Author: KM

a very natural position to take

Colonisation was motivated by the European hunger for African resources. The subsequent exploitation of the African people and the uprooting of their spiritual values by Christian missionaries would leave a permanent European stamp on the continent.

The mindset is the barbarians are backward and inferior and for their own benefit we have to uplift them and civilize them and educate them and so on.

The psychology behind it is kind of transparent. When you’ve got your boot on someone’s neck and you’re crushing them you can’t say to yourself: I’m a son of a bitch, and I’m doing it for my own benefit. So what you have to do is figure out some way of saying: I’m doing it for their benefit. And that’s a very natural position to take, when you’re beating someone with a club.

– From ‘Colonialism in 10 Minutes – The Scramble for Africa’, which is an extract from the film ‘Uganda Rising’.


Hunger was never a problem for the peasants of the seven villages

The following is exerpted from the report Land conflict in Côte d’Ivoire: local communities defend their rights against SIAT and the state, published by GRAIN.

It was in August 2011 that the communities of Famienkro, Koffessou-Groumania, and Timbo, located about 300 km from Abidjan, learned through the grapevine that a corporation was about to move on to their land.

A month later, on September 15, the representatives of the three villages were informed that the government had granted a concession covering a total of 11,000 ha to the Ivorian subsidiary of the Belgian corporation SIAT (Société d’investissement pour l’agriculture tropicale), for the purpose of establishing an industrial rubber plantation.

SIAT is a Belgian multinational claiming to “specialize” in tropical agriculture. In June 2013, it had some 175 000 ha under cultivation in Africa, Asia, and Europe. This powerful multinational, with capital of €31 million and a business volume of nearly €200 million, has holdings in palm oil, rubber, and grazing. SIAT’s head office is in Brussels and it is active in Belgium, Nigeria, Ghana, Gabon, Cambodia, and Côte d’Ivoire.

The communities were stunned… the government had just granted 11,000 ha to SIAT.

Furthermore, free prior informed consent by the local population is always required in such cases, especially when arable land is being granted to companies, regardless of whether they are domestic or foreign… Today, the villagers are wondering why the rule was ignored.

The King of the Andoh, His Majesty Nanan Akou Moro II, speaking through his representative Sinan Ouattara, confirmed that:

We did not give our consent to this project, whose impact on our ancestral lands, territories, and natural resources is devastating. We refuse to let our land be stolen.

For 39 years the chief of this territory, the King of the Andoh reigns over the Coblossi tribe, who live in seven villages in the vicinity of Famienkro: Koffessou-Groumania, Sérébou, Kamélésso, Assouadiè, Morokro, Lendoukro, and Kouakoukro.


“It was a cheque he didn’t want black or Asian people to cash”: A short biography of Winston Churchill

The following is excerpted from the article Not his finest hour: The dark side of Winston Churchill by Johann Hari.

At Harrow School and then Sandhurst, he was told a simple story: the superior white man was conquering the primitive, dark-skinned natives, and bringing them the benefits of civilisation. As soon as he could, Churchill charged off to take his part in “a lot of jolly little wars against barbarous peoples”. In the Swat valley, now part of Pakistan, he experienced, fleetingly, a crack of doubt. He realised that the local population was fighting back because of “the presence of British troops in lands the local people considered their own,” just as Britain would if she were invaded. But Churchill soon suppressed this thought, deciding instead they were merely deranged jihadists whose violence was explained by a “strong aboriginal propensity to kill”.

He gladly took part in raids that laid waste to whole valleys, destroying houses and burning crops. He then sped off to help reconquer the Sudan, where he bragged that he personally shot at least three “savages”.

The young Churchill charged through imperial atrocities, defending each in turn. When concentration camps were built in South Africa, for white Boers, he said they produced “the minimum of suffering”. The death toll was almost 28,000, and when at least 115,000 black Africans were likewise swept into British camps, where 14,000 died, he wrote only of his “irritation that Kaffirs should be allowed to fire on white men”. Later, he boasted of his experiences there: “That was before war degenerated. It was great fun galloping about.”


The Web is not Google, and should not be just Google.

The following is exerpted from A letter about Google AMP.

We are a community of individuals who have a significant interest in the development and health of the World Wide Web (‘the Web’), and we are deeply concerned about Accelerated Mobile Pages (‘AMP’), a Google project that purportedly seeks to improve the user experience of the Web.

In fact, AMP keeps users within Google’s domain and diverts traffic away from other websites for the benefit of Google. At a scale of billions of users, this has the effect of further reinforcing Google’s dominance of the Web.

We acknowledge the problem of Web pages being slow to load…

Search engines are in a powerful position to wield influence to solve this problem. However, Google has chosen to create a premium position at the top of their search results (for articles) and a ‘lightning’ icon (for all types of content), which are only accessible to publishers that use a Google-controlled technology, served by Google from their infrastructure, on a Google URL, and placed within a Google controlled user experience.

