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An inspiring news article from Grassroots International:

Six Organizing Principles for a Sustainable Future
Lessons from Wendell Berry and Grassroots International Partners

By Carol Schachet
July 27th, 2010

Some of the most important lessons I know about grassroots organizing come from the poet Wendell Berry, who advises, “Invest in the millennium; plant Sequoias.”

Growing trees, like organizing for social change, may not provide the short-term gratification. (A tomato plant will feed you this summer, and a bake sale might provide books for a single classroom, but a forest preserves soil for generations, and good educational policy funds entire school systems.) While they are not planting Sequoias but other indigenous trees, grassroots organizers from Latin America to the Middle East and beyond personify the vision that Berry describes. Combining their great work with Berry’s insights, here are some of the organizing principles on which our survival depends.

1. Hope is a tangible thing.

If we are going to invest in the future – or at least the millennium – then we need to shift our return-on-investment timeframe. If, as Berry says, you see your “main crop is the forest that you did not plant, that you will not live to harvest,” you have to believe someone will ultimately be in a better place because of your work.

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A follow up post to the one below, also from the Food First blog.  A little long, but well worth it.

Africans Face Competing Visions of Agricultural Development at Critical Juncture
Posted May 20th, 2010 by rjonasse
By Richard Jonasse, Food First

Aid Collage

A contest of competing visions over the future of Agriculture is playing out across Sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers’ organizations are lining up against an aid regime that threatens to swamp smallholders with purported “solutions” to which these farmers have not assented and do not desire.

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Doing some research on food security today.  Stumbled across a post from Food First, reflecting on the latest conversations around the President’s strategy to “Feed the Future”.

On May 21st, I posted on “Feed the Future”, after attending the Chicago Council on Global Affairs food symposium.  The Chicago Council audience applauded the initiative, without much criticism.  While that experience–listening to Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and top government officials from Mali and Banladesh–was interesting, I had this hunch that certain parts of the conversation were being skipped.

Congress Discusses Ways to “Feed the Future”
Posted July 21st, 2010 by admin

By Scott Lensing

Yesterday, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs heard from a panel of seven experts on the State Department’s new program to fight global hunger, the “Feed the Future” initiative. Originally released in May of this year, the Feed the Future Guide presents plans for bringing greater food security to countries in the Global South, with $3.5 billion dollars in funding over the next three years. Despite a number of laudable goals, several congressional representatives and panelists voiced concerns about misguided focus.

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Last week I had the opportunity to attend two events on adapting to climate change.  I was initially excited to attend, as the speakers were excellent and I had  done research on adaption to climate change in the past.  My research had been on the necessity of adapting to the effects of climate change like building sturdier houses to withstand flooding, or making changes to water storage methods to prepare better for droughts.

These events brought up a completely different aspect of adaption to climate change.  Rather than discussing how people will have to adapt to climate change, the information presented focused on the ‘benefits’ of climate change — namely, that certain latitudes (the ones the United States, Europe and most developed countries happen to be in) will actually benefit from the warming of the globe.  With an increase in warmth, agriculture can flourish more in the lower latitudes, while areas in the higher latitudes around the equator will not benefit from the warmer weather.

Another point made by these climate experts was that there is no concern for water scarcity, because climate change will actually bring more precipitation.  Just how that precipitation would occur was not mentioned, nor was how people would be able to collect precipitation that came down in the form of blizzards, hurricanes, and tsunamis.

My final point of contention with these events is that both were supposed to be about adapting to climate change in developing countries. Yet developing countries were brought up only a handful of times during both events.  At the first event, a seminar at the Elliot School on George Washington University’s campus, developing countries were only referred to as ‘poor people’ and only mentioned to point out that poor people wouldn’t be able to adapt well, and that there wasn’t much hope for them.

At the second event, a mini-conference put together by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, developing countries were brought up as examples of potential markets for genetically engineered seeds and new agricultural technologies.  Forget my feelings toward genetically modified food/seeds/ and the switch to ‘modern agriculture,’ the plan for developing countries to adapt to climate change involves opening them up as new markets for technology? Sounds too familiar.

I give the speaker and presenters at these two events credit for their science — the data for what they were looking at is legitimate.  The problem was in what they left out of their models and business plans: the people who will be affected.  We can’t forget that there is a human face to climate change — and that it is fellow human beings that will be affected.  Hearing leading policy makers in the efforts for climate change talk about people in developing countries as if they were disposable was really discouraging, and quite frankly, I was outraged.  The key to adapting to climate change isn’t to ignore problems or try to ‘invent our way out’ of them,  but to change our lifestyles to counteract what climate change we can no longer change, and prevent any future climate change.

