Experts Urge Lawmakers to Focus on Food-Migration Nexus

Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Pulses are good for nutrition and income, particularly for women farmers who look after household food security, like those shown here at a village outside Lusaka, Zambia. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Daan Bauwens
BRUSSELS, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

Lawmakers at the highest levels urgently need a “revolution in thinking” to tackle the twin problem of sustainable food production and migration. Starting with an inaugural event in Brussels, then travelling on to New York and Milan, an international team of experts led by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) is urging far-reaching reforms in agricultural and migration policy on an international scale.

“We should be scared about the situation that is in front of us, but we should also be fascinated by the solution,” Paolo Barilla, BCFN Vice Chairman, said at the start of the first International Forum on Food and Nutrition which took place June 6 in Brussels.”As we see it right now, there is no strategy at all at governmental levels in the EU to deal with migration, let alone how food policy might help.” –Lucio Caracciolo

Barilla and several experts speaking at the event pointed out the many problems lying ahead involving world-wide sustainable food production.

“One third of all food worldwide is thrown away, nearly one billion people go to sleep hungry every night and in the meantime, 650 million are obese. We urgently need new comprehensive, multi-stakeholder food systems to fix this situation,” said Andrea Renda, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies, organizer of the event together with BCFN and the United Nations Sustainable Solutions Network (UN SDSN).

“In thirty years we will need to feed nine billion people. But at the same time, because of climate change the arable land is diminishing. The Sahara desert has increased ten percent in size the last decade and the South of Italy and Spain are drying up. How will we feed everyone?” asked Lucio Caracciolo, geostrategist and President of research company MacroGeo.

The experts called on all states that are signatory to the United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to urgently establish an Intergovernmental Panel on Food and Nutrition, modeled after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who succesfully achieved international consensus on how to tackle climate change.

Moreover, they called upon the EU to change the focus of its agricultural policies from simply increasing production to focusing on new systems that assure healthy, nutritious, affordable diets for everyone. Instead of a “Common Agricultural Policy,” the EU should shift to a “Agri-Food Policy.”

“In the current EU Common Agricultural Policy, two-thirds of the subsidies have nothing to do with sustainable development,” Andrea Renda tells IPS, “and one third is spent on innovation in agriculture, in a broader, more holistic approach. This must at least be reversed.”

Throughout the event, hunger and food insecurity were repeatedly cited as the long-term drivers of migration across the Mediterranean. For the occasion of the event, MacroGeo launched a 109-page report on the nexus between migration across the Mediterranean and food security in Africa.

The authors state that there is a particularly strong link between migration, food and conflicts. “Refugee outflows per 1000 population increase by 0.4 percent for each additional year of conflict and by 1.9 percent for each percentage increase of food insecurity,” the MacroGeo authors write, referring to recent research by the World Food Program.

“That might not seem a lot but in a country of fifty million that amounts to one million refugees per year,” said Valerie Guarnieri, assistant executive director of the World Food Program who repeated the statistics in front of the audience of 600 attendees on Wednesday.

“The connection between migration and food is heavily neglected in policy, this is a way to push it into the agenda,” Lucio Caracciolo told IPS, “because as we see it right now, there is no strategy at all at governmental levels in the EU to deal with migration, let alone how food policy might help.”

The contentious matter of dumping of European surplus produce – often named as one of the causes of hunger, food insecurity and migration – in Africa was accordingly dealt with in a talk with EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan, not coincidentally just ahead of long-awaited negotiations on the reform of the EU’s agricultural policy. The Commissioner pledged that the new Common Agriculture Policy 2021-2027 program will reduce spending on production of commodities often dumped in the developing world. At the same time, he said Europe was ending trade barriers on imports of food from the developing world.

As part of its ambitious list of policy recommendations, BCFN also calls for more awareness of the illegal exploitation of migrants in EU agriculture. According to the experts, specific EU programmes should provide funding for the fight against unethical practices. And spreading a message which does not go well with the current Italian government, MacroGeo’s Lucio Caraciolo called for a “normalisation of the presence of migrant labour. European agriculture in the South cannot survive without their help. So it is up to us to assure that their rights are respected,” he told IPS.

In its report, MacroGeo proposes a circular and seasonal migration model, in which temporary workers are contacted directly from their country of origin on a yearly basis and for determined periods. The workers are granted permits and ensured that they can return to their home country. “Intended results include disincentivizing unregulated economic migration, ensuring employees are granted work conditions as per the law, and the possibility to return to the same farms, enhancing human resources effectiveness,” the report says.

Bob Geldof, musician, activist and organizer of 1984’s Live Aid. closed the event with an at times bitter speech broadening the discussion. “We had a 1200 percent increase in consumption in the last eighty years and we’re talking about sustainability?” he asked. “Sustainability is simply impossible with this irrational economic logic, which boils down to ‘more for ourselves all the time.’”

In September, the International Forum will travel to New York to coincide with the United Nations General Assembly. In November, it will hold a third and final event in Milan.

China Generates Energy and Controversy in Argentina

Demonstrators protest the construction of two mega hydroelectric power plants on the Santa Cruz River in Argentine Patagonia, with Chinese investment of five billion dollars. Despite concerns about environmental impacts, the government of Mauricio Macri decided to go ahead with the projects. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

Demonstrators protest the construction of two mega hydroelectric power plants on the Santa Cruz River in Argentine Patagonia, with Chinese investment of five billion dollars. Despite concerns about environmental impacts, the government of Mauricio Macri decided to go ahead with the projects. Credit: Courtesy of FARN

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

As in other Latin American countries, in recent years China has been a strong investor in Argentina. The environmental impact and economic benefits of this phenomenon, however, are a subject of discussion among local stakeholders.