The AMP format is not in itself, a problem, but two aspects of its implementation reinforce the position of Google as a de facto standard platform for content, as Google seeks to drive uptake of AMP with content creators:

1. Content that “opts in” to AMP and the associated hosting within Google’s domain is granted preferential search promotion, including (for news articles) a position above all other results.

2. When a user navigates from Google to a piece of content Google has recommended, they are, unwittingly, remaining within Google’s ecosystem.

We don’t want to stop Google’s development of AMP… We also applaud search engines that give ranking preference to fast-loading pages. AMP can remain one of a range of technologies that give publishers high quality options for delivering Web pages quickly and making users happy.

However, publishers should not be compelled by Google’s search dominance to put their content under a Google umbrella. The Web is not Google, and should not be just Google.

Images of black folks in England, 1600s and 1700s

This goes along with chapter 2 of Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams (but is probably also interesting on its own).

Liverpool Town Hall

Before the Beatles, Liverpool was famous as an important port in Britain’s slave trade; it was the slave trade that built Liverpool up from an unimportant town to a thriving metropolis. A bust of a ‘blackamoor’, (a black person) symbolises the slave trade that brought Liverpool wealth and prominence.

A carving on the grey stone exterior of a buildingof a black man wearing an elaborate head dress, necklace and earrings

A business card of a gun maker in Bristol, England

It incorporates an image of a British gentleman (left), an enslaved black man (right) and the coat of arms of the British Empire (top center).

A (photo of a) rectangular card, clearly very old and drawn by hand, with the following text (in very fancy lettering): WM Heard Gunmaker No. 41 Redclift Street Briftol, makes Hunting, Coach and Double Barrel Guns, Blunderbufes, Pistols, etc. etc. on the most approv'd Construction. Merchants supply'd with Guns, & Stores, for the African, West India, & Newfoundland Trade as Cheap as any Warehouse in England.

Reward offered for the return of a runaway boy

A newspaper advertisement offering a reward for the return of a runaway ‘Negro Boy’. The text reads: A Negro Boy, his name Africa, by his growth feeming to be about 12 years old, he had a gray cloth Livery, the Lace mixed with black, white, and orange colors, fomewhat torn, a black large Cap, a Silver Ring in one of his ears, his hair newly clipped very clofe, fpeaks fome Englifh, Dutch, and Blacks. Run away from his Mafter the firft inftant Whofoever fhall fecure him, and give notice to Mr. Arnold (…illegible…) Barner in James Ftreet, Covent Garden, fhall have 20 s. Reward. The ad doesn’t make clear whether the boy is a slave or a free servant, but the fact that there is a reward for his return suggests he is viewed as property.


How does a respected charitable foundation end up running illegal human experiments and shilling dodgy drugs to foreign governments?

A tragedy in three acts.

Cast of characters:

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: A charitable foundation created by Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, which is interested in global health. Also called Gates Foundation or BMGF.

PATH: An organisation controlled by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Merck: A pharmaceutical corporation.

GSK: A pharmaceutical corporation. Also called GlaxoSmithKline.

Pfizer: A pharmaceutical corporation.

India: A country.

The US: A country.

The Third World: A collection of countries, which includes India but not The US.

USAID: A part of the government of The US that gives money or other gifts to the governments of countries in The Third World.

HPV: A disease; also called human papilloma virus.

Various Dodgy Drugs: Gardasil, Cervarix, Norplant, Implanon, Jadelle, Depo-Provera.

The following is excerpted from Big Pharma and the Gates Foundation: ‘Guinea Pigs for the Drugmakers’ by Jacob Levich.

Act One

… vulnerable village girls were virtually press-ganged into the trials, their parents bullied into signing consent forms they could not read by… representatives who made false claims about the safety and efficacy of the drugs. In many cases signatures were simply forged.

An Indian Parliamentary Committee determined that the Gates-funded vaccine campaign was in fact a large-scale clinical trial conducted on behalf of the pharmaceutical firms and disguised as an ‘observational study’ in order to outflank statutory requirements.


Disarray in World Agriculture, 1955-2007

The following is an excerpt from the chapter Five Decades of Distortions to Agricultural Incentives by Kym Anderson, of the book Distortions to Agricultural Incentives A Global Perspective 1955-2007, Edited by Kym Anderson, published by Palgrave MacMillan and the World Bank, 2009.

For advanced economies, the most common reason for farm trade restrictions in the past two centuries has been to protect domestic producers from import competition as they come under competitive pressure to shed labor in the course of economic development. But in the process, those protective measures hurt not only domestic consumers and exporters of other products but also foreign producers and traders of farm products, and they reduce national and global economic welfare. For decades, agricultural protection and subsidies in high-income (and some middle-income) countries have been depressing international prices of farm products, which lowers the earnings of farmers and associated rural businesses in developing countries. The Haberler (1958) report to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) contracting parties forewarned that such distortions might worsen, and indeed they did between the 1950s and the early 1980s (Anderson and Hayami 1986), thereby adding to global inequality and poverty because three-quarters of the world’s poorest people depend directly or indirectly on agriculture for their main income (World Bank 2007).

