Yearly Archives: 2010

New Report on the Impact of U.S. Food Aid in Haiti

With the one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake fast-approaching, many are wondering just how much progress has been made over the past 12 months and what kind of change the future holds for Haitian people. Congress has still not passed the Haiti Empowerment, Assistance and Rebuilding (HEAR) Act that would create a clear framework for reconstruction and authorize the multi-year funding needed to rebuild Haiti sustainably.

Just last week the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights—in partnership with Partners In Health and Zanmi Lasante—released a report about the right to food in Haiti: “Sak Vid Pa Kanpe: The Impact of U.S. Food Aid on Human Rights in Haiti.” The title of this report draws on a Haitian proverb which laments that a sack cannot stand if it is
empty—a powerful metaphor for the importance of food and sustenance to one’s capacity to “stand” and function. Living in the most impoverished nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haitian people know all too well how vital access to food is to their daily survival. Yet many Haitians have also experienced the unintended negative consequences of U.S. food aid programs. While these programs often help people in times of crisis, many also run afoul of the human right to food by undermining the local economy, eroding agricultural self-reliance, and failing to include Haitians in their design and implementation.

Even prior to the January 12, 2010 earthquake, Haiti was a major recipient
of U.S. food aid, ranking in the top ten of all receiving countries. By 2008, local production of food amounted to only 42 percent of Haiti’s food consumption, compared to 80 percent in 1986. A full 52 percent of Haiti’s food consumption came from commercial importation (including large amounts of U.S.-subsidized food exports) and six percent in the form of food aid. Seventy-one percent of Haiti’s food aid.

The new report aligns with AJWS’s vision for global food security and in helping Haiti to become a food sovereign country:

“… The realization of the right to food requires more than temporary alleviation of hunger. Under international law, food must be economically and physically accessible; adequate in quantity, quality, and nutrition; culturally acceptable, available; and sustainable. Thought well intentioned, food aid provided by the United States and other bilateral nations does not always respect these standards. To respect the right to food, donors should adopt both long and short-term solutions to food insecurity and hunger, facilitating country ownership of food production, while adequately responding to immediate needs.”

The following recommendations (described in greater detail in the full report) urge U.S. policy leaders to:

  • Untie food aid and increase local and regional purchase in Haiti
  • End monetization by eliminating permissions to monetize U.S. commodities
  • Fully comply with international agreements on aid effectiveness
  • Ensure meaningful participation of Haitians in all U.S. assistance programs to Haiti

These are important recommendations and it is essential for us to continue to put pressure on Congress to pass the HEAR Act. Please urge your representative to support rebuilding Haiti by passing this piece of legislation. Haiti needs a smart, long-term plan with robust multi-year funding to build a brighter future.

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Interview with Navin Moul, AJWS Program Officer for Asia

I recently caught up with AJWS Program Officer Navin Moul who just returned from a trip to Thailand and Cambodia where she witnessed the struggles and successes of the communities that AJWS supports.

Can you tell me about some of the main issues you looked at during your trip to Cambodia and Thailand?

A lot of our work in Thailand has to do with community land titles. I was able to go to villages and talk to people about the issues they have around land—such a complex, layered issue with legal regulations, livelihood issues, sustainability, organic, non-organic, community engagement and empowerment. One of the organizations we work with is the Sustainable Development Foundation. They had mapped out the northern part of Thailand and the land designated as conservation or wildlife land, and where it overlaps with community land—where communities have been living for generations. They showed a progression over the past five years. You could see the physical shrinkage of these lands. They use this when they do community meetings with government and local officials, so [the land shrinkage] is not in your imagination, and it’s not only happening to you—it’s quite powerful.

How are land issues similar or different between the two countries?

The land movement in Thailand has been going on for at least 30 years. Villages and communities have been organizing against what’s happening around them—big agro-business displacing people, or the government displacing people and reserving land for protected forest. There are a lot of accusations that people who live in the forest ruin the land. The villagers are trying to prove the opposite—it’s because of the work they do that there’s not more deforestation, because they’re there to monitor it. They realize that their livelihood comes from the forest, so they don’t want to damage it.