One of the key areas is energy. A study by the non-governmental Environment and Natural Resources Foundation (FARN) states that China has mainly been financing hydroelectric, nuclear and hydrocarbon projects.

Just four percent of these investments are in renewable energies, which is precisely the sector where the country is clearly lagging.

“China’s main objective is to export its technology and inputs. And it has highly developed hydraulic, nuclear and oil sectors. There are no more rivers in China where dams can be built and this is why they are so interested in the dams on the Santa Cruz River,” María Marta Di Paola, FARN’s director of research, told IPS.”What we attributed in the past to U.S. pressure we are now experiencing with China….The dams are a clear example of how this pressure for economic reasons could be trampling over the nation’s environmental sovereignty.” — Hernán Casañas

China is behind a controversial project to build two giant dams in Patagonia, on the Santa Cruz River, which was approved during the administration of Cristina Kirchner (2007-2015) and ratified by President Mauricio Macri, despite strong environmental concerns.

The dams would cost some five billion dollars, with a foreseen a capacity of 1,310 MW.

However, expert Gustavo Girado said that it is not China that refuses to get involved in renewable energy projects, but Argentina that has not yet made a firm commitment to the energy transition towards clean and unconventional renewable sources.

“Like any country with a lot of capital, China is interested in all possible businesses and takes what it is offered. In fact, in Argentina it also has a high level of participation in the RenovAr Plan,” explained Girado, an economist and director of a postgraduate course on contemporary China at the public National University of Lanús, based in Buenos Aires.

He was referring to the initiative launched by the Argentine government to develop renewable energies and revert the current scenario, in which fossil fuels account for 87 percent of the country’s primary energy mix.

Also participating in this industry are Chinese companies, which during the period January-September 2017 produced 25 percent of the total oil and 14 percent of the natural gas extracted in the country.

Since 2016, the Ministry of Energy has signed 147 contracts for renewable energy projects that would contribute a total of 4,466 MW to the electric grid, most of them involving solar and wind power, which are currently under development.

The goal is to comply with the law enacted in 2015, which establishes that by 2025 renewables must contribute at least 20 percent of the capacity of the electric grid, which today is around 30,000 MW.

In this sense, 15 percent of the power allocated through the RenovAr Plan has been to Chinese capital.

One mega project in renewable energies is the Caucharí solar park, in the northern province of Jujuy, which is to consist of the installation of 1,200,000 solar panels built in China, on a 700-hectare site.

The project has a budget of 390 million dollars, of which 330 million will be financed by the state-owned Export-Import Bank of China.

China is also behind Argentina’s intention to develop nuclear energy, since in 2017 it was agreed that it would finance the fourth and fifth nuclear power plants in this South American country, at a total cost of 14 billion dollars.

However, the Macri administration announced this month that it would indefinitely postpone the start of construction of at least the first of these plants, to avoid further indebtedness and reduce the country’s high fiscal deficit.

The decision is aimed at facilitating the granting of a loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), after the crisis of confidence that resulted in a massive outflow of capital and which put the local economy in serious trouble.

On the other hand, other energy projects funded by Chinese capital are going ahead, including four other hydroelectric power plants and thermal plants powered by natural gas.

So far, the investments already committed by Beijing in the energy sector in Latin America’s third-largest economy total 30 billion dollars, in addition to projects in other areas, such as infrastructure, agribusiness or mining.

“The Chinese looked first at their continent, then at Africa, and for some years now they have their eyes on Latin America. First of all, they were interested in agricultural and mineral products, and today they are not only the region’s second largest trading partner, but also a good investor,” Jorge Taiana, Argentine foreign minister between 2005 and 2010, told IPS.

The veteran diplomat recalled a point made by then U.S. President George W. Bush at the 2005 Summit of the Americas (SOA) in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata, where the region refused to form the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).

“He (Bush) told us,’I don’t know why they care so much about the FTAA, when what we need to discuss is how we defend ourselves against China’,” Taiana said.

He maintains that it depends on the decisions of Argentina and the rest of the countries in the region whether they will benefit from or be victims of China’s aggressive economic expansion.

“Foreign direct investment is always beneficial. The secret lies in what conditions the recipients put in place and what their development plan is,” he said.

“Argentina, for example, built its railways with English capital, and all the tracks converge in Buenos Aires because the English were only interested in getting the agricultural products to to the port. Those are the things that shouldn’t happen,” he added.

Environmental organisations are particularly critical of the dams on the Santa Cruz River, which begins in the magnificent Los Glaciares National Park and could affect the water level in Lake Argentino, home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the country’s major tourist attractions.

However, the dam contract has a cross default clause whereby, if not built, Chinese banks could also cut off financing for railway infrastructure projects they are carrying out in Argentina.

“What we attributed in the past to U.S. pressure we are now experiencing with China,” said Hernán Casañas, director of Aves Argentinas, the country’s oldest environmental organisation.

“The dams are a clear example of how this pressure for economic reasons could be trampling over the nation’s environmental sovereignty,” he told IPS.

In this regard, Di Paola said that “China has occupied in Latin America the place previously occupied primarily by traditional financial institutions such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.”

“The problem is that it does not have the same framework of safeguards, so they are able to start infrastructure works without complying with environmental requirements,” he said.

But Girado sees things differently, saying “the financial institutions impose conditions on the countries that receive the credits, which China does not do. In that sense it is more advantageous.”