governments’ attention away from the CFS.

Hilal Elver

Second, the Summit’s rules of engagement were determined by a small set of actors. The private sector, organizations serving the private sector (notably the World Economic Forum), scientists, and economists initiated the process. The table was set with their perspectives, knowledge, interests and biases. Investors and entrepreneurs working in partnership with scientists framed the agenda, and governments and civil society actors were invited to work within those parameters. Inevitably, that has meant a focus on what the small group saw as scalable, investment-friendly, ‘game-changing’ solutions – the bread and butter of Davos. Reading between the lines, this means AI-controlled farming systems, gene editing, and other high-tech solutions geared towards large-scale agriculture.

As a result, the ideas that should have been the starting point for a ‘people’s summit’ have effectively been shut out. For over a decade, farmers, fishers, pastoralists, and food workers have been demanding a food system transformation rooted in food sovereignty and agroecology. This vision is based on redesigning, re-diversifying, and re-localizing farming systems. It requires that economic assumptions be questioned, human rights be protected, and power be rebalanced.

Some concessions have been made on the road to the Summit. But these changes have been too late, or too cosmetic, to impact meaningfully the process. Only in November was the CFS added to the Summit’s Advisory Committee. And only this month was the FAO’s Right to Food office invited to participate (with a limited mandate). Presumably there will be further changes at the margins: human rights will be mentioned in general terms, agroecology will be included as one of many solutions.

Olivier De Schutter

But this will not be enough to make the Summit outcomes legitimate for those of us — inside and outside the process — who remain skeptical. Having all served as UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, we have witnessed first-hand the importance of improving accountability and democracy in food systems, and the value of people’s local and traditional knowledge. It is deeply concerning that we had to spend a year persuading the convenors that human rights matter for this UN Secretary General’s Food Systems Summit. It is also highly problematic that issues of power, participation, and accountability (i.e. how and by whom will the outcomes be delivered) remain unresolved.

Those of us who came to the Summit table did so in the hope that we could fundamentally change the course. As the end-game approaches, we still hope that this is possible. But radical change is needed:

    ● The right to food must be central to all aspects of the Summit, with attention on holding those with power accountable;
    ● Agroecology should be recognized as a paradigm (if not the paradigm) for transforming food systems, alongside actionable recommendations to support agroecological transition;
    ● The CFS should be designated as the home of the Summit outcomes, and the place where it is discussed and implemented, using its inclusive participation mechanisms.

In other words, to make this a people’s summit, the table needs to be urgently re-set.

Michael Fakhri is the current UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
Hilal Elver served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2014-2020.
Olivier De Schutter served as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food from 2008-2014, and is the current UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, and co-chair of IPES-Food.

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The Boon and Bane of LDC Graduation: The Bangladesh Experience

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Education, Food & Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Health, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

SINGAPORE, Feb 22 2021 (IPS) – Bangladeshis at the present time share a modicum of justifiable pride in the fact that the world merits this country worth watching in terms of its economic potentials. To my mind , we have reached this stage for the following reasons: First, effective utilization of early foreign assistance; second a steady ,albeit sustained, move away from a near -socialistic to an open and liberal economy; third , a shift from agriculture to manufacturing as land-space shrank to accommodate urbanization; fourth , an unleashing of remarkable entrepreneurial spirit among private sector captains of industry, as evidenced in the Ready Made Garments industry: fifth, the prevalence of a vibrant civil society intellectually aiding the social transformation with its focus on health, education, and gender issues: and finally ,a long period of political stability notwithstanding the traditional predilections of Bengali socio-political activism.


Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury

The philosophical underpinning behind the concept of ‘Least Developed Countries’ (LDCs) devised at the UN in the 1960s was to identify a set of States whose impediment to development was structural, and not due to their own faults. Hence the idea that the global trading system needed to be adjusted by providing these nations ‘special and differential treatment’, such as entailed in non-reciprocal preferential market access. This would, hopefully, create for them a level playing field. Bangladesh joined the Group in 1975, immediately following its UN membership. The conditions for joining the list of LDCs or graduating from it , are determined by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) based on certain criteria. Out of original 48 six countries have already graduated: Botswana, Cape Verde, Maldives, Samoa, Equatorial Guinea, and Vanuatu. Nepal and Bangladesh are in the cusp of graduation.

Graduation is for Bangladesh a mix of boon and bane. It is a boon because it is an acknowledgment of progress, a major milestone in the nation’s development journey. It would improve the country’s global image which should give it better credit ratings. This would allow it to borrow more cheaply on the world market. It is a bane because it would ultimately lose all the preferences accorded to LDCs in global trade such as under the European Union’s Everything but Arms (EBA) initiative. However, Bangladesh has not quite optimized on those advantages.