In Cambodia, in Ratanikiri [Ed. Note: a province in the northeast], we met with two organizations that work around a dam that is going to be built on the Sesan River. Right where three rivers hit the Mekong is where the government proposes to build the dam. Apparently they’ve done an environmental impact assessment, but didn’t really get community input. I was talking to the director of 3SPN [3S (Sesan, Srepok and Sekong) Rivers Protection Network] who said half the people don’t really read it; it’s just something to do so the [government] can say they [conducted an assessment.] The government can say, “See we’ve talked to people and the benefits to the country are much greater than the risks or negative impacts.” It depends on who you talk to. People who live in that community will not actually benefit from the power source. You’re talking about villages with no running water or electricity. People are actually displaced from their land too. These villages are completely remote. Ratanikiri is seven hours from Phnom Penh and the roads aren’t great, and then you have to drive another two hours on a road filled with potholes. And then you go into these little huts with no running water or electricity. I don’t know where the schools are. Often, there aren’t any young people because they leave to make a living.

The village we went to see was right next to the river. They made lunch for us, and the fish they caught were tiny little fish. I was surprised—I thought the fish would be abundant, but there aren’t many fish left because of the dams built upstream, which affected the cycle of the fish and [created] flooding that happens irregularly because of the dams.

The next day we went with the Highlander Association (HA), which works on land rights. Both organizations work with indigenous folks. At one village we had a community meeting—it was an emergency meeting called the day before. Someone had come in to say, “We are going to relocate you, this is someone else’s land now; we’re planting rubber trees and building roads.” HA was strategizing with the group about what they could do. As we were talking, a police officer came in and said, “Can I sit here and listen?” We said, “Yes, you can sit here, but you can’t say anything, we’re having a meeting.” Then he left, and another police officer came and said, “We want you to sign this because we want to know who was here.” HA said, “No, we’re not going to sign anything, we’re just having a meeting.” We looked out the door and there were three more police officers standing there. The ability to assemble around this issue is so contentious. We were in the middle of nowhere; I don’t know how [the police] knew we were meeting.

Some of the stories are heartbreaking. People say, “I’ve been here for 60 years. If you take my land away, I have nothing to leave my children. You’re basically pushing me off this land and I will die; you’re killing me.” Land is the essence of livelihood in Thailand, in Cambodia. If people don’t have land to work on, they really have nothing.

Fortunately we have these organizations that are doing really great work. What came across was a lack of education of what people’s rights are. They didn’t know they shouldn’t sign these papers. A lot of these people don’t speak or read Khmer because they’re indigenous. Someone in uniform comes and they don’t know better.

It appears to us (Jenna, Thida and I) that the work around land rights in Thailand has progressed a little more [than it has in Cambodia], and we would love to do a partner exchange with organizations in Thailand and Cambodia. The Cambodian organizations would learn so much from the Thai organizations. It might lift up their spirits too to see what has been done in the Thai movement. I think Cambodia can achieve some of that too.

What is the climate like in terms of people being afraid, or receiving threats for the work they do?

In Thailand, people are dissatisfied with the government and everything that’s been going on politically. People don’t feel threatened by the government in the same way that they do in Cambodia. The executive director of HA is an indigenous woman and has received many threats for her work on land rights with the indigenous community. They come to her house. At first they tried to bribe her to get her to work with the government. She said no, but has been very fearful. She never travels along. She’s very outspoken. She is afraid, but said, “I don’t know what else to do. I have to keep on doing this, and be as loud as possible, so that if anything happens to me it won’t go unnoticed.”

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Food Aid and the Agricultural Cargo Preference (ACP): What Needs to Change?

Yesterday, the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa hosted a conference on Food Aid and Agricultural Cargo Preference (ACP)—a controversial but little understood aspect of U.S. food aid programs.

I caught up with AJWS’s Global Food Justice Consultant Patty Kupfer who was at the conference. Here’s the skinny: The ACP is a 56-year-old policy that requires 75 percent of U.S. food aid to be shipped on privately owned, U.S. flag ships. This is costing U.S. taxpayers an estimated $140 million each year for humanitarian food shipments and is affecting millions of aid recipients worldwide. The ACP policy was originally designed to provide essential sealift capability in wartime, maintain skilled jobs for American seafarers and avoid foreign domination of U.S. ocean commerce. But a new report by Elizabeth Bageant, Chris Barrett, and Erin Lentz of Cornell University (see their Op-Ed in Friday’sWashington Post) argues that these subsidies complicate the humanitarian task of food delivery and add substantial costs to food aid programs.

We couldn’t agree more with Bageant, Barrett and Lentz. AJWS supports flexibility in food aid and the transition toward the local and regional purchase of food aid to help bolster the agricultural markets in some of the world’s poorest countries. Fortunately, change is already happening in some parts of the world, like in Pakistan. The U.S. recently shifted its food aid resources to buy food locally in Pakistan and other countries. You can thank Congress for using $70 million of its new food aid pledge to Pakistan for purchasing local food.