At the same time, many developing countries have chosen also to pursue an import-substituting industrialization strategy, predominantly by restricting imports of manufactures, and to overvalue their currency. Together, those measures indirectly taxed producers of other tradable products in developing economies, predominantly farmers (Krueger, Schiff, and Valdés 1988, 1991). Thus, the price incentives facing farmers in many developing countries have been depressed by agricultural price and international trade policies in both their own and other countries.

This disarray in world agriculture, as Johnson (1991) described it in the title of his seminal book, means there has been overproduction of farm products in high- income countries and underproduction in more-needy developing countries. It also means there has been less international trade in farm products than would be the case under free trade, thereby thinning markets for these weather-dependent products and thus making them more volatile.

Notes on the early evolution of life

Moroz now counts nine to 12 independent evolutionary origins of the nervous system… ‘There is more than one way to make a neuron, more than one way to make a brain,’ says Moroz. In each of these evolutionary branches, a different subset of genes, proteins and molecules was blindly chosen, through random gene duplication and mutation, to take part in building a nervous system.

Early cells probably inhabited aquatic environments, such as hot springs or brine pools, that contained a mixture of dissolved minerals including some, like calcium, that threatened life. (Important biological molecules such as DNA, RNA and ATP are known to coalesce into refractory goo when exposed to calcium – similar to the scum that forms in bathtubs.) So biologists surmise that early life must have evolved ways to keep all but the lowest levels of calcium outside its cells. This protective machinery might include proteins that pump calcium atoms out of a cell, and an alarm system that goes off when calcium levels rise. Evolution later harnessed this exquisite responsiveness to calcium to signal within and between cells – to control the beating of cilia and flagella that microbes use to move, or to control the contraction of muscle cells or trigger the electric firing of neurons in organisms such as ours. By the time nervous systems began to emerge, roughly half a billion years ago, many of the critical building blocks were already set.

– From Aliens in our midst by Douglas Fox.

Notes on the human brain

Mostly based on the video lecture Mapping Memory in the Brain.

Even in the distant past, before modern medicine, doctors knew that learning, understanding and memory take place in the brain, because people with head injuries have problems with them, but people with injuries to other parts of the body do not.

We know what the brain looks like from dissection; a doctor will cut off the top of the skull of a dead body, remove the brain, and draw pictures of it or take photographs of it.

A human brain: slimy, white-ish, wrinkled, and pretty gross-looking.
A human brain photographed from above. Image by Wikimedia Commons user Jensflorian, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.
A photo of a human brain. It's white-ish, slimy, and wrinkled.
A human brain seen from the side, held by a person wearing blue gloves. Image by Wikimedia Commons user Jensflorian, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike.

Particular parts of the brain are for particular mental tasks

Starting in the 1860s, doctors looked at the brains of people with particular mental difficulties, after those people had died. They found that certain mental problems go along with damage to particular parts of the brain.

A group of patients could understand spoken language just fine but could not express themselves, even though there was nothing wrong with their mouth, throat or vocal cords. It turned out that all of these patients had a lesion (a dent or a hole) at a particular location on the brain surface.


It was Haitians who actually helped each other

The following is exerpted from Dady Chery and Eric Draitser Discuss Imperialism and Colonialism in Haiti.

Note: MINUSTA is the UN military mission in Haiti. Its purpose is either peace-keeping or neocolonial occupation, depending on your political views and/or level of cynicism.

During the earthquake, MINUSTAH and the Haitian police were looking [out] for each other, and they were protecting property, but not helping Haitians. They don’t like this to be said, because they like to present themselves as being these humanitarians who have been helping Haitians, but in fact that is what they did. It really showed what their priorities were. It was Haitians who actually helped each other. In fact, it is always Haitians who help each other. It was Haitians who dug each other out of the rubble. There was one kid who actually just tore a wall so that he could get his classmates out of a building that was collapsing. That was news in Haiti. In the US, you were seeing people who were covered with dust, who looked wholly catatonic and miserable. You had people like Clinton and Paul Farmer speaking for everybody and saying how much aid was needed, etc., and basically laying the ground for receiving billions of dollars, in fact in the end about $13 billion in aid that they went into Haiti to administer. In Haiti, you have a population of 10 million and $13 billion in aid that no one has actually seen, really… [Bill] Clinton and his rich friends moved in, and in a very short period, they took control of the country.

The earthquake happened in January [2010]. By March 8th, they had the Lower House in Haiti (this would be the House of Representatives) voting on a state of emergency that would allow an organization called the IHRC (Interim Haiti Recovery Commission) to run the country for 18 months, and that organization was headed by Clinton. It had 14 foreigners, headed by Clinton, all rich. The rules were that they were supposed to put down $100 million, or erase $200 million in debt, and in addition provide military. Against that, you had 7 Haitians, all of whom were supposed to be picked by the 14 foreigners. So this is how Haiti was supposed to be run during this emergency period when you would have Clinton managing all of the aid money. The Haitian parliament was supposed to dissolve itself. It fought very hard. In the senate, the vote initially didn’t go through because of the lack of quorum. They had another vote, and there was finally a quorum. At the end of that, there were rumors that at least 3 senators had probably been bribed to show up so that there would be a quorum for a vote. Now that you had Clinton and his friends administering the country, what happened next – and this is something that you never saw in the American news – is that people from the Haitian parliament went on the streets protesting with everybody else. I don’t know of any situation [in the US] where you’ve had senators and members of the House out on the street leading protests, but this is what happened, and it went on for months, through the summer of that year. These votes were in April. People were protesting that the president had forced this on them, and that the country had been sold to the international community, and they wanted it to be stopped.