Incidentally, as chair of the WTO Committee of Trade and Development, as also of the LDC Group in Geneva in the late 1990s and early 2000, and also as Special Advisor to Secretary General Rubens Ricupero of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), I was involved with the related deliberations with the European Union. Bangladesh has always played a leadership role on behalf of the LDCs in all multilateral negotiations, both at the WTO in Geneva and at the United Nations in New York. Sometimes these involved not only tough deliberations with developed countries and ‘economies in transition’ (former socialist countries) , but also with developing member-States of the Group of 77 (because it entailed the sharing of the cake).Bangladesh’s graduation will in many ways deprive the LDCs of this capacity. Across the diplomatic scene, Bangladesh could also depend on the support of fellow-LDCs on a broad range of issues. I would gratefully recall the contribution in this regard of the so-called “Utstein Sisters” of Europe (named after a venue in Northern Europe where they met), five women Development Cooperation Ministers, including Evelyn Herfkens of the Netherlands and Claire Short of the UK. They were ardent advocates of LDC aspirations, and were instrumental, among other things, in the WTO’s acceptance, unlike in the case its predecessor, the General Agreement on Trade and Tariff (GATT), of the broad principle that trade is a key tool of development.

Following graduation, Bangladesh will need to negotiate a continuation of international support measures to render the graduation process smooth and sustainable. If needs be, even after the grace period of quota-free duty- free market access vis-à-vis Europe till 2029. Though in Brussels the EU could cut Bangladesh some slack because of its performance, at the WTO, Bangladesh, will be well advised to attempt a norm setting exercise with regard to graduating countries with the new Director General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is empathetic, as well as with the membership. This will take some skillful diplomacy. But I would like to strongly underscore that negotiations are but the tip of the ice- berg. The main challenge would lie in tackling the fundamentals beneath. For instance, in addressing domestically the 27 requirements, including corruption, non-compliances, and other inadequacies, across the governance spectrum to achieve GSP -plus status. Also, to derive other global market benefits.

Comparative advantages would have to be transformed into competitive advantage. Low-wages will tend to perpetuate poverty. So wage-rise, an essential tool for poverty mitigation, would need to be carefully calibrated with the increase in productivity. Economy should diversify, particularly into services, which do not face goods tariff and hence less affected by loss of preferences. The Internet sector, on which the government is prudently laser-focused, can help Bangladesh leapfrog into economic modernity. The pharmaceutical industry should seriously reflect on how to navigate WTO regulations on Trade in Intellectual Property, or TRIPS. Mutually rewarding arrangements with other Asian economic powerhouses are called for. For instance, Free Trade Agreement with a country like Singapore could, and I use the word ‘could’ advisedly, unlock potentials, but that would require further serious study and examination.

Throughout my negotiating career I had felt that preferences tend only to prolong pain. There are no such things as friends in the marketplace. The sooner we start to confront the real world of competition the better off we are. Indeed, if we can play our cards right, the graduation could be our ‘’break-out” moment to reflect on reforms, on raising productivity and on boosting growth. Efforts must be directed towards moving up the value chain by attracting quality FDI. From my current perch in the corporate sector in Singapore, I see Vietnam as an example worthy of emulation.

So, to conclude, graduation is inevitable if progress is the goal, as it must be, and indeed desirable, just as, in our individual lives, coming of age, that is of turning 21, is. Readiness is key. From what I see, there is nothing like the last minute in speeding up requisite preparations. Doubtless, there is much work to be done. But we must bear in mind that if there is a hill to climb, waiting will not make it any smaller!

Dr Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury is the Honorary Fellow at the Institute of South Asia Studies, NUS. He is a former Foreign Advisor (Foreign Minister) of Bangladesh and President & Distinguished Fellow of Cosmos Foundation. The views addressed in the article are his own. He can be reached at: isasiac@nus.edu.sg

This story was originally published by Dhaka Courier.

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Climate Change & Policy Making in Nepal

Asia-Pacific, Civil Society, Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Farming Crisis: Filling An Empty Plate, Food & Agriculture, Headlines, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

Simone Galimberti is Co-Founder of ENGAGE, a not-for-profit NGO in Nepal. He writes on volunteerism, social inclusion, youth development and regional integration as an engine to improve people’s lives.