Even with this much-needed progress, a question about ACP and international food aid still remains: Is the goal of food aid programs to provide jobs to U.S. workers and general support for the maritime industry, or is it to maximize the effectiveness and amount of food aid that is meant to reach the most vulnerable people around the world?

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Is Kosher, Kosher?

Originally posted on the Pursue blog.

On Tuesday November 30th Pursue hosted it’s final Chewing on Food Justice event at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in the mission neighborhood of San Francisco. While the first three panels focused on secular issues pertaining to local and global food issues, the final panel pertained to the practice of keeping Kashrut in Judaism and the meaning of doing so. There were as many interpretations of the meaning and philosophy behind keeping kosher as there were panelists—if not more.

The panel featured Karen Adelman, Co-Owner of Saul’s Deli in Berkeley; Adam Berman, founder and Executive Director of Urban Adamah; Rabbi Becky Joseph, aka The Rabbi Chef, is the founder and owner of 12 Tribes, a new environmentally and socially responsible San Francisco company that makes delicious, seasonal kosher eating easy; and Rabbi Dorothy Richman is the Rabbi Martin Ballanoff Memorial Rabbi-in-Residence at Berkeley Hillel. The panel was moderated by Moderated by Rabbi Aaron Philmus, Director of Congregational Life and Learning, Congregation Beth Sholom.

The panel started by defining what kashrut means, which is ‘fit for consumption’ or usage. This definition can encompass food that is fit in terms of its’ health impact on the consumer or produced ethically enough that a mindful Jew would feel good about eating it. It is ultimately considered to be a definition from a divine text; whether or not it has practical benefits was part of the evening’s debate.

The panelists primarily tacked the issue, ‘What does kashrut mean in today’s climate?’. Rabbi Richman maintained that while the Torah didn’t have a direct answer for all of today’s current food concerns (factory farming, GMO’s, corporate control of food systems), the Torah was an all encompassing text that could be used to derive a wise, pertinent answer for how one should eat ethically. Adam shared that his passion for the kosher debate comes from his belief that being mindful of food consumption is a “gateway drug” to so many other important environmental and social concerns.

When Rabbi Becky Joseph spoke about her motivation for starting a Jewish catering service, she said that one of her principals was that people should be able to eat good-tasting Kosher desserts. She spoke about a concerning issue in the kosher industry: “how can we make more products kosher and how can we make kosher more profitable?”  She shared that kosher food producers make an effort to exclude more things in order to make sure the food products are considered Kosher. Interestingly, Becky said that 80% of conscious Kosher consumers (those who intentionally choose foods because they are Kosher) are not Jewish and that the Kosher food industry is the fastest growing food segment. Some of these non-Jewish consumers are Muslims, vegans and people who perceive that kosher food is a healthy alternative. So is Kosher more healthy? Not necessarily asserted the evening’s panelists, but it is supervised by a Rabbi unlike much of mass produced food which is subject to very little oversight.

Karen discussed the evolution of her deli from a typical Jewish deli, to a deli where food purchasing decisions are based on Jewish notions of ethics in terms of fair labor practices and the positive treatment of animals. As she put it, she was raised “eco-kosher” and her mom raised her to keep arguing about and redefining the meaning of kashrut. For example, the Deli stopped selling kosher pastrami because the kosher pastrami company they used was bought-out by what Karen termed a “terrible” corporation, Con Agra.

Adam Berman shared that he also informs his eating decisions outside of the biblical prescriptions, but instead from core values (love, compassion and justice). From those values, he has decided to use those terms to eat food that is grown locally, and low on the food chain.

The panelists with their wide range of views offered equally diverse suggestions for next steps and additional resources for the mindful Jewish eater. Becky and Karen urged audience members to support small, kosher businesses and Adam encouraged consumers to “not sweat the small stuff” in terms of their sustainable food choices. Dorothy challenged audience members to pray before they eat (including snacks!).

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The Power of Indigenous Women in Peru

Most things are forgotten over time, but for Mujeres de Antaa collective group of Quechua Indigenous women and AJWS’s partner in Cusco, Peru—no matter how much time passes, no matter what takes place in the interim, there are some things they can never assign to oblivion; memories they cannot rub away.

