Tag Archives: Brazil

Who Owns the Land?

bkspearceland2014

I’m so glad authors like Fred Pearce are paying attention.  I’d never heard of Pearce until his book, The Land Grabbers:  The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth, jumped from the library shelf into my hands.  Published in 2014, the book reads like a world-wide travelogue, except the sights are disheartening.  Until the end, it made me wonder if every plot of arable soil on the planet has been razed, plowed under, polluted, and subjected to rampant, monolithic, mechanized agriculture for export.

The Land Grabbers premise is that “soaring grain prices and fears about future food supplies are triggering a global land grab.”  The super-rich, would-be rich, and governments are scouring the world looking for productive investments; and land—especially arable land—reigns supreme.

In chapter after chapter, the reader learns of how formerly communal land has been privatized, with drastic changes in ecosystems and eviction or undermining of subsistence-level, indigenous people.  In the first chapter, we learn about government “villagization” in Ethiopia, the collecting of dispersed populations like the farmer/fisher Anuaks and the livestock herding Nuer into state-designated villages, ostensibly to provide better services, like schools, hospitals, and water wells. But locals claim the government is stealing their traditional lands to turn over to foreign agribusiness.

The second chapter takes the reader to the Chicago Board of Trade, the home of commodity trading.  We learn commodity speculation in 2008 may have contributed to the sharp spike in worldwide food prices that year.  The food price bubble was first noticed in early 2007 in Mexico, where the cost of tortillas quadrupled in two months.  Subsequent months brought food riots across North and West Africa.  In Egypt, the world’s largest food importer, bread prices tripled.

Pearce says grain shortages could not be blamed, since grain production was up five percent that year.  However, at least one-third of the world’s grain goes to feeding livestock.  Also, 2007 saw a boom in the biofuels industry, and was the year the ethanol mandate was passed in the United States.  The US earmarked half of its corn for ethanol, diverting surpluses from export markets.

In Saudi Arabia, fear of dependency on food imports prompted billionaires to pump water from a mile beneath the desert to irrigate wheat and grazing grasses for dairy cattle.  Within a few years it had depleted four-fifths of its underground water reservoir–formerly the size of Lake Erie–and realized this tactic was unsustainable.  It turned to acquiring large tracts of land in foreign countries, especially impoverished Muslim countries in Asia and Africa.  Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries are also acquiring foreign farmland or concessions to produce food for their people.

The book repeats the story of dispossession in South Sudan and Kenya. In South Sudan the new government has promised vast tracts to Arab interests, with land rights signed over by questionable spokesmen for the people, without surveys or other demarcations showing where the properties begin and end.  Tradition has it that whole communities must participate in communal land decisions, but purchasers find ways around this.  In several cases, the land has been leased out with great promises of agricultural development, but nothing has been done on the ground.

There’s the story of the American Christian evangelist who made his money running private prisons in the US.  He has leased 17,050 acres in the Yala swamp in Kenya.  It drains into Lake Victoria.  Calvin Burgess claims he has permission to drain the swamp, clear the papyrus and cultivate, primarily, rice for export.  He sees his huge agribusiness as a means to bring Christianity to the poor, as well as drag them out of poverty.  His farm is named “Dominion.”

Locals tell a different story.  Before Burgess, everyone had cattle and used the swamp, taking papyrus as needed to make mats, baskets, roof thatch, and other useful items.  Now, because Burgess has raised a weir several feet, the swamp overflows and floods regularly, destroying locals’ crops and bringing crocodiles and hippos to their front doors.

Pearce describes the general political scenes in several African counties, including Liberia.  Liberia had recently emerged from a 14-year civil war.  I read about the Firestone rubber “fiefdom” in Liberia since 1926.   “International law” favors the investors; and investor claims supersede individuals, communities, and countries.  I have to wonder who is the arbitrator of “international law.”  UN “peace keepers” dominate in Liberia.

Pearce writes a lot about the palm oil industry, which has grown exponentially over the years.  It started back in the early 1900s, with the tyrannical King of Belgium in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but later came under the control of the Lever Brothers, and then Unilever.

Also in Africa, the grabbers have claimed large concessions to create hunting reserves, “eco-tourism,” including safaris, and conservation areas that have squeezed indigenous Massai tribes and run them off traditional lands.  This in Tanzania, primarily, but also in Kenya.  I guess they have had domestic cattle for centuries, in concert with wildlife, yet moderns believe the two are incompatible and want to remove the people and their cattle from their traditional lands.

We learn about the Inner Niger Delta, in Mali, which is being dried out by irrigation rights upstream.  Here four foreign concessions have been given enormous prior claims on Niger water, complete with canals.  Two are for sugar cane—British and Chinese—which is a huge water hog; one is a US concession for rice; and the fourth, possibly the largest, is for food for Libya.

In the Ukraine, the story is similar to the others.  Individuals form companies, get investors, buy or lease large tracts of land with grand plans to grow this or that.  In the Ukraine or Russia, a number of formerly collective farms have been abandoned.  There are many household farms, but the people don’t have the money to grow for more than their own needs.