Rural woman farmer Chandra Kala Thapa works in the fields near Chatiune Village, Nepal. Over $39 million has been earmarked by a UN-backed fund to combat effects of climate change in Nepal. Credit: UN Women/Narendra Shrestha

KATHMANDU, Nepal, Feb 16 2021 (IPS) – Raju Pandit Chhetri is one of the most acclaimed climate change policy experts in Nepal and South Asia. As Director of the Prakiriti Resource Centre, an action focused think tank based in Kathmandu, Pandit Cheetri shares his opinion on the latest climate focused policies being undertaken by the Government of Nepal, especially the 2nd Nationally Determined Contribution NDC that was recently submitted by the Government.


Q: Before discussing the second Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) released by the Government in December, what is your assessment of the first one published in October 2016?

Raju: The first NDC was much more inclusive as it tried to balance between the adaptation, mitigations and means of implementation. It was done it a short period of time and no proper format existed then. It was prepared to demonstrate Nepal’s commitment to the Paris Agreement.

Q: Coming now to the second NDC, it states that “Nepal is formulating a long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategy by 2021 with the aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050”. Given the fact that Nepal’s emissions are minimal, were you expected such goal?

Raju: Given the emission scenario and context of Nepal, achieving net-zero GHG by 2050 is doable, if there is political commitment and actions, we can achieve this even earlier. It’s great that Nepal has this vision and wants to implement it via a strategy. Given Nepal’s forest coverage, potential for renewable energy and low per capita emission this is a realistic target. Nationally we need to do more.

Q: Shouldn’t the NDC be already providing a roadmap to achieve this goal? Do we need another strategy just because the NDC document is fairly a generic one?

Raju: I guess for now, the NDC is more of a visioning paper for next five to 10 years. It would have been good if the details were presented but, in any case, for a least developed country (LDC) country with insignificant amount of carbon emission, it isn’t a bad thing. The current version does give the vision if not every detail of the targets. However, it is true that Nepal just loves preparing policies, plans and strategies rather than focusing on implementation. We have great policies not actions, unfortunately.

Q: There has been skepticism about net-zero greenhouse gas emission by 2050, especially in relation to the financial contributions that Nepal is committing itself (we are talking only of mitigation measures here) through what are called the unconditional commitment that will amount to $ 3.4 billion, resources that Nepal is pledging to mobilize on its own. Is it feasible?

Raju: The total cost gives at US$ 25 billion for mitigation and Nepal’s own share is arbitrary (don’t know where this is coming from). There is no basis for accounting and detail analysis. Principally, it would have been better if the numbers with commitments from Nepal were not there, after all Nepal’s emission is very low and with no historical responsibility.

However, there is no harm in submitting the second NDCs, it’s great to demonstrate that even a country like Nepal is serious on climate actions and would pressurize the rich responsible countries to come forward. But I do agree that this rush did not help in making the NDC preparation process inclusive and participatory. This is a fundamental drawback. This process would have avoided many of the shortcomings such as finance targets and making it mitigation centric.

Q: Do you think that Nepal’s proposed graduation from the group of LDCs (to the status of a middle income country) in 2024 can have a negative impact for the country’s efforts to find the needed external resources to implement the 2nd NDC?

Raju: When Nepal graduates, it will lose some of the privileges which it enjoyed as a LDC country. However, this may not matter in the short term because there is also transitional period, which it can enjoy for a few more years. Having said that if development process advances to making it a developing country from LDC then it also comes with responsibility and enhanced ability, which it must embrace. It must find other avenues and create opportunities for itself. The good thing is Nepal is often one of the favorites to donors hence, the politics must work on this favorable condition in the short and long run.

Q: Between adaptation and mitigation, how to strike the right balance? In a recent interview, you highlighted that this second NDC should have been more focused on adaptation. Why not being ambitious developing a greener economy as well?

Raju: I am always for developing a greener economy, I would even go further to say that we need much more concrete actions to reduce air pollution, import less fossil fuel and adopt a green development pathway. However, given the global scenario, Nepal is one of the lowest carbon emitting countries but highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This is being clearly seen in the areas of climate induced disasters like landslide and floods. Nepal suffers from food insecurity, poverty, water issues and many other development issues hence in this context- adaptation should not be less prioritize. Nepal’s NDC fails to realize this current reality. NDC is an international document that we submit to international organization (UNFCCC) hence in that context adaptation is always Nepal’s priority. My comment was not that we should not do mitigation but rather give due weightage to adaptation actions reflecting the reality of the county.

Q: What should we expect from the upcoming National Adaptation Plan, NAP?