The way the cholera was brought in Haiti

The way the cholera was brought in Haiti is that the UN took 1,280 Nepalese soldiers to train in summer 2010 in Kathmandu in the middle of a cholera epidemic. They gave them very cursory exams and a 10-day leave all over the country and then brought them back to Haiti and set them up in three bases around an area where there was rice growing and tributaries to a river. One of the bases had a septic tank that was basically dripping down into, ultimately, the Artibonite River. The first thing that happened is that a bunch of rice farmers got wiped out. They got killed. It was very clear from the start that the cholera had been brought in from a foreign source. There had been no cholera in Haiti for over a hundred years. It had been brought in from a foreign source, probably the UN, and I wrote this the day after the first case of cholera became known. It turned out that there was a mayor, in Mirebalais, in the area, who had been writing to the UN demanding that they clean up their septic tank, that the smell was becoming intolerable, that this was unhygienic, and the UN wasn’t responding to him. He finally got the attention of the press. It was very clear, because the cases of cholera were down river from the UN bases, and there were no cases up river from these bases. They immediately started saying, it’s the unhygienic internally displaced people camping in Port-au-Prince who were the source of the cholera…

Cholera is supposed to be a disease of the poor and… I think the idea is that Haitians were supposed to become pariahs in the world. They were supposed to be dirty and to have disease. It was Haitians who found it. Haitian epidemiologists collected the information about the cholera, and they put together forces with a French epidemiologist, Dr. Renaud Piarroux, who made it known to the world that the cholera happened in a very pristine area of Haiti, not in the displaced-person camps at all.

— Dady Chery, Dady Chery and Eric Draitser Discuss Imperialism and Colonialism in Haiti

Today in things that should be obvious but aren’t: the best way to feed hungry people is not, as previously supposed, to turn all agricultural land over to investors for ‘development’. It’s to let them keep their farms.

The real concern behind the development of large‐scale investments in farmland is rather that giving land away to investors having better access to capital to ‘develop’ it implies huge opportunity costs, as it will result in a type of farming that will have much less powerful poverty‐reducing impacts than if access to land and water were improved for the local farming communities: there is a clear tension between ceding land to investors for the creation of large plantations, and the objective of redistributing land and ensuring more equitable access to land, something governments have repeatedly committed to.

Hunger is not the result of there being too little food produced; it is the result of massive rural and urban poverty, the latter often the result of former as slums around large cities have grown, following rural migration, because small‐scale farming was not a viable option for many. Accelerating the shift towards large‐scale, highly mechanized forms of agriculture will not solve the problem: it will make it worse.

What we need now is… a vision that goes beyond… providing policymakers with a check list of how to destroy global peasantry…

— Heavily exerpted, from How not to think about land grabbing by Olivier De Shutter

GDP growth in Haiti – it’s magnificent!

And right now, for example, there is about 85 percent unemployment in Haiti, and yet the GDP has been growing by 4 percent every year. The reason the GDP is growing is because they’re destroying the informal sector, and more and more people are exchanging money for services, whereas in the past they used to trade services with each other. And, of course, everything gets added to GDP; nothing really gets subtracted. So loans are added to GDP. You get money from USAID, you borrow from the World Bank, you borrow from the IMF, and it looks like the GDP is growing. It’s magnificent! GDP is not net worth; it’s just how much money flows through a country. So Haiti is growing its GDP, and people are getting hungrier.

Dady Chery, 2015.

Britain’s Industrial Revolution was actually premised upon the de-industrialization of India

… We had for example Sir Richard Otterwy suggesting, challenging the very idea that it could be argued that the economic situation of the colonies was actually worsened by British colonialism. Well I stand to offer you the Indian example, Sir Richard. India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores was 23%. By the time the British left it was down to below 4%. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for 200 years was financed by its depradations in India. In fact, Britain’s Industrial Revolution was actually premised upon the de-industrialization of India. The hand loom weavers for example, famed across the world, whose products were exported round the world, Britain came right in, there were actually these weavers making fine muslin, light as woven air it was said, and Britain came right in, broke their thumbs, smashed their looms, imposed tariffs and duties on their cloth and products, and started of course, taking the raw materials from India, and shipping back manufactured cloth, flooding the world’s markets with what became the products of the dark and satanic mills of Victorian England. That meant that the weavers in India became beggars, and India went from being a world-famous exporter of finished cloth, into an importer.

– Dr Shashi Tharoor, speaking at a debate at Oxford.

