Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Recent activities, fall 2013

As usual, the end of the summer brings about a flurry of work-related activities.  Of course, there is teaching, at Trent University: the Blackboard sites for my two fall term courses, IDST 1000Y 'Human inequality in global perspective' and IDST - ANTH - SAFS 2500H, 'The world food system', are ready and teaching starts on Thursday 5 September.  The fall term is also the busiest time of year for me, in terms of my administrative responsibilities as Chair of the Department of International Development Studies.  In terms of scholarly activity, there will be a lot of it.  In mid-September I will be at Yale University's conference on Food Sovereignty: A Critical Dialogue, where I will deliver a paper, and in November I will act as Esau Distinguished Visiting Professor at Menno Simons College, which is part of the University of Winnipeg.  Other talks are probable as I continue to promote my most recent book, Hungry for Change: Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question.  Finally, work continues on my long-delayed book project, An Introduction to Feminist Economics: Foundations, Theories and Policies, which is being co-written with Nicky Pouw and which will be published by Routledge.  In terms of my advisory work, I will continue in my role as a Gender and Poverty Adviser to the United Nations Development Programme's Gender Team as they continue to roll out the Global Gender and Economic Policy Management Initiative in the Asia-Pacific region.  I will spend some time in Seoul as part of that work in October.  There is also the possibility of some work with UN Women, as I have done quite a lot with them over the course of the past year, and a major project with which I am closely involved is being developed by the UN Capital Development Fund.  The next 4 months will, as ever, be busy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Columbite Tantalite: a short film by Chiwetel Ejiofor

Chiwetel Ejiofor is a remarkable actor, and a sure-fire Academy Award winner, for his historically-unprecedented acting in 12 Years a Slave. But I did not know that he also writes and directs.  In this, a short film about coltan and the developed world's need for the mineral resources of the developing world, he shows both an understanding of how an artist perceives the issues as well as how an artist can make these issues accessible in a way that we academics cannot.  It is 12 minutes long; watch it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Mandela and me

I have not offered any personal reflections on the death of Nelson Mandela last week, in part because, like so many people around the world, the past few days have involved a period of self-reflection in which I have tried to understand why he had such a hold over me. I think now I have a better understanding of why this inevitable death has struck me, and many other comrades, so hard.

I never met Mandela. However, all the friends that I know who did meet Mandela share a remarkable trait: a picture of Mandela occupies a central place in their home. For these remarkably principled activist-academics, who lived in Tanzania or Mozambique or Zimbabwe during the darkest days of apartheid, were all immensely moved by his sacrifice, his struggle, and his success.

Some in the media, reflecting on his death, have challenged this 'success'. They note the remarkable worsening of inequality in South Africa since the first democratic elections in 1994 (despite the construction of Africa's best social protection system), the high share of the population – one-third – that live in dire poverty, the absurdly high levels of unemployment amongst the black working class, even though all the while a small share of the black population has become fabulously, even obscenely, wealthy. The figure of Cyril Ramaphosa looms large here: in the 1980s, as leader of the National Union of Miners, Ramaphosa was an inspirational leader in the struggle against apartheid, both in South Africa and outside it. I personally felt it. Now he is a very wealthy possible future president, heavily invested in the Marikana mine, where 34 striking workers were shot dead last year. For many of us involved in the struggle against apartheid, the Marikana massacre was a trip back to the future: where the heavy hand of a ruthless state was once again violently repressing black workers, with the key difference that this time the ruthless state now was run by the African National Congress rather than the National Party of the unrepentant Pik Botha (famously caricartured on Spitting Image as saying 'Fish live in trees and eat pencils. We are bringing reform to South Africa').

For my friends of my generation, the loss that we feel with the passing of Mandela is rooted in something very real: he was a great anti-imperialist leader of a national liberation struggle who stands apart because he succeeded in what he set out to do. Samora Machel, Thomas Sankara, Maurice Bishop – they are long since dead, largely forgotten by the wider world (but not by us!) and they all died a violent death. Robert Mugabe and Daniel Ortega are hopelessly compromised. Fidel Castro's achievements will be undone when he dies. Only Mandela, in relentlessly maintaining that the Freedom Charter was the basis by which the ANC would rule, and then keeping his promise, succeeded in what he set out to achieve, terminating a labour regime based upon racial oppression and replacing it with a vibrant, inclusive non-ethnic multiparty political democracy.