Raju: There is also a huge adaptation gap in Nepal and we are way behind in fulfilling this gap. NAP should clearly state the current situation of country’s adaptation need and areas of vulnerability. In this context, provide adequate information and focus areas where adaptation is a dire need. It should help prioritize the areas of intervention, partners, identify issues, and ways to address them. Currently, NAP is in the process of making in Nepal, hope this is soon completed and this can be a basis for adaptation actions in the country.

Q: In terms of mitigation in the NDC, there are ambitious forestry targets like maintaining 45% of total area of the country under forest cover in addition to bold announcements on reducing pollution in the transportation sector. Do you remain hopeful the targets will be met?

Raju: It is good that Nepal is having some bold targets but this is not easy for Nepal to meet with the current priorities and enabling environment. There are lots of conflicting aspects when it comes to what is in the policy and what is done in practice. For sure, there is need to maintain our forest cover, address pollution in the cities, manage growing waste and significantly replace the imported fossil fuel by renewable energy. However, this is not possible merely putting it in NDC without actions. Political commitment should ensure partnership between the government, private sectors, financers and other partners to achieve these targets.

Q: Prakriti Resources Centre was one of the leading forces behind the Climate and Development Dialogue in 2019. How useful are such stakeholders ‘meetings?

Raju: We do regular meetings and gathering to share ideas and experiences from the policy to the implementation level. There are about 12 members in the dialogue who regularly exchange information on climate and development issues. We also make policy suggestions and inputs to the government. Many of our inputs have been incorporated into the policy documents. We continue to advocate for the affective implementation of these plans and policies.

Q: With the 2nd NDC being published, what should the government do now? What is the civil society planning to do? Are you going to play a role in shaping the formation of the numerous new “climate” institutions, including the Inter-Ministerial Climate Change Coordination Committee (IMCCCC) and the Climate Change Resource Center? In addition, the NDC says that by 2030, all 753 local governments will prepare and implement climate-resilient and gender-responsive adaptation plans. Is this realistic?

Raju: We will continue to be vigilant on what government does on climate actions – both in terms of policy implementation and raising new issues. We will support where needed but also push on what needs to be done.

There are a lot of things that the government needs to do both in terms of climate adaptation and mitigation. We have not even entered into the debate of loss and damage. A few months back ICIMOD and UNDP produced a report that 25 glacial lake in the Himalayas are at the risk of out-bursting. This is a huge issue for a country like, imagine one lake out bursting and it causing harm in the downstream. This is a case of loss and damage.

Government cannot just make policies and promise, it needs to acts through appropriate institutions, allocating finance and ensuring that the actions are taking place at the local level. Government has promised to make adaptation plans in all the 753 local governments and this cannot merely be an empty promise. It needs to fulfil the promise to meet the expectation of the climate vulnerable communities. But for this high degree of political commitment is a must. It needs to start from awareness building of the local governments and supporting them with technical inputs.

Q: What do you hope Glasgow 2021 will achieve? The Prakriti Resources Centre together with its peers within the Climate Finance Advisory Service, extensively analyzed the disbursement pledge of USD 100 billion goal in annual commitments from the developed countries. Where are we?

Raju: COP26 should help raise the climate ambitions so that the world is in track to achieve 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Currently, we are heading to 3 degree world or beyond. By COP26 every country should submit an ambitious NDCs. In order to achieve this, climate finance will play a major role. Developed countries are falling short in fulfilling their promise of meeting the climate finance targets of US$100 billion per year by 2020. This gap should be filled in only then the developing countries will be able to take climate actions. The money should be balance both for mitigation and adaptation, while also prioritizing loss and damage. Developed countries have been double counting their ODA as climate finance, this should not be the case but sincere effort must be made to support climate vulnerable countries like Nepal.

Q: Last but not the least, what are your suggestions to a young graduate in Nepal that would embrace the work you are doing?

Raju: Working in the area of climate change looks appealing but without perseverance it does not last long. This is a wide open and multisectoral area hence focus is imperative. It is not easy as it sounds otherwise, we would have long back solved the problem, in fact we are nowhere near it. No doubt, more young people should join the movement and work on climate change because this is the issue about their future. However, the work must be backed by keen interest to build one’s knowledge, motivation and dedication.

To have more information about Prakiriti Resource Centre, please visit www.prc.org.np
To have more information about Climate Finance Advisory Service, please visit https://www.cfas.info/en
E-mail: simone_engage@yahoo.com
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/simone-galimberti-4b899a3/

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