Letter from the Just Net Coalition, representing internet users in the Global South, to Tim Berners-Lee, director of internet standards body W3C

Global South: What used to be called ‘developing countries’ or ‘the Third World’. Includes all of Africa and much of Asia, South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

W3C: World Wide Web Consortium. From Wikipedia: The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web (abbreviated WWW or W3). Founded and currently led by Tim Berners-Lee, the consortium is made up of member organizations which maintain full-time staff for the purpose of working together in the development of standards for the World Wide Web.

All of the main web browsers (such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera and Safari) work according to W3C standards, while apps generally do not.

DRM: Digital Rights Management. Refers to software and hardware which makes sure you can only use media (like music or videos) in certain ways, and also to laws which make it illegal to circumvent the DRM software or hardware in order to use media in ways the manufacturer doesn’t want.

From the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies attempt to control what you can and can’t do with the media and hardware you’ve purchased.
— Bought an ebook from Amazon but can’t read it on your ebook reader of choice? That’s DRM.
— Bought a video game but can’t play it today because the manufacturer’s “authentication servers” are offline? That’s DRM.
— Bought a smartphone but can’t use the applications or the service provider you want on it? That’s DRM.
— Bought a DVD or Blu-Ray but can’t copy the video onto your portable media player? That’s DRM.

EME: Encrypted Media Extensions. It’s a potential new standard specification the W3C has been considering. If approved it would make DRM part of the W3C’s internet standards. Since all the major web browsers implement the W3C’s standards, this would mean that DRM would quickly be included in new versions of web browsers, and therefore DRM would quickly part of natural of the web itself; every website could have DRM, allowing website owners to control when and how users can or can’t watch, play, stream, or save their content. It is feared that this would fundamentally change the internet’s open and democratic character.


One thing not included in that price is the right to repair it

A new tractor often costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, but one thing not included in that price is the right to repair it…

… you also need a software key — to fix the programs that make a tractor run properly. And farmers don’t get that key.

“You’re paying for the metal, but the electronic parts, technically you don’t own it. They do,” says Kyle Schwarting, who plants and harvests fields in southeast Nebraska.

Even a used combine like his Deere S670 can cost $200,000 or $300,000. As he lifts the side panel on this giant green harvester, he explains that the engine is basically off limits.

“Maybe a gasket or something you can fix, but everything else is computer controlled and so if it breaks down I’m really in a bad spot,” Schwarting says. He has to call the dealer.

Only dealerships have the software to make those parts work, and it costs hundreds of dollars just to get a service call. Schwarting worries about being broken down in a field, waiting for a dealer to show up with a software key. If he had that key, he could likely fix the machine himself.

– From Farmers look for ways to circumbent tractor software locks by Grant Gerlock at NPR, April 9, 2017.


The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.

… in an extreme case the troops of the imperial power may garrison the territory of the neo-colonial State and control the government of it. More often, however, neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means. The neo-colonial State may be obliged to take the manufactured products of the imperialist power to the exclusion of competing products from elsewhere. Control over government policy in the neo-colonial State may be secured by payments towards the cost of running the State, by the provision of civil servants in positions where they can dictate policy, and by monetary control over foreign exchange through the imposition of a banking system controlled by the imperial power.

The result of neo-colonialism is that foreign capital is used for the exploitation rather than for the development of the less developed parts of the world. Investment under neo-colonialism increases rather than decreases the gap between the rich and the poor countries of the world.

– From the introduction to the book ‘Neo-Colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism’ by Kwame Nkrumah, 1965.

Results of 20 year ‘Roundup-Ready’ experiment are in

The promise of genetic modification was twofold: By making crops immune to the effects of weedkillers and inherently resistant to many pests, they would grow so robustly that they would become indispensable to feeding the world’s growing population, while also requiring fewer applications of sprayed pesticides.

Twenty years ago, Europe largely rejected genetic modification at the same time the United States and Canada were embracing it. Comparing results on the two continents, using independent data as well as academic and industry research, shows how the technology has fallen short of the promise.

… the United States and Canada have gained no discernible advantage in yields — food per acre — when measured against Western Europe, a region with comparably modernized agricultural producers like France and Germany…

Since genetically modified crops were introduced in the United States two decades ago for crops like corn, cotton and soybeans, the use of toxins that kill insects and fungi has fallen by a third, but the spraying of herbicides, which are used in much higher volumes, has risen by 21 percent.

By contrast, in France, use of insecticides and fungicides has fallen by a far greater percentage — 65 percent — and herbicide use has decreased as well, by 36 percent.

– From GMO Promise falls short by Danny Hakim, The New York Times, Oct 29 2016.

Despite their scarce and dwindling resources, small farmers continue to be the world’s major food producers.

From Hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland by GRAIN.

If small farmers have so little land, how can they provide most of the food in so many countries? One reason is that small farms tend to be more productive than big ones, as we explain in the next section. But another factor is this historical constant: small or peasant farms prioritise food production. They tend to focus on local and national markets and their own families. Much of what they produce doesn’t enter into national trade statistics, but it does reach those who need it most: the rural and urban poor.

