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Modern time tyranny- Is Monsanto alone to blame?

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This is not an article about the genetically modified organisms (gmos) and whether they are harmful or not. It is not about the health of humans and the environment. It is an article on the political economy of bio-industries; it is about food security, politics and civil freedoms. How can a seed industry blackmail citizens and still governments bow in front of them?

It is not about what Monsanto merchandizes, it is about how it does it. It is about Mafia-like-running companies defining food security and civil liberties.

The politics of policy making is an arena where different sets of actors, not necessarily only political, contest and interact in order to influence policy emergence and its application. This process is of course legitimate, as long as the market actors do not overrun or even move like puppets the political, elected by the citizens, actors.

It is of great interest to take a closer look in the US and the bio-tech monolith Monsanto. The United States Department of Agriculture recently approved Monsanto’s controversial herbicide-resistant genetically modified strains of soybean and cotton, something that many critics see as a bow to probably the most powerful bio-industry, at the expense of human health and environmental conservation. Moreover, the company is also seeking to extend its reach into milk production by marketing an artificial growth hormone for cows that increases their milk production, and it is taking aggressive steps to bring those who don’t want to use growth hormone at a commercial disadvantage.

The research studies that have shown that Monsanto’s genetically-modified foods can lead to serious health conditions, such as the development of cancer tumors, infertility and birth defects, are merely besides the point here. And the fact that something like this is beside the point, in my opinion means, that the whole systemic problem that Monsanto represents is simply absurd.

In the United States, the FDA, the agency responsible for ensuring food safety for the population, is lead by ex-Monsanto executives, and apparently this is a dubious conflict of interests. Recently, the U.S. Congress and president passed the “Monsanto Protection Act” that, among other things, prohibits courts from ceasing the sale of Monsanto’s genetically-modified seeds.

For decades, Monsanto has not only been the benefactor of political favoritism, but on top of that have received considerable corporate subsidies. For instance, Monsanto received millions to expand its activities in Africa; and I will come to this later on.  This is not wrong because of its potentially harmful merchandize, which for many scientists is not even proven; but because Monsanto forces an annihilating monopoly in the seed market and the world’s food supply, with the buying up of conventional-seed companies and by acquiring exclusive patenting rights over seeds and genetic makeup; over life forms. It is absurd because Monsanto’s seed police, blackmails, threatens, humiliates and financially destroys farmers that do not comply with its preposterous seed policy. It is absurd because Monsanto launches incredibly expensive campaigns to fight Act initiatives, attempting to regulate the industry, causing in fact, the nullification of democracy; as money so easily silences political voices coming from both elected representatives and citizens alike. Monsanto exerts overwhelming influence over the government through campaign donations and lobbying, turning the government into a marketing spokesperson for Monsanto products.

Everyone sees the problem through the lenses of human and environmental health, and this is absolutely reasonable. But let us say, for the sake of the argument, that a corporation that sells “ambrosia”, implements the same tactics; would that be acceptable. Wouldn’t that be tyranny as well? Protection of civil liberties, in all levels, has a value on its own. The concept of the benevolent tyrant exists only in Plato’s world of ideas, and there is a reason for that; that is because absolute, all-consuming power in one’s hands is dangerous, no matter what. History of humanity proves it.

And why am I saying benevolent tyrant. For instance, in Mr. Friedberg’s view, Vice President of Monsanto, genetically modified seeds enable farmers to grow larger crops with less resources and represent a way to help sustain the growing world population. Some of Monsanto’s critics “want to live in a natural world where we’re all living in treehouses in the rainforest and picking coconuts out of the tree,” Mr. Friedberg said. “Maybe it would be possible if we had 100,000 people living on earth, but that’s not the reality that we’re living in today.”

Nonetheless, even if there is a point in this argument, and I am not saying there isn’t, citizens of a democratic country should have the real freedom to choose otherwise. The example of what happened in the state of Hawaii is one of many. According to a local news website, Honolulu Civil Beat (HCB), Monsanto and Dow — two of the world’s largest biotech and agricultural conglomerates, have thrown $8 million to beat back a Maui County voter initiative that would prohibit temporarily all GMO farming, according to documents of the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission. On the other hand, proponents of the measure have spent less than $83,000; and apparently they lost. These numbers show the absence of real democracy, when policies depend on who can spend more in lobbying and campaigning.

This example is actually one of the civilized actions of Monsanto. Monsanto relies on a dirty army of private investigators and agents to spread fear among farmers. They strike into fields and farm towns, where they secretly videotape and photograph farmers and store owners. They ambush farmers on their land and try to pressure them to sign papers giving Monsanto access to their private records. Farmers call them the “seed police” and use words such as “Gestapo” and “Mafia” to describe their tactics. Investigators have actually shown farmers a photo of themselves coming out of a store, to let them know they have been followed. Not surprisingly, the numbers of farmers who settle because they don’t have the money or the time to fight Monsanto are overwhelming.

Besides the fact that the loss of biodiversity of seeds, particularly in a time of climate change, threatens the resilience of food supply; there is another side of this problem, which I believe is wildly understated. Traditionally and until the late twentieth century, plant genetic resources belonged to a global commons and were considered the ‘‘common heritage of humankind’’. Who owns biodiversity after all?