That was why we marched to Trafalgar Square every year, come what may, to hear Oliver Tambo (whose ANC offices were close to where I was living, in a then-shoddy but now gentrified part of north London) and other exiled leaders of the ANC, some of whom were our good friends, along with Trevor Huddleston and the other senior leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in the United Kingdom, which was vibrant and alive and joyous. During the 1980s it was as if a family was coming together to surround the South African Embassy to demand an end to apartheid, and to celebrate the community that was the left in the UK in the 1980s: anti-apartheid, to be sure, but also the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, miner support groups, the left of the Labour Party, Trotskyists, liberals, Eurocommunists, environmentalists, gay activists, and more. Margaret Thatcher denounced us as 'the enemy within', and we took to wearing badges that proclaimed that we were the enemy within. I recall in 1986 when we were organizing a 40 mile bike ride to raise money for an ANC school in Tanzania; I had not planned to actually ride, but at the last minute decided to do so, on a glorious day, arriving in Luton to a reception at the local working men's club where we were made to feel so welcome, by total strangers, united only in our denunciation of apartheid. Or a dinner in Winnipeg in 1987 to raise money for the ANC, when one of Winnipeg's small African community rose to say that until South Africa was free none of us would be free.

Mandela may have been a radical, but he was also a pragmatist who realized that his own personal world-historic role was not to build socialism in South Africa but to terminate a racially-based labour regime and ensure that the transition to majority rule and political democracy worked. He also knew what had happened in other societies where minorities had violently repressed majorities, and understood that for the political transition to work he personally would have to reconcile with his jailers. Much of the current celebration of his life revolves around this seemingly unique ability to accommodate, but I suspect that behind his steely exterior he hated what he had to do, as his life and, notwithstanding his marriage to the great Gra├ža Machel at the age of 80, his family had been ripped from him, and he only relentlessly pursued reconciliation because he believed he had to do it. Which, for those of us who remember the state-fomented violence in KwaZulu Natal with Inkatha, was correct. That could have been the future – but it was not.

I must confess – in 1993 and 94 and 95 I was a pessimist. When Chris Hani was assassinated prior to the first democratic elections, and in light of the violence in KawZulu Natal, I thought the country would descend into a bloodbath, the inequities and injustice were so great. That it did not was due to the moral force of Mandela, as well as his uncanny political acumen. What Mandela lost, though, with Hani's assassination, was the next step of the transition: if he had been president, Hani would, in my view, have overseen the dismantling of the economics of apartheid, which to this day remain too largely in place.

In 1990 when Mandela was released I was on the prairies; my stepfather had suddenly died two days before, we were arranging his cremation, but we still had to watch Mandela walk out, fist aloft, wondering what he was like, what would he say, this man for which whose release we had campaigned for a very long time indeed. Margaret Thatcher still thought he was a terrorist, the US still had him on their terror watch list, and don't start me going on about Chester Crocker or David Cameron or Stephen Harper. Mandela's release was not due to governments in the West, no matter what they are saying today as his funeral approaches. It was due to resistance in the townships and in the mines that was supported by the sanctions and divestment movement, which was a movement of people of which we were a part. But it was more, and this cannot be forgotten. It was not just the economic contradictions of an unprofitable racially-based labour regime that made the fall of apartheid inevitable by 1990. No: Victoria Brittain's reports in late 1987 and early 1998 about the ongoing battle of Cuito Cuanavale, in Angola, made it very clear.  The Angolans were facing defeat at the hands of the invading South African Defence Forces, and, in their desperation, they called on Cuba.  Fidel Castro responded by sending thousands of troops, who defeated the South Africans in a series of set encounters and demonstrated to the apartheid regime that military defeat was inevitable.

So Mandela's triumph was far from inevitable, and that is the single most important lesson that I carry forward with his passing. Nelson Mandela showed us that immense change is possible, but it takes a movement to build it. He showed us that processes of change must be very carefully and judiciously navigated, and that it does require, at times, knowing when to compromise and when not to compromise. He also showed us, in his post-retirement campaign work around HIV/AIDS, that the process of change is still not finished: “Poverty is not natural. It is man-made” and “while poverty persists, there is no true freedom”. Mandela played a critical role in ending one of the most putrid labour regimes of the 20th century, rooted as it was in racial oppression. The best way of living up to his ideals will be to carry his struggle forward, build a movement, and end systems of economic exploitation, in our homes, in our communities, in our countries, and across the face of world. To paraphrase the man himself, sometimes it falls on a generation to be great, and we can be that great generation.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wealth inequality in the UK

From www.inequalitybriefing.org, an excellent visual overview of the state of inequality in the UK today.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Unpaid care work, poverty and women's human rights

ActionAid International, the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, and Oxfam are facilitating the launch today of a report on unpaid care work and women's poverty by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. The Report will be presented to the UN later in the month.