Big corporate farms, on the other hand, tend to produce commodities and concentrate on export crops, many of which people can’t eat as such. These include plants grown for animal feed or biofuels, wood products and other non- food crops. The primary concern for corporate farms is their return on investment, which is maximised at low levels of spending and thus often implies less intensive use of the land. The expansion of giant monoculture plantations, as discussed earlier, is part of this picture. Large corporate farms also often have considerable reserves of land that lie unused until land that is currently being cropped becomes exhausted.

Small farmers are not only our main source of food at present, but also for the future. International development agencies are constantly warning that we need to double food production in the coming decades. To achieve that, they usually recommend a combination of trade and investment liberalisation plus new technologies. But this will only create more inequality. The real solution is to turn control and resources over to small producers themselves and enact agricultural policies to support them.

Two food systems, the world does not have accurate figures

From Who Will Feed Us? The Industrial Food Chain/The Peasant Food Web by ETC Group.

Even as we are told that ‘agribusiness as usual’ is unstoppable, less and less information about the reality of markets and market share is made public… This is, in part, because the number of analysts is consolidating as rapidly as agribusiness itself. As a result, policymakers accept that increases in meat and dairy consumption, obesity, and the need for fertilizers and pesticides are unchallengeable realities.

…peasant producers often participate to varying degrees in both systems…

… we use ‘peasant’ to describe all those who produce food mostly for themselves and their communities whether they are rural, urban, or peri-urban farmers, ocean or freshwater fishers, pastoralists, or hunters and gatherers. Many peasants fit all of these categories. Small farmers often have fishponds and livestock. They often hunt and gather – especially in the sometimes-difficult weeks before harvest. Many peasants move back and forth between city and countryside.

The mix of peasant food sources renders statistical estimates difficult. To complicate things further, peasants grow around 7,000 crops but [the available statistics] focus on about 150 crops. The world does not have accurate figures.

It is important to appreciate that things have not always been as they are today

IP: Intellectual property; patents and/or copyrights on inventions and other creative works.

Looking to history, it is important to appreciate that things have not always been as they are today. IP rights used to be considered ‘grants of privilege’ that were explicitly recognized as exceptions to the rules against monopolies.

For much of the twentieth century patents were perceived as ‘monopolies’ in American jurisprudence. Anti-trust (anti-monopoly) legislation checked the power of patent holders in important ways. The framing of intellectual property as being ‘pro-free trade’ would not have been persuasive during earlier eras in which IP protection was seen, at best, as a necessary evil and at odds with free trade. It is only recently that the courts have ceased referring to patents as monopolies, and that anti-trust legislation has been relaxed…

When and why did intellectual property catapult to the top tier of the United States’ trade agenda? Had the two issues [international trade and IP] always been linked? Had IP protection always been so revered? How has the United States treated domestic intellectual property rights? Why did ‘it’ decide to globalize its own perspective?

– Excerpt from Private Power, Public Law: The Globalization of Intellectual Property Rights by Susan K. Sell.

Now there’s a chip in everything, and all the chips are copyrighted, so everything is copyrighted

The following is an exerpt from The DMCA Strikes Back: How Copyright Law Could Cost You Your Job by Kyle Wiens.

DMCA: Digital Millennium Copyright Act

EOM: Original Equipment Manufacturer

Back in the 90s, computers made it relatively easy for people to copy movies and music. So the recording industry teamed up with Washington to crack down on piracy. Among other things, the resulting law made it illegal to break digital locks—like passwords or encryptions—over copyrighted work, no matter the reason.

In the past 20 years, technology has changed drastically. The DMCA has not. That’s a problem, because copyright isn’t just movies and music anymore. It’s everything. Because everything is powered by computers … which is powered by programming … which is technically copyrighted. That means your tractor, your coffeemaker, and your self-cleaning cat litter pan have the same copyright protection as your DVD of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.

… If companies put digital locks over our smart gadgets, then—under the DMCA—they’ll be the only ones who can fix that stuff. Worse, they can sue anyone who tries to break up their repair monopoly.

Over the years, lots of companies have abused the DMCA to squeeze out the competition. In the early aughts, cellphone companies wielded the DMCA to shut down programmers who developed unlocking software that moved cellphones to different carriers. Now, the same tactics are being used to shut down non-OEM repair options.

Local mechanics rely on diagnostic tools from companies like Snap-on and Autel to repair modern vehicles. But in 2014, Ford sued Autel for making a tool that diagnoses car trouble and tells you what part fixes it. Autel decrypted a list of Ford car parts, which wound up in their diagnostic tool. Ford claimed that the parts list was protected under copyright (even though data isn’t creative work)—and cracking the encryption violated the DMCA. The case is still making its way through the courts. But this much is clear: Ford didn’t like Autel’s competing tool, and they don’t mind wielding the DMCA to shut the company down.

The year of the Jubilee | Economic systems from other times and places | Presented by Awesome Kitty

A cartoon image of a cute yellow-brown cat with title text that reads: Now it's time for some historical perspective! At the bottom is a logo which reads: Awesome Kitty.