IPRs in the area of biodiversity are not merely a matter of transfer of technology but become ground for intercultural dialogue. For many communities, knowledge and biological resources are inalienable. In the hill regions of India, for example, people value their seeds more than their lives. For traditional societies, biodiversity is common property, and knowledge related to it is in the intellectual commons. For biotechnology corporations, biodiversity becomes private property through their investments, and IPRs are the means for such privatization.

The emergence of genetic engineering has encouraged the emergence of patents and lPRs for products originating from biodiversity. Instead of being treated as the common property of local communities or as the national property of sovereign states, the Global South’s biodiversity has in recent years been treated as the common heritage of the world. In contrast, the modified biodiversity is patented and sold back to them as high-priced and patented seeds. Funny enough, this is as well happening in the “free world” as well, the U.S. There is no epistemological justification for treating some germplasm as valueless and common heritage and other germplasm as a valuable commodity and private property. This distinction is not based on the nature of the germplasm but on the nature of political and economic power.

That brings us to the subsidized by the US government presence of Monsanto in Africa. In 2010, the Obama administration pushed a humanitarian initiative focused in increasing the food supply of Africa. In order to solve the hunger problem in Africa, they started promoting industrial, mono-crop farming and genetically modified goods rather than investing in local farms; with devastating results for both biodiversity of the land and cultural diversity of the local population.  
    
Don’t get me wrong. Monsanto is just an example. The same applies to the weapon industry as well. And the list can go and on. People around the globe deserve freedom and deserve governments that protect unconditionally their liberties from private actors. Otherwise politicians lose purpose of existence; and this kind of delegitimization leads always, with mathematical accuracy, to armed revolutions. Maybe Monsanto is not to blame after all; when the elected guardians of the peoples and the peoples best interests, not only turn their face away, but actually concur in the modern slavery imposed upon us by transnational conglomerates, which decide on a global scale, what people shall harvest and eat with no deviation. That is modern time tyranny, and to the best of my knowledge tyranny starts and ends with political decisions.

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Green Planet

India to host World Environment Day 2018

MD Staff

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Today, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, and Erik Solheim, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Head of UN Environment, jointly announced that India will be hosting the global World Environment Day celebrations on 5 June 2018.

“Beat Plastic Pollution”, the theme for World Environment 2018, urges governments, industry, communities, and individuals to come together and explore sustainable alternatives and urgently reduce the production and excessive use of single-use plastic polluting our oceans, damaging marine life and threatening human health.

“India is excited to host the World Environment Day this year on June 5. Indian philosophy and lifestyle has long been rooted in the concept of co-existence with nature. We are committed to making Planet Earth a cleaner and greener place”, said Dr. Harsh Vardhan.

He added: “If each and every one of us does at least one green good deed daily towards our Green Social Responsibility, there will be billions of green good deeds daily on the planet.”

The Government of India has committed to organizing and promoting the World Environment Day celebrations through a series of engaging activities and events generating strong public interest and participation. From pan-Indian plastic clean-up drives in public areas, national reserves and forests to simultaneous beach clean-up activities – India will lead the initiative by setting an example.

“India will be a great global host of 2018’s World Environment Day celebrations,” said Erik Solheim at the announcement on Monday.

He added: “The country has demonstrated tremendous global leadership on climate change and the need to shift to a low carbon economy, and India will now help galvanize greater action on plastics pollution. It’s a global emergency affecting every aspect of our lives. It’s in the water we drink and the food we eat. It’s destroying our beaches and oceans. India will now be leading the push to save our oceans and planet.”

India is emerging as a leader, given it has one of the highest recycling rates in the world. It can be instrumental in combating plastic pollution. By hosting World Environment Day 2018, the Indian government is accelerating its leadership on an issue of tremendous magnitude.

World Environment Day is a UN Environment-led global event, the single largest celebration of our environment each year, which takes place on June 5 and is celebrated by thousands of communities worldwide.

Since it began in 1972, it has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated across the globe.

Most of all, World Environment Day is a day of everyone around the world to take ownership of their environment and to actively engage in the protection of our earth.

Plastic Pollution facts:

  • Every year the world uses 500 billion plastic bags
  • Each year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans, the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute.
  • In the last decade, we produced more plastic than in the whole last century
  • 50 percent of the plastic we use is single-use or disposable
  • We buy 1 million plastic bottles every minute
  • Plastic makes up 10% of all of the waste we generate

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Coral reefs: We continue to take more than we give

MD Staff

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Maaenboodhoo, Maldives Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

Figures released today on international financial support being given to protect and sustainably manage the world’s coral reefs reveal funding contributions are not only inadequate, but disproportionate to how much the fragile ecosystems offer humans in food, livelihoods, medicine and environmental protection.

Coral reef ecosystems provide society with resources and services worth $375 billion per year. They house 25 percent of all marine life, feeding hundreds of millions of people; they enable discovery of new pharmaceuticals and provide work and income through the tourism and fisheries industries.