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Colombian Farmers Face New Challenges From Flood

The Sinú River in northern Colombia has supported a diverse community of indigenous people for generations. The Zenu and Embera people who live by its banks depend on the river for fish, irrigation and drinking water. But in 2000, the Urrá Dam, built by a consortium of Colombian, Swedish and Russian companies, submerged over 7,400 hectares of land, crops, homes and sacred sites.

The dam displaced 2,800 people and continues to threaten the lives of 70,000 by altering vital food supplies. Areas of severe periodic flooding and drought caused by its flow have stymied traditional farming practices. Compounding this reality is the construction of a new dam—many times the size—by the Colombian government, presenting a constant looming threat over this beleaguered rural community.

In response to the radical changes brought about by the dam, AJWS’s grantee—Association for Community Development of the Cienaga Grande (ASPROCIG)—has been working to restore the ecology and agricultural productivity of the region by helping farmers along the Sinú develop agriculture and aquaculture farms suitable to the changed environment.

If the dam itself weren’t enough of a challenge, ASPROCIG now has another obstacle to tackle: flooding.

As Colombia faces its worst rainy season in three decades, severe flooding and landslides have left at least 136 people dead and disrupted the lives of more than 1.2 million. Government officials report that more than 200,000 homes in all but five of Colombia’s 32 provinces have been destroyed.

The communities most severely affected are those along the Sinú River. In response to the devastation, AJWS is providing ASPROCIG with a $20,000 emergency grant to offer food and health support in order to ensure that health and crop systems do not deteriorate with continued flooding. ASPROCIG is also draining contaminated water, providing seeds and small livestock to flood victims and conserving the increasingly fragile agro-system by pruning trees and building necessary fences to halt the floods.

ASPROCIG’s model for grassroots change uses local traditions and community participation to conserve the area’s natural resources and defend land rights. Using traditional cultivation strategies, its staff has taught farmers and fisherfolk to install drainage and irrigation systems, reintroduce plants and breed fish and market their crops. ASPROCIG has also participated in the creation of a Bureau of Labor and a Standing Committee on Human Rights in the regional government. The success of these projects has enabled the community to survive against tremendous odds. But as the flooding continues, most likely through December, how will ASPROCIG’s approach need to change?

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Surviving Conflict and Violence in Colombia

My visit to Familaires Colombia, an AJWS partner working to support relatives of forcibly disappeared people from the long lasting armed conflict, was profound. I came to understand some of the causes and the real impact of the conflict in the daily lives of people from small towns. It really surprised me, on the one hand, the terror that the illegal armed groups tried to plant in the hearts of people in order to silence them, and on the other hand, the strength of these people to continue walking with dignity, and their tireless pursuit not only to find the bodies of their loved ones, but also to find justice for them.

What really happened in Casanare?

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A Fight for Lake Turkana, A Fight for Life

I am writing from a tiny plane in the sky on our way back from Turkana (northwestern Kenya) to Nairobi. It is hard at times to get your head around the fact that both places are in the same country. When traveling to Nairobi or elsewhere in Kenya, Turkana people will often say “I’m going to Kenya,” as if it’s a completely different state. It gives you a sense of the government’s neglect of the region and the marginalization of its people as a result.

AJWS’s partner, Friends of Lake Turkana (FoLT), came together in 2008 to fight the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia. If the dam is built, it will dry up the Omo River in southwestern Ethiopia that feeds Kenya’s Lake Turkana. It will destroy the ecosystem and the very existence of the lake, upon which 300,000 indigenous people depend for their fishing and herding livelihoods. A shoddy environmental impact assessment that didn’t comply with international standards was done on the Ethiopia side, and there was no consultation with lake communities in Kenya.

Fishermen told us that the lake is their only survival, and killing the lake is tantamount to killing them. Women told us that the income they earn from selling fish is their only means of feeding their families and sending their children to school. The region is so arid that the only viable livelihoods are fishing and livestock, both of which depend on the lake. Turkana is already heavily affected by armed conflict between tribes, mainly due to conflicts over resources, and a further reduction of the water supply would surely make matters worse. People know that the fight for their lake is the fight for their lives.

Working closely with our collegial partner International Rivers, FoLT has led national and international campaigns that have resulted in the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank pulling funding from the project. FoLT will continue to advocate the Kenyan government to refuse to buy power from Ethiopia, and it is now shifting gears to target the Chinese, who have just come in with their open arms and huge pockets to finance the dam.

What’s remarkable about FoLT is how effectively it works at the international, national and grassroots levels. FoLT’s long-term vision is to build a resource rights community movement in Kenya, and it has begun in Turkana. We attended two community meetings where we heard chiefs, councilors and local people all speak passionately, with ownership over the struggle. A recent public demonstration galvanized support for the campaign, and people are now asking questions and demanding answers from government officials.