For more information on adapting to climate change, check out the CSIS website on climate change.

Post by Haley Dillan, originally posted on

Security in Iraq is undoubtedly improving, but rising unemployment threatens to increase instability and worsen corruption, according to Iraq expert Frank Gunter.

Gunter, who’s done two tours in Iraq as an economics adviser, points out in a recent op-ed in the New York Times that 51 percent of the population — and an even greater percentage of young people — is either unemployed or underemployed.

Almost half of the country’s labor force is paid by the government from its revenues from petroleum exports. With the exception of agriculture, legitimate private-sector employment is small — by my calculations, about 6 percent of the labor force. Most of the remainder of the Iraqi labor force is either unemployed or working in the underground economy.

Gunter further laments that any business faces either the inefficiencies of the underground economy or the corrupt ministries that regulate them. (Iraq was just listed among the top five most corrupt countries in the world.) The process to register a new business is expensive and complicated — a license costs $2,800 and requires approval from 12 different ministries.

“The potential for private sector job growth is great,” Gunter writes. So what needs to be done? The number-one thing, Gunter says, is to make it easier and less expensive to register a new business. He also recommends that provinces, rather than Baghdad, set rules for regulating businesses.

But whatever is decided, the government of Iraq is running out of time. It must either end its hostility toward private businesses — or accept that a sharply growing mass of unemployed will nullify the progress of the last three years.

Cross-post from Labor Is Not a Commodity, by Steve O. Akoth, Labour Awareness and Resource Centre

When reports appeared in the media two years ago detailing failure in mortgage repayments in the United States, the government of Kenya alongside many others in Africa, claimed that that was a US affair.  The treasury bureaucrats and politicians were quick to reassure Kenyans that our economy was safe.  In fact, new projections of 2% annual growth were given.  But this was nothing more than the usual political talk show and regular political performance that is not uncommon in Kenya. 6a00d8341bf90b53ef0120a66fb19f970c-800wi

Our government, rather than deceive us, should appreciate that Kenyan workers know that they are part of a huge interconnected web.  When a small scale farmer in Tigoni plants runner beans to sell to Homegrown for instance, she knows that the beans shall end up in the supermarket of Mars and Spencer in the United Kingdom.  For that reason, the farmer is interested and is affected by the purchasing power of a consumer in the UK.  Similarly, a worker on the stitching line in an Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Ruaraka, knows that the garment shall be sold off through Wal-Mart’s shelves.  The workers are therefore invested in the purchasing power of the average American who wants to buy a “cheap” designer garment from Wal-Mart.  So the shrinking global market and the resulting economic nationalism in the northern countries in the name of bailout is an important subject for the worker in Kenya and trade unions engaged in Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) discussions in Kenya.  In the long run, it is the working poor who experience the recession most, it does not matter whether it starts in China or the US.

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It had started off simple enough.

Two weeks ago, still relatively new in my position as a Northeast Regional Coordinator with AIDemocracy, I spent a few hours trawling through Social Edge and twitter. With an eye on global development and security, my goal was to discover what was being done already in the non-profit world, who was doing it best and who among these folk were the most open to collaboration.

I made a number of new friends: the people at Acumen Fund, Water Charity (not to be confused with charity:water), Be Unreasonable, Sangam India, CORD and Open Society Institute were fantastic right off the bat– They were engaging, interested and human. It was like a Utopian first day at school.

In the context of my new job and projects I had in mind, I needed to know what was being done in terms of technology support for non-profit outreach and education services. One name that came up regularly was Ken Banks, founder of

I had heard of Kiwanja in passing before, but didn’t know much about it’s main project FrontlineSMS, otherwise known as \o/ (Which, btw, is a design based on this fantastic visual here).

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Before this Saturday, I had no idea who Ken Banks is as a person, and was as wary as a product of post-post-colonialism can be of anybody who does “non-profit work” in “Africa”. I was afraid I might run into yet another individual who’s working to “save Africa” just because that’s what Bono, the UN and everyone else is talking about right now.

[And if this is something that bothers you, Aid Watch has a great post on the issue here.]

I sent an email to Ken, one of those self-introduction/basic outline of project/can we chat sometime emails. You must remember that I moonlight as a writer: after all my experiences writing lit mag queries, I was prepared to face rejection or silence.