Awesome Kitty says:

In our world today we have an economic system that is the same pretty much everywhere, and that experts and politicians insist is unquestionably scientific and inevitable, even though (a) it’s actually brand new, historically speaking, and (b) it fails to do what any decent economic system should do: make it possible for most people to live decent lives, with adequate food and shelter and clothing and not-too-horrible work.

Given this, it’s helpful to compare economic systems from other times and places; they might be just as terrible as ours, or even worth, but even so it’s nice to get some sense of all the different systems that humans have tried out over the years!

In that spirit I present to you The Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 8-55), from both the Jewish Bible and the Christian Old Testament.

Count off seven sabbath years—seven times seven years—so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of forty-nine years. Then have the trumpet sounded everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the Day of Atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land. Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you; each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan. The fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the untended vines. For it is a jubilee and is to be holy for you; eat only what is taken directly from the fields.

In this Year of Jubilee everyone is to return to their own property.

If you sell land to any of your own people or buy land from them, do not take advantage of each other. You are to buy from your own people on the basis of the number of years since the Jubilee. And they are to sell to you on the basis of the number of years left for harvesting crops. When the years are many, you are to increase the price, and when the years are few, you are to decrease the price, because what is really being sold to you is the number of crops. Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God.

Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety. You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years. While you plant during the eighth year, you will eat from the old crop and will continue to eat from it until the harvest of the ninth year comes in.

The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.

If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold. If, however, there is no one to redeem it for them but later on they prosper and acquire sufficient means to redeem it themselves, they are to determine the value for the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom they sold it; they can then go back to their own property. But if they do not acquire the means to repay, what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the Year of Jubilee. It will be returned in the Jubilee, and they can then go back to their property.

Anyone who sells a house in a walled city retains the right of redemption a full year after its sale. During that time the seller may redeem it. If it is not redeemed before a full year has passed, the house in the walled city shall belong permanently to the buyer and the buyer’s descendants. It is not to be returned in the Jubilee. But houses in villages without walls around them are to be considered as belonging to the open country. They can be redeemed, and they are to be returned in the Jubilee.

The Levites always have the right to redeem their houses in the Levitical towns, which they possess. So the property of the Levites is redeemable—that is, a house sold in any town they hold—and is to be returned in the Jubilee, because the houses in the towns of the Levites are their property among the Israelites. But the pastureland belonging to their towns must not be sold; it is their permanent possession.

If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you. Do not take interest or any profit from them, but fear your God, so that they may continue to live among you. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. They are to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you; they are to work for you until the Year of Jubilee. Then they and their children are to be released, and they will go back to their own clans and to the property of their ancestors. Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God.

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.

If a foreigner residing among you becomes rich and any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to the foreigner or to a member of the foreigner’s clan, they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them: An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves. They and their buyer are to count the time from the year they sold themselves up to the Year of Jubilee. The price for their release is to be based on the rate paid to a hired worker for that number of years. If many years remain, they must pay for their redemption a larger share of the price paid for them. If only a few years remain until the Year of Jubilee, they are to compute that and pay for their redemption accordingly. They are to be treated as workers hired from year to year; you must see to it that those to whom they owe service do not rule over them ruthlessly.

Even if someone is not redeemed in any of these ways, they and their children are to be released in the Year of Jubilee, for the Israelites belong to me as servants. They are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

The World Bank takes a dim view of small farms

The World Bank economist… delivered a barely modified version of the Bank’s longstanding diagnostic on small-scale agriculture:

Small landholdings make inefficient use of land, he explained, and the food crops smallholders grow can be produced much more efficiently by industrialized farmers in Mexico and the United States. NAFTA gives Mexico tariff-free access to those goods, so Mexico’s two million small-scale corn farmers should enjoy the cheaper tortillas and seek more productive activities, growing high-value crops or moving out of agriculture…

Moving out of agriculture? Into what? ‘Assume we have employment’ can be the only answer. Because just as shipwrecked survivors can’t sail home on an economist’s theoretical boat, Mexico’s small-scale farmers need real jobs, not assumed jobs, if they are to give up their lands and their homes.

Meanwhile, the World Bank’s desired ‘transition’ in agriculture, accelerated by the added pressure of tariff-free imports dumped by the United States, has pushed an estimated 2.3 million farmers and workers out of agriculture. Those who left went where the jobs were – in the United States… Many left behind family members who, despite a 66% drop in real corn prices, increased their corn production.

Irrational? Hardly. Small-scale farmers are at least smarter than World Bank economists. They know that growing corn, with limited technology and low yields, is inefficient only if they have a more productive use for their land or their labor. The land is often the only asset the family has, and most smallholder land is unsuitable for high-value crops. As for their labor, they send family members as seasonal or permanent migrants and use the remittances to keep their farms. Are their low corn yields proof of inefficiency? Or do they show that smallholders are maximizing their available labor and resources?