A video overview of the Report highlights its key messages, which has been a focal part of my research and advisory activity for decades:

Monday, July 15, 2013

Making sense of the (US) Farm Bill: an infographic

This is without doubt the best explanation of the history, structure and impact of successive US Farm Bills that I have seen.  Clear, accessible and powerful, this is a must-view for everyone concerned with the corporate food regime.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mel's prime beef

Mel's Prime Beef are eight three-minute clips on what is wrong with Ontario's food system.  Episode 6 is typical -- it goes for the jugular in accessibly explaining how markets fail farmers and consumers.  All eight are worth watching.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday, June 14, 2013

A world of 11 billion?

For years I have been telling students that the world population is going to peak at 10 billion around 2050. Last year, following revised estimates from the UN Population Division, I qualified this by saying that global population might not even reach 10 billion. Turns out I was wrong! The latest estimates of the UN Population Division were released yesterday, including a great interactive tool. The 'median variant' estimate of world population in 2100 is now 10,853,849. In other words, I am going to have to start telling my students that the world population is going to peak at 11 billion. I can't pretend to understand the demographics behind this new estimate, but it will no doubt play into the hands of the doom-mongers who argue that the planet cannot support this population. In the United Kingdom, a one-man lecture/play recently ran at the Royal Court, a haven of experimental theatre, in which Stephen Emmott used statistics to argue that the world faces an "unprecedented planetary emergency". International development institutions feed into this narrative, arguing that world food production must increase by 100 per cent if we are going to feed the world in 2050, and that this means the further globalization of industrial agriculture. In Canada, the best-known neo-Malthusian is, without doubt, Thomas Homer-Dixon, who also argues that current population growth threatens to destroy the ecosystem, pollute the atmosphere, and change the climate.

So, now that my number is wrong, am I worried? The answer is yes, but not for the reasons that you might think. Let's start with the accuracy of the figures, given this recent revision. If the UN Population Division says that the population will peak at 11 billion, I believe them -- although it might be fewer. Why? Statistical demography is one of the most reliable quantitative tools in the social sciences. As Hans Rosling tweeted yesterday, in 1958 the Population Division estimated that by the year 2000 the global population would be 6.3 billion. In fact, the actual population was 6.12 billion. So, 42 years before the fact, the Population Division made an estimate that was only 3 per cent wrong. That's pretty impressive.

Next, what is most dramatic about global population growth today is the speed with which it is slowing down. To be precise: population is increasing, but the rate of growth of the rate of growth of the population is decreasing. In 1971 the global population rose by 2.1 per cent, the fastest single year in human history. However, 1971 was what one could call an 'inflection point': a 120 year population boom that started in 1850 came to an end, driven by the global expansion of capitalism and the need to create markets. The recurring crises of global capitalism that have been witnessed since the early 1970s have been mirrored in population, in that from 1971 on the rate of growth of global population has slowly come down. This morning I did a chart from the Population Division's estimates to demonstrate the decline, which I will use in IDST 1000Y next year:
As the chart shows, the slope of the curve is getting shallower and shallower -- this is the result of the decline in the rate of population growth. This reflects unambiguous good news: better health and fewer deaths have reduced the need to have more children. As Danny Dorling convincingly argues, we don't know for a fact why the rate of growth of population started to slow after 1971, but I would hypothesize that the dramatic expansion in reproductive health services around the world in the 1960s, which was driven by feminism and the women's movement, was a critical factor. Indeed, Hans Rosling tweeted yesterday a fact that has been remarkably overlooked in the world media today: that we have reached the point of the 'peak child'. What is the peak child? The world's population of children is currently estimated to be 1.9 billion. In around 15 years it will flatten out at 2 billion. Then it will start to decline, so that by 2100 there will be 1.9 billion children in the world. In other words, at the end of this century there will be no more children alive than are alive today. 