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The world food crisis—more serious than ever, in light of the global economic crisis—has activists in the development community clamoring for solutions. Nearly 1 billion people worldwide are now classified as “hungry,” and numbers are expected to rise as flows of foreign aid, government assistance, NGO resources, and remittances dry up or are allocated elsewhere. As Secretary Clinton embarks on a 7-nation tour of Africa next week, one can hope that world hunger and food security will be at the forefront of her mind, and long-term, sustainable, and people-centered development at the forefront of her policy agenda.

Africa’s reliance on humanitarian assistance and emergency food aid is growing alongside regional and world hunger. As commodity prices and export revenues fall, cereal imports to sub-Saharan Africa have risen above 20%. The region now accepts more than half of global food aid, reported the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Services in the 2008-9 Food Security Assessment.

A food sovereignty approach may provide an alternative, in this time of global economic crisis and beyond.

Traditional food aid has failed utterly to counter world hunger, much less ease poverty. At the recent G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy, leaders announced their intention to shift the focus of hunger alleviation efforts from short-term humanitarian aid to long-term agricultural development. This statement was a particularly positive step for the US, which has dumped subsidized agricultural goods into developing nations under the guise of humanitarian aid (and free trade) for decades. But it remains unclear just how much impact the declaration will have, particularly as G8 leaders have taken few steps to consult farmers and communities on the ground for their perspectives on establishing strong agricultural systems that meet local needs.

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In the past month, President Obama has implemented bold policy initiatives to reform America’s faltering economy, health care system, and education. Though he promised during his campaign to double foreign assistance by 2015, the President has tread cautiously in his effort to address global economic disparities. However, ignoring the impact of hunger and poverty abroad can pose significant risks of their own.

Setting aside the obvious moral imperative for Obama to fulfill his inaugural promise to provide smart assistance to the world’s impoverished, it is crucial for President Obama to quickly begin implementing efficient aid policies in the developing world for reasons of national security. As trade becomes more and globalized, so too do sophisticated modes of technology which allow for quicker means of communication and underground mechanisms for weapons distribution. Poverty easily breeds resentment. And, as we all know, resentment is prime fodder for terrorism, civil strife, and regional wars.

In a recent report by the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, scholars tackled the importance of economic growth in developing countries:

“Over the long term, a failure to enable agricultural growth will not only greatly limit the potential of Sub-Saharan African and South Asian economies to contribute to global prosperity, but likely mire us in unending regional conflicts and multiply our political and security threats. States that cannot feed their own people will tend to fail, opening the way for civil wars among armed militia groups or the development of new sanctuaries for terror groups that have sworn to do harm to America and its friends. Costly international peacekeeping interventions are a likely result.”

In the wake of WWII, United States policy makers united to restore economic vitality to war-torn Europe. They understood that a monumental piece of legislation, like the Marshall Plan, which pledged to rebuild the destroyed foundations of the continent, would be needed to repel future wars. As a result of their efforts, the period between 1948-1952 allegedly saw the fastest economic growth in European history.

Now, in 2009, with the dangers of climate change and destabilizing refugee crises just on the horizon for the world, similarly swift, bold, innovative international policy is undeniably necessary. In the past decade, under a new neo-conservative vision, we launched wars to forcefully instill democracies and Western-style governments in countries where we were not welcome.  We put the economic fates of these two nations in the hands of greedy private contractors. We sent our militaries into the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to fight an elusive enemy. And today, we reap the consequences: an even angrier, more unstable Middle East and a nuclear Asian subcontinent on the verge of collapse.

These haunting statistics from a new report at the Chicago Council of Global Affairs are just a glimpse of what is to come if action is not taken in Africa:

“If climate change continues and if adequate investments in agricultural science are not made, the result will be an unprecedented tragedy. At the present time, roughly 45 percent of all agricultural production in Africa comes from lands that are hot, dry, and non-irrigated. Because of continued population growth, African farmers will not have the option of abandoning these lands. In fact, more farmers are moving onto drought-prone South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Difficult domestic challenges may lure the President to focus inward, but what we need right is far more than fiscal stability. We need a globe ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century–increasingly scarce resources, ethnic wars, failed states, and numerous other challenges globalization has brought, or wrought.

The President recently reasserted his commitment to global partnerships for development and security in his budgetary address to Congress. But, he should be wary of increasing funds through the same inefficient, profit-motivated policies of the past decades and take steps to ensure that our aid dollars (they come from taxes after all) are monitored more closely to adequately address the needs of legions of disaffected, furious, fundementally wronged populations abroad.


August 2020

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