– Exerpted from Small-Scale Farmers and Development: Assume a different economic model by Timothy A. Wise, Triple Crisis.

A meditation on the nature of belief

If you have trouble viewing the image, skip down to the image description.

Image description:

A comic. There are four panels, each showing the same thing: a girl and an alien looking at a widescreen tv. They are sitting on a sofa in a room with pink stripy wallpaper, and are viewed from the back. On the tv screen we see a man’s head and shoulders with the word ‘NEWS’.
_____Panel 1_____
GIRL: What is this guy talking about? It doesn’t even make sense.
ALIEN: Indeed, in the 2 minutes and 48 seconds we’ve been watching this program, I’ve noted three obvious falsehoods and five logical contradictions.
_____Panel 2_____
GIRL: He seems so sincere, but how can anyone believe this stuff?
ALIEN: He seems very confident and happy in himself. Is he famous among humans?
_____Panel 3_____
GIRL: Yeah, I think he’s a politician or something like that, I’ve definitely seen him on tv before.
ALIEN: Well that explains it then. Believing this stuff has worked out very well for him. It has brought him fame and admiration from his fellow three dimensional sentient beings. Why would he ever stop?
_____Panel 4_____
ALIEN: Agreed.
GIRL: People are supposed to believe things based on evidence and logic!
ALIEN: Ideally yes, but sometimes other factors enter into it.

Image credits:

Usarios by canguronegro
Glossy TV by Steren

On the credibility of the economics literature

The scientific credibility of economics is itself a scientific question that can be addressed with both theoretical speculations and empirical data. In this review… We summarize and discuss the empirical evidence on the lack of a robust reproducibility culture in economics and business research, the prevalence of potential publication and other selective reporting biases, and other failures and biases in the market of scientific information. Overall, the credibility of the economics literature is likely to be modest or even low.

– From the abstract of the article What’s to know about the credibility of empirical econonmics? by John Ioannidis and Chris Doucouliagos, Journal or Economic Surveys Volume 27, Issue 5, December 2013, Pages 997–1004.

Bad science, bad philanthropy, bad international aid

In east and southern Africa, genetically modified, drought-tolerant seeds, or “new technology” are made available to small holder farmers at the same cost as conventional varieties via philanthropic support and international aid, but many people see programs like these as death traps. Activists and civil society organizations are resisting “climate smart” solutions introduced by Monsanto and the Gates Foundation.

For example, the African Center for Biodiversity in South Africa is engaged in a legal battle because, in their view, these newly-introduced varieties present risks for small farmers, citing the absence of peer reviewed scientific data and evidence supporting the claims of Monsanto and significant economic risks for smallholder farmers.

Yimer explains, “Experience across Africa has shown that once the subsidies and credit [to support the adoption of new varieties] dries up, farmers can’t purchase the more expensive seeds. This also creates dependency on inputs such as synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, and in the meantime their own seed varieties are lost.”

That is why Yimer doesn’t see the fight for food sovereignty in Africa as necessarily subversive. “It’s not like we [food activists] are going against some giant conspiracy. It’s not about our ideology. We work so that each and every person is healthy, doing their jobs, living their daily lives to the fullest. Food production, food systems—that is personal.”

– From 5 Food Systems Lessons the U.S. Can Learn from Africa by Jennifer Lentfer.

On the three ages (of stone, bronze and iron) of the distant past, progress, technology, and cultural superiority

… in happier days … food was plentifully available without the drudgery of farming: it only required gathering and eating. This idealised picture still plays a part in our view of the past and of ‘simple societies’, be it the concept of the ‘noble savage’ or …

The opposite view of society is embodied in words such as ‘progress’ and ‘technological advance’, popularised in Christian Thomsen’s Three Age System. Who, Thomsen argued, would make axes of stone if they knew of bronze and iron? What started as a classification of objects in the National Museum in Copenhagen rapidly became the basis for the chronological division of European man’s prehistory. Thomsen’s idea, coupled later with the concepts of evolution and ‘survival of the fittest’, reflected, if not originated, the self-satisfaction of late nineteenth-century West European society – the belief that it was technologically superior and therefore superior in all other respects to ‘less advanced’ societies both past and present.

– Exerpted from chapter 1 of ‘The European Iron Age’ by John Collis, 1984.

Extra-adorable Alien Squid Monster

A cartoon showing two girls, both wearing dubious or cynical expressions, looking at a tank which contains a purple creature with tentacles. The creature has a human-style face and is smiling. At the bottom it says in italic text: "What the heck is that?"

Get ready! It’s the Extra-Adorable Alien Squid Monster!

* Posable tentacle “arms” (extra tentacle “arms” included)

* Hours of fun!

* Comes with 7 reusable facial expressions

* The included tank comes in 2 great Extra-Adorable styles, and provides the weird alien nutri-liquid your Extra-Adorable Alien Squid Monster needs to live on Planet Earth!

* Extra-Adorable Alien Squid Monster may look a little like an Earth sea creature, but is in fact a sentient being from a distant galaxy! No-one knows how it got here or what it wants!

* Accessories sold separately