This reflects one of my three principal concerns about the growth in global population: that as the global population ages the need to provide for people living a longer life will be borne by the decreasing share of working-age people in the world. In other words, a critical demographic issue will not be the number of people but rather increasing numbers of non-working citizens having to be supported by decreasing numbers of working citizens. Japan has gone through this process for 2 decades, and for 2 decades has been mired in economic stagnation. Using the interactive tools of the Population Division it is possible to estimate when the planet's population will start to decline. However, even as populations decline there will be major changes in the structure of the planet's population. We have already passed the period in which the urban population has grown bigger than the rural population. We are indeed fortunate that we already produce enough food for 10 billion, and can feed a world of 11 billion agroecologically. However, a second change is of concern to me: and that is the shift in the structure of the planet's population towards Africa, the poorest continent. In 2030 Nigeria's population will exceed that of the United States, making it the third largest population in the world. The only continent where populations will continue to grow is Africa. In an era of more people not working, and fewer people working, Africa must become a critical source of workers for the global economy. My worry, then, is that politicians will continue to fail Africa, in terms of the education and healthcare needed for the sustainable human development upon which we will all rely. This highlights my third concern. Global inequalities must be addressed if Africa is to have the sustainable human development that allows it to reap its 'demographic dividend' of having the highest proportion of the world's population that is of working age. There are a billion people today who simply consume too much. I am one of them, as most likely are the readers of this weblog. We must consume less, and in so doing individually and collectively address the global inequalities that currently limit the capabilities of generations to come and which, if not addressed, have the potential to make a world of 11 billion even more unjust that the world today.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Who is working within the corporate food regime?

Over the last few months I have heard several people that I respect -- both activists and academics -- claim that the sum total of employment in the food system, as an aggregated sector of economic activity, is very significant. Of course, this employment is not in farming -- the capital intensity of industrial agriculture under the corporate food regime in countries such as Canada means that the employment linkages from farming are low. Thus, in 2006, of an employed labour force of almost 17 million in Canada, only 2.2 per cent were directly working in agriculture. Rather, work in the corporate food regime is primarily in service-sector jobs: restaurants, bars and caterers; corner stores and supermarkets; and wholesale food trade. This has a very interesting implication for those that are involved in the food movement: we will never know with any deal of accuracy how many people are employed in jobs related to the plethora of activities that are part and parcel of the corporate food regime. This is because the common categories used to assign individuals to labour market activities in both industrial and occupational censuses in the developed capitalist countries do not have the level of detail needed to construct such information.

For example, if Statistics Canada wanted to construct an aggregate measure of all those employed or having an occupation in Canada's food system, it is obvious that someone who has the occupation of 'chef' (occupational category G411 in Canada's 2006 census) would be assigned as working within the food system. However, someone working in the Human Resources department at Monsanto (occupational category B021 in Canada's 2006 census) works in human resources, and not the food system, according to Statistics Canada, and at the level of aggregation used by Statistics Canada could not be separated from someone working in the Human Resources department of a financial institution. The same would apply in other developed capitalist countries. Similarly, employment in specialty food stores (industrial category 4452 in Canada's 2006 census) could be captured as work within the food system, but someone who is employed within a university (industrial category 6113 in Canada's 2006 census) and teaches food studies could not be separated from someone teaching astrophysics and thus could not be counted as working in the food system.

This is not simply an arcane matter of definition. For local, regional, national and international food movements to unite, it is important that the food system be seen as a livelihood issue, rather than simply an issue for 'consumers' or 'producers'. In order to be seen as a livelihood issue, it would certainly be helpful to know how many people's livelihoods depended upon the food system. Citizens and farmers are connected because both need to be able to construct viable (and meaningful) livelihoods in order to take part in the food system -- and yet the food movement will not be in a position to conclusively demonstrate the extent to which livelihoods in global, national and local economies depend upon the food system.

What can be said, however, is that the extremely ambiguous statistics that we do have substantiate the proposition that the food system is a significant source of livelihoods. For example, aggregating industrial classifications in the 2006 Canadian census that can be directly linked to the food system demonstrates that 13.8 per cent of all Canadians were employed in a food system-related activity. It can also be unambiguously stated that this is a dramatic understatement of the actual numbers of those whose livelihoods depend upon the food system in Canada: it does not include educators, researchers, government civil servants, financiers or hauliers, among others, who might be employed in a food system-related activity. It is also significant that many of those that can be counted as working within the food system are not unionized, while many of those that cannot be counted but are in fact working within the food system are unionized. The implication is very clear: as a livelihood issue, the character of the corporate food regime must become a central concern for the labour movement.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rubber barons and land grabbing in Southeast Asia

Global Witness has produced an excellent report on collusion between Vietnamese state-owned enterprises, local government officials and Deutsche Bank in grabbing land in Laos and Cambodia in order to expand rubber plantations, to meet growing worldwide demand for rubber. Watch the summary:

Monday, May 6, 2013

How to feed a growing world

An exciting round-table (that is more than an hour long, but worth it) with activist and best-selling author Raj Patel (Stuffed and Starved, Food Rebellions, and The Value of Nothing), geneticist Molly Jahn (former USDA Deputy Under Secretary and University of Madison-Wisconsin professor), and award-winning chef Marcus Samuelsson (owner of Red Rooster restaurant in Harlem, author, and UNICEF Ambassador)to dispel myths about population growth and food security.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Adivasis against the land grab in Kashipur, India

This remarkable video, created by ActionAid India, highlights the struggles of adivasi people against land grabs in rural India. Their struggle has resulted in some action by the Indian state; but far more needs to be done.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Stuart Hall: Thatcherism

During the 1980s, living in England during the Thatcher years, one of the most profound influences on my intellectual development were the writings of Stuart Hall -- one of the original founders of New Left Review. Hall confronted the 1980s, to borrow from Gramsci, 'violently': unwilling to subscribe to old and outmoded shibboleths, his understanding of the rise of what we now call neoliberalism, but which he at the time called, more accurately, 'authoritarian populism', was accurate, accessible and prescient. I had the great privilege of hearing Stuart Hall speak several times (and met him on a couple of occasions). In this clip, based upon the reissuing of one of his key books, Policing the Crisis, Hall reflects upon the rise of Thatcherism and the implications for our understanding of the present. I cannot but reflect about how much I wish someone with his clarity, commitment, and intellectual rigor was helping us understand the current conjuncture, 'violently'.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Recent activities, fall 2012

The start of the 2012 - 2013 academic session signals both the end of a very busy summer and the start of busy fall. Indeed, the session has already started, as I am doing my graduate teaching, Development economics, on the Master's in Development Practice Program at Emory University, Atlanta, USA. Next week sees the start of term at Trent University, and the following week I will commence teaching Human inequality in global perspective and The world food system. There will be some work to do finishing up the final touches of my next book, Hungry for Change? Farmers, Food Justice and the Agrarian Question, which Fernwood Press will publish early in 2013. I will also (finally) return to work on a long-delayed book project, An Introduction to Feminist Economics: Foundations, Theories and Policies, which is being co-written with Nicky Pouw and will be published by Routledge. I will also be busy in my continuing role as an Adviser to the United Nations Development Programme's Gender Team as they continue to roll out the Global Gender and Economic Policy Management Initiative in the Asia-Pacific and Arab States regions -- some travel to Nepal and Bahrain may take place during the fall. On top of all this, of course, my administrative responsibilities as Chair of the Department of International Development Studies will continue, particularly in light of the program review that will be undertaken by the Department over the course of 2012 - 2013. It will, in other words, be business as usual -- which is to say, it will be hectic.

Global wealth inequality

For the past 7 years I have commenced my first year course with a lecture on global poverty and world income inequality. I have just seen a fantastic short video that, in less than 4 minutes, explains visually what it usually takes me 20 minutes to explain. I will be definitely using it next year. It is well worth the look:

The closure of the Canadian International Development Agency

Last week I offered some background to the Canadian government's decision to close the Canadian International Development Agency by merging it into the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, now to be called the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. The comments, in the Peterborough Examiner, can be found here: http://www.thepeterboroughexaminer.com/2013/03/26/funding-cut-will-hurt-jamaican-self-help

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Food fight

This is an absolutely fantastic video on the food system: Go to the website, and you can download school curriculum materials as well.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Feeding nine billion

This is an interesting and thorough review of the ails of the food system, presented in an inclusive and non-confrontational style, by Evan Fraser, co-author of Empires of Food and Beef. The solutions that he offers are also very nuanced, and so it is well worth sitting down and spending 12 minutes with this presentation.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

7 photos that reveal what families eat in one week

This link is a followup by Oxfam America to a book of photo essays, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, both of which show global differences in weekly food consumption.

7 photos that reveal what families eat in one week

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stephen Resnick

On January 2nd, a brilliant economist, Stephen Resnick, one of the founding members and a cornerstone of the heterodox Economics Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, died. Professor Resnick touched the lives of hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students over his career, including myself; even though I never met him, when I used to teach economics I often referred to a book that he co-authored with his long-time collaborator Richard Wolff, Economics: Neoclassical versus Marxian. An early obituary, written by one of his former students from Umass, can be found at:

Stephen Resnick, professor of economics at UMass-Amherst, dies at age 74

In addition, Professor Resnick's complete Economics 305 course on Marxian Economics at UMass Amherst can be found on YouTube.  This first lecture is:

Stephen Resnick will be missed.

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