Discover more from Thin Ink
Bad Habits Lead To…
Rewards for a few but a terrible future for many
Friday, Jun 2, is a national holiday in Italy - Festa della Repubblica or Republic Day - so I’m keeping this short, although not necessarily sweet. I blame the state of the world.
Continued destruction of nature
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, there were widespread concerns about what a war between two key agricultural exporters would mean for the rest of the world.
These two have important positions on the global commodity markets for wheat, barley, and sunflower seed and oil. Russia pretty much has a stranglehold when it comes to fertilisers. See this FAO report for a detailed breakdown of their agricultural exports.
A vast majority of countries facing the fallout are in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia that rely on food imports. Amid the general hysteria, many experts emphasised this and debunked warnings of an immediate global food shortage.
In “How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will worsen global hunger”, published on Mar 2, I wrote these lines for The New Humanitarian.
“Beyond the unfolding humanitarian crisis for Ukrainians, the wider fallout – from regional port closures, large-scale displacement within and out of Ukraine, and crippling economic sanctions on Russia – could be far-reaching and devastating, especially for poor consumers in countries dependent on food imports, according to experts.”
“Parts of the Middle East and North Africa are expected to be hit particularly hard by the knock-on effects of the Russian invasion.”
I also devoted an issue of Thin Ink to this topic.
But opportunists know the spectre of hunger is a powerful one, even in a place like Europe which for decades had a significantly lower level of hunger than the rest of the world (less than 2.5% vs. 9%).
Within weeks of the invasion, proponents of conventional and industrial agriculture started lobbying the European Commission to suspend a provision in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that requires farms to leave some land fallow for biodiversity.
Their rationale? Europe needs to produce as much food as possible to prevent hunger not only within its continent but also beyond. Many scientists and researchers were against the exemption and suggested cutting back on crops for biofuel and animal feed instead.
But the lobbyists and governments succeeded and 21 member states decided to grow food in these areas, known as “ecological focus areas”.
A little over a year later, the verdict is in and it doesn’t look pretty.
Hardly any food was grown, much of it was used to grow animal feed and oilseed sunflower, and the exemptions did little to alleviate hunger in the Global South, according to a new analysis by a group of non-governmental organisations including BirdLife Europe and GLOBAL 2000 - Friends of the Earth Austria.
In Austria, which was used as a case study because the authors were able to access detailed data, “more than 70 % of the converted ecological focus areas were used for the cultivation of maize and soya, and only 0.6 % for bread grain (wheat and rye)”.
This is a far cry from the original lofty goal of Austrian MEP Simone Schmiedtbauer who said 45 million loaves of bread could be baked in Austria alone to contribute “to food security in Europe and the world" by the exemption.
In total, 40% of the approximately 1.95 million hectares of land that should have gone to biodiversity were tilled. In Austria, the total amount of ecological focus areas available decreased from 29,169 hectares in 2021 to 12,860 hectares in 2022 (a 56% drop).
This report came out a day after the International Day for Biological Diversity, where there was a lot of political rhetoric in support of biodiversity. What empty words will the same EU governments who fought for the exemption say at the Bonn Climate Change Conference which start Monday?
An aside on the CAP: This is the EU’s largest budget item, averaging around €54 billion a year, and the world’s largest agricultural subsidy scheme. It’s a controversial programme and the new CAP, which came into force in 2023, was supposed to be greener than its predecessors.
If you want to know more about it, here are a few back issues from 2021.
Record profits for some
Nine fertiliser companies saw their profits jump to a staggering $49 billion in 2022, more than three times what they made before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new analysis by the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy (IATP) and GRAIN.
The data is based on company reports from Nutrien, Yara, Mosaic, ICL Group, CF Industries, OCP, PhosAgro, OCI and K+S. Eurochem and Uralkali were not included because their financial reports weren’t available.
“International agencies like the World Bank blamed the spike in fertiliser prices on the Russian war in Ukraine, resulting in high natural gas prices (used to produce nitrogen fertiliser) from shortages and trade disruptions.
“But… a major part of the story is the monopoly power of the fertiliser companies. These companies increased prices far beyond the increases in production costs and boosted their profit margins to a massive 36% in 2022.”
Three Good Reads
A prodigious attitude to cream - Vittles
Vittles continue to reach new heights when it comes to writing about food in thoughtful and delightful ways.
It has started a mini-season on cooking and eating at home called Cooking From Life and this piece, from writer and editor Rosanna McLaughlin, is both funny and poignant.
A collaboration between Repórter Brasil and O Joio e O Trigo exposes an illegal grain distribution scheme where soybeans and corn planted without permits on Indigenous lands were taken to warehouses of some of the largest global commodity traders in 2018 and 2019.
Those involved included ADM do Brasil, Bunge, and Cargill, three of the world’s four biggest commodity traders known collectively as ABCD.
Laura Paddison’s piece is far from “a good news story” but I wanted to include this because it’s really important for those of us who care about climate change to understand the depth of disinformation, misinformation, and abuse flying around this topic.
Like this recent NYT piece about Carlos Moreno, the professor behind the 15-minute city, reading it made me both sad and infuriated, but also determined to keep fighting, particularly since I’ve noticed a change in the past couple of months on a certain social media platform - whenever I’m writing something related to climate, the top automatic hashtag suggestions now include climate change being a scam.
Thin Ink is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.