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Land grabbing in Madagascar. When others come to take the land.

Sustainability / -

Antananarivo, capitale del Madagascar
© Anton Ivanov/Shutterstock

The African island has been the setting for some of the most controversial cases of land grabbing without "any benefit" for the local population. Here are two stories from which we can learn how to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system.

Madagascar is a state of the African continent that is home to a rich biodiversity that is unique in the world. Its isolated location has meant that its territory has developed living species not found anywhere else in the world. The phenomenon of land grabbing to make way for intensive agriculture, has therefore caused moments of great tension in the country where there have been some of the most controversial episodes ever studied in the world: from Daewoo Logistics Corporation in 2008 to Tozzi Green in 2012.
The legacy of the land to land grabbing
Until the early twentieth century, local communities lived off the earth with respect, leaving a legacy to future generations in the same condition in which they had received it from those that came before them: "Families boasted of their land rights through inheritance and, in case of disputes, local authorities intervened to resolve the matter," writes Liliana Mosca, professor of the department of political science and legal studies at the University of Naples. In the study published in 2013 in the Economia & Diritto agroalimentare (Economics & Law Journal of Agribusiness), Mosca said that "with colonization has gone the affirmation of private property, granted to individuals on the basis of deeds in their possession."
After independence, the governments that followed continued with this policy, initiating reforms that, while recognizing the right of indigenous communities to inherit lands, also allowed the state and private investors, especially foreigners, to "usurp" lands expropriating them from local farmers and shepherds.
The Daewoo Logistics Corporation case
The South Korean company in 2008 attempted to exploit this opportunity by trying to secure 1.3 million hectares of land to produce corn and palm oil.
When news of the agreement began circulating in the Malagasy and international media, discontent began to rise within the population, mainly because the details of the transaction were not clear: "Over time, attention and protests became increasingly vocal and the highly publicized sale of the ancestral lands became an open condemnation of the Malagasy government and the President Marc Ravalomanana," writes Mosca.
On March 8, 2009, the protests led to the fall of the government. Instead of Ravalomanana Andry Rajoelina came to power, the then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo. One of his first acts was the cancellation of the agreement with Daewoo. According to Mosca, the episode has caused many land grabbing "projects to fail", "more than half related to foreign investors. Those who have gone ahead, were mostly for the cultivation of jatropha."
The Tozzi Green case
"I do not even know what jatropha is," says a villager of Ambararatabe, in the municipality of Satrokala, inhabited by the ethnic Bara whose livelihood is sheep farming and breeding of zebù. His story is told in a document called Assalto alla terra! (Assualt on the the earth!) published by Re: Common, an association that works to help improve the agricultural policy of the World Bank in 2008, which gave the green light to this type of investment.
"The cultivation of jatropha does not provide any benefit for us," said another resident. Yet it is the cultivation of this plant that led to land grabbing by another company – which is Italian –  called Tozzi Green,  a subsidiary in the renewable sector of Tozzi Holding Group. The contract was signed in 2012 and provided a lease for 30 years of 6,558 hectares. The ultimate goal is to reach 100 thousand hectares by 2019.
Jatropha is used to produce biofuels to fuel biomass power plants. The report by Re: Common states that jatropha plantations "are scattered over a wide area - too wide to allow zebu to move as they did before." And the entrance of the cattle in the fields would result in fines too high for shepherds who are now afraid even to go near those lands.
Towards a sustainable food system
These two examples of land grabbing clearly show the problems caused by an agricultural policy without rules, from the risk of a decline in employment and production of food to the local transformation of economic and social systems that have worked for decades. As Liliana Mosca concludes, it is now time to "become conscious of the urgency to spur the political word and that of institutions, businesses and civil society to rethink the current system of world economic development that has always been linked to the food." What is needed is a transformation that responds to environmental requirements and a growing demand for food, but not at the expense of a country like Madagascar and its inhabitants.

Natural cooking. According to Francesca Marotta

Taste / -

cucina naturale francesca marotta

A young Italian writer, who died tragically in 2004, had a passion for the natural way of life and continually examined the need for a natural approach in all areas. Condensed into a few short paragraphs below is her well thought-out definition of natural cuisine.

Ideally we can live in a joyful and relaxed relationship with food and with the home and   ultimately reclaim the taste and the pleasure of cooking. This is the natural approach to cooking in the testimony left to us in her newspaper articles by Francesca Marotta.

Marotta’s first bit of good advice is to take each step in the preparation of the meal slowly. Sure, it takes more time to carefully choose the best ingredients to prepare a lunch, but all of it is merited.  When cooking,   all of the senses must be involved, from cutting to  mixing and  heating the ingredients.

Do not consider using foods that damage the environment or are ethically questionable (to obtain caviar it is necessary to squeeze the eggs from the pregnant female fish). Also do not use foods that are out of season.

The dictates to follow are those of natural cuisine, as explained by Francesca Marotta for LifeGate when she wrote about  the way to make the preparation of food a rewarding, healthy and creative experience.

Balance, variety, simplicity, fantasy tradition: natural cooking could be summed up with these five words. The model of natural cuisine that we propose does not necessarily reflect a one-sided view of cooking and food (only macrobiotic,  only vegetarian, only raw food and so on), instead her model proposes a curious and lively  attitude, proffered  by one  who passionately loves food and the cooking. Cooking by natural means, in our opinion, is to use the greatest possible amount of information, experience and knowledge, without dogmas or prejudice and to make each recipe a little masterpiece of taste and health. The material from which to draw is immense: from regional traditions to ethnic cuisines, from ancient recipes to modern cuisine, all of which are using the best techniques of preparation, those that ensure the enhancement of the nutritional content and taste.