The cerrado in Brazil, and the chaco in Paraguay both hosted indigenous tribes.  Now the tribes have been squeezed, killed, compromised, or absorbed, and the foreign investor mono-agriculturalists are encroaching ever closer, destroying biodiversity, rendering many species extinct, obliterating and polluting habitat.

The conservationists are either weak, compromised, or circumvented.  In South America, the main industries are cattle ranching, sugar for ethanol, and soy, but also other grains like corn and wheat.  Rubber.

In Sumatra and Papua, New Guinea thousands of acres of rain forest and peat bogs have been destroyed, for two Chinese-owned paper mills.  Once again, locals who depended on the forest for rattan and rubber, as well as fishing and shrimping have been displaced, in some cases violently, and their water polluted.  Their government has favored foreign investors over them, despite presumed legal protections. The IMF was happy to advise the Sumatra government to give away even more forestry concessions to bail out the Chinese paper mills when there was a recession in Asia.

Overall, the book gives an impression of the sheer size of the earth, and its many and varied lands.  But the land grabber strategy seems similar the world over.  The international concerns are deeply intermingled, with lots of names, re-names, countries, and corporations, hedge funds, pension funds, and university endowments involved.  Tax havens.  Companies awash in subsidiaries, controlled by individuals and families, with holdings in multiple countries, and assisted by weak or corrupt governments, rape the land, displace subsistence locals–who generally have depended on communal sharing of resources, like forests and rivers–turn them against each other and the police/government against them.  They bring in bulldozers and chain saws to replace rotation farming and biodiversity with mono-agriculture for export.

It’s enough to make me a Communist, if it would mean a return to communal land holdings.  Reading The Land Grabbers reveals the de facto pervasiveness of communism, in the shared, or communal land sense.   It is the undercurrent that modern property-owning society is built on.   That land grabs are happening all over the world to so many indigenous and until now isolated people shows how the perpetrators have depended on the isolation to pull the same stunt over and over.

I liked the way The Land Grabbers ended.  Pearce claims most of the world’s food is still produced by smallholderrs.  Most land is still held and used in common.  In Africa a half-billion smallholders produce 90 percent of the food.  Pearce writes that in India large dairy cooperatives have propelled the country from 78th to first in the world in milk production.  The coop provides for daily milk pickups from the members.

Bottom line is all is not lost.  Pearce says that despite myth, smallholders take better care of their ecosystems than large mechanized industry.  They farm every corner of their small spaces, use crop rotation, animal manure for fertilizer, expand and contract grazing and growing spaces depending on need.  They grow diverse crops and have animals, like cows, goats, and chickens.  The idea of “tragedy of the commons” doesn’t hold.  Without written rules, communal holders manage to work out among themselves fair balances so that land does not become over-grazed or reduced to desert.

After reading The Land Grabbers:  The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth, I believe more strongly than ever that no one owns the earth.  The earth owns us.

 

 

Rosaliene? Cosmic Balm?

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Iguazu Falls, Argentina, kco0295

Rosaliene Bacchus (rosalienebacchus.wordpress.com) is one of my favorite Double X Avengers in the blog world.  The Double X Avengers are those gifted with the most chromosomes, the most genes, the most sense, cents, and thus the most likely to survive in the future “Survival of the Fittest” paradigm.

In 1995, long before I met Rosaliene in cyberspace, I traveled to Argentina and Chile and took this photo at Iguazu Falls, Argentina.  It does not show the violent food poisoning I got at the fancy dancy hotel, probably from unwashed lettuce.  Shame on me for eating uncooked food.  Should you desire to live among those with Survival Skills Technology, do not eat uncooked food at the Olympics.  Take your own food to Iguazu Falls.

Having said that, I offer another “Lesson in Living from the Double X Gene Pool.”

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My all-time favorite instrumental, “Moonlight and Magnolias,” reminds me of Savannah. It is cut #12 on this CD.

Here at home, music is cosmic balm for me.  I first heard “Moonlight and Magnolias” on a jazz radio station broadcasting from Charleston (that’s the one in South Carolina, for those who don’t know, where the War of Yankee Aggression began).

The 20th century radio station went off the air before I learned the artists’ or CD name.  I searched high and low, finally finding it two years later at the “listen-stations” Barnes and Noble used to have but can no longer afford.  I ordered the CD.  Kinky.  “Moonlight and Magnolias” is not typical, and it shows what the group can do.

As you may know, everything is free in the Cosmic Commune, and money doesn’t exist.  Therefore, we spend our free time having fun.  Having fun includes swimming at Iguazu Falls after we clean up the water, and dancing to good music.  These are the two best exercises known, except for the third one, and they are free, as well.

Having said that, I add that when you’re tired of swimming and dancing, you may want to sit down and knit some socks, for fun and profit.  The Cosmic Improv Group, deprived of their own  opposable thumbs, likes to give me advice on how to do a more efficient job.

