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April Showers with Significant Trade, Food and Agricultural Policy Debates

When it rains, it pours. This week has seen a deluge of global food and trade strategies, all of which may deeply impact food and agriculture policies for Grassroots International, our partners and our allies.

Grassroots’ Executive Director, Nikhil Aziz, and Program Coordinator for Brazil & Mesoamerica, Saulo Araujo, are, at the time of writing, attending the 4th People’s Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. This People’s Summit of social movements, co-organized by the Hemispheric Social Alliance and Trinidadian civil society and supported by Grassroots International, parallels and challenges the 5th Summit of the Americas, which is the fifth meeting of the heads of state or government of this hemisphere. Many people have predicted that this pivotal first meeting for President Obama with Latin American leaders will challenge his skills as a statesman and will provide a clear opportunity for him show whether he will follow the path of his predecessors and maintain past policy toward Latin America and the Caribbean or dare to strike out in bold new directions towards new relationships within the hemisphere.

In the Trinidad Express News, Steve Theodore, Representative of the Communications Subcommittee of the People’s Summit, lists some of the organizations that are actively participating, including Grassroots International and many of our partners and allies from across Latin America and the Caribbean.

At the same time we have been working with our allies in the US Working Group on the Food Crisis to organize a collective response to three things:

1.) Senate bill sponsored by Senators Lugar and Casey called the Global Food Security Act (S. 384) sailed through committee two weeks ago. Members of the US Working Group agree that the bill presents failed solutions to the global food crisis and misguidedly advocates a leadership role for the United States in implementing failed food strategies in developing countries. Notably, developing nations have not been consulted about the wisdom of the strategies proposed in the bill, much less the farmers and consumers of those developing countries. Our colleagues at FoodFirst developed a Policy Brief, vetted by the US Working Group on the Food Crisis, that demonstrates how science and experience are being ignored by the strategists of the Lugar-Casey bill and why those strategies will fail to a address the global food crisis while exacerbating climate change. In addition, one of the primary strategies put forward in this bill stipulates that foreign assistance for agriculture shall include genetically modified (GM) technologies. This would be significant change in US policy and one that most of the scientists who worked on the UN sponsored IASTAAD Report would not support. In fact, our colleagues at the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report this week that speaks directly to that question. Their report called «Failure to Yield: Evaluating the Performance of Genetically Engineered Crops» shows that the claims of the biotechnology industry, promising better yields since the mid-1990s, do not hold up to scientific scrutiny. «Failure to Yield» documents that the industry has been carrying out gene field trials to increase yields for 20 years without significant results.

2.) The Agriculture G8 Summit that now also includes Brazil, Russia, India and China (knows as the BRIC countries) and Mexico, South Africa and Egypt. The Summit begins April 17th and will involve all of the Agriculture Ministers in discussions of «technical» solutions to the food crisis. The Via Campesina will have an international delegation of farmers present in Treviso, Italy where the summit will be held to challenge those failed technologies and to highlight other strategies that are friendlier to farmers, the environment and poor consumers.

3.) International Day of Peasants’ Struggles for Peasants’ Rights, which the Via Campesina and their allies have traditionally celebrated on April 17th, the Anniversary of the massacre of Brazilian peasants in El Dorado de Carajas in the Brazilian Amazonian state of Para. This year the US Working Group on the Food Crisis in concert with the National Family Farm Coalition is holding a press conference on the afternoon of April 17th as our way of support for this struggle. To read the press release, click here.