When I saw the photo of the little girl in Mutanga, Zambia, I cried. It was the kind of image that tugs at Western bleeding-heartstrings to loosen their purse-strings. It had that emotional effect on me, which was incongruous because I’d taken the photo myself. And the girl was was one of seven children on a relatively successful small farm. (Excerpted from Eating Tomorrow, Chapter 4)

When I saw the photo of the little girl in Mutanga, Zambia, I cried. There she sat in the dirt, knees tucked up to her chin, head in her hands, barefoot, maybe nine years…

The following excerpt from Chapter 6 of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (New Press 2019) chronicles the failed attempt by British Sun Biofuels to make biodiesel from jatropha plants in Kisarawe, Tanzania. And the more modest and sustainable efforts by Kakute and other community organizations to harness the plant’s potential for sustainable and equitable small-scale economic development. Kakute proudly celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Sun Biofuels dissolved in 2016. Villagers in Kisarawe are still waiting to get their land back.

Sun Biofuels’ jatropha plantation before the speculative project collapsed, Kisarawe, Tanzania. (Tom Pietrasik/ActionAid)

Villagers near the Tanzanian town of Kisarawe got the full fury…

Norman Borlaug, Milk Strikes, and the Green Revolution

The notion that hunger is caused by scarcity and that producing more food commodities will solve hunger are, oddly enough, rooted in our agricultural history of overproduction, of surplus not scarcity. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, got it wrong from the start and his stubborn dedication to his own erroneous interpretation of Depression-era hunger still feeds our persistent myths of scarcity.(Excerpted from Eating Tomorrow, pp. 111–114, New Press, 2019)

1933 Wisconsin milk strike.

Africa was certainly reeling from a wide range of challenges in increasing food production and reducing hunger, and as I’d seen…

Excerpt from Eating Tomorrow (New Press 2019), Chapter 8, with deep gratitude to the late Alejandro Nadal

Alejandro Nadal, a pioneer in the field of trade, environment, and agricultural biodiversity.

I saw how far-reaching NAFTA’s effects were in Soteapan, a small municipality on the slopes of the Santa Marta volcano in Mexico’s southeastern state of Veracruz. Colleagues from El Colegio de Mexico (ColMex) took me there to better understand the connections among trade, poverty, and the environment. Under the direction of Alejandro Nadal, they had been studying the Popoluca indigenous farmers in Soteapan — from small-scale commercial producers in the lowlands to subsistence producers in the highlands — to assess the impacts of…

Adapted from the conclusion to Eating Tomorrow (New Press 2019)

“Agriculture out of World Trade Organization!” — Street protest, Buenos Aires, December 2017 (photo: Timothy A. Wise)

If anyone at the World Food Prize ceremonies in October 2017 back in Iowa was paying attention, reality was waving its arms in warning about our unsustainable model of agricultural development. Days before, Reuters had reported that the continued development of high-yield agriculture had generated a “global grain glut” that had driven crop prices so low farmers weren’t sure they could afford those technologies.[1] Meanwhile, the FAO had announced that the number of people suffering chronic hunger had increased 5% the previous year.[2] Hunger amid plenty.

No one at the…

The following is excerpted from Chapter 8 of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food (New Press 2019).

Migrant from rural Mexico awaits transport to the United States. (Photo: © David Bacon dbacon@igc.org)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provoked a wave of migration to the United States. Many of those migrants were coming from the post-NAFTA disaster that was rural Mexico.

The country’s three million maize farmers were under assault. Their government had eliminated key agencies that supported small-scale producers, such as CONASUPO, which bought and marketed basic grains at supported prices. In its modernization push, the government had also forced through a modification of the Mexican…

Leaders endorse agroecology as one of the cutting-edge innovations we need to help small-scale farmers adapt to climate change.

October 24, 2019 (Originally published by Common Dreams)

Farmers association prepares to plant intercropped field, Marracuene, Mozambique. (Photo: Timothy A. Wise)

The Climate Action Summit at the UN last month was widely considered a disappointment, failing to garner the kinds of government actions needed to address the climate crisis. Sadly, the same can be said for actions on agriculture and climate change, despite a well-publicized commitment of $790 million to “to enhance resilience of over 300 million small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.”

That is not because the investment isn’t…

Climate change comes for farmers — from Mozambique to Iowa

Photo: Brian Strombeck

It felt ominous when I was in Iowa in March that both Iowa and Mozambique were underwater from cyclone-induced flooding widely attributed to climate change. I’d studied and written about both places in my recent book. These farming communities are as distant from one another — geographically and developmentally — as they could be, yet there they were in the same metaphorical lifeboat trying to save their families and farms from the floods.

I saw the devastation in central Mozambique in June — houses still missing their roofs, schools barely…

Farmer’s field in Marracuene, Mozambique, prepared for intercropping as part of a farmers’ union agroecology project. (photo: Timothy A. Wise)

On July 3, the High Level Panel of Experts of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released its much-anticipated report on agroecology in Rome. The report signals the continuing shift in emphasis in the UN agency’s approach to agricultural development. As outgoing FAO Director General Jose Graziano da Silva has indicated, “We need to promote a transformative change in the way that we produce and consume food. We need to put forward sustainable food systems that offer healthy and nutritious food, and also preserve the environment. Agroecology can offer several contributions to this process.”

The commissioned report, Agroecological and…

U.S. policies have created the disasters from which they flee

A farmer in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico waits for a coyote to take him north. NAFTA caused a surge in rural migration as farmers were flooded with cheap US imports. (Photo: David Bacon dbacon@igc.org)

Like many citizens of the United States, I was pleased to hear the consensus condemnation of President Trump’s punitive migration policies from Democratic presidential candidates during the last debate. Granted, It does not take much courage to condemn “holding children in cages.” Still, it was heartening to hear support for “decriminalizing” migration. That would certainly be an improvement over the abusive policies now prevailing on the border.

But granting that many migrants at our southern border are not criminals falls far short of recognizing the complicity of our government in creating the multiple crises Central Americans and Mexicans are fleeing…

Timothy A. Wise

Author of Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, & the Battle for the Future of Food. Advisor with Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

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