Cosmic Improv Group, Chapter 4:  “The Knitting Dimension ensnares katharineotto.planetearth.ind in Earth Plane Reality”

By katharineotto.wordpress.com, an alter ego of katharineotto.planetearth.ind, representing unlicenced freedom to be who I am.  080116

 

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The first socks I ever knitted. kco0105

January, 2005

The Cosmic Improv Group helps me knit, in its way.  Its unique way, should I choose to see it their way.  I’m to “attitude-adjust” as necessary to get what I want.

I finished knitting my first pair of socks, but the CIG–that contingent of advisors who haunt my imagination and worst nightmares–made it as hard as possible.  I was counting stitches to decrease, to shape the second toe, trying to figure out what the directions were saying, and having trouble reading the small gray print on the back of the yarn label, when the phone rang, startling me and making me lose count, my place in the directions, and my composure.  The caller hung up in the middle of the answering machine message, or so I thought.  But the fax machine made noises as if to receive a fax, and then it quit.

I figured it was Capital One trying to fax the bill I never received and requested two days ago.  Capital One can’t just send a fax then and there.  No.  It has to be processed through another office in another city, so I was told the fax would come before 5 p.m. on the following day, which was yesterday.  So I was awaiting this fax, which did not come through.  My mind runs through a list of worst-case scenarios, primarily that the impatient fax sender lost her job and hung up before recognizing the phone could take faxes.  I would have to call again.  Maybe the fax was out of paper or malfunctioning.  This is the story of my life.

Meanwhile, I hear the Cosmic Improv Group gossiping about me.  Fukyoo leads the band.  “See how easy she is to provoke?” he quips.    “It’s only a fax.  Let’s see if we can make her make a mistake on her sock, so that it’s not just like the other one, and she will have to live with the imperfection forever.”

“Okay,” say the others.  “That sounds like fun.”

“Oh no you don’t,” I respond in my mind, not mad enough yet to say it out loud.  I go back to work.  The phone rings and hangs up again at the same place.  The fax starts and stops.  This happens a third time, and I pick up the phone but only hear fax tones.  I hang up.  I check the fax for paper, and it seems to be okay.  I rail against these angels, who, I decided, have caused my machine to malfunction.  I worry that the overworked, underpaid, stressed out sender at Capital One will give up and I’ll have to call again on Monday.  I change the fax machine to fax only mode so the answering machine will not pick up.

I hear Fukyoo and the others chittering in the background.  “Let’s make her lose her knitting needle.  That worked yesterday.”

Yes, it did.  I took my finished and unfinished socks to a meeting, but when I got home, my fifth double pointed needle was nowhere to be found.  Never mind that I was only using four needles.  I had bought five needles, and my sense of order dictated (yes—dictated) that I should be able to account for all five of them.  I searched high and low and finally decided it fell out of my bag at the meeting.

I had been losing and finding these needles since starting the socks.  Usually they fall in the crack between seat and arm in the recliner, but my cat was sleeping there and I didn’t want to disturb him.  I felt around the sides, to no avail.  When Bud finally moved, I found the needle in the crack behind him, but by then I had been fifth-needle-less for over two hours.  I had gone through a temper tantrum with a good yell or two at the sprites who plague me with their games.

So, I’m still concerned about the fax Friday morning, the toe of my sock is begging to be finished, my feet are cold, and I sit down to refocus on the project.

But I can’t find my fourth needle.  Yes, I know I have a fifth needle, but that’s not the point.  (Pun.  Ha, ha.  Get it?)

“Where should we hide her needle this time?” say the sprightly spirits.

“I know.  Let’s hide it in her hand.  She’s so upset now that she has forgotten how to count to four.”

Yes, the needle was in my hand, but then I couldn’t find the pattern, and when I found that, I was so insecure, that I plodded super attentively though the last few steps.  And a perfect sock I have.  And the fax finally came through.  Twice.

It probably helped that I’d let loose with a belly buster of a temper tantrum at the Fukyoo crowd, at the top of my lungs, somewhere in the middle of this emotional intensity.  “No, you can’t make it easy,” I screamed.  “You have to make it hard.  Why can’t you people get lives of your own so you won’t have to mess with mine?  Don’t you have anything better to do?”

“But you’re so much fun,” they say.  “We enjoy playing with you.”

“Mere flattery,” I say.  “If you think my ego needs sycophants like you, you are wrong-O.  If you really want to have a good time, you’ll do things to inspire rather than infuriate me.”

“She’s hearing voices again,” they tell each other.  “Voices inside her head.”

“Yes, and she’s talking back to them.”

“You know what that means.”  They all look at each other with great concern.

“Maybe we should back off.  She might really crack under the pressure.”

“She cracked a long time ago, if you ask me.”

“Don’t tell her that.  It will only upset her.”

“Good thing she has no neighbors.  If anyone heard her scream the way she does, they would surely have her committed.”

“At least she doesn’t scream or talk to those voices in public.”

“Not yet, but we’re working on it.”

monkeybali0696

How America looks from Bali, 1996