Yet we have lost at least one fifth of the world’s coral reefs, with some estimates placing the loss of live coral as high as 50 per cent. These vital ecosystems are being rapidly degraded as a result of warming sea temperatures due to climate change, overfishing, destructive fishing, ocean acidification, and a range of land-based activities. A recent study in the Asia-Pacific region also found that coral reefs are contaminated by 11 billion pieces of plastic, which are leading to coral disease.

The coral reef funding analysis, conducted by UN Environment, the International Coral Reef Initiative and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, found that in the 83 countries surveyed, there was an increase in funding between 2010 and 2016 in response to global and regional policy commitments on environmental management and protection, but that the more than $1.9 billion currently being invested is not commensurate with the economic and social gains we make from coral reefs.

The value of a single hectare of coral reef in terms of tourism, shoreline protection and fisheries is, on average, $130,000 per year, and as much as $1.25 million where the tourism sector is large. Travel and tourism, much of it dependent on reefs, contribute a third of the GDP in the Caribbean for example, and as much as 80 percent in the Maldives.

Coastal fisheries supported by coral reefs contribute to food security of hundreds of millions of coastal dwellers, providing 70 per cent of the dietary protein of Pacific islanders. Coral reef organisms are a source of many medicines, such as antiviral drugs and the anticancer agent Ara-C used in chemotherapy for leukemia and lymphoma.

The analysis reveals annual investment in maintaining healthy reefs through overseas development assistance is only 0.07 percent of the value of the societal benefits we draw from them. And of this investment, the majority of funding for work related to coral reefs and associated ecosystems is driven by a small number of funders, with nearly three-quarters of all projects consisting of small-scale initiatives.

Funded projects for coral reefs and associated ecosystems were identified in a total of 83 countries and territories, out of more than 100 countries and territories where tropical corals are known to exist. Some countries with a large coral reef area were found to be receiving comparatively low amounts of donor funding per unit area of reef. Out of the 314 projects surveyed, 279 focused on a single country – Tuvalu.

Funding is essential for sustainable management of coral reefs and associated ecosystems worldwide. But greater consideration of these ecosystems as blue economy assets is required, both in the public and private sector, to enable more and more diverse investment, and in the longer term reduce reliance on donor funding.

“If greater action is not taken today, the planet could lose its live coral reefs and with them a large number of the world’s marine species by 2050,” said Gabriel Grimsditch of UN Environment’s Marine and Coastal Ecosystems Branch.

“The necessary change will only be possible when mindsets change, in the general public, among financial decision makers, and also in the environment sector.”

The Funding Analysis was conducted by UN Environment, the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and was funded by the Government of France.

2018: The International Year of the Reef

The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) has declared 2018 the International Year of the Reef. UN Environment together with partner organizations is helping to drive a worldwide campaign to raise awareness about the value and importance of coral reefs and threats to their sustainability, and to motivate people to take action to protect them. All individuals, corporations, schools, governments, and organizations are welcome and actively encouraged to participate in IYOR 2018.

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Green Planet

Sustainable Yemen programme recycles waste as school materials

MD Staff

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© Yemeni National Commission for UNESCO/sub-unit in Hodeidah City

An innovative project recycling and transforming waste into educational tools and art forms is one of many sustainable development schemes coordinated by the local sub-unit of the Yemeni National Commission for UNESCO.

The sub-unit, based in the province of Hodeidah with work extending to neighbouring areas, acts to coordinate and implement the multiple activities of projects on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). It brings together educational, civil and private sector organizations to mobilize communities towards achieving the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and improving their own environment.

Since 2012, the initiative’s successes include training 60 teachers on the UNESCO course “Education and Learning for a Sustainable Future” and training 320 youth on project management and marketing. It has also established a youth foundation and community college and organized training of trainers.

Project Manager Faisal Ali Ayed said: “The Hodeidah work is particularly important because it is the first project in Yemen that has succeeded in using ESD in a context of large population density and a high percentage of youth facing the multiple challenges of poverty and unemployment.”

Other innovations include using teachers for e-learning, setting up of electronic libraries and collecting funds for poor students to provide breakfast, school meals, school uniform and school bags. Alongside these are awareness campaigns offering information and advice around healthy balanced food, early marriage and HIV/AIDS.

Sustainable development clubs have also been established in some schools to promote community activities related to all dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, social and economic).​

Mr Ayed explained why the work had been so successful. “The project has a really dedicated team and collaborating partners. For that reason, the project has achieved real transformation in practices in schools and community and at the same time has received huge media attention so the impact is spread.”

For the future, there are plans to expand the implementation of ESD projects, increase the number of the beneficiaries of educational institutions, in particular youth and women, spread the work to the neighbouring provinces of Hajjah and Rimah where six major projects will be implemented to train school principals, teacher trainers, educators, women and young people on ESD.

An important aspect of the work is enabling young people and women to enter or re-enter the labour market. So far, 920 youth and women have received life and professional skills training and help on integration into the labour market.

“The project has contributed to empowering women to participate in community development as well as changing society’s vision of the role of women and enabling the acceptance of different roles for women in society,” said Mr Ayed.

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