Worldwatch Focuses on Africa

Washington, D.C.

Many thanks to The Nation and Food First for alerting readers to the need for increased funding in African agriculture. A main goal of our work is to put a much-needed spotlight on farmer organizations and NGOs in Africa, the very organizations and individuals that Raj Patel, Eric Holt-Gimenez and Annie Shattuck rightfully assert are essential to any real discussion of sustainable agriculture there [“Letters,” Oct. 19]. The culmination of this project will be the report “State of the World 2011,” with a focus on hunger. We are working directly with farmer organizations and groups on the ground in Africa as well as African journalists to tell the as yet untold stories of triumph in this region.

Patel et al. ask if money might have been better spent disseminating proven knowledge within Africa. That is exactly what we hope to do. Through Worldwatch’s worldwide network and its audience of government officials, policy-makers, journalists and NGOs, we will share the report with key stakeholders, including local farmers and policy-makers. We believe these stories will inspire action, and that innovations in sustainable agriculture will consequently be implemented on a larger scale.

We realize that this project will be standing on the shoulders of giants, including the International Agricultural Assessment of Science and Technology for Development, which was released last year. We envision the report as a continuation of this work, which will make IAASTD’s findings more accessible to a wider audience and offer concrete recommendations. Two key audiences for it will be the agricultural funding community, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and farmers and farmer groups.

Patel et al. expressed concern that the framing of this project could be skewed. Since its inception in 1974, Worldwatch has maintained a solid reputation as a broker of independent, unbiased research. We bring our unwavering objectivity and dedication to truth to the Nourishing the Planet project. Worldwatch comes to this project without any pre-drawn conclusions or expectations of what the findings will be. And although it is too early to share all our conclusions, there is strong opinion (and good evidence) that farmer-driven work–whether farmer-run seed banks, farmer-run marketing cooperatives or farmer-run research–can be instrumental in reducing poverty and hunger.

BRIAN HALWEIL
DANIELLE NIERENBERG
Worldwatch Institute
Project directors, “State of the World 2011″



More Letters on Our ‘Food for All’ Issue

Puyallup, Wash.

Your food democracy issue was superb [“Food for All,” Sept. 21]. A recurring theme was the challenge of democratizing food growing and distribution in the face of competition from the “real” economy, with its subsidies and capital. We need to link the issue to the notion of alternative currencies, like Burlington Bread (other examples: Ithaca Hours, Bay Bucks, Berk Shares). Burlington Bread is a local currency used around Burlington, Vermont, and accepted by merchants and even the county, for taxes. As a local exchange medium, it allows people to earn wages and exchange them for food and services without depending on banks or Wall Street (see the Burlington Currency Project).

ELI BERNIKER


Berkeley, Calif.

Community gardens are nifty, but most food comes from large capital- and chemical-intensive industrialized farms. This will continue until anti-trust laws are used to bust up the monopolies of grain traders, dairy and cereal processors, and other sectors of the food industry–and until the issue of commodity price is addressed. For the past half-century, prices have been held so low farmers couldn’t meet the cost of production, and millions of small farms couldn’t afford to continue.

Milk prices are down to $12 per hundredweight; the typical cost of production exceeds $17. Farmers are trapped, producing cheap raw materials, which food manufacturers process into “convenient,” “instant,” often unhealthy but profitable crap. In 1950 the farmer received 50 cents of every retail food dollar; today it’s less than 20 cents, while middlemen and manufacturers profit from cheap raw materials.

BOB SCHILDGEN=


Washington, D.C.

Your food issue did not feature a single article by anyone who actually produces the food we eat. Family farmers and ranchers have been at the forefront of America’s “food democracy” movement for centuries, long before anyone read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Wendell Berry. Food democracy is not a new concept to the farmers and ranchers who have been fighting agribusiness for decades in search of a more just, sustainable and democratic economic order that produces healthy food and vibrant rural communities. Our dairy farmers are in their worst crisis since the Great Depression, with farm suicides and foreclosures occurring at alarming rates.

The Obama administration has announced joint workshops hosted by the Agriculture and Justice departments to address anti-trust issues and corporate control of agriculture. We hope they’ll cover corporate control of seed, dairy and livestock markets. This is a great victory for farmers and ranchers, who have seen their communities hollowed out, thanks to the likes of Monsanto and Tyson.

William Greider’s eerily prescient “The Last Farm Crisis” [Nov. 20, 2000] highlighted the structural injustices. Please cover the perspective of the folks who toil in the fields to produce our nation’s bounty.

KATHERINE OZER


Ithaca, N.Y.

I am a great fan of Michael Pollan [“Wendell Berry’s Wisdom“], but his wonderful piece omitted the enormous contribution of Robert Rodale and the Rodale family, who since the 1950s have been revealing the ties between soil health, personal health and environmental and community regeneration and well-being. By 1971 (the date Pollan cites as the jump-start of the national conversation about farming, soil, food and health) Rodale had been publishing Organic Gardening magazine for almost thirty years and Prevention for more than twenty, and had endured almost twenty years of harassment by the Federal Trade Commission. In 1955 the FTC had ordered him to cease and desist from claiming, for example, that there is a correlation between heart disease and eating large quantities of meat and dairy products, or that increasing physical activity could lessen its likelihood.

JEFF BERCUVITZ, president
Center for Leadership, Innovation and Community


Albuquerque

I was excited to read Habiba Alcindor’s “Mississippi Growing” and to hear some positive news about Holmes County, which, as Alcindor wrote, is one of the poorest counties in the country. My husband and I moved there right after World War II. He practiced medicine between Mileston and Tchula, treating mostly African-American sharecroppers.

In 1955 the KKK held a meeting at the white schoolhouse and voted that we had to leave the state. I will never forget picking up the children at school and seeing all the people headed toward the meeting. We relocated to Arizona.

SUE W. MINTER