Food sovereignty: the sharp end

Next time you meet a Transition Towner who wants to tell you that everyone should localise food production, ask him / her about what happens to the following countries:

Singapore, Djibouti, Bahrain, Kuwait, Guam, Brunei, US Virgin Islands, French Polynesia, Seychelles, Northern Mariana Islands, Andorra, Maldives, Bermuda, Puerto Rico, Qatar, UAE, St Lucia, Cayman Islands, Trinidad and Tobago, Aruba, Grenada, Malta, Kiribati, Oman, Iceland, Micronesia, Bahamas, Jordan, West Bank & Gaza, American Samoa, Solomon Islands, San Marino, Korea (Rep. of), Japan, Marshall Islands, Lebanon, New Caledonia, Mayotte, Egypt, Papua New Guinea, Netherlands Antilles, Israel, Costa Rica, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Palau

…all of which have 0.0 hectares of arable land per person, when rounded to one decimal place, according to World Bank data. (In fairness, any self-respecting Transitioner will probably argue back that with the latest permaculture techniques, they can feed a family of four on a parcel of land the size of a postage stamp – although see this post for some questions about those claims.)

More data from the same source: in 1960, the world had 0.39 hectares of arable land per capita. In 2007, the figure was 0.21 hectares – this even after the effects of massive deforestation to bring more cropland into production. Only four countries have more than 1 hectare of arable land per person: Niger (1.0), Canada (1.4), Kazakhstan (1.5) and Australia (2.1).

Data from World Bank

What happens after an earthquake

Duncan Green has been perusing ALNAP‘s report on lessons from past experiences of the aftermath of earthquakes, and has summarised some of the key findings.  This one was especially interesting:

Land disputes will rise: Land-ownership emerges as a critical issue in all earthquake disasters. First, there are property disputes even before the disaster. Will opportunists seize land in the chaos? Will squatters be able to return and rebuild their shacks (even if that is a good idea)? The loss of documentation, the destruction of landmarks, the deaths of property owners, and the need to formalise previously informal arrangements all add a new layer of complexity to existing land-ownership issues.

But there are positive opportunities too. Some disaster interventions have been effective in changing the pattern of formal house ownership, with new houses registered in the names of both husband and wife. A follow up on the 2001 El Salvador earthquake response, in which the World Bank implemented a joint-ownership policy for new houses, found some communities where 50% of respondents reported that a woman was one of the legal home-owners and that, overall, 37% of the homes were wholly owned by women.

There’s a load of other interesting material on Haiti in other recent posts on Duncan’s blog – e.g. this piece on why humanitarian work is so hard in cities.

Jose Ramos Horta on E Timor: “In 20 years, we’ll be killing each other over land and water”

Ten years of freedom for East Timor today, and a notably graceful editorial in the Jakarta Post:

Indonesia would have learned a great deal from the fatal mistakes of its 24-year occupation of the then East Timor, now Timor Leste, so it hardly needs more lessons. Well perhaps one more: a lesson on statesmanship from President José Ramos-Horta.

On the 10th anniversary of the UN-sponsored independence referendum that ended Indonesian rule, Ramos-Horta’s speech Saturday was worthy of his standing as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, part of which read “My stated preference, as a human being, victim and head of state, is that we once and for all close the 1975-1999 chapters of our tragic experience [and] forgive those who did us harm.”

 It concludes:

Timor Leste is fortunate to have truly great statesmen like Ramos-Horta and Gusmao. Statesmanship will remain in short supply among Indonesian leaders for as long as we continue to let human rights violations go unpunished. While our leaders are busy talking the talk at international forums, we are certainly not walking the human rights walk.

But in an FT interview, Ramos-Horta’s own preoccupations are focused on the future:

José Ramos Horta, the president, who shared the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end the Indonesian rule that left more than 150,000 Timorese dead, says that when a shortage of water and dependence on subsistence agriculture is added, the scale of the problems the country faces cannot be overstated.

“With this population growth and poverty, [and] increasing pressure on water and land, 20 years from now we will start killing each other over water and land,” he told the Financial Times. He has no doubt that, unless more attention is paid to rural areas, urban migration – particularly among the rapidly escalating ranks of disillusioned and unemployed youth – will be so great that it will create a “time bomb”.

On the web: rumbles in the Caucasus, the QDR, land grabbing, Sarko on climate change and British declinism…

– In the week leading up to the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia conflict, the FT reports on the lingering regional tensions still apparent, while openDemocracy assesses some of the war’s wider implications for the US, EU, China and Turkey. Georgia aside, James F. Collins, former US ambassador to Russia, highlights the current fragility of US-Russia relations and the importance of “sustained dialogue within a solid institutional framework” if measured progress is to continue.

– Elsewhere, in a taster of the forthcoming Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR), two senior Pentagon officials survey the global landscape and assess what this means for the US’s strategic outlook. The main challenge (alongside adapting to the realities of hybrid warfare and a growing number of failing states), Michele Flournoy and Shawn Brimley suggest, will likely revolve around competition for the global commons (sea, space, air and cyberspace). A successful approach, they argue, should see the US refocus its efforts on building strong global governance structures and taking the “lead in the creation of international norms”. Andrew Bast at WPR comments that this could once again herald a US foreign policy with Wilsonianism firmly at its core.

Der Spiegel, meanwhile, takes an in-depth look at the growing global market for farmland. In what it labels the “new colonialism”, the article notes the implications of such investment flows for states in Africa and Asia, as well as gauging the impact on local farmers.

Climatico assesses Nicolas Sarkozy’s climate change credentials, highlighting his “erratic behaviour” on the issue and suggesting that the French stance is one to watch in the run up to Copenhagen.

– Finally, an interesting PoliticsHome poll on attitudes of the British public to the country’s foreign policy. 65% of voters, it indicates, agree that foreign policy has weakened Britain’s “moral authority” abroad – a view held across the political spectrum. Perhaps more strikingly, however, a majority (54%) felt the country should scale down its overseas military commitments, even if this meant ceding global influence. Interestingly, 57% were in favour of humanitarian intervention. Writing in Newsweek, meanwhile, Stryker McGuire adds to the narrative of declinism. The current economic crisis, he argues, has finally put paid to Britain’s attempts to maintain its world role and place at the international top table.