The fundamental rules of natural cooking
• Choose quality ingredients: organic food, for example, in addition to being healthier because it has no pesticide residues, it is also richer in vitamins and minerals and more flavorful and fragrant.

• Reduce cooking time: prolonged cooking reduces the vitamin and nutritional content of food, and sometimes makes food less digestible. For example, raw cabbage is digested in two hours, while it takes four to five hours for cooked cabbage to be digested.

• Avoid fried, browned and burnt foods: overcooked fat can be harmful to the liver and the intestine; the parts of the browned or blackened food (especially if protein) may form carcinogens. When preparing a fried onion or other vegetables, put vegetables in a cold pan at the same time as the oil and then turn on the heat. In this way, the cooking temperature is kept low and the fat will alter the food less.

• Cooking with extra virgin olive oil is the best  from the  nutritional point of view, it is an antioxidant and anti-cholesterol when cooking, it offers good resistance to the production of  toxic substances, it is very flavorful and so very little is needed for seasoning the food. What could be better than that?

• Leverage synergies among nutrients: for example, the beta-carotene of carrots is absorbed much better (almost four times as much) if the carrots are seasoned with oil or butter. Therefore it is much better to have your salads with dressing.

• Do not waste the nutrients, for example, when cooking with whole grains, it is better  to add only a little bit of  water, so that all of it is absorbed, in that way precious vitamins and minerals  are not lost in excess cooking water.

• Use fresh condiments: it is the most practical and easy to add flavor, for example, add them to a plate of pasta tasty, making it more digestible, and very rich in vitamins and minerals.

• Plentiful use of herbs and spices, add towards the end of cooking: in addition to aiding digestion and better preserving foods, they reduce the need to use salt and provide a huge variety of appetizing and creative combinations. Just say no to tasteless, monotonous and depressing cooking, go-ahead and use the imagination.

Natural cooking, which enhances food from the point of view of taste and health, follows a few  simple rules that can guide us towards a gradual change of habits without too much suffering and expand our culinary horizons.


Ocean grabbing. Plundering is not limited to land: it extends also to the seas

Sustainability / -

fish grabbing
© Michael Runkel Robert Harding/World Imagery/Corbis

A dynamic similar to land grabbing is taking place in the oceans. According to a UN study there is need to reduce the power of fishing vessels, increasing the strength of local fishing cooperatives.

Industrial fishing by foreign fleets - aggressively practiced especially in China, Russia, European Union, United States and Japan - is a threat to food security in developing countries, where governments should do more to promote local fisheries on low scale. These are the findings of a UN study in 2012 entitled Fisheries and the Right to Food.

In parallel with land grabbing, there is growing sense of alarm that is being denounced, among others, by Kofi Annan during the McDougall Memorial Lectures of the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) in 2011, when he said: “It is very disturbing that a recent report found that agricultural land that adds up to the size of France was bought in Africa in 2009 alone by hedge funds and other speculators. It is neither just nor sustainable for farmland to be stolen from communities in this way nor for food to be exported when there is hunger on the doorstep. Local people will not stand for this abuse – and neither should we.”
Ocean grabbing: according to the UN predation is in place
A frighteningly similar dynamic is taking place in the oceans, in the open sea. 22 of the 30 countries in whose waters there is the highest amount of fishing and exporting are low-income countries with food deficits. Furthermore, illegal fishing is carried out mainly in international waters, where controls are almost non-existent. It is estimated that this generates a turnover of 2 to 15 billion dollars a year.
Inspired by grabbing of fertile land, the UN speaker for the right to food, Olivier De Schutter coined the term ‘ocean grabbing’ during his report to the General Assembly. You can define ocean grabbing - the predatory plundering of fish resources in the territorial waters of others.

The UN report lists a number of cases where this plundering is taking place. The islands of the western and central Pacific Ocean is a clear example: they get only about 6 percent of the $ 3 billion worth of tuna fished off their coasts, while the foreign fishing fleets get the rest. Even the western coast of Africa is crossed by vessels, and despite recent trade agreements. In Senegal, in particular, the fishing license system is in the hands of organized crime, and Chinese, Russian, Korean, Icelandic and Spanish vessels are literally draining that part of the Atlantic: "Our fish is three quarters less than ten years ago," laments Samb Ibrahim, director of the port of Joal, south of the capital Dakar.
Generous subsidies for fueling and ship building between the 70s and 90s are being blamed for increasing fishing capacity by eight times: "This has led to a situation where the capacity of the global aggregate fishing fleet is at least double what is needed for fishing the oceans sustainably," by De Schutter calculations.

"It's like a plundering of the land, but it is a phenomenon that is discussed less and is less visible - says De Schutter - We need to do more to reduce the capacity of the industrial fishing fleets and to manage fish stocks in a much more sustainable way."
Based on this finding, the UN special envoy for the right to food has recommended a review of fishing permits granted to large vessels outside the economic zone, to strengthen controls, to create exclusive areas for fishing vessels, to associate local communities to fishing policies, to encourage the creation of small fishing cooperatives. "Governments - said De Schutter - must take a two-pronged approach that not only lowers harmful industrial practices, but also actively supports small-scale, skilled fishermen."

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