Sarah Gunther is AJWS’s Associate Director of Grants for Africa.

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Is Food Aid Really a “Gift from the American People”?

Originally published on the Pursue blog.

U.S. foreign food aid dates back to U.S. reconstruction efforts in Europe following World War II.  Over the last 60 years, it has morphed into a $2.2 billion business with vested interests ranging from international development organizations to farmers, processors and shipping companies. Our foreign food aid has become highly politicized with policies specifically designed to support the U.S. agricultural industry. For example, until very recently when a trial program was initiated, U.S. legislation mandated all foreign food aid be sourced from within the U.S. and shipped to areas in need on U.S. vessels even though this slowed response time and significantly increased costs to the donors. Despite even the best intentions, U.S. foreign food aid, labeled “Gift from the American People” on the packages we send abroad, can often do more harm than good to the same developing countries we are trying to help.

On Tuesday evening, AJWS Global Circle’s Advocacy Committee, in conjunction with Pursue, hosted a screening of The Price of Aid, which examines the nexus of the politics of food aid and its effects on the developing world. The screening was followed by a discussion with Jihan El-Tahri, director of the film and Christina Schiavoni, director of the Global Movements Program, WhyHunger. While food aid has a time and place in acute emergencies and disaster relief, this event brought to light many of the shortcomings in the foreign food aid system. In addition, the panel discussed how structural adjustment policies of the IMF and World Bank have reduced developing countries’ abilities to be self-sufficient and to adjust to food shortages themselves.

The film highlighted the experience of Zambia, which in the past decade requested foreign assistance following a drought that led to a localized food shortage. While the Zambian government requested assistance in moving grains to the effected drought region from other areas of the country with a surplus, the response of the global community led to a deluge of foreign grains, mostly from the U.S. into the local economy. This global response overwhelmed local needs, hurting the ability of regional farmers to sell their own product. The Zambian government struggled to stop the flow of food aid once the World Food Program sprung into action. The global media also stoked the international response by overstating the needs of the drought-affected communities. In one instance, an advertisement for international support featured recycled footage from a previous famine in Ethiopia for dramatic effect.

One key conclusion made was the need to better educate and inform the media and policy makers in the United States of the effects of their policies on developing countries. In addition, both panelists supported the need for local solutions to regional problems and for global donors to approach the developing world with greater humility.

The event concluded with an opportunity to take action by signing a hard copy of this letter thanking the US government for its recent commitment to local sourcing of food aid in Pakistan (which Pursue blogged about last week – readers, you’re invited to click, sign, and join the campaign too).  It was an appropriate finish for the inaugural event of Global Circle’s Advocacy Committee, which looks forward to involving the Global Circle and Pursue communities in AJWS’s advocacy efforts.  Over the coming year, AJWS will continue to advocate for changes to U.S. government policy in respect to foreign food aid and will offer Global Circle and Pursue members a chance to impact the policy discussions around the upcoming Farm Bill.

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Local Aid is Key to Northern Uganda Recovery

A recent IRIN article (posted on AlertNet) affirmed what many of us at AJWS have been saying for a long time: that local aid and local humanitarian assistance are crucial to sustaining developing countries. According to IRIN, local assistance in northern Uganda has played a key role in post-conflict recovery in the Pader and Katakwi districts, districts that have endured years of violence and oppression.

A full report about local assistance in Uganda shares the following: “[A] domestic response is crucial for the overall effectiveness of humanitarian assistance in Uganda and is particularly important when the presence of international organisations is relatively low, such as in extremely insecure environments.”

In other words, working and empowering local communities is key—something AJWS is proud to help do.

One of AJWS’s grantees—Pader Concerned Youth Association (PCYA)—is squarely situated in the Pader region of northern Uganda. The organization was founded by Pader youth in 2001 to expand access to quality reproductive health services, sports and culture, and to offer assistance to vulnerable youth and children working for sustainable peace, reconciliation and development. More recently, however, AJWS has helped fund a PCYA project that enacts a three-prong strategy: promoting human rights, creating educational programs in schools to reduce youth vulnerability to HIV/AIDS, and improving food security of drought-affected households by launching a cassava planting project.

This kind of integrated approach to change—an approach in which food security doesn’t exist in a vacuum—takes a tremendous amount of thinking and coordination, but we’re thrilled to be seeing positive results!

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